Monday, March 15, 2010

Winter Salads, the Promised Part 2

Spring is around the corner but bountiful salads still seem a long way off. While we wait for the last of the snow to melt, here is Winter Salads, Part 2.  How to make a Single Vegetable Salad, Vegetable Antipasto from jars and a classic pairing of pear and blue cheese accented with cayenne-sugared walnuts. 

Single Vegetable Salads
Create a single vegetable salad when you see a really good vegetable standing out among winter weary ones.  The result is better when you simplify and focus on a single good flavor rather than hope for the best with a collection of mediocre ones.  Good candidates in the cold months are mushrooms, cucumbers or radishes. Create a star out of a modest item with a simple marinade or dressing.

Cucumber Salad
Serves 4
1 English cucumber (or 3 Kirby cucumbers)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup Greek yogurt or low-fat sour cream
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon dried dill (or 1 teaspoon fresh, chopped)

Wash cucumbers and peel if skin is tough. If you are using waxed cucumbers, peel them. Cut cucumber into thin slices using a chef’s knife or mandolin.  Toss cucumber slices with salt and let stand in a colander over a wide dish at least 15 minutes (and up to several hours).  Pat cucumbers with a towel to remove excess liquid. This prevents the cucumber juice from weeping into the sour cream and thinning down dressing.   (You may skip this step and add a pinch of salt to the dressing if you are eating the salad immediately.) Combine yogurt or sour cream with vinegar.  Add cucumbers and toss to coat.  Store covered in refrigerator until ready to serve.  This is a nice side salad with beef goulash and stews. 

Radish Salad
Serves 4
1 cup radishes
2 tablespoons water
1/4 teaspoon each salt and sugar

Cut cleaned radishes into thick slices or sections.  Mix water with salt and sugar in a small bowl.  Add radishes and toss to coat. Marinate about half on hour. The mild sweet-salty bath balances the bite of radishes. Serve with miso baked salmon or grilled fish. 

Marinated Mushroom Salad
Serves 4-6
1 pound mushrooms (button or Bella)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar (OK to substitute apple cider vinegar or experiment with another flavored vinegar like tarragon or fig)
Several springs of fresh thyme
Salt and pepper

Wipe mushrooms clean.  If mushrooms are bite-sized, leave whole.  Cut larger mushrooms in halves or quarters.  Toss remaining ingredients together to create a simple vinaigrette.  Add mushrooms and mix well.  Allow mushrooms to marinate at least two hours or overnight to infuse dressing into mushrooms. Serve with roast chicken and a whole grain bread.  

At this time of year, we often get a “Spring shower” of heavy snow that takes trees and power lines down.  Densely populated areas get higher priority during outages and those of us in rural spots have learned to be prepared for 3-4 day outages.  I have a power outage pantry that helps us through these trying times.  Perishable foods find their way to a large cooler on the back porch to sit out the storm.  The propane-fueled camping stove comes out and simple boiled meals that clean up easily include soft and hard boiled eggs, rice, noodles, steamed fresh vegetables and poached chicken.  Salad is created from vegetables—frozen, jarred and canned.

You don’t need a stormy day to enjoy this Antipasto Vegetable Salad.  It will lift your spirits on any busy day.  Everything can be tossed together in one bowl with an Italian vinaigrette dressing or create a salad compose, that is laying out each ingredient on a platter over greens to create a pretty landscape of color and texture.  Guests can select their favorites to create their own salads. Pass the vinaigrette separately.  This salad makes sense with an Italian entrĂ©e like lasagna, turkey picatta or osso buco and with a protein added can become a main dish.

Vegetable Antipasto
Pick five of your favorites from the list below of jarred and canned vegetables. You can use more but combine at least three in this salad.  Drain the vegetables well and, unless packed in a marinade, and rinse them to remove any excess sodium from the canning process.  Arrange bite sized pieces on a beautiful platter.  Place a layer of greens underneath if you’d like.  Drizzle the arrangement with a little extra virgin olive oil and cracked pepper.  Some balsamic vinegar is also nice with this salad if you don’t feel like making a dressing. 

Roasted red peppers
White beans or lupini
Garbanzo beans
Oil cured or brined and marinated olives
Artichoke hearts, plain or marinated (OK to use frozen that are briefly steamed to thaw)
Italian peppers like peperoncini or Tuscan peppers
Caponata (eggplant)
Marinated mushrooms
Sun dried tomatoes packed in olive oil
Hearts of palm

If you’d like to add some protein for a main course salad I recommend any of the following:
Cheese- sliced mozzarella, cubed fontina
Tuna packed in olive oil
Thinly sliced salami, prosciutto, mortadella or speck

Canning returned to popularity recently and if you gave it a try, you probably have additional canned vegetables that fit into an antipasto.  If you are interested in trying canning when this summer’s backyard crop comes in, I recommend Eugenia Bone’s book Well-Preserved in which she not only provides excellent canning instructions and recipes but also shows you how to use your home canned goods in elegant meals. 

The Classic
Pear, blue cheese and walnut salads are year round stand-byes.  Like apples, pears are available most months and some interesting varieties emerge as the year turns.  When pears are a little hard, a light poaching in white wine and water brings them around.  I also love to roast them Jeremiah Tower style—halved, rubbed with a bit of salt and roasted on heavily sugared parchment paper.  It takes about 45 minutes to an hour for the flavor to intensify and concentrate as the pears roast at 300˚F.

Whenever good-looking Bibb or Boston lettuce is in I love to make this salad.  If things are running late, I’ll toast the walnuts but with a little more time, I make cayenne-sugared walnuts.  They provide very subtle heat to the salad and the sweetness balances the tannins in the nuts.  Be sure to hide these treats pre-dinner since they also make great nibbles with a cocktail.   Or cook a few extra and hold back the ones you need for the salad.  They keep well in an airtight container for a couple of days.

Pear Blue Cheese Walnut Salad
Serves 4
1 large head Boston or Bibb lettuce (or 2 small heads)
2 pears, cored and thinly sliced (roasted, poached or au natural)
2-3 ounces blue cheese (Danish blue or hard blue you like)
1/2-3/4 cup walnuts, toasted (cayenne-sugared walnuts instructions below)

Clean and dry lettuce leaves.  Tear into large pieces and arrange on individual salad plates.  Arrange half a sliced pear over each salad and sprinkle with blue cheese and walnuts.  Serve salad with a simple vinaigrette of olive oil and lemon juice in a 4 to 1 ratio flavored with salt and pepper.

Cayenne-Sugared Walnuts
1 cup walnuts- whole and halve pieces
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Melt butter in a small skillet over medium heat.  Add sugar and stir until melted into butter.  Add walnuts to pan.  Cook walnuts in sugar butter stirring gently to keep them coated until sugar begins to caramelize.  At that point, sprinkle nuts with cayenne and remove from heat.  Restrain yourself from over spicing the nuts even if you like hot and spicy flavors. The subtlety of the heat is what makes these special and too much heat will overpower the other flavors in the salad.  Spread the coated walnuts on wax paper and allow to cool.  Store in an air tight container (if they last more than one night).

If you'd like to learn more about preserving and canning link to Eugenia Bone's Denver Post blog.