Every January I go to San Francisco for a few days to see friends and celebrate my birthday. I time my visit to coincide with the San Francisco Specialty Food Show though this year I didn’t attend. Instead I spent time visiting friends, dining out and enjoying the City.
Love salads as an entree but when the weather turns cold, not so much? That’s my problem. Easy to make, they can be as simple or complex as your mood or time allows, they’re healthy and, if you’re clever, you can get in your days’ worth of greens at one sitting. The problem? Facing a crisp, cold green salad on a cold, wet or snowy day! So, what’s the alternative?
When I was fifteen, I spent a memorable summer with my Connecticut cousins. Our Aunt Patricia (yes, I was named after her — we were known as Big Pat and Little Pat) worked and lived in New York City, and in our eyes she was all we aspired to be. My cousin Deborah and I took the train to Manhattan and spent a day with Big Pat. It was a classic New York summer day — hot and sultry — but my aunt had prepared a sophisticated cold lunch, which included the perfect dessert: half-frozen table grapes in sweetened sour cream. This was before yogurt was mainstream and sour cream was considered a gourmet item. I’ve been making some version of this refreshing dish ever since.
Too much summer squash? Whether your neighbors look the other way when they see you coming with an armload of zucchini or you’re just looking for another recipe to enjoy it, here’s my solution. When you roast squash, it shrinks like crazy and becomes deliciously sweet. I frequently roast potatoes, sweet potatoes and squash early in the morning before the heat sets in and one day I decided to see what ratatouille would look like if I roasted the squash and eggplant instead of braising them with onions and tomatoes. I’ve been making my version of ratatouille this way ever since. Yes, it requires an extra couple of steps, but I think it’s worth it. Here’s my “no recipe” for roasted ratatouille. You can decide for yourself if you want to make it or just roast the squash to add to salads, pasta or fritattas.
Washington State may well remember 2017 for the abundance of its sweet cherries from the Yakima Valley. The record crop came in late but the fruit has continued for nearly two months, with unusually low prices and delicious, plump fruit. For those of us who nearly turn into myna birds during cherry season, it has been cause for celebration.
Burrata, how I love thee and all your creamy deliciousness! If you’ve never tasted burrata, it may be time to treat yourself. It’s the rich cousin of fresh mozarella, which by the way, is infinitely more delicious than its other cousin, the more easily available, rubbery, vacuum-packaged mozarella. Burrata has an outer shell made from Mozarella, that is like a pouch. Cream and stringy curd pieces are stuffed into the pouch, so when it’s cut open, there’s a wonderful creaminess that keeps the interior of the ball deliciously soft and rich and leaks out onto the plate.
While a chilly winter day complete with snow flurries is thrilling in November or December, by March who needs it, especially a late season blizzard or ice storm! And it isn’t just the weather. Market produce looks tired (except for the kale and cabbage), and finding good lettuce can be a fantasy . While I now live near America’s “salad bowl,” I was born in Cleveland, so I know how winter can drag on and on.
Just a few weeks ago I’m sure I came across a recipe for Smoked Trout and Endive Salad. It was posted by someone who said she had discovered the recipe in Alice Waters’ American Vegetable Cookbook. It sounded like a great base for a full meal salad. Later, when I attempted to check on the dressing ingredients, I couldn’t find the recipe anywhere, including Alice’s cookbook, which leads me to wonder if I dreamed it.
When the weather outside is cold and damp, salad isn’t the first thing that comes to my mind when I’m planning a meal. That said, salads are a refreshing contrast to a rich, heavy stew, a hearty grain dish, or roasted meat. I like the subtle sweetness and crispness of Fuyu persimmons and Japanese pears, but if neither is available or you prefer, substitute firm, crisp apples and grapes. The salty, sharp character of blue cheese balances the sweetness of the fruit. A good appetite stimulator! And trust me on the vanilla. It always brightens salads.
Summer has arrived, which translates to grilling, barbecue and outdoor parties and activities. In other words, keep the food part quick and simple. That’s precisely what this salad is: Simple, crunchy, absolutely delicious.
Celery has a number of major health benefits, it’s low calorie, and combined with toasted walnuts, red onion or shallots and an oil and lemon vinaigrette with just a drop or two of vanilla, it’s an easy, light salad.
Every spring I look forward to at least one dish that includes fava beans. Like artichokes and asparagus, favas burst delicious green energy flavor. Truthfully, I never tasted favas until well into adulthood as my mother, who spent summers on her grandparents’ farm in Canada, always said that fava beans were animal feed. To that I say, “It’s good to be a cow.”
Late July heralds the beginning of the US fig season. In Europe, most especially Italy, everyone who can, has a fig tree. Italian immigrants who came to the US in the late 19th and early 20th century, planted them in barrels in apartment courtyards and cottage gardens, holding onto the memory of warm figs harvested from trees in sun-baked gardens and hillsides. Although I love fresh figs, they aren’t on the radar of many Americans. When I offered some of this spectacular salad to my neighbors, several said they had never eaten figs or they tried them as kids and didn’t like them though after sampling this dish, they converted. Granted, their texture isn’t the most child-friendly, but if this was your experience, I highly recommend trying them again as an adult as you may discover how special they actually are.
This is one of those recipes that can be adapted however you’d like. I will say that the combination of ingredients makes a refreshing salad as it contains sweet, salty, juicy and crunchy contrasts. If you can’t find packaged broccoli and carrots cut in fine julienne pieces, you can make your own.
The summer tomatoes are in – the small, intensely flavored dry-farmed ones, heirlooms of all sizes, colors and stripes and the tiny little cherry tomatoes— all soooo delicious! It’s hard to beat a combination of really ripe tomatoes, fresh, soft mozzarella, lots of basil and maybe a bed of crispy Romaine or tender butter lettuces to soak up the juices. Simple and delicious.
Vinaigrettes and Other Dressings: 60 Sensational Recipes to Liven up Greens, Grains, Slaws and Every kind of Salad by Michele Anna Jordan; The Harvard Common Press; 2013-07-19
Although I can’t remember quite how I first met Michele Anna Jordan, I have been a fan of hers for decades. She stayed overnight at my home years ago when she did a reading at a local bookstore, and I remember being entranced by her knowledge of wine and food. We both also share a love of vanilla though Michele is a savory food and good wine gal (but always wears a vanilla-based perfume), and I’m a “Sure I like savory foods but I also want dessert!” queen.
Avocado and Green Peppercorn Cream
Courtesy of Michele Anna Jordan; Vinaigrettes; Harvard Common Press
Michele says about this recipe: Early one morning in the mid 1980s, I accompanied some friends while they took their VW bus to be repaired at a dealership on the outskirts of La Paz, in central Baja California. As we left to walk into town to wait, we spotted a young boy, possibly in his early teens, wheeling a cart under a tree across from the shop. He quickly unfolded the equipment and before long was serving carnitas tacos that couldn’t have been simpler or more delicious. Two very small corn tortillas, heated on a propane-fired grill, were topped with chunks of succulent meat and then slathered with the most extraordinary avocado sauce I’d ever tasted. I stood there in the morning sun and devoured five tacos, stopping only for the sake of decorum. I’ve been making a version of that sauce ever since, and this one is my current favorite.
This delicious dressing recipe comes from Michele Anna Jordan’s book, Vinaigrettes and Other Dressings: 60 Sensational Recipes to Liven up Greens, Grains, Slaws and Every kind of Salad. Here’s what she says about Balsamic dressings: The simplest balsamic vinaigrette requires nothing more than good vinegar, good olive oil, a bit of salt, and a few turns of black pepper; it’s a perfect daily salad dressing, if your preferences lean toward this popular vinegar. This version is richer than that simple mixture with a layering of flavors that is quite compelling, especially when made with excellent ingredients.
Adapted from a Recipe by Sara Moulton
Like other sweet veggies, corn and vanilla are a great match. You don’t need much, but the amount you add is the special ingredient that makes either fresh or frozen corn come alive. The pureed corn takes the place of cream and keeps the flavor bright and fresh.
Several years ago I created this spin on Waldorf Salad for a natural foods market. It was an immediate hit. What I like about it is that you can easily adapt it. Instead of blue cheese, use chevre or feta. Substitute dried cranberries or apricots for dates. You can turn it into an entrée by sauteing chicken breast, tofu or tempe then adding some of the salad dressing to the saute pan to intensify the flavor. If you want this recipe gluten-free, I suggest using quinoa as a substitute.
This is a good late winter recipe when the navel oranges are in season. If Cara Cara oranges are available, they’re wonderful! Some people believe they are a cross between a grapefruit and an orange. They aren’t, so don’t worry if you can’t eat grapefruit. Also, any of the mandarin family are good in this salad as well. Feel free to mix up the greens however you’d like. If you have access to watercress, for instance, it would add a nice peppery flavor. You may also substitute thinly sliced fennel instead of cucumber.