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I never liked salads all that much. I figured they were a sorry excuse for a meal. When it comes to salad as a side, why not go right for the bread and butter? Whenever I brought a salad for lunch, I would feel so deprived afterward that I would head straight for the ice cream shop downstairs from my office.
And then I signed up for my local farmshare several years ago and fell in love with local lettuce. It not only tasted fresh, fresh, fresh, there was the added benefit of being able to eat it before all the nutrients leached out.
Even with that being the case, I admit to sometimes struggling about the fourth week into my farmshare when, if I haven’t kept up with it, I have a fridge full of beautiful lettuce.
The problem, as I see it, is not that I get too much lettuce. It’s lack of imagination and planning on my part. With that in mind, I recently asked a bunch of people I know for their best salad recipes and am starting planning in earnest for the start of CSA season. If you haven’t signed up for your farmshare yet, now is the time. (Check out the sidebar for local options.)
Three Quick Salad Tips
Tip Number One: Fresh lemon. Sometimes a squirt of fresh lemon, with some lemon zest added, is all that is needed to enjoy a beautiful head of lettuce.
Tip Number Two: Consider investing in one of those bottles that shows you on the outside of the bottle how to make different dressings. I recently purchased one from Page Hardware in Guilford, a Kolder Salad Dressing Mixer. It’s a 13-ounce bottle that has instructions, right on the bottle, for eight classic salad dressing recipes including a traditional Caesar, French, Italian, Greek, a simple vinaigrette, a balsamic vinaigrette, a honey mustard, and an Asian dressing. You can mix it right up in the bottle and then store it in the fridge in the same bottle. It’s not only less expensive than pre-bottled dressing, you also skip all the stabilizers and other inevitable additives that come in bottled dressing.
Tip Number Three: Stock up on easy salad toppings. Nuts, dried fruits, and some excellent cheese from your local cheesemonger all work great. Those can be used with either the simple squirt of lemon, or with a variety of other dressings.
Roasting a bunch of potatoes (plain or sweet) and veggies at the beginning of the week, either in the oven or, as the season progresses, on the grill, is also a great way to prep for a series of great salads. Douse the potatoes and veggies (peppers of any color, onions of any kind, cabbage thickly sliced, mushrooms, eggplant, tomatoes, and asparagus all work well here), sprinkle with salt, and pepper, and your favorite herbs (I like herbes de Provence and Aleppo pepper), and roast or grill on high heat until caramelized.
Also, if you eat fish and are looking for something fast and good, skip the canned tuna and go right for the good stuff, Tuna Ventresca in Olive Oil from Tonnino, or another high quality tuna packed in olive oil. It’s pricey, so save it for a special treat, but it makes even the most mundane lettuce into a insta-meal. Be sure the tuna is certified by the Marine Stewardship Council, which means it is harvested in a way that is sustainable, traceable, and that it’s caught in the wild rather than farmed. Find out more about that here: www.msc.org/en-us.
Tips from Some Friends
Priscilla Martel of Chester says early spring often brings assertive, bitter greens like arugula and dandelion.
“Here is where we start combining arugula, lots of chopped chives, and the last of the winter citrus or fennel in a balsamic garlic dressing,” she says. “They are coming up here in Chester now. Bacon and bacon fat tame the bitterness of dandelion as do diced onion slow cooked in olive oil. Cubed roasted sweet potato makes a good addition to the dandelion along with toasted pumpkin seeds. Crisp red wine vinaigrette brings it together.”
She notes asparagus will soon be abundant as well, even locally grown. She cooks it, cuts it into two-inch lengths, and tosses it with butter lettuce with a lemon vinaigrette.
If you don’t have a farmshare, or yours hasn’t started yet, she recommends trying to find some lettuce from H20 Farm in Guilford, which grows butterhead and romaine in an automated hydroponic greenhouse. It also has a variety of great salad recipes on its website (www.h2o-farm.com/recipes) including lettuce roll ups, grilled romaine lettuce with a creamy lemon dressing, and salad skewers with bacon and blue cheese.
Martel says when it comes to the H20 lettuce, “I’m addicted and will serve it with asparagus and homemade mayonnaise with morel mushrooms.”
I feel the same way about a micro-mix from Leap Frog Farm in Guilford, which is being stocked at FoodWorks in Guilford. The mix includes pea shoots, tatsoi, kale, and napa cabbage microgreens.
Liz Egan, from Clinton, favors Swiss chard with butternut squash, and balsamic greens with cauliflower steaks (recipe below).
“My CSA got a workout last year,” she says.
Patrick J. Lynch, from North Haven, is a huge fan of a salad he gets at Zinc on Chapel Street in New Haven.
“Zinc has a terrific organic greens salad that is mixed greens—we use a lot of arugula—tossed with slivered and dark-caramelized onions, and a simple vinaigrette dressing,” he says. “Simple, simple, but great.”
We checked with Zinc and Chef Denise Appel, who created the recipe, was kind enough to share the recipe. (It, too, is below.)
For more salad recipes, go to zip06.com and search for the following headlines:
“A Perfect Dinner for a Steamy, Sultry Summer Night,” which features a guide to Salade Niçoise from Chester’s Laura Grimmer, who runs Perfect Pear.
“Vegan Salads from Amber Locke,” which is a recommendation from the Griswold Inn Store in Essex for a cookbook that includes more than 100 recipes for salads and dressings.
“Recipes from Everyday Dorie,” which includes a series of recipes from Everyday Dorie, a fabulous cookbook from Dorie Greenspan, who has a home in Westbrook. One of the recipes included here is her innovative Lettuce Soup, which calls for a whole head of romaine and a whole head of butter lettuce, parsley, mind, and lemon.
“The Grand Master of Cooking,” which talks about a wonderful cookbook from Madison’s Jacques Pepin, A Grandfather’s Lessons: In the Kitchen with Shorey. This article includes a description of the super easy Roast Chicken on Garlicky Salad (a rotisserie chicken served over Boston lettuce, served with a garnish of scallions, shallots, and garlic sautéed in extra-virgin olive oil).
“Here Comes the Sun,” which includes a guide from Cindy Golia from the North Haven Garden Club for herbs and flowers that go great in any salad.
Created by Chef Denise Appel
This salad calls for a white balsamic vinaigrette, caramelized onions, toasted pumpkin seeds, California dry jack cheese, and about 11 ounces of organic field greens. It makes four appetizer-portion salads.
White Balsamic Vinaigrette
½ cup white balsamic vinegar
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
(high quality oil for salads are a must)
Pinch of salt and pepper
Combine all ingredients in a shaker or jar.
Will keep up to 2 weeks.
3 onions, yellow or white: cut off stem and root, then cut onion in half and cut into thin slices
3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil: heat in large sauté pan
over medium heat
Sauté onions with a pinch of salt and pepper
Onions should cook slowly over medium to medium low heat. Keep stirring onions to evenly cook and slowly brown. Remove from heat and cool. Use about ⅓ of the cooked onions for this salad, more if you prefer. Leftover caramelized onions keep will in refrigerator for 7 to 10 days.
Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
1 cup pumpkin seeds
Toast at 325 degrees on sheet pan for 12-15 minutes until light brown; cool
Use up to ½ cup of pumpkin seeds for lots of crunch, less if you prefer.
Dry Monterey Jack Cheese
½ cup sliced (Zinc uses dry Monterey jack cheese from vellacheese.com.)
When ready to serve: Toss salad greens together in large bowl, add ⅓ -½ of the vinaigrette and a touch of salt and pepper, toss greens well, add caramelized onions and toasted seeds, toss again, and serve immediately.
Balsamic Greens with Cauliflower Steaks
Liz Egan, adapted from Clean Eating Magazine, October, 2018
Hands On Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
2 small heads cauliflower (choose heads with tight clusters)
2 tbsp olive oil
½ teaspoon Sea salt
Ground black pepper to taste
½ cup low sodium vegetable broth
½ cup raisins
1 small yellow onion
2 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 lb. mixed baby greens (such as bay kale, chard, and or/spinach)
2 tsp white balsamic vinegar
4 oz. full fat feta cheese, crumbled
¼ fresh dill
3 tbsp sliced unsalted almonds
1. Prepare cauliflower steaks: trim away large outer leaves from cauliflower and trim bottom stem end. With stem end facing up, cut straight through the middle of the core. Slice the cauliflower so that there are flat size “steaks.” Save florets that were cut off for another use.
2. In a large skillet on medium heat, heat 4 tsp oil. Arrange cauliflower steaks in skillet and season with ¼ tsp. salt and pepper. Sear until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Carefully turn over using a spatula and sear other side until golden brown about 3 minutes. Pour in broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook cauliflower, covered, until barely tender, about 5 minutes. Uncover and cook until all liquid has evaporated. Transfer cauliflower steaks to a plate.
3. In same skillet (no need to clean it out) on medium heat remaining 2 tsp oil. Add onion and sauté until tender and translucent about 5 minutes. Add raisins and garlic and sauté until garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute.
4. In batches, add greens and sauté until wilted. Season with remaining ¼ tsp. salt, additional black pepper, and vinegar. Nestle cauliflower steaks in greens and sprinkle with feta and cover until softened about 5 minutes. Top with dill and almonds.
Great variations: Cook chicken sausage first and set aside. Nestle sliced sausage with the cauliflower. Try crumbled goat cheese or crumbled blue cheese for a little snap. I chop leftovers the next night into a terrific frittata!
The 2019 edition of the Clinton Chamber Guide has arrived.
The annual guide to the CT River Valley has arrived.