Archive for the ‘Salad’ Category

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Beans, glorious beans!

August 10, 2009

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I love, love, love green beans. Their snap. Their crunch. Their verdant, subtle sweetness. (The only form of green bean I can’t stand is, honestly, the canned variety. Such sadly abused beans make me sigh, not swallow.)

So when the husband concocted a salad that starred one of my favorite vegetables, I insisted that he make it again. And again. And again. This green bean salad elevates the slender green minxes to new heights. It features a tangy, sweet, light dressing that makes all the green bean’s best qualities stand out in relief. Think you’ve got some fresh, tender, delectable green beans from the grocery store? They’ll be even more mouthwatering when lightly dressed with this precocious concoction, and made lovely with a smattering of sweet, acidic grape tomatoes.

Doesn’t the humble green bean deserve some star treatment? (Especially after years of abuse at the hands of bean canners and cafeteria ladies?) I should say so.

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And now, the husband’s take…

This salad was really just an idea I whipped together. Now, it’s become a staple and a frequent demand from the wife. A couple of months ago we were visiting family, and I decided to throw together a barbecue as a quick way to feed a good number of people. I found some great green beans and wanted to serve them cold, but needed a dressing. A few minutes later I put this together, and was surprised to hear the very satisfied, “Mmmms…” and “Can I have this recipe?” requests that started coming my way.

Of course, I hadn’t a clue at first what “exactly” I had done. I had made it thinking I wanted a sorta-vinagrette for the salad… but nothing too tangy, watery, or sweet so that the beans and tomatoes were still the focus. Once again, it took insistence by the wife to have me sit down, think about it, write it down and then of course make it “bloggable.”

A few notes about the recipe. First, when I originally made it, I had yellow wax beans in as well. I would have loved to have put them in this version and in the photos; I think they add a great variety in presentation and texture. However — and I don’t know why because they seemed pretty ubiquitous growing up in the Midwest — I cannot seem to find them easily in Northern Virginia. My family in North Carolina says they don’t see them much either. (So, bean farmers, what’s the deal?) Anyway, I’d recommend them if you can get them. Just use equal parts green beans and yellow wax beans.

Second — and this is crucial — you want the beans to be “al dente.” This salad is all about crunch. Better to slightly undercook the beans than overcook them. Therefore, it’s important to pull them from the boiling water and shock them in the ice bath or under cold running water. If you lose that satisfying crunch, I’m not sure even a good dressing makes it worth the effort.

Third, the recipe below produces at least twice as much dressing as you need. I simply keep the rest handy for people to add extra themselves or for a quick version later (currently, I’ve a batch sitting in the fridge in an old Dijon mustard jar). But, with all that extra dressing, use it sparingly. When I overdressed it once, I really felt the green beans and the tomatoes became lifeless and worthless. So, use a careful hand when preparing.

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Green Bean Salad with Dijon Dressing
Ingredients:
2 lbs. green beans
1 cup grape tomatoes (quartered)

Dressing:
¼ cup dark brown sugar
¼ cup Dijon mustard
¼ cup sherry vinegar
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. fresh ground black pepper

Directions:
1. Bring to a boil a large pot of well-salted water (it should taste like the ocean).

2. Prepare an ice bath of equal parts ice and water.

3. Trim the ends off the green beans and then cook them in the boiling water for 2 minutes. Transfer to the ice bath. Once the green beans are cool, drain and allow them to air dry.

4. Whisk together the ingredients in the dressing and set aside. Note: The dressing should be just slightly salty. This allows the whole salad to be well dressed.

5. In a large bowl, toss together the beans, tomatoes and dressing. Move to a serving dish and enjoy. Note: In dressing the salad, I typically put very little on the beans, but most along the sides of the bowl and toss the beans to coat. This recipe likely makes enough dressing for twice the number of the beans, but I always make extra and it keeps very well.

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Thoughts on Baby Food or Pea & Mint Crostini?

June 6, 2008

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I think we can all agree that food resembling baby food is generally unappetizing. Take, for example, jarred mashed peas. Greenish gray, strained yet lumpy, smelling vegetal and yet not fresh… baby food peas are, well… gross.

That is why this recipe is such a conundrum.

Yes: The fresh, vibrant, and delicious mixture atop that golden, crunchy crostini is, in fact, mashed peas. But this is no baby food (although our baby did devour it).

It is a delightful romp through an English garden in spring. It is a refreshing taste of green with a hint of mint that draws your mouth into a smile. It is all other kinds of food haiku that I can’t quite put into words.

Those meddlesome peas turn out to be absolutely delicious when shelled and mashed fresh out of their pods. Then my husband enhances them even further by adding a kick of a mint and a hint of lemon. Next, he adds an amazing crunch by spreading them over a piece of golden french bread, drizzled with a little extra virgin olive oil. And finally, he make the whole thing dazzling by adding the peppery bite — and visual flair — of a watercress salad.

It’s true: I’ll never look at baby food the same way again.

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And now, the husband’s take…

I had the pleasure to be in Chicago a few weeks ago. The negative was that I was alone — no Jack and no wife. The positive was that I was in Chicago — and I was hungry. So, I had to eat. As a result, I had the good fortune to escape one afternoon to Avec in the West Loop.

I had some inspiring food while I was there. Avec’s food focuses on the Mediterranean regions of France, Spain and Italy. Most of the menu is designed to be shared communally, with small and big plates — all of it served in a hip little wood box of a room. Visually, it reminded me a lot of New York’s Momofoku, complete with its three-man kitchen serving at the bar.

Now, we don’t do restaurant reviews here… so the question is: Why am I going on about this place? Well, I like to give credit. This dish was inspired by my meal at Avec.

I wanted something simple and light to go with a heavy and spicy dish I’d ordered. The waiter insisted that I try Avec’s pea crostini. Now, I’m a new father. I’ve served my son a good amount of pea purée in recent months and I’ve had some exposure to mashed peas from a container. And let’s just say… I wish I was a better father and had spent more time preparing homemade vegetables for my son. So, I was hesitant to go along with the waiter’s suggestion.

But I’m glad I did.

The recipe here is a quick one. Once the water is boiling, this dish can be on the table in 15 minutes. You can even boil the peas in advance and refrigerate them for a couple days. Just don’t blend them before you’re ready; even with the lemon juice’s acidity, pureed peas will turn an unappetizing brown by the next morning.

The only slightly unusual ingredient here is ricotta salata. This cheese is made from the same curd of ricotta, but it is pressed and dried. It has a relatively neutral flavor, is shockingly white and has a texture similar to feta, but without the gamey quality of sheep or goat’s cheese. I can find ricotta salata at high-end grocers like Whole Foods or at independent cheese mongers. In the end, the cheese adds very little in flavor because the mint, lemon and peas dominate. But its shocking white was a great aesthetic choice, so I used it. I think it makes very little difference; so, substitute away!

Click here for recipe.

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Pea & Mint Crostini

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Ingredients:
1 cup shelled peas
2 radishes
1 bunch watercress
1 lemon (zest & juice)
5 medium leaves of mint
Ricotta salata
Baguette
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt
Pepper

Directions:
1. Salt water until it tastes of sea water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Add the peas and cook for 6 minutes. The peas should be soft in the mouth — overcooking is not a negative. Strain the peas and shock in an ice bath to stop cooking.

2. Slice the bread into thin discs, brush lightly with olive oil, lightly salt, and toast.

3. Combine the lemon juice, zest, peas and mint and then blitz with stick blender. The texture should be paste-like, similar to baby food. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

4. Spread the puree on toast, then garnish with leaves of watercress, slices of radish and grated ricotta salata.

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It’s paradise, mon: Seared scallops with meyer lemon vinaigrette

January 29, 2007

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Afraid of seafood, perhaps? Leery of a fishy smell and a strange, spongy texture? Fear not, friends. This scallop dish is here to seduce you.

Just as The Perfect Storm might have turned you off from seafaring, seared scallops with meyer lemon vinaigrette is the postcard from the Caribbean that will lure you back. It’s delicate and sweet. It tastes fresh and green and citrus-y… a surprising breath of spring in the midst of 20 degree weather here. Ahhh.

Tempting, right? Can’t you just picture curling up your toes in that white sand as warm blue waters lap at your feet? Don’t you just want to fork that scallop in?

This dish is successful for its alluring simplicity: It’s beautiful, and there isn’t much to it. A nest of fresh greens, sprinkled lightly with a lemony, zesty vinaigrette. One or two simply seared scallops, sweet and tender — perfectly seasoned — resting on top. There aren’t flavors at war or strong tastes to assault your mouth… it all tastes natural, fresh and delicious.

Come on now. Open wide. I’ll strike up the calypso band.

Click here to download the recipe for Seared Scallops w/ Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette.

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It’s fennel slaw-tastic…

December 5, 2006

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Even the fiercest of us carnivores have to get our roughage in. And while I’m not a huge salad fan, I can be persuaded to chow down on some tossed veg, if the right ingredients are in the offing.

Enter the husband’s fennel slaw salad.

Pecans, carrots and fennel. An unexpected salad trinity perhaps, but quite tasty indeed. The fennel provides a delicious, crunchy bite, the carrots lend their sweetness, and the pecans add their nutty richness. Bathed in a dressing that contains the perfect mix of spicy, salty and sweet, it’s a refreshing entry point into any meal.

So, fellow meat-eaters, pick up your fork and get your veg on.

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A salad to sink your teeth into…

September 15, 2006

Lobster salad

I have a confession to make: I am not a rabbit.

Maybe that’s not clear. Let me try again… I mean to say, I am not a salad person. That’s right. A big old pile of raw leaves, even with some carrots and cucumbers thrown in, doesn’t make me want to chow down. I’ll pause to let your recover from your shock.

But I can be tricked into eating salads if the right temptations are piled on top of said raw greens.

Lobster, for example. (Also, fried chicken, assorted meats, olives, beans, nuts, cheese of any sort, and delicious dressing.)

I know that I should eat more salads, of course — and probably not put so much dressing and cheese on top of them. Apparently, my husband agrees… because he has tricked me into eating a very healthy salad without cheese OR bacon.

His lobster salad is delicious, delicate and fresh — and I devoured it. The sweet, fresh taste of lobster is paired perfectly with a zesty lime viniagrette. And the lobster meat, while luxurious and flavorful, is light enough that it makes for a substantial starter or lunch, but doesn’t spoil a meal.

So, go ahead, fellow non-rabbits. Eat this salad. It’s good. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Tater tot salad battle!

September 11, 2006

Tater tot saladHusband’s tater-tot salad (above) squares off against wife’s (below).

Tater tot salad

Just to throw off any regular readers we might have… my husband is going to start off the commentary on this post (so, no, I’m not referring to myself in the third person):

My wife and I went to the wedding of a very dear friend not long ago. On the day we were returning home, we were sitting in a restaurant discussing food with our friends. This was a barbeque joint, so the topic was not haute cuisine or even the fancy places we had gone recently for my birthday. Instead, the discussion settled on my wife’s secret obsession — tater tots. (Wife: It’s not a secret. I’ll shout my love for tater tots from the hills, thank you very much.)

I say obsession because it’s not an unusual occurrence over the years for my wife to turn to me and say, “You know… I could really go for some tater tots right now.” I like them, but I could say that until this project, I had never bought them in my entire life. So most of her requests were met with me rolling my eyes.

Therefore, when the discussion of tater tots reached a glowing stage at the restaurant, I was rather amused. I can’t remember who said it first, but the words “someone should invent tater tot salad….” were uttered. My wife and I looked at each other and agreed. We would heed that call.

The story now turns a corner. My wife decided to change it up: “I” won’t invent the tater tot salad, “she” won’t invent tater tot salad, and “we” won’t invent tater tot salad. No, we would enter into an Iron Chef style death match! We were quickly off honing our thoughts and ideas.

The results are hers to describe, but let’s just say that her tater tot salad was awesome. If she says anything otherwise, she’s being overly modest. Also, these recipes are dedicated to our good friends Toby, Andrea and Mark for their truly inspiring idea.

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