I'm here to talk about salad. If that's not your thing, I still hope you'll stick around. This is a salad to get to know, with an exceedingly useful dressing that I'm keeping on speed dial. 

To those of you for whom, like me, salad is entirely your thing — hey, good to see you. 

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This is a pretty basic salad. Its bulk is kale, either curly shreds of the big stuff or the petal-like leaves of the baby kind. Up to you. The rest gets made up of spindly, twisty sprouts, which interrupt the density of the kale, and enough apple keep things juicily crisp, because, let's be honest, while kale salads offer a jaw-tiring chew, the leaves lack a proper, snappy crunch. A scatter of nuts, and, all that's left is the dressing.

If you don't mind me saying, I think the dressing is terrific. Fist-bump, high-five, secret handshake terrific. It is made with miso and tahini, and the two meld in this gorgeous way; the softness of the miso lightening the tahini's clay-like texture until it relaxes. The orange juice lends a perked sweetness, floral and fragrant, and the garlic grounds everything to its background buzz. The rest of the suggested ingredients — rice wine vinegar, honey, a few drops of oil — are there to finesse the dressing into its final harmony, into a concoction with surprising depth and interest. You know what it's like when you wear a perfectly-tailored coat with an old pair of jeans? The dressing in here works something like that. It's not flashy, but it'll turn heads. 

I double dog dare you not to lick the bowl.

tahinimisodressing7S

Last night I realized I smelled like dirt. And sunscreen. And grass, right here at my elbow, where there was a stain from leaning into the lawn. After dinner outside, a dinner that included this salad, William and I had been trying to keep track of a bird that was hopping from branch to branch in the trees above us. We kept losing it in the sun. Benjamin wanted to see what we were looking at. I stretched back onto one arm so he could rest his cheek close to my shoulder and follow the other, which I extended to point.

It was a good day.

 

SEEDY, NUTTY KALE AND APPLE SALAD + MISO TAHINI DRESSING

The recipe for the dressing makes more than needed for one batch of kale salad. I store the remainder in the fridge, and use it up fairly quickly; as employed here, or alongside roasted root vegetables, or spooned over a halved avocado. 

Kale is a sturdy green, so can stand up to both an assertive dressing and a thorough leaf massage. Don't hold back on either. 

FOR THE DRESSING, makes around 1 cup

  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/3 cup white (shiro) miso
  • 1/3 cup tahini, stirred
  • Juice from a largeish orange
  • Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
  • Runny honey, fresh lemon juice or rice wine vinegar, and water, as required
  • Toasted sesame oil or olive oil, optional

FOR THE SALAD, enough for 2 to 4

  • Approximately 6 cups baby kale, as above, or the same of Tuscan kale, as below
  • 3 tablespoons mixed raw nuts and seeds, I used black and white sesame, shelled sunflower seeds and flaked almonds
  • decent-sized crisp, sweet apple 
  • 3/4 cup assorted sprouts 

 

METHOD

Sort the dressing first. In a mortar and pestle, pound the garlic into a paste. Stir in the miso and tahini, then most of the juice from the orange. Season with salt and pepper, then taste. Here's where you'll have to decide how best to proceed; fiddle with the dressing until there is a balance of fat and acid. You'll want to smack your lips when it's right. You should be able to taste the orange — give it a boost if necessary with more orange juice, and maybe a scant spoon of honey. If the dressing tastes flat, add lemon juice or rice wine vinegar. The dressing should be the consistency of pouring cream; stir in some water, or a few drops of either of the oils, until it runs easily off the spoon. 

To assemble the salad, grab a large bowl. Tear the kale into bite sized pieces, and add to the bowl along with a few tablespoons of the dressing. Using your hands, squish and bruise the kale, working the dressing into the leaves. Once completely coated, toss the kale lightly to fluff it up. Set aside. 

If desired, toast the seeds and nuts in a dry skillet over medium heat. Cool. 

Cut the apple into eights. Remove the core from the wedges, then slice thinly. Add to the bowl of kale, along with the sprouts, half the seeds, and another drizzle of dressing. Again with your hands or a pair of tongs, toss the salad with the dressing. Check for seasoning and serve, topped with the reserved seeds and nuts, and extra dressing at the table.

 

Other options for the dressing and salad :

  • Grated ginger
  • Lime juice, citrus zests
  • Walnut or avocado oil
  • Fresh avocado
  • Walnuts or pecans
  • Dried cranberries or cherries
  • Hemp hearts
  • Fried shallot or thinly sliced sweet onion
  • Cooked lentils, chickpeas, chickpeas, squash, grilled corn
  • Nutritional yeast or some nice, big shavings of a hard cheese like Parmesan, or perhaps small chunks of Stilton

     

    P.S. Emma of My Darling Lemon Thyme recently asked me to participate in an interview, and I'd like to thank her for that. 

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    I meant to include an announcement in the title, and then promptly forgot the intention — sorry! You see, there's a giveaway going on. Details are at the bottom of the post, after the recipe.

    Untitled

    This is totally happening.

    Here we have that unapologetic specimen of salad, the iceberg wedge. Actually, it's burly enough to warrant emphasis — The Iceberg Wedge. Yes, that's better.

    I was out with a friend I don't see as often as I'd like, the sort of friend who orders you a French 75 in a bar that's all dark wood and leather and brass, and whose taste you'd trust implicitly. Over the wandering path of our catching up, one of us mentioned iceberg lettuce; imagine my delighted suprise when he boldly declared his love for the stuff, a declaration I immediately cosigned. Besides maybe a backyard burger, I think we agreed that a wedge salad, dressed with bacon and blue cheese and more than a dash of hot sauce, is iceberg's highest praise.

    I've got real hopes some of you agree.

    Iceberg salads are often maligned, the badum-bum-cha punch line to jokes about terrible cooking. And there's surely fair reason for that, as sure as there's redeeming qualities to The Iceberg Wedge. It isn't refined, it isn't one of those springy salads that gets us ready for summer days. It is watery refreshing, it's old school gung-ho — it is crunch, and fat, and cool, and nose-clearing heat, all set right up to high on the sensory scale. It isn't wimpy, wan or delicate. It's a corker, a real wise guy. It's memorable. 

    As you might recall, I held off on bringing up this recipe earlier. I wanted to get the dressing measurements locked in before sending you on your way. There's a trouble in that though; as silly as it sounds, blue cheese dressing is an art more than a science. There are variables to consider and balance, ones that can't be be pinned down to hard and fast rules: the pungency and the moisture of the cheese, the astringency of the particular lemon that's juiced, the consistency of the sour cream. I've abandoned hope of giving exacting quantities, offering instead guidelines to steer you in the right direction. 

    If you don't mind, I have a note on the hot sauce to choose. I have a weakness for cayenne-based sauces with blue cheese, specifically Franks Red Hot Sauce, the hot sauce for Buffalo chicken wings — a dish that should always be served with celery and carrot sticks and blue cheese dressing. And no, I don't dip my wings in the dressing. That's just me. But the vinegary sting, that lip prickling heat from the hot sauce after a bite of chicken is so, so great with celery dipped in dressing for a chaser. Here, the iceberg lettuce stands in for the celery and the bacon for the deep fried wings, but the same logic applies. 

    And while we're on the topic of hot sauce, — my apologies but I have some heart-held feelings when it comes to the iceberg, scratch that, The Iceberg Wedge — I don't mix the hot sauce into the dressing. I'm not entirely fond of the pinkish shade it dyes everything, but there's also a taste preference; keeping it instead in drips and drabs across the salad perforates the dressing's richness. Again, that's just me. 

    Despite my peculiarities of opinion, there's nothing difficult about an iceberg salad. Not much happens in the kitchen, but everything happens on the plate. 

    Another point scored for The Iceberg Wedge.

    Untitled

    THE ICEBERG WEDGE

    You can use the dressing right away but I think it's even nicer after a day in the fridge, which gives the flavours the chance to fully develop. If you choose to wait, you may need to stir in a few drops of water to thin the dressing before use; it thickens quite a lot as it sits. 

    But oh, that thickened dressing is especially great on top of one of those backyard burgers. Leave it as is, straight from the fridge, and go to town.

    For the blue cheese dressing (makes about 2 cups)

    • 3/4 cup mayonnaise
    • 1/4 cup sour cream
    • 1/4 cup well-shaken buttermilk
    • 4 ounces blue cheese, crumbled
    • 1 tablespoon minced chives
    • Juice from half a lemon
    • Freshly ground black pepper

    For the salad

    • 1 medium sized head of iceberg lettuce
    • 1 recipe blue cheese dressing
    • 5 slices thick-cut bacon, chopped then fried until crisp
    • Minced chives, freshly-cracked black pepper, and hot sauce to serve

    Make the dressing. In a medium bowl, combine the mayonnaise, sour cream and 3 tablespoons of the buttermilk. Gently fold in the blue cheese and chives along with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice. Season with freshly-ground black pepper. Take a taste. If more freshness is needed, stir in a bit more lemon juice. If it needs thinning, add some buttermilk. Keep tasting and tweaking until the dressing suits your taste. Set aside, or if making ahead, cover and refrigerate until use. 

    To make the salad, discard any saddish-looking outside leaves from the lettuce. Cutting through the core, halve the head lengthways. Then cut each half into half the same way, so you end up with quarters, each with bit of core attached. Place the wedges on individual plates or on a platter, family style. Pour some of the dressing over the wedges, then top with the bacon. Garnish with minced chives, a cracking of black pepper, and as much hot sauce as you dare, passing the remaining dressing alongside. 

    Best eaten immediately, serving 4.

    Notes:

    • If you can time things such that the bacon is still warm, with some of its fat still sizzling when it's scattered on the salad, that's the way to go.
    • Green garlic can be used instead of, or in addition to, the chives.

    *******

    I truly appreciate the response to my work in UPPERCASE and all the recent kindness regarding my nominations over at Saveur. And so in thanks, I got together with Janine to offer two copies of UPPERCASE magazine's latest issue for a giveaway! The contest is open to anyone; simply leave a comment here if you'd like to be considered. (Please provide a way to contact you - through your own website or email address. If concerned about privacy on the latter, the information is only visible to me when entered in the contact email field of the comment form. It will not be made public.)

    Entries will be accepted until at 11:59 p.m. on Friday, April 20, 2012.

    Hooray and best of luck!

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    january crunch

    It's the new year. We're one week in and I'm still getting my footing. The bang of fireworks at midnight seven days ago acted as my starter's pistol - the get-go for the clipping pace the days have taken. 

    I don't know if I can still wish you a happy year, there must be an expiry date on the phrase, just as I don't know if I should be this bouncy over a January salad.

    But I am. Smitten with radishes and celery and apple. And I do wish you grand times ahead.

    What started me on salads was when we slipped away to Montreal way back in November - even though their first snow had fallen and our cheeks were rusty with the bite of a sharp wind, leafy, green and perky salads were often the unexpected boon at mealtimes. Some peppery, some mild, with shaved fennel and Grana Padano, or a humble jumble of tiny greens in a film of dressing with pickled shallot. In the morning, served with our eggs, there were last September's tomatoes dried and preserved in oil.

    The last night was one where the sidewalks were slick with ice and I (firmly) held a gentlemanly arm to maintain my footing. Finally tucked into the warm restaurant, I was playing that game where you scout the menu by taking inventory of the plates of others when I saw a salad -  a tangle of mixed cabbages and carrot, nothing more than a coleslaw really - and it was, somehow, exactly what I wanted. 

    It made sense, really, that in the winter we need some crunch to enliven both our palate and spirits. It is no news that I am a fan of comfort food; braises and slow roasts are often my favourite meals. Against those rich, unctuous gravies and stews a salad brings all that the dish is not - the piquancy of vinegar and punch of freshness resets the taste buds and brightens the meal through contrast. Each becomes essential in the enjoyment of the other.

    And while we might not think of it, cold winters, those bitterly frosty days, are dry. Skin is chapped, lips are chapped, hair is flyaway and frizzy. I find myself, a person not usually one to keep a carafe by the bed, stumbling awkwardly and squintingly into the kitchen to gulp down glasses of water in the morning. A salad gives a meal an aspect of watery crunch, which is to say it refreshes without the stumbling and the stubbed toes.

    The salad we have here is a more recent entry into our canon, inspired by the collected lessons of our trip. I'll offer it up in terms as one should offer to a friend, without quantities or much by way of specification. The salad is best because of its combination. There is a balance of the different sorts of crispness between the supple celery and the assertive radish; the apple falls between the two.

    My only true instruction is to slice everything, save the parsley of course, as thinly as you can muster. Shaved wafer thin is where I'd aim, as the textures and flavours seem at their best as such, with it all coming off as ravishingly addicting. Wet, but not sodden, and that sounds funny I know. 

    With baguette and butter it makes for an ideal lunch, only gaining in appeal when eaten indoors, at the table, by the window, with a snowy landscape on the other side.

    IMG_03332

    RADISH, CELERY AND APPLE SALAD

    Ingredients

    • A bunch of radishes, sliced thin
    • An apple, something crisp and sweet, sliced thin
    • A stalk of celery, sliced thin
    • A generous handful of flat-leafed parsley, stems removed
    • Juice from half a lemon
    • Mild honey
    • Extra virgin olive oil
    • Sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper

    METHOD

    In a medium bowl, toss together the radishes, apple, celery and parsley. Squeeze over a bit of lemon juice, a fine drizzle of honey, and a larger splash of olive oil. Toss gently, so that everything is well coated, then add a sprinkle of sea salt and a good grind of pepper. Toss again and taste for seasoning. 

    Serves 2, I'd say.

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    A few days ago, early last Saturday morning to be precise, Sean and I had a complete breakdown in communication.

    We were at the Farmer's Market, me with one perched on my hip and another clasping my hand, and Sean across the way. It was a busy morning, so while our boys snacked on their standard sample from the nearby bakery, Sean waded into the current of people to gather our purchases.

    Usually, our over-and-through-the-crowd brand of semaphore works a treat. This time, not so much. With all the hustle and bustle, our signals got crossed and the quantities of our request was lost in translation. Long story short, we ended up with a surfeit of corn. Double the intended amount, to be exact.

    Not a terrible mistake, by any means, as the corn in question was fresh, local stuff, with neat rows of bicoloured kernels nestled snugly under tender green husks. Not terrible in the least.

    A first impulse would be to tear back that blanket of green and roast the Dickens out of those ears atop a charcoal grill. Blistered black and concentrated sweet, I would gleefully dig in to the barbecued beauties. Or steamed tender-crisp, with a smear of sweet butter and scattering of crunchy flakes of salt - there were days of possibilities for our plenty.

    The trouble was, more than a few of those possibilities included the application of heat. And did I mention to you that Summer huffed and puffed our way last week? With sweaty palms and hot breath, the season (finally) truly settled in on the 15th of August. And, no doubt about it, Summer is making up for lost time.

    As I write this, it is 40°C with the humidex (104°F). While I am not all that bothered by the temperatures, by far preferring hot over cold, my boys are wilting more than a little bit. The heat has kept their mops eternally mussed, their ruddy cheeks shine with a thin sheen of perspiration and their kisses have turned salty.

    You can understand then, that I am not in the least inclined to crank up the oven and overheat our happy home or add any fire to our already-sultry backyard.

    As luck would have it, a little while prior to our misunderstanding at the market*, I had enjoyed this salad from Anna Olson. Served at her shop, it was subtle and sweet, but my version alters hers ever so slightly; here, there is oomph to be had.

    Stripped from the cob, plump gold and ivory nuggets glisten with a slick of olive oil in a pan for nothing but the shortest of sojourns, then it's a tumble with an edible confetti of shallots, chili, green onion and herbs. The blueberries are next, an addition that brings musky depth and even more mouth-quenching moisture. Squeeze on some lime, crumble over brackish nuggets of fresh cheese, and off it all goes to chill.

    In the intervening minutes between mix and serve is when everything happens. The corn turns sweeter, it's flavour amplified by the citrus and complimented by berries that shimmer onyx-bright. Fresh onion contrasts mellowed, cooked tones, the chilies release gentle heat into it all.

    May all misunderstandings result in such dividends.

    * It might just be the temperature finally getting to me, but doesn't The Misunderstanding at the Market sound like the title to an Agatha Christie mystery? Or at least a Harlequin romance novel?

    BLUEBERRY CORN SALAD

    Adapted from a recipe by Anna Olson. Queso fresco is a fresh Mexican cheese that has a mild, creamy taste.

    INGREDIENTS

    • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus additional for drizzling (optional)
    • 3 cups fresh corn kernels (about 4 ears)
    • 1 large shallot, minced
    • 1/2 cup chopped green onion
    • 2 red chilies, finely minced, seeded if desired
    • 1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries
    • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
    • 2 tablespoons lime juice
    • 1/2 cup crumbled feta or queso fresco
    • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

    METHOD

    In a large sauté pan over medium high heat, add the olive oil, then the corn. Sauté for about 2 minutes, until the corn begins to brighten in colour. Add the shallot and cook for 1 minute more, stirring often. Remove pan from the heat, stir in the green onion and red chilies. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Allow the vegetables to cool to room temperature.

    In a large bowl, combine the corn mixture with the blueberries and cilantro tossing gently to combine. Pour over the lime juice, along with an extra glug of olive oil if desired. Stir again, then gently fold in the feta or queso fresco. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, checking for seasoning before serving.

    Serves 4.

    It hailed yesterday.

    I’m sure this might not seem odd to some of you — those who live in colder climes, those who seek out such weather, or those who live on top of a really tall, and perpetually snow capped, mountain. But to me, in Southern Ontario, where daffodils are proudly lifting their golden heads and blossoms are blooming, hail was not what I expected on the second day of May.

    I should probably explain something. I don’t like cold. Yes, I know, Canada. I have no problem with winter, per se; I love having my hands wrapped around a mug of hot chocolate, I cannot get enough of the smell of evergreen and I wish I could capture the magic of the world under a blanket of snow. Furthermore, let me tell you, I am nothing short of adorable in a snappy parka and mitts combo. But, I hate the state of being cold.

    Yesterday was a crisp and gorgeous day, with blue skies and that amazing smell of damp soil, all herbaceous and green. It was like the landscape was about to burst. But instead, the skies did. Not a little hail, but a veritable avalanche of hail (I may be exaggerating a bit). Either way, it was pinging off sidewalks, pinging off of windows and pinging off my not-at-all-suitable-for-this-sort-of-freak-weather spring jacket.

    By the time I got home, my hair was matted and wet, my teeth were chattering and I was not amused in the least. And, I was cold. After some general pouting about the unfairness of it all, I found solace at the bottom of a bowl of miso soup and some green tea. The world started to slowly become right again.

    Today has brought lower than seasonal temperatures, overcast skies and a 40% chance of rain. And yet, I’m somehow rejuvenated. The daffodils are still outside my window, market stalls are starting to fill with local produce, and spring doesn’t seem too far away. There must have been something magical in that miso. I’m completely prepared to wait.

    But that won’t stop me from conjuring the season with food.

    This salad simply tastes like spring. With bright and clear flavours, you can’t help but be happy when you eat it. Ever since delectableposts on the topic of asparagus started popping up with the crocuses, I have been nothing short of obsessed with roasting it. This recipe makes use of leftovers from a staple meal in our house: roasted potatoes, salmon and asparagus, with variations on aioli. I have now taken to purposely making too much salmon and asparagus, just to guarantee tomorrow’s lunch.

    SPRING SALMON SALAD WITH ROASTED ASPARAGUS

    My own creation, but inspired by the chickpea salad from Bistro by Laura Washburn

    FOR THE SALAD

    All quantities are simply guidelines — I usually make this salad with whatever I have on hand

    • 3/4 cup diced zucchini
    • 3/4 cup diced cucumber
    • 1/2 cup diced roasted red pepper
    • 1/2 cup diced roasted yellow pepper
    • 1/3 cup julienned sundried tomatoes
    • 1 tablespoon capers, chopped roughly (left whole if small)
    • Handful of snow peas, blanched and julienned
    • 1/2 cup cilantro leaves, whole (simply picked from stems)
    • 1/2 cup parsely leaves, whole (simply picked from stems)
    • 5 roasted asparagus spears, cut into ½ inch lengths, approximately 1/2 cup
    • 8 ounces roasted salmon filet

    FOR THE VINAIGRETTE

    • 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar or lemon juice
    • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
    • Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
    • 1 small shallot, minced
    • Zest from 1/2 a lemon
    • 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

    METHOD

    Combine all salad ingredients, except salmon, in bowl.

    In a separate bowl, whisk together rice wine vinegar, mustard, salt, pepper, shallot and lemon zest. Drizzle in oil, whisking constantly.

    Pour as much vinaigrette as you’d like over the salad, tossing to coat.

    Flake the salmon filet, add to salad and gently combine. If you toss too enthusiastically the salmon will continue to flake — I like to add the salmon last, so that I can preserve larger pieces.

    Variations

    • Omit capers and salmon from above recipe. Add one can of chickpeas and a 1/2 cup of crumbled feta to the salad instead. For the vinaigrette, replace the rice wine vinegar with red wine vinegar, and add 1 teaspoon minced garlic, 1/2 teaspoon oregano and a 1/3 teaspoon of ground cumin.

    • Omit capers and sundried tomatoes from above recipe. For the herbs use only cilantro and add in one finely sliced red chili. Replace the vinaigrette with one made with 2 tablespoons lime juice, 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, a few drops of toasted sesame oil, 2 teaspoons fish sauce, 2 teaspoons hoisin sauce and 2 teaspoons Chinese chili-garlic sauce. Just before serving, sprinkle a tablespoon of toasted sesame seeds over entire salad.

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