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The Sad Salad vs The Happy Salad

September 2, 2011 1 comment

Perhaps its just a habit but I make a salad or slaw to accompany every sit down dinner we have at home. They don’t need to be complex, in fact lately most of my salads consist of only 3 Ingredients and a dressing, but they need to be fresh, crisp, and refreshing. Generally I try to concoct a salad that will complement the flavors of the other dishes I am making that evening. If we make grilled steak tacos, I might reach for avocados, roasted poblanos, pepitas, and a lime cilantro vinaigrette, for roasted chicken I might whip up a  home made ranch and serve it atop a fresh bed of butter lettuce, studded with tiny nuggets of celery and home made croutons.

The other night, when making a spicy chicken curry, I somewhat instinctively started to chop some cucumber and celery and a big head of lettuce and – blue cheese. Why blue cheese, I have really no idea, but the little nugget of leftover creamy blue was calling to me from its roost in my cheese drawer and I decided to go for it. I am glad I did because the salad that I ended up with was simply sublime and brought an additional herbaceous punch and pungent cheesy element to the spicy and garlicky curry on the plate.

This salad is so simple, and yet so amazingly delicious. Use the crispest, freshest, heads of lettuce you can find. Make sure these are unbruised and have crisp tightly packed leaves. Apart from being a great low calorie vegetable, lettuces contain a good wealth of vitamins and minerals. Some lettuces (especially iceberg) have been specifically bred to remove the bitterness from their leaves. I highly recommend choosing romaine, frisee, or butter lettuces for your salads at home. Not only do I feel that these are superior from a flavor standpoint but these are more nutritionally balanced their their iceberg relative. Romaine and looseleaf lettuce contain five to six times the Vitamin C and five to ten times the vitamin A of iceberg. Romaine and butterhead lettuce are good sources of folate.

I recommend a pungent and creamy blue for this recipe. I like to slice it into bite sized chunks and place it on a plate to come up to room temperature while I prep the other ingredients. As the cucumbers I bought at the farmers market had a distinctly bitter peel, I removed the rind before slicing them into the salad. Feel free to include some celery leaves in this salad as they will give a nice light herbaceous bite to the salad. Feel free to make adjustments to the herbs in the dressing. Those included are a guideline but use your instinct to guide you in creating a balance you like best. As always taste as you go, adding salt and freshly cracked pepper to balance the other ingredients.

Simple Blue Cheese and Lettuce Salad with Herb Vinaigrette

For the Salad:
1 Large Head of Lettuce, Variety of Your Choice, Washed and Torn into Bite Sized Pieces
2 Medium Cucumbers Sliced Into Rounds
2-3 Stalks Celery Cut into 1/2 Inch Pieces
About 2 oz Really Good Slightly Soft Blue Cheese Cut into Bite Sizes Chunks

For the Dressing:
1 Clove Garlic, Smashed
1 Shallot, Peeled
1/4 Cup Water
1/3 Cup Sherry Vinegar
2/3 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 TSP Honey
1/4 Cup Loosely Packed Tarragon
1 Cup Loosely Packed Cilantro
1 TBSP Thyme Leaves
1/3 Cup Loosely Packed Basil

Layer the salad ingredients in a large salad bowl and toss gently with your hands to mix.

Combine the Garlic, Shallot, Water, and Vinegar in a food processor and blitz till smooth. Add Honey and Olive Oil and mix until well combined. Add Herbs, a pinch of salt, and several grinds of pepper, mix until herbs are incorporated and appear in the dressing in small bits. Taste for balance and add salt and pepper as needed.

Drizzle dressing on the salad a little at a time and mix with your hands until leaves are just coated. Serve lightly dressed with additional dressing on the side.

When Nature Hands You Cucumbers – Make Garlic Pickles

It is entirely possible that I have, for most of my life, been blessed with a ready abundance, of fabulous fermented fare. And it is even more possible that I have taken this cornucopia of brewed, brined, and picked delicacies entirely for granted. Nashville, has, I’m afraid, a severe dearth of this amazing food group. Yes, Yazoo and Jackalope make some great brews, but the distribution of beers from outside of the state is practically the pits when compared to the Philly area. And indeed, there is good kimchi to be found in little ma and pa korean restaurants but with no H Mart for hours there is practically none to be found in grocery stores. And when it comes to pickles, don’t get me started, The Philly Burbs have such amazing Jewish Delis and Lancaster Dutch Farm stands that prime pickled fare can be found in great abundance and variety throughout the region.

And thus, my dear readers, I have no choice but to become the purveyor of my own pickled pantry. For starters, I needed to solve the most pressing pickled pickle and devise a recipe for the garlicky and salty deli pickles of my childhood. These that I have created come close to recreating that flavor memory and are excellent sandwiched between two slices each of bread and cheese and grilled as per my earlier recipe for Grilled Cheese with Ham and Pickles. I will say though, that if you have a particular sodium sensitivity, or are immensely fond of the savory sweet play of bread and butter pickles, perhaps these salty slices aren’t the most savvy selection for your summer sandwiches. But if you, like me, crave the crisp crunch of a super savory pickled cuke, you just might hit the jackpot with these jarred gems.

When making pickles, purchasing prime produce is of the utmost importance. Alliteration aside, I highly suggest using the classic pickling cuke, the Kirby, for this endeavor. Much much more so than standard slicing cucumbers, these little guys maintain a crisp composition and bring the prized crunch factor to the pickle party. Buy unwaxed cucumbers if at all possible, with a little bit of searching you will likely be able to locate some at a local farm stand. These pickles employ a fairly standard spice profile but please feel free to experiment. Some nice additions might include: dried chiles, mustard seed, parsley, celery seed, sugar, and/or turmeric. Feel free to experiment with whatever flavors you like best! In addition to grilled cheeses these guys make a great addition to egg salad and can be turned into a fabulous relish for hot dogs. But my favorite method of devouring these will always remain the same, straight from the jar for a crisp and cool summer treat.

Deli Style Refrigerator Pickles

1 Cup Boiling Water
1/3 Cup Kosher Salt
2 Lbs Kirby Pickles Sliced Into Rounds
1 Lg Onion Thinly Sliced
1 TSP Coriander Seeds
1 TSP Black Peppercorns
1 Lg Bunch Dill Roughly Chopped
4 Garlic Cloves Smashed

Locate a medium sized bowl, the bowl should be big enough that an appetizer plate can sit inside of the rim but not so big that there is a large gap between the rim of the bowl and he outer edge of the plate. Set the plate and bowl aside, you will need these later in the pickling process.

In a medium saucepan over the stove dissolve the salt in the water. Once it has fully dissolved remove from heat and add approximately 4 cups of ice cubes to cool.

Once the salt solution has cooled, place it in the bowl and add the remaining ingredients. Ensure that the cukes are submerged in the brine, if there is not enough liquid add additional cool water to cover. Place the plate on top of the cucumbers to keep them submerged and allow the mixture to sit at room temp for 2 hours.

After 2 hours taste the pickles, if they are picked enough for you place them in a jar and move them to the refrigerator. If you feel they need further pickling leave the pickles on the counter for an additional 1/2 hour to an hour before jarring and chilling.

Not that this should be any trouble but try to eat these within a week!

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