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.
This post wraps up my three post series on a recent dinner party. As many of you will have already surmised from the post title this meal did not culminate in some amazing confectionary creation – rather, in the spirt of early summer cooking, and in an effort to keep the house cool and the oven off, this meal ended in a trip to the freezer for some cool and refreshing store bought popsicles. This beautiful thing about this dish is that it takes advantage of the sweetness of peak season lettuces and the heat from an already lit grill to create a sumptuous twist on a classic caesar salad that is simultaneously fit for a fancy feast and simple to prepare.
If you are looking to follow my “path to party time success,” you can make this dressing several hours ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator until approximately 30 mins before dinner time when the dressing should be removed to allow it time to warm a bit before serving. I use anchovy fillets for this recipe but feel free to replace the fuzzy fish with a TSP or so of anchovy paste. The recipe calls for parmesan in two formats – you will need two to three TBSP of freshly grated cheese in the dressing itself as well as a healthy dose of broadly cut shavings to sprinkle on top of the salad just before serving.
I generally make the shavings ahead of time as well, I recommend using a flat vegetable peeler (the type you would use to peel potatoes – this is sometimes called a speed peeler) to shave wide strips of nutty parmesan from the block. You can place these in a small bowl In the fridge until you need them (keep these guys cool as the thin strips will melt slightly and stick together in a big blob if left in the heat.) You will see that the recipe calls for a coddled egg yolk, this may sound fancy but it is a very simple procedure. Simply bring a small pot of water to a boil, plop your egg in, turn the heat down to a slow boil and cook for 60 to 90 seconds before removing with a slotted spoon. Once the egg has cooled slightly carefully separate the yolk from the white (you can discard the white) and place the yolk in a bowl until needed.
The lettuces themselves should be grilled over fairly high heat. I generally select romaine hearts for this salad and cut them into quarters, leaving the bottoms in tact, so that they hold together well throughout the grilling process. As you brush the lettuces with olive oil and salt and pepper before grilling be careful not to go overboard with salt when making the dressing. While we’re taking about the dressing I think it’s important to note that this one has a tendency to come out on the thick side and packs a punch of strongly flavored ingredients – I like to serve the salad at least semi-dressed but it’s a good idea to go easy when drizzling the dressing over the lettuces. I generally serve the leftover dressing on the side along with some extra shavings of parmesan.
Grilled Caesar Salad
1 Large Egg Coddled – Yolk Separated (Discard White)
1 TSP Worcestershire
3 TBSP Fresh Lemon Juice
1 Clove of Garlic
3 High Quality Anchovies
1 TSP Dijon Mustard
1/3 Cup Olive Oil
1/3 Cup Parmesan, Grated
2 Medium Heads of Romaine Cut In Quarters Lengthwise, Base Intact
About 20 Large Shavings of Parmesan for Topping
Salt and Pepper
Start by coddling your egg in boiling water for 60-90 seconds. Separate out the yolk from the white, discarding the white, and set the yolk aside.
Combine garlic, Worcestershire, lemon juice, anchovy and dijon in a small food processor and blend until smooth. Toss in parmesan and puree briefly. Add oil in a slow stream until emulsified. Add egg to mixture and pulse to combine, puree until smooth and add a good whack of freshly cracked pepper. Taste dressing for balance and adjust as needed.
Lightly brush cut sides of romaine with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and grill over high heat until lightly singed (about 45-60 seconds per side.)
Arrange romaine on a serving platter, drizzle with a bit of caesar salad dressing and sprinkle parmesan shavings on top. Serve with extra dressing and shavings on the side.