Salads

A FRENCH SALAD

My friend John DeLancie, better known as “Q” on Star Trek, has a French Mother. So he must know about salads, right. And of course, he serves them after the main course. A mound of fresh and barely torn lettuce leaves (butter lettuce or Boston bibb) arrive in a big wooden bowl. They have been sprinkled lightly with some good olive oil and a great vinegar plus salt and pepper.

What makes this course so special, is that it is accompanied by crusty baguettes and a selection of wonderful cheeses. Plus another bottle of wine. Very French, he insists!

MY VINEGRETTE

Everybody has one. And once you have made it a couple of times, you don’t have to measure anything, and the recipe can vary every time depending on what ingredients are available. I also like to make it in the salad bowl and add the salad later (which I have prepared and kept chilled in the refrigerator.)

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/4 cup vinegar (get a fancy Balsamic if you want, but I also love good old apple cider vinegar)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil (or a combination of vegetable and olive oil)
  • 2 tsps. mustard (I’m talking a good French one here, not the hot dog stuff)
  • 2 cloves of garlic pushed through a garlic press. (Or you can toss everything into a blender and whizz away till your hearts content) I usually add more garlic, but then I personally have never experienced “too much garlic!”
  • Salt and Pepper (do I have to mention this?)
  • 1 tsp. fresh or even 1/2 tsp. dried Tarragon. But you can experiment with whatever herb you have in the garden or at hand. But if you are using it in some other part of the menu don’t include it in the salad. “Too much of a good thing.”
  • A dash of Tabasco gives the dressing some zip.

 

PROCEDURE

Mix together. (Duh?)

A NOTE ON SALADS

A salad is a light, mouth-refreshing event.

My idea of a horrible salad is great wedges of iceberg lettuce with hunks of tomato and carrots, bottled dressing on the side, served in a bowl so tiny you can’t toss it without getting stuff all over the table.

If you can’t live without tomatoes in your salad: spoon out the seeds and the watery insides leaving the outer edges which can be sliced thinly.

Wash and dry the lettuce leaves, (a spinner is a good purchase)

Make the lettuce pieces bite-sized so the salad doesn’t have to be cut with a knife.

Carrots slices are too crunchy and are best shaved in grater.

Sliced green onions, sliced radishes, strips of red or green pepper, even snow peas or fresh kernels of corn can be colourful and charming additions.

Fruit such as apple slices marinated in lemon juice, or orange sections, or papaya & mango slices, and of course avocado are interesting as well.

Shaved fresh Parmesan cheese is wonderful served on top. (not with the fruit additions)

Keep it simple!

MESCULUN IN CRANBERRY VINEGRETTE

The tartness of the cranberries with the sweetness of the orange juice and the crunch of the nuts and the flavour of the blue cheese makes this a salad to remember. So delicious and rich, it could be served first, almost as an appetizer, with a crunchy baguette to soak up the vinegrette. This can all be prepared well ahead of time and assembled at the last moment.

INGREDIENTS (FOR FOUR):

  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Mesculun (or mixed salad greens washed and torn into bite size pieces. And don’t under any circumstances use iceberg lettuce which should be banned from the salad department forever. It is tasteless and can bung up your digestive track!) enough for four.
  • 1/4 cup toasted pecans or walnuts or pinenuts
  • 1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese.

 

PROCEDURE:

Vinegrette: Simmer the dried cranberries in the orange juice for 1/2 hour, until berries are soft and most of juice has evaporated. Then add the oil and vinegar, then salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
Just before serving. Toss the mesulun with the vinegrette and sprinkle with nuts and blue cheese.

CURRIED CHICKEN SALAD

Usually this summer favourite is served as a big gooey lump of mayonnaise. I wanted to create something lighter and fresher, which still had all the flavor of the classic. It is best made ahead and assembled at the last minute. I serve it with a tasty, warm onion bun accompanied by avegetable dip instead of butter. A cool Alsacian wine or Sauvignon Blanc compliments the fruit.

INGREDIENTS (FOR 4)

  • 4 Deboned chicken breasts. (or buy one rotisserie chicken)
  • 1 small basket of grape tomatoes (smaller than cherry tomatoes)
  • 1 cup of seedless grapes
  • 3 celery stalks
  • 1 avocado
  • 1 yellow (or red or green) pepper
  • 1 bunch of scallions
  • 1/4 cup toasted slivered almonds
  • Substitute other fresh fruit or vegetables as they come in season.
  • Oil and vinegar, salt and pepper, 1/4 cup fresh herbs such as mint or oregano or tarragon.
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons curry
  • I head of leaf lettuce, washed and dried.

 

PROCEDURE

Simmer the chicken breasts in a frying pan 1/2 filled with water for about 15 minutes, turning over once. Check breasts after ten minutes by slicing through the middle and seeing if there is any pink left. Do not over cook or they with be tough. Remove from pan, cut into bite sized pieces, and place in a bowl with 1/2 cup of the poaching liquid, and refrigerate.

OR Just remove pieces of chicken from the rotisserie bird.

Make 1/2 cup of vinegrette using oil and vinegar, curry salt and pepper and fresh herbs. Set aside.

In a large bowl add the tomatoes, grapes and half the almonds. Chop the remaining fruit and vegetables into bite sized portions and add. Cover and store in the refrigerator.

To serve, place lettuce leaves on individual dinner plates. Mix together, chicken, vinegarette and contents of large bowl. Divide evenly and place mixture on lettuce leaves. Sprinkle with the remaining almonds.

NECESSITY SALAD

Although many of the ingredients resemble those of the legendary Waldorf Salad created at the Astoria Hotel in New York, the real inspiration for this salad was desperation. “Necessity is the Mother of Invention” was my mantra.

People were coming for dinner and all I had in the fridge was some celery and an apple.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 apple
  • 3 stalks of celery
  • I head of lettuce (or a bag of mesculun) that was luckily lying around
  • 1/3 cup toasted walnuts or pecans or slivered almonds
  • 1/3 cup grated gorgonzola or parmesan or sharp cheddar cheese.

NB I always keep nuts and cheeses on hand. Doesn’t everyone?

  • Dressing: 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/3 as much white wine vinegar (about 2 tbsps)
  • 2 cloves of garlic put through a press
  • salt and pepper
  • a pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 2 tsps French mustard.

 

PROCEDURE

Whisk all the dressing ingredients in a large bowl.
Finely slice the celery using the slicing disk in a food processor.
Core and quarter the apple and slice similarly
Toss celery and apple with the dressing and place in the fridge
To serve arrange lettuce on individual salad plates
Top with celery/apple mixture
Sprinkle with nuts and cheese and add some grated black peppercorns.