Market to Table

SALAD TIME

Here in Southern Ontario we have gone with a rush from icy cold winter to blistering hot summer and what better way to celebrate with some fabulous salads–Cobb Salad, Salad Niçoise and Potato Salad?

Salads can be as simple or as complicated as you choose to make them or as inventive as the ingredients you have on hand. We call a mixture of all the ingredients in the fridge a ‘kitchen salad’ and that seems to be a good enough name for it. Some of the things you can put in a salad, apart from the obvious salad greens, are: washed and chopped fresh veggies; left over cold meats; left over cold fish, such as salmon or sardines; left over cold pasta; nuts, seeds, dried fruits (cranberries, for instance) and fresh fruits (such as halved seedless grapes, grapefruit chunks, or berries).

You can also vary the taste of the salad by adding various fresh herbs, or using unusual greens as a base, such as mint, which has become popular recently. In my garden, I keep a variety of fresh herbs growing in pots: two types of basil, two types of mint, three types of parsley, chives, coriander (cilantro) and sometimes rosemary and thyme, although I use them so seldom in the summer that they usually grow into a decorative bush. Cherry tomatoes also grow exuberantly in a pot and are added to many a salad when there are a few ripe ones to hand.

Ever since coming across tiny flower petals in bags of micro greens at farmers’ markets while shooting the television series Market to Table, I’ve been sprinkling petals on salads and soups somewhat indiscriminately.

All these flower petals are edible: carnations, hibiscus, impatiens, lavender, nasturtium, pansy, rose, squash, sunflowers, pumpkin, violets and zucchini. I buy my flowers from organic growers at farmers’ markets, or grow them myself in summer, which should be safe from pesticides, so using ones from a florist shop or gathered from the roadside is probably not a good idea. Petals will keep fresh, wrapped in a moist paper towel in a sealed container, in the fridge for about a week. A dip in ice water will usually revive limp ones.

Here are three of my favourite salads.

Cobb salad is a typical American layered garden salad made with chopped salad greens. There are lots of versions of how this salad came to be. I like the story from the Brown Derby in Hollywood. In 1937, the restaurant’s owner was Robert Howard Cobb. One day, he had not eaten until near midnight, so he mixed together leftovers he found in the kitchen, along with bacon being fried by the line cook, and tossed it with some vinaigrette dressing.

COBB SALAD

Serves 4

Shopping list

  • Iceberg lettuce, about 2 cups chopped
  • Romaine lettuce, about 2 cups chopped
  • Endive, about 12 leaves chopped
  • Watercress, about 1 cup stemmed
  • Chives, about 1/4 cup finely chopped
  • Tomatoes, 2-3 sliced
  • Olives, black, pitted, about 12
  • Avocado, 1 slices
  • Cold grilled chicken breast, 2 sliced
  • Hard-boiled eggs, 4 halved
  • Crisp bacon, 4 rashers fried and chopped
  • Blue cheese (such as Roquefort), or Feta, crumbled

Dressing

  • VINAIGRETTE

Preparation and cooking

  1. In advance, lightly grill, then cool the chicken breast and slice; hard-boil the eggs, cool and slice; fry and cool the bacon, chop into chunks.
  2. Wash, dry and chop all the greens, wash and quarter the tomatoes, de-pit, peel and slice the avocado.
  3. To assemble: make a bed of mixed greens, reserving the chives; layer in the tomatoes and avocado; layer in the sliced hard-boiled eggs, layer in the slices of chicken breast
  4. Garnish with bits of bacon, crumbled cheese, chopped chives and a few black olives.
  5. Lightly pour over vinaigrette dressing just before serving.

*

Debates have raged for years whether the traditional niçoise salad (from Nice, of course) should have cooked vegetables or not. Some purists insist all ingredients should be fresh, but the version served in North America usually has cooked potatoes and green beans. Today, I’ve used fresh basil and parsley from my garden pots.

SALADE NIÇOISE

Serves 6

Shopping list

  • 1 lettuce, Boston or cos, washed, dried and separated into leaves
  • Or 100 g/4 oz mixed salad greens
  • 10 tomatoes, cut into 8 segments, eyes removed
  • 6 hard boiled eggs, cooled, peeled and quartered
  • ¾ lb green beans, trimmed, steamed and cooled
  • 10 to 12 small new potatoes, boiled, cooled and halved
  • 1 videlia sweet onion, chopped finely, or
  • 2 shallots, chopped finely
  • 6 anchovies
  • 1 sweet red, orange or yellow pepper, washed, seeded and cut into strips
  • 3 celery sticks, including green tops, washed, dried and chopped finely
  • 12 black pitted olives
  • 3 tsp chopped mixed fresh herbs, such as tarragon, oregano, basil or parsley
  • 8 oz / 225 g sushi quality tuna, grilled, cooled and sliced
  • 1 cup freshly prepared VINAIGRETTE salad dressing

Preparation and cooking

  1. Cook and cool the various pre-cooked ingredients: HARD BOILED EGGS, GREEN BEANS and NEW POTATOES.
  2. Pan fry sushi-quality tuna in a little oil, leaving it still pink in the middle. Drain on a paper towel and leave to cool to room temperature.
  3. In one bowl toss the halved potatoes in some vinaigrette. In another bowl, toss the green beans in some more. In a third bowl, toss the tomatoes. Set aside to marinate for a few minutes.
  4. Wash, dry and chop or slice the remaining ingredients: lettuce or mixed greens, onion or shallot, pepper, celery and herbs.
  5. In an attractive salad dish, or bowl, layer a few lettuce leaves, tomatoes, strips of pepper, chopped celery and chopped onions and potatoes. Repeat until all the ingredients are used up.
  6. Garnish by laying the tuna, eggs, olives and anchovies on top in a decorative pattern. Sprinkle on the herbs. Drizzle with the vinaigrette, add a good grind of black pepper and serve at once.

*

Here’s an excellent salad for those occasions when you are entertaining a dozen or more, and goes well as an accompaniment to a BBQ.

RED SKINNED POTATO SALAD

Serves 12

Shopping list

  • 3 lb (about 15) unpeeled cooked red potatoes, cut into chunks
  • 1 cup low-fat sour cream
  • 1/2 cup light mayonnaise
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp white vinegar
  • 4 hard-cooked eggs, chopped
  • 1 dill pickle, chopped
  • 2 cups celery stalk, chopped
  • 3 green onions, chopped
  • 1 dash hot sauce
  • 1 tbsp dried dill weed
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • black pepper to taste

Preparation and cooking

  1. Place the potatoes in a pot with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, and cook for about 10 minutes, or until easily pierced with a fork. Do not overcook. Drain, and transfer to a large bowl to cool. Cut into cubes.
  2. Place the fresh eggs in cold water, salt well, and bring the water to a boil. Turn off the heat and let the eggs sit in the hot water for 10 min. Cool the eggs and leave in their shells until ready to garnish.
  3. In a medium bowl, mix the sour cream, mayonnaise, mustard, vinegar, pickle, celery and hot sauce. Season with dill, garlic powder, onion salt, salt, and pepper. Pour over the potatoes, and gently toss to coat. Chill at least 3 hours in the refrigerator before serving.
  4. Garnish with chopped eggs and chopped green onions.

*

Here are two basic dressings.

VINAIGRETTE DRESSING

This is the basic salad dressing and a starting point for many others. To blend together the oil and vinegar an emulsifier is an essential ingredient, otherwise, the oil and vinegar will eventually separate even after a vigorous mixing. The binding agent could be egg yolk, mayonnaise, honey, or in this case a dollop of mustard.

Shopping list

  • 1/3 cup white wine vinegar
  • 2/3 cup virgin olive oil
  • 1 TBSP Dijon mustard
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation

  1. In a bowl, whisk the vinegar and mustard until blended.
  2. Whisk in the oil in a slow, steady stream until a well homogenized mix is obtained.
  3. Test for seasoning by dipping a lettuce leaf into the dressing. Add salt and pepper until the flavour is balanced.

Extras

  • Soak 4 anchovy filets in water to remove excess salt, then dry, smash and blend with the vinaigrette sauce.
  • Add 1 tsp crushed capers for an even more interesting taste.
  • Or chop a variety of fresh herbs to suit your salad, such as chives, parsley, tarragon, mint or basil and add to the basic vinaigrette.
  • Add a couple of crushed and well mashed garlic cloves.
  • Or roughly chop ½ cup raw nuts, such as walnuts, hazelnuts or almonds and add to the dressing.

CREAMY SALAD DRESSING

Shopping list

  • ½ cup aioli or light mayonnaise
  • ¼ olive oil (EVOO)
  • 1 TBSP Dijon mustard
  • 2 TBSP white wine or honey vinegar
  • Fresh ground black pepper to taste

Preparation

  1. In a mixing bowl put in a good dollop of garlic or truffle aioli, or a light mayo, and add a hearty spoonful of Dijon mustard. Mix them together with a whisk.
  2. Then drizzle in the olive oil until it is completely homogenized. If it seems too oily, add a few drops of a good quality white vinegar, white wine or honey, r up to 2 TBSP.
  3. Add a good grind of black pepper and you’re done. Store, covered, in the fridge until you’re ready to make your salad, but no more than a day.

I’m a great fan of cookbooks and often get new ideas while skimming the works of others.  Next time, I’ll reveal some new salad discoveries.

SHAMELESS PLUG FOR MY COOKBOOK: How about a copy of my e-book Market to Table: The Cookbook as a gift idea for yourself, friends, family or anyone who loves to cook, now available on Lulu.comi-Tunes and Amazon. If you click on the link to any of these online publishers you can preview the first chapter for free.

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