13 August 2008

Salads of the Non-Lettuce Kind

Having been raised by a health freak, salads are of paramount importance to me. Nothing offends me more than a heaping mess of unappetizing iceberg drowned in a chunky store-bought sauce! Done right, salads can steal the show at a meal. While I am huge fan of a simple, crisp and fresh lettuce salad, I have been enjoying the ones without even more. Here are 3 of my favorite concepts:

1) There are vegetables that are delicious, but are hard to eat with a fork (take carrots, radishes, or fennel for example). It's funny how cutting these types up very finely instantly makes them a thousand times better. My favorite recipe right now uses carrots and radishes

- 4 carrots
- 4 radishes
- 1 small onion
- 2 crushed cloves of garlic
- half a handful freshly chopped coriander
- 4 Tb balsamic vinegar
- 2 Tb EVOO
- salt & pepper to taste

The key here is how you present it: after peeling the carrots, keep using your peeler to cut the carrots into long thin strips. You can keep the skin on the radishes, but peel it into strips the same way. I like to keep the strips of both veggies roughly the same size. Very thinly slice the onion. Combine the veggies in a large salad bowl and dress with crushed garlic, chopped coriander, EVOO, and salt. Mix this around to coat everything, THEN douse it with several healthy splashes of balsamic vinegar and freshly ground pepper.

This is a very hearty, meaty salad. Great if you're a veggie feeding meat-eating friends.

2) I can't claim credit for this recipe, but I can popularize it! This is Ina Garten's completely fantastic Beets with Orange Vinegrette. I find her flavor combinations here mind-blowing: roasted beets, orange, raspberry vinegar, and red onions. Try adding a handful of chopped basil! It enhances beets' natural sweetness, while the vinegar and the onion give it a great acidic kick in the pants.

3 (15-ounce) cans baby beets, drained
2 tablespoons raspberry vinegar
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
3 tablespoons good olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup small-diced red onion (1 small onion)
2 large seedless oranges, zested
Segments 2 large seedless oranges
(I suggest a handful of chopped basil added at the end)

Drain the beets and dice into 1/2-inch cubes. Place the beets in a mixing bowl and add the raspberry vinegar, orange juice, olive oil, salt, pepper and red onions. Zest the oranges and then segment over a bowl to catch the juices. Add the orange zest, orange segments, and any juices and mix well. Taste for seasoning and serve cold or at room temperature.

3) Add some unexpected lusciousness into veggies by sprinkling in some browned pancetta pieces, or hunks of your favorite cheese - soft and semi softs work really well, such as blue cheeses, brie, or goat cheeses. The key here is to make your veggies taste like a luxury. Even my salad-averse boyfriend relishes and regularly demands this chèvre salad:

- breadcrumbs
- either an herbs de provence blend, or handfuls of fresh parsley, rosemary, and basil
- as big a chunk of chèvre as you want (goat's cheese, typically found in the log form in the USA, but exquisite when found in the shape of a thick disk... on a tangent, but if you're in Provence, look for a cheese called Pelardon)
- 2 small heads of Boston Lettuce (Bib or Butter Lettuce work too), washed, torn into bite size pieces
- as big a chunk of pancetta as you want, diced... you can also get the pre-diced variety
- good sherry vinegar
- salt & pepper

In a large mixing bowl, combine a little less than a cup of bread crumbs with 2 Tb of herbs de provence - or even better, chopped handfuls of fresh parsley, rosemary, and basil. Season with salt & pepper. Cut the chèvre into individual pieces and coat them well with the breadcrumb mixture.

Heat up your frying pan and drop in the diced pancetta. Once it's thoroughly cooked, place on a paper towel to drain to one side. In the same pan, taking advantage of the fat left over from the pancetta, fry up the breaded chèvre until golden brown and oozing.

In the meantime, heap up the lettuce inside individual bowls. Dress with a drizzle of EVOO, sherry vinegar, salt & pepper. You don't even have to mix it all together, as your very happy diners will soon be mixing it themselves to take full advantage of the pancetta and cheese.

Garnish heartily with pancetta and the fried chèvre slices.

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