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Reinventing the wedge. July 28, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Iceberg lettuce gets a bad rap. Silence Dogood here. Everyone’s always beating up on iceberg, trumpeting its lack of nutritive value, urging us to eat limp, faintly moldy-tasting “spring greens” and spongy, tasteless spinach instead.

Now, I’m all for spinach, sauteed in olive oil with garlic or washed and steamed in its own moisture and served with a splash of good balsamic vinegar. I’m all for nutritious greens in salads: arugula, Romaine, kale, mustard greens, watercress, endive, escarole, and radicchio are all favorites. But I’m not for bashing iceberg, a lettuce that provides tons of crunch and fiber.

To me, salads should be crunchy. Veggies are important not just for their nutritive value but for their all-important fiber content. Consuming plenty of fiber is every bit as important for our health as consuming nutrients, and iceberg lettuce is loaded with fiber. Far from being vilified, iceberg deserves a place in the salad rotation.

One of the most iconic uses of iceberg lettuce is in the wedge salad, a wedge of iceberg with blue cheese dressing, chopped tomato, and diced bacon, basically a blast from the indulgent past. But what say you decided to upgrade the wedge?

Here are some ways to take the basic wedge from good to great, starting, of course, with organic iceberg:

* Forget the gloppy storebought dressing. Try a wedge of iceberg covered with chopped tomato, sweet onion, crumbled blue cheese, a splash of olive oil, and Real Salt or sea salt and fresh-cracked pepper.

* Skip the blue cheese. Sub green goddess dressing on your wedge. We love this, but you can put any dressing you like on a wedge, from peppercorn parmesan to ranch to French or thousand island.

* Head South of the Border. Try a wedge slathered in homemade guacamole. It’s so easy! Get a ripe avocado, a sweet onion (like Vidalia or Walla Walla), a bunch of cilantro and a tub of fresh hot salsa from your grocery’s produce section. (You want fresh salsa, not cooked; look for visible chunks of tomato, onion, green pepper, hot pepper, etc., no sauce.) Dice half the onion in a bowl, add about a quarter cup of the salsa (or more to taste), at least a quarter-cup of chopped cilantro, and a good splash of hot sauce. (We like Tabasco Chipotle for this.) Now, halve your avocado and pop out the seed, then quarter the avocado. Starting at the stem end, peel each avocado quarter with your fingers—the skin comes right off—and set it on a plate. With a knife, dice the avocado quarters, sprinkle the diced avocado with lemon juice, salt, and pepper, and mash it with a fork, leaving about half the dice intact and the rest pulped smooth. Mix the mashed avocado into the onion-salsa-cilantro mixture and you’re good to go. Yum!

* Try a shrimpless shrimp cocktail. What makes a shrimp cocktail really isn’t the shrimp, it’s the sauce. Mix the hot chili sauce you’d normally pour on your shrimp cocktail with as much horseradish as you can take, add a splash of lemon juice and some finely minced sweet onion, and pour some on your iceberg wedge. Ooh la la!

* Take a Mediterranean cruise. Maybe a trip to Greece or Sicily is beyond your budget, but a Mediterraean-inspired wedge salad is well within reach. Use crumbled feta instead of blue cheese on your wedge, add some fresh thyme, chop green and kalamata olives very fine and add them, and top each wedge with extra-virgin olive oil and a splash of balsamic vinegar.

There are plenty of other options; these are just meant to get you started. And hey, if you love a wedge salad just as it was originally intended, keep that high-fiber benefit in mind and ignore the snooty critics who demand mushy spring greens. To each his own!

‘Til next time,

Silence

Peeling avocados, making guacamole. April 9, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. Not being a fan of slimy textures, I have to confess that I’ve never tried to peel an avocado before. But here at Hawk’s Haven, our friend Ben and I are trying to add avocados’ good fats and other healthy benefits to our diets, so I’ve been adding guacamole to our burritos, and even using it as a dip for chips if it looks chunky and good.

Which is to say that a lot of guac looks and tastes like green slime. But occasionally, you stumble on a guac that has great texture, great color, and great flavor. Our favorite, from the local restaurant Fiesta Ole, is made fresh with diced tomatoes and onion, as well as several other ingredients, added in. It’s so delicious we’re tempted to just make a meal of it with chips.

But we can’t always be running off to a restaurant for our Mexican fix, so I was determined to try to recreate that gorgeous guacamole at home. Right now, I’m thinking of slicing/mashing Haas (now more commonly known as Hass) avocados with lemon or lime juice and mixing in diced paste tomatoes, diced sweet onion, minced green onion, minced garlic, chopped cilantro, and minced jalapeno. What do you think?

However, the first challenge is peeling the avocado. I saw a program back in November that demonstrated cutting an avocado by slicing it in two around the seed, twisting the halves, and popping them apart, then extracting the seed and removing the flesh with a tablespoon. This seemed like a good approach to me until I recently read that most of the nutrients in avocados lie in the dark green layer just under the skin.

The authors of this article suggested halving and twisting the avocado just as in the demonstration and popping out the seed. But then they said to quarter the halves, and then peel the skin off from the top of each quarter by hand, like a banana. This leaves the dark green layer and all its nutrients intact.

So I plan to try this banana-peeling technique, though admittedly, I’m concerned about bruising the notoriously easily discolored avocado flesh by holding on to the quarter while attempting to peel it. It’s difficult enough to keep the avocados in guacamole from discoloring—turning a most unappetizing brown—under any circumstances, and especially when a recipe calls for refrigerating the finished guac for an hour before serving so the flavors can blend. (Thus the lime or lemon juice.) In this case, I think Fiesta Ole’s tableside preparation and immediate serving of the finished guac makes sense.

But there’s something else that makes sense to me: Buying those containers of fresh hot salsa at the grocery and mixing them into the avocado and lime or lemon juice. The fresh hot salsa already has diced onion, tomato and jalapeno. You can add some chopped cilantro or not as you choose. But with or without cilantro, you have super-fast guacamole that packs a flavor punch.

I have three Haas/Hass avocadoes to work with, so I plan to experiment with both the from-scratch and from-fresh-salsa methods and see whether they’re both good or whether there’s a clear winner. In any case, OFB and I will be adding guacamole to our healthy snacking routine.

‘Til next time,

Silence

Gorgeous guacamole. February 2, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. Tomorrow is Superbowl Sunday, the second-most popular day for eating guacamole in the U.S. (the other is Cinco de Mayo). Apparently guac has taken its place with wings, seven-layer dip, pizza, beer, and other decadent delights in the ritual observance.

This seems strange to me, since guacamole is inherently healthy, as opposed to everything else served up for the Superbowl. And frankly, any guacamole will be pretty healthy, so whatever you do with it (short of mixing in mayonnaise, cheese and/or bacon) is fine. It’s not low-cal, but those calories do provide plenty of good, healthy fats, as opposed to most party fare.

The simplest, most delicious guacamole our friend Ben and I have ever had was made fresh tableside at a Mexican restaurant. Our server halved, pitted and peeled an avocado, chopped and lightly mashed the flesh to create a slightly chunky but creamy texture, chopped and stirred in a tomato, squeezed in some lime juice, and served it up with warm housemade tortilla chips. I couldn’t believe something so simple could taste so good!

It’s also easy to make your own. Buy a ripe Haas (now more commonly called Hass) avocado, or as many as you need to make enough dip for your guests. Quarter each avocado, removing the pit, and peel it. Mash the avocado flesh with a potato masher to create coarse chunks. Sprinkle the chunked avocado with fresh-squeezed lime and/or lemon juice, salt (we like RealSalt or Trocomare), and fresh-cracked black pepper.

Next, dice a sweet onion (such as a Vidalia or WallaWalla) and paste tomatoes, mince fresh cilantro, and stir them into the chunked avocado with a spoon. Taste and adjust seasonings, place plastic wrap on the surface of the guacamole, and refrigerate it to prevent discoloration. Resting the guacomole for at least an hour is a great way to let it ripen to greatness. Then you should serve it on a bed of ice to make sure it remains fresh and doesn’t discolor (put the bowl of guac in a larger bowl of cracked ice).

Of course, if you wanted, you too could make fresh guacamole TV-side to impress your guests. In either case, Enjoy!

‘Til next time,

Silence

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