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Greens: Cooked or raw? August 30, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. I’m mostly an equal-opportunity greens fan; I love them raw (in salads and sandwiches), semi-cooked (in hot sandwiches like cheese panini with tomatoes and arugula), and cooked (in pasta, soups, dal, sauteed, or steamed). Pretty much the only greens I won’t eat are the ones that taste like dirt (beet greens, Swiss chard), the ones that are prickly (radish greens, turnip greens), and the ones that come from cans. (Just give me the beets and radishes and Japanese turnips and let me enjoy the colorful chard as an ornamental.) If I knew how to grill, I’d doubtless love the grilled halved Romaine lettuces and halved radicchio that have become popular.

I love to make a big pot of greens, including the “supergreens” kale and collards, along with spinach, arugula, and methi (fenugreek greens), cooking them down with a tiny bit of water clinging to the leaves, and then make saag paneer, the delicious, Indian dish that uses their equivalent of farmer’s cheese/fresh mozzarella, paneer, with a simply luscious mix of sauteed onion, spices, and cream. Served over basmati rice, which soaks up the sauce, it’s pure heaven.

Greens prepared this way are also a great base for soups and a great filling layer for lasagna. (You can tuck them in between the lasagna pasta and the ricotta or Greek yogurt, then top with sauce and shredded cheese.) So are greens that are added to dishes like pastas at the last moment. I love sauteing diced sweet onions and minced garlic in extra-virgin olive oil, perhaps with sliced mushrooms and diced red, orange or yellow bell pepper, a dash of crushed red pepper, Italian herbs (a mix of basil, oregano, rosemary and thyme), salt (we love RealSalt and Trocomare, hot herbed salt), and fresh-cracked black pepper. Then I add arugula when everything else has cooked down, use pasta tongs to immediately add cooked spaghetti to the sauteed veggies, and toss the pasta with the veggies and my choice of shredded cheese before serving it up. Yum!

But I’d still want to serve my pasta with a crunchy green salad. I really love salad, from a Caesar (yes to hard-boiled eggs, no to croutons and anchovies) to the famous iceberg wedge (I like mine with chopped sweet or purple onion, diced tomato, crumbled blue or Gorgonzola cheese, and an olive oil-lemon dressing, with plenty of salt and fresh-cracked black pepper).

There are so many salad variations that I can’t understand why everyone doesn’t love salad. One of my favorites has a crunchy Romaine base with arugula, radicchio, Boston (Bibb, butter) lettuce, watercress and frisee giving texture, flavor and color, with shredded carrots, diced bell pepper (red, yellow, and/or orange), diced red onion, cherry tomatoes (my favorites are the orange Sungold tomatoes), cucumbers, red cabbage, shredded white sharp Cheddar and/or blue or Gorgonzola cheese, sliced hard-boiled eggs, black olives, scallions (green onions), and pepitas (roasted pumpkinseeds) for nutritional value and crunch. I’ll add avocado and/or jarred artichoke hearts in oil for an especially decadent salad. With so much going on in the salad—especially if I mix in fresh basil, mint, cilantro, or another fresh herb—I like to keep the dressing simple: good olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

But not all is well in the raw greens world. I had a very sad revelation a few months ago when I read that eating raw kale was damaging to people with thyroid issues. I love raw kale in salads, but I guess I’ll be eating all my kale cooked from now on. A dear friend reminded me that the oxalic acid in spinach is bad for people with arthritis, and can not just accumulate in the joints but contribute to the formation of kidney stones. And if, like my father, you’re on blood thinners to prevent heart attack or stroke, your doctor will probably tell you to avoid all greens and salads, since leafy greens are rich in vitamin K, a natural blood thinner. Bummer!!! Not to mention that you need to eat some oil with your greens to release their nutrients in the body, preferably a healthy oil like olive oil.

The real divider in our household, though, is spinach. Our friend Ben likes it raw in salads, I like it cooked. I find the texture of raw spinach both limp and dusty—no crunch, and this dreadful musty, felted texture. (I feel the same way about raw mushrooms, and won’t eat them in a salad, either, although I love cooked mushrooms.) I, on the other hand, love cooked spinach (again, cooked down with just a few drops of water) with balsamic vinegar. OFB hates it. His exception is spanakopita, the Greek phyllo pockets filled with spinach and feta. We’ve finally found common ground with spinach sauteed in olive oil with minced garlic or onion. OFB will eat it if I add crushed red pepper, and I can discreetly add a splash of balsamic vinegar to my serving. And yes, I do buy baby spinach for his salads when I remember!

‘Til next time,

Silence

A salad a day. December 30, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Yesterday, I decided to indulge myself in one of my favorite activities, a visit to the antiques mall. I always feel that visiting an antiques mall is like time-traveling, seeing the way ordinary people lived in the past, what they used and what they cherished, what they displayed in their best rooms and what made up their everyday surroundings. It’s like going to a free museum, where you can learn things about your own grandparents and many-times-great grandparents that you’d never have known.

Thanks to Christmas, I had a tiny bit of spending money and was ready for anything, except, perhaps, what I actually found: The Calendar of Salads. This Art Deco gem was actually designed in calendar format, suspended from a braided silk rope, with a salad recipe for every day of the year. It had been updated for World War I, but clearly dated from an earlier era, at a guess somewhere between 1890 and 1910.

The author of The Calendar of Salads, Elizabeth O. Hiller, was described by the publisher as “One of America’s Four Famous Cooks.” Who were the others?! Fannie Farmer, no doubt. Perhaps Mrs. Beeton still loomed large in the American culinary landscape. But who else? This was long before Julia Child, long before Irma Rombauer of Joy of Cooking fame. I’m dying to know, so if you have an idea or a guess, please check in and share with us! 

You know you’re not in Kansas anymore when you flip up the cover of The Calendar of Salads and see that it begins with a quotation from Oliver Goldsmith, followed by a reference to Virgil. Having established a suitably literary tone, Mrs. Hiller goes on to bring in the dietary big guns to show why “salads play a very important part in our daily dietary.” She explains that “The oil [in the dressing] furnishes heat and energy as well as adipose tissue, while the uncooked fresh vegetables [think lettuce] contain valuable salts (mineral matter) which enter into all parts of the body’s structure.” In other words, the oil provides calories to help build up our fat deposits. Thanks for that.

Mrs. Hiller adds in her (as the publisher notes) “interesting foreword,” without further elaboration, the somewhat mind-boggling statement that “It is surprising the close relationship that exists between the eye and the digestive organs.” Er. Whatever. 

Moving on to the salads themselves, what does Mrs. Hiller suggest that we serve our families and guests? Let’s take a look:

For January 2, when people would presumably be recovering from the excesses of New Year’s, she offers this delectable creation:

                Frog Leg Salad

Cook 2 doz. frog legs in boiling, salted water until tender; remove the meat from the bones and cut in pieces; peel and cut 1 c. of cucumber or crisp celery, in small cubes. Toss all lightly together and mix thoroughly with mayonnaise. Serve in crisp lettuce heart leaves; add 1 green pepper, shredded, or 2 tbsp. pimientos, finely chopped, garnish with small radishes, cut to imitate tulips.

No doubt guests confronted with this dish would appreciate the delicacy of the tulip-shaped radishes. Skipping January 7’s Brussels Sprouts and Chestnut Salad, let’s move on January 11’s salad suggestion:

                Banana and Pimento Salad

Peel, scrape (with a silver knife) 3 ripe plantain (red bananas). Cut in three pieces crosswise, then cut each piece lengthwise in 9 strips. Sprinkle them with lemon juice to prevent discoloring. Arrange them in nests of lettuce leaves and strew over with thread-like strips of pimento. Garnish with Chantilly mayonnaise.

Hmmm, the “i” appears to have disappeared from “pimiento” between January 2 and 11. And I don’t know about you, but I’ve always been told that plantains had to be cooked to be edible. But let’s forget these quibbles and move on to January 19, which presents us with:

                       U. of C. Salad

Grate 1 c. American cream cheese; add 3 Neuchatel [sic] cheeses and work to a paste with a wooden spoon; add 1 doz. olives finely chopped, 3 pimientoes [whew, the “i” made it back in, but what’s with those “toes”?!] cut in bits. 1/2 c. chopped pecan nut meats and salt, paprika and few grains cayenne. Moisten with heavy cream and shape with butter pats in small ovals. Arrange in nest of cress, sorrel or lettuce heart leaves. Marinate with French dressing. Serve with horseradish dressing.

I don’t know if “U. of C.” referred to the University of Connecticut, Colorado, or California, but if students were eating this “salad” as part of their daily fare, I suspect their mortality rate was incomprehensibly high. And anyway, what was an oval butter pat shaper? Not to mention, how could anyone grate cream cheese? I’d love to know!

Finally, let’s give you one last salad to round out the month, January 27th’s, Sardine Salad. Oh, yum!

                      Sardine Salad

Remove skin and bones from 12 sardines, cut in 1/2 inch pieces, marinate with French dressing; let stand 1 hr.; drain. Arrange cress or heart lettuce leaves in a shallow serving dish; heap fish in center, cover with 6 deviled olives cut in thin slices crosswise, 3 sweet pickle gherkins cut the same; cut whites of 2 “hard boiled” eggs in narrow strips, arrange them over other ingredients like the petals of a Marguerite; force yolks through a sieve in center. Pipe mayonnaise around base of salad.

A Marguerite, by the way, is an especially lovely daisy. How delightful to find sardines lurking underneath!

If your mouth isn’t watering by now, let me remind you that there are still 361 recipes to go! If you have a special day coming up and would like to prepare a special salad, please do let me know. I’d be so happy to share Mrs. Hiller’s salad recipe for that day with you!

            ‘Til next time,

                        Silence

Fun food for the Fourth. July 2, 2010

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Silence Dogood here. The Fourth of July is coming, and that means picnics, grilling, food, and plenty of it! Do you know what you’re going to make? Potato salad, egg salad, deviled eggs, coleslaw? Maybe some pimiento cheese spread, refreshing gazpacho, or a big salad? How about a yummy summer squash casserole or crock of mac’n’cheese or a big vat of quick, crunchy hot-sweet refrigerator pickles?

Over the years we’ve been writing Poor Richard’s Almanac, I’ve posted a wealth of summertime recipes. We love them, and I think you will, too. So I’m going to do a post roundup here so you can find them. Just search the post title in our search bar at upper right. (Mind you, as I discovered, even if you type in the exact title, you may hit a few other posts before you get to the right one. But no worries—you can read the other posts and find even more great recipes, or just skip down to the one you’re looking for.)

I couldn’t decided how to organize this post—by type of food, or by post title with recipes listed for each post—so I’m going to do it both ways. That way, you can check out a post’s contents and see which ones appeal most to you, or look for a food (such as deviled eggs) and then see which posts have recipes for it. Either way, enjoy!

Let’s start with the posts themselves:

Perfect picnic fare: Silence’s Refrigerator Pickles, Caprese Salad, Quick Coleslaw, Deviled Blue Cheese Eggs

Time for potato salad: Mr. Hays’s Baked Potato Salad, Penn State’s American Flag Potato Salad, Janice Lichtenwalner Wetzel’s Favorite Potato Salad, Betty Lichtenwalner’s German Potato Salad, Mama Dip’s Southern-Style Potato Salad, Indian Potato Salad a la Silence

Silence makes coleslaw: Silence’s Green and Gold Slaw, Coleslaw with Cilantro and Scallions

Some eggcellent picnic fare: Silence’s Bedeviled Eggs, Delilah’s Egg Salad, Chard Quiche, Potato and Sugar Snap Salad, Veggies and Dips

Painless pickles, potato salad, and pimiento cheese spread: Mr. Hays’s Baked Potato Salad, Alice’s Primo Pimiento Cheese Spread, Silence’s Hot Sweet Refrigerator Pickles

Some celebratory salads: Silence’s Red, White and Blue Salad, Silence’s Simple Greek Salad, ‘Mater Madness

Super summer squash recipes: Silence’s Super Squash Casserole

The ultimate mac’n’cheese: Delilah’s Crock-Pot Macaroni and Cheese

A gazpacho rainbow: Silence’s Think Pink Gazpacho, White Gazpacho, Southwestern Yellow Gazpacho, Green Tomatillo Gazpacho, Red Garden Gazpacho, Red Bread Gazpacho with Avocado Salsa

Okay, let’s start again and list ’em by category:

Potato salad: Time for potato salad; Painless pickles, potato salad, and pimiento cheese spread; Some eggcellent picnic fare

Deviled eggs: Perfect picnic fare; Some eggcellent picnic fare

Coleslaw: Perfect picnic fare; Silence makes coleslaw

Egg salad: Some eggcellent picnic fare

Veggies and dips: Some eggcellent picnic fare

Pimiento cheese: Painless pickles, potato salad, and pimiento cheese spread 

Refrigerator pickles: Perfect picnic fare; Painless pickles, potato salad, and pimiento cheese spread

Salads (other than coleslaw and potato and egg salad): Perfect picnic fare; Some celebratory salads

Summer squash casserole: Super summer squash recipes

Macaroni and cheese: The ultimate mac’n’cheese

Gazpacho: A gazpacho rainbow

You’ll find a few recipe repeats as you look through these posts, since some recipes are so good and so appropriate I wanted to make sure they were available during picnic season. I know you’re going to love them! And please, share your Fourth of July favorites with us.

             ‘Til next time,

                         Silence

Hearty winter salads. January 5, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. In winter, I always enjoy heartier salads most—ones with lots of body and flavor. They seem to hold their own against the cold. And of course, they’re even better when they’re made with long-keeping winter staples like apples and beets. Here are two great salads that are favorites of my friends Delilah (Lentil-Apple Salad) and Lynn (Syrian Beet Salad). Enjoy them!

         Lentil-Apple Salad

Cook 5 ounces of French lentils (the larger lentils get mushy) according to package directions, and allow to cool to room temperature. (Delilah prefers to use half lentils and half brown rice, and cooks the whole lot in her rice cooker.)

For the dressing, mix together:

1-2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice (to taste)

2 tablespoons white wine (or white wine vinegar if you like it sour)

1/4 cup olive oil

dash cayenne pepper, to taste

Shred one tart apple (such as Granny Smith) and toss immediately in the dressing to keep it from browning. Add the cooked lentils and 4 chopped green onions (scallions), tossing again to coat everything with the dressing. Season with salt and pepper to taste and toss a final time to distribute seasonings. Mound servings on fresh greens and sprinkle with pine nuts or slivered almonds. Serves four.

            Syrian Beet Salad

3 large raw beets or 2 cups cooked beets

1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro or basil

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 fresh hot pepper, seeded and minced (1 tablespoon)

1 teaspoon ground cumin

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

If cooking raw beets, bring 2 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot. Peel beets and cut into 1/2-inch cubes. Place cubes in boiling water, lower to a simmer, and cook until tender, about 10-15 minutes. Drain beets and transfer to serving bowl.

If using leftover cooked or canned beets, cut in 1/2-inch cubes and reheat until warmed through.

Mix rest of ingredients together and pour over beets. Toss well. Serve warm. [I estimate that this recipe would serve 2-4, depending on your fondness for beets!—Silence]

You might ask yourself what you’d serve a warm beet salad with. Well, I think I’d treat it as a side dish and serve it up on the dinner plate with your other veggies and main course. I think rice or a baked potato or baked sweet potato and spinach would go well with this, and so would—dare I say it?—Delilah’s Lentil-Apple Salad. Yum! For lunch, you could mound the salad on a bed of hearty greens (such as arugula, radicchio, endive, fennel tops, Romaine, and chopped scallions) and top it with crumbled feta. Add a crusty baguette and a bottle of red wine and you have a meal!

          ‘Til next time,

                    Silence

Simply in season. August 8, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. This week’s Frugal Living Tip focused on saving money while eating like a king by eating fruits and veggies when they’re in season, at the peak of perfection, and also locally abundant and cheap. I recommended a few of my favorite seasonal cookbooks, including one called Simply in Season.

Then yesterday, when our friend Ben, our puppy Shiloh and I were at our CSA (consumer-supported subscription organic farm) picking up the week’s produce, I saw that they’d set out recipe cards from Simply in Season, including one for “Stoplight Salad.” Since this salad takes advantage of veggies and herbs that are abundant now—tomatoes, corn, peppers, cilantro, parsley, basil, and garlic—I thought I’d share it with you all so you can enjoy it.

               Stoplight Salad

The name refers to the colors in this tasty salad. Try it using grilled rather than uncooked corn for a smoky flavor. Serve alongside grilled meats or as a light main dish. Serves 6-8.

2 cups chopped tomatoes

2 cups corn, cut off the cob

1 green and 1 red bell pepper, cored and chopped

1/4 cup fresh cilantro, basil, or parsley, chopped

2 cups cooked black beans (optional)

Combine all ingredients in a bowl.

For the dressing:

3 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar or lime juice

1 clove garlic, minced

Whisk together in a separate bowl. Pour over salad. Salt and pepper to taste. Toss gently and serve.

Southwest variation: Omit the tomatoes and add to the dressing 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano, 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin, 3/4 teaspoon chili powder and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper. [This is confusing to me. Why would you omit tomatoes from a Southwestern recipe?! I suspect they might have wanted to say “omit parsley and/or basil” instead of the tomatoes, but try it both ways and see. I think of cilantro as Southwestern and would keep it for this version along with the oregano. I’d also add at least 2/3 cup chopped sweet onion and possible chopped scallions (green onion) to either version.—Silence]

To find out more about this great cookbook, check it out at www.simplyinseason.org. As the card says, it’s “A cookbook full of recipes and reasons to eat fresh, local foods in season.” Bon appetit!

           ‘Til next time,

                       Silence

Greek Salad a la Silence March 14, 2009

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Silence Dogood here. I promised to post a weekly Greek recipe here at Poor Richard’s Almanac in anticipation of Mr. Hays’s trip to the Greek Islands next month, and what’s the best-known Greek dish in America? Before you say baklava, gyros, or spanakopita, how about Greek salad?

Of course, good as they are, American-style Greek salads are ultimately pretty bland. That’s because they tend to use just one salad green as the base, then smother the salad in cucumbers. If you were in Greece, you’d be picking wild greens and herbs from the hillsides, giving a salad a richly complex flavor. So for this salad, I’ve attempted to get that wild flavor through an assortment of fresh greens and Mediterranean herbs. Please use fresh herbs if you can find them! If you do, and you mix the greens and herbs up well, every single bite will give you a different (but harmonious) flavor. Yum, I know what I’m making for dinner!

         Greek Salad a la Silence

1 package feta cheese, crumbled or cubed

fresh or dried mint leaves 

extra-virgin olive oil

1 large or 2 medium heads or bags Romaine lettuce

1 bag or container of arugula

1 bunch watercress or pepper cress

1 head frisee

1/4 to 1/2 fennel bulb, finely chopped

fresh or dried thyme

fresh or dried oregano

fresh or dried marjoram

fresh or dried rosemary 

fresh chives, chopped

1-3 bunches scallions (green onions), chopped

1 lemon

kalamata olives

capers

fresh paste tomatoes, chopped

cherry tomatoes, preferably orange ‘Sungold’ or yellow plum or pear

1-2 large bell peppers (your choice of colors), chopped

1 jar or can artichoke hearts, halved

balsamic vinegar

salt (we like Real Salt)

fresh-ground black pepper or lemon pepper

A couple of days before you put the salad together, transfer the cubed or crumbled feta cheese to a plastic or glass container with a tight-fitting plastic lid. Add 1 heaping teaspoonful of shredded fresh mint leaves or 1/3 teaspoon dried mint. If the feta is dry, drizzle a little olive oil over it to allow the mint to release its flavor. Put on the lid and shake the container to distribute the mint throughout the cheese, then place it in the fridge until it’s time to put the salad together.

In a large bowl, combine the Romaine, arugula, watercress or pepper cress, frisee, herbs, fennel, and scallions, tossing to mix well. (In season, you can add the chive flowers and the buds, leaves, and flowers of nasturtiums for an even more colorful, spicy salad.) Squeeze the juice of half a lemon over the greens (get those seeds out, please) and toss again to distribute the lemon juice. Top with the entire contents of the feta cheese container, stirring it into the salad. Then add the kalamata olives (seeded olives are a kindness to your guests if you can find them), capers, halved artichoke hearts, tomatoes, and peppers.  

When I make a complex salad like this, I like to use a simple dressing. In this case, I’d mix up olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, and fresh-ground or lemon pepper to taste and pour it on. (If I used jarred artichoke hearts, I’d add the oil from the jar to the dressing.)

This is a richly flavored salad, not for the faint of heart. Put it together with some warm-from-the-oven Greek pita wedges (Greek pitas are larger and softer than Middle Eastern pitas, which tend to be flat and dry; look for them in the frozen food section of your grocery), and you have lunch. Even if you serve it for supper, you won’t want to add a whole lot of heavy food. Broiled or grilled fish or lamb kebabs over rice, maybe a bowl of Avgolemono (see my earlier post, “A simple Greek soup,” for the recipe), and you’re set. (Fellow vegetarians, I’d suggest rice and veggie kebabs or rice and roasted veggies with this.)

Want more Silence salads? See my earlier posts “Shining purple salad dressing,” “Some celebratory salads,” “In praise of arugula,” and “What to do with all those ripe tomatoes, part one” (for Silence’s Caprese Salad) by searching in the search feature at the top right of this page. Let me know which are your favorites, and please, won’t you share your own favorite salads with me?

            ‘Til next time,

                          Silence

Some celebratory salads. June 1, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. Yesterday, in my post “Our salads, our selves,” I promised some great salad recipes today, and here they are.

One of the things I love best about salads is that they’re really performance art, a painless way to create gorgeous compositions of color, texture, and flavor. It’s easy and fun to create various combinations of ingredients and dressing and just see what happens. Try to remember what you did long enough to write it down if it turns out that you, family and friends really love it. And if you don’t, tomorrow is another day! It’s not like spending hours toiling over some complicated dish, only to have something go wrong or to discover that, well, it really wasn’t that good.

Salads are also very forgiving. There are so many ways to put one together that you can take a kitchen-sink approach, tossing in pretty much anything that’s lying around in the veggie drawer (as long as it’s not wilted, eeewwww). No pear or cherry tomatoes, and out of the usual crunchy veggies like peppers, carrots, radishes, scallions, and broccoli? Steam or boil some asparagus, cool it, cut it in bite-size pieces, toss it in a splash of lemon juice, and top your salad with that. Or see if you have any fresh fruit that would taste good with salad greens (there are lots to choose from, including grapes, citrus segments, apples, pears, and berries). None of the above? How about olives? Canned beans and/or corn? Anything coming up in your herb garden? Fresh herb leaves are delicious in salads. Get creative. Trust me, even with an apparently empty larder, you can find something that will work!  

Here are some of our all-time favorite salads. Won’t you give them a try? I just know you’re going to love them! Because salad-making is so simple, I’m going to simply tell you how to put these salads together rather than writing out a separate ingredients list. So easy, so delicious!

           Silence’s Red, White and Blue Salad

Start with a base of mixed greens. We demand crunch in our salads, so if you’re using spring mix or mesclun mix or baby spinach for the salad base, please add some frisee and/or Romaine for that all-essential crunch factor. Next, mix plenty of chopped scallions and some fresh mint leaves into the greens so they’re distributed throughout the salad. On to the toppings! Add (very) liberal amounts of diced yellow and/or orange bell peppers, whole fresh blueberries, and sliced fresh strawberries. Top with toasted almond bits (you can use sliced almonds for a more sophisticated look, but they won’t be as crunchy) and shredded Swiss, Parmesan, or white Cheddar cheese. Because the mix of flavors here is so complex, use a simple dressing like oil and vinegar to top this salad. We like green olive oil (it has the fruitiest taste) and balsamic vinegar on ours, with, of course, a sprinkling of Real Salt.

              Silence’s Simple Greek Salad

Bless those olive bars that are springing up at local grocery stores everywhere! Even here in the Pennsylvania countryside, we now have two olive bars within ten minutes of Hawk’s Haven. And among their selections they both feature a mix of pitted Kalamata and green olives and cubes of feta cheese in olive oil. We enjoy the olive-feta mixture as a cocktail-hour accompaniment (as Jimmy Buffett pointed out, it’s five o’clock somewhere, right?!), but I’ve found that their best use is as a salad topping. 

As you can imagine, a topping of brine-cured olives and feta can stand up to some very strong greens. This salad is begging for a base of Romaine liberally laced with radicchio, endive, frisee, kale, arugula, and spinach, in any combination.  This salad will stand up beautifully to peppery and/or lemony greens like watercress, pepper cress, and sorrel, too. You can add an entire bunch of scallions, as well as fresh basil leaves, sprigs of thyme, and/or cilantro and parsley. Mix the scallions and herbs well into the greens. Add whole yellow pear tomatoes and/or orange or red cherry tomatoes, diced red, orange, and/or yellow peppers, and, if they’re in season, paper-thin slices of yellow summer squash.

Top it all with the feta/olive mix and its olive oil base, squeeze a (seeded, please) lemon half on top, and you are very, very good to go. (Want to up the Middle Eastern quotient? If you love Middle Eastern food as much as our friend Ben and I do, and you have access to falafel patties—we’re blessed with a Middle Eastern stand at one of the farmers’ markets we patronize—you can crumble a couple of falafel patties on top of the salad for the ultimate touch.)

           ‘Mater Madness

We’re still a ways from ripe local tomatoes here in scenic PA, but we’re starting to see some actually flavorful tomatoes showing up at the farmers’ markets. Plus, it’s June, and I don’t personally give a damn what the weather gurus say, to me, the first of June is the start of summer, end of story! And summer is all about ripe tomatoes, right?!

If you grew up as I did with the classic tomato-and-cottage-cheese combo being the official salad of summer, you won’t even try to resist it. (Resistance is futile. Yum!!!) But there are some tricks you can use to take it from good to great. Of course, choosing the most flavorful tomatoes is the only way to go. Mixing yellow, green (it’s true, heirlooms like ‘Green Zebra’ are green-ripe), purple, and red tomato slices adds to your salad’s eye appeal.

Now, for the topping: Instead of putting a huge glob of mayo on top of the cottage cheese, try a more creative approach. Mix your cottage cheese with a reasonable amount of mayo (Hellman’s or grapeseed, please) and a little horseradish, jalapeno relish, chowchow, cocktail sauce, or seasoning like Trocamare or Herbamare to up the “wow” factor. Not that we’re addicted to cheese or anything, but you can also add a little oomph to your tomato and cottage cheese salad by mixing shredded Swiss, Parmesan, or white cheddar into the cottage cheese. And you can add some yummy zing by mixing chopped scallions, chives, or garlic chives into the cottage cheese. Or mix in chopped parsley or cilantro or basil leaves.

Once you’ve made your selections—and I encourage you to play with the variations!—it’s time to put the salad together. Start with a bed of kale or Romaine lettuce leaves (choose nice ones; I expect you to eat your greens, no excuses!!!) on each plate. Top with tomato slices (preferably in several colors, but if you don’t have multicolors, never mind, just go for the flavor). Now, mound the flavor-enhanced cottage cheese over the tomatoes and serve.

This is the summer salad of the South (or at least, of my part of the South), and it is good. It is specially good with corn on the cob and/or piping hot corncakes and butter and, say, green beans Southern style. And a long, cold glass of iced tea! But don’t deny yourself this luscious treat because it’s a regional specialty. Wherever you live, once vine-ripened tomatoes are available from your own garden or the store, try this simple salad. You will like it!!!! 

                     ‘Til next time,

                                   Silence