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Greens: Cooked or raw? August 30, 2014

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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

Serious salads. May 30, 2013

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Silence Dogood here. I usually enjoy The Wall Street Journal’s articles on food, but today’s on making salads enraged me with its obviousness. Mix up some greens and add cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, nuts and/or seeds, then let guests add the dressing when you serve the salad. Gee, ya think?

Sheesh. There are salads, and then there are salads. To make one that appeals, even stuns, across a wide spectrum, follow the Seven Salad Rules:

Rule #1: Mix it up. I’m a firm believer in a mix of colorful, flavorful, crunchy greens. Admittedly, I can go for a crunchy wedge of Iceberg with blue cheese, tomato and onion (the revived classic “wedge salad”) if I’m dining out, but a limp plate of “spring greens” is just pitiful. Color is great, but not without texture! Go for Boston or butter lettuce for sweet creaminess, Romaine for crunch, arugula or watercress for peppery spice, radicchio or endive or frisee for depth and bitterness, spinach for nutrients, mustard greens for heat. And yes, with so much going for you, you can even add a few handfuls of spring mix.

Rule #2: Ramp it up. Once you’ve got your base of greens, it’s time to up the flavor ante. I’m big on adding fresh herbs right into the salad rather than mixing them in the dressing. I love adding plenty of chopped scallions (green onions), mint, basil, thyme, cilantro, or whatever you have on hand and are craving (parsley, dill, fennel tops, rosemary, lemon balm, lovage, borage, chives, garlic chives, cilantro, you name it). your guests will enjoy an explosion of flavor with each bite! My ultimate secret for ramping up the flavor is to add a good dollop of horseradish to spice up my salad. Sound weird? Think what horseradish and cocktail sauce do for the greens in shrimp cocktail, and you’ll be on to something.

Rule #3: Go for veggie goodness. When it comes to salads, there’s almost no such thing as a bad veggie. Whether you’re adding pickled beets, Chinese turnips, blanched asparagus, sliced fennel bulbs or yellow summer squash, corn cut fresh off the cob, or matchstick daikon radish or jicama, you’re adding more texture, color and flavor. Tried-and-true salad staples like carrots, bell peppers (red, orange, yellow and/or green), radishes, celery, cherry tomatoes (red, yellow, orange, pink and/or purple), cukes, red cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower florets, and red (Spanish) onion all add color, flavor, texture, and nutrients. My feeling is, you can’t go wrong with veggies! The more, the merrier.

Rule #4: Make fruit salads simple. Adding fresh and dried fruits to a salad can result in a really luscious dish. But if I’m adding fruit, I want to hold off on the veggies. You can create a gorgeous base of mixed greens (I especially like Boston and butter lettuces with fruit) and add herbs, scallions, red onion, and fennel. Then add your fresh fruit, in any combination that appeals: fresh strawberries, sour cherries, blueberries, red raspberries, mangoes, peaches or nectarines, grapes, tangerines, grapefruit, oranges, apples, pears. (I prefer to serve melons, bananas and black raspberries as stand-alone treats.) Add dried fruit to taste (dried cranberries, golden raisins, diced apricots, and cherries are all good choices), then some nuts (pecans and sliced almonds lend themselves especially well to fruit salads). A little cheese—crumbled blue, feta, or Gorgonzola, or shredded Swiss or sharp white Cheddar—and your salad is perfect.

Rule #5: Add some protein and fat. What ultimately makes a salad satisfying is the protein and fat component. That means eggs, cheese, beans, nuts and seeds, and oily treats. I’ve noticed that sliced hard-boiled eggs tend to be snapped up before the salad can even be served, so make sure you make plenty. Cheese is a no-brainer: Go for shredded cheese (my faves are shredded white super-sharp Cheddar, Swiss, or Parmesan, or crumbled feta, blue, or Gorgonzola. Canned beans, such as cannelini and kidney, add a protein and fiber punch and help fill you up, besides adding color and flavor. Nuts I love in salads are pecans, walnuts, black walnuts, hickory nuts, hazelnuts (filberts), pistachios, and almonds. (Much as I love cashews, I like them cooked or eaten out of hand, they’re too much for a salad. Crumbled peanuts are okay on an Asian-themed salad, otherwise no.) Seeds like pepitas (roasted pumpkinseeds) and sunflower seeds add crunch and nutrients. Artichoke hearts, avocadoes and olives add that rich, oily, satisfying touch to your salad. Go for it!

Rule #6: Top it off. Yes, of course, cheese, shredded carrots, nuts and seeds, dried fruit, chives or scallions, and even cherry tomatoes can be considered salad toppings. But don’t stop there. Sprouts, including super-healthful broccoli sprouts; chia, flax, and hemp seeds; thawed frozen or fresh garden peas; and whole spices, such as cumin seeds, fennel seeds, and mustard seeds, also add crunch and health benefits to your salad. I don’t like to add croutons, which strike me as a high-calorie, nutrient-deficient topping, so I add seeds or nuts instead: Lots of crunch for better nutrition.

Rule #7: Keep your dressing simple. There’s nothing I hate as much as a heavy, gloppy salad dressing that smothers all the ingredients I’ve taken so much time to put together. My favorite dressing is a simple oil and vinegar: Hojiblanca extra-virgin olive oil and 18-year aged balsamic vinegar. But if I want to add a citrus note instead of the balsamic or toss in some crumbled blue cheese, I’ll do so without guilt, knowing that my base is pure. No worries, I know the flavors of the salad will still shine through.

Enjoy your salad experiments!

‘Til next time,

Silence

The centrality of salad. May 14, 2013

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Silence Dogood here. Being on the road this past weekend reminded me of exactly how important salads are to my overall well-being. For some, a salad might be consigned to the category of pointless “rabbit food.” But for me, they’re the staff of life. Even as a vegetarian, I’m happy to eat in a steak house if I can have a crunchy salad and a baked potato. Yum!

This road trip, our friend Ben and I had excellent food: an Indian feast at my brother’s house and wonderful Asian (Thai, Japanese, and Chinese) for supper on Mother’s Day. But something was missing, and that something, I realized, was salad. No big bowl of fresh, raw, crispy-crunchy lettuce, veggies, and toppings. By the time we got home, I was feeling seriously deprived.

So yesterday’s lunch was one of my typical “Silence’s Kitchen Sink” salads: A base of Romaine, arugula, watercress and kale, with yellow cherry tomatoes, chopped scallions (green onions) and red bell pepper, sliced cukes and radishes, green and black olives, pepitas (roasted pumpkinseeds) for crunch (I also often use walnuts), organic celery (make sure it and the bell pepper are organic, otherwise they’re very heavily sprayed), diced avocado, sliced hard-boiled eggs, broccoli florets, sprouts, and, of course, cheese (feta, blue or gorgonzola, and extra-sharp white Cheddar are favorites).

OFB is not a fan, but on my own salad I often add pickled beets (yum) and horseradish (for extra bite). I’ll also add fresh herbs if I have them on hand, then top the whole thing off with extra-virgin olive oil, aged balsamic vinegar, fresh-cracked pepper, and salt (we like RealSalt, sea salt, or Himalayan pink salt). If we really want to splurge, we’ll splash on Chef Tim’s delicious balsamic vinaigrette, locally available at farmers’ markets here but available everywhere online at http://www.cheftim.com.

A favorite variation is the sweet-and-savory salad, with Boston or butter lettuce, diced apples (such as Braeburn and/or Granny Smith), diced sweet onion (such as Vidalia, WallaWalla or Candy), dried cranberries (craisins) and diced dried apricots or mandarin oranges or grapefruit sections, diced avocado, and sliced almonds, topped with shredded Swiss cheese and fresh mint leaves and dressed with extra-virgin olive oil and a citrus-infused balsamic vinegar. I know about the huge fad for “green juices” for breakfast, but I can’t face them. As far as I’m concerned, this salad, topped with an herbed yogurt “Green Goddess”-style dressing, would make a great breakfast, without having to confront a glass of green slime.

I have yet to try to recreate the sumptuous wedge salad available at the Texas Steakhouse chain (not to be confused with the Texas Roadhouse chain), a huge wedge of iceberg lettuce topped with blue cheese, onion and diced tomato. (Mind you, it’s also typically topped with crumbled bacon, but of course I make them leave that off.) It is SO good, but it seems so decadent that I save that for road trips.

Anyway, I had salad for lunch yesterday—you can see why it could easily make a meal—and we had side salads with supper. I had salad for lunch today, and we’ll have salad as a first course again tonight. Whew! I’m finally starting to feel normal again. For me, most comfort foods are hot: pasta, potatoes, pizza, grits, sweet potato fries, corn on the cob, warm Brie and a crusty baguette to dip into it or hot dinner rolls and butter or corn cakes. But salad is the great exception: It’s comfort and comforting, all by itself.

‘Til next time,

Silence

Addictive bean salad. February 18, 2013

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Silence Dogood here. This morning, I was reading the January/February 2013 issue of Vegetarian Times and came upon a recipe for Black-Eyed Pea and Stewed Tomato Salad. (Check it out for yourself at http://www.vegetariantimes.com.) It looked incredible, and I’m sure it’s amazing. But I’m texture-sensitive, and have never been able to warm up to the mealy texture of black-eyed peas (even fresh) or to stewed tomatoes.

Fortunately, the recipe inspired me to remember one of my own that I haven’t made in ages:

Lovely Lunch Salad

1 can cannellini (“white kidney”) beans, 15.5-16 ounces

1 red onion, peeled and diced

2 large garlic cloves, smashed and minced

4 ripe paste tomatoes, chopped

juice from 1 lemon or generous splash lemon juice

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

generous shakes of dried basil, thyme, and oregano

kalamata olives, seeded and sliced

artichoke hearts, minced

Oil from kalamata olives and artichoke hearts

1/2 cup crumbled Gorgonzola, blue, or feta cheese

salt (we like Trocomare or RealSalt) and pepper (I suggest lemon pepper) to taste

salad greens, such as a mix of arugula, watercress, romaine, radicchio, curly endive (frisee), kale, spinach, and mustard greens

Drain and rinse beans. Add all other ingredients except greens, stir well, cover, and allow to rest for 1/2 hour to several hours to let flavors marry. Serve on a generous bed of mixed greens as a stand-alone lunch. Savor the delicious taste and enjoy the thought that you’re doing something good for yourself. You can mix and refrigerate the bean-tomato marinade and take it to work, with greens packed separately, several days a week. (You can also save any leftover dressing and use it as stand-alone salad dressing or pour it over the next batch of bean-tomato salad.) Serves 2 for lunch, or 4 if served as the salad course before dinner.

Now I can’t wait to make this and enjoy it with our friend Ben! It seems like a perfect transitional salad as February and winter move toward March and spring.

‘Til next time,

Silence

Spike your salads with fruit. August 13, 2012

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Silence Dogood here. When I think of summer salads, I think of fruit. But I’m not talking about fruit salad; rather, it’s how I can add the luscious fresh fruits of summer to a green salad to make it even more delicious and summery. Often, adding dried fruits and nuts or seeds can enhance the effect of the fresh fruit even more. I’ll give you some suggested combinations in a moment, but first, a few caveats:

* Scallions (green onions), sweet onions, chives, and red or purple (Spanish) onions all pair well with fruit. Garlic doesn’t.

* Sweet red, orange, and yellow bell peppers pair well with fruit. Astringent green and purple bell peppers don’t.

* Skip all olives if you’re adding fruit to your salad. (Olive oil is another matter, as we’ll see.)

* Fruit and heat aren’t necessarily opposed; you can mix some hot pepper jelly into your dressing to up the ante, and fresh-cracked black pepper enhances the fruit flavors (as does salt). But if you like to add sliced jalapenos, crushed red pepper, hot sauce, or another form of chiles to your salads, don’t do it if you’re adding fruit. Ditto for hot radishes; milder ones like daikons are fine. And I wouldn’t add horseradish to a salad containing fruit (though I love adding it to heat up an all-veggie salad), but a honey-mustard dressing pairs well with most fruit salads, unless you’re using melons, as long as you use it sparingly.

* Skip the serious veggies if you’re adding fruit. The mainstays of a veggie-based salad—broccoli, cauliflower, sliced summer squash or zucchini, mushrooms, and the like—will clash with the flavors and textures of the fruit. Even tomatoes have to be carefully paired with complementary fruits like peaches. Cucumbers will go with most fruits, but if you’re using honeydew, which already has a tendency to taste like cucumber, I’d skip the cukes. Needless to say—well, I hope it’s needless to say—hearty additions like corn, black beans or other beans, and grains are not fruit-friendly. (Grains are dried-fruit friendly, but that’s another matter.)

* Forego the croutons. Eeeeewww!!! Croutons and fruit? Gross!!! Ditto the fried onion strings, wonton strips, and etc. you can find in bags in the produce section. Add crunch with nuts and/or seeds instead.

Here’s the good news: Pretty much anything goes when it comes to the greens and fresh herbs you can use as the base of your salad. I would never use sliced carrots in a fruit-topped salad, but shredded carrots are usually okay if not used in excess (except, again, in a salad with melon). But arugula, Romaine, leafy and mixed lettuces, radicchio, endive, watercress, baby spinach: Greens seem made to go with fruit, especially when balanced with the tang of onions and the spiciness of fresh herbs or mustard. Mix and match and find your favorite combinations! 

Here are a few combinations to try:

* Butter or Boston lettuce with scallions, kiwi, strawberries, and grapes. Add honey-mustard dressing (preferably homemade) and slivered almonds.

* Mixed greens (try to include arugula and watercress) with sliced peaches, scallions, and blueberries. Top with a dressing of olive oil whisked with hot pepper jelly and add pecans for a delicious crunch.

* Mixed spring greens with sliced peaches or nectarines and cubed watermelon or watermelon balls. Add fresh mint- or fresh basil-infused olive oil as a dressing, with additional fresh mint or basil leaves topping each serving.

* Baby spinach and slivered red (Spanish) onions with mandarin oranges and slivered almonds. Add dried cranberries (“craisins”) for extra depth of flavor and texture, or substitute fresh blueberries or raspberries for the craisins. Dress simply with an olive oil-balsamic vinegar dressing. If you have access to specialty vinegars, like lemon or mandarin orange balsamic, experiment with these and see what you think. Basil- or rosemary-infused olive oil might also be interesting choices for this salad.

* Baby spinach or arugula and curly endive with sliced pluots (an apricot-plum cross), red (Spanish) onions, golden raisins, pistachios, fresh basil, and red bell peppers. A simple olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing is perfect for this. 

The possibilities are endless. Seeded sour (“pie”) cherries are fabulous in salads, especially when paired with a sweet fruit like peaches. Pears and apples are delicious in salads and pair well with walnuts and raisins or dried cranberries. Just make sure you add some savory elements (such as an onion-family member and an herb like rosemary or basil) to offset the fruit’s sweetness.

As anyone who’s ever enjoyed an apple and a slice of Cheddar or grapes or strawberries and a hunk of Brie knows, fruit pairs very well with cheese, too. When you’re thinking about what cheese to add to your salad, just think about what cheese you’d eat with that particular fruit if you were eating them alone, and then add that. When in doubt, you can’t go wrong with a mild cheese like shredded mozzarella. But, please, never add cheese to a melon, berry, or cherry salad! That would be a horrible mistake.

            ‘Til next time,

                        Silence

A salad a day. December 30, 2011

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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

Stop dissing vegetables. July 16, 2011

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Silence Dogood here. One of my pet peeves is people telling us not to eat various veggies because they’re not packed with nutrients. In an era when Americans are fighting an obesity epidemic and the most-consumed vegetable in America is the French fry, this is ludicrous, harmful, and just plain wrong. So I was really steamed (so to speak) when I turned on the computer this morning and saw that Yahoo! had highlighted an article from SELF magazine under the head “Top 3 Worst Veggies.”

The three that had ended up on the list were celery, cucumbers, and Iceberg lettuce. And of course there are plenty of other contenders, from zucchini to radishes. But let’s confine ourselves to the three featured in the story. Celery has 6—count them, 6—calories per 8-ounce piece of stalk, plus tons of fiber and water. In other words, it fills you up, not out. Cukes pack a whopping 16 calories in an entire cup of slices, plus tons of water. And the endlessly demonized Iceberg lettuce provides tons of satisfying crunch and hydrating water for, guess what, pretty close to zero calories per serving.

Not that I have a bad thing to say about the author’s suggestions for substitutions: carrots, purslane, and Romaine lettuce. I love carrots. I’ve never actually eaten purslane, but I noticed a purslane plant growing as a weed in our neighbor’s vegetable bed the other day and was thinking about swiping it to add to one of our salads along with that other nutritious weedy green, baby lamb’s-quarters.

And our friend Ben and I adore Romaine lettuce and include it in all our salads, though I confess I was dumbfounded to see the author’s suggestion that you should substitute a “wedge” of Romaine for a wedge of Iceberg in a classic blue cheese crumble. I would very much like to see the author produce a wedge from a head of Romaine lettuce! Far better to use whole leaves in a luscious Caprese salad with sliced ripe tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, fresh whole basil leaves, sliced scallions, a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and a sprinkling of good salt. If you’re craving the classic blue cheese wedge, stick to Iceberg.

But I digress. Let’s make a salad out of the three proscribed vegetables. Tear or cut up a head of Iceberg, slice those cukes and celery stalks. Toss in chopped scallions, sliced radishes, and a few cherry tomatoes if you’d like to add more flavor, savor and crunch. Add your favorite fresh or dried herbs (we love basil, thyme and mint in salads), a squeeze of lemon or lime or a splash of balsamic (or your favorite) vinegar, a grind of black or lemon pepper, a few drops of extra-virgin olive oil, and a sprinkling of sea salt, Himalayan rock salt, or RealSalt to taste. Toss everything well, and fill your bowl.

Eat up! You’ll be getting tons of flavor, fiber and satisfaction for less than 100 calories a delicious, filling bowlful. Sure beats a 1500-calorie serving of oily fries, don’t you think?

                  ‘Til next time,

                            Silence

Some celebratory salads. June 1, 2008

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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

         

 

In praise of arugula. May 13, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, recipes.
Tags: , ,
3 comments

Silence Dogood here. Here at Hawk’s Haven, we eat a lot of salads. Our friend Ben and I feel that it’s just not right to start the evening meal without a big, crunchy, colorful salad. (Believe it or not, when we’re going out to eat, we actually tend to choose restaurants based on the quality of their salads. Bad, boring, or meager salad? Bad restaurant. Next!) I’ll give you the whole salad song-and-dance when I have a little more time to share our salad secrets. Today, I want to focus on my very favorite salad green, and one of my top ten favorite crops, arugula. 

Arugula is memorable for more than its distinctive rich, spicy flavor and meaty texture. There’s also that name. Except for Dracula, I can’t say that I know any other words like it. Our good friend Richard Saunders, who loves investigating the origins of words, tells me that it derives from the Latin eruca, which means “caterpillar or plant with downy stems” (eeeewwww!!! that hardly sounds appetizing, and besides, arugula’s stems are not “downy”). But how’d we get from eruca to arugula? It’s apparently the Spanish diminutive form. (The French roquette strikes me as closer to the Latin original.) I hadn’t realized that arugula was a Spanish word; I’d just assumed it was Italian. Shame on me for not taking Spanish in school! (And if you’re wondering what “Dracula” means, Richard says it’s Romanian for “son of Dracul,” and that dracul means both “the dragon” and “the devil.” Clever guy, that Bram Stoker.)

Arugula’s a cool-season crop, which means it’s ready to harvest now in our part of Pennsylvania. We like to pick the largest leaves off the outside of our plants so the plants can keep producing until the weather heats up, when they bolt (send up flower stalks) and become so bitter they’re only fit for the chickens. But you can harvest whole plants, too. Luckily for us, by the time we have to pull our plants, our local CSA and farmers’ market have kicked in with their own arugula, so we can continue to indulge through June. You can also sow arugula in late summer for a fall crop—our CSA offers it again from September through November.

Arugula’s spicy flavor and meaty texture will add richness and depth to a mixed-greens salad. And we generally love to mix all sorts of greens in our salads. But arugula’s so good that, if we have enough, we love to eat it on its own. One of our favorite ways to serve arugula is also the simplest—a plate of the freshly washed greens topped with shredded Parmesan or Swiss cheese and roasted almond bits, with a simple dressing of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and salt. Yum!!! Want to dress it up a bit? Add grapefruit, orange, or mandarin orange segments, and mix some orange juice into the oil-and-vinegar dressing.

Because arugula’s both rich and spicy, I don’t add herbs to either the salad or the dressing when I’m making an arugula-based salad. No point in muddying that flavor! It is definitely a star on its own.

One of the many virtues of arugula is that it can stand up to some pretty intense, earthy flavors, unlike wimpier greens, which makes it a perfect pairing with roasted beets, feta or chevre cheese, and walnuts, all of which have robust flavors. Again, dress it simply with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and salt, or add just a touch of lemon juice for a tangy note.

Other ways we enjoy arugula are substituting it for basil in pesto and using it in pasta sauce. For a light pasta sauce, we’ll saute diced onions and sliced mushrooms in olive oil, then toss in chopped arugula just before serving, continuing to sautee just until the arugula has wilted. Then we’ll serve the sauce over fettucine or spaghetti with crumbled feta or flaked Parmesan on top. (Our heat-loving friend Richard likes to toss in crushed red pepper and minced garlic when he makes this sauce.)

I’ve spoken before about our CSA, Quiet Creek Farm. Not only do the farmers, John and Aimee Good, provide us with a wealth of organic, farm-fresh veggies, herbs, and flowers from June through November, but they also provide recipes so everyone has lots of options for enjoying each crop. (Thanks, Aimee!) Here are two of their arugula recipes that I think you’ll enjoy.

               Chopped Arugula Salad

1 clove garlic

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper

1/4 teaspoon sugar or honey (Try it with maple syrup, too!—Silence)

2 roasted red peppers, chopped

1/2 pound arugula, cut into strips (about 4 cups)

Mince garlic and mash with salt. Add oil, vinegar, pepper, and sweetener. Mix arugula, peppers, and dressing. Toss to coat. Yield: Four first-course servings.

             Fruity Arugula Salad

1/2 pound arugula leaves, torn if desired (about 4 cups)

2 medium pears, apples, or combination

1/2 cup walnuts or pecans, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup goat, feta, or other soft cheese

            Balsamic Dressing

1/2 cup olive oil

scant 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

1-2 tablespoons tamari soy sauce (to taste)

chopped fresh basil, dill, parsley, or combination (optional)

Core and chop pears, apples, or combination. In a large bowl, mix arugula with fruit. Add nuts and cheese. Toss well. For dressing, mix all ingredients in a jar or salad cruet. Shake vigorously until well blended. Add dressing to individual salads just before serving. Serves 4-6.  

Too bad it’s just 7 a.m.—I’m ready for an arugula salad right now! If you’ve never had arugula before, you simply have to try it and experience its flavor for yourself. Some things are indescribable—saying it tastes like this or smells like that or looks like the other just doesn’t touch the awesome reality. The scent of peonies or freesias or old-fashioned bearded iris falls in this category—their trademark fragrance is instantly recognizable, unlike any other. The flavors of asparagus, artichokes, and arugula are like that, too. Seeing the Northern Lights or lightning bugs (fireflies) in a summer field or, say, a full moon, is like that visually. You’ve just gotta go there and find out for yourself. We’re in arugula season right now. Won’t you join me in an arugula salad tonight?

                    ‘Til next time,

                                   Silence