Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Salad Made Interesting

I know I've been absentee. It's been part laziness and part lack of inspiration. There have been some changes and heartbreak and therefore I haven't been cooking as much, haven't been eating as much (leading to a phantom 6 pound weight loss, huh?) and haven't been taking pictures.

But today my friend Chris asked me what I use to dress the salads that I bring to work with me almost daily and I thought, why waste an email telling him my ideas when I can blog about it and send him the link?

I am usually an olive oil and vinegar girl. I love red wine vinegar and champagne vinegar and typically use balsamic only occasionally. I think that salad can have a bad rap because often times it is made with unhealthy dressing and tasteless boring vegetables. There's nothing weirder than eating a salad made with tomatoes and carrots and the only thing it tastes like is water. (Does anyone else have this experience? Personally I think that Subway sandwiches also taste like water. I have no idea if I am right on or everyone thinks I am crazy. Don't answer that part).

Today, for example, my salad was made up of the following:
heirloom tomatoes (incredibly sweet and in season)
red bell pepper
tiny slivers of red onion
a couple amazingly salty kalamata olives

I dressed it with a few drizzles of organic extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper to taste and a few dashes of Frank's red hot sauce, just to add that kick.

This salad has tons of crunch from the veggies and then the softness of the mozzarella and the salty bite of the 4-5 olives I added in. It wasn't planned out, more like a cross-section of what I currently happen to have in my kitchen. I also never use bottled salad dressing. It is so easy to make my own, and why would I put any chemicals on all my lovely produce?

A few things that I believe are completely underutilized in salads:

fresh herbs- I made a tuna salad once (lettuce, veggies, tuna, olive oil and vinegar dressing) and I added tons of chopped Italian parsley that I didn't want to go bad. It absolutely 100% changed the salad and made it. It was amazing. I really cannot tell you how much of a difference this made, but you must try it. So chop in some chives, add basil or dill or whatever you have on hand. But it really makes a difference. Imagine a salad with hidden sage, sauteed mushrooms, slivers of parmesan and walnuts. Oooh, I need to make that, that sounds amazing.

Fresh fruit- a chopped apple, pear or peach can really change the entire composure of a salad. One of my faves in this vein is
Butter lettuce
cubed Granny Smith apple(taste your apple before you add it to make sure it's not mealy, nothing worse than that)
chopped prunes
ricotta salata
With a champagne vinegar, shallot and olive oil dressing, add a pinch of sugar and s& p to taste. Trust me, it works. And it's worth finding ricotta salata for, one of my all time favorite cheeses.

Roasted veggies- a sliced beet, some caramelized broccoli and cauliflower will add an extra oomph, not to mention nutrition, to any boring salad.

Cheese- and no, I'm not talking about cheddar. Grated parmesan can do wonders for a salad, as can ricotta salata, a little feta, goat cheese. I used all these sparingly as strangely as much of a cheese lover I am, I have never loved cheese in a salad. But some cannot soar to the heights that they are meant to be without the addition of these cheeses. Go to a cheese store and taste. Try a Tasmanian blue cheese, trust me on this one, or my beloved Fromage d'Affinois.

But experiment, there's really no going wrong. And if you mess up or don't like it, well try it differently next time.

Coming up: my favorite easy vinaigrettes.


chrisjm said...

Can't wait for the post on dressings! (ie my _original_ request :) )

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