Sunday, November 20, 2011

Two Salads. Three Dressings.

After a surprisingly dry and incredibly beautiful October, the rain has finally settled in on Portland.  Between the constant gray and the time change, I am really feeling the post-summer blues.  It's dark and I'm wet when I get home from work and it's hard to get much done.   It's not all drudgery, though.  This time of year comes with a sterling silver lining.  As the weather cools down, we Oregonians get a second salad season.  In our garden the arugula and spinach are booming and the kale, of course, is thriving.  Dave's farm has also provided plenty of mustard greens and chard.  I miss the abundance of summer produce, but it's also kind of relieving to have the scope of garden production narrow.  It's easier to appreciate salad when we're not drowning in zucchini and tomatoes. 

One person who has never had trouble focusing on salad is my father who demands eating a large salad with every dinner.  As a cook, he perfectly embodies the philosophy of the Slow Food movement. He spends at least an hour on each salad, meticulously picking through greens to ensure only the best quality and cleanliness. We are constantly rewarded by his labor because his salads are never without.

Salad is not as good as its dressing, but rather its greens.  Of course, a quality dressing is very important, but it will not mask a bruised or wilted leaf. The best greens you can get are the ones you grow yourself. The next best greens are those from the farmer's market.  If neither are possible, then just be intuitive: buy greens that look good.

I like my salads simple with a light lemony dressing that enhances the vegetables, rather than distracts. I've included two such salad recipes. The first recipe is one that slowly evolved over this summer.  I tend to avoid basic lettuces because there are so many other interesting greens to try. Plus, darker greens are packed with nutrients.  I like the combination of a few mellow greens like chard and spinach with some bitter, spicy greens like arugula and mustard. 

The second salad recipe is based off of a salad I've enjoyed at Dove Vivi, an incredible Portland pizzeria.  Because of kale's strong flavor and texture, I really think it shines by itself with a bright dressing. 

Finally, I've shared my father's balsamic vinaigrette.  It's bold and delicious. He's been using variations of this dressing since I first remember eating salad. He, of course, does not need to measure the ingredients when making his dressing. In fact when he emailed me the recipe, he wrote, "Until today I had never measured the ingredients so I may be off slightly.  After today I will never measure the ingredients again."

Autumn's Salad with Lemon Garlic Dressing
serves 2

My friend Brad suggested that I try making my salad dressings in a mortar.  It has made all the difference.  I can quickly pound a clove of garlic with salt into a paste, add oil and vinegar and emulsify with little effort. Do try it if you have a mortar and pestle.

lemon garlic dressing

1 small clove of garlic
a healthy pinch of salt
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp lemon juice (or 2 tsp balsamic vinegar)
1/8 tsp prepared mustard (about a pea size)
1/8 tsp honey

If using a mortar and pestle, pound garlic with salt to make a wet paste.  Add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine.  Otherwise, mince garlic and combine ingredients in a jar or bowl.  Mix well. Taste dressing and adjust to your liking. 

Lemon Garlic dressing
two large handfuls of greens (i.e. arugula, spinach, chard, and mustard), washed and thoroughly dried
a couple tablespoons of toasted sunflower and pumpkin seeds
an avocado, diced
shredded parmesan
freshly ground black pepper

Toss greens with dressing and sprinkle with fixings. Serve immediately.

Kale Salad with Shallot Dressing
serves about 3

The easiest way to thinly slice kale is to tightly roll up several leaves into a log and cut slices off the end with a very sharp knife.

shallot dressing

a small shallot (about 2 tablespoons)
a large pinch of salt
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp lemon juice plus a squeeze more (maybe 1 tsp more)
1/4 tsp prepared mustard

Pound shallot with salt in a mortar with a pestle. Add remaining ingredients and stir to emulsify.  Alternatively, finely chop the shallot and mix all ingredients in a jar or bowl to combine.


Shallot dressing
a bunch of kale (about 8 leaves), stemmed and thinly sliced
grated ricotta salata or parmesan

Toss together kale and dressing. Let sit for about 5 minutes.  Sprinkle with cheese and serve. 

Mike's Classic Balsamic Vinaigrette
the dressing that inspires all others

After many years of not using balsamic vinegar that contained sugar he now does so and the sugar content ranges between 3 and 6 grams of sugar per tablespoon. He will add 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon of brown sugar to unsweetened balsamic vinegar.  If a balsamic vinegar is too sweet, he will add a sugarless vinegar to reduce the sweetness.

Also, he does not save dressings, preferring to make them fresh daily.

a 10 oz jar

1/3 cup olive oil
1 1/2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar 
1/2 - 3/4 tsp brown sugar (if using an unsweetened vinegar)
1 large garlic clove, minced or 2 tbsp thinly sliced red onion
1/2 tsp dry mustard
1/2 tsp ground black pepper

Once the ingredients are in the jar, stir vigorously and then let the ingredients sit for at least 10 minutes. Taste the results and make slight changes adding vinegar, water, oil and brown sugar (if using) to taste.

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