June 17th, 2013 § § permalink
If you were to ask me for a handful of great restaurants in San Francisco, I will most likely mention Schmidt’s. We go there quite often for pea pancakes, but they also have a spectacular rotation of seasonal salads. That’s how I ran into this amazing little gem. It’s briny and sweet and salty and bitter and crunchy… but also deceptively simple on first impression.
So I stole it.
The first step in making this salad is to pickle some fennel. It’s so easy! I prefer to pickle my vegetables using the Momofuku method – a quick no-cook, brine bath in the fridge for a few days. I prefer to use apple cider vinegar for these instead of rice vinegar because it imparts a fruity sweetness. I also like a bit more salt and a bit less sugar depending on my mood. Some days need less sweet than others…
Another fun modification to this salad is time. Depending on how much patience you have (I don’t possess much)… you can achieve a stronger pickle by soaking it for days rather than a day as I usually do. Just taste your pickle each day to check for doneness and serve it when its ready!
Recipe for Pickled Fennel Salad
2 small fennels
1 medium endive
1 ruby red grapefruit, peeled or sliced
1/3 c. apple cider vinegar
2/3 c. boiling water
1-2 ts. salt
mint, garlic, or pickling spices
+ Slice 1 fennel into thin slices for pickling. Put pickling herbs and spices into a small and fill with sliced fennel.
+ Make brine by mixing hot water, apple cider vinegar, salt, and sugar until fully dissolved. Pour into pickling jar. Seal and refrigerate for at least 24 hours. Will last for about 1 week. Taste each day for “doneness.”
+ To serve salad, mix pickled fennel with sliced fresh fennel, endive and grapefruit with a splash of grapeseed oil or something similarly light. Serve with a drizzle of pickling brine and some flaked sea salt.
December 19th, 2012 § § permalink
It’s hard to talk about a salad. The leaves will inevitably wilt by the time I can think of something clever to say. Sometimes, their simplicity is betrayed by a lengthy narrative. I can only talk about a salad by how it found me.
This salad found me by way of a random recipe – or rather, a suggestion of a recipe I saw online, a glimpse of potential that manifested in a complex and comforting wintry dish: chunks of pistachios and honeyed dates with crisp watercress support a warm and gingery mix of pears and parsnip. I think it’s a contender for my Christmas dinner.
I’m currently obsessing over watercress. There were some bags of baby kale at Whole Foods the last time I was there but I hesitated to buy it because the bag would require me to eat nothing but kale salads for the remainder of the week. I’m kind of a flimsy salad devotee. For me, a salad necessitates some warm soup, or crusty bread, or a heavy pasta. Or all of the above. God forbid someone serves me iceberg lettuce.
One day I’m going to enjoy eating iceberg lettuce again but I think I am too underwhelmed with my history of terrible salad bars and equally depressing “house” salads.
Ginger Pear and Parsnip Salad
2 small parsnips, cut into strips
1 small pear, sliced thinly
1 ts finely grated ginger, I used my trusty Microplane
1 TB olive oil
1 bunch of watercress
2 ts chopped pistaschios
4 dates, deseeded and chopped
3 ts olive oil
1 ts sherry vinegar
Salt & Pepper
+ Mix oil and vinegar in advance.
+Heat olive oil in a skillet and brown the parsnip with 1/2 of the grated ginger until they are tender to the fork. Remove the parsnip from the skillet and repeat with the pears. Do not overcook, unless you like your fruit soft. I prefer them a bit on the crisp side so I cooked it on medium heat for only about 3 minutes. Place the parsnip back into the pan to keep them warm while you mix your salad.
+Toss the watercress, pistachios, and dates in dressing and season with salt and pepper to taste. Put warm parsnip and pear on top and serve immediately.
September 10th, 2012 § § permalink
Nothing makes me feel more rabbit-like than a bowl of lettuce, poorly dressed and carelessly presented. Sadly, I could feed an entire colony of rabbits with all of the uninspiring salads I’ve been served. Their usual lack of nutrition makes me dislike them even more when offered as the ‘vegetarian option’. Cake is a vegetarian option.
I got particularly distressed when I had a long, hot Georgia summer of CSA boxes loaded with lettuce. This prompted a salad making frenzy that enabled me to grow out of my silly exasperation and embrace their raw, crunchy temperament. I still don’t order lettuce-y salads in restaurants but I make them a few times a week in the hopes of clearing out the fridge.
Making salads can be extremely rewarding once the craft of it gets into your bones. It’s a chance to paint with texture. Naturally you’d want to work with only local, seasonal, and fresh ingredients, but aside from the obvious factors, I think they are about as fun as anything improvisational gets.
This shaved cauliflower salad was inspired by Nigel Slater’s Fennel and Green Bean Salad in his epic vegetable book, Tender. I’ve made significant changes to the original, but I still liken this to his because I can’t stop putting green beans in my salad since. Also, I can’t live without cauliflower – when these cruciferous vegetables are shaved, they are subtle and delightful; a perfect backdrop for tomatoes, green beans, parsley, and toasted almonds.
2 c. shaved cauliflower
1 c. green beans, blanched for 3 mins and cooled in ice water
1. cherry tomatoes
1 c. loosely packed parsley leaves
1/4 c. toasted, sliced almonds
1 egg yolk
1 TB sherry vinegar
1 TB lemon juice
1 TB dijon mustard
1/2 c. olive oil
3 TB finely grated parmesan
+ Whisk dressing ingredients together well and toss half of the dressing with shaved cauliflower, blanched green beans, cherry tomatoes, and parsley. Top with almonds. Drizzle additional dressing on top right before serving.
August 29th, 2012 § § permalink
Consider yourself lucky if you ever get a chance to eat a French Charentais melon because they are absolute perfection. Charentais are unabashedly sweet – the kind of sweetness that puts other fruits to shame, because we all know fruits have egos the size of Texas. Circa 1920 from the Poitou-Charentes region of France, these highly refined cantaloupes were developed to be free of warts and blemishes typical of European orange melons. They are rarely cultivated in the US and do not ship well due to their delicate nature and short shelf life. It’s worth growing if you have a green thumb and a bit of dirt. The famous French poet, Antoine Girarde de Saint-Amant, had these words to say about the Charentais:
It is better than the beloved apricot, better than strawberries and cream, better than the Holy pear of Tours or the sweet green fig. Even the muscat grape I love is bitterness and muck compared to this divine melon.
O sweet grassy snake, crawling on a green bed. It is Apollo’s masterpiece. The brothels of Rouen will be free of the pox… tobacco smokers will have white teeth… I will forget my love’s favours before I forget you-
O fleur de tous les fruits! O ravisant MELON!
Doesn’t this guy look like a sea creature? The seeds remind me of Nemo…
How was I lucky enough to get a Charentais?
My melon came from the kiwi farmer at the Civic Center Farmer’s Market. Get this, the kiwi vendor disappears for months, then shows up last week with the best peaches of the season: Cling peaches with the texture and flavor of mangoes (that’s only a slight exaggeration). As I was standing there eyeing the cling peaches and begging for kiwis, a couple walked up and said… “Hey you are our kiwi guy!!!” - we all welcome the return of the kiwi farmer because everything he sells is spectacular, hence this Charentais. This farm stand is also where I got those amazing French Sugarplums… have you roasted some yet?
Most people (that eat meat) pair cantaloupes with prosciutto but I find the combination too overpowering for this particular specimen of exquisite melon. I choose to serve it chilled and shaved with a bit of fresh ricotta, a drizzle of honey, and pistachios. Then, I melt onto the floor from happiness.
Option number two would be Charentais melon with fresh Burrata cheese, a sorrel infused oil, and julienne mint. I usually get my burrata from AG Ferrari, who recently told us that the FDA has been “cracking down” on products… I don’t even know what that means, but I think I need another burrata retailer. For now though, I like the balance of ricotta and honey.
This would be perfect for a quick refreshing breakfast or a delightful end to a heavy meal (like the pizza I had today)… I used my ceramic vegetable peeler for these.