Posts Tagged ‘salads’

Spontaneous Salads, and easy tahini dressing

Years ago I wrote a review of Six Seasons: A New way With Vegetables. It remains a cookbook that I refer back to periodically and from which I have derived a lot of useful concepts. One of my favorites is the use of a “pad“ of some proteinaceous material, often whipped seasoned ricotta cheese or seasoned nut butter, underneath a salad to catch the dribbles of delicious dressing and add substance to the meal.

In this particular case chef McFaddens idea came back to me when I had nothing planned for lunch and was very hungry. Available in the refrigerator were a bag of washed and dried arugula leaves, a jar of the tahini dressing that I always keep around in warm weather, and the remains of a bowl of hummus, eating down to about half a cup in the bottom of the bowl. I decided that this would be my pad. I piled arugula leaves on top and drizzled tahini dressing over the leaves, and ate it. Simple as that. I was so eager to eat something that I had not scraped the little dried bits off the side of the hummus bowl, and that turned out to be such a good thing that I featured them in the photograph, because they were little areas of concentrated flavor when I scraped them up while eating. The hummus in the bottom was delicious on its own but was greatly improved by the arugula and the tahini dressing that dripped down to it. Very simple, and a really good reason to pick your salad greens when they are ready, wash and spin them, and keep them ready in the refrigerator. You’ll eat a lot more of them that way.

Tahini dressing is frequently found throughout the Middle East, in Israel, in northern Africa, and in many kitchens in America because it is so tasty and easy to make. There are probably as many variations as there are cooks to make it. I am very attached to my own formula but I will tell you where it deviates from the classic one and you can make your own decisions.

There are probably as many variations as there are cooks who make it. I am very attached to my own formula but I will tell you where it deviates from the classic one and you can make your own decisions.

Start with very good tahini. I like the Soom brand best, and it is hard to find in many areas but easily available online. Or use your own favorite. Stir it up smooth, put a half cup in the bowl of a little mini prep food processor, add a clove of garlic and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, process until the garlic is thoroughly chopped, add a half teaspoon of salt and a quarter cup of Greek yogurt and process a minute more, and add water a couple of tablespoons at a time as you continue to process. When the water hits the tahini, it will magically become very thick and creamy, and then will gradually thin out as you add more water. When you have achieved the consistency that you want, stop adding water. Check if it needs more lemon juice and salt by tasting, and then add a pinch of roasted ground cumin. I  don’t advise using raw cumin. In warm weather I always keep some cumin around that is roasted in a skillet just until it turns one shade darker and then ground in the spice grinder, but you can leave it out and add a dash of ground chipotle chile for a different but equally good effect. The yogurt is a bit unusual in tahini dressing, but I came across it a long time ago on a wonderful trip to Egypt and liked it and have been using it ever since. If you do not wish to try this, just substitute water and you will have the classic Israeli dribble sauce. Keep it in the refrigerator and it would be good for at least a week. It thickens when cold, but just beat in a little water with a fork until it’s back to the consistency that you want.

I have a mini-prep in the kitchen because I use it constantly for chopping garlic and ginger and other small tedious jobs, but if you don’t happen to have one, just chop the garlic finely with a knife or crush it with a little salt in a mortar and pestle, and use a whisk or fork to beat the yogurt and water into the tahini.

The hummus salad as described is vegetarian, and if you leave the yogurt out of the tahini dressing the whole dish becomes vegan. Your call.

Glories of Spring, and a Green Gadget

Spring in the garden is so beautiful that there is nothing you can do but admit to the cosmos that you could never have deserved this rush of glory but somehow received it anyway. The season conduces to a stance of awestruck gratitude. This is also the great season for salads, and on an average day my salad bowl contains somewhere between 12 and 20 species.  I don’t know how I managed to miss the existence of the Bluapple, a wonderful little device that absorbs ethylene gases and helps your salad greens stay fresher longer.  Two of these little devices and a year’s supply of refills come in under $20, a bargain when you consider how often it will save you from throwing away your salad materials.  Personally I always want to eat my salad greens within a few days of picking, but with this in my salad crisper, they are beautifully vibrant at the three day point, much as if I had just picked them out of the garden.  This is significant for working people because washing and drying salad greens takes time, and if you could do it a day or two ahead of time without loss of quality, you will definitely eat more salads.

Seasonal Reminder:Tarragon

Tarragon is at its beautiful peak in my garden, and if you have a goodly bush of it yourself, don’t forget to fill a jar with sprigs and cover with wine vinegar so that your salads next winter will carry that delicious flavor. Your own red wine vinegar is preferable but any good grade of wine vinegar will do. If you don’t already have a favorite vinaigrette recipe, try my Opinionated Vinaigrette.

Fava Beans, and Oyster Mushrooms

june 2009 017
Fava beans are a chic ingredient these days, but they’re more versatile than people realize. I learned this when I came across the leaves being sold at the beautiful farmer’s market in San Francisco as a salad green. I bought some and loved them, so this year I set out to grow my own.

In February I planted eight seeds of Broad Windsor fava beans in one of my large containers, about six inches apart. All of them sprouted, and I let them grow unchecked until they were nearly a foot high. At that point, I cut two of the plants and used all their leaves for an early salad, along with some romaine lettuce. The leaves are very mild in flavor and have an appealing tender texture. They marry well with a wide variety of other salad ingredients, including the delicate ones like butter lettuce, mache, and pansy leaves. Vinaigrettes that aren’t too strong and contain a little nut oil or a light, flowery Provencal olive oil work well.

I let the remaining plants grow until they had bloomed and set small pods. At that point, I cut off 6-8 inches of the tops of those plants, above the pods, and used the leaves in salads, which did no discernible harm to the maturing pods. As soon as the pods were filled out and I could feel beans inside about half to three quarters of an inch across, I picked the pods. A traditional Italian way to eat them is by themselves, raw on the plate, with thin slivers of young pecorino. It’s very good, but I thought they were great in this mushroom pasta. It’s vegetarian but has a substantial, meaty quality, and the slight delicious bitterness of the raw young fava beans is just what’s needed to give dimension to the flavor.

During the winter I grew my own oyster mushrooms but while the farmers markets are open I get them from Exotic Edibles of Edgewood, which is a good deal easier. You can find Scott and Gail, our local mushroom mavens, at the Downtown growers’ market on Saturday mornings.
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