Archive for the ‘Salad’ Category

Lemon Tarragon Potato Salad

Monday, April 20th, 2009

lemonypotatosalad1Every spring, there comes a moment, usually near or on the first really warm day, when my potato cravings reorient themselves.  During the colder days, almost dessert-like concoctions of roasted and then mashed sweet potatoes flavored with nutmeg, cinnamon, and butter are like cozy turtleneck sweaters you can burrow into.  More elegant preparations of thinly sliced russets layered with cream and Gruyere are the cashmere  cardigans that dress up a simple roast, and creamy purees of Yukon Golds blended with parsnip or celery root are the… hm — silk long underwear? — that make savory braises and stews that much more comforting. 

But just as we’re relieved to put aside our warmer layers and wiggle our toes in the grass, I’m always excited when the thought of waxy, creamy potatoes bathed in a light, tangy, herbal dressing pops suddenly into my head.  

I make many variations of this — it’s good with peeled or unpeeled potatoes, chives, shallot or red onion in place of the scallion, chervil, dill, parsley or basil instead of tarragon, and additions of chopped hard boiled eggs, blanched peas or asparagus or little slices of cornichon.  You can even add mayonnaise or sour cream or a mixture of the two if you want your potato salad to be creamy.  There are two critical things to get right though — one is making sure the potatoes are cooked to precisely the right texture, and the other is adding a  note of acidity to balance out the starch and sweetness of the potatoes.   Here, I’m using mild rice vinegar and lemon juice, along with some grated lemon zest for extra sunshine.

Potatoes can vary widely in size, shape, and texture, and as a result cooking times can be all over the map.  The size and shape variables can be mitigated by either carefully sorting through the bin and choosing potatoes that are as close in size and shape as possible, or by cutting the potatoes in halves, quarters, eighths, etc depending on their size so that all the pieces are approximately the same size, or into slices of the same width.  I don’t like to leave the potatoes whole, however, because I find that the exterior will usually be waterlogged by the time the inside is cooked through, and because the cut surfaces seem to absorb the flavors of the dressing more effectively.   The next step in achieving potato perfection is to carefully babysit your potatoes as they cook, judiciously poking and tasting, and draining them the second the crunch disappears.  At this point, a fork will encounter a small amount of resistance, and the potatoes should hold their shape well. 

This is good with roast chicken, fish, scallop chips, or anything grilled.

2 lbs buttercream, fingerling, or other waxy potatoes cut into either 1/4 inch slices or 3/4 inch-ish chunks
2 scallions, finely chopped
3 tbsp tarragon, finely chopped
2 tbsp rice vinegar
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1/2 tsp salt plus salt for cooking water
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Put potates in a medium pot and add cold water to cover plus 1 1/2 inches.   Add a hefty pinch of salt to the water.  Bring to a boil, and continue to boil “rather hard” as Julia says, until one of the largest pieces of potato breaks apart with a fork and loses its crunch when you bite into the center.  Immediately drain and transfer to a bowl.  Sprinkle with rice vinegar and 1/2 tsp kosher salt.  Allow to cool for 15-20 minutes.  Add scallions, tarragon, lemon juice and zest and stir to combine.  Drizzle with olive oil and stir again.  Best served slightly warm or at room temperature.

Immersion Blender

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

What would you rather do: A. dig the blender out from appliance Siberia, assemble it, plug it in, dump in ingredients, blend, pour blended things into glasses/bowls/back into a pot, potentially add a second batch or even a third and repeat the process, meanwhile dripping and spilling everywhere, then disassemble, wash at least 4 pieces, and then replace in appliance Siberia or B. grab a handy immersion blender where you keep it close by (since it is so small and so convenient), plug in, immerse in the food to be blended, already in it’s destination container, blend in one batch, either large or small, eject the business end from the handle, wash one piece, and replace in convenient nearby storage? 
Unless I am blending something containing ice cubes and I need the extra torque, my answer is always B.  Here are a few of my favorite ways to use an immersion blender:

Pour berries (fresh or frozen), banana, yogurt, milk, and agave syrup or honey into a large glass pitcher — immersion blend and use the pitcher to serve and store extra.

Add a roughly chopped shallot, 1/4 cup white wine vinegar, 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard, and 1/2 cup or more of olive oil to a large jar with a lid.  Blend, and use to dress your salads for a week.  Store the dressing in your lidded jar in the refrigerator.

For an easy vegetable soup, saute onion or garlic or shallot or leek or scallions in 1 tbsp of butter.  Add 2-3 cups of peas and lettuce, or chopped carrots, or chopped potatoes, or chopped tomatoes, or chopped beets, etc.   Add water or vegetable or chicken stock to cover.  Salt gently and bring to a simmer.  Cook until vegetables are tender, then immersion blend right in the pot.  Check seasoning and add salt if needed.  Serve hot or cold.

What to Do With Leftover Roast Chicken, Part 1

Thursday, February 5th, 2009

Since my son was born, I’ve become an even bigger fan of things I can cook in the oven with minimal interventions before or after, so roast chicken is in even heavier rotation than before.  I used to be at a loss for what to do with the leftover bits, but I’ve come up with a strategy and a few options.  We eat the dark meat the night I roast the chicken, since the white meat is more flexible as an ingredient.  Then I save the chicken in a gallon freezer bag with as much juice and good stuff as I can scrape off the bottom of the roasting pan.  The next day I separate the white meat and the oysters (the little bits of meat from underneath the chicken) from the carcass and put them aside.  The carcass and any other bits, globs, or pieces go into a pot to boil with a few quarts of water, salt, peppercorns, some onion or shallot and whatever other aromatic vegetables I have, like celery, fennel, carrots, and/or parsley.   After it boils, I let it simmer for about 1/2 hour to 45 minutes, and then I strain out the solids, leaving me with a few quarts of really delicous stock.

I can now make one of the following two meals for two with minimal effort:

Chicken, Avocado and Walnut Salad with Spicy Pumpkin Soup
Hearty Sausage, White Bean and Kale Soup

Voila, dinner that no one will complain about.

Chicken, Avocado and Walnut Salad

1 clove garlic, smashed
2 tbsp aged balsamic vinegar
pinch of salt
4 tbsp walnut oil
4 cups salad greens, washed, carefully dried, and torn into bite sized-pieces
1/2 cup toasted walnuts
1 avocado, thinly sliced
2 leftover chicken breasts, diced

Put the garlic, vinegar, and salt in the bottom of a large bowl. Gradually whisk in the walnut oil. Add the salad greens and toss (I use my hands for this.) Top with avocado, walnuts, and chicken.

Spicy Pumpkin Soup

1/2 tbsp butter
2 cloves garlic
1 1/4 tsp hot smoked paprika
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 sweet potato, peeled and roughly chopped
2-3 quarts chicken stock
1 can pumpkin puree
salt and pepper to taste
cream for garnish

In a medium, heavy bottomed sauce pan, saute the garlic, paprika and cumin for a minute or two until the raw smell comes off the garlic. Add the stock and the sweet potato, bring to a boil, and simmer until the potato is cooked through. Add pumpkin puree and blend soup together with an immersion blender (or in small batches in a regular blender or food processor, but seriously, just do yourself a favor and get an immersion blender.) Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with a small drizzle of heavy cream in each bowl.

Spicy Sausage, Kale, and White Bean Soup

2 fresh Andouille sausages
1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 clove garlic, pressed
1 tbsp tomato paste (I buy it in a tube, so I don’t waste it when I just need small amounts.)
1 can white beans, strained and rinsed
2-3 quarts chicken stock
leftover chicken, diced
1 bunch kale
red pepper flakes to taste

Gently heat the olive oil over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan. Squeeze the sausages out of their casing into the pan, raise the heat to medium high, and saute until cooked through, breaking up with a wooden spoon as you go. Add garlic and tomato paste and saute for one more minute. Add white beans and chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, add kale and red pepper flakes, and simmer until kale stems are cooked through, about five minutes. Adjust seasoning and serve. Slices of baguette or other bread grilled in the broiler and rubbed with garlic are a nice accompaniment.

Walnut Oil and Zucchini-Walnut Spice Bread

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009

walnut021Roasty, toasty and mellow, walnut oil has recently become one of my favorite ingredients.   It is high in Omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, and is polyunsaturated.  Whisked into some aged balsamic vinegar, with a little crushed garlic, it is a fantastic salad dressing, especially for a salad of roasted beets and goat cheese.  It also adds a delicate but warm complexity to zucchini bread.   Just after my son was born last August, my mother baked us a batch of this wonderful zucchini bread, which freezes beautifully, and helped sustain us through the early days and nights as new parents.

Wet Ingredients:
3 eggs
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups canola oil
2 1/2 cups grated zucchini
2 tsp vanilla extract

Dry Ingredients:
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
3 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves

To Finish:
1 1/2 cups walnuts, toasted and chopped
1 cup raisins
1 tbsp walnut oil

Preheat the oven to 350º. In a medium bowl, combine the wet ingredients. In a large bowl “sift” the dry ingredients together by whisking them gently, then gradually add in the wet ingredients and stir just to combine. Fold in the walnuts and raisins, and then add the walnut oil last.

Grease 2 large or 4 small loaf pans, and pour in the batter to about 3/4 full. Bake 45-50 minutes for small loaves, or 1 hour for large. Loaves are done when a cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean (or with crumbs, but no batter.)

To freeze, wrap in waxed paper, then in foil, and then in a sealable freezer bag. Will keep for several months!

Mediterranean Salad

Wednesday, June 20th, 2007

Kind of like a Greek salad. I assembled it on a platter surrounded by triangles of toasted pita bread, and served hummus on the side.

For Salad

4 cups washed and well-dried mesclun mix
1/2 cucumber, washed with soap and water, dried, 1/2 peeled in alternating stripes, and sliced 1/8 inch thick
1 ripe medium tomato, diced
20 medium-large mint leaves, washed, dried, and cut into chiffonade
12 kalamata olives
1/3 cup toasted Marcona almonds*
1/2 cup creamy Israeli feta, cubed

For Dressing

1 clove garlic, pressed
juice of 1 lemon
1 tbsp rice vinegar
3 tbsp snipped chives

2 tbsp olive oil

For Finishing

Maldon Sea Salt

Layer the salad ingredients in a platter or bowl. In a bowl, combine the garlic, lemon juice, vinegar, and chives. Whisk with a fork while gradually drizzling in olive oil. Pour dressing evenly over salad, sprinkle with salt, and serve immediately. You can either toss or just serve in vertical sections.
Serves 2.
* Marcona almonds are a Spanish variety of almond with a slightly richer taste, somewhat like a Macadamia nut.

Salad Composition 101

Friday, June 2nd, 2006

(originally published on
Many sad salads lurk in refrigerators at restaurants, or languish in the bins of the nearest Salad Toss counter at the deli, or cower inside taco shells or the latest fast food delivery contraption, waiting to depress the nearest eater. Leathery lettuce, alien tomatoes, and canned garnishes can create the impression that a salad is a poor substitute for food. As a powerful antidote to this dispiriting category, creating your own salad is a great way to connect with fresh ingredients. Along with a bit of bread and a glass of wine, it’s a delicious, light, and healthy supper.

The key is to use the most inspired selection of ingredients you can find, with the barest of seasonings. Shopping for a salad can be a great experience of foraging locally for things that are seasonal and fresh. I like to think of an unconventional salade Niçoise or a vegetable antipasto: an artfully curated selection of flavors, textures and colors displayed on individual plates or a large serving dish. Temperature is a key component of getting the best flavor from your salad. A cold tomato is a thing from hell, whereas one that has been warmed by the sun for a few hours just prior to being picked and eaten is a Proustian experience. Not everything you include has to come straight from the garden, but bringing all produce to room temperature is crucial. I rarely refrigerate produce I plan to use within 24 hours, except for onions (colder onions make for fewer tears.)

A salad as it should be is so personal to the taste of the cook and so dependant upon what is in season that it is difficult to give a recipe, but here are some ideas for combinations, along with my favorite salad dressing recipe. As far as that goes, you can do just as well and sometimes better with just a drizzle of high-quality extra virgin olive oil, a squeeze of lemon or lime juice and a sprinkle of salt.

Don’t feel as though you have to throw in the kitchen sink. Think of five or six things that might taste good together, treat them well, and assemble them in an appealing way.

Lettuce and other greens: Mesclun mixes of various varieties, baby spinach, sorrel, dandelion greens, and lettuces are in season around the country for the next several months. If you have a farmer’s market, look there first, but many stores now carry a good selection of bulk mesclun or bagged, washed greens. Look carefully for wilted bits, dive to the back of the shelf for the bagged lettuce with the farthest expiration date, and be generally picky. Sub-par greens can become more inspired with a brief cold water bath, and all greens should have one in any case to remove any dirt, sand, or bugs. Dry very carefully in a salad spinner or between paper towels (or both) as wet greens prevent dressing from adhering.

Fresh herbs : Cilantro, tarragon, chervil, basil, mint and parsley are some of my favorites to use in salads. Stick to milder herbs without an overly fibrous texture. Rosemary and sage are better in cooked foods, for example.

Other Vegetables: Some vegetables need a bit of blanching or steaming, including peas, green beans, and fava beans. Beets and potatoes should be boiled until just tender, while tomatoes, avocados, radishes, fennel, peppers, cucumbers, carrots, scallions, sweet onions, celery and sprouts can just be sliced or chopped or included whole.

Fruits: Apples, pears, plums, peaches, watermelon cubes, grapes, mango, berries, grapefruit or orange sections, and thin slices of lemon with the peel still on all have their place in a salad. Raw is always great, but apples, pears, and peaches can also be halved and baked first. Be sure to buy organic when it counts.

Toasted Nuts: Toasting, either in a toaster or on top of the stove in a small skillet, really develops the flavor of nuts. I like to use pine nuts, hazelnuts, pecans, walnuts, and in a salad with Southeast Asian-inspired flavors, peanuts.

Cheeses: A salad is one of the tastiest ways to set off the flavors of good cheese. Try blue cheeses like Cabrales or sweet Gorgonzola, rich Brie and soft and tangy goats’ milk cheeses, nutty Parmigiano Reggiano, delicate Mozzarella Bufala or dry, salty Feta and Ricotta Salata.

Legumes: High-quality canned cannellini beans or chickpeas, or beluga lentils or lentils du puy cooked in vegetable stock, can work very well in salads. If using canned legumes, wake them up by washing them very well in cold water and marinating in a quick dressing of olive oil and lemon juice.

Others: High-quality canned tuna fish (try the Italian versions packed in olive oil), olives, hard boiled eggs, poached eggs, poached or grilled shrimp, croutons made from stale wholegrain bread, cubed salami, and slab bacon cubed, fried, and drained are all great additions to a salad. I’m told that anchovies are delicious, but they’re too strange for me.

Salad Dressing

I make this in my blender. You can make it without one, but you will need to chop the shallot very finely and whisk the olive oil into the other ingredients by droplets.

1 small shallot, roughly chopped

1/4 cup rice vinegar

Juice of 1 lemon (pick out the seeds)

1/4 tsp Dijon mustard

1/2 cup olive oil

Salt to taste

In the bottom of a blender, macerate the shallot in the vinegar and lemon juice for about 15 minutes while you assemble the salad. Add mustard, and blend on high for about 30 seconds. While the blender is running, open the middle of the lid. In a slow, steady stream, add the olive oil. Stop the blender, taste, and correct seasonings. To dress the salad, just barely moisten and toss as close to serving as possible. I like to assemble the salad and then dress and toss it at the table.

You may prefer a lower or higher ratio of vinegar to oil, so experiment. This makes almost a cup of dressing, which will be way more than enough unless you are making a very large salad. It keeps in the refrigerator for up to a week, but be sure to bring to room temperature before using.

Inspired Combinations

  • Mache or mesclun, parsley, tuna, olives, red potatoes, tomatoes, hard boiled eggs, anchovy (if you must.) This is the classic Niçoise salad.
  • Arugula, sliced fennel, slivered pecorino romano, toasted pine nuts. Dress with just a splash of olive oil and a small drizzle of red wine vinegar, with sea salt and pepper.
  • Grilled radicchio, parsley, celery, chickpeas, cubed ricotta salata, cubed salami.
  • Frisee, tarragon, cubed fried bacon (lardoons), toasted baguette, poached egg.
  • Baby romaine, cilantro, mint, grilled shrimp, watermelon cubes, scallions, toasted chopped peanuts. Dress with lime juice mixed with a tiny bit of fish sauce, a dab of honey, and salt.
  • Mesclun, baked Seckel pears, Cabrales, toasted pecans.
  • Arugula, cannellini, tuna, fennel slices, lemon slices, chopped fennel fronds.

Image courtesy of Chocolate and Zucchini