Char’s Simple Salad

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chars simple salad

Recently we had the privilege of attending a “farm shop” conference/tour in the UK and enjoyed many delicious meals while there.  Historically the British have not had the best reputation for their culinary skills, but I can enthusiastically say that it’s just simply not true! However, I did find that many of the vegetables they love are white, or tan, or beige.  Potatoes, cabbage, leeks, and rutabagas were in abundance, but I needed some color! Our trip included a side jaunt to Dublin, and there I fell in love with my new favorite store.  Avoca, Anthropologie on steroids, with the most eye-catching store displays I have ever seen, and a lovely café filled with mostly lady shoppers.  I managed to convince Rob that he would survive waiting in line with all the women, and we both really enjoyed the tasty, lightly dressed salad along with our entrees.  Of course I had to buy their cookbook, and thankfully it included a recipe for their signature salad dressing.  It’s a very simple recipe that I have slightly adapted to suit my tastes.

Craving a good home-cooked dinner after all those restaurant meals, I invited some friends over and cooked up a batch of the Pork Cassoulet, one of my favorite recipes on our website, brought home a crusty baguette, and had fun creating my new favorite salad.  I have the confidence that I can tackle almost any recipe, but I’ve come to grips with my lack of presentation skills.  I’m just not good at garnishing, and I’ve decided that if the best I can do is pop a sprig of parsley in the corner, I may as well not even try and hope that the food speaks for itself.  But this rainbow colored salad is so beautiful that it practically garnishes itself!

Ingredients

Dressing:

1 large shallot, finely chopped
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
4 tsp. grainy mustard
2 tsp. honey
Juice of one orange
Freshly ground salt & pepper, to taste

Method

Dressing:

My favorite way to prepare a salad dressing is throw everything into a mason jar, and whiz it up with my hand-held immersion blender.  This keeps one extra bowl clean and the jar looks so pretty in the fridge!  Now, a salad dressing recipe is not an exact science like baking, so if you just glop some mustard and honey in the jar without precisely measuring it, no one is going to taste the difference!  Also, you could eliminate the orange juice and substitute a fruit flavored vinegar for the white wine vinegar.  I would just be careful with the honey quantity, as fruit flavored vinegars can sometimes be quite sweet, so taste before you add the full amount of honey.

Salad:

I have a hand-crafted large, shallow bowl that my potter brother-in-law made for me, and I love using it for salads as the veggies don’t all sink to the bottom.  I placed the greens on the bottom of the bowl, got out my mandolin, and proceeded to chop and dice my favorite veggies.  The carrots, radishes, fennel and cucumber were all sliced and julienned on my Borner mandolin, one of my favorite kitchen tools.  It’s probably also my most dangerous tool, as I never use the safety guard and have sliced a few fingers on this guy.  What I love about the Borner we carry in the store is that it has an adjustable slicing blade, so you get 4 different thicknesses with just one blade.  Almost every chef who has ever done cooking classes at the market brings their Borner with them, so I figure it must be the best.

Green Beans: Cut the ends and tips off with a scissor, chop them in half and steam for 5 minutes, or just until bright green and still nice and crunchy.  While they were still hot, I mixed them with a tablespoon or so of the dressing.

Fennel: My new favorite salad veggie and it pairs so well with the orange in the dressing. Chop off the stalks, you don’t eat those, but save the delicate fronds (they look like dill). Mince the fronds and mix in with the greens, or better yet, use them to garnish the top of the salad! Quarter the fennel bulb, cut out and discard the tough inner core and slice on the thinnest mandolin setting. You can also do this by hand with a knife, but I think fennel just tastes better when it’s thinly shaved.

Peppers: I’m so excited that the local, sweet baby bell peppers are back and I simply sliced off the top, cut them in half lengthwise, tossed them with a bit of olive oil, and roasted them on a parchment-lined baking sheet for 10 minutes at 425 degrees. I then tossed them with a tablespoon or two of the dressing while they were still hot.

The salad may seem time consuming to put together, but chopped salads are all the rage right now, and the rainbow colors just inspire you to eat more veggies.  Having a tasty, homemade dressing in your fridge is always a good inspiration to enjoy whatever local veggies are in season.  I’m thinking blanched asparagus and fresh strawberries in June, and roasted corn and field tomatoes in late summer.  Mmmmmm