Liking Salad

5 Sep

No, the Locavore Challenge isn’t a conspiracy to force you or your loved ones to eat vegetables or become a plant-based eater (formerly known as vegetarian or vegan).  However, vegetables and fruits are some of the most dynamic and dramatic local foods, with such obvious peak seasons and a “height of readiness” that is hard to stall (hence we can, dry, freeze and over-consume these when they are abundant and cheap, as Leda Meredith has helpfully reminded us).  And you can get REALLY into these foods and make great salads.  Or you can make terrible salads.  As NOFA-NY’s resident salad addict (um, I have a Tumblr on the topic) I decided I’d quickly run down some of my favorite “corrections” for common salad-averse individuals and the resources that taught me to improve my game with salad.  Tomorrow’s “food of the day” is greens, so of course I wanted to post this a day in advance to get you really craving some vitamin-packed leafy greatness.  HAVE FUN AND EAT YUMMY! –Rachel

My top two authority reference materials for building a salad: The Enchanted Broccoli Forest by Mollie Katzen (see page 36–I’m probably accidentally copying her, word for word, since I used this book so much when learning to cook) and Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison (pp. 134 and up).  I hate to reneg on my earlier point about accidental or subliminal vegetarian indoctrination, but the vegetarians do have the salad-making instructions down pat.  Many vegetarian cookbooks take time to explain these tips in the beginning of their salad chapter.  Or maybe it’s that I just own a whole mess of vegetarian cookbooks and don’t much bother with full-spectrum ones, being a lifelong vegetarian.  In any case, look at the beginning of a salad chapter in any big cookbook, and there are bound to be pointers.

Common issue  #1: “It’s just not fun to eat a salad.”

  • Translation: you’ve got a texture issue and you’re chewing something that makes you feel a little too much like a cow or a rabbit.  Learn the art of the massaged salad.  With tough greens and leaves like kale and cabbage, sprinkle some salt over your shredded/finely chopped leaves and massage it in for a few minutes.  Then leave those leaves (yikes) in a colander or strainer for 20 minutes (chop the rest of your salad), rinse them and drain them and dry them and then add to your marvelous creation.  Update for 2013: kale salad got big this year.  We’ve all learned that you can make this the star of your salad, and I’ll stand by the technique, despite whatever else is out there, that you should finely chop the leaves, massage in salt, pepper, oil and acid components, and let it sit for a while, unless you like a jaw workout. Then continue.
  • For tender greens, lettuce and baby mixes, dress them separately before you add anything else.  Add a tiny amount of oil (sunflower and squash seed are both great dressing options) and salt and pepper and gently mix with your hands, two wooden spoons or salad tongs.  Then splash on some of your finished dressing (this is the ideal extra-fussy step…at least oil and salt separately)
  • With hard vegetables, it’s important to get them broken down a bit by changing their physical structure.  Adding too-large chunks of carrot or cucumber to a nice bowl of lettuce would be like trying to lie on a bed with incorrect sized sheets and odd pillows.  Right elements, wrong sizes and shapes to be effective.  Use a vegetable peeler to make fine ribbons of almost anything: carrots, zucchini (yep, eat it raw when it’s a young one), kohlrabi; invest in a nice shredder (mine cost just $20 and I rarely waste food by creating a mass of raw slaw about once a week and eating through that for my lunches), it makes quick work of cabbage (use the flat blade, not the grater), beets, radishes, anything!
  • Combine the greens and prepared veggies in a ratio that doesn’t weigh down the greens so much.  You might have leftovers (use them in tomorrow’s salad!).
  • Only toss in watery vegetables like tomatoes at the last second, after you’ve dressed and mixed the rest of your salad.  Salt, pepper and dress your tomato wedges or slices separately and then lay them on top your salad.  Whole cherry tomatoes are fine to toss.
  • Cook some of those veggies!  If you+raw____ does not = love, don’t sweat it.  I love to add odds and ends of cooked sweet potatoes, leftover stir-fry and steamed vegetables to my mixtures.  It’s all salad if you ask me.
  • Mix in some non-vegetable matter, plant-based or otherwise for a creamy or crunchy texture.  Tip #3 will give some ideas.

Common issue #2: Strong mustard/earthy/bitter flavor from the raw veggies

  • Beets are a common bitterness culprit here, as are over-ripe cucumbers.  On the earthy/mustardy complaint: that’s your brassica family, namely raw broccoli, cauliflower, full-grown kale and cabbage.  Chopping small, pre-cooking, salting all help out with the strong flavors.
  • Add in something sweet and fresh like thinly-sliced sweet apple, melon or even berries and grapes.  Also, learn the balance of a good salad dressing.
  • My frequent mistakes/corrections: forgetting to add sweet (have you ever added honey to a dressing over bitter vegetables? such a game-changer), needing to brighten up with fresh herbs or citrus juice (but that’s not local! try tomato juice for some acid).
  • Here’s a favorite not-too-simple salad dressing recipe, but if you have a cookbook, you likely have a recipe.  Focus on ingredient ratios and substitute what you have in terms of local oils, acids and herbs/spices.  Nut butter and yogurt can really correct all manner of evils in salad dressing, as would a dab of mustard or a drop of soy sauce.  Don’t forget to add salt and pepper, no matter what you do!

Common issue #3: A salad just doesn’t “do it.”

Ok, add some protein and/or grains.  Here are some awesome favorites you may or may not have in your Locavore pantry:

  • Cooked grains (wheat berries, farro)
  • Corn cut from the cob (and if you’ve never tried extra-fresh corn raw, DO)
  • Cooked beans
  • Leftover meats
  • Tofu–cooked or raw (teach yourself to make baked tofu and never have a boring salad again!)
  • Hard-boiled egg, or leftover omelette or scrambled eggs
  • Shaved hard cheese, shredded or cubed softer cheeses, smears of very soft (like goat) cheese
  • Sprouts
  • Any leftovers, actually.  Next time you roast or grill veggies, try your hardest to keep some to the side for tomorrow’s salad.  A good idea is to further chop these down once cooled.
  • Dried fruit
  • Granola (or home-made granola from local grains)
  • Chopped pickles or other brined/fermented food

Is your salad boring still?  Add chopped herbs: parsley, chives, cilantro, basil, lovage, tarragon, thyme.  Go easy at first, but if you’re blessed to have a bunch of herbs lying around, they can be really fantastic additions.

Yes, salads of this sort take longer to put together, but undressed (i.e. chopped but not salted or oiled/vinegared) vegetables will keep several days, so you can prep once and keep trying different combinations and dressing throughout the week.  Kale salad, minus tender greens, gets better overnight.

Chopped red pepper, raw broccoli, arugula, massaged slaw of cabbage, carrot and beets. Drizzled some squash seed oil and spicy cider vinegar on top, and to complete the meal ate some homemade bread with nut butter and jam.

More salad/raw foods eye candy (no Locavore promises here…but it will get you hungry):

NY Times Health: Summer Salads

Food 52 salad category

101Cookbooks salad category

Splendid Table Salads

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One Response to “Liking Salad”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Regional, Local and Traditional « NY Locavore Challenge - September 22, 2012

    […] to try everything we were given, and I don’t remember refusing veggies except for salad.  Obviously that changed.  I somehow became addicted to veggies and to cooking elaborate food and she patiently (maybe […]

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