Considering lettuce

Most weeks, every CSA customer of ours gets a head of lettuce in their box – it’s an anchor vegetable, so to speak. And it’s interesting to us how long that lettuce can stretch out in a week. The farmer and I can go through a head of lettuce in one sitting, and when our son is home, he waits for us to take our servings and then just puts a fork into the bowl. Why is this?

Of course, I’d like to think it’s the presentation – delicate greens need nothing more than a light dressing of oil and vinegar to shine. Years ago, now, it seems, when Trinacria graced our town, the simple salad they served after the main course always caught my attention. Unassuming, honest, stripped down to a few essential ingredients, it was a course I always looked forward to. After a few attempts of trial and error, I came up with my own technique that has won over more than a few non-lettuce eaters. Be forewarned – I list no amounts, it’s all by feel.

Place your washed, spun (or blotted with a clean dishtowel), and torn lettuce in a bowl. Sprinkle a pinch of salt (I prefer kosher) around and toss a bit with tongs, two spoons, or whatever you have. Add a drizzle of olive oil, toss again. Add a splash of white wine vinegar (cider vinegar, rice wine, red wine or lemon juice can also work, just not white vinegar), and toss again. Voila! Taste and adjust seasonings. Stick a fork in the bowl.

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Broccoli

Food is a powerful connection to our own personal culture and tradition. We prepare food the way our parents did or because a certain dish was family tradition. And when new families begin, those traditions merge and morph into new ones.

All this to explain that I come from a tradition of vinagrette-based salads, while the farmer comes from the mayonnaise line. Oddly a jar of mayonnaise will last months in our fridge – there are very few things we use it with (never on sandwiches), but on those occasions, nothing else will do.

While this week’s broccoli salad falls squarely on TJ’s side of tradition, the addition of bacon brings me across the line. The sunflower seeds and raisins lend a nutritious flair, to balance out the decadent fats. We make it only a couple of times a year, when broccoli is fresh in the garden. We make a big batch for our annual music festival getaway. It keeps well in the cooler, and is an easy luxury to unpack and enjoy. Props to Tricia Yearwood and her Broccoli Salad.

What to do about fennel

Fennel, the foodie vegetable. Anise flavored, with fern-like foliage. Perhaps a little intimidating, but worth getting to know! Add a fresh crunch to spring salads, roast or braise to add a certain sophistication to your everyday menus 🙂 The internet is a great place to research new flavors and recipes. Type in “fennel recipes” and find tons of responses that can take your meals from Mediterranean (shaved parmesan or green olives) to Asian (plums and honey/ginger dressing). We tend toward “pantry” recipes, meaning those that use ingredients that we already have on hand, rather than those that need a special trip to the grocery store. With that, we offer Barley, Fennel and Beet Salad, which we had last night with grilled lamb chops. We switched out the almonds for walnuts, which we had on hand. Delish!

Kale is your friend

Kale is a powerhouse of nutrition – one of the healthiest veggies on the planet and super-tasty too! Some people find kale to have a strong flavor – it’s a member of the Brassica family (think broccoli), and is loaded with vitamins and minerals we don’t normally get in our diet. So don’t give up on training your palate to enjoy new foods.

Once you start looking, there are so many ways to eat kale!  I like to add it to most everything! One way to have it handy is to wash, chop, toss with olive oil and roast on a sheet pan for 5 minutes at 475. It keeps well for a week in the fridge, and you can add it to burritos, alongside your eggs for breakfast, dress it with sauce to go with rice – endless!  Then there is our FAVORITE Massaged Kale Salad – just need oil, soy, lemon juice, garlic and parmesan. So good!  Like a Caesar! We’ve actually made kale converts with this salad! On the off chance you have leftovers, they are superb the  next day. 

The Salad, Redux

Back by popular demand! Our absolute, all time, favorite fresh spring dinner is an entree so beloved, so enjoyed, that it is simply known as “The Salad.” Packed with fresh produce, garnished with cold noodles, protein and heavily dusted with finely chopped herbs, this dinner salad is a powerhouse of nutrition and extraordinarily satisfying. We eat it at least once a week.

Dressing:

1/2 cup peanut oil

2 tsp dark sesame oil

2 Tbsp soy sauce

1 Tbsp mirin

2 Tbsp lime juice

Gather a bunch of salad greens: lettuces, spinach, turnip and radish greens, arugula, etc. Tear a healthy amount and toss with a few Tbsps of the dressing.

Make a base of the salad on your plate. Top with a handful of cooked soba noodles. Garnish with cooked chicken, pork, steak or vegan protein (leftovers from weekend grilling!). Top with chopped radish, turnip, snap peas, asparagus, or crunchy goodness of your choice. Dust with a healthy amount of chopped herbs: chives, basil, mint, cilantro, etc. Chopped nuts or seeds are welcome. Chive or borage flowers a decorative plus. Spoon more dressing on top. Take a picture. Eat. I like fish sauce as a condiment – the farmer likes sambal oelek. Make it your own! Enjoy!