Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Midweek food musings: Salads, Part I

Salads. One name, so many varieties. My salads are always evolving…and I think that’s the way they should be.  In this, Part I of my salad installments, I share with you some of my recent favorites. 

What do I like to put in my salads these days? Well, I’ve just passed my cheese-in-salad stage (or maybe I'm just taking a temporary hiatus), but I'm totally into the fruit-and-nuts in my salad stage. It just seems that there are so many fruits—and nuts—that marry well with fresh greens! Last week I made a simple cucumber and green apple salad, with fresh lime, and a light cilantro-white balsamic vinaigrette. That beautifully complemented the cheese quesadillas (that's one of my super-quick dinner dishes--another one to write about at some point!). And, not only was it great at dinner, it was also wonderful to take to work the following day (cucumbers and granny smith apples can handle the all-night vinaigrette sit). The result? It was a great lunchtime treat--even after having been a side dish the night before. 

So here are my top five salad guidelines for a salad on the side: 

1) Think about what might complement the meal; salads should enhance, not fight against, your main players. For example, with chicken and fish, I often enjoy fresh lettuce greens topped with citrus--especially orange, clementine, or lately kumquats. 
2) Think about balance of flavor within the salad itself. I'm a big fan of nuts--especially toasted nuts--in my salads. First, many of my dinner guests don't eat meat/chicken/fish, so I like "beefing up" (sorry!) my salads with nuts. (Ah--but obviously you need to check for allergies BEFORE adding these crunchy can always put them on the side.) Balance of texture is equally important; it's nice to balance smooth and silky, or juicy but soft chunks (think citrus sections or even avocado) with crunchy.
3) Think about colors: your salad should look--as well as taste--good.
4) Use a vinaigrette/dressing that will enhance, not compete with, the flavors of the salad.
5) When possible, use fresh lettuce. Yes, I do use the bagged salads (especially during the week when I've just gotten home from being at school for sometimes 9-plus hours!) but the buttery flavor and snap of fresh red or green-leaf lettuce is simply sublime, and doesn't carry over into the bagged versions. 

Actually this one is Christine's gorgeous interpretation of my citrus/toasted cashew salad

Another recent fav: Leafy greens topped with kumquats and pomegranate seeds.
 Look at those colors! 

As far as vinaigrettes, lately I'm still on my citrus kick.  Here's a base citrus vinaigrette--but, as always, it can be varied depending on your taste, and what's available!

  • Light Citrus vinaigrette (about 3/4 of a cup--or enough for a salad for 8) 
  • 1 shallot, minced, or 2 tablespoons minced red onion
  • 2 tablespoons Champagne vinegar (I've been using--and still totally enjoying--Trader Joe's Orange Muscat Champagne vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon (or more, to taste)  freshly squeezed lime or orange juice, plus about 1/4 teaspoon orange rind (optional) 
  • 1/4-1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil (you can use canola, but I prefer the richness of olive)
  • Coarsely ground salt and freshly ground black pepper 
Whisk all the ingredients together. Taste and season accordingly. If it's too better--and sometimes, depending on the citrus, it can be--add a little bit of honey for balance...but you don't want to go overboard with the sweetness, either. 

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