Sunday, February 1, 2009

Winter Salads

I know it’s the middle of the winter and having a salad with supper poses a problem for guys like me who want to keep their dietary intake to local foods. However, in an attempt to control our weight and eat healthy during this season when we tend to be less active outside, we eat more green salads and less starches like potato or pasta with whatever protein we are having.

High quality supermarkets like the Hanover Cooperative Society carry numerous types of lettuces, most being imported from California right now. A recent trip to the market revealed green and red leaf lettuces, Boston or Bibb lettuce, romaine, endive, radicchio, watercress, arugula, baby spinach, mache or lamb’s lettuce, iceberg, escarole, mesclun, and curly endive or chicory. Sometimes they have frisee, also, and while I like them all, this time of year I prefer the heartier Boston, escarole, romaine, radicchio and endive.

I use Boston lettuce on my sandwiches I take to work, and in salads combine it with some crunchy chopped romaine, which contains both green and white leaves, and bitter chopped radicchio and endive with their red and white colors. You can add other salad ingredients like cucumbers, grated carrots, tomatoes and the like, but we usually just add some toasted pumpkin seeds, grated cheese, perhaps some left over bacon, crumbled, or sauted onion which has been allowed to cool. We’re also partial to Caesar salad, which is just romaine, home-made garlic croutons, grated or slivered Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese with home-made Caesar dressing.

I recommend you make your own salad dressings versus what you can purchase at the grocery store. I counted 18 different salad dressings at the Coop, and only two didn’t include some industrial food additive of one kind or another. The major national brands like Kraft and Wishbone were laden with multiple additives with high fructose corn syrup being the number one ingredient in many of their dressings. Only two dressings contained no additives, and popular brands like Annie’s, Drew’s and Newman’s only included xanthan gum, a polysaccharide used to promote viscosity, in small amounts,

While I will admit that I have a bottle of Annie’s Golden Goddess dressing in my refrigerator, I prefer to not ingest food additives of any kind, so I almost always make a dressing for our salads. There are two types of salad dressings, vinaigrettes and those based on mayonnaise, unless you just want to splash on a little extra-virgin olive oil and some good red wine vinegar with a dash of salt and pepper.

Vinaigrettes are a combination of olive oil and vinegar, usually in a proportion of 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar. The oil is slowly added to the vinegar while whisking until an emulsion is formed. While this emulsion will be temporary, if you add a small amount of Dijon mustard, the emulsion will last longer and it adds a nice sharpness to the results. Fresh herbs can be added as well as salt and pepper.

A Caesar dressing can be made by hand or in a food processor. Caesar dressing is made with raw eggs, however one can place the raw eggs in boiling water for 1 minute to kill any salmonella bacteria, if you are not sure of your egg’s origin.

Balsamic Vinaigrette

1 Tbl brown sugar or maple syrup
1 garlic clove, minced
1 shallot, minced
1 Tbl Dijon mustard
1/2 cup Balsamic vinegar
1 cup blended oil
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
salt & pepper

If making by hand, add mustard to minced garlic & shallots, whisk in the balsamic vinegar and slowly whisk in the oils to form an emulsion. Season with salt & pepper, adding brown sugar or maple syrup to taste.
Or,if using a food processor
grind garlic and shallots in food processor. Add mustard and with the machine running pour in the balsamic vinegar. Slowly drizzle in each oil in turn to form an emulsion. Add the brown sugar or maple syrup to taste. Season with salt and pepper.

Caesar Salad Dressing

1 egg yolk
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. hot sauce
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
A handful of Parmesan cheese
6 anchovy fillets
2 garlic cloves
1/2 cup blended oil
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/8-1/4 cup water
salt &pepper

Place egg yolks, lemon juice, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, Dijon mustard, Parmesan, anchovies and garlic cloves in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Turn on the machine and slowly drizzle in the oils. As the mixture gets thick, thin out with the water to desired consistency. Season with salt as needed, and lots of freshly ground black pepper.

Garlic, Parmesan Croutons

Take some left over bread, remove the crusts, and cut it into 1/2" cubes. Place in a large bowl and pour some extra-virgin olive oil over them. Sprinkle with minced garlic, salt and pepper, and grated Parmesan cheese. Toss everything together well.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Pour croutons out onto a parchment paper lined sheet pan.
Place in top third of the preheated oven. Toss croutons with a spatula every 5 minutes, or until golden brown and delicious all over.
Store at room temperature in a covered container.

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