Saturday, August 25, 2012

On the Dressing of Salads

For a person who eats, on average, about one or more salads per day, nearly every day, you would think that the perfect dressing would not be so elusive.   But somehow, it is one of those things that I've found baffling and have been unable to pull together on instinct - until recently, that is.

I don't even know how I stumbled across this simple combination, but I think it may have started with escarole.  I've been using that as my main salad green lately.  It's extremely sturdy, and a bit bitter, and just not something I've used a lot in salads, until recently when I had such great success using it as a base for a seared tuna salad.   Ever since then, I've been buying it every week and eating salad after salad after salad using it as a base.  Usually, I've been mixing it with a bit of arugula, and dressing simply with a squeeze of lemon, a liberal sprinkling of salt, and enough extra virgin olive oil to coat the leaves after giving everything a thorough toss.   Turns out that's a pretty good formula to dress any kind of salad, and I've been enjoying some variation of it practically daily.

Today, I shoved any notion of vegetarianism aside, and had lunch at Phil's Sliders.  It was an awesome indulgence featuring the highest quality ingredients, including Marin Sun Farms Grass Fed Beef, and I savored every bite.

But then, I knew it had to be salad for dinner.  And damn, what a salad it was.  Tonight's salad was the kind of salad that I make quite a lot, but I fancied it up a bit by adding some kale from the garden to the mix of escarole & arugula, plus shaved carrots, fennel & red onions.  Topped it off with roasted kabocha squash, toasted pecans & chives dressed in Green Goddess dressing, and grated parmesan.  The perfect antidote to lunch.

The basic recipe follows, but in honor of my dear Dad's birthday, which is today, I wanted to mention that I've always envied how Dad can just dress a salad in the bowl.  He uses the classic combo of red wine vinegar and olive oil, which I love. And when we get together for any kind of family gathering, sometimes he tries to be humble and allow someone else to dress the salad. But I for one can never pull it off as well as he does, and I don't know if anyone else can either. When I try to dress the salad in the bowl, occasionally it works perfectly, and other times I find myself making so many adjustments that the greens become a soggy mess.  I have no idea why my using lemon juice instead lately of vinegar is showing better results, but I'm just going with it.

So, the points of the day are as follows:

1.  Happy Birthday, Dad!  I wish I could have made dinner for you tonight!

2.  If you're going to have burgers for lunch, it's good to have salad for dinner.

3.   Sometimes winging it with salad dressing works beautifully, and it's also great to have a couple in your arsenal to draw from when you don't feel like winging it.  I have at least one in this case, and it's a proven winner, good enough to slather over all sorts of things!

4.  If you're looking for a sturdy salad for your lunch or dinner, maybe you'll want to add this one to your arsenal.  And if you do, I hope you'll love it!

Kale, Escarole and Arugula Salad with Roasted Kabocha Squash

This is more of a guide than a recipe.  I was flying solo tonight so I just portioned out enough greens that looked like a good amount for my dinner:  a handful each of torn kale and escarole, a smaller handful of arugula, and a sprinkling of thinly sliced red onion, fennel and shaved carrot.  Put it all in a bowl and set aside to chill in the fridge.

Meanwhile, I pre-heated the oven to 400 degrees and cut a small kabocha squash in half & scooped out the seeds, and cut into slices about 1 inch thick.  Sprinkled with salt, tossed with olive oil, and into the oven it went, to roast for about 10 minutes before turning over and then roasting for another couple of minutes.   It's good to roast till it's nicely tender but not mushy.  The rind on kabocha is completely edible and quite delicious, but if this doesn't appeal to you, feel free to cut it off before cutting the kabocha into cubes.

Next up:  put the cubed squash into a bowl, and add whatever makes you happy.  Tonight I used what I had in the house which was kalamata & nicoise olives, diced tiny, and fresh chives, and toasted pecans.  All of that would have been a reason enough for feeling content!  But, I had just made a batch of the Green Goddess dressing, so I added a couple of plops, and grated parmesan all over it.  And suddenly my night got a whole lot better!

Next, it was time to dress the greens, hoping to be graced with a bit of Dad's mojo.  And it worked - a squeeze of lemon, a sprinkling of salt, and a nice coating of olive oil.  Onto the plate went the greens and their friends.  And then the squash salad was mixed in, and a few Semi-Freddi's Super Garlic Croutons were added, and life was pretty much complete.  Dad, the only thing that could have made it better would have been if you and I could have shared this together!

Happy Birthday Dad, and happy salad dressing to one and all!

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