Feb 25 2010

Seasonal Salads

Published by at 5:57 pm under Lunch,Starters

I’m trying to eat with the seasons in mind, but it just doesn’t come naturally. Unfortunately, my body doesn’t care what’s growing on the trees/vines when I get a craving for figs or strawberries. One thing that does help steer my mind in the right direction is going to the farmer’s market, which my assistant and I did this weekend — it’s the only way to get that “mm, those butternut squash sure look good” trigger in my mind.

Actually, there’s nothing more fun than going to the farmer’s market on a Saturday. We went to San Francisco’s Ferry Building, which is overflowing from the inside with delicacies like fresh-baked bread and house cured meats, and from the outside with homemade yogurt and vine-grown tomatoes. It was a grey and freezing day, but I loved striking up conversations with the vendors and left feeling envious that they get to make flavored olive oils for a living.

The first thing I picked up was a new bottle of balsamic vinegar, because I’m always on the market for an exceptional one. Last time my dad was in town we stopped by O&Co. in Pacific Heights and bought a bottle of their Premium Balsamic Vinegar. After I tasted it, I realized I’d never actually had real balsamic before — not the sweet-tasting stuff aged 18 years that pours with the consistency of syrup. The only problem? An 8.5 fl. oz. bottle costs $34, which is much more than my balsamic vinegar budget allows and simply not feasible without generous parents around.

Luckily, a friendly guy was selling some oils and vinegars from Hare Hollow, made up in Healdsburg, which were just what I was looking for with a less stressful price tag (about $12). At his recommendation, I bought a bottle of the Blackberry and Ginger Balsamic Vinegar, which I’ve eaten literally every day since. I have to urge everyone reading this: Buy good balsamic vinegar! It doesn’t have to be expensive, and it will change your life.

Anyway, back to the produce: I was ecstatic to see that the blood oranges were in season (starting in December) and on the menu. I had one legendary salad at Bin 36 in Chicago back in the day — blood oranges with mixed greens, local goat cheese and fennel — so I figured I’d take my best shot at recreating something similar. Here’s what I came up with for my wintry salad:

Blood Orange and Roasted Beet Salad with Fennel

Ingredients (Serves 4 as appetizer, 2 as main course):

About 6 cups mixed field greens

2 blood oranges

2 beets, chopped into cubes

1/3 bulb fennel

4 oz. goat cheese

3 tbsp. balsamic vinegar

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 tsp. dijon mustard

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sprinkle beets with olive oil, salt and pepper and cook for about 25 minutes or until tender.

Slice oranges in 1/4-inch wide sections, creating “rounds.” Leave some juicy parts in the end pieces, because you’ll need extra juice later for the dressing. I found it was prettiest to cut the rind off at an angle, so that the final shape of the orange slice looks like a hexagon (or general polygon). If those are really large, cut them again into 2 or 3 pieces.¬†Slice fennel into long, thin strips (julienned).

For the dressing, combine about a tbsp. and -a-half of fresh-squeezed blood orange juice, vinegar, olive oil, mustard, salt and pepper, and whisk until fully mixed.

Once beets are fully cooked, combine greens, beets, oranges, fennel, and goat cheese in a large bowl. Pour vinegar on top and toss well.

On that note about my lack of seasonability: I bought some asparagus last week for the couscous, even though they’re best eaten in the spring. But I had a few stalks left over that needed eating, so I decided to make an impromptu asparagus salad based on this Cooking Light recipe I’d seen earlier.

I didn’t have a number of ingredients the recipe called for, but the salad tasted wonderful regardless. And as long as you have asparagus around you can whip it up with regular pantry items, which is hugely convenient on a rainy day.

Asparagus Salad with Lemon Mustard Vinaigrette

Ingredients (serves 2):

Asparagus (I only had 6 stalks left, but you could easily make it with more)

1 fried egg

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 tsp. dijon mustard

1 tbsp. fresh-squeezed lemon juice

Cilantro, chopped (about 1/2 tsp.)

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Sprinkle asparagus with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast for about 10 minutes or until cooked. Mix up last five ingredients in a small bowl. Fry an egg on the stove (or poach, but I haven’t mastered that art).¬†When asparagus is cooked, top with egg and dressing.

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