Every dish, sweet or savory, side or main, aims to be some combination of a variety of flavors that become something greater than the sum of its parts.
Today, I'd like to talk about how to make salads that bring together different flavors and textures to heighten the best ingredients of spring. First I'll show you how to throw together a basic vinaigrette, along with some easy variations that you can try on the principle of my particular favorite. Then I'll show you the ingredients I combined to make the first salad of the spring.
I once heard Lynne suggest that bottled salad dressing should be banned since the homemade stuff is so easy and of much better quality. While I wouldn't go that far, I will say that making a basic vinaigrette is a skill that every home cook should have. Aside from avoiding the packaging and preservatives of store-bought dressing, knowing how to combine ingredients you always have on hand gives you the freedom to make what you want when you want it without having to run to the grocery store. (This is the idea behind the book Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Everyday Cooking)
Here's my basic ratio for a vinaigrette and some ideas for how to customize them.
The two basic ingredients are vinegar and oil. Here are a few oils that I keep on hand that you can use to customize your dressing. I mostly use the olive oil on the left, but if you want a different flavor profile, try adding a little sesame or walnut oil to the olive oil. Both of these oils are somewhat expensive, but a little goes a long way to changing the overall flavor the vinaigrette has.
Here are the vinegars I keep on hand most of the time. A good young red and white wine, apple cider, and an aged balsamic.
These, along with an emulsifier like mustard (which joins together otherwise opposed water and oil) are all you need for a good vinaigrette.
There are also some interesting things that you can mix in for good flavor, and these are some of my favorites. A spicy sweet jam gives fruity flavor and heat, crystalized ginger gives crunch and sweetness, and any fresh herb really shines in a simple vinaigrette.
When I look at these, I think of all the possibilities: an Asian style vinaigrette with olive and sesame oil, crystalized ginger, garlic, and a little soy sauce. a Mediterranean vinaigrette with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and fresh rosemary and oregano. A well stocked pantry opens the door to all kinds of combinations, which can be used on salads, as marinades, or as sauces.
Here's what I chose for today's salad: apple cider vinegar, olive oil, mustard, and fresh chives from the backyard.
1.5 tbsp. mustard
2 tbsp. vinegar
1/4-1/3 c. oil
salt and pepper to taste
Start with the mustard
Then add the vinegar and mix well.
Then, drizzle in the oil slowly, incorporating it as you go and not letting too much oil build up before it's fully combined. When you begin it'll look like this:
Keep whisking and the oil droplets will eventually break up. If they don't, you might need to add more mustard. Mix in any herbs at the last minute. Check for balance of flavors and seasoning. You'll need to adjust each of the main ingredients to suit your tastes and purposes.
Now we're ready to dress tonight's salad. (Note: there are two ways to dress a salad. Ina likes to mix the dressing in the bottom of a big serving bowl and then layer the salad on top, tossing it at the table. I prefer letting diners choose their own amount of dressing so I serve it up on the side. Whatever you choose, don't let the dressing touch your greens until you're ready to eat.)
I wanted to make a salad that tasted fresh and used the best of spring, and that also combined lots of different flavors, textures, and even temperatures. I made a quick mix of greens with boiled eggs and sauteed vegetables on top.
Spring Salad with Fava Beans, Leeks, Radishes, and Eggs
Serves two as a side
2 large handfuls of greens, washed and spun dry
6 fava beans, shelled
3 breakfast radishes, thinly sliced
1 leek, green parts only, well rinsed and thinly sliced
2 hard boiled eggs (method to follow)
1/4-1/3 c. walnuts, toasted in a dry pan
First, start the eggs. Cover the eggs with half an inch to an inch of cold water. Bring to a boil, remove from heat, and let them sit covered for 7 minutes. Rinse in cold water, shell, and quarter.
While the eggs are cooking, prepare the favas. First, pull the thin string that joins the sides together.
Pull out the beans.
Boil the beans for two minutes and then rinse in cool water.
Peel the favas by squeezing the skin.
Meanwhile, prepare the leek by slicing it in half, rinsing it well, and slicing it thinly.
In a pan, melt some butter and a tbsp. of oil.
Over medium-low heat, cook the favas and leeks with a good dose of salt and pepper. While they soften, thinly slice the radishes and toast the walnuts.
Once the leeks are soft and the beans are toasted and a little brown, pull everything from heat. Layer the eggs, radishes, warm leeks and beans, and walnuts over your greens. The warm vegetables will slightly wilt the lettuce.
Dressing on the side. It should be nice and thick.
I'd be lying if I told you I actually managed to share this salad.
The favas are creamy, the greens and radishes bitter, and the eggs and walnuts are rich. It's full of protein and good fats, along with a couple servings of green.
What's the best salad you've had recently? In the summer our salad spinner (this one!) rarely leaves the counter. Salads are easy to throw together and great for warmer weather. I'll be back soon to update you on the garden! Until then, eat a salad!