Sunday, October 23, 2011

Salad Days

one of my earliest culinary memories is of a table side caesar's salad at a local queens, ny restaurant aptly named caesar's.  at 6 years old i fully appreciated and always looked forward to their signature salad with garlic and oil crusted croutons, crisp romaine and creamy, dressing.  the performance by the waiter was mesmerizing and the shirley temples weren't bad either!  almost 40 years later, in my book, there is still nothing better than a great salad.  crisp greens tossed with good olive oil, a squeeze of lemon, sea salt and black pepper is simple, elegant and delicious. as a matter of fact i think i recently confessed that i eat this pretty much every evening after my main meal.  if you add vibrant, flavorful vegetables, fruits, cheeses, meats, fish, grains, nuts and seeds (you get the idea), the basic green salad climbs to new heights, easily going from appetizer or digestive to stunning entree.  you can do anything with a salad, as long as you don't try to add all of these components at once.  too many ingredients will always kill the essence of the dish, prohibiting star ingredients from truly shining and getting their due.  when it comes to the salad, we must really tip our hats to that most special ingredient, greens.

yes it is october and the weather is already changing here in nyc as is evident by my steam heater hissing in the wee morning hours (must cover that wicked dangerous hot pipe in the kitchen) and my wearing layers to the greenmarket this morning.  so, why am i talking about summery green salads? this week in florida 3,265 cases of salad bags sold under the the fresh selections, marketside, HEB and taylor farms labels have been recalled due to the risk of salmonella food poisoning.  it already happened with bagged spinach, remember?  i want to talk about this because bagged salad has become more popular than buying freshly picked heads of greens and that's not okay.  

when i began my cooking career i spent most mornings washing and spinning cases of salad greens and herbs.  wild watercress, radicchio, romaine, royal red oak leaf, bibb, buttercrunch, frisee, lollo roso, mache, mizuna, escarole, french crisp, chicory, dandelion, arugula, tatsoi and more.  filling up the big sink i would twist off the root stem and separate the leaves, watching the dirt fall into the water and sink to the bottom.  i would lift the leaves carefully out of the sink and place them into a large stainless steel bowl.  drain and clean the sink, refill and do it again. each variety would be soaked three times, spun dry and then laid in a white bin, lined with paper towels, labeled with the variety and date and kept in the walk in refrigerator.  some days i spent up to 3 hours meticulously doing this.  in my home i still do it and love every minute.

i love dirt. i especially love good mineral rich black dirt.  i love seeing it on my food when i buy it.  it is a sign that it has just come out of the ground. dirt means that it is farm fresh, it contains vital nutrients that will feed my body well and it will taste amazing.  bagged salad has none of this.  bagged salad is produced on an enormous scale, is an industrial food handled by way too many people not paying attention, is then placed in a "petri dish" (farmer john gorzynski's analogy) plastic bag, held in a refrigerated warehouse and then transported long distances to supermarkets. that's called a potential health risk (hello, FDA).  too many handlers not paying attention inoculate the lettuce with potential pathogens and then they are hermetically sealed in an environment that encourages those pathogens to grow. they are kept in that bag sometimes for weeks until the consumer, who thinks they are getting a convenient, pre-washed, healthy food buys it and takes it home.  most people do not wash bagged salad.  that's the idea right?  it's pre-washed. just open it up and go! hey, that sounds a lot like fast food to me. and we don't like fast food.

when i ask people what they eat when they are trying to be healthy they say, a nice, fresh salad.  there is nothing fresh about the salad you are eating if it comes from a bag.  the average head of lettuce (or any freshly picked vegetable) will lose 40% of its nutritional value by the time it hits the supermarket shelf.  the amount of petro-chemicals it takes to wrap it and get it there is a whole different blog all together.....bagged salad, by the time you get it home has lost its zing. the bloom is off the rose as they say.  it also doesn't taste as good as freshly picked greens.  i know some people will say that bagged salads are delicious but i challenge and suggest that you go to a farmers market and buy freshly picked, dirty greens - take them home and give them a nice cool bath, spin them dry and see for yourself.  in my humble opinion there is no comparison.  

i bought lettuce from john & sue gorzynski today.  i adore all of their product but their greens are stellar. my heads of lettuce were picked by john and then put up in a crate by his son tim at the union square greenmarket.  i brought those gorgeous dirt encrusted greens home, washed them 3 times, spun them and tucked them into my fridge until dinner when i will happily toss them with chaffin family orchards late harvest olive oil, balsamic vinegar, sea salt & pepper.  if you have a home with a yard (back or front) and you can plant a garden, please grow greens.  there is nothing better than harvesting what you grow and eating it straight from the garden.  if you are an urban farmer like me i suggest trying something like woolly pockets or a vertical garden system where greens and herbs grow really well.  small scale farming is safe farming because everyone knows what is going on with the product.  the product is real food.  we support real food by supporting real farmers. no farms. no food.  that's what it says on the gorzynski truck and it is the gospel truth.  tonight i will call my Family2Table with confidence knowing that they will be happy, well fed and healthy from the food we are eating and i hope you will to.  be well and enjoy!

here are a few of my favorite salads:

1. warm spinach salad with chantarelle mushrooms, shallots, goat's cheese and bacon vinaigrette (red wine vinegar, finely chopped shallots, dijon mustard and warm bacon fat to emulsify)
***you will need rendered bacon fat for this recipe.
clean chantarelle mushrooms and pull apart into pieces.
in a hot pan sautee mushrooms in bacon fat and olive oil
add cleaned spinach, fold in with tongs and turn off heat
add warm bacon vinaigrette and wilt.
plate and top with soft goat's cheese.
serve immediately.

2. wild watercress and endive with australian roaring 40s blue cheese, crispy macadamia nuts and sherry vinaigrette (sherry vinegar, dijon, shallots, olive oil, salt & pepper)
toss washed greens with cheese, chopped nuts & vinaigrette.
plate and serve.

3. arugula and enoki mushroom salad with rare, seared, peppered tuna in a ginger lemongrass caesar dressing. (egg yolks, lemon juice, garlic, anchovies, blanched chopped lemongrass, grated ginger, parm reggiano cheese, olive oil).
toss washed arugula and enoki shrooms in caesar dressing.
slice tuna and drizzle dressing on tuna.
**tuna can be seared and held in fridge until serving.  the best way to sear peppered sushi grade tuna is frozen so you get a good sear in a hot cast iron pan and the center remains really rare.

4. frisee with bacon lardons, blanched haricot verts & poached egg (soft boiled is fine).
blanch haricot in salted water and then in a salted ice bath.
add to washed frisee with lardons
toss with olive oil, salt, pepper & lemon juice
top with poached egg or soft boiled egg
break egg and stir yolk into salad.

5. mixed greens with barley, cucumber & roasted red pepper with preserved lemon vinaigrette. 
***preserving lemons is curing them with salt and takes a while. basically what you do is score the lemons into quarters making sure you don't cut all the way through.  pack them with good sea salt and put them in a sterilized glass jar.  pack as many as you desire into the jar so they are crammed in there and letting go of their juice. Fill up the jar with lemons, make sure the top is covered with lemon juice. Add more fresh squeezed lemon juice if necessary. Top with a couple tablespoons of salt. seal the jar and leave out at room temp for a few days. turn the jar and agitate the lemons. after a few days put in the fridge and continue to turn the jar.  you should have preserved lemons in 3 weeks or so.
to make the vinaigrette use the rind and cut into very small pieces. whisk with apple cider vinegar, oil and pepper. fee free to use more lemon juice if desired.
soak barley overnight in water and whey.
cook barley with added salt and cool to room temp.
roast red peppers in olive oil in oven with salt & pepper.
remove skins and cut into strips.
toss barley, cucumbers & red peppers with washed greens and vinaigrette.
is nice with sardines!

6. grilled mustard greens with ripe tomato, red onion and avocado with roasted garlic aioli.
***an aioli is a mayonnaise. puree 1 egg plus 1 yolk with 5 roasted garlic cloves, 1 TBS. lemon juice and a pinch salt. slowly drizzle 1 cup of extra virgin olive oil until emulsified. 
if you don't have a grill you can wilt in a hot pan but the char of a BBQ grill on the greens is really what you want.
toss mustard greens in olive oil salt & pepper and wilt on the grill
plate with ripe tomato (heirloom and cherry tomatoes are best i think) and avocado, finish with sea salt. add a dollop of aioli with washed torn basil and ENJOY!


  1. Another inspiring post, Em. Went out and bought my greens just after reading it.

  2. awesome! what will you be doing with them?

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  4. I will definately be going to our local Farmers Market on Wednesday after reading this. Thanks for the great salad ideas Emily!

  5. brava- i am loving watching your voice grow into your ultimate blogger self!~ the first post was powerful but it just keeps getting more and more so. And the content is always right on target with what people need to hear- in a friendly, fun and wise way that makes your reader trust you. you got it going on, girl~ xo Lyn

  6. Just discovered your blog through Nina Planck's FB post. Exciting to find! Can I ask a naive question about greens? Are the organic boxed greens from Whole Foods in the same category as the bagged greens in your opinion?

  7. yes, amy. in my opinion it's the same. if they could tell you when those greens were picked, who picked them, what they washed them in and when they were packaged i would feel better about recommending. until they do that....please buy fresh greens from farmers as often as possible and always by the head. store bought by the head is better than bagged. as far as freshness goes, look at the stem and see how much has been trimmed away to judge. washing them also puts you in charge - your hands on your food in a whole state and that's good.

  8. Thank you! Headed to the FM anyway today, I will now look at dirt in a different way - I really appreciate the perspective :) Do you have a great way to keep them fresh longer?

  9. mine don't get a chance to hang around very long but i would suggest wrapping them in paper towel or tea towel after you spin them and then placing them in the crisper. i have stored them in a plastic bag and in a stainless steel pan wrapped in paper towel in the fridge. experiment and see what works best for you, amy.