Tag: salad

Remembering Andrea: A Trip to French Laundry and Keller’s Staff Dressing

I started this post more than two years ago.

I was supposed to be writing a eulogy and I procrastinated first by cleaning my apartment more thoroughly than I had in months. I then avoided it by starting a blog post I couldn’t bring myself to finish.

I didn’t want to write it because it would make things concrete. But now, two years after losing Andrea, her absence is absolutely, achingly, concrete. And not writing something won’t change that.

And I want to celebrate her at the same time that my heart is cracked open in her absence.

There is motivation beyond that too. For many reasons, not the least of which is that she was always one to knuckle down and get things done and it seems like she’d be sweetly exasperated with me for putting it off. Of course, she was often lovingly exasperated with me. “I can’t” was not a phrase in her vocabulary; she didn’t believe it should be in anyone else’s either. My pessimism, my jokes about eternal spinsterhood were received with her saying my name in an authoritative, yet almost gentle, tone.

Her mission in her last year was to get me to stop apologizing for things that required no apology — a bad habit. One I haven’t quite broken. She’d be exasperated about that too.

GandAinCR

Andrea ran full charge at life: marrying her high school sweetheart despite family opposition (and wearing red cowboy boots under her wedding dress to do so), finding jobs in traditionally male-oriented energy industries, getting her MBA from Royal Roads and using her skills, education and experience to become the first female vice-president at an oil and gas company. She was determined, smart and knew what she wanted. She always went after it.

Her positive nature created an amusing oil-and-water friendship between the two of us.

But it was an unshakeable one. Formed in writing classes at UVic when we were all young and away from home for the first time and dreaming of a career built on words. A mutual friend, Julie, drew several of us together and we became a quintet known collectively as the Writer Girls. After graduation, we still met up for girls’ weekends, and caught up over emails and phone calls when our lives couldn’t allow us to be together in the same room.

Girls’ weekends had a few things in common: wine, more wine, spa treatments, giggling like teenagers and talking and sharing problems, solutions, jokes, sad stories, sex stories and more than one game of ‘I never’ — though that was often at my insistence and the other four humoured me occasionally.

There were trips to Tigh-Na-Mara for giggle-punctuated pedicures and a fridge stocked with almost nothing but wine in our cabin. There were visits to Julie’s family cabin on Keats Island. And we met up for five spectacular days in New York City, where Andrea rallied in the muggy heat despite being quite pregnant with her second daughter.

While we were still in university, Andrea had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and was treated successfully. Went into remission. And none of us thought about it again, really.

Until a few years ago when a startling email arrived outlining that a new form of cancer was invading her body and she and her doctor were moving ahead with an aggressive plan for treatment.

Girls’ weekends became more frequent. Not because we were concerned she would leave a ragged hole in our group with her departure, but because it was a sharp reminder not to take anything for granted.

Email updates were marked by Andrea’s unbridled positive attitude — even when they were about new courses of action to replace those that weren’t working. There was always a way to spin it into good news.

And when there wasn’t, even then, she made light of things. Given a cruel timeline of only a few months to live, she made a joke about how she would never eat cauliflower again.

But she lied about that.

Because I made her eat some.

And that’s the story I really want to tell.

I don’t really have a bucket list. And if I did, I’m not even sure if dining at French Laundry would have made the cut; it seemed too far fetched that I would find a way to sit down at one of the tables in the little farmhouse in Napa Valley known around the world for its impeccable cuisine.

French Laundry

It was, then, incredibly unexpected to find myself on the receiving end of a phone call from a friend who said her banker had managed to secure a reservation three weeks from then and did I want to go. Oh, and also, could I think of anyone else who wanted to because it was a table for six and we only had five guests?

Admittedly, my mind didn’t go to Andrea right away. She was going through chemo at the time and the idea of inviting her to California for three days just for dinner seemed a bit silly and likely to garner a no. But Kirsten, another Writer Girl, aptly said there was no harm in trying.

She was right.

The dinner was two days after a round of chemo, but the doctor gave Andrea permission to go. And planning began. And so did the magic.

We needed to rent a convertible, I told her. She booked one. We should try to meet at the airport, if possible. She got a flight that landed 30 minutes after mine.

Our car was a brand new mustang with only eight miles on it. She had programmed her personal GPS with the address of our hotel in Napa Valley, but it couldn’t get a signal in the parking garage and it kept trying to ask if we wanted to take a ferry, thinking it was still in Victoria. At a T-intersection right out of the airport, it still didn’t know where we were, so Andrea told me to just pick a direction. I chose wrong.

But that meant we ended up driving over the Golden Gate Bridge with the top down, gazing up at the orange steel beams soaring above. The grin split Andrea’s face as she just kept repeating, “I’ve always wanted to go over the Golden Gate.”

And the next night, we sat beside each other in the dining room at French Laundry, poking each other under the table at how lucky we were.

Outside French Laundry

The meal is a bit of a blur now; it feels like forever ago.

A parade of impeccable dishes served by stellar, but unobtrusive staff. Non stop wine. And more magic: a woman at a nearby table sporting a giant hat sitting with two gentlemen — one of whom had a pinkie ring with a diamond the size of a golf ball on it — sending me a glass of champagne for reasons that still aren’t clear.

Server: The woman at that table has sent you a glass of champagne.

Me: Um. OK. Why?

Server: I don’t know, but I would just take it, if I were you.

When a dish arrived containing the most microscopic cauliflower floret, I went into a fit of giggles. “Andrea,” I leaned over and whispered, “you’re going to have to break your vow never to eat this vegetable again.”

“If I’m going to eat cauliflower anywhere,” she replied, with the tiny white stalk speared on her fork, “it may as well be at French Laundry.”

I snapped a photo of her with the offending vegetable just before she ate it.

She left two days later, back home for more medications and chemotherapy. That would be the last flight she ever took.

She did not return empty handed, though. She bought Keller’s cookbooks for her husband, Steve — the chef of the family and one who enjoys a cooking challenge — who promptly began to cook his way through the daunting tome.

A few months later I was in Victoria for a visit, and to have Andrea co-sign my Pucker contract. Steve made dinner for us and Kirsten and her husband. Veal parmesan and a salad made from lettuce leaves picked that afternoon from their garden, served with a simple emulsified dressing that Thomas Keller uses for staff meals at the French Laundry.

Salad with Thomas Keller's Staff Dressing

By the end of the night, and after several glasses of wine, we all had a ferocious case of the giggles — one of us had fallen out of her chair from laughing so hard — and I had co-opted the bowl of fresh lettuce and was using the squeeze bottle of dressing to squiggle it onto individual leaves like ketchup on a hot dog before eating them like a wood chipper.

As soon as I was home in Calgary, I made it again.

And then I meant to post about it, as an ode to this magical dinner and an equally magical friendship.

But I didn’t. There would be time later.

Andrea passed away less than a year after that dinner. Thankfully after several more girls’ weekends, more wine, more stories, more laughs and a few tears. Even more thankfully, well after when the doctors said she would.

Nothing was left unsaid. More magic.

I made this dressing again tonight. Laughed for a moment at how much better I am at food styling my photos now and how Andrea would think that was so great.

She’d be less impressed with the pity party I’ve had over losing my job, how I haven’t pitched another book and, in a nutshell, set goals and pursued them. But I know her exasperation would be at its most gentle. And she’d say my name firmly but kindly and tell me about five things I needed to get going on. I would say sorry.

And then she’d tell me not to apologize.

Shallot and knife

Emulsified

Squeeze bottle

Tomatoes

Salad with Thomas Keller's Staff Dressing III

Thomas Keller’s Staff Dressing

  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped shallots
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 1/2 cups to 2 cups canola oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, about 1/2 teaspoon each

Place the garlic, shallots, mustard and vinegar in a blender and blend until well combined. Add the egg yolk and blend again. With the machine running, slowly drizzle in the oil until the dressing is thick and emulsified. (A note here: I stopped at about 1 1/2 cups of oil because it was thick, completely emulsified — you’ll hear the sound in the blender change — and because, well, I like my dressing to be a little more acidic.) Season to taste with salt and pepper. You can refrigerate it in a covered container for 1 week.
I completely recommend using a squeeze bottle.

Makes about 2 cups.

Asparagus Salad with Parmesan and Lemon-Dijon Dressing

It is thisclose to spring.

Sure, we’re in the middle of that weird part of the changing seasons when the weather flip-flops between sun and beers on patios, followed closely by fat flakes of snow coating the landscape. But even in these confused days of shifting temperatures and growing impatience for that first flush of green, I want to at least taste like spring has arrived.

I’m eager to shrug off the winter comfort foods — braises and creamy pastas — for the fresh flavours that come with the changing season. I want to nibble on green shoots and tender vegetables that are harbingers of longer, warmer days to come.

So, forgive me, because I’m about to cheat.
Asparagus

Here, it is not yet asparagus season — that’s still a good six weeks or so away — but I just need that first taste of it.

If you are more patient than me, feel free to bookmark this for later. But I won’t tell if you reach out for a bunch of asparagus at the grocery store because you’re also looking for something light and green to cleanse the winter palate.

Lemon, with its inherent brightness (which I argue makes it good for any season), matches well here and also seems to herald the changing of the seasonal guard.

It’s a perfect match with asparagus. Even in the colder months, when I crack and buy some to roast in a hot oven with a drizzle of olive oil and some salt and pepper, I will squeeze over a wedge of lemon or two to add some zing and cut the richness.

For spring, though, I want asparagus in salad form.

While we often think of steaming, roasting or grilling the green spears, it’s perfectly tasty without any heat being added to the mix. Sometimes I make salads by peeling off thin layers of the stalks to create ribbons. Other times, I make this salad, where I slice them into coins and add a bit of crunch with some walnuts and salty richness from some Parmesan cheese.

I came up with this recipe for Asparagus Salad with Parmesan and Lemon-Dijon Dressing when I was writing Pucker, which, it’s hard to believe, has now been out for about 16 months. At turns it feels like years and year ago, while in others it feels like I was just working on it, just seeing the designs, just holding my own copy for the first time.

I still find it a little hard to believe that I wrote a book, even more so when I stumble upon it in stores or get tweets from people about what they’ve made or how they’ve made some recipes their own. (Thank you to all who have tweeted or Instagrammed their dishes; it is so rewarding and I’m so grateful.)

So, maybe this is weird, but sometimes I crack my own copy to make something (why reinvent the wheel, right?). And right now, that’s this salad. I apologize in advance if making it — and talking about how it’s pretty much spring now — brings on the next great snowstorm. In that case, take the asparagus and roast it off instead. Just don’t forget the squeeze of lemon at the end.

Asparagus II

Asparagus Salad with Parmsan and Lemon-Dijon Dressing

Asparagus Salad with Parmesan and Lemon-Dijon Dressing

As published in Pucker: A Cookbook for Citrus Lovers, Whitecap Books (2014)

  • 1 bunch asparagus (about 1 pound/500 g)
  • 4 to 5 green onions, sliced
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped

Dressing:

  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Chop off the rough ends of the asparagus and then slice crosswise into 1/4-inch coins, leaving the tips intact. In a large bowl, combine the chopped asparagus, green onions, Parmesan and walnuts.

In a jar with a lid or in a small bowl, combine the lemon juice, Dijon, honey, salt and pepper. Shake or whisk to mix thoroughly, then add the oil and shake or whisk again until the dressing has emulsified. Pour most of the dressing over the salad and toss. Add more dressing as needed. Serve immediately.

Serves 4.

Kale Salad with Hazelnuts and Apple

No one would ever describe me as trendy.

I rarely look good in fashionable clothes and can’t figure out how to wear any new style of makeup.

Even when it comes to food, I’m often behind the times.

So, it’s no surprise I’m falling for kale just as it’s falling out of popular favour.

Kale became a culinary darling a few years ago, starting with an obsession for kale chips that spread like wildfire on food blogs. The simple recipe of tossing ripped leaves with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper, then baking them to a crisp, spawned thousands of blog posts. Hailed as the ultimate snack, food blogs were filled with increasingly creative versions.

There was something about them popping up everywhere that made me specifically not want to try kale chips and, as a consequence of not really knowing what else to do with the cruciferous vegetable, not bothering to try kale at all.

And then I was served a kale salad at a potluck.

The greens were dressed with a vinaigrette spiked with grainy mustard and sprinkled with paper-thin radishes. I asked for seconds.

Turns out, my disinterest in following a trend had meant I had been missing out.

Since then, I’ve started making my own versions of that salad — adding apple for some sweetness and hazelnuts for crunch — taking advantage of the fact it pays to work ahead with kale. Dressing it in advance, unlike other salads, actually improves the salad, as the vinaigrette helps soften the otherwise tough leaves. The dark green vegetable stands up to the dressing so well, it makes for a great work lunch because there’s no need to keep the salad and the dressing separate.

A nutritional powerhouse, full of beta carotene and calcium, as well as vitamins K and C, kale should transcend trends.

But, of course, like anything that becomes a widespread hit, there is bound to a point in time when people begin tiring of it and want to move on to the next hot ingredient.

As 2014 marches on, some in the food community are starting to declare kale has reached a saturation point on restaurant menus and in recipes. It’s time for that trend to move along, they say.

I’m not against the idea of another ingredient getting some time in the spotlight.

But, luckily, since I never really pay attention to trends, that means kale will be on my menu for a long time to come.

Kale Salad with Hazelnuts and Apple

Like all salads, this one is infinitely adaptable. Swap out different nuts, replace the apple with dried cranberries or cherries or add thin slices of radish for a peppery punch.

Dressing:

  •  Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) grainy mustard
  • 2 tsp (10 mL) honey
  • 1/4 tsp (1 mL) salt
  • 1/4 tsp (1 mL) freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) olive oil

Salad:

  • 2 bunches kale, cored and roughly chopped
  • 1 crisp apple, julienned
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) hazelnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced

In a jar or bowl, shake or mix together the first seven dressing ingredients — from the lemon zest to the pepper — to dissolve the salt and honey. Add the olive oil and shake or mix again until the dressing has emulsified.

Add the chopped kale to a large bowl, pour over the dressing and toss well. Refrigerate for at least an hour to let the dressing soften the leaves. When ready to serve, add the apple, hazelnuts and green onions, tossing everything together.

Serves 4 to 6.

Vietnamese Chicken and Mint Salad

I love my cookbook collection. And I enjoy lazy weekend afternoons flipping through these books, searching for cooking projects and ideas.

Some I have flagged with Post-it Notes already – markers of past inspiration. Others I remember from past cooking adventures (successful and otherwise). And still more are like bumping into old friends.

It’s an instant reconnection to recipes I have loved, forgotten about and am instantly stumped as to why I don’t make them more often.

This salad falls into that last category.
Vietnamese Chicken and Mint Salad II

The fact that it’s a salad speaks volumes.

But there’s something about this combination of cooling cabbage and mint with heat from the chili, sour of lime and salty fish sauce – with slices of chicken to make it all a bit more robust – that has me making this each time I rediscover it in Nigella Lawson’s Nigella Bites.

Bonus: It’s easy to put together.

Double bonus: Cabbage is really, really cheap.

Although Lawson calls for white cabbage, I like to mix purple and green because the colours – against the bright orange carrot, the wisps of dark green mint and flecks of red chili – make it a dish that’s also tasty to the eyes.

Vietnamese Chicken and Mint Salad IV

The onions get soft and lose some of their bite by marinating in the dressing – a trick of Lawson’s that she also uses in her very fine recipe for Greek salad. They mellow as they sit in the lime juice and rice wine vinegar, taking on some of the slight sweetness of the bit of sugar as well.

As they sit, it’s quick to pull the rest of the salad together.

Some quick slicing of the cabbage, grating or julienning the carrot, as well as chopping up the chicken and you just about have enough time to tidy up before the onions are ready.

It’s a great way to use up leftover cooked chicken, though I have been known to cook some just to make this salad.

And, with all due respect to Lawson who says this will serve two to four people, I have been known to eat the entire thing. (Though, arguably, there are worse things to fill up on.)

I look forward to bumping into this recipe again.

Maybe I should flag it, so it won’t take quite as long.

Cabbage

Vietnamese Chicken and Mint Salad Dressing

Vietnamese Chicken and Mint Salad I

Vietnamese Chicken and Mint Salad III

Vietnamese Chicken and Mint Salad

Fish sauce is quite salty, so resist the urge to add any salt before the salad has been tossed well. The dressing doesn’t always look like it will coat all that cabbage and chicken, but it will.

  • 1 chili, preferably a hot Thai one, seeded and minced
  • 1 fat garlic clove, peeled and minced
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp (7 mL) rice vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tbsp (22 mL) lime juice
  • 1 1/2 tbsp (22 mL) fish sauce
  • 1 1/2 tbsp (22 mL) vegetable oil
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely sliced black pepper
  • 7 oz (200 g) cabbage, shredded
  • 1 medium carrot, shredded, julienned or grated
  • 7 oz (200 g) cooked chicken breast, shredded or cut into fine strips
  • 1 bunch mint, about 1 oz/30 g

In a bowl, combine the chili, garlic, sugar, vinegar, lime juice, fish sauce, oil, onion and black pepper to taste.

Put to one side for half an hour. Then, in a big plate or bowl, mix the cabbage, carrot, chicken and mint. Pour over the onion-soused, chili-flecked dressing and toss very well – slowly and patiently – so that everything is combined and covered thinly. Taste to see if you need salt or pepper.

Serve on a flat plate with maybe a bit more mint chopped on top.

Serves 2 to 4.

Asparagus and Pea Salad with Mint

You ever notice how one recipe can beget another?

Last summer when I was making my shaved asparagus pizza, I found myself snacking on the strands of asparagus that had been tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper. (I’m completely unable to resist “testing” ingredients as I go along.)

It made me wonder why so few recipes I have stumbled across call for raw asparagus, which, when lightly dressed, is lovely.

Now that the stalks are appearing again on grocery shelves, it got me thinking. And then I stumbled across a salad recipe, which combined asparagus shavings with some other great loves of mine: Parmesan, prosciutto, mint and lemon.

Asparagus and Pea Salad with Mint

This salad is kind of like six degrees of separation.

Mint goes well with peas, which are lovely with asparagus, a natural match to prosciutto.

Well, really, what doesn’t prosciutto go well with?

And a lemon-based dressing adds some refreshing tartness, while a little bit of honey brings out the natural sweetness of the peas.

Now, I am the first one to up the amounts of salad goodies — more Parmesan, more prosciutto, please and thank you.

But in this case, I’m going to, unexpectedly, advise restraint. Messing with the fine balance between salt and sweet, meat and cheese, mint and vegetables can upset the equilibrium.

Too much cheese and the salt overpowers the delicate flavours of asparagus and mint.

Too much prosciutto overwhelms the texture of the salad.

When the proportions are right, this salad is perfection.

Right after finishing the photo shoot, I inhaled a bowlful.

I loved the spring green flavour of the thinly shaved asparagus, the sweet peas and bright mint with the slight tang of the mustard and lemon dressing.

The prosciutto didn’t hurt either.

All the greens contrasted with the pink of cured ham and cream of Parmesan is quite pretty and makes this a great dish for entertaining.

Serve it out on the deck with some crusty bread and a nice bottle of wine.

Asparagus and Pea Salad with Mint II

Asparagus and Pea Salad with Mint

This salad is from Epicurious by way of Serious Eats.

If fresh peas are in season, feel free to use them instead of frozen peas. Frozen peas are perfectly tasty, though. Just defrost in a sieve with some hot water. To get nice Parmesan shavings, let the cheese sit out on the counter for 10 or 15 minutes and then use a vegetable peeler.

  • 1½ cups (375 mL) peas
  • 1 lb (500 g) asparagus
  • 6 cups (1.5 L) salad greens
  • 2 tbsp (25 mL) chopped mint
  • 1/4 cup (50 mL) shaved Parmesan
  • 8 slices prosciutto, cut in strips
  • 2 tbsp (25 mL) lemon juice
  • 2 tsp (10 mL) Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) honey
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) olive oil

Whisk together lemon juice, Dijon mustard, honey and salt and pepper.

Drizzle in the oil slowly while still whisking to emulsify the dressing.

Test the dressing and adjust seasonings as necessary.

Place salad greens in a large bowl, add chopped mint and peas.

Using the woody end as a handle, hold the asparagus against a cutting board and use a vegetable peeler to make long strips. (These will vary in thickness, which is fine.)

After shaving, you will be left holding the rough end, which can be discarded.

Repeat with all the asparagus and then add the shavings to the salad.

Add sliced prosciutto. Toss with dressing (start with only a portion of the dressing and add more as necessary; the salad may not need all of it).

Top with shaved Parmesan.

Serves 4.

This first appeared in the Calgary Herald. For more recipes and instructional videos, check out the Herald’s Food page.

Warm Lentil Salad

I can barely close my staples cupboard.

Between the lentils, couscous, pasta, and at least five types of rice, the shelves are jammed with an overabundance of ingredients. I’ve squeezed half-eaten packages of rice noodles over near-empty bags of Arborio and sushi rice. I have two types of couscous (regular and Israeli) and two of quinoa (regular and black). And there are at least three bags of lentils: one I bought on impulse because I liked the look of the green disks, mottled like tiny pebbles, a freezer bag of several cups my parents gave me during a visit because I expressed interest in eating more lentils and a third bag I inherited from a friend when she was moving away and was purging her cupboards of all foodstuffs.

The trouble is, I had no idea what to do with them.

Lentil Swirl

One of my New Year’s resolutions — which, I will admit, I’m not really fastidious about, though I like the idea of setting goals, even if I don’t always accomplish them. It’s like how I love to make lists and then check off tasks when I get them done – was to start attacking the staples cupboard in an effort to reduce the volume of ingredients in there.
Lentils, I decided, were to be the first challenge.

I must have read somewhere about warm lentil salads because that was the first thing that come to mind when I decided to tackle this. I have no recollection of when or where I would have stumbled across such a recipe. But I had such a firm idea in my mind of what I was looking for: cooked lentils studded with slightly sautéed carrot, celery and onion and then tossed in a French-style vinaigrette and served up still warm.

Warm Lentil Salad II

Most of the ones I found while searching called for goat cheese, bacon and sausage. I’m certainly not against the idea of adding any of those to a salad. (In fact, I would count those three things among my top favourite foods; certainly they are things that would improve a lot of salads.) But this was about using up what I already have in my kitchen. And the few ingredients in the recipe I finally found on Molly Wizenberg’s blog, Orangette, were all things I had on hand.

It comes together quickly, especially if you time it so you are chopping and then cooking the vegetables while the lentils quietly simmer away with a bay leaf. Drain them and toss into the pan of onions, carrots and celery, then slosh over the vinaigrette and stir. Sprinkle with parsley, some crunchy flaked sea salt and it’s ready.

After patiently photographing the dish in the last few moments of daylight, I took that first bite.

The earthy lentils combined with the slightly softened vegetables and the mustard-spiked dressing, along with the fresh green taste of parsley was perfect. The crunch of sea salt and the small sprinkle of vinegar for added tang put the dish over the top.

I polished off the entire bowl. And then scooped myself another one.

The simplicity of all the flavours came through, but together created a homey dish, perfect for a winter afternoon.
After eating this, I could see getting through the rest of the lentils won’t be a problem.

(Edited to add that I made this again less than a week later. That is how good it is. Go forth, make it. It’s easy and so delicious!)

Lentils

Mirepoix

Mirepoix with thyme

Warm Lentil Salad I

Warm Lentil Salad III

French-Style Warm Lentil Salad
This recipe comes frrom Molly Wizenberg of Orangette, which she had adapted from Epicurious.com. She says it is even better the second day, though I would add the caveat, “if you have any left.”

  • 1 cup (250 mL) French green (also known as “Puy”) lentils, picked over and rinsed
  • 3 cups (750 mL) water
  • 1 Turkish bay leaf
  • ½ teaspoon (2 mL) salt, divided
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, finely chopped
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) finely chopped fresh thyme
  • 5 tablespoons (65 mL) olive oil, divided
  • 2 tablespoons plus ½ tsp (27 mL) red wine vinegar
  • ½ tablespoon (7 mL) Dijon mustard
  • Crunchy sea salt, for serving
  • 2 tablespoons (25 mL) finely chopped Italian parsley, for serving

In a medium saucepan, bring the lentils, water, and bay leaf to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until almost tender, about 15 minutes. Stir in ¼ teaspoon (1 mL) salt, and then simmer, covered, for another 3 to 5 minutes, until tender but not falling apart.

While the lentils simmer, warm 1 tablespoon (15 mL) of the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion, carrots, celery, garlic, thyme, and 1/8 teaspoon (0.5 mL) salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are just softened, about 7 to 9 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the vinaigrette. In a small bowl, whisk together 2 tablespoons (25 mL) vinegar, mustard, and remaining 1/8 teaspoon (0.5 mL) salt. Add the remaining 4 tablespoons (50 mL) olive oil, and whisk to emulsify.

When the lentils are ready, drain them in a colander or sieve, and discard the bay leaf. Dump them into the skillet with the vegetables, and add the vinaigrette. Cook over low heat, stirring gently, until heated through. Stir in the remaining ½ tsp (2 mL) vinegar, and serve warm, with crunchy salt and parsley for sprinkling.
Makes 4 side-dish servings

This originally ran in the Calgary Herald. For more recipes, check out the Herald’s online food section.

Quinoa Salad with Curry-Lime Vinaigrette

When Twitter first came on the scene, I wasn’t really sure what to do with it. I had Facebook and email and a blog already, so did I really need another way to connect with people? But I signed up anyway. And, as it has grown, I’ve come to see all sorts of benefits that I could not have previously imagined would come from this micro-blogging/communication/networking phenomenon. I’ve made new friends, found news stories and been given a few new recipe ideas.

This Quinoa Salad with Curry-Lime Vinaigrette is one of those recipes. A friend tweeted she had been thinking a lot about biryani-style quinoa dishes. I was curious and asked for links, which she happily sent along. I liked the idea of them, but neither of the recipes really grabbed me as a whole. Instead, I was more interested in picking and choosing the bits and pieces from each that were intriguing.

And I was more than motivated to try out something similar, having impulse bought a three-pound bag of quinoa from Costco. Seriously. Some people impulse buy gum; that makes a lot more sense.

Cooked quinoa

I’ve liked quinoa for some time, ever since trying it with veggies and a peanut sauce at the Coup. But the idea of cooking it was a bit intimidating. Various reports of it being bitter or improperly cooked were enough to make me shy away from it. And then I saw on the back of this bag that you could cook it in a rice cooker. Can I make a confession here? I don’t really know how to cook rice on the stove because a former boyfriend bought me a cooker when I came back from Japan (where I had fallen in love with the one in my little townhouse). Now that’s all I use. So, knowing I could make perfect quinoa in the rice cooker was enough for me to put the giant bag of the stuff in my equally giant Costco cart.

And then I got it home and didn’t really know what to do with it.

And here we are.

So, I made this salad with quinoa and carrots and zucchini, currants and pine nuts and sort of make-it-up-as-you-go-along dressing based on what I thought would be good with hints from the other two recipes I read. Tossed it all together and it was fantastic. So I ate some more. And then I tweeted it and people started asking for a recipe. So, I made it again last week and actually wrote down what went in this time.

I was at the farmer’s market and bought some oddly coloured carrots (because I also impulse buy strange vegetables) and used them in the salad because I thought they’d be pretty. They were. But the first time I made this I used straight up normal carrots and it was just as fantastic.

Funky white carrot

Purple Carrot

Oh, and here’s the best tip I’ve read in a while for julienning vegetables perfectly. First cut it in diagonal slices, then stack those and cut into sticks. So much easier and they always look fantastic.

Julienned Zucchini

This is great right away, even better if you can let it sit for a bit so everything has a chance to hang out.

Lastly, I’d say that the beauty of a salad is it is infinitely adaptable. Don’t like pine nuts? Use sliced almonds instead. Currants are great, but I bet diced apricots or a handful of dried cranberries would also be delicious. And so on.

Curry-lime vinaigrette

Quinoa salad with curry-lime vinaigrette

Quinoa Salad with Curry-Lime Vinaigrette

  • 2 cups cooked quinoa
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 small zucchini
  • 3 green onions
  • 1/2 cup currants
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 1 cup chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • zest and juice of one lime
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/4 cup oil (I used olive because it’s what I had. Any veg oil will be great)

Cook quinoa according to package directions or using the “white rice” setting on a rice cooker. Set aside and let cool then place in large salad bowl.

Julienne carrots and zucchini, then slice green onions. Add to quinoa. Stir in chickpeas, toasted pine nuts and currants.

To make dressing, zest lime into a bowl, then add lime juice and honey. Whisk to dissolve honey, then add salt and spices. While whisking, slowly add oil to emulsify. Pour over salad and toss.

Feta-Watermelon Salad

Fruit and cheese is a natural combination. I like a nice wedge of brie with pear, have enjoyed dried apricots and a little Gouda and, of course, apple and cheddar are a classic pairing for a reason.

Over the years I’ve seen the combination of feta and watermelon crop up in cookbooks, on blogs and in menus. For a long time I just could not wrap my head around the idea of matching the sharp, salty tang of feta with a sweet and luscious watermelon.

Feta-Watermelon Salad II

It seemed an incongruous match. A slightly chalky cheese with a juicy fruit? I could not be tempted. But I finally broke down and ordered a salad with feta and watermelon at a local restaurant a few months ago. Curiosity got the best of me, I guess. And then I mentally kicked myself for waiting so long.

Where I had expected incompatibility, I found harmony. A harmony that almost tempted me to lick my plate. Decorum reigned, but the salad has remained at the back of my mind for the last few months.

I was never a big watermelon eater. Sure, we’d eat wedges of it during summer as kids, coating our faces in the fruit’s juices as we sat on the back porch. It was a cool and refreshing treat and a nice way to pause between runs through the sprinkler on the lawn. I never did get the hang of spitting seeds, though.

Watermelon II

As I grew older, watermelon dropped off my radar. I never bought it for myself, ate it only when it was part of some fruit salad. Until this dinner out, when I realized this giant fruit could be just as sophisticated as the combination of brie and pear, while still holding that faint taste of childhood summers.

A baby watermelon I found at the farmer’s market sealed the deal. It was time to make this salad my own.

There are myriad variations of feta-watermelon salad on the Internet, and even one or two in my rather large cookbook collection. But each one had some ingredient that held no appeal for me or they appeared to be missing something I believed was crucial. In the end, I simply took from each what I thought was right: watermelon for the sweet; feta for the salt; cucumber for crunch; lime juice for tang; red onion for some sharpness; olive oil for that fruity, grassy flavour; and, of course, mint.

The mint certainly kicked it over the edge for me. That small addition transformed the simple salt-sweet combination into something spectacular.

I used a Nigella Lawson trick of marinating the sliced onions in acid — in this case lime juice — which she uses in several recipes, including her own version of feta-watermelon salad. The lime juice takes some of the bite away from the red onions while not robbing their flavour, and also creates a lovely pink colour for the dressing.

I don’t want to get too romantic about this salad, but it did taste a lot like I was eating a summer afternoon. Refreshing like a cold drink, but with the punch of feta and soothing mint. I probably could have eaten the entire bowl.

Which would have been for the best, because this salad really doesn’t keep. Only make as much as you’re going to need, because the watermelon does break down relatively quickly. Not that it didn’t still taste as good — it just lost some of its visual appeal.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to make adjustments as you see fit. Want more feta? Go for it. Think the watermelon cubes should be bigger? Smaller? Not cubed at all? Be my guest. This is a salad, after all, so tailor it to your own tastes. As long as the core ingredients remain the same, it will be tasty.

Mint

Watermelon I

Onions

Feta-Watermelon Salad I

Feta-Watermelon Salad with Mint

  • ½ cup (125 mL) lime juice, from 3 to 4 limes
  • ½ red onion (or one small one), peeled and sliced thinly into half-moons
  • 8 cups (2L) watermelon, cut into ½ inch (2 cm) cubes, one tiny watermelon or ¼ of a large one
  • ½ English cucumber or 3 baby cucumbers, seeded and sliced
  • 1 cup (250 mL) feta, cut into small cubes
  • 2 tbsp (25 mL) extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup (125 mL) mint, chiffonade

Juice the limes into a bowl. Slice the red onion and add to the lime juice to marinate while you prepare the rest of the salad.

Cut watermelon into slices, remove rind and chop into chunks. Dump them in a large salad bowl and top with cucumber slices and feta cubes. Add olive oil to red onion-lime juice mixture, stir and then pour over salad.

Roll mint leaves into a cigar and slice thinly into strands. Sprinkle over salad, toss and serve.

This story first appeared in the Real Life section in the Calgary Herald. For more delicious recipes, visit CalgaryHerald.com/life.

Basil Vinaigrette

If you’ve been reading this for awhile, you may remember when I mentioned that I once bought a cookbook simply for a salad dressing recipe. Subsequently, I’ve learned to love Rebar’s lime sugar cookies and have tried numerous other recipes in the book. But it’s the basil vinaigrette that keeps me coming back to this book every single time.

Salad close-up

I first tried the basil dressing when I had a salad at Rebar one afternoon. It was a fantastic meal. (I have this theory about salads, that they are always best when someone else makes them. In this case, it’s not all that surprising when you look at what they include in their giant salads: grated beets, grated carrots, lettuce, tomatoes, sunflower seeds, cheese . . . . The list goes on.) And I’ve barely tried anything else when I’ve gone there again because the salad is so good.

And they don’t blink when I ask for a little extra dressing on the side.

People, this is good stuff.

And no doubt, there is A LOT of basil in here. Once blended with vinegars, dijon and a few other ingredients, then emulsified with olive oil, this comes out very thick, very green and very fantastic.

Basil

As soon as basil starts to show up at the farmer’s market each summer, I buy a couple of huge bunches, make a batch or two of pesto and then this dressing, which I devour on salads all week.

(Um, may I suggest checking your basil before blending?)
Extra passenger

The measurement for basil (1 1/2 ounces) doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s a few cups, so make sure to buy enough. Otherwise, cut the recipe in half if you don’t have enough.

All in the blender

Basil Vinaigrette

Basil Vinaigrette II

Dressing on lettuce

Simple salad with Basil Vinaigrette

Basil Vinaigrette

from the Rebar Modern Food Cookbook

  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 1/2 ounces fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cracked pepper
  • 1 cup olive oil

Combine all of the ingredients, except the olive oil, in a food processor (I use a blender and that works just as well, I’ve found.) and blend. Slowly add olive oil in a slow, thin stream until thick and creamy.

Season to taste and serve. Can be refrigerated up to three days.

Heirloom Tomatoes with Balsamic Reduction

I have virtually given up on tomatoes. The ones from the supermarket are bland, flavourless faux tomatoes and are hardly worth buying. Grape tomatoes are about the only ones I bother buying any more because they still seem to have some tomato-y taste.

As a kid, summers were spent with my grandparents on one of the Gulf Islands. They grew their own tomatoes and I would eat them off the vine, warm from the sun and bursting with that summery taste. I loved too the green, fresh smell that came when I brushed up against the dark green plants. Years later I bought a perfume from Demeter called Tomato that has somehow recreated that smell of the tomato vines. When I put it on, I’m transported back to my grandfather’s garden with its tall chicken-wire walls to keep the deer out.

So, when I saw a package of Heirloom Tomatoes at the farmer’s market recently, I ignored the price tag and put them in my basket. It was an odd little collection of cherry tomatoes, green tomatoes, some purplish ones and pear-shaped ones.

Heirloom Tomatoes

When I got home, I started eating them right out of the cellophane package, some straight up, others split in half and sprinkled with a bit of sea salt.

Most tasted like tomatoes, with the exception of the Green Zebra.

Heirloom Tomato

While I could have eaten them all just standing at the kitchen counter, I decided to make a very basic salad with just tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil and some reduced Balsamic vinegar.

I know I have already mentioned my love of all things vinegar, but reducing Balsamic gives it a sweeter, more syrupy consistency. Which makes it great for this type of salad because then you don’t need to make a full vinaigrette. It’s also great on sliced strawberries or on tomato tarts, among other things.

Making a Balsamic Reduction is super simple. Just pour a cup of the vinegar in a saucepan, put it on medium-high heat and let it reduce until it is thick and coats the back of a spoon. Some recipes suggest adding some sugar, but I have always liked my dressings tarter than not, so I don’t bother.

Drizzle over cut tomatoes and then add a bit of olive oil.

This would also be great on a more traditional Caprese salad with tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil.

Tomatoes with Balsamic Reduction

Fresh Corn Salad

A group of friends and I were talking about things we like to make for dinner a couple of weeks ago, when one mentioned her relatively recently acquired love of all things barbecue. And that, inevitably, led to a discussion about side dishes.

There has been a lot of recipes lately for grilled corn, which sounds delicious (especially when there is also talk about chili-lime butter to spread on after), but I am a sad city dweller with no patio/balcony/deck and, subsequently, no hibachi/grill/barbecue. But that doesn’t mean that I miss out when corn is in season.

Corn on the cob

Every summer I make a few rounds of Fresh Corn Salad, when corn on the cob is ripe and basil is plentiful at the Farmer’s Market. There are only seven ingredients in this salad, and that includes the dressing.

This is really easy to throw together and well worth the effort. (Okay, maybe the actual cutting-the-corn-off-the-cob is a bit messy.) (I recently saw this gadget that strips the kernels from the cob and while I love all things gadgety, even I feel that’s a bit much.)

I did initially have a tough time finding cider vinegar, but then found some at my local Safeway (along with another much-loved Barefoot Contessa ingredient: champagne vinegar. Um, actually, I just looked and mine is “champagne style.” What can I say? I’m a champagne girl on a “champagne-style” budget.) They come in pretty small bottles, but I don’t use cider vinegar all that often, so it works out.

basil and red onion

Corn off the cob

Fresh Corn Salad

This recipe is from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook.

Fresh Corn Salad

  • 5 ears corn, shucked
  • 1/2 cup small-diced red onion (1 small onion)
  • 3 tbsp. cider vinegar
  • 3 tbsp. good olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup chiffonade fresh basil leaves

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the corn for 3 minutes until the starchiness is just gone. Drain and immerse it in ice water to stop the cooking and set the colour. When the corn is cool, cut the kernels off the cob, cutting close to the cob.

Toss the kernels in a large bowl with the red onions, vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. Just before serving, toss in the fresh basil. Taste for seasonings and serve cold or at room temperature.

Green Beans with Garlic

What is it about other people’s versions of the same recipe that inevitably turn out better than yours? I call it Other People’s Salad Syndrome, or Salad Syndrome, for short. I can put the same baby lettuce, grape tomatoes and grated carrot in a bowl, make a basic vinaigrette and it will be fine. My Mum will make it or a friend will whip one together and it will still taste better than one I’ve made.

When I was back in Vancouver a few weeks ago, my Mum made a dinner that included Green Beans with Garlic. In a nutshell, it’s steamed green beans, doused with olive oil that has had chunks of garlic cooked in it, then sprinkled with salt and pepper. We’ve had this many times over the years, and I’m sure I remember a few versions that had long strips of sweet red pepper for colour and flavour contrast.

Still craving another hit of that garlicky, summery taste, I picked up a huge bag of green beans earlier this week. Then, this morning as I was procrastinating (surely, this is one of the top reasons I bake and cook), I thought it would be the perfect time to cook up some beans.

Green Beans with Garlic

I had double checked the “recipe” with my Mum the night before. (“So, it’s just beans and garlic in oil and salt and pepper, right?” I messaged her in the middle of our online Scrabble game. “Yup.” Alrighty, then.) So, I was good to go.

Oh, except for the fact that for some unknown, unexplained and super annoying reason, the water to my apartment was cut off for several hours today. But, never one to shy away from a challenge, I proceeded anyway. (I can be particularly stubborn and, subsequently, pretty creative.) I had just enough water in my Brita to make three cups of rice (for the other part of my lunch) and to steam the green beans. Thank god I refilled that thing.

Green beans

Owing to my overwhelming supply of shallots, I thought I’d adjust the recipe slightly and slice up one of those and add it at the last minute to the olive oil. I really liked this touch, as the shallot was a sweet addition, and will do it again in the future. But if you don’t have any lying around, I wouldn’t worry about it.

Shallots and garlic

The idea here is to cook the garlic until it’s tender and has lost its bite in favour of a slightly nutty taste sort of akin to roasted garlic. If the oil’s temperature is too high, the garlic could burn and it will taste very acrid. The key is to watch the amount of bubbling after throwing in the garlic. I also occasionally lift the pot off and swirl the oil around to keep the garlic moving. If you’re going to add some shallot, add it towards the end because it will cook more quickly than the thick-cut garlic.

Garlic and olive oil

Shallots and garlic in olive oil

Anyway, I steamed the beans, cooked the garlic in the oil, added the (what I believe to be) inspired choice of a shallot, tossed it all together with some salt and pepper and sat down to enjoy lunch.

And was disappointed.

It’s not that it wasn’t good. Mmmmm garlic. Mmmmmm slightly sweetened shallot. Mmmmm grean beans. And yet, it still wasn’t as tasty as the version I had just two weeks earlier.

I’m blaming it on Salad Syndrome.

But I’m going to keep working on it because this summery, salad-ish recipe is too good to give up on.

For this recipe, I use Maldon flaked salt. I like the slight crunch of the crystals and that it’s not an overpoweringly salty taste.

Lunch is served

Green Beans with Garlic

  • 1 pound green beans
  • 1/2 cup olive oil, extra virgin preferable for it’s more intense flavour
  • 4 cloves garlic, sliced thickly
  • 1 or 2 shallots, sliced thickly in rings and then separated
  • salt
  • pepper

Steam the green beans. (I do it on the stove using a steamer, but only because I’m not sure how to do it in the microwave.) When they are still slightly crisp (I think the technical term is “tender crisp”) and bright green, throw them in a bowl of ice cold water to shock them — stop the cooking process and keep them a nice colour. Strain and throw in a bowl. While the beans are steaming, set a small pot with the olive oil onto a burner set to medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until slightly golden. Toss over beans and then add salt and pepper to taste.

P.S. When all the beans are eaten and there is still all that lovely, garlicky oil left over, it’s pretty delicious with chunks of french bread.

P.P.S. Hmmmm. Having just had another round of beans that have been sitting out since I made them (about two hours ago) and are now about room temperature, I’d say they are even better this way. Maybe *that’s* the trick. When my Mum made them, my sister and I kept picking away at them while the rest of dinner cooked, so they probably were more at room temperature by the time we all sat down.

So, you may want to make them slightly ahead of time and let them cool before enjoying.