Strawberry Salad

heidiSwansonI’m always attracted to unusual recipes, but when I read Heidi Swanson’s recipe for Strawberry Salad in her latest cookbook, Near and Far, I thought it verged on the insane side of odd. It combines strawberries with a bit of sugar and salt, olive oil, lemon zest, toasted almonds, and (here comes the insanity) caraway seeds. In fact, when I brought it to cookbook club, organized by Christina of East Bay Dish, I couldn’t even answer whether it was savory or sweet, as I hadn’t tried it yet, and had no idea how strawberries plus 3/4 tsp of caraway seeds might taste.

It ended up being fabulous, with the fresh strawberry flavor brightened by the lemon zest, with an interesting herbaceous note from the caraway and olive oil, and crunch from the almonds. It worked well both as a salad, or, as suggested as a breakfast option, over Greek yogurt. It was everything I want a cookbook recipe to be–it helped me make something I never would have thought of and was better than the sum of its parts. I don’t know what inspired Heidi to add the caraway–we joked that she may be secretly sponsored by the caraway board, as the asparagus avocado tartine, roasted tomato salad, and strawberry salad all had caraway. Maybe IBM’s Watson suggested it as a chemically sound flavor combination, or maybe it was inspired by this companion planting. In any case, it was delicious here.

Strawberry Salad from Near and Far

2 baskets fresh strawberries
.75 tsp caraway seeds
1.5 oz almonds
1.5 T light brown sugar
.25 t fine-grain sea salt
3 T extra virgin olive oil
zest of one lemon

Core and quarter strawberries. Lightly toast the caraway seeds, then bruise with a mortar and pestle. Toast almonds until fragrant, and process in a food processor (I modified this, as the whole almonds I had at home are of much better quality than the sliced almonds from the nearby store). Add the salt, sugar, and almonds to the mortar, mix, and crush any stray large almond pieces. Microplane the zest from a lemon into the mortar. Stir in dry ingredients and olive oil to strawberries just before serving.

It’s Springtime for Salmon, if you can get it

The most refreshing, balanced salad as a meal I've ever tasted.

I hear it’s been hot across the rest of the country, but in the Bay Area it just warmed up a bit this Sunday. And in warm weather, it is hard to eat anything but a salad or a sorbet (though it wasn’t, actually, all that warm here. Nobody has air conditioning–it’s a bit of a disaster if it gets above 85 F, but even so it always cools down at night. Okay, no more bragging, but there must be some reason for the astronomical property values.)

This is a springtime riff on a healthy salad I’ve been making from my grad-school days. It’s based on a traditional Italian salad of white beans sauteed in olive oil and garlic, with olive oil-cured tuna, parsley, onions, and lemon juice. I often swap ingredients based on what I have on hand, or to create different flavor profiles, but the basis of the recipe remains–beans plus cured fish plus herbs/greens plus aromatics in a lemon/olive oil dressing. It is my favorite healthy lunch. I usually eat it on toast or on greens as a salad. I was actually inspired to make this by the salmon at the Farmer’s Market. This is the first year since I’ve moved to the Bay Area that salmon stocks were healthy enough for the department of fish and game to allow a salmon season, so I grabbed some when I had the chance. That plus these adorable red onion scallions and mini spring lettuces from the market made me think of my go-to lunch. Peas from the garden round it out, and fingerling potatoes make up for the carbs I’m missing from the dried beans.
Though I haven’t yet adopted any sous-vide cooking devices, or even a true vacuum sealer (my cheapo variety Seal-a meal present couldn’t last the 6 years since I’d gotten it, and is now made up of a vacuum device not held together by brittle, broken plastic parts), but I do recommend the “sous-vide” (cooking, in a water bath, at the ultimate temperature you want the product to obtain) technique in many cases, especially salmon. I find 50 C to be the perfect temperature. I came upon this after reading an aside in Thomas Keller’s Under pressure that “salmon cooked to 120 F (48.9 C) tends to be moist and slightly tacky), wheras salmon cooked to 123 F (50.6 C) is  slightly firmer and no longer tacky.” So much like Barbara Lee, my congresswoman, 50 C works for me.

Raw Pacific Salmon

50 C Salmon:

    1. Heat a large pot of water to 50 C (122 F), or if you have a sous-vide water bath, set the temp on that. This is near the temperature of hot tap water. Also, bring a couple cups of water to a boil in case adjustments of waterbath temperature are needed.
    2. Make enough 5% brine to cover salmon. For 1 liter, add 3/4 cup table salt to 1 L cool tap water.
    3. Place salmon in 5% brine for 10 minutes. This helps season the salmon and reduces the amount of albumin (white goo) on the surface of the cooked salmon.
    4. Lightly pepper the surface of the salmon. Feel free to add other herbs at this stage, but start with small quantities, as they tend to taste more concentrated than they would with other cooking methods.
    5. Add olive oil and salmon to a Ziploc or other sealable bag. Squeeze out air and seal.
    6. Place bagged salmon in water bath. Swirl and check temperature. Add boiled water if necessary to bring temperature back up to 50 C.
    7. Set timer for 15 minutes. Check on water temperature occasionally, adding more hot water to keep temp at 50 C.
    8. Remove at 15 minutes and serve, or refrigerate without opening for use in future recipes.

Salmon cooked to 50 C.

Springtime Salad:

    1. Bring potatoes to a boil in heavily salted water. Boil for 20-25 minutes or until tender.
    2. Blanch snow peas. I do so by placing them in a strainer and placing it over the boiling potatoes for 1.5-2 minutes. I like them fairly crisp.
    3. Chop scallions thinly. I use the bottom half and save the rest of the green parts for another recipe. I don’t mean just the white portion–I like a mix of crunchiness and herbiness for this salad.
    4. Chop dill and parsley (or other herbs) finely. Tail and cut snow peas into 1cm lengths or so.
    5. Combine scallions, herbs, snow peas, olive oil, and salmon in large bowl and mix to combine. 50 C salmon will break up while mixing, so no need to work too hard flaking it, though very firmly cooked salmon may need to be flaked. In any case, make sure you remove any remaining bones before mixing. Remove skin if still present.
    6. Cut fingerling potatoes into slices while still warm–a serrated knife works best.
    7. Add potatoes to bowl, season with salt and pepper, and mix.
    8. Add the juice of one lemon, remix, and taste for salt and pepper. I like to add plenty of each. You can also adjust the amount of herbs, olive oil, and lemon at this point.
    9. Serve in lettuce cups, or atop chopped lettuce.

      Seriously delicious

Meatless Mondays: Kale salad with carrot ginger dressing

A healthy bowl.

I usually make something a bit more substantial even when going meatless, but this weekend was so full of meat, all I was craving today was salad. I hadn’t thought about this dressing for years until food52 issued a “Best Carrot Recipe” contest and it was the first thing to pop into my head. It’s a dressing that caught on in New York’s East Village, at Japanese-ish diners geared towards students. I was happy at any restaurant where it was a dressing choice, and am surprised it hasn’t caught on as one of the standard dressings, though I don’t think it would bottle well.
I had a bit of a recipe from from my New York years, but after my recent googling, it was lacking a couple of the key ingredients like shallots and, surprisingly, water (and perhaps had some extra garlic and sesame). Luckily, after trying the version Smitten Kitchen posted, even though I had my reservations as her reference was the heinously named newsletter GOOP by Gwyneth Paltrow which suggested accelerating bowel movements by drinking castor oil in the same post.  But it just sounded right. Though the restaurant version was most frequently some sort of lettuce, avocado, onion combination suggested in the other posts, I find that this dressing pairs perfectly with kale. It brings out the slight sweetness that’s usually in kale, particularly the Lacinato (dinosaur) kale I usually have growing in my backyard.

Dressing
2 carrots
1 American-sized shallot (largeish), or three halves small Asian shallots
2 inches ginger
2 tablespoons white miso
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seed oil
1/4 cup neutral oil
2 tablespoons water

Peel and roughly chop carrots, shallots, and ginger. I usually peel ginger with a spoon–it is the fastest, least wasteful method I’ve learned. Then process carrots, shallots, and ginger in a food processor until very finely chopped. Add miso, scrape down, and run food processor again. Pour neutral oil in while blade is running, then add water until smoot, and desired consistency. It shouldn’t be liquid, pourable, but it shouldn’t be completely chunky either. You may need a little more than 2 T water. Add sesame oil and process briefly.

I like to serve with a simple salad of kale/cabbage salad. This particular salad is ~2/3 Dinosaur (Lacinato) kale, ~1/3 cabbage, garnished with sweet corn. Other delicious garnishes include fresh peas, sesame seeds, avocado, or pressed tofu.