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Grilled smokey chicken with fried okra and fried green corn

I guess my trip to Atlanta got me in the mood for fried food. I really don’t fry things often, but sometimes it just has to be done. Take okra, for instance. Now I love some okra. Stewed okra and tomatoes is one of my favorite summer dishes; in fact, I plan to make that soon, so stay tuned. But, most people prefer it fried. I have to admit, there’s nothing like fried okra. Okra has a bit of “slime” to it, a characteristic that many would argue is one of its main attributes. It’s because of that “slime” that it works so well stewed, and is often added to soups as a thickening agent. Frying okra “de-slimes” it and makes nice crunchy little nuggets that are wonderfully addictive. This time of year down South the okra is growing tall and prolific. Here in New England it’s difficult to find and expensive. I won’t tell you how much I paid for it, but I was so excited that I bought a pound. I used the recipe in Southern Sideboards, which doesn’t call for using an egg wash, but I think I’ll try that next time. My husband used to work at Ajax restaurant in Oxford, MS and he said they used an egg wash and the breading adhered to the okra really well (I can attest to that; their fried okra is good).

Fried Okra (from Southern Sideboards)
Wash 1 lb. fresh okra and slice into 1/2 inch rounds or thaw 1 10 oz. package cut okra. Toss okra in plastic bag with 1/2 c. white corn meal seasoned with salt and pepper. Fry in hot oil in skillet, turning often and sprinkling with salt and pepper as needed. When lightly browned, remove with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.

Fried Green Corn (from Edna Lewis’s The Taste of Country Cooking)
My visit to Watershed prompted me to get out Edna Lewis’s cookbook, which by coincidence I just ordered a month or so ago. There are some great old fashioned recipes in this book. “Green” doesn’t mean that the corn is the color green; it means that it’s fresh (same goes with “green” peanuts, FYI).
6 ears of corn
2 tbs. fresh bacon fat or butter
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. black pepper

Slice the corn from the cob*. Scrape the cob downward to get any remaining corn left near the cob. Heat a 9 in. skillet and add the fat. When hot, spoon in the corn and cook for 15 to 20 min., stirring often. While cooking, sprinkle in salt, sugar, and pepper. Serve piping hot.

*I use my bundt pan to do this. Put the stalk side down into the opening of the bundt pan and hold the top of the ear. Use a chef’s knife or some kind of large-ish knife to slice down the cob. The corn kernels and juices should just fall right into the pan without much mess.

Grilled smokey chicken
I’m calling this “grilled smokey chicken” because although I cooked it at a pretty low heat, I wasn’t consistent about it and I think if I were to truly smoke chicken I would brine it beforehand and cook it for several hours at a steady low heat. Instead, I skipped the brine and let the temperature fluctuate between 250-350 (controlling heat is sometimes tough on a charcoal grill). Also, as an experiment I decided not to brown the skin this time (as you can also see in the picture), but I think I will next time. It does add a lot of flavor and nice texture. Nevertheless, it turned out good enough to recommend to you. If you have suggestions on improvement I’d love to hear them!

1 cut up chicken
seasoning of your preference: bbq rub, Tony Chachere’s, etc.
vinegar (any kind)

Sprinkle vinegar over chicken and then sprinkle seasoning. Rub into skin on both sides and let sit for a few hours (or however much time you have). Soak some hickory chips in water and let sit for an hour or so. Set up grill for indirect heat. Once the fire is ready brown the chicken over the fire to get a nice crust. Then move it to the other side of the grill (you should have a pan beneath the chicken to catch the drippings) and take the heat down to about 300. Add the hickory chips or chunks (hickory is actually a pretty dry wood and the chunks produce a lot of smoke without having to be soaked, FYI). Cook for 30-45 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees and/or juices run clear.


Did you miss me?

OK, you can admit it. You didn’t even know I was gone, did you? I had to go to down South for a few days on business. Don’t worry, I did lots of eating and am prepared to tell you about all of it. Just remember, I’m not a restaurant critic so don’t expect me to critique the wine list or rate the authenticity of the confit.

The highlight of the entire trip was my dinner at Watershed. The Chef, Scott Peacock, co-wrote one of my all-time favorite cookbooks, The Gift of Southern Cooking with Edna Lewis. It’s just a great book, combining Peacock’s Alabama cooking tradition with Lewis’s Virginia upbringing. The restaurant is famous for its fried chicken and pimento cheese. Of course I got both. We also ordered a hummus plate and shrimp & grits served with a huge “plank” of buttered toast:

Although I was most excited about the pimento cheese, I have to say the shrimp & grits were outstanding. I know from his cookbook that he uses shrimp paste, which is why it doesn’t look like shrimp & grits you might find elsewhere.

The fried chicken is brined overnight and then soaked in buttermilk, which is why they only serve it once a week. It’s served with biscuits, mashed potatoes, and green beans. It was delicious. Tender, flavorful, crunchy. The biscuits were good too; I ate an extra order of those.

The next day I had lunch with my cousin and her son. They took me to the Varsity, which is legend around those parts. It’s been open for 80 years and is famous for chili dogs, onion rings and a drink called the Varsity Orange, which tastes just like a Push-Up (do they even make those anymore?). Of course, even though chili dogs aren’t my favorite, I had to order a number 1 combo: two chili dogs, with fries and a drink. My cousin got the onion rings and we shared. The “chili” was really just meat sauce, and it was pretty darn good.


I also had a couple of nice meals with friends and family that stood out more for their company than for their food (don’t get me wrong the food was good, but if it’s not fried or laden with meat sauce I’m not writing about it here). It was a great trip, and now I need to go eat some vegetables.

Here’s Scott Peacock’s recipe for pimento cheese. I haven’t made it myself but I’ve eaten it and it’s really good. Pimento cheese usually falls into two camps: sweet and savory. This is a savory recipe, which is my preference. Although his calls for roasted red bell pepper and homemade Mayonnaise, I can tell you that it’s ok to use a jar of pimentos and some store-bought Hellman’s. I need to work on my recipe a little, but once I get it tweaked I’ll post it for ya. It’s hard to find really sharp yellow cheese here in New England (I have no idea why), so mine is usually white-ish, but the kind I always had growing up was almost day-glow orange. Regardless of color, homemade pimento cheese blows the store-bought stuff out of the water. It can be served as a dip or on a sandwich; it’s great as a grilled cheese.

Scott Peacock’s Pimento Cheese
1 1/2 c. (10 oz.) grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper, or to taste
salt to taste if needed
5 or 6 grinds of black pepper
3/4 c. homemade Mayonnaise
3 tbs. finely chopped roasted red bell pepper or pimento

Stir together all of the ingredients in a mixing bowl until they are well mixed and creamy. Taste carefully for seasoning and adjust as needed. Cover and store, refrigerated, until ready to use.

Enjoy!

I don’t mean to rub it in, but here in New England it’s farmer’s market central this time of year. We have a much shorter growing season than most of you, but once it gets going it really gets going. Any day of the week I can find a farmer’s market within a short drive of my house. As I’ve recently learned, buying local is the best thing for you and your family. Many local farms are organic in everything except name; at the farmer’s markets I often see “low/no spray” on signs all over the non-organic farms’ tents. I don’t consider myself a “locavore,” (I even find that term mildly annoying), but if I buy a few things at a couple of farmer’s markets a week and center my meals around those I figure I’m doing alright.

OK, so I know that not all of you are as lucky as I am. You live in an area where the farmer’s market was kicked out by the town officials (blasphemous as far as I’m concerned), or maybe if you have one you suspect that the produce wasn’t actually grown by the people selling it. This is a sad, sad state of affairs.

I also understand that not everyone has access to organic produce. I can’t always buy organic either, and I was so excited when a friend sent me the link to the “Pesticides in Produce” guide: http://www.foodnews.org. I’m not getting paid by these people to say that this guide is awesome. It ranks 43 fruits and vegetables from “best” to “worst” based on the amount of pesticides in non-organic produce. I’m ashamed to say that my beloved peach is at the very top of the list as the “worst” produce to buy non-organic.

Do with this what you will, but I promise once you look at this it will change the way you maneuver through the produce section. Hopefully in a good way.

I’ve decided to occasionally write a post that offers a menu. Sometimes you just don’t feel like being creative and thinking about how to put a meal together…well just relax. I’ve got you taken care of.

Todays menu:

Grilled chicken
Garlic green beans
Squash casserole
Cornbread

This weekend we had family in town, including a couple of very picky eaters. I decided to play it safe with some grilled chicken and fresh veggies from the farmer’s market. I got the go-ahead on a few vegetables and went to the farmer’s market to see what I could find. I came home with yellow squash and green beans. Green beans aren’t my favorite, but if it’s a fresh vegetable I’ll eat it.

The star of the show as far as I’m concerned was the squash casserole. It’s my mom’s recipe. She’s an excellent cook, and I’m ashamed to say a bit under-appreciated by her children. Probably because she lived in the shadows of her mother, who was one of those women who just looked like she knew her way around the kitchen (and she did). This squash casserole was adapted from the squash casserole that they used to serve at a restaurant called “Aunt Fannie’s Cabin” in Atlanta. It’s delicious with fresh squash and to me it tastes like the South.

Lisa’s Squash Casserole

3 lb. yellow squash, sliced and steamed
1/2 c. chopped onion
2 tbs. butter, melted
1/2 c. Ritz cracker crumbs
1/8 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. salt
2 eggs
1 tbsp. sugar

Mash cooked squash and drain well. Combine 1 tbsp. butter with cracker crumbs. Mix half the crumbs and remaining ingredients and pour into a greased casserole. Sprinkle remaining crumbs on top and bake for 1 hour in a 375 degree oven.

Garlic Green Beans
Recipe from The Gift of Southern Cooking by Edna Lewis & Scott Peacock

Salt
1 lb. green beans, washed and stemmed
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 lg. clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp. finely snipped parsley (I didn’t have this for my dish)
Freshly ground pepper to taste

Fill a big pot with water and bring to a rolling boil. Add 1 tbsp. of salt and the stemmed green beans, and cook, uncovered, for 5 minutes, or until tender but resistant to the bite. Drain the beans, and immediately plunge into a bowl of salted ice water to stop the cooking. As soon as the green beans are chilled, drain them.
Heat the butter in a wide skillet until hot and foaming. Add the green beans, and cook, tossing constantly, until heated through. Add the garlic, parsley, and a generous sprinkling of salt, and a few grinds of black pepper, and continue cooking 1 minute longer. Serve immediately.

Grilled chicken

I buy a whole chicken and cut it up. It’s SO much cheaper this way, especially if you are feeding a bunch of people. I like to buy the “all natural, no hormones, no antibiotic” chicken. The Joy of Cooking has a good section on how to cut up a chicken; when I get better at it maybe I’ll blog about it.

My Daddy taught me to cook meat on the grill by first sprinkling it with vinegar (any kind) and then sprinkling with a dry rub or other seasoning. I’ve never read this anywhere else; most people use oil. If you can tell me a reason not to do this please do; it produces wonderful results. This time I used Tony Chachere’s.

Set your grill up for indirect heat. If you are using charcoal sprinkle some hickory chunks or soaked wood chips on the coals. Once the coals are good and hot put your chicken down to get it good and browned (this step is for flavor, not to “seal in the juices” — that’s a myth). Then, once it’s browned on both sides move it to the other side of the grill. Put your vents over the meat so the smoke will be directed over the meat. I leave a small opening in both top and bottom vents, but you do what works best for you and your grill. Just watch it to make sure it doesn’t die or get too hot. Check the meat with a thermometer (close to 170 degrees – remember it will cook a bit after you take it off the grill) or just cut a thick breast to see if the juices run clear (this is what I do, I don’t like my meat thermometer).

I served all of the above with some leftover cornbread I had in the freezer. Use white corn meal if you can find it and just follow the recipe on the bag. Hopefully it won’t have any sugar in it.

Sit down with some friends and/or family and enjoy!

Beets. One of the most underestimated vegetables in modern times. I’ve only recently begun to appreciate the sweetness and breathtaking hues of beets. Before last year I didn’t realize that you can eat beets prepared any way other than pickled, and I’m not crazy about pickled beets. But, a friend of mine recommended roasting or boiling them and serving them plain with goat cheese. I tried it and a whole world revealed itself to me. As I gazed into the scarlet puddles left behind after we’d eaten every morsel I realized I’d been missing out.

There are many different kinds of beets and if you can get your hands on a variety other than red you should try them; it’s fun to mix and match. This time I had one bunch of golden beets that I bought at the farmer’s market. It was one of those weak moments when I didn’t have a menu planned, I just couldn’t resist golden beets. So they’ve been sitting in my fridge waiting to be cooked. I decided after I bought them that I would cook both the beet greens and the beets themselves, so I snipped off the greens and wrapped them in a paper towel. Separating them from the beets will ensure that both the beets and the greens stay fresh longer. When you are shopping, look for beets with greens that are healthy and green, and roots that have firm, regularly shaped roots.

I couldn’t stop taking pictures of these beets. Even if you don’t like eating them you have to admit that they are beautiful:

My favorite way to cook beets is explained below. I learned it from Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse Vegetables. You can also boil them, or slice them and then cook the slices. This recipe makes one dinner-sized salad (with some beets left over) or two side salads, and is inspired by my friend Brittany’s recipe which includes kale.

Golden Beet Salad with Goat Cheese and Walnuts

One bunch golden beets (I’m not sure how much this is weight-wise, maybe 2 lb.)
1 oz. or so goat cheese
walnuts (toasted if you like)
2 tbsp. olive oil
rice vinegar
salt
pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Remove tops of beets (if you haven’t already) leaving about 1/2 inch of stem. Wash beets thoroughly. Put them in a baking dish with a splash of water and cover tightly with foil. Bake for 45 min. to 1 hour, or until they can easily be pierced with a sharp knife. Uncover and let them cool. When they are cool enough to handle, cut off the tops and the tails and slide the skin off; it should come off easily. Cut each beet in quarters (or half if very small). Sprinkle with vinegar and salt and pepper. Let the beets sit for 30 minutes and absorb the vinegar. Alice Waters swears that the beets won’t be as good if you don’t give them a chance to absorb the vinegar.

While the beets are sitting, cut the stems off of the greens. Wash and dry thoroughly. Saute over medium-high heat with olive oil until greens have wilted nicely. Place on a plate, top with beets, goat cheese, and walnuts. Sprinkle with a little more rice vinegar and a small amount of olive oil (to balance the vinegar).

From spring straight into summer. It’s hot in New England now and the produce tells the tale. At the local farmer’s market today I got some raspberries, blueberries, and cherry tomatoes: the very emblems of summer.

I guess I’m on a pasta kick because I decided make a fresh tomato pasta dish with the tomatoes I bought. I stopped by Dave’s Fresh Pasta in Somerville for some black pepper pappardelle, which was a good thing because when I got home I realized that I was out of black pepper! While I was there I picked up a $20 bottle of olive oil. Yes that’s right. I don’t know anything about olive oil, but I guess you do get what you pay for because this just doesn’t compare to the stuff I usually buy at the supermarket. The taste is much more subtle; I’ll use it in dishes where the oil isn’t cooked, like the one below.

You can use any kind of pasta you wish in this super easy recipe, and the ingredients can be adapted in a million different ways; this is a great way to use heirloom tomatoes if you have them. The inspiration came from “A Raw Deal,” an article by Adam Reid in the Boston Globe Magazine from August of last year.

Pasta with fresh tomatoes, goat cheese, lemon, and basil

1 tbsp. (or so) lemon juice
1/2 tsp. (or so) lemon zest
1/3 c. olive oil (if you have a special bottle of expensive olive oil use it now. If not you should consider buying one)
4 oz. goat cheese (broken into pieces)
1 or 2 garlic cloves
salt (to taste)
pepper (to taste)
1 lb. pasta
1 qt. cherry tomatoes (you may also use regular tomatoes; cored, seeded and roughly chopped)
fresh basil

Boil pasta until al dente. Drain. While pasta boils combine lemon juice, lemon zest, olive oil, salt, pepper, and goat cheese in a bowl. Crush the garlic clove and mash it with some salt until the salt has combined with the garlic and there are no more large chunks of garlic; you can do this right on your cutting board. Add the garlic to the oil mixture. Place tomatoes in a serving bowl. Once you’ve drained the pasta, pour the hot pasta over the tomatoes and add the oil and goat cheese mixture. Top with fresh basil cut in a chiffonade. Toss to combine (salad tongs work well here) and garnish with fresh basil.

I know that it’s officially summer, but here in New England we are still enjoying spring vegetables at the farmer’s markets. I didn’t see many peas but I did collect some fava beans. This was my first time to cook with favas and I have to say they are really good. I decided to try them out with Heidi Swanson’s Spring Ragout recipe, which she posted on her blog 101 Cookbooks a while back.

Instead of the asparagus I cut up and boiled two artichoke hearts, which I roughly chopped then cut into slivers. Once the artichoke had cooked I threw in some frozen peas, which defrosted quickly. Then I grated a little lemon zest, squeezed a little lemon juice, used a splash of whole milk instead of cream (that’s what I had) and shaved some raw milk Parmesan cheese instead of Pecorino. I have to say it was really delicious. I served it over cappelletti pasta. It was a refreshing spring dish, even in the heart of summer!

In case you don’t know how to prepare fava beans (I didn’t), you need to parboil them to get the beans out from their skins. Here’s what you do:

  • Shell the beans
  • Place the beans (in their skin) in boiling, salted water
  • Let boil for 1 minute
  • Remove from water and run cold water over them to stop cooking
  • When they are cool enough to handle slip the beans from their skins

Voila! Now you can eat them as is or cook them further in a number of yummy recipes that I have yet to try myself.

Mmmm…ribs, although the didn’t turn out exactly the way I’d hoped, they were still pretty darn good. I just love ribs and have promised myself I’ll treat myself more often. They aren’t the healthiest thing in the world but still a whole lot better in my mind than a big mac or nachos supreme.

I was late getting the grill going because I decided at the last minute that I’d like to try using a rib rack. My mother-in-law was running errands and looked for one for me but didn’t have any luck since it was a holiday. The ribs were a little crowded, as you can see, but they were fine. Oh, and yes, I’m grilling on a wooden deck. It had just rained so I wasn’t worried too much, but I kept a close eye and always have a fire extinguisher close at hand just in case.

I use charwood charcoal and a chimney starter. Jason at Off the Broiler does a good job describing how to use a chimney starter so I’ll just refer you to his post (his ribs look much better than mine do). I really don’t like food that has been cooked over lighter fluid soaked briquets; it’s amazing how much better the food tastes this way.

In this case I set the grill up for indirect heat: coals on one side and a drip pan in the other. The meat goes over the drip pan and the vent goes over the meat so the smoke is pulled past the meat. I threw some hickory chunks on the coals for that good smoky flavor. I started out at low heat, around 225 degrees, but after an hour or so kicked it up to around 350 since we had guests and they didn’t want to stay all day and into the night. If it’d just been us I would have made Dru wait until they were smoked and falling off the bone, but I’ll do that next time.

But, still they turned out really good. In my mind they were a bit too dry but everyone said they were good. I’ll keep trying.

I served the ribs with mashed potatoes that I boiled in the garlic broth from the other night. They were good, but not nearly as garlicky as I wanted them to be.

The corn salad was scrumptous. The taste of summer. Here’s the recipe, it’s from Bell’s Best, one of the stalwarts of the Southern cookbook canon.

Corn Salad

2 cans white shoe peg corn (I, of course, would substitute fresh. If you do, blanch corn and use maybe 2 ears)
1 bell pepper, chopped
2 cucumbers, peeled and diced
1 onion, chopped
1 tomato, chopped
salt & pepper to taste
3 tbsp. mayonnaise

Drain corn (if using canned); add bell pepper, cucumbers, onion and mayonnaise. Cover and chill. Add tomato before serving.

Couldn’t be easier! You can add any kind of fresh veggies your heart desires. If you don’t like mayonnaise you can make a quick vinaigrette instead.

To me the Fourth of July means ribs. Memphis-style if you please. My mom is from Memphis and growing up, barbecue meant pulled-pork sandwiches piled high with cole slaw (although if you must know I prefer mine on the side), and dry ribs with a side of sauce if you like it that way (I prefer mine “dry,” meaning without a sauce…if done right they’re still moist). Real barbecue means slow smoking over indirect heat. I often hear people saying they are going to “barbecue” when what they really mean is that they are going to “grill” or “cook out.”

So, today I’m going to try my hand at smoking some ribs on my Weber kettle grill. I’ve successfully smoked Boston butt for pulled pork but never tried ribs. One of the things I love about cooking is finding out what other people do and then discovering what works best for me. Of course I do this by reading cookbooks and looking online, but I also make phone calls. Last night I talked to my Dad and my Uncle James, who’ve both been known to cook some mean baby backs. I also looked on several websites including Simply Recipes, where Hank, the new contributor gives some guidelines on smoking on a Weber grill.

Both my dad and uncle use store-bought seasonings, but I chose to make my own rub. After being shocked that Gracious Goodness, the cookbook for the Memphis Symphony League didn’t have a dry rub recipe, I turned to The Barbecue! Bible by Stephen Raichlen. This book has a wide scope (it’s more international than regional), but it does have some good basic recipes for “Memphis-style ribs” or “North Carolina pulled pork,” even if I don’t always agree with his cooking techniques (often higher heat than should be recommended to someone wanting true ‘cue). If someone knows of a good cookbook for Memphis-style barbecue please let me know!

In the meantime here’s the recipe for the rub:

1/4 c. paprika
1 1/2 tbsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 tbsp. firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 tbsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. celery salt
1 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 1/2 tsp. dry mustard
1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin

I bought three racks of baby back ribs, somewhere around 6 lb. all together and used about 2/3 of the rub. You may need to pull off the silvery skin on the back of the ribs (I bought mine from Whole Foods and they’d already done this for me). If so, then just grab the skin on the bone side of the ribs with a paper towel and pull it off in a sheet. The paper towel should help you get a firm grasp. Rinse the ribs well and pat dry with a paper towel.

Sprinkle ribs with vinegar in a non-reactive roasting pan (not cast iron or aluminum), I used unfiltered apple cider vinegar but you can use whatever kind you have. Then rub the rub into the ribs with your hands. This is the fun part. Just sprinkle on with a spoon and get to rubbin’. Then, marinate covered in the refrigerator for 4-8 hours.

Alongside the ribs we’re going to serve garlic mashed potatoes (I’m going to boil the potatoes in the garlic broth I made the other night), baked beans (out of a can, sorry), corn salad, and a watermelon. I’ll post about the cooking tomorrow since I will have actually done it by that point. I’ll also post the recipe for the corn salad.

I hope I’m not jinxing myself by posting about the meal before I actually cook it; I’ll let you know how it turns out.

There are so many different kinds of salads out there: green salads, bean salads, potato salads, marinated salads, and on and on. Salads have the reputation of being healthy, and my favorites usually are, but what about the cajun fried chicken salad at Walker’s Drive-In in Jackson, MS? Chunks of spicy popcorn chicken sprinkled over greens and tomatoes, smothered in cheddar cheese (the cheese melts over the hot fried chicken) and comeback dressing. Is your mouth watering yet? Mine is. But we can’t eat like this every day (believe me I tried when I worked there in college).

Donna’s comment made me realize that there is so much more to say about green salads than ranch dressing and iceberg lettuce. As I told Donna, I regularly buy the organic spring mix in the grocery store, and when I have time I love tender heads of Boston lettuce or crunchy romaine, or bitter arugula. I’m growing lettuce for the first time in my garden. I chose Speckled Amish Butterhead and mesclun mix. They are coming up pretty well (although everything is suffering a bit right now since we’ve been pounded with thunderstorms lately. We finally got some sun today thank goodness):

Speckled Amish Butterhead

Mesclun Mix

Lettuce and salad greens like a bit of shade, especially in hot, sunny climates like the South, but you can plant them in the shade of your tomatoes or beans. They can be a border or a container plant. Some are pretty fragile though, and of course you have to watch out for rabbits.

Each lettuce has its own personality and you can make a salad according to your mood or tastes. If I’d served a salad with that salmon I made the other night for instance, I would have chosen a simple salad of arugula drizzled with freshly squeezed lemon juice and sprinkled with sea salt. Toss and grate a little Parmesan cheese and your done! The lemon would have paired nicely with the salmon and the arugula would have stood up to its strong taste.

This simple salad aside, there are a few rules I follow when making a green salad, whether it’s for a main course or for a side dish.

  1. Use very fresh greens. Make sure you wash them well. Really well (unless, of course you buy the pre-washed mix). It’s ridiculous how long it took me to learn how to clean greens. Fill a large bowl with cold water. Cut the end off the lettuce (is there a name for this part?) and put it in your compost pile. Then place the lettuce in the water, agitate the water a fair amount (but don’t damage the leaves) and then lift the greens out of the water and into a colander. Empty the bowl and repeat a few times until you don’t feel any more dirt in the bottom of the bowl. I highly recommend a salad spinner, but if you don’t have one wrap the lettuce in paper towels and try to get as much water off as possible without bruising them.
  2. Add fresh raw veggies, but not too many. I love grape tomatoes, slivers of carrots, or chunks of creamy avocado (my favorite), but big chunks of everything in the store can overwhelm. Choose just one or two to go with the lettuce and then add from there.
  3. If this is a main dish salad you need some kind of protein. I love grilled tofu or shredded chicken or turkey. Or you could choose garbanzo beans or a bean salad. Whatever you like.
  4. Something sweet is always a nice surprise. It can be grapes, raisins, dried cranberries, apples, pears, whatever you fancy.
  5. Cheese usually goes well with the sweet ingredient. I love goat cheese, Parmesan, and feta but you could also use fresh mozzerella or cheddar.
  6. Nuts go well with cheese or with the sweet ingredient. Make sure you chop them up a little so that they are easy to incorporate with the other ingredients.
  7. The salad is always better when you can toss it with the dressing. Choose a bowl that’s large and wide and use tongs or a salad set. I often use Annie’s or Newman’s Own dressing, but it’s so easy to make your own, and if you have a lot of ingredients I’ve found it’s better to keep it simple on the dressing.
  8. Dressing: There are oh-so-many ways to go with this, but my favorite is to use toasted sesame oil, walnut oil, or some other nut oil, a little vinegar or lemon, a little salt and pepper, and maybe some herbs if I’m feeling indulgent. My latest fave is just a sprinkling of toasted sesame oil, a squeeze of lemon and a dash of salt & pepper. These oils are chock full of the “good fats” that help cognitive process, protect vital organs, and make vitamins “bioavailable” to the body. Also, by not cooking it, but just sprinkling the oil over the food you are getting the best it has to offer rather than changing its composition by cooking with it.

Not only do you have the good fats in the dressing, but you also have the plethora of vitamins, minerals, protein and nutrients in the vegetables, nuts, and cheese. A power packed, delicious meal and you didn’t even have to cook anything!