Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Salads, Herbs, & Green Goddess

I couldn't be more pleased with my little window sill lined with fresh herbs. It's been over four years since I finished culinary school and have been cooking professionally since, yet I'm just learning the value of these precious green bundles. I've always heard it said on TV as well as in the magazines and cookbooks, fresh herbs and citrus, fresh herbs and citrus, fresh herbs and citrus... But like a stubborn adolescent I just didn't get it. I wasn't convicted yet and I guess I had to find out for myself or 'learn the hard way' as my Dad always used to say. The light bulb finally came on this Spring and I really learned about the storehouse of fresh flavor and brightness that fresh herbs can bring to just about everything.

I've grown mint, basil, rosemary, Italian and curly parsley, lavender, chives, and oregano. I treat them as if they were my children and I'm just so proud of how they've grown and blossomed. Maybe I'm proud of myself? I've never been one for gardens or dirt and I never could claim membership in that Greenthumb Club, but whether it's inappropriate or not, I'm now the kind of girl who has a box of Miracle Grow in the cupboard with all of the drinking glasses. I don't know I put it there really, but I suppose it makes sense. When I'm thirsty I go for a glass, and when the plants are thirsty they need a glass. It works. I'm still amazed thought at how well they have done and I'm finding I use them in all sorts of things. I've put them in an omelet for Ethan and I, added some to a simple pasta with fresh mozzarella and sauteed vegetables for a friend, and last night we plucked off fresh oregano leaves and put them on top of our pizza just like that.

I also made the most wonderful salad dressing with them last night. I'll tell you more about that in a minute. I don't know if you recall, but awhile back when I wrote about the tea room I mentioned Mrs. Beeton and and English Salad Creme... I said how I'd write about salads. Well, here it is. I must admit I only met Mrs. Beeton recently. She's been around in homes for ages and is quite the household name in England. Though they were different, I'd say she's almost to England what Julia Child is to America. My boss recently got back from a trip to London and brought me a little book titled, The Best of Mrs. Beeton's Easy Entertaining. It's chock full of classic recipes like Cherries Jubilee, Waldorf Salad with Chicken, Crepes Suzette, and Court Bouillon. I get such a kick out of the way she defines things for the reader, such as telling us about what a salad should be and the proper types to serve. It seems that in our culture it's become custom to do things however we want, anything goes. And really, that's a good thing. Especially when it comes to cooking. But because I think we've forgotten about these vintage definitions of what something should be, I'd like to share. And in this case, it's all about salad. Take notes.

This will be a bit long but worth your time. Here we go. In the words of Mrs. Beeton:

"The rules of a successful salad... ingredients both raw and cooked must fresh and in prime condition. Select ingredients which complement each other in flavour and texture. Do not use so many ingredients that the salad ends up as a kaleidoscope of unrecognizable, clashing flavours. Ingredients such as apple and cut beetroot, which discolour or shed colour, should be prepared and added just before serving. Salad leaves and greens which become limp quickly should be dressed at the last minute. The salad dressing should moisten, blend and develop the flavour of the main ingredients. It should not dominate the dish."

And, here's a bit on side salads. Again, sorry for the length but I think you'll find it interesting.

"Side salads should be simple, with clearly defined flavours and a light dressing that complement the main dish. Green Salad : Do not underestimate the value of a good, crisp, really fresh lettuce lightly tossed with a well-seasoned, oil-based dressing. This makes and ideal accompaniment for grilled fish, meat or poultry, or may be served with the cheese course. A classic green salad accentuates the richness of the main dish and refreshes the palate. A Mixed Green Salad should consist of green ingredients, for example salad leaves, cucumber, finely sliced green pepper, celery, spring onions, watercress, mustard and cress, and avocado. A mixed green salad is ideal for serving with foods such as quiche, baked potatoes (topped with soft cheese, butter, soured cream of fromage frais) and with cold roast meats or grilled pork sausages. Mixed Salad (she lets you get crazy with color or this one) : This type of salad usually consists of a base of leaves, with other green ingredients, topped with raw items, such as tomatoes, radishes, grated carrots, shredded cabbage, beetroot and red and yellow peppers. A mixed salad goes well with cold meats and poultry, cheese or eggs. Satisfying Side Salads Pasta, rice, beans, grains, and potatoes all make good salads, and do not have to be mixed with a cornucopia of ingredients. They should be perfectly cooked, then tossed with selected herbs, such as parsley, mint, basil, or tarragon. Additional ingredients should be kept to the minimum. In keeping with the main dish, mayonnaise, yogurt, fromage frais, soured cream, or an oil-based mixture may be used to dress the salad."

I hope you enjoyed reading about the way you ought to make and serve your green salads, mixed green salads, mixed salads, and satisfying side salads. She has another paragraph on main course salads but I will save that for another time. I think you are getting tired (I feel like a Grandmother reading you nap time stories) and plus, I have to end with my killer dressing from last night.

I suppose you would classify my salad above as a Mixed Salad. I used green leaf lettuce, green bell peppers finely chopped, sliced mushrooms, tomato wedges, petite green peas, and avocado. I made a ranch-green goddess inspired dressing using an abundance of fresh herbs from my collection. To make my dressing use nearly equal parts mayonnaise and sour cream. Then thin it a little with buttermilk, good buttermilk, and a couple drizzles of white wine vinegar. Add an appropriate amount of minced fresh garlic, dried dill, and dried onion flakes. Then chop finely and assortment of your favorite fresh herbs. I used lots of parsley, basil, chives, and some rosemary. Season with salt, seasoned salt, pepper, and voila. This dressing is so good you could eat it with a spoon (we did...) and I know I probably overdressed the salad according to Mrs. Beeton, but this dressing was so good it was practically the main ingredient and we just couldn't help ourselves! Enjoy your summer herbs and salads!


Anonymous said...

Even though I prefer creme fraiche to sour cream...the dressing sounds delicious. Also, is your mayo homemade or purchased already made?

RachelleLouise said...

Is this you, Trevor, my ultra-gourmet cousin? It has to be! Well, I must admit to using mayonnaise from Trader Joe's. There was a time when I made my own mayo, I was all into it... Now I rarely do. Do you make your own?

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