Once Upon a Tart: Crunchy Cucumber, Celery, and Red Bell Pepper Salad with Cumin and Fresh Mint

from Frank Mentesana and Jerome Audureau, Once Upon a Tart… Soups, Salads, Muffins, and More, pp. 116-17.

Another dish that we served at my picnic and drew a lot of praise is this supremely crunchy salad. I’m only beginning to explore this book. Already I like its simplicity. The authors also give very good advice, which I’ll save for the point where I put it together.

Their instructions are very simple:

Serves 6

6 celery stalks, cut into 1/4-inch slices

3 cucumbers, peeled, halved, seeded, and cut on the diagonal into 1/4-inch slices

3 scallions, both the white and green parts, cut into 1/4-inch slices

1/2 red onion, halved again and sliced thin

1 red bell pepper, julienned

for the vinaigrette:

1 T Dijon mustard

1 garlic clove, peeled and minced

1/4 cup white-wine vinegar

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp salt

A few turns of freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup olive oil

2 T finely chopped fresh Italian parsley

2 T finely chopped fresh mint

1. Throw the vegetables into a big bowl as you cut them.

2. To make the vinaigrette, whisk the mustard, garlic, vinegar, cumin, salt, and pepper together in a small bowl. Add the olive oil in a slow, thin, steady stream, whisking as you go to form an emulsion. Stir in parsley and the mint.

3. Just before you’re ready to serve the salad, pour the vinaigrette over your vegetables and, using a large metal spoon or your own two hands, toss itup until the vegetables are evenly coated. Taste the salad to see if it needs more of anything, particularly salt.

When I made it…

The one piece of advice the authors give taught me something new about cucumbers. To cut their advice short, if you want crunchy cucumbers, no matter what kind of cucumber you use, seed them and cut them into substantial chunks — 1/4-inch, like the recipe calls for. “If you cut them too thin, the acid in the lemon or vinegar ‘cooks’ the cuke, breaking down the fibers of the cucumber so you lose the characteristic cucumber crunch. I did not know that. And that probably explains something about the cucumbers in the pork belly recipe.

The rest of the recipe is pretty straightforward. I would not overdress the salad. They recommend, too, trying radishes, daikon or jicama, cut into sticks.

Last Thought:

A good summer salad. No more to be said.

Ruth Reichl: Green Bean Salad with Pumpkin Seed Dressing

from The Gourmet Cookbook, pp. 143-44.

Last Saturday, I held an afternoon party in honor of a retiring colleague who will be much missed from our department. Seventy-five people received invitations; fifty showed up. Sherry and I handled the kitchen. Rosamaria managed the front of the house — really, the deck and garden where all the guests stood sweating in the shade, swilling beer, wine, and iced tea. I organized the food around an easy meat dish: fifteen pounds of slow-cook pork butt (shoulder) previously marinated for twenty-four hours in a paste made of achiote paste, chipotles with adobo sauce, cumin, lemon juice and dijon mustard. The accompanying salads adhered to the vaguely Mexican-spices of the pork. In addition to this salad, my pal Sherry and I made Alice Waters’ Coleslaw and a crunchy celery, cucumber, red bell pepper and red onion salad in a cumin dressing, recipes for which will follow in separate post. For dessert, Rosamaria brought a delicious carrot cake and I made two of Dorrie’s brownie recipes, to be served with vanilla ice cream. That was the first time I’d ever made brownies and I realized that they’re not as easy as they seem. I wasn’t altogether happy with the results. But the meal came off well, I think. I didn’t have as much leftover pork as I thought I would.

This salad, in particular, deserves accolades.

As it appears in the cookbook:

1/2 c (about 2 oz) green (hulled) pumpkin seeds or pine nuts

1/4 c extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 c water

1 1/2 T fresh lemon juice

1 small garlic clove, minced

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp salt

2 T finely chopped cilantro

3/4 lb haricots verts or slender green beans

2 small tomatoes (1/2 lb total), halved lengthwise, seeded, and cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch wide strips.

Toast pumpkin seeds in a dry small heavy skillet over moderately low heat, stirring frequently, until puffed but not browned, about 6 mins. (If using pine nuts, toast until pale golden, about 7 mins.) Transfer to a plate to cool.

Reserve 1 T seeds. Purée remaining seeds in a blender with oil, water, lemon juice, garlic, cumin, salt, and 1 T cilantro until smooth.

Cook beans in a 4-quart saucepan of boiling well-salted water, uncovered, until just tender, 4 to 6 minutes. Drain, then plunge into a bowl of ice and cold water to stop the cooking. Drain beans again and pat dry.

Arrange beans on a platter and drizzle with two thirds of pumpkin seed dressing. Top with tomatoes and remaning dressing and sprinkle with remaining 1 T cilantro and reserved pumpkin seeds.

My experience making the salad for the first time:

Toasting the pumpkin seeds is as easy as toasting pine nuts in a cast-iron skillet. You have to keep an eye on it and keep the seeds moving around the pan so that they don’t burn. The recipe predicted they would puff up, but that did not happen when I did it. I settled for lightly browned, in spite of the warning in the recipe. Sherry also warned that blackened pumpkin seeds are bitter. So, I was careful. Once I had transferred the seeds to a plate, I waited until they were much cooled, but not quite room temperature. I think it’s true that hot toasted seeds get pasty when put into a grinder. Then again, I’m not sure it matters in this case, since the dressing is supposed to be thick and pasty.

Since my blender is missing a part, I used a food processor instead. The difference between using a blender and a food processor is texture. Blenders make sauces and soups smooth in texture. Food processors chop. For this salad, I prefer a chunky paste made up of bits of seed and cilantro leaves to a smooth, creamy paste that a blender would produce.

When blanching the beans, it is essential not to overcook them. Vigilence and tasting is required. I think I overcooked the beans this time.

I did not put the tomatoes in this time, but I will not fail to the next time I make this recipe.

Last Thoughts:

I have no doubt that I will make this recipe often. It’s another winner in an outstanding cookbook.

Epicurious: Kale Salad with Ricotta Salata

dsc00010.jpgLast night, standing in the street outside the home of friends after a delicious dinner of chops from local lamb, I told Jaana that it was time for Shadowcook to take stock of her calories. As soon as I got home I signed up once again for the only eating plan that makes sense to an obsessive person like myself: Weight Watchers Online. I’ll be counting points and calories for the duration. That should not be taken to mean an end to my blogging. It means only that for the next while I’ll be trying to create meals that stay within my week’s allotment of points. A boring change for some; a welcome change for others. However, since I’m soon leaving for a week in New Orleans, where I have reservations at three of the city’s finest restaurants, I promise it will not be dull.

Michael Pollan is my guide these days. He says, Eat food, not too much, and mostly plants. That prescription suits my mood to reduce. This recipe comes from Epicurious. I overlooked it when it appeared in the January 2007 issue of Gourmet. Swearing it was the best salad she’s had in ages, Patrice brought it to my attention. Finally I made it and got the point. It’s the best example of a simple, delicious salad I’ve encountered in a long time. For the WW Counters out there, each serving is worth 2 points.

As it appears in the magazine:

Serves 6.

3/4 to 1 lb lacinato kale (also called Tuscan kale) or tender regular kale, stems and center ribs discarded

2 T finely chopped shallots

1 1/2 T fresh lemon juice

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp ground black pepper

4 1/2 T extra-virgin olive oil

2 oz coarsely grated ricotta salata (1 cup)

Working in batches, cut kale crosswise into very thin slices.

Whisk together shallots, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a small bowl, then add oil in a slow stream, whisking until combined well.

Toss kale and ricotta salata in a large bowl with enough dressing to coat well, then season with salt and pepper.

How I now do it:

First of all, I never make this salad with anything but lacinto kale, known also around here as dino kale. Use a pound of kale. It’s just too good. I chopped the kale almost like chiffonade. I make the dressing in a jar and shake it until it emulsifies. The amount of dressing is perfect for a pound. It feels slightly underdressed and light, which is how I like salad dressings. Make sure to toss it well. I dress the salad about 20 mins to half an hour before I serve it to let the dressing soak into the leaves. Lacinato kale is sturdy, so the soaking-in time won’t make the leaves soggy.

Last thoughts:

I think several friends now have become converts to this salad. I never thought a raw kale sald would be edible, but in fact I could eat this all year long.