Best Simple Green Salad

Green Salad

Green Salad Best simple green salad

One of my favorite elements of a multi-course meal is the salad. At our house we eat it after the main course—a fun bit of gastronomic protocol that the French taught us. Or was it the Italians?

It doesn’t seem like such a challenge, but really, how do you make a simple bowl of fresh greens something reliably mouth-pleasingly yummy and savory? It’s a two-part answer: choose crisp greens, and make a memorable dressing.

This evening’s salad consists of Boston Bibb (one of my favorites; love the subtle sweetness) and endives (with a nice contrasting bitterness). But really, any greens work. I look for the freshest leaves the veggie isle can offer up.

And now the dressing, which is the primary focus of today’s labor of love. We are creating a classic vinaigrette, but with some twists. The building blocks of a vinaigrette are acid and oil. On this one we’re using a basic red vinegar and olive oil. Garlic, shallots, and mustard contribute additional flavor.

Garlic Paste - before Garlic Paste - after

Here’s our first little trick: how to avoid having our dinner guests bite into sharp little chunks of garlic in our salad. Particularly if he/she is our date for the night. The secret is pulp. So, mince a clove of garlic, add a teaspoon of salt and then smash both—to a pulp!—with the edge of a heavy kitchen knife. At the end of your effort you want to have a paste-like texture, as shown in the photo above.

Now put the garlic and salt mixture in a small bowl. Add some ground pepper, two or three tablespoons of vinegar, and one tablespoon of mustard (and not just any mustard, but a sharp Dijon, please).

And one last water-soluble component—something sweet. A little sweetness enhances all the other components of this dressing. We’ll provide the magic this time with a tablespoon of maple syrup. But you could also use honey, sugar, or agave juice—you get the idea.

It is important that that all water-soluble ingredients get mixed first. The mustard part of the water-soluble portion will act as an ambassador in the next step, creating an easy emulsion with the oil, resulting in a thick and creamy dressing. So now drizzle in that oil, about 6 tablespoons. As always, taste as you go! The dressing should taste distinctly sharp and spicy. In the end I add a finely-minced shallot.

Dress the salad just seconds before you serve it. For a low-frills weeknight dinner we serve the salad on our dinner plates. This allows us to mix and mingle the last of the main course’s chicken juice (or was that the sauce from the strip steak?). A simple-pleasures treat. You might want to try it with my best roasted chicken.

Yack yack yack. Who would have thought a guy needs to write a dissertation on such a simple thing as a green salad? (I always say, once you’ve written one…) Please excuse my academic extremism here; you’ll see the effort is worth it.

Recipe: Roasted Cauliflower Soup with Cumin and Curry

Roasted Cauliflower Soup with Cumin Cauliflower

Healthy, quick to prepare, and satisfying on cold winter days, this soup is a winner. And you heard it here first: cauliflower is the new kale—get ready. For this Roasted Cauliflower Soup with Cumin you need:

One cauliflower, trimmed into florets
One onion, chopped
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon curry
Grapeseed oil (or, shhh!, butter)
1 quart of water
3/4 cup of fat-free milk

Mix the cauliflower florets with cumin and curry and a splash of oil. Roast at 370 degrees until nicely browned (see photo: I like the roasting job I did on these). Set aside some of the most beautiful roasted florets for your final garnish. While roasting, sauté the chopped onions slowly in some oil (I cheated here and used and tablespoon of butter, but the health-focused among you can instead use a small amount of grapeseed oil). After the onions have softened, add the quart of water and the roasted cauliflower. You will now become surrounded by a fabulous perfume cloud of cumin and curry. Yellow drops may stain your counter permanently—I’m not even sure I mind. Cook for 15 mins. Now blend into a creamy steamy delight and return to the cleaned pot. Add the milk, season with salt and pepper, and reheat to a simmer. Do a final taste; adjust seasoning accordingly. The soup might need a few drops of lemon to make it really burst with flavor.

This one pleases the crowds: I don’t believe I’ve ever gotten a no-comment on this soup.

Guten Appetit!

Roasted Cauliflower Soup Roasted Cauliflower Roasted Cauliflower Soup with Cumin

 

 

Baked sweet potato fries

Baked Sweet Potato Fries

Pressping sweet potatoes Sweet potatoes are not very well known in Germany. I remember my first American Thanksgiving, eating a sweet and heavily marsh-mellowed sweet potato puree. My skilled tongue could still identify, underneath all that sugary stuff, the true flavor of the sweet potato. That something-something between potato and carrot, I thought, is one worthy of a more prominent role. A one-man show, even. This recipe brings us back to the true flavor of the sweet potato, a simple and healthy celebration that I love: Roasted Sweet Potato Fries. It’s become the perfect partner for a popular oops-I-forgot-to-plan-dinner dish in my house, pan-roasted chicken thighs. Add a fresh green salad and we are in weeknight dinner heaven.

Baked sweet potato fries
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Enjoy this healthy and easy preparation as part of a standard weeknight dinner. Baked at a high temperature, these fries come out of the oven just the way I like them: crunchy on the outside, soft and creamy on the inside.
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 sweet potato per person, peeled
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. The high temperature is the key here. If not, the potatoes will cook on the inside before they brown on the outside, and the fries will turn out soggy.
  2. Cut the sweet potatoes into fries (a precision slicer like me doesn't use a french fry cutter, but you can)
  3. In a bowl coat the fries with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Even coating is important, as it will help the fries brown more evenly
  4. Season with salt and pepper
  5. Aim for 30 min in the oven. The fries will be done when you like the browning you see on them.

Pan-roasted chicken thighs with sweet potato fries

Sunchoke Soup with Watercress Puree and Pickled Radishes

Jerusalem Artichoke Soup with Watercress Puree and Pickled Radishes

Sunchoke Soup

Pouring delicious sunchoke soup at the dinner table

This Sunchoke Soup (or, if you like, Jerusalem Artichoke Soup) is an elegant opening course for a festive Winter Dinner with your friends. The overall dish with its three components requires a little planning and diligent execution in order to achieve the desired outcome. In other words: this is not a last-minute endeavor and does not qualify for semi-homemade. Preparing and cooking the soup is pretty straight-forward.  The Pickled Radishes are prepared using a technique called Sous Vide. This is a fancy term for simmering food in a vacuum-sealed plastic bag at a pretty precise temperature. I think you will enjoy this little sous vide experiment as an excellent entry to this popular cooking technique. And finally: The Watercress Puree is also  a pretty simple fare. All together this is quite a few components to juggle. To achieve success it is best to divide and conquer. Start with the pickled radishes, then prepare the soup, and finally create the puree. You can keep the components warm for a little while—say, up to an hour. At dinner time it is good fun to assemble the course and I can assure you that the results are very elegant and rewarding.

The acclaimed chef Thomas Keller created a version of this recipe in his beautiful book, Under pressure: Cooking Sous Vide. His cooking is very sophisticated and a great inspiration that pushes my own aspirations. The Sunchoke Soup is the simplest recipe in the book. A good place at which to start on your ‘sous vide adventure.’

When it comes to serving the soup, I pour the heated soup from a carafe into the soup plate at the dinner table. All three components together really form a trifetta of flavors that work beautifully together. The richness of the sunchoke soup, the slight sharpness of the watercress puree and the wonderfully light sweet-sourness of the pickled radish make this soup a special event, one that your guests will not forget.

Let’s get started with the Pickled Radishes:

Pickled Radishes Vacuum sealed radishes

Pickled Radishes
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Your easy starter dish cooking sous vide
Author:
Serves: 8
Ingredients
  • one bunch of beautiful, fresh radishes
  • ½ cup of regular vinegar
  • ½ cup of sugar
  • ½ cup of water
Instructions
  1. Start combining sugar, vinegar, and water in a pan. Bring to a simmer and dissolve the sugar. This mixture will form your pickling liquid.
  2. We will quick-pickle our radishes under vacuum in a hot water bath. This cooking method is called sous vide. It allows for a very careful cooking of the food in a controlled environment. I like the results very much.
  3. You cut the radishes to your liking. I cut the big ones in quarters, some in slices. If you would like to be fancy you use a mellon baller for perfect little drops of radish.
  4. In they go to a plastic bag, then add some pickling liquid. Avoid the urge to use too much liquid; just a modest amount is needed.
  5. Suck the air out of your plastic bag with a vacuum sealer and seal the bag. Cook the radishes in a 185-degree hot water bath for, let's say 40 minutes. I used my sous vide hot water bath, which holds its temperature very precisely. But I would venture to guess that these radishes are pretty hardy and so, if you keep an eye on the thermometer, you pretty much can do it also in a good old pot.
  6. Once they're done, pour the bag into a bowl and let cool.

Sunchoke Soup

I discovered Sunchokes only recently. Their flavor is quite subtle, but very unique. It is easy to find them at the supermarket, living the final moments of their life in an under-appreciated corner of the veggie isle. Try to find the ones that are looking fresh and plump, pieces of good size and not the shriveled up ones seeming to be on their last breath. Peeling these morsels is a little pain in the you-know-what, but with a vegetable peeler this will be done in no time.

 

Sunchoke Soup
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
This soup recipes allows to create a wonderfully velvety soup that highlights the unique flavor of the sunchoke.
Serves: 8
Ingredients
  • Half a stick of butter
  • One medium yellow or Spanish onion, thinly sliced
  • One pound of sunchokes, peeled and sliced
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar
  • 1 quart of chicken stock
  • Half a cup of heavy cream (yes, we must!)
  • Salt
Instructions
  1. In a heavy-bottom pot melt the butter and sauté the sliced onion without allowing any sign of browning. The sliced onions should be shiny and soft. I challenge you to avoid browning them! Medium heat is best.
  2. Add the sunchokes, chicken stock, and sugar. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 15 to 20 min. The sunchokes should be completely soft. The chicken stock will reduce a little bit.
  3. Add the cream and bring to a simmer.
  4. Puree the whole thing in your trusty VitaMix.
  5. Back into the cleaned pot. Season with salt.
  6. You can keep the soup refrigerated for a while, reheating at dinner time.

 

The Watercress Puree

In his original recipe, Keller pairs the soup with an Arugula Puree. I modified the puree by using watercress. Watercress has a nice bitter aroma that provides contrast to the richness of the sunchoke soup. You need:

Watercress Puree
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
You need a total of approximately 300 grams of green leaves, which is a little less then a pound.
Author:
Ingredients
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 1 tablespoon grape seed oil
  • 2 sprigs of thyme leaves, stems removed
  • 2 bunches of watercress, cleaned, no stems
  • 1 bunch of spinach, cleaned, no stems
  • salt and pepper
  • 3 ice cubes
  • Half a cup of chicken stock
  • Half a cup of heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of flour, kneaded together to 2 tablespoons of Beurre Manié
  • 1 egg yolk
Instructions
  1. Blanch the greens in a big pot of salted and boiling water for about 30 to 40 seconds. Dump the leaves in an ice bath and then drain on a towel, removing as much water as you can. Wringing out that water keeps your puree from being too saucy.
  2. Put the hot watercress and spinach into the VitaMix with 3 ice cubes and puree. This will stop the cooking and preserve the beautiful green color of the mixture. Set aside.
  3. In a sauce pan gently sauté the shallots with a tablespoon of grape seed oil until soft. Again, no browning. It should take about 3 minutes.
  4. Add the thyme leaves and cook for another few minutes. Still no browning, please!
  5. Add the chicken stock; cook for another 3 minutes. The shallots are now very soft.
  6. Add the cream and season with salt. What you've created should look somewhat like a white sauce. Strain and put aside.
  7. To assemble, mix the white sauce with a tablespoon of Beurre Manié and bring to a simmer, cook for 10 mins to remove any flour taste. This should now look like a think white sauce.
  8. Take off the heat and whisk in the egg yolk. Now you have a slightly more yellow think sauce.
  9. --Take a breather, we're almost there.--
  10. Mix two parts green puree with one part yellowish white sauce and reheat carefully over a small flame. Season again with salt and maybe a touch of pepper. This completes our puree. You can compare the consistency of the puree with the one in the photo. In my early attempts I created more of a green soup. If this happens, don't despair: it will still taste really good.

The assembly of this dish is fun: I line up all my plates in a row. Place the radishes, and then a spoonful of puree into each plate. Then, once the plates are set at the dinner table, I pour the beautiful, velvelty soup carefully into each.