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.

Pea Soup with Fresh Mint

Pea Soup with Mint Ingredients for Pea Soup with Fresh Mintimageimageimage

This soup is a staple in our home. Mint and peas are classic companions and this soup is easy to cook. You need only three ingredients: Leeks, peas (I always use frozen ones), and a bundle of fresh mint. And I’m not a doctor, but I’m pretty sure it’s good for you—healthy and light with only a small amount of butter. This one offers a pleasingly big burst of flavor.

Sometimes for a cocktail party I will serve the soup in cups (see pictures below). This offers my guests a welcomed break from the very expected snacks (still not a doctor here, but I believe these may not be as good for you) and crudité.

Pea Soup with Fresh Mint
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Serves: 6 to 8
Ingredients
  • 2 standard packages of frozen petit peas
  • 3 leeks, thoroughly cleaned and chopped
  • 1 bunch of mint
  • 1 tablespoon of butter
  • Salt and pepper
Instructions
  1. Over medium heat melt the butter and sauté the chopped leeks until soft, right before they start to brown. Medium heat works much better than high heat, as this allows the leeks to soften slowly and develop their sugars. This step should take about 5 to 7 minutes. Season as you go with salt and pepper.
  2. Now add a quart of water and bring to a boil. Cook at a lazy bubble for 15 to 20 minutes. (This soup actually tastes better when cooked with water instead of adding chicken or vegetable stock. You will better taste the intense pea and mint flavors—a very clean flavor profile.)
  3. Now turn the heat to high and dump the peas into the pot. The frozen peas will drop the temperature in the pot dramatically. On high head, bring the soup to a boil as fast as possible. Once it’s boiling, cook for 3 to 4 minutes, and continue to season. Preserve the appealing bright green color of the soup by not overcooking. You may want to add a little more water if the soup feels too thick.
  4. The whole thing now goes into the blender. Drop a handful of mint leaves into the mix. Carefully blend until super smooth, then return to the cleaned pot. Bring to a boil one more time. This step will cook the starch out of the pulverized peas, bonding all the flavors in this super creamy delight together in the process. And make sure you notice: there’s not a single drop of cream responsible for this soup’s super creaminess.

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My favorite way to garnish the soup is with a chiffonade of mint leaves. Simply roll up a bunch of mint leaves like a cigar and slice it into very thin strips. But as you can see, this soup looks delicious even without any garnish.

You can find a similar recipe in one of my favorite cookbooks, The French Culinary Institute’s Salute to Health Cooking.

Recipe: Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

Thank you for the kind and encouraging feedback I received over the last couple of days.  The recipe for the Roasted Butternut Squash Soup could not be easier.

You need:

1 medium-sized Butternut Squash
5 to 7 garlic gloves, peeled
pinch of red pepper flakes
a few springs of thyme, destemed

Roast everything with a few splashes of olive oil in a 350 degree oven until the edges start browning (like in the photo below)

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When done every think goes in the blender with a quart of chicken stock. I blend it until smooth.  Sometimes a bit more stock or water is required to get to the right consistency.   I put every in a pot and heat, season with salt and pepper to taste.  Sometimes I feel that half a teaspoon of lemon juice helps to brighten the flavor.

For some elegance I often sprinkle the delishes Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with some herbs like parsley or chives. You also could float a parmesan crisp (wait for future posts) for a very yummy combo. But last week we had the plain soup for just a regular week night dinner.

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Jean George Vongerichten inspired me for this soup. You can find the unaltered recipe in his book ‘Simple to Spectacular’.