Monday, November 14, 2011

A Salad for All Seasons

One of the things I struggle with the most in the Fall and Winter months is the dearth of lush, vibrant and (above all) flavourful produce. True, these days it's possible to buy bright red tomatoes in February, strawberries in December and apples in any month with a vowel, but unless you're a globetrotter and happen to be in the correct hemisphere at the time, out-of-season fruit and veggies are just... bleh. While you can partially escape the lack of flavour with judicious use of frozen goods, the fact remains that you need to then cook them to maintain any sort of passable texture - and (excepting peas and corn which never seem to "die") that's a crapshoot at best.

It was a craving for something fresh, flavourful and not out of the frozen food or canned good section that led to the creation of one of the most vibrant and rich dishes I've made to date. Having seen the description of a vegetable salad on a chi-chi restaurant menu a week or so ago, I made up my mind that I could take the same concept - a lettuce-less, all-veggie bowl of goodness - and tweak it not only to add a medley of texture and flavour, but also to make it a viable option year-round. What I wound up with was a veritable artist's palette of colours layered not only with an eye towards artistry but with attention to the details of balancing raw versus cooked elements, mouthfeels of shredded, chopped and sliced vegetables and maintaining the well-rounded body of a dish containing sweet, sour, salty and bitter flavours.

While this salad is simple enough for lunch when paired with a piece of grilled chicken, salmon or even simply a hunk of crusty whole-grain bread and cheese, it is also gourmet enough to readily serve as a plated appetizer at a dinner party (especially when garnished with toasted walnuts, as I did here). The nice thing about the ingredients usd in this particular bowl is that regardless of whether you make it for Christmas Eve, Easter, a July picnic or Thanksgiving, at least one of the ingredients will be at the peak of freshness - and if you're blessed enough to have a garden as diverse as ours, you can grow almost everything in your own yard!


Year-Long Salad
Serves 4 as an appetizer, 2 as a light entree
1 medium-large red beet
1 tsp water
1/2 lb asparagus, cut into 1" pieces
1 medium-large candy-cane (Chioggia) beet*, peeled if needed
2 medium carrots (heirloom* if you have them), peeled if needed
1/2 tbsp walnut oil*
1 tbsp orange juice
1 small shallot, minced
3 large heirloom tomatoes*, sliced 1/4" thick
Sea salt (or artisan salt like pink Himalaya) and ground pepper
1 tbsp fresh thyme
Chopped walnuts, to garnish (optional)

*Note: feel free to use standard red beets, extra-virgin olive oil, standard carrots and red vine-ripened tomatoes. The key here is freshness and utilizing the best of what is available!

Beet:
  1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
  2. Wrap the red beet and water in foil and place on a baking sheet.
  3. Roast 50 minutes, then remove from foil. Cool, peel and cut into 1/4" slices. Set aside.
Meanwhile:
  1. Bring a small pot of water to a boil, add the asparagus and cook 2 minutes, then drain and rinse with cold water, drain thoroughly and set aside.
  2. Using a mandoline slicer (or a very sharp knife and being very careful!), slice the candy-cane beet paper thin.
  3. Julienne the carrots (I use a julienne peeler).
Dressing:
  1. In a small bowl, whisk together oil, orange juice, and shallot.
Assembly:
  1. Arrange a bed of tomato and roasted beet slices on the bottom of each salad plate, season lightly with salt and pepper.
  2. Add a pile of the carrot julienne in the centre, then arrange the asparagus around the edge, season lightly with salt and pepper.
  3. Finally, top with the shaved candy-cane beet.
  4. Drizzle with the dressing and sprinkle with fresh thyme and walnuts (if using).
Amount Per (Appetizer) Serving
Calories: 100.0
Total Fat: 2.5 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 74.5 mg
Total Carbs: 17.2 g
Dietary Fiber: 5.0 g
Protein: 3.6 g

Thanks to the California Walnut Commission for the lovely gift basket of walnut goodies! Stay tuned for more walnut-laden recipes including my entries in the California Walnuts Holiday Blogger Challenge!

1 comment :

michele said...

As a vegetarian I eat lots of salads. I too enjoy the simple freshness of a good vegetable.