Thursday, February 21, 2013

Tender Baby Greens Salad {with a little robust punch)

Inspiration can come with a wallop or a gentle nudge... even in cooking. It can be something as simple as a taste that lingers on in your mind; an image that grabs your attention and won't let go; or words that stay with you long after the conversation they rode in on. It's a little seed that nestles in and begins to take root until you yank it free or nurture its growth. And often it's the simplest of ideas that fuel inspiration and result in equally simple rewards. Rewards that get you from the what-should-we-have-for-dinner moments to food-on-the-plate moments with ease.

This time the little nudge was pickled red onions!

I had a variation of this salad while out to lunch with a friend and I couldn't get those sweet-tart onions off my mind. They just added such a great punch of flavor... perfectly paired with meaty kalamatas and slow-roasted tomatoes.

While I initially served this salad as part of a birthday lunch, with little rounds of fresh mozzarella, I substituted hard-boiled egg for the cheese this time out. (And... I properly drained the onions... not doing so will sorely compromise your dressed greens!) The egg is a great little partner to all the zing going on with the pickled onion and olives. And it breaks down beautifully to mingle with the salad dressing in a creamy, wonderful way.

And, of course, there are those stovetop croutons... little knobs of crusty, crunchy seasoned bread that add great texture to this deconstructed salad.

Only the greens get dressed here... a honey-citrus balsamic vinaigrette. Everything else gets nestled alongside for you to bring in in bits and bobs of flavor as you see fit.

The greatest thing about this salad... as most... is it can grow to be whatever you like. Add some cooked salmon or roasted chicken. Layer in some beans (like cannellini, garbanzo or kidney beans). Or platter it with a host of additional fixings for a buffet-like service... pepperoncini, marinated artichoke hearts, salami, cornichons, baby corn... the ideas are endless. Just a little inspiration and you're off on a whole new plan.

Tender Baby Greens Salad {with a little robust punch}
serves 4

1 5-ounce container baby greens
4 boiled eggs, sliced crosswise
8 halves roasted roma tomatoes
2 dozen kalamata olives, chopped
1/2 cup pickled red onions, drained (in sieve or on paper towels so as not to compromise vinaigrette)
1 to 2 cups croutons

vinaigrette (makes approximately 1/4 cup):
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
pinch kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste

In a small bowl, lightly whisk lemon juice, orange juice, honey and balsamic vinegar until just combined. Add in olive oil and whisk to incorporate. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Lightly dress salad greens with vinaigrette and gently toss to coat. Divide greens among plates and, to each plate, add 3 to 4 slices of egg, 2 tomato halves, 2 tablespoons kalamata olives, 2 tablespoons of pickled red onion, and a handful of croutons.

perfect boiled eggs (easy Martha Stewart direction):
Place eggs in pot and cover by 1" with cool water. Bring to a boil, then cover and remove from heat to stand for 12 minutes.

slow-roasted tomatoes:
Halve whole roma tomatos lengthwise. Remove seeds and pulp. Place tomato halves on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Season with 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper, 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon herbs de provence, and a generous 1/4 teaspoon raw granulated sugar. Roast in 275 degree F. oven for 1 1/2 to 2 hours until golden and juicy.

pickled red onions: 
1 red onion, peeled, trimmed and halved lengthwise; halves then cut into thin half-moon slices
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 water
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Combine vinegar, sugar, water, and salt in a saucepan. Cook brine over medium heat until it reaches a boil (increase heat, if necessary, to achieve). Add sliced onions to boiling brine; stir to fully incorporate. Cover and remove from heat and let stand for 30 minutes. Transfer onions with brine to a large glass bowl and let stand until they reach room temperature (place in fridge if time does not allow for counter-top cooling). Transfer pickles and brine to a clean jar with a tight-fitting lid. Pickles will last, chilled, for several weeks.

stove-top croutons:
4 to 5 cups diced 1" cubes of bread (approximately 1/2 a large baguette)
2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter (or vegan buttery spread)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon herb de provence
1 teaspoon garlic powder

Heat olive oil and butter in a large skillet over medium heat, until butter is completely melted. Add cubed bread to skillet and stir well to coat bread cubes evenly, until oil and butter is fully absorbed. Season cubed bread with salt, pepper, herb de provence and garlic powder. Reduce heat to low-medium low and stir cubed bread intermittently to ensure even browning, until cubes are crisp, golden and crunchy (about 10 minutes).

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