Jazz up iceberg lettuce

June 11, 2009


I grew up eating iceberg lettuce and liking it. In fact, I’ll admit to loving the stuff when I was little. Then, I became a chef and iceberg lettuce joined white bread, squeeze cheese and a roster of other childhood favourite foods as items that were too gauche for my shiny, new gourmet palate.

Recently, I’ve reconsidered my stance on iceberg lettuce. Truth be told, no other lettuce can rival it for crispiness and it does have a nice, sweet, mineral-edged flavour. So, today iceberg lettuce, I take this opportunity to tell you personally (if you can read, that is) that I was too harsh in my criticism of you. You are a noble vegetable that deserves my respect and support.

To make amends to this ubiquitous and inexpensive salad staple, I offer an update on the classic wedge salad that I hope will tempt you to give this maligned veggie a chance on your table.

Ginger Soy Dressing

2 tbsp (30 mL) rice vinegar
1 tbsp (15 mL) soy sauce
1 tsp (5 mL) sake or mirin
1 tsp (5 mL) grated ginger
1 tsp (5 mL) brown sugar
1/4 cup (50 mL) vegetable oil

Whisk the rice vinegar with the soy sauce, sake, ginger and sugar. Whisking constantly, drizzle in the oil. Shake or whisk well before using.

Makes just under 1/2 cup (125 mL)

My new salad dressing: Spicy Korean

May 14, 2009


I’m such a fickle cow. I’ve replaced my favourite salad dressing yet again. These days it’s all about spice! If you can’t stand the heat, this salad, based on one I had at Sariwon Korean restaurant in Thornhill, Ont., is definitely not for you:

Spicy Korean Dressing
1 tbsp (15 mL)    rice vinegar
11/2 tsp (7 mL)  sambal olek or Asian chili paste
1 tsp (5 mL)        soy sauce
1/2 tsp (2 mL)   granulated sugar
1 clove                 minced garlic
1/2 tsp (2 mL)   salt
1 tsp (5 mL)        toasted sesame oil
3 tbsp (45 mL)   vegetable oil

Whisk vinegar, sambal olek and soy sauce together. Stir in sugar, garlic and salt. Whisking constantly, drizzle in sesame and vegetable oils.

Makes about 1/3 cup (75 mL)

Revisit some of my other favourite salad dressings if you need more inspiration to eat a bowl of veggies:
•    Curry Vinaigrette
•    Creamy Sesame Dressing
•    Miso Dressing
•    Lemony Dill Dressing

Or, leave your favourite dressing ideas in the comments below. I’m sure to need a new favourite dressing very soon!

Creamy sesame salad dressing

April 1, 2009


Although you can’t tell just from reading my blog, things are different today. You see, I’m not really here at all. In fact, I’m in Denver at the IACP Conference. Although I’ve prewritten today’s, tomorrow’s and Friday’s posts so that you won’t miss me too much, you can also keep up with my conference experience in real time by following me on Twitter.

In the meantime, here’s a recipe for one of my favourite salad dressings. Enjoy!

Creamy Japanese Dressing
2 egg yolks
4 tsp (20 mL) rice vinegar
1 tsp (5 mL) granulated sugar
1 tsp (5 mL) each soy sauce and minced shallot or onion
1/2 tsp (2 mL) each, salt and white pepper
2 tbsp (30 mL) toasted sesame oil
1/4 cup (50 mL) vegetable oil

In a blender, whip the egg yolks, vinegar, sugar, soy sauce, shallot, and salt and pepper until thick. Combine the sesame and vegetable oils. With the motor running, add half the oil drop-by-drop, until mixture is very thick. Still running, slowly drizzle in remaining oil; Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. (Dressing can be made and reserved in refrigerator for up to 24 hours.)

Ideal as a dressing for a salad made from iceberg lettuce, shredded carrot, shredded red cabbage and chopped tomatoes.

Lemony dill-dressed late winter salad

March 6, 2009


Over the last couple of weeks, salad greens have been coming and going more quickly at my house. Perhaps it’s fatigue with roasted and boiled wintertime veggies or just a craving for freshness. I just don’t know.

What I do know is that I’ve been combining frisee and mache lettuces, thinly sliced red onions and tomatoes with this fresh, sweet and tangy dressing and every bite has been divine. In fact, when I got home last night after two days of eating and indulging in  New York City, one of these salads was exactly what was on the menu!

Lemony Honey-Dill Dressing

3 tbsp lightly packed fresh dill fronds, chopped
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tbsp minced red onion
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp whole, drained capers
2 tsp liquid honey
2 tsp finely grated lemon zest
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp each salt and pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp hot pepper sauce
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Combine the dill, vinegar, onion, lemon juice, capers, honey, lemon zest, mustard, salt, pepper, garlic and hot pepper sauce in a bowl. Blend until well combined. Whisking, drizzle in the oil. Cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Whisk or shake well before using. Makes about 3/4 cup.

What about you? Do you fall into salad habits where one dressing and lettuce combo reigns supreme for a few weeks or do you toss up a new bowl of excitement every time you make a salad?

Dana’s Big Gardening Adventure: salad bowl

July 11, 2008

I may not be enjoying the 100% success I envisioned when I started planning my garden but I have been able to make a few salads from my crops. While my cucumbers are nowhere near ready to harvest, I have red oak leaf lettuce, leaf lettuce and mizuna that are ready to toss with dressing. And, I’ve found a few long, skinny radishes, too.

Even if you haven’t planted anything yet yourself, you can still plant lettuce and radishes and be certain of a crop. Feeling tempted? I hope so. Here are some tips for growing your own lettuce, radish and cucumber plants.

• Choose a location that gets lots of morning and mid day sun but that is fairly open so that it doesn’t become too hot; heat can lead to wilting and to the development of strong, bitter tastes.
• Spacing in the garden depends on the size of plant you want to harvest. Fully developed heads of romaine or leaf lettuce require 12 inch (30-cm) spacing. Baby lettuces (harvested at about 3 1/2 inches [9-cm]) need only about 2 inches (5 cm) between plants and rows can be about 7-inches (17.5 cm) apart.
• When harvesting, cut leaves level with the crown of the plant – about 2 inches (5 cm) from the soil – so that the roots remain in tact and more greens can grow.
• Plant two crops of lettuce a couple of weeks apart so that you will have a rotation of greens mature enough to harvest.
• Spacing and thinning are important steps to prevent the plants from competing for sunlight, nutrients and water. Keeping up with these tasks limits fungal disease, too. When thinning, choose weaker (i.e. smaller) sprouts that are 3 inches (7.5 cm) out of the ground. Wash the thinned leaves and use as sprouts in sandwiches.

• These vines grow rapidly and require substantial space. Vertical training methods and new dwarf varieties now allow cucumbers to be grown even in small garden plots.
Cucumbers are usually started by planting seeds directly in the garden after the danger of frost has passed and the soil is warm enough for seeds to germinate.
• Plant seeds 1 to 3 cm deep; thin the seedlings to one plant every 12 inches (30 cm) in the row.
• Misshapen cucumbers may result from poor pollination or low fertility so remove them from the vine.

• Since most types of radishes grow very quickly, you can have a nice crop of radishes even if you start late. Choose varieties labeled “early variety,” which mature within three to four weeks for the speediest results.
• Although most people only use the red bulbs for salads, don’t forget that radish leaves are delicious raw, too.
• Plant a row of early radishes and a row of mid-season radishes so that you can harvest all summer long.
• Be sure to water radishes well and consistently, as thirst slows growth and produces hot, woody radishes.
• Leaving radishes in the ground too long will develop an unwelcome toughness, so check the crop every two or three days.

Got a hankering for a salad after reading this post? Don’t forget my salad dressing posts published earlier this summer.

5 tips for making salad dressings and marinades lighter

Invite cross dressers into your kitchen

5 tips for making salad dressings and marinades lighter

May 20, 2008

In a quest to cut calories, many of us turn to lighter salad dressings. Unfortunately, the taste of light dressings can be either too astringent (due to reduced oil) or too bland (due to added juices, water or broths). Over the years, I’ve written a lot of salad dressing recipes and I’ve discovered a few tricks for making light dressings more palatable:

1. When reducing the oil in a salad dressing, try adding an ingredient such as chutney or honey-Dijon mustard, which will add flavour and help to emulsify the other ingredients.

2. Choose strong flavoured oils such as toasted sesame, walnut or peppery extra virgin olive oil that, even when used sparingly, contribute a lot of flavour to dressings.

3. Treat yourself to premium vinegars such as aged balsamic vinegar, which is concentrated and low acid. You’ll be able to get by with less (or even no) oil if the vinegar you use isn’t too puckering.

4. Find your light dressing too tart? Add a pinch of sugar to offset the acidity of the vinegar.

5. Use yogurt or a combo of light mayo and buttermilk instead of cream or mayonnaise as a base for creamy salad dressings.

Invite cross dressers into your kitchen

May 19, 2008

Photo credit: Martin Kouprie

No, I’m not suggesting you adopt the cast of Priscilla Queen of the Dessert. I’m talking about using salad dressings for more than their primary use. You see, one of the secrets of pantry cooking – especially when you’re setting up your cottage or country house kitchen – is to limit the number of ingredients you have on hand by using them in different ways. That’s why I recommend using vinaigrettes, either on their own or with a little addition here and there, to marinate meats, fish and tofu.

Although bought vinaigrette-style salad dressings can easily be used to marinate fish, steaks, chops and tofu, I’m a big fan of making my own fresh vinaigrettes. Homemade vinaigrette always tastes better and it usually costs a fraction of the bottle cost to make an equal volume of a homemade version.

Don’t worry – making a salad dressing/marinade is easy. The basic tips you need to remember to be successful are:

• Use 1 part vinegar to 3 parts oil for a tart dressing, and 1 part vinegar to 4 parts oil for a less tart dressing (For instance, when using balsamic vinegar, I usually use the 3:1 ratio since balsamic is slightly sweet, ditto when I use lemon or lime juice instead of vinegar. However, when a tart red or white wine vinegar is on the roster, 4:1 works better).
• If you make a big batch of dressing to keep in the refrigerator to use over the course of a week or two, omit the minced garlic and add it to each portion just when you’re ready to use it. Otherwise, the garlic flavour will dominate after a day or so.

Basic Vinaigrette/Marinade:

This recipe should be like your phone number: one of those things you just know. If you can’t remember it, consider having it tattooed on your wrist for easy reference.

1 tbsp (15 mL) white or red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp (2 mL) Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp (1 mL) each salt and freshly ground pepper
pinch granulated sugar
1/4 cup (50 mL) extra virgin olive oil

Stir vinegar, mustard, salt, pepper and sugar until well mixed. Whisking, drizzle in olive oil. Recipe doubles and triples easily.
Makes about 1/3 cup (75 mL), enough for one large tossed salad or to marinate 1 lb (500 g) protein.

• Lemon-Balsamic: Substitute balsamic vinegar for wine vinegar and stir in 1/2 tsp (2 mL) finely chopped fresh rosemary and 1/2 tsp (2 mL) finely grated lemon peel.
• Orchard: Substitute cider vinegar for wine vinegar and stir in 1/2 tsp (2 mL) chopped fresh thyme.
• Red peppercorn: Crush 1/4 tsp (1 mL) red peppercorns and add to vinegar mixture. Increase sugar to 1/2 tsp (2 mL).
• Lemon-lime: Substitute 1 tsp (5 mL) each lemon and lime juice for vinegar. Increase sugar to 1/2 tsp (2 mL).

Drop by tomorrow when I’ll be sharing tips for making light dressings and marinades, otherwise known as Skinny Cross Dressers!

In the meantime, feel free to add your own marinating and salad dressing tips below.