I know that we are all supposed to eat seasonally and locally. But seasonal and local does not really appeal in Michigan at end of February in one of the coldest and snowiest winters that I can remember. And my heart just fell when, after two weeks in Jerusalem, I looked out the plane windows and saw all the snow on the ground in New York (which wasn’t even as much as in Michigan). Thus, after returning from our trip, I was in no mood for seasonal and local. I wanted those green beans from Guatemala! Those tomatoes from Mexico! Seasonal and local be damned! I celebrate the global economy! And I celebrate with salads: in this post we look at three salad cookbooks.
Marcel Desaulniers is an award winning chef and the author of cookbooks with such cute and clever titles as Desserts to Die For, I’m Dreaming of a Chocolate Christmas, and Death by Chocolate. These are the sort of cookbooks for which I need to think of excuses to explain why they are on my shelves. Marcel’s salad cookbook, with the not quite so cute and clever title Salad Days: Main Course Salads for a First Class Meal is another matter. There does not seem to be any chocolate in the cookbook at all, and even the fruit salads do not seem at all dessert-like. Instead, we are given recipes for substantial vegetarian salad plates. Each salad is followed by two variations; usually one of the variations involves meat, the other fish or seafood. Even before going to the variations, each salad has several components, sometimes too many. I found the best approach was to pick the components of a salad that suited me.
“Pan-Seared Yukon Gold Potatoes with Green Beans, Jicama, Red Onion Relish, and Parsley Dressing” (page 67) just had too much going on: the red onion relish, consisting of onions and dried cranberries; potatoes, first baked and then fried; with green beans and jicama, all dressed with a parsley dressing. I never got around to adding the almonds, nor did I bother to serve it on a bed of lettuce. The final result was not bad; I think it would have been improved by omitting the jicama which really did not belong in this salad, and cutting the green beans in smaller pieces so that they would be easier to eat.
I was more pleased with “Bow Tie Pasta, Tangerines, Black Olives, and Grilled Red Onions with Olive Oil Dressing” (page 109). I used oranges instead of tangerines, and did not use any of the lettuce or spinach listed in the ingredients. I did, however, use tuna as in one of the variations. The oranges, olives, and tuna made a great flavor combination. This pasta salad does have an oil and vinegar dressing, but I liked this dish better as a hot pasta dish.
I am not that often satisfied with vegetarian burgers that I make, but Marcel’s black bean burgers from “Panfried Black Turtle Bean Cakes with Avocado, Papaya, Strawberries, Jicama. Leaf Lettuce, and Prepared Honey-Lime Dressing” (page 90) were really good. Forget all the other stuff in the title of this recipe—the black bean burgers are the worthwhile component. Marcel serves these burgers with a forgettable salsa made from strawberries, papayas, jicama, avocado, dressed with lime juice, honey, and oil. This was okay as an accompaniment, but a store bought salsa or the red onion relish from the potato salad would have worked just as well if not better. He also puts everything on lettuce, with chives and 8 teaspoons (!) of sour cream; all this I omitted. [Go to the recipe.]
I own many of Patricia Wells’s cookbooks, and can only admire her. She seems to have built a life any food person could envy, writing and teaching about food while dividing her time between Paris and Provence. She is health conscious (even running marathons), yet does not betray real food with paltry “healthy” versions. And yet… and yet… . Her recipes leave me wanting just a little more, a little more robustness, a little magic, so that hours or days later I cannot get one of her dishes out of my mind. I found the recipes in Salad as a Meal: Healthy Main-Dish Salads for Every Season true to my Patricia Wells recipe experience: the recipes were all competently written, the food prepared from these recipes was good, but I found nothing really special.
“Crunchy October Garden Salad with Tuna” (page 178) consisted of good quality canned tuna mixed with lots of vegetables and dressed with an oil and lemon juice dressing, perked up with the zest from the lemon. This was a very nice change from the traditional tuna salad with mayonnaise. My version was not particularly crunchy, and I made it in February, not October. Although I am not dreaming about incredibly good this salad is, I am still looking forward to leftovers. [Go to the recipe.]
“Home-Smoked Trout, Tarragon, and Cucumber Salad with Horseradish Cream” (page 154) was another good fish salad. I did not even consider smoking my own trout (which Patricia gives directions for doing), as I suspect that the packaged smoked trout in the grocery store tastes a lot better than anything I could come up with (actually, I used whitefish). But whatever the origin of the fish, one cannot go wrong with cucumbers, dill, and horseradish.
“Egg Crepes with Mushrooms and Spinach” (page 46) made a very nice supper dish: healthy, tasty, and easily put together at the last minute. Patricia suggests serving this with salad greens with dressing of choice; this I thought completely unnecessary as the spinach filling provided enough green stuff to satisfy me. I will probably make these again, but next time will use more cheese.
One of our projects during the recent trip to Jerusalem was to try to find the best falafel; we only hit four falafel places, but this is a project that will be continued. This ongoing search inspired me to try Patricia’s version; “Crispy, Spicy Chickpea Balls: Falafel” (page 54). She makes her falafel in what I have come to think of as the “right” way, with dried chickpeas soaked in water overnight, then ground with flavorings, formed into ball, and fried. The chickpea batter was little too loose, and as a result the chickpea balls absorbed more oil than was ideal (and yes, the oil was sufficiently hot). Otherwise, the falafel balls were good enough, but did not beat any of the Jerusalem falafel. I did, however, think that Patricia’s “Tahini-Lemon-Yogurt Dressing and Dipping Sauce” (page 332) was particularly good.
Continuing with the chickpea theme, I made “Chickpea Flour Crepes: Socca” (page 276) for the first time, following Patricia’s recipe. These are a specialty of Nice, and are made with chickpea flour, salt, pepper, olive oil, and water. I was not totally satisfied with my crepes; I do not think that they turned out quite the way that they should, but I do not know whether to blame the recipe or just my execution of the recipe. I am not done with socca, and will try other recipes in the future. Who knows, I may even find myself in Nice some day, and can try the genuine article.
Readers of this blog will know that I am a big fan of Joyce Goldstein. She does not disappoint in her book, Mediterranean Fresh: A Compendium of One-Plate Salad Meals and Mix-and-Match Dressings. The gimmick here, as indicated in the title, is to provide recipes for undressed salads and for dressings, then to pair each salad with a selection of dressings. This gimmick was lost on me. I just saw recipes for interesting looking salads; I was always happy with the first dressing choice, and was a little irritated that the dressings were in a different section of the book instead of with the appropriate salad. This quibble aside, I loved this cookbook. It is very vegetarian friendly; although some salads have meat, these recipes can be skipped or adapted, either by omitting the meat or replacing the meat with a vegetarian substitute. None of the salads were boring; even the familiar salads all had some new twist.
I find red beets slightly nasty, but I think that golden beets are a wonderful food, particularly good in salads (and they do not turn everything pink, or even golden). “Beets, Goat Cheese, and Arugula with Walnut Vinaigrette” (page 123) is just about the perfect beet salad, even without the arugula. Joyce includes tart apple as as optional ingredient; this I used, and the Granny Smith apples contributed a very satisfying sweet crunch without even turning brown.
“Green and White Asparagus with Hazelnut Cream Dressing” (page 133) is not the sort of salad I usually make. Asparagus is cooked (and we all know to cook asparagus a short amount of time; having read our Suetonius and noted his quote from Augustus: “velocius quam asparagi coquantur”), then combined with a dressing made from hazelnut oil, shallots, lemon juice, and cream. Interestingly, the lemon juice does not curdle the cream. The asparagus and dressing is finally decorated with hazelnuts. I only used green asparagus, so my presentation wasn’t that stunning, but this was an interesting dish, tasty in its own way.
Joyce’s broccoli salad “Broccoli, Olive, and Ricotta Salata with Sun-Dried Tomato Vinaigrette” (page 139) was very gutsy and very good. There are no wimpy sweet accents in this salad, just garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, and olives. I decorated the salad with Parmesan, not ricotta salata. This broccoli salad may well push other such salads out of the way to become my favorite broccoli salad. [Go to the recipe.]
For a final take on chickpeas, we have Joyce’s “Tunisian-Inspired Chickpea Salad with Peppers, Capers, and Harissa Dressing” (page 195). All the good stuff is in this salad! In addition to the ingredients listed in the title, there are olives and to make the salad substantial, hard boiled eggs. Having a salad like this sitting in my refrigerator makes me feel rich, for I know that there is always a meal waiting for me.
Black Bean Burgers
Adapted from Marcel Desaulniers, Salad Days
½ pound jicama
1 cup strawberries
½ pound papaya
Juice of 1 lime
2 teaspoons honey
2 tablespoons olive oil
Black Bean Burgers:
¾ pound black beans
1 onion, chopped
Handful of basil, hard stems removed
1 jalapeño, seeded and chopped
3 cloves garlic
¼ cup flour
Oil for frying
To make the fruit salsa, Cut up the jicama, strawberries, papaya, and avocado into small cubes (although you might like to add the avocado at the last minute). Mix together the lime juice, honey, and olive oil, and combine with the fruit. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Soak the black beans in water overnight. When ready to cook, drain, then cover with a generous amount of water. Bring to a boil, and simmer until the beans are almost tender. Add about a tablespoon of salt and continue cooking until the beans are soft. This could all take one or two hours.
Drain the black beans, and toss the beans and the other ingredients for the bean burgers (but not the oil for frying) into the bowl of the food processor, and process until everything is well ground. Form—you should get eight. Heat the oil in a frying pan; when hot, add the patties and fry, turning once, until brown on both sides. You will probably need to do this in two batches.
Serve the black bean burgers with the fruit salsa.
Tuna Garden Salad
Adapted from Patricia Wells, Salad as a Meal
1 6.7-ounce jar best quality tuna
Zest from 1 lemon, grated
Juice from ½ lemon
½ bunch Italian parsley, stems removed and chopped
½ red bell pepper, chopped
3 scallions, chopped
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
½ cucumber, seeds removed and chopped
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed
10 cornichons, chopped
Combine all the ingredients.
Broccoli and Sun-Dried Tomato Salad
Adapted from Joyce Goldstein, Mediterranean Fresh
¼ cup oil from jar of oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons finely chopped oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch broccoli
¼ cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, cut into slivers
1 cup black olives, pitted and chopped
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
To make the dressing, just combine the dressing ingredients. Cut the broccoli into florets; peel the stalks and slice. Then cook the broccoli very briefly by putting it into salted boiling water for no more than a minute, then draining and rinsing under cold water. Combine the cooled broccoli with the sun-dried tomatoes, olives, and dressing. Finally, mix in the cheese.