Roasted, Baby

Monday, April 1, 2013

   I am the first to admit this: salad can sort of be a bummer. Just saying that you're going to order the salad elicits what I call the 'self deprivation reflex.' I'm sure some of you must experience this too. It's out of our hands and just the way we feel about it, okay? No judgement.

   My whole life I've been unable to handle large amounts of raw greens simply because I found the flavor overwhelming and a bit bitter. I also have never particularly enjoyed traditional salad dressings. They are either too sweet and chemical laden or the vinaigrette after slick of olive oil leaves me with a desire to brush my teeth ASAP. Between the bitter greens and the funky dressings, I gave up on being a salad person long ago.

   To be sure, my paltry leafy greens consumption was not for lack of effort on my mother's part. For the first half of my life, she earnestly and unsuccessfully tried to convince my limited palate that greens were fun and tasty. I've spent the latter half evilly rubbing my hands together in glee because I no longer had anyone controlling the landscape of my dinner plate.

   Now, I look back on all those greenless years and feel a profound sense of loss. Oh, the wasted opportunity!

   The fact that I now consider a big ol' salad to be just the thing for dinner is huge. The trick is finding what makes the greens sing for your tastebuds, and I will tell you right now: the answer cannot be found in a bottle with an exhaustive ingredient list on the shelf of your local grocery store.

   I remember the trend several years ago of complicated mixed salads involving different nuts, pickled this and that, cheese, beans, meats and fishes... it was an edible frenzy and never particularly appetizing to me. However, instead of ditching the trend altogether, I should have taken the moral of that story and run with it. The moral is this: there are absolutely no rules regarding what you get to put in your salad! For me, the trick is a combination of either caramelized or lightly cooked vegetables and fresh, raw greens. Also: avocados make everything better.

   A very hot oven or skillet are truly transformative things. I now have a whole lexicon of delicious salads with roasted or pan crisped components that never escape hungry mouths for long. This roasted baby potato salad is just one example and I will be sure to post some of the others soon (such as roasted beet salad- a rosy cheeked gem worth the wait). The avocado is creamy and just this side of sweet, the acidic vinegar gives it a shot in the rump and the herbacious parsley allows the greens to really stand up and smile.

  Steve and I made this dish for our Easter dinner this year. We enjoyed it on the porch, soaked in fledgling spring sunshine and soft fresh air. Just wonderful.

    The first photo is version two. 

Roasted Baby Potato Salad

Remember how your mother told you potatoes will explode if you don't poke holes in them first? Well she was right and I have various potato body parts sticking to my oven wall to prove it. Even though they look small and harmless, give those suckers a good poke.

For the potatoes:
3 cups small fingerling potatoes, each one poked once or twice with a fork
2 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt

For the salad base:
10 ounces mixed baby greens (I like a combination of baby romaines and baby kale)
1 scallion, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped
2  small carrots, peeled into ribbons with a vegetable peeler
1 small avocado
Kosher salt
3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar

   Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place the potatoes in a 13 X 9 inch baking pan and drizzle with the olive oil. Sprinkle with several pinches salt and shake them around so they are coated evenly with oil. Bake for 30 minutes or until tender and their skins are beginning to turn golden brown and crisp.
   Remove from the oven assemble your salad: in a very large mixing bowl, combine the greens, scallion, parsley and carrot. Cut your avocado in half, remove the pit, score the flesh into cubes and use a spoon to scoop it out into the salad bowl. Add the vinegar and sprinkle with a pinch or two of salt. Using your hands, massage the avocado into the greens until the avocado and vinegar combine to make a thick, creamy dressing which coats the greens, leaving a few chunks of avocado whole.
   Plate your greens, spoon the warm potatoes on top.
   Serves 2 generously for dinner or 6 as a starter. 

Version Two: Crispy Pan "Fried" Bean Salad

1 can great northern white beans, rinsed and drained
Kosher salt
Chili powder
Cayenne pepper
Onion powder
Olive oil cooking spray

Green salad base, prepared as directed in the recipe above

  In a bowl, sprinkle the beans with a few pinches salt and several dashes of each spice; toss to coat. If you like your dishes on the hot side, don't be shy with the cayenne! Spray a heavy bottomed skillet with a few spritzes of olive oil (I highly recommend this ceramic skillet as an inert non stick alternative to the toxic cephalon varieties) and place over medium heat. When hot, add the beans and allow them to heat through and begin to brown. Toss them around a few times so most sides are browned. Spoon over your salad.
   Serves 2 generously for dinner or 6 as a starter.


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