Salad days

October 21, 2017

NOTE: This was written last weekend. I have munched off and on on said salads all week, but given my schedule has been shot to hell by the serious illness and death of a dear friend, there are no pictures. Let your imaginations work for you.

Salad is just different in the fall.

In the spring, salads are light, fresh. They focus on the newest, greenest, freshest ingredients, and they take only the lightest of dressings. They often incorporate fruit, as well as the early veggies that tell you winter has broken and spring is here.

Fall salads are different. Many of their components are cooked, and served either warm or at room temperature. They focus on a lot of root vegetables. The dressings are heavier, spicier. They often contain grains, and chopped meats. In general, they’re just heartier, in keeping with a cooler temperature and a season when, in past times, you’d be working harder than usual to beat the weather and bring in the last of the harvest.

I love fall and winter salads. I love dishes you can serve at room temperature, and one-dish combos that aren’t soups or braises but that are hearty enough to make a meal.

Like the Brussels sprout and farro dish I cooked the other night. I served it as a side, but it would have made a fine salad, served slightly warm or at room temp, particularly with the addition of some chopped, cooked bacon. I still have half a pound bag of those sprouts; I’m thinking that salad will make a reappearance this weekend, with some bacon in it.

I had been eyeing for some time a pickled peanut salad that caught my eye when I first read Deep Run Roots, the cookbook by Chef and the Farmer’s Vivian Howard. (If you don’t have this book, get it. Trust me on this. It’s great reading, whether you cook from it or not, and her stewed tomatoes are To Die For.) The salad calls for pickled mustard seeds, which must be pickled in advance, and then must be made at least a day in advance, to give the peanuts time to pickle.

So one of my recent kitchen days, I set about doing so. I boiled my half-cup of yellow mustard seeds, drained them, rinsed them, and repeated that process twice more; allegedly that takes away the bitterness. Then I covered them with a brine of vinegar, sugar and a tad of salt.

The next day, I boiled the raw peanuts in salted water for a couple of hours. This cooks the peanuts to a consistency much like that of an al dente pinto bean. I drained them and dumped them in a bowl, and added the mustard seeds and brine to them. And then I deviated from the recipe.

Vivian’s recipe called for adding strips of red bell pepper and diagonally cut slices of celery. Now, I loathe bell pepper, and I ain’t crazy about celery. So I commenced thinking about what I could substitute.

The idea of sliced, parboiled carrots was fairly quick to come to mind. But what else? I settled on slices, separated into quarter-rings, of onion. Now, I’m not crazy about raw onion, but if you soak it in ice water to take out some of the kick, and then pickle it, it ain’t bad. I sliced and parboiled for five minutes — just enough to make them a little bit soft, but still toothsome — the carrots, while soaking the quartered-and-sliced onions in ice water.  Both got drained and tossed in with the peanuts and mustard seeds.

Verdict: Needs more brine. Fairly tasty, particularly if it had more brine. I wouldn’t throw it out. I might not make it again, particularly given the plan-ahead requirements. But you must also bear in mind the fact I am not a fan of boiled peanuts, that beloved snack of the lower southeastern US. Something about bean-textured peanut just puts me off.

And then there was this Olivier salad. I had never heard of an Olivier salad, until someone on a food forum I follow posted about it. I resorted to the faithful Google to learn it was developed in St.Petersburg and was like a potato salad with more stuff. Well, I’m good with potato salad, and I like all the “stuff” it calls for, to-wit: carrots, green peas, diced ham or bologna or some such, boiled eggs, pickles and a mayo dressing.

I diced up a couple of large potatoes, four or five carrots, and boiled three eggs, all together. Meanwhile, I diced up three or four slices of thawed ham from a Christmas past that had been vacuum sealed in the freezer. Steamed a cup of frozen green peas, just for a minute or two, and drained them. Dumped all that in together, made a mayo dressing flavored with a couple of spoonsful of homemade sweet pickle relish, and Penzey’s Tsardust seasoning blend (Hey, it alleged to be Russian. Had to fit, right?) and a splash of cider vinegar. Tossed all that together.

This stuff? Is good. Real good. It would be a solid year-round salad, despite its dependence on cooked root veggies. The diced ham (and it was GOOD ham, Honeybaked Ham store ham, in fact, and I’d drained it after I diced it on paper towels, so the water from being frozen was gone) gives it enough heft and protein to be a main dish  for a light meal. I’ll be making this one again, fo’ sho. The Tsardust seasoning blend is a keeper; I want to use it in something that involves potatoes, cabbage and a cream sauce.

And of course, long as tomatoes keep bearing, and I remember to pick up fresh mozzarella at the store, I can round out that salad plate with a caprese, which I have done more than a few times in the past couple of weeks.

After all, if it’s going to be 90 in mid-October, it behooves you ‘n y’mama ‘n ’em to have a ready arsenal of fall salad recipes, so you don’t have to go heating up the kitchen, and you can enjoy your afternoons outside and not in the kitchen cooking dinner, right?




One Response to “Salad days”

  1. Shelby Says:

    I’m so sorry for the loss of your dear friend, Kay.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: