By Tasha De Derio
From Fine Cooking #114, pp. 60-65.
When it’s cold outside, salad might not be the first thing on your mind—but maybe it should be. Winter greens are in season, and they add a welcome touch of brightness to any meal. Right now, my California garden is brimming with full heads of escarole, frilly frisée, ruby-red radicchio, and an experimental crop of Belgian endive, but even if you live in a snowy climate, these greens (which all belong to the chicory family) are widely available. They also taste much better than any bagged, pre-cut lettuce you’ll find at the supermarket.
Chicories have an assertive, pleasant bitterness, so the key to using them in salads is to balance that flavor. This means pairing them with ingredients that are either very mild (like cauliflower), rich (like avocado or cheese), or bold (like bright citrus, tart apples, salty anchovies, or a punchy vinaigrette). Try to keep it simple; limit the number of additional elements in your salad to three or four, and you can’t go wrong.
For some delicious examples, look to the recipes here, each of which makes a refreshing starter or side dish. Or make one into a meal—just follow my suggestions for adding chicken, shrimp, steak, or lamb. Soon, when it’s time for dinner, salad may be the first thing on your mind.
For the most delicious salads, keep the following tips in mind:
Salad greens should be clean and dry–there’s no saving a gritty, waterysalad, and dressing coats dry greens better. To wash greens, swish them in a large basin filled with cold water. Spin the greens dry in small batches or layer them between clean kitchen towels. Store in a plastic bag, a covered container, or the salad spinner, along with a damp towel.
Season all components of a salad, including the dressing, separately before combining. You should even season the greens with salt and a few grinds of black pepper. (If the greens are especially peppery, I sometimes go without pepper.)
Before dressing a salad, always taste your vinaigrette with a lettuce leaf or a vegetable. Adjust the seasoning with salt or acid (vinegar or citrus juice) as necessary. If a salad is too acidic or too dry, add a little more oil. If it tastes flat, try a few drops of acid or salt.
When dressing salad greens, drizzle a conservative amount of vinaigrette in a circular motion around a little on the greens—this makes it easier to coat the greens evenly when you toss them.
Radicchio Reddish-purple radicchio has a strong but pleasant bitter flavor. The leaves, which start thin and get thicker and crisper toward the core, are lovely in salads when thinly sliced or torn into large rustic pieces. Look for radicchio with fresh, bright, unblemished outer leaves.
Frisée Bittersweet frisée, or blanched curly endive, has frizzy leaves that add light, crisp texture to salads. Use only the tender, pale hearts. Look for frisée with leafy green outer leaves and yellow-green to white interior leaves.
Escarole Crisp, leafy escarole has a sweet, mildly bitter flavor. For salads, use only the tender, pale hearts, and save the outer leaves for sautés or soups. Look for escarole with yellow-green to white hearts. Avoid wilted or browning outer leaves and green hearts.
Belgian Endive Slightly bitter Belgian endives add crunchy texture to salads. They tend to brown quickly, so cut endives just before using. Choose those with tight, white heads and pale-yellow tips. Wrap well and refrigerate to protect from light, which turns them pale green and excessively bitter.
|Radicchio and Cauliflower Salad with Toasted Breadcrumbs||Endive and Watercress Salad with Apples and Herbs|
|Escarole Salad with Olives and Garlic Croutons||Frisée, Avocado, and Grapefruit Salad|
Photos: Scott Phillips