Now that it’s Spring

I know I am speaking too soon, even in the South, but on a day like today, I can’t help but feel that Spring has arrived for good.  Sunshine, 70 degrees and blooming daffodils will do that to you.

As soon as it starts getting warmer around here, I immediately start craving lighter foods.  I pulled out the vitamix and made a smoothie for the boys today after months of using it to make hot soups.  And I wanted a salad for dinner in place of our usual wintertime roasted veggies.

I thought I would share this recipe with you all.  It was the first salad I ever learned to make.  Sure, I already knew how to chop up a bunch of lettuce, throw some diced carrots on the top and serve it with a bottle of ranch dressing, but a specific salad recipe?  That was new to me at age 18, and what makes this salad special was that I learned to make it in France, from a genuine French woman.

There are lots of golden memories floating around the making of this salad.  When my friends and I lived in southern France, we often visited our missionary friends on Sunday afternoons for dinner.  It always seemed to be a glorious sunny day with the French doors opening onto the terrace, letting in a light breeze that carried with it the scent of wild thyme and rosemary.   Madame B would be in the kitchen with a huge olive-wood salad bowl in front of her.  As I watched, she would cut open a big clove of garlic and rub the whole interior of the bowl with it.  Then in the bottom, she would mix her dressing, asking one of her children to run find some fresh thyme in the yard outside to sprinkle on top.

She would toss all the ingredients together and serve it with roasted lamb, or whatever else was sizzling in the oven that day, and of course, fresh baguette.   All of her food was good, but this salad- it was fresh and bright and garlicky and almost rich, as far as salads go.  I fell in love and insisted she give me the recipe.  And now I give it to you.

Here’s what you need for the salad.

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And this is for the dressing.  So easy!

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(that’s balsamic vinegar- sorry it’s so blurry.  And any dijon style mustard will do.)

Begin by either rubbing a garlic clove around your bowl, or smashing a couple cloves and throwing them in the bottom.  We like things garlicky around here.

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Then the dressing is very simple.  Depending on how big your salad is going to be, use the following ratio-

3 parts olive oil

`1 part balsamic vinegar

1 part mustard

This is enough for a moderate amount of lettuce- say- two hearts of romaine.  I use a Tablespoon as a “part”.

Mix this in the bottom of your bowl with a good pinch of salt, pepper and thyme if you have it.

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That’s it for the dressing.

Now dice up an avocado.

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And a couple of tomatoes.  Throw those in the bottom of the bowl as well.

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Then just chop up your lettuce (again, I used a couple of hearts of romaine).

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Toss it up, and voila!

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It’s great as a side, but sometimes I add some diced chicken and or bacon, for a full meal.

Enjoy, and here’s hoping spring is here to stay.  And for those still buried in snow, remember- spring will come again!

A simple salad

Each year, as Thanksgiving draws near, I find myself reminiscing about the good old days when we were young and carefree, just out of college and with only one or two kids. For three or four years, we used to travel to St. Louis for Thanksgiving to visit my sister and her hubby. It was always so much fun. My energetic brother-in-law called it “The Great Thanksgiving Extravaganza” and kept us on our toes the whole weekend, doing things like switching the labels on the cans of cranberry sauce and olives while we were cooking, or dragging us all out into the cold to play a wild game of basketball after we had eaten way too much.
The last year we did it, it had become rather popular and I think about 12 various friends and family members traveled up to crowd into their cozy little house, (with one bathroom, mind you). It was the year my other sister got engaged, and it was such a festive time. It felt like we cooked non-stop the entire weekend, and I remember my sister being so startled that we had gone through 25 pounds of potatoes in a few short days.
The last meal we had together was on a Sunday, and a few friends from church had invited themselves to join us. My sister and I were a bit nervous since we only had a tiny roast for about 15 hungry adults, but my brother-in-law and I devised a plan. As soon as everyone had been seated, we walked around serving the meat, claiming it was too hot to pass at the table. Everyone got an equal portion, and we whisked the empty platter out of sight, so no one would ask for seconds. He and I hid the fact that we had gotten no meat, under a pile of gravy and potatoes. That was a memorable meal, even without any meat.
I remember we also had this salad that day, or at least one similar to it. The base of the salad is my sister’s recipe, the toppings are more like a salad my mom makes. I am not a fan of bottled salad dressings, so I have two or three basic vinaigrettes I like to use a lot, and I always feel a nice salad can make any meal just a little over the top, so here we go.

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I don’t usually buy pre chopped salad greens either, but they were out of any other kind of lettuce at the store, the day I went! This is a bag of spinach and some baby greens, but any lettuce will do. At any rate, here is the dressing.
In the bottom of your salad bowl, whisk together

1/3 cup olive oil
1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1/2 a lemon, squeezed
1 Tablespoon or so of brown sugar
Salt and pepper

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That’s it.
Put your lettuce on top, but don’t toss it yet. I used both bags of greens here.
Then the toppings are up to you. This is a very versatile salad. I often switch out the pear with apples, or even strawberries. The almonds can be walnuts or pecans, and the cheese can be goat instead of feta as I have here. And I love a little slivered red onion.

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If you are short on time, you don’t have to candy the nuts, but I’ll show you how anyway. They can be used in so much more than salads. The only trick is not to walk away while the sugar melts. I have burned so many nuts that way!
Before you cook them, get out a piece of parchment paper or aluminum foil sprayed with oil and set it on the counter.

I am not big on measurements, but this was roughly

1/2 cup of slivered almonds
1/4 cup of granulated sugar

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I never use a black non-stick pan for this, since it makes it difficult to see when the sugar starts to melt.
Turn your heat to MEDIUM! Don’t get impatient with the sugar and turn it up to high. I have burned so many nuts that way! Just watch until you start to see the edges turning brown and bubbly, about five minutes.

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Start stirring until all the sugar has turned to caramel and the nuts are evenly coated. This can happen very quickly.

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Before the caramel can harden, spread the nuts onto your parchment paper or foil, and let them cool. Then break them up into delicious little chunks and whack at your children’s hands as they try to sneak them.

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Now is the time to toss your salad. I usually just toss the lettuce and then layer the goodies on top for a more impressive finish!

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Serve it on a weeknight, or for your own Thanksgiving Extravaganza!
I once had a man who avidly declares all veggie’s to be “rabbit food” ask for seconds on this one, so I know it’s good.