salad argentina style, heaped on a pizza

Salad Argentina Style

I fall in and out of love with salad. When I make the effort to create a really good one, I wonder why I ever eat anything else. But when I’m lazy and do the same old same old, and I wonder why I bother.

When I travel, I expect hit and miss. Over the last few years, I’ve had great success with simple salads in France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Ireland. In Italy, surprisingly, I had some plates of green as depressing as anything I’ve seen in the US. In the Caribbean and Colombia, I resign myself to getting my fresh raw produce via smoothies. The tropics are not conducive to glorious greens; often, the only lettuce I see is a  hydroponic variety devoid of flavor and texture.

So when we decided to hit Buenos Aires for a couple of weeks this winter, I thought, well, I’m not going to expect much. Most people, including many Argentines that we met along the way, equate Argentina with beef. In fact, if you say “carne,” Spanish for meat, in Argentina, beef is assumed. I figured for a vegetable, I’d probably be offered pork.

I have never been so delighted to be proven wrong. Salad Argentina-style, at least in BA, is a glorious, creative wonder. Certainly, it helps that we were there in the height of summer. The climates of Argentina and Uruguay remind me of those in the California where I grew up: sunny, dry-ish, and fertile. Geographically, the soil is rich and good, not needing a bunch of weird treatments. Farmers get respect.

Most importantly, food tastes like it’s supposed to, and salads taste green. My first one arrived not as a salad, but as a pizza from La Pharmacie, a restaurant near our 10-day home. A crisp crust spread with a dense tomato sauce and thin slices of melted mozzarella featured a lush layer of peppery, tender-crisp raw arugula on top. Meaty, fruity olives perched on top. The great thing about this meal: I didn’t think I was ordering a salad, but I got one anyway, and I also began to completely rethink the concept of pizza. Why shouldn’t it just be a crispy base for a ton of fresh vegetables?

Salad Argentina style-a pizza topped with fresh arugula from La Pharmacie in Buenos Aires

I intentionally order a salad from Cabernet restaurant in Palermo. This beauty featured tender crisp mixed greens surrounded by paper-thin, perfectly ripe pears, sprinkled on top with hazelnuts and blue cheese. (Sorry about the light here, but perils of restaurants, etc.)

Salad Argentina style-a pear-hazelnut-blue-cheese-arugula combo

Back at Pharmacie, this Caprese was simple and stunning, with sweet roasted peppers in crimson and saffron, cherry tomatoes, artichoke hearts, and plenty of basil. (And, needless to say but I’ll say it anyway, non-optimal light.)

Salad Argentina style-the wonderful simple caprese from la Pharmacie in Buenos aires

Salad Argentina-style: A few guidelines

Here’s what the salads had in common:

  1. A base of flavorful, thoughtfully chosen greens. Optimally, get the best you can find, wash them yourself (rinsing a lot, bc the good stuff is dirty), spin them dry, and pile them on the plate—or the pizza.
  2. Something sweet. Roasted peppers and roasted cherry tomatoes were favorites, but fruit, particularly pears, were frequent add-ins as well.
  3. A little cheese. If you’re vegan, you’ll skip this. But having access to really excellent cheese is one of the reasons I never can quite commit to being a vegan. There simply isn’t a substitute for the creamy yum of farm-fresh cheese.
  4. Something savory. Olives of all kinds, or artichoke hearts, or bamboo hearts (easier to get down here). Or nuts. Usually not all of those things, which allows the flavors to shine.

It’s not so different from the directions in the salad post I’ve already done. The main thing is, Salad Argentina helped me snap my winter-dulled palate back into life. As I get back in cooking mode here, these faves from other cooks can brighten up your late winter kitchen. Because admit it: You gotta be a little tired of soup at this point.

Tieghan at Half Baked Harvest is always rock solid—I actually just typed “rock salad,” which I sort of like. This recipe for broccoli and avocado salad is excellent.

I haven’t tested this vegan salad made from spiralized sweet potatoes (from Laura at The First Mess), but the combo of chipotle with miso seems like a spectacular transition one for early spring—which, they tell me, is coming.

Yotam Ottolenghi creates such glorious, flavorful salads. If you love vegetables, get his book Plenty. This salad introduces what for me was a revolutionary idea: mix herbs with impunity. Don’t worry so much about the grams, just look at the proportions: about 2 parts cilantro (aka coriander) and parsley to 1 part basil and dill, 3 parts arugula (rocket), and 4 parts some type of young lettuce; just be sure you get something with flavor. Play with the nuts and seeds. Know that when Brits say mange tout (it means “eat all”), they mean “snow peas,” because sometimes they forget that they hate the French (which is sort of adorable). Use the recipe as a jumping off point, and discover joy and wonder on a plate.

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quick pickled vegetables sparkle up a plate at Le Chou Fou

Quick Pickled Vegetables

Quick pickled vegetables are exactly what they sound like. You make a pickling brine, quick. While it heats and then cools, you slice some veggies paper thin. When the brine cools, you add the veggies.

Done.

quick pickled vegetables sparkle up a plate at Le Chou Fou

Jump to recipe.

Here’s why these things are genius: Quick pickled vegetables sparkle up ANY meal, and they do it fast. Planning a sandwich for lunch? Throw a few pickled veggies on for crunch, bite, and color. Add ’em to a bowl of rice and beans, or on top of some Asian pasta with nut butter sauce. You just changed the game from biz as usual to an impromptu party. Mix some pickled radishes into your salad bowl for a burst of sweet tart happiness. I had some on hand recently to top off the Baja Mole Bowl. Lovely.

My favorite quick pickle candidates are:

  • Carrots, especially the multicolored ones. Carrot sticks bore me, and I don’t like the way the carrot core so often tastes like wood. Slicing the veggies super thin and then giving them a brine soak makes them fun again.
  • Radishes. I’m crazy about those white/pink/purple radishes known as Easter Eggs. Radishes fulfill their destiny when pickled.
  • Onions. Raw onions cause stinky nightmares without a soak in some water. The brine perfectly mitigates their sulfurous nature.
  • Bell peppers, seeded and sliced.
  • Celery, slivered. You may also want to de-string the stalks, a tedious but worthwhile process if you don’t like having to gnaw through a tough old celery string.

You may be surprised that cucumbers aren’t on the list, but I’ve never really liked the texture of pickled cucumbers. So I choose denser veggies with a more intense crunch factor. Of course, cukes are the classic pickle base, and they make swell quick pickles if you don’t mind them a little less crisp. But cucumbers have so much water that I never eat them unless I’ve seeded and salted them, then let them stand until some of the water drains out.

For me, cauliflower is TOO dense, so I nix that, even though it’s a popular choice. I never eat raw cauliflower when it’s on a crudite platter, either, and it does seem to be left in a forlorn little mountain long after the carrots, celery, and peppers have been dipped and consumed. I’ve also seen pickled green beans, a great candidate in the crunch department. The problem is, they turn a REALLY ugly color. If this doesn’t bug you, go for it. Broccoli, for me, combines the density issue of cauliflower with the hideous color transformation of green beans. I’m highly visual. But as always, do what floats your boat, not mine.

While there’s nothing wrong with mixing the veggies together in the brine, I like to keep them separate and distinct. I would slice all the veggies, put them in separate containers, then pour the cooled brine over the top of each. You just need it to cover. If you run out of brine, it’s super fast and easy to make another batch.

Pickling brine scarcely needs a recipe, it’s so simple: 1 part vinegar to 2 parts water, with a generous pinch of sweetener and a discreet amount of salt. You can also add some mustard seeds or cloves or some other spice you like as you please. I gently heat the mix on the stove, stirring to make sure the sugar and salt dissolve, then cool completely before adding to the veggies.

As usual, I’ve included a recipe, but you really don’t need one. In fact, this is SO easy, teach your kids to do it and get them in the raw veggie habit for life.

Quick Pickled Vegetables: The Recipe

 

Kale Salad That You’ll Actually Want to Eat

In the kale post (and in the soon-to-be released video), I lament the sad state of kale salad everywhere. Mistreated, disrespected kale garners undeserved Yuck Faces and eye rolls far too often. “NOT KALE,” I have heard many a time.

Jump to recipe.

kale, destemmed and ready to slice thinSo why does this happen? 3 reasons:

  1. The cook fails to remove the big, chewy stems, evident in the picture above.
  2. S/he then tears or hacks the leaves into big, indigestible chunks (as opposed to the delicate shreds the vegetable deserves, pictured directly below).
  3. Adding insult to injury, the cook now throws the kale into the salad bowl as if it were ordinary lettuce.

shredded kale for kale salad

To which I must bellow, Unfair to the eater and the kale! Why, for the love of Michelle, would one create any barriers to ingesting this nutritional powerhouse? Of course kale teems with fiber and vitamin A. But Did You Know that every bite also delivers loads of calcium and potassium? Well, it does (and you can read up on vitamin stats to your heart’s content at this link.)

But the primary reason that I find kale so easy to love is its sturdiness. The stuff holds up under an avalanche of pretty much any dressing you want to slather on it, including heavy ones based in mayo or nut butter. (i provide an easy one with these ingredients below.)

ingredients for an almond butter dressing for kale salad

In fact, it holds up a little too well. Which is why I recommend the kale massage, in which you place the de-stemmed, ribbon-cut slices in a bowl with olive oil and salt, put on some sexy music, and give it a good rub-down for about 2 minutes. The results, especially when tossed with some sweet crunchy cabbage or romaine, will make your palate smile.

kale gets an olive oil and salt massage

Kale salad follows the same rules as other salads: 3 pieces of flair added to the kale/cabbage combo. Some suggestions here:

  • Apple, carrot, beet, and radish are all delightful for crunch; grate any one of them, or cut in a fine julienne.
  • Dried fruit adds wonderful chewiness; for a juicier sweet, sliced kiwi and grapefruit work beautifully.
  • Add roasted veggies like squash or cauliflower.
  • Sprouts and microgreens provide a nice flavor contrast when sprinkled on at the end.
  • For meat-eaters, kale and pig are friends. Crackling bacon is a glorious kale salad adjunct for the unapologetic carnivore.
  • Roasted walnuts or tamari-spiked sunflower seeds add meatless crunch.
  • kale salad ingredients include kale and cabbage, carrot, grapefruit, and an almond butter dressing

As usual, a main salad can go more flair-wild. Should you choose the nut butter dressing here, you’ll get some protein. But add more if you like. In addition to the usual animal options, goat cheese is wonderful for vegetarians, smoked tempeh or coconut bacon for vegan.

For a fully-spelled out recipe for a superb, flair-crazy vegan kale salad, see Teagan’s amazing detox version here. (I eat this one about once a month, but I always shred the kale rather than tearing it roughly as she suggests.) Or make up your own, and instead of carefully choosing three pieces of flair from the list above, go crazy with 5 or 6 or even more. And the fine thing is, kale’s chewy goodness won’t get lost in the shuffle no matter how many things you throw at it.

kale salad with grapefruit, sunflower seeds, and shredded carrot

Kale Salad: The Recipe

 

Classic vinaigrette two ways, one with mustard, one with pesto

Classic Vinaigrette

As noted in this Salad Principles post, the revised formula for classic vinaigrette requires:

  • Stingy use of acid
  • Generous use of oil
  • Judicious hand with salt
  • Insanity with pepper

Here’s a guide to help you customize your version.

Classic Vinaigrette features oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, and sometimes mustard

Classic Vinaigrette: Acid

  • Cider is my go-to for most American and Northern European cuisine.
  • Tarragon vinegar is my favorite for a more French version of a salad (which is usually just greens and dressing).
  • Both cider and tarragon mix wonderfully with Dijon mustard, or the mustard of your choice (although I personally would skip the French’s yellow).
  • Balsamic vinegar is my go-to for salads accompanying Italian meals.
  • Rice vinegar is the natural choice for East Asian salads.
  • Lemon brings wonderful sparkle to sturdy garlic-friendly cuisines, like Middle Eastern, Greek, Spanish, and Provençal; it’s also an excellent option for North African cuisine.
  • Lime gets my vote for Caribbean, Latin American, Southeast Asian, and East and West African cuisine.
  • Classic Vinaigrette: Oil

  • Extra virgin olive oil is meant for salads—NOT FOR COOKING. It has a relatively low smoking point, meaning that the oil will start to smoke when you heat it. If you’re going to spend big bucks for EVOO, then for heck’s sake don’t screw it up by heating it. And if you’re not spending big bucks, it’s probably not REAL evoo. Here’s a good article on the sort of scam that is extra virgin olive oil.
  • Avocado oil is the next best thing.
  • Walnut oil is lovely in a fall-ish salad with walnuts.
  • Flaxseed oil doesn’t have much flavor, but it has a nice lightness to it, as does sunflower oil.
  • Oils to avoid: Peanut, canola, corn, anything generic and referred to as “vegetable oil.”

Classic Vinaigrette: Salt and Pepper

Freshly ground in both cases is lovely, and in the case of pepper, essential. If you use salt from a bigger container, always pour it into your hand first, then pinch the right amount from there. Go sparingly. With pepper, all bets are off.

Finished classic vinaigrette goes great on a simple classic tossed salad; you’ll find a recipe for two variations at this link. I usually just make a small amount fresh every night for salad, but you can definitely make a bigger batch. Just be sure to shake it up really well before each use.

Enjoy! 

Salad Principles: Simple, Healthy Greens and Dressings

Salad principles are simple: clean, dry, ultra-fresh lettuce, and a straightforward dressing to help wilt that lettuce just enough to make it palatable.

But while they may be minimal, there’s an art to mastering the classic side dish. It’s easy

Salad Principles, Part 1: Clean, Dry Greens

You gotta dry your greens, kids.

I do buy boxed greens, especially baby spinach for smoothies, because spinach is annoying to clean. But there is tremendous variety in the plants that one can serve—thoroughly cleaned, spun dry, lightly crisped, refreshingly cold—in this thing called Salad.

Two possible approaches to dinner salads

Click for a great guide to making your own salad mixes from Bon Appetit.

If you do make your own mixes, and/or are lucky enough to get lettuce from a garden or local farmer, you need to wash the greens in 3-4 changes of water. Only when the washing water is clear—you won’t believe the interesting things that get caught in the folds of lettuce—do you then subject your leaves to a hearty spin. If there are any kids around, they LOVE this part. Make them salad spinners in chief. Then wrap the dry greens in a clean kitchen towel, and put the towel in a plastic bag. Voila! Salad, ready to be dressed, every night.

Don’t be tempted to just tear off a leaf or two and throw it in a bowl with some dressing. The greens get crisper when they’ve been washed and dried, and there’s also the critter/dirt factor. Biting into grit is a nasty experience.

Salad Principles, Part 2: A Simple Dressing

Salad dressing is so easy to make, and you can tailor it perfectly to whatever you’re serving. The flavor’s in the fat, as many a cook will tell you. A small bit of top quality olive oil cut with an even smaller amount of acid, whether of the citrus or vinegar families, turns a bout of dutiful roughage chewing into a sensual palate cleanser. That’s the goal, right? Nourishing the senses and the body at once.

But do not, under any circumstances, buy salad dressing. It’s got weird stuff in it. Have you ever in your life thought, “I’m REALLY craving some xantham gum!”?

And salad dressing is so ridiculously easy. The simplest of all is the classic French vinaigrette. My kitchen-stained and ancient copy of The Silver Palate Good Times cookbook contains this easy to remember formula, know as the four people needed to make a vinaigrette:

  • A miser with the vinegar
  • A spendthrift with the oil
  • A wise woman with the salt
  • A madman with the pepper

Pretty self-explanatory. Be stingy with the vinegar or citrus juice, generous with the oil. The standard ratio is 1:3, but 1:4 on up to 1:8 can yield a superb dressing. Salt and pepper are very much to taste, but in general exercise a judicious hand with the former and a free hand with the latter.

Now, let’s say you see a dandy looking salad in some magazine. Just keep your salad principles in mind and check that acid to oil ratio. I often see recipes where acid and oil are mixed in equal amounts, a guarantee of soggy, lackluster greens overpowered by too much pucker-making liquid.

Salad Principles, Part 3: No Water. EVER.

Even worse, sometimes salad dressing recipes call for water. NEVER DO THIS. If you see a salad recipe that looks attractive but has water and/or a high proportion of liquid that’s not oil in the salad dressing, I beg you to NOT USE THE WATER and scale liquid way back to the minimum 3 parts oil to one part liquid proportion.

Wilted, wet greens are gross. I love water to drink; it is absolutely the worst thing in the world to add to a bowl of raw vegetables. Lettuce and other leaves—spinach, chard, arugula—are delicate. A mixture of oil, salt, and acid wilts your greens a little, making them a more manageable volume to eat. Water just drowns them. Yuk.

This is what simple vinaigrette looks like before adding pieces of flair and greens to it. NO WATER.

Vinaigrette made according to salad principles, with greens and tomatoes standing by.

The exception to the no water rule is some Asian salad dressings. Often, by the time you add soy sauce and a little liquid sweetener (often the rice-based wine mirin), you are ending up with a dressing on the liquid side. Keep in mind that many Asian salads feature naturally crisp and sturdy veggies like cabbage and carrots, and some protein and/or noodles, all of which can stand up to a hearty pour. But delicate lettuce is miserable if it gets wet. That’s why we say someone wilts under pressure. We don’t mean they become delicious. We mean they become a mess.

Salad Principles, Part 4: Adapting Recipes.

The rule with following a salad dressing recipe: Be careful. Recipes that yield a large amount of salad dressing often are meant to be used sparingly, so don’t dump it all in your bowl. Add a small amount, toss gently but joyfully, and only then, after you’ve tasted and determined that you need a little more, add some. And for those folks who think soggy food is awesome, bring the extra to the table in a cruet and let them trash their own meal. Enable if you must, but set a good example.

For those who like to see proportions spelled out, I offer the following recipe, cautioning that it is meant to be adapted to your taste. Steve’s favorite vinaigrette, which he makes fresh every time he’s in charge of salad, has pesto. I am fond of a bite-y fine mustard, like Dijon or an artisan one we pick up someplace or other. Artisan mustard is cool stuff. Either substance (not both, please) adds a nice bang of flavor to your greens, and, while optional, I feel that without them, the salad’s a little naked and edging into “Eat the Damn Thing, It’s Good For You” territory. I find the surest way to not eat something is because I Should. The best way is because I Want. Experiment away and discover the combo that is unmistakably yours.

Enjoy.

The Raw Salad Fitness Plate

The Swiss are famous for piling on the food, whether it’s an outsize serving of fondue (approximately 1 pound of cheese per person), or the outright terrifying Bernertafel, or “Bern plate,” a manhole-sized platter heaped with sausages with a little potato and pickle on the side “for digestion.”

Fortunately, they’ve devised a remedy for those of us who aren’t packing in the calories at lunch in preparation for a day of scrambling up mountaintops with goats. They call it the Fitnesstafel, or “Fitness Plate,” and we found it on various menus as we traipsed from Bern to Vaud to Basel a few months ago. I snapped a picture of one that Steve ordered, and here it is:

bern-fitness-tafel

It’s basically a bunch of shredded veggies and some salad, lightly dressed, surrounding some type of protein. What better way to consume a ton of raw veggies? So I went to work developing this version. And since the key to the original inspiration is its simplicity, I assembled just a few workhorse seasonings that basically take care of everything. The lucky winners are: brown sugar, celery seed, salt, and cider vinegar, with some shallots lending support.

fitness-seasonings

Now you chop, grate, and/or, in my case, play with a new toy. I had bought two crappy spiralizers because they were cheap. How could I lose?? D’oh. Fortunately, the sum total I paid for my two dumb spiralizers was still less then I would have spent in the first place. Lo and behold, my sister Becky said, “I have a spiralizer, do you want it?” So now I got the real deal, baby.

fitness-beets

As you can see, it makes awesome psychedelic work of beet. I still haven’t gotten the knack of it with a carrot; this particular version likes a big round thing like a beet, not a skinny long round thing like a carrot. But seriously, this is fun, and I’ll try it more. That said, grating is also dandy.

For your cup o’ herbs, choose what you have on hand, or what sounds good, or both. I have learned from Yotam Ottolenghi (you can see his book Plenty, a personal favorite, in the background of the seasonings picture, along with books from my hero Bert Greene) that you really can mix fresh herbs with a fair amount of impunity. Dill seems particularly Swiss to me. The overall mix above—dill, parsley, mint, and chives—transported me to a Swiss meadow, which I hope everyone can experience at least once because Switzerland is awesome.

fitness-herbs

And then there’s cabbage. Wherever I am fortunate enough to travel, I can always count on cabbage. The stuff grows absolutely everywhere, no matter if you’re in the tropics or the Alps, and it’s always crisp. I get very Zen when I cut it, which I recommend, because it just takes a while to plow through.

fitness-cabbage

Now, you have all these fabulous little raw salads.

fitness-components

I sort of picked and chose my herbs to keep each component somewhat distinctive, which you’ll see outlined below  fitness-cabbage2But if you want to just mix everything together in one carnival of flavor and color, feel free.

Protein is the key in the Fitness Plate, and it’s important to me to be able to offer a vegan version, so I relied on the awesome Seeds of Change rice/quinoa mix combined with chickpeas and some pine nuts. Using a little yogurt, either dairy or plant-based, gives you a little additional hit and just the right amount of creaminess to complement the crunch.

fitness-plate4

Steve could use a protein hit, and we had some leftover grilled chicken; you can see his salad in the background of the picture at the top of this post. Do what sounds good, but I can promise you that the vegan version will keep you full all day long as it sparkles up your tastebuds.

fitness-plate1