September 9, 2009

Salads and Dressings

Lots of people don't like salads and "salads" get a bad rap. I think it's because they think of head lettuce and a slice of cucumber or tough tomato set on top.
Times have changed. I recently was reading in a cookbook on Mediterranean cuisine how one chef years ago was one of the leading advocates of bringing fancy greens to our tables. Think about it, how many years ago would never have heard of "baby field greens" or "mache" or "arugula?" It is interesting because when I was at O'o Farm the farm manager was explaining how the chefs in the restaurant demand the really pretty stuff, such as watermelon radishes and baby beets and a wide variety of vegetables that aren't normally seen in your everyday supermarket. And then he said that they are finally getting more supply that they can use, and perhaps that's how a new vegetable variety gets introduced to the mainstream, and then people want it. I do know how excited I get when I go to the farmer's market and I discover something new such as New Zealand spinach or rainbow swiss chard, I just want more of it.

Times have changed. And when you think of the array of availability wherever you are in the country it's simply amazing. Here on Maui it's a blessing to have Costco because we get a variety of produce that doesn't grow here on Maui (blueberries, raspberries, figs) at reasonable costs. And also organic produce (baby field greens, carrots, spinach) that we also could never buy in such quantities at the price.

Back to salads. I grew up in an Italian household and my mother loved salads and at my grandmother's house she always served an Italian salad of romaine lettuce, escarole, tomatoes, cucumbers and a great red wine vinegar and olive oil. However, it was a great salad because it had those nice crunchy greens. I started getting creative and added the extras of carrots and nuts and other veggies.

For me I call a salad anything that consists of vegetables with some kind of dressing. Marinated vegetables are salads. And of course even a main course salad with fish and a hardboiled egg and lots of veggies is a salad. Being creative with salads keeps people wanting to eat a salad.

I was recently requested to make a papaya seed dressing. I did a little research and discovered it consisted of rice wine vinegar and honey! I made a few adjustments and it got rave reviews! The recipe follows.

I also make dressings where I use orange juice to sweeten it up. I try to use less oil. Another trick to thicken it a little is add dijon mustard.

For my sesame dressings I add sesame oil and sesame seeds blended. Again, for a little sweetener I would add honey.
Papaya Seed Dressing
1/2 c. sugar
1/4 c. honey
1/4 c. mashed papaya
1 tbls. dry mustard
1 tbls. dijon mustard
1/2 c. rice vinegar
1/2 c. orange champagne vinegar
1 tbls. sea salt
3/4 cup olive oil
3/4 c. papaya seed
2 small sweet onions
In a blender or food processor blend the sugar, the honey, papaya, mustards, vinegards and salt until the mixture is smooth. With the motor running add the oil in a stream and blend the dressing until it is emulsified. Add the onionand the papaya seed and blend the dressing until the papaya seeds are the consistency of ground pepper. Dressing keeps covered and chilled for 2 weeks.

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