By Paul Suplee, MBA, CEC, PC-3
Salads, oh sweet salads. These are new favorites of mine, despite the fact that I was raised in a salad household. Unlike my parents, notably my mother, I always had more of an affinity for meat and potatoes. But, salads? They just never did anything for me. And I know that I’ve shared the story before about my avant garde mother picking dandelion greens from the yard in an effort to stretch out her salads. In modern times, she would be considered a great culinary mastermind, but back then it was just strange.
Regardless, my opinion on salads changed about 14 years ago, as I traveled through Napa Valley on a food & wine trip with some fellow chefs. The array of flavors that found their way to our salad plates over those five days was a wakeup call for me. At this point, I had worked for the late Michel Richard (arguably one of the best French chefs in the world), Harold Marmelstein, Allison Dugdale et al, and, of course, salads had to be an impressive mainstay on their menus.
I just never gravitated towards them. I was that old-fashioned, give me a big steak and some mashed potatoes kind of guy. But, not anymore.
There is something so refreshing about a flavorful salad, and not just in the summertime, but as a precursor to a fine meal. They can even be meals unto themselves. Even if just by adding something as simple as fried tofu or grilled chicken or perhaps even a crab cake, you now have a proper meal.
This salad is one of my favorites for a few reasons. First, I love Roquette (Fr), also known as Rocket (Australia and some European countries) and Arugula to us lowly Yankees. There is so much flavor in this little green and I levitate towards it often.
Another thing that I love about this salad is the classic combination of Kalamata olives and orange. This combination is quite popular in Greek cooking and ties everything together. Not as salty as other olives, the Kalamatas add a nice savory depth to the plate that is countered by the sweetness of the oranges, in this case in the shrub.
And finally I get to talk to you about shrubs. I’m trying to remember when the last time was that I wrote about them. They are great additions to your pantry (or icebox shelf) and work wonders in salads, sauces and cocktails. A shrub is a fine vinegar that has been sweetened and fortified with sugar and natural fruits. If you think bergamot, hibiscus, blood orange et al, you can imagine the potential for shrubs in elevating flavors to the nth degree.
They are simple to make and add robust and sweet flavors. And at the end of the day, they are simple. I like simple. In fact, every one of the best chefs that I ever worked for preferred simple, as long as the guest was happy. And now I can attribute a great deal of that to salads.
Roquette, Blueberry-Orange Shrub Dressing, Feta
1 ea. English Cucumber
1 ea. Vidalia Onion
1/2 c. Kalamata Olives, seeded & smashed
2 plum tomatoes, seeded & diced
Roquette( arugula), as needed
1/2 c. Good feta cheese
1 c. Orange Shrub Dressing (recipe follows)
- You do not need to peel English Cucumbers. Simply have and seed (optional), then cut into half moons.
- Peel and julienne the onion and set aside.
- When ready to assemble, simply place everything into a bowl large enough to mix.
- Add the dressing until the salad is coated, but not drenched. You may have some leftover dressing, so you can save that for another day.
- Serve immediately so as to prevent the greens from wilting.
makes about 2 cups
1 c. Blueberry-Orange Shrub (recipe follows)
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. Minced basil
1 Tbsp. Finely minced raw garlic
1/2 Light oil such as grapeseed
- Combine everything except for the oil in a blender.
- With the blender turned on, slowly drizzle the oil in until you have a smooth dressing. Adjust the seasoning with some salt and pepper and set aside in the refrigerator until ready to use.
makes about 1 quart
3 c. Good quality red wine vinegar
2 c. Oranges, cleaned of membrane
1 c. Fresh blueberries, lightly smashed
1/2 c. Sugar, or as needed
- Combine all ingredients in a stainless, non-reactive bowl, stirring thoroughly.
- Place in a glass jar and set in the icebox for anywhere from 24 hours to two weeks.
- Taste and adjust the flavor profile to suit your preference.
- When you are ready to use, strain through a fine sieve first to remove larger chunks.
- After this step, run your shrub through a coffee filter. This can take a while and you might have to go through a few filters. An alternative would be to purchase what’s called a Super Bag which is a microfine cloth bag that you can use for straining out your culinary creations.
- Keep your shrub refrigerated, although some will argue that the acid will keep it shelf stable. I prefer to keep mine refrigerated as an added precaution. It has great staying power, and is at the ready when you are making dressings, sauces and cocktails.
—Paul Suplee is a Professor of Culinary Arts at
Wor-Wic Community College and owner of boxcar40.
Visit him at www.boxcar40.com.