Monday, February 21, 2011
This latest streak of warmer weather has me counting the days ‘til I can peruse the aisles of a farmers’ market, or better yet the rows of my own garden, for fresh produce that may or may not even make it inside if I’m hungry enough. After hours of shoveling snow and salting driveways there’s nothing better than a big bowl of chili or sautéed Portobello risotto, but that’s another post. But with the temperature rising and me in denial about just how much winter we have left, I wanted something more light, bright and crisp.
This is the inspiration for the last installment of our epic trilogy, More Than Rabbit Food: a grilled leek and cucumber salad with mint vinaigrette. Like the other salads we’ve discussed, you can put whatever vegetables strike your fancy and have either a little or a lot of them.
Except for the leeks, every vegetable in this salad is raw. To cut down on the harshness of the raw shallot, we added it to the vinaigrette with the other seasonings so the vinegar could have time to mellow it out. If you don’t like bell peppers as much as I do (which is a lot) you could add them to the vinaigrette as well or omit them completely. The most fun part about this salad for me is the long, thin ribbons of cucumbers lending some cool crunch. They’re a neat and different way to add cucumbers to a salad, and as long as you shock them in ice water and thoroughly dry them they’ll keep from getting soggy. You could also do this to your shallot to take away some of its pungency instead of adding it to the dressing.
(Remember, you can use pretty much any vegetable you want. Just try to get a good variety of textures, flavors and colors.)
1 bell pepper, ribs and seeds removed, diced
1 rib celery, diced, plus a few inner yellow leaves
1 carrot, small dice
6-7 mint leaves
Salt and pepper
Red or white wine vinegar
1 shallot, minced
2-3 mint leaves, chopped
Salt and pepper
As we’ve said before, how much dressing you make is up to you, but the basic ratio for a vinaigrette is 3:1 fat to acid. Put a little mustard in your mixing bowl, add your vinegar and whisk together. Add the mint leaves and slowly drizzle in the oil while whisking until everything is incorporated. Season to taste, add the shallot to let it start mellowing and set aside.
Peel off a few of the tougher outer layers of leek. Trim off the root end, split it in half lengthwise, cut off the darker green leaves and rinse the white and pale green parts. Heat a sauté pan on medium high. Pat the leeks dry, drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and place cut-side down in the pan. Cook without moving for 2-3 minutes or until browned slightly. Turn, cook for another minute, then remove, and carefully chop across the width into short strips.
Using a vegetable peeler, peel the cucumber, then continue peeling strips of the flesh of the cucumber until you reach the inner core of seeds. Plunge the strips into an ice bath to shock them for 5 to 10 minutes, then drain and dry. This will keep them crisp in the salad.
Mix all the vegetation and the rest of the mint leaves together in a large bowl and spoon a few tablespoons of the dressing around the sides of the bowl. Mix everything lightly with your fingers until the salad is evenly dressed. Salt and pepper to taste.
When plating, top each salad with a few celery leaves and a sprinkling of feta cheese.