Greek Salad

Greek Salad (August 1, 2016)

An authentic Greek Salad is a revel in summer flavors. Sweet, tart tomatoes, floral cucumbers, and piquant peppers countered by creamy feta and succulent olives. Lacking the adornment of dressing, it relies completely upon your ability to select the freshest and most flavorful ingredients. If you’re not already familiar with your local farmers market, consider this an opportunity to change that.

Speaking of markets, if you live near any significant population of Greeks, seek out their supermarket and get your feta and olives there. Supermarket specimens of each will do, but they lack a certain something. Here in Los Angeles, I stock my Greek pantry at Papa Cristo’s.

In lieu of dressing, have your favorite unfiltered olive oil and red wine vinegar at hand as well as a bit of salt. But use them only on what’s on your plate, and sparingly at that. The idea is to enjoy each bite as an individual celebration of the vegetable. It’s all very Spartan, I’m sure.

This recipe serves four as part of a larger spread, two if just accompanied by bread and wine.

Greek Salad
1 large, ripe tomato
3 Persian cucumbers
1 ripe bell pepper of any color
2 scallions
3 – 5 thick slices of sheep’s milk feta
8 – 12 brine cured Kalamata olives
1/2 tsp Greek oregano

Cut tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers into bite-sized chunks. Trim white parts off of scallions and cut lengthwise into quarters. Thinly slice the green part of the scallion into rings. Lay the majority of the cucumbers at the bottom of a wide bowl and scatter over the scallion greens. Cover with tomatoes, then peppers. Scatter remaining cucumbers around the outer edge and lay on the quartered scallion whites. Scatter olives at the center of the salad and then lay on the planks of feta. Sprinkle over the oregano and eat!

This salad can be made up to three hours ahead and held in the refrigerator, covered in plastic wrap. Wait to add the cheese, olives, and oregano until just before serving.

Green Bean Salad with Crunchy Garlic Dressing

Green Beans with Crunchy Garlic Dressing (July 27, 2016)

After Kewpie mayonnaise and the films of Studio Ghibli, my favorite thing to come out of Japan is S&B Crunchy Garlic Topping. It’s a blend of crisp-fried garlic and mild chilis in sesame oil meant as a condiment for ramen. Much like Old Bay Seasoning, there’s nothing it can’t improve

Here I use S&B Crunchy Garlic Topping to give classic French green bean salad a Japanese kick. Like the original, the keys to success are to cook the beans until tender, dress them while still warm, and enjoy at room temperature.

If you have the time, these are even better made a day ahead. Pop into the refrigerator as soon as they’re done but give them about thirty minutes on the counter before serving.

This recipe yields enough for four.

Green Bean Salad with Crunchy Garlic Dressing
1 lb green beans, trimmed
2 tbsp tahini
1 ts molasses
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 heaping tsp S&B Crunchy Garlic Topping*
1 tbsp sake
1 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp peanut oil
toasted sesame seeds for garnish

Bring at least two quarts of water to a rolling boil over high heat with a heaping teaspoon of salt. Add the trimmed green beans and cover until water returns to the boil. Once boiling, cook the beans until tender but not soft. This will take as little as a minute for small beans and up to seven minutes for larger ones, so check often. Drain and rinse for a minute under cold water. Allow to stand in a colander while you prepare the dressing.

S&B Crunchy Garlic Topping (July 27, 2016)In a bowl large enough to toss the beans, add all of the remaining ingredients except for the sesame seeds. Whisk until smooth, then add the drained beans. Toss gently to coat all of the beans completely.

Cover with plastic wrap and allow to stand on the counter for thirty minutes, tossing every ten minutes or so, before serving. Garnish with sesame seeds.

* Easily located at any Japanese grocery or on the interwebs. Yes, the brand matters. Yes, it’s full of MSG. No, MSG will not kill you.

Tomato Pilaf Salad with Sautéed Mushrooms

Packed with bell peppers, feta cheese, and olives.

*ring ring*

It’s 1989 calling. They want their grilled chicken breast back. Something about how it’s the only way they know to make their salads exciting. How sad.

When I’m ravenous but still in the mood for something light, grain salads are what I crave, and once you get the hang of them, so will you. The sautéed mushrooms add an extra kick of meaty savor and deliver you from the tyranny of grilled chicken breast and greens.

To be super clear, a salad isn’t a recipe. It’s some stuff in a bowl that you call a salad. Greek flavors dominate here because that’s my comfort zone. Even when making it for the first time, bring this salad into your own world with veg and seasonings that strike your fancy. Heck, if I’d not just had a root canal the day before, I’d have insisted on some toasted walnuts for a nice, bitter crunch.

This yields enough for two dinner-sized portions.

Tomato Pilaf & Mushroom Salad
1 C medium-grain white rice
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 C water

1 red bell pepper
8-ish white or cremini mushrooms
1/2 C crumbled feta
1 small head of green leaf lettuce
as many Kalamata olives as you like

1/4 C red wine vinegar
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 generous teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp oregano, finely ground
1/2 tsp sea salt

Mushrooms and Bell PeppersPrep lettuce to your liking and cut bell pepper to fine dice. Clean and slice mushrooms. Make dressing by whisking all ingredients together in a bowl until creamy.

To make the pilaf, heat a wide pan with a tight fitting lid over medium with olive oil. Stir constantly until rice turns golden brown and smells of warm nuts, about 15 minutes. (Anyone who’s ever made Rice-a-Roni will recognize this step.) If oil starts to smoke at any point, lower heat immediately. Add tomato paste and stir for two minutes, or until it turns a deep red. Add onions and stir for a couple more minutes to allow them to soften a bit. Add water, then salt and cinnamon. The water’s going to splatter and sputter, so be careful! Stir three full revolutions, cover, lower heat to just-above lowest setting, and set a timer for 20 minutes.

Do not, under any circumstances, stir this rice again. You will turn it into mush. Mushy rice is for old, toothless people. When the time is up, check the rice by gently inserting a fork to make a peep hole to the bottom of the pan. If all of the water is gone, you’re done. If not, give it five more minutes. When it’s done, remove the lid, wrap it in a clean kitchen towel, and put it back on the pan. It’ll look like Norma Desmond does Le Creuset, and you’ll thank me for it. As Grandma Kay taught me, the towel keeps the excess moisture from dripping back onto the rice and making it mushy. Because again, mushy rice is godawful.

While the rice cooks, sauté those mushrooms. If you need pointers on the procedure, the inimitable Alton Brown does almost as good a job at elucidating the procedure as my mother once did for me. In the event that you’re feeling like a total food whore, carry through his recipe in its entirety and use those mushrooms here. You will not be sorry. Hold the mushrooms in a large, heat-proof bowl as you go.

Gently fluff rice with a fork. Not a spoon, ladle, knife, paddle or other any other such nonsense, but a fork. A carving fork is best, but any fork will do in a pinch. First run the fork gently around the perimeter of the pan. Then, as though you were folding egg whites, move the fork gently (ever so gently!) from the perimeter to the middle, coming down into the rice as you move to the middle and lifting up from the center. Do this three times, then turn the rice into the bowl with your mushrooms.

To the bowl with the rice and mushrooms, add the bell pepper and feta. Stir gently, still with the fork!, to combine.

Assemble the salad by first laying down a bed of lettuce. Top it with rice mixture, spoon dressing over, and garnish with olives. A nice glass of rosé, and you’re laughing.