Chef's Corner: The Raw Talent of Vegetables

Eat your vegetables! A plea to young children, a demand to teenagers, who would skip straight to dessert if allowed, and a reminder to all of us that a steady stream of vegetables in our diet is just a darn good idea.

I love to begin a meal with a fresh and tasty salad. Plain lettuces have been replaced by peppery arugula, colorful mesclun, grilled radicchio or shredded kale. We are being trained that during the summer months if a menu’s tomato salad doesn’t have the word “heirloom” before it, it just isn’t worth eating! Roasted beets and brussels sprouts, once poster children for foul, distasteful vegetables, are made nutty and delicious by being roasted in the oven and tossed with ingredients like tangy goat cheese, toasted nuts and aged balsamic vinegar. We have come a long way from the canned and overcooked vegetables and iceberg lettuce salads of our youth.

While a vegetable on the main course plate may be left behind, a first course salad is a sure way to begin with a healthy choice. A salad at the beginning of a meal is a good decision for a couple of reasons. First, at home we may stave off dinnertime hunger with some cheese and crackers or a handful of chips with dip loaded with calories and fat, and restaurant appetizer menus often include fried foods full of unhealthy cheese and breading. A starter salad has good-for-you veggies. Second, if you are overly hungry at dinnertime, a salad can tame a ravenous appetite and may help you to eat less of a heavy main course, derailing the need to go back for second helpings.

Supermarket shelves are lined with bottles of salad dressing that contain extra sugar, fillers and stabilizers – and cost up to three times what it costs to make the same thing at home. Making salad dressing is actually quite simple: one part acid to two parts oil. Larger supermarkets carry a number of flavorful olive oils and a variety of vinegars that allow countless creative possibilities for dressing up your veggies. I like to add a bit of nut oil such as hazelnut or walnut for added toasty flavor. Acid normally refers to vinegar, but lemon, lime, grapefruit or orange juice can also join the party. When using citrus as your acid, consider picking up a fresh Meyer lemon, kaffir lime or a ruby red blood orange –and don’t forget to add a bit of the grated rind for an extra pop of flavor.

Shops like Beneserre with two locations in Portland, Navidi’s in downtown Bend or Camas, WA, and Olive Grand in Eugene carry a giant selection of specialty oils and vinegars and are happy to allow you to peruse the aisles and taste as many as you like. Other dressing additions such as freshly chopped garlic, shallots, grated ginger and fresh herbs give wonderful flavor, while emulsifiers like coddled egg, prepared mustard, mayonnaise and honey give dressings added creaminess. Chopped anchovies, Worcestershire sauce or soy sauce bring an elusive umami flavor and experimenting with Sriracha, Tabasco, chili powder or freshly grated horseradish adds a little heat. Begin by blending acid, flavorings and emulsifiers, then add oil in a slow, steady stream. Don’t forget to season your dressing with salt and freshly ground pepper. Store prepared dressing in a squeeze bottle or jar in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Kale and brussels sprouts salad with hazelnut vinaigrette, serves 4-6

Vinaigrette
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1 small garlic clove, finely grated
1 tablespoon honey (or more to taste)
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
¹/³ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons hazelnut oil

Salad
2 large bunches of Tuscan kale (about 1½ pounds total), center stem discarded, leaves thinly sliced
12 ounces brussels sprouts, trimmed, finely grated or shredded with a knife
¹/³ cup toasted hazelnuts, chopped (or more if you like)

Combine vinegar, mustard, shallot, garlic, honey, salt and a pinch of pepper in a small bowl. Stir to blend; add oils in a slow, steady stream. Taste and adjust seasoning. Set aside to let flavors meld. Mix kale and sprouts in a large bowl. Toast hazelnuts and rub together in a kitchen towel to remove most of the skins. (You don’t need to remove every bit.) Toss 2/3 of the nuts together with the kale, sprouts and dressing. Garnish with remaining toasted chopped nuts.

Wilted spinach salad with warm strawberry balsamic vinaigrette (pictured), serves 4

Vinaigrette
1 tablespoon garlic-flavored olive oil
1 tablespoon basil-flavored olive oil
2 tablespoons regular olive oil
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
¼ cup pine nuts
10 button mushrooms, sliced
2 tablespoons strawberry balsamic vinegar

Salad
½ cup feta cheese, crumbled
1 pound bag baby spinach

Place spinach in a salad bowl. Add oils to a saute pan and heat to medium high. Add mushrooms and saute until lightly browned. Add sliced garlic and pine nuts. Saute until garlic is softened and pine nuts are lightly browned. Add strawberry balsamic and swirl pan to heat through. Toss warm dressing with spinach along with cheese. Season with salt and pepper if desired. Serve immediately.

“Mock” Caesar salad dressing with fresh Meyer lemon, serves 4-6

Mayonnaise may seem like a “cheat” ingredient, but it is made with egg and oil.

Dressing
3 anchovy fillets
1 large clove garlic
Juice and grated rind of 1 Meyer lemon
Dash of Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
½ cup good-quality mayonnaise
¹/³ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground black pepper

Salad
1 large head romaine lettuce, torn into pieces
Homemade croutons
4 thick slices good-quality Italian bread,
cut into cubes
¼ cup olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Toss bread cubes with olive oil – gently squeeze bread to absorb oil. Season bread cubes with salt and pepper. Spread croutons in one layer on a baking sheet. Toast in oven until nicely browned, about 10-12 minutes. Chop anchovy and garlic together until finely minced and add to a bowl. Add lemon juice and rind, Worcestershire, mustard, mayonnaise and Parmesan. Stir to blend and add pepper to taste. Toss desired amount of dressing with lettuce and add cooled croutons and extra cheese if desired.

Lisa Glickman is a private chef and teacher who lives in Bend. She has made TV appearances on COTV in Central Oregon and appeared on the Cooking Channel’s “The Perfect Three.” She can be reached at lisa@lisaglickman.com.

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