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Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Salads of Spring

Soon enough, it's going to be the time of year when it's warm and beautiful outside, time to put away all those hot soups and toasty slices of bread, time to bring out the fresh fruits and crisp salads. It's been too long without fresh greens in my life! Maybe I'm spoiled having spent the better part of the past two years living right smack in between the beach and California's salad fields, but seriously? Produce in Manhattan is in a shameful state. Thankfully, there is a tiny but serviceable farmers' market in the plaza outside my office on Wednesdays, with a nice little greens stand so I can get my fix. I can already tell it's going to be a lifesaver when it starts getting too hot to eat anything but cold, crispy, sharp lettuces with the bare essential dressings.

Lest you run away screaming at the thought of plain old iceberg lettuce salads and, you know, nature, I have a little secret recipe to share. It's kind of weird. Kind of weird, but great, as many recipes are. I found it in one of the cookbooks I splurged on while in Japan last summer, from Tokyo's gorgeous and ever-popular Afternoon Tea. It has recipes for all of their famous treats, like sable cookies, chai milk tea jam (YES), chestnut cream tea, and all manner of deliciousness. Their farmer's salad recipe is deceptively simple--I promise, you'll make it and slap yourself for not thinking of it earlier.

In fact, it's so ridiculous, I won't even post actual ingredients. Here's what you do--
1. Wash and cut your greens to your desired size. (I like Trader Joe's "just the leaves" green leaf lettuce, cut into 1-inch chunks and rinsed in cold, cold water. Crunchy!)
2. Put two slices of hearty, whole- or multi-grain bread into the toaster.
3. While you're waiting for the toast, toss your greens in your favorite light dressing. (If you can find it, I love Cindy's Kitchen Rosemary and Roasted Garlic Vinaigrette, or if I'm stocked-up I'll whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, a frozen garlic cube, and herbs de Provence in a bowl right quick.)
4. Fry one egg, seasoned with salt, pepper, and a little hot sauce if you like things with kick. (Fry this in a little cooking spray instead of butter or bacon grease.)
5. Butter your toast.
6. Cut toast and fried egg into 1/2-inch cubes, so they are easily spear-able with a fork but not unwieldy. Enjoy.
(*) Options for extra flair can include some pan-fried Canadian ham, bacon, cheese shavings, poached egg instead of fried, really anything you might be tempted to throw into an omelette.

This is a nice weekend breakfast/brunch dish for me, and my mother swears by it when she's trying to lose weight: salad for breakfast. It's unbelievable what you can create when you break out of the toast-omelette mold. Check out your local Asian grocery for Japanese "non-oil" dressings in sesame, ginger, soy sauce, nori, carrot, and shiso flavors.

If you are still feeling a little unprepared for your salad days (genius, Karen!), I have a few helpful links to share:

-The Washington Post is so clever, they've created an online SALAD SPINNER.
It's actually quite good if you're curious about flavor combinations, or like me, you just really enjoy thinking about food.

-From the men's health section of WebMD, some secrets of the restaurant salad bar. (I will refrain from describing the Rajneeshee cult salad bar-salmonella incident in this post.)

-Chopstick NY reports on the not-so-new rage in Tokyo, "cafe gohan". Going to cafes all over Tokyo was just about my favorite thing ever when I was living there. My particular favorite is the Globe in Mishuku (Setagaya-ku), which is half antiques shop and half fresh-baked-goods-and-espresso cafe. Their white chocolate/mango muffins and antique wooden farmhouse tables haunt my dreams still.

-Again from Japan, cosmetics and healthy food company DHC has a lovely recipe for grilled asparagus salad.

Unfortunately for me, it's still raining cats and dogs here in New York and all I want is some nice hot soup!


Gaia, the non-blonde said...

I don't know what it is about produce lately. My local Whole Foods has less and less organic options. I haven't seen an organic bell pepper in ages, and what we have comes from Europe. Very frustrating.

Susie Bubble said...

That sounds lush...except I'd poach the egg to top the salad to get the raw yolk running through it...love warm salad dressings...

Karen said...

Gaia, maybe it's something to do with the world food crisis? It's getting tougher and tougher to find produce grown in the USA, let alone quality produce from anywhere in the world. I'm starting to think it would be cheaper to take up gardening and do that whole eat-only-seasonal-produce thing!

Karen said...

Susie, oh yum! I love a poached egg on anything, with juuust a ring of cooked yolk. I love the soft-boiled egg plate at Le Pain Quotidien, it's gorgeously European somehow to get to dip little buttered toast wedges into a soft-boiled egg yolk.

I have to say that by far, my favorite warm salad ever was from a restaurant down the street from my college campus...they served a warm spinach salad with pancetta, somehow the spinach was still cool and crisp but the dressing was hot and delightful!

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