Nosh: Salad with Grilled Asparagus, Potatoes, and Lemon-Caper Vinaigrette

I love summertime salads. Great big salads, accented with all sorts of lovely, yummy, seasonal things.

Though I confess, as I sit here eating leftover salad for breakfast, that maybe I am a tad overly fond of the greens. Eh. There are worse things I could do.

So I wanted a salad, and I had a hankering for lemon-caper something. But, I also wanted asparagus and potatoes, because I like to eat those things and I am a simple creature bent on satisfying my wants. Here’s how it all went down.

  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • 1/4 teaspoon of herbes de Provence or tarragon
  • 1.5-2 pounds Yukon Gold (OR red OR new) potatoes
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary (crushed)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh chives, chopped

For the dressing

  • 2 Tablespoons capers
  • 1 Tablespoon shallot (or mild onion), minced
  • Juice and zest from one lemon
  • 1 Tablespoon finely chopped parsley
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • 1/4-1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar (OR white wine vinegar OR champagne vinegar)
  • 1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 (ish) cup olive oil

Salad, prepared however you prefer

A few rounds of thick pita bread, for serving

The hardest ingredient to work with in this recipe is the potatoes because they have to be boiled first. I chose Yukon Golds for this because…well, because I like how they taste, and because I think their waxy texture holds up better to  a double-cooking process than floury russet potatoes. Take smallish whole potatoes, or cut them so they are halved and roughly the same size (but do not slice or dice yet). You can peel them if you’d like. I didn’t bother. Boil them until they are fork-tender. They can be a little underdone when you decide to drain them, as they’re going to cook further on the grill. But they should be at the very least, nearly done. Set aside to cool.

While the potatoes are boiling, prep the asparagus. Snap off the woody ends (no knife required! Just bend a stalk and it will naturally break at the spot where tender stalk meets tougher bottom) and put in a mixing bowl. Toss with oil, salt, pepper, and the seasoning of your choice. I like herbes de Provence, with its mix of herbs and fragrant hint of lavender.

Springtime veggies make me so happy.

Springtime veggies make me so happy.

Set these aside, and make your dressing.

Get a big container–a nice big soup bowl with a lid, or a Ball jar that you can close and shake. Spoon capers into a strainer and rinse. Assemble ingredients.

Fact: I haven't purchased salad dressing for my home in years.

Fact: I haven’t purchased salad dressing for my home in years.

Remember to zest your lemon before you juice it. And the capers are going to get minced, too. Chop everything that needs to be chopped (including parsley, strangely absent from this picture), and dump it all in the mixing container. Add in honey, thyme, mustard, and lemon juice. Add the white balsamic vinegar into the mix. If you want a thicker dressing, add less vinegar. If you’d like it thinner, add a little more. Black pepper goes in now, too, and I use kind of a lot of it in here; using my pepper mill, I probably added ten turns of the grinder. Add according to your taste. But be careful with salt! Even though you’ve rinsed the capers they’ve been pickled in brine and can still be salty. Taste your dressing first before you add any extra salt, and do that at the end, after everything else has been mixed in.

Whisk in oil until it’s fully incorporated. I generally like to have an almost even proportion of oil to vinegar, so if you’ve got a half-cup of vinegar, look to add roughly that much oil. Taste, and adjust. Does it need salt? More pepper? A dash more honey or another hit of mustard? This dressing should be savory and lemony and a little bit sweet, with a refreshing, green bite from the capers. When you’re satisfied, set it aside.

Heat your grill/grill pan. I used the double-griller that stretches across two burners on my stove but of course, this can also go outside. Get it ready to go at a medium/medium-high heat.

Take cooled potatoes and slice them into half-inch (or thicker) slices. Toss with olive oil, salt, pepper, and rosemary.

It was hard for me to not eat these as-is. But hold on! They get even better.

It was hard for me to not eat these as-is. But hold on! They get even better.

When the grill is hot, put the asparagus and potatoes on the burners, then let ’em go. The asparagus will cook much more quickly than the potatoes so don’t wander too far off while they’re cooking. Also, I had to cook in batches for purposes of space. That’s the beauty of salads. If the food gets a little cool…so what?

While the potatoes and asparagus are grilling, make your salad. I had feta cheese so we made sort-of a Greek salad, but really. Make whatever kind of salad you’d like. 

Turn the asparagus at least once to ensure even cooking, and if the stalks are thin they should be done in five minutes.  Put on a serving platter and drizzle with some lemon-caper vinaigrette.

Yeah. It was as good as it looks.

Yeah. It was as good as it looks.

The potatoes will take a little longer–flip them when you take the asparagus off the grill. They get all texturally fun, though, as the inside stays soft and potato-y while the outside crisps up from the grill. When they’re done, toss with chives et voila! In a serving bowl.

Does it get better than this?

Does it get better than this?

Grill the pita bread.

Really. You’ll thank me for it. You’ll only need like two minutes per side and the flavor gets beautifully deep and surprising. I mean, it’s pita, right? But oh, what an effect the grill has on it.

Yum. YUM.

Yum. YUM.

Cut the pita into quarters when it’s done.

Gather everything together and bring it out onto your fantastic, aesthetically pleasing back porch, which you have just freed from all its winter grime.

Feast.

Feast.

This? Is the way to eat a summertime salad. But if you don’t have the back porch, don’t let that stop you! This would taste great if you were seated at a little kitchen table with a single candle burning in the middle for a soft glow, or spread out on a blanket on the floor of your living room while the rain fell outside. 

Ha! Now I need to remember to make this again for an indoor picnic. 

Whatever, so long as I get to eat it again.

I hope you enjoy! 

Nosh: Black Olive-Lemon Vinaigrette

Ahhh, summer!  Salads!  Light eats!  No-cook meals!  The body-image-terror-inducing moments of having to put on a bathing suit in public!

Though salads can, admittedly, get boring.  It’s true, I’m afraid.  And it’s not like I’m secretly expressing a salad bias; I love a good salad.

But yes.  They can get boring.

Which is why it’s so very important to have a veritable arsenal of dressings at your disposal.  Mix it up, keep it sassy.

Since there are only two of us, I generally make dressings in small batches, both because I don’t want to get bored with what I’m eating and also for practicality’s sake.  I don’t want it to go bad before I can finish eating it.  You can make however much you want, but remember: if you make it fresh and aren’t a food chemist with a stock of chemicals lying about, then it won’t last in the fridge for months.  If you can’t finish it within a week, note it so you can make less next time.

Here’s what I used:

  • 1 small shallot, rougly chopped
  • Zest and juice from one Meyer lemon, or a regular lemon if Meyer lemons aren’t available.  A small orange would also be a delicious substitute.
  • 5-6 (or so, it depends on the size of the olives in question, and your own personal taste) pitted Kalamata olives, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon thyme
  • 1/4 cup white balsamic vinaigrette
  • 1 scant tablespoon (a good healthy dollop, really) grainy mustard
  • black pepper to taste
  • Quantity to be determined: Extra-virgin olive oil (be zen, dears, all will be explained in time)
  • a squeeze of honey (optional)

I was going to say that I wouldn’t try your patience by showing the ingredients before blending them but the fact is?  I forgot to take pictures at the beginning of this process.  So just bear with me, ‘kay?  ‘Kay.

Toss everything except the pepper, olive oil, and honey into a blender.  (Citrus tip: remember to zest first before juicing.  You’ll only need to make the mistake of juicing first once before never doing so again, but if you can avoid it at all…)  Blend.  If you’re having a hard time getting the ingredients to move around, you can add in some olive oil so your blender has something to work with, but you really don’t need to figure out how much you’re going to use.  The amount of olive oil will be determined partly by how much oil you like in your dressing (I don’t like it to be more than half of the total weight of the dressing).  Part of it will be determined by how much oil your olives exude, which probably won’t be much but hey, why go overboard?

Speaking of going overboard, I haven’t stated that you should add salt.  Olives are already plenty salty, so bear that in mind when seasoning your dressing.

When you’ve got everything blended so that it’s nice and smooth, let it settle for a minute so the oil will start to separate from the rest of the dressing.  Just so you can see what proportion of oil you’re working with.  Once you see that, add as much oil as you deem appropriate and crack in some pepper.  Give it all a whirl in the blender and then taste it.  Does it need more pepper?  Salt?  Is it too tart?  Here’s where you squirt in the honey, if you so desire.  Toss it all into a jar which you can cap and shake vigorously for future uses.

A week's worth of dressing!  Yes, we eat a lot of salad.

A week’s worth of dressing! Yes, we eat a lot of salad.

This is one of those 8-oz jars, so it’s not a super-giant amount.  That being said…DAMN, I eat some veggies!

For the record, it goes REALLY well with some falafel and hummus and feta and salad on a pita.

Lunch it like a boss.

Lunch it like a boss.

When you make your own salad dressings, you can provide yourself with whatever flavors you want, in whatever combination.  You don’t have lemons?  Use oranges.  You don’t like thyme?  Use oregano.  However you put it together, you know the dressing isn’t jam-packed with salt and preservatives.  You’re not beholden to an entire bottle you don’t want to “waste”.  And it takes maybe…mayyyyyyyybe…ten minutes, if you’re a slow zester.

Enjoy!

Nosh: Blackberry Vinaigrette

A moment, if you please, for the glories of a fresh vinaigrette.

Vinaigrette is an amazing thing.  I realized a long time ago that if I learned how to make things like sauces and dressings, I could experience an enormous range of foods in the comfort of my own home.  A common complaint about vegetarian cooking is that it’s “boring”.  It’s just a bunch of vegetables, right?  Only wrong.  When you take beautiful fresh fruits and vegetables and put them to work for you, even salads rock out.

You can make a vinagrette from a wide range of produce (and I know you can make salad dressings with bacon, too, but seriously, people…dial back the processed meat obsession just a notch, your colon will thank you for it) and it’s eeeeeeeeeeeeeeasy peasy so long as you have a few basics down.  Plus, you can make however much you want.  It’s just me and my boyfriend, so we make small batches of a dressing that we use over the course of a week.  We don’t have extra bottles cluttering up our fridge (how many times have you said, “Wait…I have this?  When did I buy this?  Hmmmm…it’s of indeterminate age, let me eat it.”) and we can alter the taste of the dressing depending on what we’re in the mood for.

Did I mention it takes about five minutes to make?  Ten, if you’re really, extraordinarily anal retentive and feel like you have to precisely measure every grain of mustard.

So let’s get to it.  For enough blackberry vinaigrette for two people for three or four days of salad (depending on how much you use, of course) you’ll need:

  • 1 Ball jar (or other container that can be securely capped and summarily manhandled, you’ll see)
  • 1 small shallot (about the size of a votive candle cut in half), finely diced
  • 8-10 blackberries (about 1/4 cup)
  • 1 healthy teaspoon of mustard (I prefer the really grainy kind)
  • 1/4 teaspoon thyme (or whatever herb works for you) (poppy seeds would be nice, too!)
  • 1/4 c mild vinegar (I used rice wine vinegar, but white wine or champagne vinegar would be equally lovely.  Save the strong and/or fruity vinegars for another dressing)
  • A good pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper (if you don’t have a pepper grinder, a) get one and b) if you need more than a quarter teaspoon of pepper I’d be surprised, since it’s really not that much dressing you’re seasoning)
  • Olive oil (to taste and yes, I will explain)

Here is one of the few times I will say this: I generally don’t use garlic in my vinaigrettes, people, so no, I didn’t forget to put it in the ingredient list.  Have you picked yourselves up off the floor?  See, as much as I love garlic, I think it has a tendency to take over the flavor of a vinaigrette, especially if it’s going to sit in the fridge for a few days without benefit of artificial stabilizers keeping the food in check.  Which this won’t have, because it’s all freshy-fresh.  Shallots deliver a savory impact that’s kind of a cross between onion and garlic all on their own and don’t tend to take over the flavor like garlic does.  Moving on.

First, take your shallot and cut it into a fine dice.  For many people this will be the most trying part of their dressing-making experience but hey, it can help perfect your knife skills!  Cut it into a small dice using the exact same planks/sticks/cubes method I talked about in my blog about potato-spinach curry, when I cut ginger.  If you’re getting stressed out about cutting shallots that small just remember, they don’t have to be perfect, they just have to be.  If you’re still getting stressed out, feel free to shred your shallot with a fine cheese grater.  Put your diced shallots in your Ball jar.

It's shallots. In a jar. Really, it gets better.

It’s shallots. In a jar. Really, it gets better.

Mash up the blackberries.  I used a mortar and pestle, but use whatever you’ve got.  A mixing bowl and the back of a spoon.  A fork.  I would advise against using either mallets or the heel of your shoe, both for ease of cleanup and because yuck, but hey, it’s your kitchen.  Then take your smooshed blackberries and put them in the jar.

Aha! So you see where I'm going with this, no?

Aha! So you see where I’m going with this, no?

Then add: mustard, vinegar, thyme, salt, and pepper.

Closing in on what actual dressing looks like.

Closing in on what actual dressing looks like.

Next, put in the olive oil.  I generally use a 1:1 ratio of oil, so since there’s about a half-cup of *stuff* (berries, vinegar, etc) in my jar already, I use an equal amount (or even slightly less) of oil.  It’s way less fatty than traditional vinaigrettes; 3:1 is the “classic” ratio for vinaigrettes but when I follow that recipe I always feel like I’m sliding my way into a salad.  I don’t care for it.

Much more to my liking.

Much more to my liking.

Once you’ve got all your stuff in your jar, it needs to become dressing.  Cap it securely and–I believe this is a legitimate technique taught in the finest culinary schools around the world–shake it.  Really hard.

Voila! Le dressing, she is done!

Voila! La vinaigrette, she is done!

Remember to re-shake it when you’re ready to eat it.  Once you grok your vinaigrette basics you can do tons of things to it.  Use ginger and soy sauce instead of shallots and salt.  Throw in some fresh parsley/dill/basil you have hanging around your crisper.  Add a shot of honey if the berries are tart and you think it needs a touch of sweet.  Use strawberries or raspberries instead.  Your options are wide open and regardless of what you put in it, the fact remains that you’ll know exactly what’s in your salad dressing, instead of eating a bowl of stabilizers and preservatives.

This vinaigrette will last at least a week in the fridge.  I don’t know how much longer than that it would stay because we tend to finish it.  Since it’s all fresh ingredients without preservatives, the (only) downside (that I can see) is that the vinaigrette will go bad if it’s left in the fridge too long, sitting in the back next to those pickles you got…when?

We all have those.

So.  Have a salad!

Easy. Tastes good. Good for you. What could be better?

Easy. Tastes good. Good for you. What could be better?

We served this with Thai Spinach-Potato Curry and chapatis.  But it will go with pretty much anything and would be really lovely alongside some chicken.  I hope you enjoy!

~XOT

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