August 01, 2011

Meatless Meals: Bright and Zesty Summer Salad

Pickled Onions from Not Without Salt

Going to a foodie pot-luck, I was determined to bring something amazing.  And summery.  . I shied away from making a salad, because people who bring a bag of lettuce and a couple tomatoes to a pot-luck are lame.  But it was so freaking hot that I couldn't make myself cook anything.  

So I set aside my pride and made a salad.  A pickled onion salad with green beans, tomatoes, and creamy Greek dressing.

A good salad requires thoughtful assembly, but it is easy, pleasant work. Unless you grow your own lettuce, and it is deliciously sweet and crunchy and awesome, then it will be simply be the carrier of awesomeness. That awesomeness: one stand-out ingredient.  Preferably home-made. The dressing ought to be homemade too.  And make sure you have a nice mix of textures and balance of flavors.  Assemble it in layers and toss regularly, to make sure all the dressing and ingredients are well distributed. 

Here's what I did:
About an hour before the party, I made Not Without Salt's excellent pickled onions, and sealed them in a jar.  Let them continue to pickle till you assemble your salad. (I added juniper berries to the pickling spices, and eliminated the pepper).  I also roasted quickly two handfuls of french green beans (with olive oil and salt).

When you're ready to make your salad, take a wide flat bowl and add a handful each of baby lettuce and arugula.   Drain the pickled onions, reserving some of the liquid.  Layer about 1/3 of the onion on top of the lettuce.  Take a pint of the best cherry tomatoes you can find and slice them in half. (In the Mid-Atlantic Whole Foods is selling heirloom cherry tomatoes for the same price as regular ones.  And they are ridiculously good.)  Sprinkle these on top.  Take your green beans and dice, and add to the bowl.

Make the dressing by adding some of the pickling liquid to 1/2 cup of plain Greek yogurt.  Drizzle with some olive oil, and salt and pepper.  Stir till well incorporated.  It should be a little runny, but not too much.  This is largely a matter of taste, so if it is too vinegary, add more oil or yogurt, if it is too creamy, add more of the pickling vinegar.

Spoon about 1/3rd of the salad dressing on top of the green, onions, tomatoes.  Add another handful of each of the greens, and another third of the onions, and toss the salad, adding more dressing as necessary.

Once well incorporated, add the last bit of onions, and toss only a little.  They are the jewels of the salad, so you want them visible and prominent.  Top with slivered almonds, some salt and pepper, and serve.  It can sit for up to a hour, but the lettuce will, of course, wilt after a while.
The creamy dressing was the perfect counter to the piquant onions.  You could add a good dry summer cheese too, like ricotta salata. The roasted green beans and almonds provide crunch and texture. And the tomatoes, besides being absolutely essential for any summer salad worth it's salt, add a pleasant sweetness.

You could totally add shrimp or chicken or even grilled steak to make this a meal.  I just wish I had taken a photo.

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