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Salads aren't just for steamy summer days any more. Whether you think of a salad as a light meal in itself, a starter course American-style, or a palate-cleansing plate toward the end of the meal as in the European tradition, there's much to like in a simple dish that features crisp greens, a tasty dressing and something interesting on top to add texture and variety.
This week let's take a quick look at two salad variations I've tried recently: A slaw-like concoction with an Asian accent, substituting crisp, anise-scented fennel bulb in place of the traditional cabbage; and a quick creamy dressing from Jacques Pepin's Fast Food My Way, so simple that it's easier to make than to explain.
Both salads work fine as is, or can be built up to make dinner salads by adding toppings. Try chilled peeled shrimp or fried calamari with the fennel slaw, and just about any topping from bacon or ham to grilled chicken (or vegetarian options like cheese, artichoke hearts, olives or hard-boiled eggs) with the Pepin dressing.
Pepin's quick cream dressing
INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)
Salad greens for two
1. Rinse and dry salad greens of your choice and, if necessary, cut or tear them into bite-size pieces. I think this creamy dressing works best with firm lettuce like romaine or even iceberg lettuce; if you choose fragile greens like field lettuces or mesclun, dress at the last moment before serving.
2. Put the cream in your salad bowl and season it with salt and black pepper to taste. Stir briskly with a fork or small whisk. You don't want to whip the cream, only to work in enough air to make it frothy. Stir in the vinegar until it's incorporated. You'll end up with a creamy, sweet and just gently tangy blend, somewhat like a buttermilk dressing but not as sour. (Feel free to experiment with proportions; I used a little less vinegar on my first effort and a little more on the second, and felt that the 3-to-1 cream-to-vinegar ratio recommended here gave the best result.) Put in the salad greens, toss and serve.
INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)
Medium-size fennel bulb
1. Fennel used to be difficult to find, but it's increasingly available at better grocers and produce markets. It may be sold as "anise" or "finocchio," but under any name you're looking for a crisp, pale greenish-white, gently licorice-scented bulb about the size of a baseball, with pale green, feathery fronds. Trim off any brownish bits and the tough root end and remove the green fronds; for this salad you want only the whitish bulb. Using a sharp chef's knife or even a mandoline, cut the bulb into slices as paper-thin as you can get them. An average-size bulb should yield about two to three cups.
2. Slice the red onion paper-thin and mix it gently with the sliced fennel in a large bowl. Peel the cucumber, cut it in half lengthwise, and scoop out and discard the seeds. Slice paper-thin and add to the fennel and onion mix.
3. Make a light vinaigrette by whisking the peanut oil, lime juice, soy sauce and hot sauce into an emulsion (I like to use a strongly flavored roasted-peanut oil with plenty of peanut flavor). Stir into the vegetables, add salt and pepper to taste, and refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour or so to give the flavors time to blend. Check seasonings and serve.
MATCHING WINE: Although the conventional wisdom advises against serving wine with salads because vinegar and acids "war" with wine, both of these dishes were designed with wine in mind. If you make them as dinner salads, consider the topping in making your wine choice, selecting a rich white if you add shrimp to the slaw, for instance, or perhaps a fruity red with a grilled-chicken or cheese variation on Pepin's creamy blend. For what it's worth, when I built the fennel salad as a side dish with blue-cheese-laced lamb burgers, I picked a hearty red Rhone - Domaine Réméjeanne 2003 Chevrefeuilles Côtes du Rhône - to match the burgers, but it also fared surprisingly well with the aromatic fennel.
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Last Week's FoodLetter and Archives
Last week's Wine Advisor Foodletter: Pepin's tuna-stuffed tomato (Oct. 14)
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This is The 30 Second Wine Advisor's weekly FoodLetter. To subscribe or unsubscribe, change your E-mail address, or for any other administrative matters, please use the individualized hotlink found at the end of your E-mail edition. If this is not practical, contact me by E-mail at email@example.com, including the exact E-mail address that you used when you subscribed, so I can find your record.Thursday, Oct. 21, 2004
Copyright 2004 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.
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