Summer's sensational salads

Organic growers share their recipes for bountiful, and delicious, main-dish delights.


Published: Wednesday, June 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, May 31, 2005 at 10:10 a.m.

They're crispy, cold and chock full of things that are good for you. When the temperature soars, there's nothing quite as refreshing as a brimming bowlful of leafy greens - lettuce, arugula, endive, radicchio, spinach - topped with cheese, fruits, nuts and something right off the grill.

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Robyn Mole of the Cardamom Pod shows off her mission fig sals alongside her own special mixes and marinades.

ROB C. WITZEL/Gainesville Magazine

Move over tiny salad plates full of pale lettuce, tomato wedges and boring dressing. Today's salads command center stage as hearty entrees that won't weigh you down or leave you hungry.

Rose Koenig, owner of Rosie's Organic Farm, credits the organic farm movement and fitness crazes of the 1990s for defining salad in more appetizing and nutritious terms. "Salads can be beautiful and colorful," says Koenig. "Chefs started expanding salads to become the focal point of a meal. Even the fast-food industry is doing salad."

And speaking of fast food, salads couldn't be easier to make. These days, grocery stores have a wealth of prepackaged, pre-cut veggies that can create an interesting salad in minutes. You can be even healthier and more economical when you purchase your veggies whole, cut them up ahead of time and refrigerate until needed. Ironically, Koenig notes, even though people think of salads as light summer fare, lettuces are primarily cool-weather vegetables, especially in the South. So although you'll have to purchase lettuces at the grocery store, you may still be able to top those leafy greens with locally grown vegetables. Think interesting, think colorful, think favorite flavors, and there's no end to the variety of salads you can prepare.

Salads may seem like a fairly new addition to our diets, but in fact they have been part of the human nutritional palate since around 8000 B.C., when scientists believe humans first started gardening. Lettuces, carrots and various herbs and spices became garden staples. The word "salad" comes from the Latin word for salt ("sal"), because greens usually featured salt as seasoning.

In the early 20th century, American salads consisted mainly of iceberg lettuce with seasonal vegetables and dressings made from oil and vinegar, mayonnaise or sour cream. Iceberg lettuce, composed of 90 percent water and little nutrition, was primarily grown in California and shipped by train to the east coast encased in crushed ice. When the boxcars were opened, the ice packing was said to resemble icebergs. The lettuce's popularity was primarily due to its longevity when refrigerated.

The 1930s brought the Jell-O revolution and suddenly fresh fruits, nuts and other items graced tables encased in brightly colored gelatin.

The meek iceberg wedge of the 1940s and `50s met its match when the 1960s and `70s introduced Americans to the idea of garnishing salads with seeds, alfalfa sprouts and avocados.

Iceberg was still with us, but spinach and endive could sometimes be found among those pale iceberg leaves.

Fava beans, fennel, jicama and Jerusalem artichokes made their salad debuts in the 1980s, along with cooked pasta accented with bottled Italian dressings.

Today's salads, however, emphasize freshness, texture and an array of flavors gently kissed by a dressing with ingredients from around the world and around the corner. Koenig, whose 17-acre farm sits just beyond subdivisions on Gainesville's west side, says the key to an interesting main-course salad is finding balance and developing a palette for more bitter greens. "If you only eat salty foods, then that's your palette," Koenig says.

But don't punish your taste buds by subjecting them to those strong-tasting greens without some back-up. Koenig suggests adding fruit, for instance, and some of her favorites include dried cranberries and Granny Smith apples. Almonds and other nuts add another layer of texture and flavor, as do pungent cheeses like goat and Gorgonzola. Use a sweet vinaigrette dressing to tie all the flavors together. "A salad should be a salad of contrasts," Koenig says.

Joe Durando, owner of Possum Hollow Farms in Alachua, agrees that salad eaters are best served by eating better lettuces, like escarole and spinach. "Nutritionally, the bitter greens are the source of the most nutritious veggies," Durando says. "They're incredibly healthy salads."

Okay, so now you're sold on the idea that eating more salad is good for you and can be much more interesting than some pale lettuce and a tomato wedge. But the carnivore in you may be a little worried about feeling less than satisfied, no matter how big the salad bowl.

Fear not, for one of the beauties of salad is its versatility, which means that marinated steak, chicken, seafood, fish and even tofu can be a delicious addition. Durando often adds ham or prosciutto, a thinly sliced and cured Italian ham, to his salads.

Robyn Mole, owner of the Cardamom Pod, a local organic salad dressing and marinade company, offers such tantalizing sauces as Mission fig salad dressing, tamarind barbecue sauce and sour orange sesame ginger marinade. Most of her products, all made with local organic ingredients, can serve as both meat marinades and salad dressings. Mole suggests marinating steak and chicken for up to 24 hours in the refrigerator. Seafood, fish and tofu require much less time, around 30 or 40 minutes.

Some of Mole's favorite salad ingredients include spring greens, toasted walnuts and pecans and fresh pomegranates. She also suggests rinsing all of your ingredients and letting them dry before adding dressing so you don't dilute the flavors.

Koenig cautions that grocery store-bought salad mixes have a limited shelf life and are usually treated with anti-browning agents, so she also advises rinsing all ingredients. "There's something comforting about knowing that yours are the last hands to touch it," she says.

TRI - COLOR CUCUMBER SALAD

4 TABLESPOONS OLIVE OIL

1 LARGE ONION, FINELY CHOPPED

2 STALKS OF CELERY, PEELED AND DICED INTO

-INCH SQARES

2 CARROTS, PEELED AND DICED INTO -INCH

SQUARES

1 CLOVE GARLIC, FINELY CHOPPED

1 BAY LEAF

2 CUPS SPLIT PEAS, WASHED AND SOAKED

12 CUPS CHICKEN STOCK

SALT AND PEPPER TO TASTE

From Rose Koenig, Rosie's Organic Farm

SERVES FOUR

DIRECTIONS

  • Slice cucumbers, peppers and sweet onions and arrange them in a shallow dish.

  • Add the rice wine vinegar, making sure to distribute evenly to all of the vegetables.

  • Sprinkle the top with the chopped dill. Add a pinch of salt and pepper.

  • Marinate vegetables in the wine vinegar for at least 30 minutes

    before serving. Serve either chilled or at room temperature.

    MISSION FIG SALAD AND VINAIGRETTE

    1 POUND SEASONAL LETTUCE MIX

    2 OUNCES GOAT CHEESE (CHEVRE)

    1 CUP WALNUTS, COARSELY CHOPPED

    CUP SUN-DRIED CRANBERRIES

    SEEDS OF 1 POMEGRANATE (OPTIONAL)

    MISSION FIG VINAIGRETTE (RECIPE FOLLOWS)

    From Robyn Mole, The Cardamom Pod

    SERVES TWO TO THREE

    DIRECTIONS

  • Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Lay walnuts out on a baking sheet in a single layer. Roast the nuts and shake once or twice to ensure even toasting for about 10 minutes or until a shade darker. Let cool.

  • Wash and drain lettuce. Place in a large salad bowl and sprinkle with goat cheese crumbles, cranberries and pomegranate seeds. Drizzle with vinaigrette, toss well. Serve immediately.

    VINAIGRETTE

    POUND BLACK MISSION FIGS

    WATER TO COVER

    1 1/3 TEASPOONS EVAPORATED CANE JUICE

    1/3 CUP ORANGE JUICE

    1/8 TEASPOON BLACK PEPPER

    1/8 TEASPOON SEA SALT

    _ CUP EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL

    CUP BALSAMIC VINEGAR

    DIRECTIONS

  • Place figs in a small saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil for one minute, cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes or until figs are re-hydrated. Remove and drain.

  • Pulse figs in the work bowl of a food processor until coarsely chopped. Return to the saucepan and add orange juice and evaporated cane juice. Bring to a simmer for five minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and push through a wire mesh sieve until you have about three-quarters of a cup of fig puree.

  • Drizzle olive oil into puree and whisk until emulsified. Add balsamic vinegar and whisk until incorporated. Salt and pepper to taste.

    CAESAR SALAD WITH RADICCHIO

    INGREDIENTS FOR SALAD:

    ONE FIRM HEAD OF RADICCHIO

    FRESH PARMESAN CHEESE

    CUT-UP HAM OR PROSCUITTO

    INGREDIENTS FOR DRESSING:

    1 TABLESPOON CHAMPAGNE VINEGAR

    2 TABLESPOONS FRESH LEMON JUICE

    ONE AND ONE-HALF TEASPOONS MINCED

    GARLIC

    1 EGG YOLK

    1 TABLESPOON DIJON MUSTARD

    DASH OF WORCESTERSHIRE SAUCE

    6 ANCHOVY FILLETS

    PINCH OF GROUND PEPPER

    1 CUP EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL

    CUP BLUE CHEESE

    2 TABLESPOONS OF FRESH PARMESAN

    From Joe Durando, Possum Hollow Farms

    (adapted from "Fields of Greens"

    by Anne Somerville)

    SERVES TWO TO FOUR

    DIRECTIONS

  • In a food processor, mix dressing ingredient in the order given, adding the olive oil a little at a time.

  • Chop radicchio. Add dressing and meat, if desired, and sprinkle with fresh Parmesan cheese.

    SAUTEED APPLES, FENNEL AND RADICCHIO

    1 CUP APPLE JUICE

    1 LARGE GRANNY APPLE, SLICED INTO SMALL CHUNKS 3 CUPS SLICED BITTER GREENS (RADICCHIO, CHICORY, ESCAROLE OR ENDIVE)

    2 FENNEL BULBS, THINLY SLICED

    2 TABLESPOONS OLIVE OIL

    SALT AND PEPPER TO TASTE

    2 TABLESPOONS OF APPLE-FLAVORED LIQUEUR

    2 TABLESPOONS UNSALTED BUTTER

    From Joe Durando, Possum Hollow Farms

    (adapted from "Fields of Greens"

    by Anne Somerville)

    SERVES TWO TO FOUR

    DIRECTIONS

  • Heat juice until reduced by one-third of a cup. Set aside. Heat olive oil in skillet, add fennel, a little salt and a few pinches of pepper.

    Saute over medium heat for two minutes. Add bitter greens and another pinch of salt and pepper. Cook for one minute until greens are just wilted. Add apple juice, apple, and liqueur. Stir for one minute. Add butter and toss to melt.

    SPICY SHRIMP AND AVOCADO OVER MEXICAN GREEN PAPAYA SLAW

    POUND LARGE SHRIMP, PEELED AND DE-VEINED

    1 CUP FAVORITE MARINADE

    1 TABLESPOON OLIVE OIL

    SMALL HEAD RED CABBAGE, CUT INTO LONG, THIN STRIPS

    1 CUP SHREDDED GREEN PAPAYA

    1 AVOCADO, CUT INTO STRIPS

    CUP ARUGULA, ROUGHLY CHOPPED

    1 MEDIUM TOMATO, DICED

    1 EAR OF CORN, KERNELS REMOVED

    CUP SHARP CHEDDAR CHEESE, CUBED

    JUICE OF 1 LIME

    ONE-AND-A-HALF TEASPOONS HOT SESAME OIL

    1 TEASPOON CUMIN

    1 TEASPOONS APPLE CIDER VINEGAR

    2 TABLESPOONS FRESH CILANTRO, CHOPPED

    2 TEASPOONS FRESH MINT, CHOPPED

    TEASPOON PAPRIKA

    TEASPOON SEA SALT

    From Robyn Mole, The Cardamom Pod

    SERVES TWO TO THREE

    DIRECTIONS

  • In a small bowl combine shrimp and marinade and marinate 20-30 minutes. Meanwhile combine cabbage, green papaya, arugula, tomato and corn in large non-reactive bowl, ceramic or plastic, and toss. In a smaller bowl, combine lime juice, hot sesame oil, cumin, apple cider vinegar, cilantro, mint, paprika and salt, and stir well. Drizzle over cabbage mixture and toss to coat. Set aside.

  • In a medium pan over medium- high heat, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add shrimp and cook until slightly browned on both sides. Do not overcook shrimp.

  • To serve: Place one-and-a-half cups of slaw on plate and top with cheddar cheese cubes. Fan out half of the avocado over each serving of slaw. Top with hot shrimp and serve.

    ROOT LOVER`S MARINADE WITH GREEN SALAD

    1 OR 2 SMALL TO MEDIUM SIZED BEETS

    1 OR 2 SMALL TO MEDIUM SIZED RUTABAGAS

    2 CARROTS

    5 SPRIGS OF PARSLEY

    CUP OF RICE WINE VINEGAR

    SALT AND PEPPER TO TASTE

    GREEN SALAD MIX OF YOUR CHOICE

    From Rose Koenig, Rosie's Organic Farm

    SERVES TWO TO THREE

    DIRECTIONS

  • Using a hand grater or food processor, grate the roots into a medium-sized serving bowl. Mix them together but put aside a small portion of grated rutabagas and carrots to add to the mixture at the end.

  • Add the rice wine vinegar, salt and pepper and mix with the grated roots. Take the small portion of grated rutabagas and carrots that you set aside and sprinkle it on top of the salad mix but do not combine it in with the other roots. This will add color to the dish without turning the rutabagas and carrots pink from the beets.

  • Sprinkle the parsley on top of the dish. Serve either cold or at room temperature, depending on your preference.

    NEW POTATOES , CHERRY TOMATOES, BASIL AND BEANS WITH PROSCUITTO

    2 POUNDS NEW POTATOES

    OLIVE OIL, SALT, PEPPER TO TASTE

    POUND OF FRESH BEANS, ANY KIND

    PINT OF CHERRY TOMATOES

    HANDFUL OF ARUGULA

    NICOISE OLIVES

    DRESSING OF YOUR CHOICE

    From Joe Durando, Possum Hollow Farms

    (adapted from "Fields of Greens" by Anne Somerville)

    SERVES TWO TO FOUR

    DIRECTIONS

  • Heat grill. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

  • In a baking dish toss potatoes with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast in oven until tender, about 30 to 40 minutes. Set aside to cool.

  • Prepare beans by removing stems and ends and cutting in half. Blanch in boiling water for three to four minutes with one-half teaspoon of salt. Rinse under cold water and set aside. Rinse tomatoes and arugula.

  • When potatoes are cool, place on skewers and grill until golden crisp with grill marks.

  • Toss all ingredients together and add your favorite dressing.

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