Soups & Salads

Summer Baby Beet and Orange Salad with Romesco Dressing

Summer Baby Beet and Orange Salad with Romesco Dressing

 

Summer’s baby beets are an ideal starting point for conjuring up some inventive salad bowl mash ups that are sure to brighten up your summer table.

Garden to table without to much fuss is what summer eating is all about. With that in mind I put together this salad with what I found on a recent trip to my local organic farmers market and produce shop. Here in the tropics there is an abundance of vegetables, beautiful salad greens, and fruits to choose from year round. Oranges happen to be in season here at the moment and ideal for this salad, but apples, pears, or even melon would be a tantalizing choice. The romesco dressing is my own adaptation of the classic Catalonian romesco sauce that nicely ties all the salad ingredients together with a burst of nutty spiciness. For further reading on Romesco (click here)

 

Summer Baby Beet and Orange Salad with Romesco  Dressing     serves 4

Roasting mature beets in the fall does make perfect sense and delivers a deep beetroot flavor. However my preferred cooking method for these delicately flavored summer baby beets is a gentle boil with the added perk of not overheating your kitchen in the process.

Prepare the romesco dressing while the beets are cooking and refrigerate it so it is will be nicely chilled for dressing the salad later.

Baby Beets

Baby Beets

For the Salad

  • 8 baby beets
  • 1 small red onion or large red shallot
  • 1 or 2 oranges
  • 4 bunches romaine lettuce
  • 1 large bunch of arugula (rocket)
  • 1 small head crisp iceberg
  • freshly ground pepper
  • orange zest

Wash the beets and place in a sauce pan on the stove top. Bring to a boil, add salt, and reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Cook the beets until tender, about 30 to 40 minutes. Test by easily inserting a toothpick into the center of the beet. Remove the beets and set aside to cool. Reserve the cooking water to use later.

When the beets are cool enough to handle slip off the skins and trim off the root ends. Thinly slice the beets crosswise and place in a bowl. Drizzle with a little olive oil and set aside.

Remove the skin from the onion (or shallot) and thinly slice crosswise and separate into rings. Place in a bowl, cover with cold water, and refrigerate.

Zest the orange with a vegetable peeler. Very thinly slice the zest lengthwise and then slice very finely crosswise and set aside to use later for the dressing.

Peel the oranges, removing any pith, and slice crosswise into thin rounds. Halve the rounds, removing any seeds and place on a plate, cover, and refrigerate.

Wash all of the salad greens in salted ice water and spin dry. Cut the romaine leaves into bite size pieces and place in the salad bowl. Tear the iceberg and add to the bowl. Snap off any tough arugula stems and discard. Add the whole arugula leaves to the salad bowl unless they are very large, in which case tear them in half. Cover and refrigerate the salad greens until just before you are ready to serve.

Assembling the salad

Remove the bowl of salad greens from the refrigerator. Drain the onions and add to the chilled salad greens. Add the sliced beets and toss using your hands. Add some dressing and toss, adding more dressing as needed with out overdressing. Transfer the tossed salad to a large deep serving platter or individual serving plates. Tuck the sliced oranges into the salad and drizzle a little more dressing over the oranges. Lightly pepper the salad and scatter orange zest over all and serve.

 

Romesco Dressing

Romesco Dressing

Romesco Dressing

  • 8 partially sun dried tomatoes in olive oil (or reconstituted sun dried tomatoes
  • 6 plump cloves garlic, skin on
  • 1 dried red chile (New Mexico or 2 Thai)
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds, lightly toasted
  • 1/2 teaspoon anise seeds, lightly toasted
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Jerez sherry vinegar
  • sea salt, about 3/4 teaspoon or to taste
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon honey
  • beet cooking water (for thinning)
  • 1 tablespoon orange zest

Roast the garlic in a dry pan until lightly colored on all sides. Remove from the pan and set aside to cool. Then peel off and discard the skin.

Using the same dry pan toast the chile on both sides, pressing the chile against the bottom of the pan. Remove promptly, cool slightly, and then slice open lengthwise and remove all the seeds and discard them. Crumble the chile and set aside.

Using the same pan briefly toast the anise seeds until aromatic. Set aside to cool.

And finally, using the same pan, lightly toast the slivered almonds, tossing them continuously, until lightly colored and aromatic. Set aside to cool.

Using a food processor (or blender) combine the sun-dried tomatoes, roasted garlic, crumbled dried chile, toasted almonds, and anise seeds and pulse until broken down and well combined. Add the wine and sherry vinegar and salt and pulse until incorporated.

Then with the motor running add the olive oil in a slow steady stream. The mixture will thicken into a stiff paste like inconstancy. Scrape down the sides of the processor and add the honey and a tablespoon of the beet cooking water. Pulse until combined. Then add another tablespoon beet cooking water and pulse. Continue adding the cooking water a tablespoon at a time until the dressing has the consistency of cream. You want the dressing to coat rather than clump to the salad ingredients.

Once the consistency is to your liking, taste and add more salt if needed. Then transfer the dressing to a non-reactive bowl and stir in the reserved orange zest. Cover and refrigerate until just before serving.

Chilled Lemony White Bean Soup

Chilled Lemony White Bean Soup

 

Once again summer has officially arrived and what always comes to mind this time of year are lemons for recipe after recipe after recipe. Be it for chicken, seafood, salads or soups, it is lemons and their juice that really bring so many dishes to life in the summertime.

This is my third recipe for a lemon soup, all inspired by Greece’s Avgolemono in one way or another.
For Greek Lemon Soup with Minted Lamb Keftedes (click here) and Lemon Soup with White Beans and Celeric (click here)

The recipe that follows is for a very simple and quick chilled lemon white bean soup that is perfect as an opener for summer meals. To save time I’ve used canned white beans and eliminated the somewhat tricky Greek custom of whisking eggs into the soup to thicken it which can be a little challenging. This soup can be pulled together with very little fuss in about 30 minutes.

Choose your lemon carefully. A thin skinned unwaxed organic lemon, such as Meyer, is ideal if available. I have used a local Chiangdao lemon here in Chiang Mai.

 

Chilled Lemony White Bean Soup

Chilled Lemony White Bean Soup

 

Chilled Lemony White Bean Soup    makes 2 quarts

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, peeled and diced (about 1 cup)
  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 5 cups chicken or fish stock
  • 2 cans (400g each) white beans
  • ½ teaspoon dried marjoram or lemon thyme
  • sea salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon

For garnish

  • sliced ciabatta or focaccio
  • feta cheese (goat feta if available)
  • lemon zest

Before you begin cooking zest your lemon into long strips using a vegetable peeler. Slice the zest strips very thinly lengthwise. Set aside about a quarter of the thin strips to use as garnish later. Slice the remaining strips into half inch batons and set aside. Then squeeze the lemon and set the juice aside.

Select a heavy bottomed soup pot and place it over medium heat on the stove top. Add the olive oil and when hot add the onions and saute for a minute. Reduce the heat to medium low and continue to cook the onions for about 8 minutes or until soft, stirring from time to time. Then add the garlic and cook another 2 minutes. Add the stock, the beans including their brine, and the marjoram or lemon thyme. Add a little salt and pepper and cook at a simmer for 25 minutes, stirring from time to time.

Remove the pan from the heat and puree the contents in the pot with a hand held immersion blender  ( or transfer to a blender) and blend until smooth.

Return the pot to the heat and add the lemon zest batons and bring to a simmer. Adjust seasonings adding salt and pepper as needed. Then turn off the heat. Let sit for 10 minutes and then stir in lemon juice to suit your taste; about 6 to 8 tablespoons.

Transfer the soup to containers and cool to room temperature. Then cover and refrigerate.

Preheat the broiler

Before serving, Lightly toast the bread slices and top with thin slices of feta. Place under the broiler until the feta has melted a bit and lightly browned in spots. Remove from the oven and cut bread into bite size cubes.

Serving

Give the chilled soup a good stir and ladle into individual soup plates. Place 3 or 4 bread squares
in the center of the soup and garnish with lemon zest strips.

Braised Zucchini with Pasta

Braised Zucchini with Pasta

 

There are many ways to cook zucchini, but for me simply braising is by far the best way to bring zucchini’s delicate flavor to full bloom. Once braised there are so many quick and easy applications awaiting.

Zucchini, in the squash family, is native to the Americas. However the zucchini we are now familiar with is a hybrid that was developed in Italy in the 19th century and named zucchini, the diminutive of zucca. Colors range from pale to deep green as well as light yellow to a deep orange. Zucchini is usually harvested while still young, about 6 to eight inches in length, with seeds that are still soft and tender. Left to grow zucchini can reach up to a meter in length.

Anyone who has grown zucchini knows full well it is the garden’s star over achiever. The harvest can be continuous and down right overwhelming, as are the challenges for the cook who is faced with “oh no, not zucchini again.”

More often than not zucchini is cooked into other dishes like a Provencal ratatouille which is splendid, but the zucchini’s real personality is somewhat lost in translation. Be that as it may, zucchini can really shine on its very own if cooked properly.

Using this simple braising method requires only a few ingredients and a well tended low heat braising on the stove top that slowly coaxes out a nuanced flavor of summer that could only come from zucchini.

Ounce braised the zucchini can then be used as a side dish, pureed for a soup that can be served chilled in the summer or warm as fall approaches, or as a sauce for pasta along with braised zucchini and poached chicken. This is a pasta sauce that has become one of my very favorites when cooking up a summery meal .

 

Braised Zucchini

  • 2 ½ pounds 6 to 8 inch zucchini, trimmed
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 ½ cups finely diced onions
  • 3 plump garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • ½ teaspoon dried marjoram
  • 4 ½ cups chicken stock (or water), hot
  • ½ cup cream
  • 1 cup grated Parmigiano
  • flaked sea salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste

Cut the trimmed zucchini into quarters lengthwise. Slice the quarters into ½ inch slices. Place in a bowl and set aside.

Place a wide heavy bottomed pan on the stove over medium low heat. Add the olive oil and when the oil slides easily in the pan add the onions and saute for 5 minutes, stirring from time to time.

Add the garlic and cook another 2 minutes while stirring.

Then add the sliced zucchini and fold them into the onion mixture. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 25 to 30 minutes. Stir frequently and be sure to lift the onions off the bottom of the pan so they do not burn.

Stir in the marjoram after about 15 minutes of cooking time and season sparingly with salt and pepper.

Braised Zucchini

Braised Zucchini

After about 20 minutes you will have to stir more frequently, being sure to continuously lift the onions off the bottom of the pan. Once the zucchini is very soft, just barely colored, and looking slightly glazed remove the pan from the heat.

At this point, if you are intending to use the braised zucchini for a pasta remove about ¼ of the braised zucchini and set aside to use for the pasta later.

If you are intending to serve the braised zucchini as a side dish, add a little cream and a little hot stock and to the pan and stir to combine. Then add some grated Parmigiano, season with salt and pepper, and serve.

Braised Zucchini as a side dish.

Braised Zucchini as a side dish.

Otherwise set the pan with the braised zucchini back onto the stove over medium heat. Add about two thirds of the hot stock (or water) and bring to a boil. Then lower the heat to a simmer and cook for about 20 to 30 minutes or until the liquid is reduced by half and the zucchini is very soft.

Remove from the heat, cool a few minutes. Then blend with an immersion blender (or transfer to a blender) and blend until smooth. If the puree seems very thick add a little more hot stock and blend.

Return the mixture to the heat and bring back up to a low simmer. Slowly stir in the cream until incorporated and then stir in the Parmigiano. Continue to stir 1 minute and then taste. Add additional salt and pepper if needed. Stir well and set aside.

Braised Zucchini Soup or Pasta Sauce

Braised Zucchini Soup or Pasta Sauce

Cool the puree to room temperature if you are intending to use as a soup. Then cover and refrigerate. Serve chilled or warmed slightly.

If you are intending to use the puree as a pasta sauce you may want to reduce the sauce a little bit more.

Meanwhile divide the poached chicken into bite size strips and reheat with a little chicken stock or water.

Boil your pasta until cooked al dente and drain.

Add the reserved braised zucchini and the warmed chicken to the hot reduced sauce and stir. Then fold in the cooked pasta.

Transfer the pasta  to individual pasta bowls, spooning any remaining sauce over the pasta. Grate Parmigiano over the pasta and serve.

Baked Potato Salad

Baked Potato Salad

 

Turning left over baked potatoes into a potato salad is one thing, but I have Nigella Lawson to thank for her unfettered intuitiveness in including a recipe for purpose baked potato salad that was published in her Forever Summer cookbook years ago. I’ve been making variations of baked potato salads ever since!

Why use baked rather than the standard practice of boiled potatoes for potato salad? Well, I am not a bonafide food sleuth, but logic would have it that baking potatoes modifies the starch content of the potatoes as water is absorbed into the flesh during the baking process. The results are a fluffier, sweeter, and more flavorsome flesh.

Another tip for intensifying baked potato’s flavor, which I gleaned from my father in law long before I ever took cooking seriously, is to beard (salt) the  potatoes before baking. The salt draws out additional moisture during baking, crisps the skin, and further sweetens the flesh.

Baking potatoes in the oven is the preferred method for maximum flavor, but if you are concerned about your carbon footprint or you’re just in a hurry, using the microwave is not a sin! The results are nearly indiscernible in the finished salad.

In the recipe that follows I have used Yukon gold potatoes, but by all means use your baking potato of choice. This is a potato salad I like to pair with seafood. It is decidedly lighter with a crisp flavor spike that mirrors a tarter sauce, if you will, but without being clawing and overly rich, and compliments seafood beautifully.

Ideally make this salad a day in advance. Doing so allows an exchange of flavors that are absorbed into the potatoes.

 

Baked Potato Salad     makes 4 servings

  • 4 large baking potatoes
  • flaked sea salt for dredging
  • 1 onion, peeled and diced, about 1 cup
  • 1 cup finely diced young celery
  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons prepared horseradish (or more to taste), or wasabi to taste if you are feeling adventurous
  • 2 teaspoons cider vinegar
  • 1/3 cup Greek yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons fresh minced dill leaves or minced broad leaf parsley leaves
  • flaked sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Baking the potatoes:

Preheat the oven to 350f/180c

Spread a good amount of flaked sea salt on a plate or in a shallow bowl.

Rinse the potatoes under cold running water. Using a skewer, poke holes in the potatoes to allow steam to escape during baking. Re moisten the potatoes,  shake off excess water and promptly roll the potatoes in the salt to coat evenly. Place the salted potatoes on a baking tray.

Transfer the tray of “bearded” potatoes to the preheated oven and bake for between 1 and 1 ½ hours. The finished potatoes should be a little firmer than a baked potatoes you would intend to serve from oven to table.

For microwave baking, microwave the potatoes for about 8 to 10 minutes. Again the potatoes should be a little firmer than potatoes you intend to serve from microwave to table.

When the potatoes are baked set them aside to cool. When cool enough to handle peel off the skin by hand. No need to be too meticulous as a little skin left intact will add some flavor to the salad.

Transfer the peeled potatoes to a bowl and refrigerate until well chilled.

While the potatoes are chilling you can go ahead and make the dressing.

For the dressing:

In a small bowl combine the mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, horseradish (or wasabi), and the vinegar and mix together. Then stir in the yogurt and mix vigorously until well incorporated. Stir in salt, pepper and taste, making adjustments as needed. Chill the dressing until you are ready to finish the salad.

Once the potatoes are chilled remove from the refrigerator and cut the potatoes into bite size cubes and return them to the bowl. Add the onions, celery, and minced dill or parsley and toss until well combined.

Spoon the dressing over the tossed ingredients and fold the salad together being sure the potatoes are evenly coated. Taste the salad and adjust seasonings if needed.

Cover and Refrigerate the salad until you are ready to serve.

Serving:

Remove the potato salad from the fridge and give it a good stir. Transfer the salad to a serving platter or individual plates and garnish with minced dill or broad leafy parsley and serve.

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