Vegetables & Sides
The Holidays are nearly upon us and we cooks are all no doubt busy planning parties and finalizing menus for holiday meals for our families and friends.
Every year I host a Christmas dinner for friends here in Chiang Mai, where Christmas is pretty much a non-event other than the usual retail angle. Early on I tried replicating a traditional western Christmas feast, which required a turkey imported from the US and winter root vegetables from Australia and New Zealand. It was complicated and expensive and, to be honest, rather ridiculous when it was all said and done. So from that point onward I have been creating holiday menus from various cuisines from around the world which are so much more interesting and fun for myself as well as for my friends. This year it is going to be a casual Spanish paella supper with various Spanish inspired accompaniments including this beat salad. At first glance this salad may not garner much attention. But that said, the earthiness of the beets combined with a sweet note from currants plumped in a hot Spanish sherry bath and the perfumed accent of toasted anise seeds magically reveals this salad’s hidden deliciousness.
This is an easy and deeply colorful salad that is not only a perfect addition to a holiday menu, but to serve throughout the rest of the year as well.
Roasted Beet Salad with Currants and Anise serves 4-6
- 6 medium size beets, roasted
- ¼ cup dark dried currants
- 3 tablespoon sweet sherry (Madeira, or Marsala)
1 small red onion, peeled, quartered, and thinly sliced
- 2 teaspoons anise seeds, lightly toasted
1 teaspoon flaked sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- radicchio leaves
- flat leaf parsley sprigs
For instructions on roasting beets (click here)
You can also simply boil the beets if you prefer. Place the beets a in large sauce pan and add water to cover. Bring to a boil. Lower heat to a simmer and cook until the beets are tender but not too soft, about 30-40 minutes. Test by slipping a sharp knife into the flesh. Drain off the water and set the beets aside to cool.
In either case, when the beets are cool enough to handle slip off the skin and discard. Cut the beets into thin slices. Stack the slices and cut into batons crosswise and place them in a large bowl.
Place the currants in a small sauce pan and add the sherry. Bring to a simmer and cook until the sherry is absorbed. Add the plumped currants to the bowl with the beets.
Add the sliced onions, 1 ½ teaspoons anise seeds, , sea salt, and pepper. Toss until the ingredients are well combined. Add the vinegar and olive oil and toss until evenly coating the beets. Taste and adjust salt and pepper to your liking.
Cover the beet salad with cling film and refrigerate until well chilled.
Remove the beet salad from the refrigerator 30 minutes before serving. Serving the salad at room temperature allows the flavors of the salad to bloom.
Arrange the radicchio leaves on a serving platter or individual plates. Nestle the beet salad over the radicchio leaves. Sprinkle the remaining anise seeds over the beets and garnish with parsley sprigs.
Delicioso . . . to the very last bite !
As all cooks know, there are those times when you just have to buckle down and get on with making do with what you happen to have on hand. This time of year that means getting creative with the heartier autumn vegetables varieties that are available in your local farmers markets. As it happens I put this salad together on the day of the November full moon so aptly named an Autumn Moon Salad.
Maybe I’m taking some artistic license here, but indulge me. The cool weather and a brilliant full moon shimmering in the crisp autumn sky somehow seemed in sync with the earthy flavors of gold potatoes tossed with deep green Brussels sprouts and kale leaves spiked with chilies and fresh herbs. There are those times in the kitchen when everything seemingly just comes together effortlessly.
Autumn Moon Salad serves 4 to 6
- 4 gold potatoes aka Yukon gold potatoes
- 1 pound young Brussels sprouts
- 2 large bunches kale or collard greens
- 1 large onion, diced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- ¾ cup sliced Spanish pickled red pimientos
- 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano ( marjoram or wild thyme)
- 2 teaspoons pepper corns, lightly toasted and coarsely crushed
- ½ teaspoon pure ground red chile powder
- flaked sea salt
- Greek yogurt
- za’atar (optional) For more information about za’atar and substitutes (click here)
Peel the potatoes and cut into bite size pieces. Place them in a sauce pan and cover with water. Add a pinch of salt, bring to a boil and reduce the heat and simmer. Cook until the potatoes are tender but not too soft. Transfer the potatoes to a colander, drain well, and set aside to cool.
Remove the outer leaves from the Brussels sprouts and discard. Then snap off a few layers of leaves and place them in a steamer basket. Divide the remaining more compact sprout heads into quarters lengthwise and place them on top of the sprout leaves in the steamer.
Cut the kale (or collard) leaves off the stems. Peel and thinly slice the stems and add them to the steamer basket. Using a very sharp knife, remove the central ribs of the leaves and discard. Slice the leaves in half and place them in the steamer basket.
Cover the steamer with the lid and place over medium heat. Once the water is boiling, reduce the heat to low and steam the contents until tender, but not limp. Then remove the steamer basket and set it aside to cool uncovered.
While the vegetables are steaming you can saute the onions and garlic. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil to a saute pan set over medium heat. When the oil is hot add the onions and reduce the heat a little bit. Saute until the onions are softened. Add the garlic and saute another couple of minutes and then set aside to cool.
In a large mixing bowl combine the cooked potatoes, steamed sprouts and kale (or collards) and toss. Add the sauteed onions and garlic and gently toss to evenly coat the potatoes and vegetables with the onions and garlic. Then fold in the pimientos.
Drizzle the vinegar and remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil over all and toss well. Scatter the oregano (marjoram or wild thyme), crushed pepper corns, ground red chile powder, and flaked sea salt over the surface. At this point I like to use my hands to combine the seasonings into the salad for a more even distribution without damaging the potatoes. Taste and add more salt if needed.
The salad is now ready to serve or it can be refrigerated for later use.
This salad is best served at near room temperature.
Place the salad in a shallow serving bowl or platter. Drizzle the surface with room temperature Greek yogurt and a good dusting of za.atar.
Melissa Clarke’s article, An Accidentally Creamier Fluffier Potato Salad in the NY Times last month, as always, captures Melisa’s delightfully playful ways in the kitchen that can turn what might be considered mistakenly over cooked potatoes for a potato salad into a mistake worth repeating. Her purposely soft cooked starchy potatoes folded together with a mildly rich dressing makes the case for a fluffier potato salad that is truly carving worthy.
Keep in mind the secret to success here is to gently simmer your potatoes until they are as soft as they can possibly be without falling apart.
The recipe that follows differs from Melissa’s but uses the same soft cooked potato method. Once the potatoes are drained and cooled for 10 minutes, they can then be gently folded together with sauteed onions, pancetta, garlic, and celery. The salad is then dressed with a subtly rich mayonnaise and Greek yogurt dressing and served while still warm! This has been a steadfast tried and true method I have followed for years and remains my favorite way to make potato salad not matter what ingredients you are using!
A Craving Worthy Soft & Billowy Potato Salad Serves 6
- 2.2 pounds/ 1 kilo gold potatoes, peeled
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 oz /57 grams pancetta, thinly sliced and diced
- ½ cup finely diced onion
- 1 plump garlic clove, peeled and minced
- ½ cup finely diced young celery
- ¾ cup mayonnaise (Hellmann’s)
- 1/3 cup Greek yogurt
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon flaked sea salt + more to taste
- 1/3 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon chipotle chile powder or red chile powder (optional)
- 1/3 cup finely sliced Italian parsley leaves
- assortment of salad leaves and greens
- smoked flaked sea salt (Maldon) for finishing
- fresh parsley leaves for garnish
Peel the potatoes and cut them into ¾ inch cubes. Place in a large sauce pan and cover with water. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Stir in some salt and simmer the potatoes until they are very soft and tender but still just holding their shape. Test by inserting a knife blade into a potato which should slip easily into the flesh. Once perfectly cooked, drain the potatoes in a colander and set aside to cool briefly. Then transfer potatoes to a large bowl and set aside.
While the potatoes are simmering, heat the olive oil in a medium size saute pan set over medium low heat. When hot add the pancetta and gently cook several minutes without browning. Add the onions, season with some sea salt and pepper , and continue sauteing until the onions are soft without browning. Add the garlic and celery and season with chipotle powder or chile powder if using. Saute 1 minute more and remove the pan from the heat.
Using a silicone spoon, distribute the warm pancetta onion mixture over the potatoes and gently fold the mixture into the potatoes. Then scatter the parsley over the top.
In a small bowl combine the mayonnaise, Greek yogurt, and Dijon mustard and stir until well combined and smooth. Then spoon the dressing over the potatoes and fold in until evenly distributed. Taste and season with more salt if needed. You will notice the dressing will cling nicely to the soft starchy potatoes which gives this potato salad its soft billowy texture so do not be tempted to over mix.
Arrange a bed of assorted salad leaves and greens on each individual serving plate and place the potato salad centered into the leaves. Garnish with parsley leaves and scatter some smoked flaked sea salt over the potatoes and serve.
Making a case for slow cooking vegetables in the age of the de rigueur blanched and cooled crisp vegetables is not going to be an easy sell. That said, some of you may recall a quick and easy “modern” mid last century canned green bean mushroom casserole that home cooks whipped up in America using canned mushroom soup and topped with fried onion rings. Those beans were cooked to death but everyone, including kids, really loved those green beans.
O course, slow cooking fibrous vegetables in Italy has been practiced for centuries and is my favorite method for turning tough fennel bulbs into tender flavorsome silky morsels of unctuousness.
I recently read an article in the New York Times entitled When to Cook your Vegetables Long Past “Done” by Samin Norsrat (click here) which really peaked my interest. Needless to say, slow cooking a whole Dutch oven full of fibrous vegetables together is a perfect way to transform late summer’s produce into a main attraction for a meal with very little fuss. Doused with some olive oil, flavored with a few garlic cloves, and generously seasoned with sea salt transforms these vegetables as they slowly cook over a very low flame for several hours with little attention required. Contrary to what you may think the deeply flavored results will be a revelation…I promise!
The recipe that follows is meant to be a basic slow cooking guide that will work with almost any fibrous vegetables you choose to use, be it two varieties or a whole selection. When using fennel, which infuses the vegetables with a lovely scent and flavor, no other seasoning is required, but feel free to include herbs to compliment the vegetables you choose to cook with.
Slow Cooked Vegetables (Basics) serves 6
- ½ cup olive oil plus more as needed
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
- ¼ cup minced shallots
- flaked sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 4 young fennel bulbs
- 5 leeks
- 1 pond green beans
- 1 head broccoli
- 1 head green cabbage
- 2 heads radicchio
- 1 pound collard greens (or kale), leaves only
Equipment: a large Dutch oven or roasting pan with tight fitting lid
Prepare and portion all the vegetables as described.
Trim the fennel leaving several inches of stems in tact. Trim the root and peel away the tough outer layer of the bulb. Quarter each bulb lengthwise.
Remove the tough strings and snap off the stems from the green beans.
Separate the broccoli head into florets. Peel the main stem and slice.
Remove the outer leaves of the cabbage. Quarter the head and cut out the core.
Remove any wilted outer leaves of the radicchio if necessary and quarter the heads lengthwise.
Remove the stems from the collard greens and discard unless the collards are young and tender.
Place the Dutch oven over a very low flame on the stove top. Add the olive oil and garlic cloves and stir until the oil is hot. Add the shallots and stir for several minutes. Then add the fennel, leeks, and green beans. Season generously with salt and toss until the vegetables are well coated with olive oil.
Add the broccoli, cabbage, radicchio, and collard greens, nestling them into the other ingredients. Again season generously with salt and add freshly ground pepper to your liking. Using a large spoon or tongs turn all the ingredients until bathed in olive oil and are snugly fitting into the Dutch oven. Cover with the lid and reduce the flame as low as possible and cook for 1 hour undisturbed. Don’t worry about burning as the vegetables will release liquid as the cook.
After an hour, remove the lid and gently turn the ingredients over and add a little more olive oil to evenly coat the vegetables. Taste and season with salt as needed. Return the lid to the pan and continue to cook for another hour undisturbed over very low flame.
After 2 hours of cooking the vegetables should be transformed. The fennel should be very tender. If not cook another 15 minutes or so.
Serve promptly with pan juices spooned over the vegetables. The only additional seasoning I might suggest would be a splash of best quality balsamic vinegar if served along with red meats.