21 April 2008

My Big Salad

I love peppery arugula in great olive oil and sea salt. Warm spinach and a balsamic vinaigrette also ranks high on my list. Even the bag of mixed greens pairs nicely with some apple, cheese and walnuts.

All of these are respectable salads. They're the popular ones you'll spot on menus at restaurants across the country, and, if the bagged mixes sold in grocery stores are any indication, they're served in lots of our homes as well.

Sometimes, however, we miss something in a salad green. We get tired of pushing dark, dainty greens across the plate. We want crunch. We want to stab something with a fork. We want a Big Salad.

Elaine from Seinfeld was to The Big Salad as George was to the double dip.

Yesterday I was craving a big salad. Chunky, barely green, iceberg lettuce tossed with tomatoes, carrots, radishes and cucumber. Big, chunky, crunchy bites of salad drizzled with a creamy dressing.

It was fabulous. And despite whatever lame, low-brow, buffet-diving association you give to the least-noble of lettuce, it's refreshing. And it might just remind you of the salad your mom made. It may be different for my kids, but my mom never put mache or microgreens on our dinner plates.

My Big Salad

1 Head iceberg lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces
4 Carrots, peeled and shredded
6 Radishes, rinsed and thinly sliced
1 Small cucumber, peeled, seeded and sliced on a bias
2 Medium tomatoes, sliced into eighths or several cherry tomatoes

3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon dried dill
Salt and pepper to taste

Whisk together dressing ingredients, cover and let sit in the refrigerator for a couple of hours for flavors to mingle. Toss salad ingredients and either cover with dressing and toss or serve portions and leave dressing on the side.

01 April 2008

Pantry Soup

On Sunday night I hosted book club, and I got several questions from friends about one meal on my nightly menu for the week posted on the fridge -- Pumpkin and Black Bean Soup. They wanted to know what the recipe was like.

I had no recipe, I replied. Before my Saturday trek to the grocery store, I plucked through the pantry to see what I had on hand. Staring back at me were a fleet of cans of pumpkin puree. Months ago I'd stopped feeling guilt when I looked at them, thinking of the loaves of my mom's pumpkin bread not made for friends during the holidays.

I told them just that, I had the canned pumpkin and needed to find a way to get it on the table. I hadn't actually thought much about how I'd prepare it.

I came home tired from work today and just wanted something good, fast. I look at the piece of paper on the fridge that had attracted attention days before. It was Tuesday, and according to the menu, tonight was Pumpkin and Black Bean Soup night.

I have to say that although I was not excited at the thought of a soup night, the results were good. I'd even call them great if you factor in that it's inexpensive and took about 20 minutes to cook (take that Rachel Ray).

Here's a guide to how I made the soup. It had a Southwest take on it, making it seem a bit less fall-like.

1 15 oz can pure pumpkin (not seasoned pie filling)
1 32 oz box of chicken stock
1 15 oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 small onion, diced
1 carrot, peeled, quartered and sliced
1 1/2 tsp ground corriander
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
Dash ground red pepper
Black pepper
Olive oil
Sour cream for garnish
Grated cheddar for garnish

In a stock pot, sweat onion and carrot in olive oil until soft. Add spices and stir, continuing to cook for a couple of minutes. Add the stock and stir, releasing any bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Add pumpkin and stir to combine. Add black beans. Season with salt and pepper to taste. The amount of salt needed will vary based on the brand of stock used, so be sure to keep tasting while seasoning.