Food & Drink | July 2017

By Abby & Kevin Tankersley

Centerpiece Salads

Much like Rodney Dangerfield, salads get no respect. The next time you go to lunch with a bunch of co-workers, just listen to how they order:

“I’m only going to have a salad.”

“I’ll just get the salad.”

Only. Just. See? The salad is treated as something other than a meal in itself. It’s as if we’re settling for something less-than-best when we order a salad.

And the salad is not very well represented in pop culture, either. On the popular NBC show “Parks and Recreation,” steak-loving everyman Ron Swanson definitely had a thing against salads. At one fancy dinner, after one was placed in front of him, he said, “There’s been a mistake. You’ve accidentally given me the food that my food eats.”

On another occasion, when asked if he wanted a salad with his meal, Swanson politely declined: “Since I am not a rabbit, no, I do not.”

And when Springfield’s own Homer Simpson plans a backyard barbecue — complete with suckling pig on a spit — in order to make some new friends, his vegetarian daughter Lisa complains about the menu.

“I’m trying to impress people here, Lisa,” Homer says in defense. “You don’t win friends with salad.”

No respect, I’m tellin’ ya.

However, that seems to be changing. According to several best-of lists, some of the year’s best new cookbooks are all about the salad. TastingTable.com lists “Food52 Mighty Salads” and “Salad for President” as two of its favorite cookbooks of the spring. The wonderful food blog at EatYourBooks.com/blog recommends “Salad Days,” “Eat More Greens,” “Savage Salads” and several others.

So what’s in those salads we’re eating? According to MarketWatch.com, iceberg lettuce is still the king of the salad bowl. I can’t remember the last time we bought iceberg. We tend to eat red and green leaf lettuce, and we buy kale occasionally, but it’s usually consumed in smoothies. It’s the red and green leaf that form the basis of most of our salads, and we’ve come to appreciate having a salad as the centerpiece of a meal.

Just because we’re having salad doesn’t mean we skip the meat. The Beef Salad below features strips of grilled steak, while the Antipasto Salad calls for a couple of varieties of meat.

And one of our favorite — and easiest — recipes is homemade croutons. They’re embarrassingly easy, in fact, but it’s a good way to use up any bread that might be nearing the end of its life. Stale bread actually works better in the recipe than fresh.

The Parmesan crisps make a crunchy, salty addition to any salad. But be warned that they cook really quickly. Don’t walk away from the oven once you put the pan under the broiler. They’ll be done in just a couple of minutes or so.

The paper bag-roasted chicken was inspired by the book “Dinner with Edward,” by Isabel Vincent. The author and an older gentleman strike up a lovely friendship, and the book is dominated by talk of the dinners that he prepares for her, one of which is bag-roasted chicken.

The idea of roasting chicken in a paper bag was foreign to us, as we assumed a paper bag in a hot oven would go up in flames. But we tried it one evening, and it made for a fine roasted chicken. There wasn’t much difference between it and one roasted in a more traditional manner, however, but the novelty made it fun.­­

The Recipes

Beef Salad

For the steak:

  • 1 pound top round steak or flank steak
  • 1 lime, juice and zest
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 small onion
  • Crushed red pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

For the salad:

  • 1 head red or green leaf lettuce
  • 1 orange or red bell pepper
  • 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cucumber, thinly sliced
  • Cherry or grape tomatoes
  • 1 ear corn, grilled or steamed (or cooked however you like), and removed from the cob
  • 1/4 cup roasted and salted pumpkin seeds
  • 1/4 cup sesame sticks
  • Balsamic vinaigrette

Place the steak in a glass dish or plastic bag. In a small bowl, whisk together the lime zest and juice, garlic, onion and red pepper. Slowly whisk in the olive oil until combined. Pour over the steak and refrigerate for 30 minutes or up to 2 hours. Salt and pepper the steak right before grilling. Grill for 3-4 minutes per side, then let it rest at least 10 minutes before slicing.

Place the lettuce leaves on a plate or large platter. Top with the bell pepper, onion, cucumber, tomatoes, corn, pumpkin seeds and sesame sticks. Place the sliced steak on top and then drizzle with vinaigrette. Serve immediately. Makes about 4 servings.
­­

­

Greek Salad with Paper Bag-Roasted Chicken

For the chicken:

  • 1 whole chicken, 3-4 pounds
  • 6-8 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 lemon, cut into quarters
  • 1 small onion, cut into quarters
  • 1 or 2 stalks rosemary
  • Salt and pepper

For the dressing:

  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano

For the salad:

  • 1 head lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces
  • 3 large plum tomatoes, seeded and coarsely chopped
  • 1 English cucumber, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 1 medium red onion, cut into thin rings and soaked for 10 minutes in a small bowl of ice water to make it less sharp
  • 1 small green pepper, cut into thin rings
  • 3/4 cup Kalamata olives
  • 3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

Preheat the oven to 450 F. Remove any innards from the cavity of the chicken and save to make stock later (or discard if you wish). Rinse the chicken well under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels. Rub the chicken all over with the softened butter, then rub the interior of a brown paper shopping bag with the butter as well.

Place the lemon, onion and rosemary in the cavity of the chicken and generously season the chicken, inside and out, with salt and pepper. Place the chicken in the brown paper shopping bag, with the seam of the bag facing down and fold the bag closed. Place the bag on a sheet pan and place in the lower third of the oven, making sure the bag doesn’t touch any of the heating elements.

Cook for about 1 hour, then remove the pan from the oven. Carefully open the bag and check for doneness. The thickest part of the thigh should be 165 F, and juices should run clear. Let the chicken rest for about 10 minutes before slicing.

Whisk dressing ingredients together until blended. Season to taste.

Drain onion from ice water and pat dry with paper towels.

In a large bowl, combine lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, onion, green pepper and olives. Toss with dressing, then add a couple of pieces of sliced chicken. Sprinkle the cheese on top and serve. Makes about 6 servings.

*Editor’s note: As an alternative to paper-bag roasted chicken, you can roast a chicken in the traditional manner, use a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store or use the following recipe to marinate boneless skinless chicken breasts that you then grill.
­­

­

Lemon-Garlic Marinade

  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 strips lemon zest
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed or minced
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil, cilantro, dill or oregano (or a mixture of some or all)
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

In a glass dish, combine the lemon juice, pepper flakes, pepper and salt. Whisk until the salt is dissolved. Add the lemon zest, garlic and herbs. Whisk in the olive oil. Use within 1-2 hours and stir again just before using.
­­­­

­

Antipasto Salad

For the vinaigrette:

  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 small garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil

For the salad:

  • 2 cups water
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 medium red onion, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
  • 2 hearts romaine, washed and torn into bite-size pieces
  • 1 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, lightly packed
  • 1 jar (8 ounces) roasted red peppers, rinsed, drained and cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch thick strips
  • 1 jar (6 ounces) marinated artichoke hearts, drained
  • 1 cup assorted brine-cured olives
  • 1/2 pound cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/4 pound pepperoni, thinly sliced and cut into strips
  • 1/4 pound salami, thinly sliced and cut into strips
  • 1/4 pound provolone, thinly sliced and cut into strips

Place the vinegar, garlic, sugar, salt and pepper in a mixing bowl and whisk together. Then slowly drizzle in the olive oil while continuously whisking. Whisk until all the ingredients are combined and set aside.

In a small saucepan, bring the water, vinegar, sugar and salt to a boil. Add the onion and simmer until it’s crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool.

Spread the romaine on a large platter or rimmed sheet pan and scatter with parsley, peppers, artichokes, olives, tomatoes, onion, pepperoni, salami and provolone.

Whisk the vinaigrette again and drizzle over salad. Sprinkle with Parmesan and serve immediately. Makes about 8 servings.
­­

­

Croutons

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cups dried bread cubes
  • Garlic salt, dried dill and/or other herbs, to taste

In a microwave, melt the butter in a glass dish. Add the bread cubes and mix to coat with the melted butter. Sprinkle with garlic or other herbs or spices. Place the dish back in the microwave and cook for 30 seconds. Stir the bread cubes, then continue cooking in 30-second cycles until the bread is totally dried out and crispy. Makes about 2 cups of croutons.
­­

­

Parmesan Crisps

  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Turn on the oven broiler. Place about 1 tablespoon of cheese in a small mound on a sheet pan that has been lined with parchment or silpat. Repeat with all the cheese, placing the mounds a couple of inches apart. Place under the broiler until the edges are golden and crisp, 2-5 minutes. (These can easily burn, so keep a close watch on them.) Allow to cool on the sheet pan for a minute, then remove with a spatula. Serve while warm or allow to cool to room temperature. Makes about 4-6 crisps.
­­

­

Join the Conversation