Meat Free Mondays – Compound Salads

When I was attending culinary school full-time, I also worked full-time in a restaurant kitchen. Although it was stressful, it also was a great experience because I learned a thousand times more on the job than I did in the classroom or the school’s kitchen.

Compound SaladsOne of the most important lessons I learned was how to deal with different kinds of people. For example, the first chef I worked for was a guy named Chef Mark. To say he had a temper is like saying Donald Trump is a little immodest sometimes. Working for Chef Mark was like going to work inside an active volcano each day: You never knew when it was going to blow up. (He eventually got fired for throwing a back waiter into the salad station during a particularly hectic dinner service.)

Still, I learned a lot from Chef Mark, not just how to deal with somebody who could occasionally switch into Mr. Hyde, but also about cooking. Despite his flaws, Chef Mark knew a lot about food and how to transform it into something extraordinary.

“I’m not going to teach you how to cook according to a recipe,” he told me one day. “I’m going to teach you how to cook, period. You can throw away your recipe book.”

From Chef Mark, I learned how to balance and counteract flavors against each other for heightened effect: Sweet, sour, salty, bitter, unami, etc. Textures, colors and plating also could be assembled in different combinations to create something unique.

Most importantly, I learned how to take any ingredient and build a dish around it, complementing it with both the expected and unexpected in order to surprise and delight the diner.

Take compound salads, for example. A compound salad is any type of salad that is based on some sort of central ingredient, such as a particular vegetable (such as green beans, grilled vegetables, asparagus), a grain or legume (rice, lentils or any kind of beans), fruit or even a protein (tuna, chicken, eggs).

Broccoli salad, for instance, is centered on the crisp, crunchy and relatively neutral flavor of fresh broccoli. You can complement it with a dressing that has a tangy flavor and creamy texture, as well as garnish that builds on or contrasts its primary flavor, such as the smoky flavor of bacon, the sweetness of raisins, the sting of onions.

Or consider tuna salad. The dry, slightly fishy flavor of the tuna is given a bit of crunch with celery, sweetness and a little bite with onion, and it’s all balanced with the lemony, tart flavor of mayonnaise, then underscored with just the right amount of salt.

Once you start thinking about flavor profiles, you can create a compound salad out of practically anything. Just apply the four elements of any compound salad:

1. The main ingredient

2. The dressing

3. The garnish (whatever you add to the salad to complement the primary flavor)

4. The seasoning (salt, pepper, cayenne, Adobo, Tony Chachere’s, etc.)

When the weather gets warm, I often build cool, refreshing compound salads out of anything I find lying around. Compound salads are handy to have in your refrigerator because they make a great snack, are perfect for a quick lunch, and can even round out a dinner as an appetizer or side dish.

In this instance, I just happened to have some quinoa left over from something else, so I combined it with some black beans, added a garnish of red onions, carrot, celery, red bell pepper and scallion, dressed it with an nice little Greek Oregano Vinaigrette, add a touch of sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper, and I had wonderful compound salad that we enjoyed for a several days.

I’m not going to post a recipe because, really, there is no recipe. Plus, I want you to try it yourself. Find some ingredient you already have lying around, think about its flavor profile, then just build something new around it. You may surprise yourself with what you come up with.

While my time with Chef Mark may have been stormy, I came away from it a much better cook and a more versatile person.

Advertisements

Meat Free Monday – Edamame and Orzo Salad

 

Recently, I’ve become a vegetarian. The last actual meat I ate was a little more than five weeks ago when I had a turkey burger when my mother-in-law came over for our weekly Sunday dinner.

Vegetarian Salad with Edamame and OrzoSince then, I have been meat-free and mostly dairy free as well, although I am unable to resist mozzarella cheese on my homemade vegetarian pizza.

There are lots of reasons for going vegetarian. Mine are for health purposes. I’ve been reading for years now that removing animal products from your diet can not only help prevent illness and give you more energy, but also can actually reverse chronic and potentially fatal diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes and so on.

While I don’t have any life-threatening diseases (that I know of), I can tell you that since eliminating meat from my diet, I definitely have more energy throughout my day, feel healthier overall, and even seem to have a more positive outlook most of the time. While all of these could be psychosomatic, I really don’t think they are. I’m convinced they are related to my diet.

I’ve even started running again. Recent past efforts to return to running have all been cut short by injury or frustration, but now I’m running pain-free, look forward to my runs and am averaging about 15 to 20 miles/week.

I thought I would crave meat — and I probably did the first few days or so — but now the thought of eating meat sort of fills me with dread. Especially after reading about how animals are treated by food production. It’s truly horrible.

Another thing I worried about was that there wouldn’t be enough variety in a vegetarian diet to keep me interested in it. But that certainly hasn’t been the case. My wife and I have been eating a richer mix of foods than ever before. Where in the past we could get stuck in a rut — pasta/Mexican/pizza/grilled chicken/turkey burgers/repeat — in the past five weeks since I’ve started, we haven’t had the same meal twice.

If you would have told me a few years ago that I would be expounding on the benefits of vegetarianism or veganism, I would have called you crazy. In fact, like many people I looked upon vegetariKathy Frestonans with derision and a little suspicion. Yet here we are.

I’m working toward veganism and have cut out 95% of dairy from my diet. Milk and eggs are essentially gone and — other than pizza — cheese is pretty much out of my life as well. read a book by wellness expert Kathy Freston in which she describes herself as a “vegan-ist”, or someone who is leaning towards veganism but hasn’t quite made the leap entirely. I think that pretty well sums up my mindset right now.

Here’s a recipe for Edamame and Orzo Salad that I modified (stole) from veghotpot, one of the vegetarian bloggers I admire the most. Edamame is a type of soybean that is similar to peas. You usually can find it in the frozen food section. If you can’t, frozen peas or even lima beans will work just as well.

Edamame and Orzo Salad

For the dressing:

Juice of 1 Lime

Few drops of Toasted Sesame Oil

1 TBS Bragg’s Liquid Aminos or Reduced Sodium Soy Sauce

1 Seranno Pepper, ribs and seeds removed, small dice

1 inch Ginger, peeled and minced

1 Garlic Clove, crushed

For the Salad

1 cup Edamame Beans

1 large Carrot, small dice

1 Zucchini

1 Yellow Squash

1 head Boston Bibb Lettuce

1/2 cup Orzo pasta, dry

To make the dressing, squeeze the lime juice into a bowl and add the sesame oil and liquid aminos. Add the Seranno pepper, garlic and ginger and add to the liquid in the bowl. Put to one side.

Steam the edamame beans for 3-4 minutes or microwave for a minute or two. Cook the pasta according to the packet instructions then run under cold water and allow to cool down with the beans.

Chop the lettuce into bite-size pieces. Cut the yellow squash and zucchini into thin strips. Toss together with the dressing and serve.

Meat Free Mondays — Summer Quinoa Salad

Here in Chicago, summer seems to be winding down already.

This year, we got all our really hot weather early: There were 44 days of 80F-plus temperatures from in June and July, which caused our garden’s harvest to arrive early. Tomato and pepper plants that usually produce fruit through the end of September are already startng to whither.

Still, it’s been a good harvest this year, with more Roma, Beefsteak and even Heirloom tomatoes than we could possibly use, as well as bushels full of jalapenos, green and red bell peppers. Even our yellow squash did well this year.

So far, I’ve already made garden tomato sauce, Caprese salad, bruschetta and any other tomato-centric recipe I could think of, not to mention desperately giving away surplus produce to anybody who will take it.

Having stumbled across this tri-coloed quinoa at Trader Joe’s (don’t you just love wanding the aisles at TJ’s, looking at all the fun ingredients and dreaming up recipes? I sure do!), I decided to make this summer quinoa salad. While it makes a great appetizer, the addition of some black beans and smoked mozzarella make it protein-rich enough to be served as an entree.

This is an example of a compound salad, which basically means you take a primary ingredient and build a salad around it using other ingredients. Compound salads can be protein-based (chicken or tuna salad), carbohydrate based (potato, rice or quinoia salad), or vegetable based (broccoli, carrot and raisin, coleslaw).

The great thing about compound salads is that they can be made out of just about anything. I’ve been the buffet chef at a lot of different restaurants, and having a large assortment of compound salads is a great way to add value to your salad bar.

When designing a compound salad, there are four elements to consider: Flavor, color, texture and nutritional value.For this particular salad, because quinoa is a nutty-flavored grain (texture), I wanted to add tartness (garden tomatoes), color (asparagus), and complimentary flavor (smokiness of the mozzarella).

Part of the garden, including a jalapeno plant, globe basil, regular basil, Greek oregano and some sort of spring onion plant

A lot of times, the dressing of a compound salad is a balance of sweetness and bitterness, usually accomplished through the use of some sort of vinegar and sugar or honey, such as a coleslaw dressing.

But for this particular salad, I wanted the nuttiness of this fun tri-color quinoa to be the central flavor, with the other ingredients either contrasting it and underscroring it, so I dressed it with plain Extra Virgin Olive Oil to add a lush richness but not to interfere with the other flavors.

Am I overthinking this salad or what?!

Summer Quinoa Salad

1 cup Tri-Color Quinoa (or plain quinoa)

2 cups Water

1/2 lb Fresh Asparagus

1 can Black Beans, drained and rinsed

6 oz. Smoked Mozzarella, cubed

1/2 Red Onion, small dice

2 stalks Celery, small dice

2 Jalapenos, ribs and seeds removed, small dice

3 Tomatoes, ribs and seeds removed, diced

4 TBS EVOO

Sea Salt

Fresh Cracked Black Pepper

Cayenne Pepper

1. Combine quinoa and water in a saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit for about five minutes so all the liquid is absorbed, then fluff with a fork. Allow to cool completely (I was in a hurry, so I transferred it to a sheet pan and spread it out so that it cooled down in about 10 minutes time).

2. Blanch aspagus by steaming it until cooked soft but still bright green, about 4 minutes, then immediately plunging it into ice water to stop the cooking process. Cut into 1/2-inch peices.

3. In a large mixing bowl, combine the quinoa, black beans, asparagus, tomatoes, onion, jalapeno, mozzarella and celery and toss together. Drizzle with EVOO, add  just a dash of cayenne,  and season to taste with salt and pepper.

While you can use cayenne pepper to add heat to a dish, adding just a small amount is a great way to bring out the flavors of other ingredients.

Whether I am serving a compound salad in a bowl on a salad bar or on plate for individual service, I always underline it with a leaf of red or green leaf lettuce. I wanted to add a little height to this salad, which otherwise just slumps on the plate, so I stuck some scallion stalks coming out of it, but in hindsight something bright red, such as thinly sliced red bell pepper rings, might have worked better.

 

Seafood Fridays – Crab Salad

Crab is something I enjoy, but don’t get to have very often.

That’s because I live in Chicago, where we have a lot of Coho salmon, smelt and lake perch, but not a lot of fresh crab.

In the Spring, I look forward to soft shell crabs, which are blue crabs that have shed their outer shell and have not yet formed new hard exterior shells, making them about 95 percent edible and 100 percent delicious. They are only available for a brief period, which makes them even more of a special treat.

At one of the casinos where I worked, we used to get several 1,000 pound pallets of frozen king crab legs for crab leg night each Friday.

And when I’m in Florida, of course I love blue crab and stone crab claws, which are abundant there.

For Chicagoans, however, crab is not something we get very often. So I was surprised when I saw fresh Dungeness crab claw meat at one of the local produce marts. Dungeness crab usually comes from the West Coast. I quickly snatched it up and started planning some special way of preparing it.

Crab cakes would be the obvious route, but I made those not too long ago and wanted to try something different.

That’s when I came across this recipe for Crab, Mango and Avocado Salad. Besides crab, it also features mango, which are in season and super inexpensive right now.

Crab, Mango and Avocado Salad

For the Sauce

1 TBS Extra Virgin Olive OIl

1 ripe Mango, peeled, pitted and diced

1/4 cup Water

1 tsp Fresh Lemon Juice

Sea Salt

Freshly Ground Black Pepper

For the Salad

1 lb Crab Claw meat, picked through to remove small peices of shell or cartilage

Juice of 1 Lime

3 TBS EVOO

1 TBS Fresh Parsley, chopped

2 twp Fresh Mint, chopped

1 TBS Shallot, minced

1 ripe Mango, peeled, pitted and diced

1 ripe Avocado, pitted, peeled and diced

Tabasco Sauce

Sea Salt

Freshly Ground Black Pepper

1 Ruby Red Grapefruit, cut into supremes (for garnish)

1. To make the sauce, put a small saucepan over a medium heat. When hot, add the EVOO. When oil is hot, add the mango and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cook down the mango until it is soft, about 3 minutes. In a measuring cup, combine the water and the lemon jucie, then add the liquid to the pot. Bring to a boil, then turn off. Transfer to blender and puree until smooth. Chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

2. The salad is actually two salads. The first is the crab salad. In a mixing bowl, combine the crab, 2 tsp of the parsley, 1 tsp of the mint, shallot, the juice of 1/2 a lime, 2 TBS of EVOO, and 10 drops of Tabasco sauce. Toss together, season with salt and pepper to taste, then cover with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator until ready to serve.

3. The second salad is a mango salsa. In a mixing bowl, combine the mangos, avocado, 1 TBS EVEOO, the juice of the other half lime, the remaining parsley and mint, 10 drops of Tabasco, and a little S&P. Toss carefully so you don’t mash the diced avocado. Cover with plastic and store in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve.

4. To plate, drizzle the sauce on the bottom of a chilled salad plate then use a tablespoon to make a pile of the avocado salsa. Then use a separate clean tablespoon to make a pile of the crab salad on top of the salsa. Finally, arrange the grapefruit segments around the salad for garnish.

While the whole dish was a smash hit, I was particularly impressed with the mango sauce. It was sweet and smooth. I’m freezing the leftover sauce right now because I think it would make a good homemade mango sorbet. I will let you know how it turns out.

Cobb Salad

The Cobb Salad is a standard on most restaurant menus and over the years I’ve probably made thousands of them.

The salad originated in the 1930s, when Robert Cobb — the owner of Hollywood’s famed Brown Derby Restaurant, which was located on Vine Street just off Hollywood Boulevard — reportedly was scrounging through the restaurant’s kitchen after midnight looking for a late night snack.

He threw together whatever leftovers he could find — including diced cooked chicken, bacon, hard boiled eggs, avocado and tomatoes — into a quick salad. Sid Grauman, the owner of Chinese Theater down the street, happened to be with Cobb that night and the next day came in asking for the “Cobb Salad” he had enjoyed the night before.

Word of the salad began to spread in Hollywood and soon movie stars, studio executives and other customers began to ask for the salad regularly. Reportedly Jack Warner, head of Warner Brother’s, dispatched his chauffeur to pick up one of the salads frequently.

There actually were a few different Brown Derby restaurants and the original on Vine was not hat-shaped, but instead had a Spanish mission-themed facade. The famous derby-shaped restaurant was actually on Wilshire Boulevard. The restaurant still has several locations, most notably in Disney theme parks in Florida and elsewhere around the world.

And the Cobb Salad remains one of the most popular salads anywhere.

The Cobb Salad is basically the same thing as a chopped salad. Its ingredients can be arranged any way you like, but I usually opt for the straight lines because customers seem to enjoy its symmetry.

Traditionally, the Cobb Salad has chicken, avocado, tomoto, hard boiled eggs, bacon and blue cheese, served over a combination of Romaine lettuce and watercress. It usually is served with Cobb Salad dressing, which is sort of a thickened red wine vinaigrette.

In this version, I opted to leave out the bacon and replaced the blue cheese with queso fresco, which I happened to have on hand from this Mexican street corn recipe and I don’t like to waste food. I served mine with a Chipotle Buttermilk Dressing.

Making the Cobb Salad in a restaurant kitchen actually is much easier than the home version because you can prepare the ingredients in bulk. At home, you still have to prepare each individual ingredient, but only enough for a few salads, so the prep-time-to-salad ratio is a lot higher.

Still, Cobb Salad is a light, refreshing summer entree salad, especially for the kind of steamy, hot weather we have been having here in Chicago this year.

Cobb Salad

2 or 3 Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts, grilled, cooled and diced

2 Avocados, peeled and diced

3 or 4 Tomatoes, ribs and seeds removed, diced

1 small Red Onion, diced

1 cup Blue Cheese (or in this instance, Queso Fresco), crumbled

2 or 3 Hard Boiled Eggs, rough chop

1/2 head Romaine Lettuce, cleaned and cut into bite-sized peices

4 or 5 Bacon Slices, cooked and chopped (I left these out on this salad)

Chipotle Buttermilk Dressing

1/4 cup Sour Cream

1 cup Buttermilk

2 Garlic Cloves, crushed

1  tsp Onion Powder

1 TBS Lime Juice

2 tsp Chipotle (roasted and smoked jalapenos), chopped

Sea Salt

Fresh Cracked Black Pepper

2 TBS Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1. To assemble the salad, place the greens in the bottom of a salad bowl, then arrange the remaining ingredients in neat rows atop the greens.

2. To make the dressing, combine all ingredients, except the EVOO, in a food processor and pulse until smooth. Then turn the processor on and slowly add the oil, starting with one drop at a time, until the dressing thickens. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving so the flavors have time to meld.

This recipe makes enough for two large, dinner-sized salads. I like to transfer the dressing to a squeeze bottle so that it is easier to dress the salads.

The Brown Derby plays a role in my all-time favorite celebrity spotting story. My dad was in Los Angeles on business in the 1960s and was dining at the Brown Derby when he literally ran into Jack Webb, star of TV’s “Dragnet”, because he didn’t see the diminutive actor standing next to him. I’m not certain if he ordered  the Cobb Salad, but I’m betting he did.

 

Chicken Salad

The other day, Sandi and I were eating at our favorite neighborhood diner, Les Brothers, when a waiter walked past with a plate of chicken salad.

It was served old-school style inside a cut-up tomato. I don’t think I’ve seen chicken salad presented like that since the Reagan administration. I instantly knew I had to try it.

Serving compound salads — chicken, tuna, ham, egg, etc. — in hollowed out tomatoes used to be pretty common. But I suppose it had been done to death so people stopped doing it.

Well, I’m bringing it back! It not only is visually appealing, but it fits with my efforts to reduce the amount of white flour and white sugar I eat. Plus, now it’s nostalgiac. Bonus!

I served it with an Israeli cous cous salad. I wanted to make a macaroni salad, but Sandi wrinkled her nose at that, so I made this instead. But the joke’s on her because cous cous is simply a small, granular shaped pasta, so it’s exactly the same thing!

So much for my avoiding white flour, however.

Finally, I added one of my homemade dill pickles and garnished the plate with a few black, seedless grapes. I think it looks pretty elegant and wouldn’t be out of place on a posh lunch menu.

Chicken Salad

1 lb Chicken, cooked (I used half a baked chicken from dinner the night before), diced

1/2 cup Reduced-Fat Mayonnaise

1/2 cup Fat-Free Sour Cream

Juice of 1/2 Lemon

1 Garlic Clove, crushed

2 stalks celery, small dice

1/2 Red Onion, small dice

1/3  cup Dried Cranberries

1/4 cup Walnuts, chopped

1/4 tsp Lawry’s Seasoned Salt

1 Large Tomato

1. Combine chicken, celery, onion, cranberries and walnuts in a mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, sour cream, lemon juice and garlic. Mix a little of the dressing at a time to the chicken mixture until you get the proper chicken salad consistency, holds together but not too soggy. Season with seasoned salt. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes to let the flavors meld together.

2. Use a paring knife to make alternate zig-zag cuts around the perimeter of a tomato. Pull it apart then use the knife to remove some of the core from each half. Lay flat on the plate and use an ice cream scoop to place a large dollop of chicken salad in the center of the tomato half.

To plate the cous cous salad, I simply spooned the salad into a ramekin and patted it down. Then I placed the serving plate on top of the ramekin, turned the whole thing upside down and removed the ramekin. The salad will then hold the shape of the ramekin.

What kind of old school foods would you like to see come back into fashion? Share your thoughts in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!

 

Chinese Chicken Salad

This salad could go either way. It could be called a Chinese chicken salad or it could simply be called a chopped salad.

The only real difference between the two is the dressing and the crunch.

In the past, I’ve used dry, fried chow mein noodles to achieve the crunch. In restaurants, I think the guest expects this. But because I’m trying to cut down on white flour (and fried foods), I substituted a little fresh cabbage.

There was definitely less crunch, but it wasn’t really missed in the texture. And the cabbage added better flavor than chow mein noodles, which to me always taste kind of sawdust-y anyway.

The other difference is the dressing. On a chopped salad, I would use a simple vinaigrette or a low-fat creamy dressing. But because I was going for an Asian feel here, I used a fat-free sesame soy ginger vinaigrette I picked up at Trader Joe’s.

My sesame soy ginger vinaigrette is delicious, but it is not fat free. I wanted to try TJ’s version, and although it was sweeter than mine, I found it to be delightful.

On both a chopped salad and this Chinese chicken salad, all the ingredients are cut into small peices. This gives it a texture that is a little different and is easier to eat.

Any salad can be made into a chopped salad, including a Caesar salad, a Salade Nicoise, a Cobb salad or a chef’s salad. It’s all about the size that you cut the ingredients and it makes for a nice change of pace once in awhile.

This salad also is sometimes called a garbage salad, although I’ve always stayed away from that name on my menus. It just has kind of an off-putting connotation to me: “And here’s your plate of garbage, madame!”

Chinese Chicken Salad

1 Boneless, skinless chicken breast, cooked and small dice

1/2 head Green leaf lettuce, chopped fine

1 cup Shredded green cabbage

1 large Tomato, ribs and seeds removed, small dice

1/2 Red onion, small dice

2 Green onions, sliced thin

1/2 Green bell pepper, ribs and seeds removed, sliced thin

1/4 cup Crumbled Blue cheese

1/4 cup Crumbed Feta cheese

For Sesame Soy Ginger Vinaigrette

1 TBS Sesame oil

1/2 cup Extra virgin olive oil

2 TBS Rice wine vinegar

2 tsp Low-sodium soy sauce

1 tsp honey

1 TBS Fresh ginger, chopped fine

1 clove Garlic, crushed

Sea Salt

Fresh Cracked black pepper

1. Combine the oils in a bowl and mix. In a separate bowl, combine the vinegar, soy sauce, honey, ginger and garlic. Slowly add the oils to the vinegar mixture, starting with a drop at a time and slowly building, until dressing is emulsified. Then season to taste with salt and pepper.

2. Combine all salad ingredients in large bowl. Dress with vinaigrette and mix throroughly. To plate, use a tongs to pile the dressing high in the middle of a large salad or pasta bowl, trying to attain as much height as possible. Make sure large peices of the chicken are visible.

A word about lettuce: In this salad, I used a green leaf lettuce, which is my lettuce of choice, along with red leaf. You also could use Romaine, a spring mix blend or a mixture of escarole and any other kind of lettuce to get a great texture and a healthy salad.

One lettuce I would never recommend is iceburg lettuce, which ironically is the most popular because it also is the cheapest. Iceburg lettuce is composed almost entirely of water and that’s exactly what it tastes like. Also, it has almost no nutritional value.

It pains me to say this because this is supposed to be a budget cooking column, but where’s the savings if the flavor is poor and there aren’t any usable vitamins or minerals? Do yourself and your family a favor and spend the few extra pennies for greens that not only taste better but are much better for you!