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Friday, December 12, 2008

green salad with pears, fennel & pear vinaigrette

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cooking with kids

This time of year, we all have so many traditional sweet treats to make—for our friends, family, and ourselves! I remember making lots of special holiday cookies with my mom when I was little. Some that come to mind are the spritz butter cookies that I loved to squirt out of the press in green wreath shapes and decorate with red hot candies, the krumkake that we made in a special waffle iron and then rolled around a wooden cone, and the peppermint-flavored dough that we rolled into pink and white snakes and then twisted into candy-cane shapes. For a few years, my mom even made rosette cookies, with the heavy iron molds she dipped into the cookie batter and then deep-fried in her electric wok. Remember those? Dusted with powdered sugar, they left a grease slick on the roof of my mouth… With all those fond memories, plus plenty more of my own favorite cookie recipes, it’s pretty easy to think of holiday treats and cookies to make with my four-year-old, Meredith. I’m sure it’s the same for you.

But why do we only think about including our kids when we’re making treats and sweet things? I didn’t learn how to cook until I went to college—my mom didn’t think to include us kids when making dinner—I think she just wanted to get dinner on the table, and didn’t need us underfoot. So in the interest of teaching Meredith to cook healthy, delicious meals (not just desserts), I try to include her in all sorts of cooking projects. She’s not always quite as interested in making a salad as making treats like graham crackers (eating raw dough is one of her favorite hobbies), but there is almost always a fun part in even the most ordinary meal. If I’m not rushing to finish lunch or dinner, I’ll ask if she’s interested in helping. And usually she is—for a little while, anyway!

My greatest inspiration for Meredith-inclusive cookery is my friend Cate, who writes a fabulous blog about cooking with kids: Tribeca Yummy Mummy. She is all about including our kids in cooking real food—using real, raw ingredients, and making meals and FOOD, not just treats. Thank you, Cate, for encouraging us to raise our expectations of what we assume our kids are interested in, and are capable of doing in the kitchen!

For this salad, Meredith chopped up the pears for the dressing with a table knife, helped measure the rest of the dressing ingredients into the blender jar, and then picked pomegranate seeds. (Oh, and then she helped eat it!)

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green salad with pears, fennel & pear vinaigrette

This salad is one of my absolute favorites—and it’s great with winter pears. It’s based on a recipe from Annie Somerville’s Everyday Greens. I love fennel, but the key to eating raw fennel is slicing it really thinly. It’s quite a tough vegetable when raw, so if the slices aren’t thin, you really get a jaw workout. I use a mandoline—a fancy slicer that allows me to get paper-thin slices—but if you’re careful to use a very sharp knife and take your time, you can get thin enough slices by hand. (If you want more justification for buying a mandoline, see my recipe and story for the cabbage & fennel salad with apples & raisins.)

The dressing is really fun, too—it’s just pureed pears with some pear vinegar and a little olive oil and salt. SO tasty, though, and it’ll keep for a couple of days in your refrigerator if you have leftovers. I’ve found a couple of different brands of pear vinegar in grocery stores and specialty stores in town, but if you can’t find any, you can substitute 4 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar and 2 tablespoons apple juice.

Dressing

1 medium pear, peeled, cored, and chopped coarsely
6 tablespoons pear vinegar
½ teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
sugar, as needed

Place the pear in a blender with the vinegar and salt; puree it until smooth. Drizzle in the oil while the blender is running. Taste for salt and sweetness. If your pears weren’t very sweet, you might want to add a little sugar to the dressing, or you can add more olive oil to tame the vinegar’s sharpness. Refrigerate until ready to serve the salad.

Salad

2 large heads of lettuce, or about 10 cups of baby salad greens
1 large fennel bulb, cut in half, cored, and sliced very thinly crosswise
1-2 ripe pears
Optional garnish in winter: ¼ cup pomegranate seeds

1. Wash and dry the greens and make the dressing.
2. When you’re ready to serve the salad, cut the pear(s) in half, cut the core away, and slice thinly.
3. Put the greens and fennel into a bowl and toss them with dressing to your taste, then add the pears and toss gently. Arrange on individual plates, and if pomegranates are in season, top with their seeds. 

 


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