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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

strawberry & mint salad with honey-balsamic dressing (with pear and peach variations)

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late-season laissez-faire gardening

By the end of the summer, the Alaskan produce is finally coming on like gangbusters! Were eating lots of greens from my husband Dan’s small but nevertheless chickweed-choked vegetable patch. The garden is surprisingly productive, considering that we never seem to be able to keep ahead of the weeds during the late summer. I guess it’s a combination of the extra rain helping the weeds, and our reduced gardening motivation. We’re always on top of it in the early summer, providing a healthy environment for the little seedlings to grow—weeding, thinning, watering obsessively. Then, as the months go by, and the plants are growing nicely, a more laissez-faire attitude sets in—I imagine it’s like parents with grown children. Watering is rarely, if ever needed, and we’re just harvesting at this point—not doing much tending. “Come on, you great, lazy heads of lettuce! You’re big boys now! You can compete with that hedge of chickweed!”

In honor of those giant heads of lettuce, that somehow do overcome the encroaching weeds, I’m sharing a recipe for our favorite salad that we love to eat all summer. You can use different fruits throughout the summer, but the funny thing about strawberries here in Alaska is that we can get great ones even into September if the weather has been cool like this summer! You can substitute ripe peaches for the strawberries, or ripe pears in the fall; in that case, top with toasted almonds and omit the mint. It’s wonderful, too!

strawberry & mint salad with honey-balsamic dressing (with pear and peach variations)

This recipe is a variation on a recipe in Audrey Alsterberg and Wanda Urbanowicz’s Rebar: Modern Food Cookbook. If you’re skeptical about putting fruit in a dinner salad, this recipe will change your mind. If you can get really sweet, fragrant strawberries, there is no reason to eat anything other than this salad until the strawberries run out.

When the strawberries run out, use peaches and pears, as the season changes. Just omit the mint and add a generous garnish of toasted almonds. (Toast them for 15 minutes in a 350 degree oven.)

If you want to serve this salad with something else, try it with any kind of a sandwich or toast with a topping. I tend to like eating so much of this salad for dinner that a nice fat slice of whole grain sourdough toast drizzled with olive oil is all I really need.

dressing

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons honey
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
½ large white or red onion, minced very fine
¼ teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
———————————————————
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Whisk all the dressing ingredients together, except the oil. Slowly drizzle in the oil while whisking. Season with more salt and/or honey to taste. I usually make a double batch of this and keep it in the refrigerator—it lasts quite well. If the dressing separates, just bring it to room temperature and whisk it back up to combine.

strawberry salad

3-4 cups ripe, fragrant strawberries
2-3 stalks fresh mint
10-12 cups of leaf lettuce or baby greens, washed, dried and torn into bite-sized pieces

1. Cut strawberries into slices.
2. Pick the leaves off the mint, wash them, and just before serving, chop them finely.
3. Fill a big salad bowl with the greens. Toss with dressing to your taste, add the mint and strawberries, toss once more, and serve immediately.

pear or peach salad variation
I eat this salad with pears throughout the fall, so I toast trays-full of almonds at once, and make double batches of the dressing to store in the refrigerator.

3 ripe, fragrant pears or peaches
1/2 cup whole almonds
10-12 cups of leaf lettuce or baby greens, washed, dried and torn into bite-sized pieces

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Toast the almonds for for 15-20 minutes, until fragrant and perfectly golden-brown inside. (Bite one in half to check!) Chop the nuts coarsely.
2. Core fruit and cut into slices.
3. Fill a big salad bowl with the greens. Toss with dressing to your taste, add the pear or peach slices. Toss once more, top with almonds, and serve immediately.

 


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