Grilled Vegetable Salad

Grilled Vegetable Salad

Last night I made what is possibly the most very best version of the Grilled Vegetable Salad I have ever made.  Ever.  I saw a recipe for something resembling what I make a couple of years ago in the local newspaper when I was visiting my parents in Osoyoos, and it has become my favorite way to eat vegetables.  In fact it is my #1 favorite way to feed dinner guests, because I can make it ahead of time, adding the vegetables to the platter as they are ready and letting them soak in the marinade and the best part is that it is as delicious served at room temperature as it is served warm or hot, so I can have it all ready before my guests arrive and then I can just visit, instead of worrying about the food.  For this reason, if I have you over for dinner I am very likely to serve you this always, although you might not notice because it is different every time I make it.

This is not a recipe.  It is a description of how I made this delicious meal, specifically how I made it yesterday.  I make it differently every time.  The details are important.  You can go to the Safeway or the Superstore and get all the ingredients and make pretty darn good food, and I do that sometimes, especially in the winter, but the details are the crucial element, in my world, to making pretty darn amazing food.

First of all, I need to have a home garden.  Since my space is very limited, I triage what I need to grow.  Peas for my awesome young neighbors because all kids need to have fresh peas when they are playing, beans because you can never have too many beans, and herbs, because you just can’t buy the same quality as what you can grow.  Right now, in my planters behind the garage, I am growing sage and oregano, and in front with the flowers I have orange mint and Kentucky Colonel mint for the mojitos.  Some years I will also grow thyme, or something else, and Genovese basil inside, but this year it’s just the sage and oregano.  At the end of the season, before it gets killed by the frost, I cut it all back, puree it with olive oil (not the mint though-yuck-I usually just bring it in and it gets sickly and aphid-infested by February- I’m thinking this year I might try making chocolate coated mint leaves) and then store the paste in my deep freeze.  Then I chip some out when I need it.  Point being, I have this homemade oregano paste in my deep freeze and it is one of the ingredients in the marinade.

The other ingredients in the marinade (the specific one I made last night) are:

-3 cloves Farm Box green garlic, crushed

– 1 Tablespoon whole mustard seeds from Spice Sanctuary, crushed well with a mortar and pestle

– Olive oil, about 2-3 times as much as the vinegar

– white balsamic vinegar (because that’s all I had.  Usually I use white or red wine vinegar.  I think it’s important I had run out of that and used the white balsamic this time.)

-some chopped green part of a spring onion from the Garden

-generous pinch of salt  (I use the pink Tibetan salt because it’s pretty, but the important thing when choosing salt for your cooking is that it does not have any chemical additives.  So a good quality sea salt or even Kosher salt would probably taste as good.)

Confession time.  In addition to being a Communal Garden member, I have a Single Farm Box share.  I really would recommend this as it fills in a lot of the blanks as we wait, in our Zone 2B, for example for the zucchini to be ready to harvest in our garden, with top-quality food from small organic farms in Alberta and B.C.  So yesterday afternoon, I already had in my fridge 4 zucchinis, about 2 pounds of potatoes, a pound of beets, and 1-1/2 bunches of the yummiest little carrots that I had been hoarding for this meal.  I also picked up a couple of yellow peppers at the grocery store. ( I would have liked to get an eggplant too but they were kind of mushy and with eggplant freshness is so important.  Any vegetable you can fit onto a barbeque can go into this dish.  Cabbage, broccoli, asparagus, parsnips, turnips, tomatoes, beans, fennel, anything.  Whatever you want.  I used what I had in the fridge and topped up with a favorite.)  I stopped at the Garden and picked the largest spring onion I could find, and several baby Walking Onions.

I also picked flowers for a little bouquet.  Remember, the details are important.

At home I prepped the veggies for the BBQ.  The beets and potatoes I chopped up and wrapped in foil pouches.  The baby Walking onions I pulled apart and put in with the beets.  These packets go on first and come off last.  Nothing ruins my day the way biting in to a raw potato does.  The carrots were tiny so were left whole.  Zukes, onion and pepper were cut in half for the BBQ, to be chopped further after they came off.  These were all rubbed with a little olive oil and grilled.  As they were ready they came off the BBQ and were cut up as needed, and placed on the platter when ready.  This is great because sometimes you don’t always have room on the BBQ for everything at the same time and it’s no problem.  Drizzle the marinade over the veggies as they are ready.  This dish is great with some bocconcini cheese.  Because some of my guests don’t eat dairy, I made extra marinade and tossed the cheese in the marinade bowl when the veggies were done, and people could add it or not to their meal.  If it’s not an issue I put the cheese on when the potatoes go on, and it melts a bit.

So that’s it.  My favorite way to eat vegetables.  You can try all kinds of combinations of herbs/spices, oils and vinegars in the marinade.  They make fantastic leftovers and will keep for days (some vegetables better than others ), and are great on a pizza or in a wrap, hot or cold.

Both Spice Sanctuary and Farm Box are at the Canmore Farmers Market every Thursday.

http://farmbox.ca/

http://www.spicesanctuary.com/

– By Nicole Tremblay

SALAD

We have loads of greens growing in the Communal Garden right now so I thought I would write a bit about salad and greens and herbs.

Lettuce and other greens grow really well all season long in our cool climate.  As soon as the leaves are big enough to eat you can pinch them off from around the outside of the plant and leave the plant to keep growing and producing. Pick what you need only for the evening’s salad and the rest will stay most fresh if left in the garden.   This goes for lettuce, herbs, and “cooking greens” like spinach, chard, mustard, kale, and beet greens.  The greens are lovely raw in a salad when you pick them at their “baby size” and can be incorporated into your standard salad mix. The flowers of many of these are delicious too.

Building your salad:  My Foodie Mentors taught me to skip the store-bought salad dressing in favour of and herb, an oil, and a vinegar(acid-could be lemon/orange/lime juice)  So, a salad would be made, for example, by tossing greens with lots of fresh tarragon leaves, with olive oil and white wine vinegar.  Done.  Get fancier by adding any chopped veggie or fruit, a cheese and a nut or seed for a crunchy texture.  Some combinations of the above work really well, others not so much.  Taste your herbs and greens and think what would go well with them, a sweet cheese and fruit?  Sharp cheese?  You can also look at different cuisines for what flavours have traditionally been put together; the Caprese salad is a classic, with sweet basil, tomatoes, mozzarella/bocconcini, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  The classic Greek salad basically trades out the basil for oregano, the bocconcini for feta and the balsamic for lemon juice.  The classic Ethiopian salad is tomato with minced green jalapeno as the herb, and lemon juice.  You can fill out any of these with loads of mixed greens out of the garden for a nice big salad.

Some hints:

1- Toss your greens in the oil first to coat well, then add the vinegar or lemon juice. This will slow the wilting.

2-start with a scant amount of oil, and add more if you need it.

3- Just a splash of vinegar or lemon juice will usually suffice.

4- Treat cheese as a seasoning.  Buy good quality stuff and use it sparingly.

5- Toast your seeds and nuts and let them cool before adding to the salad.

6- Try out different vinegars.  Apple cider vinegar will give you fruitiness, while white balsamic is milder than regular balsamic, but still sweet.  Also try out different oils.

7-Mash a ripe avocado in your bowl and thin with a tiny bit of oil for a creamy, super-nutritious dressing base.

8- Use onion sparingly.  Slice a little bit as thin as possible and let it sit in the bowl with the olive oil while you prep the rest of the salad.  Try shallots.

9- The calendula are blooming, edible and nutritious, and sooo pretty so put the petals in all your salads.

To help you get inspired I picked the brains of several gardeners who are also passionate about their salads.

From Donna Vultier: “ Hands down our favorite is a mix of as many greens as we can find with some leaf lettuces mixed with the spicier greens like arugula, mustard and mizuna.  Our house dressing is a vinaigrette with a herb infused white wine vinegar from Switzerland called Kressi (available at Valbella), garlic, Dijon mustard, a touch of chili garlic hot sauce for heat and then half and half olive and canola oil. In the summer we often use this as a base for our evening meal and add grilled chicken, broiled steak sliced up, duck confit or baked arctic char on tp. Mmmm…summer!”

From Dea Fisher:  “My personal favourites [herbs] are cilantro, nasturtium leaves and oregano. They blend well with such combinations as goat cheese/blueberries, or orange/blue cheese/pecan.  Marjoram is also a wonderful choice and we should consider [planting] it for next year.

Chive leaves are well known and a salad isn’t complete without them for me, but few realize you can also eat the flowers.  They do make a salad look beautiful.  Mint makes an interesting addition that really freshens the flavour, and lavender can give a delicately fragrant surprise that again marries well with goat cheese.  Dill is wonderful in summer salads, but is strongly flavoured, so a little goes a long way.  It teams well with creamy flavours.  Fennel is another one, but I don’t recall whether we planted any.  Thyme is a good herb to use where a stronger and more earthy flavour is wanted and strengthens your flavours to team well with barbecued meats, for example.  Stems are woody. So the tender leaves should be stripped from the stem before adding them.

The star of the garden for flavour is sweet basil.  While there are many ways to use it, you can’t beat the simplicity of treatment the French and Italians give it:  slice rich, ripe tomatoes; add slices of fresh mozzarella; tear up some basil leaves to sprinkle over, and then drizzle with balsamic vinegar and grind over some fresh black pepper.  Voila!

Don’t forget those nasturtium buds and flowers!  They look beautiful in a salad and are so delicious.”

From Graeme Williams: “ Mostly I will make a simple vinaigrette with olive oil, white wine vinegar & Dijon mustard & just toss my freshly picked leaves in this dressing – sometimes with toasted walnuts & crumbled goats cheese.”

From Tasha Sawyer: “As for greens, I like a green salad with the addition of avocado and sunflower seeds. For the dressing, I like to make cilantro coconut vinaigrette.”

Tasha also gave me an almost-recipe for the amazing delicious mustard we are growing:

“(You can also use kale and chard in the same way.)

For every 500g of cleaned, chopped greens: 2 slices bacon, finely chopped; 3 cloves garlic minced; 1 t sugar; 250 mL chicken or veg stock; salt and pepper

Cook the bacon over medium heat until it releases its fat. Add in garlic and sauté 30 seconds or until it is softened. Add in chopped greens, sugar and stock. Braise about 10 minutes until greens are soft. Salt and pepper to taste.”

Sometimes you need a fruit vinaigrette.  For example, for a salad made with spinach/chard/kale; dried or fresh cranberries, peaches or apricots; and  almonds or pecans; drizzled with melted brie, you need to toss it with a Saskatoon or raspberry (locally picked but not from the Community Garden of course) vinaigrette which is easily made by putting your berries (a cup or two) in a blender with enough white wine vinegar to get it saucy (start with a bit and add more as you need to), a small dollop of honey, drop of avocado oil and pinch of salt.  (By the way, it doesn’t store well.  I tried, don’t bother.)

Here are some websites for more inspiration:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/series/nigelslaterrecipes

http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2013/jul/14/summer-salad-recipes-nigel-slater

http://www.rivercottage.net/about/meet-hugh/

http://www.rivercottage.net/recipes/kale-flower-salad/

And if you’re wondering about what to do with all that gorgeous hyssop (this isn’t a salad mind you, but we should be starting to harvest carrots soon…),

http://bloggingherbman.typepad.com/tips/2009/09/hyssop-cooking-tips.html

-by Nicole Tremblay with thanks