Wednesday, June 15, 2011


I toyed with a few (non-mayonnaise) potato salad recipes over the last couple of summers, but aside from this one (which, at least the way I make it, is more of a leafy green salad with potatoes in it), never settled on one I could wholeheartedly embrace. Part of the problem, I think, was that I had not yet evolved into the mustard fiend I now seem to have become. To keep a potato salad from being bland, you need a big, bold dressing, and mustard can be very kind to potatoes. Another issue is the other vegetables involved; I don’t adore potatoes enough to consider them "salad" in their own right, and some veggies complement them better than others. Several of the non-winning recipes used tomatoes and peppers, which didn’t do it for me. My favorite pairings with potatoes are green: asparagus and green beans. And of course, I have a recent interest in radishes, so when I saw Smitten Kitchen's gorgeous spring potato salad featuring all those elements, plus another one of my growing obsessions, pickled vegetables, the deal was sealed.

This salad rocks. It’s wholesome, delectable, and beautiful. The mustard-laden vinaigrette packs a wonderful punch, and the sweet-sour pickled onions are the coup de gras. As I learned from an earlier Smitten Kitchen recipe, a quick soak in sugared and salted vinegar takes just the right amount of bite out of raw onions to keep them from overwhelming the rest of a salad (and you from reeking for the rest of the evening), as well as adding a delicious zip, and this particular version, made with delicate spring onions, is so mild you can snack on them straight. And you will probably have leftovers (although after eating the salad, I decided I could have put in more of the onions), so you can do just that—or try adding them to sandwiches, grilled meat, or other salads later in the week.

We devoured big bowls of this as a main dish for dinner, with small grilled chicken thighs on the side, and then again for lunch the next day, and I’ll probably make it again next week. I’m sure you could mess around with the vegetable ingredients however you wanted (I substituted green beans for the peas Deb used, because A hates peas and the potato-green bean combo is so good, and tweaked the ingredient proportions slightly based on availability—a bit less potato, a few more green beans), but this version is perfect for me. Good thing summer weather has been slow to arrive in Southern California, because I could happily eat this springy salad all year long.

1¾ pounds small new or fingerling potatoes in assorted colors
1 pound asparagus
½ pound green beans
4 medium radishes, thinly sliced

Pickled spring onions:
3 spring onions (about 6 ounces)
¼ cup white wine vinegar
¼ cup water
1 tablespoon coarse kosher salt
1½ teaspoons sugar

Sharp mustard vinaigrette:
¼ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons whole-grain mustard
2 teaspoons smooth Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Place potatoes in a medium saucepan and cover with one inch of water. Bring to a boil and cook for about 15 minutes, or you can easily pierces a potato with the tip of a knife. Drain the potatoes and let them cool until they’re almost room temperature. You can hasten this by covering them with cold water, and replacing the water a few times as it warms up.

2. Meanwhile, pickle your spring onions. Whisk vinegar, water, salt, and sugar together in the bottom of a small container with a lid until the salt and sugar dissolve. Slice the onion bulbs and paler green parts into very thin coins and submerge them in the vinegar mixture. Cover and put in fridge until you’re ready to use them; if you can put them aside for an hour or even overnight, even better. Reserve the onion greens.

3. Refill the saucepan you used for the potatoes with salted water and bring it to a boil. Trim the tough ends off the asparagus and slice the ends off the green beans; cut both vegetables into ½-inch pieces. Once the water is boiling, add the asparagus and the green beans. Two minutes later or when vegetables are crisp-tender, drain them, rinse them under cold water until cool, drain again, and spread them out on towel to absorb excess water.

4. Place the asparagus, green beans, and sliced radishes in a large bowl. Chop potatoes into moderate-sized chunks and add them to the bowl. Cut some of the reserved onion greens into thin slivers (no need to use all of them) and add them to the bowl.

5. When you’re ready to serve the salad, or an hour or two in advance, whisk the dressing ingredients and toss it with the vegetables, to taste. Stir in as many pickled onion coins as you please. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste.

Serves: 4−6
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: OK. The salad was still very tasty the next day, but the acid in the vinaigrette had discolored the asparagus and green beans somewhat. If you want to make this ahead, it would probably be better to chill all the vegetables separately in the fridge overnight and wait until the last minute to combine them and add the dressing.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011


I never really liked radishes, mostly because they were only ever presented to me whole, raw, and on their own, in which form I found the flavor too sharp and bitter. But the more I got obsessed with food, and vegetables in particular, the more I wanted to like radishes. They are always described as peppery, and I like things that are peppery, like arugula, and, well, pepper. And they’re so crisp and cool and clean and so very pretty! A lot of food blogs touted thinly sliced radishes on bread with butter and salt, which I tried and found palatable but not craveworthy. And then I realized that maybe it would be better to try radishes as an ingredient instead of a main feature, where there flavor could blend into and complement a larger dish. And then I saw this alluring salad at The Kitchn, and y’all know how I love quinoa salads and lemon, so it seemed like just the thing to help me warm up to radishes.

I had never bought microgreens before, and I found them easily at Trader Joe’s, albeit in a 2-cup package when the recipe, which I’d decided to double (because all my other quinoa recipes call for 1 cup of quinoa and I know that makes the perfect amount of leftovers), called for 3 cups. I bought two packages, but found I couldn’t cram much more than 2 cups into the salad without overflowing the bowl anyway, so in the future I’ll just stick with 2 cups, which was still plenty of tender, tasty microgreeniness. Then I realized that doubling the recipe meant that it called for 6 tablespoons of butter, which seemed wildly excessive. I get that the recipe creator was trying to mimic that bread-and-butter-and-radish-and-salt combo I mentioned earlier, but since the butter was just melted into the quinoa cooking water, rather than being featured as a cold and creamy spread, I doubted so much was necessary. Besides, I’d decided to add feta to the salad, because I love feta more with each passing day, particularly in quinoa salad. So I cut the butter way down to 2 tablespoons, and I suspect you might just as well leave it out completely. The feta brings the cold creaminess way better and, it turns out, tastes awesome with radishes. I also increased the lemon quantities, figuring I’d might as well use all the juice from the one I’d just zested. The flavors of this salad are so delicate that I welcomed the added zip.

After all this beneficial tinkering, I totally effed up the recipe by absentmindedly quadrupling the water quantity and massively overcooking the quinoa, which came out sodden and sticky (you can see the sad clumpiness in my photo). But despite this textural tragedy, the flavors were still so delicious, novel, and springy, I knew I’d found a way to love radishes and a salad I’d enjoy many times to come—in fact, I’ve already made it again, and with the quinoa properly cooked, I can attest that it’s truly a knockout. And the cheerful pastel green, pink, and yellow make this one of the more beautiful dishes to grace my table in recent memory.

1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2–3 cups microgreens
1 cup thinly sliced radishes
¼ cup thinly sliced basil
Zest from 1 medium lemon
Juice from one medium lemon
½ teaspoon fleur de sel or other flaky sea salt
4 ounces feta cheese, cubed or crumbled

1. Measure out quinoa, place it in a fine-mesh strainer, rinse thoroughly with cool water, and drain.

2. Place quinoa in a small saucepan with water and butter. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer over low heat for about 15 minutes, or until all liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork and let cool completely.

3. Toss the cooled quinoa with all other ingredients. Taste and add more salt if desired.

Serves: 4
Time: 45 minutes
Leftover potential: Great.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011


When called upon to rustle up a snack or easy weekend lunch for myself on the spur of the moment, I rarely resort to sandwiches, preferring instead a plate of small bites—cheese, bread or crackers, apples or some other fruit, and raw veggies or pickles if I have them (you can imagine how excited I was when I went to England for the first time and discovered this, called a ploughman’s lunch, on nearly every pub menu). But how could I resist this sandwichified version of my go-to meal, especially when it not only featured my favorite cheese-fruit combo, sharp cheddar and apples, but was also adorned with my new bestie, Dijon mustard, and the kicker, that mind-blowing shallot-jam sauce I wrote about last week?

Thanks to the Kitchn, this sandwich will be accompanying me on every summer picnic—and I plan to find a lot of excuses to have picnics, the better to eat more sandwiches. It’s simple enough to throw together in a few moments (just make the shallot-jam sauce ahead of time and keep it in the fridge—heck, make a double recipe and eat the other half over chicken) and to tote around without making a soggy mess, but the flavors are incredibly complex—the sharpness of the vinegar, cheese, mustard, and apples balanced by the sweetness of the jam and the savoriness of the shallots—and the contrast between textures is exciting.

1 tablespoon olive oil
5 medium shallots, peeled and sliced thin
½ cup chicken broth
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
2 heaping tablespoons apricot jam or other preserves (such as peach or raspberry)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 loaf crusty baguette or ciabatta
Whole grain Dijon mustard
Good-quality, very sharp cheddar cheese, thickly sliced
Butter lettuce
2 hard, tart apples such as Granny Smith or Braeburn, very thinly sliced
2–3 tablespoons lemon juice (from one lemon)

1. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots, season with salt and pepper, and cook for about 5 minutes, until they begin to get soft and the bottom of the pan begins to brown. Add ½ cup chicken broth to the shallots, scraping the brown bits off the bottom of the pan. Let the broth reduce, then add the balsamic vinegar, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook for about 5 more minutes. Add the jam and stir to combine. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.

2. Slice the baguette into four sections and slice the sections in half lengthwise. Spread a little whole grain mustard on the top half of each section. Smear one-fourth of the shallot-jam sauce on the bottom half of each section.

3. Toss the apple slices in a little lemon juice, and then add them to the bottom half of each sandwich. Add a few leaves of lettuce and then top with a layer of cheese. Press the sandwiches closed.

Serves: 4 (1 sandwich per serving)
Time: 30 minutes
Leftover potential: I didn’t test this—just made the sandwiches and ate them immediately—but the original recipe says that they’ll be OK wrapped in waxed paper and kept at room temperature for several hours, if you want to take them on a picnic.