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Serendipitous spring salads and greens

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As you stroll the farmers markets this spring, plan menus using an impressive array of greens: arugula, bok choi, beet greens, cabbage, chard, collards, kale, spinach, lettuce galore—romaine, butter crunch, oak leaf—all with different tastes and textures.

As a quick main dish, salads are refreshing and satisfying. As a side, greens sautéed with a drizzle of olive oil (see garlicky sautéed kale in the Locavore Cooking archives) and eaten hot or at room temperature go with just about any entrée. Our favorite salad this spring has been made with tender kale that you "massage" gently with olive oil, letting it sit to soften further while the rest of dinner is prepped.

In the spirit of seasonal eating, local ingredients to embellish spring salads include pecans, hard-boiled eggs, grated carrots, last season's dried tomatoes or home-canned or frozen tomatoes roasted in a slow oven (250 degrees for two hours, as you would for beets) to a delicious, intensified flavor.


Fresh kale side salad

One large handful kale per person
1 tsp. olive oil per every two servings
Salt and pepper to taste
Colorful add-ins: grated carrots, dried or roasted tomatoes, pecans, etc.

Strip kale from stalks and rinse leaves thoroughly. Spin dry in a salad spinner; tear into bite-size leaves. Transfer into a large serving bowl. Drizzle the olive oil over the kale and, with your hands, work it over the leaves gently for a minute or two, distributing it evenly. Let salad stand for 15 minutes or as long as it takes to get the rest of dinner together. Add in embellishments and toss with vinaigrette of choice.


Cabbage sauté: a wilted salad

I find this vegetable woefully overlooked. Crook's Corner chef Bill Smith's recipe for cabbage and leeks (from his cookbook Seasoned in the South) reminds me to pay more attention to this healthy brassica. Shredded and made into a slaw or mixed with other greens in a salad is common, but sauteéing it with a few spring onions brings out a natural sweetness and the comforting texture of sauerkraut. Served with a splash of balsamic vinegar or hot pepper sauce and a side of baked storage sweet potatoes plus some local sausage, and you have a fast meal of comfort food. Cabbage cooks down in volume, so a whole head may serve only four to six people. The slicing (not the shredding) disc for most food processors is ideal for getting the cut of cabbage wanted for sauteéing.

1 average head of cabbage (about 4 cups shredded)
2 bunches spring onions, white and green parts
2–4 tbs. oil, olive, canola, peanut or a combination
Salt and pepper to taste

Over high heat, bring oil (2–4 tablespoons per head of cabbage of olive, peanut or a combination of these with sesame) to the point of fragrance in a large sautée pan, add the cleaned, cut cabbage and stir to coat it with the oil. After one minute, add sliced spring onions and turn down heat to low and cover. Cook for about five minutes, and turn off heat. Let stand until ready for dinner. Cabbage will continue to soften. Serve hot or at room temperature.


Dinner salads: taco and chicken Caesar

Both serve 4–6 as a main dish

A great way to stretch the pricey but oh-so-worth it local meats such as free-range chicken or grass-fed ground beef is make them chief protein in a dinner salad.

Taco salad

1 large head of sturdy lettuce such as romaine or butter crunch
1 bunch spring onions
1 lb. ground beef, browned, drained, and seasoned with salt and pepper to taste
1 tb. chili powder added to meat while still warm.
1 cup pinto beans, drained
1 cup shredded cheese (local mozzarella is nice)
1 cup chopped roasted tomatoes or salsa
1/2 cup Greek yogurt or sour cream
Black or green olives for garnish
Tortilla chips and additional salsa

Wash and spin dry lettuce; transfer to large serving bowl or individual plates. Assemble remaining ingredients onto the bed of lettuce by layering them in the order listed above. Pass chips and salsa for mixing in according to each diner's preference. This makes a super easy and relaxing Friday night supper. Wash it down with a nice cold beer.

Chicken Caesar

1 large head romaine or butter crunch lettuce, washed, spun dry as above, and torn into bite-size pieces
Your favorite Caesar salad dressing, at least 1/4 cup; more for passing
2 cups shredded or chopped cooked chicken
1 cup croutons, homemade, store-bought, gluten-free, etc.

Just before serving, coat the bottom of a large salad bowl with the 1/4 cup dressing. Add the spun-dry, bite-size leaves and toss to combine them lightly with the dressing. Next layer on chicken and top with croutons, but only if you're really ready to eat it. Don't let croutons go soggy.


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