Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Green Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette

I realize I've been doing a number of main course dishes in the blog, and in them say, hey, this would go well with a simple green salad and warm crusty bread. OK, so here's a simple green salad. With some extras, like sliced regular tomatoes or whole grape tomatoes, paper-thin shreds of red onion, thinly sliced cucumber, chunks of avocado, or some crumbled feta cheese or coarsely grated Parmesan cheese, the same salad can be made more of a centerpiece.

A simple yet elegant salad is typical at the end -- note, the end -- of the meal (not served as an appetizer) in France, Belgium, and Switzerland. The tender lettuce called 'Boston' or 'butterhead' in the United States is the traditional vegetable for the salad, but mixed field greens ('mesclun' in French) are also used. The dressing contains Dijon mustard, which in my experience in Europe is usually the simple smooth mustard. But the 'old fashioned' ('à l’ancienne' -- literally in the old style) version with whole brown and yellow mustard seeds also shows up. Do not use the yellow or the 'spicy' brown American style of mustard, which both contain the spice turmeric and have a heavy flavor more appropriate on a hot dog.

Vinaigrette simply means 'little vinegar' in French, 'vinaigre' (vinegar) meaning sour wine. The classical vinaigrette contains two parts oil and one part vinegar, salt, pepper, and garlic. I make it lighter, with a lower oil to vinegar proportion, and soften the vinegar with some water and a little sugar. The mustard is a frequent addition in French and Swiss vinaigrettes. Mustard seems to me to enhance a simple salad. I would leave it out of a more complicated salad, as it will muddy the flavors.

The recipe serves six. In Europe, wine is not usually served with the salad course. But crusty bread, such as baguette or ciabatta, goes well with it. You can sop up the vinaigrette with the bread.

Green Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette

1 medium-large head of 'Boston' or 'butterhead' lettuce or 4 to 5 cups of mixed greens (mesclun) or cut loose leaf or romaine

Mustard vinaigrette dressing
1 small clove garlic, crushed
3 tablespoons wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons olive oil (extra virgin, if possible)
1 tablespoon water
2 teaspoons Dijon (not yellow American) mustard, plain or with whole mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste
1/2 teaspoon oregano, crumbled (optional)
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon fresh black pepper, plus more for serving

Prepare the greens: Core the lettuce and rinse well, gently separating the leaves and removing any sand. Rip large leaves into 4 to 5 pieces. Drain well. Or if using field greens, pick them over and discard any spoiled or very wilted leaves. Rinse in plenty of water and drain well. (A salad spinner is useful to get retained water off the greens.) Place the lettuce or greens in the salad bowl. Cover the bowl with a clean dish towel until serving time.

Prepare the dressing. (The French often make the dressing fresh in the salad bowl, then add the greens just before serving.) Crush the garlic well and mix well with the remainder of dressing ingredients.

Just before serving, mix the dressing again, and remove the garlic. Toss the greens with the dressing. Taste a leaf, and if salt is needed, sprinkle on a little and toss the leaves once more. Serve on salad plates. A little fresh black pepper can be ground over the salad after it is served.


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3:09 AM  

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