Text and images courtesy Chef Tim Payne
For the last two years, Coho Restaurant has worked with Dancing Seeds Farm and featured their produce in our dishes. Like many other local farms, they offer a CSA (community supported agriculture) program that islanders can join to enjoy fresh produce throughout the growing season. Let’s take a look at this week's offering: napa cabbage, radishes, lettuce, spring garlic, and cilantro. Hmmm...now what to make?
This is a fun time of year. The days are long, made up of more sunshine than rain, and the first summer fruits start to show up – in our case cherries and strawberries, traditional early birds. So let’s make a napa cabbage salad! Our ingredients: the aforementioned cabbage (an oft-overlooked salad green), lettuce, cilantro, radishes, strawberries, hazelnuts, sesame seeds, cherries, and it seems there’s a rogue piece of ginger that snuck into the picture, so we’ll use that too!
We need a zesty vinaigrette to bring this salad together. Based on our ingredients, let’s make an Asian-inspired vinaigrette. We are using the stems and leaves of the cilantro in this vinaigrette (stems offer full of flavor as well), ginger, spring garlic, sesame oil, apple cider vinegar, tamari, some dry mustard (or a tablespoon of Dijon or even plain ol' yellow mustard will work too) and a neutral oil (rice bran oil, in our case).
The easiest way to make any vinaigrette at home is with a food processor or blender. As with any vinaigrette, add all ingredients (anything solid chop up very fine first or add with just a small amount of the liquid so you don’t have big chunks) except for the oil (our ratio per tradition is a 3 to 1 ratio of oil to vinegar). With the motor running (all ingredients but the oil remember), slowly add (we like to call this emulsifying) all of the measured oil (90% rice bran/neutral oil, 10% sesame oil) until incorporated. Taste for salt at this point. It should be zesty (remember you aren’t eating this like a soup but with many other ingredients which will dilute or dull the taste of the vinaigrette) and it should be zestier that you want it when tasted alone. The liquid to oil to vinegar ratio is already where we want it, so if you adjust for saltiness use salt not more tamari.
Let’s put this salad together. We have prepped our ingredients: washed and cut up (into strips or a rough chiffonade) the greens, rough cut the cilantro (try to cut in a slicing motion with a sharp knife rather than chop, as chopping with a dull knife will bruise any herb and lead to oxidation and a dull as opposed to bright green appearance), pitted and sliced the cherries and strawberries, toasted the chopped hazelnuts, sliced the radishes and spring garlic (very thinly a.k.a. as thinly as you can slice them, the sprinkled lightly with salt. This is called “weeping” and will soften and mellow the assertive nature of both of these items). We also have the finished vinaigrette and some grilled chicken. This salad has a lot of nourishment and is nutritionally balanced, so vegetarians do not fret. Just leave out the protein.
Place the ingredients in a mixing bowl in the ratio you want. Some people like lots of greens and view the other components as supporting characters, while others love the “toppings,” so let your individual preferences drive the bus here. Omit what you don’t like and the dressing can be mixed (my preference) together with the components or served on the side. Since the vinaigrette has been seasoned well (Right? You tasted before this point right? Just checking!) I would not season with salt at this point. Add pepper if you want. (Are you one of those people who applies salt and pepper before tasting? Try the salad mixed together with the vinaigrette first, then apply as needed. I think you’ll find it will be a better product that way.)
Once every thing is mixed, plate the salad. Try to hold some of the supportive ingredients (the non-cabbage/greens) to place on top, and – voila! – a seasonal hearty salad that can be a meal on its own or a great addition to your June table.