Tag Archives: Dressing

Seared lamb salad with basil-mint vinaigrette

Here’s something a little different for St. Paddy’s Day: a winter-to-spring lamb salad with a bright green vinaigrette.

It’s finally getting to that sigh-of-relief point in the year when salads start to seem viable again. Not the light-and-crunchy summer kind of salad, but something a little sturdier, with a good thick dressing. I went to the farmer’s market for the first time in a while on Sunday, and found a gorgeous mix of baby rainbow chard and dinosaur kale and some prickly leaves I couldn’t identify. I’d recently watched a Nigella Express clip about lamb salad, and the combination of warm meat and just-wilted winter greens seemed mighty appealing. (I suspect this would work just as nicely with arugula or spinach or watercress, or in fact any mix of good fresh salad greens.)

The lamb itself was simple. Salt, pepper, hot pan, sear. I tried to do a mustard-crust thing on the chops, but it didn’t turn out well, so I’m going to declare it unnecessary. I’m also not the most competent meat cook, so I ended up pulling the lamb from the pan while it was too raw and having to re-cook it later. That’s a mistake I don’t recommend making. What I do recommend, though, is letting the meat sit in a loose foil packet for a few minutes when it comes out of the pan, to let the juices re-settle throughout the meat. It makes for a much more succulent final product.

For the dressing, I used a recipe I picked up in an online comment forum: a blended basil vinaigrette, thick and tangy and appealingly pesto-like. I’ve made this dressing before, as a pasta sauce, but it was especially welcome against the gamy-sweet lamb and crunchy greens. I used a mix of basil and mint here, but it could easily be done with just basil or just mint. It’s a little more involved than your average vinaigrette: first you blanch the herbs to lock in their bright green color, then blend them with garlic and shallot and vinegar, before streaming in just enough oil to make a thick paste. You could add an egg yolk too, for a richer and more unctuous dressing, almost like a thin Hollandaise. With egg or without, though, this vinaigrette stands on its own: it’s the perfect texture for pasta, and would also make a stellar sauce for simply cooked chicken or fish. Make it for this salad, and then make it again. It will reward you.

Oh, and of course, we ate our salad with Irish soda bread. I am nothing if not consistent.

lamb salad with basil mint dressing

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Let me take you down, ’cause I’m going to…

It’s spring. The air is so downy and soft I could float away on it. The water in the San Francisco Bay is gemstone-blue and sequined with bits of sunlight. The trees are green again; the sky is cloudless and infinite. On days like these, I daydream about nothing but strawberries.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that robin redbreasts have strawberry bellies. The arrival of both bird and berry has always been my personal signal to get excited for warmer times. Even in Northern California, where we only have three seasons, the start of strawberry season is always occasion for at least a little joy.

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Utter simplicity

You know what? It’s spring. The air is soft and downy, shot through with veins of light and blossom scent. The sky is bottomless blue, the kind of super-saturated color that makes my teeth ache (no, really). The market stalls are overflowing with bright clamoring produce, so fresh and blink-you’ll-miss-it-seasonal that it’s tempting to bring home bagfuls and just eat it, unadorned.

This is the season when I start to lose patience with fuss. In the winter, I’m perfectly content to hone my kitchen-sink cooking and practice all manner of fancy flourishes. But when the clouds break and the temperatures climb, I want something different altogether. I want fresh, and simple, and clean. I want to really taste spring in my food.

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Salad days

Back when I was a wee ‘un, just old enough to be a help in the kitchen rather than an underfoot pest, the very first thing my mother taught me to do was make salad dressing.  More specifically, she handed me a bottle of olive oil, a bottle of vinegar, and a spoonful of mustard, and said, “Mix these, please.”  So I did, and the rest is…well, you know.

Making vinaigrette was my introduction to home cooking, and it’s still one of my favorite things to do.  Homemade vinaigrettes are mind-bogglingly quick, impossible to screw up, and way more flavorful than anything that comes from a bottle.  Salads are also a fantastic way to practice being creative in the kitchen.  I could write volumes about this stuff.  In fact, I’m about to, so bear with me.

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