– Story and Recipes by Chef Heidi Fink Photography by Don Denton
By winter’s end, many of us are absolutely craving fresh greens and vegetables. I want foods that are just out of the ground, tasting of real spring. Greens that mean it: sharp, peppery, earthy, mineral, pungent, refreshing. Fresh new vegetables that entice the palate and spark a jaded appetite. I hope you’re with me.
For this reason, among many, we are blessed to live on Vancouver Island. Our sub-Mediterranean climate allows for a longer growing season and earlier harvest of the freshest new vegetables. Right now, we can be enjoying a meal of locally grown lettuces, spring greens and baby greenhouse-grown vegetables. By late May, it feels as though the farmers’ markets are in full summer swing and I have to hold myself back from spending my entire paycheque on boutique vegetables. Craving satisfied.
My spring salad comes in many forms, depending on what I find at the market or what I have on hand in my pantry. At its simplest, the salad is a plate of lettuces and spring greens, drizzled with homemade vinaigrette. This is my go-to if I don’t have a lot of time, and especially if I have some more flavourful salad leaves in my crisper: chicories like radicchio and endive; peppery greens like mizuna and wild arugula; or something tender and sweet like miner’s lettuce and pea sprouts.
At its most elaborate, a spring salad can be a fantastic hearty meal. By mixing leaves and a delicious dressing with a variety of steamed and raw vegetables, proteins (fish or boiled eggs are my favourites), herbs, cheeses, nuts, even fruit, you can create a seasonal meal that is both simple and elegant.
No matter how involved the recipe, I focus on the vegetables — their peak-of-freshness is really what sets this kind of salad apart. The joy in finding a local greenhouse-grown snap pea or cherry tomato in early spring, or delicious local asparagus and early potatoes in later spring, calls for celebration in the kitchen and attention to preparation.
It’s important to focus on what you like and what you are able to cook without making yourself crazy. Find a salad dressing that you love, and work with the ingredients on hand or those you have wanted to try.
I prefer to lightly steam or cook a variety of harder vegetables (carrots, broccoli, snap peas, asparagus, new potatoes, beets) and include them with the fresh raw vegetables (radishes, chives, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers). Lightly cooking the harder vegetables improves their colour, flavour and digestibility. All the ingredients (salad dressing, washed and ripped leaves, cooked vegetables, cooked proteins) can be prepared in advance and assembled when ready to eat.
As a final note, remember that many salads can be served warm, meaning that one or more of the main ingredients, as well as the vinaigrette, can be heated before being tossed with the rest of the ingredients. For my favourite warm salad, try the Warm Endive Salad with garlic and grainy Dijon mustard.
Satisfy your spring appetite with any of the following recipes. Happy cooking!
WARM ENDIVE SALAD
This sophisticated and flavourful salad can be served as a first course to any meal, or as a side vegetable. Its slightly bitter edge, rounded with plenty of sautéed garlic and tangy Dijon, makes for one of the tastiest palate-tinglers around.
8 oz (about half large head) curly endive, washed and chopped into 2-cm pieces
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1⁄8 tsp salt
1 tsp grainy Dijon mustard
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 fillets of anchovy, minced
¼ cup roasted pine nuts or walnuts
In a large mixing bowl, combine the red wine vinegar, salt, grainy Dijon and black pepper.
In a large saucepan, combine the extra virgin olive oil with the minced garlic and minced anchovy. Place over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly until the garlic is fragrant but not coloured. Immediately add the washed and chopped endive, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon or tongs until the leaves are coated with the garlic-oil-anchovy mixture and have begun to wilt very slightly, about 1 minute.
Immediately dump the contents of the saucepan into the mixing bowl with the vinegar-Dijon mixture. Toss with tongs or two wooden spoons until well mixed and the endive leaves are evenly coated with the vinegar mixture.
Transfer to a serving bowl or platter, garnish with the toasted nuts and serve immediately.
Leftovers can be kept up to 5 days and be eaten cold. The salad will lose its vibrant green colour after the first few hours.
My favourite salad dressing in the whole world. The oil will solidify in the refrigerator. Bring the dressing out to sit at room temperature while you are making and assembling the salad, to give the oil enough time to “melt.”
1 small clove garlic, minced or pressed
1 Tbsp finely minced shallot
½ tsp Dijon mustard
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp fresh ground pepper
¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (or substitute 2 Tbsp local apple cider vinegar)
Grated zest of ½ lemon, or more, to taste
1 Tbsp honey
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
In a small bowl, whisk together the garlic, shallot, mustard, salt, pepper, lemon juice, lemon zest and honey. Slowly drizzle in the oil, whisking until thoroughly emulsified. Pour into glass jar and refrigerate. This dressing will last up to 2 weeks stored in the fridge. Shake well before using.
Makes ¾ cup.
Use the Lemon Vinaigrette recipe (above) omitting the lemon zest, substituting 2 Tbsp of a good-quality vinegar of your choice (red wine, white wine or apple cider) for the lemon juice, and adding 1 to 2 tsp minced fresh thyme, 1 Tbsp minced chives and 2 Tbsp minced flat-leaf parsley to the mixture.
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