We eat a salad of some sort just about every day at our house. I’ve been told it’s a particular strength of mine to compose a salad, I just think we excel in things we love to eat. Funny though, back in culinary school I struggled most with making a vinaigrette – it just seemed impossible to balance just enough acid with the oil. Drop by drop we would add the oil into the bowl while the other would vigorously whisk in fear of breaking the emulsion. We would all stand around the bowl with our plastic spoons tasting and re-tasting this terribly flat or lip puckering concoction – “maybe a little more oil” – “no, maybe a bit more acid” – “maybe it needs more salt” – “I just don’t know!” It’s so funny to think about it now. One day it just clicked. I remember the moment I finally started to understand the vinaigrette. I was working my internship in Los Angeles, at Ciudad (owned and operated by Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger AKA The Two Hot Tamales). Before service each day, Susan would grab a handful of spoons and walk through the line and taste everything that we were about to send out to the guests, I mean everything! At that point I was just moved up from prep to working the salad/hot appetizer station. Prep cooks work behind the scenes, usually off the line. They peel potatoes, chop onions, slice mushrooms – pretty much anything and everything that makes the chefs and line cooks life easier. The dishwashers and prep cooks are the true backbone of any restaurant, they make us all look better. In the beginning Susan would comment to me that my salads needed more vinegar/acid (or salt!), even after painstakingly making the dressings. This made me really stop and think about what I was trying to achieve, and in turn brought me back to culinary school and the vinaigrette recipe standard of 3 parts oil to 1 part acid . If you can keep this formula in the back of your mind you are well on your way to making great vinaigrettes. Vinegars and citrus such as lemons have different levels of tartness, so depending on what your acid of choice is, you may have to slightly adjust the amount oil. For me it’s more like a 2:1 ratio, I like a little extra punch, but everyone’s tastes are different. It’s not a science, it’s a subtle balance – you want your tongue to tingle ever so slightly. The acid will hit you in the back sides of your tongue, just enough to make your mouth water a bit. Pay attention, close your eyes and taste – you’ll know when you have the right balance when you say to yourself “damn, that’s really good”.
I’ve been looking forward to diving into this Salad “Series” with you. Salads, vinaigrettes and dressing – there are no limits to the flavors and combinations – so let’s get crazy and creative! Well, at least creative.
Wheat Berry Salad with ginger and citrus.
I’ve dubbed this salad “the kitchen sink”, make at the end of the week when you have bits and pieces of things left over that you need to use up. When I’m thinking about a salad, I want to hit all the senses. Is there something crunchy, something a little sweet, salty, something peppery, astringent, a little acidic, something chewy (and this wheat berry salad is definitely chewy!). Sometimes you can achieve this in just a few ingredients – some mixed greens, a few seeds or nuts and a fantastic vinaigrette. Well, this Wheat Berry Salad has more than a few ingredients, but so good! Remember “kitchen sink”, throw in what you have on hand – a handful of nuts, some dried fruit, left over veggies, that little chunk of cheese that’s been sitting in the fridge waiting for a purpose…