Are you a Coast Explorer? Subscribe to Coast Explorer now and don't miss another issue featuring our beautiful photography and design, interesting feature stories and guides to coastal attractions, events, dining, shopping, arts and lodging.
Annual subscriptions (3 issues) now only $15.
Going green is all the rage these days and eating healthy, organic and locally produced foods is part of the movement. Nowhere is this more evident than on the dining tables of Northwest homes and restaurants where the creation of imaginative and flavorful salads are making that bowl of iceberg lettuce with ranch dressing as outdated as a polyester leisure suit.
Recent years have seen the elevation of the salad course to new gourmet heights with complex combinations of greens and the addition of ingredients and dressings that create pleasing contrasts in flavors and textures. The salad is also no longer relegated to the salad course. Entrée salads can offer nutritious meals with a wide range of fruit, vegetables, nuts cheeses and protein ranging from salmon to seared beef.
Although iceberg and romaine lettuce still have their place in the salad bowl, the trend is toward more variety in the base greens component of salads. More exotic lettuces, spinach and mixed greens such as arugula, endive, frisée and mizuna are finding their way into the bowl. Mesclun greens are a common mix of these young salad leaves that may also include Swiss chard, mustard greens, mache, radicchio and sorrel. These mixed greens present a combination of color and texture, but also offer complex flavor profiles from peppery spice to contrasting bitterness.
A basic formula for mixed greens is to start with a mild, tender lettuce (such as Boston, bibb or butter lettuce), add another crisp lettuce like romaine or cabbage and then mix in tart, peppery or bitter greens like arugula or radicchio.
More than any other green, spinach is becoming the new iceberg. Popular for its availability, versatility and nutritional value, spinach lends itself well to pairing with many other flavors ranging from fruit, bacon, cheeses and the flavored vinaigrette dressings that are increasingly popular.
Adding a combination of ingredients including fruit, vegetables, nuts, cheese and protein to the green salad provides another canvas for salad artists to express themselves. Teasing the taste buds and senses with savory, sweet, crunchy, salty, bitter and tart components make for adventurous culinary experiences.
Northwest cooks can take advantage of regional pears, blackberries, apples, cherries, strawberries and peaches. Consider combinations of cheeses and meats that pair well with these ingredients including classic flavor combinations such as bleu cheese and pear or apples and brie. Many of these combinations can include a salty component. Consider incorporating a high quality bacon, speck or ham to your salad to add salty and smoky flavors or choose unsmoked products such as prosciutto or pancetta.
Chef Thomas Morrisette at Yummy Wine Bar & Bistro in Seaside often creates his salads considering the cheese component first. I recently sat down for his organic green salad with strawberries and candied-pecan crusted goat cheese. Playing off of a California classic of spinach and strawberries, Morrisette's creation adds the creamy texture of a mild goat cheese and the crunch of its pecan crust with mesclun greens that include both spicy and bitter greens. A balsamic reduction is sweetened with honey and drizzled on the plate while the greens are lightly dressed in a balsamic-Dijon emulsion dressing.
Chef Matt Nesel from the Bay House in Lincoln City also thinks outside the bowl when it comes to contrasts in flavors and textures. His roasted beet salad includes blood oranges, toasted walnuts, basil and pecarino ginepro, an Italian cheese flavored by cured rubs of basalmic vinegar and juniper berries. The cheese adds woodsy, herbal and salty flavors to the dish combining earthy, sweet and spicy components.
If spinach is the new iceberg, it may be that nuts are the new croutons. Consider adding cashews, almonds, pecans or pinenuts to your salad creations. Northwest grown hazelnuts (filberts to us Oregonians) and walnuts also make good choices. They can be lightly toasted, candied or seasoned to enhance their flavor. Toasted sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds can also add crunch and flavor.
Fresh herbs and edible flowers from your local farmer's market can add color, texture and flavor to your creations. "Adding fresh herbs like parsley, cilantro, basil or even mint to your greens can add a mysterious note," says Bridgewater Bistro chef Red Pelletier. In her salads, she also tries to incorporate local ingredients such as hazelnuts, dried cranberries, fresh huckleberries and blackberries. Her emphasis on local ingredients carrries over to her dressings including a cranberry vinaigrette and a salalberry vinaigrette.
Adding protein to salads is not a new phenomenon. Nearly every restaurant with a Caesar salad on the menu offers the option of adding grilled chicken or salmon. This concept is now elevated to more sophisticated levels including the incorporation of exotic flavors such as citrus, sesame, soy-ginger and chili that can be used as a glaze or marinade with chicken or fish and served with your favorite greens. Keep your eye on what's fresh at the seafood counter and build your salads around complementary flavor profiles for fresh salmon, halibut, tuna and crab. Seared beef, lamb or pork tenderloin medallions can also be incorporated into salads to satisfy carnivorous cravings.
The Caesar salad has outlasted other salad trends, but even the concept of the Caesar has been stretched. In addition to adding protein, a recent trend in Caesar salads is to add interesting flavor profiles to the basic Caesar dressing. Herbs and spices can be added to represent flavors ranging from southwest to Asian. Another trend is to flash grill the romaine to add a smoky flavor.
With more health conscious cooks looking for alternatives to traditional fat-laden creamy dressings that can negate some of the healthful attributes of salads, the trend is toward flavored vinaigrette-style dressings. By combining herbs, spices and other ingredients, vinaigrette-style dressings can deliver the sweet and spicy flavors that pair well with whatever your choice of ingredients. These easy to make dressings typically start with a good wine vinegar, a premium extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper and fresh herbs. The rest can be up to your imagination. For sweeter dressings, raspberry, blueberry, strawberry and orange are popular starting points. More tart options include lime, lemon or grapefruit. To add a spicy component, consider ingredients such as specialty mustards, wasabi or cilantro.
If you're comfortable creating complementary flavor profiles, the salad is the perfect dish to express yourself. Go ahead and experiment. If you just have an idea about combining ingredients or flavors and would like to find recipes, Google any combination of ingredients. A search for apple gorgonzola salad will offer pages of options for ingredients and dressings.
Roasted Beet Salad
(Compliments of The Bay House in Lincoln City)
1 pound of Golden Beets
1 pound of Red Beets
3 oz Mesculin Mixed Greens
1 oz Pecarino Ginepro cheese
6 Blood Oranges
2 tsp walnut oil
1 tsp minced basil
2 1/2 oz walnuts
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
Set oven to 400º. Trim beets at both ends and rub down with olive oil, salt and pepper. Place in a roasting pan and put in the oven for approximately 50 minutes or until beets are tender. The size of the beets will determine actual cooking time. Toast the walnuts for four or five minutes.
When beets are finished, remove from oven, peel them and allow to cool. Slice beets into wedges. Peel and segment three of the oranges and juice the others. Arrange greens on four plates, arrange beets, walnuts and orange segments on the greens. Whisk the orange juice, walnut oil, and basil in a bowl and drizzle over the salads to taste. Top with shaved Pecarino and serve.
Hearts of Palm Salad
(Compliments of Chef Red Pelletier at Bridgewater Bistro in Astoria)
2 1/2 cups Mandarin oranges, drained
1 can hearts of palm, rinsed & sliced
2 tsp dry chervil
2/3 cup good mayonnaise
1/4 cup mango puree (Suggestion: buy frozen mangos and puree in a food processor. These tend to be more perfectly ripe.)
Blend together dressing ingredients and pour over salad. Let rest in refrigerator for about 1 hour for flavors to blend. Season with a little seasoned salt and pepper to taste.
Serve on a bed of fresh organic greens and top with a scatter of diced red peppers and chopped parsley.
• 1 cup grilled diced chicken
• 1 cup baby shrimp
• 1 cup grilled flaked salmon
• Top with grilled prawns or a piece of grilled salmon
Organic Greens & Strawberry Salad (Compliments of Yummy Wine Bar & Bistro in Seaside)
8 oz organic baby green mix
2 oz balsamic vinaigrette
8 oz Chevre (goat cheese)
2 oz candied pecans crushed
12 large strawberries, sliced
1 pound of pecans
2 oz butter melted
1 tbsp cayenne pepper
4 oz sugar
Combine sugar and cayenne pepper. Toss pecans with the butter in a medium bowl and add half of the sugar mix just enough to coat the pecans. Roast on a sheet pan at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. Place the pecans back into the mixing bowl and coat with the rest of the sugar mix. Let cool on a sheet pan, then pulse half of them in a food processor. Reserve the rest for garnish
For the Salad:
Roll the goat cheese into a log shape and press the pulsed candied pecans onto the cheese logs in an even coat. Place the greens, strawberries, balsamic vinaigrette in a mixing bowl, toss gently and divide among four chilled plates. Cut the goat cheese logs into thin slices and place around the salad plates. Sprinkle a few reserve candied pecans over each salad.