July 29, 2021. Dear Kids– Weren’t you kids lucky to have the coolest parents growing up? Too bad they were actually someone else’s parents- the parents of one of your best childhood friends, who were nice enough to take you on many exciting adventures. It’s not that Mom and I weren’t cool (at least that’s what we keep telling ourselves), but the really cool parents let you jump off towering piers into the icy Atlantic Ocean to learn about high and low tides; bounced you around a boat at high speeds over aggressive ocean waves to teach you about gravity; and pushed you off a high hill on a rope and into a lake a good distance away to help you understand physics. And let the record reflect, Mom and I were totally good with all of it! On top of all that, they even gave us one of your favorite salad recipes- Zippy Strawberry and Spinach Salad.
Admittedly, I should have posted this recipe, featuring strawberries, during strawberry season, but I somehow managed to miss the mark on that- probably has something to do with all the activity surrounding the upcoming DDD Test Kitchen Relocation. Still, there’s no use crying over missing out on perfectly ripe and local strawberries because this salad, which nicely balances the sweet strawberries and spinach with the tang of the buttermilk and goat cheese, is really tasty all year round. That’s why you should make it, with a loaf of crusty bread or small cheese plate, on any hot summer night or two that you don’t feel like adding to the heat with a stove or grill.
Prep Time: 15 minutes
GET YOUR STUFF OUT
- 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar or whatever vinegar you have on hand
- 2 tablespoons of honey
- 4 tablespoons buttermilk or other dairy/plant milk
- 5 tablespoons of canola oil
- 10 ounces of baby spinach
- 1 pound strawberries, hulled and sliced the way you like them
- ¼ cup of slivered almonds, toasted
- ¼ cup red onions, very thinly sliced with a vegetable peeler or knife
- 4-6 ounces goat or feta cheese, crumbled
COOK AND PLAY
Of course, said the Dad, you have to play “Strawberry Fields Forever” by The Beatles as you slice up your strawberries for this salad.
- Jar Dressing. Add all the dressing ingredients to an 8 ounce Mason or similar jar with lid, secure lid and shake it all up like nobody’s watching.
- Dress It Up. Add spinach, most of the strawberries, onions and most of the almonds to a large bowl, add half the dressing and toss everything to evenly coat. Taste the mix to see if it needs more dressing- if it does, add some more and toss, in small increments, until you are at peace with your salad.
- Finishing Touches. Portion tossed salad onto serving plates, into bowls or on a Family Style Platter, remembering the onions, almonds and strawberries like to hide at the bottom of the spinach pile. Sprinkle salads artistically with goat cheese and reserved strawberries and almonds.
Save The Baby Spinach. Is you’re a vegetarian, is eating baby spinach the same as eating veal? Probably not, but if you like a “greener” taste in your spinach, which would actually be nice with the sweet dressing in this recipe, why not give fresh adult spinach a try? Sure, there’s a bit more prep work- cutting off the tough stems and perhaps chopping up the leaves if they’re not bite sized and you want to save your guest the trouble and mess of cutting them up on their plates, which should always be the case- but that’s not so bad, is it?
Buttermilk and Batman. Buttermilk, is a bit like fish sauce, in the sense that when you smell or taste it, you wonder why on earth anyone would want to consume it, but once you taste the transformation into tastiness in a finished dish you understand perfectly. My first experience with buttermilk was back in the 70s which invloved an ill fated attempt to chug buttermilk like Batman did on an episode of the campy and wonderful 1960s TV show. The Caped Crusader chugged 6, yes 6, glasses of buttermilk in the Bat Cave with The Boy Wonder at his side and from a silver tray being held by Alfred, while talking on the Bat Phone to Commissioner Gordon, who was under the spell of King Tut at the time- Holy Dairy Overload Batman! Soon after I saw that after school episode (there was a magical time in my life, long before cable or internet, when my school day routine would start with Popeye and/or the Three Stooges in the morning and end with Batman in the afternoon- those were the days!), I rode my imaginary Bat Bike a few miles to a neighborhood deli and bought a container of buttermilk with money from my paper route. I rode my bike back home in excited anticipation as if it had Bat Jet Propulsion and the future of Gotham City counted on me finishing off a quart of buttermilk. I burst into the kitchen, grabbed a glass, fumbled to rip apart the spout at the top of the container and took a huge gulp of buttermilk that I immediately and violently spit out all across our kitchen table, thinking it tasted so sour and slimey and nothing like butter. Even worse than the lingering, putrid taste in my mouth, was the crushing realization that there would be no crime fighting in my future. That was enough to keep me away from buttermilk for decades and untiI we lived down south for a spell. That’s where buttermilk flows like beer at a frat party and when I realized just how wonderful its luscious tang can be in dressings, marinades, waffles, pancakes, biscuits (especially biscuits!) and much more, so don’t be afraid to buy a pint or more and use the leftovers to create something delicious.
BEWARE: Mere Seconds of Inattention Can Separate Toasted Nuts From Burnt Nuts. There is no question in my mind that toasted nuts have a more intense and richer flavor than untoasted, so if you like deep flavors, toast your nuts. On the other hand, burnt nuts are terrible, so don’t bother toasting nuts if you can’t commit to watching them every second they toast so they don’t burn- which can happen in seconds. You should also get them on a plate once they’re toasted because the residual heat of the pan can turn perfectly toasted nuts to burnt nuts just when you think you are safe. With all this being said, would you believe I was overcome with the smell of burnt nuts while I was prepping my strawberries because I thought I was special and I wasn’t because I forgot about the almonds I put in a dry pan over low heat while I was slicing strawberries. You can bet I gave my undivided attention to the second batch of almonds!
You Can Dress It Up, But ….. I am not a fan of salads being served undressed because it’s impossible to properly dress a salad on a small plate at the dinner table where you usually end up with too much dressing on the soggy top and not enough throughout the rest of the dry salad and/or a large dry cleaning bill. This became clear to me while I worked at a nice seafood restaurant during school where every side or other salad was dressed and tossed in the back of the house before it was brought to the table. This is why I suggest you do the same, but make sure you dress any delicate greens right before serving to avoid limp greens. If you are making a salad with hearty greens- like kale., Swiss Chard, radicchio- they can stand up to the dressing, so you can dress it all several hours ahead. It’s also fundamentally important not to overdress your salad, so when you toss that salad, add less dressing than you think you’ll need and add more and toss in small increments until you’re happy- serve more dressing on the side, just in case your guests think otherwise.
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