Friday, May 09, 2008

Steamed Salad Days

This year, I have finally come to terms with the fact that waking up early on May Saturdays to go to the farmer’s market is pretty much a fool’s errand. The walk up to Prospect Park is nice, and I can pick up the odd potato or shallot. But there’s really not much in the way of spring produce until at least early June. All of my May and most of my June cooking magazines have arrived, though, touting the beautiful sugar snap peas, strawberries, and cherries that theoretically I should be savoring now. Patience, patience, I know.

I have enjoyed looking at the recipes in this month’s issues, and an easy one from Eating Well caught my eye: Lemon-mint Snap Peas and Lima Beans.

I ordered frozen baby lima beans and sugar snap peas from FreshDirect and got to work. It’s a simple three-step, 10 minute process: steam the vegetables, make a vinaigrette, and toss them together. Unfortunately, the phone rang while I was cooking and I over-steamed the snap peas and lima beans. Instead of a fresh, bright green the peas turned darker, a sure sign of overcooking, and really had no crispness. However, the salad was still very good – the tang of the mustard vinaigrette paired beautifully with the vegetables. It’s healthy, too, and it got me thinking about salads.

Too often I get stuck in a lettuce rut. Leafy green salads can be a perfect, light rounding out to a meal. I absolutely love the simplicity, texture, and flavor of baby arugula tossed with olive oil, lemon juice, and coarse kosher salt. In every mouthful each element is distinct, yet they complement each other extremely well. So, lettuce salads with some sort of vinaigrette dressing are a popular feature on the dinner table chez Jenna and Dave. But, frankly, sometimes they get a little boring.

So the snap pea and lima bean salad reminded me that I shouldn’t be a slave to lettuce-based salads. I can keep the dressing, but swap out the veggies and even cook them first. Of course, there’s the wonderful, classic potato salad, which I much prefer with a vinaigrette as opposed to a gloppy mayonnaise-based dressing. Other great options include sweet potatoes, broccoli, peas, green beans, and asparagus – or a combination.

As the summer progresses and roasting vegetables (my winter standby) becomes completely untenable in my stuffy, petite – to be polite – kitchen, I will remember the steamed vegetable and vinaigrette salad. I might even throw an herb into the dressing and crumble some cheese on top.

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