A Greek Salad in Winter

February 28, 2012 § 16 Comments

The weeks are continuing to double time it in their march forward.  The days downright hurtle.  I duck as something goes whizzing uncontrollably over my head, then stand back up muttering, “holy bleep, was that Thursday?!”

I feel the insight of Lewis Carroll’s winsome scene in which Alice, on the cooky side of the looking glass, runs beside the Red Queen as the Queen explains that they’re not going anywhere, but rather everything is moving swiftly by them and, “it takes all the running you can do, to keep in place.”  (I’m afraid I’ve been neglecting my work on believing impossible things before breakfast, though.)

As I run to stay in place, I try to remember to notice my breath, feel my hands and feet, and to keep around a bottomless pot of soup and a sturdy salad so I can dip into them for several days.

It has to be a rather sturdy salad though.  A lettuce salad simply won’t do.  They are fragile, ephemeral things, lettuce salads, and after just an hour or so with dressing they start to droop and wilt, looking as saggy, drawn, and forlorn  as an old lady doodled by Edward Lear.  (Sorry, couldn’t alude to Carroll without also referencing my favorite Victorian nonsense writer.)  It will not do to make a large lettuce salad and try to eat it over the course of a week.

But, winter is the time for endurance vegetables anyway, so the alternatives are there.  A kale salad keeps well for several days.  Any wilting only makes it more edible (up to a commonsensical point, of course)!  Sliced fennel will pull through for you in a time of need, as will shredded cabbages and carrots, steamed cauliflower, or roasted squash.  They may look a little bedraggled, brown around the edges, by the time you reach your last serving 3 or 4 days in, but when you take a bite you’ll find that they were indeed up to the task.  They’ll taste as toothsome as ever.

This was my thinking behind the motley crew of vegetables in this salad.  Look at them.  A ragtag bobtail bunch if I ever saw one.  But ragtag fits the bill around here right now, and motley keeps things interesting.  Interesting, and definitively tasty.

I was craving a Greek salad, craving the creamy, punchy brine of sheep’s milk ricotta with the squeaky, grassy salt of good olives, all up in my vegetables, clamoring for attention with each bite.  Feta and olives are fine with romaine, but they kind of bowl the lettuce over.  The lettuce doesn’t know what happened, and you barely know it’s there.

But, with a line up of lightly steamed and sauteed winter vegetables instead, suddenly you’ve got personality coming out your ears, and filling your mouth with a variety show of de-licious.  Thin slices of fennel step-up the anise flavor, cauliflower pulls out the nuttiness, Brussels sprouts sidle in with mustardy cabbage flavor, and the carrots are earthy and sweet.  Each contributes something distinct, but feta and olives complement them all.  Finally, dried oregano, which I often completely forget about in favor of other herbs, pipes up from the dressing telling you, this may not be your standard Greek salad, but a Greek salad it shall be.

You’ll have to bang out a few pots and pans and make a bit more mess than a simpler salad might require.  But, my experience is that it will come together remarkably quickly, (even if it is 9 pm) and then it will make you happy for days.  Unless you find yourself helping yourself to seconds and thirds each lunch time.  It’s been known to happen.  In this case it will make you very happy for a couple days.  And then, as the world whirls by, you can make more!

Winterized Greek Salad (serves 6) (inspired by a salad at Sofra cafe)

  • 1/2 head of cauliflower, cut into small florets
  • 3-4 medium-large carrots, cut into 1-inch batons
  • 10-12 Brussels sprouts, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • 1 large fennel bulb, trimmed and sliced paper thin on a mandoline (or with a very sharp knife and a patient enough hand)
  • 1/2 of a red onion, finely chopped
  • 4 Tbs. olive oil, plus more for sauteeing
  • 1 Tbs. Balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Tbs. lemon juice
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • about 10-12 oz. good quality feta (preferably sheep’s milk), crumbled
  • a very generous handful of Kalamata olives, cut into quarters (I actually wound up using Sicilian olives because we were flat out of Kalamata (shocking!), and they were good, but it’s a Greek salad and all, so really Kalamata would be best.)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. In a vegetable steamer, steam the cauliflower and carrots until crisp tender, 7-10 minutes.  Sprinkle with a little salt.  Set aside to cool.
  2. Heat a generous splash of olive oil in a large saute pan until it is shimmering.  Sautee the sliced Brussels sprouts until they are just tender and wilted, about 5-7 minutes.  Sprinkle generously with salt and set aside to cool.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the 4 Tbs. olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, garlic, oregano, and a pinch of salt and pepper.  Add the onion to this and let it sit at least 5 minutes to help soften the bite of the onion.
  4. When the vegetables are fairly cool, toss together the cauliflower, carrots, Brussels sprouts, and thinly sliced fennel with the red onion and the salad dressing.  Taste and add salt and pepper to taste, remembering that the cheese and olives will add some saltiness too.  Add the feta and olives and gently toss again to just work the cheese and olives into the mix.  Serve! Or partition into Tupperwares and eat over several days.

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