Sexy Salads and Sumptuous Settings
Treat your wedding party to a luxurious garden party—and decorate your table in style.
|Photo: Sara Remington © 2010
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In the midst of these heady months preceding your wedding, scheduling a simple, cultured gathering—either for a bridal shower or a luncheon to show your gratitude to your wedding party—can be a welcome respite. And what better evokes a sense of grace than a garden party? Equally Wed talked to Andrew Swallow, the founder of San Francisco’s Mixt Greens chain, and Barbara Milo Ohrbach, author of Tabletops (Clarkson Potter), about creating a sophisticated but breezy affair that will give you a fine excuse to stop and savor the moment.
“Most people think of a salad as a chef salad with turkey and ham, a Caesar with chicken or a Cobb,” says Swallow. “I always loved salads and want people to know that they can make a meal out of it. I base my salads on entrées I created, tweak the sauces to make vinaigrettes, and add greens.” Swallow, who has worked at fine restaurants including Ajax Tavern in Aspen and Gary Danko in San Francisco, took this notion that salads can be sexy to the nation with his 2010 book, Mixt Salads (Ten Speed Press). Here are his cardinal rules for creating the most sensuous salads:
Building Your Salad
“The first thing you want to consider is timing the ingredients with the season,” says Swallow whose manta is “eat fresh, eat local.” “Second, consider if you are serving a light lunch or an entrée-dinner type of salad.” Once you know these factors, you start building your salad on textures. “You want your salad to be well-composed,” he says. “Aim for a combination of ingredients that are chewy, crunchy, soft and have snap.”
Selecting Your Greens
The greens depend on your goal: How much you want to taste it and feel it in your mouth. “If you want a salad that is very soft, choose butter lettuce since it is delicate,” he says. “I love butter lettuce, but it’s very delicate. You can spruce it up by putting some baby rocket in there to give it some punch.” If you want a salad with a stronger green flavor, Swallow suggests you select rocket, arugula or spinach. “Romaine is more of a texture—it’s one of my favorites,” he says. “Iceberg is 100 percent water; it’s all crunch, no flavor. I like iceberg when I’m making an old classic from the 1950s wedge with bacon and blue cheese.”
For an entrée salad, select a protein—and surprise your guests with selections like spring lamb or (hey, guys!) filet mignon. “Raise the bar and be as creative as possible,” he says.
Andrew Swallow’s Top 3 Salad Sins
Thou Shalt Not Premake the Salad.
“Keep vegetables and lettuce in separate containers,” Swallow recommends. “Grill the meat, slice it, and when it is done, dress the salad and top it with the steak. If you dress the salads too early, vegetables can bleed into each other. You want to make sure that you have them in separate containers.”
Thou Shalt Not Overdress.
“You want to just coat the lettuce,” Swallow says.
Thou Shalt Not Abuse the Greens.
“Don’t shred and pull the lettuce until the last second. The minute you cut the lettuce, it starts to decay—it’s dying,” he says. “While the leaves are whole they are not breaking down yet.” Other abuses: cutting greens too small, bruising them, and overwashing them. “People don’t dry their lettuce well enough,” Swallow says. “The worst thing in the world is having a salad with water on the lettuce. It just dilutes the flavor. Pat dry the lettuce or put it in a salad spinner.”
Setting Your Table
When deciding upon your tabletop design, advises Barbara Milo Ohrbach, consider the menu first. “It’s all about the food,” she says. “The design should enhance it.”
When Ohrbach entertains outside she ties the table elements together with shades of green. “It looks very fresh because it enables you to use white, like white Victorian table linens and napkins—a neutral palette to lay other things on,” she says. She recommends attending yard sales and estate sales, where you can pick up wonderful old linens.
To set the table, Ohrbach uses white or cream china with green accents or green china with white accessories. “The green anchors it,” she explains. “Napkin rings give you an opportunity to put something around your napkin and tuck your place card there,” she says. “Place cards are important at luncheons. Knowing who sits next to whom makes for a more successful party.” She suggests placing ivy, a piece of fern, or a flower, such as a daisy, into the napkin, then threading a string through the napkin and tying the place card onto it.
Let your centerpiece echo the green theme. A novel idea is taking a bunch of asparagus and tying them together with a beautiful ribbon. “I love using vegetables as centerpieces instead of flowers,” Ohrbach says. “Outside, there are usually already so many flowers around that the vegetables really stand out. Things like broccoli are very unexpected.” She suggests laying rhubarb leaves or cabbage—“anything with an interesting leaf”—flat on the table and set a clear glass plate over them. “Greens vary: from gray-green to bright-green to yellow-green to dark green—they are all quite beautiful.”
Sexy Salads by Andrew Swallow
Blackberries and strawberries with goat cheese
“A good balsamic and ripe berries taste really good together. This salad is a wonderful marriage of the sweetness of the strawberries and blackberries, the syrupy tartness of the balsamic, the creaminess of goat cheese, and the texture of pecans.”
8 oz mixed greens
In a bowl, toss together the pecans, sugar, salt, cumin, cayenne and 1 tbsp water. Spread this mixture on a sheet tray and bake for 20 minutes.
To make the dressing, combine the vinegar, shallot, mustard, thyme and honey in a blender. Slowly add the oil in a stream and blend until emulsified. Season with salt and pepper.
To plate each serving, gently toss together 2 oz mixed greens, 2 oz each blackberries and strawberries, ½ tsp mint, ½ tsp basil, 1 tbsp goat cheese and 1 oz of the candied pecans with 2 tbsp of the dressing. Season with salt and pepper.
Spring lamb with grilled baby artichokes
“The delicate flavor of spring lamb pairs perfectly with lightly earthy, spring Mediterranean vegetables. I added flageolet beans to round off the salad with a little nutty flavor. As it can be a challenge to find spring lamb, get on over to your best butcher for his help with sourcing.”
In a large saucepan, combine 8 cups water with the beans, the lemon half, garlic, thyme and salt. Bring to a simmer and cook for 45 to 50 minutes, or until al dente.
To prepare the lamb, combine the olive oil, rosemary, and garlic in a shallow dish; add the lamb tenderloins, and marinate for 3 to 6 hours, depending on how much time you have and how much favor you want the meat to absorb.
To make the tapenade, combine the olive oil, spring garlic and olives in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
To make the salad, over an open flame, roast the bell pepper until all sides are properly charred, but not completely burnt. Place the pepper in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap for 5 minutes. (This will steam the pepper, making it easier to remove the skin.) Remove the skin and seeds from the pepper, then julienne and set aside.
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil on the stove. Peel off the outer artichoke leaves until you reach a layer where they are almost yellow. Blanch the artichokes for 7 minutes, then let them cool down a bit before cutting each one in half. Coat them with extra virgin olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
“You got it, here’s what every guy wants to eat all the time: meat and potatoes.”
1 tbsp canola oil
In a bowl, toss the potatoes with the extra virgin olive oil, rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper. Place on a baking sheet and roast for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown.
To make the dressing, combine the vinegar, mustard, garlic, shallot, honey, thyme and sugar in a blender. Slowly add the canola oil in a stream and blend to emulsify. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
Heat the 1 tbsp canola oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Sauté the onions for 10 to 12 minutes, until the natural sugars caramelize. Season the steaks with salt and pepper. Turn down the grill to medium-high. Grill the steaks for about 7 minutes per side, until medium-rare. Remove the steaks from the grill and let them rest for about 3 minutes before slicing into 1-inch cubes.
To plate each serving (or for all ingredients if serving on a platter, family style), toss 3 ounces red leaf, slices from half a tomato, 2 tbsp blue cheese, 1/2 cup potatoes and 3 tablespoons onions with 2 tbsp of the dressing. Season with salt and pepper and top with the cubes from one steak.
Photos: Reprinted with permission from Mixt Salads: A Chef’s Bold Creations by Andrew Swallow with Ann Volkwein, copyright 2010. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.”