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Saturday, August 11, 2012

Farmers' Market Day and a Quick Salad




It was a beautiful day for a trip to the Farmers' Market, with an opportunity to test the bag I had just finished for carrying things like produce or books or whatever. Good thing that I made it strong, as I ended up with a 5 pound half cabbage, two large butternut squashes along with bundles of amaranth greens and the most fragrant Thai basil in the world. (I think my car will smell like that for a week--at least I hope so!) Since I was still in the mood for fresh produce, I stopped by my favorite orchard and picked up a bag of Zestar apples, some sweet corn and dill along with ridiculously inexpensive zucchini. (A friend of mine tells me that you know you don't have friends in MN in the summer if you have to buy zucchini in the store. However, buying it at the orchard for 50 cents for a four pounder is almost like getting free food.)

So now my afternoon is planned for me. First, get the greens into the refrigerator, except for a handful that will be the base of a great salad. The squash will keep for awhile in the garage "root cellar" and the corn will be dinner, with the extra cut off the cob and frozen for winter. An "overnight coleslaw" for tomorrow's potluck will take care of a large part of the cabbage, and the dill will be ready for another batch of refrigerator pickles. Apples are ready to combine with the first of the second crop of raspberries for the dessert dish for the potluck. How wonderful to have these fragrant dishes to look forward to.

The amaranth was one of those purchases I love to make when I get a chance to buy from the produce producers themselves. Laying there at the end of the day, the unlabeled bunches were still green and enticing. However, I do not like bitter greens at all, so I had to ask what they were and how to prepare them. Though the grandmotherly booth owner spoke little English, a young woman working there told me the name and that the greens would remind me most of spinach. I asked to tear off a small piece of leaf to try and loved its sweet tender flavor. "Grandma" immediately took another piece, snapped off a large section and handed it to me, with clear gestures to try much more. The portion she handed me included both leaf and stem, the latter about as big around as a wide drinking straw, and almost as hollow. It was surprisingly sweet and tender, even that stem section.

I was hooked. The price was wonderfully low, so I said I'd take two of the huge clusters. "Here," the young girl said, "let me give you all three." (It was the end of the day for them, so I guess I was helping them as well.) Looking on line, I can see a lot of wonderful trials for this new to me green, and I'll be sharing more as I try them out.

(As for the nutrition in these greens? Wonderful stuff!--check out http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2304/2 if you want to see details on the wonders of amaranth greens.)

Today's salad was simple. After washing thoroughly,* I tore some leaves off the stems, patted them dry on a towel, and tossed them with fresh vegetables I had on hand. The dressing was a sweet vinaigrette left over from another salad earlier in the week. After taking the picture below, I did add in a handful of salted dry roasted peanuts for a little added crunch and protein, since this ended up being the entirety of my lunch...Well, there were those fresh apple slices with thin pieces of smoked provolone, but it was mostly a salad meal.

*Farmers' Market Warning: If you go on a day when there have been recent rains, any greens you buy should be pretty muddy--a good sign they really are local!





Amaranth Salad

amaranth leaves, washed and coarsely chopped (save the stems for later)--this will also work with spinach if amaranth is not available
garden tomatoes, coarsely chopped or cut in half if cherry or grape tomatoes are used
bell pepper, any color, cut in large dice
cucumber cut in julienned pieces
salted peanuts or sunflower seeds
other optional ingredients: finely shredded cabbage, red or sweet onion slivers, shredded carrots, black olives, cheese cubes--in effect, whatever you have in the refrigerator that sounds good to add to the mix!
Sweet Vinaigrette Dressing

Toss all vegetables together and add just enough dressing to moisten. Top with peanuts or sunflower seeds. Note that there are no measured amounts here. You will probably want 2 to 3 cups of greens per person for a main dish salad, with less if it will only be a side. The other ingredients should be added based on your preferences and what you have available. The best salads are really made like this!

 Sweet Vinaigrette Dressing 

Okay, this is my "secret" added flavor--today's dressing was "recycled." I had made this for a mixture of cabbage, onions, lettuce, garlic, basil, etc., and there was a lot left in the bottom of the salad bowl. Into the refrigerator it went, with all that added flavor from yesterday's vegetables. Poured over the greens today, there were hints of the garlic and other flavors without adding them into the mix today. This helped me get the full flavor of the amaranth--AND saved me some time as well.

The basic recipe I started with is below, but don't be afraid to do your own "recycling." The vinegar and oil will keep the mix well for several days--or more--in the refrigerator, adding more flavor enhancements with each new salad into which it is blended.
  • 1/2 cup sugar (may reduce this to 1/4 cup if you prefer)
  • 1/2 cup olive or canola oil
  • 3/4 cup cider or wine vinegar
  • 1/2 t salt, to taste (omit if using salted nuts or seeds or cheese in your salad)
  • 3/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 1 to 2 cloves garlic, crushed
 Combine sugar, oil, salt, and vinegar in a small saucepan. Stir well and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and add remaining ingredients. If desired, fresh or dried herbs (basil, Italian seasoning mix, rosemary, etc.) may be added to the dressing or just tossed with the salad greens later.




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