Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Fall Colors

Although the weather got downright hot recently, initiating a revival of the herbs, flowers and cherry tomatoes in the container garden on our patio, autumn has settled into southeastern Minnesota. Harry and I went back to nearby Great River Bluffs State Park, where we went camping this summer, to view its scenes in the full color of this season. I’ve been fortunate enough to live most of my life in places that look like this in October, and I try to celebrate it and not take it for granted.

And what better way to celebrate something than to create a meal, or at least a dish, in its honor. Since the abundance of late-season harvest is also in full force and full color, I used those vegetables (most of them from our CSA) to make a salad reminiscent of that autumn afternoon spent hiking in that bright and sunny (and unseasonably warm) grandeur. There was a clipped recipe for a shaved vegetable salad with apple vinaigrette around here somewhere and that provided additional inspiration for this dish.

I used a combination of sweet and zingy vegetables and an apple to make this salad. I had red daikon and black (they’re creamy white on the inside) radishes to fill in the stronger end of the spectrum. Purple, orange and white carrots as well as part of a carnival squash balanced the zesty radishes with their sweetness. The vinaigrette, which contained a little fresh-pressed apple cider along with cider vinegar, helped bridge the gap between the contrasting vegetable flavors and bring them together. The sage with which I infused olive oil for the dressing lent and earthy background flavor that complimented the fall vegetables and apples so well.

It is important to either shave the vegetables thinly with a vegetable peeler or with a mandolin or similar tool. (You can cut them with a sharp knife if you’re more skilled than I am.) The strips need to be delicate and easily chewable, and I found that the squash, while quite tasty raw, is especially crunchy, and is best cut or shaved very, very thinly. I shaved the carrots with a peeler and used the thinnest setting on a V-Slicer for the other vegetables, and then cut the round pieces into strips.

If one takes a bit of time to prepare the vegetables for this salad so that the strips are elegant and uniform, the result is not only delicious, but also very pretty. I suppose it is also possible that if one used only the simplest of tools to slowly and mindfully shave the bitter and sweet vegetables into long, delicate strips symbolic of summer’s long, bittersweet descent into winter, one might achieve enlightenment. With views like this, however, one may have all the enlightenment one can handle.

Note: Harry took most of the photos of the fall colors in Great River Bluffs State Park

Shaved Vegetable Salad with Cider-Sage Vinaigrette
Based on a recipe in Cooking Light magazine.

Use a good blend of sweet and bitter or spicy vegetables for best results. I used apple, winter squash (be sure to shave very thinly), carrots, and radishes (red daikon and black). Other good additions might include rutabaga, turnip, and kohlrabi.

3 tablespoons (45 ml) extra virgin olive oil
about 10 large fresh sage leaves
about 4 cups (1 liter) shaved (with a vegetable peeler) or thinly sliced (with a mandolin) apples, root vegetables and winter squash (Peel the vegetables first. It is not necessary to peel the apple, but do remove the core.)
¼ cup (about 60 ml) thinly sliced red onion
2 tablespoons (30 ml) cider vinegar
1 tablespoon (15 ml) apple cider
½ teaspoon (2.5 ml) coarse salt, divided

1. In a small saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the sage leaves and let them sizzle for 1-2 minutes, or until they appear very slightly shriveled and crispy. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool. (You can prepare the vegetables while the oil cools.)

2. When the oil has cooled, remove the sage leaves. Chop or crumble them and set aside. Place the infused oil in a small bowl. Add the cider vinegar, cider and ¼ teaspoon (a little more than 1 ml) salt. Whisk vigorously until well combined.

3. Place the shaved vegetables and apple and the sliced red onion in a large bowl. Pour the vinaigrette over the vegetables. Sprinkle on the remaining salt as well. Toss well to coat the vegetables with the dressing. Sprinkle the crumbled sage leaves over the salad.

Makes 4-6 servings. Leftovers can be kept chilled for a few days.

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