Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Dressing for Spring

As the air gets warmer, the sun comes out and the grass starts growing, I usually start to think about the seasonal shift in my wardrobe: switching sweaters for blouses, unearthing skirts and open-toed shoes, deciding whether I’m optimistic enough to bring out a pair of shorts or two. This only gets a little of my attention, however, as I am much more concerned with what I’m going to put on my spring salad greens.

That’s right, the locally-grown salad greens are in! My home-town food co-op carries a tender, delicate mix of sweet, slightly bitter, and tantalizingly tart baby greens that have been grown nearby (presumably in hot houses or cold frames). This beautiful bounty beats the pants off of anything being trucked in from the Emerald City, or wherever green things come from in the winter. They deserve to be specially treated. Gloppy, phony, over-processed bottled dressings need not apply.

About the time the greens came to my attention, a spicy coconut and lime salad dressing recipe in Martha Stewart Living magazine (April 2011) also grabbed my notice. As a great lover of coconut, I was excited to try it. I didn’t, however, want it to overwhelm my delicate salad greens, so I toned down the spice a bit by adding less chile. I used light coconut milk, because that’s what I keep in the cupboard, and made a few other minor tweaks.

The result was fabulous! The flavor of the dressing is very lime-forward, but its taming by the creamy, lightly sweet coconut milk keeps it from being lip-puckering. There’s just a bit of heat from the chile pepper (you could use more or retain some seeds if you want it spicier), and the other ingredients, which can be quite assertive (mint and scallion) or cloying (coconut milk) don’t seem to be trying to compete. (In fact, the coconut taste is very subtle. My husband might actually eat this!) Overall, the result is a peaceful, mellow melding of scents and flavors and not a war of harsh and bitter individuals.

The dressing went beautifully with the salad I prepared, which included thin-sliced celery, scallions, a few mint leaves and roasted, salted sunflower seeds in addition to the baby greens. It’s definitely a creamy dressing, but it isn’t heavy like buttermilk, sour cream, or mayonnaise-based dressings that might have crushed the delicate little lettuces. (Those heavier dressings will have their day when the bigger, more mature lettuces come along in a couple months.) This was definitely a very attractive ensemble (I particularly recommend accessorizing with sunflower seeds) and I am perfectly confident that at least my salads will be well-dressed for spring.

Coconut Lime Dressing
Adapted from Martha Stewart Living magazine

Grate the lime zest (preferably with a microplane grater) before squeezing the lime. It’s extremely difficult if you do it afterwards.

½ cup light coconut milk
2 tablespoons canola oil (or other neutral oil)
½ teaspoon lime zest
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 teaspoon minced chile pepper, seeds and ribs removed
1 scallion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
½ teaspoon salt

1. Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Whisk together until well-combined. Refrigerate leftovers.

Makes about ¾ cup.

Another recipe like this one: Buttermilk Herb Salad Dressing

One year ago: Pasta with Cauliflower and Cashew Sauce

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