Friday recipe: when you’re loaded with lettuce

Sky of blue, sea of green: lettuce, that is. The spouse’s garden has been pushing the stuff out of the ground faster than Bugs Bunny can say, “What’s up, Doc?” Not that I’m complaining; home-grown veggies of any kind are wonderful, and they’re the best when they’re husband-grown.

I can see [lettuce] for miles and miles and miles...
I can see [lettuce] for miles and miles and miles…

That still leaves the challenge of using all those green goods, though. I love lettuce in wraps and sandwiches for that extra little crunch and texture, but otherwise the leafy stuff demands dressing. Not the store-bought kind, though – I’m utterly of like minds with food writer and chef Catherine Walthers, author of Raising the Salad Bar (Lake Isle Press). I know you don’t need one more cookbook in your kitchen, but I highly recommend this beautiful tome for its highly creative and wonderfully varied recipes. Her salads run the gamut from seafood to slaws, potato to pasta, healthy grains and can’t-beat-’em beans.

The hallmark of the book, in my opinion, are the ways Walthers flavors the ingredients. You won’t find gloppy, high-fat “salads” swimming in mayo or Kraft, nor will you encounter boring, I’m-on-a-diet-and-eating-like-an-unhappy-rabbit recipes. Cajun shrimp and corn salad with lime-chile dressing? Oh yeah. Mexican sweet potato and black bean salad? Bring it. Thai quinoa salad? You’d better get out of my way.

Today, though, let’s discuss dressing, because I have lots and lots of lettuce, remember? Walthers is a huge proponent of making your own, because they’re fairly easy, quick to put together and – most important – taste far better than store-bought. The one caveat I have is to use good ingredients, including herbs, spices, vinegars and oils. Below are two Raising the Salad Bar versions.

Basic red wine vinaigrette

  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 6-7 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 good pinches or about 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Pepper

In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar and mustard. Add the oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly. Season with salt and pepper.

Walthurs suggests varying the vinegars, including apple cider, white and Champagne.

Vietnamese lime-chile dressing

  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon chile sauce, or more to taste – try sambal oelek chile paste or the almighty Sriracha
  • 1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 2/3 cup canola oil
  • Salt or Asian fish sauce

In a blender, combine the brown sugar, garlic, chile sauce, mint leaves and lime juice until the mint is finely chopped. Add the oil slowly while the blender is still running; add a large pinch of salt or a dash of fish sauce, to taste. Blend until the dressing is creamy.

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