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Lettuce and Tubers and Pears, Oh My! Week 6 of Chef School

Lettuce and Tubers and Pears, Oh My! Week 6 of Chef School
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By Rona Lewis
Photos by Cathy Arkle

Now this week’s focus was my kind of food! With last week’s arterial clutter finally out of my veins (dairy and eggs), I was really excited for these next two weeks of class time. Fruits, vegetables and herbs! Being a large portion of my daily diet, I was psyched to learn more recipes and tidbits about various edible plant life.

This week we concentrated on raw fruits and vegetables. The first thing May did was test us on our herb knowledge, bringing out examples of both delicate and hardy herbs. Delicate herbs are the ones that have softer leaves and don’t do well with longer cooking times. These include parsley (both curly and Italian), cilantro, mint, basil and dill (my personal favorite). The hardier herbs have a woody stem and can handle longer cook times. These are herbs like rosemary, thyme and oregano. Whichever one uses, the rule of thumb is to use 2-3 times as much fresh as you would dried herbs, as the dry ones are more intense in flavor. Also, to make the delicate herbs last longer, put a wet towel around the base of them and place in a plastic bag to keep moisture in especially if you need them to last more than 2 days. Not that they’ll last for a month, but you’ll get another day or two out of them.

May told us about how various herbs are used in global cooking. Cilantro is used not only in Latin cuisine, but many Southeast Asian and North African dishes, as well. Did you know that cilantro roots go into curry paste?

Mint, and this means spearmint, is used anywhere from Southeast Asia to India to the Mediterranean. The French love Marjoram; a hardy herb used in the Herb de Provence mixture. They’re also pretty fond of Chervil, which has a lemony, licorice taste and is used with seafood. I, for one, will never try this. Anything licorice—along with the blue veined cheese from last week—is on my “HATE THIS!” list.

Since its winter, we discussed seasonal fruits and vegetables. Pomegranates are in season now and the seeds are terrific in salads. Want to get the seeds out easily? Cut off the top, pry it open with your thumbs, then take the back of a wooden spoon and slam the fruit with it. The seeds will fall out.
Persimmons are also in season here in California. I had never really had this fruit. It tastes like a combination of a papaya, pear and something I can’t quite identify. Never mind. They’re delicious.

A good rule of thumb is that seasonal fruits go well together. Various citrus work well together, as do apples, pears and grapes.

As for the seasonal vegetables, salad greens seem to be available all year round here. There are 2 main types of salad greens. Those with a more tender texture, like baby greens and those that are crunchy and sturdier, like romaine and iceberg. Baby greens work better with a lighter, simpler dressing, while those hardier greens can take a nice heavy ranch.

The Chicory family of greens includes frisee and escarole. Both can be served raw or cooked. There’s a French recipe that has a bacon fat based dressing that’s poured over frisee and topped with a poached egg. Just stuff it into my arteries now! Eesh.

After going over the importance of having truly fresh fruit and vegetables for salads—you want to make sure that nothing is bruised or wilted, we were ready to learn about vinaigrettes.

Vinaigrette, in its true state, is a sauce that binds the flavors of the salad together. The basic ingredients are oil and an acid. This could be and number of vinegars, wine, even citrus juice. If you don’t want a strong flavor from the oil, use grapeseed or canola instead off olive oil.

The average proportion of oil to vinegar is 3 to 1, but that seems to be a VERY loose rule. You can also do stuff like add garlic, shallots, yogurt, any and all of those herbs we just talked about, mustard, you get the idea… just enjoy being creative! When you want to check the flavor of your creation, take a piece of the salad green being used to see how it all tastes together.

And tossing?! Throw away those salad tongs. You want to use your hands and add just enough dressing to lightly coat it. Dressing should enhance, not overpower the salad. Make sure of this by pouring a little dressing at the bottom of the bowl. Then add salad ingredients. Fold the dressing into the salad. Add more dressing if needed.

Each one of us was assigned a different salad to make for our “hands on” portion. Go to Cathy’s blog to see the one she made.

This is the one I made. It’s quite good. I actually cut the amount of maple syrup in half and it was plenty sweet! Enjoy this. To me, it tastes like winter.

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