Spring has arrived, and with it, the freshest flavors from local farms and growers. Just-harvested spring greens and tender vegetables now fill produce aisles and farmers markets, providing all the enticement I need in my kitchen to switch from winter’s hearty meals to lighter fare.
As I throw open the windows to savor springtime breezes, I’m inspired to celebrate the beauty of this new season with dear friends. I can hardly wait to set my table with pastel or floral placemats and table linens, sparkling glassware, fresh flowers, and a menu that signals spring is here! For a truly memorable celebration, moving the table outdoors on a gorgeous spring day takes advantage of nature’s spectacle of azaleas in bud and bloom, mid-season tulips, and cheerful pansies under a canopy of trees adorned in pale green leaves.
As I embrace this season of rebirth and renewal, my excitement naturally translates into my menus. I’ve always been a huge fan of composed salads, and this is the ideal time to feature them as a light lunch or dinner side dish. While tossed salads are perfectly delicious any time of year, an artistically arranged salad that thoughtfully showcases each ingredient evokes oohs and ahs from family and guests. That response is all the encouragement I need to create one-of-a-kind salads everyone will enjoy.
Composed salads present opportunities to serve healthy, seasonal ingredients in fresh, new ways. Blanched asparagus, broccoli, and cauliflower florets are extra enticing when artistically presented in a salad — a huge advantage when it comes to getting kids (and adults) to eat vegetables. Jicama, grated or sliced into matchsticks, provides a crunchy, slightly-sweet counterpoint to spicy arugula or radicchio, and the neutral color highlights adjacent layers of vibrant green and purple. One of my favorite, and under-utilized, salad ingredients is Belgian endive. Whether rose-colored or the more popular white, I like to slice it crosswise and add it to salads for small bursts of tartness. As a bonus, the further I slice into the endive, the more the slices resemble a rose. These can be the perfect garnish on top of a composed salad.
This spring, I’m taking my composed salads to new heights by stacking ingredients to showcase their colors and textures. We’ve all seen layered salads in upscale restaurants, but making them at home? It’s so easy! Starting with a set of 3-inch-high, round tubes or molds from a kitchenware store (I used Creo® Stax, which open with the flip of a lever), chop your favorite ingredients into small pieces so they’re easy to layer. Assemble the salads inside the molds, taking care to alternate colors and textures as you form layer after luscious layer, chill until ready to serve, then carefully remove the molds. It’s art on a plate!
Christy Rost is a lifestyle authority, author of three cookbooks, public television chef on PBS stations nationwide, and a longtime resident of the Park Cities and Preston Hollow. For additional recipes and entertaining tips, visit her website www.christyrost.com or follow her on Facebook and Twitter @ChristyRost
Quinoa, Arugula, and Asparagus Layered Salad
• 2 3-inch-high stacking tubes or molds
• 1 cup prepared quinoa
• 1 cup arugula, rinsed, spin-dried, and coarsely chopped
• 1 cup radicchio, rinsed, spin-dried, and thinly sliced
• 1 ripe avocado, halved, pitted, and cut into small cubes
• 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange or lemon juice
• 12 red mini-cherub tomatoes, rinsed and thinly sliced lengthwise
• 1 cup iceberg lettuce, rinsed and thinly sliced
• 8 asparagus spears, rinsed, trimmed, and steamed 1 minute
• 4 yellow mini-cherub tomatoes, rinsed and halved lengthwise
• Salad dressing of choice
• Freshly ground black pepper
Prepare the quinoa:
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 2 tablespoons green onion, rinsed and thinly sliced
• 2 tablespoons celery, rinsed and diced
• 1 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained in a fine sieve
• 1 cup vegetable or chicken broth
• Pinch of salt
Early in the day, preheat a small saucepan over medium heat, add oil, and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. Add onion and celery, and sauté until they begin to soften. Add broth and salt, bring the mixture to a boil, and stir in the rinsed quinoa. Cover, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer 15 minutes or until the liquid has been absorbed. Fluff the quinoa with a fork and set it aside to cool. Quinoa can be made one day ahead, covered, and chilled overnight.
Place a tube on each salad plate, spoon half of the cooled quinoa in the bottom of each, and tamp it with your fingers to create the base. Add half of the arugula to each, tamp lightly, top each with half of the radicchio, and tamp lightly. In a small bowl, toss the avocado with orange juice, divide it between the salads, top with sliced red tomatoes and a layer of iceberg lettuce, and tamp lightly.
Garnish the salads with asparagus spears and halved yellow tomatoes. Carefully remove the tubes or molds, drizzle with your favorite salad dressing, and season to taste.
Yield: 2 individual salads