Now Here’s a Salad That’s Anything But Boring.
This is a doozy of a salad. Because grilled pork chops were on the menu, I was free to spend my time having fun putting together this salad. The day before had been a Costco day, so I had plenty from which to choose. After choosing Boston lettuce, blackberries, and feta, I went for some deeper flavor by roasting a bunch of red grapes. I didn’t add anything to the grapes, except a little olive oil, salt, and pepper. I don’t bother turning on the big oven for this. My countertop oven does the job nicely and doesn’t heat up my whole kitchen.
Before I get to the rest of this, it seems that now would be a good time to mention the merits of freezing citrus juices and zests. When I was thinking about what kind of dressing I wanted, I was able to choose orange juice and zest because I keep both in my freezer. I have a single large ziplock bag full of smaller ones filled with different citrus zests and juices. I never use the juice of any citrus fruit without first removing the zest and plunking it into the freezer. Or if I buy a bag of juice oranges, I zest them first, then juice them, and again, freeze both. Same goes for lemons, limes, and grapefruit. I can’t stress how often I turn to citrus juices and zests when I cook. It’s rare when my baked goods don’t contain one or the other. And I use them constantly in all my other cooking. They provide that much needed spark of brightness necessary for bringing other flavors to life.
In this case, I cooked down some orange juice with honey until it was concentrated and intensely flavored. A little Dijon mustard, calamansi vinegar, orange zest, salt, pepper, and olive oil rounded it out nicely. But after letting the roasted grapes cool and rest, I decided to add their accumulated juices to the dressing and now we were talking.
As I was toasting the pine nuts, my son suggested adding some candied fennel seeds to the salad and he got right on it. We’ve been doing this for awhile now with different ingredients. It’s so easy and the outcome is fantastic. 2 tablespoons sugar and water are cooked until thick and syrupy, 2 tablespoons fennel seeds are added and while quickly stirring, the sugar crystalizes and coats the seeds. All of this only takes about 5 to 10 minutes, at the most, and we have some left over for salads later in the week.
As I mentioned in the beginning, I had the time to concentrate on this salad because we were grilling pork chops which requires none of my attention, as I’m not the person who does the grilling in my home. A simply prepared protein with a great salad is a standard meal for us. But it is never boring. The possibilities are indeed endless. After I took this photo and we were sitting down to eat, I realized I had forgotten to use the scallions I had sliced for the salad. I quickly scattered them over the top and think they added a lot to the overall flavor balance, so I’ve included them in the recipe.