In my hometown, the annual Chicago Flower and Garden Show (March 15 through March 23) is a big deal. It began in 1847, and this year it brings a promise of spring in the middle of one of the harshest, coldest winters on record.
The show is now held at Navy Pier, a big tourist attraction with its own history. Stretching more than ½ mile out into Lake Michigan, the pier was originally built in 1916 as a cargo and docking facility for big lake-going freight and passenger ships; it also had public entertainment spaces, and docks for small private boats. With the rapid proliferation of trucks and cars, lake shipping and passenger traffic declined and the pier became a space for commercial public entertainment. During World War II it was a U.S. Navy training center, and after the war a college, first for veterans and later a campus for the University of Illinois. The University moved its campus in 1966, and the pier fell into disuse. But in 1976, the nation’s Bicentennial, the site was refurbished and began life as a public gathering place with restaurants, parks and theatres.
This year the Chicago Flower and Garden Show features flowers, fruits and vegetables, garden displays (compact, vertical and indoor gardens), kids’ entertainment, cake decorating contests and cooking demonstrations by local chefs, yours truly included.
With spring in mind I created a Go Green Go Good Spring Salad. The idea, aside from being good to eat, is to use readily available green vegetables (organic when possible), and non-animal sources of protein: quinoa and soybeans or legumes. It can be served as a side or main dish. It is easy to prepare, has a refrigerated shelf life of four days, and the vegetables stay green.
Friends and customers at the Berghoff Restaurant often ask me why their green vegetable salads—asparagus, green beans, peas and pea pods—turn from vibrant green to brown or yellow. The culprit is the dressing. A vinaigrette with any acid, be it vinegar or lemon juice, breaks down the (green) chlorophyll, turning veggies brown or yellow. So I dress the salad with an acid-free prepared flavorful pesto. There are several good brands; read the ingredients label carefully and avoid any that use preservatives (such as lactic acid).
The vegetables also stay green because of blanching. Blanching (immersing vegetables briefly in boiling water, then rinsing under cold running water) sets the color, and breaks down the cell walls to both increase flavors and help with the absorption of vitamins and minerals. Blanching is easy if you use my one-pot, one-colander system.
I garnish the green salad with a touch of red: sweet, oven-roasted cherry or grape tomatoes.
- 24 cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
- Nonstick cooking spray, as needed
- Salt, as needed, preferably sea salt
- 1 cup organic white quinoa
- 2 cups water
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 6 green onions, tops only, trimmed to 3 inches, thinly sliced
- 1 (9-ounce) package ready-to-eat shelled soy beans (edamame) OR
- 1 (9-ounce) package frozen green peas, thawed, patted dry
- 1 pound fresh asparagus, ends trimmed, cut into 2-inch pieces
- 1 (12-ounce) package thin French green beans (haricots verts), halved
- 1 (9-ounce) package fresh sugar snap peas, stem ends and strings removed
- 6 tablespoons all-natural prepared pesto, or to taste
- 1 teaspoon salt, preferably sea salt, or to taste
- Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a 9 by 12 by 1-inch baking pan with parchment paper. Place tomatoes on paper, cut side up. Spray with nonstick cooking spray. Sprinkle lightly with salt.
- Bake until caramelized, about 25 minutes. Remove from oven; let cool to room temperature.
- While tomatoes are baking, place quinoa in a fine mesh sieve and rinse under cold running water until the water runs clear. Combine quinoa, the 2 cups of water and 1/2 teaspoon of salt in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Lower heat and simmer, covered, until all water is absorbed, 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer cooked quinoa to a large plate and let cool to room temperature.
- Place thinly sliced green onions on a folded paper towel and reserve.
- Fill an 8-quart pot almost full with water. Add salt to taste (I use 2 teaspoons), and bring to a boil over high heat. Place a shallow bowl beside the pot. Using a colander that fits the pot, place cut asparagus in colander and immerse in boiling water for 2 to 3 minutes (depending on how thick the spears are). Remove colander from water (place briefly in the shallow bowl to drain), and rinse under very cold running water until asparagus is cool room temperature. Transfer to a bowl lined with several thicknesses of paper toweling.
- Repeat, using the same water, the blanching/rinsing/draining/drying with the green beans and sugar snap peas, increasing the blanching time to 4 minutes each.
- To assemble the salad, place all ingredients except the tomatoes and sliced green onions in a large (at least 6 quarts) bowl.Toss well to mix the pesto and remaining teaspoon of salt. Taste for seasoning, adding more pesto if needed.
- Transfer to a large serving platter. Garnish with tomatoes and reserved green onions.
- Serve at room temperature, or refrigerate covered and serve cold.
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