Here's a quickie as we zoom into the weekend: Ladies and gentlemen, start your grills! And make a salad.
It's been too hot to cook for a lot of the summer, with humidity that saps energy and appetite, but we can't let the splendid products of the summer--from market, woods, and garden--pass us by. One night last week we summoned enough will to fire up the grill, prep a few vegetables, and grill ourselves a salad, which we served with some paté previously made, some bread, a glass of icy white wine; we were glad we did.
I like this simple dish for several reasons: it features an unusual--to my mind--combination of vegetables, with an intriguing variety of textures; it's a meal-size salad that isn't a voluminous pile of greens (though you could serve it on a bed of greens); though I made it with foraged chanterelles, it would be equally good (though perhaps not quite so pretty) with store-bought oyster mushrooms, or sliced portabellos; and I came up with a clever way to sort of grill/stir-fry vegetables over the coals without having everything fall through the grate, with no special equipment involved.
To start with the last, of which I thought I had taken a photo, but I guess not: What I did was, I took a stainless steel rack, such as one would use to cool cookies, and I put that on top of the regular grill grate. I'm talking about a rack with quite a fine grid to it, maybe quarter-inch squares. When the coals were ready I spread my prepared vegetables over the rack, and nothing fell through! It took a little care to keep everything above the fire line as I tossed and turned the vegetables to brown them, but it worked really well. When it came to cleaning up the rack, because it is stainless it washed up nicely with a scrub from the Dobie. No down side that I can see so far, though it remains to be seen how the lightweight rack will hold up after repeated uses.
To prep the vegetables for the grill, I cooked the fingerlings--beautiful rosy-skinned spuds we picked up at the Menomonie Farmers Market--for around ten minutes, shocked them under cold water, halved them the long way. Then in a big bowl I tossed the potatoes, raw green beans, and mushrooms pulled into big shreds together with some olive oil, salt and pepper, fresh thyme and sage. Those all went on the rack over medium-hot coals, and I turned and moved the vegetables around until everything had nice color on it. About halfway through the grilling I tossed a good-sized sweet white onion, cut into rings, into the mix. Some of the beans and some of the onion got quite dark--a good thing, I think.
Après grilling, I put everything back in the mixing bowl and added a little more olive oil and maybe two tablespoons of cider vinegar--but a wine vinegar or even light rice vinegar would work, too. Taste for salt, add another grind of fresh pepper, perhaps some additional fresh herbs--bit of flat-leaf parsley, a few leaves of basil?
I had grated some Wisconsin asiago to sprinkle over top, but found it redundant, intrusive, even, to the fresh summery flavors and textures of the salad.
Text and photos copyright 2011 by Brett Laidlaw