Because l am a firm believer in a salad not being merely lettuce, l am fond of adding any number of fresh and/or marinated vegetables to my salads, along with cheeses or crostini topped with cheeses or vegetables. l have been doing a lot of marinating and pickling at La Cusinga and these are some of my favorite recipes.
l must confess that l was a beet hater until well into my mid-thirties. l blame it all on canned “krinkle-cut” beets as well as my loving mother’s misguided attempts to occasionally induce boiled beets into the dietary regimen of her children. lt wasn’t until l learned about roasting beets, as opposed to boiling them, that l became a convert. Roasting (or baking) beets is as simple as baking a potato and the flavors derived from the oven cooking has helped me to make converts out of numerous beet-haters.
Preheat oven to 400
6 Beets, green leafy tops trimmed off (and saved for cooking).
Wrap the beets tightly in aluminum foil and bake for 70-90 minutes, depending on the size. Put a towel between you and the beets and give them a squeeze to see if they are ready. lf they give a bit, they are done.
Take them out of the oven, remove the foil when they are cool and put them under running water. The skins will slough right off when you rub them.
Trim a bit off either end and cut them into wedges. Put the cooled wedges into a storage container, sprinkle sea salt and a hefty pinch of freshly ground pepper over them and cover with balsamic vinegar. Refrigerate the beets and allow them to marinate for a couple of days before serving. They will get better and better with time and will take on a slightly spritzy pickled flavor soon. The balsamic vinegar can be used over and over again, but it is best not to “marry” different batches of beets.
Roasted Red Peppers are a staple of my kitchen and pantry and l use them alone, atop salads, but also as an ingredient in countless other salads. Roasting and peeling is a simple operation and doing 6-7 of them at a time will yield a jar full of them that will keep for weeks in your refrigerator.
Turn a gas burner on to full flame and place two or three of the peppers around it. Allow them to char and blister completely on one side before turning them. Rotate them fully until they are charred and black all over then put them into a bowl with a plate tightly over the top. Repeat with all the peppers. Allow them to come to cool in the bowl, slough off most of the skins into your garbage and then clean them under running water. Using a paring knife, cut around the top stem, remove it and rinse out the seeds.
Pat the peppers dry and cut them into strips. Put the strips into a jar, sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and cover with a mixture of three parts olive oil and one part of your favorite vinegar. l really like sherry vinegar for this and if l have roasted garlic (recipe to follow) oil in my refrigerator, l like to use that.
l love the subtle but recognizable flavor of roasted garlic and the cooking oil that it can be preserved in. l use it frequently smeared across crisp crostini as accompaniments to salads, and have been know to toss the sweet squishy cloves right in with other salads.
The oil that the cloves are cooked in takes on a deliciously nutty garlic flavor and is great for drizzling over roasted vegetables, adding to the oil for a salad dressing or for just dipping with crusty bread.
Most standard recipes call for whole heads of garlic to be roasted to achieve the creamy spreadable texture desired from the cooked cloves, but l believe that by carefully watching and monitoring the temperature of the oil, once can achieve the same results in less than half the time on the stovetop.
12-24 Whole Peeled Garlic Cloves
½ Cup Good Olive Oil
Place the garlic cloves in a small sauté or sauce pan and pour the olive oil in. Put the pan on a stovetop burner with the absolute lowest flame you can get without it going out over and over. Bring the olive oil to heat and cook the garlic cloves at that low heat for 25-30 minutes until you can pierce them easily with the tip of a knife. Do not allow the oil to reach a boil. lf it appears that it will come to a boil, turn off the flame and allow the oil to cool before relighting the flame to it’s lowest possible point. When the garlic is tender, remove the pan from the heat, allow to cool and store in the refrigerator in a covered jar. This will keep for an indefinite amount of time, but l can never keep it around long enough to find out.
Palmito (Hearts of Palm)
Palmito is a vegetable harvested from the bud and the soft center of certain palm trees, among them the coconut, the acai and the pejbaye, all of which grow here in Costa Rica. Costa Rica is the largest supplier of palmito to the United States and by the time it gets there does it ever get pricy. Sadly, the harvesting of the heart of the palm kills the tree and we try to only harvest here at La Cusinga when we are clearing area around the property.
The heart of palm resembles a small albino tree when it is brought into my kitchen, reaching nearly three feet in length and thickening toward the bottom. The outer part is fibrous and must be cut away, but the core is tender, crunchy and pleasantly mild. l like it because of it’s crunchy texture, because it takes well to a marinade or dressing and because l don’t have to pay $12-14/# for it like l did in the US.
lronically, much of the native Costa Rican palmito is shipped to the US, where it is vacuum cooked in cans, rendering it bland and limp, and sent back to Costa Rica where it is served in hotel dining rooms to unsuspecting tourists. l am so grateful to be able to work with the fresh product.
l have constructed and created a number of hearts of palm salads while at La Cusinga, but keep coming back to this one. What follows is the recipe for the palmito salad that has become a house specialty and is a great introduction to people who have never experienced real, fresh hearts of palm.
1# Fresh Palmito, cut into thin rings;
20 Strips of Roasted Marinated Red Peppers (see recipe above), cut into a small dice;
2 Green Onions, cut across the grain as thinly as possible (l use chives or when l can get them, garlic chives for this recipe; if using them, use 9-10 whole chives cut fine);
Juice of 3 Limes;
¼ Cup Good Olive Oil
Sea Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper
Toss the cut palmito with the lime juice and add the peppers, chives and olive oil. Toss well, season with Salt and Pepper and toss again. Let the salad stand for at least two or three hours and then retaste for salt and pepper. l serve this salad alongside dressed organic lettuces and fresh tomatoes.
Frijoles Tiernos are, what is known in the United States as, fresh shelling beans. There are several varieties available to me at various times of the year at the Feria in Perez Zeladon and l love including them, marinated, in salads. One of the greatest things about them, to me, aside from their rich creamy texture, is that, unlike a dried bean, they cook in 35-40 minutes. And when l use them in salads l cook them slightly differently than l do when l intend to serve them hot.
1 # Fresh Shelling Beans;
1 Large Onion, cut in large dice;
10 Cloves of Garlic, peeled;
3 Bay Leaves;
3 Fresh Thyme Stalks;
2 TBS Salt
Combine all the ingredients in a heavy pot, cover with water by four inches and bring to boil. When the liquid has boiled, reduce to a low simmer and cook 35-40 minutes until the beans are tender. lt is important to keep the heat low as the beans will burst easily if cooked too rapidly.
While the beans are cooking, combine;
1 Heaping Tsp Dijon Mustard;
2 Oz. Sherry (or good quality red) vinegar;
Pinch of Sea Salt and a few grinds of Black Pepper;
Add slowly, in a stream, whisking rapidly,
1/3 Cup Good Olive Oil
When the beans are cooked, put them in a colander or conical strainer and pour off the cooking liquid. Run cold water gently over the beans until the cooking liquid is rinsed away. Lay the beans out on a baking tray to cool.
When the beans are cool, combine with the pre-made dressing and mix gently.
To finish the bean salad, l add ½ Cup Chopped Roasted Tomatoes (see recipe above), 10-12 Strips Roasted Red Peppers (diced) and Chopped Green Onion, Parsley, Cilantro or other green herb. Check for salt and pepper and allow the salad to stand for 2-3 hours before serving. l serve this as an accompaniment to dressed organic lettuces at La Cusinga and often top the beans with crumbled fresh goat cheese.
We get great cucumbers both from out gardens at La Cusinga and also from our organic growers. They are always crisp and have a very subtle flavor. When l serve them on salads l like to punch the flavor up a bit with some good quality white or sherry vinegar, fresh ground black pepper and, just before they’re served, a couple of dashes of sea salt. lf they are salted too early before serving, they will lose every bit of snap and crispness. These are delicious either tossed or topped with some tangy goat cheese, almost replicating the flavors of a Greek style salad. l discovered one day, when we were out of white vinegar, that the marinating vinegar from a jar of capers gives the cucumbers an interesting “different” flavor, just as the vinegar from a jar of pepperoncini will contribute a bit of heat
4 Fresh Cucumbers, peeled and cut in half lengthwise, seeds removed;
2 TBS Good White Wine or Sherry Vinegar;
3-4 Twists from a Pepper Grinder;
1TBS Thinly sliced Garlic Chives, Chives or Green Onions;
½ Tsp Sea Salt
Slice the split cucumbers into thin half-moons and toss with the vinegar, the chives and the black pepper. Allow to sit, refrigerated, for at least half an hour. Just before serving, add the sea salt and retoss. Drain with your fingers and serve alongside or on top of dressed greens, with or over sliced tomatoes and definitely with fresh goat cheese or feta.