Monday, September 6, 2010



Yes, we get beautiful organic salad greens here in the tropics. It was surprising to me just how well lettuces did down here in Costa Rica when I returned almost two years ago. When I had left, organic greens were sparse and tattered things, poorly brought to market and with a disappointing life expectancy. The only other lettuces available were wilty heads over overgrown generic green leaf. Now, when I go to the market I find firm heads of nice leafy lettuces like red oak and decent romaine. Additionally, arugula thrives here and I have recently been getting very nice organically grown watercress.

My dinner salads at La Cusinga are comprised of these lettuces, as a base, but always contain a number of other components. From the time of my childhood, when my mother would make fabulous green salads packed with other vegetables, I have been a believer in a nicely garnished green salad. Here I pickle and marinate a great many vegetables for inclusion, but also call on staples like ripe tomato (available here nearly year round), avocado, cucumber, hearts of palm and many more.

Basic Dressing

My basic dressing at La Cusinga is an emulsified vinaigrette. That is to say, a slightly thickened dressing that is held together by adding oil into egg and, in this case, Dijon mustard. Each of those acts as a base and when the oil is added to them slowly they will hold it in “suspension” and keep the dressing from separating. This dressing can be made by hand with a strong arm and a good whisk, but I prefer to use either a food processor or a blender.

Food Processor or Blender

1 Whole Egg and 1 Egg Yolk;

1 TBS Dijon Mustard;

2 Oz. Good Red Wine Vinegar;

Juice of 2 Lemons;

6 Cloves of Garlic, finely chopped;

Dash of Hot Sauce, Tabasco, or any other;

Sea Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper

¾ Cup Good Olive Oil (Not Extra Virgin)

¾ Cup Canola or light cooking oil

Put the first six ingredients, plus a good pinch each of salt and pepper into the food processor, turn the motor on and blend them well. With the motor running, begin to add the oil, first in a very slow but steady stream, and then bit by bit, more rapidly. As the oil is absorbed into the egg/mustard mixture you will hear the sound of the motor change slightly as your dressing begins to emulsify.

When the oil is completely added and the motor is still running, add 2 ounces of room temperature water. Remove the top of the processor or blender and taste your dressing. You may want to add more salt, or perhaps a bit more lemon or vinegar depending on how acidic you like your dressing. This will keep, refrigerated, for up to three weeks. I like to keep mine in a water bottle with a squirt top for easy application and also so I can shake the dressing from time to time to keep it mixed.

This basic dressing can be altered in a number of ways to reflect whatever flavors you like.

Caesar Dressing

For a classic Caesar dressing, add 6 anchovies, a bit more garlic, more Tabasco and a heavy dash of Lea&Perrins Worcestershire Sauce to the egg/mustard base before adding the oil.

Emulsified Sherry Vinaigrette

For an emulsified Sherry Vinaigrette, one of my favorites, substitute 3 Ounces of good Sherry vinegar for the red wine vinegar and lemon juice.

Emulsified Citrus Dressing

For more of a citrus flavored dressing, omit the red wine vinegar and use four or five lemons or a combination of lemon and lime. Here at La Cusinga, where we have so many mandarinas, I use them instead of lemons and love the flavor difference.

Passion Fruit (Maracuya) Dressing

The passion fruit is a remarkably acidic, yet richly flavorful tropical fruit and when it is in season, I use it in this, hand whisked and un-emulsified dressing.

Juice of 4 Maracuya; (To remove the juice, cut the Maracuya in half and pour the sacs and seeds into a strainer over a mixing bowl. Press gently but firmly to pass all the liquid through into the bowl.)

¼ Cup Good Olive Oil;

¼ Cup Canola or other light cooking oil;

Sea Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper

When the Maracuya juice is ready, put a pinch each of salt and pepper into the bowl and add the two oils slowly, while whisking. Alternatively, all the ingredients can be put in a plastic water bottle and shaken vigorously to blend. This dressing is best used fresh, the day it is made. I also make this dressing with mandarina or lemon juice when I want a lighter dressing.

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