January 17, 2009

Salads Good and Bad


I’ve discovered that I hate green olives.

Hate is a strong word. But I use it here because I can’t actually fathom how anyone would willingly put such a vile-tasting thing into her mouth.

Of course, I’m half-kidding. I know that taste is personal, that one person’s caviar and champagne is another’s compost. I know that taste can be shaped by many things, including the way we were raised, the memories we associate with certain foods, and the  actual buds on our tongues. But. But. To me, the taste and smell of green olives doesn’t even seem related to a food. It’s like a cross between some horrid chemically cleaning product and something that comes bubbling up from the sewer.

I’ve surprised myself this year by actually learning to like black olives. I still wouldn’t eat them out of a bowl at a party, but I like their tang in salads and in sandwiches, and I’ve become a particular fan of olive paste, spread on bread with cheese and tomatoes. It seems to me that green olives are a different kind of beast altogether. Can they even be from the same plant?

Well, it turns out they are. Most of you probably already knew this, but I just found out through some vigorous research that green olives are picked from the olive tree when they are not yet ripe, and black olives stay on the branch until they are fully ripened.

Well, I say leave em’ on there! Let them hang out a little while longer and get nice and purply and juicy. Much yummier.


I came to this olive revelation last week when we made a white bean salad with green olives from Deborah Madison’s book. I took one for the team here. I tasted the salad first and proclaimed the nastiness of the olives. J wouldn’t come near it. That was the second salad of the year so far that Susan benefited from.

Okay, let me be clear. Not all of these salads have been bad. In fact, I’m even going to give you recipes for a few of them that were quite tasty. But I think that overall, I’m not a huge fan of bean and grain salads. I love beans. I love them in dips and spreads, soups and casseroles, cooked in a sauce atop rice and baked with molasses. But when beans are in a salad they really tend to dominate it, and when combined with a grain and a strong vinaigrette it’s just not a flavour combination I usually enjoy.

One of the ones we liked was a lentil salad – altogether different from most other beans in my opinion. And it had roasted beets in it, which for me is always guaranteed to tip the scale in a recipe’s favour.


Before Christmas we made a good salad with quinoa, mangos and curry dressing. An unlikely combination, but it works. If you’ve never eaten quinoa, please, please go buy some. It’s so incredibly flavourful and even more incredibly good for you. The Incas called it the miracle grain or something like that because it’s packed with protein and vitamins.

We’re onto pasta salads next week, which include buckwheat noodles and mung bean noodles. Also dulse leaves. I have no idea if you can even get those things in Edmonton. Well, you probably can but it may involve a lengthy bus ride to an Asian grocery. It could be worth it because the recipes look delicious. I’ll let you know how things go.

Quinoa Salad with Mangoes and Curry Dressing (from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone) serves 4

1 1/3 cups quinoa
2 mangoes
3 scallions, including an inch of the greens, thinly sliced                   1 jalepeno chile, seeded and diced
1/3 cup almonds, toasted

For the curry vinaigrette:

1 garlic clove
2 Tablespoons yogourt, mayonnaise or sour cream
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 ½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice
5 tablespoons light olive or sunflower seed oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro

Bring three cups of water to a boil and add a half a teaspoon of salt. Stir in the quinoa, lower the heat, cover and simmer until the grains are tender, about 12-15 minutes.

In the meantime, prepare the vinaigrette. Pound or mince the garlic and ¼ teaspoon salt in a mortar until smooth, or put the garlic through a press. Combine the garlic and salt with the yogourt and curry in a small bowl. Stir in the lemon juice and then slowly whisk in the oil. Sprinkle the cilantro over the vinagrette and set aside while you make the rest of the salad. Taste to see if it is tart enough or too tart, and adjust if needed.

Slice the mangoes in bite sized chunks. The easiest way to do this is to slice lengthwise through the flat center, as close to the stone as you can get. Score the half that does not have the stone in square shapes, going through to the skin but not cutting through it. Cut off the resulting cubes from the skin. Cut the second half away from the pit and repeat.

When the quinoa is done, drain it if necessary - theoretically the grains will have absorbed all the water. Toss the quinoa, onion, mango chunks and jalepeno in the vinaigrette. Sprinkle the almond slices over the top and serve warm.

If you are going to save any for leftovers, just sprinkle the almonds over your own portion so they won’t get soggy in the salad.

Green Lentils with Roasted Beets and Preserved Lemon

5 beets, about one pound

1 teaspoon olive oil

Salt and freshly milled pepper

1 cup French green lentils

1 carrot, finely diced

½ small onion, finely diced

Aromatics: 1 bay leaf, 4 parsley branches, 2 thyme sprigs

1 preserved lemon or 2 teaspoons lemon zest

Lemon Vinaigrette

1/3 cup chopped parsley

1 tablespoon chopped mint, plus mint sprigs for garnish

Preheat oven to 350. Peel four of the beets and cut them into small cubes. Set the last beet aside for garnish. Toss the beets with the oil, season with salt and pepper, and bake on a sheet pan until tender, about 35 minutes, stirring once or twice. Meanwhile, put the lentils in a pan with water to cover, add the carrot, onion, aromatics, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until tender but still a little firm, about 25  minutes. Drain well.

Cut the preserved lemon into quarters and scrape off the soft pulp. Chop the pulp finely and stir two teaspoons into the dressing. Finely chop the remaining skin. (Or just zest your lemon.)

Toss the lentils with the roasted beets and the vinaigrette, the preserved lemon or lemon zest, parsley, and mint. Peel the remaining beet and finely grate it. Put the lentils on a platter (or on plates) and garnish with the grated beet and sprigs of mint.

Lemon Vinaigrette

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon finely chopped lemon zest

Salt and freshly milled pepper

1 shallot, finely diced

5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or to taste

Combine the first four ingredients in a small bowl and let stand for 15 minutes. Then whisk in the oil and season with pepper to taste. Taste the correct the balance, adding more oil if needed.


Cheryl A said...

I'm with you on the green olives. Nasty things.

susan said...

Just made the curry mango quinoa salad and I LOVE it!!

Court said...

I also hate hate hate green olives, and generally don't love bean salads. The curry quinoa salad you made is a lot like one I make (from Wish magazine) that I do like though. Sounds like we might have fairly similar food preferences.