Category Archives: Salads and Sides

On Turning 40. And Eggplant.

Miso Glazed Eggplant

If I were to fill out a questionnaire right now that asked what I do in my free time I’d have to answer “wipe down the high chair.” Oh my god, the high chair! The whole wipe down the baby/wipe down the high chair/get down on your hands and knees and wipe up every sticky piece of orzo on the floor/pick up the rogue pieces of food that have stuck to her clothes and later fall off on the rug routine is never-ending.

But I love this stage. The chubby thighs! The giggles! The slobbery kisses! The chatter! It’s just a big old love fest around here right now. Except between 4am and 5am every single morning when I think about how glorious it will be when one day I can go back to waking up on my own instead of being woken up. The memory of restful sleep and knowing that every day we are getting closer to it again is one of the things that keeps me from being completely overwhelmed with the sadness of the last baby growing up. I also remind myself that one day I’ll have real, uninterrupted time again to focus on my work and have conversations with my husband and read the newspaper on Sunday mornings. It’s exciting to think about moving on to a new stage in our lives. But I know that once that happens, there’s no going back. Our baby days are slowly but surely coming to an end.

The baby turns 1 in just a few weeks. How quickly this year has passed! It takes my breath away. And, a few months ago I turned 40, a birthday that was pleasant but uneventful.

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There was no big party or lavish get-away. I was too tired to plan or want either of those things. Sorin bringing home some take-out and a bottle of Champagne and a cake decorated by my 4 year old was exactly what I wanted.

birthday cake

 

But although I paid little attention to the actual birthday, I’d be lying if I said the number 40 hasn’t been flashing in my brain like a neon sign.

It has little to do with vanity and much more to do with, “well, what now?” I feel the need to re-focus and take stock of things and make sure I’m living the life I want to live. I feel a more urgent need to appreciate what I already have. And there is a bit of a dull ache, from my babies getting older, for sure, but also because, damn! I’m 40.

Awhile back Meghan Daums’ New Yorker essay about deciding not to have children examined the same dull ache.

“… or perhaps it wasn’t even sadness we were feeling but, simply, the dull ache of aging. Maybe children don’t save their parents from this ache as much as distract from it. And maybe creating a diversion from aging is in fact much of the point of parenting.”

There is truth to that, I think. Watching my two littles grow up is far more interesting than paying attention to myself growing older. What better way to fight aging than by surrounding yourself with youthfulness? But I don’t want to let myself be so distracted by parenting that I allow the years to slip by without any self-reflection. I want to map out my own individual future, too, not just help them map out theirs.

Taking stock of things leads me in a very indirect way to miso. Miso that has been in the back of my fridge for a very long time. Miso keeps forever, so they say, but I was really testing the limits. Every once in awhile I like to give the fridge and pantry a once-over. I try to identify and cook the random bags of grains I’ve bought from the bulk section. I open cans of corn that I bought for no apparent reason. And I start Googling recipes that include miso.

This one, for miso salad dressing, is pretty good. I plan to try this miso tahini soup from 101 Cookbooks when it’s not 4,000 degrees in LA anymore. And the one below, for Miso-Glazed Eggplant, I’ve made twice, and it’s been twice rejected by our children, but Sorin and I really like it.

I have to give myself a pep talk every time I cook eggplant. It’s like that friend who can be really amazing and fun, or total nightmare, and you’re never sure which one is going to show up. But with this recipe I finally feel confident. We’ve eaten this miso-glazed eggplant alone as a side and also chopped up and thrown into rice (or noodles). It’s best when eaten right after it’s cooked; not so great as a leftover. And although it’s really tasty, this dish isn’t going to win any beauty awards.

Eggplant glazed with miso

Take note: You might have some of the miso glaze leftover, and I think it has potential to be a tasty salad dressing too, if you add a little bit more water to it.

This recipe adapted from two recipes, one from Bon Appetit and one from the NY Times.

Ingredients:

4 to 6 long, skinny Japanese eggplants
1 to 2 tablespoons vegetable oil (or sesame oil)
1/3 cup white miso
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon reduced sodium soy sauce or tamari
1 teaspoon unseasoned rice vinegar or white vinegar
Optional: 4 teaspoons finely grated peeled ginger (I forgot to add this, but it probably would be really good)

Instructions:

Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise.  Cut an incision down the middle of each half, but don’t cut down so deep that you cut through the skin. Salt the eggplant lightly and let sit for 10 minutes. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet (or two) with foil for easier clean-up.

Blot the eggplants with paper towels to remove the beads of moisture. Place on the baking sheets. Brush both sides with the vegetable oil. Roast for 20 minutes or so, turning once, until soft and slightly shriveled.

Remove the eggplant from the oven and preheat the broiler.

In a small bowl, whisk together the miso, sesame oil, soy sauce, vinegar, (and ginger, if using) with 1 Tbsp. water. Use a spoon to smear a light layer of the glaze on top of each eggplant’s fleshy side. Broil, flesh side up, 4 to 6 minutes, until the glaze is browned and bubbly but not burnt. Keep an eye on it.

If you like, top with sesame seeds and chopped scallions before serving.

 

 

 

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Eat Your Greens

escarole

At the library recently I exchanged small talk with a woman whose baby had just turned 4 weeks old. It was the first time she had left the house without him and she had that wide-eyed but exhausted expression that’s unique to new moms. “Does it get easier?” she whispered. “This has been the longest month of my life.”

I knew exactly what she was going through. When my first baby was born, it felt like years until we reached the six week mark. Now, that baby is already 4 and my new baby, the one who I swear was born last week, is already 5 months old. Life is moving forward at an alarming speed these days. I keep having flash-forwards to when my girls are both in college or older and I’m in my sixties and what scares me, is that it doesn’t seem all that far away. I understand now how days fold into years that fold into decades and you suddenly find yourself looking back instead of forward.

Snapshots appear in my head, photos of me and Sorin and the girls, photos that the girls will look at one day and say, “Can you believe how young mom and dad are?” They will see me as I am now, youngish and blonde and thin and with some wrinkles but not too many yet. And they will see how handsome Sorin is and how happy we are holding these two little girls, one blonde (with brown eyes), one brunette (with blue eyes).

And this makes me smile. Because they won’t ever really know or remember how exhausted we are on most days because every night at our house feels like taking a red eye flight. We don’t really wake up in the morning, because we’ve never really slept. I knew this time around what I was getting into with the whole first year of sleeplessness; it’s easier to take because it’s less of a shock. And for a baby her age, I think J is sleeping pretty well. But there’s always something, isn’t there? And the kicker this time is having two young children in a very small house where a cry from one easily wakes up the other. It can get a little bananas over here between the hours of 11:30pm and 6am.

We’re in triage mode. We simply don’t have enough energy during the day to attend to anything but the essentials. It’s excruciating, but it also makes the little things in life seem unbelievably great. Like a good cup of coffee in the morning. Oh, my god, how I love that first cup of coffee. I go to bed thinking about it. Or, slipping out for a quick walk or jog alone? It feels as restorative as a tw0 week vacation use to. And yesterday, I allowed myself a few minutes before jumping in the shower to take some old nail polish off my toenails and it felt like a spa treatment.

Needless to say, I haven’t been whipping up too many blog-worthy meals over here. Our meals are fine, some of them even quite good, but inspiring they are not. Until the other day, when I found myself standing in the kitchen peeling hot escarole leaves off a pan just out of the oven and popping them into my mouth. Then Sorin walked in and started doing the same thing. And we ate the whole pan just like that, savoring the bitter, salty flavor.

If you don’t like the bitter, bracing flavor of greens, this recipe isn’t for you. But if you’re into it, then you’ll find yourself craving wilted escarole just like me, needing another hit of olive oil and garlic dripping from leaves that are perfectly crunchy around the edges and soft and slightlty chewy in the middle. Doused in olive oil and garlic and topped with (optional) shavings of parmesan cheese, it’s about as good as winter greens can get.

The recipe is simple: Tear escarole leaves into small pieces, generously coat with olive oil and garlic, sprinkle with red pepper flakes and salt and roast in a 450 F oven for about 7 minutes. A more detailed version of the recipe is over at cheese.about.com.

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This escarole would be lovely at a dinner party, especially in February in LA, when you can eat outside with lights strung overhead and the faint smell of orange blossoms in the air. But it’s also okay to eat the escarole standing in your kitchen like we do, then have a main course of popcorn and wine while watching The Wire.

 

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Ponzu!

Grilled Swiss chard, cucumber, avocado, brown rice and ponzu sauce

Grilled Swiss chard, cucumber, avocado, brown rice and ponzu sauce

My favorite thing about this summer is swimming. Partly because my pregnant body floats as if weightless but mostly because I’ve realized that swimming is the best way to zap the seemingly endless supply of energy that kids have. In all those books about sleep issues and sleep training why doesn’t a single one include a chapter called Take Your Kid Swimming. An hour or two in the pool in the afternoon and I tell you what, that kid is going to zonk out.

As much as we all adore our children and love the time we spend with them, am I right when I say that the moment you know they’re finally asleep for the night is a moment of absolute happiness? I can’t really think of anything pre-children that brought on that exact same type of relief.

The other night after I had peeked in on O and covered her with a light summer blanket and gently closed her door, I collapsed my pregnant self onto the couch and tried watching Frances Ha, a movie I’ve been wanting to see since it came out a year or so ago. I lasted about 20 minutes before I just had to turn it off. Maybe it’s because I’m nearing 40 and can no longer relate to today’s generation of young women or maybe it’s because I’ll soon be raising two girls and I’m horrified by the thought of them acting like Frances or like any of the characters on the very similar TV show Girls, but I’m finding any story line that has to do with young women hanging out in a place like Brooklyn to be completely unwatchable.

The way these “adult” characters act and the way my 3 year old acts on occasion are just way too similar. As O says so often lately with great frustration, “why can’t you just give me what I want?!” The girls in these shows seem to constantly be saying the same thing. “Why can’t I just work in a cool coffee shop a few days a week and spend the rest of the time hanging out and thinking about creative things and still afford an apartment in Brooklyn and have an amazing boyfriend even though I’m a complete drip?”

Yes, I used the word drip. Which really makes me seem like an old fogy. But that’s what these girls are: dull, unattractive, boring people who seem to think the world owes them an amazing experience. Just because.

Please, let my daughters not grow up to be these girls.

Will it be possible to raise two girls and for the next 16 years or so completely shield them from the Hannah Horvaths and Miley Cyruses and Kim Kardashians of the world? Can I keep them in an Anne Shirley bubble?

There’s no easy segue from the dearth of female role models for young women to ponzu sauce, so let’s just get into it – if you need a bright, kicky sauce this summer, then ponzu is it. The flavor will make you blink a few times at first. But the salty, tart  sauce quickly turns addictive.

These are a few things I’ve drenched in ponzu lately for quick lunches and dinners:

  • Grilled salmon & salad greens
  • Cold angel hair pasta, snap peas and leftover salmon
  • Seaweed salad (Seasnax dehydrated salad mix), Trader Joe’s quick-cooking farro, cucumber, lots of avocado
  • Grated cabbage and carrot slaw and halibut
  • Brown rice bowl with salmon, cucumber, avocado and grilled Swiss chard

Grilled Swiss chard is sort of my thing this summer. That, and grilled broccoli. Both have been such a revelation. Why has it taken me this long to throw them on the grill? Coat in olive oil and salt, throw right on the grill for about 12 minutes, or a bit less for the Swiss chard, and you have the perfect summer side.

As for the ponzu, everyone makes their homemade ponzu a little differently. It’s basically soy sauce mixed with citrus and sweetened just a little. Use lemon or lime,  add some unseasoned rice wine vinegar if you like, and sweeten with mirin, simple syrup or plain sugar. Here’s my quick blend to give you a starting point:

1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons mirin

Ponzu is too tart and bold for little O, but with meals like this it’s easy for us to all make our own plate. Some fresh veggies, some grilled veggies, some fish and a grain. It’s the perfect summer meal.

 

 

 

 

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A New Kind of Potato Salad

NY1

We recently returned from our yearly trip to New York, getting in on the last days of winter (snow!) and the first days of spring (blossoms!). We usually go in May when the city is really in bloom, but now that we’re slaves to the spring break schedule of O’s school, April it had to be.

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Statue

We go to visit family and friends, and as a lovely side get to soak up everything else that New York has to offer. Not so long ago, this involved spending a great deal of time in restaurants and bars and wandering through neighborhoods and shops and bookstores. Since O was born, we’ve spent a lot more time in parks, which isn’t too horrible once you let go of the idea that a trip to NY means long lunches that morph into cocktail hour.

Sorin and I did sneak into the city one afternoon alone, thanks to Grandma and Grandpa, and spent a few hours wandering. Without planning it, we ended up on all our old streets, walking the same walk we’ve done a hundred times. First through the small quiet streets of the West Village, then a quick turn through Soho and a slower one through Nolita, where we stumbled onto our friend Clare’s new store,

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…and then on to Ed’s Lobster Bar for a bowl of mussels.

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We see and do a lot less in New York then we use to now that we have a toddler along for the ride, but really, we’ve seen it all before so there isn’t a frantic need to cover every inch of the city. Sometimes I bemoan the fact that our trips are always to same cities but there’s an upside, too. It’s nice visiting places away from home that feel like home in a whole different way.

As often happens, one of our most memorable meals was lunch with our friend Elizabeth, who cooks food that make you feel like you’re sitting on a roof deck in Tuscany or the south of France. We had an asparagus and ricotta tart and a lovely side of roasted potatoes and little cherry tomatoes that had burst open, begging you to soak up their juices with bread.

As soon as we got home, I made something similar for About.com and it’s a dish that’s going to be showing up on my table all summer long. Served at room temperature, this roasted potato salad is my new favorite version of traditional potato salad.

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Or, maybe this one is my favorite. Made with roasted potatoes, goat cheese, olive oil and dill it’s closer to traditional potato salad but without any mayo.
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I’m torn, really. They’re both so tasty. Leftovers of both are quite delicious tossed with greens for a quick salad at lunch.

Now, we’re back to spring in LA which means 90 degrees one day and 65 the next. Fewer blossoms, but more bright, bold colors. The aroma of jasmine is in the air. Whenever we return from New York, for the first few days our little corner of LA feels like a small town.  The view isn’t quite the same as the one Sorin shot of the skyline across the East River, but it’s not too bad, eh?

Echo Park

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Good Things

The best word to sum up March is “meh.” I didn’t post much here in March, because every time I sat down to write that’s pretty much the only word that came to mind.  I have never been a fan of March. Even when you don’t live in a gray climate, March still feels like an endless stretch of monotonous gray.

Even yesterday, with only 24 hours of March to get through I couldn’t quite shake the March blues. And so I forced myself to focus on good things.

Like finally get a clothesline hung after four years of good intentions. At last, we can take advantage of all this California sunshine.
clothesline

Also in our front garden, I expect great things from our little tomato and basil plants this spring and summer. We bought them from a neighbor who holds a tomato sale in her yard every year of heirloom tomato plants she’s grown from seed. It was so lovely and inspiring and so much better than buying from the dreaded Home Depot.

tomato_plant

Another good thing: discovering a new art/science project with Miss O. Some moms on Pinterest swore their kids were occupied for hours  with baking soda/vinegar art (who are these kids?).  I assume that while their children entertained themselves all afternoon the women ate bon bons and planned more glorious home art projects. O was occupied by this project just long enough for me to go pee and answer one email, but in our house that’s a victory. Plus, it’s easy to set up and she really loved it.

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Baking soda and colored vinegar art project for kids (best for those over 3 yrs). Spread out baking soda in a pan. Fill a few bowls with white vinegar colored with food coloring. Give them an eye dropper and watch the baking soda fizz and colors swirl.

More good things:

….a Sunday pancake breakfast with friends. Why are diner pancakes always better than homemade?
….our yearly trip to New York coming up soon
….Mad Men is starting again
…..O and I singing along with the Beattles to I am a Walrus on our way to preschool
…stumbling upon things like this in my house. I’m not sure what exactly is going on here, but at least now I know where my favorite orange scarf is.
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…and also, flipping through my recipe box instead of trolling the internet for recipes
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….and finding old recipes that I haven’t made in forever. Like this black bean and mango salad. If you’re still fighting some winter blues, this is just the salad to snap you out of it.

Black bean & mango salad

Black bean & mango salad

Black Bean and Mango Salad
Serve about 4

For the dressing, puree in a food processor or blender:

1 mango (or 1 cup of defrosted, frozen mango chunks from Trader Joe’s)
1/4 to 1/2 cup of fresh lime juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon cumin
A dash of cayenne or hot sauce or a jalapeno pepper
Salt to taste

In a large bowl mix together:
1 or 2 cans of black beans, drained and rinsed. If I’m adding shrimp (1 pound) or salmon to the salad, I use 1 can of beans. If you’re skipping the seafood, use 2 cans.
2 avocados, chopped
2  handfuls of cherry tomatoes, cut in half
Chopped cilantro

Add salt to taste. I let everyone add their own dressing to their own bowl.

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Keeping it Simple

Before you get all excited about some extravagant holiday recipe that you think I might be posting, you should know that we are keeping it simple around here.

This is kale, by the way.

kale_chips

This season, I’ve found that a 3 year old doesn’t require an over-the-top “Christmas is Coming!” extravaganza in order to be happy. For starters, she is very excited about our homemade lookin’ tree.

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She loves our simple spruce decorations on the table, who she has named Clementine and Pinecone.

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She doesn’t care that I mangle the words to the Christmas songs I sing to her at bedtime completely out of key. This is the first year she’s really aware of the characters who come out this time of year – snowmen, reindeer, santa, elves – and I don’t know who’s enjoying their jolly presence more, me or her.

I am grateful this year for my little family and for my bigger family who will be arriving this weekend from the Northwest. Things are likely to start getting much more extravagant once they arrive. With a grandma in the house to help out, I expect a flurry of baking and present wrapping and big holiday food.

I am grateful that the horrendous cold I’ve had all week has started to abate and that a friend tipped me off to the spicy chicken soup at Tacos Delta. If that doesn’t heal you, I don’t know what will. I’m grateful it’s raining today, because after 3 days of near 80 degree weather, I’d completely had it with this whole Southern California Christmas thing. One cannot properly enjoy a mug of hot cocoa if one is sweating to death while drinking it.

Speaking of which, once you introduce a 3 year old to marshmallows and hot chocolate, there is no going back. It really is shocking how many of those tiny white puffs she can eat in one sitting, or rather, would eat in one sitting if I didn’t eventually cut her off.

Which is why a snack like this is so perfect for the holidays to combat a marshmallow overdose:

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Yes, I know. Kale chips are so 2010. To be honest, I never really understood the kale chip craze. But this version,  tossed in soy sauce and sesame and coconut oil, was an “ah ha!” moment. They are crispy and salty and just a teeny bit sweet from the coconut oil. They are delicious and addictive and made out of kale, for Pete’s sake, so eat as many as you like.

This recipe is adapted from Heidi Swanson’s Crispy Kale and Tofu Salad with Coconut. In that recipe, didn’t love the coconut chips added in with the kale, but using coconut oil instead is perfect. The chips are hard to resist right out of the oven, but they’re also really good crumbled over farro, brown rice and quinoa.

Ingredients

1 bunch of kale (I use lacinato, the one with dark green, long leaves)
2 tablespoons melted coconut oil
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
2 teaspoons soy sauce

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350 F

Rip the kale leaves off the stems, discard the stems. Roughly chop the leaves.

In a large bowl mix together the oils and soy sauce.

Add the kale and toss it with your hands until it’s evenly covered.

kale

Spread the kale out in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Bake 20 to 25 minutes, stirring once or twice. After the 20-minute mark, keep an eye on the kale so it doesn’t burn.

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Perk up Your Salad

IMG_3466There hasn’t been all that much cooking going on around here for the past week. I was on a Saltine cracker and ginger ale diet for about 4 days (you don’t want to know the details, trust me) and just when I got my appetite back, a certain someone turned three.

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Three year old birthday parties are not about gourmet food. They’re mostly about cake. And presents. And everyone walking around the house wearing birthday crowns made out of construction paper.

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O didn’t want a big party. We kept asking her, worried that she’d be disappointed when a  big bouncy house and 20 kids from preschool bearing presents didn’t show up, but she was adamant. “I just want to invite my friends,” she kept saying. “Leopard, Pink Bear, Hippo…”

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I love 3 year olds. Granted, we’re only a few days into this new age, but so far it’s been a lot of fun and noticeably easier than 2. In the weeks leading up to 3 I started seeing the shift. I hate to jinx it, but we can actually reason with O a little bit now, which changes everything.

Yes, of course, there are still fits of insanity, but not as many. And no, she still doesn’t sleep past 6am (will that happen at 4? 5? Or not until 16?). What I’m really loving about 3 is that her little mind is blooming creativity. She makes up poems and song lyrics and points out funny shapes in clouds and calls stars “white crickets in the sky.”  She whispers secrets excitedly in our ears, “Did you know that hummingbirds make hummus?”

I mean, really, who has time to cook when there’s such loveliness in the house? Also, we’ve been busy playing in Kitty Land during our free time.

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Kitty Land was my gift to O, a make believe land created in a galvanized tub with fake moss, magic pebbles and a wood house. There’s a swimming hole, that all the cats love.

IMG_3512And a bird, to keep things interesting.

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I got the idea from a friend, who discovered this outrageously cute fairy land on the blog Twig and Toadstool.  My Kitty Land pales in comparison, it’s the un-crafty and overly busy mom’s version that can be made after a quick shopping spree at Michael’s. Kitty Land isn’t as magical as fairly land, but O loves it.

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So as you can see, we’ve been busy. When hot meals just aren’t happening every night, we rely a lot on big salads for dinner. Typically on these nights, I fix something else for O  (often steamed veggies or roasted broccoli, fruit, and noodles or a quesadilla. Or pita bread with this insanely good hummus.) Then one of us puts her to bed while the other chops up whatever they can find in the fridge for the salad. Then we eat in blissful, child-free peace. I love my 3 year old.  But dinner without her, even if it’s a simple salad, is still a beautiful thing.

Three New Salad Dressing Recipes to Perk up Your Salad

Gwyneth Paltrow's Carrot Salad Dressing

Gwyneth Paltrow’s Carrot Salad Dressing

Every week I aspire to make a batch of dressing to have in the fridge and most weeks I fail. But lately we’ve been dousing greens in nothing more than lemon and olive oil  (not even bothering to whisk them together) a little too often. In an attempt to do better, I’ve been keeping these 3 dressings in rotation.

Lemon + Capers + Mustard

This bracing dressing is adapted ever-so-slightly from chef April Bloomfield’s even bolder version. No special instructions, just whisk everything together. I like this dressing best after it’s been in the fridge for at least a few hours.

1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 small shallot, finely chopped (about 1 heaping tablespoon)
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon drained capers, chopped
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon honey
1/3 cup olive oil (I’ve been liking California Olive Ranch lately)

Miso + Sesame

I make this a little differently every time, sometimes adding more honey or oil and sometimes leaving out the soy sauce.

1 tablespoon sweet white miso
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon soy sauce or tamari
1/2 teaspoon honey
1 small garlic clove, pressed or finely chopped
2 tablespoons roasted sesame oil
3 tablespoons grapeseed or sunflower oil

The miso can be a little hard to incorporate. I whisk it awhile, the let the dressing sit for a few minutes, then whisk again. You can also use a blender, just add the first 6 ingredients then slowly drizzle in the sunflower oil with the blade running.

Gwyneth’s Famous Carrot Dressing

If you have miso in your fridge, you might as well make this dressing at some point, too. The recipe is Gwyneth’s, I just use less shallot and add more water to thin out the consistency. And blend it a long time so the dressing is as smooth as possible.

1 large carrot or 2 to 3 smaller ones, peeled and roughly chopped
1 very small shallot, peeled and roughly chopped
1 tablespoon roughly chopped fresh ginger
1 tablespoon sweet white miso
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon roasted sesame oil
1/4 cup grapeseed or sunflower oil
3 to 4 tablespoons water

Pulse the carrot, shallot and ginger in a blender until finely chopped.  Add the miso, vinegar and sesame oil. While the blender is running, slowly drizzle in the oil and the water.

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