Friday, June 5, 2009

Reporter's Table: Mesclun and apple salad

By Helen Klein

Salad is a canvas on which variety is easily painted.

Because the basic dish combines and contrasts textures crunchy and unctuous, colors muted and boisterous, and sweet and peppery flavors, it appeals to a multitude of senses simultaneously.

This mesclun salad, studded with walnuts, slices of Granny Smith apples and slivers of red onion takes the old-fashioned salad of my childhood -- which my mother crammed with red apple rings and chunks of carrots to appeal to a youngster’s taste buds -- to new heights.

My kids have eaten it since they were small, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t wipe the bowl clean, as well, scooping up the remaining dressing and shreds of leaves with a chunk of crusty bread. I like the way each bite keeps asking new questions of my palate, teasing it.

The salad has evolved in the 15 years or so since I first imagined it. Sometimes I put slices of cooked beet in; on other occasions, I add a handful of halved grapes to the mix. The colors seem to remain consistent even as the ingredients have shifted -- a medley of purplish reds and dark greens which seem happily at home with each other.

Extra virgin olive oil adds a grace note that seems to me essential in such a minimal dish. It’s worth seeking out the white balsamic vinegar called for because of its sweet tartness.

Don’t feel shy about dressing the entire salad before serving. While already-dressed salad is one of the few dishes that does not retain its freshness when stored, four people will not find the quantity excessive. And, if you have a little left, eat up -- the limited lasting power of salad is reason enough to make sure there are no leftovers.


2 cups mesclun, washed and dried (the mix of young greens may vary but make sure it contains arugula, whose complex flavor adds depth and contrast to the salad)
1 Granny Smith apple, washed, cored and thinly sliced
½ red onion, thinly sliced
½ cup walnut halves, halved
1½ Tbl. extra virgin olive oil
1½ Tbl. white balsamic vinegar2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Toss first four ingredients together. Set aside.

Blend remaining ingredients, whisking to combine. Add to salad immediately prior to serving.

Serves four as a side dish.

Helen Klein cooks out of her Flatbush kitchen, where she trades her pen and pad for a wooden spoon and whisk. She has been cooking since the age of 16, when she made a batch of spritz cookies in her mother’s Madison area apartment. Neither the culinary universe nor her figure has been the same since.


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