Thursday, July 18, 2013

Farmers Market Salad with Marinated Baby Artichokes

Salads are my thing, and I love making salads out of rich, earthy lettuce varieties and incorporating lots of fresh herbs.  I also love salads that include some cooked elements (such as beets, artichokes, or potatoes) as well as some crunchy raw elements (such as cucumbers, radishes, carrots, onions, and raw seeds and nuts).  My favorite salads inevitably are the ones inspired by the fresh seasonal ingredients I find from local growers at neighborhood farmers markets.  This week I visited the famed Santa Monica Farmers Market -- one of the best markets in all of Southern California, and I was duly inspired to make a piquant vegan green salad with marinated baby artichokes.

The main ingredients that inspired this salad include two heirloom romaine lettuce varieties, along with radicchio, spearmint and dill -- a fresh, tangy, and slightly bitter combination of lettuce and herbs.

For crunch I found these marvelous lemon cucumbers!  I literally jumped for joy when I came across them at the market -- despite the fact that my friend Francesco had already clued me in that the lemon cukes had arrived -- as I really look forward to their appearance every summer.  Lemon cucumbers have a clean, crisp, lovely flavor, and they are even more delicious than standard cucumber varieties found in the supermarket.

Finally, I picked up these adorable baby artichokes.  While I had never prepared them before, I love artichokes in green salad, and my foodie friend Francesco, who was advising me, convinced me they would be very easy to prepare because they have no choke.

The first step is to prepare the artichokes, which can be done well in advance of composing the salad.  To prepare the artichokes, I ready a bowl of cold water, add the juice of one lemon, and set it aside.  Then I wash the artichokes, and one at a time, I remove the outer leaves until I reach the lighter yellow, more tender layer -- typcially 2-3 layers of leaves need to come off.  Next, with a sharp knife I cut the top off the artichoke in order to remove the prickly tips.  And finally, I completely remove the stem, which unfortunately is quite bitter in baby artichokes.  As I finish cleaning and preparing each artichoke, I place it in the lemon water to keep it from browning.  Once all of the artichokes are prepped, I steam them with just a bit of salt until they are fork tender -- about 20 minutes.  I let them cool for a few minutes before marinating them in a simple marinade comprised of 2-parts good olive oil and 1-part lemon juice, (I prepare just enough to nicely coat the artichokes).  The artichokes should marinate in the refrigerator for at least an hour, but they can also be prepared several hours or even a day in advance of composing the salad.  

The salad itself is pretty basic.  Shortly before serving time, I wash, chop and spin the romaine lettuce, and put it in a serving dish, topped with a hand full each of loosely chopped radiccio, dill, and mint. Then I partially peel 2-3 lemon cucumbers, cut them into wedges (just as you would a lemon), and put those on top.  And right before serving, I add the marniated artichokes and dress the salad with a simple vinegarette made up of 2-parts very good olive oil, 1-part acid (either lemon or any type of vinegar), a bit of dijon mustard, and salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.

Farmers markets make me smile!
Photo by Kathleen Taylor

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