Uncut, restaurant green salads
All of a sudden chefs decided than greens cut into bite-size pieces were a horrendous practice dating back to the days when it was considered impolite to eat salad with a knife. So they begun tearing leaves by hand. There’s some science behind the practice as well, that says you do not want to mistreat your greens and shred them to oblivion under your harsh, oxidizing, steel knife blade, in order to maintain their freshness, crispness, and nutrients. But, although it is very much true that we can all appreciate unwilted lettuce, why oh why, should I need to use my knife –in ways other than the occasional prod to particles trying to escape my fork– when eating a salad? And how many times have you felt incredibly self-conscious trying to cut through giant green leaves that won’t fit on your plate, while on a romantic date or –worse– on a business lunch? (cue Julia Roberts’ “Slippery little suckers” line). Watercress, baby spinach & arugula are just about the only greens that I accept in whole leaves in my salads –and even thus, I have been choked on chunky arugula stems no one thought of removing, in fancy restaurants, an alarming number of times.
Baby arugula everywhere!
Speaking of arugula… I’m not sure if this is a Greek thing only, or if it’s trending in other parts of the world as well, so please enlighten me if you happen to know: in the past decade in Greece, it seems that baby arugula has crept on everything! Now don’t get me wrong. I love, love, love its peppery goodness and I have grazed on it probably more than on any other green in my lifetime but I’m now sick and tired of seeing it everywhere, on top, on the side, or in between, of every single dish from high-end restaurants to the kebab place around the corner. I swear, if I ever find baby arugula in my souvlaki (meat grilled on a skewer, a common Greek street food), I will scream!
Pumpkin spice everything!
On the same boat with baby arugula, but much, much worse of a case if you ask me! Just google anything foodie from mid September to mid November… I dare you! And even though I have jumped on the bandwagon myself (see related post here) I think I wasn’t committing too much of a crime because the trend hasn’t caught on here (yet?!) and I wanted to share info, on the otherwise delightful spice mix, with my Greek readers. I suggest using it in sweet pies, muffins, and sweet breads and to sprinkle ever so lightly on your latte/cappuccino/hot chocolate. That’s it!
Much like many other things, this nowadays über-common ingredient can be exquisite in flavor only if of good quality. If you wish to delve into the “mysteries” of balsamic vinegar I highly recommend this article, by Andrew Wheeler, author of Eat Britain, a book about the best of British food, and the creator of the Omnivore’s Hundred meme (listing 100 foods every omnivore should try). Let me quote here, some very interesting info that will help illustrate my point:
Traditional balsamic vinegar is always labelled Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale and carries a D.O.P. (“Denominazione di Origine Protetta”) stamp — a European Union certification that guarantees an ingredient’s quality, production, and place of origin. The only ingredient is grape must. Traditional balsamic contains naturally occurring sulphites; none should be added.
Traditional balsamic is sold in wax-sealed bottles with unique identifying numbers. Traditional balsamic from Modena is only sold in a bulb-shaped 100 ml bottle. If it’s from Reggio Emilia it’s only sold in a 100 ml bottle shaped like an inverted tulip. If it’s from anywhere else, it’s not traditional balsamic vinegar…
[A 20-25 year vintage can sell for as much as $200 an ounce]….
“Condimento” is a term that exists to cover balsamic vinegars made in the traditional manner that can’t receive the “traditional” designation, usually because they weren’t produced under appropriate supervision or because they didn’t meet the standard for maturity. Often they’re excellent balsamic vinegars made outside of Modena and Reggio Emilia, or vinegars made by traditional producers that have only been aged for three or five or seven years….
Condimento will not have D.O.P. stamp on the label, but it should carry an I.G.P. stamp — “Indicazione Geografica Protetta”, or protected geographical indication. Condimento may also carry the seal of the Consorzio di Balsamico Condimento, a body set up to monitor condimento grade balsamics, and a good indicator of quality. Condimento should be relatively expensive — around $40 for a good size bottle….
… popularity [of balsamic vinegar] led to a rise in derivative products, which in turn led to the introduction of a protected designation for true traditional balsamic vinegar. But the D.O.P. designation only protects the very best; it doesn’t offer any level of distinction among mass market balsamics.
That’s where the I.G.P. designation comes in. Introduced by the European Union in 2009, I.G.P. guarantees that the product is made from grape varietals typical of Modena (Albana, Ancellotta, Fortana. Lambrusco, Montuni, Sangiovese, and Trebbiano), though the grapes can be from anywhere and only need to be processed in Modena. This is the only way balsamic vinegar of Modena can be produced in volumes sufficient to meet demand.
The vinegar is cooked in pressurized vats and aged for at least two months in large wooden barrels. There is no fermentation stage. Balsamic Vinegar of Modena I.G.P. must contain wine vinegar to bring its acidity to at least 6%, and can contain up to 50% wine vinegar, often both aged and young. It may contain thickening agents, caramel, or other colorants to make it more like real balsamic. The balance of ingredients can create balsamic vinegars as cheap as $5 or as expensive as $50.
I am by no means suggesting that we should only use traditional balsamic of the $200 range, but in between the $3 artificially coloured imitations to the $40-50 range of a Condimento or a Balsamic of Modena (IGP), you can bet the one drenching your salad is, 8 out of 10 times, not good quality balsamic vinegar. As in, it doesn’t taste well! And it’s been drizzled on everything, from dips to cheeses, to soups, to pasta, to risotto, to fish, to hamburgers, to steaks, to fruit, to dessert and ice cream! And even though, in most cases, it does pair well with greens, it really does not –at all!– pair well with the famous Greek Summer Salad*, which in its authentic form has no greens whatsoever, but consists only of tomatoes, red onions, cucumber, green bell peppers (optional), olives and/or capers, dried or fresh oregano, and of course feta… so feta cheese (especially if strong) and balsamic vinegar are not an awesome combo in my book (–however fried feta saganaki, drizzled with balsamic cream is a whole other thing!). A mild, red or white (pure) wine vinegar is a much better partner to this particular salad, trust me!
*Greek Summer Salad, is the one we call horiatiki, which by the way, if I see translated into “village salad” one more time I will just go ahead and shoot myself!
Maybe I am an idiot or maybe I haven’t had a really good buttercream yet. Maybe it’s the Greek climate (rather warm for 9 out of 12 months in a year, doesn’t really call for a lot of fat food). Buttercream to me, no matter how sweet and/or fluffy, tastes like digging my teeth into the butter stick I keep in my fridge! And even though I have immensely appreciated the fresh, aromatic, pure milk butter, from grass-fed family cows, my aunt used to churn herself (I can still remember those summer breakfasts at my mom’s village, when we’d slather it on freshly baked, homemade bread slices and wash it down with a cup of hot black coffee –no concept of a cold coffee back then!), when I was a child, I would still have “yuck-ed” and “ugh-ed” if I had to take a bite in the entire thing… Much like, just because you really, really love bacon doesn’t mean you’d actually fancy dunking into a piece of lard! I personally prefer –and use– cream cheese buttercream (on a ratio of 3:1, so for example, for 240 gr/0.51 lbs of cream cheese I only use 80 gr/0.17 lbs of butter) and call it the real deal!
Hippster foodies raved, and raved, and raved, and raved, and raved… (and I can type this on for 2+ lines!) but the truth is, there are a lot more healthier options (find some interesting info here) to the most blatant green you’ll ever chew on! To be fair, I kind of like kale chips…
This is definitely something I can blame on my Greek genes but excuse you, if I ever have to have yogurt with veggie toppings in the morning I will most likely feel as if I’m gulping down a bowl of tzatziki dip for breakfast! So even though the soon-to-be-released (in the US) FAGE CROSSOVERS feature some really, really promising flavors like coconut curry with cashews, or olive thyme with almonds, these are dips people, DIPS!
These, of course, are all personal opinions and even though I would very much like to be right about everything –don’t we all, always do?!– I may as well not be. Do let me know, what your thoughts are on any of the points raised. I would love us to chat about this!