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Enjoy a fresh vegetable salad in the middle of winter

By Wolfgang Puck, Tribune Content Agency on

If you walk through the produce section of any good-sized supermarket almost anywhere today, you may find it hard to figure out what time of year it is. Modern shipping methods, mass-scale cold storage techniques, and greenhouse agriculture all make it possible to find many different varieties of seemingly fresh vegetables and fruits almost year-round.

But that doesn't necessarily mean you should consume anything at any time of year. To enjoy most growing things at their finest, it makes sense to eat produce grown locally and at their peak of season.

So what can and should you cook? You could start by selecting items that actually, naturally taste good right now. Do a quick bit of searching online and you'll find endless hits offering lists of vegetables and fruits in season during winter: Some include members of the cabbage family, including Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli and kale; hard-shelled winter squashes; and a wide variety of citrus fruits.

Another approach is to pick up fresh produce that doesn't rely as much on the seasons to make it to market in good quality. Potatoes and sweet potatoes, for example, store so well that they're really year-round vegetables. Fresh cultivated mushrooms are also available in markets all year, and I'd defy anyone to find a difference in the way they taste from one time of year to another. And green beans, though a summer crop, seem to me to make it to market and taste good whenever you find them.

With that last point in mind, I'd like to share one of my favorite vegetable salad combinations that doesn't rely on the time of year to deliver the best, brightest, freshest flavor: my green bean and mushroom salad.

Look for the smallest green beans you can find, with a good, bright green color. If only larger ones are available, be sure to trim and string them well and cut them into bite-size lengths of 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7.5 cm). I always blanch them, first boiling them and then immediately plunging them into ice water, to preserve their bright, fresh color and flavor.

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As for the mushrooms, select those that look firm and white. Once you cut them up, as described in the recipe, toss them with some lemon juice to preserve their color; mushrooms oxidize quickly.

When the vegetables have been prepped, all that's left to do is toss them with a dressing of your choice. Here, I like to use one thickened in a blender with a couple of tablespoons of toasted walnuts, which add a rich, earthy flavor and texture to a robust yet refined salad that perfectly bridges winter and spring.

GREEN BEAN AND MUSHROOM SALAD WITH TOASTED WALNUT DRESSING

Serves 6

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