Remember when spinach salad meant warm bacon dressing and chopped hard-cooked eggs, and we all loved it and felt oh-so-sophisticated when we ordered it at a café? Did you know (I didn't) that spinach salad, an adaptation of a German dish of dandelion greens with a bacon-vinegar dressing, probably originated in Pennsylvania Dutch country, and not in the kitchen of a French chef? These days, when it comes to spinach salad, there are no rules, as this version with bell pepper, olives, feta cheese and pine nuts proves. There are a few secrets to making great salads that draw on ingredients in your pantry, and they all come down to this: be fearless! Combine unlikely ingredients, using whatever's in season. Take a sauce you'd made for pasta, or a chutney, and thin it with some water to make a salad dressing. Don't be afraid of color. If you don't have baby spinach for this salad, pluck a few lettuce leaves from your garden. And if you don't have good feta, try ricotta salata or another salty cheese.
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Have you had your fill of asparagus yet? Neither have I. However, I am a little bit over asparagus soup, asparagus frittata, and asparagus stir-fry, which is why this vegan brown rice salad with asparagus, avocado, pecans and basil pesto is such a welcome addition to the Spring repertoire. If you have pesto in your freezer from last summer -- any kind of pesto will do -- please use it here. I've tried kale pesto I froze last September, and red pepper pesto (which, I admit, improved the color of the finished dish), made from a jar of roasted peppers. And if you don't have your own pesto and don't want to make it from scratch, take some help from the grocery store and buy a good-quality pesto to make the dressing for this salad. There's no mayonnaise to spoil in the heat, which makes this salad perfect for picnics and summer potlucks.
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The Year I Learn to Love Cauliflower continues to challenge me, and nothing scares me more than the prospect of raw cauliflower, undisguised by potatoes or hot sauce. Recently I decided to take the plunge, with this salad that pairs the vegetable of the year with creamy white beans, salty feta and crunchy pine nuts. Not a disguise, exactly. More like a distraction, with so much texture that I really didn't concentrate on the cauliflower. If you're a cauliflower lover, adjust the proportion of ingredients to highlight the vegetable. If you're a cheese-a-holic, add more feta. The lemon vinaigrette wraps everything together. The longer it sits, the more tender the cauliflower becomes, thanks to the mustard in the dressing. My husband Ted approved this salad for you; I can't say I'm in love with raw cauliflower, yet, but I'm working on it.
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Asparagus season here in Rhode Island lasts for an all-too-brief six weeks, and during that time, my husband Ted and I consume asparagus in one form or another almost every day. I love to throw totally naked asparagus spears on the grill until they're slightly charred, and eat them with my fingers like pretzel sticks. And I love to roast them in the oven with olive oil, salt and pepper, or maybe a squirt of lemon. Sometimes I wrap them in wonton skins, for a crunchy party appetizer. The other day I had the urge for something zingier, and what's more zingy than Sriracha? A little drizzle of creamy, spicy Sriracha mayonnaise played so beautifully with roasted asparagus that I managed to polish off most of this plate for lunch, without any help from Ted.
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