Here's a honey of a salad

April 22, 2001|By Betty Rosbottom | Betty Rosbottom,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

Entertaining: Sweet and pungent tastes herald spring's burst of activity.

My husband and I looked at the calendar the other day and couldn't believe how hectic our spring is going to be. Three sets of out-of-town company are scheduled to arrive in the next few weeks. Friends have invited us to spend a weekend cooking with them at their nearby country farmhouse, and we are planning to give a party in honor of several seniors graduating from Amherst College, where my spouse teaches.

I am looking forward to this new season, a favorite of cooks everywhere. The bounty of spring produce, makes planning menus easy. Locally grown asparagus, plump bunches of watercress, fresh peas, bouquets of mint and chives, baskets of ripe strawberries and crimson stalks of rhubarb -- all inspire my spring meals.

Simplicity will be my theme. Vegetables will be cooked quickly and enhanced with pats of butter and snipped herbs; berries and other fruits will be turned into pies, crumbles or cobblers; and crisp greens will be used in refreshing salad combinations. In fact, one such salad that I have been working on will make a perfect first course for entertaining over the next few months.

I tossed sprigs of watercress, thin slices of blanched carrots and orange segments in a dressing made with orange juice, vinegar, honey, oil and a hint of ground cumin. The peppery cress made a fine partner for the sweet carrots and oranges, while the bracing vinaigrette complemented all these components beautifully. The deep orange of the cooked carrots, the lighter hue of the oranges themselves and the verdant watercress combined to make this salad visually appealing as well.

To follow this salad, I'll serve a leg of lamb roasted with baby red-skin potatoes and garnished with steamed, buttered asparagus sprinkled with julienned mint. On another occasion, the salad will precede grilled salmon fillets brushed with balsamic butter and presented with side dishes of couscous and fresh peas tossed with chives. A strawberry and rhubarb tart will make a fine finale for each of these spring menus.

Watercress, Carrot and Orange Salad in Honey-Orange Dressing

Makes 6 servings

3 large navel oranges, cleaned and dried

4 small carrots (8 to 10 ounces total), peeled and cut into 1 / 4 -inch-thick diagonal slices

salt

3 / 4 teaspoon ground cumin

2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

2 tablespoons canola oil

2 large bunches attractive watercress, cleaned and dried, stems discarded

Grate enough zest from 1 orange to make 2 teaspoons and place in nonreactive salad bowl. Halve and juice orange to get 2 tablespoons juice. Add juice to salad bowl. Using sharp paring knife, cut away skin and all white pith from remaining 2 oranges. Cut between membranes to remove orange segments and add segments to salad bowl.

Bring large saucepan of water to boil. Add carrots and 1 teaspoon salt to pan and cook until just tender, only about 3 minutes. Remove, drain in colander and pat dry. Add carrots to salad bowl along with 1/2 teaspoon salt, cumin, honey, vinegar and oil to bowl. Stir gently to combine. (Salad may be prepared 2 hours ahead to this point. Cover with plastic wrap and leave at cool room temperature. When ready to finish, stir salad again.)

To finish, add watercress sprigs to salad and toss well to coat. Taste and add more salt if needed. Mound on salad plates. Serve immediately.

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