Asparagus and Pea Spring Salad

FullSizeRenderIt doesn’t get any fresher than this springy salad featuring asparagus, peas, and spinach. I first tried the Asparagus Ribbon Salad (from Better Homes & Gardens April 2017 issue) for Easter, and our guests all thought it was dee-licious. I made it per instructions the first time, except for the requested arugula, as it’s expensive and I think it has a bitter bite. So I subbed in Bibb lettuce (aka: butter lettuce) and added some spinach—just because I like to add spinach to dishes whenever possible! Good call on the Bibb lettuce, as it was the perfect compliment to the tender asparagus. It was a nice side salad with ham and cheesy scalloped potatoes potatoes (need to post that one), and a refreshing way to serve the green spears, rather than just microwaving and squirting with lemon.

FullSizeRender-2But I thought the long ribbons of asparagus were kind of awkward to eat, and were a total pain in the keister (yet worth it for Easter…) to prepare. Chopping them into 1-2 inch pieces is easier to do, and easier to eat. I also found the vinegar in the BH&G asparagus-pea pesto recipe to be too sharp—asparagus is such a subtle veggie, and I thought lemon might be a better choice for an acid in the pesto. Then because I CANNOT turn my foodie brain off, I thought I’d boil up some eggs and chop some leftover Easter ham on top to make it a whole meal deal. Loved it!!! It was so tantalizing, my co-worker Ben even asked me for the recipe when I brought a salad to work. Or rather, he said, “Hey Kaaren (his wife), you should get that recipe from Cheryl…”

Here you go, Ben (ahem, I mean Kaaren…).

Serves 6-8

For Side Salad
2 bunches asparagus
3 cups frozen peas, divided
3 cloves garlic, peeled and quartered
½-1 lemon, juiced (¼-½ cup)
¼ cup olive oil
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
½ of an English cucumber, sliced into quartered
2 heads Bibb lettuce, cored and chopped
2 cups fresh spinach, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper

For Main Meal Salad
2 cups chopped ham
6 hard boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
1 cup grated white sharp cheddar cheese

Fill a large bowl with cold water and add ice. Set aside to us in blanching asparagus. Trim or snap touch ends off asparagus, then chop into 1 or 2-inch pieces. Fill a medium saucepan with water, add 1 teaspoon salt, and bring to a full rolling boil. Add fresh asparagus, and cook 2-3 minutes, or until bright green. Using slotted spoon, gradually transfer all the asparagus to the bowl of ice water. Let sit for about 5 minutes, then drain. Rinse the frozen peas under cold water then drain in separate strainer. Dab both asparagus and peas with paper towel to remove excess moisture. Toss asparagus, peas, and cucumber together in a bowl. Set aside.

To make asparagus-pea pesto, combine 1 cup of blanched asparagus, 2 cups of peas, garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil in food processor and pulse to form paste. Add Parmesan and pulse to combine. Stir in 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon black pepper. Toss pesto with asparagus, peas, and cucumber until all ingredients are combined.

To assemble salad, spread Bibb lettuce and spinach on large platter, or 6-8 individual salad plates. Top with asparagus mixture for side salad. If making a main meal salad, sprinkle with chopped ham, chopped egg, and grated cheese.

Crunchy Cauliflower and Pea Salad

IMG_0963Trying to get kids—or picky adults—to eat their veggies? This crunchy salad loaded with fresh cauliflower, celery, and peas might just convert some veggie-haters into lovers. Ranch is the base of the dressing, and then there’s bacon…so I rest my case. I think I got this super easy recipe from a women’s magazine ad promoting Ranch dressing, from when Ranch was new player on the food scene (80’s or 90’s?). I will say that the cashews are delicious in the salad, but if you’re not going to consume the whole bowl in one sitting, they soften and take on the texture of mushrooms by the next day. So only add the cashews to the amount of salad you think will be eaten first time around. Otherwise, the salad is fine leftover the next day!

This is a nice year-round recipe, as the ingredients are available any time. It’s especially good with spring and summer menus, as a side to grilled meat, burgers, or brats, and even better if you’re bored with beans and slaw. And as excited as we Midwesterners are about summer when the first blades of green grass appear, we do get to that point. Am I right, people?

Serves 6-8

10 ounces fresh shelled peas, or frozen
2-3 cups fresh cauliflower florets, in bite-size pieces
1 cup diced celery
1 sweet red pepper, diced
1/4 cup diced scallions
6-8 slices crisply cooked bacon, crumbled
1 cup cashew halves

For dressing

1 cup Ranch dressing
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 clove fresh garlic, minced

If using frozen peas, rinse in cold water in strainer, and allow to drain. In large bowl, combine cauliflower, celery, red pepper, and scallions. Once peas are drained, add those as well.

In medium bowl, combine Ranch dressing, sour cream, Dijon, and garlic. Beat with wire whisk until dressing and sour cream are smooth. Pour over vegetables, and toss to combines. Add crumbled bacon and toss again. Add cashews just before serving.

NOTE: If using a gluten-free Ranch option, this recipe is gluten-free. Leave out nuts if you’ve got nut-allergy folks in your circles, and it tastes just fine without them. The bacon gives it enough flavor so you won’t really miss the cashews. The bacon also removes it from the vegetarian dish category…sorry.

Curry Cabbage and Vegetable Salad

IMG_0804You won’t have trouble getting anyone to eat their vegetables when this salad is on the table. This sweet and sour slaw is a healthy substitute for traditional cabbage coleslaw, and goes well with grilled burgers, barbecued chicken, or ribs. Or add some cooked chicken right to the salad, and you’ve got a light summer meal in one bowl. I believe I got this recipe from a friend who had called it “Oriental Salad,” and it was a simple mix of mandarin oranges, cabbage, almonds, scallions, and chicken. But my males prefer veggies to fruit in a cabbage or lettuce salad, and my son Justin in particular has imposed the “no fruity-chicken” rule when he’s eating at our house. (That means he abhors the mixing of chicken and fruit in any recipe—no apple chicken crepes, etc.) So I started using the dressing recipe from the Asian salad on a mix of vegetables and a couple kinds of cabbage, and often avoiding the chicken. It’s become a summer staple. Oh, and this also boasts a creative use of ramen noodles, defying the myth that only starving college students eat ramen.

Serves 6-8

For salad

1/3 head of green cabbage OR 1/2 head of Napa cabbage, julienned
1/3 head of purple cabbage, julienned
2-3 carrots, peeled and grated
1 sweet red pepper, diced
1/2 cucumber, sliced and diced
1 cup frozen peas, rinsed in cold water and drained
2-3 scallions, sliced
1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted*
2-3 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted*
Optional: 1-2 cups chopped or shredded cooked chicken**
1 (3-ounce) bag uncooked ramen noodles, broken up into small pieces (discard flavor packet)

For dressing

1/4 cup vegetable oil
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper

In large bowl, combine green or Napa cabbage, purple cabbage (missing from the photo above), carrots, sweet red pepper, cucumbers, peas, and scallions. In jar or salad dressing cruet, combine oil, sugar, vinegar, curry, salt, and pepper. Put lid on jar and shake to mix. Pour dressing over vegetable mixture. At this point, salad can be refrigerated until ready to serve. Just before serving, add toasted almonds and sesame seeds, and stir to combine. Stir in broken up ramen noodles. Serve.

*To toast almonds, spread on baking sheet and place is 325° Fahrenheit oven for 10-15 minutes or until golden. To toast sesame seeds, spread on baking sheet and bake in oven for 5 minutes or just until golden.

**NOTE: A roasted rotisserie chicken from the grocery store is a real time-saver, if you want to add meat to this recipe.