Cooked radishes, arugula and avocados are routine in Italian, French, Russian and even Korean cuisines, but the modern American salad experience is something of an anomaly.
Barbara Haber, food historian and author of "From Hardtack to Home Fries" (Penguin, 2003), suggests that cooking salad vegetables is associated with a resourcefulness that has not been necessary in urban America.
Recipes for cooked cucumbers, for example, tend to turn up in decades-old rural community cookbooks. She also believes that the mainstream American culinary mind-set stays true to its British inheritance, with a solid affinity for meat and potatoes.
Chef, cookbook author and cooking-show host Jacques Pepin observes that such salad preparations are simply not a large part of mainstream American culinary tradition. But as we become more health-conscious and more interested in different ways to serve the same old ingredients, the crunchy, cold summer salad that morphs into the autumn and winter salad seems a natural way to experiment with flavor and to reach that daily quota of fresh fruit and vegetables.
The results may surprise you. Radishes take on a slight sweetness. Cucumbers take on a taste reminiscent of honeydew melon. Arugula becomes quite mild. Avocado becomes even more decadent than when it is served in its natural state.
Here's to more salad fixings in the ol' melting pot:
Simple Salad Vegetable Saute: All this recipe requires is a hot pan, a little butter or olive oil and some cucumbers, arugula or radishes. In a large skillet over medium heat, heat a couple of teaspoons of olive oil or butter. Add arugula leaves (washed and dried) or halved or quartered radishes (stem and root ends removed) or thinly sliced, seeded cucumbers. Cook, stirring frequently, just until the arugula is wilted (about 30 seconds) or until the radishes are tender (3 to 4 minutes) or the cucumbers are still slightly crisp (3 to 4 minutes). Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately.
Ingredients too variable for meaningful analysis.
Braised Red Radishes
This gentle cooking style and a hint of sweetness is a common tactic with carrots, but it works splendidly with radishes as well. A touch of honey tempers the sharp, peppery edge without overwhelming the radish flavor. Adapted from "Vegetables Every Day" by Jack Bishop (HarperCollins, 2001) :
20 medium radishes, leaves, stems and root ends removed
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 medium shallot, minced
1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock
1 tablespoon honey or maple syrup
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley leaves
Halve the radishes lengthwise from stem to root end (if the radishes are very small, leave them whole).
In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the shallot and cook, stirring occasionally, just until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the radishes and stir until completely coated with butter, about 1 minute.
Add the stock and honey and stir to combine. Cover and cook until the radishes are tender but not soft, about 10 minutes. Uncover, season with salt to taste and simmer until the juices reduce to a glaze, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat, garnish with parsley and serve immediately.
Per serving: 63 calories, 1 gm protein, 8 gm carbohydrates, 3 gm fat, 9 mg cholesterol, 2 gm saturated fat, 130 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber
Lettuce and Pea Saute
This has a simple, old-fashioned charm. Use only the pale, tender heart of the romaine lettuce; reserve the tougher outside leaves for salads.
Adapted from "A Passion for Vegetaes" by Paul Gayler (Lyons, 2003 ):
11/2 pounds peas in their pods, shelled (about 11/2 cups peas)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 romaine hearts, shredded
4 slender scallions (white and light green parts), cut into 3-inch lengths
3 sprigs fresh mint, plus additional chopped mint for garnish
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon sugar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the peas, butter, lettuce, scallions, mint sprigs, water and sugar to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer gently, uncovered, until the peas are tender and the mixture has reduced to a buttery sauce, about 5 minutes. Remove and discard the mint sprigs. Season with salt and pepper to taste and, if desired, sprinkle with chopped mint. Serve immediately.
Per serving: 153 calories, 5 gm protein, 15 gm carbohydrates, 10 gm fat, 25 mg cholesterol, 6 gm saturated fat, 82 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber
These individual quiche-like dishes counter the pepperiness of arugula with the creaminess of custard. The custards can be served as an appetizer, a side dish or a light entree. Adapted from "From an Italian Garden" by Judith Barrett (Maxwell Macmillan International, 1992):
2 bunches fresh arugula, root ends and thick stems removed (about 4 cups leaves)
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter six 4-ounce custard cups or ramekins.
Soak the arugula in cold water, swishing the leaves to remove any sand. Rinse the arugula well.
Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add the arugula, cook for 1 minute and then drain thoroughly, pressing to remove as much water as possible.
Place the arugula in a food processor and process for 30 seconds, until finely chopped but not pureed. With the machine running, add the eggs and cream and process for 1 minute. Stop the machine, add the cheese and pulse just until the cheese is incorporated. Season with salt and pepper to taste and pulse again.
Place the custard cups or ramekins in a rimmed baking dish and divide the custard mixture evenly among the custard cups or ramekins, filling each about three-quarters full.
Place the pan on the oven rack, then pour enough hot water in the pan to to reach about halfway up the sides of the custard cups.
Bake for about 35 minutes, until the center of the custards appears to be firm. Remove the pan from the oven and set aside to cool slightly before unmolding.
To unmold the custards, slip a sharp knife in between the custard and the side of the dish and run it around the edge of the dish. Place a plate on top of the dish and invert. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Per serving: 167 calories, 6 gm protein, 2 gm carbohydrates, 15 gm fat, 151 mg cholesterol, 9 gm saturated fat, 186 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber
Hot Stuffed Avocado
This rich side dish turns the concept of a stuffed potato inside out. Adapted from "The Vegetable Book" by Colin Spencer (Rizzoli, 1996) :
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 hot green chili pepper, seeded and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
11/2 cups peeled, boiled and diced potatoes (from 1 large russet potato)
2-ounce can anchovies, packed in oil, undrained
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup sour cream
3 ripe avocados, halved and pitted
1/2 cup (about 2 ounces) grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil.
In a skillet over medium heat, heat the oil. Add the chili pepper and garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the potato and the anchovies with their oil and stir gently to coat the potatoes. Cook, stirring occasionally, just until the potatoes absorb the liquid and are slightly browned. Season with pepper to taste; remove from the heat. Add the sour cream and stir to combine. Set aside.
Using a sharp knife, trim a slice from the rounded edge of each unskinned avocado half so that it rests evenly on a flat surface. Place the avocado halves on a baking sheet and spoon the potato mixture evenly into the cavities of each halved avocado, mounding the mixture over the entire avocado and making sure you cover all the exposed flesh. Sprinkle evenly with the cheese.
Bake the avocados for 5 to 10 minutes, until the potato mixture is warmed through and the cheese is lightly browned. Serve immediately.
Per serving: 316 calories, 9 gm protein, 16 gm carbohydrates, 26 gm fat, 19 mg cholesterol, 7 gm saturated fat, 186 mg sodium, 5 gm dietary fiber
Andrea Vayda, a freelance food writer based in Boston, last wrote for Food about savory spices in desserts.
LETTUCE AND PEA SAUTE has a simple, old-fashioned charm. Recipes on Page 4