Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Autumn leaf salad for the Thanksgiving table (tk cooks)

In the previous post, TECHknitting blog featured the Swing Scarf--an easy gift to get ready for the holidays.  Today's post is about getting ready for a different holiday, one coming up even sooner--Thanksgiving.

Once every couple of years, the urge to post something kitchen-related becomes overwhelming.  In the past, this blog has featured no-mess muffins, as well as peach crumble.  This bi-annual installment of "tk cooks" offers a quite, quite beautiful (and very easy) addition to the Thanksgiving table: autumn leaf salad.

Don't those look like real leaves?  The trick is, they're made from colorful sweet peppers.

Here's the how-to:
Step 1. Choose the most colorful peppers you can find.
*Bonus points for finding two-tone peppers.

Step 2. Cook the peppers in a covered bowl in the microwave with a small amount of water, or steam them in a basket over a pot of boiling water.  You want the peppers to become soft, but not discolored or mushy, so keep a sharp eye out.

These peppers were roasted (see next
illustration) before being microwaved

*Bonus points: If you have a gas range or a bar-b-q grill, you can first roast the peppers in a char-broil pan, as shown below.  Roast them for only a couple of minutes before microwaving or steaming: roasting improves the taste.  (If you have no char-broil pan, you can still roast the peppers:  put them directly on the pot-grate over the flame, turning them constantly with a long-handled tongs.)  However, again, it is a bonus to roast the peppers: the salad is very good made with steamed, but never-roasted peppers, also.

Step 3. Once the peppers have cooled, remove the pepper core through the top of the pepper, then slit one side to create as large a flat sheet as possible. Work in a shallow bowl, saving the "pepper-juice" (pepper-juice = the clear liquid which weeps from the cooked pepper as you cut it).

Step 4. With a sharp knife, scrape away any pepper char, and peel away any pepper skin you can get off without tearing the flesh. (Pepper char is the blackened skin, uncharred pepper skin is a clear-ish outer layer which sometimes comes loose in the cooking process.)  Char comes off very easily, but skin not so much.  However, the more mature the pepper, the easier it is to get the skin off when cooked: red, yellow and orange peppers are the easiest, green peppers the hardest.  With some varieties of cooked peppers, peeling them with your fingers under running water works very well, and this makes it easy to wash the seeds out, as well.

Step 5. Lay the clean, peeled sheet of softened pepper on a plate or cutting board. Using leaf-shaped cookie cutters, cut leaf shapes out of the pepper pieces. Half leaves can be used, too, peeking out from under a larger leaf.

The mottled appearance 
comes from roasting

Sometimes, the cookie cutters don't want to slice all the way through, especially if there is skin left on the pepper.  In that case, use a small sharp knife to cut away the stubborn scraps along the outside of the cutter, before removing the leaf from inside the cutter.

Step 6. Dice the leftover scraps.

Step 7. Use any clear salad dressing you like, or make one up by mixing together a bit of olive oil and all the pepper juice, then add salt to taste.  Some like a splash of vinegar, too.

Step 8. Toss the diced pepper scraps with some dressing, drain and make a layer of these on the serving plate.  Pull each cut-out leaf through the dressing--you don't want these to tear, so work carefully. Arrange the leaves over the pepper-dice, the larger leaves on the bottom, smaller on top, try to arrange so different colors set one another off.

Three final notes:
  • If you need to store this before serving, keep it overnight in the fridge with plastic wrap on top.  It tastes best at room temperature, so take it out a couple of hours ahead, but if you forget, just eat it cold--it's pretty good that way, too.  Just before serving, re-shine the salad by spooning any pooled dressing back on top, or drizzle or spray a little extra olive oil.
  • Super short cut:  Instead of messing around with cooking the peppers, start with bottled roasted peppers from the store
  • Instead of making this into a stand-alone salad, the pepper cut-outs make an excellent decoration for the top of a green salad or other room-temp vegetable dish.

Good appetite, TK