Wednesday, April 17, 2013

(Vegetarian) Cooking at Home (Part 2): Garden Salad with Balsamic Gastrique

This is the second part of the vegetarian cooking series. Well basically I was asked by a local magazine to share the recipes for several vegetarian dishes, and I came up with a 4-course meal with salad, secondi (pasta), main and dessert which can be made in a regular home kitchen with easy-to-find ingredients. It was done over one Saturday afternoon at home and they featured the recipes over a few issues later on. 

The first one was published in late March, and the second one was just out - this is a garden salad with balsamic gastrique. Most people use vinaigrette as their salad dressing of choice - basically an emulsion of oil (most of the time olive oil) and vinegar (usually balsamic vinegar). Of course that's simple (just a mix and whisk) and it works with its acidic flavor. But I prefer my salad to have a thicker dressing and sweeter in taste (and less sharp) - so that's where the gastrique part came in.

Like b├ęchamel sauce I covered last time in the first recipe, gastrique sauce is another classic base sauce in western cuisine - essentially caramelized sugar deglazed with vinegar and turned into a syrup. Use common balsamic vinegar and turn that into a gastrique is a common trick for home cooks (and sadly, many restaurants too) to disguise it as aged balsamic vinegar - with a similar velvety, syrupy texture.

For other ingredients, I just picked up whatever fresh from the Sunday market and with toasted walnuts for additional flavor and aroma. This is a simple dish good especially for spring/summer time.

Garden Salad with Balsamic Gastrique


Gastrique Dressing:
2 tablespoon of white sugar
1/4 cup of balsamic vinegar

4 tomatoes - washed and sliced
2 cups of salad greens (for example, mesclun or rocket)
1/4 cup of walnuts

To finish:
1 tablespoon of Olive Oil
Lemon wedge (for the juice)

1. Prepare gastrique: Put sugar in a saucepan. Heat over medium heat until sugar begins to melt. Do not stir the sugar until the sugar dissolves and turn into a deep golden caramel. Pour in balsamic vinegar (careful - liquid may splatter). Stir until the caramel melts in the vinegar. Continue to boil until the mixture begins to thicken, about 5 minutes. Pour into a small bowl or squeeze bottle and set aside.

2. Toast Walnuts: Preheat oven at 190C. Put walnuts in the baking pan. Toast them in the oven for 10 minutes. Remove the walnuts from the oven and leave it to cool.

3. Assembly: Arrange tomato slices and salad greens on plates. Break walnuts into small chucks and place them around the plate as well. Drizzle gastrique olive oil, and a light squeeze of lemon juice over the salad. Season with salt.

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