At the first non-traditional tikkun leil Shavuot that I attended at the Manhattan JCC a few years ago, I took home two principles, one general, one specific. The first was that Jewish learning need not be limited to textual study – this clearly stuck with me as I taught a dance class at my own minyan‘s recent Shavuot evening of learning. The second was how fabulous incorporating fresh herbs into a green salad can make it taste.
Growing up as a dancer (or pretending I was a dancer is probably more accurate) who always watched everything I put in my mouth with trepidation, salads were more a necessity than something to look forward to and savor. And the salads I ate were pretty boring and almost always the same: iceberg, carrots, cucumber, mushrooms, maybe some pepper. Throw on some non-fat ranch dressing from a bottle. Voilà — dinner! As I look back now, all I can think is si triste…so sad.
Now I look forward to salads as an explosion of fresh flavors, with diverse and interesting greens and a few additional veggies to be highlighted with just a splash of freshly made dressing. That fateful Shavuot night captured the essence of this type of salad for me. The woman who taught the class (and please forgive me, but I can’t recall her name) described the salad as a traditional one made on kibbutzim (the Hebrew plural of kibbutz) — collective, usually agrarian, communities that settled in pre-Israel Palestine — using fresh herbs and vegetables grown by the kibbutzniks.
I now have my own window sill garden and I like to use as many of my own home-grown herbs as possible. I have basil and mint, but no matter how hard I try, I cannot grow cilantro.
For those looking closely, yup, that’s a little critter climbing up the mint pot (an idea that I got from Monica down in Atlanta – mother to Meira and Maman to Caroline’s kiddos; I bought this little guy in Israel).
I just bought a tomato plant – grape tomatoes to be exact – and it’s so exciting to see the little yellow blossoms fall off as the green bulbs emerge. I can’t wait to seem the little tomatoes pop out.
Kibbutz Herb Salad
This salad has become one of my favorite refreshing summer classics and I make variations on it for almost every meal that I go to because it just screams fresh summer to me. The original salad was prepared with the three herbs that I use here – mint, cilantro, and basil – along with goat cheese, toasted pine nuts (pignoli), and sun-dried tomatoes. I can’t recall what greens were used, but I almost always use a mix of arugula and baby spinach – the red leaf lettuce here is milder, but worked quite well. I don’t like pine nuts very much and immediately substituted toasted slivered almonds (you must toast them to draw out their flavor). I usually use fresh or slow-roasted tomatoes and sometimes add some feta or a firm chèvre.
Serves 1 – adjust for appropriate number of guests (amounts in parentheses are for a crowd…aka, a dinner party of 8 such as the one I had a few weeks ago)
– 2-3 large handfuls of greens (I used red leaf lettuce here, but often use a mix of baby arugula and spinach) (for a crowd: 10 oz. package of baby arugula, 10 oz package of baby spinach)
– a small handful of each green you plan to use: ~ 10 large basil leaves, ~ 20 small mint leaves (Sam, leave this out), a handful of cilantro (super-tasters, leave this out) (for a crowd: ~25-30 large basil leaves, ~ 50 small mint leaves, tons of cilantro)
– 1 tomato (for a crowd: 4-5 tomatoes or 10 oz slow roasted grape tomatoes)
– 1 handful (~1/4 C) sliced almonds (for a crowd: 1 C sliced almonds)
– 1/2 lemon for juicing (for a crowd: 1-2 lemons)
– 1-2T extra virgin olive oil – the best you can find – info on a recommended one below (for a crowd: up to 1/4 C )
– salt and pepper
Toast the almonds on a dry pan with a pinch or two of salt over low heat. Shake the pan and watch the almonds carefully because you want them to brown but not burn. Once you can smell them, remove from heat. Let the almonds cool while you prepare the rest of the salad.
Rinse and dry all greens and herbs. Cut everything into strips. Cut the red leaf into thicker strips that are still bite-sized (when I use arugula and baby spinach, I just rip everything, removing and stems). Chiffonade the basil and mint. Chiffonadeing results in a pretty thin strip and comes from the french word, chiffon – a rag – and the verb, chiffoner – to provoke (but no one ever talks about the verb… I found this one on my own!). To chiffonade, stack all of your leaves, roll them up, and slice through them with a sharp knife in quick parallel cuts. Chop up cilantro if using.
Mix greens and herbs in large bowl. Pour a little bit of excellent olive oil into one hand and massage into the greens (keep second hand dry so you can add salt and pepper). This ensures that all the leaves are dressed without being drenched. This is the methodology that the Israeli chef shared with us and I always use it for this salad. I really like this tactile methodology.
A note on extra virgin olive oil. Since my last trip to California, I have been on a search for a great olive oil that tastes like olives and I found one! While I have written a draft of a post about my search as well as some emerging thoughts on whether cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil actually requires a hechsher, it’s not quite ready. But, I can’t resist sharing with the amazing Spanish oil that I found (it does have a Spanish hechsher: Certified Kosher by the Federacion de Comunidade Israelites ) that actually tastes like olives and is made from arbequina olives native to the Catalan region of Spain on the French border. It is called Unió and is easy to find at Whole Foods (~$17 for a 750ml bottle).
This olive oil is amazing just served on the table in a little dish to accompany bread. I save it for dipping and salad dressings and do not cook with it.
Right before serving, add tomatoes and squeeze half a lemon over the greens. Toss with a few pinches of salt and a few turns of pepper. Throw the now-cooled toasted almonds on top and toss again. Taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary.