A visit to last week's Thursday Red Stick Farmers Market merited a mess of fresh produce perfect for a spring salad. Inglewood Farm, a large certified organic vendor from Alexandria, La. and a Red Stick market newcomer, had a fabulous spread of fresh vegetables, pecans and eggs at its expansive station, from which I plucked spinach, red leaf lettuce, yellow squash, zucchini, radishes, golden beets and dill. They were all thrown into a lush, crunchy jumble that accompanied Sunday lunch.
I couldn't help think about the work that went into producing this bright bowl of greens. (Not mine. The farmers'). Inglewood once grew commercial commodity crops exclusively, but its owners are in the midst of transitioning it to a sustainable farming model. They've recently added specialty crops that are now sold at regional farmers markets and direct to chefs and consumers. Moreover, the farm undertook the arduous process a few years ago of becoming certified organic.
It seemed sinful to drizzle anything ordinary on top of these veggies.
I turn to bottled dressing more than I'd like thanks to a frustrating lack of time and to the fact that my young children like bottled ranch. This time I made buttermilk dressing from scratch and remembered how quick and easy it is. It's composed of only four principal ingredients—mayonnaise, vinegar, buttermilk and olive oil—six if you include salt and pepper. This base serves as a launch pad for all sorts of variations. Chopped chives will bring a tinge of mild onion, crushed garlic delivers a nice bite and crumbled feta or bleu cheese add depth and mouthfeel.
Here are my proportions:
One-third cup Kleinpeter buttermilk
Three tablespoons mayonnaise
Two tablespoons red wine vinegar
One-quarter cup olive oil
Whisk first three ingredients. Once they're blended, slowly add the olive oil while whisking so that it emulsifies. Add salt and pepper to taste. It's ready to enjoy now, but adding fresh garlic, herbs, or cheese will take it in new directions. If you plan to use the dressing over several days, add the fresh herbs to the salad greens instead of the dressing because they will wilt.
You can buy buttermilk in half-pint sizes, but if you end up with a quart, as I usually do, play around with it. Use it as a fat substitute in muffins or quick breads. Substitute it for regular milk or cream in mashed potatoes or cauliflower or parsnip puree. Deploy it as a wet batter for fried catfish or chicken. Or, make Creole cream cheese or buttermilk ice cream.
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