Though less dramatic than “How to Cook a Wolf,” the iconic 1942 book that helped Americans deal with wartime shortages (and launched the remarkable food writing career of M.F.K. Fisher), “How to Invent a Salad” recently became a fascinating quest nonetheless.
No, I don’t mean “Make a Salad” – anybody can make a salad. I mean INVENT. And how many times in this life does anybody manage to do that? After all, more than enough salads already exist to keep salad-eaters busy. Think of Italian salad, Greek salad, Chinese chicken salad, of course Caesar salad, that last an Italian-style concoction created in Tijuana in the early 20th century. Come to think of, it doesn’t really take too many salads to be enough. But now there’s one more.
Our cooking school’s brand-new Black Forest Salad draws on various inspirations and pre-existing conditions, since very few inventions do not. But as best I can tell, the salad that’s now drawing raves in our weekly Hill Country German Feast is a bit different from anything I’ve ever seen or heard of. While I started the salad ball (or bowl) rolling, so to speak, bringing in a “German salad” recipe sent to me by a friend, it was class instructor Nina Tapia who took that recipe and ran with it.
The two greatest departures were using dried pitted dates instead of fresh figs, which are definitely out of season on this side of the equator, and adding one of Fischer & Wieser products to the dressing. Both the original recipe and ours build flavor from port wine, which gets reduced over heat and loses its “alcohol taste” while keeping its sweetness. Why not, we asked ourselves, liquefy our Whole Lemon & Fig Preserves in the port, along with a little of our Fischer & Wieser Champagne Honey Mustard?
It was only when we made and sampled the salad, however, that we decided on one of the biggest changes. Nobody who tried it enjoyed the green beans in the original, even though we’re not 100% certain why. The rubbery pop to our teeth was, we thought, highly unpleasant. Poking around at the grocery, we spotted pre-cut cubes of butternut squash, which we roasted in the oven back at the cooking school. A sprinkle of walnuts and our new salad was complete.
To me, the weirdest part was simply a German green salad at all, since most German families in Texas or Germany exhibit a high degree of disinterest among their wurst, schnitzel and strudel. The almost-as-weird part was the two unexpected elements.
Online research tells me there is a small section of Germany that grows fresh figs. But the bulk of figs incorporated into dishes there hail from Turkey, the origin of so many of Germany’s immigrants over the past three or four decades. As for those dates we buy already dried and pitted, they are as authentically German as can be, at least in the modern European sense. They are imported from Tunisia.
BLACK FOREST SALAD
The German Cambozola cheese, a kind of cross between a mild gorgonzola and a creamy Brie, adds just the right touch to these Medjool dates. In Germany, dates typically are imported from Tunisia. But in the warm months, they love (and you will love) this same salad made with fresh figs instead. In Germany, most of the figs come from Turkey.
¼ cup port wine
1 tablespoon Fischer & Wieser’s Whole Lemon & Fig Preserves
1 ½ tablespoon Fischer & Wieser’s Champagne Honey Mustard
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper, or seasoning blend
1 (10-ounce) packaged cubed butternut squash
6 pitted Medjool dates
Salt and pepper, or seasoning blend
¼ pound German Cambozola cheese
3 slices Black Forest ham, sliced lengthwise
2 cups spring mix
1 cup broccoli/carrot slaw
½ cup roughly chopped walnuts
Heat the port in a saucepan and liquefy the preserves in the port. Cook for about 5 minutes to remove the alcohol taste, then turn off the heat and add mustard and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toss the squash and the dates in about 1/43 cup of the dressing, then spread on a baking pan and roast in the oven until squash is tender and lightly caramelized, 12-15 minutes. Let cool.
Slice open the cooled dates and, using a spoon or your fingers, stuff with the cheese. Wrap dates with the ham. Combine spring mix with slaw in a mixing bowl and toss with about ½ the remaining dressing. Divide this over 6 small salad plates. Top with the butternut squash, sprinkle with walnuts and set a stuffed date on top. Drizzle with remaining dressing. Serves 6.
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