Savoring Kentucky

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Savoring Kentucky showcases the wonders of Kentucky's food, farms, farmers, restaurants, chefs, distillers, brewers, orchards and markets. We applaud local food, its producers and champions. We delight in news of improvements in food and food systems. We take pleasure in fine food. We thank our wondrous sponsors for supporting our work and local goodness all around.

The Bellwether Salad

Smithtown Seafood's new Market Salad made me realize how much salads have changed, at least in my way of eating, almost without my realizing it. Here's just the crunchy topping of the Smithtown Market Salad I ate last weekend: beautiful, delicious, and more than likely containing about a week's worth of nutrients in one meal. 

This splendor on a (paper) plate does not fit with the salads Tamar Haspel describes in her recent piece for the Washington Post, "Why salad is so overrated." (Hat tip AC.) When she and I talk about salad, we are in two different worlds. She limits her consideration of salad to uninspired lettuce mixtures or junked-up "salads" from fast food restaurants.

Increasingly, salad, to me, means an individual plate of goodness I compose from a variety of foods I have on hand. Instead of one mixture of vegetables served out from a large bowl into little matching bowls for each person at the table, I build a personalized salad on a dinner plate. I include a huge variety of foods. Some warm, some cool. Some fresh, some cooked. Some dressed or pickled, some in their birthday suits. Often an egg (boiled, pickled, fried) or other small bit of protein jumps on the plate. Good greens make it all crunchier, but they need not supply the bulk of the nutrition.

No wonder I applaud this wondrous Smithtown Seafood Market Salad. I chose four of the seven salads on offer: Roasted Beet and Pickled Grapes, Peruvian Purple Sweet Potato, Jade Beans with Dijon Aioli, Succotash. The super-fresh salad ingredients come from Lexington Farmers Market vendors.

These salads seemed both familiar and new. I could imagine making them at home, though would I ever have thought of adding pickled Kentucky grapes to the beautiful beets The Gardener brings into our kitchen?

Peruvian purple sweet potatoes also inspired me. At the Tuesday edition of the Lexington Farmers Market I found them at Steve's Plants. Steve says a celebrated local chef cooks these sweet potatoes in brine until all the water evaporates, leaving just a bit of a salt crust to contrast with the dense, lightly sweet flesh. Yum!

Savoring Kentucky has recognized salads' bellwether powers for a long time. In 2006, two months after the first Savoring Kentucky post, I used one of the world's finest salads—Kentucky Wilted Salad—to illustrate changes in oil dependency in our state: "Would You Like Crude With That?"

Haspel's article about salad assumes every bite of any kind of salad comes from somewhere other than the backyard, a neighbor, a local farmers' market. A lot of Kentuckians, though, know better. They are planting fall crops of mustard and turnip greens, kale and lettuces. Here's a short video one Kentucky grower made to show two varieties that work particularly well.

We're figuring out what our grandparents knew. Kentuckians who grow for markets are adding innovations like hoop houses and other season extension methods so we can keep having beautiful, inventive plates of salad year round. Maybe we will eventually all have our choice of memorable salads, each different from the day before, each from Kentucky's goodness, all the year round.

Bonus points:

  • Most likely, the fresh baby greens and shoots that topped my Market salad came from FoodChain's aquaponic farm, about 50 feet away from the Smithtown Seafood kitchen. Potent, exciting expansion plans at FoodChain will be announced in October, 2015.
  • Chef Ouita Michel, owner of Smithtown Seafood and its four siblings in the Holly Hill Inn Family of Restaurants, launched Ouita's So Many Roads Trip yesterday. It's a short-term challenge: eat at each of the five restaurants by September 19, earn a tee-shirt, join the celebratory party at West Sixth Brewing, and (if you're lucky) win a special prize: a chef's table dinner for two at Holly Hill Inn.

Sponsors included in this post: Lots! Holly Hill Inn, Smithtown Seafood, and, by extension, Midway School Bakery, Wallace Station, Windy Corner Market.

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