Asparagus Salad with Preserved Lemon Dressing and Passover Potatoes
My dissertation stress has been catching up with me recently, more than ever before. So much that I actually considered not posting a recipe this week.
I have all sorts of big and little deadlines, self-imposed and otherwise, and I sometimes fall into the trap of too much calendar-checking—trying to conceptualize too many future obligations at once. This always leaves me feeling overwhelmed: while working on one task, I can’t help but feel guilty that I am not working on others. (As absurd as that sounds.) So inertia takes hold and instead of getting to work, I do nothing, while feeling increasingly… awful.
The one thing that helps—other than working on the dissertation (but even that doesn’t help sometimes)—is cooking.
When it comes down to it, I would rather spend my non-dissertating hours being productive in the kitchen rather than moping and fretting. (Although believe me, I still do plenty of moping and fretting.)
Spending time in the kitchen feels like the best kind of productivity. A little hands-on work with something so much more palpable than words on a screen, the hunger and anticipation as appetizing smells start to float throughout the house, and the immediate gratification. Your efforts are all rewarded just as quickly as you can pile food onto a plate, with something that satisfies and with something you can feel good about eating, since you made it yourself. (And, in the best case scenario, your efforts are rewarded with leftovers!)
While cooking brings its own stresses, it is relaxing in the sense that it temporarily lifts the weight of everything else off my shoulders: it keeps me focused on being in the moment, without any guilt about other things I should be doing. And it pulls me away from my laptop—maybe that’s the real reason it always puts me in a better mood.
This springtime salad was the perfect excuse to spend some time away from my laptop last weekend. Despite feeling the tug of my to-do list, I sent myself into the kitchen to prepare it, and emerged in a much better mood, buoyed by a feeling of accomplishment just as satisfying as the salad itself. And a renewed conviction that this is precisely what weekends are for.
I set out to make something that would be at home on a Seder table (for Passover) and I think this fits the bill. But it was tricky to come up with an idea for an original-ish Passover recipe, mostly because I spent about a week really, really focused on matzah.
My sister, Jess, recently helped me come up with all sorts of matzah-based ideas for Passover-y recipes, including matzah kugel, chocolate-covered matzah toffee, and salmon cakes with matzah meal (although, as she also pointed out to me, almost any kind of gluten-free dessert will pass the kosher-for-Passover test), but I rejected them all.
I absolutely love matzah ball soup, so much that I will enjoy it all year round (especially when I’m feeling sick!), but really, who wants to cook with matzah any other time of the year but Passover? (Hint: if you’ve never tasted matzah, you’re not missing much…)
I wanted to celebrate spring with something fresh and green, and I wanted to come up with something that I might actually make a few times now that it’s asparagus season. I also remembered that my friend Rachel has a lovely, simple recipe for “Passover potatoes” (I’m not sure if she’s the one who named it that, or if that was my mom, when she borrowed Rachel’s recipe during Passover).
Small new red potatoes are boiled, peeled, and drizzled with tangy red wine vinegar, to soak up the seasoning while they’re still hot. They are delightful served at room temperature, and somehow even more delectable served cold.
I decided to toss the vinegared potatoes on top of a bed of shaved asparagus—if you’ve never tried raw shaved asparagus, now’s the season; it’s unexpectedly sweet and crisp! I can’t get enough of it, dressed with my new favorite salad dressing, made with homemade preserved lemons.
I got my preserved meyer lemons going back in December, but it’s not too late to make your own—they’ll pickle in just 2-3 weeks. I followed the instructions in this video from Food52, packing the scrubbed and quartered lemons in fine sea salt, then letting them hang out in a cool dark cabinet for a few weeks. (Or you can substitute a regular fresh lemon in the salad dressing recipe.)
The preserved lemons have since been moved to my fridge. They are quite salty, even after you rinse them, but they’re also intensely tart and addictive. I’ve tried nibbling on them, adding them to chicken tagines, and even dicing them up to toss into a (strange but delicious) risotto. But my favorite use for them by far is blended up into salad dressing.
This recipe for preserved lemon dressing just has a few ingredients, but is bursting with bracing, tart flavors. The preserved lemon, together with a little shallot, oil, and vinegar, creates a thick emulsion that seems impossibly creamy, considering it’s made without any dairy. Depending on your shallot, the dressing can take on a pinkish hue, so if that puts you off, you can add a (tiny) pinch of turmeric to bring it back to the yellow side as a bright reminder of its star ingredient, lemons.
After my disappointment at missing Purim last month, I was extra determined not to miss Passover. While I won’t be hosting or attending a Seder (Passover dinner) with my dissertation deadline looming, Paula and I will still try to find time to make ourselves some matzah ball soup, charoset, and possibly chocolate covered matzah. And this salad will be making an encore appearance as well.
Print both recipes! (PDF)
Preserved Lemon Dressing
(Makes just over ¾ cup)
Active and Total time: 5 minutes.
~ ¾ of a preserved meyer lemon (or ½ a lemon, yellow peel and pulp, but not white pith)
~ ½-¾ of a shallot, roughly chopped
~ ¼ cup red wine vinegar
~ ⅔ cup olive oil (or ⅓ cup olive oil, and ⅓ cup lighter oil, like avocado or canola)
~ salt, to taste
~ black pepper, to taste
~ tiny pinch of turmeric (will turn it a brighter yellow-orange)
How to make it:
1. Taste the preserved lemon and rinse it off if too overly salty. (I usually don’t bother rinsing mine, but then I don’t need additional salt in the dressing.) Remove and discard any lemon seeds, then roughly chop (both the peel and the pulp).
(Or if using ½ of a regular lemon, use a vegetable peeler to remove wide strips of yellow zest, then use a knife to cut the thick white pith away from the pulp and discard. Remove and discard any seeds, then roughly chop the lemon pulp and the pieces of yellow peel.)
2. Add the chopped preserved lemon (or fresh lemon pulp/peel), the chopped shallot, the red wine vinegar, and the olive oil to a blender (or use an immersion blender). Blend until smooth, then taste and season as desired; blend again until well combined. Refrigerate for up to a week (warm to room temperature before using).
Asparagus Salad with Passover Potatoes
(Serves 6, as a side salad)
Active time: 30 minutes; Total time: 1 hour.
Ingredients for the Potatoes:
~ 1½ lbs. small, round new red potatoes, scrubbed well
~ 1½ Tbsp. red wine vinegar
~ 1 Tbsp. olive oil
~ kosher salt, to taste
~ fresh dill, gently torn
Asparagus Salad Ingredients:
~ ½ – ⅔ bunch of fresh asparagus, rinsed and bottom inch or so discarded
~ preserved lemon dressing, to taste
~ seasoned potatoes
~ additional fresh dill, gently torn
~ scallions or chives, diced
~ fresh mint leaves, gently torn
~ 1-2 hard boiled eggs, diced
How to make it:
1. Place the potatoes in a large stockpot and cover them with two inches of cold water. Cover the pot and bring to a boil (this may take 10-15 minutes). Once boiling, uncover and keep at a steady boil for 15-25 minutes. Choose one potato to test with a fork (since it will ruin the appearance of that potato), and test periodically after 15 minutes until the fork both goes into and comes out of the potato easily. Do not overcook them so much that they become mushy.
2. Drain the potatoes in a colander and rinse under cold water for 1-2 minutes. They’ll still be quite hot. Then return them to the empty stockpot set back over the same burner as before (but with the burner off)—allow them to sit there for several minutes as they dry out and lose their moisture from the residual heat. Then transfer to a bowl. Gently peel the potatoes with your figures as soon as they are cool enough to handle (after 5-10 minutes). Then, while the potatoes are still hot, drizzle over red wine vinegar, then olive oil, and gently toss to coat. Season with kosher salt and fresh dill, then refrigerate until ready to serve. (Serve at room temperature or chilled, over bed of shaved asparagus.)
3. While the potatoes are cooking or cooling, prepare the asparagus. Holding the tip of an asparagus stalk with one hand, use a sharp vegetable peeler with the other to shave a strip from just below the tip down to the end of the stalk. Flip the stalk over once (so it’s now sitting on the flat, shaved side), then shave 4-5 strips from the other side until it’s too thin to continue. (Even then, you can usually get one last shaving by picking up the tip and pulling that up against the vegetable peeler while you hold the peeler down.) Slice off the asparagus tips and reserve.
4. Blanch the asparagus tips: in a pot of boiling water (or in the same pot where the potatoes are boiling, if the timing works out), blanch the tips for 60-90 seconds. Then drain them or fish them out (they’ll float above the potatoes), and plunge them in ice water or rinse them in cold water to stop them from cooking.
5. Pile the asparagus shavings on a serving platter, and sprinkle the blanched tips over them. Drizzle the asparagus with a few spoonfuls of preserved lemon dressing, then top with the seasoned potatoes. Garnish with fresh dill, scallions, and mint. Optionally sprinkle over diced hard-boiled eggs. Pass additional dressing at the table for each person to add to individual servings as desired.
Print both recipes! (PDF)
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