Monday, April 30, 2012

Tomato and Onion Salad with a Tangy Shallot Dressing

I know what you're thinking.  "It's a beautiful photo, Therese, but I see raw onions.  I don't do raw onions." 

I am with you every step of the way, my friend.  I do not like, nor have I ever liked, raw onions.  In fact, when my sister and I were kids, my mom had a “Three-Foods Rule.”  My sister and I were each allowed to name three foods that we never had to eat.  Ever.  It was our family’s golden rule. 

I’ll have to ask my sister what her three foods were because I haven’t a clue, but I’ll never forget mine:  hard-boiled eggs, mayonnaise, and raw onions.  (Pretty good choices, if you ask me).  It’s not that I hated all onions.  Sauteed onions on top of fried pierogies were ok.  But the crunch of raw onions on a sandwich or a hamburger made me stop chewing and look for a napkin. 

But I’m an adult now.  I’ve come a long way.  I eat raw onions in salsa all the time, and I’ve come to love the crunch and contrast of raw green onions sprinkled on a stir-fry.  And earlier this week, I had an amazing salad with arugula, fennel, and a sprinkling of pickled raw onions at Plum Bistro, a trendy vegan restaurant in Seattle. 

It left me feeling bold. 

So when I saw organic Vidalia onions on sale this week and I found myself staring at a recipe for a raw onion and tomato salad in this week’s cookbook, Uzbek National Dishes (1995), I decided to be a little adventurous.  Push my limits.  Let’s try making a dish where raw onions feature prominently. 

Adapting the Recipe
There was no gluten or dairy in the original recipe, so there was nothing to cut out.  But there also were no greens. 

And no salad dressing.  It was just onions, tomatoes, peppers, and salt.   This was more of a condiment than a salad.  (Ok, I know there are salads without greens, but I am from Ohio, so give me a break). 

I decided to serve the tomato and onion salad on a bed of mixed spring greens, and I made one of my favorite salad dressings, just in case it needed something.  I also decided to soak the raw sweet onions in cold water.  Soaking raw onions pulls out some of their bitterness and their bite. 

My husband liked it straight.  He dug his fork into the tomato and onion salad and thought it was quite tasty.  Then again, he’s happy to crunch into a thick slice of red onion on a hamburger any day. 

Me?  When it was simply tomatoes, onions, peppers and salt piled on a bed of greens, I thought the onion flavor was too strong.  Too smelly.  But once I drizzled some of the dressing on top, the salad was transformed.  The vinegar and mustard matched the onion intensity and tamed it.  Now I could enjoy the crunch of the onions, the wetness of the tomatoes, and the tang of the dressing. 

We can all grow up sometimes.   

But don't push me on the hard-boiled eggs.  Even grown-ups have their limits.

Sliced cherry tomatoes are perfect here
Salad Ingredients
8 oz. fresh tomatoes (I used cherry tomatoes because they are tasty in any season)
½ of red pepper, seeded
½ of a medium onion, preferably a sweet onion, such as Vidalia, Walla Walla, or Texas Sweets
8 oz. mixed spring greens

Dressing Ingredients*
1 T. vinegar (red wine, white wine, balsamic, whatever you like)
1 tsp. grated or minced shallot
1 tsp. mayonnaise (light mayonnaise works fine)
½ tsp. Dijon mustard
½ tsp. salt
Pinch of sugar
Pinch of pepper
3 T. extra virgin olive oil

Cut the tomatoes in thin slices, roughly ¼-inch thick.  Slice the pepper into thin semicircles or rings.

Slice the onions about 1/8-inch, into semicircles or half-moon shapes.  Place the onion slices in a medium bowl and fill it with cold water, submerging the onion.  Let the onion slices soak at least 5 minutes.

Drain the onions.  Combine the onions, tomatoes, and peppers in bowl. 

Combine all of the ingredients for the salad dressing in the bowl of a food processor (or in a jar that seals well).  Blend the dressing for 20-30 seconds (or shake the closed jar), until the dressing is emulsified and thick.  

Divide the greens between four or five plates.  Spoon the tomatoes, onions and peppers on top of the greens, dividing them evenly.  Drizzle the dressing on top and serve.  (Or if you prefer, toss the tomatoes and onions with the dressing and spoon the seasoned vegetables over the greens). 

Serves 4 - 5

*This salad dressing recipe is an adaptation of one included in in America’s Test Kitchen Slow Cooker Revolution (2011).  The original dressing appears with the “Foolproof Green Salad," but I’ve reduced the amount of shallot, added a pinch of sugar, and doubled the mayonnaise for a dressing that stays emulsified longer.  As one who’s attentive to the sharp taste raw onion, I usually make this dressing at least one day in advance because the taste of the shallot will mellow overnight.


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