Monday, June 8, 2009

Green is Good

I loved Dr. Seuss' Green Eggs and Ham. I would read it over and over again to my dad when he came home to eat lunch each day, so proud of my fledging reading skills but perhaps more intrigued by the concept of eating something green. Once my mom even made my brother and me green eggs and ham (I think it was St. Patrick's Day). We thought she was the coolest, but I was a bit wary of actually eating them. How could something green taste good? 

I've grown to love green things but occasionally do see something green and find myself involuntarily recoiling. For instance, have you ever seen Green Goddess salad dressing in a grocery store? If you live in California, the answer is probably yes. Apparently it was the most popular salad dressing (a tribute to George Arliss, the star of the popular 1923 play The Green Goddess) on the West Coast before it was dethroned by Ranch dressing. It has a weird lime sherbet hue to it that seem inappropriate for a salad. I can honestly say not once upon seeing it in a store have I ever considered buying it. Not even in the slightest. It's in the same category for me as canned clams. I did have a rather traumatic experience at a young age with salad dressing. It involved a bottle of orange French dressing being poured on my head, so that may also have contributed to further bias toward this green dressing. 

Thankfully, I am a faithful reader of Molly Wizenburg's Cooking Life in Bon Appetit. When she described green goddess dressing as "what a salad likes to wear when it goes to California," I knew I had to put aside my childish fears and try it.

Classically, green goddess dressing is a blend of mayo, anchovies, garlic, lemon juice and fresh herbs. It sounds like a derivative of Caesar but the end flavor is quite different. I found dozens of different recipes online, but I think you'd be hard pressed to find a version tastier than Molly's incarnation, adapted from Chez Panisse. It gets its creaminess from an avocado not mayo, and has a wonderful balance of fresh herbs.  The end color was definitely green, but a gorgeous, inviting one. Like "pale aloe" or some other alluring color as defined by J. Crew.

The result was both soothing and provocative. [I recognize I'm talking about salad dressing here, but if you make this, you'll know what I mean.] You feel momentarily swept away to a spa while at the same time are fighting back the urge to stick your finger in the bowl for a taste. 

Since this was all about the goodness of green, I figured the salad accoutrements should also be green. It was delicious! Crunchy steamed asparagus, crisp cucumbers, creamy avocados, tender baby lettuce and some fragrant basil. What's not to like? 

I know food is only as good as the ingredients (the old garbage in garbage out rule), but I must give props for the stunning herb combination in this dressing. Tarragon is the subtle hero, but mixed with the cilantro and basil, all you taste is a delightful harmony. If you don't like cilantro, you won't taste it, I promise. And don't let the anchovy scare you off. It's mild and just adds some pleasant saltiness to it. 

All told, the end product has a coolness perfect for warmer days but with some added spunk. Life is too short to eat bland salad dressing. And it's certainly too short to not try a green one!

Green Goddess Dressing
By Molly Wizenburg

1/2 ripe medium avocado
3 Tbsp white wine vinegar
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 oil-packed anchovy, very finely chopped
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp fresh lime juice
1/4 tsp sugar
3/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup whipping cream
3 Tbsp chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 Tbsp chopped fresh tarragon
2 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
1 Tbsp chopped fresh basil
1 small shallot, finely chopped (about 1 Tbsp)

Blend first seven ingredients in a processor until coarse puree forms. With machine running, gradually add oil through feed tube; blend well. Transfer mixture to bowl; whisk is cream. Add parsley, tarragon, cilantro, basil, and shallot; whisk to combine. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and chill at least 3 hours (dressing will separate if not chilled). Let stand at room temperature 20 minutes and rewhisk before serving. Can be made one day ahead. Keep chilled. Yields: 2 cups. 

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