Macedoine of vegetables

How to combat the 'Do I look like a rabbit?' attitude.

salad 88 (photo credit: )
salad 88
(photo credit: )
Even if you're a motivated health-conscious cook, once in a while you probably have trouble generating enthusiasm for vegetables. When you suggest a salad, a recalcitrant vegetable-eater pictures a bowl full of lettuce leaves. Many of us have heard such grumbles as "Do I look like a rabbit?" The complainer might grudgingly agree to a potato or chicken salad but somehow can't get excited about vegetables. Yet there are plenty of vegetable salads that are so satisfying they can make a meal. One such classic, macedoine de legumes, has long been a French favorite. This colorful medley of cooked vegetables - usually green beans, peas, carrots and turnips - is commonly dressed with mayonnaise. It might be served on its own as a first course or side dish, or, for a more substantial dish, might be topped with poached chicken, fish or hard boiled eggs. At cooking school in Paris we made our own mayonnaise for this traditional preparation. Sometimes we rolled thin slices of smoked meat or other cold cuts into cone shapes and filled them with the salad. At other occasions we spooned the salad into cooked artichoke bottoms or raw, hollowed-out tomatoes. According to the Dictionnaire De L'academie Des Gastronomes, the salad's name is derived from Macedonia, whose king, Alexander, brought together a large number of disparate peoples in his empire. However, the salad is not traditional in the Balkans. Naturally, fresh vegetables give the most delicious and most beautiful result. French cooks recommend cooking each vegetable separately in water, so you can take each one to its perfect point of tenderness, according to your taste. To keep the green vegetables' vivid color, many advise rinsing them after cooking. But the salad is so popular that the basic four-vegetable mixture has long been available in jars; cooks in a hurry can also purchase it frozen. I don't like canned vegetables in my salad but frozen mixed vegetables can be an acceptable substitute for fresh ones. This sustaining salad is wonderful when made with homemade mayonnaise but, since most of us don't use raw eggs today, the best option is use your favorite mayonnaise and season it well. A great addition is Dijon mustard, a standard flavoring for mayonnaise in France. For a lower-calorie salad, you could dress the vegetables with light mayonnaise, or mix the mayo with half its volume in yogurt or leben. Some cooks prefer vinaigrette dressing because the bright colors of the vegetables show more clearly; but then, of course, the salad is less filling. Illustrious French chef Gaston Lenotre, author of Faites La Fete Comme Lenotre (Celebrate like Lenotre), advocates cooking the vegetables in chicken broth for extra flavor, or, if you're using water, adding a bouquet of fresh thyme, bay leaf, celery pieces and parsley stems for extra flavor (and notes that this tasty liquid can be used for another meal to cook fresh pasta or rice). In addition to plain or mustardy mayonnaise, he makes another dressing from smooth white cheese. At first glance, it appears to be a low-calorie alternative - the cheese is mixed with a touch of olive oil and vinegar and seasoned with salt, pepper and chopped fresh herbs. But the final touch is folding in unsweetened whipped cream; for waist watchers, I would stir in a little yogurt instead. Obviously, cooks and chefs enjoy coming up with variations of the time-honored salad and personalizing them with fanciful names. Larousse Gastronomique, a manual of classic cuisine, notes that some versions of macedoine might include flageolets, a delicious French bean that slightly resembles baby green lima beans or green soy beans. Adding fish or meat turns the salad into Russian salad, wrote Prosper Montagne, the author of this venerable tome. Auguste Escoffier, author of a competing chef's manual, one-upped Montagne with a much more elaborate salade russe, enhancing the basic four-vegetable medley with potatoes, cooked mushrooms, smoked meat, seafood, capers, pickled cucumbers, sausage and anchovies. As a chef at several elegant establishments, he had to embellish the once-humble salad with black truffles and caviar! Ginette Mathiot, author of Je Sais Cuisiner (I Know How to Cook), an old-fashioned book for home cooks similar to the American Joy of Cooking, makes picnic macedoine, adding white beans to the basic four ingredients and spooning the mayonnaise-dressed salad into hollowed-out crusty bread; the bread slice that you cut off to remove the crumb from the bread then becomes the lid and makes the salad portable. For another variation, she features a geographic mixed metaphor called Norwegian macedoine. She augments the basic-four mixture with artichokes, potatoes, sliced pickled cucumbers and strips of hard boiled egg whites. Its final garnish of anchovies alludes to the Scandinavian love of salted fish and explains the name. Whatever you call it, the salad is colorful, lively in flavor and satisfying. BRETON VEGETABLE SALAD WITH CHIVE MAYONNAISE Cooks in several regions of France have also composed versions of the classic macedoine de legumes, according to the most popular vegetables of their province. Artichokes and cauliflower flourish in the western province of Brittany, and thus cooks called creations like this Breton salad. If you like, substitute a peeled, diced turnip for the artichokes; cook it for 10 minutes or until just tender. To turn the salad into a main course, you can add hard boiled eggs or poached fish. 1 large lemon, halved (if using fresh artichokes) 2 large artichokes or 8 pieces frozen artichoke hearts Salt and freshly ground pepper 225 gr. green beans, ends removed, broken in 2 pieces 1 medium cauliflower, divided in medium florets 12 baby carrots, peeled 11⁄2 cups cooked peas (fresh or frozen) 1⁄3 cup mayonnaise 1 Tbsp. snipped chives 1 Tbsp. white wine vinegar Salt and freshly ground pepper 3 Tbsp. vegetable oil or olive oil 1 head romaine lettuce, leaves rinsed and dried thoroughly If using fresh artichokes, follow directions below. If using frozen artichoke hearts, cook them in boiling salted water about 7 minutes or until tender. Cool to lukewarm. Remove them and cut each in two pieces. Cook green beans uncovered in a medium saucepan of boiling salted water over high heat for 5 minutes or until just tender but still slightly crisp. Drain and rinse under cold water until cool. Drain thoroughly. Cook cauliflower uncovered in a large saucepan of boiling salted water over high heat about 5 minutes or until just tender but still slightly crisp. Drain and rinse under cold water until cool. Drain thoroughly. Divide half of cauliflower into smaller florets. Put baby carrots in a saucepan, cover with water and add salt. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer over medium heat for 5 minutes or until just tender when pierced with a knife; size of baby carrots varies greatly and this affects cooking time. Drain thoroughly. Combine cooked artichokes, peas and small cauliflower florets in a bowl. Mix mayonnaise with 1 teaspoon of chives. Add enough mayonnaise to artichoke mixture to moisten it. Mix gently, taste and adjust seasoning. To make vinaigrette: Whisk vinegar with salt and pepper in a small bowl; whisk in oil. Taste and adjust seasoning. Make a bed of romaine lettuce on a large platter. Spoon artichoke and pea mixture into center. Arrange green beans, baby carrots and remaining cauliflower florets in piles around mixture and sprinkle them with vinaigrette. Sprinkle remaining chives over artichoke mixture and over separate cauliflower florets. Makes 4 servings. TO PREPARE AND COOK FRESH ARTICHOKE BOTTOMS Squeeze juice of 1⁄2 lemon into medium bowl of cold water. Break off stem of one fresh artichoke. Break off largest leaves at bottom. Put artichoke on its side on board. Holding a small serrated knife against side of artichoke (parallel to leaves), cut lower circle of leaves off, up to edge of artichoke heart. Turn artichoke slightly after each cut. Rub exposed edges of artichoke heart with cut lemon. Cut off central cone of leaves just above artichoke heart. Cut off leaves under base and trim base so it is round, removing all dark green areas. Rub again with lemon. Put artichoke in bowl of lemon water. Repeat with second artichoke. Squeeze any juice remaining in lemon into a medium saucepan of boiling salted water. Add artichoke hearts. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until tender when pierced with knife, about 15 minutes. Cool to lukewarm in liquid. Using a teaspoon, scoop out hairlike "choke" from center of each fresh artichoke heart. Return artichokes to liquid until ready to use. Cut each fresh artichoke into 8 pieces. Faye Levy is the author of Faye Levy's International Vegetable Cookbook.