I've only cooked for a really big crowd (a hundred people or more) a few times, but I've learned the hard way that one of the keys to success has less to do with the cooking techniques and more to do with the tableware and the attitude. Think big and gather up all your confidence. Ask for help.
This is how I ended up serving a salad for 150 people out of a giant washtub usually reserved for the booze at our parties. Here's the story of how the salad came together, if we kept our cool, and the recipe reduced to a more manageable size.
The salad was for a fundraiser at our local CSA farm, Amber Waves, and their new initiative, the Amagansett Food Institute. I cooked with a friend who gets credit for the sweet amaranth addition.
For inspiration, we went with what was around us; baby kale and chard — roots still attached — and some spotted juvenile lettuces all collected from the farm, asparagus gathered by the armful at another farm down the road, garlic scapes whizzed in to the dressing, then some amaranth for bulk. A big scoop of Zante currants from the cupboard, a few purple onions from the onion basket; we even had black sesame seeds to sprinkle on top. On the way out the driveway, chive blossoms caught me eye so I grabbed a wad and rubbed them between my palms over the salad, like a blessing.
It was colorful, seasonal, local, vegan, nut and dairy-free, and gluten-free. Folks, it's not often I pull off such a feat. Enjoy it while it lasts.
This is the sort of dish that truly comes from what is. What is around, what is inspiring, what is fresh and what the earth is giving. More than a recipe, it's a reminder to cook with the good stuff, and not to be afraid. You're heart's in there right? It'll be great.
It's is a breezy recipe, meant to be a suggestion, some guidance on the basics of a salad based on a foundation of greens and a grain. Nothing more. No stress. Substitute where your heart says so.
Baby Greens Salad with Asparagus, Sweet Amaranth and Green Garlic Dressing
1/4 cup amaranth grain (or other whole grain) 3/4 cups stock or water 1/2 pound asparagus, trimmed to bite-size (or green beans, sliced summer squash, etc.) 1 tablespoon nut oil (or olive oil) Sea salt 1 tablespoon olive oil 1/4 cup currants 1/2 medium purple onion, finely chopped Tender greens (lettuce, spinach, arugula, baby kale, chard, beet greens, etc.) to fill a medium-sized salad bowl Handful sprouts 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds 1/2 cup edible flower petals
For the dressing: 1/3 cup olive oil 3 tablespoons lemon juice 1 stalk green garlic Pinch cayenne One-finger pinch sea salt
Preheat the over to 350°F.
To prepare the amaranth, combine with the liquid in a saucepan and simmer over low heat for 15 minutes. Don't let it get gloppy. Drain through a cheesecloth or super-fine mesh sieve and lay out to cool on a baking sheet. (If using another whole grain instead of amaranth, prepare the grain according to package instructions to yield about 1/2 cup cooked.)
Meanwhile, on a small baking sheet, toss the asparagus with the nut oil and a one-finger pinch sea salt. Roast for about 8 minutes, agitating the pan halfway through. Remove and set aside to cool.
Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a fry pan and sauté the currants and onion with a one-finger pinch sea salt, stirring until fragrant and the onions begin to brown, about 3-4 minutes. Set aside to cool, then toss with the cooked grains.
Place all the dressing ingredients in a blender and whiz until foamy and all of the garlic is processed into fine bits.
To assemble the salad, place the greens and sprouts in the bowl and toss with all but 2 tablespoons of the dressing. Arrange the cooled amaranth mixture across the top, then the roasted asparagus. Drizzle the remaining dressing across the top and sprinkle with any garnishes.