Where I grew up strawberry season was a fleeting period of a few weeks at the end of June.
Every year the town would celebrate with a Strawberry Festival, the highlight of which was fresh strawberry shortcake served in the basement of the local Congregationalist Church.
Thanks to farmers in Florida and California, these days it’s always strawberry season. It is impossible, however, to beat the sun warmed sweetness of locally-grown strawberries from the local “U-Pick-It” berry farm, and this year the warm winter has brought strawberry season early. That has been manifest here in New York City by the sudden the abundance of sweet bargain priced berries being sold by the corner fruit vendors here in NYC.
I have been taking advantage of this unexpectedly early sign of nature’s bounty by indulging in a creation I designed one day when I came home with two quarts of strawberries that had to be eaten sooner rather than later. My current favorite accompaniment to any meal is a Strawberry & Cilantro Salad w Fresh Lemon Dressing.
This Strawberry & Cilantro Salad is light and fresh, yet flavorful enough to stand up to puttanesca topped Sea Bass. Ripe strawberries are sweet and fruity, bringing the promise of summer with every bite and are complimented beautifully by crumbled blue cheese or fresh goat cheese. Cilantro and fresh lemon juice add brightness and lift, while minerally celer,y and slightly bitter hearts of romaine lettuce, act as crunchy vehicles for the simple extra virgin olive oil and fresh lemon juice salad dressing.
So, as my way to share the spirit of spring, and to help you take advantage of your own strawberry season, I have included my strawberry & cilantro salad recipe and the very simple fresh squeezed lemon juice salad dressing recipe. They are quick, easy, low fat, vegan and perfect for the vegetarians in the house :)
Strawberry & Cilantro Salad Recipe w Fresh Lemon Dressing:
For the salad (serves 2) – or one if you are like me and can happily eat the salad pictured above – doubles easily -
- one half head of hearts of romaine lettuce (Look for
heads that are tight without a lot of large green leaves. Choose your favorite head and slice length-wise. Setting one half aside for tomorrow’s salad)
- one half bunch cilantro
- one stalk celery
- one pint strawberries
For the fresh lemon juice salad dressing recipe
- one large lemon (Choose lemons that are round rather than long. They tend to have thinner skins and be juicier.)
- 2 cloves garlic OR one half teaspoon garlic powder (Trust me, purists will howl, but garlic powder works just fine.)
- 2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- one half teaspoon salt
- one Tablespoon maple syrup or agave syrup
Optional, but delicious, garnishes
- toasted walnuts
- crumbled blue cheese
- crumbled goat cheese
First, prepare your dressing: Locate a small jar with a lid. Roll the lemon on the counter to loosen the juices inside the lemon.
Hold the lemon over the jar to catch the initial spurt of juices, and cut a slit in the side. Gently squeeze to release the juices freed during the rolling process and then cut the lemon in half. Finish juicing the lemon using a fork or reamer. Pick out the seeds. If you are using fresh garlic, either push it through a garlic press or crush it into a paste with the salt. Add the garlic powder or garlic, salt, olive oil and maple syrup or agave syrup to the jar. Shake vigorously until the salad dressing emulsifies (about 30 seconds). Adjust the salt/sweet ratio to your liking. Let stand while you prepare your salad.
To prepare your salad, chop the stalk of celery and put it in the bottom of a large bowl.
(By putting the celery in first you are making the salad easier to toss evenly.) Chop or tear the half head of romaine lettuce into bite sized pieces and add it to the bowl. Rinse the cilantro to remove any lingering sand and either pluck off the individual leaves or COARSELY chop the part above the bare stems . (It is important not to chop the cilantro too finely, or you will loose the burst of flavor that is released when you bite into a leaf.) You should end up with a half cup of loosely packed cilantro leaves which you then sprinkle on top of the romaine. Rinse and remove the tops from the strawberries and cut them into quarters then set them aside.
Give the salad dressing a good shake to mix it up again and then pour the entire contents of the jar over your salad.
Stir the salad until it is evenly coated, then add the strawberries and give it a final stir.
Divide into two salad bowls and top with the garnishes of your choice. This strawberry & cilantro salad is fabulous when served with fresh French bread to soak up any leftover dressing!