Spring Vegetables + Buttermilk Dressing

I'm kind of having what I'm calling a Tinkerbell moment.  I figure, if I clap enough and believe hard enough, Spring will eventually arrive in all its astonishing and gentle glory.

You see, Spring this year has not been really showing up for work.  We all know it's technically the season known as Spring, and overall I think moods are lifting, becoming more energized with longer days and, you know, not-freezing temps.  I feel pretty secure in the suspicion that that other season known as Winter is over.  Right?  I mean... right?

And I don't really mind that warmth and sunshine appear only in fits and starts.  That the key to an enjoyable walk is scrambling to the sunny side of the street.  I'm okay that Chicago rarely has a storybook spring, with temperatures rising in orderly sequences and flowers blooming in slow-motion montages.  But just last Friday night at yoga, bending forward in hands-to-feet pose, I was distracted by something in my peripheral vision falling across the windows of the second-floor studio.  Bending my knees and lifting my heels to bracket my fingers underneath, I thought absently, "Weird, that looked like snow." Add to that the fact that it truly was evening, and the sun truly had set; the darkness outside and the warmth inside the studio brought me back to the very dark winter mornings spent in 6am class.  Surely I was just being dramatic and imagining things, still wary of not-distant winter memories. Arms forward again and hands in prayer, my back (almost) straight, I glanced back over to the windows as I hinged back upright.

Oh.  It was snow.

OKAY, YOU KNOW WHAT, TINKERBELL??  Fine.  This was turning out to be kind of a kickass class, and whatever that meteorological hocus-pocus was, I didn't have time for it.  I thought only of locking out my knees, lifting my chest, and occasionally inflating my lungs to a satisfying yawn-capacity.  Totally zonked out after class, I drove home, ignoring the snow (that had the nerve to accumulate overnight, btw), and watched literally five episodes of Girls before crawling into bed, sleepily clapping my hands and snapping my fingers and cursing/coaxing our Tinkerbell Spring.

The next morning dawned bright and a little chilly.  I had plans to visit the (still indoors) farmers' market with a friend, naively expecting to see a few stalks of rhubarb, maybe some peas or favas too.  We walked on the sunny side of the street, and through a park full of people in warm coats who must have shared our (misguided?) belief that It Was Spring, Dammit.

It may as well have been February at the farmers' market.  Big hauls of the day included bread, eggs, cheese, frozen batches of soup, and various pickled things in jars.  Not that those were unexciting; I bought some lovely bread and very pretty eggs of different colors.  Refusing to leave without some souvenir of the plant kingdom, however, I circled back to one of the tables for some very cute French breakfast radishes.  I would put them on that bread I bought with a little butter and some salt.  Yeah, that's it!:  I'd eat like a French schoolboy for the next 48 hours.  I didn't need stupid Spring, anyway.  Just RADISHES.  So there.

Cue me stomping around the farmers' market, desperately clutching a poor bunch of radishes now burdened with all my hopes and dreams.

So I hope I'm not ruining any surprises: you can't (or shouldn't) live on bread and butter and radishes. Especially not when you are trying to clean out your fridge before a short work trip and not ignore some perfectly good asparagus and carrots you bought last week. You've also probably still got some buttermilk sitting around, slowly using it for things like this and this. And am I the only person left on this planet who has not yet attempted some homemade buttermilk dressing?

So it's clear: I'm being called to salad.

Because a straight vinaigrette for a bowl of tender, raw vegetables seems a little too assertive for these peachfuzzed days of early Spring, this buttermilk dressing feels right on time. It's not overly creamy, like the sludgy ranches of my childhood (okay, and collegehood); it's got plenty of bite from mustard powder, and still the light creaminess of the dressing makes it so you're not destroying these sweet little vegetables who ain't never hurt no one and need to be treated gently.

This isn't so much a recipe as it is a formula for any raw, crunchy salad.  (It's essentially crudite, chopped and thrown in a bowl with a little good dressing.)  Anything that tastes halfway good raw, you can toss together with some fresh herbs and this dressing, and you've got yourself a winner.  For extra credit, you can chop the vegetables and keep in a separate container to portion out for lunches during the week.  Pour a little dressing on about 10 minutes before serving/eating to allow the salad to come together but retain optimum crispitude.

I adapted the dressing from a Jamie Oliver recipe, using a dreamy herb blend from Penzey's that includes dried shallots instead of fresh (just this one time!!  I had chopped shallots already on this day for breakfast and my eyes couldn't handle another allium).  I adore this recipe because you can literally dump the ingredients in a jar and shake for a few seconds, and you're ready to rock.  The recipe makes plenty for a big ol' bowl of salad, but the leftovers keep for a week.

Get this:

  • Any fresh, young vegetables that taste good raw, in pretty much any quantity/proportion.  For this I used five carrots, one bunch of asparagus, and one bunch of French breakfast radishes.
  • Greens, if you've got 'em and want 'em.  (I did not use them this time but they would be a lovely addition.)
  • Any fresh herbs you've got lying around.  Parsley is ideal for so many flavor combinations, but if you've got dill or basil or tarragon, feel free to toss those in, too.

For the dressing:

  • 2 teaspoons dry mustard
  • 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 9 tablespoons buttermilk
  • several generous shakes of Penzey's Sunny Paris seasoning OR 1 tablespoon chopped shallots and 1 1/2 teaspoons dried dill
  • freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • pinch of salt

Do this:

Chop those vegetables into shapes that are easily nabbed by a fork.  You'll see above that for me, that meant some serious bias-cutting.  I wanted flat surfaces so I could pick up some forkfuls, but not plain old rounds because that just reminds me of dorm salad bars. 

Chop your fresh herbs into tiny bits.

Dump the ingredients for the dressing into a jar with a tight-fitting lid.  Shake the jar.  Hard.

If you're going to eat the salad now, or soon, pour however much dressing you'd like over the vegetables and chow down.  Or, as suggested, store the vegetables/herbs and dressing separately, and enjoy later on or transport to whatever gathering/picnic/car trip you've got on your docket.  Because someday soon, it is TOTALLY going to be Real Spring.

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