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An herb sauce to remember

(article, Deborah Madison)

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This is pretty much how I cook: look around, see what’s there, then come up with a plan to pull it all together. The hard part is to be somewhat restrained, especially if I'm making salad, and the salad is the first course of a meal. Of course I think about flavors and textures and how they’ll work with each other, but I often let color be my guide, too.


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On a particular day recently, I had very tiny Chioggia beets and slightly larger golden ones. The market lettuces were a bit undone by the heat, so I used vivid purple amaranth leaves to line the plates. I chose them for their color and the way they made those beets pop. I told everyone they didn’t have to eat them, but everyone did, wrapped around a spoonful of the sauce. Amaranth leaves, as well as the seeds, are edible, but these were a little tough.

[%image reference-image float=right width=400 caption="Salad with marjoram sauce."]

I like the mild creaminess of avocado with beets; it seems to temper their sometimes too-earthy taste. So I used avocado. 

I normally wouldn’t have thought of potatoes, but one of the farmers at our market was particularly proud of his new fingerlings and purple-throughout potatoes, so I bought some, steamed them, almost forgot them, then found them and added them to the plate — and I'm so glad I did. Their color and texture were both just right — the purples faded to lavender, the texture firm (unlike the avocado) but more uniform and softer than the beet. 

Together, the colors, textures, and flavors were stunning.

With marjoram plentiful in the garden, I decided to make my favorite sauce: a thick paste of marjoram, vinegar-soaked bread, pine nuts, parsley, and olive oil. I mound it on the plate and you spread it over the vegetables rather than drizzle it. It makes for a more filling and substantial dish — and one that is more slowly savored. 

If I hadn’t already used back-yard eggs for an egg-salad crostini, I would have added half an egg to each plate as well. 

This sauce is good with absolutely everything — all vegetables, hard-cooked eggs, poached fish, sautéed shrimp, grains, pasta, you name it.

If you want to make this salad, steam some beets (preferably different-colored beets if you can get them), slip off their skins, and either leave them whole if small or quarter them if larger. 

Steam some new potatoes and slice them diagonally about ½-inch thick or crosswise into rounds, depending on their shape. 

Halve, then slice, an avocado crosswise. 

Line the plate with some red or purple leaf — lettuce, amaranth, or something else that’s edible. Loosely arrange the vegetables over the leaves.

Then add a dollop of the sauce. And that's it.

reference-image, l