Salad Days (#2): Grilled Vegetable Salad with Fresh Tarragon Dressing

Remember that first blush of new love, those early days when you were still keen to learn every little thing about your sweetheart?  A casual glance around the back yard revealed the emerald hue of the grass, the red of the tomato plants, the coral of the peonies all mysteriously so much sharper and more intense, as if your world had suddenly graduated to HD.  The woman at the A & P checkout was actually friendly for once, even smiling when she returned your change.  Even your office cubicle, previously no more than a cramped, beige, barren receptacle, seemed to brighten a little, become a source of personal pride and production.  

Ah, the unblemished enthusiasm of a new relationship, when you were still willing to do almost anything to please your partner. You want to go see the movie 10,000 BC?  Sure, I’d love to, I’ve always been a huge fan of big game hunting!  There’s an exhibit at the Science Center on “The Demographics of Star Trek: From Vulcan to Romulin and Beyond”?  Well, count me in, I’m just fascinated by the mating habits of those pointy-eared dudes!  Can we spend the weekend at my buddy Alfie’s helping him rebuild his 1972 Corvette engine?  You betcha! Grease and metal–two of my favorite things!

In those early days, you would never dream of  facing your beloved without having showered, shaved, or styled your hair. Mascara was meticulously applied; earrings carefully chosen to complement the pattern of your (new) skirt.  And forays to Victoria’s Secret became a regular occurrence, so you could invest in frilly unmentionables you likely would never have glanced at otherwise (though I’m sorry, I could just never get behind the thong craze.  Or get it behind me, either, for that matter). 

Eventually, of course, you both relax and become accustomed to being together. Really, why bother with contacts the minute you leap out of bed, if you’re just reading the paper in your flannel robe at the kitchen table sipping coffee?  And this old Counting Crows T-shirt is so much more comfy than those slippery, frilly babydolls, isn’t it? And let’s face it, cotton briefs just feel better under jeans.  It’s the weekend–does it really matter if you walk the dogs in sweats and runners, or if you postpone that shower until after you’ve finished your gardening?  You’re just going to sweat again, anyway.

Well, during those first starry-eyed few months of our relationship, before we both abandoned the faςade for good, the HH was still making an attempt to impress me.  Um, let me rephrase that; it was probably more like during the first month or so that the HH was occasionally trying to impress me.  Okay, maybe not a whole month.  All right, fine; it was only once.  But that one time was very impressive.

You see, the HH’s notion of “impressing me,” like his notion of everything else, was atypical. He isn’t one for flowers (which he has bought for me a total of two times in our 13 years together); or for giving me chocolates (twice); or jewelry (once).  No, the HH’s concept of “how to impress a gal” was to cook for me.  And, also characteristic of the HH, he went all out, planning a four-course dinner for me–and six guests.

I won’t get into the details, but suffice it to say that the “only” place he could buy his meat (this was during my physician-ordered “return to meat” phase, during my first candida cleanse; I’m smarter now) was the most expensive market in the city, and since he didn’t own any kitchen utensils or equipment, he bought them there, too, and since the recipe required a very expensive, French, red wine, he picked that up as well, and. . . 11 hours and a full week’s paycheck later, eight of us enjoyed a massive feast and hugely successful party that carried on until the single-digit hours of the morning.

The HH has never cooked since.

For my part, I felt I had to reciprocate.  Throwing dinner parties in those heady days of my “social thirties” was no hardship, but I knew the dessert had to be spectacular.  I happily put together a menu and spent the weekend cooking.  And while I have no recollection of the main course that evening, I do recall that this salad kicked off the festivities, and became a repeated feature at parties all that summer. (Of course I remember the dessert as well: a towering concoction that was part meringue and part genoise, its strata stuck together with alternating layers of mocha buttercream and chocolate ganache, topped with handmade chocolate lace decorations and gold dragees. It made an incredibly impressive end to the meal–and breakfast the next morning).

In addition to being aesthetically appealing with its variety of shapes and colors, the salad offers a light yet satisfying first course or side dish.  As we all know, it’s the dressing that “makes” a salad, and this one is magical. The jalapeno subtext underscores the fragrant, slightly sweet tarragon, all in tandem with the vibrant colors and textures of the veggies. You could probably sub almost any vegetables of your choice (I bet green beans and beets would go nicely), so feel free to change them up as you like. 

About a week ago, I stumbled across the recipe on a wayward magazine page as I was leafing through my recipe folders.  After a Proustian moment of salivating reverie, I decided to recreate the salad for dinner that night, grill or no grill.

As we sat across from each other at our unadorned kitchen table (the morning’s paper still piled off to the side), munching on the mélange of grilled veggies, herbs and seeds, the HH and I were momentarily transported back to that early summer of dinner parties and getting to know each other. 

“I remember this one,” the HH remarked, a dreamy smile on his face. “This salad is terrific.”  I may have even detected the hint of a long-lost gleam in his eye.

He may have been sporting a three-day stubble and ragged college-era T-shirt; I may have been still wearing my workout gear and glasses (I don’t even own contacts any more); the salad may have been more work than we’re used to these days, but it was worth it.  

“Yes,” I replied, smiling at my sweetheart.  “I”d say it’s very impressive.”

This is also my very impressive contribution to Amy’s event, Slightly Indulgent Tuesdays, this week.  Go see what everyone else made!

 

Last Year at this Time: First Loves: The Human, The Book and the Tofu

Two Years Ago: Sweet and Spicy Tempeh

© 2010 Diet, Dessert and Dogs

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Comments

  1. This salad looks amazing. I love the addition of sunflower seeds! And love the story about HH impressing you. :)

  2. Ha! My boyfriend (of 6 years) and I are far past that initial phase, for better or worse. Sometimes I miss the days when he would watch John Waters films to impress me and I would actually listen to him rambling on about cars. Now we just tune each other out most of the time, and I don’t think twice about wearing my sweaty gym clothes around the house for hours after a workout and no shower. :-) The salad is beautiful!!

  3. You are such a beautiful writer.

  4. I love to read your stories! When will you start to write your autobiography?
    That salad looks perfect. I might even buy a grill only for that purpose. Yes, it looks that amazing!

  5. Well, who *doesn’t* love grease and metal? :D

    You always have the best anecdotes, Ricki! Poor HH, it was so nice of him to cook such a massive dinner! That must have been a lot of work… and so expensive! No wonder he didn’t want to do it ever again! I think that the need for instant gratification that we are quick to satisfy these days has kind of made material gifts a little less exciting… except for fancy kitchen goods, of course! :P

    The salad is so colorful and purrrrdy! Thank you for sharing yet another awesome recipe!

    Thank you for the feedback – I’m so glad you like the little icons! I wasn’t sure if maybe they looked a little silly, but then again silly is my middle name! YAY for the return of Mr. Wing-it! :D

  6. Courtney says:

    Awwww…it sounds like you two are still starry-eyed for one another :-)

    The salad looks fabulous–so pretty!

    Courtney

  7. Love the colorful salad. If only it were cool enough to turn on the oven here. Darn it!

    My hubby barely knows where our kitchen is located. But he has cooked for me a few times in our 23 years together.

    enjoy your weekend,
    Ali

  8. Ashley,
    Thanks! The seeds added a lovely crunch and flavor. :)

    Bianca,
    I know what you mean (though the HH never bothered to watch movies just to please me, even back then!). Glad you like the salad! :)

    Metta,
    Thank you so much–you just made my day (*blush*) :D

    Mihl,
    Thanks so much! :D I think you could probably pan-grill the veggies, too (though having an indoor grill is great for the 3 times a year I want to use it!) ;)

    River,
    My sentiments exactly! (especially the grease) ;) But I feel I must clarify 3 things: 1) the HH spent all that money voluntarily, because he unconsciously thinks he should be rich (I found it endearing when we were dating, but now that we’re sharing finances, it drives me crazy); 2) he warned me that the meal would be a one-time only deal, as he just doesn’t cook–ever. He’s a great sous-chef, though, and can chop veggies like nobody’s business; and 3) re: your blog icons, they are ADORABLE. You have talent you don’t even know you have!

    Courtney,
    I suppose we have our moments ;). And glad you like the salad! I think it’s pretty, too–but it tastes even better.

  9. What a sweet post. I wish I could claim E has even cooked one dinner for me but maybe it is better for me to think he isn’t capable – if he did a dinner like that of your HH I just might expect more of him every day. Though I do remember the first flush of love in the distant past. Those were the days! Glad you have a recipe to remind you of your salad days (ha ha). I love how your recipes inspire me to try unfamiliar herbs – tarragon is another one I don’t really know. Sounds delicious.

  10. dan’s not a flower/chocolate/jewelry kinda guy either – and i wish he would have cooked at some point to impress me. back in the day he lived off of frozen taquitos, pizzas, and spaghetti with butter and cheese. actually, i believe he made me some mashed potatoes once. ;) these days i love to do the cooking, and dan will occasionally make one helluva red sauce, tempeh tater cakes, or peanut sauced noodles – i bet he’d be up for grilling some veggies for your salad. i’m gonna throw the idea at him and see if he’ll tend to the grill while i make the dressing and such. this is going to be great! it’s rare that i use tarragon and i’m excited to find some fresh so i can make your deeeelicious look’n salad. thanks again for another fabulous summer recipe!

  11. I just love a good grilled veggie salad! I can never resist them when eating out, despite how easy they are to make. Maybe it’s time I start finally making more myself!

  12. That party sound awesome–if not a helluva lot of work and money. I definitely need to get on my honey to impress me with food more ;) He keeps saying he’s going to cook me dinner but it hasn’t happened yet. And that salad looks delicious–so summery! Love it.

  13. Such a cute story! My (now) husband had to go buy dishes and cookware to make me dinner for our first official date too. I still can’t fathom how single men live like that? He actually was the primary cook for years in our house, but five years ago, something went awry. Oh well, it was good while it lasted!

    Um yeah, thong era never caught me either :)

  14. That salad looks amazing, and what a cute post! It’s funny isn’t it, how “perfect” we act around someone when we first start dating, and how they become the person we let see all our flaws later on?

  15. I love your picture and stories!
    I met DH during college, so there was none of that formality (I think I just wore a nicer pair of ripped jeans when we went out). and yesterday we were married 6 years, together for 11.

  16. aww, what a story :) loved that he remembered the salad! sounds fantastic, too!

  17. Johanna,
    Thanks! Well, E still has time. . maybe Sylvia will inspire him ;) And I rarely use tarragon, either–maybe that’s why I like it so much in this salad.

    Jessy,
    I’ve seen some of the Dan-prepared recipes on your blog. . . I think he’s a better cook than he lets on! ;)

    Hannah,
    It’s true, they’re fairly easy to make. . . just gotta take out that grill! :)

    Jes,
    Yes, I do recall one great party (well, I recall it up until the 4th glass of wine or so) ;)

    Alisa,
    Glad to know I’m not alone on the thong issue. And guys–I know–my honey once lived in a place for over a year and used the stove exactly once!

    Iris,
    It just means we’re truly comfortable with each other now, right? Can’t beat comfort! :)

    Cheryl,
    Congrats on your anniversary! And there’s a lot to be said for friends first. . . :)

    Shannon,
    I guess food really IS the way to a man’s heart! ;)

  18. This looks sublime. And tarragon is under-used, I say!

  19. Don and I just returned from vacation and there is not a fresh veggie in the house. Your beautiful salad is going to force me to go to the grocery store. Additional motivation: Rita is here from Virginia and we can share the goodness!

  20. Your stories about you and the HH are too cute!
    And it’s funny that you mention 10,000 BC. Against my better judgment, I went to that movie for a boyfriend, and it was so terrible that it became our metaphor for the cut-off, the symbol for just how far we were willing to go for each other. As in, “Sure, I’ll wash your smelly shoes as long as you don’t make me watch 10,000 BC again.” Or, “Next time it’s my turn to choose the restaurant, otherwise I’m making you watch 10,000 BC.”
    Love it, and love that colorful salad!

  21. I heart grilled veggies. For one they taste awesome… for two they are beautiful!

  22. Grilled vegetable salad is one of my absolute favorites, especially with that eggplant. You’ve inspired me to make one tomorrow, especially with that tarragon dressing!

  23. This looks delicious. Colorful too! I really hope you will submit this recipe and more to my new “vegan finds” site:
    http://www.findingvegan.com

    Kathy

  24. The salad looks delicious! I need to try this out. I don’t use tarragon as much as I should.

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