This Roasted Asparagus Salad with pancetta, toasted pecans, boiled eggs with jammy centers and a superb lemon Dijon vinaigrette could not be more seasonal. / Photo courtesy Sara Jeran

Sara Stirs: Brunch and springtime are a match made in culinary heaven

Editor’s note: For even more recipes, you can follow culinary columnist Sara Jeran on Instagram at @sarajstirs.

BUCKHANNON – Brunch and Spring are a true culinary match.

It is rare to hear of a brunch scheduled in the dark winter months. Many traditional events embrace spring’s beauty such as: graduations, weddings and Mother’s Day. With an event timed for late morning to mid-afternoon, brunch maintains guests’ contentment until dinner (the after party). I think brunch for houseguests is the best. It eliminates the pressure of an early breakfast and radiates a relaxed vibe for company. Often dishes may be prepared in advance or served at room temperature aiding in ease for the host.

One simple guideline is the only requirement for this meal; breakfast and lunch combined for dining mid-morning. The majority of brunch menus I see are heavier on breakfast than lunch. However, breakfast food is my least favorite, so I tend to lean toward lunch items with a hint of breakfast. As with all dishes I prepare, I aim to add freshness. I steer clear of heavy rich recipes for this meal. Brunch does not have to be exclusive to entertaining – brunch for two is just as delightful.

I am sharing two brunch salad recipes. Yes, I said salad (not traditional fruit salad) and I am still referring to brunch. Mid-morning eating sets the tone for the day, so I start with light flavors that deliver satisfaction. (Particularly if attending a seated event, you don’t want to be the person sleeping at graduation). Salads can be perfectly filling; it just requires balance. These salads both include a taste of breakfast. The recipes were created to be enjoyed as a main dish, or as a beautiful addition to a brunch buffet. The salads are not vegetarian as written but may easily be adapted. Salads are an easy way to show off a culinary style with varied toppings choices.

First up? Smoked Salmon and Roasted Potato Salad. This has a little bit of a latke – or potato pancake – feel. New red potatoes are halved and roasted until extra crispy on the outside, and still ultra-creamy in the center. Salty, savory smoked salmon is the protein. Fresh herbs appear throughout this salad, including a sour cream onion herb sauce, that is dolloped around the plate. The greens are simply dressed with olive oil and lemon juice. With capers and thin slices of red onions it is reminiscent of an NYC salmon bagel.

Second, I offer, a Roasted Asparagus Salad with pancetta, toasted pecans, boiled eggs with jammy centers and a superb lemon Dijon vinaigrette. This one could not be more seasonal. Roasted asparagus is the star. The stores are loaded with tender sweet stalks, so take advantage while it is in season. Included in the recipe are the instructions for perfect jammy center boiled eggs that are ‘never-fail.’ If you have access to fresh farm eggs, definitely use them. They are not only more sustainable but certainly tastier. The vinaigrette is slightly creamy from the emulsion of oil, mustard and honey, giving it a distant resemblance to hollandaise sauce. Toasted pecans and shaved Parmesan finish this beauty. Both salads will have your guests complimenting your culinary skills.

Spinach, young greens, radishes and snap peas are excellent seasonal additions for either salad or to mix with your own creation. Benefits of eating in season travel beyond taste. Seasonal produce often has a reduced-price tag in the grocery store as it is easier to cultivate naturally. Easier cultivation also emits a smaller carbon footprint. The food choices we make go far beyond physical health.

With the warmer months and growing season upon us, I ask that you reflect on your food purchases. Understand not only where your food originates but also the practices used in cultivation and production. Homegrown is best, but I understand, not always feasible. Second best is locally sourced food. Lastly, there are endless fantastic and sustainable choices in all culinary categories; it simply requires a little time and research. This time spent is valuable not only for your personal health and well-being but for the planet’s, too. If vigilant, we together will make a difference.

Happy Spring. Happy cooking. Peace.

Smoked Salmon and Roasted Potato Salad

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups mixed greens
  • 2 cups small red potatoes, halved
  • 4 ounces gravlax or smoked salmon
  • 2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 green onions finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and cracked pepper

Directions:

Toss the potatoes with olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Roast until crispy in a 425-degree oven. When out of the oven toss with 1 tablespoon each of dill and parsley.

For the sour cream sauce, combine sour cream, onions, and most of the remaining herbs reserving a few for the final garnish.

To assemble the salad, lay the greens on a platter. Dress with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Arrange the potatoes and salmon evenly over the greens, next place onions and capers. Dollop the sour cream sauce around the salad. Garnish with remaining herbs. Optional: serve with lemon wedges.

Featuring new red potatoes, this Smoked Salmon and Roasted Potato Salad is peppered with fresh herbs and finished off with dollops of a sour cream sauce. / Photo courtesy Sara Jeran

Roasted Asparagus Salad

Salad ingredients:

  • 4 cups mixed greens
  • 3-4 boiled eggs, halved
  • 1 lb asparagus
  • 3 oz pancetta diced (or bacon)
  • 1/3 cup toasted pecans
  • Shaved Parmesan (for garnish)

Lemon Dijon Dressing ingredients:

  • 6 tablespoons oil (I use grape seed)
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
  • 3 teaspoons honey
  • 3 teaspoons Dijon
  • 1 garlic clove, grated
  • 1 teaspoon fresh chopped thyme (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Lemon Dijon Dressing directions: Combine all ingredients in a jar and shake vigorously, or whisk all ingredients in a bowl until combined.

Directions for the salad:

Toss the asparagus with olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Roast in a 425-degree oven until crisp (about 10 minutes).

Crisp pancetta in a skillet.

For the best boiled eggs with a jammy center, place eggs in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, and immediately turn off the heat. Leave in the water for 6 minutes, then submerge in cold water to stop the cooking process.

In-season roasted asparagus starring eggs with that perfect ‘jammy’ center will carry you through the day until dinner. / Photo courtesy Sara Jeran

Sara Jeran is a culinary enthusiast, gardener, beekeeper and Buckhannon native. Follow her on Instagram at @sarajstirs.

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