Every week I explore the farmers markets of San Diego. One of my most recent discoveries at the Hillcrest Farmers Market is Rosie romaine lettuce; Sage Mountain Farm and Suzie’s Farm both grow and sell the red-hued romaine. Delicate and tender, yet crisp, it is a perfect lettuce for my Toasted Almond Caesar Salad–a simple recipe with a big impact that stands up to traditional Caesar Salads which use eggs, anchovies and Parmesan cheese.
Modern food lore describes the original salad being invented in Tijuana on July 4th, 1924 by Caesar Cardini, the Italian Mexican restaurateur. Being low on normal salad ingredients, he whipped this one up to satiate his hungry customers. Since then, the name of the salad has had a life of its own and it is often served in Italian restaurants as part of the traditional cuisine. For me, the name Caesar evokes my Greek heritage and I have revisited the unique relationship Greeks have with lettuces.
The ancient Greeks, believing the tender greens were under the domain of Adonis, would not eat lettuce for fear that the quick-wilting propensity of this plant was an omen of impotence. To avoid falling victim to the ancient prophecy, prepare the salad just before serving or right at the table, so the lettuce does not have an opportunity to wilt.
Discovering freshly picked, flavorful and tender heirloom varieties of lettuce at our local market is a simple joy of life. Picking up a head of lettuce, observing the freshness and color, then speaking to the farmer about it brings back memories and stories of Greek markets I have known.
The Rosie lettuce I used for the video is from Sage Mountain Farm. Based in Temecula, they sell at markets around San Diego County. Phil Noble, owner and farmer told me he also grows a similar variety called Sweet Valentine. Both of these lettuces have long stems, skinny red leaves and have a delicate bite. Look for them in the spring!
Toasted Almond Caesar Salad
Serves 2 to 3
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (preferably from Crete)
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/4 cup blanched almond flour/meal
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
8 cups of romaine lettuce, washed and torn
into 2 inch pieces
1/2 cup sliced almonds, salted and toasted
In a large wooden bowl, mix the oil, mustard, almond flour, pepper and salt. Add lettuce. Using a pair of tongs, turn the salad with a twisting motion until the dressing has thoroughly covered the lettuce. Mix in the toasted almonds, saving a few for garnish. Serve on individual plates and garnish with the remaining almonds. Serve immediately.
Toast sliced almonds on a cookie sheet in a 350 degree oven for 6 to 8 minutes. Let cool before placing in the salad.