Published in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, 23 May 2007.
Shopping reward programs are a complete nuisance, as far as I am concerned, unless the reward is instant and edible. Take, for example, a loaf of bread. In Hanley, 60 km south of Saskatoon, the reward for filling up at the Prairie View Gas Station is a free loaf of bread, white or whole wheat. I take this opportunity every time I visit my family just down the highway at Craik.
The bread is not always fresh, since it may have been baked the day before, but it’s big and solid like grandma used to make, and is therefore just as useful a few days later for French toast, grilled cheese sandwiches and bread pudding. But lately I have been using it to make bread salads. Bread salads are a tasty and convenient way to use up day-old bread, which was important in times past before most bread was made in a factory and treated with preservatives to keep it fresh. In Italy, bread salad is called panzanella. In Greece it’s dakos. In Lebanon and Syria, it’s called fattoush. The most common bread salad in Saskatoon is undoubtedly the Caesar Salad, but those hard little croutons that come out of a box hardly qualify as bread in my books.
A few years ago, I produced a documentary on homemade bread for the CBC radio program Ideas, for which the research involved making and eating a lot of bread. I spent time with several home bakers of different cultures discovering the traditions, folklore and spirituality of bread, and learned that in many parts of the world, for many many centuries, bread has nourished not only the body but the soul. Nowadays, we take bread for granted. It is no longer the primary food that fills our tummies, yet we still speak of the bread-winner rather than the fish-winner or the salad-winner or the apple-a-day-winner. Bread still commands that respect.
When I haven’t the time to make my own bread, I often buy it from the Good Spirit Bakery at the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market. Peyton Leavitt and Jonathon Lee bake the bread in a wood-burning brick oven on their farm near Naicam, a process that takes all night. Then they bring it to the market first thing Saturday morning. It’s very rustic and made with local ingredients such as fresh-ground flour, flax and honey. It’s worth a trip to the new farmers’ market venue at River Landing, but go early because the Good Spirit bread often sells out well before noon.
While you’re there, pick up the other ingredients for a good bread salad. Don’t even think of buying these vegetables in a grocery store when you have access to the freshest, most beautiful local produce at the farmers’ market.
This time of year, I make salads with the tiny little greens popping up in my garden. This includes tender dandelion leaves, the cilantro that reseeded itself, mint that grows like a weed and the baby radishes and lettuce that I pulled to thin the rows. If you don’t have access to these fresh micro-greens, you can substitute lettuce (also available at the farmers’ market) or you can omit that ingredient altogether.
Hanley Bread Salad
1 slice of bread per person
2 small tomatoes per person
(a mix of red and yellow tomatoes)
8 slices of English cucumber per person
1 green onion per person
1 tbsp chopped fresh mint
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
¼ cup baby greens per person
Dressing for two:
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 tbsp olive oil
¼ tsp Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
Trim the bread of crusts and toast until nice and brown. Cool. Cut into chunky cubes. Chop the tomatoes. Put them into a bowl, crushing them with your hands to release their juices. Chop the cucumber, green onion, mint and parsley; toss into the bowl. Whip together the dressing ingredients and mix into the vegetables. (You can do this ahead, giving it time to mingle flavours.) Five minutes before serving, toss in the baby greens and the bread cubes.