Taco Tuesday Lean Luxury calls for crisp little gem lettuce tacos wrapped around a bundle of bright herb flavors, pretty pink radishes, peas, asparagus and rich creamy Labneh (yogurt cheese). Labneh Little Gem Tacos, Spring Vegetables, Herbs – all together shout “Spring!” – and as Nancy Silverton says in Mozza at Home “It’s the first tell on the Osteria [Mozza] menu that spring has sprung in Los Angeles.”
Well the East Coast may be under a foot or two of snow but here in Los Angeles spring has most definitely sprung post rains. The only snow I have in my garden is the petals of the apricot blossom falling to the ground.
Nancy served Labneh toast and herb salad at the All-Star Lunch at the inaugural All-Star Chef Classic.
Five of the best chefs in America, Naomi Pomeroy, Nancy Silverton, Dominque Crenn, Nancy Oakes and Waylynn Lucas, who happened to be female, came together in Restaurant Stadium to cook a delicious five course lunch.
These chefs worked together as a great team – each pitching in and helping with the other’s course. Nancy Silverton, gave a great demo on how to dress a salad – with tips like holding the lemon facing the sky so that the pits don’t fall into the salad and she used a ton of herbs for flavor.
I had eaten Nancy’s herb salad and Labneh toast at Mozza. The crisp leaves hold the peas, radishes and asparagus in a little lettuce cup. At All-Star Chef Classic I was too busy running from one end of the tent to the next producing the event to stop to eat the five courses. Before, during and after I did get to know and love with Nancy’s team – Lil’ Michelle and the always fab Tiffany Fox – both seen below either side of Nancy as Waylynn takes a pic.As the event was nearing dessert, on one of my many trips from front to back of house, I came across the leftovers from Nancy’s dish – Spring Gem Salad with Soft Herbs and Lebneh Toasts – unused toasts and salad discarded in the kitchen on a sheet pan having been cleared from Restaurant Stadium.These scraps of luxurious leftovers were what sustained me from the lunch into that night and Grill & Chill and is my taste memory from the first year of All-Star. Anyone who knows what it’s like to run a huge show like the All-Star Chef Classic also knows that you may be serving the best food in the world prepared by some of the greatest chefs but you rarely if ever get to taste it. There’s no sitting to down to eat especially during year one of an event that no one has ever seen before that requires more than a little nurturing.
I’ve played with Nancy’s recipe to make it my own and a Lean Luxury salad – gone are the toasts and the instead the little gems are the lettuce tacos filled with the labneh, peas, asparagus, cucumber, radishes, chervil, dill, chives, mint and lemon zest. Instead of a dressing I drizzled really good quality olive oil over the tacos and then a quick squeeze of fresh lemon juice, lemon facing up and a dusting of paprika and served immediately.
2 cups plain yogurt – if using Greek yogurt it’s imperative that it’s strained and pure without any additives – I use Fage – makes more than you need and needs to be prepared 3 days in advance
English peas – if you can’t find fresh you can cheat and use frozen petits pois- cooked for 2 minutes, blanched in ice bath and dried on paper towel
7 stalks baby asparagus – cut on the biased keep tips intact and then little pieces – cooked for 1 minute, blanched in ice bath and dried on paper towel
1/2 baby persian cucumber – finely sliced on a mandoline or with a sharp knife – I’m terrified of cutting my finger tip off so I use the truffle slicer I was given by the Truffle Brothers on a Go Fish trip!
3 French breakfast radishes – finely sliced – again I used the truffle slicer!
1 Little Gem lettuce head separated into leaves
1 teaspoon fresh chervil – plucked
1 teaspoon fresh dill, finely chopped
3 fresh chive stalks cut into 1 inch long battened
1 teaspoon fresh tarragon, finely chopped
1 teaspoon fresh mint leaves – smallest leaves saved for garnesh, others cut into fine ribbons
Finishing quality olive oil
Sweet smoked paprika for garnish
1 lemon – zest and juice
fleur de sel
freshly ground black pepper
To make the Labneh I lined a colander with two pieces of kitchen towel (you can use a coffee filter), added the yogurt and placed this over a bowl to catch the draining whey liquid and left it for 2 – 3 of days in the bottom drawer to drain. The resulting thick creamy yogurt cheese is delicious. Nancy’s recipe calls for 3/4 teaspoon Kosher salt and 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice and 1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest – feel free to add but mine comes out just fine without. I store in a sealed container for up to a week.
To Construct The Little Gem Tacos with Labneh, Spring Vegetables and Herbs
Place about 2 teaspoons of labneh in the 5 biggest outer leaves of the Little Gem. Arrange on a plate with the smaller leaves. Sprinkle with olive oil and lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Add peas, asparagus, radishes and cucumbers to the Labneh tacos and arrange additional vegetables about the lettuce leaves on the plate. Scatter the herbs over the entire plate, add a sprinkling of paprika, freshly grated lemon zest and then top the entire salad with more olive oil and lemon juice drizzled lightly on top.
Serve immediately on a silver tray with a freshly picked Nuccio’s Gem Camellia from the garden and a glass of iced water garnished with mint leaves for the ultimate Lean Luxury Luncheon.
Thank you Nancy Silverton!
[Rémy liked these as the filling for a pita bread slathered in hummus – feel free to do the same.]