Wonder Woman of the High South - Crescent Dragonwagon

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Who: Crescent Dragonwagon

What: A Salad for Fall

Dighero’s Insights: There are those in life who inspire by merely breathing the same air as we do. Crescent Dragonwagon is one of those people. Her positive, sincere energy has been a welcome addition to the High South food scene since her recent move to Fayetteville from Vermont. Her reputation as award-winning cookbook author and owner of the iconic Dairy Hollow House Inn in Eureka Springs precedes her. And, we’re thrilled to have her in the folds of our community, teaching at Brightwater, sipping tea at the Fayetteville Public Library and even leading fierce writing workshops in her home. Her recipes are delicious, smart and narrative in nature – guaranteed to make you a better person when you make them this holiday season.

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A Salad for Fall

Ingredients:

4 to 5 small, or 2 to 3 large, fresh beets (ideally, mixed varieties), scrubbed
1 recipe Sesame-Raisin Vinaigrette, recipe follows
1 head red leaf lettuce, leaves separated, washed and dried

1 head romaine lettuce, base removed, washed and dried, sliced crosswise with a very sharp knife no more than an hour before serving
1 small red onion, sliced paper thin
3 ounces good-quality blue or Roquefort cheese (we used Maytag at the inn), crumbled; optional, may be omitted or served on the side for vegans

½ cup toasted walnuts

1 crisp, tart apple, cored but unpeeled, cut into small matchstick-size pieces

Technique:
1. Up to four days in advance, cook the beets – fold them into a piece of foil, sealing tightly, and bake at 350 for 45 minutes or until tender-crisp. (Alternatively, you may steam the beets, or slice them and roast the slices; in any case, you want them cooked but not watery, and still with texture). Peel the cooked, cooled beets; dice into ¼-inch cubes.
2. Up to four hours before serving, toss the diced beets with 2 to 3 tablespoons Sesame-Raisin Vinaigrette.
3. Compose the salad as follows: line a platter, or individual plates, with the red leaf lettuce leaves. Top with the sliced romaine. Scatter the beets, onion, blue cheese, walnuts and apple pieces over the salad. Drizzle with some of the remaining dressing, passing additional at table.

Sesame-Raisin Vinaigrette

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Ingredients:

½ cup cider vinegar
¼ cup agave syrup or honey

1/3 cup dark raisins, preferably Manuka
¼ cup toasted sesame seeds
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
¾ cup peanut oil
¼ cup toasted sesame oil

Technique:

Note: Must be prepared in a food processor. Make sure toasted sesame oil is nice and fresh; if it has been sitting on the shelf, it is likely rancid and should not be used.

 Place all ingredients except the oils in the processor, and buzz until the raisins are pureed to a dark, evil-looking paste. Then, with the machine running, gradually drizzle in the oils until the whole is emulsified. Taste for salt and sweetness, possibly adding a bit more agave or salt.

To toast sesame seeds:
In a small heavy skillet, watching constantly, toast the sesame seeds over medium heat until they begin to pop, are golden-brown, and give off fragrance. Shake the pan and stir as they toast; they burn if left unattended. Toasting should take 2 to 4 minutes, max.

 The dressing can be made up to a week in advance; the vegetables can be prepped as noted in recipe. But don’t assemble the salad until just before serving.

 Crescent says that this dish was a regular on the Thanksgiving menu back when she and her late husband owned Dairy Hollow House Inn – a country inn and restaurant that brought “nouveau’zarks” to the Eureka Springs area back in the late ‘80s.