Union Loafers' Little Gem salad takes some work but is worth the effort
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Union Loafers' Little Gem salad takes some work but is worth the effort

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The Little Gem salad at Union Loafers pairs hearts of romaine lettuce with butter lettuce, fresh herbs, toasted bread crumbs, and pickled shallots in a creamy buttermilk dressing.

Photo by Pat Eby

QUnion Loafers’ kale and garbanzo soup and Little Gem salad might be my favorite food pairing in St. Louis. I’m in medical school out of town and sadly can no longer visit Union Loafers (and St. Louis) as often as I’d like. Please ask if it would be possible to have this taste of home. — Elizabeth Soffler, Ladue

A • The pairing of kale garbanzo soup and the Little Gem salad that Elizabeth so enjoyed at Union Loafers is actually the second bestseller on the lunch menu. “I’d say it’s nearly equal to our turkey sandwich and Little Gem combination, which is the most popular item,” said lunch chef Nickolaus Rent.

Today, we’re featuring the salad recipe. “That salad brings in so many people day after day,” Rent says. The lettuces, one firm and one buttery soft, are paired with a quartet of fresh herbs that includes Italian flat leaf parsley, chervil, chives and feathery dill frond. The combination is just a touch removed from French classic fines herbes with dill substituting for the more aggressive tarragon.

The combination of tastes, colors and textures adds to the salad’s pleasing appearance and mouthfeel. The dressing of buttermilk and sour cream with oil, shallots and garlic blends with the greens and herbs. A handful of pickled shallots delivers another layer of flavors with a punch. A sprinkling of toasted light and mild sourdough bread crumbs adds both texture and flavor.

“The bread crumbs are the most labor-intensive part of constructing the salad,” Rent says. For ease of preparation at home, this recipe uses pan-toasted panko bread crumbs as a replacement. If cooks want to pursue the full process, Rent shared just how to do it.

“At the end of the day, we slice our leftover light and mild bread, then allow it to dry overnight,” he says. “The next morning, we toast it until it browns. Then we pulse the bread in a food processor to make the bread crumbs.” And that’s not all.

Rent’s crew then sifts the breadcrumbs through a mesh, to remove cloudy and dull pieces. The second sifting, through a fine mesh, delivers the granular qualities that work well in the salad.

Every part of this salad, from ingredients to assembly, is well thought out. During the test, we found that fresh chervil is nearly impossible to find. “We fly the chervil in. It’s delicate and will leach and turn yellow in no time, but the feathery quality, the look of it in the salad, are important to the success of our salad,” Rent says. The delicate taste falls somewhere between parsley and tarragon, yet milder, with hints of anise.

Rent suggests using smaller leaves of curly parsley if chervil isn’t available. “You want that lift off the salad that chervil brings,” he says.

Although this salad takes time to construct, it is well worth the trouble. Want to kick it up a little? “It’s perfect for adding Burger’s Smokehouse bacon lardons,” Rent says. At Union Loafers, lardons mean meaty half-inch cubes, fried to perfection.


Union Loafers

1629 Tower Grove Avenue

314-833-6111; unionloafers.com


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