I know what you’re thinking. School’s out! No more reviews! No more refresher courses! No more finals! (Oh wait, those are my childrens’ cries.) But I figured I’d remind everyone of a few crucial salad-making rules and regulations now that it’s late June and we have at least three months of glorious farm-market freshness ahead of us…
Number 1. Homemade Croutons Upgrade Everything This is not just a summer rule, actually. In fact, nothing does a better job of helping you ignore bland bagged leaf than a few garlic-salty misshapen crunchies in every bite. But in the summer, the artlessly torn crouton takes just about any bowl of greens from good to great. (Shown here: a quick kale caesar.) To make: Heat oven to 375°F. In a medium bowl, toss 2 cups bite-size torn white bread with 2 tablespoons olive oil, salt, and pinch of garlic powder until pieces are glistening with oil but not soaked. Spread out on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake for 6-8 minutes until pieces look golden brown and crispy.
2. The Way You Cut Your Vegetables Matter Well, that’s kind of an obnoxious thing to say. It’s not like it matters in terms of taste. A good sugar snap pea is going to be sweet and satisfying whether it’s cut lengthwise on the bias as shown above, or eaten straight from the market box in the backseat of the car while your parents are yelling at you to stop eating everything before we even get home already….
…But when you’re having people over and sugar snap peas are on the menu, as they should be, you can’t discount the visual appeal factor. For this salad here, I tossed the peas with thinly sliced butter radishes, mint, and a rice wine vinaigrette (1/4 cup vinegar, 1 teaspoon dijon, 1/3 cup grapeseed oil, pinch brown sugar, squeeze of lime).
3. Gina’s Peruvian Green Sauce is a Revelation. I already linked to the recipe in a Friday round-up, but the instagram reaction to this photo above was so robust that I feel the need to repeat myself. I found the creamy, greeny magic sauce on Gina Homolka’s blog and I know what she means when she says she wants to put it on everything. Last week, I drizzled it on top of grilled salmon, but ended up drizzling it all over the grilled greens and scallions sitting next to the salmon, too. Amazingly there was some left over, so the next day I thinned it out with a bit of water and tossed with romaine, avocado, cukes, and scallions for lunch. Please do exactly that at some point this summer, I beg you.
4. Remember the 1:1 “Grain to Stuff” Ratio. I love a grain salad, but I like them most when the grain is another component in the salad as opposed to the dominating base of the salad. Here, I tossed about a cup and half of farro with generous handfuls of cranberries, feta, pea shoots, parsley, and shallots. I can’t remember the dressing I used, but likely just something simple (like a red-wine based vinaigrette) because those pea shoots were so fresh and I didn’t want to overwhelm anything.
5. Dress the Potato Salad While Still Warm. I learned this from Bobby Flay in the 90s and never looked back. Potatoes absorb dressing much better when they’re still warm, especially if the dressing is of the double mustard variety. (See the bottom of this post for recipe.)
6. The Best Salads Have Crunch. It’s important to pay attention to flavor combinations, obviously. But I’d argue it’s just as important to pay attention to texture combinations. I always need something crunchy to offset squishy tomatoes and a delicate gem lettuce, whether that’s radishes, cucumbers, pita chips (or all three, as is the case in this most excellent fattoush).
7. Master Your Avocado Slicing Technique Again, will the salad still taste good if the avocado is in little chunks? Yeah, probably. But will it look as mouthwatering as an avocado fan? Definitely not. And optics are important, especially if you are trying to impress the little ones. Here is a video tutorial, but it’s not very complicated to explain. After halving lengthwise and removing the pit, peel the skin off and then place each half cut-side down. Very carefully slice into thin pieces — you might have to hold each side with your non-slicing hand to keep it together while you slice. Once it’s all sliced, transfer the half to the top of a salad (still cut side down) and then lightly press down in the middle to fan out. Repeat with second half.
8. Get to Know Your Microgreens I can’t tell you how many times I walked by the little containers of micro greens at the farmer’s market without giving them a second thought. Actually, not true. I’d occasionally give them this thought: “Really? Five bucks for that little fistful?” But the thing is, a little goes a long way. A sprinkling of some spicy microgreens sitting on top of sweet summer vegetables lends the whole thing such a nice kick, both flavor-wise and texture-wise. (Plus, they do look pretty, no?)
9. Do Not Forget Herbs and Seasoning A salad without herbs is a day without sunshine. This one (gem lettuces, tomatoes, scallions, avocado) is showered with dill but cilantro or chives would’ve been delicious, too. I sprinkled with sesame seeds for a little extra flavor hit. Served alongside grilled chicken sandwiches (topped with grilled onions and Sriracha mayo), it was the perfect Summer Sunday Dinner.