The days of no-cook meals have begun! At the top of my easy summer eats list is the big-a$$ salad, an ever-evolving, never-the-same-combination-twice meal that mixes up a variety of my favorite flavors and textures in one bowl.
My basic entree salad formula is leafy greens + other vegetables (like bell peppers, tomatoes, green beans, asparagus) + protein (e.g., nuts, eggs, cheese, animal protein such as canned sardines or leftover roasted chicken) + something sweet (usually fresh or dried fruit) + a salty/tangy/briny element (olives, capers, pickled onions) + a simple homemade dressing.
I always start with a foundation of crisp, ultra-fresh greens; some favorites are baby kale, dandelion greens, tender young chard, mustard greens, collards, arugula, and lamb’s quarters. If you’re in the NY area try the insanely high-vibe mesclun from Windfall Farms in the Hudson Valley; but be warned, you’ll be ruined for boxed “spring mix” for good.
The leafies go into my bowl first, and then I’ll rummage around the crisper drawer and fruit bowl for other fruits and veggies that might work well, typically selecting two or three key players and then planning the rest of the ingredients and dressing around those. For this salad I knew I wanted to do something with nectarines, dates, and a nice goat’s milk feta from Ardith Mae Farm, and that helped lead where the salad would go.
I almost always add nuts or seeds for protein and crunchy texture — they make any salad more satisfying. I prefer to buy raw nuts and then toast them in small batches before using them — the flavor and texture are so much better than packaged roasted nuts from the store. Here I decided on hazelnuts, which I toasted for about 10 minutes at 350F in the toaster oven, allowed to cool for a few minutes and rubbed with a kitchen towel to remove the papery skins.
Another favorite is activated (soaked/sprouted and dehydrated) pumpkin seeds, which I buy from the bulk bins at whole foods. So crispy and delicious, and also more nutritious than raw or roasted nuts since the sprouting process increases the bioavailability of minerals.
Almost every salad can benefit from a pickled, salty, or briny element. This can be capers, olives, seasoned jarred artichoke hearts, or pickled hot or sweet peppers. My favorite right now is homemade pickled red onions, which I have been adding to every salad lately (I added them to this salad, too, but they didn’t make it into the photo — only realized I had forgotten them when I sat down to eat).
To bring together all of these contrasting flavors and textures there’s nothing better than a homemade dressing. Though the marketing folks at Wish-Bone would like us to think this is a difficult undertaking, it’s quite the opposite.
At its most basic, a vinaigrette consists of an acid (like vinegar or citrus juice — I love raw apple cider vinegar since it’s fruity and not overly acidic) and an oil (usually extra-virgin olive oil in my kitchen), plus a little salt added for seasoning. The two ingredients that will really take your vinaigrette to the next level, though, are honey and Dijon mustard. These respectively add a pop of sweetness and sharp pungency that really wake up your dressing, and by extension your salad. And just as importantly, honey and mustard also act as emulsifiers, creating a creamy dressing that adheres better to your salad’s components so every bite is super flavorful and satisfying.
Nectarine, date and feta salad with shaved asparagus, toasted hazelnuts + honey-herb vinaigrette
Serves 2 as a main course
5 cups baby greens, washed and spun dry
2 ripe nectarines, pitted and sliced into thin wedges
4 medjool dates, pitted and quartered lengthwise
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise
2 asparagus spears, shaved into long ribbons using a vegetable peeler
2 ounces feta, cut into small cubes
3 tablespoons raw apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon raw honey
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon dried herbes de Provence
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup hazelnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
optional: edible flower, for garnish
Arrange greens on a serving platter or in individual bowls. Arrange nectarines, dates, tomatoes, asparagus ribbons, and feta over greens.
Combine vinegar, honey, Dijon, herbes de Provence, and salt in a small jar. Cover and shake until honey dissolves. Add olive oil and shake again until creamy.
Drizzle vinaigrette over salad and top with hazelnuts and pickled onions, if using. Serve immediately.
Quick-pickled Red Onions
1/2 red onion, peeled and thinly sliced (about 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon sugar
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and toss to combine. Set aside for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. It’s now ready to use; store extra in a sealed glass container in the fridge for up to a week (they probably won’t last that long).