Here’s a salad for these final dog days of summer, one that’s juicy and refreshing and not too much work. It’s not very different from other watermelon salads out there except for the addition of cornichons, those little French pickled gherkins. They add a crunchy, vinegary zing that I never knew was missing from watermelon salads. I first tried it this way at Saraghina, an Italian restaurant in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. Saraghina does things like that—adding quartered cornichons to their watermelon salad—tricks that seem obvious and revelatory at the same time. They’re quartered lengthwise, too. Why does that matter—why can’t you just chop them up into little rounds? I don’t know. Maybe it’s that they’re easier to spear with your fork, or that you get the right amount of puckery zing per bite. You just have to do it.
It’s best served very cold—start with a cold, refrigerated watermelon, or allow time for the salad to chill before serving. This might even be the time to chill your salad plates and serving platter, too. Serve it over a pile of arugula or other favorite salad greens, as directed here, or make it into a heartier main by adding a scoop of cooked quinoa to the greens. Most summery, juicy fruits and vegetables are good additions—stone fruits, cucumbers, even halved grapes. In one round for this recipe I added some torn chunks of fresh mozzarella, which made it terrifically decadent. Be creative and let the farmer’s market inspire you, but make haste. September is approaching. Continue reading
I love entertaining, even if I’m not as good at it as I’d like to be. I’m always a little too ambitious, where my guests find me sweating over a few simmering pots and an open oven when they arrive; too adventurous, excited to try out a brainy, untested dish over a failsafe standby; and I hate this but I sometimes I just choke in those crucial last minutes, sending rookie mistakes like under-seasoned or cold dishes out to the table. One reason I like to entertain is that it’s a muscle, and you can develop it, but more than that, hanging out at a dining table with new and old friends is one of my favorite things to do, and if I could do it every night I would.
So last weekend, after a very long dinner party hiatus, I had some friends over. I’d been rereading my Diana Kennedy books and was discovering Rick Bayless ones, so I decided a few Mexican-inspired dishes would be nice on a balmy July day. I made:
- A batch of creamy poblano rajas from More Mexican Everyday, to which I added a sheet pan’s worth of mixed roasted mushrooms; this was taco filling and I’ll write up the recipe sometime soon.
- This corn salad: a hit.
- From a pound of Rancho Gordo Bayo Chocolate Beans—one of the fruits of their partnership with Xoxoc—some vaguely refried beans. I cooked them with bay leaf and onion until creamy, then fried them in a bit of olive oil and garlic and mashed them with some of the bean-cooking liquid until creamy, but still a little chunky. Very good, and great with breakfast the next day.
- And because I’d bitten off more than I could chew, I enlisted the help of two of my guests for the rest of the menu: genius guacamole, from Kristin Miglore’s wonderful book Genius Recipes
- . . . and a platter of ceviche, served cold and heady with grapefruit zest, serrano and fresno chilies, and lots of herbs.
It was quite a feast. There was even a galette for dessert. I should have taken pictures, but—too much to do. Continue reading
Someone once told me that the intended glory of a chopped salad is that you can eat it with a spoon. This sounds silly and I wasn’t able to verify it it, but I did glean that a “chopped salad” is derivative of classic, component-based salads like the Cobb or Nicoise. In the past several years, it’s evolved into a bastard child of those, something no longer tied to lineage or ingredients but to method: hacking up a bowl of lettuce and toppings with a mezzaluna, assembly-line style, at one of its namesake franchises here in the Northeast. Enthusiasm for the chopped salad has since waned a bit, but there were strong opinions on this subject during its heyday.
Here’s a quick recipe for a style of meal I’ve been eating a lot lately. It’s one of those “component” bowls, a cousin of a Korean bibimbap, that I make so often that I rarely think it merits a recipe. If I were to post a photo like the one above on Instagram and someone asked me for the recipe, it would seem sufficient to just say: Fried egg + soy-glazed tofu + sautéed greens + hot sauce, over mixed grains.
But there are a few tricks and details that elevate a rice bowl from a patchy mishmash to the kind that that you’ll crave. As with most things in the kitchen, it comes down to details: tasting along the way, cooking with care, making sure that each individual component is something you’d want to eat on its own. Here I’m sharing my favorite method for tofu—the results are slightly sweet, a bit caramelized and crispy around the edges—and it requires no time pressing or marinading. Continue reading
Do you have a bottle of mirin in the back of your fridge or cupboard? Do you remember what you bought it for? I used to forget about my mirin until a recipe like Heidi’s Black Sesame Otsu came along, and then afterward I’d let it get pushed back into the shadows all over again. Thank goodness it takes a very long time to go bad. But over the past year I’ve been reaching for it a bit more frequently and experimenting with it in some less obvious ways.
Last week at R&D Foods in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, I got a quesadilla that was just perfection. These types of assembled lunch meals can seem so simple—R&D has a creative, flavor-forward menu and is very mindful about ingredient sourcing, but the set-up is loosely based on the same model as a sandwich shop or deli, where all the sauces and fillings are prepped and pre-made, so that sandwiches only need to be assembled and heated up to order—but it’s so easy for things to go wrong.
When the ingredients are fresh, flavorful, and used in balance; when the sandwich (or in this case, quesadilla) is heated properly to create all the right crisp and gooey textures and isn’t flecked with the burnt bits of fifteen other meals that were cooked on the same sandwich press; and when it hasn’t been sitting in a paper bag for very long, so that when it’s unwrapped from the parchment and eaten out of hand on a park bench, in a patch of some of the last of the hot, early-afternoon sun for the year . . . In other words, when every little detail is exactly right, it can make a person pretty happy to be alive. Such was my Friday afternoon.
One chance, I thought. I only get one chance to call something a “Crack Fill-In-the-Blank,” so don’t waste the opportunity. The fact is, I didn’t know what else to name this salad. It’s just a really good tumble of leftovers and odds-and-ends that I served to friends earlier this summer. “That Crack Salad” is what my friend Lesley called it when she emailed me about it a few days later about it.
But “Crack Salad” really isn’t my style. Would “Just Really Good Salad” work? Or “Delicious Chopped-ish Salad of Leftovers and Odds and Ends”? Neither of those seem to get at the scrumptious, addictive quality of this unassuming list of ingredients. Maybe I should just be very literal about it, with “Chopped Cabbage, Lentil, and Arugula Salad with Fried Shallots, Radishes, Almonds, Feta and Shallot-Oil–Dijon Vinaigrette?” No? Too long? A little unwieldy? Fine. Crack Salad it is. Continue reading