I love having friends over for dinner, and the corresponding time spent in the kitchen preparing the dinner (along with shopping at the farmers’ market for the ingredients, hitting a few specialty shops for the perfect cheese, cut of meat, and/or bottle [or three] of wine). Interestingly, more often than not, the salad is what people comment about most. A simple salad to be sure, nothing more than a collection of salad greens (maybe a little mesclun, frisee, arugula, and whatever else I find that day), thinly sliced vegetables (a few carrots, radish), maybe a few toasted nuts or seeds, good olive oil and vinegar, and salt and pepper, that’s it.
If you spend any time surfing the web and browsing other food blogs, you might conclude that everybody cooks from scratch. Accordingly, seems a bit silly to have a post on the humble salad, as there’s no cooking involved. If nothing else, I hope this post inspires a few to get in the kitchen — if for no other reason than to prepare a salad. Use some or all of the ingredients, and, whenever possible, substitute with what’s in season where you live (the latter which pretty much guarantees one great salad).
I always try to vary my salads a bit. This week, watermelon radish is the star. At first glance, the watermelon radish may not catch your attention — a somewhat boring pale green exterior. But when you slice them open, they are the most vibrant shade of pink. Watermelon radish, an heirloom variety of daikon radish, is a bit milder (less bitter) and sweeter than other varieties. They add crispness and vibrancy to any salad. I like to thinly slice them (with a mandolin) and toss with the salad greens. Alternatively, you can easily whip up a batch of pickled watermelon radish. A lot of recipes for pickled vegetables call for a fair amount of sugar. In my opinion, watermelon radish has just enough inherent sweetness such that I keep the added sugar to a minimum.
In addition to watermelon radish, I added crispy shallots, sweet and spicy rosemary nuts, and goat cheese, and tossed the salad with homemade balsamic dressing (finished with freshly ground black pepper and a sprinkling of coarse grey sea salt).
Had this for lunch after my Sunday run. It totally hit the spot!
Mixed Greens Salad with Watermelon Radish, Crispy Shallots, and Sweet and Spicy Rosemary Nuts
Greens — mix of frisee, arugula, a few radicchio leaves, mesclun mix, pea shoots
Watermelon radish, thinly sliced (plain or pickled)
Sweet and spicy rosemary nuts (recipe below)
Coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper
You may want to double or triple this recipe, as these are quite tasty. With each batch, just replenish the olive oil and repeat.
3 shallots, thinly sliced
1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
Pinch of sea salt
Heat a small pan with the olive oil over medium heat. When hot, add the shallots, mixing occasionally, about 3 to 5 minutes, until crispy and golden brown. With a slotted spoon, remove the shallots and drain on a paper towel.
1 cup of olive oil
1/2 cup of balsamic vinegar
2 cloves garlic, peeled
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
With a mortar and pestle (or side of a chef’s knife) pound a pinch of sea salt and the garlic until it forms a paste. Add the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, smashed garlic, salt, and black pepper to a bowl, and whisk to incorporate.
Pickled Watermelon Radish
2-3 watermelon radish, thinly sliced (a mandolin is great for this)
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup water
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
Healthy pinch of red pepper flakes
~5 whole black peppercorns
Place the sliced watermelon radish in an airtight glass container. Mix the rice wine vinegar, water, sea salt, sugar, mustard seeds, red pepper flakes, and black peppercorns. Pour over the watermelon radishes. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours.
Sweet and Spicy Rosemary Nuts
Makes 10-12 cups
6 cups unsalted mixed nuts, such as almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, and pistachios
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup light brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons sea salt
4 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary, divided
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Coat a large rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray.
Place nuts in a large mixing bowl.
In a small pan over medium-high heat, add honey, brown sugar, cayenne, salt, and 3 teaspoons rosemary. Heat until the sugar dissolves and the sauce is syrupy. Pour over the nuts and toss until evenly coated. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet.
Bake for about 20 minutes, turning once, or until nuts are golden brown. Remove from oven and sprinkle remaining 1 teaspoon rosemary over nuts.
Cool. Break into small clusters. Store in an air-tight container for up to one week.