Oh, those first few days of summer; that mercurial time when it can be sweater weather in the morning yet, by mid-day, you’re wilting in the afternoon heat.
With the variable temperatures and general busyness of the season—the last days of school, graduation celebrations, the transition to new schedules—who doesn’t feel like an easy win when it comes to mealtime?
Feathered Pipe friends, I have one word for you, and that word is SALAD.
What? Not impressed? Perhaps you’re picturing a boring bowl of greens drowning in dressing (…maybe Ranch? Do I hear Creamy Italian)?
Give me a few minutes of your time today and, I promise, we will up your salad game with a few key tips and have you crunching away in leafy bliss before the summer sun sets.
Sorry. I just couldn’t help myself.
Use a mix of greens for varied texture and flavor
Though Iceberg lettuce is perfect for a classic Wedge, there are galaxies of greenery for you to explore as you broaden your salad horizons. Branch out. Taste a new leaf. Be adaptable to reflect what produce is at its seasonal peak and mix it up –literally.
The ruffled leaves of red leaf lettuce make the perfect salad base; their mild and delicate flavor will not compete with the other salad components you add to your bowl. Bring in a snappy jolt of spice with peppery arugula, also known as rocket. I always enjoy the bitter bite of Frisée ( a member of the chicory family—like endive and radicchio) and imagine that its frizzled, kinky leaves encountered a bolt of lightning as they grew.
Use different types of lettuce in your salad but follow the general rule that they all have a similar type of leaf (for example, don’t mix soft tiny arugula with big leaves of radicchio as they’ll absorb the dressing differently).
Support your local farmers and food producers
Here at the Feathered Pipe, sourcing our food locally is important to us. Purchasing from local producers not only allows us to share the unique taste of our Western location with our guests, it also lets us directly support the community of farmers, growers, and ranchers who industriously work to bring their goods to market. Local foods are fresher and more nutritious, due to less travel and storage time. This summer, guests who dine with us will taste the bounty of our state from The Western Montana Growers Cooperative and other producers working in Flathead County and the Bitterroot Valley.
Give your greens a bath
Wash your leaves well in plenty of cold water and roll them gently in a kitchen towel to absorb any excess moisture. Place your clean, salad greens in the fridge until they are ready to serve; this will give the added bonus of keeping your leaves extra cold and crisp until they are ready to serve.
Choose at beautiful bowl
A salad looks just fine when served on a dish. Now is your chance, however, to break out that beautiful wooden bowl that sits at the back of your cabinet or the clay masterpiece that looks down at you from atop your fridge. Not far from our kitchen, on the outskirts of Helena, sits The Archie Bray Foundation. Many of the Feathered Pipe’s handcrafted serving bowls and dishes were ‘born’ on the wheels and in the kilns of the Bray’s collaborative community of visiting ceramic artists.
Mix in fresh herbs
Fresh herbs are for more than dressings. Hand tear basil or mint leaves and add them directly into your greens. By ripping the leaves with your hands, you will avoid the black bruising that can come from chopping them with a knife. Tarragon, chervil, and fresh oregano can also add an unexpected zip to your dish. In Italy, a showering of flat leaf parsley elevates many a salad serving.
Forget shredded carrots. There are many other salad add-ons just waiting for you. Peruse your farmer’s market tables and supermarket shelves to see what looks fresh and inviting. Thinly slice some fennel and add it in to the mix (just be sure to remove the hard inner core before you slice away). Cut crisp snap peas or green beans on a diagonal and sprinkle them atop your leaves. Lightly toast walnuts, sunflower, or pumpkin seeds scatter them in your bowl; all you need is a dry pan, a hot flame, and a sensitive nose/watchful eye to reveal when the toasting process is complete.
With a steady hand and a vegetable peeler, ribbons of asparagus and carrots gift new colors and crunch. Thinly sliced radishes can do the same. Finely diced scallions, garlic scapes, and shallots can add a fiery sharpness.
Season your leaves and make your own dressing
For all of salad’s seeming effortlessness, seasoning can be one of the trickiest parts to do well. You need to add the right bit of salt, the perfect amount of acidity and just enough good olive oil to bring your vegetable flavors into harmony.
A basic vinaigrette can be made in countless variations. I find that 2-3 parts oil to 1 part acid is the right ratio for my taste buds.
Investing in a high-quality extra virgin olive oil makes quite the difference. I’m partial to the strong, but not bitter, tastes of Southern Italian (especially Sicilian) olive oils. California also produces some incredible, and sustainably produced oils that are worth checking out.
For acid, red wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice will do the trick. You can also investigate sherry, Moscato, rice or cider vinegar for their own special flavors. I say, leave the watery balsamic vinegar on the shelf, unless you happen to have a high-quality version, made in the traditional manner from Modena, Italy. That black gold is vinegar on a whole other level.
No citrus press to expel your lemon juice? No problem. Squeeze half a lemon in your cupped hand with a fork— just like I was taught in the FPR kitchen by the truly missed cook, character, and soul, Chris Petaja. The fresh juice will trickle out between your fingers while you hand holds any seeds or pulp that may be released in the process.
If you’d like to add more body to your salad dressing, whisk in a spoonful of Dijon mustard or white miso. A handful of chopped shallots or pounded/grated/chopped fresh garlic will further enhance the kick of your vinaigrette. Season with coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
Add the dressing before you serve it– and use your hands to mix
Instead of using spoons or tongs, try tossing the leaves with your (clean) bare hands. This will allow you to get a better sense of the amount of dressing to use and sense when your greens and added vegetables are perfectly coated.
Add a little bit of dressing at a time. Remember: you can always add more, but once you’ve overdressed or over seasoned, it is impossible to walk it back. You want the flavors of your leaves and vegetables to be perceptible beneath the seasoning.
As they say in Yoga, play with your edge. Taste your dressed salad before serving it. If you find it is not making your tastebuds sing, it may need a little bit more salt, or acid, or even another glug of olive oil. When it tastes just right, you’ll know.
Salad ideas for every season
Spring: Shaved asparagus with arugula, pistachios, Parmesan cheese, and avocado–just wonderful with a homemade lemon dressing.
Summer: Try tender lettuces ( Butterhead varieties like Boston or Bibb) mixed with cucumbers, fresh herbs, tomatoes, and feta cheese. Dress with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Add some fresh or dried oregano for an extra Mediterranean kick.
Spicy arugula leaves dressed with lemon juice, olive oil and sea salt make a simple and delicious side dish. Shave a few curls of Parmesan cheese to gild the lily.
Fall: Add radicchio, crisp celery, or cabbage leaves to your greenery for a taste of Autumn’s bounty. Roasted sweet potatoes, beets, and cauliflower are also delicious additions as the temperatures dip. A touch of goat cheese is never a bad idea.
Winter: Escarole, fennel, and citrus fruits make bright wintery salad combinations. Add toasted pistachios or almonds and hand-ripped mint leaves for an extra spark of flavor.
Ribbons of sliced kale are magical when mixed with grated parmesan, pecorino, and toasted almonds; just make sure you peel the leaves away from the tough center stem. Add some shredded raw brussels sprouts to enhance the crunch. Dress with lemon juice, olive oil, grated garlic, flaky salt and freshly ground black pepper.
All Seasons: The elongated head of Romaine lettuce, with its deep green leaves and lighter crunchy ones towards the center, are always perfect for a Caesar Salad. Heidi Goldman, one of the core members of the Feathered Pipe’s founding group, has a superb dressing recipe she shared with us if a Caesar is what you crave.
For further salad (and life) inspiration, visit the site of Salad for President, an ever-evolving project of Julia Sherman, a Los Angeles-based artist, cook, writer, and photographer. With each blog post, Sherman spotlights a salad recipe made in collaboration with an artist, musician, writer, or creative soul, living their life in an imaginative and artful way. Would you like to sample a Glittery Israeli Salad made by the Hollywood costume designer Kerin Rose Gold? It’s up on the site, along with her recipe for a kicky tahini-miso dressing adorned with edible glitter. Who knew that glitter could be a salad component?
So, get out there, source some local greens, and pick up your whisk. Your summer salads now have endless possibilities.
Lettuce all be thankful for that.
The Avocado dressing below, taken from The Ranch’s cookbook, is another easy and delicious way to dress your greens. With a few easy blitzes of your blender, salad is served.
Laughing Water’s Avocado Dressing
Makes 2-3 Servings
— 1 medium, ripe avocado
— 2-4 Tablespoons of lemon juice or cider vinegar
— 2-4 Tablespoons Tamari
— 1 teaspoon chopped dill
— 1 or more cloves of garlic, crushed
— 1/8 teaspoon of cayenne
*a pinch of thyme
*water to thin
Blend all ingredients in a blender or food processor until smooth. Lightly dress your greens, season to taste, if needed.
About Allison Radecki:
Allison was raised in a state of limbo, otherwise known as suburban New Jersey. Thanks to its particular terroir, her DNA is a tangle of late summer tomatoes, Polish caramelized onions, neighborhood pizza parlors and bagels. Time spent living and working in Hungary, Italy, Pakistan and India lead to her epiphany that exploring foodways was another way of learning the history of the world. Her time in the Feathered Pipe’s kitchen, as well as a stint as the ranch’s ‘get girl,’ also illuminated this culinary consciousness. A graduate of Slow Food’s University of Gastronomic Sciences, Allison write about the kitchens, cooks, and food communities that help us realize where (and who) we are.