Fennel orange olive salad

It sounds sort of weird, but I really hope a big fat man in a red felt suit gave you everything you wished for this weekend. I am a happy girl, surrounded by family and friends. I could complain, because I’m quite good at complaining, but I won’t. I don’t dare. I’m too lucky with this lot I’ve been cast with to dare whisper the hint of complaint.

I am, however, a bit full. My solution? This fennel orange olive salad. Lively, bright, wintery, Sicilian, crunchy, sweet, salty, cleansing. It’s everything I want to put in my mouth after the last few days of overindulgence.


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Grilled corn salad

I have three sisters-in-law. They are each massively impressive in their own way. Their most important trait, of course, is the immense love they have all shown me and mine. A most treasured additional characteristic they share is the ability to make me laugh out loud. And really, that is all I ask of anyone.

What they may not realize, however, is how much they have helped me professionally.

They would not have realized this because none of them are writers. Or cooks.

What they are is this: smart, on-the-ball, professional women with children. Two of them work really amazingly full-time at rather beyond-demanding jobs, the third is career-shifting while raising three kids which hurts my head to even think about. Ow. They have all, over the years, sat and watched me cook. They have all, on various occasions, complimented the results. They want to feed themselves and their families in pleasurable and healthful ways.

And so when I write up a recipe I always image Heidi and Michelle and Mary cooking it. They are, collectively, my recipe barometer. On good days they are merry companions and we swing along through soups and salads with great fun. On bad days they are the witches from MacBeth, thwarting me at every turn with bad news and extra work because they do not already know how to grill a turkey or can’t agree on what, exactly, “blanching” is. How quickly will they, in all honesty, be able to mince those shallots? Do they keep (or want to keep) whole wheat pastry flour in the house? Will Heidi be able to find Asian eggplant easily in Minneapolis, or will it require an extra errand? Am I sure Michelle’s market in Los Angeles carries harissa, or must a substitution be stated? Will Mary, in her Greenwich Village apartment, need an alternative to grilling proper? I must admit that I do not answer their (imaginary) concerns as often as I might, but at least I do think of them, and that is thanks to my sisters-in-law.

One of them (Heidi) made a grilled corn salad this summer that got me thinking. It got me thinking about how to make an even more delicious grilled corn salad. I then made that even more delicious salad last weekend and another of them (Michelle) was quite taken by the results. Dare I hope that the third (Mary) finds a grill and cooks this up? (Hint: char the corn under a broiler instead of on a grill!)

Spicy grilled corn salad

This is yummers, plain and simple. Good all on its own, I’ve enjoyed it served with a lovely grilled tri-tip, a grilled chicken, and some grilled bratwurst (less of a perfect marriage, but tasty nonetheless). The green chile dressing could, of course, be used in plenty of other ways if one were so inclined.

Shuck 6 or 8 ears of fresh sweet corn. Brush them lightly with oil and set, along with 2 jalapeño or serrano chiles, on a hot grill. Cook, turning as you think of it, until the corn is lightly charred all over and the chiles are nicely blackened. Take everything off the grill as it’s done and let sit until it’s cool enough to handle.

Remove the blackened skin, stem, and seeds from the chiles. Chop them up – if they sort of fall apart as you do this, all the better. Put them in a large salad-type bowl and add 1 tablespoon of lime juice, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, some generous grindings of black pepper, and enough salt to make the taste pop. Finely chop a small red onion or a few shallots. (You can put the chopped results in a sieve or strainer, rinse with cold water, and turn out onto paper towels to pat dry if you want to tame the pungency of the raw onion.) Add the onion to the bowl and toss with the dressing. Cut the grilled corn kernels from the cobs and toss them with dressing and onion. Chop up as much cilantro as you have (about 1 cup of leaves works nicely, but more or less is fine) and add that to the mix. Serve it up. Note that a handful or two of crumbled cotija cheese (feta is a fine enough substitute) would not be out of order.


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Radicchio hazelnut blue cheese salad

Raw bitter leaves must have a tonic effect. Am I right? I feel virtuous eating them – not as some sort of penance because they taste bad, but because I feel so alive when I crunch into them. In a let’s-bleed-you-with-leeches-to-make-you-feel-better  kind of way, they taste like they will clean my blood. And that bitter edge? I love it. I find myself craving bitter greens – the kales, the collards – and chicories – the radicchios and endives – with great regularity this time of year. It may be sacrilege to say in these parts, but if I had to choose between only being able to have tomatoes or chicories for the rest of my days, I’d choose chicories.

Why, you may ask, does my blood need cleaning? Well, I’m not sure it does, but I find cleaning things incredibly anxiety-reducing. As I’ve written here before, my closets are never cleaner than when I have multiple projects due at once. If I’m going to clean out the kitchen cupboards and organize the tool shelves in the garage, why not scrape my blood clean with bitter salads, too?

Of course I wouldn’t want it to get too clean. That could be dangerous, right? So in this case I’ve thrown in a fair amount of blue cheese (I like a mountain gorgonzola – neither terribly soft nor rock hard) and a few toasted hazelnuts for good measure. I find the traumatically strong tastes of radicchio and blue cheese magically tone each other down. The sharpness of the cheese and the bitter of the leaves giving into each other, softening each other, as if by each being so difficult to take they understand each other and make the other one not need to be so very much like that. (I think I’m still talking about this salad but I’m starting to see why we like this salad so much at our house….)

The secret to this little addictive radicchio hazelnut blue cheese salad is, I must admit, in the agrodulce. The fine people at Katz and Company once sent me some samples of their agrodulce – a slightly sweetened vinegar – and I found it so useful and we all loved the salads I made with it so much that one morning I discovered myself spending a rather ridiculous amount of money online ordering up a full assortment. I mean, I make very tasty red wine vinegar myself. Why not just doctor that up with some sugar in the dressing, which really does work just as well? I don’t know. Just know this: you can just add sugar to the vinegar and the salad turns out great. If, however, you’re in the market for some fancy “artisan vinegar” or find yourself in the happy possession of same, here is your chance to use it.

Radicchio hazelnut blue cheese salad

First, make the dressing in the bottom of the salad bowl. I use equal part extra virgin olive oil and agrodulce. For a single head of radicchio, use 2 teaspoons of each or 2 teaspoons oil and good red wine vinegar plus a teaspoon of sugar. Add 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of salt. If you want to be a bit fancier, mince a small shallot and let that sit in the agrodulce or vinegar for a few minutes before you add the oil.

Second, trim the radicchio (trevissio is also tasty here), chop it into bite-size pieces or slices, rinse it, and dry it. Add to the salad bowl and toss with the dressing.

Third, you can now, if you like to keep things simple, just eat the salad. It’s great just like this and I’ve been known to down a whole bowlful by myself at lunch. Fancy it up, though, by adding about 1/2 cup toasted and chopped hazelnuts and 1/3 cup crumbled blue cheese. Or just use one or the other – all the couplings are delicious! You can toss these in or make it fancy by dividing the salad between salad plates and sprinkling the nut and cheese on each plate. Top with a grinding or two of black pepper if you’re so inclined.


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Endive walnut salad

My weakness for a crunchy endive salad is, in my mind, legendary. My love of endive in general is well documented – I once put together a cracker jack food trivia team with the sole goal of winning a 6-pound box of endive for myself. All the other prizes – coffee and wine and gift certificates galore – I let the others divvy up as they saw fit. But the box of endive: that was all mine.

And then I made an Endive Walnut Salad, and it was good.


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Chickpea salad

So simple it hurts.

Summer chickpea salad

All together now: 2 cans chickpeas (drained and rinsed), 6 green onions* chopped up, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, a tablespoon of lemon juice, about a teaspoon of finely shredded lemon zest (gotten off with a box grater – no fancy microplane zesters here!), salt, plenty of freshly ground black pepper. Then  4 sprigs of mint cut into ribbons and a pint of grape tomatoes tossed in at the last minute.

* chives, garlic scapes, green garlic, or minced red onion would all be lovely as well


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Summer salad with yogurt buttermilk dressing

I like my dairy. If I’m remembering an article I read many years ago correctly, the ability to digest milk is the result of a mutant gene. Well, a mutated gene that is less common – by a lot – than the regular human system which prefers not to ingest non-human milk. I’m pretty sure my genes are configured in a way that doesn’t just make me able to process dairy successfully, but that actually renders me weak if I don’t get a hefty daily dose of the stuff.

Hot weather brings about a marked difference in my dairy consumption. I move from lots of cheese to putting buttermilk and yogurt in anything I can think of. Sometimes I even use them at the same time, as in this salad dressing. I could just drink a glass of this elixir, but I exercise a modicum of self-control and use it on salads. And as a dip for veggies. And a spoonful once in awhile. Just a spoonful. I swear.

Yogurt buttermilk salad dressing

Shake it up, stick it in the fridge, and wonder why you ever bought a bottle of pre-made dressing. You can add a minced small garlic clove, if you like (although it will get quite garlicky if you leave it in the fridge) or a teaspoon or two of honey if you like things sweet.

1/2 cup buttermilk

2 tablespoons plain yogurt (I’ve used lowfat, I’ve used Greek, I’ve used sheep milk – it all works; just know that the more fat and/or strained the yogurt, the more thickening power it will have)

1 tablespoon lemon juice or cider vinegar

1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Put buttermilk, yogurt, lemon juice, and salt in a small jar. Seal with the lid and shake until well combined. (You can also whisk it all together in a small bowl.) Add pepper to taste. I add a lot.

This dressing is lovely in general, but extra yummy with butter lettuce or romaine. Add sliced radishes, scallions or garlic scapes, cucumber, and/or sweet snap peas for more crunch.


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Warm asparagus and cabbage salad

Whenever my dashing husband and I find ourselves in the happy position of being able to go out for a quick meal together – which, let’s be honest, just isn’t that often – we head over to Piccino an almost embarrassing percentage of the time. It’s close, it’s easy, it’s delicious, it’s no big deal while also being insanely pleasant.

We darted over there for an early dinner the other night when our son was at a friend’s house for his own last-minute dinner plans.

One thing I love about their salads is they are never quite what you expect, despite the ample menu description. I suppose this would annoy some people, but it fits my eating out strategy perfectly. I eat a lot of good food. Or, rather, a lot of the food I eat is good. I don’t worry too much about whether any given dish is going to be good – at this point I’m often looking to be surprised, if only a bit, when I eat out. This salad did that. Who, as my dad might say, would have thought?

Warm asparagus and cabbage salad

The key to the success of this dish is to use a cast iron frying pan. It gets nice and hot and gives the cabbage and asparagus a bit of a charred edge.

1 egg

3 shallots

Vegetable oil

1/2 head Savoy cabbage, chopped or shredded

1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and sliced on the diagonal

2 teaspoon lemon juice

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put the egg in a pot and cover with water. bring to a boil, cover, take off the heat and let sit 14 minutes. Drain and peel the egg under cool running water. Set aside.

Peel shallots and slice them.

Heat a thick layer (almost 1/4 inch) of vegetable oil in a cast iron pan over high heat. Add shallots and fry until they are browned and stop sizzling so swiftly. Lift shallots out of the oil and drain on a layer of paper towels. Set shallots aside. Pour out any excess oil from the pan.

Return pan, with its now-scant covering of oil, to the heat. Add cabbage, sprinkle with about 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring frequently, until it wilts and starts to brown. Lift cabbage out of the pan and transfer to a wide shallow bowl.

Add asparagus to the pan, sprinkle with salt and cook, stirring often, until tender and starting to char on the edges. Add to the cabbage, sprinkle with lemon juice, and toss to combine. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste.

Add fried shallots and toss to combine. Divide onto serving plates or serve family style – but first finely chop or shred the egg and use it to garnish the salad.


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Arugula salad with broiled lemons

The lovely Marisa from Food In Jars sent me this recipe well over a year ago. That’s the kind of recipe backlog I have built up. I finally made this and don’t think I’ll ever stop.

Arugula salad with broiled lemons

The sweet tang of these lemons are the perfect foil for the peppery kick of good arugula. Look for small, dark leaves that are full of natural wild arugula flavor.

2 lemons (regular or Meyer both work here)

1 Tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

3 Tablespoons lemon crushed extra virgin olive oil

1 Tablespoon lemon juice

6 – 8 cups arugula

Scrub lemons clean. Slice lemons as thinly and evenly as you can. Put the slices and any juice you can wrangle into a medium bowl. Sprinkle with the sugar and teaspoon of salt. Toss to combine and let sit at least 1 hour and up to a day.

Heat your broiler. Cover and baking pan with foil. Spread the lemon slices in as single a layer as possible given the number of slices and the size of your pan. Drizzle any juice in the bowl over the lemons.

Broil lemons, watching carefully, until they start to brown, 3 to 5 minutes.

Set lemons aside while you make the dressing. In a large bowl combine the olive, lemon juice, and any juices left on the broiled lemons. Taste and add salt to taste if you like. Add arugula and toss with the dressing until thoroughly coated. Top with broiled lemons and serve immediately.


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Mâche (a.k.a. lamb’s lettuce)

Whenever I eat mâche – a.k.a. lamb’s lettuce – I think of Paris.

I say that and you may imagine that I am transported to a magical romantic weekend or a particularly delicious salad at a chic bistro.

While I have had romantic times in Paris and plenty of delicious salads in the City of Lights, mâche tends to remind me of a less glamorous time I spent there.

I used to spend a lot of time in Paris. I went at least once if not twice a year for stints that rarely lasted less than six weeks and I lived there for several longer stretches as well. One of these visits was in the summer of 1995. I was there on a research grant. Rather than staying in one of the shoebox garrets I was used to living in when in Paris, I had been invited to stay in the apartment of my first cousin once-removed family friends’ place in the 8th arrondissement while they were in Sun Valley for the summer.

Parisians who spend the summer – not just August, but the entire summer school holiday – in Sun Valley, Idaho are not the norm. And neither was their apartment. It had its own elevator from the courtyard.

I stayed in what was usually the nanny’s room in the children’s wing/half-floor. The only time I spent in the never-ending art-filled living room was when I walked through it get to the kitchen, which was on the other end of the palatial abode and included a generous eating area. I relegated myself to my bedroom and the “playroom” in the children’s wing that had a T.V. in it and a table I’d turned into a desk. The giant, empty, luxurious apartment was a budgetary god-send to a graduate student on a research stipend but it was also a depressing place to live alone.

I would wake up early, go through the empty apartment to the kitchen to make coffee and toast the bread left from the day before into tartines for breakfast, walk through the empty neighborhood (the 8th arrondissement is where you will find the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs-Elysées – the residential areas are fancy and my kind hosts were not the only ones out of town for the summer infestation of tourists) to the metro, have my bag checked by police (it was the summer of several terrorist bombings in the métro), answer their curious questions about the laptop in my bag, take the 1 to the Palais Royal/Musée du Louvre station, walk through the Palais Royal, and get to the Bibliothèque Nationale before all the seats were claimed to begin a day of historical research. Nine to five was spent with the books and other groupings of printed matter. I would then either go out with friends or head home – the heat and resulting aroma from that summer’s incessant blistering heat wave assaulting me along the way.

That’s right. It was a summer of terrorist bombings and a heat wave.

On the days I headed home I ate the same heat-friendly dinner more times than I care to remember: some bread, a hunk of cheese, and a giant bowl of mâche tossed with a bit of classic French vinaigrette – one part vinegar, three parts oil, a bit of mustard to bind them, and salt and pepper to taste. If I wasn’t feeling beyond lazy I’d add some minced garlic or shallot. I’d eat this in the kitchen while reading or, just as often often, up in the playroom while watching T.V. stripped down to my underwear with a fan aimed at my face, trying not to die of heat stroke and dreaming of the damp gray of a foggy San Francisco summer.

Mâche used to be something I only had when in France – I never saw it in the U.S. lo those many years ago. I found the beautiful mâche pictured above at the market last week and made a quick dressing that was the best dressing on mâche I’ve ever had. My dashing husband claimed it was perhaps the best dressing I’d ever made full-stop.

I was happy to have made such a tasty dressing, but feel wrong taking much credit for it. Regular readers know I don’t spend much time talking about products here, but the dressing on this mâche was so delicious because of some Lucero lemon crushed olive oil and Katz late harvest sauvignon blanc agrodulce vinegar – both of which were samples sent to me for a story I’m working on. I threw them together in classic vinaigrette proportions (3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar) with salt to taste. I didn’t add anything else. No pungent binding mustard, no bitter astrigent pepper.

The other key to the salad was, of course, the mâche. Fresh, tiny, tender leaves. I know you can sometimes buy mâche in the plastic bags so much salad comes in these days. If you buy it that way, make sure to wash it first – no matter how “pre-washed” it may be for these reasons.


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Kumquat endive salad

We ate dinner last week in an industrial space that had been re-done into a residence and studio that was so stunning that Ernest jumped up and down as he shouted “Mama, this is so cool!”

I had to agree. The space was cool, the company delightful, and the food perfection. I was offered the serving bowl filled this endive, herb, kumquat salad and took way more than my fair share. I have since made it three times for myself for lunch. I’m making it now, while the kumquats are plentiful.

Kumquat endive salad

This is the ultimate end-of-winter-almost-spring salad. The bitter chicory of winter with the bright tart sweetness of citrus and the fresh green promise of spring herbs. You might not be able to have a real spring salad yet – there is no asparagus in here, no hidden fiddleheads – but it’s starting to seem like you will if you just hang in there.

4 Belgian endives

about 10 sprigs parsley

about 10 sprigs mint

10 kumquats

2 tablespoons lemon juice (Meyer lemon juice works nicely here, too)

1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil (nothing too strong!)

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt

Cut off ends of the endive and pull apart into leaves. Cut leaves into bite size pieces, if you like, and put all leaves into a salad or serving bowl.

Pull off the leaves from the parsley sprigs and put them with the endive leaves. Pinch off the mint leaves and tear them into smaller pieces and add them to the mix. Cut the kumquats into quarters and throw them in.

In a small bowl, mix lemon juice, oil, and salt. Stir or whisk together an drizzle over salad. Toss salad to coat everything evenly with the dressing.


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