Mad for mâche? Feverish over frisée? The only cure is summer’s kaleidoscope of succulent salads Nancy Lawson Remler mixes it up.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JASON B. JAMES
Lettuce is a luscious little leaf. Just ask David Landrigan, head chef of Circa 1875.
“The green is a big part of the flavor and texture,” he says. “When you compose a salad, you want to have both to make it more interesting.”
That’s why Circa likes to mix their greens in house, based on what’s in season. “Dandelion greens are looking fantastic,” says Landrigan, “and later this summer, we’ll do some watercress and mâche.”
While arugula has a “nice peppery aroma,” he adds that Lolla rossa (a red leaf varietal) has it all.
It’s not just about the greens, however.
Summertime brings an abundance of seasonal fruits and vegetables, so local restaurants offer more creative salads, either as a first course or main dishes. As July and August bear down, Landrigan likes to “lighten up … so we’ll do a nicoise salad. That’s pretty popular.” Or he’ll make a “summer salad with pieces of fried bone marrow and croutons.”
Salad, in fact, is Kayak Kafé’s Suzanna King’s “favorite thing, pretty much, in the whole wide world.” A quick pass at Kayak’s menu confirms her passion. From a zesty Wild Georgia Shrimp spinach salad to a West Indian Trader spiked with curried chicken, you’ll find veggies layered, wedged and tossed in all manner of combinations. Recently, King says, Kayak served a special salad of “watermelon, local shrimp and feta cheese with red onion and cilantro-lime vinaigrette.”
Make a Meal
“You want to have something cohesive … crunchy, salty, sweet,” explains Brandy Williamson, executive chef for the Daniel Reed Group, which owns and operates Local 11Ten, Public Kitchen and Bar, and Soho South Café. “You want to have enough in the salad to where it’s not just greens on the plate. You also want to have enough bulk so that every bite you get something in it—a nut, a little bit of cheese, little bit of onion.”
Inspirations can come from anywhere. Kayak’s King has even dreamed about salads, but usually everyday moments spark her imagination.
“The other day I went to an oil and vinegar store downtown,” she says, “and I tasted a coconut-lime vinegar. All kinds of ideas came to my head.”
“I did a seared ahi tuna with orange segments, grape tomatoes, red onion, crispy fried wontons, and I made a sesame-citrus vinaigrette with it. It was delicious.”
“I was looking for something that someone could have just as a meal,” Chef Brandy Williamson says of Soho South Café’s Fried Goat Cheese Salad. “Spinach is a great base—Vitamin A at 56 percent, Vitamin C at 14 percent, high in potassium at 4 percent. It’s a lot healthier for you than a romaine, which is mostly water. We add in the bacon, because—everybody loves bacon, right?”
Suzanna’s Superfood Salad
According to Suzanna King, chef de cuisine at Kayak Kafé, a hearty salad needs “a combination of local, fresh, seasonal ingredients.” Her revved-up recipe below can be paired with a light piece of fish or served as a meal all on its own. Serves 4
2 cup wheatberries
2 cups Israeli couscous
1 cup red quinoa
3 ears fresh corn
1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1 cup canned black beans, rinsed
1 bunch Italian parsley
1 small bunch fresh basil
½ cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 teaspoon each dried oregano, dill, basil and marjoram
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
Place the wheatberries in a pot of water and bring to a boil, cooking for approximately 35 minutes until slightly tender but still firm. Add the couscous and quinoa to same pot and continue cooking for approximately 10 more minutes. Drain the grains in a colander, then rinse with cold water.
In a large bowl, place the shucked and trimmed corn, black beans, carrots and chopped parsley. Add the grains.
For the dressing, blend the basil, garlic, lemon juice, dried herbs and olive oil with a hand mixer or food processor until smooth. Pour dressing over all the ingredients in the bowl and toss to combine well. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Brandy Williamson’s Pink Poppy Seed Dressing
The Daniel Reed Group’s executive chef Brandy Williamson keeps this dressing on hand at home for impromptu salads, but you’ll find it adding some sparkle to the Fried Goat Cheese Salad at Soho South Café. Makes 3 cups
¼ cup white wine vinegar
¼ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup red onion, roughly chopped
½ teaspoon kosher salt (Note from the chef: “Use only kosher salt!”)
½ teaspoon ground mustard (You may substitute prepared mustard, if necessary.)
cup mayonnaise (Note from the chef: “I only use Duke’s. You can adjust the creaminess of the dressing with more or less mayo.”)
½ cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
In a blender, combine the vinegar, sugar, onion, salt, mustard and mayonnaise and pulse until there are no large chunks of onion left. Through the opening in the blender top, slowly add the oil while continuing to blend. Once the ingredients are emulsified, pour the dressing into a bowl, then stir in the poppy seeds. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper—although you probably won’t need it.
Circa 1875’s Spinach Salad
Makes 1 salad
1 Belgium endive, julienned
2 to 3 ounces baby spinach, rinsed and thoroughly dried
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 ounces Lemon-Poppy Seed Vinaigrette dressing (recipe follows)
2 medium strawberries quartered
1 ounce St. Andre triple crème brie cheese
1 to 2 ounces spiced pecans (recipe follows)
Toss the endive, spinach, salt and pepper, then arrange on a chilled plate with the strawberries and cheese. Drizzle with a little more dressing, if desired. Sprinkle with spiced pecans.
Lemon-Poppy Seed Vinaigrette
According to Circa 1875’s head chef David Landrigan, the key to a good salad is a good vinaigrette. “Some people get intimidated by dressing,” he says, “but there’s a very standard ratio that you use, so you can make any vinaigrette with the same ratio without fail.”
Yields 1 quart
½ cup Champagne vinegar
1½ cups freshly squeezed lemon juice
Zest from 2 lemons
¼ cup poppy seeds
2 tablespoons minced shallot
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
4 egg yolks
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large bowl, stir all of the ingredients, except for the egg yolks, until they are well combined. Stir in the eggs yolks one at a time, blending completely between each one. Dress your favorite salad and serve.
This recipe calls for a much larger batch than the typical home cook will use, but you can store leftovers in an airtight container for use on another salad … or pack them up in Mason jars and give them away as hostess gifts for all those backyard barbecues you’ll be getting invitations to this summer.
2 quarts pecan pieces
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon nutmeg
2 egg whites, beaten until frothy
Preheat the oven to 350º F.
Mix all the sugar and spices together. Toss the pecans in the egg white mixture, then sprinkle all over with spices and toss some more to evenly coat the pecans. Spread the pecans on a parchment-lined baking sheet, then bake for 10 minutes.
Remove the pan from the oven, stir the pecans and bake another 5 minutes to ensure even cooking. Once the pecans are golden, remove them from the oven to cool.