You’d think a blog with the word salad in its title might occasionally feature a salad recipe. In the case of this blog, you’d be wrong. To date, When Harry Met Salad features only one recipe for salad, a late spring salad that also highlights asparagus. The truth is we don’t eat much salad worth mentioning. Chris doesn’t like it (!!!) and I generally can’t be bothered to do much more than dress greens with vinaigrette for just me. But last weekend I fanned my farmers market purchases out over the dining room table and arranged them to photograph. I nestled a bunch of tiny pink radishes in alongside bright green stalks of asparagus and admired the graceful curve and deep purple-greenness of wild mint, and when I looked through the viewfinder of my camera I immediately thought salad. This is that salad.
I sliced the radishes and asparagus into coins and drizzled them with olive oil, lemon juice, and a little honey. Then I tossed in a handful of chopped mint, seasoned the vegetables with salt and white pepper, and carefully folded in crumbled bits of incredibly creamy local feta. And because I was also in the middle of a chive blossom vinegar project, I finished the whole thing off with a smattering of chive blossoms. Sometimes I get a little carried away.
“Hmmm, that looks like something I wouldn’t like,” Chris observed when I emerged, crunching, from the kitchen. And it’s true: he wouldn’t. But you might. With or without the chive blossoms, this salad is really lovely. It’s fresh and crisp and pleasantly vegetal. The sharp, peppery flavor of the radishes and the tender greenness of the raw asparagus mingle with the sweet, aromatic notes of mint, and all this bright freshness is beautifully balanced by the creamy tang of goat’s milk feta. It’s a salad that’s delicious in its simplicity, a salad that captures the fleeting flavors of early summer and hints at the bounty yet to come, a salad that’s totally worth making for just you.
Asparagus, Radish & Mint Salad with Feta
1 lb. fresh asparagus
2 bunches radishes
3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
½ tsp. honey
3 Tbsp. mint, chopped
4 oz. feta, crumbled
salt and white pepper, to taste
2 chive blossoms (optional)
Slice the asparagus and radishes into thin coins or discs, slicing as thinly as you can. (I tried this with both a mandoline and a knife — the knife was actually faster and easier.) Transfer to medium bowl and drizzle the olive oil, lemon juice and honey over the vegetables; stir to combine. Fold in mint and feta; season with salt and pepper to taste. If using the chive blossoms to garnish, separate the individual florets from the large blossom and scatter over the salad. Serve immediately.
I know I said I had everything under control in terms of cooking real food, and I did. Briefly. But then I decided to renovate our little log cabin — a rather ambitious project that involves messy, time-consuming things like drywall and terribly inconvenient things like gutting the entire kitchen (the entirety of which is a mere 62 square feet, but still). And a couple of months ago, Chris popped into our not-yet-gutted kitchen to announce that he wanted to be with me all the time forever, so I’m also planning a wedding. It’s a very small, very casual wedding (as far as weddings go), but still. Then there is also the small matter of my actual job and the fact that I’m pretty obsessive about pretty much everything.
These are not the sort of conditions that foster creativity in the kitchen. These are more the sort of conditions that foster major meltdowns in the grocery. I know this because I recently had such a meltdown. It involved a box of Rice-a-Roni, which is pretty much rock bottom for me. I’m not saying you shouldn’t buy Rice-a-Roni. Actually, yes, I am saying that. You shouldn’t buy Rice-a-Roni. I shouldn’t buy Rice-a-Roni. Nobody should buy Rice-a-Roni. Real food is important, and it is really really easy to make rice. Sometimes we buy Rice-a-Roni anyway. I get that.
But I firmly believe that is it just as easy to make good food as it is to make bad food, and it generally takes about the same amount of time. Lately I’ve been making asparagus. I bring a basketful home from the Farmers Market every week and delight in figuring out how to turn those pretty green stalks into dinner. Asparagus pesto is an old standby, but my favorite of this season is an asparagus bread salad. It’s bright and fresh and hearty all at the same time, with dainty slivers of asparagus and tender white beans nestled in among chunks of crusty grilled bread. The bread soaks up a bit of the lemony dressing without becoming soggy and the whole dish is accented with bits of parmesan. All of this comes together beautifully and quite deliciously, in a way that says, “Oh yes. Food. How lovely to see you again.”
Despite the home renovation and the wedding plans, I intend to do more with this blog than pop in every four months to announce that I got too busy to cook anything worth mentioning but I promise to be good from now on. A girl can only do that so many times (two?) before she starts to look silly. Plus, maintaining a blog about seasonal cooking helps discourage me from buying packaged crap.
Asparagus & White Bean Bread Salad
adapted from Gourmet
I tossed in a handful of salad greens, but I think the salad is actually better without them. The greens appear in the photo but not in the recipe. Feel free to add them if you like.
1 lb asparagus
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ c. + 2 T. olive oil
1 15 oz. can white beans, drained and rinsed well
½ t. finely grated fresh lemon zest
2 T. fresh lemon juice
½ t. salt
¼ t. black pepper
4 slices thick, crusty bread
4 oz. Parmigiano-Reggiano
¼ c. chopped parsley
1) Trim woody ends from asparagus and slice on the diagonal into ¼” thick slices.
2) In a large sauté pan, heat ¼ c. olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the asparagus and sauté for about 1 minute. Add the garlic and sauté for about 30 seconds. Stir in the beans, lemon juice and zest, then season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and let stand, uncovered, for 10 minutes.
3) Brush both sides of the bread with remaining 2 T. olive oil and grill (or broil, if you’d prefer) over high heat until nicely browned, about 3-5 minutes. Cool slightly and tear the bread into bite-sized chunks.
4) Spoon asparagus & bean mixture into large bowl, add torn bread, and toss to combine. Shave cheese over salad, sprinkle with parsley, and toss again before serving warm.
Whenever I’m called upon to feed a crowd my thoughts turn to slaw. Truth be told, my thoughts turn to slaw — with its delightful crispy, crunchy freshness — far more frequently than any social engagements require, but the point here is that slaw is the perfect thing to take along to a picnic or a potluck or any sort of food-related festivity. It’s easy, inexpensive, and it can be made from whatever vegetables happen to be in season. Although it’s a great do-ahead dish because the longer it sits (within reason) the more the flavors blend, it can just as easily be thrown together at the last minute for an impromptu gathering without sacrificing a great deal of yumminess. Plus slaw looks pretty, tastes fabulous, and is a hell of a lot better for you than pigs in a blanket. In fact, I whipped some up earlier in anticipation of Academy Awards revelry.
There are many fine uses for mayonnaise, but coleslaw dressing ain’t one of ’em. Actually, it’s possible that somebody somewhere makes a decent mayo-based slaw, but that mound of gloppy white mush masquerading as coleslaw in deli departments and dive bars across the land? Kill me now.
What you want is a light, tangy dressing that clings ever-so-slightly to the slaw, a dressing whose flavor gradually seeps into every pore of the cabbage without diminishing its crispy, crunchy goodness. What you want is vinegar.