Okay fine, I’ll tell you anyway. Remember when I told you that on our Vacation From Parenting I had an ambitious to-do list but my husband was quite certain we’d be better off doing as little as possible? Well, Alex: 1, Deb: 0 and here it is encrypted on the permanent record of the internet. As it turns out, having to take your entire apartment apart to allow for painters is totally not fun at all. Sometimes there’s a communication breakdown that leads to you coming home right as they’re finishing up to find that your apartment had been painted the wrong color. Sometimes, in the same week, your bathtub is suspiciously filled with plaster, your door handle breaks and leaves you locked out of your apartment for an eternity, your air conditioning dies, and 48 hours after the painters had left, not a single piece of furniture got ambitious enough to move itself back into position, which means that you’ll probably be doing that for the remainder of your so-called vacation. Really, Deb [insert slow clap here] next time your husband suggest you do nothing but sleep, socialize and relax for a week, perhaps you might just not argue.
It also kills all lofty cooking goals, but since we’re going for honesty, I should just admit that I didn’t have all that many. Like I started saying above before I had to go and prove it, I get a “little” boring in the summer. But, it’s not my fault! It’s just a theory, but I suspect that nature designed summer produce this way, intentionally making it so tomatoes and peppers and cucumbers required exactly zero amounts of cooking to transform them into culinary greatness so that you’d be free for
home improvements beach trips and cocktails on decks at sunset.
This week’s obsession is, indeed, and conveniently, virtually cooking-free. I’ve always had a soft spot for salads that are almost all crunch and no filler. While the ingredient combinations with which you can play this out are endless, sometimes a specific one gets in your head and you cannot get it out until you recreate it, ad infinitum, at home. This happened this week after we had dinner at The Breslin, before paint and plaster (and the avoidance there-of, which led to oh yes, we did, and I’m not sorry) took over our lives. Pretty much everything April Bloomfield cooks is the kind of perfection that you didn’t know your life was missing before you arrived (hello, lamburger, crisp boiled peanuts and thrice-cooked chips!) but is never going to be complete again without after you left.
And yet, it wasn’t as much the market salad as the crazy, absolutely addictive interplay of feta, mint, lime and spectacularly well-toasted sunflower seeds on her chopped salad that I had to have again and again. And so I took this week’s languishing haul from the market and chopped away. I retoasted my sunflower seeds so they’d be darker. I used some queso fresco instead of feta, but you can use whatever you can get, even ricotta salata. I slivered some fresh mint and even stirred in some chile powder and the result has got to be my idea of a summer salad’s highest calling — a revelation, crunchy and refreshing, and leaving you free to be your goofy self.
One year ago: Skirt Steak with Bloody Mary Tomato Salad
Two years ago: Zucchini and Ricotta Galette
Three years ago: Mediterranean Pepper Salad
Four years ago: Mango Curd
Five years ago: Everyday Yellow Dal
Chopped Salad with Feta, Lime, Mint and Sunflower Seeds
I used 1 cup each of halved and thinly sliced radishes (3 1/4 ounces), 1/2 pound of lightly cooked, cooled green and yellow beans (1/2 pound fresh) that I’d cut into 1/4-inch slices on the bias, and quartered and thinly sliced Kirby cucumbers (from 5 ounces or 2 whole). However, you should use whatever is crunchy and you’re craving, such as peppers, carrots, lightly cooked corn cut off the cob, celery, fennel or more.
To bulk this up into a more rounded dish, you could add a cup or two of thinly sliced lettuce, 1 to 2 cups of cooked, cooled grains such as barley, quinoa or farro, or a cup or so of cooked black beans, to add to the Southwestern vibe. In each case, it would be best to double the dressing so you’ll be able to cover everything evenly.
Serves 4 as appetizers and 2 as more of a meal-sized salad
3 cups chopped, crunchy vegetables
1/2 cup (2 ounces) crumbled feta, queso fresco or ricotta salata
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1/3 cup well-toasted sunflower seeds, salted or unsalted
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon coarse or Kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon chile powder or 1/8 teaspoon each your choice combination of chile powder, cumin, cayenne or sumac
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 to 2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh mint leaves
Mix the vegetables, feta, scallions, seeds and mint in a medium bowl. Whisk lime juice, olive oil, salt, spice and black pepper in a small dish and pour over vegetables, tossing to evenly coat. Adjust with more salt or pepper as needed. Garnish with mint and crunch-crunch-crunch away!