We’ve decided to spend as much time as humanly possible at the beach this summer, which has led to my other new favorite habit: grabbing a few cookbooks I’ve been meaning to go through and reading them en route. In the fleeting moments when the kids have limited their bickering in the backseat and the traffic isn’t too terrible, when I’ve been away from my laptop and the kitchen for enough hours that I’m ready to absorb new inspiration, I find myself more open-minded and curious to try new recipes than I am, understandably, in the thick of deadlines and or hangry o’clock, approximately 6:15pm when dinner is nowhere near done.
Two weekends ago it was Saladish, a cookbook from Ilene Rosen, who is the chef and co-owner of R&D Foods in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn and previously did a 15-year stint as the savory chef at City Bakery, creating a salad bar with a cult following. This book is a natural progression. “All of the food I really like to eat and make is saladish,” she says in the intro, something I immediately related to. To me, salads are meals and meals can be salads, and only a fraction of them really need leafy greens. Layers of grains or roasted or raw shaved vegetables plus something pickled or punchy and something crunchy and herby and a good vinaigrette; I ate lunch 15 minutes ago and I literally made myself hungry again typing that.
I struggled a little as the book continued because I kept running into ingredients I didn’t keep around, pappadum, green garlic, makrut lime leaves, Chinese preserved cabbage, pea greens, and honestly, this is barely the tip of the iceberg. There wasn’t a recipe that didn’t have something that required an extra grocery run (easy for me to get in NYC, but still, I am lazy, and even when I overcome it, I know you guys would appreciate me finding alternatives) but wait, come back. You see, the sun was shining in the windows, little puffs of popcorn clouds dotted a blazingly blue sky, the shore towns were approaching, and I decided to stop being such a curmudgeon and look beyond these sticking points, which in many places are merely accents or extras. And here, at the base of each recipe, I found a dozen things I couldn’t wait to make.
There is so much innovation and inspiration in this book, it would be a shame to miss it over a few shopping hurdles, especially if you’re looking to shake up your salad game. Salads are inherently flexible, tinkering is encouraged; if you can’t get or don’t want to track anything you see here down, make the parts that call to you. This is what I did and it wasn’t three days before I’d made the roasted and pickled cauliflower salad, fell in love with the charred summer squash salad (when you see it, you’ll understand), plotted a dinner with the Vietnamese-style tofu salad at the center very soon, and another with a grainy potato-cucumber salad, and told two people about the “I heart fennel” salad, an unapologetic fronds-to-bulb love letter to the unpopular (but not with me) vegetable.
This watermelon salad, an updated take on classic watermelon and feta, is, as promised, nothing like the book’s version, which includes chysantemum leaves and shiso. I was so enamored with the toasted pepitas, matchsticks of ricotta salata (which is softer and a little mellower than feta), and triangles of watermelon (she includes a cutting guide for this, and many other, vegetables; I have utter confidence in my ability to cut up fruits and vegetables and still learned a few tricks). Fancy leaves? Nah, I used a thinly sliced cucumber; it holds up better in a salad anyway. Olive oil, sea salt, and many grinds of black pepper finish it and the result is so simple but so refreshing, an instant new classic for us I didn’t know I was looking for. Which, after all, is the point of a great cookbook, right?
One year ago: Grilled Pepper and Torn Mozzarella Panzanella and Crispy Spiced Lamb and Lentils
Two years ago: The Consummate Chocolate Chip Cookie, Revisited and Charred Eggplant and Walnut Pesto Pasta Salad
Three years ago: Picnic Pink Lemonade and Crispy Frizzled Artichokes
Four years ago: Coconut Brown Butter Cookies and Pasta and Fried Zucchini Salad
Five years ago: Rhubarb Cream Cheese Hand Pies and Bowties with Sugar Snaps, Lemon and Ricotta
Six years ago: Asparagus with Almonds and Yogurt Dressing and Strawberries and Cream Biscuits
Seven years ago: Fudge Popsicles and Dobos Torte
Eight years ago: Rustic Rhubarb Tarts, Scrambled Egg Toast, and Strawberry Brown Butter Bettys
Nine years ago: Grilled Shrimp Cocktail, Graham Crackers, and Pesto Potato Salad with Green Beans
Ten years ago: Breakfast Apricot Crisp and Dead Simple Slaw
Eleven years ago: Zucchini Carpaccio Salad and Black-Bottom Cupcakes
And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Endive Salad with Toasted Walnuts
1.5 Years Ago: Sheet Pan Spinach Quiche and Chocolate Caramel Crunch Almonds
2.5 Years Ago: Date Breakfast Squares and Parsley Pecorino Biscuits
3.5 Years Ago: Cranberry Pie with Thick Pecan Crumble and Twice-Baked Potatoes with Kale
4.5 Years Ago: Cauliflower with Brown Butter Crumbs and Parsley Leaf Potatoes
Watermelon Cucumber Salad
- About 1/4 a large seedless watermelon or 1 small (mini) watermelon
- 2 small (Perisan-style) seedless cucumber, thinly sliced
- 8 ounces ricotta salata, cut into matchsticks
- 1/4 cup toasted, salted pepitas (hulled pumpkin seeds)
- Olive oil, for drizzling
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepperr
On a large platter, scatter a thick layer of watermelon triangles, followed by a thinner scattering of cucumbers, ricotta salata matchsticks and pepitas. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Repeat this rustic layering and seasoning until your ingredients are used up, finishing with an extra generous drizzle of olive oil. Eat at once!