Hannah Palmer Egan
Still life with salad potential
This past weekend, I found myself in Barre reporting a story at the farmers market. I'd never been to this market before, but I was wholly surprised to find one of the best spreads I've seen all season.
Maybe we've crested the summer arc (I fear we have), when farms tip away from growth and toward harvest, producing in almost comical abundance — when fruits hang and ripen on tree and vine; when the tomatoes start to come.
I couldn't stop. First, at Bramble & Berry Farm
(of Plainfield), there were golden currants and gooseberries — gooseberries! I left the currants for next week (and swore I'd return) and grabbed a box of super-tart, plump goosers that make me pucker to just think about.
A couple stalls down, Barre's LePage Family Farm (farmed organically by this family since 1865), had some of the summer's last snap peas, crisp as can be.
Then I really lost it at Bear Roots Farm's
tent. Lemon cucumbers, small and round and just a little tangy, and the first tomatoes I've seen yet this season (I grabbed a couple gorgeous heirloom black krims), midnight-purple basil, and bags of superspicy baby arugula that wasn't even thinking of wilting.
I had no idea what I'd do with it all, but I had to have it.
Then I remembered a salad from a while ago
from the Magnetic Fields' Claudia Gonson. She calls it "Claudia's Crunchy Salad," and the vegetables were begging to be chopped into something similar.
But before we get to the recipe, a few notes.
This is by nature an imprecise salad, meant to be measured in "handsful," which I like to make as huge and heaping as possible. It's sweet from the grapes, sour from the gooseberries and spicy from the arugula, and the cucumbers and peas mellow it all down to a tolerable volume. But everything is super crisp and cut to about the same size.
It's also a salad of the moment, capturing this particular market on this particular day. As I made it with a girlfriend on Saturday, she wondered aloud, "How are you ever going to recreate this?"
But, like most of the recipes I use for Farmers Market Kitchen, it's a flexible dish, and can be tweaked and twisted based on what's available.
Also, once I wrote down the recipe, I realized I called on my (somewhat ridiculous) vinegar collection to create the dressing. The pilot version blends vinegars made with various wines and fruits, infused with cranberry and lemon; a witches' marinade.
But the main idea is simple: use about two parts sour vinegar
(like red wine, apple cider or white), one part sweet vinegar
(plum or sherry), and a splash of balsamic.
Crispy Crunchy Sweet & Sour Salad
For the salad:
2 cups fresh lemon cucumber, cut into 1-inch pieces (regular cucumbers are fine if you can't find the heirloom variety)
1 handful snap peas, strings removed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 medium tomato, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 handful gooseberries, halved
1 handful crisp red grapes, halved
1/2 of a large red onion, diced
1 cup fresh basil, chopped
For the dressing:
2-3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon coconut oil
3-4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1-2 tablespoons ume plum wine vinegar
Splash balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon tamari
Juice of half a lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
6-8 cups (approximately 1 cup per serving/person) baby arugula, washed
3/4 cup blue cheese, crumbled
Cut the fruits and vegetables to size, placing them in a single, large bowl as you do. Pour any liquid from cutting the vegetables into the bowl with them.
Mix the dressing in a separate bowl, then pour over vegetables and stir throughly until all vegetables are coated.
Cover and let sit 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. You'll notice more liquid building up in the bottom of the bowl; cutting the produce allows it to release its juices, and the salty vinegar speeds the process.
Immediately prior to serving, drain most of the liquid from the chopped vegetable bowl into a separate container and reserve; this is your dressing. Taste it before using and add salt to taste.
Place arugula in a salad bowl. Top with approximately 3/4 cup per person (so, if you're making salad for six, 6 x 3/4 cup) of the drained vegetable mixture, and the crumbled cheese, and mix thoroughly, slowly adding the reserved "dressing" liquid until it's very moist but not soaking.
Garnish with a couple gooseberries and more cheese and serve immediately!
You can save the vegetable and dressing mixtures in the fridge for a couple days and re-create the salad if you have leftovers, but as soon as you put the salad over the greens, you'll want to eat it right away and it won't keep very well.