Let me ask you this – do you think about salad? Do you crave it? When you serve yourself from the salad bowl, does a small mountain of greens appear on your salad plate?
If your answer is no, then this post will probably not make much sense to you. No judgment; I understand if you say no. Bad salad runs the gamut from agonizingly boring to downright disgusting. In restaurants, especially in un-veg-friendly restaurants, salad is often my only choice. I feel like I have had them all and most of them are bad.
I have always thought of myself as a good salad maker. We eat one with our dinner several nights a week (or more) and I made endless varieties in the three years I worked as a personal chef. But I have now met my salad match. This recipe which, as you will see below, is one I am obsessed with. I can’t get enough. My dear friend and former neighbor Julie brought this over for an impromptu dinner this past spring and I have asked her to make it several times since then. I have also started making it on my own although I never like it as much as when Julie makes it. You might not know Julie but you probably know Ashley and this salad is originally her creation.
Each post I write suffers through several edits. In an early version of this one, I totally geeked out. I detailed out what Julie and I agree upon and what we do differently and where we both stray from Ashley’s original vision. It was not, ahem, interesting reading. So let me just streamline it for you and then offer you the recipe for how I make The Salad, which is how Julie and I refer to it.
Some musts: Good lettuce – Julie is partial to the butter lettuce mix at Trader Joe’s, I am obsessed with the basketball size heads I find at my farmers’ market. I buy two of those babies and they last me all week. A high proportion of herbs to lettuce is necessary – I say 1 part herbs to 3 parts lettuce and Julie uses even more. Dill must be in there as well as tarragon – otherwise use whatever you have growing in your garden or whatever bits and pieces are lying in your crisper drawer. Radishes lend a wonderful bite here but if you want them to be on the mellower side, do as Julie does and slice them with a mandoline. If you prefer more crunch and more bitterness, thinly slice them with a knife. Yes, it makes a difference. Yes, I am a salad geek. Finally, once everything is in the bowl but before you dress the salad, sprinkle a healthy pinch of kosher salt over the leaves. Lettuce is a vegetable and vegetables need salt – this step will make this or any salad taste loads better and will require less dressing.
Some options: On our Lopez trip last weekend, I found the sweetest English peas I have ever tasted and couldn’t resist buying a huge bag of them. I added them raw to the salad and they fit in perfectly with the mix. I have since started adding thawed frozen peas and am kind of on the fence about whether I want them in there or not. Since fresh peas are probably long gone from your markets, keep this step in mind for next spring. Julie adds nubs of goat cheese to the greens and while I do love the cheese in there, I think it is equally delicious without. Use about 2-3 ounces of the soft stuff for salad for 4. (She also made it once with a log of herb studded goat cheese on the side so that people could serve up however much cheese they wanted onto their plate. Genius.) Ashley makes her dressing with a bit of crème fraîche, Julie doesn’t, I’ve tried it both ways and also with an egg yolk instead of the crème fraîche. All good. Just make sure your proportion of vinegar is higher than a traditional vinaigrette. You want a lot of bite here.
So yes, I have written 692 words about salad. You probably think I am crazy, obsessed, or just downright weird. Try it and then decide. You can find Ashley’s original post about this salad and much better photos here.
You might spy a couple of sliced olives on my salad plate. I had a handful left over from making the kids pizza and thought I would throw them in. Mistake. With the possible exception of the peas, this salad needs no embellishment from other “stuff”. The amounts here are obviously fluid – Randy and I polish off this amount between the two of us. Finally – finally! – Julie chops her lettuce so that the overall feel is more like a chopped salad, but I can’t bring myself to take a knife to those beautiful leaves so I tear them into big pieces.
For the salad
1 head soft butter lettuce, leaves washed and torn, spun dry
One cup roughly chopped herbs, such as tarragon, mint, dill, basil, chives, etc.
4 large radishes, thinly sliced
1 medium avocado, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 small handful fresh peas, optional
For the dressing
1 egg yolk
2 tbsp. water
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
¼ cup Champagne vinegar
1 tsp. honey
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
¾ cup olive oil
1 large shallot, minced
Make the dressing
Place the egg yolk, water, mustard, vinegar, honey, a large pinch of salt, and a few grinds of pepper in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Whir to combine. Open the feed tube and slowly add the olive oil and process until the dressing thickens. Stop and taste adjust seasoning to your taste with more honey, salt, pepper, or vinegar. Pour the dressing into a bowl and stir in the shallots. (This recipe will make more dressing than you need for one salad. Cover and store in the refrigerator. I keep my dressing in recycled salsa or jam jar with a lid. Good for shaking.)
Make the salad
Place the lettuce, herbs, radishes, avocado, and peas in a large bowl. Sprinkle the whole mix with a pinch of kosher salt. Pour on the dressing carefully (you probably won’t need much) and toss gently to combine. Serve right away.