April 18, 2019
In Support of a Wilty Salad
ModernCooksYear_p1831

When it comes to salad greens, a kiss of heat can be a good thing.

Conventional salad wisdom says, “Salad should be cold.” It warns you not to let your greens encounter the briefest contact with heat, lest they lose their crisp cell structure and devolve into pure slime. It instills in you such a fear of wilting that you refrain from dressing your salads until 10 seconds before your guests plan to eat it.

For a long time, I subscribed to this wisdom. And then one day I realized: Wilting is not always a bad thing. It can be a really, really good thing.

My gateway drug, a few years ago, was a kale salad from Anna Jones’s A Modern Way to Eat. Going against current raw kale salad logic, Jones has you think about the salad sort of like a sheet pan dinner. You toss kale leaves with coconut chips and a tiny bit of soy sauce on a sheet pan, and then stick it all in a hot oven just long enough for the coconut chips to turn light brown and the kale to turn soft and malleable in some spots, and a little charred in others. Then the whole thing is tossed with softened cherry tomatoes and a nutty miso dressing.

In addition to being much easier to chew than most standard-issue massaged kale I’ve had, it brought out a whole new range of kale flavors. As Jones reveals, “Popped in the oven, it brings out this really, really lovely deep savoriness to it that you don’t get any other way.”

In her latest book, The Modern Cook’s Year, Jones employs a similar wilting-is-good philosophy with roasted savoy squash, a lettuce-filled spring stew, and flash-roasted little gems. Jones also loves to quarter lettuces and cabbages to throw on the grill for a few minutes. As she says, “I think charring is something that lots of chefs use in restaurants, but I think we’re quite scared to use when we cook at home. But it is actually that kind of missing element.”

I put this charred-lettuce ethos to work recently with a head of romaine. A little nervous that the whole thing would become a soggy heap without the dry heat of a grill, I turned the oven up as high as it would go and laid the lettuce halves on an olive-oil-brushed sheet pan. Five minutes later, as hoped, the cut edges were singed brown, and the whole thing was softened enough to soak up dressing while keeping its crunch. It was enough to make a hot-lettuce convert out of me.

First photo by Ana Cuba. Second photo by Brian Ferry.

Ingredients

  • 14 ounces cherry tomatoes
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • olive oil
  • 2 unwaxed limes
  • 1 head of green or purple kale, stalks removed, leaves roughly torn into bite-size pieces
  • a handful of unsweetened shaved or dried coconut
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce or tamari 
  • FOR THE DRESSING
  • a thumb-size piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon white miso paste
  • 1 tablespoon tahini
  • 1 tablespoon honey or agave syrup
  • 1 tablespoon coconut or olive oil
  • 1 red chile, finely chopped

In A Modern Way to Eat, Anna Jones writes about the changing ways we find ourselves eating, taking a refreshing new look at vegetarian cooking.

Roasted kale is a revelation. Here I’ve paired it with sweet roasted tomatoes, coconut, and a quick miso dressing. Roasting this wonderful brassica gives a deep savory flavor and an amazing crunchy texture, not too far away from the Chinese-restaurant crispy seaweed of my childhood.

During the winter months, I eat kale most days. I love its mineral-y sweetness. It’s good roasted, sautéed, steamed, blanched, slow-baked to a crisp, and even eaten raw. It’s a super-hardy plant with bubbly-looking fronds that provide us with some green freshness when all the other greens are taking the winter off. The most common kale is curly kale, and it’s the one found in most grocers and supermarkets, but deep-green dinosaur kale and the majestic purple kale work, too.

To make this a more substantial meal, you could add a handful or two of cooked quinoa or pearl barley.

  1. Preheat your oven to 425°F.
  2. Halve the tomatoes and place them on a baking tray with some salt and pepper, a good drizzle of olive oil, the zest of both limes, and the juice of one. Roast for 20 minutes until blistered and golden. 
  3. Next, pile the kale on to a baking tray with the coconut. Pour over the soy sauce and toss well until everything is coated. Roast in the oven with the tomatoes for the last 5 to 10 minutes of their cooking time, until crisp. 
  4. Meanwhile, mix all the dressing ingredients together in a bowl with the juice of the second lime. Taste and add a little more seasoning or lime juice if needed, letting your taste buds guide you—remember, the dressing will be less punchy once it hits the salad. Pull the kale and tomatoes out of the oven and transfer to a big bowl. Toss with the miso dressing, adding a little at a time and tasting as you go, and serve still warm.

Ingredients

  • 1 small delicata or butternut squash (about 1 pound/500 g)
  • 1 savoy cabbage (about 14 ounces/400 g), tough outer leaves removed
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seeds
  • 2 thin slices rye bread
  • 2 tablespoons baby capers, drained
  • 3 ½ ounces (100 g) good sharp cheddar, crumbled (1 cup)
  • For the Dressing
  • 1 tablespoon whole-wheat mustard
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons good extra-virgin olive or canola oil

In the colder months of the year, I find it all too easy to lean on Asian, Indian, or Mexican flavors to perk me up and create a bit of excitement when the offerings of the season have become a bit monotonous. But truthfully, at this time of year I want simple British flavors most, and this salad sings with them. The sometimes forgotten savoy cabbage is roasted into crisp-edged wedges, more pleasing to me than the now ever-present roasted broccoli or kale, and paired with plump roasted squash, caraway seeds, a rye crumb, and a mustard-spiked dressing, all finished with a crumble of sharp cheddar (though vegans can happily leave this out). This dish is so rooted in time and place, and that’s when eating and cooking feels best to me.

  1. Preheat the oven 425°F (220°C).
  2. Halve and deseed the squash and cut into wedges 3⁄4 inch (2 cm) thick. Cut your cabbage into eight chunky wedges. Place them both on a large baking sheet and sprinkle with a good amount of salt and pepper. Add a good drizzle of oil and the caraway seeds and roast in the hot oven for 35 minutes until the squash is soft and cooked through and the cabbage is golden and crisp and charred at the edges.
  3. Meanwhile, put the rye bread into a food processor and blitz until you have rough bread crumbs—you still want a good bit of texture here. Put the crumbs on a baking sheet with a drizzle of olive oil, a good pinch of salt, a generous grind of black pepper, and the capers. Toast in the hot oven for 5 minutes, until the crumbs smell toasty and have a pleasing crunch, being careful not to burn them—with the dark color of the rye bread, it can be easy to overcook them.
  4. Mix the dressing ingredients, season well, and put to one side.
  5. When the cabbage and squash are cooked, take them out of the oven and pour onto a platter with the cheddar. Drizzle generously with the dressing, mix well, then scatter over the rye crumbs and take to the table.

Ingredients

  • 8 thin green Turkish peppers
  • 4 red onions, cut into thin wedges
  • 8 fava bean pods
  • 4 bunches Little Gem lettuce, halved
  • 1 bunch of radishes
  • 1 bunch of scallions
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Turkish chile powder (pul biber)
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 7 ounces (200 g) feta
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) (400 g) can of chickpeas, drained
  • Zest and juice of 1 unwaxed lemon
  • small bunch of thyme
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • Yogurt Flatbread (recipe follows)
  • For the Dressing
  • small bunch of mint
  • small bunch of dill
  • small bunch of flat-leaf parsley
  • Splash of white wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon maple syrup
  • Yogurt Flatbread (Makes 4)
  • 1 ⅔ cup (200 g) plain flour (I use spelt), plus extra for dusting
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¾ cups (200 g) Greek yogurt, or 10 tablespoons (150 ml) warm water

It may seem a bit unusual to roast fava beans in their pods, but do give it a try. The pods sweeten, soften, and char all at once, keeping the sweet little beans nestled safely inside, and you can eat the whole pod so nothing is wasted. I use the long, thin, pale,
lime-green Turkish peppers here as they are readily available in the market near where I live, but if you can’t find them, then a couple of normal green peppers, deseeded and cut into chunky strips, will do. I like to use jarred chickpeas, as I find them to be more carefully cooked and hence more tender than canned. The pulses tend to be bigger than those in the 14.5-ounce (400 g) cans, so use about 10.5 ounces (300 g) of drained jarred chickpeas, if you can get your hands on them.

    Yogurt Flatbread

  1. Put all the ingredients into the bowl of your food processor and pulse until the mixture forms a ball. If you don’t have a food processor, this can be done in a bowl using a fork to begin with, followed by your hands; it will just take a little longer.
  2. Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface dusted with flour and knead for a minute or so, to bring it all together. Put the dough into a flour-dusted bowl and cover with a plate. Put to one side to rise a little for 10 to 15 minutes. Don’t expect it to rise like normal dough, but it may puff up a tiny bit.
  3. Dust another clean work surface and rolling pin with flour, then divide the dough into four equal pieces. Using your hands, pat and flatten out the dough, then use the rolling pin to roll each piece into a disk roughly 8 inches (20 cm) in diameter and 1⁄8-inch (2–3-mm) thick.
  4. To cook in a frying pan: Warm a frying pan or griddle that’s a bit larger than your flatbread over medium heat. Once your pan is nicely hot, cook each flatbread for 1 to 2 minutes on each side, until nicely puffed up and golden in places, turning it with tongs.
  5. To cook on a barbecue: Once your barbecue flames have died down but it’s still good and hot, cook each flatbread for 1 to 2 minutes on each side, turning with tongs, until nicely puffed up, and a little charred.

Flash-Roasted Green Veg

  1. Preheat your oven to 425°F (220°C).
  2. Put all the vegetables on a baking sheet—you may need two if you have smaller ones—then season liberally with salt and pepper and sprinkle over 2 good pinches of the pul biber. Drizzle generously with olive oil and put into the very hot oven to roast for 25 minutes. You want the oven to be quite fiercely hot, so that everything will char. Turn your vegetables a couple of times while they cook.
  3. On another baking sheet, lay the whole block of feta on one side and the chickpeas on the other. Drizzle a splash of oil over the chickpeas and toss to coat. Top the feta with a little more pul biber, half the lemon zest, and the thyme tips. Put this into the oven on the rack underneath the veg.
  4. Meanwhile, make the dressing. Chop all the herbs and put them in a bowl with the remaining lemon zest and almost all the juice, plus 4 tablespoons of olive oil, the vinegar, and the maple syrup.
  5. When the vegetables are nearly done, squeeze the last of the lemon juice over the top, scatter with the garlic, and return the baking sheet to the oven for a couple of minutes.
  6. Serve the roasted vegetables, topped with chickpeas, chunks of feta, the herb dressing, and Turkish flatbread.

Ingredients

  • 3½ cups (400 g) radishes, halved
  • 14 ounces (400 g) new potatoes, halved
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 unwaxed lemon
  • Sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon golden honey
  • 2 (14.5 ounces) (400-g) cans of Puy lentils, drained and dried on paper towels
  • 3½ tablespoons (50 ml) buttermilk or thin plain yogurt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 handfuls of sorrel leaves

This is a very cheerful dinner. Radishes and potatoes are roasted in a little honey and lemon to exaggerate their sweetness, offset
by the crispy roast lentils. I use my favorite spring leaf here, sorrel. Its bright lemony flavor makes you sit up when you take a mouthful. This recipe is everything I want in the winter, brightness that somehow makes your mouth water. If you can’t get hold of sorrel, scrunch a couple of handfuls of spinach together with the juice of half a lemon and roughly shred. Scatter over the top in place of the sorrel. It won’t be quite as pretty, but it will taste great. Look out for the long breakfast radishes here or the unusual purple ones; they will add some extra-good looks. The flavors in the salad are subtle, so be sure to season it carefully.

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C). Pour the radishes and potatoes into a baking sheet with a tablespoon of the olive oil, the juice from half the lemon, the honey, and some salt.
  2. On a separate baking sheet, mix the lentils with a generous pinch of salt, another tablespoon of olive oil, and the zest of the lemon.
  3. Place the baking sheet with the radishes and potatoes in the oven for 30 minutes, giving it a shake once or twice during the roasting time. With 15 minutes to go, add the baking sheet with the lentils to the oven. After 15 minutes they should be crispy and beginning to blister in places, and the radishes and potatoes should be soft and brown at the edges.
  4. Meanwhile, make the dressing by whisking the buttermilk with a good squeeze of the other half of lemon and the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Season well with salt and pepper, taste, and add more lemon if you like and set aside.
  5. Once the lentils and radishes have had their time, remove from the oven and mix everything in rough layers on a large platter with the sorrel, then drizzle the buttermilk dressing over the top.

Anna Hezel

Anna Hezel is the senior editor of TASTE.

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