Salad: A Safe Space for Playing with Your Food

October 16, 2015

We've paired up with McCormick Gourmet to show how a freshly-stocked spice cabinet makes on-the-fly cooking and holiday meal planning easier (and more flavorful).

Today, proof that a good salad recipe is shallow water for fooling around.

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How many times have you made the plum torte? What about Marcella’s tomato sauce? If I told you my answers, you'd think I was showing off, so instead I'll tell you I've made the same granola recipe maybe one million times, this egg salad two million times, and the carrot avocado salad from ABC Kitchen precisely three million.

Good recipes are the best. They're comforting and confidence-building in their routine and sameness. They're like only doing the crossword puzzle on Monday. There comes a point, though, when your confidence is so ballooned—your knowledge of a recipe so expert—that you start flirting with interpretation. For me, it takes a while to get to this point by choice (usually it's default due to poor planning), but I've found salad recipes to be shallow water for fooling around.

Take this carrot avocado salad, which Kristen deemed genius enough to go in her book. It produces tender, spiced carrots and a dressing that's part roasted citrus, part fresh citrus. It's novel, but cradled by the fact that roasted vegetables are achievable no matter how sleepy you are and that salads with citrus-heady dressings are good, no matter what that liquid needs to drown.

So I went rogue every moment I could. I skipped Tuesday through Saturday and went for the Sunday crossword. And I did it three times over, to make a point—and more salad.

The choice of vegetables, spices, citrus, dressing adds, and doodads were all futzed with to create three salads that are very different from each other (details below)—to prove that the salad as a food form is a buffer from disastrous interpretive cooking. So make these salads—or don’t: Head to your spice cabinet, your veg drawer, and every other part of your kitchen and grab ingredients that could vaguely resemble a salad at some point, perhaps post-roasting. Hold onto this recipe—or the beet, squash-chickpea, or cauliflower-fennel variations that came of it—but not too tightly.

Next: Play.

Spiced Beet Salad with Citrus-Ginger Dressing

Cover beets with Indian spices—mustard seeds, coriander, turmeric, pepper flakes—plus grapefruit and lime juice. After they come out of the oven, the citrus starts a zingy ginger dressing. A dollop of Greek yogurt mellows, mint adds brightness, and pistachios crunch. 

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.


Cauliflower Fennel Salad with Roasted Lemon and Shallot Salsa Verde

The smoked paprika cauliflower and fennel, arugula, and toasted almond combo is good, but the salsa verde is what shines so bright here. Roasted shallots and lemon slices (yes, rind and all) give this salsa verde new depth, but don't worry, there's the token parsley, mint, capers, and anchovy, too.  

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.


Roast Squash and Chickpea Salad with Orange-Tahini Dressing

This one takes cues from Moro's genius salad, with cilantro and red onion and a tahini-citrus dressing, but the squash and chickpeas get a lot more fall spices and the dressing is mellowed by roasted orange. 

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by James Ransom

How would you riff on these salads? Tell us in the comments!

We've paired up with McCormick Gourmet to share everyday dishes (and snacks) that do double-duty on your holiday table. See all of their herbs and spices here

The All for Farmers Market

We’ve joined forces with Tillamook to support All For Farmers—a coalition benefiting farmers across the nation—with a special market that gives back. Featuring Shop all-stars and a limited-edition Five Two apron, a portion of proceeds from every purchase supports American Farmland Trust’s Brighter Future Fund.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Janet McGee
    Janet McGee
  • Avon Leekley
    Avon Leekley
Editor/writer/stylist. Last name rhymes with bagel.


Janet M. November 20, 2015
I love your title! Very eye-catching.
Avon L. October 31, 2015
Thank you Ali... keep up the good work. Your ideas are fresh and inspiring and your warm personality shines thru. Mrs Leekley