A Super-Fresh, Super-Riffable Spring Salad, Straight From Our Food Stylist

A season-ready dish that also happens to be very wine-friendly.

May  8, 2020
Photo by Rocky Luten

We've partnered with Imagery Wine Collection—a portfolio of unique, artistically inspired wines that put a twist on tradition—to share a crunchy-creamy spring salad recipe from Food Stylist Anna Billingskog, plus the wines she likes to drink alongside it.

Anna Billingskog—our beloved food stylist and recipe developer—is a force. When she's not dreaming about lush, beautiful produce, she's thinking about garnishes galore to put the finishing touch on a plate, twirling spaghetti into a picture-perfect nest, and making sure maple syrup-drizzled pancakes don't look soggy. In short, she's a culinary wizard.

Anna spends a lot of time thinking about other people's recipes, but what does she like to cook for herself at home? Especially now that we're all spending more time at home and in the kitchen than ever.

This spring, she said, salads are her go-to.

Her favorite combo: a mix of herbs, bitter greens, and vegetables tossed in a puckery lemon-mustard dressing, set atop a zesty labneh spread.

"The inspiration for this salad is all the things that come up right at the beginning of spring," she says. "This time of year is when you see the first hints of color and produce, so I consider color and try to include as much of it as possible when putting this dish together."

Ever-changing, the combination of vegetables will vary depending on what's available to purchase (or what happens to be lying around the fridge). Since what's stocked at grocery stores is more of a question mark than usual at the moment, this riffability is key. If you can't find something on the ingredients list, you can easily swap in something else; you'll just want to keep a few guidelines in mind to make sure the textures stay balanced.

"It's always nice to have something kind of grounding, like a root vegetable," she explains; in this version, for example, she uses baby beets. "You can supplement it with other hearty veg or beans (think: roasted carrots, canned chickpeas, or kohlrabi). And try to add something that is more light and soft, like herbs, if you can."

Photo by Rocky Luten

To make the salad feel special without even breaking a sweat, Anna has a few expert tips on assembly. She suggests that when putting the plate together, you'll want to start by spreading the labneh on the base—using it on the bottom keeps it from weighing down the greens.

To achieve those picturesque swoops and swooshes with the labneh, Anna uses this trick when plating: Make a loose figure-eight motion as you spread it with a spoon. An extra drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle of Aleppo pepper adds a bit more depth and a touch of color. And if the whole thing looks less than perfect, keep one thing in mind, she adds: "It's all gonna be covered in salad, so if you mess up and don't love it, you can hide it with greens."

Imagery Wine Collection's Chardonnay has a bright, crisp style that complements the salad's zippy dressing. Photo by Rocky Luten

Speaking of greens, to keep all the vegetables in the salad looking super vibrant, she quickly dunks them in an ice-water bath. To make sure they don't get overly damp or wilty afterward, she'll "fluff" them with a towel to dry them off before tossing with the dressing.

If you've got frozen peas or edamame in the freezer, those could make a nice addition, too. "I would prep them by thawing a handful in a medium bowl covered with several inches of water, let them sit in there until soft, then dry before incorporating," she says.

To complete the dish, she'll pour herself a glass of Chardonnay. “The sharpness of the dressing with all that lemon makes a nice match to the wine's subtle hints of oak," she says. "I think those contrasts complement each other."

But on the weekends, when she has more time to turn lunch or dinner into an occasion, she'll add a few extra touches. The first: a crunchy prosciutto chip topping (aka slices of prosciutto baked until crisp). "It's an easy, fancy-looking trick that I used a lot as a private chef and keep in my back pocket," she says.

She'll also whip up a batch of grilled flatbreads that get sprinkled with flaky salt and rosemary (bonus: they also require minimal prep time). If you don't have (or can't find) flour to make fresh flatbread, you could also grill thick slices of day-old bread for a simple swap. "You can even use the bread to make your own very loose tartines by swiping up the sauce on the bottom and stacking it with greens and vegetables from the salad," Anna adds.

If you go this route, Anna suggests trying it with a Pinot Noir. "Meat and red wine always get paired together, and this is a case where you're having a protein, but it's not meat-forward—it's still about the vegetables," she explains. "A lighter red wine, like a Pinot Noir, is a nice match for this type of salad because it won't overpower the flavors in the dish."

Imagery Wine Collection's Pinot Noir has beautiful expressions of fresh red fruit and a bright acidity that makes it an A+ match for this prosciutto chip-topped salad. Photo by Rocky Luten

Whichever preparation you go with, a mandolin is your best friend if you want uniformly sliced vegetables. "It's fast, and if you don't have the greatest knife skills, it gives an immediate professional look to what you're doing," she explains.

For the dinnerware, she likes to use a plate with a little bit of lip so that "you can have a sauce and pile the salad high" without having to worry about bits and bobs falling off the side. "We like to call it a 'blate' [a bowl/plate hybrid] on set," she says. Really, though, any plate or bowl you have on hand will do.

But no matter which way you serve this dish, she adds, don't stress too much about the presentation—the most important thing is to enjoy the process of cooking and preparing yourself (and whoever's at home with you) something that's both nourishing and delicious.

What's your favorite salad combo? Tell us in the comments below!

We've partnered with Imagery Wine Collection—makers of creative, flavorful wines perfect for pairing—to share a springy dish, straight from our food stylist: a bright, zesty salad you can riff on using what you've got in the kitchen. When making this salad any night of the week, Imagery Wine Collection's Chardonnay makes the perfect match—the brightness of the lemony dressing plays well with the wine's crisp, citrusy flavors. Treating yourself to a special weekend meal? Top the salad with crunchy prosciutto chips and serve with grilled flatbread, plus Imagery Wine Collection's Pinot Noir, which is balanced by savory notes of oak and round tannins. The best part: You can have both wines delivered straight to your door.

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Erin Alexander is the Brand Partnerships Editor at Food52, covering pop culture, travel, foods of the internet, and all things #sponsored. Formerly at Men’s Journal, Men’s Fitness, Us Weekly, and Hearst, she currently lives in New York City.