Several years ago, I went to a panel event about saving time cooking at a food startup. To warm up the audience, they asked us how much time we spent last night making dinner. 1 hour or less? All hands were raised. 45 minutes? 30? Hands started dropping. 15 minutes? 10? 5? They asked me to lower my hand. I would never call myself a speedy cook, and I had a lot to learn from the chefs on the panel, but I had serendipitously made one of my fastest to prepare meals the night before. After a long day, I had lazily thrown this salad together for dinner.
On steamy summer nights when it's far too hot to cook, this is what I make for dinner. As reliable as a t-shirt and cutoff shorts, it's the meal I've turned to for more than a decade when almost any effort in the kitchen seems like too much.
Sometimes the ingredients change slightly, but they can all be picked up at Trader Joe's and carried home in a single tote bag. A bag of pre-washed spinach and baby tomatoes saves prep time. Drizzling olive oil from the marinated mozzarella plus balsamic vinegar makes for a flavorful dressing without effort. I like adding some herbs when I have them on hand and a crushed, seeded crackers to make a salad that is reminiscent of a Caprese or a Fattoush salad.
Think of this as more of a formula than a recipe. All measurements are meant as suggestions to enable you to work faster, without having to clean additional bowls and utensils. You can scale the ingredients up for a more substantial meal, or down for a side but I've found that roughly half a bag of spinach makes a solid summer meal for me. —Joni Goldbach
What You'll Need
bag of baby spinach
soft herb leaves such as basil, mint, and parsley (optional)
cherry or grape tomatoes
Marinated fresh mozzarella balls
Norwegian Crispbread crackers (or another densely seeded crackers)
Split a bag of spinach between two plates or generously-sized bowls. Pluck a few herb leaves, and sprinkle over each. Basil, mint, parsley, or any other soft-leaved herbs in any combination will do.
Drizzle about 1 tablespoon of Balsamic vinegar and 2 tablespoons of oil from the marinated mozzarella balls over each salad. No need to be precise -- stop when it seems about right to you.
Toss a generous handful of tomatoes and 5-6 mozzarella balls on each salad. Break a crispbread cracker into bite-sized pieces on top and serve.