Written and photographed by Pascale Beale for Edible Santa Barbara
‘The essence of a good salad is simplicity. Clean, bright flavors that, when brought together, bring out the best in one another’ —Chuck Williams
It’s funny how the snippet of a song, an aroma, or an object can elicit a distinct memory. That memory in turn triggers a series of images and suddenly, you’re plunged down the rabbit hole of reminiscences. Seeing my mum’s salad bowl in her kitchen recently did just that. It’s a large, well-used, well-loved olive wood bowl, it’s patina rich and deep in color that has developed since my parents received it as a wedding present in 1961. I thought about all the houses that bowl has lived in, all the meals it’s been present at. If bowls could talk, that bowl could tell you a story or two!
It stood pride of place in the middle of her extravagant multi-course dinner parties and was always present on our Sunday lunch table filled with bright green, carefully washed and prepared greens. I’d spy it sitting on the counter, vinaigrette made, the salad waiting to be tossed. It was rarely used for anything other than a green salad, but that’s where my love affair with all things salad began. All these thoughts flashed through my mind as I watched her make a salad for us in the very same bowl.
I realized that we didn’t really make mixed salads, other than a salade niçoise or perhaps an endives-Roquefort-walnut salad when I was growing up. Salads were invariably green, perhaps with a few herbs (mostly parsley) and chives, and always served after the main course as a light, refreshing, cleansing interlude, before cheese, and/or dessert. It wasn’t until I moved to California that I discovered a different type of salad altogether, and the idea that one could be served as a main course. When I arrived in Los Angeles, I ate the (now famous) grilled vegetable salad at The Ivy. It was a deliciously succulent revelation, filled with warm grilled zucchini, corn, butter lettuce, little tomatoes, and a lime vinaigrette. It was abundant and satisfying. I discovered chopped salads, chef’s salads, Caesar salads with grilled chicken or salmon, kale and avocado salads, Waldorf salad, and green goddess and thousand island dressing. This was a whole new world of salad, and I was smitten.
I started experimenting with different vegetables, then added assorted fruit (something the French side of my family still finds weird) to my salads. The abundance of extraordinary stone fruit, herbs and mixed greens at the farmers markets are not just a feast for the eyes, but also for the palette. Combine ripe juicy heirloom tomatoes with sliced white peaches, some fresh mint and basil and a drizzle of lemon vinaigrette for example, and you have the taste of summer in every mouthful. The possibilities I realized were endless, particularly in summer when the last thing anyone wants to do is spend hours in a hot kitchen cooking.
British food writer Elizabeth David once wrote ‘Summer cooking implies a sense of immediacy, a capacity to capture the essence of a fleeting moment.’ I am reminded of this comment every time I eat a perfectly ripe Tuscan melon, its sweet perfume lingering in the air, or bite into rich juicy tomato, or a lusciously soft fig. Little plump cherries and cherry tomatoes are, I discovered, a perfect complement to each other but they only coexist for a few short weeks each year when they are both at the acme. This is the essence of the season, and how better to capture this than to serve it up, in all its freshness, in one’s favorite receptacle. This is uncomplicated food that celebrates the season.
My summer cooking strategy now consists of grabbing a few of my favorite bowls and platters and filling them with an assortment of salads. This is the perfect recipe for impromptu lunches and dinners. I try and include one dish that has a warm element in it such as grilled vegetables, use a variety of textures (crunchy crisp salads as well softer green salads) and perhaps add a protein to one of them, such as a smoked fish, eggs quinoa, chickpeas, or lentils. There are few meals I like more than a table covered with an assortment of gorgeous dishes, including (as I cannot stray too far away from my roots) a green salad, served in a big wooden bowl, with lots of herbs too!
Summer Peach Salad
During a podcast conversation with Todd Shulkin for In Julia’s Kitchen during the Taste of Santa Barbara last year, we discussed amongst other things how walking through a farmer’s market can be so inspirational. This salad was created that same day after finding all these delicious summer treats at the Farmer’s Market including heavenly peaches dripping with juicy sweetness, purple amaranth, the color adds a vibrant pop to any dish, Provencal styled goat cheese, blistered almonds, and masses of fragrant herbs. My basket was overflowing with the abundance of the summer! This was the result.
Serves 4 people
2 white peaches — pitted and sliced
2 yellow peaches — pitted and sliced
1/3 cup toasted or blistered almonds
Small handful of fresh basil leaves — purple, lemon or Thai or a mix
Small handful of fresh mint leaves
1 oz fresh amaranth
1 small round goat cheese (2 oz) sliced
For the vinaigrette:
¼ cup basil olive oil, or a good fruity olive oil
1 tablespoon champagne vinegar
Pinch of sea salt
Grilled Corn Salad with Pine Nut Pesto
I grew up in London, where, for the majority of the year, the weather could best be described as dismal and damp. Not weather conducive to barbecues. In fact, we didn’t own one, so anything grilled took on a slightly exotic feel, and was something to look forward to.
The first time I ate grilled corn was at a picnic-cum-barbecue in my grandparent’s garden in France. These were elaborate affairs. The women in the family prepared prodigious amounts of food. The men in the family all gave their opinions about the proper techniques to achieve the perfect braise (the moment when the charcoal is at its optimum) and how long each item should be cooked for. A playful banter ping-ponged back and forth between them, until finally everything was ready, shouts of a table echoed in the garden, and all the kids came scampering to devour their hard work. The corn would be served with salted butter melting down its charred golden sides. This has always been the taste of summer for me, and this salad is a little tribute to those magical, carefree days.
Serves 8 people
For the salad:
3 ears fresh corn — shucked
8 oz mixed salad greens
8 oz yellow carrots — peeled and thinly sliced
8 radishes — ends trimmed, then thinly sliced
¼ cup cilantro leaves
For the pesto:
¼ cup pine nuts
3 tablespoons finely chopped chives
¼ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
Large pinch of salt
8-10 grinds of black pepper
Green Tomato and Toasted Pepitas Salad
I have tried, in vain, to grow these beautiful green tomatoes. I adore their color, texture, and flavor, particularly the Green Zebra and Aunt Ruby varieties. Every year I plant some, convinced that I have finally mastered their cultivation, but alas, once again, they have eluded me. Fortunately, very talented, local farmers grow them with enviable ease, and I snap them up when I see them at the market. This salad shows these tomatoes off in all their glory with the sautéed pepitas adding a lovely delicate, nutty flavor to the dish.
Be sure to use green tomato varieties in this salad, not tomatoes which are green because they are not ripe.
Serves 8 people
6-8 green heirloom tomatoes — thinly sliced horizontally
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/3 cup raw pepitas (raw sunflower seeds)
1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
¼ cup assorted microgreens
Pinch of sea salt
5-6 grinds black pepper
1 tablespoon basil olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (fig balsamic if possible)
Roasted White Peaches with Lavender and Crème Fraîche
This is an unbelievably easy dessert to make. Perfect for summer days when you don’t want to spend too much time in the kitchen, or you have some unexpected guests for dinner. You can substitute any stone fruit here, nectarines are terrific, or try a mix. In the recipe the fruit are topped with crème fraiche, but you can use a spoonful of Greek yogurt or ice cream if you prefer. The sliced almonds add a crunchy counterpoint to the soft texture of the fruit and cream.
Serves 4 people
4 peaches — pitted and cut into eighths
1 tablespoon floral honey
1 tablespoon sugar
3 sprigs lavender — flowers removed and finely chopped
1/3 cup crème fraiche