The Salad Days of Summer – Mindy Style

27 Aug

As Labor Day makes its “My gourd, how did that happen so fast?” rapid approach, I’m eyeballing the veggies and such from my dad’s garden and my local greenmarket with increasing amounts of hoarder’s greed. And thinking a little extra about my mom.

See, my mom used to make great salads. Nothing fancy, I guess — we still ate the middle-class expecteds of iceberg lettuce drizzled in Good Seasons salad dressing, but her greens always went above and beyond what I’d get at my friends’ houses at dinner, if there was salad at all.

My mom’s salads were ever-chock full of fun surprises — bits of salami and provolone cheese, quartered artichoke hearts, plump, pitted olives, always seasoned beyond the Good Seasons and tossed, properly, with tongs, so each bit and bite had a little bit of dressing, a bit of this, a bit of that. We also ate the salad last, post meal. A kind of “voila!” finale, maybe with an extra piece of Italian bread to sop up the oil and vinegar and herbs. And I remember always really, really looking forward to that, and wondering, as an adult, how I lost that tradition along the way.

Somehow, salads started to feel like an afterthought. Or a pill. Or just a bunch of extra work when all I really wanted to do was eat a bowl of pasta in front of the TV while watching Glee and call it a night.

But I miss salads. Which maybe — or, well, not maybe; certainly — is also a little bit about missing my mom and the care she put into the things she did. “I love you; here’s a nice salad I made!” Seriously, what’s nicer than that?

There’s a great book that hit shelves this summer, and it’s written by a friend of mine, Mindy Fox. I knew she’d been working furiously on a follow-up to her great and much-used in my house book, A Bird in the Oven and Then Some. But as it happens in New York, or any big city or town for that matter, it’s easy to get caught up in the grind and lose track of what your friends are up to.

Both food writers, Mindy and I met through a mutual chef friend and his wife a few years ago, and learned on that first meeting over salted, buttered radishes and wine that we were born on the same day in the same year, and were married to our respective husbands only a day apart, as well. The joke between became that we were twins — except, well, she’s tall and blonde and blue-eyed and just really lovely and I’m… shorter. And not blonde. And not blue-eyed. Still, I’d take her as a sister any time. Especially if it meant I’d get to have her cook for me more.

Which brings me to the topic at hand today. Mindy’s new book, Salads: Beyond the Bowl (Kyle Books, $19.95). I have spent pretty much this entire summer preparing what’s in it. It not only feeds my produce-hoarder tendencies, but for those of you who have fallen into the salad-as-afterthought rut, I guarantee you will be  inspired far and beyond the bowl. I was.

Some of the recipes are sidedishes, some are stand-alones; all are a tangle of texture, flavor, and color. I’ve mixed and matched them, getting excited about one dish and taking pieces and combining them with something else I had on hand, which is another really great aspect of the book: It’s utterly approachable. It’s not the kind of book that makes you feel fenced in to rarified ingredients or strict parameters. Follow the recipes to the letter and you’ll be thrilled with the results; diverge using what you have on hand as subsitutes and you’ll still be excited with what you put on the table. Like Mindy’s addictive, super-summery zucchini and corn salad. In her book, the recipe pairs it with an amazing crab-stuffed grilled squid, but I had some great skirt steak on hand one night and used it as a sidedish for that, such a perfect complement to the smoky meat with its snappy greens and sweet crunch of fresh corn. I’ve also just made it and eaten it with a little grilled shrimp on top as a supper salad all on its own.

Another favorite – her recipe for warm Mediterranean-inspired tuna brochettes over fresh cilantro-spiked tomatoes. It’s the kind of dish that feels simultaneously good for you and healthy, and yet a little decadent thanks to the velvety, flavorful tuna and sweet, summery tomatoes – everywhere in all their bright, chubby red glory right now. I also can’t get enough of the (easy and VERY impressive!) Roman spiced, bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin (hello, pork-on-pork!) with sweet roasted grapes and bright, bitter arugula, topped with Marcona almonds. Hot damn.

I have many more recipes to make from this book, and I’m constantly satiated and surprised as I work through it. Which another great bit about this: It’s a workhorse book. Full of impressive dishes you can make for one or a dinner party for 12, I’m finding it pretty indispensible. As the sun is starting wane in the summery sky, it’s helping me not just to make use of what I’ve got (a problem sometimes when I’m feeling less than inspired and my dad has sent me home with, say, 5 enormous zucchini), but to re-discover and celebrate a sidedish – and now, sometimes, main dish – that I used to love. The salad days, I think, might be back for good. And maybe Mindy isn’t exactly my twin, but she’s re-gifted me something my mom gave me years ago, and if that’s not some good, crunchy sisterly karma, I don’t know what it.

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One Response to “The Salad Days of Summer – Mindy Style”

  1. Michele Morcey Henderlite August 27, 2012 at 7:13 pm #

    I love this! I’m always looking for new salad ideas and it looks like I’ll find some inspiration here.

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