We were thrilled to recently get our hands on Salads: Beyond the Bowl, cookbook author Mindy Fox’s latest collection of gorgeous and delicious recipes. The Food Editor for La Cucina Italiana magazine, Mindy is a former Saveur staffer, a seasoned author — Salads: Beyond the Bowl is her second solo title, and she has co-authored cookbooks with beloved chefs Sara Jenkins and Karen DeMasco — food writer, stylist, and editor. Her books have won accolades from respected tastemakers such as NPR, and Bon Appétit, Food & Wine and The London Times magazines, to name a few.

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Salads: Beyond the Bowl will resonate with those who love the title dish and anyone interested in incorporating more vegetables into their diets. Many of the stunning yet simple combinations Mindy puts forth include fish or meats, turning salads into hearty meals (Fox reminds readers that animal proteins can be omitted, allowing meat-eaters and vegetarians alike to enjoy every recipe). Guaranteed, after paging through Fox’s extraordinary salads, you will never think of “salad” quite the same way again!

In just a couple of short weeks, we have tried out a number recipes and tips from Salads: Beyond the Bowl, with much delight: using celery leaves as the garnish for a celery salad; quick-pickling red onions to add a touch of zing and remove that onion-y bite before adding them to a salad; playing with variations on Mindy’s tasty “Winter Slaw” by combining red cabbage with nuts or seeds, fresh or dried fruit; and making delicious dressings with flavorful vinegars.

We caught up with Mindy at the end of August for a chat about the harvest and eating salads throughout the year.


OLDWAYS: When did you first start experimenting with salad combinations?
MINDY: I have always loved salad. When I was growing up, my mom used Romaine or iceberg lettuce, because it was the ‘70s and that’s what the supermarket supplied (I still love those varieties, by the way!). But as the years went on, she incorporated arugula, red oak and, really, the full spectrum of gorgeous greens, plus herbs and edible flowers that she grew in our garden. My mom has an amazing green thumb and she’s a great cook; she continues to inspire me and my brother, who is also a professional chef. The ah-ha moment for me regarding salads as a great cookbook topic came from multiple weeknight evenings arriving home from a busy day and wanting something healthy, vibrant, brilliantly simple, and satisfying to eat. I found myself taking everything out of the fridge and putting together anything from a single-ingredient shaved fennel salad with chopped fennel fronds, a glug or two of gorgeous extra-virgin olive oil, and a crumble of flakey sea salt (adding maybe a sectioned blood orange or chopped almonds, if they happened to be around), to more industrious salads, still made with the available fridge and pantry fixins’, like arugula with leftover roast chicken, olives, hearts of palm, or chickpeas and more (you might notice I mentioned arugula twice already; it might be my favorite green, if I could commit to picking just one!).

OLDWAYS: Your vision of salads extends to including vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, eggs, pasta, potatoes, seafood, herbs, and cheese.  Why do you think many of us have trouble getting past the lettuce and tomatoes when it comes to making salad?
MINDY: The way to incorporate more salad into your life—and great salad at that—is to consider a wide array of ingredients, then to go small by using just a few elements that work well together, texturally and flavor-wise. How do you know what to do? By experimenting and playing with ingredients that taste good to you. There isn’t just one right way to make a great salad, and the combinations are nearly endless. Most ingredients that we use all the time can used to make an amazing salad. And it’s helpful not only to think broadly about ingredients for salad making, but also about cuisines. Salads can be French, Italian, Louisianan (really!), Vietnamese, Middle Eastern and so on—these cultures all do wonders with raw and cooked vegetables and meats for salads. Which also brings up the fact that veggies in salads can be raw, cooked, or some of each. So, it’s about opening up your mind to the many possibilities that are right there for the taking. It’s helpful to spend time at farmer’s markets and visiting ethnic grocery shops. I get huge weekly inspiration by looking at both shelf stable and fresh ingredients, and watching what comes as the seasons change. 

OLDWAYS: What common mistakes do you see beginning cooks make in terms of how they choose or treat salad ingredients?
MINDY: It’s helpful to understand several things about salad making, which is a craft just like any other form of cookery. I go into detail with lots of tips in Salads: Beyond the Bowl, including how to purchase, wash and dry ingredients; learning about acid balance with citrus and vinegars; and knowing when and how to toss a salad so that you have lively, super-vibrant greens and other ingredients that are perfectly coated with dressing and not at all soggy. Once you get it down (and it’s only a matter of caring for the food and a little practice!), it’s a breeze.

OLDWAYS: You call for cheese in a number of your salads. What can non-dairy eaters or vegans use as substitutes to approximate the range of flavor or texture in those recipes?
MINDY: If you prefer to omit cheeses or meats or fish from my salads, that’s absolutely fine, especially when the protein is one of several ingredients (versus a two- or three-ingredient salad that might rely more on the animal protein for flavor balance)—the recipes that incorporate animal proteins are flexible (and there are many vegan and vegetarian choices, too). Try the recipes without the proteins, if desired, just like that. I’m not a fan of vegan cheese and meat substitutes. To me they don’t taste terrific and I want all of my ingredients to really shine. Chopping a good salty or smoky nut can be a nice sub for cheeses (because cheese often adds a little salt factor)—and you get a good texture bonus as well.

OLDWAYS: You write in the introduction to your book that you love that there’s always something new to learn about cooking and eating.  What new things have you learned that could be applied to a salad since writing this book?
MINDY: Just this past weekend I found white beets and two different oblong varieties at my farmer’s market; one crimson and the other a deep purple-red. The oblong shapes cut beautifully into very pretty pieces, so I’ll be using those the next time I style a beet dish! And the white beet was gorgeous, too. Both landed in my salads over the last three meals. Later that day, my cousin, Mark, hosted a BBQ; he opened cherrystone clams on the grill and then brushed them with Shriracha-cilantro butter. I already know that Shriracha lends itself to endless deliciousness, but I’d never opened clams on the grill—so easy and fun to do—a very impressive appetizer! Those clams were perfect on their own; they could also be tucked into a mound of simply dressed frisée, or dolloped with a quick corn and summer tomato salad and garnished with chopped cilantro as a shout-out to the butter. A restaurant in Brooklyn, called Battersby, is making what might be the penultimate kale salad, baking the kale until crisp, then plating it with mixed tender herb leaves and shaved carrots and beets, before drizzling a sweet-tart spicy Asian dressing over the top. Wow!

OLDWAYS: We love that you use popcorn in one of your salads. May we have your permission to include that recipe in this blog post?
MINDY: Yes! Popcorn is a fantastic texture element in a salad. I’d be honored to share the recipe.

 

Red Oak Lettuce with Spiced Popcorn, Drunken Cherries, and Goat Gouda
My version of cereal for dinner – when I’m too tired to cook and take-out is not an option – is a simple salad or a big bowl of popcorn. As it turns out, the two work well together. Like nuts and seeds, popcorn can be sprinkled over salads to add flavor and an exciting textural element.

Ingredients:
1 cup dry red wine
½ cup packed dried tart cherries (about 2 ½ ounces)
4 leafy thyme sprigs

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1 teaspoon sugar
Freshly ground black pepper and fine sea salt
⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ cup popcorn kernels
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
½ teaspoon red wine vinegar
¼ teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons very good extra-virgin olive oil
½ pound red oak lettuce
2 ounces goat’s milk Gouda, freshly grated (about ½ cup)

Directions:
In a small saucepan, combine the wine, cherries, thyme, sugar, ¼ teaspoon black pepper, and ⅛ teaspoon salt. Gently simmer the mixture over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally and reducing the heat if necessary to maintain a gentle simmer, until the cherries are plump and the wine is reduced to 2 tablespoons, 20 to 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir together ¼ teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon black pepper, and the cayenne pepper; set aside the spice mixture. Combine the popcorn kernels and vegetable oil in a large deep pot with a lid. Heat over medium-high heat, occasionally swirling the pot to coat the popcorn kernels with oil, until the oil is hot, about 2 minutes, then cover the pot.  When the popcorn kernels start popping, occasionally shake the pot back and forth over the burner until all the kernels have popped. Transfer to a large bowl. Immediately sprinkle the reserved spice mixture over the top and, using 2 large spoons, toss the popcorn to distribute the spices.

When the cherries are ready, strain the liquid through a fine-mesh sieve into a large serving bowl. Spread the cherries on a plate, discarding the thyme.

Add the vinegar, mustard, ⅛ teaspoon salt, and ⅛ teaspoon black pepper to the serving bowl and whisk to combine, then add the oil and vigorously whisk until the dressing is emulsified.

Separate the lettuce leaves, tearing the larger pieces into bite-sized pieces. Add the lettuce to the bowl with the dressing and toss to coat, then add the popcorn and toss once more. Adjust the seasoning, if necessary. Distribute the salad among 4 serving plates, then top with the cherries and cheese.

 

Serves 4


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