No matter how beguiling and colorful my salad dreams may be, when the hectic swirl of weeknight dinner begins, I routinely ditch them for plain greens tossed with lemon juice and olive oil. Adding a grated garlic clove to the dressing is the height of my after-work ambitions.
Happily, this never happens to Ilene Rosen, whose cookbook, “Saladish,” came out in March. Rosen, a co-owner of R&D Foods in Brooklyn, does for salads what Brooks Headley did for veggie burgers: elevates them from the quotidian to the thrilling.
Rosen became obsessed with salads when she was the savory chef at City Bakery, down the block from the Union Square Greenmarket.
“I’d see all this beautiful produce piled up, and I was never satisfied with two little bags,” she said. “I’d have to buy it by the case and figure out what to do with it.”
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Much experimentation later, there’s nothing she’s uncomfortable putting in a salad, as long as the combination makes sense — though, she adds, “what makes sense to me might be more broadly defined than to most people.”
Case in point: her salad of tofu skins, edamame, Chinese preserved cabbage and raw mustard greens. It sounds bizarre, tastes wonderful: silky, tangy, crunchy and very fresh.
Other recipes are more intuitive, though they still have surprising twists. To a simple salad of zucchini ribbons and squash blossoms, she adds slivers of Gouda for creaminess, pumpkin seeds for crunch and dandelion greens for what she describes as “the fluffy factor.”
Her red potato salad is layered with chorizo and roasted grapes. She tosses red cabbage with chickpeas and tahini for a rich, multitextured slaw.
But what really inspired me was her take on dips for crudités, which I’m going to incorporate into my next Passover Seder. After dipping the greens, herbs and vegetables into the requisite salt water (symbolizing the tears of the enslaved Israelites), I plan to leave the vegetables on the table during dinner, and bring out several of Rosen’s recipes for continued dipping.
There’s her sweet lime salt, an intriguing combination of sugar, salt and grated lime zest for sprinkling on cucumbers, radishes and the like; a luscious avocado-mint cream; and a tangy cilantro cumin dip that also would make a good sauce for the gefilte fish.
None of this may sound strictly like salad, but that’s Rosen’s point. And it’s saladish enough for me.
Yield: 1 1/4 cups
Total time: 10 minutes
1 large ripe avocado
5 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves
Pinch cayenne pepper
Sea salt, to taste
Pit the avocado and scoop the flesh into the bowl of a food processor or into a blender. Add the lemon juice, mint, cayenne and 1/4 cup water and pulse to purée. If desired, add more water to thin the dip. Add salt to taste.
Transfer to a serving bowl, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. This is best served on the day it is made.
Lime-Sugar Dipping Salt
Yield: 3/4 cup
Total time: 5 minutes
1/4 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup sugar
Stir salt and sugar together in a small bowl. Zest limes directly into salt-sugar mixture. Using your fingers, rub together to grind the zest more finely.
Transfer to a tightly sealed container until ready to serve. Dipping salt can be prepared up to a week in advance and stored at room temperature.
Yield: 1 1/2 cups
Total time: 20 minutes
1/2 cup neutral oil, such as grapeseed or safflower
5 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 1/2 cups fresh cilantro
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon seasoned rice vinegar or additional rice vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Fine sea salt, to taste
Sugar or other sweetener, to taste
Pour oil into a small saucepan and add cumin seeds. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat and simmer very gently for 10 minutes. Let cool.
Put cilantro, vinegars, mustard and cayenne in the bowl of a food processor or in a blender and pulse to combine. With the motor running, drizzle in the cooled cumin oil and seeds until the mixture is emulsified and the color lightens.
Taste and add salt and sugar as needed. Pulse once more and transfer to a serving bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.