Peachy Early Summer Salads
That are easy peasy, lemon squeezy
IS IT EVEN SUMMER YET? I can never keep up. It certainly felt like it when I got back last week to Atlanta (85 degrees and surly) from my alleged vacation. (Why am I not refreshed?)
Rather than the interstate, I tend to take backroads as often as possible on trips that are not pressing. And despite what has been implied (including in the New York Times), this is not because I am afraid of the freeway, like the kids in Clueless, but because I like seeing a little bit of the planet I live on rather than hour after hour of the backs of 18-wheelers or, worse, the slender treacherous canyon of dark space they leave between one another for me to careen through in search of sunlight while we’re all going 80 mph and they surely have no idea I’m even there and may or may not have been driving with no sleep for 36 hours, hopped up on NoDoz and truck-stop coffee, while playing games on their phones and eating a grinder.
Anyway, on my drive up to Virginia I set the map app on my phone to “avoid highways” and it took me seriously. I ended up meandering through South Carolina peach orchards, just me and field after field of gnarled, squat, elderly peach trees. I saw very few cars, aside from the occasional lonesome work truck or little vehicles pulling connected carts loaded up with gorgeous fruit.
It was lovely; I swerved around stray peaches that had fallen onto the streets; I steeped myself in peaches. It all made me very sentimental about the peach guy I patronized (he got his fruit in South Carolina ever week) back in rural North Carolina and my blackberry guy (whom I passed while driving along the river on my way into town), and my spoon guy (he sold them out of the back of a truck).
And then I immediately I forgot about all of them for a week up in Virginia because I am fickle and I was focused on making peanut soup for Aunt Mariah, who grew up on a peanut farm and feels about peanuts the way I feel about peaches. (You’d think she’d be tired of them by her late 80s, but she and my cousins Toni and Susan still close their eyes when they eat good peanuts, as if they were having them for the first time.)
I’d never made this magical soup before this month, but I’d been thinking about it since I was about 11 years old, when I first tasted it at the King’s Arms Tavern in Williamsburg at Christmas. Here’s the recipe, which I adapted from the Williamsburg Cookbook’s recipe plus a quick glance at a former Virginia Governor’s wife’s terrific vintage cookbook (Dining with the Daltons). It’s absolutely delicious and much easier than I’d been expecting all these decades. Surprise! It’s not a salad but I think you should make it anyway—it’s also quite, quite, quite good served cold.
*RECIPE: Williamsburg Peanut Soup, adapted from the King’s Arms Tavern
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 medium onion, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
3 tablespoons flour
8 cups chicken stock
2 cups smooth peanut butter
1 3/4 cups cream
1 tsp hot pepper sauce, to serve (optional)
Finely chopped salted peanuts, for garnish
Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and celery and cook, stirring, until very soft but not beginning to brown. Stir in flour and cook three minutes longer.
Pour in chicken stock; bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring often, until slightly reduced, about 15 minutes. Pour the soup into a sieve set over a large bowl and strain, pushing on the solids with a spatula to extract every last bit of flavor. Return strained liquid to the sauce pan or pot. (In the photo it looks like there’s celery floating in the soup, but it’s scallions; I had thought they’d make a nice garnish but ultimately decided that I liked it much much better without.)
Whisk peanut butter and cream into liquid. Continue whisking over low heat for about five minutes, being careful not to boil. Serve warm, garnished with chopped peanuts and/or hot sauce if desired. According to one source, peanut soup is “often served with a sippet” (ye olde way of saying a small piece of toasted or fried bread).
It takes two kinds of lettuce (🥬 + $$) to keep the Department of Salad alive. The best way to support us: Punch the green button.
Peaches moved to the front of my brain again when I left Virginia for Asheville, NC, because my friend Julie, whom I was visiting, made us a peach salad for supper, which she’d originally created for a group of friends while she was in Santa Fe. They needed a salad one night—so she just used what was in the garden. It’s perfect. Julie felt like the peaches weren’t quite ripe enough yet, but I was grateful for peaches and didn’t notice anything but their crazy perfume and a pleasant bit of crunch, which I always welcome in a salad. I guess I like things slightly underripe.
Plus, I was mesmerized afresh by the effect that balsamic vinegar has on fruit (especially strawberries, as in this salad) and tomatoes.
As some of you know, I am generally wary of the libertine use of balsamic vinegar, as if it were a main ingredient, especially in “creamy” dressings or reductions or glazes, that often strike me as fudge-like. But this very light treatment charmed me.
In fact, it was so simple and perfect that I made sure I stopped on my way back down at one of the many small peach stands that are now open along Highway 11 in South Carolina. This salad also made me turn my attention toward my own under-explored vinegar collection, which I’ll be discussing soon.
*RECIPE: Julie’s Peach and Tomato Salad, with Balsamic Vinegar
You can assemble this baby according to your own taste, but here’s the ratio Julie used, to get you started. I think the only thing to remember is do not murder the whole thing by drowning it in dressing and don’t overdo the feta, which is a counterpoint rather than the entire composition. Speaking of which: I also built this as a composed salad; it was pretty but I think it expresses its felicities best as a jumble. It’s also delicious with the addition of diced plums.
1/2 large peach per person, cubed (about 2/3 cups) (NOTE from Emily: Use them peeled or unpeeled; I leave it on because it’s beautiful and isn’t that where all the vitamins are?)
2/3 cup sliced grape or cherry tomatoes per person (or 1/2 large tomato, cubed)
1/4 cup (or less) crumbled feta per person (don’t buy it crumbled)
Simple Balsamic Vinaigrette (below)
2-3 large basil leaves per person, torn
Place the peaches, tomatoes, and feta in a large bowl. Drizzle with some of the vinaigrette, toss gently, taste for more dressing. Before serving add the torn basil and toss again. This salad needs flaky sea salt, so don’t leave it out; you can always sprinkle some on at the end if you under-salt the dressing.
Simple Balsamic Vinaigrette: 1 part vinegar to 2 parts olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper
I probably don’t have to tell you that I over-shopped a bit for peaches. I have two conflicting fears: that they’ll be mealy and that I won’t have enough.
So after making Julie’s salad for a little family cookout, I went looking for another easy and glorious peach recipe—to make sure I didn’t let any of my fruit go bad. I found this next beauty in a book called Atlanta Chef’s Table. It’s from the wonderful restaurant Miller Union, where my friend Steve Sidman took me before I moved to Atlanta. I haven’t been back since the pandemic, but that one visit gave me enough sense to know I should jump on this salad, which makes you understand why great chefs get the big money. Simple yet transformative (I want to eat the yogurt dressing on everything). I had no sorrel or any of the fancy fresh sheep’s milk cheese that the chef, Steven Satterfield, employs (brebis), but it was still fabulous with my fairly decent goat’s milk cheese (chèvre), which he mentioned as a substitute.
*RECIPE: Peach, Arugula, and Greek Yogurt Salad, slightly adapted from Miller Union, Atlanta
For the yogurt
¼ cup chèvre (Satterfield uses brebis)
½ cup whole milk Greek yogurt
½ teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon honey
Pinch of sea salt
For the salad
3 cups ripe peaches, peeled, pitted, and sliced
1 tablespoon chopped mint
1 tablespoon chopped basil
1 tablespoon chopped sorrel (NOTE from Emily: I didn’t have this; in fact, I never see sorrel—but arugula is often mentioned as a substitute)
2 bunches arugula (NOTE from Emily: if you’re using baby arugula, 3 big handfuls)
1 ½ teaspoons lemon juice
3 teaspoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
To make the yogurt: In a medium bowl, whisk together the goat cheese, yogurt, lemon zest and juice, honey, and salt until well combined
To make the salad: Divide the yogurt mixture among four shallow bowls. In a medium bowl, combine the peaches, herbs, arugula, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Gently toss to combine and adjust seasoning. Place the peach mixture on top of the yogurt mixture and serve.
🥬 ONE MORE THING We’ve gotten a start on PRINTABLE RECIPES! You’ll start finding downloadable PDF files (SEE THEM? ABOVE?) at the end of each recipe, working backward, until we have them all done. CONFUSED? Check the archive if you lose track of your e-mailed newsletter.
🥬 🥬ALSO, I’M WONDERING: Do you follow me on Instagram? My feed is not a consistent array of uniformly styled photos of perfect food, which I know is what I’m supposed to offer. But I get too bored. So it includes videos of giant pandas loudly eating carrots and personal crap representative of my bad personality. I’d love to have you. Go here: Emily’s Instagram
🥬 🥬🥬 I WAS RECENTLY INFORMED that the Department of Salad is getting too “southern.” I assure you all that I have a bunch of Yankee guests lined up, who’ll be sharing recipes and chatting with us in weird accents, soon.
🥬 🥬🥬 🥬That’s It! We’re done here! As usual, paid subscribers should keep an eye peeled for another treat this week. In the meantime, if you feel like sharing the Department of Salad with friends or family who deserve it, please do so with the buttons below. Thanks for reading.