We're Ignoring Autumn Salads, for Now
But we got you this nice Thai
NOW THAT WE’RE BARRELING FULL SPEED AHEAD on the ever-narrowing, ever-darkening road to winter (I’m fine! It’s fine. I’ll get a SAD lamp), I’m feeling stubborn, slamming on the brakes. I’m also skipping ahead by fantasizing about the warming Technicolor vibes of citrus season. Here’s my first paean to the excellent fruit. Expect another after Christmas. Maybe before.
It’s completely inappropriate. What have I got to complain about? I live in Georgia now, where enduring the winters is like going to a spa. Plus, I have responsibilities now—namely, this newsletter.
I should have my mind on the iconic, often obligatory, but also quite delicious AUTUMNAL SALAD. (You can find my early version at the end of this early issue of the newsletter).
I can’t quite go there yet, even though fall salads are so comforting. But I am beginning to turn my focus toward stocking my larder and yours with salad jewelry. By which I mean the sparky prizes you may use to adorn a salad, especially in winter, to pull it together, the way a pretty necklace does a familiar outfit.
I’m talking about crisp bread crumbs, both plain and flavored (try the herbed Parmesan ones in this issue), croutons (try some from our entire issue about croutons, featuring the terrific Chandra Ram), and more croutons (try the shaved Brussels sprouts salad in this issue), toasted nuts, smoky frizzled onions, granola, big cheeses in small chunks, and dried fruits of all kinds. I’m also talking about mixing sparkier dressings that take risks with knockout spices.
I’m sorry, but we’re entering the time of You Can’t Just Slice Some Gorgeous Tomatoes and Expect Applause. You have to do a little more work now. But just a little.
Which brings me to a fairly new salad-ingredient area for me, pickles and preserves. They turn salads that may have begun to feel too familiar into something snazzy.
Domenica Marchetti, the author of seven Italian cookbooks, a culinary tour guide, and an Italian cooking teacher, inspired me by using her own Sweet and Sour Winter Preserved Squash to gorgeous effect in her recipe for her Aunt Gilda’s sumptuous Insalata di Riso, in this issue.
And recently I got especially excited about the topic while reading the Michelin-starred Chicago chef Paul Virant’s absolutely wonderful book, The Preservation Kitchen. Many years ago, soon after he’d opened his first restaurant, Vie, in suburban Western Springs, I’d had a chicken dish containing some of his homemade pickles. I wrote about food for the Chicago Tribune at the time, and immediately invited myself to take an extremely memorable peek into his preserves room at Vie.
The Department of Salad is a reader-supported exploration and celebration of salad in all its many forms, with recipes. Both free and paid subscriptions are available. The best way to support the DOS and the boys in the lab is to take out a paid subscription.
In Virant’s book, his description of that space captures so beautifully why we need pickles and preserves when the world turns cold.
When I need inspiration, I head upstairs and take inventory. Each visit provides me with a snapshot of the growing seasons. Early spring yields light-green baby artichokes, white turnips, and jars of lemon preserves. Army-green ramps and asparagus soon follow trailed by glossy pints of strawberry jam. Summer starts out slowly, a few pickled green beans, some snappy snow peas, a batch of giardiniera. By the end of September, however, the shelves bulge, emanating primary colors as carrots, dill pickles, peppers, eggplant, peaches, porcini, cherries, summer squash, and tomatoes—lots and lots of tomatoes—compete for attention. Then comes autumn, a subdued time when ruby-hued cranberries and winter squashes quietly signal an end to the harvest.
HOWEVER: As much as I love pickles, I have not become an experienced pickle maker or a preserver. I always tell myself that I’m “not really set up” for the process in my kitchen, regardless of where I’ve lived or how large my kitchen has been. So many excuses.
So next week, to start slowly segueing into the art, we’re going to be talking to Virant here in the salad lab. We’ll have a few recipes, as well as more in-depth ways to bedazzle your winter salads.
But today, in a completely unrelated turn of my magpie heart, I’m tackling zero pickle dishes in lieu of one of the many “international” salads the boys in the lab have been encouraging me to feature, the classic Thai green papaya salad, which I’ve had only in Thai restaurants. Its crunch, tart spiciness, and umami undertones light up the pickle area of my brain.
So it seems like a step in the right direction.
It’s one of those dishes I’ve always loved but always assumed I “couldn’t” make. My excuse was probably: I can’t find green papayas. Except, guess what, they’re available at Publix. And tamarind juice! (I found some tamarind paste, and diluted it with a bit of water, but there are plenty of acceptable substitutes, including a mixture of lime and brown sugar. Also, it’s not absolutely necessary, but I do dig the tartness.) And the long beans (aka snake beans)? You can substitute green beans/haricots verts.
It turns out I loved making this dish at home more than I like eating it in restaurants. It’s so fresh, the papaya stays crunchy, and I was in control of the heat, tartness (I add extra lime and some lime zest because I love it so much), and peanut dosage. Plus, I could eat as much as I wanted without ordering an entree.
The recipe below reflects those preferences, chosen from many recipes I found in cookbooks and online—which, to be quite honest, vary not much at all. I guess that’s why they call it a classic recipe.
I bought a shredder online a while ago, but you can also julienne the papaya by hand, of course.
*RECIPE: Stay-at-Home Green Papaya Salad
4 cups shredded green papaya (this was about half a medium green papaya; I shredded the whole thing with my fantastic hand shredder and am keeping it in the fridge to make another salad)
2-3 cloves garlic, cut into pieces
2 fresh Thai bird chilies, stems removed (or an equivalent, such as Serrano; use more to taste but be careful)
3-4 tablespoons roasted peanuts
1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar
Half a large lime, juice and zest; plus 4 lime wedges for serving
2 tablespoons fish sauce (I like Red Boat, but use what you have)
OPTIONAL: 1/4 teaspoon shrimp paste or 2 teaspoons dried baby shrimp; I happened to have the shrimp paste)
OPTIONAL: 1/2 teaspoon tamarind concentrate (pomegranate molasses is a good substitute)
1 tablespoon water
1/2 teaspoon salt (more to taste, after dressing the salad)
8 cherry or grape tomatoes halved (more if you feel like it)
4 or so Chinese long beans, cut into 2-inch pieces (more if you feel like it; I like a lot)
Place the shredded papaya in a bowl of ice water and set aside.
Using a blender (I used my bullet blender) or a mortar and pestle, blend (or smash) together all the remaining ingredients—except for the tomatoes and long beans.
Place the dressing in a large bowl. Add the tomatoes and long beans and mash/pound them a bit using a large wooden spoon or your pestle. Don’t obliterate them, just bang them up.
Drain the papaya well and add to the bowl, tossing to coat with the dressing.
Serve immediately, topped with extra crushed peanuts and lime wedges.
THAT’S IT. WE’RE DONE HERE. Midweek, paid subscribers will receive their usual salady prizes. If you feel like sharing the Department of Salad with friends or family who deserve it, you may do so by using the buttons below. Thanks for reading; see you soon.