Salads For Every Season
When Allana Smith needed a snack during a summer day in her childhood, she would open up the fridge and reach into a bowl of sliced tomato and cucumber. Her fingers would be coated in the same oil and vinegar that dressed the simple, bright salad.
Smith is the owner of FOODsmith Vail, a personal chef and private events company, and she still uses seasonality to inspire her salads.
“When tomatoes are awesome, why not just have a tomato salad, or a tomato mozzarella salad,” she says. “You do that when the product is great — you don’t make a tomato salad in January.”
Smith always likes to add an element of “crunch” to her salads, but that doesn’t always have to mean croutons or nuts. Mindful of food allergies, she often uses puffed rice, pepitas or sunflower seeds to add that crunch without adding gluten or nuts.
“A lot of people love candied nuts, so sometimes that’s a nice way to add some sweetness to a salad,” she concedes.
She also likes to add some sort of fruit to a salad — either dried fruit or citrus supremes in the fall and winter, or fresh fruits like peaches, berries and cherries in the spring and summer.
Fall salads can include seasonal additions like diced butternut squash and more robust cheese like one of Smith’s current favorites: Avalanche Cheese Company’s Midnight Blue. Focus on what Smith refers to as “composed salads” — egg, pasta, coleslaw and tuna salads — when greens are not as easy to get.
When Matt Limbaugh, executive chef at Root & Flower in Vail, creates a new salad, he considers very specific elements: sweet, salty, acid and texture, as well as what is available in the season.
Smith salads are also inspired from ingredients that are seasonally available, and she says mizuna, rocket and arugula do really well in the growing season up here in the Vail Valley. During colder months, she tends to use more bitter greens like endive and radicchio.
She often adds grains like quinoa to salad, and says to use leaves with exposed stems to catch pieces of grains in nooks and crannies of greens.
Within all the variations of salads in every season, Smith says vinaigrette is typically the most important element. Don’t put a heavy vinaigrette on delicate greens, but it’s ok to go a little heavier with heftier textures and flavors.
“If you have a good vinaigrette, you can make any salad taste great,” she says.
No recipe is required for this seasonal salad inspiration from Matt Limbaugh.
Heirloom Tomato and Baby Greens
Baby beet greens, rainbow chard, and nasturtiums mixed with heirloom tomatoes, grilled Olathe sweet corn, avocados and Colorado goat cheese, tossed in a smoked paprika and lime vinaigrette.
Grilled Tuscan kale and brown sugar-roasted pumpkin, shaved speck, pickled persimmon, spiced pepitas, aged sherry vinaigrette and crumble Cambozola cheese.
Baby Spinach and Brussels Sprouts
Baby spinach mixed with pomegranate seeds, pears, toasted hazelnuts, bacon lardons and Brussels sprout leaves, wildflower honey and white balsamic reduction.
Mozzarella and Grilled Asparagus
English peas, grilled asparagus and torn sourdough tossed with watercress, pea tendrils and charred scallion vinaigrette. Serve on fresh Buffalo mozzarella drizzled with olive oil and lemon zest.
Here are some go-to recipes from FOODsmith’s Allana Smith.
Chef’s note: “Every single vinaigrette I make starts with shallots,” says Smith. Here’s her everyday recipe.
2 tablespoons of finely diced shallot
1 teaspoon of kosher salt
1 teaspoon of cracked black pepper
1 cup vinegar of choice (champagne, white balsamic, sherry, red wine, balsamic)
1 ½ cup canola or “blend oil” (blend can be a combination of vegetable or grapeseed oil with olive oil)
½ cup “finishing” oil (can be extra virgin olive oil, olive oil blended with lemon oil or white truffle oil, or a homemade herb oil)
• Combine shallots, salt and pepper with vinegar. Whisk in oils, starting with blend oil, and following with finishing oil. Stop adding oil when vinaigrette tastes balanced: You may/may not need all of the oil.
Option: add additional flavors as desired with ingredients like fresh herbs, spices, preserves, citrus juice or honey. Add them prior to whisking in the oils.
Tomato & Watermelon Salad
Yield: 4 servings
4 medium size heirloom tomatoes (or the equivalent of this quantity using a variety of sizes and types of tomatoes), cut into bite size pieces small seedless watermelon, ½-inch dice
2 handfuls of fresh herbs; mint, basil, chives or cilantro, in any proportion, roughly chopped
2 quarts of local summer greens; mizuna, arugula, purslane, red and green leaf, wild rocket, oak leaf, flashy trout, spinach, red spinach
½ cup of champagne vinaigrette
½ cup of sliced toasted almonds
1 cup of crumbled feta
• Combine tomatoes and watermelon and half of the herbs in a small bowl. Drizzle 2 to 3 tablespoons of vinaigrette on top and combine lightly by hand. Portion out on 4 salad plates, leaving a space in the center.
• Combine greens and rest of herbs with vinaigrette, using only as much as needed to lightly coat. Place in a heap in the center of the plate, on top of the tomato/watermelon mix.
• Sprinkle salad with crumbled feta and toasted almonds.
Nice additions: avocado and cucumber.
2 tablespoons of finely diced shallots
2 teaspoons of salt
2 teaspoons of cracked black pepper
½ cup of champagne vinegar
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
¾ cup of canola oil
¼ cup of olive oil
¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil
• Whisk together shallots, salt, pepper, vinegar and lemon juice until salt is dissolved. Whisk in oils, starting with canola and finishing with extra virgin olive oil. Season to taste.
4 anchovy fillets packed in oil, drained
4 small garlic cloves
2 tablespoons of capers
1 tablespoon of kosher salt
1 tablespoon of freshly ground black pepper
5 large egg yolks
½ cup and + 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice (plus extra to taste)
2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard
• Combine all in a blender (for a smooth creamy dressing) or a food processor (for a dressing with more texture).
1 ½ cups of canola oil
½ cup of olive oil
½ cup of extra virgin olive oil
¼ to ½ cup of water, as needed
• Slowly drizzle oils into the first group of ingredients while blender/food processor is running, starting with the canola oil and working towards the extra virgin olive oil. Pay attention to the consistency of the dressing as you are adding the oils. If you start to notice that the oil is “resting on top of” the other ingredients, instead of being emulsified into the dressing, add a little water to thin the mixture as needed in order to keep the oils and the other ingredients blending together.
• When complete, taste and season, add more lemon juice, salt or pepper in order to adjust to your liking.
This will yield approximately 4 cups of dressing. If well covered in the refrigerator, dressing will hold for roughly 2 weeks.
Greens: Romaine and Kale
• Include as much or as little kale in your salad as you like.
• To cut romaine: remove exterior leaves which are often very dirty, bruised, and generally more bitter tasting. Also, cut off the tips of the leaves as these are also more bitter. Split heads of romaine in half lengthwise, cut into 1-inch-wide pieces, avoiding the core
• To cut kale: Gather 2 or 3 leaves of kale and loosely roll them together. Slice into thin slices, and continue until you reach the end of the leaf. Discard stems.
We typically serve this salad with a combination of both grated and shaved cheeses, most often Vella Dry Jack (grated and tossed with the greens and dressing) and Pecorino Romano (shaved and served on top of the salad).
Other great cheese choices:
4 cups of brioche, ½-inch dice
3 to 4 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon of minced garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
• Toss together, bake at 350˚, approximately 10 minutes until golden, stirring once during baking. Cool.
• Combine cut greens with enough dressing to coat (this is typically a personal preference, but Caesar salad can use more dressing than most salads), a handful of the grated cheese of choice, and a few croutons. Top with shaved cheese and more croutons, as well as an awesome white anchovy if you like them!
Note: One one of the advantages of serving this Caesar salad, especially if you are serving a crowd, is both greens are hearty and will stay crunchy and hold up longer than most “softer” greens.
»By Kim Fuller »photos by charles townsend bessent