Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Farmstand Summer Salad

Dear Foodies,

The recipe for this salad was nothing more than putting together ingredients in my market tote. Everything was perfectly fresh, picked right that morning at their peak flavor. There was not much I needed to do to enjoy a good lunch. My neighborhood market is a short 10 min walk from my apartment. It opened the week I moved to the area 3 years ago and though it has changed locations a few times, its still within a 5mi radius. A couple of farms have become market regulars and bring in their fresh produce, likely picked that morning. Even if I don't need groceries for the week I stop by to see whats in season.

Buying veggies and fruit at the market is not necessarily cheaper than at the stores but freshness cannot be beat. More importantly it makes you relearn seasonality charts which are easy to forget when you can buy out of season produce shipped in from around the world at grocery stores. And a bonus if you still need one is finding lesser known varieties of fruits, vegetables and greens that never make it to large scale grocery stores. The lemon basil I used in this salad is a perfect example of that. I'd never heard of it before but the minute I walked up to the table the fragrance from the herb was hard to ignore. It's less peppery than regular basil with a big punch of lemony, floral notes and is perfect in raw preparations.

One other bonus I'm embarrassed to admit is getting my evening snack fix from samples laid out - candy-like tomatoes, crunchy pea pods and sugar snap peas, variety of citrus segments, berries even some fresh pita chips and dip! The difference in taste between produce at the market and grocery store is unbelievable. With a strong CSA subscription and a regular flow of people stopping by to pick up weekly groceries, farmers can confidently harvest produce without any pressures of having to transport them many miles away. Its a perfect win-win for both parties while also establishing a sense of community. I'm usually scrambling to get there by closing time but when I do have a few minutes to chat I get tips on how to cook unfamiliar ingredients, gardening tips to salvage my brown thumb or an extra handful of beans or a sprig of herbs thrown in.

I had some cooked chickpeas on hand and decided to include it to make the salad substantial. I lightly roasted them in a cast iron pan along with a little oil to get them crisp around the edges. I roasted shucked corn as well to add in the salad. If you had an outdoor grill/grill pan you could grill them first instead. I happen to love charred corn flavor but you could skip this entire step and use them raw...choose your favorite method.

I made a simple lemon+olive oil dressing perked up with red pepper flakes and tangy chaat masala for an Indian twist. Any combination of fresh herbs you like should work here. I used cilantro that I always have in my fridge and potent lemon basil from the market. This salad tastes better when made ahead and set aside for at least 30 mins up to a couple of hours. I stored leftovers in the fridge and had it for lunch next day and it tasted really good.

 I used a couple of crunchy Kirby cucumbers in this salad and made a quick pickle out of the rest using this recipe. Some cukes tend to have a bitter edge to them and I use my Dad's trick when prepping to get around it. I begin by slicing off both tips, take one end bit and rub it against the opposite end in a circular motion about 4-5 rounds. Repeat using second end bit on the other end. You'll see a slight foam form around the edges and its supposed to be the bitterness getting drawn out. Wash it under running water and slice as needed. I never cared to research if science backs this up but also don't recollect ending up with a bitter cuke after using this method.
Farmstand Summer Salad
Prep Time - 15 mins
Cook Time - 20 mins
Servings - 2-3 (main) 4-5 (side)

  • 12-15 - Heirloom cherry/grape tomatoes or 2-3 regular sized
  • 1 ear of Corn, shucked
  • 2 - Kirby cucumber (~approx 1 cup diced)
  • 1 cup - Chickpeas, cooked
  • 6-8 - mini Mozzarella balls, halved
  • 1/3 cup - chopped herbs. I used Cilantro and Lemon Basil
  • 1 Tbsp - Oil
  • 1/4 tsp - Turmeric (optional)
  • Dressing - 2 Tbsp Lemon juice, 2 Tbsp - extra virgin Olive oil, 1/2 tsp Salt, 1/4 tsp Black pepper, 1/4 tsp Red pepper flakes (optional), 1/2 tsp Chaat masala
  1. Heat a cast iron pan to medium heat with a tablespoon of oil. Add cooked, drained chickpeas, 1/8 tsp turmeric and roast for 8-10 minutes tossing every few minutes till lightly browned on all sides. 
  2. Whisk together all dressing ingredients in a bowl big enough to hold finished salad. Once chickpeas are done add to bowl and toss gently. 
  3. Add shucked corn to the pan with remaining 1/8 tsp turmeric. Saute for 6-8 mins until lightly charred and add to dressing bowl. 
  4. Allow to cool slightly before adding diced tomatoes, cucumber, herbs and cheese. Toss all ingredients together and adjust seasonings to taste. Cover and set aside for at least 30 mins at room temperature or in the fridge if serving cold. 
  5. Serve with freshly shucked corn as a garnish and toasted bread on the side.
Note: I used turmeric for color and it can be left out if you don't have it. Add chunks of lightly toasted cubed bread for a take on panzanella. Diced avocado, jicama and red onion would also work well here. This salad travels well and can be made ahead for a picnic or potluck.

This salad hits different notes on the flavor and texture palate and only gets better as it marinates in the dressing and fresh tomato juices. Though chaat masala may seem out of place in a salad it pairs perfectly with tomatoes and corn and of course its best friend cilantro and lemon. I made this three times in 10 days and will continue to make it as long as I can get my hand on these fresh ingredients. Its become my favorite lunch to pack and I'm going to miss it once summer is out!

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