My Favourite Summer Salad (adaptable for winter, too!)

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Leave it to me to post my favourite summer salad on the 20th of September, right?

But it’s still warm here in São João do Estoril, Portugal, and more importantly, couve (cabbage) is in season, while couves de bruxelas (Brussels sprouts) are not.

This salad originated at the wonderful food blog Love & Lemons, where it was featured as an only-seven-ingredient Shaved Brussels Sprout Salad. [Although it really really originated on our pal Karen’s Facebook page, which was what tipped the bride to the recipe.] Needless to say, when my betrothed first prepared it, I was sceptical. Maybe even dubious. But it was terrific, and light, and whenever she made it, we dove into our bowls like a pair of Tasmanian Devils on a meth bender. Brussels sprouts are a seasonal thing round these parts, though, and the frozen sprouts are not a good substitute — much like Christopher Lloyd, they are fairly unshavable.

Fortunately, cabbage — Savoy, or green, or red, or some combination of the three — is a highly acceptable stand-in during those months when sprouts are on the outs. And the absolutely brilliant bit about this salad (in either form) is that it will keep overnight in the fridge without going all wilty. Plus, even I can make it, which means that even you can make it. If you can operate a knife, a spoon, a whisk, and a bowl, you’re good to go.

Okay, I lied. You’re going to have to toast some slivered almonds. Trust me, it’s worth it. You can do it in the oven, or like I did, on the stovetop in a dry frying pan. Here’s a good article about the different ways of achieving this miracle of aromatic nuttiness. And yes, you’re probably — no, if my experience is any guide, definitely — going to overtoast on occasion. The good news is that, unless they’re blackened, the almonds can almost always go in the salad and work just fine.

Don’t burn your nuts.

My other favourite thing is that the salad hits every taste note: the cranberries bring sweetness, the feta is salty, the lemon has acid, the chives contribute a bit of herbaceousness to the mix, the cabbage and toasted almonds have a slightly bitter edge, and the olive oil adds umami. I’m going to sound like a bit of a broken record to longtime readers here, but I implore you to use the best olive oil you can get your hands on, and it’s worth squeezing fresh lemons for the dressing — if you can get hold of Meyer lemons, even better!

Feel free to adjust the amounts — and even ingredients — to suit your palate. Some folks prefer Parmesan or another salty cheese to Feta, and that’s just fine. No chives? Maybe you have some green onions. Walnuts rather than almonds? Go right ahead. Pomegranate seeds rather than dried cranberries? Okay. But please do give this version a go before you start your own mods, because the bride and I feel like we hit on a really good balance of elements.

INGREDIENTS

1 small (or 1/2 large) head of cabbage
240g / 1.5 cups dried sweetened cranberries (often marketed in the US as Craisins)
1 small bunch / 20g chives, finely chopped (scallions will work in a pinch)
400g / 14 oz. feta cheese, cubed or crumbled (if there’s not too much water in the pkg, you can add it to the salad)
150g / 1 cup toasted slivered almonds
FOR THE DRESSING
150ml / 5 oz. fresh-squeezed lemon juice (or about 2 lemons)
150ml / 5 oz. extra virgin olive oil (equal to lemon juice)

DIRECTIONS
Toast the almonds [see above for method(s)], and set aside to cool. Using a cleaver or large knife, shred the leafy part of the cabbage (food processors shred too finely for this salad). The solid center stalk can be discarded or julienned for use in the salad (I did the latter). Place in a large bowl. Add the dried cranberries. Chop the chives, and add them to the bowl. Crumble or dice the feta, and add it to the bowl (you can give this all a stir if you wish). Add the cooled toasted almonds.

Simple dressing — EVOO and lemon juice.

Squeeze juice of two lemons into a 500 ml / 2 cup or larger measuring cup, then add an equal amount of extra virgin olive oil. Whisk the two together for about 20-30 seconds to emulsify. Pour dressing over salad, taking care not to overdress. Toss salad so it is completely coated. For best results, return salad to refrigerator for 1-2 hours to cool. Re-toss salad immediately before serving.

Gazpacho, pacho man! I want to be a gazpacho man!

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With croutons, parsley, and cilantro.

Still summer, still hot. Time again for a simple cold soup (many call it “liquid salad”), perfect for that moment your garden is in its annual throes of tomatorrhea, when your plants imitate the ketchup bottle in Richard Armour‘s famous poem: “none will come / and then a lot’ll.” Even if you don’t grow your own tomatoes, local supermercados, feiras, and grocery stores will be happy to provide you with a cornucopia of ingredients.

This particular verion of gazpacho was built from a foundation laid by the Spanish chef and international hero, José Andrés, and published in the Washington Post. I guarantee that if you follow his instructions to the letter, you will have an excellent bowl of soup, if slightly different from the one offered here.

Some people claim that the word gazpacho originated in Arabic, others say it came from Greek; the Real Academia de la Lengua Española, which is the final word on Spanish words, has come down firmly in the camp of “we aren’t sure.” One thing that IS clear is that the modern version of red gazpacho dates back no further than the 16th century, because the Old World (although they didn’t know it) was waiting for Columbus to bring back tomatoes and peppers. [Rock fans know this from the Neon Park illustration on the cover of Little Feat‘s album Waiting for Columbus. But I digress.]

[One further digression: other scholars assert that Hernán Cortés, not Columbus, introduced the Peruvian tomato to Spain in 1521. Regardless of who performed the introduction, it was widely embraced.]

Most culinary historians date gazpacho’s birth sometime between the 8th and 15th centuries, when the Ottoman Empire’s reach extended to Spain; others credit the Moors with a roughly contemporaneous version. Still others say an early precursor dates to the Roman Empire, and there are even some who push the date back as far as the Biblical book of Ruth. One thing that virtually all of them agree on, though, is that the first person to publish a recipe for it was the chief confectioner at the court of the Spanish kings Felipe V and Fernando VI, Juan de la Mata.

Looks good for being nearly 300 years old.

His treatise, Arte de Repostería (Art of Confectionery), was published in 1747 and is still studied. Even at that late date, tomato had not gained the preeminence it has today, and de la Mata’s recipe called for bread, water, anchovy bones, garlic cloves, vinegar, sugar, salt, and oil. [For more on the history of gazpacho, I commend the James Beard Award-winning author Clifford A. Wright, who not only has his observations on the origins of this delightful soup, but recipes as well.]

Throughout its ancestral home of Andalucia, and indeed throughout the entire Iberian peninsula, gazpacho evinces itself in a wide variety of textures and flavour profiles. Some are chunky, others puréed; some feature tomato and some don’t; certain cooks absolutely insist that bread crumbs have to be in the mix, while others are happy to incorporate such exotic flavours as watermelon or avocado. So my advice to you would be to keep an open mind, paw through a bunch of recipes, and find the one that zings the strings of your papillae.

Please don’t feel any sense of shame if you use canned tomatoes rather than fresh; some days, the local crop may be woody or just plain bland, and the canned option (particularly if fire-roasted) may yield a better finished product. But please do use the best olive oil and vinegar that your budget will allow. My last batch contained some artisanal olive oil we purchased directly from the producer in Marvão, just barely on the Portuguese side of the Spanish border. The vinegar was hand-carried home from Brauerai Gegenbauer in Vienna, and their products are just crazy great. You can use a good Sherry vinegar, but I like to add some Gegenbauer tomato vinegar to a glug of Lustau Sherry, both for the sweetness and the rounded texture.

As is true with many of my recipes, this is merely one of a gaggle of routes to the destination of yum. To usurp (and slightly corrupt) the title of a famous book/movie, Eat, Play, Love.

INGREDIENTS

1 liter / 4 cups polpa de tomate/tomato sauce (a combination of tomato paste and tomato juice can be substituted)
390g / 14 oz. can chopped tomatoes (check to see if salted or not)
600g / 21 oz. Padrón peppers (shishito peppers can be substituted)
1 cucumber, peeled and chopped (seeding optional)
5-6 cloves garlic (but I’m a garlic fiend, so you may want fewer)
100ml / 3.5 oz Sherry
250ml / 14 oz. extra virgin olive oil
100ml / 3.5 oz vinegar
Optional toppings/add-ins: croutons, parsley, diced tomato or bell pepper, toasted almonds, piri-piri sauce or Tabasco, cilantro

DIRECTIONS
Put all the ingredients into a blender. Blend on medium until desired texture is reached. Transfer to pitcher and chill (both you and the soup) for at least 2-3 hours to allow flavours to meld (the garlic may not completely mellow out until the following day). Garnish as the spirit moves. Serve.