Weeknight Vegetarian: Simplifying a summer salad


Grilled Plum and Asian Pear Salad With Radicchio. (Deb Lindsey/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)
Joe Yonan
Editor, Food and Travel July 30, 2013

The idea in the cookbook looked supremely appealing: Grill plum halves, then layer them in a salad of butter lettuce, radicchio, jicama and serrano chili peppers. Drizzle on a sweet-tart dressing and dollop with a basil-flecked ricotta. You can taste it, right?

Sometimes, before you can taste it, the path from book to plate takes more than a few detours. And that’s perfectly okay, as long as you end up with something you enjoy making — and eating.

Joe Yonan is the Food and Travel editor of The Washington Post. He got the cooking bug from his Indiana-born mother who let him use her stand mixer when he was 8 years old because it was cool. View Archive

My detours started when I more closely read the recipe in the lovely book “Plum: Gratifying Vegan Dishes from Seattle’s Plum Bistro,” by Makini Howell (Sasquatch Books, 2013). The ricotta she calls for is a vegan sub-recipe called “Basil Soy Ricotta,” and it entails draining silken tofu, then blending it with fresh and dried basil plus oil, sugar, garlic, lemon and a few more ingredients. For the salad, you take a cup of that and cook it in a skillet for a few minutes to dry it out and make it a little crumbly, to be scattered (not dolloped) on top of the salad before serving.

No offense to the chef-author, but I wasn’t really feeling up to all that, especially because my kitchen was hot, I was hungry, I’m not vegan and I love ricotta and its creamy, rich texture. So I took a turn. The “ricotta” lost its quotation marks, its skillet treatment and more.

My second detour came when the supermarket was fresh out of jicama — but had perfectly ripe Asian pears, whose crunch and slightly watery sweetness has always reminded me of jicama. So I turned again.

The final detour came after I made the dressing of lime juice, olive oil and agave syrup (and simplified the whole thing further by whisking the serrano and lime zest right in with the dressing rather than keeping them separate and requiring the salad to be tossed). I looked at the dressing in one bowl and the ricotta-basil blend in another and thought, why not combine them? Now I had something more like a green goddess dressing, creamy and sweet-tart and spicy, all in one.

Destination achieved: an unconventional summer salad, beautiful to behold and simple to achieve, now that those detours are mapped out. If you want to turn in a different direction, who am I to object?

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