Spring is the time for beautiful braising greens and tender, sweet lettuces. The tops of the beets fall in the first category and would be wonderful wilted down in a simple pasta but the roasted roots of the beets are an earthy companion to all the many lettuces of Spring. I love the complex interplay that a nice salad offers…crunchy textures, acidity, bitter lettuces, bright herbs, creamy dressings and naturally sweet vegetables. Once you are comfortable with a few techniques, salads are very easy to throw together, very adaptable to the season’s harvest and are a healthy and tasty meal by themselves.
A salad built on beautiful vegetables needs a great dressing to tie it all together. The Cashew & Green Garlic Dressing described below is a fantastic recipe for your back pocket and also just so happens to be vegan. The dressing can also be made into a luxurious dip for raw vegetables. Just use half the water the recipe calls for.
The beauty of a good salad is that they provide a canvas for improvisation. No daikon…add radish or cucumber. Looking for a little more substance…throw in a ripe avocado or a hard-boiled egg. Mix up the lettuces for even more variance…sweet Gem leaves, delicate Red Oak or succulent Butterhead. You can also substitute almonds for the cashews in the recipe. This salad is great on its own or you can serve it with a whole grilled chicken for a perfect meal.
8 ounces Mixed lettuces
1 bunch Beets, tops removed and reserved for another use
1-2 each Purple Daikon
1-2 each Spring Onions, sliced thin
¼ cup Mint leaves
1 ½ teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
1 ½ t. Olive oil
¼ t. Salt
1 cup Cashews
2-3 stalks Green Garlic
½ c. (100 g) Olive oil
½ teaspoon Salt
½ c. Water
3 Tablespoon Apple Cider Vinegar
1 t. Soy sauce
Black Pepper, freshly cracked
½ cup Cashews
½ cup Breadcrumbs, toasted
¼ teaspoon Caraway, toasted and ground
1 Tablespoon Flaxseed
¼ teaspoon Salt Black pepper, freshly cracked
1. The night before you plan to make the salad, soak 1 cup of the Cashews in 3 cups of cold water. Cover the container and leave on your counter overnight.
2. Make the dressing. The next day, drain the cashews and rinse. Thinly slice your green garlic into rounds. You are looking to yield ⅓ cup of sliced garlic. Place both the green garlic and olive oil into a small saucepan and place on a med-low heat. Simmer just until the garlic is soft. Remove from the heat and let the garlic cool in the oil to room temperature. Once garlic is cool, place the garlic/oil mixture into the base of a blender. To that add your rinsed cashews and the remainder of your Dressing ingredients. Blend on high speed for 5 minutes until the dressing is thick and creamy. Taste and adjust the seasoning to your preference.
3. Roast your beets. Preheat your oven to 375°F. Place the beets in a single layer in a small roasting pan. Toss with 2 pinches of salt and add a ½ cup of water. Wrap in foil and roast for about 50 minutes. Beets are done when they are easily pierced with a paring knife and offer just the smallest amount of resistance. Cool the beets to room temperature and peel. Once cool, cut beets into bite size pieces and marinate with the Apple cider vinegar, olive oil, salt and fresh black pepper.
4. Make the cashew topping. Dry toast the remaining ½ cup of cashews in the oven until golden brown, approximately 8-10 minutes. Once cool, finely chop the nuts. In a small bowl, mix together the chopped cashews, toasted breadcrumbs, caraway and flaxseed. Season with salt and fresh black pepper.
5. Plating your salad. On a plate, layer all your ingredients as if you were making a pizza. Start with the beets, followed by the lettuces, torn mint, sliced spring onions, and daikon. Give the salad a healthy drizzle of the Cashew Dressing. Season the whole salad with a sprinkling of salt and fresh pepper. Finish the salad with a good flourish of the crispy Cashew topping.
Michael Joyce is a Philly-based chef and local food advocate. Spending his career in kitchens devoted to seasonality and sustainability such as Blue Hill, Bolete Restaurant and most recently Barbuzzo. He believes that cooking through the seasons and as close to the source as possible, is not only satisfying and inspiring, but critical to the health of our local communities.