This salad was a pretty happy accident. It’s inspired by one that Melanie showed me how to make years ago, that I’ve been making faithfully every summer since. But I made a few changes to it this time, mostly because I didn’t have everything on hand and sometimes I just cannot bear to get in the car and go to the store. Especially when we have so much growing out back at the moment. You’ll see by the only photo I snapped, we (I) devoured it.
We’ve been trying to have Sunday dinner as a family in the backyard. I love it. But sometimes I don’t start prepping in time and before we know it it’s 5:30 and the kids need to eat and it’s overwhelming to try to feed 4 of us in 1/2 an hour. But I was determined last Sunday. I started prepping early in the day (slicing and salting zucchini, boiling french lentils) and by 5 I was throwing together this salad. The original recipe calls for tomatoes (and squash, basil, and walnuts), but I didn’t have them. And was starting to despair that it wouldn’t be delicious enough to even eat, let alone BLOG.
And then kitchen magic happened. It was a true necessity = invention moment. Be warned, as per my ongoing discussions with Jamie via Instagram, my recipes are loose. But believe in your own approximate measurements! You can always add salt or acid at the end if you need it. And note, you need an hour of resting time for the zucchini before you can move ahead with the salad so plan accordingly. Here goes:
First zucchini of summer salad
(You know, when you’re crazy excited to eat them?)
3-4 zucchini and squash
coarse sea salt
1 big-ish shallot, minced
lemon juice and/or white wine vinegar
pinch of sugar (maybe, I kind of forget)
yummy olive oil
chopped, toasted walnuts
mint, basil, or any other herbs you have around
Thinly slice zucchini and squash, preferably with a mandolin. I do this right into the colander, but if you don’t, set the slices in a colander and then sprinkle with coarse sea salt. Let sit for an hour (or more), preferably in the sink or over a plate to collect the drips. At this point I like to wander off and do something else for a while, especially if I’ve started the squash early enough in the day. But you could just plunge ahead with your prep.
While the zukes are resting, make the dressing. Combine the shallot and vinegar with a hearty pinch of sea salt in a large bowl. How much vinegar? Enough to generously cover the shallots. You’re making enough dressing for the whole salad, so however much you think you need. (Do you hate me? I would.) Now, I normally use lemon juice here. But I didn’t have a lemon so I decided to be brave and try vinegar. It’s possible that this is the key, I’m not sure. But I do encourage you to try the vinegar if you’re up for it. If you prefer lemon, you can go for that too. I usually do.
Let the shallots macerate in the vinegar for 10 minutes or so. Again, longer is fine. I’m mostly sure I added a teeny bit of sugar to the mixture too because I was afraid of the vinegar. Give it a go, I bet it won’t hurt. When the shallots have sufficiently softened, whisk in a few glugs of good quality olive oil. Whisk whisk whisk. Then taste. If it tastes good, time to move on! If it needs a bit more of something, add it.
You’ll probably finish the dressing well before the squash is ready. If so, do something else. Or you could prep the other ingredients so it’s not a mad, messy rush at the end. How novel! One day I will learn about that. Wash and pick through arugula (straight out of the garden is the best, but it comes with caterpillars and dirt and such). Toast the walnuts. Clean and chop the herbs. Or leave them whole if you’re lazy like me.
When you’re ready to move on, rinse the salt from the zucchini. Re-whisk the dressing if it’s been sitting too long. Add the squash to the dressing in the bowl. Mix it up well and taste. Maybe add the herbs too. At this point I left it alone again for a bit. I was making a lentil salad too and setting the table and drinking a beer and such so it wasn’t totally on purpose, but I do think it helped to develop flavor, you know? Kind of like lightly pickling the zuke slices. When you’re nearly ready to eat, add the arugula, avocado, and walnuts. It should be pretty darn tasty at this point. If not, you can always add a bit more salt, some pepper, some lemon juice, some olive oil… whatever you think is missing.
Truthfully I’m not sure why this salad was so darn good. But it just was! I think part of it was the my expectations were reeeeal low, since I was missing the key ingredient. And also (not to be too too annoying about growing food), it makes a huge difference when your veggies and herbs come from the dirt and go straight into the kitchen. Can’t even compare your own bright, fresh squash to the sad ones you find at the grocery store. And don’t even get me started on arugula. It’s a whole different green when you grow it yourself.
That being said, who wants squash? Because they are getting mighty sad on my kitchen counter.