You know that thing some people say about modern art? I could do that? Naysayers might say the same of Saladish: A Crunchier, Grainier, Herbier, Heartier, Tastier Way with Vegetables, the colorful debut cookbook from Ilene Rosen of Prospect Heights’ R&D Foods fame. And those naysayers deserve the same responses that modern-art skeptics get: But you didn’t, or Look closer. Rosen herself might say yes, you could do that, might encourage you to do so—that, of course, is why she wrote Saladish in the first place, so you could make the voicey salads and salad-ish things she’s known for at home.
A skeptic might have flipped through and noted couscous tossed with green sauce, roasted vegetables, bean salad, yogurt dip, the sorts of comfortable, delicious things we home cooks reach for, lean on and hunger for around lunchtime. But closer inspection will reveal that Rosen is indeed a modern salad artist, with the intuition to reach for paints many of us wouldn’t, and that each aspect of each recipe, from texture and temperature to color and presentation, have been thoughtfully considered and chosen.
Most notable—what I’ll keep from the book, and what made me reach for my stack of Post-Its most regularly—were the sauces, the dressings and smears and dollops that make a scoop of couscous or a tangle of salad greens or a plain old hard-boiled egg pick up its head and look around. Rosen’s overall approach is seasonal, with the economic, no-waste mentality of a chef and a farmer’s market hound. Her painter’s palette, thusly informed, seems to be located largely in her refrigerator; I imagine it crammed with teetering half-full jars: pickled chard stems, Sweet Lime Vinegar (of which I have already drunk two recipes’ worth with seltzer water), dressings made of watercress, or tahini and harissa, or mustard and caraway, or green olives and mayonnaise.
Many recipes note how to refresh a salad that’s been made ahead; some, beautifully, are named for their colors—Palest Green is a crisp, inventive medley of chayote, daikon, chayote and buttery sunflower greens; Red is a deep-hued mix of quinoa, coriander-seed dressing and beets and their stems (pickled) and leaves (sliced). One gets a sense for how Rosen’s mind works with those recipes—as with the ones where she adds snacks (corn nuts, bhel mix) to her vegetables, or pairs barebones instructions for roasting halved eggplants with a watercolored infographic featuring ways to dress the eggplants up. It’s a useful illustration, and what I’ll turn to when it’s eggplant season again—but it’s also a good illustration of Rosen’s approach to her subject: playful, uncomplicated, and unwilling to sacrifice either looks or flavor.
New Potatoes with Soft Green Herbs
Lemon-Scallion Yogurt Dressing
2 scallions, roughly chopped
1⁄2 cup plain yogurt
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1⁄2 pounds small new potatoes, scrubbed
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
About 2 cups mixed fresh herbs
When spring’s herbs are at their best, don’t mess with them—don’t mince them, don’t chop them, don’t even wash them! Use any combination of whole mint leaves, small dill and/or tarragon sprigs, lovage or celery leaves (torn if large), and long cuts of chives.
- Make the dressing: Put the scallions in the bowl of a food processor or in a blender, add the yogurt and lemon zest and juice, and pulse to combine. With the motor still running, drizzle in the olive oil and process until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.
- Put the potatoes in a large saucepan, add salted water to cover by 2 inches, and bring to a gentle boil. When the potatoes are just tender enough to be pierced through easily with the tip of a sharp knife, 10 to 12 minutes depending on size, drain in a colander.
- When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut them in half and transfer to a bowl. Add half of the dressing and toss gently, taking care not to break the potatoes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Let the potatoes cool completely.
- When ready to serve, add three-quarters of the herbs, including the lovage (or celery leaves), and the remaining dressing to the potatoes and toss to combine. Shower the salad with the remaining herbs.
Excerpted from Saladish by Ilene Rosen (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2018. Photographs by Joseph De Leo.