7 super savory signature salon salads / part 1 of 3

“People aren’t either wicked or noble.
They’re like chef’s salads, with good things and bad things
chopped and mixed together
in a vinaigrette of confusion and conflict.”
~ lemonysnicket / the grim grotto 

The role of the salad  in one’s life can kind of be like the role of our friends and colleagues ~ a mixture of the good and the not so good, depending on the context and their complementarity, or not. Organic, local, fresh or packaged? Foreign and exotic, who are we supporting and why? In many ways it can be really political ~ who we choose to socialize with (and love), what we choose to eat (or not). Ingredients, dressings and dishes all need to be balanced, just like our friends, colleagues, family members ~ our loves and longings. Yes, the role of the salad in my daily life has indeed come along way. Brought up on fresh vegetables from my grammy and papa’s garden, I was, looking back, really spoiled. But then again, with all the different produce from that garden, there were two types of salads that we made ~ a tomato and cucumber salad and a green salad. And on special occasions, I got dandelions from my walks around the neighborhood, because my grammy told me to. But I would NEVER eat such a thing, the bitterness was not part of my repertoire of taste. In retrospect, I love thinking about these details ~ the way that foraging has become a thing one does in the bay area if you are a part of that world, and a chicories salad is something omnipresent in many of the local restaurants. How things become what they are, what they’re eventually meant to be ~ a perfect balance of confusion and conflict.


above / My papa michael iannacone with his prized tomatoes.

Salads have also become meals in and of themselves; and they have become, at times, a highlight of many of my salon dinners. Having just spent a week in Wisconsin, my nightly duty was to make the salad. I realized there, after making my 4th salad, the habitual repetition with which one can make a salad every evening, and the effort it seems to take to diverge from the obvious green salad or tomato and cucumber concoction. So here are my favorite 7 foundational recipes for salads, the first part in a 3 part series of 21~ one for each day of the week… Whether conceived of as an “evolution” or “infinity” salad ~ these basic ingredients and dressings show how you can start with a specific recipe and then improvise with each one, something my mentor Cal taught me, and which is the philosophy (and the most important lesson to me) of his 12 Recipes. I hope you enjoy.


SUNDAY / tomato and cucumber salad / my madeleine
inspiration / my grammy gladys and papa michael iannacone

This is one of my all time favorite salads, that I still make weekly because of its simplicity and also because it really brings me back to childhood, the perfect madeleine. This is best when tomatoes are in-season and heirloom tomatoes are abundant, so in the summer months. BUT, I do eat this throughout the year, using persian and english cucumbers and whatever available, local-as-possible tomatoes that I can get at Berkeley Bowl, the farmers market or Whole Foods.

ingredients ~

~ 1 cucumber / english cucumber, or 3 persian cucumbers, or one garden cucumber from a farmers market or your garden
~ 3 tomatoes / heirloom, as local as possible, or a pint of cherry tomatoes, or whatever you can get, the more local the better
* note: usually I just make sure the ratio of cucumber to tomato after cutting/prepping is 50/50, so adjust amounts above accordingly to which type you choose.

dressing ~

Use a great extra virgin olive oil and salt and pepper. My favorite is my friend Angelo Garro’s Omnivore Salt

Infinity: to give this salad your own personal touch and expand upon the flavors you can add red onions, macerated in red wine vinegar for 5 minutes (or not); and then add feta, basil and kalamata olives…You can also experiment with the shapes and sizes of the cucumbers and tomatoes / thinly sliced or tomatoes cut into 8; or half a cherry tomato, or, just google it, and you’ll get a million ideas of how to make the salad your own.

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above / our tomato salad in Telluride, with Angelo’s Omnivore Salt; Angelo in his forge; the salt with watermelon radishes, creme fraiche and horse radish.


MONDAY / butter lettuces with toasted pine nuts and pancetta
inspiration / jamie oliver, adapted from his Jamie’s Food Revolution

For the butter lettuces salad, I double Jamie’s french dressing recipe (below) so i have some for the next day.
He calls it his Evolution salad which is similar to the process above and below.

ingredients ~ 

~ red butter lettuce (if you can get this, otherwise green is fine)
~ toasted pine nuts (use a timer and don’t turn your back; they toast quickly)
~ 1/4 lb, thickly sliced pancetta, cut into small bits and fry until crispy.

dressing ~

1/2 clove garlic, minced
2 teaspoons of Dijon mustard
4 tablespoons of red wine vinegar
12 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
a few pinches of salt and pepper, or Omnivore Salt.

You can have this salad all prepared beforehand and then just reheat the pancetta and use the greasy drippings over the whole salad; this adds an amazing amount of extra flavor… You can also add shaved strips of parmesan if you’re feeling especially decadent.


TUESDAY / goddess salad
inspiration: cal peternell, adapted from his 12 recipes (and chez panisse)

This is such an elegant salad that is perfect when the lettuces are perfect, and the herbs are fresh and cut and diced just before serving.

ingredients ~ 

~ you can use romaine or butter lettuces only, or your favorite in-season vegetables ~ beets, cucumbers, fennel, carrots, even radishes.

dressing ~ 

4 tablespoons chopped herbs, (you can use a combo of basil, mint, parsley, cilantro, chives, chervil)
1 small garlic clove, pounded
½ avocado, pitted
1 teaspoon lemon or lime juice
½ teaspoon red wine vinegar
salt and pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil

Use a mortar and pestle and pound herbs and garlic, or just chop. Mash in the avocado and add the citrus juice, vinegar, salt and pepper. Add the olive oil in a thin stream and whip or fork, or do it the jam jar way like above.

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above / Cal and I at my Chez Panisse collection exhibition at The Gardener in 2011. Cal’s book signing at Chez Panisse; and his goddess salad he made
during the interview and story I did on his 12 Recipes cookbook.


Wednesday / chicories salad with lemon, anchovy and tuna
inspiration / david tanis, adapted from his A Platter of Figs and other recipes

I’ve made this salad at least a couple dozen times for my salon dinners, and depending on the chicories I choose, the salad can look completely different.

ingredients ~ 

I especially like the radicchio as in Treviso in whatever shape or form you can get at your grocer or farmer’s market; and i love Belgian endives to go with it, as well as red or green dandelion, and escarole. This makes the salad fully textured and beautiful. If you don’t have access to lots of chicories, you can used mixed greens.

dressing ~

2 garlic cloves grated or in a mortar with 4 anchovy fillets, 1 tablespoon Dijon, 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. Croutons / you can make your own or buy. with grated pecorino or parmesan. And I always add a can of tuna (Tonnino Tuna Fillet is the best; or AS do MAR, or Ortiz), including the oil it comes in for extra flavor. Mix with bare hands if possible.

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above / divine dandelions, berkeley bowl; with co-host lisa parks at salon dinner #59, January 30th 2014; with Maxi Lilley at salon dinner #48, August 9th 2014.


THURSDAY / the perfect caesar salad
inspiration / April Bloomfield, adapted from A Girl and Her Pig

This salad I can eat a few times a week, and I eat it as a salad with the family, or as one of the huge crowd pleasers for salon dinners, or I even use the dressing itself almost like a dip, as a snack. Just be sure not to over saturate the greens. Go lightly. Below’s dressing is for 8 people. Or, for 2-4 and save the rest. It holds for 5 days or so.

10593078_10152783447730815_7314440110259121327_n  ingredients/dressing ~ 

Use a cuisinart to combine the following 6 ingredients, adding in the cup of olive oil slowly.
7 whole salt-packed anchovies
3 medium garlic cloves, sliced
6 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 cup Champagne vinegar
1 large egg
1 1/4 cup sunflower, peanut, or grapeseed oil
optional parmesan cheese
4 heads romaine lettuce, hearts are best, and slice down the center, cut in bite size pieces on the bias
Your favorite croutons from Acme or Berkeley Bowl (or Whole Foods), or make them yourself!
Mix preferably with your bare hands, to distribute the dressing perfectly over the lettuces.



FRIDAY / Panzanella
inspiration / Mario Batali, adapted from his Good Morning America recipe… 



Panzanella salad brings me right back to a past I never had, but only imagined.
When I first started eating panzanella it reminded me of “home,” but I never actually ate it growing up.Still, I love the idea of something that can invoke a memory in me that never existed.

  ingredients ~ 

3 large Heirloom tomatoes, cut or sliced
1/4 cup thinly sliced red onions
1/2 cup sliced cucumbers
1/4 cup whole basil
2 Tablespoons sherry vinegar
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
Lightly toasted day-old bread or croutons

 Mix with your hands…


SATURDAY / Radishes Salad
Inspiration : adapted from April Bloomfield’s A Girl and Her Pig

This is one of the most beautiful and unexpected salads that I’ve made in the past couple of years. I never knew how much I’d love radishes and I never knew how April’s process of caressing the ingredients together at different intervals and for specific amounts of time would effect the final flavor of each ingredient. My dear friend Eve Love was the first person to make this salad over and over again at the salon dinners she would co-host with me. Finally, I  watched her do the intimate caressing and “smooshing” of the basil and salt against the radishes that April has in her directions, and got it. Perfection in flavor, and everything else.

ingredients / dressing ~

1 pound of radishes (easter egg and watermelon radishes are fun too), about 25 make sure they’re firm. Eve and I cut them into little wedges.
a handful of basil, chopped
Mallon sea salt
2 1/2 ounces parmesan, thin and thick slices, and/or grated.
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons olive oil
a nice amount (a bag of) arugula (see the pic below for presentation)…

* Combine radishes, basil and salt in a bowl; smoosh/caress the basil and salt against/into the radishes for 20-30 seconds. Add the parmesan and do this again until it goes a bit creamy. Add lemon juice, olive oil and toss. I add a bit of the lemon and olive oil to the arugula as well before adding the radish mixture on top. Use a platter, not a bowl!

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above / radishes salad, photo by Michael Short for SF Chronicle; Maria Ralph holding a radishes salad in context; radishes re-contextualized as decor, Ides of March salon dinner in NYC, March 15th 2015.


Ask your kids, yourself (and your guests too) what their favorite flavor, vegetable, herb is… and go from there. Experiment. Take risks.

Next up / part 2, where to go from here ~ experimenting with greens, vinaigrettes, fruits and flowers…

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above / Madeleine Fitzpatrick’s 82 ingredient salad; August making a vinaigrette; Eve Love making her beautiful flowers salad for Salon #45.

“Almost every person has something secret he likes to eat.”
~ MFK Fisher


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