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News / Life / Food

April ushers in spring salad season

Dishes with fresh veggies in under 30 minutes

By Gretchen McKay, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Published: April 10, 2024, 6:04am
4 Photos
Pan-seared scallops top this seasonal salad with sugar snap peas and fresh radish.
Pan-seared scallops top this seasonal salad with sugar snap peas and fresh radish. (Gretchen McKay/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) Photo Gallery

PITTSBURGH — Warmer weather, colorful flowers and gloriously sunny skies aren’t the only things that put spring on people’s lists as the best season.

If you’re a cook, April is when you can look forward to a bounty of fresh herbs, tender lettuces and green vegetables not just in the grocery store, but at local farmers markets.

Sure, you can find fresh vegetables year-round at even the smallest markets. They’re just extra-awesome when you know something is only available for a couple of weeks in spring or has been grown nearby by a local farmer.

Asparagus immediately comes to mind as one of the season’s prized veggies. After months of eating winter root vegetables and lettuces and other greens grown in Mexico or California, now is the time to add the slightly peppery bite of locally grown arugula to the daily menu, along with the crunch of young Romaine and delicate nuttiness of super-sweet spinach.

Rhubarb, which pairs so wonderfully with strawberries, is also only available fresh in the spring. And who can resist the vibrant green color of two other seasonal favorites in sugar snap peas and green onions?

Delightful, right? Not to mention uber-nutritious and super-refreshing.

It all adds up to spring being a great time to add a few new entree salads to your weekly rotation.

After our long winter nap, we can feel a little rusty coming up with fresh ideas for really great salads or seasonal sides. The three easy recipes from three new cookbooks that follow are a great way to get started.

One from Christopher Kimball’s very engaging latest tome, “Milk Street 365: The All-Purpose Cookbook for Every Day of the Year,” turns a traditional chicken salad on its head by tossing the meat in a creamy (and super green) tahini-herb dressing instead of mayonnaise. It includes sliced green apple and celery for extra crunch.

A recipe from America’s Test Kitchen’s new “The Complete Cooking for Two Cookbook, 10th Anniversary Edition” joins sweet and delicately briny scallops with sugar snap peas and the zesty bite of fresh radish.

And for you asparagus lovers? We capture the flavors of the French Riviera with a recipe from French food writer Rosa Jackson’s just-released cookbook, “Nicoise: Market-Inspired Cooking from France’s Sunniest City.” It dishes up asparagus in a zesty but incredibly simple yogurt dressing, with a lovely grated-egg garnish.

All can be prepared in less than a half-hour and are gorgeous on the table. That leaves plenty of time and energy for where most of us really want to be spending time when April’s showers give way to spring sunshine — outdoors.

We’ve also included Milk Street’s “foolproof” vinaigrette recipe for those fuss-free days when a simple bowl of salad greens suffices as a side or starter.

Foolproof Vinaigrette

“Milk Street 365: The All-Purpose Cookbook for Every Day of the Year” by Christopher Kimbell (Voracious, $45). Top-notch ingredients are essential for this simple but extremely tasty vinaigrette, which works with nearly every type of green. It can be refrigerated for up to two weeks.

1 tablespoon red wine, white wine or champagne vinegar

1 1/2 teaspoons very finely minced shallots

1/2 teaspoon regular or light mayonnaise

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/8 teaspoon table salt

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Whisk vinegar, shallot, mayonnaise, mustard and salt together in a small bowl until mixture looks milky and no lumps of mayonnaise remain.

Whisking constantly, drizzle oil into vinegar mixture in a slow, steady stream. If pools of oil gather on surface as you whisk, stop adding oil and whisk mixture well to combine, then resume whisking oil in slow stream. Vinaigrette should be glossy and lightly thickened, with no pools of oil on its surface.

Season with pepper to taste.

Asparagus With Yogurt Dressing

Serves 4. “Nicoise: Market-Inspired Cooking from France’s Sunniest City” by Rosa Jackson (Norton, $40). The perfect spring side dish, this asparagus salad with a simple yogurt dressing is fresh, light and totally addictive. Grated hard-cooked eggs and fresh herbs add a lovely punch of color.

For salad:

2 large free-range eggs, room temperature

12 thick (1/2 inch) asparagus spears or 24 skinny ones, tough ends broken off

Sea salt

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

For sauce:

2 tablespoons sherry vinegar or freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tablespoon finely minced shallot

1/2 cup Greek yogurt

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

3 tablespoons very thinly sliced herbs — any combination of flat-leaf parsley, chives, chervil, dill and/or mint, divided

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Paprika or Espelette chile powder for sprinkling

Bring a small pot of water to boil (there should be enough water to cover the eggs). Lower eggs into boiling water with a spoon and set timer for 10 minutes. When eggs are done, drain and place in a bowl of ice water, then remove the shells.

In a saute or frying pan with a lid, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add asparagus and a pinch of salt, cover and cook for about 3 minutes for thin asparagus and 5-7 minutes for thick asparagus, until tender when pierced with a knife but still bright green.

In a bowl, whisk together vinegar or lemon juice, shallot, yogurt and mustard. Add 2 tablespoons of herbs and stir. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

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Grate peeled, boiled eggs using a coarse grater. (The trick is not to press them too hard against the grater.)

Divide sauce among four plates, or spoon it onto a serving platter, then arrange asparagus spears on top. Sprinkle with grated egg and remaining 1 tablespoon chopped herbs. Finish with a hint of paprika or Espelette chile powder, and serve immediately,

Chicken Salad With Romaine and Tahini-Herb Dressing

Serves 4. “Milk Street 365: The All-Purpose Cookbook for Every Day of the Year” by Christopher Kimbell (Voracious, $45) This tasty chicken salad swaps mayonnaise-based dressing for one made with fresh herbs and tahini, a ground sesame paste used in Mediterranean cooking. It’s as green as the season, with sliced Granny Smith apple and celery adding a delightful crunch.

I roasted my own chicken breast, but there’s no shame in using a grocery store rotisserie chicken. If you don’t like Romaine lettuce, substitute baby spinach or arugula.

1 1/4 cups lightly packed fresh flat-leaf parsley

1/3 cup lightly packed fresh cilantro

1/2 cup tahini

1/2 cup lime juice

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon honey

1 large garlic clove, roughly chopped

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

3 cups shredded cooked chicken

2 medium celery stalks, thinly sliced on the diagonal

1 medium green apple, quartered, cored and thinly sliced

1 small head Romaine lettuce (about 12 ounces), cut crosswise into rough 1-inch pieces

In blender, combine ¹/3 cup water, parsley, cilantro, tahini, lime juice, oil, honey, garlic and 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper.

Blend until smooth, about 1 minute, scraping as needed.

In a large bowl, toss together chicken, celery and apple. Add herb-tahini puree; fold until well combined.

Add Romaine and toss to combine. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

Seared Scallop Salad With Snap Peas and Radishes

Serves 2. “The Complete Cooking for Two Cookbook, 10th Anniversary” by America’s Test Kitchen (April 2024, $40). This elegant dinner salad pairs sweet and tender scallops with fresh spring vegetables. They’re tossed in a simple vinaigrette with mesclun, a mix of young salad greens that include chervil, arugula, leafy lettuces and endive.

12 ounces large sea scallops, tendons removed

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

6 ounces sugar snap peas, strings removed, halved crosswise

4 cups mesclun

4 radishes, trimmed and sliced thin

1 shallot, sliced thin

1/2 teaspoon table salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

Place scallops on large plate lined with clean dish towel. Place a second clean dish towel on top of scallops and press gently on towel to blot liquid. Let scallops sit at room temperature for 10 minutes while towels absorb moisture.

Meanwhile, combine vinegar and mustard in large bowl. Whisking constantly, drizzle 2 tablespoons oil into vinegar mixture in slow, steady stream. Add snap peas, mesclun, radishes and shallot and toss gently to coat.

Divide salad among individual plates or transfer to a serving platter.

Sprinkle scallops with salt and pepper. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat until just smoking.

Add scallops in a single layer, flat side down, and cook, without moving, until well browned, 11/2 -2 minutes. Flip scallops and continue to cook until sides of scallops are firm and centers are opaque, 30-90 seconds.

Arrange scallops over salad and serve.

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