Last spring, I had a salad at the restaurant NoMad in New York that I couldn’t stop thinking about. It was a light and lovely arrangement of strawberries, cucumber, basil and toasted nuts. Nothing on the plate was pickled or marinated. The salad wasn’t aggressively seasoned or complicated in any way. Yet it was absolutely enchanting.
Something so simple and so thrilling: That has been my “deep thought” as I worked through how to translate the salad to my home kitchen.
The secret, I have come to realize, is threefold: the quality of the ingredients, the way they innately complement and elevate one another, and how they are presented on the plate. The ingredient that drives this salad is the season’s very best strawberries: the ones we wait for all year, plump with juice, deeply ruby-colored, and whose perfume greets you from across the room. Thin slices of English cucumber offer a cool, crisp contrast, and basil leaves provide a soft, fragrant accent. Together, the trio conjures the feeling of a spring garden; a sprinkle of toasted pistachios adds a buttery crunch and richness.
The salad I was served at the restaurant was artfully and no doubt painstakingly arranged, most likely with chefs’-tweezers precision. For my composed but fuss-free home-style version, no special tools are needed. Just scatter several strawberry pieces and cucumber slices over a small pile of tender lettuce leaves that have been dressed in a honey-sweetened white wine vinaigrette. Drizzle more dressing over that, then finish with the pistachios and basil. The result is a spring salad that is as simple as it is delightful.
Krieger’s newest cookbook is “You Have It Made: Delicious, Healthy, Do-Ahead Meals” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016). She blogs and offers a weekly newsletter at www.elliekrieger.com.
Tender Green Salad With Strawberries, Cucumber, Pistachio and Basil
This spring salad is as simple as it is delightful. The key is to find the season’s best strawberries: supremely juicy, ripened to a deep red and fragrant with potent perfume. Cool, crisp contrast comes from thin slices of English cucumber. Basil leaves offer a soft, aromatic accent, and nuts provide crunch. The whole is dressed with a honey-sweetened white wine vinaigrette.
From nutritionist and cookbook author Ellie Krieger.
2 tablespoons walnut oil or extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 head butter, Boston or bibb lettuce, leaves torn (about 5 cups, lightly packed)
6 large or 12 small hulled strawberries, quartered if large, halved if small
1/4 English (seedless) cucumber, cut into thin half-moons
2 tablespoons shelled, unsalted pistachios, toasted and coarsely chopped (see NOTE)
4 large or 8 medium fresh basil leaves, torn
Whisk together the oil, vinegar, honey, salt and pepper in a medium bowl to form a dressing. Place the lettuce in a large bowl. Drizzle in about half of the dressing, and toss to coat. Divide the dressed lettuce among individual salad plates. Arrange the strawberries and cucumber slices on top, then drizzle with the remaining dressing. Top each portion with 1/2 tablespoon of pistachios and some basil.
NOTE: Toast the pistachios in a small, dry skillet over medium-low heat for a few minutes, until fragrant and lightly browned. Cool completely before using.
Per serving (using walnut oil): 110 calories, 2 g protein, 7 g carbohydrates, 9 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 150 mg sodium, 2 g dietary fiber, 4 g sugar
Yield: 4 servings