Photos by 
Rachael Narins
Rachael Narins

I Went to an Accidental Salad Party, and This One Was a Hit

by 
Rachael Narins
February 17, 2021

We’ve all experienced it, right? The tiny thrill of being asked to bring something to a potluck or picnic or barbecue. It’s an invitation to pore over blogs and cookbooks or pull out a beloved dish and have a moment to shine, all while sharing something personal, and making other people happy. It’s one of the warmest feelings.

For me, there’s always an unspoken extra motivation, too. You know. That quiet hope that someone will ask for the recipe afterwards. It’s a little thrill I can’t help but aim for. I’m not a competitive person by nature – I want everyone to shine! – but if my dish is the star of the buffet? Well, who am I to argue?Right?

It was with that in mind that I put this dish together as a young woman going to my first ever cooking school potluck. Twenty-two of my top-notch classmates were getting together to celebrate an early winter birthday and it was for sure going to be a low-key, high-stakes, gluttonous good time.

In my youthful mind, the affable pressure was on. Can you even imagine? We were all young and living on a budget, while cooking our hearts out day after day, and night after night trying to become chefs. We all craved recognition. We all craved good food.

There was little-to-no chance someone was going to appear with a platter of chilled crab legs or a stack of pizzas. Common sense predicted a few pasta salads, a freshly baked boule of sourdough, and if one person got wild, maybe some Buffalo wings– all with the requisite culinary student twists.

What no one could have predicted, and what was so fantastic, was that there was no sourdough even though this was San Francisco, no pasta salad, and for sure no chicken wings.

Nope. In that sunny Noe Valley apartment with impossibly high ceilings and a kitchen to die for, each and every person brought a salad. So, so, so many salads. It was a farm’s worth of glorious greens on a buffet table with not a square inch of empty space to be found. It was an emerald dream. A leafy delight.

No items found.

If you think about it, it makes perfect sense too. A salad is a gorgeous, inspiring, canvas to work from. Greens can be tender or crisp, sweet or sharp, mild or forward. Then, the sky is the limit as to what to mix in. And that’s what all 23 of us went with.

The hand-lettered signs declared we were gazing (and grazing) upon BBQ Ranch Salad; House Made Pickled Beets with Mizuna; Mixed Greens à la Alice Waters (we were in SF after all) and something billed as a BLT salad but seemed to have been made sans bacon. Regardless, it was a crazy fun afternoon and a culinary triumph. Each bite, a treat. Each forkful, a gift.

And me, I showed up with something that looked so simple. Something with just the most basic ingredients. But I believed it was a winner and I was proud of it, and I wedged it onto that groaning table, filled out my card, and enjoyed the rest of the day. I was happy I’d made something anyone would be thrilled to eat.

Did anyone ask for my recipe afterwards?

Everyone.

Then again, they were all really nice people. And you probably are too, so I'll share.

This dish is so delicious no one can resist. It’s that perfect balance of easy to make, super beautiful, and just plain tasty. As a bonus it’s vegan. And the double extra bonus is that it’s four recipes in one: a salad, croutons (which you can buy if you prefer), salad dressing (which you can make ahead) and a sweet-spicy topping that you can also have as a snack.

Winter Greens Salad with Curried Nuts

Prep and cook time: 45 minutes
 | 
 | 
Serves 4

Ingredients

For the salad

6 cups mixed winter greens (Fifth Season’s Bridge City Blend or Three Rivers Blend work well. For smaller portions use one and a half clamshells, and for a leafier dish, use two.)

1 small red onion or 2 shallots, peeled, halved and sliced thin

For the croutons

1/2 baguette

1/4 cup olive oil

1 tsp dried oregano

Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper

For the almonds

1 cup whole, unsalted almonds

1 tbsp olive oil

3/4 cup brown sugar

1/8 tsp turmeric (optional)

1 tsp prepared curry powder

Salt and pepper to taste

For the salad dressing

2 tbsp apple cider vinegar

1 tbsp whole grain mustard

1/4 tsp fine sea salt

4 tbsp olive oil

Pepper, to taste

Prep and cook time: 45 minutes
 | 
 | 
Serves 4

Ingredients

For the salad

6 cups mixed winter greens (Fifth Season’s Bridge City Blend or Three Rivers Blend work well. For smaller portions use one and a half clamshells, and for a leafier dish, use two.)

1 small red onion or 2 shallots, peeled, halved and sliced thin

For the croutons

1/2 baguette

1/4 cup olive oil

1 tsp dried oregano

Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper

For the almonds

1 cup whole, unsalted almonds

1 tbsp olive oil

3/4 cup brown sugar

1/8 tsp turmeric (optional)

1 tsp prepared curry powder

Salt and pepper to taste

For the salad dressing

2 tbsp apple cider vinegar

1 tbsp whole grain mustard

1/4 tsp fine sea salt

4 tbsp olive oil

Pepper, to taste

Ingredients

For the salad

6 cups mixed winter greens (Fifth Season’s Bridge City Blend or Three Rivers Blend work well. For smaller portions use one and a half clamshells, and for a leafier dish, use two.)

1 small red onion or 2 shallots, peeled, halved and sliced thin

For the croutons

1/2 baguette

1/4 cup olive oil

1 tsp dried oregano

Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper

For the almonds

1 cup whole, unsalted almonds

1 tbsp olive oil

3/4 cup brown sugar

1/8 tsp turmeric (optional)

1 tsp prepared curry powder

Salt and pepper to taste

For the salad dressing

2 tbsp apple cider vinegar

1 tbsp whole grain mustard

1/4 tsp fine sea salt

4 tbsp olive oil

Pepper, to taste

Directions

To make the croutons

1.    Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

2.   Over a medium bowl, tear the baguette into bite-sized pieces. Drizzle with the olive oil and toss with the dried oregano. Season with salt and pepper.  

3.   Heat a large skillet to medium and add the bread pieces. Let cook, stirring often, until browned. This will take about 2 minutes. When the croutons are browned, tip out in to a pile on one side of the parchment lined sheet pan.

To make the nuts

1.    Wipe out the pan you made the croutons in and add the oil and brown sugar. Reduce the heat to low and let the sugar melt.

2.   When the sugar is melted and bubbling, Add the nuts and carefully stir to coat. Let them brown for one minute while stirring.

3.   Add the turmeric (if using) and curry powder.

4.   Stir to coat again, then season with salt and pepper and carefully tip out onto the parchment lined baking sheet.

5.   Using a fork, separate the nuts into small clusters.

6.   Let cool while you make the dressing.

To make the salad dressing

1.    Add the vinegar to a small bowl and whisk in the mustard

2.    Whisk in the remaining ingredients.

3.    Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.

To make the salad

In a medium bowl, toss the lettuce greens with the red onion and salad dressing. Divide onto four plates and top with equal amounts of the croutons and candied nuts.

About the Author

Rachael Narins

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