This here salad is my JAM. I’ve been getting the most amazing cantaloupes all summer (B’ham folks, I get them at Murphree’s Market)—better than they’ve been any other year I can remember. They are incredibly juicy, honey-floral sweet, and almost indecently fragrant. They are, with no exaggeration, swoon-inducing. And when paired with crisp cucumbers, pungent herbs, and warm halloumi cheese, they are the meal of dreams. Seriously, this salad with a glass of crisp white wine? My summer dream dinner!
One of my favorite things about summer is that fresh Southern field peas are easy to find, at least around Birmingham and other places in the South. One particular type of field pea—lady peas—are probably my all-time favorite summer ingredient, and I love to cook up a pot to serve warm as a side—or turn them into a lovely salad as I’ve done here. It’s a versatile side, full of fresh summer flavor. It goes on repeat around here all throughout the season. Be sure to scroll below for more info on lady peas.
About Lady Peas
Lady peas are a type of Southern field pea with a clean flavor and less-starchy texture than other varieties, such as crowder peas or pink-eye peas/purple hull peas. They have a delicate flavor and wonderful creamy texture that is just something special. If I’m cooking up a pot to enjoy as a warm side dish, I’ll first sauté onions, then add the peas, bay leaves, thyme sprigs, and chicken stock to cover. Once the peas reach the level of tenderness I like, I’ll take them off the stove and just let them sit for a bit. I find that this step (letting them rest) produces amazing results—the creamiest texture throughout. For this salad, though, I like to keep the texture a teensy bit firmer, so I skip that step. Here’s what shelled lady peas look like:
Aren’t they pretty? Well, I think they are. I can usually find them easily from June till late July at farmers markets and farm stands. Here’s a little more about lady peas from the good folks at Southern Living, if you care to learn more about them. If I can ever find them still in their pods (surprisingly hard to find), I snatch them up—because shelling peas is one of my favorite things to do.
You can turn this salad into a main by adding some protein—some grilled chicken or shrimp, sliced steak, or my favorite, seared scallops:
A few weeks back, I played with a monochromatic golden beet and mango salad. It was so stinking good that I thought, welp, why not try a monochromatic red beet salad? So I paired the earthy roots with sweet Bing cherries, and it was a match made in heaven! As always, I give you the recipe up front here, and the notes and tips are below.
How to Microwave-Roast Beets
First, try to use small beets for even, quick cooking. Mine were between two and three ounces each. Pierce each beet once with the tip of a sharp knife, and place on a large sheet of microwave-safe parchment paper.
Wrap the beets tightly in the parchment paper, folding over the edges to create a good seal, and turn the package so the seams are on the bottom. Microwave like this for six minutes (or longer if your beets are larger).
Once the beets are done, let them cool down until they’re cool enough to handle. Then you can cut off the stem end and peel off the skins.
My Favorite Cherry Pitter
Trust me: If you make a cherry pie or cobbler or salad at least once a year, you should invest in a cherry pitter. It makes the job of loosening and removing those suckers So. Much. Easier. I love the one pictured below, which I’ve had for 10+ years. It’s made by Oxo, and it does the job really well. And the splatter guard keeps my clothes nice and clean—which means a lot to me, because I never wear an apron.
Holy cow, this is such a great combo—one that I would not have come up with on my own. See, I had something similar recently in Santa Fe, at the lovely restaurant Paloma. The interplay of creamy avocado, earthy beets, and juicy-sweet mango was incredible … inspiring … memorable. I believe their salad was topped with pepitas, but I went with pine nuts for mine, along with a sprinkling of Tajin seasoning for zesty flavor and a hint of chile richness. Check out the recipe below, and then scroll down for beet and mango tips/how-tos.
How to Roast Beets
My favorite way to cook beets is to wrap them in foil and roast them in the oven. If you are pressed for time, though, you can wrap the beets in microwave-safe parchment paper and microwave on HIGH for 6 to 10 minutes. They won’t be quite as tender and moist, but they’ll still be good. Anyway, here’s how I roast in the oven. First, trim the tops of the beets and cut away any “tails.”
Then wrap the trimmed beets tightly in foil.
When the beets are done and have cooled off a bit, you can easily remove the skin. I like to use a paper towel to rub off the skins. Here, you can see little bits of skin in the foil; they just rub off easily, leaving a shiny, smooth peeled beet behind.
Then simply cut each beet into into 8 wedges (and try not to gobble them all up).
How to Cut a Mango
I know there are all kinds of tutorials online that show how to cut a mango. To me, the fastest, easiest way is to peel the entire mango and then cut off both “cheeks.” Holding the peeled mango (a paper towel might help you get a better grip—the peeled mango will be slippery) so that a narrower side is pointing up, slice somewhere between 1/4 inch and 1/2 inch from the middle. The pit will announce where it is, and your knife can just graze it as you cut down.
And then cut off the other cheek, on the other side of the pit. Once the cheeks are off, you can slice ‘em, cube ‘em, or keep ‘em whole.
I sprinkle this salad with Tajin seasoning. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a combo of dried chile, dehydrated lime, and sea salt. It’s tangy, it’s salty, and it’s roasty-toasty with the essence of chiles but not necessarily the heat. It is absolutely delicious sprinkled over mango or watermelon or pineapple, used to rim a margarita glass, tossed with popcorn, or dusted over grilled chicken or beef. You’ll find it with the Mexican or Latin American foods in most supermarkets, and you’ll be glad you did!
Everyone needs a good recipe for great ranch dressing, right? This one is easy, fresh, and packed with flavor. It’s really good served very cold—either draped over crisp greens or as a dip for veggies. My current favorite way to have it is shown above: a simple iceberg (yes!) salad with sliced grape tomatoes and bacon. Simple can be so good.
Every Thanksgiving table should include a big, fresh salad. With all the rich casseroles, gravy, and savory (and sometimes surprisingly sweet) sides, something fresh is a necessity. Whenever I bust up a big salad into the Turkey Day mix, I’m often met with jokes and gentle ribbing. But you know what? My salad always gets eaten. Every freaking leaf. This is a great one for Thanksgiving or Friendsgiving because it can easily accommodate dietary needs and restrictions: It’s vegan and gluten-free, and if someone has a nut allergy, you can easily omit the pecans.
The first step for this salad is to make a batch of pickled onions. I have you make double what you need for the salad—because why not go ahead and use a whole onions?
The leftover pickled onions will hold up well in the fridge for a couple of weeks, and you can use them on tacos, other salads, grain bowls, and more. My easy two-ingredient method relies on two products from the Asian foods aisle: mirin and rice vinegar. These guys:
You can find rice vinegar at any supermarket and mirin at most (I got mine at Target). The mirin is seasoned with salt and sugar plus has a pleasant, light wine flavor—so it takes the place of wine, salt, and sugar. The rice vinegar is softer than many other vinegars, which could make the pickled onions sharp and wince-inducing.
I love lacinato kale for its bumpy texture and earthy and faintly sweet flavor. If you can’t find it, you can use regular curly kale—just know that it’s a little tougher. No matter which you use, do take a minute or two to massage the leaves with a little oil first, to help break down the fibers and tenderize the leaves.
As for the pears, as I mentioned above, I lucked into some gorgeous Seckel pears at the Publix down the road. They come in a bag, like this:
And they’re smaller than most pears. See?
Now for the pomegranates. Look, I know that the arils you can buy in the little cups are very convenient. I’ve used them myself on more than one occasion. But they just don’t taste as good as ones you pull fresh from the whole fruit. I learned a trick that makes that process a little easier. First, cut about 1/4-inch off the top of the fruit, like so:
One you take the “lid” off, you can see where the paper-thin membranes are. It’s a little tricky to see in the photo above, but look for the spoke-like thin white membranes that grow out from the core. You want to score the outer skin of the pomegranate where those membranes run, from the top to the bottom of the fruit, like this:
Once the skin is scored, you can pull apart the fruit. It will break along those “fault lines” like so—
Now you can just gently prod those arils out without having to pick through all the pith and membrane. I swear it’s worth the effort (and there’s not much effort to it).
This salad will fill a big ol’ bowl (meaning it makes a lot). But I predict it will all get happily eaten, with thanksgiving.