Joel LOVES cheese sticks. I’m talking about those kind you had as a kid, the mozzarella string cheese sticks that you could pull and pull and make last for an hour. Yea, as an adult, he still loves them. Honestly, sometimes he gets low blood sugar and it’s not a bad idea to have them around if dinner is taking a little too long-er then I meant for it to take. So we’ve made a habit of buying them and I’m always looking for new varieties. I bought these fresh mozzarella sticks at Safeway the other day (A. they were on sale. So, yea, you got me. B. Fresh mozzarella? Yum! Maybe he’ll like those…) But in reality, peeling the wrapper back and having that little bit of liquid spill out isn’t…uh… exactly appetizing and doesn’t make for great finger food. Needless to say, these were not his favorite cheese sticks. So, I repurposed them into this salad!
Summer is the perfect time to have salad for dinner. But to make it satisfying, you need to keep it interesting. Try adding one element from each of the following taste categories:
Salty: Prosciutto, bacon (any cured meat, really), salted nuts, aged cheese like asiago or parmesan.
Sweet: fruit, small chunks of roasted sweet potato, roasted or raw mushrooms, dried fruit, fruit based vinaigrette or dressing such as a raspberry or strawberry balsamic dressing.
Crunchy: Nuts, seeds, croutons, crunchy bits of apple or carrot (which could also satisfy the “sweet” category) even crispy bacon or roasted chickpeas. Sometimes I just slice up some cabbage and add it in with the other lettuces I’m using and that alone adds some needed crunch!
Creamy: Oooh yea, cheese is my go to here. Goat cheese, bleu cheese, the fresh mozzarella, or anything that will linger on your tongue a little longer. I like to think meat here too, like steak, roasted chicken, even pork belly or bits of slow cooked meats like pork or beef roasts. Basically creamy means fatty – you want a little bit of a fat element. Maybe it’s just a drizzle of olive oil, some avocado chunks, or a couple dollops of greek yogurt. Tofu and eggplant could even be considered creamy, given the right context (roasted eggplant and silken tofu especially).
Of course, there’s always sour (pickled beets – pickled anything really, buttermilk dressing, capers, lemon zest/juice or some fruits like pomegranate) or spicy (sliced chili, raw onion, arugula, cayenne on those spiced nuts, or radish) and bitter (parsley, grapefruit, chard, radicchio, dandelion, and probably many other things I am missing at the moment). But let’s not overwhelm ourselves, shall we?
The important thing when building a good salad, one that you will really love to eat rather then loath, gobble down rather then begrudgingly eat and savor rather then suffer… is that you have some variety and a little bit of indulgence with it. Make it special, and you won’t go searching for sustenance beyond the salad bowl.
You don’t have to have all of these categories represented at one time, but it’s nice to have two or three (with the basis of some sort of lettuce or greens). For us, a simple weeknight salad that goes alongside a more involved main dish, will likely include just one or two other things besides dressing. I might just quickly chop some onion slices and grate a carrot, then add some olive oil and a few dashes rice wine vinegar to the top. Or perhaps I have a cherry tomato or two I can slice up and top the greens with along with a little snipped chive from the garden and (in the lucky event) a coating of homemade buttermilk dressing leftover from some weekend cooking session. Often, I add a small handful of sunflower seeds, because the crunch is satisfying and I know that is what “makes” a salad for Joel. It is for me too, really, I need to have a crunch in my salad, wether that comes from the lettuce, the raw onion or some nuts… somehow a salad is much more sustaining (and keeps me away from chips and other snacks in the afternoon) if it involves a bit of a bite.
By the way, walnuts are my special hybrid… if I have some good spiced or sugared walnuts on hand, they can be about 3 or 4 of the categories at once. I’ll have to show you some good candied nut recipes this fall… they are so easy and so much better then store-bought.
So, that’s how this salad came about. I needed a way to use up these fresh mozz cheese sticks and I have been craving stone fruit. But in Oregon, it’s tough to know exactly when the stone fruit will be at it’s peak! Often times I’ll buy a peach or a nectarine only to have it be mealy and bland when I cut into it at home. So this method of quick pickling the fruit with a little sugar, thinly sliced onion and seasoning gives you a little grace on the ripeness of the fruit. If it isn’t perfectly ripe, the vinegar helps bring out whatever flavor is there, while the sugar rounds it out and mellows any tanginess. And if it is ripe it’s still just as good. These were just ripe, and still a little firm, which is perfect.
Light, healthy and satisfying. Perfect summer dinner or lunch!
Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit.
- 2 nectarines, thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar, white wine vinegar or red wine vinegar
- 1 tsp sugar
- Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
- 2 large handfuls field greens
- 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
- olive oil for drizzling
- 2 ounces fresh mozzarella or cheese sticks, cut or torn into 1-inch pieces
- 2 slices prosciutto
- 1/4 cup thinly slices white onion or red onion
- Toss nectarines, onion, vinegar, and sugar in a large bowl; season with salt and pepper. Let sit 10 minutes to marinate.
- Divide the greens evenly between two salad bowls and drizzle lightly with olive oil.
- Spoon the pickled nectarines and onions over the greens, adding a little of the pickling liquid on to the greens as well. You can sort of sprinkle it with the spoon over the greens as part of the dressing.
- Slice the prosciutto into long and skinny ribbons, and drape them over the greens and the nectarines.
- Layer the basil leaves in a small stack and roll them into a little cigar shape. Starting the top, slice into ribbons. Sprinkle evenly all over each salad.
- Scatter the mozzarella over the salads.
- Add an additional sprinkle of salt and pepper and serve with or without sliced bread.