Skip to content

Cooking on the Road | Roasted Squash with Yogurt & Gremolata

Cooking on the Road | Roasted Squash with Yogurt & Gremolata

Roast Squash with Yogurt & Gremolata | Delightful CrumbLast week, to take advantage of Ben’s Thanksgiving vacation, we traveled south for a few days, staying for a night in LA (a city that, for me, never disappoints) and then driving east to Joshua Tree. Neither of us had ever been, and it was epic and beautiful, just as we’d hoped. The desert always fascinates me: a wild wasteland yet abundant. We went on a long hike that ended in an oasis, a gathering of willow trees where the temperature must have dropped 10 degrees and all kinds of plants were growing—only a mile back, it was all rocks and dust and Joshua Trees and vast blue sky.

Joshua Tree | Delightful Crumb Joshua Tree | Delightful Crumb I love traveling for many reasons. High on the list is the opportunity to see something new, a place I’ve never been before, surprising in its uniqueness, provoking new thoughts. It’s one of my favorite parts of any adventure. But as much as I love to travel and try new things, I’m not a totally free-wheeling, super-flexible type—those are just not my strengths. I felt bad about this once upon a time, but I don’t anymore. I have other skills. I am proud of my ability to plan a good meal in a foreign kitchen, to scout out worthwhile restaurants and hikes, to keep track of the budget along the way, to choose well on a new-to-me menu or at a poorly stocked grocery store.

There’s an article in the November issue of Sunset Magazine about climbing slot canyons and glamping at Zion National Park—which sounds like a pretty excellent combination of activities, I must say. There was a quote from a middle-aged woman named Lucy who, in explaining how perfect the situation was for her, said how much she loves nature but that she’s “a big scaredy-cat.” And though I’ve never glamped (it is a verb, too?), I share that perspective and loved seeing it in print. Far too often, we talk about enjoying nature and lacking some sort of earthy fearlessness as diametrically opposed, and that’s just not the case.

So in the spirit of adventure-plus-preparedness, I give you an excellent simple recipe, a version of which was on the table at our desert Airbnb for our Thanksgiving-adjacent feast on the holiday. It’s always a trip to cook in someone else’s kitchen, with their pots and pans and not-so-sharp knives and lack of a food processor, using grocery store goods from whichever chain you found on the way. This dish is perfect for such times, whether you’re at an Airbnb relaxing or in your in-laws’ kitchen for the very first time, trying to impress. Consider the ingredient list and instructions loosely; this is an outline that doesn’t require precision.

Roast Squash with Yogurt & Gremolata | Delightful CrumbRoasted Squash with Yogurt & Gremolata

Serves 2 – 6, depending on the size of the squash and your level of hunger

If you want more of the flavorful, herby gremolata, you can easily double what’s called for below. Feel free to switch up the herbs or use another nut if you’d like. If you can’t find kabocha squash, delicata is just as good, but butternut will work wonderfully, too. In that case, peel the squash before slicing it into large pieces.

1 kabocha squash

Olive oil

Salt

Pepper

Aleppo pepper (optional)

Greek yogurt, labneh (which is easy to make yourself) or strained yogurt

Small handful of almonds, toasted and roughly chopped

About 1 cup parsley, mint and/or cilantro, chopped

1 clove of garlic, minced

1/2 lemon, zest and juice, plus additional as needed

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Halve the squash, scoop out the seeds and slice each half into big crescents, about 1 inch thick. Place the slices of squash on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil (about 1 tablespoon for a small squash and 2 for a large one). Sprinkle with salt and freshly cracked black pepper, plus Aleppo pepper if you have it. Mix well with your hands, right on the baking sheet. The squash should be well coated in oil, but there shouldn’t be any extra pooling on the pan. If the pan is crowded, use a second one so that the squash doesn’t steam. Spread the pieces out evenly.

Roast the squash for about 35 minutes, flipping once midway through, until dark golden brown in color.

Season the Greek yogurt or labneh with a pinch of salt. Spread on a serving platter.

Make the gremolata. In a small bowl, combine the almonds, herbs, garlic, the zest and juice of about half a lemon, a pinch of salt and freshly cracked pepper. Add olive oil to cover, then mix again. Taste and add more lemon juice, zest and/or salt to taste.

When the squash is nicely browned, remove the pan from the oven and allow the squash to cool slightly. Arrange it over the Greek yogurt and top with the gremolata. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil and an extra sprinkling of flaky salt.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Roast Squash with Yogurt & Gremolata | Delightful Crumb

The Greatest, Smallest Thing | Cauliflower, Grape & Cheddar Salad

The Greatest, Smallest Thing | Cauliflower, Grape & Cheddar Salad

Cauliflower, Grape & Cheddar Salad | Delightful CrumbI used to want to change the world, to influence efforts of justice worldwide, to make my mark in an indisputable, “significant” way. I still want to change the world, of course, and many days I still wish I could make a big, dramatic mark. But I think about these things differently than I once did.

I’ve been reminded lately that my truest scope of influence is the small one: the near connections of close friends, family and coworkers, the interactions I have on a daily basis, the things I say and buy and write in emails, what I destroy and what I preserve. It is easy to feel overwhelmed these days—are there actually more tragedies and disasters, or do we just know about more of them? The question is in the air, at the edges of so many conversations. And it’s not that we shouldn’t pay attention to the bigger issues, not at all—we should pay very good attention. Yet in attending to the big things, we must make sure we do not miss the small ones.

This is what I have always loved about food. It is small. It is everyday. It is personal. You touch it with your hands. You need it to live. Feeding others very literally sustains them. I heard a panel of food professionals asked recently, Is it troubling to work in food in such a time as this? I thought that was a funny question. I’ve never wondered if working with food mattered; it’s what drew me to it in the first place. Because what is more basic and necessary than this? Whether powerful or marginalized, rich or poor, in the apartment upstairs or a country across the globe, we all need to eat.

Here in California, fires ripped through the North Bay just a few weeks ago. It was devastating. I don’t think I’ve ever been this close to a tragedy of that scale. The smoke hung over Oakland for well over a week as first responders struggled to gain control over the fires, giving us the tiniest hint of how terrible things were to the north, ensuring we didn’t move on mindlessly as our neighbors suffered. But it was amazing to see how people responded—with action, not just words or sentiment. And we need to continue doing this: buying California wines especially from those directly affected, visiting these cities to invest in their economies, asking how we can help.

But at the end of the day, it is a tragedy. By definition, we can only do so much. We cannot “fix” it. And when it comes to suffering, this is more often than not the case.

At the end of the first week of the fires, I went to the Cherry Bombe Jubilee in San Francisco, a gathering with so many smart, tough, interesting women in food. It was enlivening. It felt like hope embodied—look, here is a community! You aren’t alone. Also this month, I have both been a guest and thrown a solid dinner party, and both were genuinely life-giving. Because what we CAN do is love our neighbors, open our homes, feed our families and friends and strangers, think beyond ourselves—and this generosity, this spirit, is transformative.

In the midst of all of my musings about dinner parties came last week’s feature in The New York Times Magazine. Gabrielle Hamilton’s thoughts on the matter are characteristically blunt and brilliant. She recommends asking nothing of your guests; to be on the receiving end of this, she says, “is just the greatest thing of all time.” I have to say that I agree, though I’m always glad to bring dessert or a salad or a bottle of wine, too. I’m also all for the dinner party in which you don’t sweep the floors and/or you don’t actually cook and order takeout instead. The key is making it doable enough that you do it again (and again and again). It can’t be so fancy that it becomes a rarity. The point is gathering and giving, and I’m afraid we’re losing this in favor of either eating alone in front of Netflix or going out for an expensive meal where the dinner party is created for us.

Please—let us not lose this, as it is one of the smallest and most glorious things we can do. Feed yourself, as you, too, need to eat. And feed your family, regularly, joyfully, of course sometimes wearily. Then reach out and feed a few more; they will remind you that you’re not alone. When we look to the small things, we realize that we are not powerless after all. While we might not be able to turn the whole world around, we can surely transform these smaller worlds we inhabit, and that’s just as important—one might argue that it’s the very same thing.

Cauliflower, Grape & Cheddar Salad

Slightly adapted from Ottolenghi’s Plenty More

I would never have thought to combine all of these ingredients, but the result is exceptional. And yes, I know that I gave you an Ottolenghi recipe last month, too, but I’d forgotten that when I decided I’d share this, and both recipes really are worth the Ottolenghi oversaturation. I know this goes against food blogger best practices or whatever, but I’m not much for following rules on that front these days. What can I say? The man knows his vegetables, and these cookbooks truly are winners in my kitchen, month after month, year after year.

The farro makes for a heartier salad; leave it out for something less filling. Almonds would make a good substitute for the hazelnuts. And I think this would do quite nicely on a Thanksgiving table as this year’s “unique side”!

1 large or 2 small cauliflower, sliced or broken into bite-size florets (about 2 pounds/900 grams)

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

2 tablespoons sherry vinegar

1 heaped teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon honey

1/4 cup (30 grams) raisins

1/3 cup (40 grams) hazelnuts, toasted and roughly chopped

About 1 cup halved red grapes, seeded if necessary

3 ounces (80 grams) creamy, mature Cheddar, coarsely crumbled

1 small or medium bunch flat-leaf parsley leaves, coarsely chopped

1 heaped cup cooked farro, optional

Salt

Freshly cracked pepper

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Toss the cauliflower florets with 2 tablespoons of the oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt and some black pepper. Spread out on a baking sheet and roast for 20 to 25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden brown. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

To make the dressing, stir together the vinegar, mustard, honey and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Add the olive oil and whisk to combine. Add the raisins and let them marinate for at least 10 minutes.

Just before serving, combine the cauliflower, hazelnuts (reserve some for garnish), grapes, cheese and parsley (reserve some parsley, too) in a large bowl. Pour the raisins and dressing over top and toss to combine. Finish with the reserved hazelnuts and parsley for garnish, plus a little salt and pepper. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

Something In Between | Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Figs

Something In Between | Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Figs

Sweet Potatoes & Figs | Delightful CrumbTransitions, in life and on the calendar, fascinate me. (Not a new interest: As evidence, I give you this post, and the series of recipes that followed, from spring 2012.) Now, for instance, the leaves are changing colors, but it’s still warm; you can’t yet put away the shorts and sandals. You’re ready for pumpkins but, at the same time, hanging on for dear life to the last of the tomatoes, eating as many mayo-and-tomato toasts as humanly possible. Wasn’t it yesterday that we were eagerly anticipating the warmth and delights and vacations of summer? And who decided on just four seasons, anyway? I see a good many more than that.

But sometimes, it’s weightier than this. You might still love the thing you’re in—or maybe you don’t, or maybe you never did—but it doesn’t fit the way it used to. The season is ending; change hovers on the horizon.

At times, I’m sad to see the previous season go. Other times, I can’t wait for the next one. More often, it’s something in between.

It can be hard to celebrate the transition, to cheer for the in-between times, to savor the moment that comes just before the next big thing, before getting over there, wherever that might be. But we are so often in these spaces. It’s exercise worth practicing.

This dish is one of very few things I know that revel in the transition, and I tell people about it all the time, so it’s high time I share it here. It’s on rotation every year in this Oakland apartment, something to look forward to as summer winds down and autumn creeps in. The recipe is the very first in Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem, and I think it’s often missed in the flipping of pages, which is truly a shame. There are figs, soft and sweet like summertime. There are sweet potatoes, autumn’s earthy, sturdy contribution. (Already, you know we’re going somewhere good!) They’re pulled together with creamy goat cheese, sticky balsamic and spicy chile. The combination is unexpected but delicious and satisfying, an ideal celebration of this strange, wondrous in-between moment.

I burned the sweet potatoes a tiny bit this time around, but they tasted just fine, and the moody look seems appropriate. More than that, though, there’s no time to waste! The window on figs is about to close, at least out here in California, so there isn’t a moment to lose. Serve this with a baguette or a hearty grain salad to make it an easy meal.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Fresh Figs

Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi’s Jerusalem

This is a delightful, unexpectedly delicious combination. Even if it sounds strange to you, I urge you to give it a try!

The cheese is optional but really rounds the dish out, so I encourage it. If you’re averse to heat, you can use just half of the chile or leave it out entirely. I’ve also tossed in a pinch of red pepper flakes instead when I found myself without a fresh pepper. A purchased balsamic reduction would make for a helpful shortcut.

Finally, I’ll just note that this sweet potato roasting method is pretty genius. Don’t flip the wedges while baking (though perhaps turn the pan around once if your oven heats unevenly) and await the fantastic result of burnished-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside potatoes. While I’d say that the ones in the photo above were slightly overbaked, definitely don’t be afraid of a few black spots.

Serves 4 as a side or 2 generously as a main

4 small sweet potatoes, about 2 1/4 lb (1 kg) total

5 tablespoons olive oil, divided

2 teaspoons kosher salt

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 1/2 tablespoons (20 g) sugar

12 green onions, halved lengthwise and cut on the bias into 1 1/2-inch pieces

1 red chile, thinly sliced

6 ripe figs, about 8 1/2 oz (240 g) total, halved or quartered

5 oz (150 g) soft goat cheese, optional

Maldon sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees.

Halve the sweet potatoes lengthwise, then cut each piece lengthwise into 3 long wedges, to yield 6 pieces for each potato. (If your sweet potatoes are significantly larger or smaller than noted above, you may want to slice them in a few more or less pieces than this.) Toss with 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, the salt, and some black pepper. Spread the wedges out, skin side down, on a baking sheet. Bake for about 25 minutes, until the potatoes are soft and dark brown in color. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

Make a balsamic reduction. In a small saucepan, combine the balsamic vinegar and sugar. Bring to a boil, then decrease the heat and simmer for 2 to 4 minutes, until the mixture thickens. Remove the pan from the heat when the vinegar is still runnier than honey, as it will continue to thicken as it cools. (If it becomes too thick to drizzle, stir in a drop of water before serving.)

Arrange the sweet potatoes on a large platter.

Heat the remaining oil in a medium pan over medium heat. Add the green onions and chile. Fry for 4 to 5 minutes, stirring often, until the green onions are soft. Spoon the oil, onions and chile over the sweet potatoes. Place the figs among the wedges, then drizzle over the balsamic reduction. Crumble the cheese in large pieces and dot them on top.

Serve at room temperature.

Howl to the Moon | Peach Upside-Down Cake

Howl to the Moon | Peach Upside-Down Cake

Peach Upside-Down Skillet Cake | Delightful CrumbIt’s late summer, a final mellow moment before the chaos of fall for some, already weeks into the school year for others, same old, same old for others still. I am, for the fifth year in a row, feeling entirely surprised by the warmer weather that has descended upon the Bay Area on the coattails of August just as my spirit has decided it’s ready for autumn to begin. The markets are filled to overflowing, from California back to Michigan. It’s the last gasp, the last hurrah—but it’s a long and jubilant one, a howl to the moon.

The truth is that at this time of year, I regularly wish for that grand sensation of being eight or ten or twelve years old, with a wild new school year on the horizon, there to wrap me up in its hopeful tornado of activity. The great big world far off but nonetheless my oyster, limitations and setbacks unknown, as full of promise as a school year for this kid who really liked school. All this, with new notebooks to boot.

We adults don’t get all that, but we can eat cake whenever we damn well please, one small but not insignificant perk of being old enough to understand the rapid-fire chaos of the news and content with our existential angst while also dealing with the many trials, trivial and less so, of daily life.

(Note: This cake reference was not meant to invoke Tina Fey’s “sheet-caking,” but I see now that it may, so I will pause here to recommend that we all both eat cake and get off our bums to do something.)

As for existential angst, I can’t stop listening to Regina Spektor’s “Older and Taller,” thinking yes Regina, yes! which probably says something about how I experience the world. There’s this perfect phrase that encapsulates how I often feel about the tasks and experiences in life that feel so important but also almost overly cyclical, like the aspects of our jobs that feed right into doing them all over again and teaching and even parenting: And you retired just in time / You were about to be fired / For being so tired from hiring the ones / Who will take your place.

It’s genius! I just never say it that eloquently, so people look at me with confusion, like maybe I’m unhinged. Is it because she sounds so perky when she sings it? Perhaps that’s the trick. People are thinking, Well, at least there’s that pop rock backdrop.

And why not? That’s the best we can do some days.

And so, like a pop rock backdrop for our existential angst, we create the magic and the hope, both to celebrate such things as peaches and summertime and for the push we need to carry on. This cake is on the one hand comforting and on the other a big joyful hurrah, plus it’s easy enough to throw together (promise!) that no particular prompting is necessary. This would have been just as appropriate at the height of July but feels like a mighty fine fit for late summer, too. Thankfully, you can swap in the fruit of the moment and enjoy it throughout much of the year.

While it bakes, the most wonderful and homey smell wafts from the kitchen, laced with the scent of jammy fruit and butter, too, as the sugary mixture at the bottom of the pan bubbles. It reminds me of childhood, free and easy and comforting.

Apparently I haven’t yet written about this cookbook, which is a shame, but I’m here to remedy that now. It’s such a gem! So many of the things I said about Samin’s cookbook are also true about Julia Turshen‘s first solo project. It’s a book about small victories, a philosophy I can definitely get behind. Counter to the message I feel I’m getting from so much food media and the internet in general, this book wants you to succeed. Julia wants you to eat dinner and feel good about yourself—victorious, even! I’ve never met her in person, but cooking through this book, it really does feel like she’s right there in the kitchen with me, or maybe just over in the dining room, shouting encouraging instructions, and either way, I adore her. There are lots of suggestions for substitutions, adjustments, spin-offs and more, plus themed menus and lists of seven suggestions each on such topics as what do to with a can of chickpeas, how to prepare mussels and ideas for easy desserts. Among the recipes I’ve made are Julia’s Caesar (the first Caesar salad I’ve been truly excited about and a favorite of Ben’s), Smoky Eggplant Dip, Avocado & Kimchi Toast (super clever combination), Curried Red Lentils, Afternoon Cake (YES), Parmesan Soup with Tiny Pasta & Peas.

This is a great little cake for your Labor Day celebration, weeknight craving, last minute gathering or lazy Sunday. Don’t fear the flip, and use whatever fruit you find. I suggest whipped cream, and also eating this for breakfast. I might not be a kid anymore, and I might feel more than my fair share of angst, but I’m doing my darndest to keep howling at the moon.

Peach Upside-Down Skillet Cake | Delightful Crumb

Peach Upside-Down Skillet Cake

Slightly adapted from Julia Turshen’s Small Victories

This is a friendly cake, open to a variety of adaptations. Julia calls for an 8-inch cast iron skillet, but mine is 9 inches and worked just fine. The original recipe called for apricots, but other stone fruits like peaches, nectarines and plums will all work nicely. Or, try it with blueberries, blackberries and/or raspberries. Julia also notes that nut milk, rice milk or coconut milk can be substituted for the cow’s milk called for below.

I like to serve this with whipped cream, preferably with a little sour cream added so it has some tang. However, vanilla ice cream, crème fraîche or even a dollop of yogurt would be delicious.

Serves 8 generously

11 tablespoons (150 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature

Packed 3 tablespoons (35 g) dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided

1 lb (455 g) fresh peaches or other stone fruit, pitted and cut into thick wedges

3/4 cup (150 g) natural cane sugar

2 eggs

1/2 cup (120 ml) whole milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2 cup (180 g) all-purpose flour

1/2 cup (60 g) whole wheat flour, or more all-purpose

Whipped cream, for serving, optional

Put a large piece of aluminum foil on the oven rack below the one you’ll be baking the cake on. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Lightly butter the sides of an 8-inch or 9-inch cast iron pan with the butter wrapper.

In a large bowl, use a spatula, wooden spoon or your fingers to mix 3 tablespoons of the butter with the brown sugar and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Spread the mixture on the bottom of the skillet. Set the bowl aside.

Arrange the peach wedges in a single layer on top of the butter mixture. Concentric circles are neat and pretty, but a more haphazard arrangement will do just as well. Squeeze all of the slices in even if it looks tight, as they will reduce somewhat as the cake bakes.

In the same large bowl, use a whisk to combine the remaining 8 tablespoons of butter with the sugar until smooth. Add the eggs and whisk until smooth. Whisk in the milk and vanilla. (Don’t worry if the mixture looks a bit curdled, which may happen especially if the milk was cold but isn’t a problem.) Whisk in 1/2 teaspoon salt and the baking powder. Add the flour and whisk until just combined; finish mixing with a spatula if needed.

Use a spatula to gently dollop the batter over the peaches, being careful not to disrupt the fruit too much. Smooth the batter with the spatula or an offset spatula. Tap the pan to settle the batter.

Bake until the cake is golden brown and a knife inserted in its center comes out clean (be sure to stop before you get to the jammy fruit), about 45 minutes. Let the cake cool in the skillet on a cooling rack for about 30 minutes. Use a butter knife to loosen it from the skillet. Put a plate or other serving dish on top of the pan, put one hand on top of the dish and hold the handle of the pan with the other hand. Gently but assertively flip to invert the cake onto the serving dish. If any of the brown sugar mixture and/or fruit sticks to the pan, just use a knife or spatula to remove it and place it on the top of the cake.

Serve warm or at room temperature with whipped cream, if you wish. Then, eat the leftovers for breakfast with coffee.

Peach Upside-Down Skillet Cake | Delightful Crumb

A Guide to Composed Summer Salads

A Guide to Composed Summer Salads

Composed Summer Salads | Delightful Crumb‘Tis the season for composed salads! Summer produce is at its peak—and so, simple cooking as easy as it gets. I thought I’d drop by with a quick little guide to building simple summer salads, my go-to for this time of year…even more than in other seasons!

For a certain set of you, none of this will be new. But for others, I know it’s not, and I can easily recall a time when I didn’t know any of these tips. I’ve also found that simple things are what I’m most often asked about, whether it’s a salad I’ve made for dinner with friends or family or a picture of my lunch that I’ve posted on Instagram. It’s hard, I think, to teach the concepts that lend confidence rather than just sharing a recipe. But concepts and confidence are what empower us to pick up what’s beautiful at the market or make use of the veggies lounging in the crisper drawer…rather than seeking out a specific recipe with a long list of ingredients and breaking out in a cold sweat when that one obscure spice is nowhere to be found at the grocery store. Greater ease in the kitchen lends freedom to the task of cooking and is far more useful in the day-to-day lives of most people I know, so it’s also the goal today.

I should say here that I still love recipes, and I long relied on them for most things I cooked. But at some point along the way, I stopped using recipes for certain dishes, and salad is first on that list. It’s the one thing I’ll almost never follow a recipe for these days—because I know I can do a mighty fine job myself, and without breaking a sweat.

And so, here’s what I know about composed summer salads! Raw ingredients only and simplicity in spades. We’ll save lettuce for another day. Read through and let me know what you think! What did I miss? What are your favorite combinations?

Melon, Cucumber & Fig Salad | Delightful Crumb

GUIDELINES

These are, to me, the key components of simple salads, listed in the order that I like to do my assembling. Start by arranging your fruit and/or veg and the creamy ingredient artfully on a plate, drizzle generously with olive oil and your chosen acidic component and then sprinkle on the rest: seeds and/or something pickled if you’d like, herbs, flaky salt, black pepper and perhaps a spice. And that’s it! Taste, adjust and serve.

By the way, if you’re feeling stuck on determining which ingredients pair well, the best tool I know (beyond experimenting and tasting) is The Flavor Bibleby Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg.

1. One or two types of produce: Slice cucumber and zucchini thinly, or peel them into strips with a vegetable peeler. Tomatoes can be sliced into wedges or thin rounds—a mix is always nice, especially if you have a few colors or types. I like to cut watermelon into cubes and other melons in thin half moons. Halve little things, like figs, strawberries and cherry tomatoes.

2. Something creamy: For me, this is most often cheese. I rely on feta, soft goat cheese, mozzarella, burrata, Parmesan shaved into strips with a peeler, dollops of ricotta and crumbly blue cheese. Avocado is another excellent option. Or, try Greek yogurt or labneh. Spread it on the plate before you begin assembling, or dollop spoonfuls on top. Sometimes, but not always, avocado and dairy play nicely if you’d like to use both (see the second link in the favorites list below for an example).

3. Extra-virgin olive oil: Good stuff is worth it, though it doesn’t have to be super expensive. Aim for the middle ground—California Olive Ranch is my go-to.

4. Acid: Lemon or lime juice (fresh squeezed is always best, but don’t ever be embarrassed to use the bottled kind instead), balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar, rice vinegar, soy sauce or apple cider vinegar.

5. Something crunchy, optional: Toasted seeds like pepitas, sunflower seeds or sesame seeds are nice with melons and cucumbers. Chopped toasted almonds are often an easy fit, and peanuts are a good pair for Asian flavors. Croutons and toasted pita bread are delicious, too, for a salad that’s panzanella adjacent.

6. Something pickled or briny, optional: Thinly slice a red onion or shallot and put it in a small bowl with your chosen vinegar and a pinch of salt. Let it rest for 10 to 20 minutes for a quick pickle, which also mellows the flavor. Use the pickling liquid on the salad. Radishes take well to this treatment, too. Alternately, buy a cool pickle at the store and slice it thinly. Or, get a briny kick from olives or salt-packed capers.

7. One or two fresh herbs: Pick the leaves off of parsley or cilantro stems—tedious but worthwhile! Basil and mint leaves can be left whole or cut into a chiffonade. That is, pile several leaves up, roll them tightly, and slice the roll into strips, leaving you with a mess of little ribbons. Dill is best in small quantities. You could also throw on a handful of arugula or sprouts instead.

8. Flaky sea salt: Maldon is my favorite and absolutely worth having in your kitchen.

9. Freshly cracked black pepper: Start with peppercorns if possible!

10. Spice, optional: Aleppo and Urfa pepper can be hard to find but add a pleasant warmth without much heat. Red pepper flakes and cayenne are spicer but also easier to find. I like any of these when avocado is at the forefront, and with melons as well. Coriander is unexpected but very tasty, especially with tomatoes. Swap in a smoked salt for the flaky sort noted above. Or, let the spice do all the work of flavoring with a blend like za’atar or shichimi togarashi.

A FEW FAVORITES

These are some of the combinations I return to again and again. Want to start with a more detailed recipe? Click the links below for a few that I’ve posted here in the past!

Tomato, mozzarella/burrata, balsamic & basil (for a variation on the classic, add nectarine or fig, or use avocado instead of cheese)

Cucumber, feta & mint

Cucumber/zucchini ribbons, goat cheese, seeds, mint & basil

Fennel, Parmesan, lemon & parsley

Watermelon, feta, pickled red onion & mint

Melon, cucumber, Parmesan, basil & Aleppo pepper

Cherry tomatoes, corn, Parmesan, lime juice, cilantro & red pepper flakes

Oranges, avocado, almonds & parsley

Figs, blue cheese, walnuts & arugula

Strawberry, mozzarella & sprouts