Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Peasant Salad

I would really like to be someone who gardens. When we moved in with my parents, I had grand plans to resurrect the old box garden beds in the yard that my mom used to plant vegetables in when I was a kid. I had visions of lots of plump tomatoes, huge zucchinis, and leafy lettuces that I would use to cook with all summer. Unfortunately, my grand gardening plans never came to fruition. It rained a lot, and I didn't get around to looking up the best times to plant what. Heck, I haven't even been good at visiting farm stands and farmer's markets this year like I like to, I've been settling for the local section of the grocery store. I know there's still plenty of time to shop locally for produce, so I will make a plan to do that more, and as for the gardening, well. There's always next year.

What we DO have in the yard, thanks to my parents, are a few wonderful basil plants that I pick from regularly, some cherry tomato plants that are just starting to yield fruit, and some mint that's been growing in the front garden for as long as I can remember. Luckily, these are three of the ingredients needed to make this simple salad, so I at least am able to create a little from what we have in the yard. (When the tomatoes all come in, there will be a sauce post, oh yes. And if the grapes have any showing this year, my mom's concord grape pie may need to make an appearance as well...)

This basil has been used ALL summer and is still growing like mad (thanks to being saved a few times by my mom). I see pesto in my future...
Not quite ready...
But this one looks great!

Must remember to use more mint
I am a huge salad fan, and I try to mix it up as much as I can and have lots of different salads to rotate through. I could eat some form of salad every day, especially in the summer, and this one is so refreshing and simple, it's a natural go-to. It compliments most everything, it's light while still being flavorful, and I love it for cookouts and parties, because the more the flavors meld, the better it is.

I've had lots of versions of this salad over the years, but this is my favorite. I like it simple, and the mint, I think, really makes it. It adds that complexity to the flavor, and balances so well with the vinegar.

Now, I love onion almost as much as I love garlic. I could seriously eat caramelized onions daily. But I'm not a huge fan of raw onion. Even red onion, which I prefer, I usually find overpowering, too much bite, and a flavor that lingers in a not-pleasant way. So what I like to do for this is to slice the onion pretty thin, and then let it chill out for a while in a bowl with some red wine vinegar and some water. It takes the edge off the onion, pickles it slightly, and adds to the flavor of the salad.

Once the onions are working, I set them aside and get the rest of the ingredients ready. I used some gorgeous cherry tomatoes from the yard, but heirlooms or vine ripened would be delicious as well, if you aren't growing your own. Whatever tomatoes look and smell good at the market, go for it. But please, whatever you do, don't put your tomatoes in the fridge if you buy them ahead of time! Tomatoes should be stored on the counter, either still attached to the stems or stem side down flat, if possible (this slows the spoiling). Refrigerating tomatoes just kills their flavor and gives them a mealy texture. Not good.

After a rinse, I like to halve them, because it makes it seem like there are more, and I find them easier to get on the fork, but that's totally up to you. Then I cut up and add in the cucumber. I always go with the english cucumbers, I just like the flavor and texture better, but if you like standard cucumbers, they work just as well.

Next up: dressing. Whenever possible, I make my own dressing. It's really simple once you have the pantry staples, and once you get used to it, you'll most likely find that you'll be super picky about the bottled dressings. This one's easy: dijon, red wine vinegar, lemon zest and juice, salt, pepper, extra virgin olive oil. Ask your sous chef to whisk it up, and viola! 

Setting that aside to marry, I add in the marinated onions and the feta and then chop the herbs together to get them evenly incorporated, and toss over the vegetables.

Sometimes the baby, aka the human garbage disposal, can't wait for dinner to be ready and has to have a first course. Yay for daddy with the assist!
What? I'm starving and I like yogurt, ok?
Toss with the vinaigrette and you're done! I like to do this first, then set aside so the flavors can marry while I make whatever the main dish is. Enjoy!

Peasant Salad
about a pint of cherry tomatoes, halved, or 2-3 regular sized tomatoes, large diced
1 english cucumber, large diced
6-8 ounces of feta
1 red onion, thinly sliced
6 TB red wine vinegar, divided
3 TB water
1 TB dijon mustard
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
fistful of fresh italian parsley, chopped
2 small bunches of basil, chopped
small much of mint, chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Thinly slice the red onion and place in a bowl with 3 TB of the red wine vinegar and 3 TB of water. Swirl around to make sure all us coated/mostly submerged and set aside.

Rinse tomatoes and half. Cut cucumber into a large dice so that the pieces are roughly the size of the tomato pieces and add to the tomatoes. Add in feta. Whisk together remaining 3 TB red wine vinegar, the zest and the juice of the lemon, 1 TB dijon mustard, salt and pepper, and the extra virgin olive oil. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Set aside.

Chop all the herbs together, being careful not to bruise too badly, until they are roughly chopped and incorporated. Drain the onions and add to the cucumber, tomato and feta. Top with herbs and toss to incorporate. Add vinaigrette, toss, and serve with any favorite main dish! This goes great with white wine and good bread for sopping up the dressing.


  1. This looks so good, and definitely qualifies as healthy and low-cal! Thanks!

    I'm with you on the raw onions. I love them cooked, but I avoid them raw. I'll try your vinegar trick!

    1. Yeah, glad it makes the cut! I hope you like it, let me know :D