Let Her Cook: Charleston summer salad

News & Politics

I’ll always appreciate the fact that my parents, two Yankees disillusioned by blue-state politics before it was cool, chose to raise us in the deep South. I might have been a bit of an outsider, but I got an insider’s education on Southern hospitality. That might be the greatest gift they ever gave me.

As I grow older, I think there’s much more to “yes, ma’am” or table settings or a warm greeting than a perfunctory display of respect, though that’s seriously important in its own right. Civility in the form of routine, ritual, and tradition communicates that we recognize the essential dignity of our interlocutors individually and also inculcates, in hostess and guest, a sense of place – of belonging.

This is the essence of hospitality – offering people a taste of home, of communion, a foretaste of heaven, in an otherwise chaotic and unfriendly world. You’ve gotta fight for your right to party!

If I’m ever entertaining company during the warmer months, I rely almost exclusively on this salad. This is my adopted auntie’s recipe, adapted from the Junior League of Charleston, South Carolina’s cookbook, Charleston Receipts. It’s sweet, savory, refreshing, and beloved by everyone I’ve ever served.

KEEP IN MIND: This recipe will serve a dinner party of eight. You’ll probably use two salad bowls. Adjust proportionally to your party size – this won’t keep. If you’re bringing it to a party, wait until you get there to dress the salad. I put the whole salad instructions first, and the candied pecan and lemon poppyseed dressing recipes follow. Enjoy!

Salad ingredients

15 oz baby spinach & spring mix greens blend (three bags of the Trader Joe’s variety)

2 lbs fresh strawberries, hulled and halved

18 oz fresh blueberries

1/2 lb bacon, cooked til crispy and crumbled

10 oz crumbled Bleu cheese

2 1/2 cups candied pecans (recipe follows)

Lemon poppyseed dressing (recipe follows)

Salad directions

  1. In your most beautiful and large salad bowls, layer greens, strawberries, blueberries, bacon crumbles, bleu cheese, and candied pecans. Chill until ready to serve.
  2. Serve drizzled and tossed with the poppy seed vinaigrette.

Candied pecan ingredients

9 tablespoons brown sugar

3 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

pinch cayenne pepper (optional)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons water

3 teaspoons orange zest, optional

2 1/2 cups (6 ounces) pecan halves

Candied pecan directions

  1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
  2. Add brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, cayenne, vanilla, water, and the orange zest (optional) to a medium skillet. Place the skillet over medium heat and cook, stirring often until the brown sugar melts into a bubbling sauce, about one minute.
  3. Stir in the pecans so that the brown sugar sauce coats them. Cook, stirring the entire time, until the pecans look candied and smell nutty, two to three minutes. As the nuts heat up in the pan, the sauce will slowly coat them and become shiny. Watch closely as the nuts cook so that they do not burn.
  4. Transfer the candied pecans to the prepared baking sheet and spread into one layer. Allow the pecans to cool down and harden completely and then break them up before serving.

Lemon poppyseed dressing ingredients

2/3 cup maple syrup

1 cup lemon juice

4 teaspoons diced onion

2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup olive oil

2 tablespoon poppy seeds

Lemon poppyseed dressing directions

  1. Blend sugar, lemon juice, onion, Dijon mustard, and salt in a blender until smooth.
  2. Pour olive oil into the mixture gradually while the blender is running.
  3. Add poppy seeds and pulse blender a few times, just to mix seeds into the dressing.

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