This is a salad about textures, a salad that journeys beyond the simple tenderness of young greens or roasted vegetables. It’s a salad that celebrates the resilience of barely softened summer squash and ornery frisee. It offers a voluptuous dressing facing off against ever-crisp jícama. Let me put it this way, it’s not a salad that goes unnoticed.
Though you can make the summer squash ribbons with a vegetable peeler, you should think about getting a mandolin to make thin-slicing a breeze. It doesn’t need to be the couple-hundred-dollar stainless steel one or even one of the bulky-but-less-expensive options that have come on the market in the last few years. You just need something like the small green Japanese mandolin (aka Benriner) that’s sold online for 25 bucks or so. If you want more slicing options, opt for the slightly larger one for 10 or 15 dollars more. With it, you’ll be able to whip out a salad like this (or a hundred other thin-sliced or matchstick-cut preparations) in minutes.
My farmers market has a variety of fresh pimento- or piquillo-like red peppers that are not too hot, so I always think of making this salad when they come into season. If something like that isn’t available, you can use a small red bell pepper (though it won’t be as robust in flavor) or some roasted piquillo pepper in a jar. If squash blossoms are in season, tear a few into ribbons and toss them in—they add an intriguing silkiness to the mix.
- 1 medium (about 4 ounces) fresh pimento, piquillo or other fleshy, not-too-hot red pepper from the farmers market or grocery store
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled
- 1 to 2canned chipotle chiles en adobo (or 1 to 2 dried morita chiles that have been lightly toasted in a dry skillet and rehydrated for 20 minutes in water), stemmed and roughly chopped
- 1/3cup light vinegar (rice, cava/Champagne, distilled white—they all work)
- 2/3cup olive oil
- 2tablespoons Mexican crema, sour cream, crème fraiche or Greek-style yogurt
- 4 medium (about 1 ¾ pounds total) summer squash (I love this with yellow squash and zucchini, but your farmers markets will no doubt offer a whole host of options)
- 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
- 1/2 medium head frisée OR about 2 cups lightly packed sturdy wild arugula or the 2-inch tops of watercress
- 1/3cup (about 1 ½ ounces) sliced almonds toasted in a small skillet over medium-low heat until aromatic
Roast the red pepper over an open flame or close up under a preheated broiler, turning frequently, until blackened and blistered all over, about 5 minutes for an open flame, 10 minutes for the broiler. Cover with a kitchen towel and allow to cool until handleable. Rub off the blackened skin, pull out the stem(s) and scrape out the seeds. Briefly rinse to remove any stray seeds or bits of skin. Scoop the flesh into a blender.
Place the garlic in a microwave-safe bowl, cover with water and microwave at 100% power for 1 minute. Drain and add to the blender, along with the chipotle (or morita), vinegar, oil and crema (or one of its stand-ins). Blend until smooth, then taste and season with salt, usually about ½ teaspoon.
Cut the summer squash into ribbons (I like ones that are about 1/6th inch thick and a little less than ½-inch wide): you can do this with a mandolin (if yours doesn’t offer the width you like, simply thin-slice the squash into sheets, then cut the sheets into strips); or, using a vegetable peeler, cut/peel off strips of squash, rotating the squash a fraction of a turn after each cut (when you get to the seedy center, discard it).
In a large bowl, combine the squash, red onion and a generous ½ cup of dressing. Let stand for about 10 minutes to soften and flavor the vegetables. (At our restaurant, we vacuum seal the vegetables with the dressing, then release the vacuum immediately, which beautifully softens the squash and onion while deeply flavoring them with the dressing; I highly recommend this if you have a vacuum sealer).
If you’re using frisée, tear off the base, then tear the leaves into natural-looking 2-inch pieces by tearing along the length of the leaf; discard any large stems. Scoop the frisée (or arugula or watercress) in with the squash mixture and lightly toss to distribute. Taste and add more dressing and salt if you think it needs it, usually ½ teaspoon (pour the leftover dressing into a jar, cover and refrigerate for another salad). Divide between plates, sprinkle each with some toasted almonds and carry to the table.