A salad is what you make it. Jell-O, Caesar, pasta and Waldorf (note: includes marshmallows and mayonnaise) all match the dish’s very pliable definition in their own way.
For Carroll Gardens–based Hetty McKinnon of Arthur Street Kitchen, salads center around a core seasonal vegetable and “from there, the dish can venture virtually anywhere,” she writes in her cookbook Neighborhood: Hearty Salads and Plant-Based Recipes from Home and Abroad. “Add a grain for heartiness, inject some herbs for freshness, incorporate some spice for intrigue and finish with a nut for crunch.”
Her recipes both in the book and on her blog prove that this formula’s as reliable as any in crafting a “salad.” There’s her eggplant with turmeric-tahini yogurt, inspired by the current seasonal availability. On the day we met in June 2017, she sent me home with asparagus and golden beets with farro, sage and lemon brown butter as well as some sugar snap peas (unexpectedly versatile when sliced thin) with radish and spelt grains. I intentionally stretched those delicious salads over several meals.
Both recipes are in Neighborhood, which in addition to being an ode to Brooklyn, is chock-full of useful kitchen knowledge reflective of McKinnon’s longtime vegetarianism and obvious love of cooking. One section that struck me as particularly inventive was her take on what to do with the perennial problem of leftover salad; we’ve all got it, and at least her answers are more obvious and enticing than you might think—heed her tips below.
Making friends with salad
My unconventional journey in salad-making began in 2011, when I established a community kitchen in my inner city home in Sydney, Australia. Twice every week, I would cook healthy and hearty plant-based salad boxes, stack them into my bicycle basket, and deliver them to locals. I called my adventure Arthur Street Kitchen.
What started as a simple desire to share my favorite vegetable-laden salads with my local community yielded unexpected results. As I traversed the laneways and climbed the hills of my neighborhood Surry Hills, I witnessed a movement that centered upon so much more than food. In the hunting and gathering of stories and histories with local salad-eaters, I saw the importance of food in allowing people to feel connected with others. Because of that, my neighborhood, and the people within it, have become a very big influence on the way I cook and my approach to food.
In my time as a cook, sharing food has become a vehicle for establishing new friendships and building meaningful connections in my neighborhood. It is humbling to realize that even among the hustle of our modern lives, simple acts like cooking for others, eating together and sharing food are sentiments that still resonate strongly.
In late 2014, my husband and I packed up our three children, bid adieu to our beloved neighborhood of Surry Hills and headed north. We landed in France and ate our way through the local Provençal markets. We introduced our children to the sights, sounds and tastes of Italy, Germany, Finland and our old “hometown” of London. Finally, we ended our trip in Brooklyn, New York, where the next chapter of our lives and Arthur Street Kitchen began.
All the world’s neighborhoods
Neighborhood is a collection of salad recipes inspired by “places,” journeying from Brooklyn in New York to the greater Americas, the Mediterranean, Asia, France, my native Australia and many other places around the world for salad-making inspiration.
If community is a feeling of kinship, Neighborhood is a physical compilation of the sights, sounds and colors of a geographic area. Growing up in Australia, living in London and traveling extensively through Europe before settling in brownstone Brooklyn, I have been continually drawn to the role of food as a social anchor in a neighborhood. No matter where you live in the world, it is the daily rituals of eating that strongly influence the way we live. It is the places I visit regularly—from grabbing a cream cheese bagel at my corner bodega, picking up fresh mozzarella from the local deli or stopping by the Greenmarket for seasonal produce—that have inspired my latest salad-making adventures, with exciting new international flavors and bold new vegetable pairings.
It can be said that New York City is a city of neighborhoods. Each has its own unique personality, forged from history and circumstance. Often, entire neighborhoods are founded on the culture of food. From the Chinatowns of lower Manhattan, Sunset Park in Brooklyn and Flushing in Queens to Koreatown around 32nd Street, the Little Italies in Manhattan and Bensonhurst in Brooklyn, the curry and spice emporiums of Murray Hill, the colorful Indian and Pakistani food in Jackson Heights, the old-world Russian delicacies in Brighton Beach, and Greek and Egyptian treats in Astoria, culinary neighborhoods like these are the beating heart of New York City.
When we put down roots in Carroll Gardens, a charismatic neighborhood of deep-fronted brownstones and a robust Italo-American background in south Brooklyn, I was struck by the strength of history in the area. Over the last few decades, Carroll Gardens, like many Brooklyn neighborhoods, has undergone a cultural makeover. With that, many of the old local haunts have closed their doors or moved deeper into the suburbs. But still, amid the urban evolution, there remains a strong sense of neighborhood in the area. Italian flags fly alongside American ones, ubiquitous Virgin Mary statues adorn front and back yards, while old-school delicatessens, pizzerias and enotecas still stand among the slick new wine bars and sleekly designed restaurants. This is an area with a strong narrative and a tenacious sense of its past, present and future.
A fundamental part of this neighborhood story is in the local food. My local Italian deli, Caputo’s Fine Foods, has been a neighborhood institution for over four decades, a family-owned store where the owner makes fresh mozzarella (several times a day!), and supplies fresh and dried pasta, antipasti, olive oils and more. Up the street, an unrelated bakery that happens to share the same name, Caputo’s Bake Shop, has been supplying the neighborhood with baked goods since the early 1900s. The ciabatta, especially the olive-encrusted one, is my essential daily bread and their pizza dough is a family staple. Unassuming brick-fronted pizzerias owned by longtime locals still serve up crispy-based, cheesy-topped pizza pies to residents, old and new. On Sundays, the Carroll Gardens Greenmarket thrills me with the color of seasonal produce grown at farms nearby; most weeks, I still discover a fruit or vegetable that is unfamiliar to me. And in between, daily visits to my favorite local bodega, Sue’s Organics, bring me reliably sourced produce and lively conversation.
In making Brooklyn home, it has been these humble, everyday neighborhood haunts that have given me a tangible sense of belonging and connection. Through the hunting and gathering of food, I am gradually becoming a local.
Salads allow me to express my love for my other great passion—vegetables. At the heart of every one of my salads is a core seasonal vegetable—from there, the dish can venture virtually anywhere! Add a grain for heartiness, inject some herbs for freshness, incorporate some spice for intrigue and finish with a nut for crunch. The possibilities are endless.
Having been vegetarian for over half my life, my belief in a plant-based diet as the ideal way to eat is unerring. But this book does not make statements about vegetarianism. Rather, it is my aim to encourage home cooks to think more creatively about vegetables, understand their versatility, and cook them with more confidence and flair. In my view, when given the right treatment and thought, there is nothing more delicious or satisfying than a flavor-packed, vegetable-based salad.
Neighborhood will show home cooks that you don’t have to be a vegetarian to enjoy vegetables, and you don’t have to be a chef to be a good cook.
The big vegetable salad
It is reasonable to say that I am rather enamored with salads. It is by far my favorite dish to eat. No matter what flavor you are pining for, or what ingredient you are craving, you can incorporate it spectacularly into a salad. For me, salads allow me to be creative, embracing the thrilling myriad of flavors, textures, ingredients and fresh seasonal produce that come from living in a multicultural world.
My salads are not the lettuce-based, leafy varieties you may be accustomed to. The recipes in this book elevate the salad from side dish to main meal. Using vegetables as their life force, my salads are the main event, not the support act. Neighborhood aims to inspire readers to look at vegetable salads in a new light, giving cooks the confidence to prepare delicious and hearty meals with the feel of comfort food, without the need for meat.
Four ways to use leftover salad
In my house, there is often a plethora of leftover salad. The Chinese in me always has me cooking for the masses. So over the years, I have devised a few interesting, delicious ways to use up leftover salad. I thought I’d share these with you.
1. Put an egg on it
When in doubt, put a fried egg on it.
Sometimes, if the salad is robust enough to do so, I like to quickly fry the leftovers in a little extra-virgin olive oil, just to add some heat, then top the whole thing off with a fried egg. Just like that, you have a hearty lunch or light dinner.
2. Blend it into a soup
I love blending leftover salad, transforming it into a hearty soup.
Simply throw your leftover salad into a food processor or blender, add a cup of vegetable broth or liquid vegetable stock and blend the whole mix up. This salad do-over is perfect for those salads without too many leaves and which are heavy on legumes or roasted vegetables. If you have a lot of leftovers, you can even freeze the soup for later consumption.
3. Make a grilled cheese
A grilled cheese is the perfect anytime and every time meal. This type of sandwich is serious business—especially in the United States where there is great pride taken in a perfect grilled cheese. Use a sandwich grill if you have one, but here, I show you how to make the perfect grilled cheese sandwich using your everyday frying pan:
Take two thick slices of sourdough bread or ciabatta.
Spread butter on both sides of both slices of bread (yes, both!).
Layer one side of both slices with whole egg mayonnaise.
Heat a large nonstick frying pan or griddle pan over medium-low heat and add the bread slices (buttered-only-side down) to cook. Slide them around the pan to achieve an even golden color.
Flip them both over, then pile 1 side with leftover salad, and top with your favorite melty cheese—try cheddar, Swiss, Gruyère, mozzarella, provolone, Brie—and place the other slice of bread on the top, browned-side down (you want the uncooked sides on the outside).
Cook the sandwich, moving it around the pan to get an even browning, for about 2 minutes on each side.
A grilled cheese sandwich is fantastic made with roasted broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, sweet potato, and, my favorite, Brussels sprouts.
4. Go kuku!
Turning a salad into a kuku is perhaps my very favorite way of embracing leftovers.
Kuku is a name for an Iranian-inspired frittata, laced with a subtle hit of saffron, and perfect served at room temperature. Over the years, I have made this dish countless times using leftover salads—it is great with roasted vegetable salads, but also works wonderfully with legumes and grain salads with bulgur wheat, spelt and barley.
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 onions, halved and finely sliced
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Small pinch of saffron threads, soaked in 1 tablespoon boiling water
4 cups leftover salad
3 tablespoons chopped soft herbs (parsley, dill, mint, cilantro, chives, etc.)
½ pomegranate, seeds extracted
Sea salt and black pepper
Preheat the oven to 350˚F (180˚C). Line a 9-inch (22 cm) springform pan with parchment paper.
In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil and fry the onions and garlic for 7–8 minutes, or until the onions are soft and starting to caramelize. Allow to cool.
In a mixing bowl, add the eggs and whisk until smooth. Add the flour, baking powder, saffron and its soaking water, sea salt and a good grind of black pepper, and whisk until smooth.
In the springform pan, lay out the onions, then spoon over the leftover salad. Pour over the egg mixture. Place the pan on a large baking tray (to catch any leaks) and bake in the oven for 45–50 minutes until golden and the egg is set. Insert a skewer to make sure the kuku is cooked all the way through.
To serve, scatter over the soft herbs and pomegranate seeds. Serve warm or at room temperature. The kuku will keep in the refrigerator for 2–3 days.
From Neighborhood by Hetty McKinnon © 2016 by Hetty McKinnon. Photography © 2016 by Luisa Brimble. Reprinted in arrangement with Roost Books, an imprint of Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boulder, CO.
This story was originally published in August 2017.