Summer makes improvisational cooking a no-brainer. The abundance of aromatic fruit, crunchy veg and verdant herbs, for me, means heading to the farmers’ market with no plans at all. While June’s arrival in San Francisco has offered a dearth of sunshine, the markets allude to sunnier pastures, signaling our tastebuds’ sprint into summer vacation.
These days, heading to the farmers market feels like a reunion with long lost friends – piles of peaches remind me of early evening crisps, bushels of bright herbs trigger sultry solstice memories, and stemy dahlia buds cue nostalgia for the summer I fell in love with San Francisco. Reveling in these memories tends to incite a desire to re-create them, but the overstimulation of colors, smells and noises usually instead lands me with a smattering of produce intended for no recipe in particular. Back at home, and after some lite mental shaming for the lack of forethought, I’ll remember that summer is on my side. In the haze of farmers’ market euphoria, I’ll have undoubtedly collected enough components to create something tasty. Because summer produce needs little work to make it palatable, there’s a good chance a random sample of seasonal goods can be combined to create a sum somehow greater than its parts.
This week, I found myself with a fridge full of Crunchy Asian Salad stragglers, a drawer of nostalgic, though directionless lemon cukes and a bowl of impulse buy mangos that weren’t getting any younger. What resulted was another salad for the books (shoutout best new years resolution ever). As I assessed the options, I sought guidance from past salad architecture wins. The perennial mantra: build a salad that offers a variety of textures and flavors in each bite, landed me with this beaut.
On the texture side of things, juicy, slippery mango and lip-smacking cucumbers are balanced by crispy fried shallots and crunchy chopped peanuts. Over in flavor town, the balance of fresh flavors (herbaceous, sweet, spicy) are only heightened by the presence of complex, earthy and nutty “dry” goods. The result is a salad that kept me surprised bite after bite, not only by its complexities, but by its outspoken side-dish chutzpah. It’s the perfect partner-in-crime for a simple grill night (prep ahead and toss the crunchies on at the end) or as a hit of freshness in a Southeast Asian or Indian-style stew. While I’ll certainly keep this recipe in my back pocket as summer rolls on, I’m crossing fingers that this is only beginning of the season’s creative developments.
Ingredients (serves 2)
2 ripe mangos
3 small fist size lemon cucumbers (substitute with 1 English cucumber or a couple Persian cucumbers)
2 tablespoons cilantro
A few mint leaves
¼ fresh jalapeno
1-2 large shallots
5 tablespoons canola oil
1 handful roasted, unsweetened coconut flakes
1 handful roasted, lightly salted peanuts, chopped
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
Slice the mangos along either side of the pit. Cut the halves into quarters and carefully cut the skin away. Slice the quarters into thin strips. Add to a serving bowl.
Use a peeler to remove the skin from the cucumbers. Slice into thin wedges and add to the bowl with the mangos.
Chop the cilantro, slice the scallions on the bias and chop the jalapeno (tasting first for spiciness). Add to the bowl.
Juice the lime into the bowl and add the rice vinegar and 1 tablespoon of oil. Toss to combine all ingredients.
Slice the shallots thinly against the poles. Heat 4 tablespoons canola oil in a skillet until very hot (test by dropping one shallot slice in – when it sizzles immediately, it’s ready). Scatter the shallots in the pan, avoiding crowding. Stir/flip occasionally until golden and crispy. Remove and place on a paper towel until cool.
Top the salad with crispy shallots, coconut flakes and chopped peanuts. Give it a final toss to combine and serve immediately. Alternatively, combine the crunchy toppings and set aside until you’re ready to serve.