I have spent more kitchen hours than I care to admit trying, in vain, to recreate the Caesar salad dressing of a certain Midtown Manhattan lunch spot.
Sometimes I go all in on the Parmesan. Other times I double the lemon juice. I’ve made my own oven-dried anchovy powder, left out the Worcestershire, added a sprinkle of MSG. I’ve convinced myself that if I can just get the formula correct, I’ll have a magic elixir I can dribble over any combination of vegetables and voilà, the perfect salad.
The dressing is not the problem. Or rather, it’s not the only problem with my salads. I’m a produce maximalist. I get carried away with the bounty of the season, selecting whatever looks good from the greenmarket, putting it all in one bowl, paying little mind to the salad commandments about balancing texture and acid. I have never chosen the right cheese.
Several years ago, Julia Moskin wrote in The Times about composed salads, which are arranged on a plate rather than tossed in a bowl. The ingredients in her recipe were suggestions rather than prescriptions: something leafy, something crunchy, something rich, a combo of raw and cooked vegetables. “Tossed together, the result would be sloppy and monotonous,” she cautioned. “A bit of order makes it satisfying and elegant.”
I tried it, but I always seemed to revert to excess: one big mingle-mangle, everybody in the pool. Over time I’ve come to realize that I need stricter recipes.
They don’t need to be overly involved: Eric Kim’s greens with carrot-ginger dressing, finished with mint. Genevieve Ko’s corn and tomato salad with basil and cilantro. These, and the rest of our summer salad recipes, are mostly very simple, their ingredients lists limited. (Same goes for Melissa Clark’s caprese recommendation below.) Of course chefs are invited to freestyle, but I plan to stick to the ingredients provided.
I asked a vegetable-savvy friend what separates a good salad from a great one. “Really good vinegar,” he said. What do you think? Tell me your summer salad secrets.
THE WEEK IN CULTURE
📺 “What We Do in the Shadows” (Out now): I’m pretty envious of anyone who has yet to see this FX show, which began its fourth season this week. A half-hour mockumentary about a group of moron vampires living in a house on Staten Island, “Shadows” is smart and dumb in equal measure. As our critic Margaret Lyons wrote in advance of Season 3, “‘Shadows’ thrives on clashes of majesty and mundanity, the fancy-schmancy lore contrasted with sibling-style bickering.”
🎮 “PowerWash Simulator” (Out now on Xbox Game Pass and PC): Video games contain multitudes. You have your racing games, your violent shooters, your space odysseys and your grand open-world adventures. Then there are the quirky ones that scratch an itch you didn’t even know you had, like the desire to use highly pressurized streams of water to clean all manner of objects. To someone who likes to wind down his day washing the family dishes by hand, this sounds like heaven.
🎬 “Nope” (Friday): Jordan Peele has a new movie. After you direct an instant classic like 2017’s “Get Out,” that’s how people write about you. They simply say, “Jordan Peele has a new movie.” Do I need to tell you what this movie is about, or will you go see it because Jordan Peele has a new movie? (Fine, it’s about flying saucers and it stars Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer, OK?)
RECIPE OF THE WEEK
Stone Fruit Caprese
You don’t need much for a great caprese salad — just ripe tomatoes, milky mozzarella, basil and an open hand with the olive oil and salt. But Ali Slagle’s stone fruit caprese tweaks the basic idea in a dazzling new way. Instead of using tomatoes, she tosses chunks of summer stone fruit — peaches, nectarines, plums, cherries, whatever’s looking great at the market — with a little sugar and lemon. (Perfect if you’re a produce maximalist like Melissa Kirsch.) A brief maceration coaxes out the fruit’s sweet-tart juices, which mix with the olive oil to create the dressing. Make sure to take the mozzarella out of the fridge at least 20 to 30 minutes before you make this recipe, so its texture turns supple and soft. Then serve it with crusty bread or a spoon to catch every last, juicy drop.
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The track and field world championships: For the first time, track and field’s most important non-Olympic competition is being held in the U.S. — in Eugene, Ore., sometimes referred to as TrackTown, U.S.A. The American sprinters Fred Kerley and Trayvon Bromell are among the favorites in tonight’s men’s 100-meter race, and Galen Rupp, who grew up in Oregon, is a contender in the men’s marathon tomorrow. An international star to watch: Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, a four-time world champion in the women’s 100 meters. All week on NBC and Peacock.