For Nate Appleman, a great salad is a bit of a moving target. And it never includes mesclun mix. Ever.
"It is the worst thing ever and I refuse to eat or serve it," said Appleman, a star of Food Network's The Next Iron Chef and chef for Chipotle Mexican Grill. "Fifteen years ago mesclun mix was something special. Now it is generic and mixed so far in advance that inevitably some of the lettuces start to rot and ruins the whole thing."
As for what he does include... It varies.
"A great salad for me is all about balance. That balance changes throughout the year and usually depends on what is in season and the weather outside," Appleman said in an e-mail interview. "I tend to eat lighter in the summer, so the salad tends to be the meal and during the winter it usually accompanies something heavier."
And whatever the time of year, his inspiration starts when shopping.
"The process for me when creating a salad is allowing the ingredients to dictate what is in the salad. It always starts with a trip to the farmers market," he said. "Usually, I pick one central ingredient and then build from there, keeping in mind a nice balance of crisp, sweet, salty, bitter and sour."
For AP's 20 Salads of Summer series, he offered a robustly flavored salad of tomatoes, raw corn and cantaloupe dressed with a jalapeno vinaigrette.
TOMATO, CORN AND MELON SUMMER SALAD
Start to finish: 30 minutes
For the dressing:
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 jalapeno peppers (for less heat remove seeds)
2 teaspoons dried oregano
For the salad:
2 ears corn
2 large tomatoes, cut into chunks
1 small cantaloupe, halved, seeded and scooped with a melon baller
1 bunch of radishes, thinly shaved on a mandoline (or sliced as thinly as possible)
1 medium cucumber, peeled and halved, then seeded and thinly shaved on a mandoline (or sliced as thinly as possible)
1 medium red onion, halved and thinly shaved on a mandoline (or sliced as thinly as possible)
8 ounces feta cheese
To make the dressing, in a blender combine the olive oil, vinegar, jalapeno (with or without the seeds) and oregano. Puree until mostly smooth. Season with salt, then set aside.
To assemble the salad, start by standing each ear of corn on a cutting board on its wide end. Use a serrated knife to saw down the length of the cobs to remove the kernels. Discard the cobs.
In a large bowl, gently toss together the corn kernels, tomatoes, cantaloupe, radishes, cucumber and red onion. Drizzle the dressing over the salad, then toss again to coat evenly. Crumble the feta cheese over the salad.
Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 370 calories; 250 calories from fat (65 percent of total calories); 27 g fat (8 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 35 mg cholesterol; 25 g carbohydrate; 9 g protein; 4 g fiber; 650 mg sodium.