Salad

String Bean and Arugula Salad with Macadamia Nut Dressing and Marcona Almonds: Summer of Salads (and private chef musings)

I’m in a relationship with a blue beach chair.

That is, I think it’s blue.

I’ve only met it at night, at 9pm at the earliest.

It’s one of many tucked under a long wooden walkway from the street across from the house where I work as a private chef (or private cook, as I prefer to call myself based on my skills compared to the chefs I interview for Serious Eats).

It could be green, for all I know. Or gray or black.

All I know is that it has a comfy headrest, and leans me back to the perfect angle. And, despite the dozens of chairs left by trusting locals and ready to be reached for, it’s the one I always grab, no matter where it’s ended up on the line.

I work for a good family, for which I’m very grateful. They have a beautiful home, and are respectful of who I am and what I do, which includes providing three healthful and impressive meals a day for a variety of diets put forth by themselves and their constantly rotating houseful of guests (they are very generous hosts). There are times I’m overwhelmed by the work – by the very early mornings and long days, by the constant focus that is timing food and constantly producing a creative variety of food. Some days it feels like just too much.

There have been a few moments I’ve sunk to the kitchen floor in exhaustion. And many moments when I’ve calculated the days until I can drive home to NYC and be in my own space, with my dog and my kitchen and my roommate and my desk and my dirty laundry and my neighbors and my bed!

But, no matter the lovely guests, the frantic preparation or the random quiet moments when I drive on crowded summer Hamptons streets…

… the day always ends in that chair.

I fill my Starbucks insulated cup with whatever wine I’ve bought and stashed in the garage fridge and throw on comfy clothes and head across to the beach. I bury my toes in the cold sand and look up at the cloudy/clear sky with the warm/cool breeze blowing on me, nestling into that blue/green/black/gray chair.

That chair has seen me through some medical shit I won’t go into. And through thinking I’m not worthy of this job. And through thinking I’m worth more than my salary. And through thinking that this job and me are actually quite fit for each other. And through thinking about him/her/it/them/there. And through long phone conversations, songs on repeat in my headphones and moments of quite contemplation when I just stare out at the crashing waves and have to trust that I’m where I’m supposed to be in that very moment.

For my birthday I was given a journal with many of the menus and odd stories about my time here – relayed in texts to a friend. Soon I’ll add my own scribbled notes to it. And, at the end of the summer, I’ll reflect back on the skills I’ve learned, on the dishes I’ve made that I look forward to making for my own loved ones, on how awesome my warrior dog who has shuttled between homes in my absence was, and how I made it through the summer.

That time of reflection is still a bit away.

But, until then, at least I know I have my blue/green/black/gray chair to look forward to at the end of the day…

… and more dish discoveries yet to come… like this salad.

String Bean and Arugula Salad with Macadamia Nut Dressing and Marcona Almonds

Ingredients:

  • 1 package (about 5 oz) baby arugula
  • 1/4 lb French string beans
  • 1/2 large red onion, cut into thin half-moons
  • 4 cloves of garlic, smashed and chopped fine
  • 2 Tbsp + 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 Tbsp Macadamia nut oil (walnut or almond oil would work too!)
  • 1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • hefty pinch of kosher salt and a few healthy grinds of black pepper
  • 1/4 cup Marcona almonds (pistachios or pine nuts wouldn’t be the end of the world either)
  • 1 tsp herbs de Provence

Directions:

Place 2 Tbsp olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the string beans and cook until they just soften but before they brown, about 3 minutes. With tongs (one of my top five kitchen utensils), remove to a large bowl.

Add red onion and garlic, and cook until just softened, about 5 minutes. Remove to bowl.

Add almonds (or whichever nut is currently striking your fancy) to skillet, and toss them around a few times until they start getting all nutty and toasty. Add remaining tsp of olive oil and herbs de Provence and keep flippin em until they’re slightly browned and glossy.

In a small bowl, whisk macadamia nut oil, red wine vinegar, kosher salt and pepper until smooth and glossy-like.

Add arugula to bowl with warmed string beans, and toss to slightly wilt. Add dressing and toss to combine.

Pour into serving plate and garnish with almonds.

Summer of Salads: Jicama and Watermelon

Jicama and Watermelon Salad

Every now and then, someone comes into your life and you breathe a huge sigh of relief.

One of those such special people made me a Jicama and Watermelon salad on the 4th of July. It went scrumptiously alongside some huge langostines I fried up all spicy-like and some ridiculously fresh sea bass that took a mere ten minutes to broil to perfection. He was all achy and sore from a pulled back muscle. I was exhausted from long days of cooking for other people. We feasted with white wine I had been saving for over a year for a special occasion – until I grew up and realized that every good meal with a good person is a special occasion. Then we climbed onto the roof and watched NYC’s spectacular fireworks burst over the Hudson river.

Then I stole his recipe.

I adapted it slightly for the family I cook for, and set it on the pink-canopied backyard table with some of my garden chicken salad and grilled burgers. By the time I got around to snapping pictures of it 24 hours later it had faded in color but the flavors had developed even more fully.

Jicama is a root that’s a cross between a water chestnut and rhubarb, believe it or not. Watery, slightly sweet and somewhat starchy, it’s often eaten in its native Mexico with fiery spices. Because of the light sweetness and water content, it pairs extremely well with watermelon, giving a salad of both some crunch and texture. They’re found at most big grocery stores out in the east coast, but are easy to overlook.

After grunting and sweating away peeling the annoyingly large jicama, I tossed it lightly with watermelon, lime, cilantro and a bit of jalapeno for a ridiculously refreshing salad that my blew my  bosses guests away.

Happy summer, happy Friday!

– Jacqueline

Jicama and Watermelon Salad


Jicama and Watermelon Salad

Serves 6 as a side

1 medium jicama, peeled and cut into thin 3″ long strips (about 3 cups)
1/4 watermelon, cut into thin 3″ long strips (about 3 cups)
1/2 jalapeno pepper, peeled, seeded and finely diced
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
juice of 1/2 lime
1/4 cup chopped parsley or cilantro

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and chill before serving.

Orzo Summer Salad

Today I put a bottle of “Lite Pancake Syrup” in my grocery shopping cart.

First I woke up in the arms of someone special. Then I drove to pick up cat food from a vet (I do not have a cat). Then I picked up the boss’ mail and watered a large plant. Then I drove halfway down Long Island to Costco. Then I drove the other half of Long Island, unloaded groceries, planned my weekend menus and went to East Hampton for smoked salmon. Then I put a bottle of “Lite Pancake Syrup” in my grocery cart with a shudder, tweeted my disgust, and returned to the house to make dinner (which did not contain aforementioned syrup, and was well received and complimented on, which I’m always thankful for).

It was a full day.

Another un-dusty-like occurence: this salad.

Yes, orzo is not gluten free. But neither is the family I work for. And this is a tasty salad – quick to make, pumped with some happy-healthy little nibs, and great to leave in the fridge for them to grab on your days off. The dressing is a sweet vinegar with no oil, so it’s low in fat and healthy alternative to the summer pasta salads that bulk up and make you sweat.

Orzo Summer Salad

Serves 4

1 cup dry orzo pasta, cooked as per package directions and cooled completely
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped small
1/2 cup frozen green peas
1 small bunch green onions (about 6), chopped thin 1 inch up the greens
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup white sugar or (preferably) light, floral honey
1/4 cup pistachio nuts
Olive oil as needed

Combine orzo, red bell pepper, peas and green onions in a medium bowl.

In a small bowl, whisk vinegar and sugar/honey until the sugar/honey is completely dissolved. Pour over pasta and stir to combine.

Toast pistachio nuts in a saucepan on low heat until fragrant and slightly brown, and toss into salad.

Chill before serving.

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