Our team member, Kayla, gives us the skinny on Jess Damuck's, Salad Freak cookbook...

One of my favorite things about Jess Damuck’s Salad Freak book is that it breaks the idea that salads just have to be composed of leafy greens and toppings. Salad is usually defined simply as a dish of mixed, mostly natural and fresh ingredients, and that’s exactly what Jess delivers. 

Something else I love is that there seems to be an ingredient or two in each salad, one(s) I wouldn’t think to add with the other ingredients, that changes the game in the dish’s flavor and depth. The recipes were easy to follow, make, and also plate to look as nice as they were pictured, which made it more exciting to eat when it looked so good!

With a batch of fresh picked strawberries, I looked to Jess for some inspiration on using them up. I made her Strawberries, Rose and Sumac recipe first, what she calls “... the most romantic breakfast one could possibly have…”, and I felt it! I’m always looking to switch up my breakfast routine, and this had me excited.

What intrigued me most about this recipe was the combination of all the flavors: orange, strawberries, dates, yogurt, mint and sumac. Note that the recipe did call for petals from a rose, but I did not use those in my final dish.

I absolutely loved this dish! I soaked my dates in hot water first to make them easier to mash into the yogurt with rosewater and a little orange zest and juice. Top the mixture off with your fresh strawberries and fresh mint leaves, sprinkled with sumac, and you’ve got one romantic breakfast that makes your morning feel a little extra special. The sumac really elevated the dish and helped pull some of the citrus notes forward from the orange.

Next, I continued on my breakfast stretch and went for the Swiss Chard with Garlicky Yogurt and Crispy Egg dish. I’m always looking for new savory breakfast options and this did the trick, and it also got me to get creative and make my first homemade chili crisp (recipe available in the book). This was also a great way to use more of the Greek yogurt I’d purchased to make the strawberry salad with. 

This dish did not disappoint! It has all the flavors and warmth of a heavy breakfast without being so. The lemon zest in the yogurt and juice in the sautéed greens added just enough brightness. The chili crisp added a little depth and even a little sweetness to really make this dish stand out. I would make this dish one hundred times over! 

The Asparagus, Peas, and Cucumber “Cacio e Pepe”  dish was up next, and I thought it would make a great lunch side or snacking salad. Jess does warn right away that this will not satisfy your craving for the classic pasta dish and flavor, but it does provide a lovely blend of shaved fresh vegetables, Italian cheeses, lemon and good ol’ salt and pepper. 

This was the lightest and most refreshing of the salads I made. The lemon juice gave the dish just enough zest to compliment the crispness of the raw ingredients. The broiled asparagus added another level of extra flavor and texture. And of course, don’t skimp on the cheese!

I figured since I’m reviewing a salad book, I should make one that is based mostly on a green, and so I chose the Simple Yet Elegant Endive. I’ll admit, I underestimated this one! For one, it’s so simple and I’ve seen recipes in books before for a minimal endive salad and just always thought if I was making a salad, I’d want more complexity in flavors and ingredients. Second, I’ve been cutting these recipes in half and as I was making this one, I thought to myself I bought too much endive and I wasn’t going to use it all (two heads when the recipe called for four). After eating my first helping, I was more than happy I had extra of all the ingredients to make it a couple times - I could eat this dish every day and never get tired of it.

While endive can sometimes be bitter, there’s something about the acidity from the lemon juice in the dressing and the warmth of the walnuts that make any bitter hints disappear. Note: I could not find toasted walnut oil and used regular olive oil in this recipe and it still worked beautifully. I can only imagine the extra depth a toasted walnut oil could have added!

All I can say is make this one. And take her suggestion under the assembly instructions of building in layers, pooling the dressing, and making sure every leaf gets every ingredient

Jess, thank you for changing my mind on an endive salad.

Last, I tried the Peach, Cucumber, Avocado and Dukkah salad. This was the easiest to put together with minimal prep work, simply cutting the ingredients. The salad calls for dukkah, which Jess provides a recipe for, but I opted for using SKORDO’s Dukkah seasoning and adding extra whole fennel and coriander seeds (this was mostly just a time thing and not being prepared with the ingredients to make my own.) Her Dukkah recipe doesn’t call for salt and SKORDO’s Dukkah already has salt in it, so I used less flaky salt to garnish the salad with in the end. 

The ingredients in this salad worked so well to compliment each other and create a well rounded tasting dish! The peaches and lime juice provided a little zing, the dukkah brought earthiness, and the cucumber and avocado provided a nice blend of textures - bonus was the mozzarella just giving it a little something extra! This is a great summer morning or afternoon salad, and again, easy to put together!


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July 26, 2023

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