No matter what month it is, I always crave the peppery, leafy taste of arugula (there is always some in our fridge unless I’ve eaten it all). But when spring rolls around, my obsession goes into overdrive. I crave all things fresh, leafy, and crunchy. In our house, springtime is officially Salad Season. If that sent a chill down your spine, you’re not alone. Lots of people, the honorable Leslie Knope included, find salad to be unsatisfying and intimidating. Or it’s something they only eat because they feel like they should.
I get it; I used to be in this camp. It’s not that I didn’t like salad, I just preferred not to eat it. Why eat salad when breadsticks and sandwiches and omelets existed? Of course, I responsibly scarfed down the odd plate of spring mix when I thought I should, never enjoying it much.
But then I had one of those meals that changes your life. One of those meals that shows you things about food you never knew before. One of those meals that unlocks a new part of your palate and makes something as bland and banal as salad downright craveable.
In the last weeks of my senior year, my poetry professor and mentor invited me and a few other awesome lady poets over for dinner. I drank wine, chatted about life after graduation, and gawked as she and her husband effortlessly made a paella on their grill. The paella was incredible, don’t get me wrong, but the thing that launched my now life-long craving for greens was served as a simple side.
Arugula, fresh herbs (like parsley and cilantro), and other baby greens had been tossed together in a bowl. Dressed with only lemon, a glug or two of olive oil, and salt and pepper, it was the most delicious presentation of raw greens I had ever tasted.
I ate maybe three helpings of that salad that night; I would have taken the wooden bowl full of herby goodness all for myself if I hadn’t been trying very hard to be an adult. Instead, I double-checked the ingredients with my professor before I left, knowing I would need to have this salad again as soon as I could.
Luckily for me, the salad is, of course, so simple. I recreated it in my tiny campus kitchen and some variation of this salad has been a staple of my diet ever since. This salad, topped with turkey burger patties, is what got me through graduate school (when I wasn’t eating taco bell), and it’s a great dish to bring to events or potlucks (whenever we’re doing those things again).
I’ve made it so many times, it’s become an old friend. If you had asked me ten years ago if a salad could be comforting, I would have given a resounding NO, but – I have to admit – that eating this salad always brightens my mood. There’s just something about it that makes me happy.
Of course, I recommend you try the classic lemon-and-olive-oil-and-salt-and-pepper over leafy greens situation on its own, but if you want to turn this simple salad into a meal, here’s how I do it.
Toss your greens (I like arugula, but baby kale, spinach, mixed greens, or any leafy green will do; skip the iceberg or romaine for this recipe) in a mixing bowl. Add some fresh herbs, like parsley, cilantro, dill, or mint. Drizzle with olive oil, the juice of half a lemon, salt, and pepper. Then, lightly toss and plate it up.
In the spring, I love topping this salad with fresh English peas, diced fresh apricot, thinly-chopped kale, and slices of radish. English peas are so delicate and just taste like springtime to me and apricots offer the perfect sweet note to this very acid-forward dish. The kale and radish bring out the earthy notes in the salad greens.
I also love topping this salad with shredded rotisserie chicken. It keeps things simple, adds protein, and lets the veggies truly shine.
Finally, I always crumble some feta cheese over the plated salad. Its bright, tangy flavor perfectly compliments the herbs and the lemon.
So, there you have it: a craveable salad that helps you welcome spring in all of its leafy, green glory.