Top | The Culinate 8

Salad toppers

(article, Trisha Coffman)

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“I don’t altogether agree that a plain green salad ever becomes a bore,” the famed British cookbook author Elizabeth David once noted.

True, there’s nothing wrong with a plate of fresh greens dressed in silky oil and punchy vinegar. But sometimes it’s nice to sit down with a salad you’ve fussed over. A salad with a carefully conceived mix of colors, tastes, and textures. A salad that comes together simply but requires a little bit of doing.

And nothing finishes off such a salad like a creative topping. Veer from the standard bacon bits and croutons with these eight — we promise they won't be boring.


#(clear n1). Tofu crumbles. Try these atop an Asian-inspired salad or greens with shredded carrots and cucumber and tahini dressing.
To prepare:
Drain 8 ounces extra-firm tofu on paper towels for about 20 minutes (it’s important to get the moisture out). Heat 2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add tofu, stirring to coat in oil. Cook, stirring occasionally, about 15 to 20 minutes. 
#(clear n2). [%image reference-image float='clear right' width=400 caption="Roasted chickpeas on salad."]Roasted chickpeas. Sprinkle these crunchy legumes over a mix of lettuces with flaked tuna, capers, red onion, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, feta, and a shallot vinaigrette.
To prepare:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Rinse and drain one 15-ounce can of chickpeas. Combine in a bowl with 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, the zest of one lemon, coarse sea salt, and several grinds of black pepper. (Lemon-infused olive oil in place of the zest works, too.) Spread the chickpeas on a foil-lined baking sheet and roast for about 30 to 35 minutes, shaking the pan halfway through, until toasty brown and crunchy. 

#(clear n3). Toasted pepitas. Strew these pumpkin seeds over chopped romaine with flaked poached salmon, corn, avocado, dried cranberries, red onion, crumbled queso fresco, and a cilantro-lime dressing.
To prepare:
Heat a dry skillet over medium heat. Add ½ cup raw pepitas (pumpkin seeds) to the skillet, shaking pan frequently until seeds are a golden caramel color, about four minutes. (Seeds will puff up and pop as they toast.) This method also works for toasting sunflower seeds. 

#(clear n4). Crispy pita bits are excellent over a salad of baby spinach with marinated eggplant and zucchini, roasted tomatoes, cucumbers, cannellini beans, and feta dressing.
To prepare:
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Cut pita into 8 wedges. Brush wedges lightly with water using a pastry brush. Top with sea salt and dried herbs, or rub wedges with a cut clove of garlic. Bake 15 minutes for thinner pitas, up to 20 minutes for thicker pitas. Remove from oven and let cool slightly, then break wedges into ½-inch sized pieces. 

#(clear n5). Spiced walnuts are delicious on top of arugula with caramelized fennel, orange segments, diced dried figs, goat-cheese rounds, and citrus vinaigrette.
To prepare:
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a large saucepan over high heat, combine 1 cup water with 1 cup sugar and bring to a boil. Add 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, ½ teaspoon ground fennel, ½ teaspoon ground coriander, ½ teaspoon sweet or hot paprika, and 1 pound halved walnuts. Lower heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, until the liquid reduces to a syrup. Using a slotted spoon, transfer nuts to a baking sheet covered with Silpat or parchment paper. Slip into the oven and roast for 8 to 10 minutes, shaking the pan halfway through. 
#(clear n6). [%image sage float='clear right' width=400 caption="Pan-fried sage leaves."] Pan-fried sage leaves. Crispy and light, these are great over mixed greens with roasted, cubed squash or sweet potato, crumbled blue cheese, pecans, and cider-balsamic vinaigrette. Other herbs that work well with pan-frying include rosemary, oregano, thyme (leave the stems intact to make for easier turning), and mint leaves.
To prepare:
Cover the bottom of a small skillet with extra-virgin olive oil and heat on medium until the oil is fragrant. Slip several large sage leaves into the oil and cook until the leaves puff up and start to darken around the edges, about 30 seconds. Turn the leaves over using tongs and continue to fry until they are uniformly dark green (but not brown). Cool the leaves on paper towels, then crumble or layer atop salads. 

#(clear n7). Sauteed garlic slivers. Perfect over baby spinach with grilled chicken and steamed baby artichokes, or a Greek salad.
To prepare:
Heat 1 to 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Add several thinly sliced garlic cloves. Cook, stirring occasionally, until golden and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Cool on paper towels.

#(clear n8). Cheese crisps. Arrange these atop a classic Caesar in place of grated Parmesan, or over arugula with sautéed pears and pecans.
To prepare:
Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Combine 1 cup grated Parmesan or white cheddar with 1 teaspoon flour. Place thin layers of cheese into 2-to 3-inch diameter circles in the pan. Cook as many as will fit in the pan without touching. When the undersides are golden, flip the crisps gently using a spatula or toothpicks. Remove from pan and let cool on paper towels, then proceed with the remaining batches.

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