By Angela Dimayuga, The New York Times
Last summer, I had a breakthrough that came from the kind of paint-yourself-into-a-corner creative challenge I’ve learned to enjoy as a professional chef.
I invited some guests over for dinner one night, only to discover in the late afternoon that one person was a vegan. On my way home from my office job, I picked up a sack of in-season black cherries. On sale, plump and alluring, they twinkled at me below the fluorescent lights, as if under the KiraKira+ filter, so I threw them into my basket to figure out what to do with them later. As is, they would have been a welcome after-dinner offering or sweet treat.
Instead, I came up with my new summer classic, a black cherry salad that was the star of our last-minute, four-course vegan meal. I’d say I now look forward to making this dish for friends as much as I do an heirloom tomato panzanella when tomato season finally rolls around.
But however equally craveable, this salad is somehow much easier. It’s quick to assemble, uses a couple of impressive kitchen techniques and is extremely elegant. And it calls for only three widely available main ingredients: cherries, pistachios and scallions. (Do olive oil, vinegar and salt count?)
The cherries are split in half, so you can enjoy big, juicy bites, and the pistachios coarsely chopped. Some depth comes from separating the more classic allium flavor of the white scallion stalks from the brighter flavor of the green tops, and preparing them differently. The white stalky base (the part you soaked in water to propagate your scallions during quarantine) is treated in one of my favorite ways to doll up a plain white onion: charring directly on my stovetop burner on high — gas or electric works. Then, mince the charred scallion bottoms finely with your knife. Just keep on mincing until it’s a pulverized, black-green paste.
As for the green scallion tops, I cut them on a bias very thinly and soak them in ice water for a few minutes. Not only does the cold water help them curl, it also rids the raw scallions of their sharp notes, transforming them from “too oniony” to “just oniony enough.”
The dressing helps the raw chopped pistachio adhere to the fruit, while the pistachios introduce an interesting chew and a creamy fattiness. Make it once as is, then give Pierre Hermé a run for his money. Throw some fresh rose petals into the final mix of the salad for a delicate strawberry-rose fragrance and a Baroque, sensual layering of flavors. It’ll be the stranger at the dinner party everyone wants to know more about.
Recipe: Black Cherry-Pistachio Salad With Charred Scallion Vinaigrette
Yield: 4 servings
Total time: 25 minutes
- 1 1/2 pounds black cherries, washed
- 1/2 cup raw pistachios (about 3 ounces)
- 1 bunch scallions
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- Ice water, as needed
- Flaky sea salt, to taste
1. Using a knife, score all the cherries in half at the seam. Next, twist each cherry apart as you would an avocado, tossing the pitted half into a large mixing bowl. Using your fingertips on your spare hand, pop the pits out of the unpitted cherry halves, discarding the pits, then adding the halved cherries to the bowl. Set aside.
2. Chop the pistachios into a coarse crumble, leaving no pistachio whole. Set aside.
3. Cut the scallions into two parts, slicing about 4 inches above the root to separate the white stalks from the tender green tops. On a stovetop burner, char the scallion bottoms over high heat, rotating every 2 to 3 minutes, until the completely charred on the outside and soft and cooked in the middle.
4. Transfer the charred scallions to a cutting board and finely mince. Gather into a pile and repeat mincing until the scallion bottoms turn into a fine, green-black paste. Transfer to a small bowl and stir in apple cider vinegar and olive oil. Set aside.
5. Take a few pieces of the green scallion tops and stack them directly on top of one another. Using a sharp chef’s knife, cut very, very thin slices of the scallion on a hard bias about 1 1/2 inches long, then transfer to a bowl of ice water. Repeat with the remaining scallion tops. Fluff the scallions in the ice water, so the scallions have enough room to curl.
6. Scrape all of the charred scallion vinaigrette into the bowl with the halved cherries. Using your fingertips, lightly massage the dressing into the cherries so they reach the cavities of each half. Add chopped pistachio, curly scallions, and a couple pinches of salt to taste. Transfer to a large flat dish, so you can enjoy all the colors and ingredients in the simple dish.