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I learned to make basic vinaigrettes when I was in my early 20s. It was my first summer in Philadelphia and I was living alone in my grandmother’s old apartment. She had always been more of an entertainer than a cook, so my inherited kitchen featured every kind of cocktail glass, but not much in the way of durable cookware.
Her library of cookbooks was equally paltry. There was a community cookbook compiled to raise funds for the Philadelphia Orchestra, a coffee table tome from local celebrity chef Georges Perrier and a copy of the The Frog Commissary Cookbook (the Frog and the Commissary had been a pair of innovative Philly restaurants in the ’70s and ’80s that my grandmother had loved).
I found that I never had much use for those first two volumes, but Frog Commissary rapidly became my cooking primer. I turned to it at least once a week for guidance on soups, salads, muffins and desserts. I was most drawn to the 15 pages of vinaigrettes and dressings because the recipes were written clearly and gave me nearly endless options for improving my salads. I learned how to make a basic vinaigrette and how to enhance it with herbs, spices and aromatics. Eleven years later, the things I absorbed from that book stay with me.
Lately, though, I’ve been ready to draw upon new sources for salad inspiration (particularly since the days are heating up and turning on my stove is less appealing). And so, this last weekend, I tried this recipe for Crunchy Salad With Cocoa Vinaigrette.
I’ve made all kinds of vinaigrettes and dressings, but never before had I added a little cocoa powder to the mix. I’m kicking myself for waiting so long to try it, because it’s absolutely divine. You don’t get a heavy chocolate flavor — just a little extra depth that goes really well with the tender lettuce and the crunch of the toasted almonds. It’s perfect for potlucks, casual entertaining and for The Weekender.
Before you start prepping, read these tips:
— If you buy pre-washed greens, the preparation of this salad takes no time at all. If you know you’re going to be rushed come mealtime, chop the celery and cucumber the night before to speed things up.
— I like to combine the salad dressing ingredients in a small jar and shake them well to combine. This way you can store any leftovers without dirtying another vessel.
— Though I liked this salad just as it is written, I did find myself thinking that a little creamy goat cheese and a few sliced strawberries would be good additions.
Marisa McClellan is a food writer and canning teacher who lives in Center City Philadelphia. Find more of her food (all cooked up in her 80-square-foot kitchen) at her blog, Food in Jars. Her first cookbook, Food in Jars: Preserving in Small Batches Year-Round, is now available.