The Best Lunch Salad Ever, Courtesy Of Chicago's Hottest Young Chef

Photo: Courtesy of Tanya Baker.
There’s nothing like the first glimpse of green in Chicago. On warm spring days when the grass grows taller, the tulips bloom, and birds chirp louder, we breathe a sign of relief knowing that we're thawing out along with everything else. Our potato eating days have come to an end, and we can finally shop for some bright and fresh local produce.

Tanya Baker knows this all too well. The Midwest native and James Beard-nominated executive chef at The Boarding House stops at Green City Market every week to see what’s sprouting, waiting to get her hands on the first batch of earthy ramps and spring onions. If you can beat the chefs and get your hands on some ramps, Barker suggests making kimchi; pickling tones down the leafy green onion’s pungent flavor, especially when paired with garlic, ginger, and sesame, preserving the fresh picks all season long.

But, that’s about as complicated as the rising star chef gets with her spring bushel. Keeping in line with the "less is more" approach she deploys at work, Baker notes these seasonal goodies don’t need much when you're cooking them at home. "I don’t like to tamper with a lot of these ingredients — they are so delicious, they should shine on their own," she says. The chef keeps things simple, tossing together a stir-fry here or a simple soup there. When you're lobbing them on the grill, local seasonal veggies only need some olive oil, salt, and pepper, and require far less cooking time thanks to their delicate textures. 

Salads are fun, too. Baker keeps things raw, thinly shaving radishes and asparagus so they’re easier to eat but still maintain their satisfying crunch. She pairs them with a slightly sweet, acidic vinaigrette for balance. Ahead, find the recipe for one of her favorite spring dishes — a simple, satisfying, and oh-so-pretty lunch salad that you can whip up on Monday and enjoy for days to come.
Photo: Courtesy of Tanya Baker.
Shaved Spring Vegetable Salad With Sun-Dried Tomato Vinaigrette
Serves 4 – 6

For the dressing:
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes
1 cup sherry vinegar
2 cups olive oil
1/2 teaspoon fresh oregano, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup honey

For the salad:
3 to 4 stalks asparagus, ends trimmed
2 to 3 radishes (watermelon, black and/or French breakfast varieties)
2 carrots, peeled (optional)
1/2 cup sugar snap peas, thinly sliced on a bias
1 medium fennel bulb, very thinly sliced (optional)
2 to 3 cups arugula or other spring lettuce
Freshly ground black pepper
Goat cheese (optional)

Tip: Store asparagus and delicate greens for no more than two days in the fridge in a cup with water (like flowers). Or, roll them up in a moist paper towel and seal in plastic bags.

1. In a blender, purée tomatoes with 1/2 cup of the vinegar. Set aside.

2. In a large mixing bowl, add remaining vinegar and slowly drizzle in olive oil, whisking constantly. Add garlic, oregano, honey, and salt to taste. Add tomato purée. Store in a jar in the refrigerator for up to one month.

3. Peel or shave asparagus, radishes, and carrots (if using) with a vegetable peeler or mandolin, working over a large mixing bowl. Add peas and fennel (if using) and toss lightly to combine.

4. To serve, layer arugula or other lettuce on chilled plates. Divide shaved vegetable mixture among plates. Drizzle about 1/2 cup of the dressing over the salads, adding more to taste, or serving extra dressing on the side. Garnish with freshly ground black pepper and crumbled goat cheese, if desired.


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