A Middle Eastern-Inspired seven-layer salad.

From Modern Potluck. (Clarkson Potter 2016) Photo by Yossy Arefi.

I just folded last week’s laundry, and it was full of sweatshirts. Eight days ago, I wondered if I’d ever be able to put away my winter hat. Now, I’m sitting in shorts and a tank top and dreading the fact that I need to turn on the oven later. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, summer showed up overnight here in the mid-Atlantic, and it looks like these temperatures are here to stay.

In time for Memorial Day weekend (and all your summer picnics), I am thrilled to reveal a recipe from my forthcoming book, Modern PotluckIt’s a new take on a seven-layer salad, which I love in theory because it can be assembled in advance, and the vegetables stay crisp, sealed under a layer of creamy dressing. The problem, however, (for me!) is that the bacon bits, sharp cheese, and raw scallions in the traditional recipe tend to overpower the salad so much you can barely taste a vegetable. (I understand this is part of the appeal for some people!)

For my version, I take a cue from the Middle East, adding a layer of vibrant fresh herbs, a sprinkling of toasted spices and a yogurt dressing that’s based on the white sauce you find at New York City’s street meat carts. (You know the stuff, right? Like ranch dressing, it has that perfect balance between creaminess and tanginess and makes whatever it touches almost impossible to stop eating.)

For the other layers, feel free to play around. For example, later in the summer, you can add tomatoes in addition to or instead of the cucumbers and radishes. Instead of the iceberg, you can try salt-massaged kale or shredded cabbage. Instead of the gluten-free quinoa, you can substitute 6 cups of cooked bulgur or freekeh (a chewy smoked green wheat). Both grains are found throughout the Middle East and will make this inauthentic salad somehow more authentic.

Middle Eastern Sever-Layer Salad
 
This recipe is from my book, Modern Potluck (Clarkson Potter 2016).
Author:
Serves: at least 10 servings
Ingredients
  • FOR THE SALAD
  • 2 cups quinoa (any color, but black is especially stunning), rinsed
  • 5 cups water
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 medium head iceberg lettuce, cored and cut into bite-size pieces
  • 4 cups fresh herb leaves, such as mint, parsley, cilantro, tarragon, and dill, roughly chopped (the more variety you use, the better)
  • 1 bunch red radishes (about 10), halved and thinly sliced (about 4 cups)
  • 1 pound seedless cucumbers, cut into ½-inch pieces (about 4 cups)
  • FOR THE DRESSING
  • ½ teaspoon each cumin seeds, coriander seeds, and yellow mustard seeds
  • 2 cups plain greek yogurt (preferably full-fat or 2%)
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • Kosher salt
Instructions
  1. ASSEMBLE THE SALAD: In a large, heavy pot, cover the quinoa with the water, add 1 teaspoon salt, and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat until the quinoa is tender and the water is absorbed, 18 to 20 minutes. Uncover the pot, top with a clean kitchen towel or a layer of paper towels, and close the pot again; let stand 5 minutes. (This will help ensure the quinoa is dry and fluffy.) Spread the hot quinoa out on a platter or baking sheet and let cool to room temperature. (This sounds like a fussy step, but it helps the quinoa cool without overcooking.)
  2. In a very large glass or clear plastic serving bowl, spread the iceberg lettuce in a single layer and season lightly with salt and pepper. Arrange the herbs on top, followed by the quinoa. Spread the radishes on top, followed by the cucumbers, pushing them toward the edge of the bowl if you don’t have enough of each vegetable to form a complete layer.
  3. MAKE THE DRESSING: In a dry skillet, toast the spices over moderate heat until fragrant, about 1 minute. Transfer to a mortar or a bowl and let cool. Use a pestle or the bottom of an ice cream scoop to lightly crush the spices.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk the yogurt with the mayonnaise, lemon juice, and vinegar. Season with salt. Spread the dressing over the salad, sprinkle with the spices, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.
  5. POTLUCK PREP: The salad can be refrigerated for up to 8 hours before serving and can stand at room temperature for up to 2 hours or in hot outside temperatures for up to 1 hour. (Set the bowl in a tray of ice if you want to leave it out longer.)