Our column Deconstructing the Dish appears monthly in Nfocus Magazine and we include it here for our cheaterchef.com readers.
There’s no better way to experience the Tennessee state motto “agriculture and commerce” than a visit to a farmers’ market. Here’s what’s happening right now from the land around us.
This calls for a different approach than dashing into the supermarket produce department for a head of iceberg. You’ve got to wander the stands, shop and think on your feet, be okay with not being absolutely sure what’s for dinner and have the courage to buy on instinct. Loosen the rules and have fun combining only what’s available, sort of like opening a mystery basket on Chopped!
Sorry, no tender cool weather-loving baby lettuce with hot summer tomatoes. It’s time for the ever-changing Tennessee Ag Salad that, for July, means colorful, daring combinations of vegetables with summer fruits.
We like to follow the Loose Rule of Five—three vegetables to two fruits with one cheese/and or herb as you like. It’s a modern more-vegetable-than-fruit combination casually scattered on a platter. No greens, and the proportions count. Too heavy on the fruit and you’ll end up with a weird fruit salad with a few vegetables in it. Not cool.
For July’s Tennessee Ag Salad we’re loving the classic summer combo of tomato, cucumber and onion with cantaloupe and peaches or berries. It’s the cucumber that bridges the gap between the tomato and melon. And it’s the onion that provides the needed savory umami. Salty cheese and good fruity olive oil is a plus.
Our Tennessee Summer Ag Salad is a no-recipe recipe. Combine the ingredients on a platter using our loose rule of five and see what happens. Dress it all simply with a drizzle of olive oil and nice coarse sea salt. If you think it needs an acidic kick, add a squeeze of lemon or lime juice. Scatter with an herb, if you like. There are no hard rules.
The “soup lady” Aundra Lafayette, always at the West End Farmers Market, is fearless when combining sweet and savory. We enjoyed her exotic beet gazpacho accented with both strawberries and broccoli earlier this spring.
Tomatoes—use a couple of varieties, varying the size and color. We love yellow pear-shaped cherry tomatoes, Cherokees and, of course, Bradleys. Shop by size and color.
Cucumber—sliced thin, any variety you like, peeled or not.
Red, white or green onions—sliced thin.
Pick Two Fruits:
Cantaloupe, watermelon or other variety—sliced thin.
Peaches—we don’t peel them—cut into chunks.
Blueberries, raspberries or blackberries.
Add a Cheese:
Fresh mozzarella or burratta, salty feta, tiny chunks of pecorino, or crumbled blue cheese.
Scatter on an Herb:
Fresh basil—purple basil looks extra cool.
Fresh mint—cut into thin strips.
Now create your own Tennessee Ag salad combos using corn, squash and zucchini, and whatever else that looks great. For local produce gathering, consult the Tennessee Seasonality Calendar at www.NashvilleFarmersMarket.org.