Julia Sherman @ Books Are Magic

Julia Sherman @ Books Are Magic

Julia Sherman presented Salad for President with Matt Rodbard, at Books for Magic. It was their first food event and the first of a series “(Cook)Books are Magic,” with TASTE Magazine.

Sherman runs a blog by the same name, and this is her first book, meant for both kitchens and coffee tables. She’s an artist by trade and training, but has been working “at the intersection of food, art, and everyday obsessions” for a few years now. She’s also the creative director of Chop’t. She is surprisingly low-key for someone with an introduction like that.

“I don’t know that salad needs to be a lifestyle. I’m not big into this lifestyle branding. It can just be lunch, something you eat.” On the other hand, it does have quite a following. “People keep saying, ‘you don’t make friends with salad!’ But it’s not true, you really do.”

So, what can we learn about salad from an expert? How can we cultivate our salad prowess? “I learned a lot just by traveling and buying ingredients and using them wrong. I went to Japan and I bought a ton of ingredients, with no labels. So you’re forced to taste and decide for yourself what to do with things. Really, it starts with encountering something you don’t know and trying to make it work. I’m not embarrassed to admit that I don’t know something, so I take it home and sometimes it works! Sometimes it doesn’t.”

Also, buy a salad spinner: “A wet salad is a bad salad. Most people don’t have the patience to wash their greens and hand-dry them properly. So, do yourself a favor.” Currently, Sherman owns both a regular home spinner and an 8-gallon industrial version. It is true though – if your leaves are wet, the dressing won’t adhere, and it all sinks to the bottom.

The book ties together her background of art and design and food. In it, she visits with famous and less-famous artists, photographs their space, and then shares a salad recipe. Participants include Laurie Anderson, William Wegman, Claire Evans, and Alice Waters. Some were better cooks – and salad-eaters – than others, but all their stories end up in interesting places. “Artists are like, if they know what they want to do you really don’t want to get in their way.”

“I don’t really try to control the situation when I’m shooting an artist. I’m almost sneaking around them; I don’t want to tell them what to do even if I might think something else would make a better shot.”

One idea from a contributor that threw her salad game off balance was coconut oil. “You toss it in a dressing when it’s room temperature, so it’s a liquid. But when you mix the salad, it solidifies around the lettuce, almost like a crust. It sounds gross but it’s really good!”

The most important lesson, though, is to keep it simple. “Originally, I was trying to make things chaffier and was at a bit of a loss.” She ran into a friend who reminded her of a platter she’d made years before that was just sliced fresh persimmons, sprinkled with lime juice, honey, and grated ginger. “It’s all about confidence with simple food, not overcomplicating it.”

So how can we all remember to eat more salad? “I love this idea that if you start with good produce you don’t need to do a lot to it. Unless, you want to do a lot. But I think if you commit and invest in good ingredients, you’ll feel too guilty not to use them well.” Guilt is always the answer! Sigh.

make this one thing:
cucumber salad with tahini and sriracha

  • 8 to 10 Persian cucumbers, cut into ¾-inch (20-mm) chunks
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ cup (60 mL) tahini
  • 5 tablespoons (60 mL) lukewarm water, plus more as needed
  • Sriracha sauce
  • Maldon salt to taste

Put the cucumbers in a bowl and sprinkle with the kosher salt, tossing to coat. Let stand for 30 minutes, then rinse and drain well. Spread the cucumbers on a serving platter.

Put the tahini in a small bowl. Whisk in lukewarm water 1 tablespoon at a time until it reaches a pourable consistency. The tahini will thicken a bit at first, but just keep adding the water until it is completely smooth and can thinly coat the back of your fork.

Drizzle the thinned tahini over the cucumbers. Squeeze sriracha directly out of the bottle over the salad sparingly. Season with Maldon salt to taste and serve.