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A note from Amy:

I am so excited to introduce you to one of my absolute favorite people, Cary Kelly! Cary is the brains behind the fantastic store The Cookery. For ten glorious years, Cary brought us all the things we needed to make the perfect meal. Her passion for food knows no bounds and is quite infectious. Since closing her store, Cary has started a delightful blog, Cary in the Kitchen, and has graciously agreed to contribute to ours! Cary will be popping her head in here occasionally to expose you to the latest and greatest recipes, tools, and techniques. Now, please direct your attention to this gorgeous salad!

Christmas has brightly lit trees, Thanksgiving has cornucopia, Easter has baskets. Summer's seasonal bling is The Salad. Webster's definition of the salad is a broad invitation to filling a bowl, plate, or platter with the bounty of summer, creating a meal, or side, that is as beautiful as it is delicious.

"A mixture of raw usually green leafy vegetables (as lettuce) combined with other vegetables (as tomato and cucumbers) and served with a dressing." 

I have joined the backyard urban garden movement and am now enjoying cucumbers, peas, eggplant, lettuce, and tomatoes, so I am looking for new ideas for salads, pickling, and sautéing. In my patio garden, I have planted herbs that can serve as ornaments to a garden salad's base of greens. Mine include lemon balm, parsley, tarragon, cilantro, and two types of basil. Each year, I try something new, and this year's experiment included tart, lemony sorrel, spicy nasturtium, and a collection of edible flowers. All are fair game for a colorful salad.

There are iconic salads - the Caesar, the Wedge, the Cobb, and the Caprese. There are the lesser-known Waldorf, Tabbouleh, and Niçoise. Going with Webster's wide berth, however, you can make a salad of any greens, herbs, vegetables, and fruit. Of course, grains make a great addition or substitution for a base of greens.

For guidance and inspiration, I headed to Red Barn Mercantile and found Jess Damuck's Salad Freak. Damuck's subtitle really grabbed me - "Recipes to feed a healthy obsession."  It's hard not to be obsessed with the array of bright and beautiful colors, shapes, and textures in a presentation of produce. The eyes fall in love, the belly begs for more. 

Martha Stewart wrote the forward to this beautifully photographed book. She wrote, "Salads are good; salads are healthy; salads never have to be boring, and dressings can always be homemade - never, ever out of a jar!" "I am on my way to nicknaming myself a salad freak."

Damuck's recipes do entice the palate and stir the imagination and make you downright freaky about produce. She provides a lot of guidance, including a glossary of pantry staples, dressings, and fresh ingredients that combine to create the perfect salad. She surprises with her combinations of ingredients but offers approachable recipes that make you feel like you can whip them up on the spot. Ingredients can easily be substituted for another that you have growing, delivered by your CSA, or found at the market.

I browsed the book to choose one recipe for this article. Frankly, it was very difficult to narrow down to one. I know I will be cooking and composing my way through the entire book. I kept turning the page back to her Pickled Blackberry and Shallot Panzanella with Sumac from page 142. Perhaps it held my attention because berries are so luscious at the market right now.

I was drawn to the idea of pickling the berries and seasoning them with sumac, one of my very favorite spices. This is also a creative riff on the Italian Panzanella salad, one I Iove. I found sweet plump blackberries at the market. After the quick pickle, the berries took on a slight tartness that rounds out the sweetness. It actually emphasizes the berry flavor. 

The texture of this salad is fantastic. The plump berries and pickled tomatoes are soft on the tooth. The bread has a great crunch; as the crouton crumbles under your teeth, it mixes with the sweetness of the berries and tomatoes. The citrusy sumac is carried over your palate by the oil, adding the perfect balance. This salad will become a favorite, and it's easy to make. The pickled vegetables and berries could be a side dish on their own. They would also be a wonderful accompaniment to cold grilled chicken.

Try this salad while the berries are at their best, which is now! Then, rush to Red Barn Mercantile to get your own copy of this book. I know you, like me, will want to make more of Damuck's salads while summer is doing its garden magic. Next on my list is the Peach, Cucumber, Avocado, and Dukkah salad. Now, that is enough to make me a salad freak, too!