‘Are you there salad makers? It’s me, Emily.’ So starts the latest bulletin from Emily Nunn, former New Yorker magazine editor turned newsletter superstar. Searching for something to bring her joy in the ‘hellish, lonely summer’ of 2020, Emily began making salads so delicious and dazzling they were ‘like bouquets of flowers you could eat.’ To continue the momentum into the autumn she decided to launch a newsletter, The Department of Salad. The feel is a bit retro and reads like an early noughties blog – like Julie and Julia perhaps – with sparky writing that is funny, warm and appealing, so much so that she garners hundreds of comments beneath some of her posts (and responds to them all). Free subscribers receive one salad recipe per week, whilst paid up members ($5.50 per month – or £3.79) get a couple more, as well as access to the full archive, book reviews and recipes from guest chefs mailed out from Emily’s kitchen in Atlanta, Georgia on Fridays or else over the weekend.
We have Diana Henry to thank for putting us onto the Department of Salads. She’s a fan – and has subsequently been featured in the newsletter sharing her top salad recipes – Salade Gavrocharde for free subscribers, and Roasted Tomato, Fennel and Chickpea Salad for paid members. As well as this, she offers her fundamental thoughts on what a salad ought to be:
Diana Henry’s five things a salad should be
- FULL OF LIFE. So much so that it’s almost impossible to contain it in a bowl or on a plate. I think it should feel as if they could take flight, if that makes sense. I wish I could get more small leaves or that I was a good gardener—I love those little sprightly bits of greenery you can add at the end. They give it life and structure too.
- LIGHT. Since I think salads should feel full of life, I am not so keen on salads made with mayo. The more liquid the dressings the lighter the salad.
- NEVER STODGY. People make salads now—as I do—with roast vegetables and ingredients that would have seemed odd in the past, or at least unusual. It’s important not to chuck just anything into them. You have a bowl of cold roast potatoes in the fridge? Maybe there’s a better vehicle for firing life into those.
- HAPPINESS INDUCING. A soup makes you feel warmed and happy, a salad should make you enlivened and happy. It should energize you, but that doesn’t mean it should be all about crunchiness or ‘clean eating’ (God help us).
- WELL DRESSED. And you have to approach that dressing anew—each salad has its own dressing, made with the oils and acids you have at any particular time. Remember what it’s going on—whether it’s mild, like mozzarella, or sweet, like roasted pumpkin. And sometimes salads barely need dressing at all, and you have to know when to leave well enough alone. Really great tomatoes—both sweet and acidic—might only need salt and extra virgin olive oil.
We’ve been subscribers to the Department of Salad for a couple of months now – at first for free and then paid, because we love it so much. Our favourite things so far have been this wonderful short story about a salad bowl by Kevin Conley that takes about 3 minutes to read. And of course, the recipes. There are fruit salads, Cobb salads, chopped salads, recreations of the best restaurant salads – this question provoked a great cascade of answers with readers writing in wonderful descriptions. All sound appealing to Emily, and therefore to us. Do subscribe here. And here’s a salad dressing to get you started.
Emily Nunn’s Perfect Mustard Vinaigrette
1⁄2 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard (I really like Trader Joe’s brand)
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1⁄2 teaspoon of sea salt (or more to taste)
Freshly ground pepper
Place the ingredients in a jar and shake the hell out of it until it is completely emulsified. If you like garlic on your salad (I often do) start the recipe by mashing together a clove of garlic and the salt in a mortar and pestle (or with the back of a spoon, in a bowl), then whisk in the remaining ingredients. You can also leave out the garlic and add about a tablespoon of finely chopped red onion.