“When I make a salad, I like to tell a story,” Yehuda Sichel tells me recently, while we’re sitting outside Huda, his new fast casual spot in Centre City, Philadelphia. It’s just a few minutes after a long-time customer pops over to our table to say hello, and tells me, unprompted, about how Sichel makes the best salads in the city. Back when he was the sous chef at Zahav, she says, he would mix up off-menu versions for her, using whatever fresh ingredients they had on hand. He was a salad genius.
After Zahav, and a decade helming the kitchen at Abe Fisher, the city’s acclaimed restaurant highlighting contemporary Jewish cuisine, Sichel opened Huda in September 2020. “Whether it’s part of a tasting menu, or it’s a sandwich, or a salad,” Sichel says, “It has to be cohesive.”
Huda is drawing attention for its tight lineup of sandwiches — grilled swordfish with kimchi tartar sauce and napa cabbage slaw, crispy maitake mushroom with Oaxaca cheese and avocado inspired by a Mexican torta — tucked into fluffy milk buns he makes fresh every morning. But his salads are just as thoughtful. Over the summer, warm chicken burnished with sweet barbecue sauce, pickled peaches, roasted summer squash and corn off the cob was like a picnic in a bowl. Fall’s salads feature baby kale with toasted cashews, spiced, roasted pumpkins from a local farm, and housemade green goddess dressing.
Each dish at Huda tells a story in a way that maybe you’d expect from an upscale restaurant, but feels surprising and delightful at a place you’d pop in for a quick weekday lunch. “The goal is to have food that’s executed on a really high level, but make it a little more accessible,” Sichel says.
Eating a salad at Huda does make elevated food feel accessible — like you can have nice things without making a reservation, sitting through a 10-course tasting menu, or even having to wear pants with a zipper. And if the chef can do that with a fast casual lunch, maybe he can help me make my own salads a little more exciting. Read on for Sichel’s five best tips on how to make a salad that tells a story.
Don’t add too many ingredients
If your salad is telling a story, says Sichel, make sure it’s a succinct one. (There’s a reason Sweetgreen keeps its signature salads to a handful of ingredients. It’s also why, when you stray from that menu and lean into your own frenetic creation, it never tastes quite as good.) Whether you tap your local farmers’ market for in-season ingredients or forage for leftovers in your fridge, pick a theme and stick with it. A handful of great ingredients can make a salad that’s way more than the sum of its parts.
Don’t overdress it
It’s both easy and economical to make your own dressing, and the flavour options are endless. But add too much and the dressing will overpower the salad with flavour and texture, making it feel like you’re tucking into a pile of wet fall leaves. “It’s okay to leave your dressing on the side,” says the chef, but if you opt to add it in, just add a drizzle or a spritz. If you pick the right ingredients, too, you’ll get most of your flavour from those and won’t need much dressing.
Don’t forget herbs and spices
One of the quickest ways to upgrade your salad is to add a handful of torn herbs like basil, cilantro, mint, or dill. Sichel suggests mixing fresh herbs into your lettuce, or incorporating minced herbs into your dressing. He also boosts both roasted vegetables and homemade croutons with spices, which will add another layer of flavour.
Don’t hold back on crunch
Speaking of homemade croutons — while they can add texture and seasoning, so can fried shallots, roasted chickpeas or edamame, and so much more. “Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and wasabi peas are the move,” he says.
Don’t miss out on flavour
According to Sichel, taking a salad from good to great is in the final details. “Think about, ‘How can I elevate this ingredient?’ says the chef. “One more small step can add a whole different element of flavour.” Instead of using raw walnuts, pecans, or almonds, take a few extra minutes to toast your favourite nuts. Instead of just slicing up raw vegetables and fruit, try seasoning and roasting zucchini, pumpkins, or squash on high heat to caramelise and coax out the natural sweetness.
Go beyond pickled cucumbers and try pickling green beans, carrots, and even peaches, like the ones on Huda’s BBQ chicken salad. The tart acidity gives mild greens a little punch, and takes your salad to the next level.
This story first appeared on www.foodandwine.com
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