Pretty as springtime

As the weather warms up, it’s time to move away from heavy dishes and embrace rich, sophisticated salads.

Cauliflower head and blue-cheese sauce (photo credit: ILYA MELNIKOV)
Cauliflower head and blue-cheese sauce
(photo credit: ILYA MELNIKOV)
At the first signs of spring, I always feel the urge to dispense with the heavy stews and roasts and replace them with lighter dishes. I recently had lunch at the elegant Messa restaurant in Tel Aviv with chef Aviv Moshe, who reminded me of the endless options of making salad a full meal. Of course, my salads never look like his, but one can still be inspired.
So I asked the chef to put together several suggestions for interesting salads. The result are these fresh and flavorful salads.
If you find them too complicated, simplify and improvise.
Messa, opened in 2004, is considered one of the most attractive of the gourmet restaurants in Israel and was listed as one of the 50 most beautiful restaurants in the world by Wallpaper design magazine. It was also mentioned as one of the 80 top restaurants by Condé Nast Traveler magazine.
Chef Moshe has been serving his exciting and innovative cuisine at Messa for years, retaining his name and clientele in a city where many restaurants close after one or two years.
Moshe, 41, believes in giving his personal creative interpretations to his favorite dishes, either from the kitchens of his mother and her neighbors in Jerusalem, where he loved spending time as a child, or other types of cooking he encountered in Europe and Asia. He uses French Provençal techniques, as well as those he learned from Italian cuisine, and he loves to try new ingredients. He calls his fare “exciting and creative cuisine that is based on culinary memories from my mother’s kitchen.”
Serves 4
Not really a shakshuka or a sashimi, this salad was the reason for my writing this article. When I tasted it at Messa, I thought it was the perfect brunch on a plate. With semi-cooked tomatoes, eggs, tuna and vegetables, all beautifully arranged on the platter, all one needs is a glass of sparkling wine and good conversation. Moshe serves it at Messa with small triangular toast sandwiches, but you can serve it with good quality bread instead.
✔ 8 tomatoes, blanched, peeled and chopped (not too small)
✔ 1 or 2 green chili peppers, chopped (about 2 Tbsp.)
✔ 1½ tsp. minced garlic (2 to 4 cloves, depending on the size)
✔ 12 radishes, quartered
✔ 2 cups cilantro leaves (2 to 3 bunches)
✔ 6 pickled lemons
✔ 1 Tbsp. honey
✔ Olive oil
✔ Lemon juice to taste
✔ Salt
✔ 6 pieces (chunks or steaks) red tuna (200 gr. each)
✔ 1 bunch arugula leaves
✔ 4 eggs
For the toast sandwiches
✔ 4 slices of a large square sandwich loaf (or more if you use a smaller loaf)
To prepare the lemon paste
: In a blender or food processor bowl, grind pickled lemons with 1 Tbsp. honey and a little olive oil until the dressing is a smooth, thick and paste.
To sear the tuna: Rub tuna with a little olive oil. Heat a dry heavy skillet and sear the tuna pieces very briefly on all sides. Slice the tuna thinly into bite-size pieces.
Boil water in a small pot and cook eggs 6 minutes. Let cool and peel.
To prepare the salad: In a large bowl, mix together tomatoes, garlic, cilantro, chili and radishes. Season salad with salt, a drizzle of olive oil and a few drops of lemon juice.
Arrange vegetables on serving plates. Divide the tuna among the plates and arrange the tuna slices on top of the vegetables.
Slice each egg into 4 or 6 wedges. The yolks should still be a little bit soft and runny. Divide the egg wedges among the plates.
Place a few drops of the pickled-lemon paste on each plate and top with a few drops of olive oil. Garnish with arugula.
To make the toasts
: Remove the crust from the bread, cut each slice into squares and then into triangles. Spread a little of the lemon paste on each triangle and make sandwiches. Heat a little olive oil in a skillet and fry the toasts on both sides. Place 2 sandwiches on each plate.
Serves 4
Cauliflower has become the “it” vegetable in gourmet restaurants in Israel and abroad in recent years. In this recipe, the blanched cauliflower is baked and served in a rich blue-cheese sauce. A very rich dish, it can be served as a vegetarian main course.
For the baked cauliflower
✔ 1 head of cauliflower, leaves removed
✔ 3 Tbsp. breadcrumbs
✔ 2 Tbsp. toasted sesame seeds
✔ Olive oil
✔ Coarse salt
For the dressing
✔ 200 ml. cream
✔ 200 gr. blue cheese, crumbled
Cook cauliflower in boiling water for 10 minutes. Remove from water and let cool. Preheat oven to 180°. Mix together the sesame seeds and breadcrumbs.
Add enough oil to wet the crumbs. Rub the cauliflower with the bread crumb mixture and season with salt. Bake the cauliflower on a lined baking sheet for 15 minutes.
To prepare the sauce:
In a small pot, heat the cream and add the cheese. Stir and cook until all the cheese is melted. Remove the baked cauliflower from the oven and cut into 4. Divide the sauce between 4 soup plates and place a quarter of the cauliflower on top.
Serves 4
This salad takes some preparation, but the result is very attractive. Peeling tomatoes is something that most chefs recommend, but if you decide to skip it, make the little tomato sandwiches bite size.
✔ 6 tomatoes, peeled, quartered, seeds removed
✔ Soft goat cheese, sliced
✔ Arugula
✔ 4 slices white bread, crust removed, sliced into fingers
✔ Olive oil
✔ Coarse salt
✔ Freshly ground black pepper
✔ Greens: baby lettuce, endive, fennel or cress
✔ Zest of 1 lemon
To make the tomato sandwiches: Cut the peeled and seeded tomatoes into small flat pieces. Place a slice of cheese on a tomato piece, top with an arugula leaf and close with another slice of tomato. Cut to make a perfect rectangle that shows all the layers. Continue with the rest of the tomatoes. You should have about 20 “sandwiches.”
Heat oven to 180°.
To make the croutons
: Place the bread fingers on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Place 5 tomato sandwiches on each plate. Arrange the greens between them. Drizzle a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Divide the toasted bread fingers among the plates and sprinkle a little lemon zest on top.
*You may garnish each plate with a little caviar in balsamic vinegar.
Serves 4
This salad has many Asian ingredients, especially in the dressing. If you can’t find some of the ingredients, simply replace them. The main thing, as with all Asian cold salads, is to balance the flavors of the dressing, making sure that the balance between sweet and sour is good and that it is salty and spicy enough but not too much.
✔ 1 head baby lettuce (¼ for each serving)
✔ 1 onion, sliced
✔ Fennel leaves
✔ 8 baby cucumbers, sliced lengthwise (2 per serving)
✔ 2 carrots, peeled and julienned
✔ 2 bunches Shimeji mushrooms
✔ Bunch each: cilantro, mint, basil (leaves only)
✔ 8 baby peppers (Peppadew), quartered
✔ 20 gr. pickled daikon (optional)
✔ Lemon zest For the dressing
✔ 6 Tbsp. mirin
✔ 4 Tbsp. light soy sauce
✔ 4 Tbsp. green chili paste
✔ 4 Tbsp. tamarind
✔ 4 Tbsp. silan
✔ 200 gr. fresh salmon, sliced thinly
✔ Roasted peanuts, crushed In a bowl.
Mix together the salad ingredients. Shake the dressing ingredients together in a jar. Pour dressing on the salad and toss.
Divide the salad among the plates. Divide the salmon among the plates and sprinkle crushed peanuts on top.
Serves 4
This is basically a green salad with feta cheese. But the rich dressing, sweet figs and other gourmet ingredients make it worthy of a festive meal. If you like, add other dried fruit such as pitaya or another exotic fruit to the salad. This is where you can improvise.
✔ 6 red endives, leaves separated
✔ 3 small lettuces (called Baby Jam), quartered
✔ 3 salanova lettuces (small silky lettuces that are usually sold in packs of 2), quartered
✔ 12 dried figs (look for large Iranian ones), quartered
✔ 8 baby cucumbers, quartered
✔ 18 dried tomato “raisins”
✔ 12 leaves fennel
✔ 16 basil leaves
✔ 100 gr. 15% feta cheese, crumbled
✔  Sugared pecans
✔ Mustard vinaigrette
Toss the leaves with the vinaigrette. Top with feta, sugared pecans and figs. 
Recipes and photos courtesy of Messa restaurant and chef Aviv Moshe.
19 HaArba’a Street, Tel Aviv
(03) 685-6859.
Not kosher