Eschewing early ambitions to be the next Al Pacino for Chez Panisse, food writer and recipe developer Andy Baraghani recalls Cal Peternell advising him to go to college instead of culinary school. Working his way up in professional kitchens around the country, Baraghani applies the simple rules he learned through the years in his new book, “The Cook You Want to Be: Everyday Recipes to Impress.”
Baraghani says the number one rule in the kitchen is to forgo consistency. “The lack of consistency — the idea of changing things up, changing the ingredients, changing your technique, changing your flavors — is so essential for me as a cook. It allows me to constantly evolve.”
With recipes for variants of dishes from his time at Estella and Chez Panisse, Baraghani chooses to make more salads during the warmer months. He dolls up ranch dressing with a variation using tahini and uses coconut flakes to sweeten and bring a toastiness to vegetables and meats.
Loyalists (to what? Blue cheese?!) will blast me for altering too many parts of the wedge salad with my version, but I’m not sorry. The classic wedge has a few issues. That dressing is always too thick and never properly enrobes the entire salad. The croutons are often stale. The occasional scattering of grape tomatoes always feels like a lazy afterthought that doesn’t bring much to the table besides some underwhelming tomato energy. I don’t have a problem with the bacon, as long as it’s in the form of shards and not bits.
I felt compelled to come up with a recipe that solved my problems with the standard wedge. The cold, crisp, refreshing lettuce doesn’t actually need much improving, but cutting it into smaller (read: cuter) pieces allows for more dressing to get between those wavy layers. My dressing is a garlicky tahini-based ranch that has the ideal drizzle consistency.
When it comes to the toppings, I admit that I go extra, and I think it’s absolutely worth it. If you omit one or even two of the toppings, I won’t be upset because you will still love this salad.
- 1 head iceberg lettuce
- 1 small lemon
- Kosher salt
- 1 cup Tahini Ranch (recipe on Bon Appétit)
- 2 small radishes, thinly sliced
- ½ small red or white onion, thinly sliced into rings
- 1 cup torn herbs (such as basil, cilantro, dill, and/or parsley)
- 2 tablespoons mixed toasted seeds (such as poppy, sesame, and/or sunflower)
- 1 teaspoon mild chile flakes (such as Aleppo; optional)
- Flaky sea salt (optional)
- Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling
- Remove any floppy or wilted outer leaves from the lettuce. Quarter the lettuce through the core, then cut each quarter into 3-inch-ish pieces. Arrange the iceberg wedges on a serving platter, pulling apart the leaves slightly, so dressing can easily get in there. Halve the lemon and squeeze its juice over the lettuce, catching any seeds with your other hand. Season each wedge with a bit of kosher salt.
- Using a spoon, drizzle the ranch over the lettuce. (You can leave some on the side, depending on how much or how little dressing you want.) Scatter the radishes, onion, and herbs. Sprinkle the seeds, chile flakes, and flaky sea salt over the top. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil and then set out knives and forks and get to it