Welcome to One Quick Bite, where we share smart, cool, and weird conversations with our favorite authors about their new cookbook and beyond.
A salad—even as a serious vegetable lover—doesn't usually compel me to lunge forward for seconds. It's not like cheesy pasta, melt-in-your-mouth scones, or the perfect pizza. But for Sheela Prakash's salads, I will lunge—a lot, and often. I made her Roasted Sweet Potato Salad at least once a week in January and February when winter had nothing but gray to offer. I've shown up to picnics with a bowl of her Mediterranean Chickpea Salad. When I think of salad, I think of Sheela.
Lucky for us, Sheela—who is a beloved writer for Simply Recipes—just came out with Salad Seasons, a cookbook dedicated to what she does best.
"Salad Seasons is a play on words: It's a celebration of the four seasons and a lesson in how smart seasoning can transform your salads," says Sheela. Come to think of it, the reason why I made her sweet potato salad on repeat wasn't just because sweet potatoes were in season. It's because of the chili powder-coated tubers and their natural sweetness, the tangy tart lime dressing, and salty feta—a smartly seasoned and flavored salad. You'll get 80 delicious salad recipes, just like that, in the cookbook.
In this rapid-fire Q&A, Sheela gives us a peek into what she cooks at home and shares her favorite restaurant, her desert island kitchen tool, and more.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What kitchen appliance do you use the most often?
Our Breville toaster oven. We don't have a toaster, so it's used frequently for that function. We also use it to reheat leftovers, roast a small amount of veggies without turning the whole oven on, and bake a few cookies from the freezer when the craving strikes.
What cooking "rule" do you break and suggest we do too?
I pretty much never peel fresh ginger—it's such a pain! Instead, grate it on a Microplane. The skin separates and comes off naturally. And if I do get a little bit in my grated ginger I never sweat about it since it's edible and rich in nutrients.
What’s your go-to emergency dinner?
Frozen pizza, specifically from Tripoli, an Italian bakery where I grew up in Massachusetts. It's known as beach pizza because the square slices with sweet tomato sauce and sliced provolone cheese are often a beach lunch. It's pure comfort food. I cart back with me as many as I can every time I visit family.
What’s a dish you make for your family all the time and will be remembered for?
My yogurt panna cotta—a recipe from my first cookbook, Mediterranean Every Day. If you've eaten around my dinner table, you've had my panna cotta. I top it with fresh fruit, honey, toasted nuts, or a dollop of jam depending on the season.
You’re stuck on a deserted island with only one kitchen tool. Which one would you want it to be?
My favorite chef's knife—a wedding gift from my father and the knife I reach for the most. It's also just so pretty to look at. Since practicality is key on a deserted island. It can chop and dice and slice, which is pretty much step one when cooking.
Describe your dream sandwich.
It's a late summer BLT with the sweetest, juiciest in-season tomatoes, crispy thin-cut bacon, tender lettuce, and Duke's mayo on lightly toasted but still pillowy sliced sandwich bread.
Name your favorite section at the grocery store.
It's a tie between the condiments section and the pasta section. I could spend hours looking at the various brands and varieties of mustard, hot sauce, pickled things, and beyond. I also just get very excited picking out which pasta shape to take home with me.
If you could only eat at one restaurant for the rest of your life, which one would it be?
The bar at Gramercy Tavern in New York City. It's the epitome of a NYC restaurant to me, and where I fell in love with the energy of the city and its culinary scene. We dine out as a special treat rather than a convenience, and Gramercy Tavern fits the bill. I almost always prefer sitting at the bar at restaurants, so that's where you'll find me.
Which cooking competition show would you want to compete in?
Chopped because I feel like that's how I cook most nights. I start with what we have on hand in the refrigerator and pantry and go from there. I love the feeling of using up all sorts of bits and bobs to create a cohesive meal.
The first recipe we should make from your cookbook.
The whole-lemon vinaigrette for the arugula salad in the "Spring" chapter. It's surprising, bright, and bracing, and proves how easy it is to create interesting salads. Toss it with any greens—not just arugula—or roasted vegetables, spoon it on grilled chicken or fish, or use it as a dressing for pasta or potato salad.
BUY THE COOKBOOK: Salad Seasons