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Shaved Squash Salad

We spent the past week eating very, very well. And to be perfectly honest, I'm sick of it. I'll go ahead and acknowledge that I'm not cut out to be a restaurant reviewer. After a short while, the extravagance of it would wear me out.

There's nothing wrong with fine dining. It's just not my scene.

I'll tell you some things I love. Fresh sweet corn, raw on the cob, still warm from the summer sun. Hunks of rustic cheese, bread, and wine. The juiciest peaches oozing syrup all over my hands and face. These are the foods I get excited about.

Call me boring if you like. I call it content.

I grew up in a family only a generation or so removed from subsistence farming. We ate green beans, corn, tomatoes, and squash in the summer, and canned or frozen produce in the winter plus some hardy greens. Most often, the vegetables were cooked in the simplest manner possible--sautéed or simmered--and with little or no adornment. I haven't fallen all that far from the tree.

I remembered this last week when, in the midst of yet another staggeringly rich meal, we were served a plate of beautiful tomatoes. It's a cliché now--the plate of heirloom tomatoes served au naturel. But it's a lovely cliché. It's a cliché that tastes like summer and sun and earth and the hot wind that combs the land. In that moment, all I wanted to eat were those tomatoes. They made the rest of the food pale in comparison.

I'm trying to take that moment home with me. The realization that sometimes, if not all the time, the less you fuss with food, the better it is. Let the ingredients be what they are.

One embodiment of that idea is this squash salad. Squash is often overlooked because, let's face it, it's mild and unassuming, and if you've ever grown it, you know that it's prolific enough to take it for granted. Don't. Let me change your mind.

This squash salad is bright and herby and just the thing for a hot summer day, or if you just need to use some squash or zucchini. It's very elegant spread out on a large platter, scattered with whole mint leaves and feta. For even more visual interest, use different types of summer squash--baby squash, pattypans, crookneck squash.

We do everything to taste around here. If you like your dressing to be very lemony, add more lemon. If you prefer something milder, hold back on the lemon. The mint offers a suggestion of a flavor and is very light on the palate, but if the idea of mint puts you off, leave it out and throw in some chopped parsley or dill instead. I think the feta is key here. I used French feta, which is creamier and a bit milder than Greek feta, but any type of feta will work just fine. Serve the salad with crusty bread and more olive oil (and tomatoes and fresh corn if you can get them), and enjoy the flavors of the best kind of real food.

Other articles you might enjoy: Squash Casserole, Zucchini Fans, Ode To the Squash

Shaved Squash Salad
Serves 4

Using a mandoline, shave into very thin slices:
           1 pound assorted summer squash
Toss with:
           1/4 cup lemon juice, or more to taste
            Zest of 1 lemon
            3 tablespoons olive oil
            1/4 teaspoon salt
            1 tablespoon chopped mint
            1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
If time allows, chill the squash for 30 minutes to 1 hour. The squash will absorb some of the dressing and soften.
Spread the salad out on a large platter. Garnish with:
           Whole mint leaves
            Feta

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Note: Some Middle Eastern markets sell frozen shelled fava beans. If you can find those, feel free to use them here. You may also substitute the traditional lima beans for favas.

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