Camille Becerra Is Here to Make Your Salads Better

The all-day-cafe queen knows a good salad when she sees one.

Nov 13 2017, 5:00pm

It's a clear day in the MUNCHIES garden, and impossibly sunny chef Camille Becerra of NYC's cool-as-hell De Maria restaurant, has lost the only pair of kitchen shears we have. "I think I left it in the fennel? It's not in the ground cherries."

It's in her back pocket, it turns out, and good thing, as there's plenty she still wants to get from the garden. By the time she's done, she has a giant haul of tomatoes, blackberries, sour gherkins, tatsoi, kale, ground cherries, edible flowers, and herbs.

Once she (and the shears) are back in the kitchen, she covers a batch of red lentils in hot water to soak. She's brought some pickled mustard seeds with her, and she carefully pulls apart a couple blackberries and adds their drupelets to the mustard seeds.

While that all sits, she quickly moves on the kale and tatsoi she's grabbed from the garden: "What I like to do is just give them a quick steam: I warm up a pan with no oil, and I throw them in with a little splattering of water, and that's it. Not that kale's not great raw, but we're all so over kale salad." And then it's on to the tomatoes, which she tears into irregular semicircles and adds to a bowl with the halved ground cherries and sour gherkins. ("I like to just rip them. It's kind of a nice little mix that way, so that there's some texture—you have to be careful with these, though; they'll squirt you in the eye.")

"Let's move on to our yogurt. We're going to put all those petals in there." At De Maria, they make their own yogurt in-house, and she's brought some of that with her too. ("I don't like Greek yogurt so much anymore—does it really have to be so thick? Is it worth it?") Once the yogurt is appropriately petal-filled, the lentils are good to go. They get blitzed in the food processor and seasoned with cumin and salt.

Then all that's left to do is fry up the lentil mixture and assemble the dish. Becerra scoops quenelles of lentil puree into a skillet of hot oil, squishes each quenelle into a football-shaped patty, and lets each patty sizzle until browned.

MAKE THIS: Easy Lentil Fritters

A swish of yogurt goes down on the plate, followed by a couple of patties and a heap of greens. On top of that the torn tomato mixture, then the pickled mustard seeds and blackberry bits, and then a garden's worth of petals and fronds. The entire combination makes for the perfect salty-tangy-rich light lunch that lets you pretend it's still almost summer out.