Bon Appétit editor at large Amiel Stanek has spent years trying to help readers get dinner on the table as quickly and efficiently as possible. So when he gets to cook for himself, he likes to slow things down and be a little…extra. This is Not So Fast, a column dedicated to his favorite ingredient: time.
Ah, the flavors of August! Achingly ripe tomatoes glossy with olive oil. Neon-colored Italian ice melting in the sun. Hot, sweet blueberries burbling in a fresh-out-of-the-oven pie. As much as these highly seasonal delights scream “IT’S SUMMER, BABY!” with full-throated vigor, I’m here to turn you on to an ingredient that, in my humble opinion, has just as much of a place in the pantheon of hot-weather delicacies: cottage cheese.
Yep, you heard me right: curdy, cultured, salty-sour cottage cheese—a dairy product that more people probably associate with senior citizens’ discounts than summer Fridays. But before you balk, I ask you to think about the other milk-based products that we don’t think twice about consuming in the high summer heat. We deploy sauces made from gussied-up ricotta and tangy Greek yogurt with abandon. What is cottage cheese but yogurt with more texture, or ricotta with more character? We giddily tear apart juicy wads of burrata and garnish them with all manner of peak-season produce. But how different, I ask you, is humble cottage cheese from the creamy, curdy stracciatella inside these fancy-sounding dairy balls?
If we’re going to litigate the appropriateness of enjoying cottage cheese in the summertime, let this surprisingly refreshing salad be exhibit A: There’s a tumble of salted summer tomatoes, cucumbers, and scallions sitting pretty atop a raita-esque puddle of grated radishes mixed with large-curd cottage cheese. Served fridge cold, it’s a riot of flavors and textures—crunchy, juicy summer produce, spicy radishes, tart-rich dairy—and a better accompaniment to buttered corn and grilled sausages than coleslaw or potato salad could ever hope to be.
This wonky-sounding salad is inspired by majówka (pronounced MAH-youf-KA), a salad that my dad, who spent the first 14 years of his life in Poland, would make for us every summer. (It’s worth mentioning that no amount of Googling on my part has ever turned up another instance of a salad by this name, though apparently the word itself translates to “picnic,” which certainly supports my summertime cottage cheese thesis.) But I like to think of it as a Polish Caprese of sorts. There are certain key differences that distinguish my version of the dish from my dad’s. Not to drag him—though I owe it to my mom to do so, considering the public shaming I gave her fruit salad a few years back—but his majówka is not the most…photogenic of dishes. Rather than “plating” the dish in any real way, he tosses all of the veggies together with not only cottage cheese but sour cream as well. (The two make up the secret ingredients in his mashed potatoes too). It’s delicious, to be sure, but looks more like a giant bowl of onion dip than anything most people would consider a “salad.” Mine’s cuter, Dad. Sorry! I love you!