RoseMary Diaz
The bright, fresh ingredients for the Sonora Sunset Salad include cactus, habanero peppers, prickly pear, tomatillos, and chayote squash.

Turning Over a Few New Leaves: Salads By Season—Focus on the Pacific Northwest Coast

RoseMary Diaz

Welcome to the second installment of “Turning Over a Few New Leaves,” a four-part series of recipes inspired by traditional, seasonally forageable foods from the four major North American tribal regions—Southwest, Easter Seaboard, Pacific Northwest Coast, and Northern Plains. After a lengthy stop in Santa Fe, where there’s always a salad fork in the road, we’re back in the saddle and heading north by northwest.

In this segment, we leave the deserts of the American Southwest for the cool, breezy shores of the Pacific Northwest Coast, making an unscheduled but impossible-to-resist stop along the way in the beautiful and serene Sonoran Desert, near the southern-most and east-west edges of California and Arizona. Here the arid and sunbaked land is abundant with life-sustaining, moisture-rich edibles: cactus, melons, and squashes; peppers in a rainbow of palate-challenging spiciness; pale-green tomatillos wrapped in thin, papery husks that rustle in the gentle breezes of late afternoon. All the inspiration needed for a bright and refreshing salad whose plucked-from-the-vine ingredients mirror the colors of the Sonoran sunset.

From there, it’s a sharp right and we’re off for Seattle, Washington, where some of the most nutrient-dense of all ocean foods grows in thick, tangled collections close to the rainy coastline. Known primarily by its Japanese name, wakame (sometimes called sea mustard in English) is a slender, bright green sea vegetable packed with vitamins and minerals, including natural calcium, iodine, potassium, and zinc. With a subtly sweet flavor that plays well with others, this versatile, water-borne superfood is a true gem of flavor and function.

On this leg of the journey, we’ve discovered two healthy salads that appeal not only to the senses, but also to those wanting a healthier diet rich in whole, minimally processed, indigenous foods. Made from ingredients that are calorie-conscious, healthy, and harvested from the natural bounties of Mother Earth, both recipes offered here are good moves in that direction.

Sonoran Sunset Salad with Salted Raw Honey Drizzle


1 large cactus pad (nopales), de-needled, scrubbed, blanched, and finely julienned

6 large, ripe prickly pears, scrubbed, blanched, peeled, seeded, and finely julienned

2 cups ripe watermelon, cubed

1 medium smooth-skinned Chayote squash, trimmed, scrubbed, halved lengthwise, seeded, and thinly sliced widthwise

1/4 to 1/2 small fresh habanero pepper, rinsed, halved lengthwise, de-veined, seeded, and finely julienned

3 medium tomatillos, about 4 inches in diameter, rinsed, trimmed and quartered (remove excess seeds)

In a medium to large bowl, add all ingredients. Mix thoroughly, cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator until ready to serve, up to 4 hours.


1/2 cup raw honey

4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons warm water

1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground sea salt

In a salad dressing or shaker-bottle, combine honey and lemon juice. Add salt and shake well. Refrigerate until ready to use, up to one week. (Separation is normal and does not affect the quality or taste of the dressing.)

To serve:

Add water to dressing mix and shake well to blend thoroughly. Add half of dressing to prepared salad ingredients and mix gently with a large, wooden spoon to evenly coat all ingredients. Spoon one-half cup salad into individual serving bowls. Serve immediately after adding dressing. Serve remaining dressing on the side.

Serves 6.

Seattle Seaweed Toss with Toasted Sesame Seeds and Wild Onion

3 cups fresh wakame sea-vegetable

1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds

4 fresh, wild onions, rinsed, trimmed, sliced thinly lengthwise, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

3/4 teaspoon dried, crushed red-pepper flakes

6 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar

2 tablespoons soy sauce

In a medium bowl, add wakame, onions, rice vinegar, and soy sauce. Toss gently to combine all ingredients and allow seaweed and onion to absorb the vinegar and soy sauce. Refrigerate until ready to serve, up to 4 hours.

To serve:

Add sesame seeds and crushed pepper flakes to liquid-coated greens. Toss gently to thoroughly combine all ingredients. Spoon ½-cup salad into individual serving bowls. Serve immediately.

Serves 6.

Notes on vitamin and mineral content/health beneficial compounds for the foods included in these recipes:

Cactus: anti-oxidants, pectin, phytochemicals. Prickly Pear: calcium, fiber, magnesium, potassium, vitamin C. Watermelon: potassium, vitamin A, vitamin C. Chayote squash: Fiber, folate, potassium, vitamin B-6, vitamin C. Tomatillo: copper, fiber, iron, magnesium, manganese, niacin, phosphorus, potassium, vitamin C, vitamin K. Habanero: vitamin C, vitamin K. Raw Honey: calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, niacin, pantothenic acid, riboflavin, thiamine, vitamin B6, zinc. Lemon Juice: anti-microbial and anti-septic compounds, calcium, copper, vitamin C, vitamin K, zinc. Sea Salt: anti-fungal compounds, iodine. Wakame Sea Vegetable: calcium, iodine, niacin, Omega-3 fatty acids, thiamine. Wild Onion: phenolic anti-oxidants, vitamin C, vitamin K. Toasted Sesame Seed: fiber, flavonoid phenolic anti-oxidants, oleic acids, Omega-6 fatty acids, phytonutrients. Dried, Crushed Red Pepper: vitamin C, vitamin K. Seasoned Rice Vinegar:  Soy Sauce: copper, B-6, iron, magnesium, manganese, niacin, phosphorus, protein, riboflavin.

RELATED: Turning Over a Few New Leaves: Salads by Season—Focus on the Southwest

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