Profile of an Expert Salad Maker and Cook, Teagen Leonhart


Me and Teagen

My friend Teagen is one of the best intuitive cooks I know.  She rarely uses recipes and makes things up on the spot, yet they always seem to work.  She is known for her salads (amongst other things) even if she will snarkily say ‘it’s just chopping vegetables’.  Still, everyone raves about her salads.  Those of you that know me now will find this hard to believe but I didn’t really like salads before I met Teagen.  After trying her salads, I now eat salads with most meals.  In today’s post, I talk to Teagen about salads and include a recipe for a delicious salad with arugula, butter lettuce and persimmons that she made on Thanksgiving.  If you want to read more posts like this, please sign-up for email notifications or follow my page on Facebook.



Name: Teagen Leonhart

Occupation: High School English Teacher

Location: San Rafael, CA

-As I said in the introduction above, you are one of the best intuitive cooks I know.  How did you learn how to cook?  How do you decide which flavors go together?  My mom was always a good cook.  She called herself a good cook, never a chef.  Even when we didn’t have money growing up, we always had really good food.  Then I worked in fine-dining restaurants for 10 years and was exposed to different flavors and ways of putting ingredients together.  I would bring these ideas home with me and experiment with them in my own cooking.

-Do you ever use a recipe?  If not, how do you cook without a recipe?  I will use a recipe the first time I make something but even then I change it.  I add other herbs, seasonings, etc.  I refer to recipes often and use them as inspiration. I like to experiment with foods from different places in the world and recipes are a good reference for what spices, seasonings and ingredients I need.  Experience allows me to cook without a recipe and still know how it will turn out.

-You are known for your salads (amongst other things) and rightfully so.  What do you think about when you are deciding on ingredients for a salad?  It depends on where I start in planning a meal.  If it is a salad based meal, I think about what to add to the salad to make it a robust and full meal, like meat, cheese, etc.  If I am starting with a main course and pairing the salad to that, I think about how the flavors will created a balanced meal.  With a rich main dish, I would want a tangy, light and acidic salad.  The idea is to have different kinds of flavors.

-How would you describe yourself as a cook?  Is there a particular style of cooking you gravitate towards?  Impulsive.  I go to the store, see what looks good, and build around it.  I eat a lot of fresh veggies and lean protein and I don’t eat a lot of carbs.  I’d rather have wine than pasta.

-What common mistakes do other people make with salads?  They think they’re complicated!  Also, they don’t buy fresh, good ingredients.  Buying good ingredients is the most important thing.  If you buy crappy produce, you will have a crappy salad.  A salad is only the sum of its ingredients.  The other mistake that people make is using too much oil in dressing.  The dressing doesn’t need to be that rich.  I use mostly lemon and vinegar with a bit of sweet and a bit of spice.  I probably use less than a tablespoon of oil for a large salad!

-Is there anything you wish you knew how to make?  Anything you really want to learn?  Bread and cheese.

-What tips would you give someone who was just learning how to cook?  Buy good ingredients and keep it simple. Don’t start with a bunch of complicated dishes.  Build a base of staples (how to make a salad, grill fish, etc.) and only try one complicated dish at a time.  Clean as you go and don’t overcook.


Butter Lettuce and Arugula Salad with Persimmons and Jicama

-Butter Lettuce




-Fuyu Persimmons



-Cherry Tomatoes


-Olive Oil

-Maple Syrup

-Dijon Mustard

-White Wine Vinegar

-Lemon Juice

1.  Wash and dry lettuce.  Tear into bite size pieces and place in salad bowl.

2.  Using a mandoline (or knife) thinly slice persimmons, jicama and cucumber and add to salad.

3.  Cut avocado into small pieces and add to salad.

4.  Thinly slice scallions and add to salad.

5.  Cut cherry tomatoes in half lengthwise and add to salad.

6.  In a separate small bowl make the dressing.  Mince and crush garlic and add to bowl.

7.  Add lemon juice and a smaller amount of vinegar.

8.  Add a bit of mustard and a small amount of maple syrup.

9.  Add a small amount of oil.  Stir and taste.  The trick to a good dressing is to keep tasting and adjusting.  It should be tangy and bright but not so acidic that it makes you pucker up.  While you are learning to make a good dressing, taste, taste, and taste some more!

2 responses

  1. LOVELY VANESSA! I often go on Facebook to find out what is up with Teagen and her friends. I love the interview, the instructions, and comments.

    We will miss you!



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