You can have your August, thank you very much. I’m taking September. And October. Piggy of me, I know, but early fall on the Vineyard is the best. It’s not just those azure skies, those fields of bright yellow goldenrod and crimson sumac, the empty beaches and the still-warm water for evening swims. It’s the harvest. And I’m not talking about harvest as in bales of hay and wagonloads of pumpkins. I’m talking about the vegetable garden.

If you are a “Grower of Things,” as I sometimes like to think of myself, you know that vegetable plants in the fall garden go a little crazy, sensing the end is near. They flower and fruit prolifically, handing you baskets of green beans and bowlfuls of cherry tomatoes. The biggest and beefiest tomatoes finally ripen, the green bell peppers turn red and yellow at last. Eggplants are perfectly plump, and hot peppers are practically popping off the plants. Nasturtiums trail from one container to the next, leaving behind a confetti of blossoms the colors of a Menemsha sunset.

If you’re a pickler or a canner, you are as happy as a Vineyard clam in Sengekontacket Pond. If you have a big freezer, you’re looking pretty smart too. You can freeze tomatoes, beans, corn, and more. But if you’re not a “Preserver of Food,” a sobriquet I don’t necessarily apply to myself, you’d better get cracking on using up those vegetables. Even if you prefer to buy your vegetables at the farm stand or the market rather than harvesting them from your backyard, you’ll need destinations for the Vineyard bounty coming at you this time of year.

At times like these, a main-dish harvest salad is something everyone should have in their repertoire. The one I’m offering you here is kind of a big-deal party salad since it has a variety of grilled vegetables in it and yields generously. But you can invent your own late-season main-dish salad with roasted vegetables, too, and make it weeknight-friendly. Your vegetables will thank you. 

I think of the ingredients in a main-dish salad as building blocks: greens, grains, cooked and raw vegetables, a good homemade salad dressing, fresh herbs, and nuts. You can always sneak in a smattering of pickled vegetables or chopped olives or something else crunchy or briny.

And here’s how I think about assembling said salad: I’m not keen on putting everything in a big bowl and mixing it around. On the other hand, you don’t have to go super-crazy with composition. But the idea is to spread the layers out a bit on a platter or serving plates so that the ingredients don’t weigh each other down too much.

First, I arrange a handful or two of fresh greens on the serving dish or dishes. As the weather gets cooler, those greens can get sturdier. A mix of lettuces might segue into arugula, endive, and radicchio. You can lightly dress the greens before you arrange them or drizzle them with dressing once you put them on the dish.

Next I alternate loose layers of (cooked) vegetables and grains. I’ll drizzle a little dressing on the vegetables, but usually I’ve already dressed the grains – and sometimes also tossed them with raw vegetables like cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, corn, or fennel. The raw vegetables add brightness and crunch while the cooked veggies contribute that savory umami.

I’m always generous with fresh, tender herbs like basil, cilantro, parsley, and mint. I mix chopped herbs in with the grains and scatter whole small leaves over the vegetables. I finish with a garnish of chopped nuts.

For the harvest salad I’ve included here, I grill the veggies rather than roast or sauté them since I like to use my grill in September and October as much as possible to keep those summer flavors rolling. Before you grill, look at a few tips I’ve included on the next page; a grill basket or topper can be a handy thing.

If building blocks and grill toppers and layering and smattering all sound like a bit much for the languid last days of the Island’s best season, just remember: it’s a long wait for the first ripe tomato of 2024!