One of my first cooking jobs was to prepare meals for the crew of an environmentally conscious, historically preserved, Delaware Bay oyster schooner. We did not use paper napkins, and our old chief mate (who was more of a yachtsman that a schoonerman) used to leave globs of salad dressing on his face in protest. As I was relatively new to cooking for other people I was riddled with insecurity. With the cautious desire of a person passing a taped off accident scene to both look and shield my eyes simultaneously, I used to rush up the galley hatch and sit on deck to spy on the crew as they tasted their first bites of each meal. I would half listen to the jovial banter of the well-tanned, tar covered sailors below while they recounted the day’s highlights, hoping for some morsel, some juicy words to slip out of the tiny square hatch to indicate whether the meal was well received.
Mostly the food was a huge hit, but once in awhile I would try something really risky (like toasted bulgar with mushroom gravy) and even the hungry sailors would leave me with leftovers.
It was on these days that I would find the bottle of ranch dressing had gone dry. Ranch dressing is the ultimate pacifier in any culinary disaster. It is particularly useful if you find yourself, as I often do, wrestling to convince stubborn non-vegetable types to explore the world of salads. Store bought ranch has a delicate blend of sugar, oil, salt and MSG, equivalent to a liquid bag of Doritos (who could stop at just one)?
The problem with Ranch is that once you get your crew hooked, you can never go back. This past summer I worked as a cooking instructor for Native American high school kids on an organic farm in Hugo, MN. I made the mistake of bringing out a bottle of Ranch dressing one day, from that day forth every lunch period was a stream of never ending inquiries “where’s the ranch?” It filled my heart with nostalgia.
I decided to use this opportunity to develop my own version of ranch dressing. Having just discovered how easy it is to make a yummy version of this dressing I regret having not tried it sooner.
2 cloves garlic mashed, chopped and squished into a pumice (use the flat side of your knife to get it smashed and the chop it until it resembles the kind of minced horseradish that my dad used to put on his steak..if you have no idea what horseradish looks like, it is kind of a mealy, gritty, watery paste)
1-2 Tbsp minced onion (same as the garlic)
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped well
1 green onion, chopped
1/3 cup lowfat buttermilk
1/2 cup Mayonnaise (to make your own see the earlier salad-e olivia, or use store bought)
1/4 tsp salt
a few shakes of lemon pepper
Chop 3 cups spinach (I used spinach and pea shoots mixed because that is what the farmers at the market had)
2 diced carrots
3 celery stalks
2 cups sugar snap peas
1 whole diced yellow pepper
1/2 English cucumber sliced and quartered
Christina’s vote: “Hidden Valley better stay hiding!”
Beautiful weather deserves a beautiful salad. Pale pinks and greens for summer shorts and sandals walking down the avenue, a burst of yellow lemon for the unfailingly ever present sunshine, some creamy yogurt to cool the fire within and a cool splash of mint for the breezy wind and shady respites along the way. An absolutely perfect, wonderful, beautiful spring day…but…it would be better if I were out to enjoy it, if the neighbors weren’t so loud, if I didn’t have this job, this car, this payment, if the economy were better, if I were richer, thinner, prettier, had more free time, more friends, the right friends, lived in Paris, had a bigger house, lived on a boat.. sound familiar? next come the “when’s”. When I get fit I will be comfortable with my body. When I get rich I will feel safe with my financial status. When I live in Paris I will be happy. When I have free time I will enjoy my day. When I get there I will be okay.
My limited experience with gardening comes from a job I took last summer on an organic farm. It has given me both an appreciation for truly fresh vegetables and a faint stench of manure in my car that I fear will never come out. I have often heard people describe gardening as a spiritual practice, a meditation of sorts. While I don’t share the gardeners’ love for the soil, (nor do I connect dirt encrusted fingernails with a symbol of seasonal pride) I do appreciate and admire those who acquire a green thumb.
A gardener understands the ridiculous nature of the question, “why don’t you just go to the grocery store?” or “you can get fresh produce at the farmers market, why go through all the trouble?” To the gardener this is akin to saying “why bother dating, just head to the brothel!” or “why raise your own children, just send them away and visit them when they graduate from college!”
It is the same with cooking. To cook is to cultivate a relationship with your food. You taste each ingredient and take in the flavors. You want to be there to see the onions start to brown when sprinkled with salt. You smell the nutty aroma release from toasting quinoa. You hear the crisp sound of the knife slicing through carrot.
To me cooking is time well spent. Of course, I could just as easily (and in an equal amount of time) drive to the sandwich shop and watch as uniform laden teens apathetically partition pale pre-sanctioned vegetables and meat circles with plastic coated hands. But then I would be taking my lunch with a stranger, and that could be a very dangerous and unpleasant experience.
Today’s salad is a meditation for the indoor gardener in you. If you actually have an indoor garden (mine consists of one lonely basil plant habitually robbed of all her leaves, which I abandoned last summer and Christina has been humanly watering ever since) then this salad is a perfect way to use some of your fresh herbs.
Rinse 1 cup of quinoa 3 times in cold water, feeling the grains with your fingers as you rinse. Quinoa is coated with saponin, which has a bitter flavor. Rinsing the quinoa gets rid of the saponin, when the rinse water is no longer cloudy the saponin is gone. Drain and set quinoa aside.
Get out a large cutting board. Feel it with your fingertips. Take a moment to imagine the beautiful smells and flavors you are about to enjoy as you layer each ingredient into your salad. First imagine the finely chopped onion sizzling in sesame oil. Now go to your cupboard, get out your favorite saucepan (the one you use for rice) and place it over the heat of your favorite burner. Add some toasted sesame oil. Watch as it melts to cover the bottom of the pan, invading every corner. Dice one very small yellow onion. Chop it until it gets really small rocking your knife swiftly against the board. Feel your eyes start to water (this is more likely to happen if your onion is really fresh, or if you use a white one). Scoop the onion into the hot pan and sprinkle with salt. Skate the onion around in the pan. Add some minced garlic, now more salt.
Scoop in the quinoa and stir until the grains just start to brown and a nutty aroma fills your nostrils. Breathe it in deep. Add 1 cup cold water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the quinoa sprouts little curly tails and has the poppy feel of sushi caviar in your mouth. Remove the pan from heat and add 1 more clove minced garlic and 2 large diced carrots (add while still hot) stir to cool. Set aside for a bit. Mince 1 bunch sorrel and 1 bunch Italian parsley (actually, use whatever herbs you have in your indoor garden). When your quinoa has cooled, add herbs.
Add some ume plum vinegar, or lemon juice, or rice vinegar if you feel you need more flavor.
This is your salad, so make it your own. Imagine how your loved ones will be nourished by it on a sensory, physical and spiritual level. Enjoy!
Christina’s vote: “Refreshing! This salad brought back memories of the boathouses and beatnicks in frogslew on the Mississippi river in Winona, MN.”
My grandmother only had one rule we had to abide by while visiting her home. Try two bites of everything on your plate. While we were at her house we were allowed to climb the rafters, track mud wherever we chose, eat whole sugar cubes without brushing our teeth afterward, get lost in the woods for hours, we were free to do anything our little hearts desired, except, that is, refuse the mushy plate of bitter parsnips lurking ominously before us. My brothers and cousins came up with all sorts of elaborate schemes to circumnavigate their vegetable obligation, seriously, I am amazed my grandparents plumbing held up with all the carrots and peas getting flushed down the toilet.
This salad was inspired, in part, by today’s California supreme court ruling to keep the ban on gay marriage. The whole thing is tremendously confusing to me. I was writing to a friend about it and she said that even though she is saddened by the news that gays and lesbians cannot marry in California, she is glad that the supreme court does not have the power to overrule the peoples vote. But what about human rights? What about civil rights? If the people wanted to ban sunlight to plants, water to the elderly, play to children, pizza to teenagers, would we abide? What mode of thinking does a person need to have to put their vote to deny a basic human right to another person? Because I believe in the goodness of humanity, I came up with two possible answers to this question 1) they simply do not identify gay people as being human and therefore cannot empathize with the fact our love is no different and 2) they do not identify marriage as a basic human right or need.
This got me to thinking, where in my own life do I discriminate? How can I take more risks in my life to ensure that I keep my own mind open. Naturally, I was pondering all this while walking around the produce aisle of the grocery store.
I decided to make a salad using local ingredients that I have passed over many times in the produce section because I am unfamiliar with them. I think is important for me to branch out from what I am used to and take risks in all areas of my life, and today I am starting with salad.
Imagine how the world would be different if everyone took two bites (metaphorically speaking of course) before they wrote an entire race, gender, sexual orientation, political view, or ethnicity off?
Here are two ingredients you may not recognize, but try them, they are good!
Sunchokes: they don’t look pretty, but peel them down and they have a deliciously mild flavor and a delightful crunch.
Sorrel: all I can say is YUM!! This herb/green has a lemony tang that is milder when the leaves are young. The flavor reminds me of eating clovers from the backyard as a kid.
The dressing: 3 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp dijon mustard
1 tsp local honey
The dressing will be thick and sweet, but the salad is tangy and a little bitter and it needs you to give it the sweetness to calm it down.
Finely chop 3 cups of young spinach
mix with 2 cups finely chopped sorrel
quarter 3/4 pkg local cherry tomatoes and add
shave in (with a carrot peeler) 2 medium sunchokes (squirt some lemon juice over the top after you add these shavings so they stay white)
Add 1/2 bunch blanched asparagus cut small (put asparagus into boiling water for 1-2 min, drain, and shock in cold water to stop the cooking process)
Christina’s vote: “Walking on water seemed a very distinct possibility after eating this salad”
A cool breeze flew in through the tall windows of our city apartment this morning and slapped me in the face. Like cartoon steam the wind formed itself into fingers and tugged me by the nose into the kitchen. I stood, dumbfounded, sharpening my knife and standing before a giant head of fennel.
Egg salads remind me of summer days spent sitting on patios feeling my skin brown and my hair bleach copper while developing square imprints on the backs of my sweaty little legs from the warm metal patio furniture. Put this image together with the right footwear, a few layers of callous and dirt, and the right hair-do, a wind styled rats-nest (which my mother would have to chase me around the kitchen to comb out) and you have the quintessential childhood summer outfit.
I can remember sitting outside with my mother at one of her friends houses, sipping iced tea from a straw and making a straw-wrapper worm come alive by pouring iced tea on it. I was probably imagining all the things I wanted to be doing at that moment that didn’t involve sitting still or minding my manners. Suddenly, a plate of the most delicious egg salad was brought before me, and with it, came my undivided attention.
The middle of the day is the best time for egg salad. The mornings play gives birth to all sorts of afternoon activity ideas if given the time to reflect and re-fuel. This particular version is loaded with flavors that I find comforting from my childhood, romaine lettuce, lemon, eggs, mayonnaise, celery, salt and pepper, with the slightest bit of adventure, radish, pickled ginger, soy sauce, broccoli sprouts. It is like riding a bike with the training wheels off for the first time, knowing that your dad is walking behind you holding you up. It is the first crack at dunking your whole head in the water while still wearing your bright orange arm swimmies. This salad is a safe adventure, no need to look behind you, someone is still holding you up.
Juice from 1 lemon
1 Tbsp seasoned rice vinegar
1/2 Tbsp soy sauce
3 Tbsp sunflower oil
6 slices pickled ginger (like you have at sushi..yes, the pink ones..trust me!)
2 tsp honey (it is worth it to buy local honey, it is a treat to be able to taste the flowers you smell every day)
1 tsp dijon mustard (do you have any grey poupon?)
pepper, and a tiny bit of salt
chopped romaine (1/2 head)
radishes, radishes, radishes (I used two bunches from the farmers market, they were a little too mild for our tastes.. It seems like it is difficult to find a good spicy radish these days)
2 or 3 celery stalks, diced
a handful of broccoli or alfalfa sprouts
Make 5 hard boiled eggs (put the eggs in cold water and bring to a boil. boil for 1 min. Remove from heat, cover and let sit for 8-10 min. Run under cold water)
peel eggs, and mash up with ~1/4 cup mayonnaise (if you want to make your own mayo use the recipe from the salad olivie that I made last Saturday..or use your own recipe..or use store bought..but make sure it is the kind you are used to from your own childhood)
add 2 diced green onions
and 1/2 tsp rice vinegar
and salt, pepper and paprika to taste
If you are feeling adventurous, or, you are disappointed with the strength of your radishes bite, you can try adding some wasabi paste to your egg salad..but be cautious, this can get a little intense!!!
allow the egg salad to chill before indulging (we..um..skipped this part..) Dress the vegetables and top with the egg salad. Garnish with rice crackers.
Christina’s vote: “It would be a shame to conceal any of the flavors of this salad between two pieces of bread”
Some friends came over for dinner tonight, so I made a salad in their honor. I asked them what their favorite vegetables are, to which they responded “tomatoes, avacado, cucumber and carrots”.. All of which come from California at this time of the year. To round out the west coast theme I decided to include a taste of Hawaii and Mexico too. I made a coconut lime dressing with chili pepper for a California style salad with tortilla crisps on top.