Tagged: raw

Annie Somerville’s Spring Vegetable Salad with Meyer Lemon vinaigrette

“To make a good salad is to be a brilliant diplomatist – the problem is entirely the same in both cases. To know how much oil one must mix with one’s vinegar.”
– Oscar Wilde

Beets were used in the previous citrus and beet salad

What truly makes a good salad anyway? How do you tell if you are in the presence of a good one? More importantly how do you make one that is excellent?

In my opinion, what differentiates a good salad from a passable one is a couple of things; the harmony of tastes and textures you fold together under an unctuous drizzled coating of flavourful liquid and the ratio of the liquid to solid ingredients. These two are key. Get it right and the salad could be sweet, sour, bitter, spicy or any combination thereof and it will still work.

There is then, a secondary tier of things to remember. It is important that you source your greens well. There is a case to be made for pillow packs of greens; if you’re in a hurry, have no access to anything else and more importantly, intend to use the packet within a day or so of buying it, by all means, go ahead and use one. However, if this is what you use all the time, then you’re missing out on one of life’s simple pleasures; the first, cool, crisp bite of leaves that are new to your taste buds. Those convenient vacuum sealed packs only have a set variety of leaves and I don’t know about you, but to me a mixture of three different kinds of lettuce is not much different from just one kind of lettuce. I like a good Caesar salad as much as the next person (well, may be not as much. The next person here and now is my husband. His insane devotion to Caesar salad confounds me) but there is so much more joy to be had in the peppery bite of arugula or the spicy snap of cress or the salty tang of an unusual leaf. Such greens I would never have discovered in pillow packs.

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Citrus & Beet Salad with mixed greens

I was once told that you start at the beginning, continue to the end, then stop. Then you do the same with the next task. This is how things get done. Wise words, when it comes to writing, but hard to do. Especially when this bright and lovely thing that I’m sharing with you today doesn’t start at its beginning but at the beginning of my week.

It seems that griping about past weather did the trick, because what a glorious week we’ve had weather-wise. Personally, it could have been one out of those old silent era comic movies. Someone having a bad week would have been considerably cheered up with a glimpse into mine. Talk about comic relief.

An unusual bout of insomnia has me falling asleep too late and waking up too early for a couple of weeks now. Last week, this offered me the opportunity to get into more trouble than I normally do, which aiming to please, I did. On Monday morning, I woke up at five, decided to make dinner for the evening while trying to call my cousin in New Zealand. I’m probably the only person in the history of dinner who burnt it at six a.m.

Tuesday, I almost got run over. Not the driver’s fault; no one should be looking at the sky and thinking about Rottweilers and Retrievers when she’s crossing the street. Wednesday is a bit of a blur in my head. There’s a good chance I might have told someone that he sucked. Also, I missed a perfectly good chicken and waffles dinner with friends since I was otherwise occupied with trying to kill my too-slow work computer.

I did not succeed.
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Gourmet’s Hummus and Tzatziki

It is an inevitable truth that everything that has a beginning has an end. Some enjoy heights of success, only to falter and fade away, then fall into oblivion to disappear with nary a blip. Others are lamented in their eventual passing. Then there are those whose demise brings on waves of despair, shouts of protest, flowing tributes in homage. “How can it be true?” you hear people shout! “Where are we to turn?” they ponder in sadness. These are the lucky few. Their demise sends shockwaves among their supporters. They live amongst their fans forever.

This is what happened with the closure of Gourmet magazine. Witnessing the shock and despair of its legions of fans at Conde Nast’s decision to shut down this matriarch of the published food world, I have to admit I didn’t quite get it right away. I revere books; I’ve never been much of a magazine lover, the only ones I ever subscribed to were the Architectural Review, Readers’ Digest and Archie comics (yes, the 12 year old in me never quite grew up). The hue and cry baffled me. Surely this was just a magazine meeting an untimely demise at the hands of business people? Given the tough economy so many things have gone a similar way. Cookbooks are still around, so how bad could it be?

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Molly Wizenburg’s Soba in a Nut-Chilli sauce

I was dismayed to find autumn creep up on me rather unexpectedly this year. I kept thinking it was a while, wrapped up as I was in the corn and berries and peas, a very cozy place to be. Yet before I knew it, the days began getting shorter and shadows longer. We are already in mid-September and the good strawberries are all gone. Everywhere I turn I see the pumpkins that are being shoved on to me by eager retailers. The more I want to tuck the advent of Halloween to the farthest corners of my mind, the more I see it everywhere. The slow creeping in of the Bay area Indian summer has only just begun. While I will enjoy the sunshine, I know I’ll hate the heat, thanks to the unwelcome consensus some older folk had of not adding air-conditioning to apartments in the Northwest. Bidding goodbye to favourite foods, incumbent sleepless nights in stifling heat, all these simultaneous realizations just brought me down. Marvin, he of the paranoid android fame, has nothing on me. Such depth of depression can only be fought by deep seas of comfort. The kind that only a generous helping of comforting carbs can provide. Enter the versatile noodle.

I am, and always will be, a sucker for noodles, from any and all cultures. Slurpilicious egg noodles, feathery angel hair or rice noodles, crackling vermicelli, rich ramen; they all weave a spell on me. One glimpse of a plate or bowl of their enriched goodness and I’m lost in their uniform strands. Noodles lured me into the world of Chinese cuisine and I’ve never turned back since. I moved on to happily discover that most cultures had their own brand of noodles. But be they made of flour and egg, or rice, or wheat, I unequivocally love them all. There is something soothing, calming even, about a mouthful of pasta sopped in sauce, or a satisfying ritual of slurping up a bowl of Chinese noodles or Italian spaghetti. As a child, I remember masala Maggi noodles being my answer every time mom said she wasn’t sure what to cook for dinner. I would inhale a packet as a post-school snack with equal unbridled joy. Some of my most favourite memories involve rainy days and Maggi noodles. These were days when you went to school in the pouring rain, doing your damnedest to avoid getting splashed by cars. You sat through lessons, flinching at the lightning and jumping at the inevitable crack of thunder that followed, all the while just wishing you’d never left home. (Some part of your brain also marvelled at the repeated proof that light travels faster than sound…yours didn’t? Well, just nerdy ol’ me then!) Then at four in the afternoon you trudged through the now-pool-like puddles back home, too tired to avoid getting splashed this time. But then you arrived home and were lucky to have your mum there, with dry towels and something hot to eat. But if you were luckier still, she was out running an errand. Because then you got to make your own snack.

If she was out, there was hot milk in warming mugs, a pot of water on the stove and a note saying you could make a snack for yourself, with heaping warnings to b-e-v-e-r-y-c-a-r-e-f-u-l with fire. You peeled out of wet clothes into something warm & dry, made sure the kid sister had done the same and was staying out of trouble, (a minor feat since she made up for my lack of trouble by being twice as troublesome; who says there isn’t balance in the world?) watching cartoons with her mug of Bournvita. Then, you headed to the kitchen. There, with mom not hovering over your shoulder, you could decide whether your noodles were going to have peas or tomatoes or carrots or soy, and there were no arguments over having them plain if you so wished. After (carefully) prepping the veggies, you (carefully! since you were very obedient and responsible) boiled the water, cracked the two-minute noodles and shook the tastemaker into the water, added the extras and waited the eight to ten minutes it took for all of it to actually come together. Then you carefully ladled the noodles into two plates, slathered your own with tomato-chilli sauce (because really what doesn’t taste better with it? It’s like bacon for vegetarians) and put some ketchup on your sister’s since she wasn’t addicted to chilli like weirdo you. You called her for her plate and then made your way to the other room where it was quiet, the only sound being the pitter-patter of the rain. You grabbed a favourite Enid Blyton or Nancy Drew and sat on the sofa, slurping down the barely steaming noodles, chasing around the peas with your fork absorbed in your book in this heaven of warmth and security. The rain cocooned everything and was, quite suddenly now, more friend than antagonist, at least until you had to go to school again the next day. Those days seem so far away now and though my repertoire of noodle preparation has certainly expanded, the feeling that eating it brings is almost still quite the same. The early love of ramen has also filled me with curiosity to try all kinds of noodles. To battle the fall blues, I decided to try to rekindle a good mood with soba.

I’d bought a packet of soba, wanting to try out a recipe I’d read on Orangette, the kind that you just know will be fabulous when you read about it. The fact that I’d never eaten soba didn’t faze me one bit. I’ve never met a noodle I didn’t like. Soba are Japanese style thin noodles served warm in broth or cold with some dipping sauce. They taste a bit nutty with a nice bite. I had also bought this jar of sunflower seed butter to try. This is much more fluid than peanut butter at room temperature so I thought of using it in this recipe since it seemed well on its way to make a good sauce already. It has a milder flavour in comparison to peanut butter which worked really well as a sauce base. The old habit of chucking vegetables at my noodles also kicks in automatically and before I knew it I had chopped some of what I had at home, the last of some asparagus, a celery stalk or two and some scallions. The heat of the chilli combined with the nutty sunflower butter provided the lifting of spirits that I was looking for. I now have a new recipe added to my list of comfort foods.

Soba in a Nut-Chilli sauce
Adapted from Orangette
Serves 2-3

Soba noodles – 1/2 to 3/4 pound
Sunflower seed butter – 1/2 cup
Lemon – 1, zest and juice
Indian Chilli Sauce – 2 tbsp (alternatively use Sriracha or Sambal Olek – 1 tbsp)
Mayonnaise – 3 tsp

Hoisin – 1/2 tsp (optional)
Soy sauce – 2 tsp
Garlic – 3 cloves, finely minced
Ginger – 1/2”, cut into fine matchsticks
Celery – 2 stalks, diced small
Asparagus – 3 stalks, chopped small
Scallions – 2-3, chopped small
Sesame seeds – 1-1/2 tsp
Dark Sesame oil – 1/2 to 1 tbsp
Salt, if needed
Coriander for garnish

– To a saucepan on medium heat, add the sesame oil. Toss in the ginger and garlic and saute for a minute or so.
– Add the scallions, asparagus & celery and saute (until the asparagus is cooked, about 5 to 7 minutes if the asparagus is small). Move the veggies off the heat.
– Toast the sesame seeds and place aside.
– In a large bowl, prepare the sauce by combining the sunflower seed butter, chilli sauce, soy sauce, mayonnaise, hoisin, lemon zest and lemon juice. Stir to mix.
– Bring a large pot of water to boil. Then add the soba noodle bunches and turn the heat down to a simmer. Gently boil the noodles for about three minutes. Then drain the noodles in a colander and give them a quick wash under cold running water to remove excess starch off the strands, gently separating the strands.
– Place portions of  the noodles into the large bowl containing the sauce and gently toss to coat all the noodles with the sauce, adding more and incorporating until you have the right sauce-to-noodle proportions to your liking. Sprinkle over the sesame seeds.

Heap generous amounts into bowls and garnish with coriander (cilantro) to serve.

Cook’s notes:
The soba is delicious, a bit chewy than most noodles, similar (though bit more al dente) to whole wheat spaghetti. Giving it that quick gentle wash in cold water makes the noodles barely warm when you toss them in the sauce. The nuttiness of the sunflower seed butter gathers a little sweetness from the mayo and hoisin, tartness from the lemon juice and combines with the chilli sauce to form a luscious sweet-and-sour sauce with a passive heat that you just feel at the back of your throat. This is a truly customizable recipe so by all means, feel free to throw in your own substitutions. I think some sort of nut butter and the lemon juice is key here. The rest of the ingredients could change around in quantity and inclusion (even without the hoisin and mayo for example, this is a marvellous sauce.) Molly of Orangette worried about over dressing the noodles. Amey and I could have happily gobbled up more sauce, so I guess this point is entirely dependant on your own tastes. The crunch of sesame seed was too subtle a contrast in texture for me. The next time I intend to add crushed peanuts. Also, I’ll add some carrots, they will really go well with this sauce.

I love developing on my childhood taste of food, it changes but never quite entirely. The chilli in the sauce kept me from putting in tomato-chilli sauce this time, but only just. Reminiscing like this also sometimes makes me wish I’d had a more fun with the food making times, like setting my Mom’s kitchen calendar on fire. But then maybe she wouldn’t have let me into the kitchen after that! My reminisces also get me thinking about you, dear reader. What are some of your favourite childhood food memories?

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Semi-homemade Lavash Veggie Wrap with Burrata and Tomato-basil Hummus

Life’s been so busy since  some time before my birthday that there’s barely been any time to cook, let alone write about it. It’s like being caught between a multitude of rocks and hard places and having to move around with them slowly squeezing my breath out of me. Only today do I feel like I could come up for air. And I’m taking it in, giant large gulps of it.

 

I wasn’t certain I’d talk about recipes involving ready store-bought ingredients as relative stars of the meal. Not because I’m a ‘you-gotta-do-everything-from-scratch’ snob, but because to tell anyone about it seems a bit like claiming credit for something you didn’t really do. And that can’t be any good, can it? But then sometimes, a combination of stuff bought at the store, a tired brain and a soul desperate for nourishment that doesn’t taste like cardboard can create a good thing.

 

This combination turned out to be too easy, simple and relatively healthy to keep to myself. And there isn’t anything too difficult about obtaining its ingredients. I had bought some lavash with some vague memories of a recipe I’d read some time earlier. And then, original recipe forgotten, I scrambled to come up with a way to use it before it got past its prime. I’d also run into a sublime Tomato and Basil Hummus in the ready-eats aisle of Trader Joe’s, happily nestled next to the cheese section in which was a little tin of burrata (a fresh Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream) both of which made it into my fridge and had been barely used.

There couldn’t have been a better way to use all of these things.

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