Patience is a virtue

November 12, 2012 § Leave a comment

I am endeared to salads for many reasons, but particularly for their patience. They’re content to be put together slowly, without sudden movements; they tolerate interruption, like when the dogs demand to be taken out, now, or a thought, less tolerant, needs immediate writing down. They necessarily involve a lot of preparation—washing and drying and shredding and shaving and julienning and tearing into little bits—which gives me leave to think, or not think at all, either of which is generous and appreciated. Once they’re made, they wait to be photographed (unless they’re made up of arugula, in which case, they wait around about as well as pasta, which is to say not at all), and if they’re of something sturdy, like cabbage or kale, they don’t suffer for wilting, so you can take as damn long to finish them as you want. Salads are also easily made beautiful and wonderful tasting, and without much fuss, which is especially selling because every now and then (around here lately it is often), fuss amounts to little more than a nuisance.

This one, with ruffly-leaved napa or savoy cabbage at its core, is as comforting a dish to me as a steamy bowl of pasta with lentils or a bean and farro soup, but invigorating, too, with its pungent winter radishes and sweet carrots, gently spicy red onion, and whole leaves of parsley, cooling and tasting of everything good and green. It’s spritzed with lemon, then glossed with olive oil that’s been warmed through with mustard seeds and arbol chile, heated til the seeds start to pop and both have infused the oil with all kinds of toasted, nutty, faintly bitter spice. It’s one of the things I turn to when what I want to eat, all I want to eat, is a bunch of vegetables and not much more.

It’s gorgeous, too; did I mention? Which brings me to something else. There is something deeply satisfying, and quickly gratifying, about creating food with your hands, and your eyes, your nose, your ears even, that, once it’s made, appeals to all of those senses still. You are serving dual purposes of nourishment and pleasure, the entire process through. It’s a scintillating way about lunch, especially if you spend a lot of your hours doing, but not as much time creating, or a lot of time creating things with such long, demanding trajectories that the rewards for their realization are in perpetual states of dangling, or if you just wonder, sometimes, if what you spend much of your time doing has enough of a point. This is, for me, besides the obvious and essential practicality of it, one of the most compelling reasons to cook. It can’t always be more than getting food on the table, but even that simple act has a purpose. But when you’re able to be patient with the process, it can also be comfort, inspiration, optimism. Or if you think that’s too much to expect from your food: this salad is delicious and good for you and if you make it for friends they’ll fawn over its prettiness. Either way, it’s good to have around.

Frilly-leaved cabbage salad with radish, carrot, quinoa, and mustard seeds

The idea for this salad’s dressing was given to me by a lovely lady I work with occasionally at markets sometimes; let’s call her A., in which you warm mustard seeds in oil until they pop, and pour them, along with the oil, now nutty and fragrant, over shredded cabbage with a bit of rice vinegar and sea salt, some black pepper, and toss. I use this method as the basis for this salad, but include a hot chile along with the mustard seeds, and I often use lemon in lieu of vinegar, though the brown rice variety is very nice. On this day I added a little quinoa; sometimes I toss some tofu in, too. A little torn kale or tiny mustard greens in addition to the cabbage is especially lovely.

1 small napa or savoy cabbage (plus torn or shredded kale, or small mustard greens, if you like), shredded

1 carrot, julliened

2 watermelon radishes, cut or shaved into irregular pieces

a few sprigs of parsley, leaves only, but left whole

1 small red onion, thinly sliced on the vertical

2-3 teaspoons brown mustard seeds

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 dried arbol chiles, halved

half of a lemon

1/4 cup red quinoa, simmered with a pinch of salt and water to cover by an inch until tender, drained

sea salt and fresh-cracked black pepper, to taste

Combine all of the salad ingredients in a bowl, making sure everything is completely dry, so that your dressing doesn’t end up diluted. In a small, heavy saucepan, heat the mustard seeds with the olive oil and the chiles over low-medium heat until the mustard seeds begin to pop, about 6-8 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly while you squeeze the lemon over the greens and season with salt and black pepper to taste. Pour the dressing over the salad and use your hands to toss everything together until everything’s well-coated and glossy. Taste again, re-season if necessary, and serve.

Serves 2

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