The right idea

December 30, 2012 § Leave a comment

salad

One weekend morning when I was 10 or 11, or maybe it was summer, I got this idea in my head that I should be eating more virtuously. This resolution was prompted by nothing that I can recall. No one had pinched any lingering baby fat (I didn’t have any); my mother had not embarked on a grapefruit cleanse; my aunt had not yet sounded alarms on the perils of dietary fat, which would see me into untold boxes of Snackwells and ascetic, calorie-counted meals for years to come. I imagine with a memory less stingy, I could find some precursive influence for this day’s whim. But from here, it looks like a first-ditch grasp at a sense of purity and cleanliness that I have continued to pursue, however intermittently (and however interrupted by a range of thoroughly counterproductive behaviors, mostly boozy ones) ever since.

That day, I prepared my 80s suburban preteen notion of a spa lunch: a bowl of cottage cheese, a bowl of honey (the bowl of honey approximately the same size as the bowl of cottage cheese), some fruit. I made my place at the table. I picked at everything for minutes before reconsideration, disinterest, and a little disappointment settled in. I took my dishes to the sink, hoping their untouched-ness would go unnoticed, and I made myself a cheese sandwich. This lifestyle change, it should be noted, endured for approximately one afternoon.

Two decades-plus later, I have, I think it’s fair to say, a much better sense of appropriate composition in meal-making. But I am still captivated by the idea of food as nourishment—as something not only sustaining, but also healing, rejuvenating, invigorating. What I cook, what I eat, any given meal, is largely dictated by pleasure (and I think, really, pleasure is part of the nourishment of eating). That it should be nourishing has become less an active consideration of my cooking than a foundation of it. Still, there are days when I crave something more. For me, damage control restorative leans toward the raw, the minimally fussed with, with extra points for foods bustling with living things, like fermented black radishes, sauerkraut, unpasteurized kefir. Or, increasingly, sprouts, which is what I had waiting in the fridge when T. and I came home last week from visiting with my parents and siblings in South Carolina. It was a visit full of laughter and conversation and love and sharing, but it was also, despite arguably reasonable meal-planning, five days of just a little too much of everything delightful in gastronomic vice, including a pile of pecans I cracked and shoveled into my mouth, standing at the kitchen counter at midnight, in a moonshine-addled haze.

The day after we got home, I sought amends in this salad, a heap of peppery arugula and earthy rye sprouts, slicked with a lemon-shallot dressing and showered with chopped toasted almonds, with slender wedges of dense, creamy roasted sweet potato tucked here and there. It was perfect and, I think, the sort of thing I was really after when the cottage cheese and honey came to mind so many years ago. Virtue may be elusive, but when it is this delicious I suppose I don’t mind chasing after it.

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Arugula and sprouted rye with toasted almonds, roasted sweet potatoes, and a lemon-shallot dressing

2 cups young arugula

1/4-1/3 cup sprouted rye (instructions below; allow two days for sprouting)

1 medium sweet potato

2 teaspoons olive oil

small handful of raw almonds, toasted in a skillet and roughly chopped

Lemon-shallot dressing:

1 tablespoon minced shallot

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil

sea salt and black pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 400. Peel the sweet potato and cut it into irregular wedges. Toss with two teaspoons of olive oil (or more, if you want extra insurance against sticking), salt and pepper to taste (I do this right on the baking sheet), and roast, tossing occasionally with a metal spatula, for 20-30 minutes, until golden, lightly crisp, and tender within.

In a small bowl, combine the shallot with the lemon juice and a pinch of salt; set aside for 10 minutes or so. Whisk in the olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Using your hands, gently toss the arugula, the sprouts, and half the almonds with enough of the dressing to coat lightly, and taste again for salt and pepper. Arrange the arugula on a plate, scatter the remaining almonds over the top, and distribute the sweet potatoes here and there and everywhere. Drizzle any remaining dressing over the top of it all if it doesn’t seem like overkill. If you have some excellent rye bread handy and you’re on the hungry side, it would be a wise accompaniment.

Serves 1, generously

For the sprouted rye:

Soak however many rye berries you want to sprout in water to cover by twice as much, for 24 hours. Drain them, then let them continue to drain, in the jar, for 8 hours, covered with something like a cloth napkin or cheesecloth secured with a rubber band. Keep the jar laying sideways tilted at a slight angle, with the top of the jar on a plate to catch any water that continues to drain out. Rinse the sprouts and drain them again, as before, for 4-6 hours, and repeat as necessary until the grains begin to sprout. They’ll last several days in the fridge.

And! If you want to try making rejuvelac, my new favorite health-geek drink of the moment, you’re already halfway there. Using four parts water for each part rye, soak the sprouts in filtered water to cover for 2 days, then decant. You should be able to get one more batch out of your sprouts, but the second round will need just one day of soaking. It should be peculiar smelling but compelling, like… Epoisses? I store mine in glass jars in the fridge and sweeten them with a bit of cider or lemon nectar or honey. I’m sure you can come up with something more creative.

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Lunch for the lazy

December 10, 2012 § Leave a comment

I am swearing at the sun right now. For scattering the clouds, for brightening the dim that was giving me permission to stay inside all day. It’s 50 degrees here today, still, pretty. And it is begging to be noticed. I’m telling you, these anomalous winter days are so demanding, so needy. You cannot ignore a day like this and get away with it without lugging a guilt trip behind you.  Probably I should be grateful for a break from chill, the necessity of wearing a coat, which is doubly a nuisance because I am not in possession of a proper one—a relic from living in the South for so many years. Instead, I’m annoyed. Ordinarily it’s a difficult thing for me, sitting still, like something always pulling my interests in some direction or another. But cloudy days are a kind of moderator. Like a dance class, or a long run, or Xanax a really great back rub. They channel focus in me, or enable it, if all in their own varied ways.

I think, if I ever move to Seattle, as I’ve been promising to do since 1994, I will be a much less fidgety person (I can hope, of course). In the meantime, my sister has been admonishing me to meditate, and because she is wiser than I am, despite the edge I have on her in years, I’m thinking about taking her up on it. And for those days when I’d like my cooking not to ask a lot of me (because I think that’s reasonable when I’m not asking a lot of the day), I’m going to keep salads like this one around, which offer immense returns in flavor for minimum effort, and keep a person from feeling slothish while doing as physically little as possible. Magic.

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I was a little reluctant to write about this salad, because even if we haven’t all tired of raw kale salads (can you?), some of us may be tiring of hearing exultations from every corner of the food world about how amazing they are. And still… so I’m taking my nose down and joining the chorus. Sorry.

I have more loved and adored variations on raw kale salad than I can count. This one, published in the New York Times five years ago, is the one that turned me on to kale salad to begin with. It’s showered with pecorino and breadcrumbs, tart with lemon, and still one of my favorites. Since then, in the interest of sharing with vegan T. and because I like to make things difficult, I worked up a version with crushed almonds and garlic that approximates the effects of pecornio in a really bizarre, terrific way. I’ll write about it here one of these days if I think this blog can handle another raw kale salad post. Then I ran across this piece, which gave me a few more ideas I may or may not have needed, but am glad to have. The Northern Spy contribution reprinted from Food 52 gives the NYT recipe a run for it.

Today’s version takes advantage of one of the only things I bother putting up in the summer, which is to say, pickled eggplant. I don’t have a garden, so without forced surplus of any one vegetable or another and year-round access to local produce (the mid-Atlantic is kind in this way), I’m rarely inclined to spend hours bottling anything up for seasons ahead. Except, as I said, for this pickled eggplant, which I have been making every summer since my friend K., a local farmer and pickling genius, gifted me with a jar and the recipe. The eggplant is boiled briefly in vinegar, then drained and packed in oil, along with coriander seeds and hot chiles. Those turns in vinegar and oil nudge the eggplant—already nutty and sweet—toward something almost buttery, with an almost startling brightness. And its texture… dense, creamy—you know you shouldn’t stand over the cutting board eating it off a fork (it is packed in oil, after all), but it really can’t be helped.

Its brilliance is in how versatile it is, and how easily it escorts you to something delicious. There are those days—tired, without so much culinary industry—and isn’t it cruel? those are the days you need something really marvelous-tasting most of all. That’s why I love this pickled eggplant. It’s a sauce for pasta or a salad of wheatberries, it’s a spread for grilled bread. Generally it will keep boring way, far away from your food, even when you’re not good for much in the kitchen. This salad is one of its beneficiaries, the packing oil—already tasting of vinegar—used as the dressing, rich bits of the eggplant strewn throughout. Golden raisins and toasted pine nuts accentuate everything nutty and sweet in the eggplant, and it takes you longer to finish the thing that it did to make it. Here, that never happens.

Anyway, the sun is out. I guess I’ll go for a walk.

Raw kale salad with pickled eggplant, toasted pine nuts and golden raisins

Obviously this recipe is not of ideal use if you don’t have pickled eggplant (recipe below) on hand. Remember, remember, next summer! In the meantime, if you have any good pickled anything in olive oil, you might substitute for the eggplant called for here.

Wash and dry (or don’t, eek! Sometimes I am really lazy) about 1/2 bunch of kale, preferably lacinato/cavolo nero/toscano. Make sure it’s totally dry, and cut into 1/4- to 1/2-inch thick ribbons. Work about 1 tablespoon of the olive oil the eggplant was packed in into the kale with your hands to coat it completely. Season with sea salt and black pepper to taste. At this point the kale can rest for a bit, 30 minutes to an hour, even. Toast a tablespoon or two of pine nuts until they’re fragrant, chop up a few pieces of pickled eggplant (so that you end up with about 1/4-1/3 cup), and toss them both in with the kale, along with a tablespoon or so of golden raisins (I prefer those little straw-colored Hunza raisins, but whatever you like). Serve with good, crusty bread. If you have any really delicious crackers lying around, those would be nice, too. Or you could just shower the whole thing with olive-oil toasted breadcrumbs, but that’s not really lazy, is it?

Pickled eggplant

For future reference.

5-6 lb medium eggplants

1/3 cup coarse sea salt

6 cups white wine vinegar

about 4 cups olive oil

8 dried chiles

coriander seeds

Slice the eggplants into 1/2″ rounds and toss with salt. Spread out and weigh down, and allow to sweat for one hour.

In a stockpot, bring vinegar to a boil. Add eggplant, bring back to a boil and simmer for five minutes. Drain and pat dry. Pour 1/2 cup olive oil in each (sterilized) quart or pint jar. Add 1 tsp coriander seeds and 2 chiles to each. Add eggplant and top with more olive oil if needed. Allow to cool, then cover. Pickles will be ready to eat in one month.

*As long as the eggplant is covered with oil, it keeps forever at room temperature—at least a year. If you need to add more oil at a later date to keep it submerged, that’s fine.

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