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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