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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