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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Cookbook Tower or The Anatomy of a Salad

Q: What's a Jewish Mother's worst dilemma?

A: Ham on sale!

Well, my husband is much better at delivering the punchline, but that joke does summarize my attitude towards shopping. I believe it might have to do with the fact that I feel a personal attraction towards anything going on sale. Since I was a little girl, people dear to my heart have called me ALE (much to my mother's dismay, as she specifically chose a long name to go well with my short last name, but she ended up calling me Ale too). Every time I see the word SALE anywhere, I feel the sign is calling my name specifically, as in SALE (I know. It's pronounced differently, but I read the sale signs, and the 3 letters are there). I get bewitched by the offer and some times, I end up purchasing things just because they are on sale, and no other logical reason. I haven't made it to ham just yet, but during last Black Friday, I found myself with both of my children at Barnes and Noble, because my daughter was using gift cards she received for her birthday. It was all about her, until a 40% off plus my 10% member's discount on the Modernist Cuisine at Home stopped me on my track. 
I had been eying the huge tome since it came out. Of course, it had all started when its author launched his first 5-book collection Modernist Cuisine at the chutzpah-less price of $500.00, and since that's what I make for a whole year of hard work, the collection was just an unattainable desire. A year later, he and his team of chefs, scientists, photographers, etc came up with this one book adapted for the home cook at a fraction of the professional version. And that day, it was there... in front of me, and at a deep discount. SAle, sAle, sAle....it was calling my name!!!
"I can always return it," I thought, and I took the 100 lb. piece of culinary literature home.
Once I opened it,  I would never return it. It is pompous, and requires some uber sophisticated equipment that I will never own, and although it's for people cooking at home, it's not for the average home cook with a regular human life with a job and a family (of finicky eaters) to feed following all the after school activities. It's obsessive-compulsive in detail, measurements, photography, aesthetics and language. And it's also revolutionary, interesting, and a very important foodie tool backed by science. I've made an incredible vegan gelato, a toasted corn stock, the best no-knead pizza dough, among other things, and all have been outstanding! Even the way the recipes are written teach the cook how to cook well in the best possible and efficient way. It's just the technique for how to cook now (if cooking is your hobby, as you have to be passionate about food in order to really make this investment worth it), if you find the kitchen a place to have fun and feel adventurous.

I did feel remorse after the purchase, because yes, I have too many cookbooks, so many, that besides the ones stored in the pantry and the bookshelf, I've managed to produce a conversation piece that guests can't decide if it's a safety hazard, evidence of sick consumerism, a modern piece of art in the dining room, or a lack of shelving (but don't worry, the books are all safely stacked in a Sapien bookshelf from the Container Store).  


However, after thinking it over for a couple of days, I realized that I needed to make peace with the fact that I am a cookbook collector and that's OK. I was trying to find ways of justifying myself, until I decided I didn't need to. Food is what I love, what I know and do, and what I want to keep learning about, and to do so, cookbooks are an essential tool. They allow me to travel, to meet amazing cooks who live far away, to taste flavors I would never taste any other way, to have a reference of different cuisines, to get to know new ingredients, techniques and ideas. And I do use them!
It's been five months since that purchase, and I have bought like 6 more cookbooks in that period. But I must state, I've used them all!

I'm still doing my food regime (see post below). I'm still feeling well. I've promised myself I will not allow myself to get hungry, and some days are more challenging than others in terms of cravings. However, I'm still going strong, and the restrictions have ignited my kitchen creativity a lot and I can't wait to share the recipes I've been coming up with.

In the meanwhile, I want to dedicate this post to salads and to share some good tricks on how to build them and turn them into deliciousness. Some tips are mine, and some others come from Nathan Myhrvold and his Modernist Cuisine at Home team.

"A well-composed salad balances diverse textures, flavors and colors," Myhrvold writes. "Like musical compositions, salads come in many styles, shapes and sizes."  And he suggests to always keep the following in mind while making them:
  • SEASON 
The success of the salad relies in using produce at the peak of its freshness. The following is a seasonality chart from another book I own and love: LEON: Ingredients and Recipes by Allegra McEvedy. The author (and her restaurants) is based in England, so availability might be slightly different, however I find the chart to be a great source:
 
  •  TEXTURE
"Textural contrast is one of the most satisfying components of eating. Crispy, crunchy, creamy, tender and chewy: a salad can cover a huge range of textures. Mix elements from these categories in various combinations." Modernist Cuisine at Home, states, giving the following examples:
Crispy: lettuce, cucumbers, peppers, apple slices, melons
Crunchy: sliced raw vegetables, fresh pickles, sunflower seeds, hazelnuts, croutons (and I also add other nuts or sesame, pumpkin seeds and dehydrated fruits)
Creamy: thin vegetable purees, egg-based dressings, creamy cheeses (and I also recommend nut or seed butters, cooked beans, miso paste and yogurt)
Tender: baby lettuces, avocados, braised beets, cooked potatoes, cooked tender grains
Chewy: dried fruits, cooked whole grains, aged cheeses (edamame too)   

  • TEMPERATURE
"Salad may seem synonymous with cold, but many delicious salads are served best at room temperature, warm, or even hot," states Myhrvold. Wilted greens salad can be an example, so is a warm lentil salad with barley and vinaigrette.

Although the book doesn't mention this in the salad section, I would also like to add that the combination of FLAVORS is something to keep in mind when making a delicious salad. There has to be a balance among the following, not only in the components of the salad, but also in the dressing:
Acidity: lemon or lime juice, vinegar (wine, rice, balsamic, raw apple cider, plum, etc), sour fruits, juices or purees.
Sweetness: A light (please don't add a cup of sugar to your dressing, it will overwhelm your salad and will numb any other subtle and palatable qualities!!!) touch of raw honey, pure maple syrup, date puree or syrup, or coconut nectar are delicious in dressings, while fruits or vegetable purees or juices, fresh, cut, dry or dehydrated fruit can also be amazing additions.
Saltiness: A bit of sea salt can enhance the flavors of all the components of the salad. It's important to salt the dressing when preparing it and also to lightly sprinkle the salad right before serving it (to avoid greens from wilting). Mustard, miso, coconut aminos and soy sauce are also great salting alternatives.
Bitterness: Although we biologically tend to prefer sweeter flavors, a bit of bitterness can be a surprising and complementing touch. Celery, parsley, kale, bitter greens, Brussels sprouts and other vegetables can be great when served combined with other flavors. It's all about finding the balance
Umami: The secret behind delicious food! Try adding nutritional yeast, miso, soy sauce, mushrooms, asparagus, potatoes, fish (such as tuna, wild salmon, anchovies), seaweed, truffles, carrots or edamame to your salad.  

Other flavor enhancers:
Spiciness: Pepper and chile peppers (fresh, smoked, dry, ground, etc...) can add an incredible punch. Ginger, radishes, mustard, other spices, fresh and dry herbs can take a salad from good to extremely unique with just a pinch.
Fat: Without abusing, oils (extra virgin olive, nut, coconut, rice bran, grape seed, safflower and sunflower oils, all expeller pressed) can be the best conduct for flavor and deliver a wonderful mouth feel to the salad.    

Here are three salad recipes that I've made recently with ingredients I had at home, and that enjoyed very much. You can add, vary and take away anything. As they are written, they are vegan and gluten free.
Play around, keeping all the tips in mind.

PINK WALDORF SALAD
Ingredients:
Sorry for wrong direction, but I can't seem to b able to fix it!

2 medium (or 3 small) beets, roasted, peeled and cubed*
3 stalks celery, chopped
1 gala apple, seeded and cubed
1/4 cup raw walnuts, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons vegenaise
2 tablespoons raw (unpasteurized) apple cider vinegar, or to taste
sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste   

Method:
Mix all ingredients in a salad bowl and marinate, if possible, for a couple of hours (up to one day) covered and refrigerated.
Adjust seasoning if necessary before serving.

*You can buy roasted ones, sold in many stores now, vacuum packed  



FORBIDDEN RICE SALAD WITH MEXICAN MANGOES AND AVOCADOS

Ingredients:

5 cups cooked forbidden (black) rice, cooled
4 asparagus, trimmed, washed and thinly sliced crosswise (yes, raw!)
1 Mexican mango, peeled, pitted and cubed (Ataulfo, Champagne, or other kind, just make sure it's from Mexico)  
1 avocado, halved, pitted, cubed, peel discarded
1 Meyer (or regular) lemon, zest and juice   
Chipotle chile powder, to taste
2-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Nutritional yeast, a couple of shakes
Sea salt and pepper, to taste

Method:
Mix everything with a spatula, being gentle with the avocado and the mango. Season to taste.
If you want to make it ahead, just add the mango and avocado right before serving.



EASTERN-MIDDLE EASTERN SALAD
Ingredients:

Dressing:
2 to 3 tablespoons tahini  
1 tablespoon brown rice vinegar, or to taste
2-4 teaspoons raw honey
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger

Salad:
2 packages "Miracle" shirataki angel hair  , cooked according to package instructions, rinse to cool
1/2 red cabbage, cored and finely shredded
3 carrots, peeled and shredded
2 teaspoons sesame seeds

Method:
Dressing: 
Whisk all ingredients in a medium bowl. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.   
Dressing can be made 2 days ahead and kept covered in refrigerator.

Salad:
Toss noodles, cabbage and carrots in a large serving bowl. Add dressing and toss again, making sure dressing is evenly distributed.
Sprinkle sesame on top and serve.
Salad keeps well refrigerated for 1 day.