Despite my two-week silence on here (apologies for that), there has been a lot of cooking going on and a lot to possibly write about. A seriously eye-opening article about parsley, for instance. Discovering a vegetable I had never seen or heard of before at my local bodega. A new favorite sandwich. And that small thing we like to call the start of summer and all of nature’s bounty that comes with.
I took a Facebook quiz in 2009 that set out to find out which decade suited me best (procrastination at its finest) and my answers landed me firmly in the very unexotic time period of the 2000s. Apparently I embrace the here and now. But over the weekend, I realized a few things. Columbo is one of my favorite TV show, Oliver! from 1968 might be my favorite movie of all time and Michael Douglas may very well be my favorite actor. The very concept of electronic books upsets me, even if my arguments against them are mostly sentimental in their reasoning.
So despite the fact that I’m writing this on a blog and I’ve just checked my blackberry for the twentieth time this hour, there are good parts of me that are pretty dated. So dated, in fact, that I feel the need to confess the following: I have a soft spot for coupon-based, nary-an-organic-item in-sight supermarkets that have sliced bread specials and two-for-one bags of potato chips on sale. My local Key Food fits this bill. It’s not often I do the entirety of my shopping there – I’m part of a food co-op that gives me a lot of high-end groceries for cheap – but there are times when I’m behind on my work shifts and the supermarket will have to do. Secretly though, I enjoy going. It reminds you how to cook with the bare bone ingredients most Americans are offered. No dandelion greens and purple carrots here; you make do with your beefsteak tomatoes, thank you very much. In fact, I’ll admit that I’ll take my local Key Food over the beautiful perfection that is Whole Foods any day. As impressive as Whole Foods is (the produce! the flowers! the Indian hot bar! ) the healthy lifestyle culture it promotes (which I’m in full support of) tends to also imply that a lot of money needs to be spent in order for you to achieve it. Whether that’s a fair criticism of Whole Foods or not, I firmly believe that we all could use a little reminder on how to be healthy on a reasonable, even minimal, budget, without any lavish salad bars, expensive fish or fancy soy health nuts in sight.
Which brings me to these two salads. My mother was the queen of making on-budget, very sophisticated food; any skill-set I have in the kitchen is inspired by the often lavish meals I was lucky enough to call home-food. But she achieved this by shopping at ethnic grocery stores when needed, cooking many things from scratch (yogurt and bread included) and yes, checking the weekly circular to see what was on sale. All of this while helping run a university and co-raise three (always charming) daughters.
This black bean salad is a loose spin on something my mother once suggested I make – a simple black bean salad with a cumin dressing, with some mango, red onion and cucumber thrown in to boot. It takes minutes to make and is infinitely adaptable. The second salad is based on the previously unknown-to-me vegetable the chayote, which I bought a whim when it was on a 2 for 1 sale at my local bodega. It reminds me of how my mother would at times base meals on especially good produce she would find. There would be genuine excitement in her face when she saw that our suburban Price Chopper had okra, or really good ginger root.
Here’s to making your own summer salad, wherever its source and inspiration may come from.
Roasted Chayote and Red Pepper Salad with Tangerine Dressing
from Gourmet, January 2000
This recipe might sound fussy in name, but it’s simple, delicious and a great side for a spicy main dish.
- 2 scallions, chopped
- 1 fresh serrano or jalapeno chile, seeded and finely chopped
- 5 tablespoons fresh tangerine juice (if you only have orange, that’s fine too)
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon Sherry or red wine vinegar
- 2 medium chayotes (1 pound total), peeled, halved lengthwise, and seeded
- 2 medium red bell peppers (3/4 pound), quartered
- 2 heads Bibb lettuce, torn into small pieces
Preheat oven to 450°F.
Whisk together scallions, chile, juice, oil, and vinegar in a large bowl and season with salt and pepper.
Cut chayote halves lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices and arrange in 1 layer in two thirds of a lightly oiled shallow baking pan. Put bell pepper quarters, skin sides up, in other third of pan. Roast in middle of oven, uncovered, until chayote is browned in spots and bell pepper skins are blistered, about 30 minutes. Immediately add chayote to dressing and toss to coat.
Transfer hot bell peppers to a small bowl. Cover and let stand 10 minutes, then peel. Cut bell peppers into 1/4-inch-thick strips and add to chayote with any pepper juices accumulated in bowl. Add lettuce and toss to coat.
Black Bean Salad with Mango, Cucumber, and Red Onion
(loosely based on instructions from my mother)
- 2 cans (15 or 19 oz) black beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 mango, peeled and diced into small chunks
- 1 cucumber, finely diced
- 1/2 a large red onion, finely diced
- 1/2 can of corn kernels, rinsed (optional)
- 1 red bell pepper, finely diced (optional)
- 1/2 jalapeno with the seeds removed, finely diced (optional)
- handful of cilantro
- 1 lemon
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- cumin powder