There’s been some debate about whether or not you should serve salad at Thanksgiving.
My stance? A traditional salad — with wan lettuce leaves from a bag, dried cranberries (the most clichéd Thanksgiving salad ingredient), and toasted pecans — is a pretty depressing thing to see on the table, TBH. But, as I get older, my body does crave some kind of crunchy vegetable situation if I’m going to eat a lot of heavy food (turkey, stuffing, gravy, etc). So what’s a Thanksgiving chef to do? Enter the shaved Brussels sprout salad.
You don’t often think about turning on your oven to make a salad, but that’s exactly what I did after flipping through Suzannne Goin’s AOC Cookbook during the build-up to lunch on Saturday. My usual salads are normally quick affairs of tearing up some lettuce, drizzling on some good olive oil (lately it’s Séka Hills), and my beloved white Balsamic.
Chef Goin has you toast walnuts in the oven for her chopped salad (which this isn’t), but I liked the idea. As I was getting ready to do that, I remembered Nicole Rucker’s trick of cooking bacon on a cookie sheet at 375 (see: my most excellent BLT). So I popped some bacon in there along with the walnuts and suddenly this salad was seeming very promising.
Sometimes there’s a salad that you like, but don’t love, and then you change a few things about it and suddenly it’s your new favorite salad. That’s what happened with this salad, a familiar combination of apples and fennel and walnuts and golden raisins and arugula. It’s one you can probably find in my archives and that recipe in my archives is good but not great. This one is great. What’s the difference?
Our CSA continues to be a big boon to our diet, especially on Sunday mornings when the box arrives and I get to tear it open and make something right away for breakfast or lunch or a combination of those two meals (someone should come up with a name for that). Last week’s box contained some Boston lettuce, the box from the week before had golden beets that I hadn’t used yet. So, on Sunday at 11:30 AM, a vision slowly began to hatch in my brain: what if I roasted those golden beets and, at the same time, boiled a few eggs just so the whites firmed up and the yolks were runny. I could toss the lettuce with a mustardy dressing, using Dorie Greenspan’s mustard bottle technique and bring it all together like a golden vision.
They say you’ve gotta know the rules before you break the rules and I think that’s true of cooking as much as it’s true of art or writing or any other discipline. Before you make deconstructed spaghetti and meatballs with foam and fruit leather and dehydrated beef essence, you should probably learn how to make the straightforward version. (Plus: the straightforward version is usually better.) Let’s say you’re hankering to be creative, though, and you want to flex your artistic cooking muscles. Then my advice is to master the art of blank canvas foods; the kinds of foods you can dress up however you want once you get the basic idea down. For me, that blank canvas food used to be pasta; but lately, on a California summer-is-coming health kick, I’ve been toying around with farro.
I almost titled this post Salad Not-çoise because my starting point, with the recipe, was David Lebovitz’s blog post where he beautifully describes a salad–an authentic Niçoise–that is nothing like the one I ended up making. In fact, David might be horrified by the one I made, especially since he quotes Jacques Médecin, the authority on Provencal cuisine, as saying: “Never, never, I beg you, include boiled potato or any other boiled vegetable in your Salade Niçoise.” Shield your eyes, then, David and Monsieur Médecin. What you’re about to see may disturb you.
Please take your computer screen–this may be tricky, if you have a laptop–and detach it from the base. Good. Now nail it to the wall with this post prominently featured because DANG, isn’t this salad that I made yesterday a work of art? I’m mighty proud of it. In fact, I’m so proud of it, maybe I don’t even want to tell you how I made it because then you may steal my thunder and tell people that YOU invented it, not me. Well, it’s not like I invented it, but you know what I mean. Ok, fine, you wore me down…here’s how this artful plate of food came into existence.
The smartest food bloggers rave about the recipes they post in the first paragraph so you’re positively dying to click ahead and read the rest. Me? I kind of do that, but I also can’t help being a truth-teller. So yesterday, I was honest when I said that I loved the Franny’s Toasted Almond Gelato recipe I made, but I also said it tasted–just very slightly–like snot. Now I’m here to tell you about a rice salad that I made from Staffmeals (quickly becoming one of my most-used cookbooks) that I enjoyed, but not fully, mostly because of how I cooked the rice.