So about mayonnaise. There are two camps, in my estimation.
First are people like my mom, who love the stuff. Mom, bless her heart, will make a big bowl of potato salad in the morning and stick it in the fridge. She will peel off the cling-film before serving to stir in even more mayonnaise. (Rationale: the original jar she added was “absorbed” by all the potato starch as the dish sat in the fridge, making it much too dry to consume.) And she’ll save the little frilly bits of celery tops to decorate the bowl.
I’ve never figured out mayonnaise’s appeal. I don’t despise it, but really I find the whole affair kind of gloppy and unappetizing. Aioli on toasts? Sweet potato fries dunked in curried-mayo? Hellmann’s slathered on drippy tomato sandwiches? I feel an oil slick on my tongue thinking about it.
Nostalgically, though – there’s something really enticing about mayonnaise. It screams of picnic blankets and gingham dresses (like this one, yes?), the kind I might wear with a wide-brim straw hat, barefoot in the grass and my toes sinking just-barely into the cold soil. Salads piled on paper plates, and higher piles of fried chicken drumsticks on those same paper plates, followed by sweet watermelon wedges. Summer.
Is it obvious that I’ve been cheating on winter with a fairer season? I found myself, mid-February, dreaming for summer salads – mayonnaise and all. Sturdy pasta studded with crunchy nibs of vegetable and a bit of kick from the mustard jar. I thought of using tahini to approximate mayonnaise’s texture, but it seemed awfully hefty for the task. And lo – I found something even better. It’s a pasta salad almost like the kind on your paper plate, sitting in the grass, with a tall lemonade. Just without the mayo.
Almost pasta salad
makes one nice-size bowl for lunch
I like to use a large-ish pasta, with ridges and nooks and crannies, so the vegetables get caught in each bite. This version offers just some finely diced carrot and celery, but I imagine it might be nice with radishes, or a fine sprinkle of onion, and dill if you have it. If you don’t own a food processor, the avocado purees just as nicely with a good whip of the fork.
100g uncooked pasta (I like a sturdy penne, rigatoni or fusilli for this task)
1/2 very ripe avocado, pureed
1-2Tbsp spicy mustard (my go-tos are Kozlik’s and Organic Gold Orange-Ginger, both based in Toronto)
1 rib celery, finely diced
1 carrot, finely diced
pinch of salt, crack of pepper, dash of sweet paprika – to taste
Bring well-salted water to a boil. Prepare pasta to your preferences, and cool in a colander.
While pasta cooks, combine in a medium bowl the pureed avocado, mustard, spices and diced vegetables. Add the cooled pasta and stir well to combine, adding more salt if needed. Eat straight away, or cool and serve. Pretend it’s summer.
[top photo, with thanks, via]
The more I cook, I realize that I like simple flavours and few ingredients best. It occurred to me the other night as I stirred a Greek peasant soup that’s nothing more than some chickpeas and lemon simmered in broth. This weekend visiting Sameer, it was sweet butter lettuce, pomegranate arils and thin apple slices with a wisp of dressing. Most of what I eat is a few things, lovingly combined.
I’ve been cooking for a long time – and when I was younger, I reveled in complexity. I devoured molecular gastronomy and made multi-step brioches and attempted salmon sous-vide in my university kitchen (a very bad idea: salmon is not meant to be sous vide, as it goes). My salmon excepted, this cooking is often beautiful. I wouldn’t be so enamoured with Grant Achatz and Ferran Adrià if I didn’t appreciate complicated food. But in my own kitchen, more and more it’s less and less.
Anyway, tonight I pulled together dinner. A blended soup of broccoli, celery stalks, vegetable broth and black pepper finished with a swirly glug of olive oil. And I’m afraid that’s it. It tasted so good: a little sweet, creamy, warm and with an unusual depth considering its five ingredients and no aromatic base. I wanted to share it right away so you could make it, too. But a recipe for boiled broccoli seems unnecessary, given all the gorgeous and complex things out there to make and eat.
Instead I leave you with this: next time you see a most beautiful head of broccoli, buy it – for me. Slice it up (stems and all) with a stalk or two of celery and cover it with good vegetable stock. Simmer for 10 minutes or so. Test for salt and pepper. Blend. Slurp with some olive oil from a big white mug – and feel the kind of contentedness only soup brings.
This has been an unusual start to fall. My mind should be full of warm thoughts of braising, stirring and roasting – at long last in this chilly weather. But all I can think about is my next bowl of salad.
Funny, isn’t it, how our bodies ask for nourishment? I had a summer of excess, plain and simple. Between vacation, work lunches, dinners out, family barbeques (and frequent stops for ice cream along the way) my mostly plant-based eating was replaced with butter free-flowing through my veins.
And so I keep eating salad. It’s surely not a concerted effort on my part. My head wants to braise leeks and roast sweet potatoes and stir gigantic pots of soup. But when I reach for the kale – with every intent of simmering it gently – it ends up in thin ribbons in the salad bowl. Stewed cranberries are made into a tangy vinaigrette. Apples never find their way into crumbles. My shopping basket teems with frilly heads of lettuce.
Which is how this salad came to be. It’s – I dare say – the perfect mid-fall meal. Sweet orange segments, creamy avocado and thinly sliced macintosh apples get lightly dressed in a salt-and-pepper lime vinaigrette. It’s hearty, refreshing, savoury-sweet and just right for lunch when soup seems depressing.
(lunch for one)
People find the idea of supreming a piece of citrus fruit to be so daunting. Likely this is a reaction to the intimidating French name, because it’s a snap. The key tool is a really sharp knife (I’d say paring knife, but I actually I love my santoku for this job.) The left-over bits and baubles around the supremes can be used for juice, or even eaten as-is.
1/2 soft, ripe avocado, sliced
1 medium orange, supremed
1/2 macintosh apple, thinly sliced
juice of half a lime
sea salt, cracked pepper
Gently combine all ingredients except salt and pepper. Add seasonings a pinch at a time and taste, until desire level of sweet-salty contrast is reached.
When I was a little girl, nothing made me happier than a heaping plate of horta – a Greek peasant dish of boiled dandelion greens dressed with lemon and olive oil and salt. A funny sight, I’m sure, a six-year-old reverently diving into a plate of weeds, but I can’t help it. I love green vegetables.
(I suppose people have worse affections.)
My fridge keeps the usual suspects: a head of kale, containers of spinach and baby greens, and bunches of mustard greens and butter lettuce.
Tonight’s Tuesday visit to Riverdale made me squeal delightfully, though – sea asparagus! A salt-loving wild green harvested seasonally along British Columbia’s coast, it’s like a tiny-fingered green bean that’s been injected with saline. Crisp and surprising and fleeting, and completely the kind of vegetable you scoop up when it makes a market appearance.
I knew its fate straight away: used in place of salt in a simple kale salad, massaged with ripe avocado and lemon juice. Kale – surprisingly enough – is delicious raw, but it benefits from a bit of coaxing with some lemon juice to soften the hardy leaves. Against the salty, crunchy sea asparagus and dressed with avocado, it was a perfect summer dinner.
(makes two servings)
Massaging kale sounds kind of silly, but it’s actually very therapeutic and makes a big difference in the salad’s texture. Get your hands right in the bowl and give it a rub – plus it makes for really soft hands, between the lemon and avocado!
1 bunch kale (curly or Tuscan or lacinato or dinosaur – whatever’s prettiest that day)
1 small very ripe avocado, roughly diced
juice of 1 lemon
sea salt to taste (or 1/2c sea asparagus, blanched lightly and chopped finely)
Tear or cut the kale into bite-size pieces, discarding the tough stems. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and give them a good smoosh with the kale until the avocado and lemon become a creamy dressing. Taste a piece of kale for texture – it should be crisp but yielding – and add salt, if needed. Plate and serve.
I have made this salad for dinner every day this week. Six days running now, to be precise. Even for me, it’s a record in monotony.
The truth is: I’ll eat it for another six days, probably, if there isn’t an intervention. It’s that good. Some iceberg lettuce gets shredded and tossed in a bowl (I know iceberg lettuce has a bum rap from its appearance in one-too-many soggy chef salads, but it’s sorely misrepresented – its cold, crisp, elegant crunch is a winner in this salad); half a lemon gets messily squeezed over top, along with a glug of really good fruity olive oil, and a generous toss of fine sea salt. All this gets mixed together and dressed up with slices of avocado, how much depends on how decadent you’re feeling – I use quarter-to-half a fruit – and lashings of Parmigiano-Reggiano and some cracked black pepper.
It is a salad that sings – the cold, crunchy lettuce against the creamy avocado, the salty cheese and tart lemon, and the olive oil marrying the ingredients together. It is a salad at which I will happily declare my love: I’m an easy girl to please.
The grocery clerk has started to look at me funny, with all these heads of lettuce and lemons and avocados balanced precariously in my arms, but no matter. These are my salad days.
(makes one plentiful serving)
1/2 small head iceberg lettuce, shredded
1/2 medium lemon
a glug of your best olive oil, about 1 generous Tbsp
1/4 to 1/2 ripe avocado, thinly sliced
fine sea salt, a generous pinch (~1/2 tsp)
Parmigiano Reggiano, a few generous lashings
coarse black pepper, to taste
Place shredded lettuce in a shallow bowl. Juice the lemon over the lettuce generously and with all your might – the lemon is a key component of this salad. Add the sea salt and douse with olive oil. Toss gently to coat lettuce, and taste for seasoning, adding more salt if needed. Arrange slices of avocado and the cheese over top, and finish with black pepper, to taste. The salad is a meal on its own, but I imagine it would be nice draped with a piece of fish, too – some grilled salmon or another similarly-fatty fish.