Warm Summer Green Bean Salad

Here’s another  vacation-conjuring dish, one we had during our trip to Italy last year.

This salad is an example of one of those simple dishes that, when each element is full of flavor, needs no embellishments to sparkle on the taste buds.

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During our stay at La Tavola Marche last year, the farm had just passed its tipping point from summer to fall. The inn was close to the end of its season, the yard-thick stone walls too expensive to heat for guests through the Appenine winter. Jason and Ashley were stripping their gardens of the last of the summery produce, stacking crates of tomatoes to can, drying the stalks of onions and garlic. The days in the valley were warm in late September, but frost was closing in.

Our meals were shoulder-season fare too- warm braised and roasted meats and pastas interspersed with fresh vegetables and salads. Our last evening, Jason pulled the last of the green beans from the vines and made us a delicious warm salad.

As soon as we got settled in our apartment in Siena and found the market, I recreated his lovely combination of crisp, sweet, and piquant so I wouldn’t forget it. I’ve made it  lots of time since then, and I can say unequivocally that getting the best tomatoes, green beans, and red sweet peppers is the key to its success. Gardeners, you’re way ahead of the game here.

Market basket: Siena Tuscany Italy

Market basket: Siena Tuscany Italy

If you’re like me and suffer from garden envy, my tip for finding good tomatoes and peppers elsewhere is to sniff them. Color and texture can be misleading, but a good tomato actually has a fragrance. Green beans are easier, just look for slim, bright pods without discoloration, no lumps from seeds forming inside (these will be too tough for this quickly cooked salad). Although they can be expensive, the little French haricot verts are usually very toothsome and tender.

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We had this salad at the end of the season but it is just as, if not more delicious now at the beginning of green bean season.

Warm Summer Green Bean Salad

1 pound slim green beans, stems removed

1 red bell pepper

1 ripe tomato

1/4-1/2 sweet red onion (depending on the size)

red wine vinegar

olive oil

salt

fresh ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil

Meanwhile, slice the pepper and onion into slivers about the same thickness as the green beans. Cut the tomato into thick wedges. Toss together in a serving bowl.

Once the water has reached a boil, plunge the green beans into the water and return to the boil. Cook the beans briefly, for about 1 minute after the water boils. Remove the pot from the heat and quickly drain the beans in a colander. Allow them to cool enough to handle.

Pour the green beans over the peppers, onion, and tomato and gently toss them all together with your hands. The heat from the beans will slightly warm the other vegetables. Drizzle with a tablespoon of vinegar and a couple of glugs of olive oil, sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Toss to coat everything in the dressing. Serve at room temperature.

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Italian Inspiration: Farro Arugula Salad

No one is going to be surprised to hear that our trip to Italy last September was inspirational to my cooking. After living in the city for a couple of years, we opted to go country to start our vacation way off the beaten path. We drove from Rome’s Fiumicino Airport up through Umbria on the back roads and across the spine of the Appenines into Le Marche, to Piobbico specifically, down a dusty road through the hills to La Tavola Marche, an agritourismo owned by hosts extraordinaire Ashley and Jason Bartner.

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Driving in, we passed a few cars parked in the grass on the sides of the road, saw a man disappearing into the trees with a stick and a basket: mushroom hunters! With the cooler weather and fall rain, the mushrooms were starting to pop up on the hillsides. Ashley and a friend of the farm, a local cardiologist and mycologist took a few guests on a mushroom hunt one afternoon. We were lucky to find a couple basketfuls of mushrooms during our scramble through the trees and underbrush.

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Our visit being during the shoulder season (not dissimilar to the cool wet Spring we’re having here this year), dinners were a mix of the last of the garden produce and heartier cool weather fare. Everything Jason cooked was incredibly delicious, simple but beautiful ingredients prepared in interesting ways, unpretentious but as good as any white tablecloth meal I’ve ever tasted. We ended up eating every dinner there, unable to resist the nightly feasts.

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I love the intimacy with which Italians (born and adopted) dealt with their food: the mushroom hunts, the seat in the sun with a glass of beer to clean each mushroom by hand, the well-attended weekly markets in each town, the cheerful and lengthy discussions about gelato flavors, the long family lunches we saw on the Adriatic in Fano, the resourcefulness of “eating up the garden” before the weather turned. It’s a characteristic of that culture that places a high value on the fellowship of the table as well as the food that is placed on it, a congenial community feel to the act of eating.

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This was a salad we were served as part of a prima course, but so immensely satisfying that I’ve adapted it to be a really delicious main course salad. A couple of the ingredients, farro and porcini, might be a little exotic, but are two of my favorite pantry staples. Farro is the grain that fueled the Roman’s armies, an ancient grain that is similar to spelt. It is chewy but not sticky with a hearty flavor ( a bit like wild rice). Porcini – I very occasionally see fresh porcini for sale, but they are usually pretty expensive and a bit battered and bruised so I use dried porcini instead. Porcini (which means “little pigs”, isn’t that awesome!) have a rich earthy meaty flavor that I love. I use them crumbled in my meatballs and meat sauces and to flavor risottos. I’ve also added fresh crimini mushrooms to this recipe for substance, flavor and texture in lieu of foraged mushrooms. The nuts and arugula add crunch and a peppery bite and the salty tangy pecorino cheese rounds out the flavor chord.

I’ve adapted this recipe from my memory of the meal we had in Italy and have posted it with the Bartner’s permission.

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Farro Arugula Salad

the farro method:

1 cup whole grain farro

4 cups water

¼ cup dried porcini pieces, crumbled

sea or Kosher salt

Rinse the farro under running water to remove any dust or husks. Add the dried porcini, cover the grain with the water and let it soak for a couple of hours or overnight in the fridge.

Add salt as if you were salting pasta water. Cook the grain in the soaking water for 20-25 minutes until the farro is chewy but not mushy. Drain thoroughly in a sieve to remove any remaining cooking liquid.

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the salad:

1 lb crimini mushrooms, cleaned and quartered

olive oil

1 sprig fresh rosemary, roughly chopped

sea salt

1/3 cup raw walnuts, pecans, or almonds, coarsely chopped or broken into pieces
fresh ground black pepper

12 ounces arugula

pecorino romano cheese

Heat a generous glug of olive oil in a large skillet or sauté pan over high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally until they become bronzed and golden. Add a pinch of salt and the rosemary, lower the heat and stir in the chopped nuts, Stir together over medium heat until the nuts are lightly toasted. Remove the pan from the heat and add the farro. Toss in the arugula and another drizzle of olive oil, allowing the arugula to wilt a bit in the residual heat. Serve at room temperature with pecorino romano shaved over the top.

A note about dried porcini: you may notice that your dried porcini look very unprocessed, maybe some bits of straw or grit on them. If so, give them a toss in s bowl of water before adding them to a recipe. Some producers sell a very clean product but others are a little rawer and earthier. It’s simple to clean them so don’t worry if yours look a little dirty

Millet Spinach Salad with Pepitas and Cranberries

There is always that sense of ravenous desperation in the spring that sends us on long hunts for the first asparagus, nettles, rhubarb, salad greens, or radishes of the season, the hope against hope that there will be something crisp and juicy and fresh and alive at the farmers market despite my still being wrapped in down and wool. This year that hunger was particularly sharp.  With PATH out of commission from October into January, Hurricane Sandy stranded me on a small island on the far side of the Hudson from the trucked-in variety to be found in Manhattan markets; our own supermarket was flooded with damage that took 15 weeks to repair. Our little greengrocers re-opened sooner but have very edited produce departments. And, honestly, there were other more important things than produce to worry about during this past dark winter.

But spring has finally arrived and the burgeoning farmers markets and longer days have inspired us. So long story short, a few weeks ago we thought it would be fun to be mostly vegetarian for a while to see how many ways we could cram vegetables into our diet, like a tonic to our systems. I appreciate the luxury to have so many things available to cook and I’ve been enjoying the challenge to my creativity. Instead of trying to replicate the meat-and-three-sides meal, I’m looking to more vegetarian (or at least less meat-centric) food cultures for inspiration with vegetable curry, my sriracha soba noodle salad, my beloved pizza with “salad” on top, or black bean and corn chiles rellenos. I’ve been using a variety of whole grains, enjoying their uniqueness when they are the feature rather than the side dish.

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Millet is a staple food in parts of Africa and India but is most commonly seen in bags of bird seed in North America. It is a tiny grain, about the size of a seed bead, and cooks to a similar texture as couscous at the 1:2 grain to water proportion but with a cornier, nuttier flavor (which the toasting or frying I describe in the millet technique section enhances). I’ve used it in a multigrain bread where it adds a little texture to the loaf. I wanted to cover all the bases of texture and flavor in this salad: crunchy toasted pepitas and creamy fresh goat cheese, tangy sweet cranberries and earthy spinach and crisp savory red onion to tie it all together. We ate this with an avocado salad last night.

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Millet Spinach Salad

the millet technique:

1 cup millet

2 cups water

olive oil

salt

Pour a tablespoon or so of olive oil into a heavy bottomed sauce pan, stir in the millet over medium heat. Toast the millet, stirring frequently, until it smells lightly nutty. Raise the heat to med/high and pour  water over the millet. Stir to break up any clumps, add a couple pinches of salt and bring to a boil. When the water boils, reduce the heat to low, cover with a tight-fitting lid and simmer for 20 minutes until the water is absorbed. Turn off the heat and leave the millet covered for another 20-30 minutes until it is cool enough to handle. The millet will be fluffy and all the water should be absorbed.

the salad:

olive oil

½ red onion, thinly sliced

1/3 cup raw pepitas/pumpkin seeds

3 cups spinach leaves (stemmed and roughly chopped if the leaves are big)

¼ cup dried cranberries

white wine vinegar

salt and pepper

fresh goat cheese

In a large skillet or sauté pan, heat 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil and stir the pumpkin seeds into the oil over medium heat. Stir constantly until the pumpkins seeds are golden brown and toasted. Turn off the heat and stir the sliced onion in, it should wilt slightly in the residual heat of the pan, infusing the oil with flavor. Pour the millet into the sauté pan. It will probably be in large clumps like couscous; gently break it up into individual grains with your fingers. Drizzle the wine vinegar over the millet. Toss in the spinach and cranberries and mix into the millet. Salt and pepper to taste. Dollop chunks of fresh goat cheese over the top and serve at room temperature.

The 3 Pillars of Potato Salad

Potato salad is one of those basic all-American dishes that everyone ought to have in their recipe repertoire. I’ve made a lot of different kinds of potato salad over the years, some versions better than others, but it goes so well with so many occasions that I’ve made an effort to refine a few techniques that bring out the best in it. Seasonings (and seasons)  change, but these techniques form the three pillars of all my  potato salad:

1.  Cook the potatoes whole. I’ve cooked a lot of potatoes in my day and will say that this is the most flavor and texture preserving technique for potato salad. Good potatoes actually have a lot of flavor, and the dense waxy potatoes I use for salad have a firm, creamy texture. Peeling, cutting them up and cooking them in boiling water dilutes the flavor and the texture that I want to be a significant component in the salad. Imagine that – potatoes as a feature, rather than a vehicle for dressing in potato salad!

2. Soak the potato pieces in apple cider vinegar. To counter the creaminess of the dressing, the dense starchiness of the potatoes and the juicy crunch of vegetables, I infuse the potatoes with a flavorful acidic vinegar steam bath. It lifts and brightens the salad from a typical blandness to a subtly tangy well-balanced bite.

3. I use dashi soup powder in the dressing. This is the point at which I will tiptoe into a very hotly debated health topic: glutamate and MSG. This very interesting article in the Guardian explains the history and controversy far better and in more depth than I possibly can, but my takeaway on the topic is that glutamate is a naturally occurring flavor enhancer, found in concentrated forms in aged cheeses, kelp, fish, mushrooms and mother’s milk (yep). My preference is to use ingredients that are in their most natural usable form rather than those that are industrial by-products or manufactured compounds imitating a natural product. Sugar and salt are examples of this, rawer versions having more mineral content and flavor that more refined versions. I first heard about these dashi soup mixes from this post on No Recipes as a more natural version of the flavor enhancing properties of  MSG. So, while I know this might be a controversial topic (what food isn’t these days anyway), it is something that I happily use and feed to the people who I love.

This is my favorite basic recipe:


Bacon Dill Potato Salad

2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes

¼ cup apple cider vinegar

2 pieces of smoked bacon

Dressing:

1/3 cup mayonnaise

1/3 cup sour cream

1 small clove garlic

¼ red onion

2 ribs celery with tops

1 tablespoon dill weed

½ packet smoked bonito dashi mix

salt

fresh black pepper

Chop the bacon up and fry it. Once it is crisp and browned, remove the pieces from the fat they have rendered and set the bacon on paper to drain.

Wash the whole potatoes and cover them with an inch or two of salted water in a pot. Bring them to a low boil and cook until a sharp knife slides in and out of the center of the potato easily (given that the potatoes are cooked whole, it makes sense to try to get all of the same potatoes as close to the same size as you can). Time will vary, but start checking after 15-20 minutes.

Drain the water and let the potatoes cool just enough to be able to gingerly handle them. Cut the hot potatoes into bite sized pieces (I did eighths). Return them to their cooking pot and pour the apple cider vinegar over the potato pieces. Cover the pot with a lid and let the potatoes cool and soak up the vinegar.

While the potatoes are cooling, make the dressing. Mix the mayo and sour cream in a big bowl. Grate the small clove of garlic on a microplane grater, or use a garlic press or heavy knife to mash it into a paste. There should be about ½ teaspoon of garlic, just a hint in the dressing. Mince the onion and celery and stir the garlic, onion, and celery into the mayo and sour cream. If you have fresh dill weed, take the bigger stems out and roughly chop the fronds; dried can go into the mix whole. Add half of the packet of smoky bonito soup mix. Taste the dressing for salt, and add some if needed, keeping in mind that the potatoes have been cooked in salted water. Stir everything together well.

Once the potatoes have cooled to about room temperature, put them into a big enough bowl to stir the dressing into them with out them falling out all over the place. Pour the dressing over and grind about 10 grinds worth of black pepper over everything. At this point the bacon can be mixed into the potato salad too, or it can be sprinkled over the top of each serving. Mixed in, it loses a little of its crispness, but incorporates its flavor throughout the salad. Allow the potato salad to sit, refrigerated, for 30 minutes or so before serving (it’s even better the next day).

We had it last night with thin slices of peppery hangar steak and a cool tomato cucumber salad –

Soba Sriracha Salad

 I used to eat “dirt pancakes” when I was a kid. My mom cooked and baked with whole grains, so whether it was biscuits or sandwich bread or cake or pancakes, they would be hearty, honey-sweetened, and bran laden. And in the same spirit that draws children to gummy worms, “ants on a log” and to think that anything gross is hilarious,  we  named a humus-colored Saturday breakfast  “dirt” buckwheat pancakes. We ate them hot off the griddle and smeared with honey or molasses. I loved the earthy, nutty, mineral flavor, especially with the sweet iron tang of molasses. And bonus, they kind of looked like mud pies.

 I don’t remember using buckwheat for anything besides pancakes until I was introduced to soba noodles as an adult. Soba is a Japanese noodle made with buckwheat and wheat flour (I look for buckwheat as the first ingredient when I buy it) and is not only hearty and flavorful both hot and cold, but does it in about half the calories in white wheat pasta. I don’t think of myself as a “health food” cook, but the palate that I developed as a child makes me crave bright, fresh flavors that also happen to be nutritionally rich, un-messed-with foods,  fruits, vegetables, and grains that are colorful and  intensely flavored. I think that’s why I love that identifying fragrance and flavor that buckwheat has, unique and rich; that it happens to also be good for me is a bonus.

This is a one of my favorite ways to eat buckwheat – slightly chilled, slippery with toasted sesame and spicy with Sriracha hot sauce and crunchy with jewel-like strands of beautiful vegetables. It needs nothing and can stand alone as a perfectly satisfying lunch, but if you want to gild the lily, it is outstanding when accompanying broiled salmon or mackerel.

Soba Sriracha Salad

serves 4 generously

– 3 sleeves (about 10 ounces) soba noodles

– 1 medium cucumber

– 1/2 red bell pepper

– 4 green onions

– 1 small wedge of red cabbage (about 1/4 head)

– 1 medium carrot, peeled

Optional additions

– snow peas

– toasted peanuts, cashews or sesame seeds

– radish or daikon

– firm tofu

– hot chile, minced

Prepare the cucumbers, pepper, and carrots by slicing them all into fairly uniform match sticks. I cut the cucumber on a sharp diagonal and then stack the slices, slicing them again into slivers. If your carrots are nice and fat you can cut them up the same way; for skinny carrots, cut them into 2 inch-long pieces, then into thirds lengthwise before cutting them into crisp match sticks. Cut the wedge of cabbage across the middle and then shave into thin ribbons. Chop the green onions into thin discs. I cut the vegetables this way not aiming for perfect uniformity, but so that they tangle through the noodles, giving a nice mix of slippery noodle and crunchy vegetables with each fork-full.

Cook the soba noodles in boiling salted water according to the package direction, which is usually about 6 minutes. Drain into a colender and rinse with cold water until the noodles are cool.

In a large bowl, whisk the dressing together, then toss the noodles and vegetables into the dressing a handful at a time, mixing by hand after each addition. It’s a lot easier to mix as you go rather than trying to mix everything at once and it gives everything an even soaking of dressing.

Serve at room temperature of slightly cool.

Sriracha Sesame Dressing

– 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

– 1 tablespoon olive oil

– 3 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar

– 2 teaspoons sriracha chili sauce (or to taste, I like it slightly spicy)

– 1 clove garlic

– 1 inch-long piece fresh ginger

Optional

For a creamier dressing, add

– 1 tablespoon tahini

Whisk the oil, vinegar, and sriracha together in a large mixing bowl. Using a microplane grater, grate the garlic and ginger into the dressing and stir to mix. Let the flavors mix while you prepare the vegetables and soba noodles.

Winter Citrus & Endive Salad

Walking here in the city is, to misquote Ralph Waldo Emerson as completely as possible, about the destination, not about the journey. It’s a great place to be a pedestrian, but it helps to be goal oriented about it. And I have to admit I’ve adapted, hook, line and sinker. I cover a lot of sidewalk day-to-day, iPod playing something in my ears that makes me fast and focused, mental route mapped out, watching where I step, navigating other pedestrians and their children, dogs, strollers, granny carts. I’ve caught myself playing sidewalk chicken and doing the classic eye roll/deep disgusted sigh/throw hands up in exasperation combo thing pretty often. I’ll even admit  (and I share this from a deeply conflicted mixture of burning-faced shame and adrenaline-fueled exhilaration) that recently, while walking to an appointment in the wintry rain, I tried to start across the street before the car coming the opposite direction had passed in order to time it as closely as I could.  When the driver stopped in the middle of the street, rolled down her window and started yelling at me for “being in the middle of the street like an idiot” it took me about half a second to start waving my arms and yelling back. In my defense, everyone I told about it thought I was totally justified, because everyone knows the drivers here are all crazy.  I  haven’t lost my common courtesy completely – sometimes I deliberately smile at people as I pass. It seems to freak a lot of them out, so win/win for me.

So I’m striding down Washington Street a couple of days ago when I came to a short, hard stop on the pavement,  arrested by the scent of hyacinths and freesia. Buckets full of those most fragrant of late winter blossoms were spilling out onto the sidewalk in front of a mini-grocery (I think people call them “bodegas”). Completely distracted from my no doubt urgent errand, I stopped and just took a deep breath and literally inhaled the beauty of the moment.

It reminded me to look up occasionally during these things that seem like something to “get through” – a commute, a north-eastern winter, a tiresome daily task – and actually notice what’s going on around me.

That the sunniest of fruits, citrus, is at its brightest and most abundant and varied in the winter is reason enough to take a little pleasure in the journey. Whether you are in California where the tree are incandescent with Meyer lemons, or you just live close enough to warmer climes to get the influx of Ruby reds, Cara Cara navels, clementines, and Sevilles that glow from the bins lining frigid northern sidewalks, they are like yellow signal lights flashing “slow down, pay attention.”

I’ve made this crunchy, bittersweet winter salad with them several times this year. Like that burst of lime squirted onto hot posole, the fragrance seems to instantly brighten the mood and the cool mixture of coral and jade is a feast for the eyes.

(I’ll just add that there are lots of lovely parks and river-front promenades where a contemplative stroll is not generally frowned upon, as long as you stay out of the jogger’s way.)

Citrus Endive Salad

serves 4

– 1 ruby red grapefruit

– 1 navel orange

– 1 Cara Cara orange (red navel orange)

– 1 largish head of Belgian endive

– 1/4 medium sweet red onion

– 2 ounces feta,  crumbled into rough chunks

Peel and section the grapefruit and oranges.  Remember, in this case, the perfect is the enemy of the good, so don’t stress about getting it right the first time.

With a sharp knife, cut the skin off the top and bottom of the fruit.With a sharp knife, cut the skin off the top and bottom of the fruit.

Slice down the curved sides of the fruit, removing the skin, pith and outer membrane.

Once the skin is gone, you can go back and clean up any pith or membrane that got missed the first time.

Cut each section out from between the white membrane. get as close as you can, but don’t go crazy; you’ll use the leftover juice for the dressing.

Once all the fruit segments are cut out, squeeze the leftover pulp into a cup to get as much juice out as you can. Save 2 tablespoons for the dressing and drink the rest.

Core and separate the leaves on the head of endive. Thinly slice, almost shave the red onion into slivers. Arrange the citrus sections, endive and onion on a platter and tumble the crumbled feta over the top. Drizzle with the citrus vinaigrette and a little of the fig balsamic and serve.

These aren’t the  3/1 proportions of a classic vinaigrette, but a lighter sweeter version.

Citrus Vinaigrette

– 2 tablespoons reserved citrus juice

– 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

– 1/2 teaspoon spicy mustard (may I suggest Figgy Mustard?)

-1 teaspoon finely minced shallot

– fresh black pepper to taste

– salt to taste

-3 tablespoons olive oil

– drizzle of fig balsamic vinegar (optional)

In a screw top jar, combine the juice, vinegar, mustard, shallot, salt and pepper. Shake to combine. Add the oil, and give everything a good hard shake until it’s emulsified into a creamy golden color.

After the after-after party-

I’ve had quite the busy and momentous few weeks since last I posted! My sister and her lovely new husband threw a sweet and wonderful wedding weekend at a fabulous cabin in the Appalachian mountains, complete with beautiful sunsets, velvety-black skies perfect for lying under on the driveway while watching the meteor shower above us, wonderful time spent with both families, great company, food, and music that we danced all night to. It was a perfect and intimate wedding, exactly them.


We’ve also settled on our new digs in the meantime after an exhausting whirlwind apartment search. Just when I thought we were going to have to settle on a tiny dark shoebox, the clouds lifted and I found a place that has (wait for it ) a KITCHEN WINDOW! I know! I can hardly believe it myself! As with all urban apartments, there are trade-offs, which we are making in the form of multiple flights of stairs, but did I mention the windows? We’ll be moving in mid September and I can’t wait to get my saucepans and skillets unpacked.

Hot on the heels of that exciting turn of events, Grace visited on her way through town, our first visitor since the move. It was especially sweet since she is moving to Vietnam for a year’s adventure with the aforementioned lovely new husband and we won’t get to see her for a while. We had a wander ’round my new neighborhood and then Scott took us out for an Indian dinner in Greenwich Village. We caught up on what we didn’t have time to at the wedding and I introduced her to Italian ice and a cannoli. Seeing her off in the train station was bittersweet- although a tiny  and slightly acerbic portion of my brain was telling the weepy me that it was being made all the more poignant  by the drama of waving goodbye to a loved one in a choo-choo train station; goodbyes don’t come grander than that. I will miss her ridiculously. I’m sure we will be putting skype through its paces.

One really nice thing about the wedding was that we all cooked together, chicken and vegetable skewers, salads, corn on the cob, boiled peanuts and watermelon, sangria and my mom’s cheesecake. I made a favorite salad of mine that was really good. Here is the recipe.

Black Eyed Pea and Rice Salad

1/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

2 cups cooked short grain brown rice, still warm

2 cups black-eyed peas (if canned, rinsed and drained; or fresh, cooked until tender; frozen, cooked until tender)

1 medium cucumber, peeled and diced

1 mango, diced small

1 avocado, diced

1 red onion, diced small

1 red bell pepper, diced

1 can diced green chiles or a hot pepper (jalapeno or serrano perhaps)of your choice, minced

large handful of cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped

In a bowl large enough to toss all of your ingredients, mix the salt, cumin and rice vinegar until the salt has dissolved. Tumble the still-warm rice into the bowl and gently toss the rice in the vinegar until the rice has soaked up all of the liquid. Taste the rice and add a bit more vinegar at a time if needed until there is a distinct but subtle twang throughout the rice. Gently toss in the black-eyed peas.If you have flame proof hands like mine, use your fingers to lightly mix everything so the rice and peas don’t turn to mush; otherwise, a pair of forks, if wielded gingerly, should work very well. Set the bowl aside and allow the mixture to come down to room temperature.

Meanwhile, all of the other vegetables can be cut up; I like to dice everything to roughly the same size as the black-eyed peas so that no one flavor overwhelms the forkful. While a ripe and juicy mango and guacamole-ready avocado are usually preferable, in this case it is better to err  toward a slightly firmer fruit in order to keep them from dissolving into the salad. While the cucumber and onion provide the pleasant contrast of crunch and the mango and red pepper are bright notes of sweetness, the avocado should be buttery nuggets of richness in lieu of oil in the dressing.

When the rice and peas are cool, add all of the vegetables, chilis and cilantro into the mixing bowl and, again, gently incorporate until thoroughly combined. I prefer to allow the flavors to mingle for at least an hour before eating, but it will keep well for several days. Since it is most flavorful at just cooler than room temperature, it is ideal for picnics or a one-dish lunch at work.

Something to remember about the type of rice you choose: long grain rice like Basmati or Jasmine has a different type of starch than shorter and stickier rice. One characteristic of long grain rice is that it is very firm when it is chilled- almost crunchy. For this reason, I usually use short grain rice for this recipe, since it is usually eaten when at least slightly chilled. The sciencey version of why this happens is explained here.

Salad Lyonnaise

I was meeting a new friend for lunch. We were actually meeting for the first time- it was one of those mutual friends saying “you both live in the same city and would like each other- let me introduce you” set ups- and I ordered a salad. She shot me one of those quirked eyebrow looks across the table as if to say,  “are you THAT sort of girl, one of those pick-at-a-salad-and-declare-yourself-stuffed females?” I quickly reassured her that it was actually a lettuce vehicle for bacon, blue cheese, chicken, hard-cooked egg. In other words, a Cobb Salad. Or maybe it was a Prawn Louie with avocado, grilled prawns, and Thousand Island. Either way, it was a salad you could sink you teeth into.

There is no sense of deprivation or denial with this Salad Lyonnaise, or salad frisée aux lardon.  It provides all of the elements of “the perfect bite”- crunchy, salty, bitter, tangy, rich. I was inspired to try it at home by Simon Hopkinson’s Roast Chicken and Other Stories, one of my favorite cookbooks, loved as much for it’s narratives as for the actual recipes. I combined the basic recipe found in this book with some other classic ingredients in the dressing, mustard and shallots.

Salad Lyonnaise

White vinegar

1 large head frisée, washed and torn into bite sized tendrils

4 slices thick-cut bacon, cut into wide matchsticks

3 tablespoons minced shallot

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

4 eggs

Optional

4-8 slices of baguette for croutons (depending on the size)

Olive oil to fry croutons

-Fill a shallow saucepan with water and a generous splash of white vinegar and bring it to a gentle simmer. The bubbles should just be barely shimmering. One at a time, crack the eggs into a small bowl, then gently slip them into the water. Use a spoon to try to maintain the shape of the egg, but don’t worry if some of the white drifts off. You just want most of the egg to congeal together. Cook until the whites are set, for between 3-5 minutes. With a slotted spoon, scoop the eggs out of the water and drain on a paper towel while you finish the rest of the salad.

-While the water is heating for the eggs, begin to fry the bacon in a skillet. Once the bacon is brown and crisp, remove it from the pan, leaving the rendered fat in the skillet. Stir in the shallots for about a minute. Take the pan off the heat and stir in the mustard and 3 tablespoons of vinegar, whisking well to make a creamy dressing.

–  Toss the frisée in the dressing, then season with salt and pepper if desired. Divide the salad greens between 4 plates, sprinkle each with bacon and gently nestle a poached egg on the top of each. Grind a little pepper over the top.

– Optional: to add croutons, heat a little olive oil in a small skillet and fry the slices of baguette until golden brown and crisp on each side. Sprinkle with salt.


Frisée is also known as curly endive, a part of the chicory family. It has a distinctive pleasantly bitter taste. If you like arugula, give this lovely lettuce a try. It provides a lovely contrast to the other flavor components of this dish.