August 27, 2009

You weren’t aware this past month of Minimalist salads was a competition? Get with the program. Everything in my life is a competition. And so, even though I only got around to 18 of Mark Bittman’s 101 salads of summer, here is my definitive list of favorites.

Most prettiest: Number Forty-Nine. Hands down.

Most innovative: the Chicago hot dog salad.

Most elegant: that one that was like the tapas thing I ordered once.

Most warm and fuzziest: grilled cheese in a salad?!

Best: the techno salad remix. Even if it does need a better bass line.

Salad I would most liked to have tried, but will never ever have the ingredients to do so: Number 68

Mix crab meat with pan-roasted corn, chopped avocado, halved cherry or grape tomatoes, olive oil, lemon juice and perhaps a bit of cilantro and crumbled ancho chili.

Goodbye, Mr. Bittman. I will probably stop in sometime to mine your salady delights again, but for now, this is the end.


Season Finale

August 26, 2009

It’s Day 30, and by fiat the final day of my mystic voyage through the beautiful yet treacherous landscape of Mark Bittman’s imagination. The last recipe:

Pit and halve cherries (or halve and pit cherries), then cook gently with olive oil and a little balsamic vinegar until they break down. Toss with chopped radicchio, endive, escarole or a combination, some toasted hazelnuts and more oil and vinegar, if necessary.

It perfectly captures the two most important aspects of any good salad: color and crunch. Plus, cherries are just oddball enough in a salad to seem a little innovative without being completely absurd. Sadly, they just went out of season, and the ones pictured above are the end of my own private stash, so unless you are willing to compromise your quality, you’re going to have to wait another three seasons before you get to try this masterful delight, unless you already beat me to it. If not, I promise, it will be worth the wait. You should spend the next 274 days thinking about nothing else. I know I will.

Bittman's Salad of Summer #29: Cherry and Hazelnut

Bittman's Salad of Summer #29: Cherry and Hazelnut

What? Salads? What?

August 24, 2009

Whoops! Forgot I had a salad blog for a second there, and now it’s already Day 28 of my somewhat abridged month in Mark Bittman’s slightly distracting imagination. If this month were February, it would be over. When do I end this thing? Probably soon, since most of the recipes involve shrimp or steak, and I only buy shrimp or steak on wildly abnormal occasions. But I’ll figure this out later. Today’s recipe:

A nice cucumber salad: Slice cucumbers thin (if they’re fat and old, peel and seed them first), toss with red onions and salt, then let sit for 20 to 60 minutes. Rinse, dry, dress with cider vinegar mixed with Dijon mustard; no oil necessary.

I actually made this last Thursday and never got around to posting on it, so to be honest, I don’t really remember how it was. Good, I think?

Bittman's Salad of Summer #3: Cucumber, Red Onion, Mustard

Bittman's Salad of Summer #3: Cucumber, Red Onion, Mustard

Yes. Good. But you know? Not super good. I mean, I enjoyed it and all, but there are a lot of really good salads on this list Mr. Bittman has put together, and if I had to pick one of those to be the only salad I would ever eat again for the rest of my life, it probably wouldn’t be this one. The dressing was nice.

But this dish did trigger a little moment of nostalgic bliss, when I thought back to the first time my dad told me about cucumbers and salt. I thought it was totally revolutionary and amazing, a profound discovery that no one else had even come close to imagining possible. This is precisely what happened when he showed me how to put a hot dog in the microwave and melt cheese on top of it, but less so. Oh, those moments of youthful wonder! Age has brought nothing but cynicism and a slightly expanded vocabulary.

Die, Monster, Die!

August 18, 2009

My beautiful summer daydream came to an abrupt end today, and here in the real world, it seems that the health care debacle continues unabated. Bummer! My advice: everyone should just retreat to the safe confines of their imaginations pretty darn quick. You can fight monsters or kiss Bogart. Oh my god, have I just identified the two highest goods in life? Probably you could even reduce it down from two to one. I’m not convinced these items are not more or less the same thing.

ANYWAYS, if you’re going to battle a monster, make it a chicken, because chickens are probably the most hilarious monster available to us on this island Earth. I like to think of chickens as the super lame kids of a really disappointed Tyrannosaur. It’s Day 22 of my escapist romp through Mark Bittman’s CGI imagination, and I’m starting to think this would be much more interesting if I were played by Sam Neill. The recipe:

Soak sliced prune plums or figs in balsamic vinegar for a few minutes, then add olive oil, chopped celery and red onion, shreds of roasted or grilled chicken, chopped fresh marjoram or oregano and chopped almonds. Serve on top of or toss with greens. So good.

So good is right!  Mainly because almonds, figs, and oregano rock, I think; probably if we feel like taking a moral away from this particular story (and since it is apparently directed by Steven Spielberg, I guess we probably should), then that moral is: almonds, figs, and oregano rock. In this particular monster movie, they are the monster’s surprisingly mundane vulnerability. Like bacteria in War of the Worlds, H2O in Signs, Reese’s Pieces in E.T., and the Internet in You’ve Got Mail, this demon is easily slain by an everyday artifact generally not noted for its world-saving properties. In conclusion, this salad ranks up there with some of the all-time great horror movie endings. On a scale from one (1) to Alien (ω), it probably earns itself a cool Poltergeist (‹ºoº›). And that’s no easy feat.

Bittman's Salad of Summer #81: Chicken and Fig

Bittman's Salad of Summer #81: Chicken and Fig

VP In The News

August 17, 2009

If you read yesterday’s Times, you doubtless caught the headline: “Salad Blog Weighs In On Health Care; Debate Ends Immediately With High-Fives All Around.” You’re welcome, America. Sorry it took me until last Thursday to finally tell everyone what’s what, but I kind of hoped things would sort themselves out without my intervention. Apparently not. But to celebrate, I’m spending my 21st day with Mark Bittman’s revolutionary imagination in the nation’s First City.

What happens when your Chicago hot dog falls apart: Toss together tomato wedges, chopped pickles, hot peppers, shredded lettuce and a few slices of broiled or grilled hot dog. Dress with a vinaigrette made with mustard (should be yellow for authenticity, but …) and celery salt. (You could throw in freshly made croutons; inauthentic, but better than a hot dog bun.)

Bittman's Salad of Summer #78: Chicago Hot Dog

Bittman's Salad of Summer #78: Chicago Hot Dog

If we were to rank this salad on the “good idea” scale—ranging from one (1) to health care reform (♥)—this would probably fall somewhere near space travel (↑) or the White Album ( ). Mr. Bittman, I realize you will probably never read this, but I need to say it: I think you’re really cool.

This is the mustard vinaigrette recipe I used:

1 glove of garlic, smashed
2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
5-6 tablespoons oil (vegetable, corn, canola, olive or some combination)
pinch of dried parsley
pinch of dried thyme
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Other than that, no particular recommendations. I’m pretty sure that whatever you do to this beautiful beast, it will be a wonderful salad experience.

Manly Salads, Kind Of

August 13, 2009

The astute Veg Populi reader, no doubt, will have realized by now that VP is only superficially about salads. At its core, the blog constitutes, through powerful (if slightly obscure) metaphors, a deeply insightful commentary on social and political trends in the contemporary United States. On Day 17 of my muckraking wade through Mark Bittman’s increasingly embittering imagination, I hold several leaves of romaine over a somewhat mediocre flame. Bonus points to whoever figures out the significance before the end of the post.

The recipe:

Grill quartered romaine hearts, radicchio and/or endive. Drizzle with olive oil and sherry vinegar, and add dill and chopped shallots. Teeny-tiny croutons are great on this.

On careful consideration, I’m pretty sure that all we need to take away from this recipe is: “Hey, have you ever grilled lettuce? It’s really good.” Everything else seems pretty secondary. That being the case, I didn’t really follow the recipe: instead of using shallots, I used onions, because I have onions; instead of using sherry vinegar, I used red wine vinegar, because I have red wine vinegar. I did not use teeny-tiny croutons.

But yes, I did, in fact, grill romaine hearts. Which was pretty awesome.

I basted the leaves with olive oil, trapped them in a long-handled grill basket, then stuck them over a high flame for about ten minutes, flipping occasionally. (Ten minutes might be excessive, but our grill is pretty weak.) It really does bring the flavor out in a super nice way, and is worth giving a try.

Given up on the metaphor yet? Spoiler: it’s health care reform, which we badly need right now, please. Seems obvious in retrospect, right? Right.

Bittman's Salad of Summer #34: Grilled Romaine
Bittman’s Salad of Summer #34: Grilled Romaine

Salad Blog: Thunderball Edition

August 12, 2009

With any luck, we can follow this up with a Moonraker edition. If there are two things I like, it’s Jaws and outer space. If there are three things I like, it’s Jaws, outer space, and canned salmon. Day 16 of my gadget-powered womanizing through Mark Bittman’s imagination, and the Minimalist has done it again. The recipe:

Mix canned salmon (sockeye, or use cooked fresh) with capers, chopped celery, yogurt or mayonnaise, and lemon juice. Serve on greens or in endive leaves.

Pros: it’s delicious, it’s way prettier than the last tuna salad I tried, and it’s got capers. Con: it will not last forever. But as they say, it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. Just try not to love the salmon into extinction. It has happened before; what do you think happened to the dinosaurs? Way too much love.

Bittman's Salad of Summer #61: Canned Salmon Salad

Bittman's Salad of Summer #61: Canned Salmon Salad

Seriously, stop it with the loving already. You’re going to hurt someone.

If you’re feeling adventurous: I made the salad a second time and packed it for my lunch tomorrow (I had a rather large can of salmon), and swapped out the lemon juice for green jalapeño sauce. I haven’t easten the whole salad, just licked my fork after mixing, but it was extremely good. A reason this might be dubious: I put jalapeño sauce on pretty much 90% of foods, so I might not have a super discriminating palate. With that word of warning in mind, I suggest you give it a try.

A Taste of Honey!

August 11, 2009

Day 15 of my early-sixties style love song to Mark Bittman’s dreamy imagination, and I still can’t get this god damned ring off my finger. Little help, anyone?

Bittman's Salad of Summer #21: Cucumber Avocado

Bittman's Salad of Summer #21: Cucumber Avocado

The recipe:

Dice cucumbers (if they’re fat and old, peel and seed them first) and toss with cubes of avocado, a little mirin (or honey, but then it’s not vegan), rice vinegar and soy sauce. (You could mix in a little lump crab meat, really not vegan, even rice, and call it a California roll salad.)

Pretty, isn’t it? Also unfathomably delicious. Now, cucumbers are great and all, but they are definitely the supporting actors in this high-octane melodrama. Surprisingly, so are the avocados. I’m not sure that has ever happened before. No, the real star of this punchy romance is the dressing, which is absolutely transcendent. I licked the fork after tossing the vinegar, soy sauce, and honey into the mixture, and it nearly caused a seizure, it was so fabulous. Then, when the cucumber and avocado were no more, I spooned the last few drops off of the bottom of the plate. If you’re smart, you will, too.

Obviously, no crab meat or rice in my version; I stand by the decision to leave out the grumpy shellfish, since I’m sure it would only drown out the utter delight of the dressing. (If you want a sushi-style salad, this was a pretty wonderful time in my life.) The rice, on the other hand, might soak up the last few drops, reducing the need to spoon feed yourself at the salad’s coda. Maybe not such a bad idea.

A Salad Named Desire

August 10, 2009

Day 14 of my desperate struggle to shield the fragile and superficial dream of the Old South against the onslaught of Mark Bittman’s Brando-esque imagination, and I, like Mr. Kowalski, have learned that blanch can take a lot out of you.

Blanch spinach, then drain and shock in ice water. Squeeze it dry, chop it and toss it with toasted pine nuts, raisins, olive oil and a tiny bit of balsamic vinegar. Capers are good, too. Quite elegant, actually.

There’s a ton of super strong flavors in this dish, and they all work together beautifully: the individual parts are entirely overt, but when they come together, the effects are infinitely subtle. You have a chaotic storm of egos playing against each other. It isn’t the elegant simplicity of Erik Satie or the overbearing dissonance of Arnold Shchoenberg, but the dissonant elegance of Alban Berg, or—as it were—of Tennessee Williams. When Blanche DuBois came up against Stanley Kowalski, we got A Streetcar Named Desire; when blanched spinach, toasted pine nuts, raisins, and capers come into contact, we get this irresistible symphony of competing flavors. The capers only amplify the effect; I highly recommend their use. But be careful not to use too many. The egos need to be in a balanced war, or the whole system collapses and one flavor tyrannizes the dish.

In a remake, John C. Reilly would totally play Mitch. Can I get a hell yeah?

Bittman's Salad of Summer #24: Spinach, Raisins, Pine Nuts

Love and Cheeses

August 7, 2009

Day 11 of my Jason Segel-scripted romantic comedy through Mark Bittman’s heart-fluttering imagination, and it turns out that happy endings do exist. His recipe:

Toss greens with walnuts, blue cheese and raspberries; drizzle with a simple vinaigrette. Sell for $14 a serving.

I don’t love this salad. I lurv it.

Bittman's Salad of Summer #49: Raspberry, Walnut, Blue Cheese

Bittman's Salad of Summer #49: Raspberry, Walnut, Blue Cheese

Yesterday’s salad didn’t have enough synergy, but this one almost has too much. No matter what collection of delights you’ve got on your fork, the slightest bite will make you laugh and will make you cry. Some arithmetic: walnuts + raspberries = bliss; walnuts + blue cheese = cuteness; raspberries + blue cheese = heaven. By the Apatow theorem, raspberries + walnuts + blue cheese = the Dracula musical at the end of Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Yes, that is the best metaphor available to me for the deepest feelings of love. I’m a product of the times, okay? MAKE THIS SALAD. NOW. For me?