Thursday, June 23, 2011

Go for it

Last night, my mom and I sat down to our first salad-as-a-meal that we've had in a long time. For dinner, that is. In truth, as soon as we get our first days of summer heat, it's the only kind of meal that feels right - the sort that requires just a little chopping and tossing and eating. (Now, to be clear, I am not counting our Caesar salads, which we have often, or egg salad, which I've grown to like, a lot). The first few weeks of June just sort of flew by, but now that the wind died down some and the temperature has risen a few degrees, the days are slowing down a bit. By dinnertime it's just hot enough still that you have to keep the backdoor open for a breeze. A cold washcloth on the back of your neck is a nice way to stay cool.

So my mom often makes something she calls her "crunch salad," usually a mix of thinly sliced red cabbage, fennel and cilantro, plus maybe one or two other crunchy vegetables, like carrots or radishes. A while back I tried making a salad from Molly's book with radicchio and endive and it both reminded us a lot of something my mom would have come up herself. Of course, we loved it. So last night I did a sort of cross between Molly's version and my mom's, with the cabbage, fennel and cilantro, but also avocado and a bit of cheese, for both the creamy and salty elements. It's a slaw of sorts but one that I like to eat as a main course, with some crusty bread on the side. After all, when you are standing on the cusp of summer, you want something vibrant and bold and not dependent on the stove. A plate with color and liveliness. My only disclaimer is this: because the salad is so crunchy and somewhat unruly, it's difficult to eat it gracefully, but it's so satisfying you won't care. Perhaps it's not first-date food, but if the man (or lady) in your life likes red cabbage, I say, go for it.
Want to know what else you should go for? Dessert. I was feeling so virtuous after my salad-making venture, I got a craving for cookies. I kept going back to a recipe for oat shortbread from Not Without Salt. I'd been itching to try it ever since getting hooked on "Effie's Oatcakes," a store-bought version we gotten addicted to. I figured they probably wouldn't come out quite like Effie's, but I had to start somewhere, so I whipped up a batch on Monday afternoon and put the dough into the refrigerator to chill overnight. Then on Tuesday I baked them up right after lunch, when the house was already a hotbox, but I wanted my cookies, so that was that. The house smelled amazing for an hour or two, and I got to take some pretty pictures of the cooling beauties.
I have to admit, I was pleased with how they turned out. They are crisp and crumbly, with a good dose of oat-y sweetness, and a hint of butterscotch -- shortbread with character, you might say. In my opinion, you need a good dose of something sweet somewhere in the middle of long, hot day. I imagine these would be even better alongside a scoop of some sort of berry ice cream, like raspberry. The blog that I got the recipe from suggested rhubarb, but raspberries go well with oats.

Still, even though they were good, it's the salad I keep thinking about, in all its variations. It's what I came to here today to share with you, until I got all distracted with all that business with flour and sugar. People have told me, by the way (and since we're on the subject) that I'm an enthusiastic cruncher. My sister can't help but giggle when we're munching on chips together, because my crunching is apparently so pronounced. Then I get self-conscious and I try to tone it down, which doesn't really work. I guess I just get a little excited sometimes. I don't know, maybe I'm a little crazy. Just sometimes it feels good to do something, anything, with a little gusto. Including, of course, eating.

Happy summer solstice, everyone.

Red Cabbage ‘Crunch’ Salad

       For the salad:

-   ¼ head red cabbage
-   ½ fennel bulb
-   10-15 sprigs cilantro
-   2 radishes
-   ½ avocado
-   ¼ cup crumbled cheese, such goat, ricotta salata, or feta

optional additions/substitutions: carrots, endive, and/or radicchio

       For the dressing:

-   1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
-   2 tablespoons red wine vinegar,
-   5 tablespoons olive oil
-   salt and pepper to taste

First, put mustard into small bowl and whisk in the vinegar. Add a pinch or two of salt and a few turns of pepper. Slowly whisk in the olive oil; dressing should be emulsified. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

Next, thinly slice the red cabbage and fennel and toss into your salad bowl, followed by the radishes. Sprinkle over cilantro. Slice the avocado lengthwise into slivers and once crosswise to make large chunks. Toss with a large spoonful or two of dressing, and then sprinkle over cheese. Taste again and adjust accordingly.

Serves 2, as a main course, or 4, as a side.

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