Nopal Salad

Several months ago I had the pleasure of spending the morning at the SLS Hotel in Los Angeles listening to several innovative chefs and speakers discuss food.  One of the speakers was  Michael Stern, the author of  Roadfood, who shared humorous stories about his search for great meals while “on the road.”  He reflected on the difference between fine dining and dining on local fare,  and encouraged the audience to embrace all the small diners, stands, and dives where the ambiance may be lacking, but the food more than makes up for it.  Don’t trade taste for a tablecloth.  Michael Stern urged us to look for “regional experiences” when travelling, and to try dishes that the city or town is known for.  Lobster in Maine, Deep Dish Pizza in Chicago, Mexican Food in Los Angeles, and BBQ in Texas.  For some of us that may mean kosher Fried Chicken in Atlanta, vegetarian Dim Sum in NY’s Chinatown,  and…. BBQ in Texas…. (where I am spending this weekend.)

In order to do that, you have to be willing to expand your horizons and be open to experience food prepared by people who have been eating and serving those dishes for generations.  Food that may be unfamiliar, strange, and different from what you are used to.  Allow yourself to have a gastronomic adventure and, who knows, you may just discover that you love cilantro after all.

Here were some of Michael Stern’s tips for hunting out places on the road where you may end up having a memorable meal.  Look for police cars or truckers parked outside a restaurant.  Use your nose and follow something that smells good till you get to the source.  (A close friend of my father’s, who lived in Paris, once told me the same thing) Think about where you are!  Do you really want to eat Mexican food in Connecticut??  Be open, leave your judgement and your prejudices at the door, and enjoy!

Grace’s Nopal Salad  (Cactus Paddle Salad)

1 pound Nopales (cactus) cooked and sliced  (these can be bought pre-prepared in Los Angeles)

1 whole fresh tomato, chopped

2 green onions, thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 lime, juiced

1 -2 finely chopped Serrano chilis

1/4 tsp dried oregano

3 Tbs olive oil

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro

salt and pepper to taste

Put nopales in a bowl and add green onion and chopped tomato.  Whisk together remaining ingredients and pour over cactus.   Serves 4-6.

Enjoy,

Irene

Tomato Basil Salad

Despite the fact that we lived in the city, The Bronx had enough natural beauty for my father to enjoy.  There was Mosholu Parkway, Pelham Parkway, Poe Park, and Van Cortlandt Park, just to name a few of the places where one could escape to.  On Sundays my father and I would walk to St. James Park with a brown paper bag filled with leftover Challah, and feed the birds.  We could spend hours there, not saying much, just sitting and watching the pigeons that flocked around the crumbs at my father’s feet.  Some Sundays were spent at The Bronx Zoo or at Orchard Beach.  My father loved being outdoors and he loved animals.  As an extension of that connection to nature, he was conscious of the things he ate and where they came from.  He always preferred eating food in its most natural state, feeling that fruits and vegetables were created in the way they were intended to be eaten, perfect in their simplicity.  It has taken me a long time to reach the same conclusion.

Here is a very simple tomato salad.  It is really best when you use ripe, locally grown, plum tomatoes.

Tomato Basil Salad

1 dozen Roma Tomatoes,

One bunch fresh Basil

4-5 cloves garlic

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Slice Roma tomatoes in half, lengthwise, and gently squeeze out pulp.  Dice into 1/2 ” cubes and place in large bowl.  Remove basil leaves from stem, then stack and roll.  With a sharp knife cut into thin slices.  Add to tomatoes.  Mince garlic and add to bowl, along with salt and pepper to taste.  Add olive oil, cover and allow to sit for flavors to blend before serving.

Enjoy,

Irene

Note: This is great on Matzoh!


Rachel’s Eggplant Salad

Growing up, all of my parents’ friends were Polish Jews.  As immigrants, they wanted to surround themselves with people who had similar experiences and backgrounds, people who shared common customs, language, and food.  It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I met Jews who looked different, spoke Hebrew or Ladino (as opposed to Yiddish), and ate foods that I had never heard of, prepared with spices that had exotic names like turmeric, cardamom and fennel.

My children had a completely different experience growing up in Los Angeles.  A city with a strong Persian presence, Persian food was introduced into their diet early on.  They also have Jewish friends and acquaintances whose families were originally from Egypt, Iraq, Yemen and Morocco.  Our family has eaten Aloo-m-Kalla in the Sukkah of a friend who is from India, watched an Egyptian friend prepare Bamia, and have eaten many meals in my friend Rachel’s house, whose family immigrated to Israel from Afghanistan.  I am so proud of the fact that my daughter just prepared a traditional Ashkenazi Rosh Hashana dinner for her friends, but I love knowing that she can just as easily make Tabit or Shakshuka.

A great cook, my friend Rachel’s food is full of flavor, but her appetizers and salads are particularly outstanding.  Here is a recipe that she shared after returning from her most recent trip to Israel.

Rachel’s Eggplant Salad

2 eggplants, diced into 1/2 inch cubes

5 Tbs olive oil

5 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 small green chili pepper, thinly sliced

1 small red chili pepper, thinly sliced

1 32 oz. can of crushed tomatoes

2 Tbs red wine vinegar

1 Tbs sugar

Italian parsley

Take diced eggplant and toss with  3 Tbs of the olive oil, salt and pepper.  Roast on a cookie sheet in a 400 degree oven till tender, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  In a large pot, combine 2 Tbs olive oil, green and red chilis, crushed tomatoes, red wine vinegar and sugar.  Cook over low heat for about 20 minutes.  Add prepared eggplant and cook for an additional 10-15 minutes over a low flame.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Serve cold or at room temperature, with a handful of chopped parsley on top.

Enjoy,

Irene

Spring Salads

I am not sure when salads graduated from their humble beginnings to the gourmet status they have today, but I no longer dread eating them.  Growing up in the Bronx of the 1950s, salads were tolerated and eaten because iceberg lettuce filled the need for a vegetable.  No one worried about carbon footprints because there were no tomatoes from Mexico or peppers from Israel to purchase.  The produce that was available was limited and seasonal.

Today’s salads defy their dictionary definition, ” raw greens often combined with other vegetables and served with a dressing.” The combinations of ingredients are only limited by our imagination.  For example the salad I had for lunch today used shredded iceberg lettuce but it was tossed with raw corn, garbanzo beans, chunks of avocado, thin strips of fried tortillas and a lemony cilantro dressing. Yum!

Here are three very different type of salads that I hope you will try, and enjoy.

My mother used to serve a very simple salad of crisp cucumbers, ripe beefsteak tomatoes, mild white onions and hard-boiled eggs, all thinly sliced and tossed together with lemon juice, a bit of oil, salt, and crushed black pepper. Once the salad was mixed, the egg yolks would blend with the lemon juice and oil, creating a yellow hued dressing that was tart and refreshing.  After we finished eating the salad, my sister and I would take fresh rye bread and soak up the remaining dressing from the bottom of the bowl. That’s how good it was.

Tomato Salad

3 large ripe tomatoes

5 Persian cucumbers

5 hard-boiled eggs

1 white onion

2 lemons, juiced

1/4 cup olive oil

salt and cracked black pepper to taste

Thinly slice all ingredients, toss with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper and serve cold.

Serves 4 as a side dish.

Wanda P. shared this recipe for her Thai Curry Coleslaw a while ago but I finally had the opportunity to make it.  The salad was bursting with flavor, color, and texture  (like Wanda) and would be a perfect side with grilled fish or chicken. This is an edited and slightly altered version of the recipe, so to get the original version and to read Wanda’s tips look on  The Rendezvous.

Note: Norm is allergic to carrots so I used purple cabbage as a substitute.


Thai Curry Coleslaw

1 bunch cilantro

1 bunch mint

1 bunch basil

Remove stems and place herbs in food processor, coarsely chop, and empty into large mixing bowl.

1 large green cabbage

6-7 good size fresh organic carrots

Shred carrots and cabbage in processor and add to bowl.

1 1/2 cups whole Spanish peanuts or cashews, added to bowl.

DRESSING

In processor blend:

3/4  cup olive oil

1/2 cup Raw Apple Cider Vinegar

1/2  cup fresh-squeezed organic lemon juice

4-5 cloves minced garlic

1″ minced fresh ginger

1/2  cup Nama Shoyu* (raw soy sauce)

1/2  cup  raw organic agave nectar

1 tsp chili powder

2 heaping tablespoons curry powder

Thoroughly blend above ingredients until emulsified and dress salad.

Garnish with basil or mint leaves.

A couple of weeks ago a few of us took a cooking class and the cookbook author used Pomegranate Molasses in one of her recipes.  I had bought a bottle several months ago at a Persian Market but after the class I finally used it in a vinaigrette.


Spring Salad with Pomegranate Dressing

1 lb. assorted baby lettuces

1 avocado, diced

1 can hearts of palm, sliced

1 –  11 oz. can mandarin oranges

1 tbsp black sesame seeds

1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds, lightly toasted

Wash lettuce and place in bowl with diced avocado, sliced hearts of palm, black sesame seeds, slivered almonds, mandarin oranges and dress.

Dressing

4 tbsp. Balsamic Vinegar

2 tbsp. Pomegranate Molasses

1/4 cup olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

serves 4

Enjoy,

Irene