Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What is up with all that?

One thing I can't get over is why every soup recipe I see has to have cream and/or bacon or some similar greasy pork derivative in it. Does anyone else see soup as winterized salad? Do you glug cream all over your salad every day for lunch? Is the main flavoring in your salad fried bacon or sausage bits? Probably not. Well, ok, at least not in my case. Salad is a glorification of raw vegetables, and when I eat them, I intend to enjoy them as they are, not mask the flavor. Because they actually taste good, and the amount of flavor you can bring with raw produce is really nice if you know what you're doing.

I noticed this month's Bon Appetit was all about the fennel. BA, you are behind MY times. There is a Mark Bittman-esque salad you can make with very thinly sliced raw fennel and matchsticked apples, dressed in a super-simple mustard vinagrette and decorated with a bit of fennel fronds that is fresh, delicious, and can not only be a salad in its own right, but also dress what I consider as The Most Basic Salad. The Most Basic Salad is tomatoes, cukes, peppers, and lettuce. When you have tomatoes, cukes, peppers and lettuce that were grown well, you would be surprised at how amazing this simple mixture can be on its own. When peppers are grown for flavor and not, say, sugar content or wall thickness (wall = the part we eat), you can't believe how genuinely peppery they taste. The same goes for all the above. But seeing that we live in an era when tomatoes are grown for shippability (resulting in pink soggy styrofoam insides that taste nothing like real tomatoes), peppers are grown for size and sugar content, and cukes have morphed into giant, flavorless, oblong vessels of water and seeds, we need to take some other action to get the vegetabley flavor few people really know.

There are veggies that haven't been as tampered with, veggies that retain a greater degree of their true character. They aren't perfect, as anyone who's eaten a homegrown carrot right out of the ground after a brief rinse in the garden hose can tell you. After all, does biting into a raw supermarket carrot give you a slap-your-grandma carrot-y flavor? No. But carrots still manage to taste like carrots. Beets still manage to taste like beets. And red cabbage still tastes like cabbage, but it's purple! Little known fact: raw cabbage has a BUTTLOAD of vitamin C. Orange juice - while very tasty - isn't necessary when you toss a good amount of shredded fresh cabbage into a salad. Then there are the seasonal fruits that can be added and dried ones, too.

So when constructing a good salad, add some diced apples and raw thin-sliced fennel which has a gentle, fresh, anise flavor. If you don't like it, slice the rest of it and sautee it with onions and/or mushrooms to add to your next omelette. Sauteeing drastically ratchets down fennel's anise flavor. Grate some carrots and/or beets into the bowl. What I've been doing is making a giant bowl of salad for the week, scooping some out every day for lunch and adding things as I want them. Toss in some fresh grapefruit segments which are coming into season from Florida or raisins for some sweetness, some chopped fresh herb of your choice, and some balsamic vinegar or lemon juice. A big part of making the salad pop is combining sweet, sour, and salty in a way that you find appealing. You can do it with mostly fruits and veggies. I've been giving my salad more staying power by throwing chunks of roast turkey on top. Hardboiled eggs are a cheap good choice, especially with a high-quality feta.

My final tip for eating tasty salad is not refrigerating it all day. I know it sounds weird, but letting it come to room temperature at work makes it much more likely that I'll eat it because when it's chilly and wet out, eating chilly wet things is completely unappealing. But room temperature wet things? Fine. Anyway, I will soon add to the several soups on this blog that do not contain cream and/or bacony things.