24 August 2012

How to invent in the kitchen

I've been remiss. My favorite cookbook of the last year, and I haven't mentioned it. It's the book I bought and wrapped for myself for Christmas last year, and it's called An Everlasting Meal, and more than a cookbook, it's a way of being. I've read it cover to cover a couple of times, and I've dipped into many other times. Really, it's a treatise on how to think about cooking. Almost every recipe looks like a recipe, but really isn't. They're guidelines, suggestions.

Take this: A Vibrant Vegetable Salad. The first ingredient is two cups of cooked vegetables. What kind? Does it matter? Would zucchini work? The onion - any color, or a shallot. The herb - parsley or mint. She specifies red wine vinegar, but if the kind of cooked vegetable doesn't matter, why couldn't the vinegar be sherry, or champagne, or even apple cider? And the nuts - do I need nuts? I don't have any nuts.

It's a sketch, an idea for what could be. I peered into the fridge and pulled out a container of grilled zucchini, and another of grilled green peppers - both leftovers from dinner a couple of nights ago. In the freezer, I found a bag of not-yet-croutons, buttery, garlicky, stale lumps of bread. The garden is awash in herbs of all stripes; I picked some mint. A half of a sweet fresh onion turned up in the crisper drawer. Salt, olive oil, mustard: all staples.

I sliced the onion and splashed it with sherry vinegar, and set it aside to soften. I chopped the zucchini. I rubbed some of the burned skin off of the green pepper and chopped that up too. I chopped up the stale bread and tossed it in a skillet to brown. Minced the mint, added the mustard to the onions, added everything else, saving the now croutons for last. Ta da! An invented salad, almost a main course because of the bread. We eat it alongside grilled steak, and little homegrown tomatoes, cut in half and tossed with salt and basil and olive oil.

The salad is magical - humdrum ingredients turned into other. Cold leftover grilled zucchini, limp and squishy? It's transformed by the little bit of mint, and the almost pickled onion, and the crunch of the croutons.

Here, here's what I did. But you should feel free to invent your own. Just make sure you start with that thinly sliced onion, macerated in vinegar for ten or twenty minutes. It's the key.

Zucchini Pepper Bread Salad, inspired by Tamar Adler

1/4 onion
3 T. sherry vinegar
a pinch of salt
2 medium zucchini, sliced into planks and grilled
2 green peppers, halved and grilled
1/2 t. mustard
olive oil
a few sprigs of mint
freshly made croutons

Thinly slice the onion and put it in a big enough bowl. Add vinegar and salt, and toss to coat. Set aside for ten minutes, or a half hour. Stir the onions when it occurs to you. Add the mustard to the onions. Whack up the zucchini and green pepper; add to the onions. Drizzle in some olive oil, add the mint and the croutons.


Carol Steel said...

This sounds wonderful and so practical. Thanks.

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...


De said...

Yes, I like the book, too, though mostly it has been traveling around with me, waiting.

Jeanne said...

I am never going to have any part of my brain free for this kind of invention, but I love having friends who can do stuff like this. It sounds wonderful.

Mayberry said...

I should get this! I don't even particularly like to cook, but I find it very satisfying to throw random bits and pieces together to make something tastier.

deborah quinn said...

my mouth is watering...the macerated onion. yum. i do a version of this (grabbing whatever is in the veggie drawer & looking sad) by roasting the veggies & tossing them with feta, lemon juice, and couscous. mm....