Thursday, August 06, 2009

Summer of Salad: Day Two

My sophomore solo effort:

Two things: First, my skills as a food photographer have not yet improved. I probably should have wiped the food specks from the rim of the bowl if I wanted to make this look aesthetically appealing. And the second thing is that I now realize these recipes are written for people with more cooking experience than I have. Take last night’s recipe, for example: what the 101 salads article terms Sichuan slaw.
Toss bean sprouts, shredded carrots and celery, minced fresh chili, soy sauce, sesame oil and a bit of sugar. Top with chopped peanuts and chopped basil, mint and/or cilantro. (The full trio is best.)
Notice that the recipe doesn’t specify what quantities of these ingredients should be used. On one hand, I suppose it doesn’t matter; this is a salad, after all, and as long as I don’t have my vegetable chunks floating like boats in a sea of soy sauce, I’m doing okay. Still, I don’t trust my culinary instincts, which I feel in this case steered me wrong. I’d never diced a chili before or even bought a pepper that wasn’t a bell or jalapeno. Not knowing if I had purchased the mouth-scorching varieties, I stripped the seeds out. End result: a fairly un-peppery salad in spite of the chili pepper I put into it. I also threw in too many peanuts and, in a climactic act of ignorance toward the directions, mixed all of it together — base salad in addition to the nuts and herbs that were meant to be the topping. Again, I remind myself that this is a salad and therefore it leaves more room for error and experimentation that, say, a pastry, but I still would have liked to know what the final product would have tasted like had I followed the directions more closely.

In the end, it wasn’t bad. It also wasn’t amazing. Truth be told, I’m not the biggest fan of either slaw or soy sauce-based dressing. I picked this one based on the final suggestion that it comes out best when you use basil, mint and cilantro, and I knew my house magically contained all three ingredients today. So, really, the fact that I liked this at all is pretty remarkable. And I did like it — but just maybe that’s the case because I made this salad and therefore could only see it through a parent’s eyes. And then I ate it. Fucked up, I know.

By the way: When did Szechuan become Sichuan? Was this like the sudden preference of Mumbai over Bombay, which seemed to happen when I wasn’t paying rapt attention to India? (Which is never, by the way.)


  1. I'm kind of hating on you right now for doing some food writing. And jealous that you write several times a day. :p But in other news, the salad looks tasty.

  2. Anonymous3:27 PM

    1. Sichuan is actually closer to the correct pronunciation, as people have a tendency to pronounce Szechuan as "Says-WON" or "Sesh-WON." The other spelling gets it a little closer with "Sitch-WON." Although to answer your actual question, I have no idea when this preference change happened, either. And I work in Chinatown, so I like to pretend I'd have noticed that kind of thing.
    2. Gordon Ramsay would hate that dirty bowl.
    3. I admire your commitment to the art of the salad. I will peruse here for salad recommendations, and I'm happy to send you some that I like if you're interested.

  3. Pedro C11:03 PM

    If I had to make it, I would have used three parts (at least) sprouts to one part each carrots and celery, the reason being that sprouts taste better to me, and from what I recall are more apt to not fight the dressing, where carrots would. I'm just biased against celery. 2 parts oil to one part soy sauce sounds about right, or as right as its likely to get. I'm still wrapping my mind around a dressing that isn't in some way a vinaigrette, though I've made them before. I definitely would have mixed the dressing separate form the salad before hand, *then* tossed it all together, but that's just so I could tinker with the amount of chili and soy sauce. Also, in case I got it right, so I could save the extra dressing and serve it the next day on maybe red cabbage or pre-cooked chicken. A sprinkling of nuts and the herbs as topping would have suited me.

    Not sure if this is on the list, but my aunt brought to our Easter gathering a spinach salad with a few basil leaves, sliced strawberries, sliced almonds, and raspberry vinaigrette. The strawberries and almonds were both sparing, maybe 1 part of both to five parts of the spinach, so that every mouthful had a a taste of each, but no more than that. I passed over the pulled pork and hamburgers for thirds of that salad.