It’s graduation season, and we’re going to a couple of graduation parties. They’re picnic-type parties, so I started thinking about healthy side salads. The appropriate graduation salad should not be one of those fill-you-up, but are nutritionally-empty, ice berg lettuce salads. No, the graduate should start life’s new path with a full-garden’s-goodness-in-a-single-bowl type of salad, – one of those variety-of-veggie salads that energize brain, body, and soul. I wanted to make one of those.
But where to begin? I remembered a quote from Gerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, “I can tell your future, just look what’s in your hand,” which the cook translates into, “I can tell your supper, just look what’s in your cupboard.”
Last week my cupboard/refrigerator featured middle-aged broccoli and a 1/2 bag of pre-peeled mini carrots which, thanks to technological preparations, and similar to many middle-aged women, appear perpetually young. Plus, some pine nuts still reclined in the cupboard. But a salad consisting just of these offers only a glimpse of the glorious future befitting a graduate. To the Store!
In the veggie aisle, I quested for color, flavor, and variety, – foods to express my creative energy. My tongue suggested jicama – that sweet, white radish. But my eyes didn’t see any. So my brain told my hands to pick up a daikon radish. (Life by committee. – It happens.)
I had never knowingly consumed a daikon radish. Neither had one been heartily recommended to me. At hand was new territory, but this radish path was already questionable. The sticker on the daikon read use within one week, which really means the purchaser should have eaten it yesterday. I bought the radish anyway, not letting the fear of imperfection impede me.
My imagined salad now consisted of green broccoli florets interspersed with dots of orange carrots and white radish. I’d throw in those pine nuts, too. Materials gathered, I was on course to manifest my vision.
1st step – I consulted cookbooks. I sought guidance from more experienced cooks who had already traveled the picnic, veggie-salad path. I compared over 2 dozen recipes. None exactly matched my vague idea, but some informed me of appropriate additional ingredients and proportions.
Thus educated, I heeded others’ advice regarding blanching the broccoli. Now, if I have ever blanched anything before, I don’t remember. To me, Blanche is a tragic heroine waiting tables in a forgotten, roadside diner, or perhaps, she’s a copy-typist in a basement cubicle of a branch office of a multi-national corporation. Or maybe she’s just someone Tennessee Williams made up. But she’s anything but vibrant, green broccoli. So, did I blanch the broccoli correctly? I don’t know. I dropped the florets into boiling water and when they were bright green and before they got mushy, I took them out. Perfect? – who’s to say? – Adequate? – why not?
On to the carrots. The vision said to shave the carrots. They’re so small that practicality said dice them. I diced them. And the daikon radish? The vision said large, round slices. I tasted the radish. It was slightly bitter, so I diced it too. Bitter is always better swallowed in small bits rather than large bites. – Remember this, if you haven’t learned it already.
Then I mixed the veggies and realized something was missing. I diced 1/2 a red onion. – The flavors complemented each other pretty well. I was satisfied so far.
On to the dressing. I still had those pine nuts. Like a personal idosyncracy unable to be overcome, these pine nuts seem to go where I go. They were destined for the salad. But pine nuts taste better when toasted. So I heated 2 Tablespoons of peanut oil and 1 teaspoon of pure sesame oil in a skillet. I poured in the 1/2 cup of pine nuts and began to saute them. Some recipes had recommended fresh ginger as an ingredient of veggie salads. So I diced a Tablespoon of ginger root and added it to the browning pine nuts. I also pressed in 2 cloves of garlic and a dash of red pepper flakes. My simmering creation would be flavorful, with a touch of spice.