to market: chopped salad

July 18th, 2011
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One of the things I’ve loved most about working for my local farmers market has been getting to know our market manager. Pascale is a woman I admire as much for her hard work and amazing vision as I do her fabulous style and eloquent writing.

One of my responsibilities is the posting of a weekly recipe that features ingredients that are both seasonal and readily available at the market. I was really excited about this. I envisioned us strolling amongst the vendors, Pascale selecting the featured items to use and me rushing home – my market bag overflowing with fresh produce, cheese and fruit – to whip up and photograph the recipe.

The first week went off without a hitch – we decided to feature rhubarb.  I love to bake and, with confidence, created a tasty and pretty rhubarb galette. This was going to be great!

Then came week two.

Pascale wanted to use Persian cucumbers, in a salad with feta and mint. It sounded easy enough (and delicious) but when I asked her how many cucumbers to buy, as well as quantities for the rest of the ingredients, she looked at me somewhat puzzled. I suddenly realized that my deep dark cooking secret was about to be revealed – in front of our farmers market manager, of all people. My secret? I am a recipe slave. Seriously. I can execute just about any recipe, but only if there are exact quantities and specific directions. Phrases like “Oh, a little of this and a little of that”, or “I don’t know – I  throw in whatever I have lying around”, or my favorite, “I just eyeball  it” – send me into full-on panic. This is probably why I love to bake. Baking practically thrives on precision and exactitude – 2 traits that keep me safe within my culinary comfort zone.

Back to the cucumber salad.  I tried (lamely, I might add) to play it cool with Pascale, so I casually asked, “So, like, how many cucumbers do you think I should buy?”. From there, I figured I’d wing it, buy too much of everything else and pray that the internet gods would grace me with a recipe that came close to what she had in mind. It worked – I found a lovely recipe that delivered, and breathed a huge sigh of relief.

Till week three.

Pascale and I again walked around the market. This time she held up a bunch of baby beets. “Why don’t we roast these and use them in a salad?” Seriously? I had  never even eaten a beet and certainly didn’t know the first thing about preparing them, much less incorporating them into a salad. She must have sensed my growing unease because she quickly suggested the accompaniments (in a gracious way that made us seem more like collaborators rather than her actually saving me – again). And, thankfully, the internet (once again) came to the rescue with roasting instructions.

Score.

This went on week after week. Garlic scapes. Kohlrabi. I got an occasional reprieve with some grilled portobellos and a blueberry crumb cake, but I soon realized just how much I needed – and wanted – to step up my game.

And then Pascale submitted her latest blog post for the market web site. It was, as usual, a beautifully written piece – this time about her father’s chopped salad (you can read it here if you’d like to sample this woman’s truly inspired food writing – it makes you want to eat the page). I could practically taste the salad in my head and decided to feature it in the market’s upcoming recipe post, as well as make it for my family. I quickly scanned the post for an ingredient list and prep instructions and found that there were none. Yes, there was a kind of “list” – but it was more a suggestion, rather than one with specific quantities. As for instructions? None other than “open the fridge, pull out anything that’s fresh and can be minced…….. and start chopping”.

Wait, what?

And of course I then realized that I was completely missing the entire point of the recipe. To lovingly assemble an array of anything and everything fresh and delicious – well, what better captures the spirit of market cooking? You use what is fresh and in season, with minimal fuss and preparation. No rules, no limits.

No recipe.

So I took a deep breath, went to the market, and came home to make a chopped salad. I used Pascale’s list as a guideline and added some ingredients that I knew my family would like. Chelsea’s friend Sammi  (a sharp cook herself, and firmly in the “no recipe” camp) joined us, and everyone declared my first attempt at chopped salad (and flying by the seat of my pants) a huge success.

Go me!

I think I can safely say that this is probably the only time you will see a recipe on this site that has such minimal instruction. Frankly, I don’t think I can handle the stress and am grateful to be back in my safe, controlled world of levelled cupfuls and weighted measures. It was exciting to “live on the edge” there but I’m not ready to abandon my recipes completely.

Then again, who knows? Maybe in time I won’t level off that 1/8th teaspoon and just “eyeball” it………………

Whoa. Maybe not quite yet.

What are YOUR culinary fears  and anxieties? What type of cook/baker are you, or wish you could be? Please share here!

Chopped Salad
inspired by Pascale Le Draoulec

Again, no recipe here, just a list. For those of you who, like me, must have the numbers, I made note of what I used – the salad served 4 nicely as a main course. Feel free to adapt, as that is part of the – ahem – “fun”. I’ve also included one of my favorite vinaigrettes, but any dressing – or even just a drizzle of oil and vinegar – will work.

For the salad:
1 organic broiler chicken (about 2 ½ lbs) – cooked, skin removed, cut  into bite sized pieces
2 peppers, cut up
2 c. (approximately) green beans, blanched and cut into bite sized pieces
4 oz. herbed queso fresco, cubed
3 peaches, sliced
1 head buttercrunch lettuce, chopped
2 hard boiled eggs, sliced
1 c. walnuts, lightly toasted and chopped

For the vinaigrette:
¼ c. red wine or cider vinegar
1 T. finely chopped shallot
1 T. honey
¼ c. extra-virgin olive oil (the really good stuff, if you have it)

Gently combine all of the salad ingredients in a large bowl. For the vinaigrette: Combine the vinegar, shallot and honey in a small dish. Slowly whisk in the olive oil till dressing is emulsified. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Toss salad with vinaigrette and serve.

2 Responses to “to market: chopped salad”

  • You seriously need a restaurant. I would eat there as often as possible! My 9 year old needs to meet you. She is desperate to learn to cook and bake and may someday become a food writer herself! She has a surprisingly exotic palette and is great with words. I am going to have her subscribe to your blog! 🙂

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