RAW ZUCCHINI SALAD

Oh hello there, fresh green vegetable!  I HAVE MISSED YOU.

Hospitals are terrible places for people who love food—hospitals can also be terrible places, generally.  At the same time, they are also miracle houses, temples of possibility, monuments to what the body and the brain can do.

If you’re feeling a little discouraged or frustrated in your life, I recommend you go spend some time in the surgery waiting area of a nearby hospital.  Strike up a conversation with the people sitting nearby, share your Kleenex and your snacks.  Watch as parents receive instructions about how to care for their infant daughter’s bandages, practicing on a doll the case manager has brought.  Listen (because you can’t help but overhear) bad news being relayed over the phone.  Marvel at the possible range of human experience.

If I say “I’ve learned things over the last few days” it’s really that “I am dead certain now of things I had suspected before.”  Like—most things we spend our time worrying about don’t matter.  Attempting to plan every detail of every day is overrated.  I’m stronger than I give myself credit for.  My friends are extraordinary.  Jill is tough as freaking nails.  And I don’t need a piece of paper to tell me that this is a marriage.

Jill’s got a big, bad scar running down her chest, a will of iron, and a long but hopefully smooth road to recovery ahead.  We’ve received nothing but the most excellent care from every hospital employee, and more love and good wishes than I can really wrap my mind around.

We’ll celebrate our anniversary on Thursday, back home from the hospital, and full of gratitude.  And hopefully with some green vegetables.

RAW ZUCCHINI SALAD

I can’t even really call this a recipe—hardly original, it’s just what there is to do with lovely little zucchini this time of year.  Infinite variations are, of course, possible.

ingredients:

2-3 small zucchini
2 lemons
olive oil
salt & pepper
Parmesan cheese
fresh basil (optional)
¼ cup toasted nuts (I’ve used Marcona almonds here, but I think pistachios would be delicious)

Cut the ends off of the zucchini and shave it very thin with a mandoline (or slice carefully with a sharp knife!)  Toss the zucchini with the zest of one lemon, the juice of both, olive oil, salt, & pepper.  Shave Parmesan cheese on top of the salad, and garnish with basil and/or nuts, if using.  Serve immediately.

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BRAISED RAINBOW CARROTS

I know, I know—two braised vegetable dishes, two weeks in a row.  What can I say?  I’m on a kick of sorts.


There’s something so satisfying about cooking from the hip or on the fly.  No real recipe, no measuring, just a smattering of what you have around the house (whether it be freezer, refrigerator, pantry, liquor cabinet, spice rack, and/or garden) that might taste good together.

I find that vegetables are a great place to do this.  They’re a bit more forgiving than proteins, and if you’re trying to eat more of them, as we are, variety is key to staying on the wagon.  Not to mention, I find that it often just takes one dish, one new preparation, that can turn a palate’s veggie-tude around: broccoli roasted instead of steamed, spinach raw instead of frozen, pickled beets, caramelized Brussels sprouts, and so on.

Carrots have always been a particular favorite of mine, a proclivity attributable to my mother’s propagation of the “they’ll improve your eyesight!” exaggeration many of us were party to as kids.  I started wearing glasses when I was two-and-a-half and, as you can see here, they were of the impossibly thick plastic-frame variety.  (Kids today have no idea how good they have it when it comes to glasses frame design options.)

I would have done anything to rid myself of those glasses, including eating pounds upon pounds of carrots.  Which I did, causing my mom to back off of her urgings a bit when I seemed to be turning an alarming Oompa-Loompa-like orange.  But the thing is, much as I loved carrots, I loved them only and always raw.  Crunchy and crisp and jaw-tiringly raw.  Show me a cooked carrot and I would wrinkle my nose.

Trouble is, a plate of raw carrots isn’t the most elegant dinner side dish.  Great in salads and dandy in a plastic bag as a mid-day snack, but still a bit one-trick-pony-ish.  Until I learned to quick pickle them, a gateway of sorts.  Leading to this past weekend when I voluntarily cooked carrots for the first time.  And ate them!  And enjoyed them.  So much that I forgot to ask Sonya to take a picture of the finished dish.  Oops!

BRAISED RAINBOW CARROTS

If you can find lovely market carrots like these, I urge you to use them.  Otherwise, grab the thinnest, “youngest” carrots you can find, lopping off the greens as soon as you buy them.   Feel free to swap in dried thyme for the fresh; if you do this, you’ll need less.

ingredients:
1-2 bunch baby carrots, scrubbed but not peeled, ends cut
½ of a yellow onion, thinly sliced
4-5 springs fresh thyme
1-2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
white wine
red wine vinegar
olive oil
salt & pepper

Heat the olive oil in a wide skillet over medium-low heat.  Add the onions and garlic, sautéing over low heat until translucent.  Toss in the carrots and push them around the pan to absorb some of the onion-garlic-olive-oil-y goodness.

After a minute or two, add a generous glug of white wine, enough to form a thin layer at the bottom of the skillet.  Lay the thyme inside the skillet as well and cover with a lid, turning up the heat a bit so that the wine will just simmer.

Cook until the carrots have reached your desired state of tenderness, anywhere from 12-20 minutes, depending on the size of your carrots.  Finish with a splash of red wine vinegar and salt and pepper to taste.  Serve hot or warm.

BRAISED FENNEL

My palate can be something of a paradox.  I love grapes, but I can’t stand raisins.  I adore fennel but I will not put licorice in my mouth.

Contradiction, thy name is Nishta?  True in more ways than just the culinary.  Of course, I think we’re all like this in one way or another.  I had a vegetarian friend in graduate school who caved every few months for an Arby’s roast beef sandwich, of all things.  Jill hunts birds, bringing duck and dove home for us to eat, while at the same time obsessively filling our backyard feeders for the ducks and doves who visit.  And this week I discovered that my friend Ben, who normally eschews desserts of all kinds, does have one sweet-toothed weakness: the famous and famously-difficult-to-make  Dobos torte.  Of course.

Fennel is not universally popular, probably because it gets lumped into the “eww gross” category by those of us who profoundly dislike anything licorice-flavored. (Just the thought of those black-paper-wrapped candies from the “bad houses” on Halloween night makes me shudder.)  But I find that, when prepared deftly, fennel betrays satisfying sweetness and delivers a crunch I quite enjoy.  I mostly use fennel raw, in salads, where it pairs particularly well with citrus, but this braised version is quite elegant and hearty.

We human beings may not be logically consistent in our tastes and habits, but I like to think that’s what makes us all so fascinating.

BRAISED FENNEL WITH MEYER LEMON & PARMESAN
as printed in the New York Times Magazine

It’s the right time of year for Meyer lemons, and they are so magical.  Use them!  If you have extra, you can make these cookies, too.

ingredients:

2 fennel bulbs with fronds attached

½ cup chicken broth

Grated peel and juice of 1 Meyer lemon

Parmesan cheese

Extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper


Trim and rinse the fennel, halving each bulb through the core, then slicing lengthwise into ½-inch thick pieces.  Reserve and roughly chop 1 tablespoon of the fronds.

Place a large, wide skillet over medium-high heat, adding just enough olive oil to coat the pan.  When hot, lay half of the fennel flat in the pan and cook about three minutes, or until browned on the bottom.  Don’t stir the fennel!

Flip the fennel pieces and cook another minute or two on the second side.  Transfer to a bowl and cook the remaining fennel, adding more olive oil to the skillet if needed.  Season the cooked fennel with salt & pepper.

Return the skillet to medium high heat, adding the fennel, broth, lemon juice, and rind.  Bring the mixture to a boil, then simmer, covered, until the fennel is tender, about 10 minutes.

Remove the fennel from the liquid using a slotted spoon, then raise the heat and reduce the sauce until syrupy, 3-5 minutes.  Pour the sauce over the fennel, top with the reserved fronds, and garnish with shaved Parmesan to taste.

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FARRO, FENNEL, & TUNA SALAD

Jill has taken to calling farro “the ancient grain of the ancients.”  Quinoa, which we’ve also come to enjoy as a pasta and rice alternative, is known in our house as “the ancient Incan grain of the Incas.”

There’s this thing I like to do; I like to go through people’s wallets.  Not in order to take anything, of course, and not without their permission, but I take great pleasure in unpacking the business cards and receipts, membership notices and frequent buyer cards, pieces of plastic, movie ticket stubs, and general detritus of everyday life.

If I were to unpack my relationships in the same way, what might I find scattered across the coffee table?  Long dinners shared, favorite books in common, nicknames, emails, hazy memories of piquant nights, crisp remembrance of things they said that I loved hearing.

But probably most of what I’d find, and incidentally what I value the most, are the pennies-and-lint equivalents like “ancient grain of the ancients.”  The goofy, we-don’t-know-where-that-came-from particularities of a love or friendship.  The little, inexplicable things that accumulate as we walk through life with another, witnessing them and having them witness us.

FARRO, FENNEL, & TUNA SALAD
adapted from Food & Wine, October 2010

1 cup farro
3 cups chicken broth, vegetable broth, or water
2 large carrots, sliced
1-2 cloves garlic, minced

2 cans tuna of your choice
1 can chickpeas, drained
1 ½ cups arugula
1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
1 onion, thinly sliced
juice of 1 lemon

olive oil
salt & pepper

Bring the broth and farro to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until the farro is tender and all of the liquid has been absorbed, about 25-30 minutes.  Remove from the heat and cool.

Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat, then add the carrot and garlic and cook until just softened, approximately 3-4 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir into the farro.

To the farro mixture, add the tuna, chickpeas, fennel, & onion.  Squeeze in the lemon juice & season with salt and pepper.  Stir to combine, garnish with arugula.

MARINATED EGGPLANT

I’m afraid I don’t have anything profound to say about this eggplant.

You of course should know that it tastes great, is easy to make and healthy, and goes perfectly with the rosemary flatbreads from earlier in the week.  And I recommend you try it!  I just can’t come up with anything further, I fear, because I just saw video of my father for the first time since he died.  I’m totally out of words.

The footage is from the Father-Daughter Dinner Dance my all-girls’ high school throws every year; after the meal, each father gets up and gives a tribute to his daughter and there’s nary a dry eye in the house.

Frankly, I had forgotten this video existed, but somehow it cropped up and so tonight I slid it into our antique VHS player (seriously how bulky do these things seem now?), and there he was, with dimensions, with his beard and his accent that I fear I am forgetting, telling me that he loves me and is proud of me, smiling the smile I inherited.  The most amazing gift—to see him, to have him there, as if he might step out of the screen at any moment and come sit down with me, shoving aside my piles of used Kleenex.

I want to be okay in my life; I don’t want to live looking backwards, angry and wondering.  After all, I am bound to encounter much more death in this lifetime, including my own.  But just when I think I’ve reached some place, that grief and I may have made some kind of arrangement, it just flat-out breaks my heart all over again.

I don’t ever want to stop missing him, and I do not think that I will.

MARINATED EGGPLANT
adapted from Gourmet
While I love this dish, it doesn’t keep very well, so make only as much as you think you’ll need.

ingredients:

3-4 thin Italian or Asian eggplants, sliced into thin rounds
¼ cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
¼ cup mint, chopped
2 T capers
olive oil
red wine vinegar

oven temp: broiler

Toss the eggplants in a bit of olive oil, then arrange in one layer on a baking sheet or sheets.  Broil for about 10 minutes, turning once to brown on both sides.

Once the eggplant is out of the oven, stir together with the herbs, capers, and a few tablespoons of both olive oil & vinegar both.  Add a bit of salt & pepper to taste, then let the eggplant marinate for 15-20 minutes.

Serve with flatbread, pita, or crackers.

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GREEN BEAN-LENTIL SALAD

I do not think like a Chef.

Folks who distill complex philosophy, who sew their own clothes, who know exactly what color paint a room needs, whose eyes frame perfect photographs, whose hands build and fix furniture.  All of these I know, and in them I recognize the same thing; I can’t do that.

Our brains work the way they work—certainly we can stretch and challenge them, but I know my limits.  I shan’t be fixing my own car anytime soon, for example, unless I want to break it.  And though I love food and think about it most nearly all the time, I know my brain does not work like a chef’s.

I can tell you when a dish is working, or when it isn’t, but it’s 50-50 whether I’ll be able to diagnose how to repair it, or even what’s in it in the first place.  I can follow recipes, tweak them, streamline them, know a good one when I see one and an overly complicated one when I see those, too—but it’s rare that I generate a downright amazing dish on my own.

Which makes it all the more fun to watch and learn from folks who think about food and flavor and technique in ways I can only dream of, hoping that a little bit of that genius will rub off.

GREEN BEAN-LENTIL SALAD
adapted from Alex Seidel of Denver’s Fruition in this year’s “Best New Chefs” edition of Food & Wine

This salad was absolutely delicious—grilled green beans, who knew?—but its leftovers didn’t hold up very well.  To that end, I recommend serving this to a crowd (it would make a lovely side dish for a roast chicken, for example) or cutting the recipe in half.

ingredients:

1 cup black beluga or small brown lentils
1 lb. green beans, washed & ends trimmed
8 baby patty pan squash, quartered
2 tomatoes, sliced
4 oz. piece of pancetta, cut into a large dice
2 shallots, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. fresh or ½ tsp. dried oregano
pinch of crushed red pepper
olive oil
sherry vinegar
fresh basil, for garnish

Sauté half of the shallot and half the garlic in olive oil until translucent.  Add the lentils, bay leaf, oregano & 2 cups of water and bring to a boil.  Simmer the lentils until cooked through; remove from heat, discarding the bay leaf.  Drizzle generous amounts of olive oil & sherry vinegar atop the lentils, dressing them as you would a salad.  Stir in the remaining shallot & garlic.  Set aside.

Heat a cast-iron grill pan over medium-high heat.  Toss the green beans with a little olive oil, then season with salt & pepper before grilling them over high heat, turning when they char.

At the same time, cook the diced pancetta in a large skillet over medium-high heat until lightly browned.  Add the squash, crushed red pepper, & a bit of salt and cook until the squash begins to soften. Toss in the tomatoes at the end, if you like.

Arrange the green beans on a large platter, then arrange the squash on top.  Pour the lentils atop everything and garnish with a little fresh basil.

MY LIFE IN OKRA

I’m about as biased as they come, but I think today’s guest blogger is pretty swell.  It’s my pleasure today to turn Blue Jean Gourmet over to Jill! –Nishta


I’ve eaten okra my whole life mainly because it has been a staple in my parents’ vegetable garden since, well, forever.  There it would stand – at least a full row of it, head high or more – in all its fibrous, stinging, yellow-blossomed glory.  The hotter the summer sun, the taller the okra and the more it needed picking.  It seemed to me, as a kid assigned the task of helping my mother gather garden vegetables everyday, that you could actually see the okra pods growing in their place on the stalk, they grew so fast.

I made my way down the row protected by a long-sleeve shirt and garden gloves, armed with a paring knife.  I bent the stalks down, cut the pods at their stems and dropped them into a 5-gallon bucket.  On any given day, the bucket would be at least half-full by row’s end, and I would do it all again the next day.   Do the math; we had a lot of okra.

I swore once I became an adult I wouldn’t sweat out my substance plowing, tilling, weeding and hoeing gardens or picking vegetables in the bald open sun.  But, here I am, ensconced in middle-age, growing year-round vegetables in our Zone 9 backyard.  And this time of year, after the beans and tomatoes and squash and cucumbers have all burnt up, the okra are just hitting their stride.  I have only a few plants, and they are a dwarf variety that don’t grow over 5 feet tall.  But, there they are every day – the feathery yellow blossoms, the long pods ready for harvesting, and the little buds behind them waiting to grow into their place the next day or so.

I enjoy okra prepared several ways, but my favorites are fried and pickled.   Both of them mitigate – or negate ourtight – the slime factor that sours many people toward this unique vegetable. Fried okra is a southern staple and many people swear by their family’s version of it.  I am no different; I claim without reservation that my mother’s fried okra recipe and technique (used also by her sisters and sisters-in-law, and which is now mine) is the best fried okra possible in our earth’s time/space continuum.  The pickled okra is a recipe I got somewhere along the way years ago and have adapted to my own peppery tastes.

Between the two of them – hot fried okra served on paper towelled dinner platters and spicy pickled okra pods served ice cold as happy hour fare – you’ve got late summer covered.

BILLIE JEAN’S FRIED OKRA


ingredients & tools:

a “mess” of okra pods  (anywhere from 15 pods 3-4″ long each to a full 5-gallon bucket full)

salt & pepper (although any of the salt-free seasoning blends can work)

flour (a cup or more depending on how much okra you have)

buttermilk (a half cup or more – plain sour yogurt cut with water would work too)

frying oil (vegetable, canola or peanut – enough so that the okra floats slightly in the skillet)

a paper grocery sack (a plastic bag will do)

a large slotted spoon

After rinsing, cut the okra crossways into pieces no larger than the end of your thumb.   Discard the heads.  NOTE: if your knife doesn’t easily slice the okra, the okra is “old” or “hard” and not fit to eat.  Toss it in the compost or trash.

In a bowl, combine the sliced okra, salt & pepper to taste, and enough buttermilk to thinly coat all the okra.  Stir well.  No buttermilk should pool at the bottom of the bowl.  When done right at this stage, it will look like a slimy, sticky mess.

Add at least a cup of flour to a paper bag.  Drop in the okra (no more than a double handful if you’re frying a large batch – you’ll have to fry in stages, if so).  Fold the sack top closed and shake well, holding the bag from the top as well as supporting it on the bottom.  Make sure all the okra is covered evenly in flour.  Set the okra bag aside.

In a skillet or frying pan, heat the oil to medium-high to almost high heat.  Test for frying readiness with a single piece of okra.  When the oil is ready, use your fingers to slightly drop clumps and pieces of the okra into the oil.  Just ease them in, moving them with the slotted spoon only minimally to make room.   Here is the key:  Don’t mess with it at all!  Let it sit frying in the oil – don’t move it around or stir it.  Just let it sit.

When the okra starts to brown underneath, gently – GENTLY – use a slotted spoon (and maybe a second spoon) to turn it over in the oil.  Do this as quickly as possible, but in a way that disturbs the okra the least.  When the okra is fully browned (only another minute or so usually), turn off the heat and begin taking it out onto a platter double lined with paper towels.   Don’t pat it – just let it sit for a minute or two to cool and to lose oil.

Eat with your fingers like popcorn.  Add more salt if needed.  Try not to go face down in it.  Share with others instead.

EASY PICKLED OKRA


ingredients & tools:

a quart jar with ring and lid

enough okra pods to fill the quart jar tightly packed

2-3 garlic cloves

2 sprigs of fresh dill (or a tablespoon of dried ground dillweed)

2-3 hot peppers (fresh or dried)

1 cup vinegar

1/2 cup water

1/8 cup salt

Rinse the okra and peel the garlic cloves.  Scrub the jar, ring and lid and rinse in very hot water from the tap. When the jar cools enough to touch, pack the jar with whole okra pods stood upright.  Pack in the dill, garlic cloves and peppers as well.  If using dried ground dillweeed, just spoon it over the top once everything is packed in.  Make sure nothing in the jar protrudes up beyond the lower edge of the lip of the jar.

In a boiler pot, add the water, vinegar and salt to make the brine.  Bring to a boil.

Pour the boiling brine into the packed jars.  Make sure nothing in the jar is left uncovered.  Seal the jars tightly.  Wait a week to open.  Best served cold after refrigeration.

Cauliflower, squash, cucumbers, banana peppers, long beans and carrots can also be pickled this way.

Dr. Jill Carroll is a public intellectual who speaks internationally on topics of world religion, religious tolerance, & religion and public life.  She grew up in Shreveport, Louisiana.  In addition to writing her own blog for the Houston Chronicle, she is Nishta’s spouse and the food stylist for Blue Jean Gourmet.

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SWEET SUMMER CORN

Sweet summer corn (swoon)
Plus butter and a hot pan,
Herbs, salt; happiness.

That’s pretty much all there is to this. It’s simple and bright, pairs perfectly with burgers and grilled steaks, and takes about fifteen minutes to make. What are you waiting for?

CARAMELIZED CORN WITH FRESH HERBS
adapted from The Wednesday Chef

I polled my friends when I made all three incarnations of this dish to see if we could determine which herb was the favorite—but there was no clear majority! So I’m afraid you may have to try all three yourself to see which one you like best.  I know, I know, the hardship.

4 ears sweet summer corn
4 T butter
¼ cup fresh basil, mint, or sage, chopped
salt

First, prep the corn. I like to do this over a newspaper-covered counter, to catch the silks. Remove each ear from its husks and slide its silky strings out of the way. Holding the “handle” end of each cob, carefully cut the kernels from the cob with a sharp knife.

Melt the butter in a wide pan over medium-high heat. Add the corn and stir until you begin to hear popping & spluttering. Don’t be alarmed! This is what you want. Watch and continue to stir as the kernels brown, about 10-12 minutes total.

Remove the corn from the heat, sprinkle in the salt. Divide in two or three, if necessary, then stir in fresh herbs. Serve hot.

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QUICK-PICKLED CARROTS

One week left in the school year; please forgive my inability to say much of anything of substance.

But—blessed, blessed Memorial Day weekend lies ahead!  Three day weekends, I love you so.  I plan to putter around my kitchen, sleep, attend a graduation party (homemade Chinese food, anyone?), go to the theatre, and host dinner + movie night with pasta, two of my best friends, and “An Education.”

On Monday, the festivities continue, as we will be performing our patriotic duty by grilling meat outdoors, drinking beer, and enjoying the company of loved ones.  I will certainly be making these carrot sticks, to which I have recently become addicted.  They are fast and easy to make, and really bring out the flavor of the beautiful Farmers Market carrots we’ve been getting lately—like the purple beauties you see above.

If you need some ideas for Memorial Day eats, I’ve listed a couple of favorites below.  Wishing ya’ll a very restful long weekend!

Potato Salad

Orzo Pasta Salad

Lamb Burgers

Blackberry Upside-Down Cake

Ice Cream Pie


QUICK-PICKLED CARROT STICKS

When you buy beautiful carrots with greens still attached, be sure to cut off the tops as soon as the carrots arrive home.  Otherwise, they will sap moisture & nutrients from the carrots themselves.

This isn’t so much a recipe as an idea—once you have the concept, you can swap out the spices and flavorings based on whatever you have on hand or on the brain.

ingredients:

1 bunch carrots
1 cup water
½ cup vinegar
¼ cup sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 garlic clove
pinch of cumin and/or coriander seeds

Combine the water, vinegar, & sugar in a saucepan.  Bring the mixture up to a boil, stirring to ensure the sugar dissolves.  Toss in the seasonings and let the mixture “steep” for 10-15 minutes.

In the meantime, trim and peel the carrots, cutting them into manageable sticks.  Lay them at the bottom of a shallow dish and pour the vinegar mixture on top.  Let the carrots sit in the vinegar mixture for at least a half-hour before enjoying.  At this point, you can include fresh herbs: dill or cilantro are both good choices.

Carrots will keep in a covered container in the fridge for several weeks.  Personally, I like to remove the carrots from the vinegar after the initial “soak” because I prefer my carrots still have some snap.  If you feel differently, you can leave the carrots in their bath indefinitely.

SALADE NIÇOISE

I’ve been on a big reading kick of late.  It seems a bit counterintuitive that, as an English teacher & writer, I’d ever go “off” of reading, but the truth is that I often fail to make time for pleasure reading, just like everyone else.

One of the things that’s most important to me in my job as a teacher or more generally, an authority figure in the eyes of teenagers, is being rigorous with myself when it comes to hypocrisy.  I do my dead-level best never to ask of my students what I won’t follow through on myself: coming on time to class, showing up prepared, telling the truth, and being respectful.

There’s a lot of harping among adults these days about how “kids these days” don’t read anymore and their brains are all going to rot and the world is going to hell in a hand basket, etc.  But I wonder how many of those adults make time regularly in their daily lives to read.  You want kids to read more?  Let them see you closing your computer screen & picking up a book.

I’m lucky that my English department colleagues at school feel equally passionate about the importance of reading for pleasure; two years ago we instituted BYOB (that’s “Bring Your Own Book,” don’t worry) days across all grade levels.  It’s a regular expectation in my curriculum that I devote whole class periods, every 4-6 weeks, to pleasure reading.  And I have to sit down and read too—no grading or emailing.

Last time I had a BYOB day in my classroom, my principal, dean of students, history colleague, and both PE coaches came to join my students. I can lecture my kids about how reading will improve their vocabularies, writing abilities, & build their sense of empathy.  But the best argument of all for getting them to read more is to sit down and do it with them.  [a few suggested titles here]

SALADE NIÇOISE

Sometimes the books I read influence the foods I eat, as when The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo made me crave smoked salmon, rye bread, & pickles to no end.  I’m currently listening to the audio book of The Elegance of the Hedgehog on my ipod, & the perfect pronunciations of lovely French words has me craving lovely French food with fancy names, like this classic, composed salad.

I love this salad for a weekend lunch, with a bottle of white wine, a nice baguette, & good butter.  If the idea of anchovy paste freaks you out, PLEASE reconsider.  Anchovy paste is the ultimate secret weapon; it adds incredible flavor that people can never quite pinpoint.  Been hearing all about “umami,” the fifth taste?  Well, anchovy paste is chock full of umami.  You only need a little bit—I dare you to try!

Best of all, anchovy paste comes in a nice toothpaste-like tube which you can seal up & keep in the fridge for future use.  I use it in my marinara sauce, tossed with roasted broccoli, and to make this compound butter, which is amazing smeared on steaks & grilled salmon.

for the dressing:

1 ½ cups extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup white wine or Champagne vinegar
2 T Dijon mustard
1 tsp. anchovy paste (optional, but adds amazing flavor)
salt & freshly ground pepper
a handful of chopped, fresh herbs—your choice!
-basil, dill, flat-leaf parsley, and/or tarragon

Whisk the ingredients together—I like to do this in my Pyrex measuring cup, which makes it easier to pour over the salad.

salad components:

2 cans good-quality tuna, drained

-If you want to splurge, buy fresh tuna steaks and grill or sauté them with olive oil, salt & pepper, just a few minutes on each side.  Slice to serve; the tuna should be rare in the middle.

1 lb. new potatoes, scrubbed

-Cook the potatoes in boiling water until soft enough to be pierced with a fork.  Allow to cool, then quarter.  Season with a little salt & pepper.

½ lb. haricots verts or green beans

-Trim the ends, then halve the beans.  Blanch the beans: steam them until bright green, then plunge them into ice-cold water to set the color.

½ red onion, thinly sliced

12 cherry tomatoes, halved or 6 Roma tomatoes, quartered

4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled & halved

½ cup good-quality black olives

2 T capers, for garnish

1 head lettuce + 1 bunch arugula (for flavor; omit if you can’t find arugula or don’t care for its peppery “bite”)

Compose all of the ingredients on a large platter, using the greenery as a starting point.  I like the serve the salad with a pair of tongs, four bowls, & the measuring cup of dressing out together so everyone can assemble their own perfect salad.

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