Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Rapid-Fire Salad

I've been a woodworker for a few years now, and in the woodworking world, there's a split between machine woodworking and hand-tool woodworking. And somewhere along the way, I realized there was a similar thing at work in the kitchen. (Woodworking has really colored the way I see a lot of things.)

In short, machines are used for sheer productive capacity. Hand tools are used when a little bit of finesse is desired, when the quantity called for doesn't justify cleaning an entire machine, or when you feel like taking your time and enjoying the process. I like the process of breaking things down and slicing ingredients... there's something for me about working with my hands that allows my head to unwind itself a little bit.

When it's time to produce, one of my favorite machines is the food processor. I don't have a full-sized one, yet, but I've had this mini Cuisinart for something like 13 years now. It's still going strong, and despite it's size it's a solid workhorse. The only hand tool required with a food processor is a knife, to trim off any undesirables, and break the rest down into manageable chunks.

UPDATE-- 9/16/10: Apparently I'm not the only one who really likes his food processor. Check out this column from columnist Mark Bittman in the New York Times


Growing up, the typical salad involved large chunks of lettuce leaf, raw tomatoes, oil and vinegar, and other large chunks of raw vegetables that are the typical anathema to a bouncing screaming holy terror of a child. So I grew up hating the idea of salads in general. I've grown up a bit, and my ideas of what can possibly constitute a salad have been broadened considerably. Among other variations, I was introduced to the concept of so-called 'Israeli Salad,' which is synonymous with "doesn't have lettuce." For some reason, this really appeals to me, and it really opens up the genre to a lot of possibilities.

There are times when I feel like making a really fancy-looking salad, and I'll take the time to carefully slice ripened pears on top of an arranged bed of... whatever... and add nifty things like nuts, craisins, and cheeses, and so on, and so forth. That takes time, room to spread out and prep all the ingredients, and at least a mild level of engagement. Tonight I was just hungry.

I fed some celery, apples, carrots, and red cabbage into the Cuisinart. I mixed up the result, dumped some of it on top of a pile of spinach, added some craisins and balsamic vinaigrette, and called it dinner. I used the slicer on the celery and apples, and the shredder on the carrots and cabbage.

Please note that this processed part of the salad is very dense. Carrots and Cabbage are serious roughage, and shredding it will help with the process of digestion, but it also allows it to compact very tightly in the salad bowl. So be aware that what you see in the picture above is going to last for at least 2 or 3 meals, and attempting to eat all of it would be the gastronomical equivalent of eating a box of brillo pads. 

Normally for salads I like to use pears, if I have them, instead of apples. Pears are sweeter, and I like the way that the sweetness counter-balances the bland earthiness of most lettuces and some other vegetables. I also like combining pears with something like gorgonzola in a fancier salad, but I'll make one of those at a later date.

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