Category Archives: Salads

Thai Cabbage Salad


Sometimes words come easily. They fall together in my head at the most unrelated of moments: while I’m driving, cleaning, shopping. I mutter them under my breath hoping that by spitting them into the air these words won’t disappear.  Sometimes though, they do not surface so effortlessly. I have, unfortunately, been in this latter stage for the better part of six months. My brain is dried like a raisin by the end of the day when I have a moment to stop. Instead of powering through, it shuts down. Off. Chau. Nos vemos. It can barely process T.V. much less compose a post.

So, while I have actually been cooking quite a bit, I have been posting approximately not at all. My recent kitchen adventures have included persimmon bread, chocolate cake, ginger muffins, frascatelli, and a whole roasted chicken. Yes, I have cooked all of this and shared none with you. Scandalous, I’m well aware. Equally as scandalous is this: I have fallen in love with the salad section of the new Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. I’ll admit, when I first cracked open the book, I skipped straight to dessert. Feeling the need for a post Christmas health kick though, I soon decided to turn to the dreaded salad section. Now, let’s be real, the salad section is never exciting. It’s the part of a cookbook you look at through forced obligation, because 1. it’s pretty much illegal to skip over any section of a cookbook and 2. you can’t live off of brownies and cake and ice cream, or you could, but shouldn’t.

I surprised myself by mentally bookmarking a number of the salad recipes, including the Vinegar Slaw with Cucumber and Dill. For some reason though, unbeknownst to me, when I went grocery shopping for the ingredients to make the salad, dill was sold out. Who knew dill was a high demand ingredient in the dead of winter? “Fine,” I thought to myself, “I’ll just use lemongrass. Close enough, right?”. Um, no. With lemongrass sitting on my kitchen counter though, I began to chop and mix and stir liberally adjusting the original recipe. I added thai chili pepper for kick, garlic because why not, lemon juice for a fresh acidity, and sesame oil for a subtle nutty flavoring. Then I called it “Thai Cabbage Salad”. I’m not sure it actually qualifies as “Thai”, but it does qualify as tasty, that much I can say with certainty.

cabbage.salad.1Thai Cabbage Salad

Inspired by The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

Makes enough for 12

1 medium hear green cabbage (about 2 pounds), cored and thinly sliced or shredded

1 large seedless or English cucumber (about 1 pound), sliced in round discs as thinly as possible

2 tablespoons lemongrass, finely chopped

2 Thai chili pepper, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, finely diced

1/4 cup white vinegar

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons sesame oil

2 tablespoons kosher salt

4 teaspoon sugar

Toss the cabbage, cucumber and lemongrass together in a large bowl. Whisk the remaining ingredients in a small bowl. Pour the liquid over the salad, and let it marinate, tossing the cabbage occasionally. After 1 hour, it should be a bit wilted and crunchy, at 2 hours, the flavor is even better.


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Watermelon Salad with Blue Cheese and Mint

My fascination with food began with flavor. It started out simply as a desire to taste and try everything: What does a raw oyster taste like? What about baked brie? It slowly transformed into something more complex as I challenged myself to learn flavor profiles and how to cook with that knowledge. I wanted to know how smoked mozzarella compared to cow’s milk mozzarella to burrata. I wanted to understand the intensity of lemon extract and use it effectively in baking. I wanted to know exactly what type of fish to buy when a recipe called for the ambiguous “white fish”.

As I grew more comfortable in the kitchen, I began to play with recipes substituting this for that and adjusting quantities. My interest, accordingly, took a turn towards science: Why does Kosher salt, which appears so coarse, dissolve so quickly? How will this recipe change if I use all-purpose flour versus whole wheat versus whole wheat pastry flour? Why? I proceeded to have a short obsession with food law and politics induced by a class I took on the topic. While that has since become a mild interest, it has fueled my passion for a different one, local foods and the bounty of topics that go along with them.

There are seemingly thousands of articles floating around that delve into themes related to local foods and detail the importance of eating them (I happen to like this one); so in an effort to keep this short and sweet, I’ll avoid penning a list of my own. The Social Policy major in me though, can’t resist pointing out local food’s potentially most powerful result, community. There’s something special about asking the person who pulled your produce from the ground about the difference between Russian and Tuscan kale or sipping coffee in a café where the beans were roasted on site. Mull that over.

While watermelon may not be the quintessential local food for the Chicago area, it does remind me of summer and summer reminds me of the plethora of local foods available after an all too long and all too cold winter. I’m constantly pondering new ways to use fruit in cooking. Sure, they’re a breakfast time staple and can easily be tossed into a bowl of oatmeal or mixed into a yogurt parfait. They are equally popular post-dinner tucked into a pie crust or folded into a cake. However, they are rarely featured at the dinner table. Vegetables take center stage as side dishes and I’m not quite sure why. Spicy yet sweet, tangy yet refreshing, this dish provides an alternative, giving you a fruit-based, savory side in all its glory. I might let you buy watermelon out of season for this one.

Watermelon Salad with Blue Cheese and Mint

inspired by Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Andrea Reusing, Food & Wine, and Food52

This watermelon salad does not keep particularly well. It will last only about a day in the fridge. If you’re serving a smaller crowd, consider cutting the recipe in half to avoid having loads of leftovers.

Serves 10-12 

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegrette

1 teaspoon coarse sea salt

1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper

1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

10 cups seedless watermelon, cut into 1 inch cubes

1/4 cup blue cheese, crumbled

3 tablespoons slivered almonds, toasted

10 mint leaves, torn into thin strips

In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, sea salt, pepper, and paprika. Drizzle over watermelon and stir gently until each cube is lightly coated with dressing. Let marinate in fridge for at least one hour or up to several. To serve, remove watermelon from fridge and toss with blue cheese, almonds, and mint.

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Reflections on an Epic Journey, Part 1: Mango Salad

You know you’re in love when you can’t get someone out of your mind, when you miss them every minute of everyday. When you heart beats faster at the sound of their voice, when you smile at the sight of their picture, when all you want to do is take in their scent and lie in their arms, you know you’re in love. My friends, in love I am.

Chocolate Cake and Pinol from Choco Museo Cafe. Antigua, Guatemala. 

As I’ve meandered through Central America – from the beaches of Panama, through the forests of Costa Rica, to the pueblos of Guatemala – this love has been all-consuming. My hands have been begging for the touch of a wooden spoon, my nose dying for a whiff of homemade chocolate chip cookies being pulled from the oven. My eyes have been yearning for the mere glimpse of a spice cabinet and my ears waiting in anxious anticipation for the gentle clap of kneading bread on a countertop. It is the timeless act of cooking with which I am in love. Beware future men in my life, you’ll have to compete with whisks and sauce pans for my attention.

My journey was, of course, driven by food. I fended off the piropos of Panama City to buy the freshest ceviche I have ever eaten. Really, the boat the shrimp came off of…I saw it. I hiked up a small mountain to find the best coffee Costa Rica has to offer. Despite loads of sunscreen and a scarf wrapped around my head babushka style (Yes, I looked hilarious. No, there are not pictures), I still managed to get sunburned. I roamed the streets of Guatemala sampling every kind of street food I could get my hands on. Miraculously, I didn’t get sick.

Preparing fried chicken at the biweekly market. Chichicastenango, Guatemala. 

My food adventures, however, did not lessen my longing for my kitchen. I dreamt of spending a day consumed by cooking. It would start as one of those quiet days. I would wake up early and lie in bed with the sunlight softly falling on my covers as I drifted in and out of sleep. It would unfold flawlessly. Grocery shopping at the finest markets. Eating a simple lunch. Cooking the afternoon away to the tune of Jack Johnson. Eating (again) dinner with my parents around the dining room table. Tidying the kitchen quickly yet calmly. Then, finally, falling asleep as I pondered breakfast the next morning. Perhaps steel cut oats with strawberry jam and a sprinkle of lemon zest.

I have dreamt of this day for three weeks and on my first full day back in the States, Friday, that day came. It happened to be a little more chaotic than I imagined, but hey, that’s life. I’ll take what I can get.

The results of my cooking class at El Frijol Feliz. Antigua, Guatemala.

I had a lot of time to think on my adventure. Probably too much. Among my many realizations or, perhaps more accurately, reaffirmations, was this one: I take advantage of the small things (and the big things actually too…um, that roof over my head…) in life far too often. As a token of my appreciation for all the big and small things they’ve given me, I wanted to prepare a dinner for my parents inspired by my travels. This, of course, in no way makes up for all those years of supporting me. Just think of all those dirty diapers changed, clothes washed, and meals cooked. Not to mention agonizing band concerts attended and countless softball games endured. And then there’s the whole paying for all of that…Regardless, I made dinner. A dinner inspired by Guatemala to be exact. We started with this very mango dish.

Apparently I caught the tail end of mango season in Guatemala, and thank goodness I did. Every morning and afternoon the central road of Panajachel, where I stayed for a week taking Spanish classes, was filled with men and women selling ripe, juicy mangos. For five quetzales, or the equivalent of about sixty-five cents, I would get an entire mango sliced and arranged neatly in a tiny plastic bag. Their mangos, for the record, are not like our imported mangos. No, no. They’re twice as big. We clearly get the shaft. You could chose to eat it simple, or plain, but I always noshed on mine with salt, ground pepitas, and freshly squeezed lime juice. Some kind of chile powder or cayenne pepper was occasionally an option as well. The recipe below is essentially a table friendly version of this glorious “mango in a bag”, which has now traveled from the streets of Guatemala to my house in Chicago. What a journey it was.

Pepian, a traditional Guatemalan dish, prepared at El Frijol Feliz. Antigua, Guatemala. 

Mango Salad

Breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack (midday and midnight), you name the time and this dish will fit the occasion. It’s nice to have something so versatile (and easy!) in your cooking repetoire, isn’t it? Feel free to add chili powder or cayenne pepper if desired. Grind the pepitas as finely as you like. I used a mortar and pestle grinding mine to about the texture of table salt.

Serves 4 

2 mangos, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes

2 teaspoons lime juice, freshly squeezed

1/2 teaspoon lime zest

Fine grain sea salt, to taste

2 teaspoons pepitas, ground

In a small bowl, combine the first four ingredient. Stir gently. Sprinkle pepitas over the mango just before serving.

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Filed under Appetizers and Snacks, Breakfast and Brunch, Salads, Sides

Blueberry Cashew Salad with Herbs

My blog under went some late night changes, or rather early morning changes, at say 3am ish yesterday. You may have noticed the new picture at the top. I decided the blog needed something new, something more fitting to me, my food, my writing. I know what you’re thinking, “If that picture serves as any representation of the food on this blog, what can the food possibly taste like?”. Delicious and, most of the time, homey and simple, is the answer. At least that’s what I like to think. That being said, I also decided last night to eliminate some old posts I wasn’t absolutely in love with. While the decision was perhaps induced by the late hour and my recent lack of sleep, it was made because I want to make sure every recipe on this blog is something I would want you, my reader, to make. Something you’d want to make so badly, that as you’re reading you’re asking yourself whether you have all the ingredients in your kitchen or whether you’ll have to make a super quick trip to the grocery store. But enough of me rambling. Let move on to more important things, like the recipe you just may have all the ingredient for…

…and that recipe happens to be a salad. Yes, a salad. Believe it or not, I like salad. I don’t like them when I’m working all summer at a camp in middle-of-nowhere New York and it’s all I eat every lunch and dinner for nine weeks because I can’t stand white pasta and platters of questionable meat. Take for example, this summer. Luckily about midway through my epic camp experience the nurse started giving me sunflower sprouts she was growing in the infirmary. That added some momentary excitement to my salads and inspired me to start growing my own, which I have yet to start doing. I’ll start though. I promise.

Despite the seemingly endless number of salads I ate in the all too recent past, I clearly have not been entirely turned off from them seeing as how I’m posting, after only a week of being home, a salad recipe. My standby salad involves dried cranberries and walnuts over a bed of whatever kind of leafy greens I can find in the fridge. Occasionally I’ll add sliced apples or some blue cheese but I’m usually quite content with just my cranberries and walnuts. But there’s one problem, the cranberries and walnuts always fall to the bottom of my bowl. While it makes for a pleasant surprise when I finally reach that point, it also means the rest of the salad can be kind of bland. That is, unless I’m up for a challenge during lunch. You know, just a normal lunch in the life of Jessica, digging around for the cranberries and walnuts hidden under a pile of salad and then, once found, battling to keep them on my fork while I attempt to stab a piece of oh so abundant but unruly greens.

The solution, however, was an easy one. Chop the nuts and dried fruit finely enough that they’ll cling to the greens but not so finely that their crunch and chew will be lost. After the salad’s structural problem was solved, up came the ingredients for debate. Tired of eating the same thing I decided to go for a change of pace. Inspired by one of my favorite granola bars, the Blueberry Vanilla & Cashew Kind bars, I opted, clearly, for blueberries and cashews. And that was the end of the story. Almost.

The idea for fresh herbs, which add just the necessary touch of complexity to this salad, came from Melissa Clark’s recipe for “Hello, Salad (Tender Greens with Herbs and Hazelnuts)” in her cookbook, In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite. I’ll take this opportunity to make a quick plug for the book, which in the several days since I picked it up at the library, I have fallen in love with. Each simple, yet beautiful recipe is preceded by a short vignette that showcases her “New York Times” food writer talents and inspires and encourages her readers to be creative in the kitchen. I loved the book so much that I decided to buy it. And considering how cheap I am, that’s saying something.  Perhaps you too should buy a copy. You can read it while you’re eating a healthy, light Blueberry Cashew salad. That is, if you’re talented enough to read and eat at the same time, which I, sadly, am not.

Blueberry Cashew Salad with Herbs

If you’re not particularly in love with blueberries or cashews you can substitute in a different dried fruit and/or nut. Apparently I’ve been in to flexible recipes lately. If you opt for making this salad a meal, feel free to add chicken. Sliced breasts grilled with some pesto or raspberry vinaigrette would be quite nice.

Makes 1 meal sizes salad or 2 side salads

1 1/2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 tablespoon cashews, chopped

1 tablespoon dried blueberries, chopped

1 tablespoon soft mixed herbs (such as cilantro, basil, parsley, or mint), chopped

2 cups loosely packed spinach

Mix the lemon juice and olive oil in a small bowl and set aside. In a separate bowl toss the dried blueberries, cashews, and herbs until combined well.

Sprinkle the dried blueberries, cashew, herb mixture over the spinach. Drizzle the salad with the lemon-olive oil dressing.

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