brain explosion salad
Lately my brain has been receiving quite a bit of input. I have had numerous amazing opportunities to feed my creative side lately... a few weeks ago I had the privilege of attending a food writing workshop with the incredible Molly Wizenberg, where we talked about so many ideas and strategies and theories that my mind is still reeling; we wrote, and READ OUR WORK OUT LOUD which was scary and cool and I got the chance to meet so many unbelievably talented women which was so cool and also intimidating and overwhelming but also made me feel like I'm not a total freak for being weirdly obsessed with food (there are others!!!). I've been enjoying connecting with some of these awesome chicas online, and am feeling really excited to be making new friends (as cheesy as that sounds!), friends that share my weird passion for hoarding cookbooks and photographing our food and getting excited about vegetables. Reading their blogs has been so inspiring and has helped breathe new enthusiasm into my own little project. I had the chance to hear Dianne Jacob talk about the food writing industry- oh my god Dianne is just so cool. Her talk was honest and frank; inspiring and a tad daunting. SO interesting, she is incredibly knowledgeable and just a really smart, funny, down to earth kinda woman. I had the chance to take a food styling/photography workshop with Jim Henkens, whose work I have admired ever since it jumped out at me when I was looking for inspiration for a photography project last fall. I learned sooo much about light, backgrounds, and just philosophy of food photos (which I am OBSESSED with). It was such a treat to spend some time in his studio/kitchen, getting a little window into his process. I found out we both love the work of the incredible Jonathan Lovekin. On top of this I'm also in the middle of a quarter long creative writing course, which has me writing almost every day and thinking critically about so many elements of craft. So there has been a lot of input. So many ideas, thoughts, theories, images, flavors, voices, advice, concepts, feelings.... it's all just flying around in my head, swirling wildly like an egg being stirred vigorously into a boiling pot of egg drop soup.
Of course on top of all this I am working full time, finding time to spend with my family during a magical and exciting transition (more on that in the future), trying to spend time with my sweetie whenever possible, and occasionally oh I don't know maybe showering or doing laundry (not often). Oh and I don't know maybe COOKING FOOD? Meh, never really liked it too much anyway. Harhar. Plus incessantly reading cookbooks and bookmarking things and making notes about ideas and going to the grocery store many times a week. Oh and taking pictures and editing them and obsessing over light and backgrounds. Oh and I'm making a quilt.
So things have been pretty boring and quiet lately, is basically what I'm saying.
Sometimes I wonder why I'm so into food and cooking and I honestly don't really know the answer. BUT. When my brain is going crazy and I'm experiencing information overload to the point that when I look in the mirror my eyes read PAPER JAM! PAPER JAM! PLEASE REMOVE PAPER JAM! ...sometimes it helps to get in the kitchen and start slowly, meticulously cutting vegetables. The sound of a shallot hitting hot oil in my skillet, the feel and texture and colors of fresh vegetables, the smell of garlic and ginger and chile blossoming as they heat up... these things calm me. I don't know how else to explain it. I've talked to many people who get anxious when they have to cook something, but for me it is the total opposite. The kitchen is my safe place.
I've been wanting to try out this salad for a while, and it ended up being just what the doctor ordered. I looooove salads, but so often when I think of a salad I immediately start yearning for summer tomatoes... mmmmm summer tomatoes.... and we all know those are still a looong way off for us up here in the Pacific North West. BUT. This salad has so much going for it that it makes me forget the gray skies and my long lost summer toms. This salad is crunchy, it's spicy, it's- dare I say- exciting. The “dressing” is really more like a sauce that you spoon over the veg just before serving- it's thick and chunky, and wakes up your February with bright explosive flavors. Basically this is the kind of salad that perfectly reflects what's been happening in my brain lately. A lot of color, texture, and zealous flavors. A lot of craziness. A lot of radishes.
One note on the recipe: when I was cutting up the chile for the dressing, I removed the main core with the majority of seeds, but left a healthy smattering of seeds on the flesh, as I wanted a bit of heat. If you are sensitive to spice, remove all the seeds- you will still get a touch of heat but it will be much more mild. If you want to go hotter, include more seeds. Mine came out right in the middle with a nice heat that didn't overpower the other flavors. It was lovely.
This salad serves four as a side dish, or two as a main. It makes a great lunch or dinner, especially if you add a little protein. Steak or chicken would be lovely. If making this for one, dress and serve half the salad, then store the carrots, daikon, and radishes submerged in cold water in the refrigerator (a mason jar works well for this), and keep the remaining components stored seperately. The leftovers will make a fabulous lunch- eat it in the next few days.
From my crazy brain to your kitchen table.
Take a breath, and let your salad be the crazy one for a minute.
brain explosion salad.
by Diana Henry
you will need:
1 large carrot
½ daikon radish (or about 4 inches of a fat daikon)
10 red radishes
handful cilantro leaves
1 bunch watercress
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
juice of 2 limes, divided
1 teaspoon plus ½ teaspoon sugar (or superfine sugar), divided
1 ½ tablespoons peanut oil
1 shallot, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
¾ inch piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 red chile, cut into slivers (most or all seeds removed, depending on desired spice level)
¼ coarsely crushed peanuts (unsalted)
1 ½ teaspoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sesame oil
peel and trim the daikon and carrot, and cut into fine batons. Place in a bowl of ice water- this helps the veggies crisp up while you prep everything else. Trim radishes and slice thinly (on a mandolin if you have one, and if you don't have one go buy one! Or just use a sharp knife I guess), then add them to the bowl of ice water.
In a small bowl combine the rice vinegar, the juice of one lime, and half a teaspoon of sugar. Stir until sugar dissolves. Season with salt to taste, and set aside.
Heat the peanut oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the sliced shallot, and cook until golden brown. Add garlic, ginger, and chile, and cook for another minute. The mixture should be quite fragrant. Add the peanuts and sugar and stir for a couple more minutes, until the sugar has caramelized. You should be able to see and smell it. Take the pan off the heat and add the remaining lime juice and the soy sauce. Add 1-2 tablespoons water, depending on the strength and consistency of the dressing- it will be think but you don't want it TOO thick, it should be somewhat mixable. Stir in the sesame oil.
Drain and dry the carrot, daikon, and radishes, and place in a wide sallow bowl with the cilantro and watercress. Add the rice vinegar mixture, and toss to combine. Check the peanut dressing one more time- if it has become a bit too thick stir in a touch more water. Spoon dressing over the salad and serve immediately.