I was going to offer today a kind of loose apology. “Sorry, guys, for all of the potatoes and eggs and utter randomness of recipes this winter,” and then shamelessly go onto blame this approaching third-trimester (ack, too soon) situation with its still-unpredictable food cravings I’m in but then I realized: this is actually nothing new. There isn’t a recipe in the almost 9 years and 975-deep archives on this site that hasn’t been fueled wholly by hankerings, usually arbitrary ones. Some people have lesson plans and editorial calendars, I have whims. It’s just now I have a tiny thing — a future rock star, if the dance party from 2 to 6 a.m. last night is indication — to blame for it.
Did you fall in love with The Crispy Egg? Did you, too, find yourself obsessed with the crackly lacy edges, the potato-chip like crisp underneath, the souffled egg whites, and the high melodrama of all of that hissing and sputtering? Did you go on a Crispy Egg Bender? Come, sit down. You’re among friends.
I realize this might not look like much. It probably looks suspiciously like a salad, which means it’s probably going to be the last kid picked for your holiday cooking olympics. It doesn’t taste like ginger, linzer or crushed candy canes. It smacks of January Food, the stuff of resolutions and repentance, and there’s no time for that now. But I need to tell you about it anyway, urgently, because the preoccupation with this salad has hit me so intensely, so wholly, it’s basically the only thing I want to eat, and since I’m ostensibly the grownup here, this is exactly what I’m going to do.
I first discovered the peculiar subcategory of chopped raw vegetables called “health salads” some 14 years ago when a friend introduced me to the many wonders of the prepared foods aisle at Zabar’s. Even then, I found the idea of one type of salad being labeled “healthy” while my other favorite in the same refrigerator case, the Mediterranean Pepper Salad with Feta and Olives was, I don’t know, something akin to a heart attack on a cracker, somewhat eye-rolling but I now realize that it was the coleslaw-like salad’s mayo-free dressing that designated it such a lofty nutritional status.
And now for something completely different: a new entry in the much-neglected seafood category on this site. I know this didn’t get past most of you, that is how not-so-secretly fish-averse I am. Sure, I’ve come around to mussels, to oysters (but only with the iciest champagne, please; I’m fancy); I’ve been known to make some limited advances in the areas of shrimp, lobster, halibut and tuna. But for the most part, my seafood appreciation level is pitifully low. Lest you think that I delight in this — proudly flaunt my “FISH-FREE KITCHEN” apron as if it were some sort of culinary triumph — the truth is that it feels like a failure. It bothers me. I fight it. I do not always win.
Given my druthers, a word I’ve been looking for an excuse to type in a sentence for at least eight years, I would never choose a salad with lettuce in it over one that’s mostly shaved or shredded raw vegetables. I mean, lettuce — the dewy, freshly-plucked-from-the-earth stuff that spends a couple months a year gracing local farmer’s markets — can be absolutely delicious, but nine times out of ten, the same word is used to refer to that packaged stuff that doesn’t taste like a whole lot. And can we talk for just a second about that prematurely rotten red leaf that no bag of mesclun is ever without? Clearly I have spent an unnatural amount of time thinking about this. But in a world filled with avocado cup salads, broccoli slaw, butternut squash, carrot salads with harissa, feta and mint or tahini and crisped chickpeas, chopped salads with lime, sunflower seeds and radishes, crushed peas with sesame dressing and fennel with blood oranges* I’ve found little reason to worship solely at the salad altar of baby field greens.
Every time I make an Ottolenghi recipe, I become convinced that he has finally lost his mind. Really, turmeric, black sesame seeds and parmesan together? Three tablespoons of fresh oregano? A full half-cup of tahini? And as my anxiety grows — you see, I, too, understand the bubble of time, ingredients and trust that we invest into new recipes, which, when popped, leads to the kind of frustration that can only be righted with a scalding review — I wonder if this will be it, the day I finally make an Ottolenghi recipe that’s just plain off. And, without fail, we sit down to something so spectacular in a way I hadn’t even considered before, I’m in awe of his talent and relieved that I ignored every instinct not to follow his recipe faithfully.