I’m thrilled to share this gift of spring, a recipe philosophy by Tamar Adler, author of the recently released An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace (Scribner, October 2011). Simply put, Tamar is one of the most beautiful and inspiring people that I have ever met; her love of olive oil, herbs and life is contagious, and her kitchen prose, so eloquently expressed during a Ger-nis Culinary class, mesmerized me. Tamar, her book, and more, will win you over too at tamareadler.com. To new inspiration! Best, Destin
There’s no better time to learn from your own cooking than spring.
Spring vegetables–like little radishes and turnips and potatoes and lettuces–don’t need much done to them other than to be simply boiled or eaten raw, maybe with a mustardy vinaigrette alongside or mixed through.
How little cooking you need to do to spring ingredients gives you a perfect opportunity to pay close attention to each small act of cooking you do: each time you slice a fresh, barely acidic spring radish from its muddy leaves you can take the time to notice where it makes the most sense to separate the plucky little root. When you touch its cut side to salt, you can take note of how much salt a raw radish needs in order to taste perfectly seasoned.
After you’ve paid enough attention to your small vegetable trimming and salting, use the quiet simplicity of spring ingredients to get really good at making vinaigrette. Once you are, it becomes second nature, and throughout the rest of this season, and the next, making a vinaigrette is often the only cooking, other than cutting and salting, there is to do.
A young spring or summer boiled or raw vegetable tossed with vinaigrette is a taste of the season itself. Here is a recipe for a big batch of mustard vinaigrette with instructions on how to pay attention so that you can learn how to make vinaigrette as you go, instead of learning how to follow a recipe for one.
Vinaigrette for boiled spring vegetables
• 1-2 cloves of garlic
• somewhere in the neighborhood of a ¾ tablespoon salt
• around 1/4 red onion or a shallot, finely diced
• about 1-1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
• about tablespoons Dijon mustard
• 4-5 tablespoons olive oil
Slice an onion or shallot in half through its root, then dice it. The easiest way to do this is to lay a half cut side down, slice it, parallel to the cutting board, a few times almost all the way to the root, then make a hatched pattern, again leaving the root intact, directly down toward the board, and then carefully cutting off the resulting tiny pieces. If the pieces seem big, make a pile of them and chop them until they’re suitably small. Put the onion or shallot in a small bowl.
Peel the clove of garlic, then pound it to a paste with a little salt in a mortar and pestle or on your cutting board. I recommend starting with one clove of garlic, and then deciding next time you make it or the one after, whether you want to try it with two. Add it to the onion or shallot.
Add the red wine vinegar to your garlic and onion. Use a measuring spoon, but notice what a tablespoon juice ends looks like once you’ve tipped the spoon into the bowl. Also notice how much of it’s taken up by the volume of onion or shallot.
Do the same with the salt. Use a measuring spoon, but then pour that into the palm of your hand. Anyone who’s ridden a bike knows that muscle memory’s good—it may take more than one batch of vinaigrette for you to learn to salt by touch, but you’ll be much closer than you were before.
Let those ingredients sit together for a few minutes, then add the mustard, mixing it through well. Taste this. It’s the most important moment to taste a vinaigrette: even this concoction of vinegar, mustard, raw onion, and garlic should taste “good,” but strong, assertive, vaguely salty. Taste it with your finger. It’s helpful if you notice whether it’s thick or thin, watery, viscous.
Add the olive oil in the same way. Measure it, then notice how much it is in relationship to the other ingredients. Whisk it in, or just mix it well with a spoon. It doesn’t have to all be uniform. Once it’s all mixed together, taste it on its own, then drag a vegetable leave through it, and taste it that.
If this seems like a lot of attention to pay to one dressing, remind yourself that what you’re doing is taking and giving a class at the same, and also that you’re getting good at the only really important skill to have during hot months.
Destin Joy Layne is program director of Sustainable Table at GRACE Communications Foundation where she works to create positive social change throughout our food system. The program is also home to EatWellGuide.org, a national free online directory and mapping tool for finding fresh, locally grown food, and TheMeatrix.com, the critically acclaimed award-winning film and the most successful web advocacy campaign in history.
Destin coauthored the publication Cultivating the Web: High Tech Tools for the Sustainable Food Movement and has been featured on Jus Punjabi television yoga.
Visit SustainableTable.org, Facebook.com/SustainableTable, and Twitter.com/eatsustainable to learn more about the issues of sustainable agriculture, eating organic, buying locally, and the hazards of industrialized food.