A recipe can be a gift, but it can also be a trap
A recipe can be a gift. But a recipe can also be a trap.
There was a time when any self-respecting potato was mashed, baked or boiled. At some point they got frisky and went riced or twice-baked. After that, we threw out the rule book and all hell broke loose with Hasselback and deep-fried spiralized and all sorts!
But it’s the first step over the line from the comfortable rules of the recipe that leads to running barefoot through the tall grass with a ukulele.
Broccoli needs cheese sauce. Cheez Whiz – which so many of us publicly disdain, yet for which we may harbour a secret yearning. Green beans need mushroom soup topped with canned onion rings. Beets should be pickled. Cranberries should assume the shape of the can in which they were born, plopped out with a satisfying sucking sound. Tradition!
And indeed, there’s a comfort in tradition. Like socks. And swimming caps. None of this throwing caution to the breeze and joining the circus nonsense! Let’s just keep a lid on it.
It’s a wonderful thing to know what to expect. At family dinners. On Sunday nights. A roast. Consequently mashed potatoes. If there are mashed potatoes, there must be gravy. There must. The plate divided into thirds. The meat. The vegetable. The starch. Calm. Predictable. Orderly.
Oh on festive occasions, there could be moderately strange and interesting variations, like the moderately strange and interesting shirt tail relatives who happen by just for these events. Like the faintly dubious sweet potato. Unrecognizable. Whipped to a fare thee well and topped, inexplicably, with toasted marshmallows. Whoever came up with that one must be cooling his heels in a particularly remote corner of hell.
I very distinctly remember the first time I saw a sweet potato, simply baked and plated before me. It was divine in its simplicity and lack of marshmallow. My hostess couldn't understand my enthusiasm. But it was an eye-opening moment. The sweet potato had broken free of the bonds of “the recipe” and was just there, unfettered by convention, and it was delicious.
So there really were no rules. Not rigid or absolute. Hollandaise didn’t have to know its place. Green beans knew no bounds. Parsley could be an ingredient. Salad didn’t have to be a wedge of iceberg with a great dollop of thousand islands dressing oozing sensuously down its flank. Actually, an iceberg lettuce wedge in season bathed in a good quality dressing is definitely a treat. Let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater.
Actually, salads are, as a rule, a good place to start veering away from rule based cooking, although this has not always been the case.
“At the tail end of the 19th century (in the United States) the domestic science/home economics movement took hold. Proponents of this new science were obsessed with control. They considered tossed plates of mixed greens "messy" and eschewed them in favour of "orderly presentations." Salad items were painstakingly separated, organized, and presented. Molded gelatine salads proliferated because they offered maximum control.” So says foodtimeline.org
But we have, thankfully, moved on from such restrictions. And also corsets.
And salads are lower risk than playing fast and loose with that pricey roast of beef.
When decorating, we are told that a good rule is to be conservative with the big ticket items and go crazy with the throw pillows. When dressing, as a rule, we are advised to spend the big bucks on safe, classic wardrobe staples such as suits and coats, and go crazy on accessories like scarves and jewellery. Salads are the culinary equivalent of throw pillows and scarves. A good place to take risks. If you’ve always assumed, for instance, that beets must be cooked to a fare thee well, or that sweet potatoes need marshmallows, break free of such fetters with this refreshing and colourful salad. Take a walk on the wild side. Nutritious and delicious. While not risking your investment piece, the main course.
Raw Beet and Sweet Potato salad. (www.aspicyperspective.com)
2 large sweet potatoes
1 bunch beets (3-4)
4 scallions (I used thin-sliced snow peas instead of the scallions because I had them. Worked just fine).
1/2 cup toasted pepitas (pumpkins seeds)
Peel the sweet potatoes and beets. Then use a spiralizer to cut the veggies into long curly strips. Use a pair of kitchen shears to cut the pieces into manageable lengths.
Mix the beet and sweet potato ribbons together in a large bowl. Then cut the scallion tops on an angle to make long rings. Sprinkle the salad with scallions and pepitas. Serve with your favourite vinaigrette.
Garlic Lime Vinaigrette
1/3 cup olive oil
Zest of one lime + 1/4 cup fresh lime juice (from 1-2 limes)
1 clove garlic, minced
2 Tb. honey
2 Tb. heavy cream
Salt and pepper
Pour all ingredients into the jar with 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. ground pepper.
Screw the lid on tightly and shake until smooth and creamy.
I’ll grant you, thus recipe does have a few challenges. For one thing, you may not have a spiralizer. You can, of course, get one. Or you can just use your trusty box grater. Remember we are throwing out the rule book – not just creating a new one!
For the vinaigrette, I will confess, I just splashed some garlic infused olive oil and some lemon balsamic dressing on the salad and sprinkled with Maldon salt. It was lovely. I include the garlic lime vinaigrette recipe here for those who happen to have a lime and garlic and heavy cream on hand. Which I did not. It would probably be even better than mine. And that would be very good indeed.
This recipe is a gift. Just don’t let it become a trap!