Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Aarti Cooks: The Ugly Duckling Salad

Sometimes Mother Nature (MN) is like a proud male peacock, unfurling his splendid tail whilst looking you straight in the eye.

"Mmmmmm, jealous?" you hear him say, while you swear up and down that he's cocking an eyebrow at you. That's how I felt when I saw the leaves turning in Boston this summer, or the flock of butterflies fluttering around one bush in North Carolina, or when it rained so hard that I got a little bit scared; wasn't MN being a bit arrogant with her beauty?

Ah, but there are other times when the good Mother produces something so ugly, you recoil in disgust. I put some of those things in my salad the other night, which is why I'm calling it the Ugly Duckling Salad.

Exhibit A: Celeriac.

I mean, seriously. Could an uglier specimen cross your plate? The gnarled roots, the sickly wan hue, the wart-blanketed skin… it's a wonder someone ever tried to touch it, let alone eat it. But like the fairytales of old, it's the ugliest duckling, the wart-iest frog, the beast-iest beast whose outside layer belies the most gorgeous insides you've ever seen.

Slice off the thick, ugly peel and feast your eyes upon celeriac's unblemished loveliness, an almost alabaster flesh with the texture of a potato. Slice or grate off a slice, and you're greeted with a mild crunchiness, and just a hint of soft celery flavor. Indeed, if you'll indulge a little tangential dip into Hinduism, celeriac is the shakti version of celery, the feminine version, the parvati to celery's shiva. I don't even like celery and yet, I adore celeriac. Hmm I wonder why -- perhaps I relate to celeriac's ugly duckling status? Or its feminine mystique? I'll let you psychoanalyze that one.

Point of information: celeriac isn't celery root per se... it's a kind of celery, grown for its root rather than for its leaves or stalks. In fact, when I bought it at the farmers market, its stalks were still attached, and they were much woodier and darker green than regular celery.

The other ugly ducklings in this salad aren't really that ugly, but I'm so attached to the name that I'm going to try to make it work. So there.

Pistachios: Well, that shell is sometimes enough to make you want to leave the pistachio in the bowl o' nuts in which you found it. But is there a prettier shade of green than pistachio?
Persimmons: These are really pretty fruit, with their taut, sunny orange skin. The little calyx that's left behind isn't very pretty though, and apparently, in Chinese medicine, they're used to treat... hemorrhoids.
Pomegranate: Sigh. I couldn't make these ugly if I tried. They are so gorgeous. Especially when you open them up. Sadly, when I opened mine up, it was black and gross inside; I had waited too long. Sad face.
Rainbow chard: Ok! I surrender! It's gorgeous, ok? But I don't really like it cooked.

Put all these things together, and you end up with a beautiful salad, a dark green sea with orange and red confetti. So, so pretty.

This salad is completely raw, a departure from my usual cooking style. I don't totally buy into the raw movement -- do you? I believe in a balance between raw food and cooked food, which is why I try to eat one raw meal a day, usually a salad. As my mum is probably thinking as she's reading this, you've got to get your roughage! I don't have to explain why, do I?!

So here you go. A little fairy tale-inspired salad that you can feel good eating both because it'll clean up your insides, and because you can sleep soundly knowing you care more about inner beauty than outer appearances.

The Ugly Duckling Salad: Raw Rainbow Chard with Celeriac, Persimmons, Pomegranate & Pistachio Dressing

You'll need this stuff:

(minus the tofu. That was meant for something else, sorry!)
1/2 cup pistachio nuts, shelled
1-2 cloves, garlic, peeled and chopped roughly (use 2 only if you really like garlic!)
1/2" coin ginger, peeled and chopped roughly
Juice of 1 lemon
About 1/2 cup hot water
1/2 tsp Sriracha sauce or hot sauce (optional)
Good extra virgin olive oil, enough to make a dressing (see below)
Salt and pepper

Salad fixins:
1 bunch rainbow chard, washed (you can substitute kale if you can't find or don't like rainbow chard. Black Kale is my favorite. Try to find the freshest and youngest leaves available because those will taste the sweetest.)
1 persimmon, small dice
Seeds of 1/2 pomegranate
1 celeriac bulb, peeled and grated (do this right before serving so it doesn't oxidize and go brown)
Salt and pepper

1) Warm a small skillet over medium heat. Add pistachios, shaking the skillet frequently so that nuts don't burn. Toast until the pistachios turn a little brown. They should smell delicious too. Quickly remove from heat and from the hot pan; otherwise they'll keep cooking and burn.

2) Throw the pistas in a blender. Add the garlic, ginger, half of the lemon juice, the hot sauce, a splash of hot water, a sprinkle of salt and a healthy pour of olive oil. Blend until smooth. If it doesn't form a paste, add more water and more oil and blend until smooth, the consistency of a thin hummus; don't worry if you feel like you're adding a lot of olive oil. I can't tell you how much oil to add, because I didn't measure it as I went -- I just eyeballed it unfortunately. The next time I make it, I'll measure it and update the recipe. Also, my blender is very very crappy, so it needs a bit more hot water than most blenders do. Taste and add more lemon juice if you want more zing (which I recommend. It cuts the oils from the pistachios). Set aside once you're happy with it.

3) Wash your leafy greens and dry them thoroughly (so the dressing sticks to 'em). Cut the bulky stalks away from the leaves, then slice the stalks into three and chop so that you end up with a fine dice. Do this with all the bulky stalks; click on this photo for a closer look at how small your dice should be if you like.

4) Stack four or five leaves, roll them into a cigar and slice across thinly, so you end up with delicate ribbons. Continue with the rest of the chard, and throw into a bowl.

5) Slice the pomegranate open, and using your thumbs, gently roll all the seeds out (the lil' rubies! so pretty!). If you don't care about preserving the juice, you can open up the pomegranate in a big bowl of water and roll the seeds out -- all the papery fibery bits will rise to the surface.

6) Lastly, peel and grate the celeriac. Do this right before serving so that the celeriac doesn't go black.

7) Toss all the veggies together in a big bowl. Pour 1/2 the dressing over the salad and toss. If you prefer more dressing, add it all, which I recommend. Let it sit for 5 minutes and then eat!

Whaddya think?! Worth the wait?




minh said...

So beautiful Aarti!! I adore this salad and its name. And I love your writing and the humor you dispense. Smiles and deliciousness all around. Re: the last photo -- I think Larry King likes your salad too.

shinfain said...

dude, M Cafe would be lucky ducks to get a hold of this salad... so... dang... tasty... and it's hard for me to say that about any dish that is sans a deceased animal. but dang... tasty... and tastes healthy. yum, baba!

aartilla the fun said...

hhhahahaa minh! i'm sure there's some connection between larry king and the ugly duckling but i'll leave that alone.

glad you caught that one. :)

all text and photographs on aartilla the fun © 2005-2009 Aarti Sequeira unless otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.