Cooking For One: A Few of My Favorite Foods
DISH: Saturday Salad with Walnuts, Zucchini, Dates, Radishes, and Gouda
TYPE: Favorite Foods
MAIN INGREDIENT: Lettuce
The other day, I was walking down Park Ave, back to the office from Just Salad, my favorite lunch take-out place in Midtown. It is a design-your-own-salad venue; you pick greens, add-ins, and dressing, and the guys behind the counter assemble, chop, and charge you (kind of a lot). So there I was carrying an enormous salad in a bag, wishing that there were fewer than six and a half blocks between salad and my cube, because I was looking forward to eating my current favorite combination (sundried tomatoes, tofu, carrots, broccoli, beets, and radishes), but also because I was looking forward to what I would eat after the salad, as a midafternoon snack: ice cream.
It’s been a while since I’ve thought about my favorite foods to eat, since I’ve been so busy thinking about new and interesting things to cook. That can be very distracting as well as very fun. But last week on in Midtown, I came to the sudden and obvious conclusion that if I was only thinking about eating and not about cooking, I could easily reduce about 95% of my intake to the following four meals: cereal, salad, grilled cheese, and ice cream.
Think about it. Cereal satisfies the breakfast component, and salad takes care of any and all health needs. Grilled cheese might be the most soul-nourishing meal out there, and then ice cream, the treat to end all treats, is something so craved that it dispels other potential cravings, like French fries, cupcakes, and eggplant parmesean heroes. (The remaining 5%, by the way, I would devote to take-out Thai/Chinese/sushi, and to chocolate chip cookies.)
What’s more, all of these meals are open to interpretation and creativity. Cereals can (must) be mixed with other cereals, as well as with raisins and nuts and milk. The variety of cheeses, breads, and fixings like roasted peppers save grilled cheese from monotony. And if you get me started on ice cream concoctions, from sprinkle-topped dishes to brownie sundaes, we will be here all day. I really love ice cream.
Still, this post is actually about salad. I like the salad take out places because they let me get exactly what I want, without keeping things like fresh lettuce, roasted eggplant, cooked lentils, and crumbled goat cheese all ready to go in my refrigerator. I also like them because they chop up the salads with the ingredients I’ve chosen, so that everything is mixed together, and each bite coordinates the tastes of the various parts. In truth, with the exception of the fresh lettuce, these kind of hodge-podge salads can indeed be pantry affairs, so long as the ingredients are carefully balanced, proportionate, and well dressed. I may not have the perfect mezzaluna Just Salad’s employees use, but my knife on a cutting board works just fine in the end. More to the point, I made this salad on a farmer’s market Saturday, and, as any cube worker in her right mind will confirm, you do not go to Midtown on Saturdays if you have any say in the matter.
From my kitchen, where the lettuce is fresh, to yours,
Cara, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK
Saturday Salad with Walnuts, Zucchini, Dates, Radishes, and Gouda
about 2 cups fresh lettuce
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 zucchini, cut into thin half moons
3 walnuts, chopped
2 dates, sliced
1 small radish, sliced
1/4 ounce gouda cheese (about 2 teaspoons, grated)
salt and pepper to taste
Combine lettuce, dates, walnuts, radish, and gouda in a large salad bowl. Set aside. (Alternatively: dump onto a cutting board and chop it into pieces. Return to the bowl.)
Heat the olive oil in a small pan. When hot, add the zucchini, and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned and limp, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Pour over the salad, making sure to drip the olive oil in too, and then season with lemon juice. Add an extra drizzle of olive oil if you’d like.