Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The Philosopher’s Lunchbox: Edition #2

I posted last time about a simple roasted pepper salad that turned my head. But my favorite salads are even simpler. They involve no cooking, and consist of just four elements: a salad leaf, a fruit, a nut and a cheese. The dressing is usually oil-free, because of the richness of the cheese. So, I just use a splash of lemon juice, or – even more often – balsamic vinegar, which I developed a taste for eons ago, when it was trendy. Now it’s all about the apple cider vinegar, but my love for balsamic vinegar lives on.

The four components admit of myriad variations, but here are a few I turn to time and time again.

Arugula, sliced pears, walnuts, shaved parmesan
Baby spinach, figs (fresh or candied), pine nuts, goat’s cheese (e.g. chèvre)
Mixed herbs (mint, basil, flat-leaf parsley), peaches (or nectarines), macadamias, boccocini or fresh mozzarella
Baby spinach, dried cranberries, pecans, goat’s cheese (e.g. chèvre)
Arugula, pomegranate seeds, hazelnuts, blue cheese (while squeezing out the seeds, you’ll get a good deal of juice, and I like to use this as the basis for the dressing, with – you guessed it – an additional splash of balsamic vinegar).

Some other variations on the idea which sound promising, although I’ve yet to try them:

Fennel tops and bulbs, blood orange or pink grapefruit segments, sunflower seeds, ricotta salada
Frisée lettuce, raspberries or concord grapes, sliced or flaked almonds, blue cheese
Celery leafs and hearts, Granny Smith apples, pistachios, ripe Camembert (I would use an apple cider vinegar-based dressing for this)
Chopped mint, watermelon cubes, pine nuts, feta cheese (a red wine vinegar based dressing would be nice)
Sliced scallions, mandarin segments (I actually like the canned ones: is my secret safe?), water chestnuts (or cashews), beancurd cubes (an asian-style dressing – consisting, say, of rice wine vinegar, ginger and a splash of soy would be appropriate here)

Mix and match as you like, and of course try other elements in place of the ones I’ve suggested. A caveat: in my view, the fruit needs to be incisive, refreshing and not too soft. I was going to indulge in a philosophical analogy here, but I’ll spare you the pain.

(But, for a fun game, substitute names for variables in the following sentence: philosopher X is to philosophy as food Y is to cooking. For example: Wittgenstein is to philosophy as herbs are to cooking. Used ubiquitously, but frequently misunderstood. Or: Prichard is to ethics as chocolate mousse is to contemporary cuisine. Deeply unfashionable, but surprisingly good all the same. As you can perhaps glean, this pastime keeps me occupied for hours. Is this secret safe too? (she asks hopefully)).

Anyhoo, happy lunching!

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