Yesterday I hosted a cooking demonstration in the kitchen of Hyde Park synagogue KAM Isaiah Israel, as part of the fourth annual weekend-long food sustainability summit honoring Martin Luther King Jr. I called the workshop “Reptile scales and celery tentacles: Unusual vegetable salads,” and made three salads in honor of some of the weirder looking veggies found in my community supported agriculture share box this summer: Raw kale with pecorino and fresh breadcrumbs, celeriac and haricots verts remoulade and quick pickled winter vegetable salad (recipe below).
I chopped, whisked and babbled, I forgot to put garlic in the kale salad. All the while, the two little boys hanging out just to my left stole slices of red onion to snack on. “Do you want to help me toss these veggies in the dressing?” I asked. “Nope,” they replied, munching confidently on onion.
I was reminded a few times of how much I still have to learn as a cook, but it didn’t matter. The group was enthusiastic and unrestrained, chiming in with their observations and questions throughout. “What family of vegetable is kale?” someone asked. “I have no idea,” I confessed. “Mustard,” a guy in the front row exclaimed.
Later, while I was describing my foolproof method for hard boiling eggs, I admitted that I had no idea why adding vinegar to the water makes the eggs easier to peel. The same guy piped up again: “I think it softens the egg shells,” he said, glancing at me somewhat apologetically.
As the 45 minutes wore on, the fear of exposing my imperfections faded as I got lost in the excitement of sharing my favorite methods and techniques for combining ingredients. We talked about the magic of making mayonnaise, I passed around pecorino romano, gushing over how it smells like sheep, “but in a good way.” I demonstrated how to paste garlic with the side of a knife. “It’s the same idea as crushing it in a mortar and pestle,” one woman observed. “Exactly!” I replied. The group members loosened up too, reaching into the bowl of kale salad to sneak a bite and reminding me to check on my green beans to make sure they didn’t overcook.
It was a wonderful, challenging experience that reminded me why I got into the food business in the first place: because it is a great connector of people. Everyone has something to contribute and something to learn. I, for one, will never forget what family kale is in or why to add vinegar when boiling eggs–and I’ll smile every time I think of it.
Below is the recipe for quick pickled winter vegetable salad, which elicited many ooh’s and ahh’s from the crowd for its pretty presentation and easy technique. The most time-consuming part of the recipe is slicing the vegetables, so use a mandoline if you have one and aren’t afraid of it like I am. And don’t feel limited by the vegetables below–lots of other vegetables would work nicely here, like kohlrabi, carrots or daikon radish. One more thing: You may notice that the photo below doesn’t have a baguette slice on top. This is because I forgot to bring baguette to the demo.
Quick pickled winter vegetable salad
adapted from Food & Wine magazine
4 baby or very small red beets, peeled and very thinly sliced
4 baby or very small golden beets, peeled and very thinly sliced
4 baby or very small white turnips, peeled and thinly sliced
8 small radishes, very thinly sliced
2 celery ribs, peeled and very thinly sliced on a diagonal
1 fennel bulb—halved, cored and very thinly sliced
1/2 small red onion, very thinly sliced
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 large eggs
Four 1/2-inch-thick baguette slices, toasted
Fleur de sel, for sprinkling
Method: Arrange the sliced vegetables in separate piles on 2 large rimmed baking sheets. In a small bowl, whisk the vinegar with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Drizzle the dressing over the vegetables and toss each pile separately. Let stand for at least 15 minutes or up to 1 hour.
Meanwhile, bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil. Carefully lower the eggs into the saucepan and reduce the heat to moderate. Simmer the eggs for 5 minutes. Pour off the hot water and gently shake the eggs in the pan to crack the shells. Fill the pan with cold water and let stand for 1 minute. Carefully peel the eggs and halve them.
Pile a small handful of each of the vegetables on plates. Top with the toasts and lean the egg halves against the vegetable pile. Sprinkle the eggs and salads with fleur de sel and a little pepper and serve. Serves 4, with plenty leftover. Store the vegetables in an airtight container in the fridge for no longer than 4 days, keeping the beets in a separate container.
PS: Thank you Mad, for taking such great photos.