Vietnamese Cucumber and Melon Salad with Peanuts

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When I got home from my retreat last week, the fridge was bare. The kids and I had to go out for breakfast on Sunday morning for lack of fruit, bread, milk, or eggs. Amazing! Monday I could hardly close the fridge!

Once the grocery shopping is done, I often spend a good 2 hours in the kitchen--cleaning the fridge, consolidating boxes of crackers, freezing overly ripe bananas for smoothies, and washing veggies for the week. If I don't make time for this task (which, crazily, I actually LIKE), I am sure to be frustrated and impulse-eating by Wednesday. A giant bunch of unwashed kale taking up a whole shelf in the fridge isn't nearly as likely to be sauteed with eggs in the morning as a neat like bag of washed and chopped kale. I overestimate myself if I think otherwise.

This week, I cut up a cantaloupe and a pineapple. I washed two big bunches of cilantro and a head of lettuce, roasted a head of cauliflower, made a big batch of brown rice, and rescued half a head of radicchio that looked past its prime but actually just needed a little trimming.

I was famished by the time I was done. And of course, inspired by handling all those beautiful fruits and veggies. This salad is what I made for lunch. My goodness. It's not summer here in the Northwest, but this salad tricked me. Juicy, sweet, spicy, sour, crunchy. A delicious little number to bring to a potluck or BBQ and infinitely more fascinating that the other salads that might be sitting on the table. (I'm always looking for a chance to be popular. At least I admit it.)

Vietnamese Cucumber and Melon Salad with Peanuts
Gently combine about 1 c. each of thickly sliced cucumber, pineapple, and cantaloupe in a medium bowl. Add a good portion of cilantro (I used stems and all), mint leaves, celery leaves, thinly sliced red onion, and fresh chile if you wish. Add 1 Tb. sugar, a good jigger of fish sauce, salt, juice from half a lime, and about 1 Tb. of sesame oil. Combine gently with your hands, and scatter chopped salted peanuts over the top. Serves 1 famished Household Coordinator or 2 more petite eaters. Eyeball it for a crowd. 

Everyday Salads

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I bring or offer to bring salads wherever we go. If it were up to me, my minivan would have the following features:

  • A built-in car seat that converts as kids grow, can be removed later, and frees me from the guilt of buckling it in wrong.
  • A little composting bin for orange peels, apple cores, and compostable coffee cups.
  • Hell. While we're at it, a spigot for coffee.
  • A long mechanical arm that reaches back to pick Loretta's lip gloss off the floor when she drops it or takes away a toy that's being fought over.
  • And yes, a hollowed-out, covered, and secure slot for my favorite salad bowl so I can take it everywhere without worrying about spillage.

In the sixteen years we've lived in Seattle, I wish I had tallied up all the potlucks we've been to. I've spent many hours pulling over to check on a full pot of soup sloshing around or balancing a cake on my lap while Yancey takes corners. But I usually bring green salads because:

  • I almost always have the ingredients to make them.
  • They're easy to transport.
  • I am never, ever without ingredients to make salad dressing.
  • Salad isn't hummus (ubiquitous at every Puget Sound gathering).
  • My salads are better than anyone else's.

Did I really just say that? It's not true. Lots of my friends can make salads as good as mine, but they learned from me. There. How's that? My salads aren't fancy, but I've learned lots of tricks throughout the years that make them deliciously foolproof every time. Here is yet another bulleted list. I think it might be long. Don't let that scare you. I just have lots of opinions.

  • I'm a fan of the pre-washed cello bags of greens. They make lots of things easier. But they're expensive. If you're bringing unwashed greens home, wash them right away, lay them out on a length of paper towel, roll the towel up, and put the whole bundle in a ziploc bag. They'll stay fresh for well over a week and be ready for salad-making whenever you are.
  • My basic dressing is kosher salt, freshly ground pepper, one part white or red vinegar or lemon juice, and three parts extra virgin olive oil. So that, I might add some dijon or fresh herbs. Or maybe garlic or smoked paprika, depending on what kind of salad I'm making. If you want to make a creamy dressing, add a teaspoon of mayo (it doesn't take much) and you'll get a beautifully clingy dressing.
  • When my herbs are growing, they all go in (except sage). Right now, I am putting big, soft mint leaves in everything. I use them like I would a lettuce leaf. Same with celery leaves, beet tops.
  • Color! I work as hard to make my salads colorful as I do to make them tasty.
  • Toasted nuts are almost always in my salads--walnuts, almonds, pecans. If you're allergic to nuts, sunflower seeds, pepitas, or homemade croutons.
  • This one might be most important. I try to think of a forkful of salad and being able to get every ingredient in one bite. That means no giant, thick rounds of carrot or big wheels of cucumber. So I'll use a vegetable peeler to shave carrot into the salad or cut my cucumber into matchsticks. You want everything cut to manageable--not necessarily uniform--size. 
  • The bowl you pick is important, too. Try to use something shallow that just fits the ingredients so you can see everything and it looks abundant. A little pile of chopped vegetables in the bottom of a narrow bowl never made anyone feel like eating healthy.
  • Protein. Not always, but most the time there's something else in there--cheese, hard boiled egg, chickpeas. And if I'm really feeling ambitious or it's a main dish salad, maybe bacon, bits of crispy chorizo, or some roasted chicken or smoked salmon. 
  • Toss everything in your dressing right before serving, using your hands and mixing very gently. This will coat everything and ensure that you don't use too much dressing.

We're entering salad season, which I'm thrilled about. Let's get to it!

Everyday Salad
For the salad pictured, use about 6 cups of washed greens to line a shallow bowl. Whatever ingredients you add, keep a tiny bit separate so you can garnish the top. Add a handful of toasted walnuts, a couple handfuls of mint leaves, half a thinly sliced red pepper. With a vegetable peeler, shave one large, peeled carrot and some parmesan into the greens. Toss gently with your dressing (see above) and garnish with a few of your reserved ingredients. Happy Spring!

Farfalle with Kale, Bacon, and Mint

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Yesterday, home alone for lunch, a few quiet minutes between meetings. How I love weekday lunches at home. Luxury. Especially when wilted kale, salty bacon, and mint are involved. And especially when the work of making it came the night before. One of my absolute favorite things is refried pasta. Have you ever noticed that microwaved leftover pasta is rather unsatisfying? If there's any cream or cheese, it turns to oil. If anything was once crispy, it becomes soggy. So I prefer to heat up the wok or nonstick skillet (pasta will stick to anything else), pour in a bit of olive oil, and crisp everything up.

Then Yancey came home, Loretta in tow, lots of chatter about painting in preschool and who cried for their mom. Yancey heated up the wok again, sat down across from me, and our kitchen saw another day in its life of home office, bistro, and incident command center.

P.S. I have a secret. In the last month, we have been eating mostly rice and beans. When I sit down to menu-plan on Sundays, absolutely nothing comes to mind. I can't seem to remember one single thing I've ever cooked. I have no creativity and scant motivation, so I fill up a bowl and soak more beans. My friend Aimee, whose family came over for Night # 4 of tostadas, said, "Why don't you write about this on your blog?" So I am. You are not alone.

Farfalle with Kale, Bacon, and Mint
I've got kale coming out my ears in my garden. Everything else is rotting, but that little row of kale could feed an army. And I've got tons of herbs still, which is where the mint came from. You can, of course, leave the mint out, sub spinach or chard for the kale, use another kind of pasta, leave the meat out or sub chorizo or other sausage. As always, this is more a record of what I did than a prescription for what you should do. This will serve four hungry adults.


1 lb. farfalle or other pasta
2 bunches kale, washed, ribbed, and coarsely chopped
couple big glugs of olive oil
1 bunch broccolini, stems halved lengthwise and cut into 1" lengths and florets broken up
3 garlic cloves, minced
8 oz. (or more!) thick-sliced bacon, coarsely chopped
1/4 c. good quality sundried tomatoes, julienned
1 c. finely shredded parmesan
finely grated zest and juice of one small lemon
2 red Thai chiles, seeded and finely chopped
handful chopped fresh mint
handful chopped fresh oregano

Set a big pot of salted water on to boil.

In a small bowl, mix 1/4 c. of the parmesan, lemon zest, chopped chiles, and chopped herbs. Set aside.

In a large skillet, crisp up bacon. Remove bacon from pan, reserving most of the bacon fat, and turn down to low.  Add broccolini stems and cook for 5 minutes. Add florets,garlic, salt, and pepper, stirring often, and saute until broccolini is tender, not mushy. Add sundried tomatoes.

Pour pasta into boiling water and cook until tender. At the last minute, throw kale in there, using a spoon to submerge it in the boiling water. Drain pasta and kale, reserving 1/2 c. of cooking water.

To the pasta and kale, add bacon, broccoli mixture, cooking water, parmesan and olive oil.  Stir and divide among pasta bowls, topping each with the herb mixture.