When I'm cooking the last thing I want is to hear a little robot voice in the back of my head shouting "Danger Will Robinson." Apprehension about cooking can provoke the instinct for flight or food fight. On the other hand, confronting fear can be exhilarating - even in the kitchen.
Philosophy and quantum physics suggest that one of an infinite number of monkeys with typewriters will eventually type a Shakespeare play. This leads me to believe that the average person can make a salad without a recipe.
The produce aisle is a challenge or an adventure, depending on my mood. Making a salad is an opportunity for target practice with my knife.
After the jump: my best dinner party Greek Salad redux
I recently had a few people over for dinner and was just crazy enough to plate each course. Hands down, my impromptu Greek salad was the dish I liked the best; in part because of how it looked, but mostly because I think it tasted great.
Successful cooking without recipes requires (1) quality ingredients, and (2) a little knowledge about those ingredients. The requisite knowledge can be formal training, but it can simply come from the memories of foods we've tasted. If you've eaten a Greek salad you know to shop for cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, and feta cheese. Playing around with quantities and adding other ingredients is part of the creative process.
For my salad, I included the yin-yang of buttery-ripe avocados and tart-sweet fresh grapefruit. For the dressing I used olive oil and a few tablespoons of the grapefruit's juice instead of vinegar. All it needed was a little freshly ground black pepper and salt. (OK - I used a smoked salt - but any salt will do).
I garnished with crumbled feta cheese and some chiffonade cut basil. (Place several basil leaves one on top of the other. Roll them up like a cigar, and then cut across the log into the thinnest possible slices to get delicate leafy-green ribbons. If you just chop you'll bruise the leaves and they'll turn black.)
I assembled the salads one ingredient at a time. A little layering and a little strewing gave them a not-too-composed effect - a la Jackson Pollack. I spooned the dressing over the ingredients. Since I had guests I didn't want to be in the kitchen all night, so I pre-cut all the ingredients and kept them in the refrigerator. Assembly took 5 minutes for six salads.
It's not like I was fencing or dodging bullets, but for a little while I was slashing with abandon and it was fun. As creatures of habit we're aroused by the familiar - like a Greek salad that makes your mouth water. We're also creatures of biology; at some level even a little chaos is a stimulant. What could be better than a stimulant that makes your mouth water?
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Live dangerously. Go to the produce aisle (or farmers' market) and bring a little adventure to your kitchen.
Andy Broder is the chef/owner of AndyFood, A Culinary Studio.