As you may have guessed, I love food and I love food that is cooked in a simple way and that tastes of the raw ingredients that go into making it. But, somehow the dishes I find in most restaurants in America are often either over-salted (drowning out the taste of the ingredients) or overly sugared (which again dominates the overall taste of the dish) or over-cooked (which kills the taste of the original ingredients). Don’t get me wrong, it’s not just that such bad food is doing a bad number on our taste buds but it is also awful for our health (yes, I know I sound like Michele Obama – so sue me!). The older I am getting the more I have to watch what I eat (and we all have to do that, it’s not like I am alone in this boat) – I have to watch out for salt (or risk getting high BP), sugar (already at the borderline of Type 2 diabetes) and of course fat (have a history of heart disease in the family). The result has been that I find fewer and fewer restaurants that I like to go.
Yesterday, I went out for lunch with a good friend of mine to a well-known restaurant in DC (I don’t dare give the name for they’ll be sure to come after me but let’s just say it has something to do with the Founding Fathers of this great nation of ours ) . I ordered an appetizer and a combination of soup and salad – thinking that I would be able to get a wholesome healthy meal. The appetizer was a bruschetta of prosciutto and figs on a toasted baguette and when it came, it turned out that the figs were dried (I had asked the waitress if they were fresh figs and she had assured me that the were) and it was soggy because of a generous drizzling of a dense reduction of dark balsamic vinegar – the result was that it was sweet and syrupy. The next dish to arrive was a butternut squash soup and that too turned out to be a disappointment because it has an overdose of something sweet in it (must have been copious amounts of brown sugar or maple syrup). The salad was somewhat okay but the dominant flavor was that of an overpowering smoked thick-cut bacon which drowned out the taste of the greens or even the blue cheese. No, I am not being too fussy, I have been to a lot better restaurants and for what it cost me (over $30 for a lunch) it was a disappointing lunch! Maybe I ordered the wrong things and that other things on their menu are out of this world.
Anyway, back to my own blog – after the fiasco of yesterday’s lunch, I decided to prove my point by devising a salad of my own – one that meets my criteria of being fresh, with colorful ingredients that add a variety of taste and texture and a dressing that adds to the taste of the other ingredients and not meant to drown out the taste of all the vegetables and fruits. A good salad is like a symphony which has balance and drama but no one instrument gets to monopolize the entire show. So this salad was a motley mix of roasted cauliflower, a mango, watercress leaves and an organic sliced salami. The dressing was a vinaigrette of dill leaves, white balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, garlic and a bit of salt and pepper. Often I add a bit of honey or agave nectar to my vinaigrette but since today I had set out to make a salad that was the antithesis of what I had yesterday, I refrained from using any added sweetening agent. The result was a delicious colorful salad – the mango gave it natural sweetness, the salami gave it a savory kick, the watercress gave it a pungent bitter flavor and the cauliflower gave it crunch and a delicious smokiness that came out from the roasting process. The vinaigrette was very simple with a fresh taste of dill. I tempered the strong garlic flavor by cooking the garlic cloves over low heat in the olive oil for about a minute or two. Ahhhhh – perfection!
1. A bunch of fresh watercress leaves
2. A small head of cauliflower
3. A ripe mango
4. A bit of sliced good quality salami or any summer sausage
5. 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
6. 1 tablespoon of white balsamic vinegar
7. Salt and pepper to taste
8. A small bunch of fresh dill leaves
9. 2 cloves of garlic
1. Heat the oven at 375F.
2. Cut the cauliflower in bite-sized florets and place them on a baking sheet. Drizzle a bit of olive oil on them and place the cookie sheet in the oven to roast the cauliflower for about 15-17 minutes (turn the florets about half-way through the roasting process).
3. Arrange the watercress leaves on a serving plate.
7. Heat up the remaining bit of extra virgin in a small pot (on low heat) and had the sliced garlic to the oil. Cook on very low heat and for a minute or two (make sure the oil is not sizzling and the garlic does not get browned or burnt).
8. Place the dill leaves, balsamic vinegar, salt pepper and the heat oil and garlic cloves in a small food processor and grind the entire mixture to a thick consistency. Drizzle a little bit more extra virgin olive oil on top and this makes the vinaigrette.