Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Other Cultures Cooking Project: Monks' Salad with Garlicky Dressing (Malouf)

I will start this post with a pseudo-apology to the Ohio College of Clinical Pharmacy. Yes... in the unlikely event that my Other Cultures Cooking Project becomes more a more popular choice in Google algorithms, I apologize pre-emptively to anyone more interested in Zocor (TM) than za'atar.

With that out of the way...welcome to the first official Other Cultures Cooking Project Post! I did spend ample time agonizing over the name--I hesitate to use "other" as I am "other" to other others, but setting aside academic navel-gazing, I think we understand that it is contextual: "other cultures foreign to me." And we can understand that I'm not even sure what constitutes my "culture" so there's that too.

What started this is that I believe food is one of the most important (and enjoyable) ways to learn about people--culturally, socially, economically.  I like to learn. I like to cook. I like to eat. So, a no-brainer, in other words.

I will still feature occasional recipes that are fairly close to home, but I'm making a concerted effort to break out of my culinary comfort zone (sometimes named "Ina Garten") to learn about the larger world, especially as we become increasingly and frighteningly insular in this country. Yes, that is political commentary.

For Christmas I received Greg and Lucy Malouf's Saha: A Chef's Journey through Lebanon and Syria. It seemed a perfect place to start this journey. The book itself is gorgeous and informative. I'm enjoying reading the prose and learning about a part of the world about which I know little, save for the horrific images on the TV and in newspapers right now. The recipe featured in this post comes from a section of the book that illuminates the Bekaa (Beqaa) Valley, one of the major agricultural regions in Lebanon. In contrast to the lovely photographs of greenery and produce, the Maloufs describe a poor and unsupported sector that never fully recovered from the civil war. The valley is home to a variety of Christian, Catholic, and Orthodox sects so in this respect, the name of the recipe is not surprising.

Monks' Salad with Garlicky Dressing (Saha, p. 137)
Recipe: 4/5 stars
Ingredients*: baby turnips, baby carrots, baby leeks, shallots, cauliflower, baby green beans, olive oil, sherry vinegar, garlic, cilantro, coriander seeds, black peppercorns, allspice berries, red bird's eye chili
Good as leftovers: YES! See below.
Ease: 5/5
  • Obtaining certain ingredients at local grocery store (namely allspice berries and a red bird's-eye chili).
  • Using half my body weight in olive oil  (slight exaggeration)
Alterations/Substitutions: Baby veggies were hard to come by in New England winter, so I used fully grown carrots, turnips, and leeks--chopping them to more manageable size.

Notes for next time: The recipe calls for one clove of garlic. Perhaps my Italian-American heritage will not allow me to appreciate the subtlety in a single clove. I'll be using at least two next time, particularly if we claim that the dressing is "garlicky." 

Evidently, "boiled vegetable salads" are common to the eastern Mediterranean. My mouth does not water when I hear "boiled vegetables," but this was a delightful surprise. First, the vegetables are "boiled" in olive oil, not water. The thought of using this much oil for anything other than frying has never occurred to me, but I can see the benefits! The oil infuses the vegetables with the subtle spices of the bouquet garni (or Malouf's far less pretentious "spice bag") and the sherry vinegar dressing highlights--rather than competes with--the natural flavors of the vegetables (in particular the leeks).

Better yet--storing the vegetables (out of the oil) in the fridge overnight yields a wonderful chilled/pickled salad for the next day!

*Quantities of ingredients are left out in order to protect copyright