Seasons and salad days

| cooking

imageThe stove idles as we switch gear to salads. No heat. No cooking. Just the whirl-whirl-whirl of leaves in the salad spinner, a quick whisk-up of salad dressing, and whatever I can grab from the fridge. Today: chicken on top of kale and lettuce tossed with a lemon vinaigrette. Even the chicken was a kitchen shortcut, bought from the supermarket rotisserie.

Salads don’t fill me as much as a warm meal would, except with a certain self-satisfaction. I tell myself that salad is better for me. This helps me ward off the temptations of rice and adobo, pan-fried bangus, spaghetti bolognese. Mmm. If I can eat those in the heat of Manila summer, I can certainly make them during Toronto’s spring. But we still have salad greens in the fridge, and they will go to waste soon enough. We’ve signed up for a summer share of a community-supported farm, so more vegetables will come in. No sense freezing the spinach, then, or saving the beets. May as well eat them. Behavioural economics in the kitchen: the loss-aversion approach to eating well.

So I stock up on slivered almonds, olive oil, and different kinds of vinegar, thumb through recipes for inspiration, and talk myself into enjoying the fruits and vegetables that are harder to get the rest of the year.

In the Philippines, where it’s warm all the time, my meals felt abstracted from the seasons. Here in Canada, nature’s influence is practically inescapable: what to buy at the supermarket, what I feel like eating, how I want to prepare it. Winter is baking season and soup season. Spring brings the first salads. Summer is a burst of colour and flavour, barbecue afternoons and ice-cream treats. Fall winds down with an abundance of root crops and the return to pies. I miss being able to eat whatever I like. No, I miss the constancy of those likes unshifted by the sun. I still like baked lasagna, but it feels odd to make it when the days are so long and the spinach is wilting.

Basic Vinaigrette (adapted from the Joy of Cooking)
About 1 1/2 cups, which is more than enough for two people’s worth of salad as a main dish

1 small clove garlic, peeled
2 – 3 pinches of salt
Mash into a paste; the tines of a sturdy fork will do the trick

1/3 to 1/2 cup red wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice
1 shallot, minced – you can also use part of an onion; I didn’t have any
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard (optional)
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
Whisk with the garlic and salt – use the same fork you used to crush the garlic, to cut down on the washing

Add slowly, streaming it in with one hand while you whisk with the other:
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil – or really, however much oil you need; taste periodically to make sure it still tastes like vinegar or lemon juice instead of being too olive-y.

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