Oh, how I love a plate of good food. The catch is that, the better you become at cooking, the less fun going out to eat at most places is. I thought of this as I proceeded to “fix” the bland guacamole at one restaurant, even going so far as to ask the waiter for some fresh lemon wedges. A bit of salt, lemon juice, and hot pepper sauce later, there was a decent guacamole before me, but still not so near as good as homemade. Not. Near.
Mash avocados. Douse with fresh lemon juice (don’t even think of the plastic lemon full of bitter juice, just don’t), maybe one lemon for every three avocados. Mince white onion, mix a spoonful of sugar into it and squeeze the mass with your hands (extracts the excess sulfur). Pour hot water over the onions and let it sit for a bit. Rinse thoroughly with cold water, pat dry, and add to the bowl (this is a latin american trick I learned living in Chile and it really lets the onions showcase their taste without overwhelming other flavors). Mince 1 jalapeño and 1 tomato for every avocado used and add those too. Mince cilantro, at least a 1/4 c. per avocado and add that. Mix all that deliciousness together. Now the salt…don’t skimp on the salt, you want to bring those flavors out into full bloom. Test with a tortilla chip, to take it’s own salty quotient into the equation. Taste, eyes rolling back and an involuntary groan of pleasure escaping.
Now going to authentic ethnic restaurants is rarely disappointing and most usually my reactions to what is set before me are downright comical. I simply cannot stop sighing and exclaiming and groaning with delight. I am Bob from “What About Bob?”. I can’t help it. When a tikka masala is creamy and spicy and exquisitely complex, when the jasmine rice is al dente and fragrant, when the naan is hot from the oven, and when the cucumber sauce on the gyro dribbles it’s dilly goodness down my throat, I am undone. Can’t. Contain. The. Joy.
But I am no thorough food snob. McDonald’s french fries, when they’re piping hot and salty, are heavenly. And there is something about spicy nacho Doritos inserted inside a turkey sandwich on a hot summer’s day that is just rockin’. Don’t get me started the simple pleasure of Dr. Pepper in a glass with ice alongside pizza. Or Butterfingers. Mercy.
And now I give you my favorite salad, which is painless to make and is made nearly daily in our home to add zing to the meal:
Cut up some lettuce and/or spinach, cabbage, avocados, tomatoes, shredded carrots, julienned celery, whatever you have on hand, and throw it all in a bowl. Chop up some green onions or garlic chives and add to the bowl. Mince some parsley or cilantro or both and sprinkle that in. Juice a lemon into a separate bowl and stir an equal quantity of a mild oil to the juice (safflower, sunflower, or light olive work great). Stir about a 1/4 tsp salt in and get it emulsified with a mini whisk or fork. Pour over the salad. Test for saltiness; add more if the flavors aren’t zinging, or more lemon. This zingy salad pairs so well with creamy, heavy, or cheesy dishes, awakening your palate every few bites with it’s zest and freshness. My children fight over the seconds. This pleases me much. I’m so addicted to these flavors that I will order salads at restaurants with a side of lemon wedges so that I can make this (more or less) with the oil and salt at the table.
The downside to all this culinary happiness and productivity is that my children cannot be tempted by the offer of Hey kids, how about cereal for dinner? or Why don’t we just have some ice cream instead of making a big meal? No, they will give me a withering look and ask plainly for real food. So here’s the desperate quick fixes for those tired evenings when the palate is still annoyingly expectant:
Parmesan Pleasure- Boil pasta just to al dente; nothing worse than a floppy noodle mushing about in your mouth (shudder). Top with grated fresh parmesan, chopped tomatoes, salt, and a splash of greek dressing. Comfort food for sure.
Pizza-tilla- Spread pizza sauce on tortillas or english muffin halves, or crackers, top with cheese and whatever toppings you have on hand. Bake until crispy and bubbly. A bit of minced onion, diced ham, and pineapple on top amps the flavor Caribbean-style.
Tabla Supper- Cut up leftover meats, chicken, cheese, sausages, and serve alongside chopped chunks of cheese, pickles, and crackers. Mix honey and mustard together, get out some horseradish and honey and jams and lay out everything on a big wooden board and taste the night away.
Burrito Rapido- Mix a can of refried beans together with a can of chopped chilies and get it heating in a skillet. Stir in shredded cheddar and some canned salsa. Slap that savory filling into tortillas and serve with sour cream galore and more salsa. Yum.
And so, here’s a glimpse from my kitchen, from my life as a groaning gourmand. May your day be tasty.