Sunday, August 30, 2015

This was supposed to be the Roman version of a Burmese tea salad, but then my husband convinced me to add an avocado.

THE first time I tried a Burmese tea salad, I immediately started trying to figure out how to make them at my house all of the time.  They are amazing: you should go to a place that makes them and put said salad into your face at the first possible opportunity.

BUT I could not figure out how to buy high quality fermented tea leaves.  I gave up my hopes and tempered my love for these salads with the quite unreasonably long wait outside of the local Burmese place.  Very small tragedy.

HAPPILY, I started reading Apicus - a cookbook from ancient Rome. (There are a lot of great vegetable recipes. Every recipe marked "for vegetarians" has calf's brains in it. There are no desserts. Salt is always added as a brine.) What if I took some traditional Roman vegetables, and added a Burmese twist?  I could still use the fried shallots (fried shallots are the best) and the chopped romaine (for crunch: a salad is still delightfully crunchy if it is 10% romaine instead of 80%. Pro tip.) I could use kale instead of tea leaves, I could replace peanuts with walnuts, I could use parmesan instead of fish sauce (yes I know garum is very very Roman but it's a salad few people want fermented fish on their salad.) and cucumbers instead of tomatoes: it would be great!

THEN the spouse convinced me to add an avocado. It was an amazing salad entirely because of the avocado. You know what makes it more amazing? Abandoning the Roman thing almost altogether, and using chopped cilantro or mangos or tomatoes, replacing the walnuts with sesame seeds and chopped peanuts, and adding olive oil.  Olive oil makes most things better.

Serves 4
Slice one large shallot thinly, and place over medium heat with a little oil.  Fry until crisp, stirring frequently to prevent burning.  Add a little salt.  This takes about ten minutes.

Tear one bag or one and a half bunches of fresh, crisp kale into bite-sized pieces.  Salt. Microplane about an ounce of parmesan cheese onto the kale; add a tablespoon of olive oil and toss gently so every leaf has a little bit of cheese on it to make up for the fact that it is not a carefully fermented tea leaf. (you could also use soy sauce or Bragg's or nutritional yeast, maybe.)

See how I've divided the ingredients into equal pie-chart slices? Do that, it looks nice, and then you look real smooth mixing it at the table.  You are going to add one or more of each of the following ingredients:

A small romaine heart, chopped (this is enormous; you may need to excavate a small pit in the kale for your lettuce.)
A half cup to full cup of a sweet thing like mangos, apples, pears, peaches, peppers, or tomatoes. 
A chopped avocado
A quarter cup of chopped herbs like cilantro, green onions, or mint (this is optional.)
A quarter cup of crunchy nut-like things such as peanuts, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, or sesame seeds.

Put the fried shallots in the center to disguise how badly the segments connect.

Look how pretty that is!  So pretty!

Now squeeze a lemon over it and stir it up and serve it.

Too many tomatoes problems.

Perhaps you had thoughts about how many amazing tomatoes you wanted in April, and now it is August/September.  Perhaps you were a rational economic actor at the farmer's market. Perhaps someone left a grocery bag full of tomatoes on your doorstep or conned you into taking some at work.  Regardless, you have TOO MANY TOMATOES. 

Here is the general advice: peel your tomatoes, cook them into some sort of sauce, put the sauce in jars, carefully follow the instructions on sealing jars OR put the sauce into tubs and freeze the tubs.  

Sometimes, that is too much work.

SO: let us say your tomatoes are beautiful and perfect, and the only problem is that there are too many of them.  You've had tomato salad and tomato sandwiches and gazpacho.  There are still a lot of tomatoes left.

You could cut out the stems and put them on a cookie sheet in the freezer.  After a couple of hours you can take them off of the baking sheet and put them into plastic bags where they will clink together like billiard balls.  Later, you can put these into sauces as if they were canned tomatoes.  Someday. Maybe it will stave off the tomato madness a bit next April.

Also, salsa.  Chop and/or puree them, add some cilantro and diced onion and lime juice and salt, place adjacent to some chips, watch it evaporate.

IT is also possible that your tomatoes are over the tomato hill. Not gross, exactly, but a little soft, a little wrinkled.  

If you throw a peeled yellow onion and five-six tomatoes into a blender, and then put add some curry paste, a teasppon of salt, and either half a dozen chicken thighs or a couple of drained cans of garbanzos and simmer the whole thing over low heat for 45 minutes, you will have a passable masala-type dish, which you can eat with rice or spoon into your face alone.  

Or take the tomatoes, cut out the stiff stem bits, slice them in half unless they are cherry tomatoes, toss them with a little bit of oil, sprinkle them with salt and sugar, and put them in a low oven (350 degrees and down) for 2+ hours and you will get caramelized super tomato concentrate which can be added to your other tomato dishes to up the umami component.  This also freezes well, though I usually cover the top with oil so it doesn't dry out.  Downside: two plus hours with the oven on during summer.