With the slow and probably undependable change in weather, it is becoming harder to budget my time according to the schedule established by winter. My days, approximately, consisted of: teach class, hold office hours, come home, work on dissertation, feel sorry for myself about the rain, cook, fall into bed. Blog about said cooking once a week. Now, I have replaced “feel sorry for myself about the rain” with “feel sorry for myself about allergies and the amount of time I can’t spend outside because a.) it makes my throat close up and b.) there’s that whole dissertation thing that didn’t go away just because there are radish sprouts in my garden.
The cooking-related result of this achingly slow emergence of sun and the degree by degree warming happening outside is that I long for vegetables. And yet, because I have been spoiled by the last two years of growing fresh vegetables in our backyard, I find myself unsatisfied with the produce currently available to me. “On-the-vine” tomatoes at the grocery store? Insipid. Watery. All but flavorless. Cucumbers? Slightly bitter and lacking that impossible crispness I like so much. Greens? Acceptable, but when you cannot cut them leaf by leaf as needed from the still growing plant, they wither and waste so quickly in the refrigerator.
And yet my yen for garden fresh and mentally satisfying interpretation of “healthy” won out when choosing last week’s Bittman, our first foray into the “salads” category:
“75. Wild Rice Greek Salad: Toss cooked wild rice (or mix wild and white) with chopped tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, kalamata olives and crumbled feta. Dress with olive oil, lemon juice, parsley and mint.”
This sounded flavorful enough to disguise any less-than-amazing harvest I might find at the grocery store. I decided to use brown rice instead to up the flavor and fiber content, and collected:
1 cup uncooked brown rice
3 medium tomatoes, chopped in large pieces
½ cucumber, halved and sliced
½ cup red onion, slices quartered
½ cup kalamata olives, halved
½ cup crumbed feta cheese
½ cup each roughly chopped Italian parsley and mint
¼ – ½ cup olive oil
Juice of half a lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
I cooked the brown rice in my rice cooker, and when it was done about 40 minutes later I mixed in the wild rice, which had been sitting at room temperature. I figured they could meld and match each other’s temperatures while I prepped the rest of the ingredients and cooked the salmon I had decided to serve with our salad.
While the brown rice was still warm I tossed it with the olive oil, lemon juice, and a few grinds of salt and black pepper. One of the most important lessons I have learned about grain-based salads of any kind is to dress it while the base is still warm, so the flavorful liquids can permeate the rice or pasta or quinoa and flavor the comparatively bland grain.
I sliced up my onion and immersed the slices into a bowl of ice water. This removes some of the astringency from the onion, leaving it mild and very crisp.
While the rice cooled and the onion chilled out, I turned my attention to the fish. I used:
4 tb. butter
½ – 1 cup white wine
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 TB lemon zest
Half a lemon, sliced (convenient, no?)
2 TB roughly chopped Italian parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
I set the fish in a baking dish on the counter to begin coming to room temperature so it wouldn’t take so long to cook. I preheated the oven to 400F and then, in a small saucepan, melted the butter and added the garlic, wine, and lemon zest. I let this cook together for ten minutes or so at a very low simmer. Then I salted and peppered the fish, poured the sauce over it, sprinkled on the parsley and placed the lemon slices over the top before stowing the whole beautiful thing in the oven for half an hour.
With moments remaining on the clock, I assembled the rest of the salad: tomatoes, cucumbers, onions (drained and de-iced, thank-you-very-much), olives, cheese, and herbs went into the dressed, seasoned rice and received a relentless toss. Now nothing remained but to evacuate the oven, pile our plates high, and eat.
Both elements of the dinner were excellent, although I should have cooked the salmon a few minutes less. It was fleshy and rich, with a tinge of acidity from the wine and the lemon zest, while the butter and wine had kept it moist and delectable. It could have been flakier, but then, that was my zealous overcooking.
The salad was the freshness I’d been hoping for, though because it contained brown rice it was still nice and filling. Here again, the lemon added the right tanginess and woke up the rice and vegetables. Similarly, the sharp saltiness of the olives and feta cheese, mingled almost unexpectedly amidst the mild vegetation, made this salad a glorious thing to continue dipping my fork into. I served it at room temperature, so the rice was tender and smooth to bite through, lacking that starchy crunch it sometimes has straight out of the refrigerator.
We ended the meal feeling full but not overstuffed, cravings attended to and abated, and yet… And yet no less anxious for the seasons to truly turn.