Sunburst

Orange is a hot color. It’s flame and earthy warmth and friendly heat. But it’s also freshness and citrus-bright and spicy. It’s a fall color and a summer color. This is convenient, considering Oregon’s spastic and reluctant attempts to approach spring/summer. Interestingly too, the particular orange combination Bittman offered us this past week was a salad made from winter root vegetables, with a peppery summery acidic dressing. Juxtaposition of seasons. Juxtaposition of flavors.

68. Peel sweet potatoes and boil until tender, drain and cool; dice. Treat carrots the same way. Make sauce of Dijon mustard, olive oil, cider vinegar and chopped scallions. Toss all together.”

Here’s what I used:

1 big Beauregard yam, peeled

3 large carrots, peeled

4 green onions, thinly sliced

2 TB dijon mustard

2 TB cider vinegar

2-3 TB olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Bittman’s recipe seemed to advocate boiling the carrots and sweet potato whole. I decided to shorten the cooking time and cut the vegetables into chunks first. I boiled them in lightly salted water for fifteen or twenty minutes, or until the sweet potato chunks were tender and the carrots still had a touch of texture. Drained, they were startlingly bright against my white colander and I had to sample one. And then another. And then another of each.

They tasted like sweetness and familiarity. I set them aside to let them cool for an hour.

When they were well cooled, I tossed in the green onions, ground on some black pepper, and mixed up the dressing. I combined the mustard, the vinegar, and some salt and pepper in a measuring cup, then blended them with a fork into a homogenized mixture. Then, still whisking constantly, I added the olive oil in a slow stream, whisking persistently until the mixture emulsified. Then, of course, all that remained was to pour it over the vegetables and toss them gently together for full immersion.

While this sat, I prepped its accompaniment. I brought some chicken stock to a boil, then tossed in a bagful of frozen peas. When the liquid resumed its boil, I stirred in a box of couscous and clapped the lid on to let the absorption process commence. I wasn’t sure it was going to work, because I feared the peas might have soaked up too much of the liquid and the tiny beads of semolina wouldn’t cook properly. I feared in vain. When I fluffed the couscous five minutes later, it was cooked and tender, the peas were steaming, and I stirred in some chopped fresh parsley for kicks.

Now, instead of a steaming vegetable dish and a cold pasta salad, we had hot, vegetable-laced pasta and a cold vegetable salad. It was a delicious juxtaposition, with the wintry roots flavored in bright, commanding acidity and the couscous dressed with springiness. I loved what the mustard and vinegar did for the carrots and the sweet potatoes, playing against their inherent sweetness to add complexity and interest. Cleaning up after dinner, N. and I couldn’t stop grabbing chunks of their sour-sweet tastiness with our fingers out of the bowl. I will certainly make this one again.

The nice thing about this dish was how, even in its odd mixture of summery flavors and autumnal base, it mirrored my own summer thus far. Eugene has been mostly dreary, offering pockets and blotches of sunlight and teasing us with predictions of 70F degree weather, then delivering a sky socked in fog and breezes of misty drizzle. This isn’t June gloom. This is June despair.

But this past weekend, as the bright chunks of winter took on summer flavors, I left Eugene for warmth, for sun, and for vacation. This week and next week, I cannot promise another post. But I can promise that my pale shoulders will toast, my hair will bleach out, and my brain will slow down its frantic pace. I’ll keep track of what I eat, and I’ll photograph the triumphs and surprises to share upon my return to internet-land. And I hope, fervently, your last weeks of June will be as orange as I know mine will be.

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