It’s a classic children’s game. Climb a ladder: advance! Land on a snake: tumble backwards. And so it goes with most ventures. Last week newness delighted me. This week I’m plodding a bit, experiencing not setbacks, exactly, but settling for lackluster(ness?)(ocity?). I’m discovering things I don’t love about my syllabus. I’m wading through class prep. Students are still (still! The third week is about to start! Papers will be due soon!) adding my classes, which means I am overenrolled and there are new faces every day. And though I’m mostly inspired in my kitchen, not every dish is a triumph. Some slip a little. Some slither into lackluster. But it’s our job, as cooks, as experimenters, as eaters, as humans – and pardon me while I get a bit metaphorical – it’s our job to take this as a challenge. Make it work, as Tim Gunn continually reminds us. So we squirm ourselves around and push back toward the ladders. And sometimes, even after a devastating slide, we climb a few steps.
70. Blanch, shock in cold water, then julienne green beans, daikon and carrots, chill. Whisk soy sauce with honey and lemon to taste; pour over vegetables.”
The most important thing to note about this particular Bittman combo is to leave yourself enough time, particularly if your knife skills are not perfect. It is not possible to concoct this dish in anything but a zone of utter frustration and simmering disappointment if you only have twenty minutes until dinnertime. Here’s what I did:
3 carrots, peeled and cut into thick sticks
1 6-inch chunk daikon, peeled and cut into thick sticks
½ lb. green beans, rinsed and stemmed
3 TB soy sauce
2 TB lemon juice
1-2 TB honey
I dropped the carrot and daikon sticks into a big pot of boiling, salted water and let them cook for 2-3 minutes, until they had give between my teeth but still put up a bit of resistance. I plunged them into ice water and put the tailed green beans into the boil. This was the point at which I ran into trouble. Performing a nice julienne on a pile of veg takes some time and some patience, and on this particular day I lacked both.
Nevertheless, cut each thick stick of carrot and daikon into thin slices (Food Network calls them panels), then turn those slices to cut long, thin vertical strips. You want uniformity but also thinness, since these are only partially cooked, and you want even quantities of carrot slivers and daikon slivers.
At this point the green beans were overboiled and the sausages – the other component of our meal – were almost done on the grill, so I shifted into I-don’t-care-how-it-comes-out-just-get-it-done overdrive. It happens. You should julienne the green beans. I just sliced them into strange vertical halves. You should chill the whole salad until nice and crisp – probably at least half an hour – after lovingly tossing the thin sticks of orange, white and green together. I shoved the bowl in the freezer for five minutes while I made the dressing.
I whisked the soy, honey, and lemon together and was satisfied with the flavor. Were I making this again, I would definitely increase the quantity of lemon juice and maybe even add some zest, but I say it’s up to you. Play with the combination until you like the ratios.
Dressed, the vegetables had a pleasant texture and tasted well seasoned, but the salad as a dish was missing something. N. and I agreed that the dressing was a little one-note, and that note was soy sauce. Flavorwise, things were also a bit on the dull side. Red pepper flakes or raw garlic, we decided, or more or different acid, would have helped things along. Maybe some chives or lemongrass or ginger or cilantro, and certainly pairing this Asian-flavored dressing with something other than Italian sausages, would have been the right move.
And so, in my attempts to slither back into success, I considered the leftovers. They weren’t stars, but they could perhaps be supporting players. In fact, though they were not the traditional combination, they seemed not so different from the vegetables that go into a bahn mi sandwich. Setting off to work a morning or two later, therefore, I slathered a crisp roll with mayonnaise, piled up a good portion of drained veggie slivers and, lacking lunchmeat, topped the whole thing with slices of pepperjack cheese. I know. Cheese is not part of bahn mi either. But jalapeño slices usually are, and the vegetables were crying for spice anyway. It wasn’t the best sandwich I’ve ever had. But it wasn’t a disaster either. It was a few steps forward. Keep moving forward. On to the next ladder!