Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Sides, Sides, everywhere there's sides,
Blockin' Out the Table, hurtin' my eyes,
Eat this, don't eat that, you're not supposed to eat this...
- with major apologies to The Five Man Electrical Band.
Having the reputation of being a semi-accomplished home cook isn't all it's cracked up to be. There are a few things that happen to you when you're know to be "a pretty good cook". First, you often don't get invited over to peoples' homes for dinner. Now personally I attribute this to my somewhat crusty personality, but given that the world isn't entirely about me and the fact that SSSal is a charming woman, there seems to be another factor at play.
People are intimidated, afraid that their cooking abilities won't measure up to my standards. This is simply insane. Let me state this part clearly and for internet eternity, Crabby's favorite meal in the world is the one that Crabby doesn't have to cook. I enjoy cooking. I love cooking. I just don't love doing it all the time. Serve me soup out of can and a nice bottle of wine and Crabby is satisfied. Put out the smallest of efforts and serve it with a bottle of wine (notice a trend?), and Crabby is ecstatic. Just try!
That said, whenever we are invited over, SSSal and I always offer to bring something. Invariably this ends up being a side dish, salad or dessert. Which brings me th the second trap of being a pretty good cook. When we bring something, there is an expectation that it is going to be a) "different", and b) interesting and exceptional. Now, I don't mind the "pressure", in fact I enjoy it, but (and this is a big but, as opposed to a big butt), there are very few side dishes that travel well. They usually get cold and gooey or soggy and droopy.
So, in honor of the onset of summer in the Northern Hemisphere, over the next two weeks I'll be posting a few recipes for bring-along sides dishes, (some travel better than others, but thems the breaks). They're great for dinner parties, picnics or boat rides. None will contain that salmonella sleeper cell, mayonnaise. Sadly, this means there won't be a potato salad. Please, no clamoring for the ever repellent, "German" Potato Salad. If you really want potato salad go for the mayo; the food poisoning roulette will make it seem exotic.
So here's salad/side dish number 1. This has a Caribbean/Cuban feel to it, satisfies even the finickiest of eaters and travels very well.
Black Bean & Hearts of Palm Salad
adapted from Bon Apetit, August 1992
1 16-ounce can black beans, rinsed, drained
1 10-ounce package frozen corn, thawed, drained or cut from two fresh cooked ears
1 7 1/2-ounce jar (or can) hearts of palm, drained, cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds
16 small (cherry or grape sized) tomatoes
1/2 red onion, minced
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon ground coriander
Mix all ingredients in medium bowl.
Season salad to taste with salt and pepper.
(Salad can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)
Come on, how easy is that?
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Active Cooking Time: 5 minutes (like opening jars and cans is cooking)
Clean-Up: A knife, a cutting board and a bowl
Crabby Tip 1: The original recipe called for using chopped seeded tomatoes, these only get soggy and shriveled the longer they're cut. Use cherry tomatoes and you eliminate the problem.
Crabby Tip 2: Dice an avocado ahead of time and squirt with some lime juice (the lime juice will keep the avocado from browning too much). Sprinkle the avocado over the salad just before serving.
Crabby Tip 3: SSSal prefers this salad with more lime juice and less oil say 4TBSP juice and 3TBSP Oil. Feel free to vary the amounts to your preferences.
The smart ones in the crowd will notice that I employ neither of my tips in the attached photos. Well, I thought I had grape tomatoes and avocados sitting around, but I was wrong.
Alright Crablings, this is as easy as it gets, enjoy the summer, don't forget the sunscreen or the bug lotion. I'll be back soon, 'til then, remeber you can do it, you can cook.