Sunday, June 7, 2009

how it comes to be

i tend to really think through
my dishes before making 
them. i may, for some reason
that i can't understand or explain,
decide to make a meal
wednesday, and then spend
sunday, monday and tuesday
thinking through the dish,
obsessively, trying
to really flesh out the 
best ingredients, best strategy,
best of everything, 
all the while, making
my way through the meals
the other three nights.
sometimes, the imaginary meal
stays in my head for weeks
before i finally make it into 
something real.

sometimes, the result is really
good like tofu parm
or this tuna sandwich.
other times, like the "hummus"
burgers that were a bust
and the cucumbers pickled
in apple cider vinegar
that i will never tell you about,
i really should have kept 
my creativity to myself.

but nevertheless, i plan it 
out and have a clear plan,
that interestingly enough,
i never mention to anyone.
i may, after all this thinking,
plan for heirloom tomatoes,
and then see grape tomatoes
and suddenly think, oh, that's better.
and i feel ok about it because
no one knows that wasn't THE plan.

or i may decide that i must have
tubes of squid for my made up meal, 
and then (like tonight),
be left completely confused and lost
in the middle of the store
when i realize they don't have 
any and i didn't have a backup plan.
in which case, i stop in my tracks,
turn to larry and 
demand that he tell me what he 
wants because i'm
can't think anymore.
have the makings of too many meals in cart,
but no plan.
am not moving until i have a new meal to make.
too dramatic?

and that's the deal with this
blueberry salad.
i've been enamoured for years
by the watermelon and feta salads
that seem to pop up everywhere, 
may to june. i offered to make
one for memorial day a couple of 
weeks ago, but i was...turned down.

after that, i started thinking about what
other fruits would taste even
better next to salty feta,
and then, when i saw blueberries 
on sale,
the salad was born.
i spent a few days imagining
the salad, thinking that one
thing that the watermelon version
has going for it is that the melon
is a completely different texture,
while the soft berries wouldn't really
offer much resistance. 
i decided to add a toasted nut -
sweet pecans just sounded right.
to round out the mixture, i thought 
a small kick would
make the whole bowl come together.
and so, scallions were added.

as i sliced the scallions and carefully
cubed the feta, 
i had a feeling that this would
either be a huge hit
or a major disaster.
carrying on, i whisked together
a dressing, realizing i never actually
thought of the vinaigrette, and 
winging it from beginning
to end, kind of guessing that the
mixture should
be tangy, with a sweetness to round
the whole thing out.

i was really fortunate that the blueberries
were huge, unbelievably
sweet and boasting just the right
amount of tenderness. 
i stabbed one with a fork,
adding a piece of scallion,
a toasted pecan and 
a cube of cheese and lightly
dipped it into the dressing.
a test, i figured,
before i stirred them all together 
and potentially ruined a bunch
of perfectly good ingredients.
hmm...i could get used to this.

worrying about feta that
could disintegrate under the dressing
and too much stirring,
i opted to mix together the other
three ingredients first, then add the
dressing. once i was sure that the salad
was well combined, i
held my breath and carefully
folded in the cheese.

the salad sat for about 20 minutes
until the rest of the meal was finished,
which i think was the perfect amount
of time to let the flavors meld
the ingredients blend into a cohesive
side dish,
without the pecans softening, 
the scallions wilting or the cheese
breaking apart.

sweet and fruity, salty and creamy,
slightly sharp and fragrantly nutty,
the salad was just what i was 
after when setting out to make this 
dish, playing it over in my mind,
trying to decided if the feta should
be crumbled, sliced or cubed 
and wondering if i should add a 
shallots or lemon juice. 
in the end, and i don't often say this,
usually my harshest critic,
i think i got it right.
i don't think lemon was necessary.
i think the scallions were enough
and shallots, too, would have 
been too harsh.
and i think structured square 
pieces of white feta were ideal
next to the round colorful berries.
it was a relief.
feta and blueberry salad
to make this mixture into a heartier side dish or main course, i could absolutely see tossing the entire thing with salad greens (and dare i say, chicken?) or folding it into couscous or a cooked grain. as i've said, the dressing was a guessing game, so i'll tell you ahead of time, you may want to go up and down with the vinegar or the honey. and as usual, i went light on the olive oil. feel free to play with that, too. i used white balsamic vinegar so that the feta would not be stained, but i'm sure it would be just as good with regular balsamic.

3-4 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
1-2 teaspoons honey
kosher salt
cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil

1 block (6 ounces) feta cheese
2 scallions, green and white parts sliced
1/3 cup broke up pecans pieces, toasted
1 pint big, sweet blueberries

in small bowl, whisk together vinegar, honey and salt and pepper to taste. whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in olive oil. taste and adjust seasonings. set aside.

cube feta: using sharp knife, cut feta into slices about 1/2-inch thick, keeping them lined up. rotate entire block and cut slices into sticks, about 1-2 long. cut sticks into 1/2" cubes. set aside.

in bowl, combine scallions, pecans and blueberries; drizzle in dressing and toss to combine. carefully fold feta into mixture just until combined. let sit about 20 minutes before serving.

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