Nine women sitting in a circle with loaded plates of food, talking animatedly about food and so much more. A says that “isn’t it interesting how the very same type of potato cooked in three different ways tastes so radically different?” The voices stop for a moment to consider this. Yes, it’s true. The potatoes in the Salade Niçoise are a foil to soak up the flavor of the tuna, tomatoes, beans and dressing. The potatoes cooked with kale are an anchor for the dark green leaves glistening and curving around them, giving them substance and heft. The potatoes in the dish with green tomatoes serve to thicken the flavors so the spices come across as a whole; the turmeric, cumin, cinnamon and cardamom indistinguishable one from the other. That observation right there is learning.
It’s fall now, the season of harvests and plenty. But this group will be cooking through the winter, relying heavily on storage vegetables. It’s nice to know we can take something as simple as a potato and transform it so it tastes totally different in the hands of three different women – women of Eastern European, Mexican and Indian heritage.
These boxes from Tomato Mountain CSA contained tomatoes, potatoes, kale, lettuce, acorn squash, Mesclun mix and more. From this we made the three things with potatoes, raw massaged kale and baked squash.
The kale was fresh and bursting with flavor. We chose to keep it really simple. We simply stripped the leaves off the middle stem, washed and dried them and then poured a generous quantity of olive oil over them with a large sprinkle of salt. Then it was time to dig in with our hands. A few minutes “massaging” and they were done – beaten down to a fraction of their original volume and still with all their goodness intact. No fuss, very little muss and really, really good for you!
The green tomatoes were fresh picked from our host’s back yard. A woman whose mother is French made the salad dressing. The three ladies working with the squash decided it should be treated as dessert. There was some discussion about whether or not the seeds should be taken out after the squash was cut in chunks. The Mexican ladies were all for leaving the seeds alone. The rest of us had never seen that. But, having eaten the finished product, I suspect we will be doing less scraping out of the seeds! Less work, more food value – another lesson learned.
The Salade Niçoise and the Indian style veggies caused most participants to pull out their notebooks and pens for the first time and take notes. What went into the dressing? Grated ginger? Really? It tastes great! That’s the secret ingredient! Why do you put the spices in whole? So they don’t burn. How long do they have to be in the hot oil before you add other ingredients? As long as it takes for them to give off a nice, toasty smell. Does the turmeric actually make a difference in the taste? Yes, it’s not just a color. It gives an earthy flavor. And it’s very good for you. The powdered dry turmeric was put in after the veggies rather than directly into the hot oil or it would burn and be flavorless.
We talk back and forth about whole spices, freshly ground versus buying pre-ground spices. About plunging green beans into ice water to stop them cooking further. About making enchiladas. There were three people here who hadn’t been part of the group last time. There were two people who were with us last week who hadn’t made it this week. These changes seemed to have made little difference. The core of people who were there both times had embraced those who joined us, and kept the spirit of those who were not there… and it all worked beautifully.
All too soon it’s time to pack up leftovers*, divide up some of the vegetables we hadn’t used yet and clean up. And there we hit a snag. We clearly hadn’t left enough time for cleaning up. Aaak! We’re going to be more organized about this next time. I promise!
Although we left R’s kitchen far messier than we should have, this is what she had to say about the experience –
“It was fun and my house smells great. I saw P later that day and gave her a full report and samples of everything. She’s already looking forward to the next cook-off. In spite of close space it seemed like everyone was able to make what they wanted and improvise brilliantly for missing ingredients. I will never make Salade Niçoise again without putting fresh ginger in the dressing! And the three dishes with potatoes were all so tasty and so different. My only suggestion is to allow more time for clean-up :)”
So glad she put that smiley face at the end! Thank you for being a good sport and a wonderful host R!
And A sent a message three days later saying –
“I was again savoring the potatoes with kale and the massage kale, I loved them; I don’t think I ever tried kale before, but everything was delicious.”
We’ll meet again at A’s in a couple of weeks and I can’t wait to see how Mexican home cooking is done.
* I brought some left over massaged kale home with me and ate it over brown rice with two eggs cracked into it to cook in the microwave as I heated the food up. I topped the hot food with a little bit of homemade chimichurri that was languishing in the fridge. It was DELICIOUS! Mental note: I made the chimichurri with cilantro leaves, oil, garlic, hot chili pepper, salt and lemon juice.
And finally, L e-mailed us her delectable potato recipe:
Heat the oil
Add the garlic and potatoes
Season with cumin and thyme
Wait until the potatoes are tender
Add kale little by little
Season with salt and pepper
story by Lali W.