Sometimes you’ve got it

And sometimes you don’t. An idea for dinner, that is. It sounds odd, coming when the fields of the midwest are at their most bountiful, producing innumerable varieties of colorful, ripe produce. Mother Nature is providing to her fullest.

But Mother Nature threw us a curveball this week, in the form of 90ºF+ day after 90ºF+ day. Consequently, the Magic Chef, usually my ally in turning the weekly farmers market haul into various kinds of delicious, has become my bitter enemy and I avoid turning him on at all costs. Indeed, I absolutely refuse to give the Magic Chef the time of day. But there are still the vegetables sitting in the crisper drawer, begging for some transformation that I feel powerless to effect as Martha and I stew in our air-conditioningless apartment.

While the Magic Chef has betrayed me with his apartment-heating ways, a steadfast friend – one that stands by me in hot and cold – stepped to the fore: my Benrinner Mandoline. Even though I spend a lot of time cooking, I am really not much of a kitchen gadget person – you’ll rarely see me endorsing gear on this blog. That said, everybody should have a mandoline. Its uses are many, not least among them when you’re completely out of ideas for dinner you can pull out all your vegetables and just start slicing. Shredded purple cabbage? Beautiful! Fine julienne of carrots? Not if I don’t get to do radishes too! Green peppers? Well, I don’t really like them raw, but slice them thin enough and who can tell the difference? As my salad bowl began to fill, an idea started to form in my mind.

A purple cabbage, a half onion, a green pepper, several carrots, a couple of radishes and an ear of corn later I decided this was going to be a vaguely Asian salad, so I set about putting together a dressing of garlic, ginger, peanut sauce (in fact left over ají de mani from last week), soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and olive oil. Six tomatoes withering in the heat on the counter made a natural vessel for the salad, just as their pulp was a nice addition to the vegetable roster. To top it off, I happened to have some five-spice pork aspic sitting in the fridge from bánh mì – the kind of thing you save because you should but have no idea what you’re going to do with.

And that’s the great thing about no ideas – sometimes they turn into something else.

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One comment on “Sometimes you’ve got it”

  1. Brett Laidlaw 13 August, 2010 at 9:09 am

    That’s my boy! Gorgeous. I’ve had my Benriner out several times this week, taking corn off the cob for a soup, shredding turnips for a Sichuan slaw. You could spend a couple hundred bucks on a stainless French mando, but for most home cooks, the Benriner does it all for $19.95.

    I love that you found new life for your bahn mi jelly, too. I often have little bits of stuff like that–aspic from confit, various tasty fats from rendering bacon, etc.–in the fridge. It can get a little scary if you lose track of what you’ve got in there, but those salvaged delicacies can really take a dish over the top.

    Bahn mi pork jelly on a stick–is this the next great State Fair taste sensation?