So, looking for “just the perfect Paleo meal” to brighten this morning’s fog and rain: I was searching through my urban Paleo food stash, trying to decide how to bring the sunshine in a bit. I’ve been somewhat focused on the “Smokey” flavor of late, which has been great. We’ve had a couple of warmer days in a row, with sun shining, and great autumn and early winter flavors floating around in the air. I love the smell of early winter. And finding foods which compliment a sunny late autumn day is easy: look for rich, earthy flavors. Hence the “smokey” theme. But how to bring out some sunshine?
See, there are two simple keys to great Paleo cooking (all cooking, in my opinion): 1. Start with great ingredients. 2. Find a way to combine them so that they can speak for themselves. For me, and as you’ve come to see in my posting, the best way to do that is to choose a theme, and build the flavors around that theme. The obvious examples include bacon (of course!!), and the smokey theme. Later, some more classic flavor themes that we will get in to more are garlic (super classic!), mushrooms, and many more. And the great thing with most of these classic themes is that they are rich, textured, and great for that sunny day when the rich flavors of the food compliment the rich smells in the air. Finding the right theme for a foggy, rainy day is a real challenge. And so, here it is!
I used fresh arugula, almost crackling with freshness. The arugula I buy is actually a wild arugula, and I certainly believe I can taste a difference. With that, I added some important flavor ingredients: sliced cucumber and sliced parsnips. I’ll come back to these in a bit, because I know they aren’t “obvious” choices, based on my previous posts. But a good chef has got to have comfortable versatility! And I like to think that I’m a pretty chef. For a meat, I chose a cooked ham, looking for a mostly neutral flavored meat. Cooked ham is great because it has excellent nutrition and texture, and the neutral flavor is perfect for more subtly flavored dishes, because it really lets other ingredients speak out. Now for the real flavoring: as usual, I added the mushrooms right before the flavor. Today, I went with white button mushrooms, since I wanted them to absorb the flavor, more than contribute their own. And for the main flavor ingredients: I squeezed a half lime over the mixture so far, and then added some finely sliced (but not chopped) celery. I prefer lime to lemon for a couple of reasons. First, I find that the quality fruit available in limes in stores is generally higher. I have no idea why that is, but the limes I buy are more generally ripe, where the lemons are often over ripe; which is not a good flavor for a lemon.
So, with the lime squeezed over the salad mix so far, and mostly over the mushroom, I then cut off the extra bit of the lime that pushes it’s way out of the fruit while you’re squeezing it, and add that too to the salad. More flavor, more freshness, what’s not to like? The extra step, I find, provides a surprising amount of added benefit. Now let’s circle back to the cucumber and parsnips, now that you know the main flavoring theme for the dish is the lime. Cucumber and celery both have very subtle flavors, by themselves, but most people would describe them as “crisp”. I generally consider that to be a texture description, not a flavor, but in this case it is completely appropriate. When combined with lime, the flavor contribution of either a cucumber or celery is excellent: still subtle, but just slightly contributing the “crisp” flavor to the entire dish. And, because cucumber is a high water content vegetable, when you’re mixing the salad up, the cucumber juice tends to mix in with the lime and spread. Somehow, despite that celery is a high water vegetable, I find that it tends to absorb flavors, rather than spread it’s own as much; which makes it like a more flavorful mushroom. This can be an excellent supporting ingredient in a lot of foods, and you’ll see me use celery a lot because of this. And finally, the parsnip has a much more commanding flavor, but it is an excellent supporting flavor for a lime. If you haven’t tried this, you must. Also, because it’s a low water content vegetable, the flavor only comes out when you bite it, and it doesn’t spread as much as the cucumber.
Combine all of that together with a bit of your favorite olive oil (a crisp one though, not a smokey one), and you’ll have just the perfect Paleo meal to drive away the foggy morning blues! Possible extra flavors would be some fine diced ginger (not much though, this salad is not a powerful flavor), or a few sprigs of cilantro. Either of those would mix nicely, though I doubt I would use them both.
Check back tomorrow for another Urban Paleo Chef meal!