Friday, June 19, 2009

New Eyes Thai Salad

This salad is delightful. The first time I tasted something like it was in boarding school in Massachusetts. My dorm parent ordered Thai food to congratulate us for finishing our final exams. I remember looking apprehensively at the gooey rice noodles and the peculiar smelling green herbs topped with..peanuts and lime? It seemed like a horrible mistake! She smiled a huge smile, from one of her giant mousy ears to the other, before heaping piles of Thai noodle salad between two plastic take-out forks and dropping them onto her plate. I glanced searchingly at my dorm mates, looking for support in my gastronomic apprehension. I would have eagerly signed up for the team of complainers had somebody been willing to lead the revolt. I lived in a dorm with mostly Asian students and vegetarian savvy Americans. The Asian students stood eagerly eyeing the rice noodles. They formed a perfect line of toes wedged between flip flop sandals around the noodle pile which towered on top of the picnic bench. Each of them looked positively thrilled to have something fresh to eat that wasn’t served wedged between two pieces of bread. Chopsticks dangled from the hand less sleeves of their pajama tops. The American students, having grown up with hippy parents, looked thrilled. No one shared my apprehension. I was outnumbered with rice noodle fanatics.
I decided the best thing to do in a situation like this is to just go for it. I passed over the plastic forks and grabbed a set of chopsticks. I heaped the noodles onto my plate, closed my eyes, and was surprised to discover the delightful tang of the lime added just enough of a lift from the richness of the peanut, the crunch of which was the perfect distraction from the softness of the noodles, which diluted well the flavor of the cilantro. Everything was in perfect harmony. I was in heaven.
I had forgotten all about the visceral reaction of complete terror that I had experienced as a teenager the first time I witnessed a plate of rice noodles, that is until I got the brilliant idea to make spring rolls with a group of American high school students as “a special treat” for lunch. The kids, accustomed to fast food diets and apprehensive of vegetables as it was, were expected to eat food that they had grown themselves on the farm for the duration of the summer. I was their cooking instructor. We had gotten off to a rough start when I tried feeding them bean burgers on their first day. Half of the kids had refused their plates in protest; the other half became doubled over victims of too heavy an introduction to the “musical fruit”. It was toward the end of the summer, however, that I decided to make the spring rolls with them, and by that time I had earned their trust.
The kids were unusually quiet while my friend Patrick showed them how to wrap the vegetables. They had been taught to be on their best behavior while working in the kitchen, the alternative being to go back out to the fields and harvest. Then, slowly, the giggling began. A chuckle here, a whisper there, I could not imagine why they were laughing. Finally, after some serious prompting, they finally broke the bad news. “No one is going to eat THIS. It is weird and gross!” I couldn’t believe someone would say such a thing about spring rolls. Spring rolls are delicious! I looked at the tray of sloppily rolled rice cylinders with brightly colored carrot sticks bulging along the sides and burst out laughing as I saw them through the eyes of a teenager.
How easy it is to forget the eyes we looked through yesterday.

The dressing:
At the grocery store today, Elizabeth, in produce, asked me if I meditate. I responded that I do meditate, but perhaps not in the way that one might think of meditation. I like to meditate while doing other things, by just focusing on the thing that I am doing. For example, today I shelled peanuts. Slowly. One at a time I cracked their little shells and peered inside, each time with the eagerness of a child who already knows what present is in the package but is still delighted to feel the anticipation of opening it. I felt the salt on my fingers. I noticed the shells grow. I inhaled their aroma. I did this until I had about 1 cup of shelled nuts to put in my Cuisinart. Then I blended the nuts with 2 Tbsp white wine vinegar and 1 Tbsp rice vinegar (this might have been overkill, I recommend using 1 Tbsp of white wine vinegar instead of 2), ½ Tbsp soy sauce, 4 Tbsp canola oil, ½ cup water, 1 tsp sugar, the juice from a lime and (optional) siracha hot sauce.

Cook rice threads by plunging them in boiling water for about 3 min, then rinse with cool water.

Chop 3 heads baby bok choy, add 3 long skinny diced carrots and 2 mini cucumbers. Add a handful of pea pods diced, a handful of cilantro and some bean sprouts. Top with the noodles. Squeeze lime juice on top and dress with peanut dressing.

Christina’s vote: “I overlooked my noodle rule with this salad, delicious dressing”

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