Ours Is Not To Question Why

Questioning makes for a “wobbly” existence filled with uncertainty and hesitation.

I am usually a “do-er”. But when I was laid off last October from Whole Foods Market (along with 1,500 team members and team leaders) there was a truck-load of questions that invaded my world. What now? What do I do? What path do I choose? Nature abhors a vacuum and so do I. I got to work immediately: I took art classes, I applied to over forty jobs in six months, I picked up a few paying gigs, volunteered a little, hosted on Air B&B, traveled, and most of all caught up with numerous friends. Many projects are in the works and I now have a part-time job as well. Everything is fighting for my attention including this blog that I started in February and which came to a halt in May.

I do not have writer’s block, just an existential block. I question why, and what and for whom, I “should” or “ought” to be writing. I seem paralyzed by a bourgeois guilt over “musing” about food while thinking about the malnourished, undernourished and the starving of this world. I wonder if I have now become a slave to my own creation, stuck at a crossroad without direction. I question, I hesitate and find myself going around in circles, burying my head and thoughts under my pillow each night…. then I have to face the silence… the failure to post… another week gone by. Has anyone noticed? Does anyone care? Do I even care about food and cooking anymore?

Then, on a recent morning, I woke up thinking of my red, white and blue salads. It was the Fourth (of course! it had to be). My 18 years of food marketing had me programmed. I am still thinking “holiday-related” foods. At work I would have been figuring out what to push, what to merchandise and what to sample. Now I am neither entertaining friends nor family. I am NOT cooking nor am I barbecuing! And yet I am dreaming of chopped watermelon drizzled with pomegranate molasses and dotted with feta crumbles and blueberries…. Images of basil pesto, mint and cucumber fill my nostrils with hallucinogenic aromas.  Have I gone mad or am I relieved?

I had started to think that perhaps my obsession with food is DEAD! I had been thinking that perhaps I had lost my appetite or that it all had been a false but mandatory professional conditioning. But, let’s face it, it IS summer and cooking in the heat is grueling. Even eating is not a pleasure when you can barely breath. But… I DID wake up thinking about my favorite Fourth of July salad. And perhaps I am ready to write and post again. That said…

There is no question in my mind that summer is for salads, any salad—Green salads, bean salads, fruit salads and red, white and blue salads. Even if I never write about food again, I should at least share the secrets to my successful salad dressing.

First, let me list my favorite classics:

Mozzarella, tomato & basil w/0r w/o shavings of fennel and a drizzle of olive oil
Watermelon, blueberry, feta & mint
Cannellini beans & tuna, onion, parsley with lots of lemon juice & olive oil
Garbanzo beans, tomato & chopped cucumber, garlic, lemon juice & olive oil
Soba noodles, cucumber, spring onion, Thai basil & peanuts (w/soy sauce & lime)
Corn & black bean salad, red bell peppers, garlic, cumin & cilantro
Beet & Arugula salad…

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A variety of salads from meals shared with friends. All photos ©2016 Fadia Jawdat

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The perfect salad dressing

I’ve been eager to share the secret to my dressing. This is as good a time as any. The dressing won’t go with the Soba noodle salad mentioned above, and I would not use it for the Cannelini and tuna—although it might not be bad—I would use lemon juice instead.

I make this dressing on a daily basis for my green salad (mesclun mix, arugula, and or romaine) to which I add pear, orange or apple, cranberries or not, cucumber always, or tomato and roasted corn sometimes, especially in summer.

Fadia’s Never-Fail Salad Dressing:
1 clove garlic crushed, 1/8 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pomegranate molasses and 1/2 tsp olive oil. (If you do not use oil, you could substitute lime juice for the olive oil).

This amount is just right for a 2 – 3 people side salad or 1 large entree serving. The secret is also not to over soak your greens in dressing! That’s a mistake which will kill and wilt your greens and drown your salad in calories. You need just enough to coat it lightly, the juices from some of the fruit or veggies will add to the moisture.

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I used balsamic vinegar for years, but I find the pomegranate molasses (not a molasses at all, but a reduction of pomegranate juice) is less acidic, some brands have a little added sugar, but I swear it is my very favorite secret ingredient and it never fails to “wow” people over.

Salads are like paintings. You mix colors and add ingredients as you go. Add toppings: left-over grated cheese, bits of meats or frozen veggies, dried or fresh fruit, a handful of nuts, crushed seaweed, corn chips, toasted pita chips, the list is endless. Salad is a canvas for improvisation. Go for it! Be fearless and adventurous. Salads were my daughters’ first creations in the kitchen. At age four they’d sit at the kitchen counter and explore the possibilities, chopping, dumping and mixing. It’s a child’s game really.

So there you have it! I have just completed a post, and now… let’s hope I can leave my existential quandary behind and I can get back down to business (or will I ?). Until next week. 🙂

 

Roots, Beans & Greens, Oh My!

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Photo © 2016 Fadia Jawdat

My husband calls me the Queen of Soups and Salads. My soups are not original: I just tweak family recipes, read cook-books and scroll through the on-line suggestions and, practice, practice, practice. I have made the same darn soups for over 30 years—I can make them in my sleep.

I was fortunate enough to discover something new this winter when I came across a New York Times on-line recipe for “Moroccan Chickpea and Chard ”.
Beans and greens combos are healthy and comforting. I love lentil soup with chard or Cannellini beans and kale. Somehow this recipe grabbed my attention, perhaps because of its rich spice combination and perhaps because I was getting a little tired of the usual list of family “traditionals”. It is my go-to soup this season. Here’s my take on the recipe.

Let me be clear: I admire cooks making beans from scratch, but I neither have the patience nor the time. I choose cans. They may be heavy to lug back from the grocery store and are a nuisance for the environment (I know), but speed in the kitchen is my modus operandi.

I omitted the jalapeño and the cayenne—black pepper is enough heat for me and the complexity of flavors in the remaining spice mixture make up for the omission. I reduced the oil and salt by half (they’re bad for you). My family can add salt, hot sauces and jalapeños to their heart’s content and so can you. No dried apricots necessary, and preserved lemons… only if you happen to have them around. They are a staple in my pantry, but I did not need to waste them on a homey soup. It is delicious enough without them. I have made the soup 4 times in 7 weeks and I have never used fennel (my family doesn’t like fennel). On occasion I used more turnips. I tried heirloom yellow and purple carrots too. Big mistake: yellow is fine, but purple will color your soup with an unappetizing grayish color.

To avoid confusion, I have scratched out my omissions and “bolded” my additions. There you go, give it a try.

Moroccan Chickpeas with Chard (New York Times)

Ingredients:
(4 ) 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 Spanish onions, chopped
1 large jalapeño pepper, seeded if desired, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 (+ more to taste) teaspoon grated fresh ginger root
(2½)  1 teaspoons kosher salt, more to taste
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon sweet paprika (I use smoked Spanish paprika, for added depth)
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
Pinch of cayenne
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 fennel bulb, diced (save fronds for garnish)
1 very large bunch chard, stems sliced 1/2-inch thick, leaves torn into bite-size pieces
2(to 4) carrots, peeled and diced
1(to 2) large turnip, peeled and diced
1 pound dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in water to cover or quick-soaked
1 Can of chickpeas drained
1 (32 oz.) Carton of veggie broth: Start with 2 cups and add as you go, you do not want the soup to be too liquid (the recipe calls for the the water that the beans have cooked in, but since I use canned beans, the broth is needed)
⅓ cup diced dried apricots
(2 tablespoons chopped preserved lemon, more to taste) Optional
½ cup chopped cilantro, more for garnish Optional

The method is easy, but I recommend that you first line up and measure all the spices, grate the ginger, peel and mince the garlic, peel and chop the veggies and greens (separate the chard stems from the leaves, chop them separately, add the stems only, to the root vegetables—chopped chard leaves are to be added later in the game). Once everything is ready then you can heat the oil, sauté onions until transparent, add spices, veggies and tomato paste, sauté for a minute or two to coat with the spices. Do not let things burn or stick to the pan, start adding the broth a little at a time to loosen up things, and continue stirring. Add enough broth to cover by an inch and simmer until veggies are semi tender, then add the chopped chard and the beans and cook until the greens are tender and to your liking. Add more broth as you go if you like. Serve with hearty crusty bread, some olives and pickles perhaps. Serves 6.

For original recipe and method visit:

http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1017228-moroccan-chickpeas-with-chard