Friday, August 11, 2006

North African Salad, Yankee Sensibility

There are three magazines I remember reading during my childhood: Ranger Rick, Yankee and Consumer Reports. The former was the one I was supposed to be reading, of course, but adults can’t keep anything out of the hands of a bookworm.

My favorite part of Yankee was its tidbits of home-spun, practical advice, typically aimed at pinching pennies or improving the quality of one’s sewing, knitting, bee-keeping or wood-working. I clearly remember one issue (circa 1988, is my guess) that described how to slice open a nearly-empty toothpaste tube in order to retrieve the last bit of paste. Otherwise, you were destined to forever forfeit that half-gram, no matter how assiduous your nightly tube rolling-and-squeezing regimen.

Consumer Reports, meanwhile, appealed to me for its scientific rigor and straightforward, confidence inspiring rating system. In fact, I felt that before my family purchased any item, we should first check Consumer Reports to guarantee we were making the best possible decision. (Okay, so I was a strange child. And I won’t even talk about my obsession with the L.L. Bean catalog).

I tell you all this because it explains why, as an adult who loves to cook, I am obsessed with Cook’s Illustrated. Cook’s Illustrated is sensible, frank and reliable, and exudes a certain Puritan minimalism that lets you know it is published in New England without even glancing at the masthead. Only one page per issue features photographs; all other images are hand-drawn, pen-and-ink illustrations. Two whole pages are dedicated to handy (and sometimes endearingly bizarre) tips submitted by readers, such as how to use a blow-drier to dry off berries (thanks, Phyllis Kirigin of Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y.) and how to employ a serrated knife to pluck test pasta strands from the pot (thanks, Isabelle Wolters of Scituate, Massachusetts).

In at least one article, Cook’s staff members present their results and recommendations from a meticulously-designed test of a certain prepared ingredient or piece of kitchenware. For example, it is because of Cook’s that I know Italian-made canned tomatoes have declined in quality since 1989 – the year when manufacturers began evading a new trade tariff by packing their tomatoes in puree rather than juice – and that a specialty tomato knife is a darn near useless piece of kitchen equipment.

Most importantly, when I am looking for a recipe that will not fail, I turn to Cook’s. So, as I mulled what new salad to attempt for Summer Salad Days (Winter Salad Days, for those of us in the Southern Hemisphere!), I logged onto the Cook’s Web site. Although the online version is not as ascetically aesthetically pleasing as the print version, it does have two distinct advantages – one, I can get my Cook’s fix anywhere in the world, and, two, the online recipes conveniently link to all related Cook’s tips. So, for example, I could link from the recipe below and discover exactly how to transform the salted nuts I had on hand into the unsalted nuts required for this recipe. (Blanch them for a minute in boiling water, then roast in a 350-degree oven until the liquid has evaporated – in case you were wondering.)

It was in Cook’s online database that I found this unique, refreshing salad recipe.

North African-style Dried Nectarine and Apple Salad
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated
Makes about 4 cups

6 ounces (2 cups) dried nectarines, cut into 1/4-inch strips
¼ cup dry red wine
¼ cup warm water
1½ teaspoons grated fresh ginger
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons orange juice
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1½ teaspoons coriander seeds, toasted and ground
1½ teaspoons cumin seeds, toasted and ground
2 tart apples, sliced thin
¼ cup chopped, unsalted macadamia nuts, lightly toasted
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves
Salt and ground black pepper

In medium bowl, re-hydrate peaches in wine and water for at least 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix the grated ginger, cayenne pepper, lemon juice, orange juice, brown sugar, coriander seeds and cumin seeds together in the bottom of a large bowl. Toss in the sliced apples, macadamia nuts and cilantro.

Add the peaches and their liquid, and toss again. Taste, and add salt and pepper to your liking (you won’t need much). Serve.

The most appealing thing about this dish is its mixture of textures and colors, and the heady taste and smell of those toasted seeds and grated ginger. If you would like a slightly more demure salad, try reducing the quantities of ginger, coriander seeds and cumin seeds to one teaspoon each.

Summer Salad Days is a food blog event thoughtfully hosted by My Life as a Reluctant Housewife.


Gabriella True said...

I am so glad you have joined us in this event! I have not read your blog before and I am loving it! The round up will be done in a few days.

Ruth said...

I'm not sure about the first two reading choices, but I certainly agree with you about Cook's Illustrated. It's awesome and that salad looks great.

I don't think I've seen dried nectarines. Do you think dried apricots would work?

Carolyn said...

Hi Gabriella, thanks so much for hosting the salad days event - your round-up looks great!

Hi Ruth, thanks for writing. Yes, dried apricots or dried peaches would work. i think dried pears would be a good match, too. hmmm, maybe mixing dried pears and dried peaches would make the salad even more've got me thinking now!