Sunday, August 16, 2009

Cooking through other people's recipes (aka OK, I saw the movie) with a fig salad recipe

We saw Julie and Julia today and liked it a lot; no need to repeat the reviews, since they are all pretty much the same and pretty much on target (i.e. Meryl Streep is beyond amazing and Paul Tucci not bad either), though we found the Julie sections a lot less annoying than we expected.

But I wondered about the project. I am food obsessed, and my son says I have non-productive obsessive compulsive disorder (i.e. if it were productive I would be both neater and more successful), but I cannot imagine trying what Julie did. In some ways, I take exactly the opposite approach to a cookbook and I would never dream of working my way through one. (Did the 524 recipes or whatever include all the variations?) In fact, to me, a good cookbook is one with a single transformative recipe, for example the Chicken with Sumac in Lebanese Mountain Cooking by Mary Laird Hamady. It may not change the world, but it can change your life. But more on this in another post.

I realized that the closest I may ever come to doing something like what Julie Powell did is to make 4 out of the 101 summer salads that Mark Bittman published in the NYTimes last month, and I am likely to try several more before the season is out. All were easy and good -- for the record, they were #15 (cherry tomatoes with a soy, sesame oil and cilantro dressing), #17 (celery and smoked tofu with oil flavored with sichuan peppercorn and hot pepper), and #20 (shredded Napa with a peanut, cilantro and lime dressing). Do you detect a pseudo-Asian bias here? I am so past authenticity.

I also tried #25 a few times, but altered it to suit my daughter's taste. One of her favorite salads is the fig salad at Pisticci, our local and quite lovely Italian restaurant. I don't care for their version because I find it too sweet, with mangoes as well as figs and a honey-mustard vinaigrette. Here is my version, which I think combines the best of both Bittman and Pisticci:

Broiled fig salad
  1. Toast some slivered almonds in the oven or in a dry iron or nonstick skillet, being careful not to burn them.
  2. Take fresh black or white figs and halve. Spread each half with goat cheese (a little crumbly, a little creamy) and broil until lightly browned. (I used a pint container of small black figs -- the number you use depends on size and taste.....)
  3. Put tender greens (mache, mesclun, or young lettuces -- I use the prewashed greens here) in a large flat salad bowl and sprinkle with the toasted almonds.
  4. For the dressing, thin out a few spoons of creamy almond butter with water to heavy cream consistency. Add some salt. Drizzle in some sherry vinegar, a teaspoon or two, being careful not to add to much since it can be very strong. Dip a green to taste the salad. If it is too sour, or you want it sweet, add a very small amount of honey or maple syrup (I do not). Add more vinegar if it needs to be tarter.
  5. Toss the greens with the dressing, and taste for salt and add if necessary. The dressing will be a bit thick, so it needs to be tossed well.
  6. Top with the broiled figs and serve.


  1. Spousaly(?)speaking, Chicken with sumac redeems you for your abandonment of shrimp with feta cheese. It really is transformative. Divorce is not on the horizon.

  2. I think there should have been more figs, to prevent fighting. Figs for all!

  3. It was an experiment and figs are expensive; since it was successful, I will use more next time, I promise.

  4. We did make the salad on vacation for lunch one day; there were plenty of figs to go around (one box for 4 people, and since we had no almond butter or sherry vinegar (symptom of vacation rentalitis), we used a simple balsamic vinaigrette and also threw some sliced strawberries and nectarines in. It was fine, even better than fine.