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Ode to David Chang: Salad Days

20 Mar

The morning after. I am sitting here reading a few pages of Momofuku, David Chang’s cookbook I bought some time back, but from which I have cooked a scant few recipes. On Friday afternoon, I invited a couple friends over for dinner for the next evening and asked them what they might like to eat. Rohit generally cooks Indian food when we eat at their place, so I felt like that was out for sure even though I also cook a lot of Indian dishes. And this week, his wife Nicole had some diet restrictions (vegetarian), so I thought I’d better at least ask.

Rohit said “whatever you want.”
I pushed him a bit: “No, really, what should I cook?”
“Why don’t you go to sleep tonight and when you wake up in the morning you can think about what you really want to cook. And we’ll eat it.”

Ok, seemed like a reasonable idea. So Saturday morning I woke up, had some coffee and toast and then cast my gaze on my pile of cookbooks. And Momofuku called out. (By the way, Chang is coming out with an iPad app next month – and I am really looking forward to getting a peak at it. Maybe that would be reason alone to pick up an iPad. ) No pork buns this time, it had to be vegetarian, and at first I was thinking, hmmm, maybe no cookbook – just pick up some kimchi and make some salads and do a vegetarian bibimbop. But I decided not to let my “Innere Schweinehund” get the best of me. So I started paging through Momofuku and found a bunch of things I thought were worth trying out. The theme? Salads. Three courses of salads.

The menu:
Korean style Caprese salad – a cherry tomato salad with tofu and shiso rather than mozerella and basil. (Couldn’t get ahold of shiso, though, so ended up with thai basil which was a reasonable swap.)

Cherry Tomato Salad with Tofu and Thai Basil

Cherry Tomato Salad with Tofu and Thai Basil

Octopus Salad with Bamboo Shoots and Kombu – here too some substitutions because I couldn’t find Kombu, a type of seaweed (threw in tree ear mushrooms, which are a bit chewier and lack the salt of the seaweed, but worked as well), even though I went to two stores. Nicole got a firm tofu that had been cooked in the same poaching liquid as the octopus. (Octopi?) I’ve made this one once before, so I knew it was a winner.

Octopus Salad with Bamboo and Tree Ear Mushrooms

Octopus Salad with Bamboo and Tree Ear Mushrooms

and for dessert, the kicker: Fuji Apple salad with Honey Labne and arugula and bacon. No substitutions here. Nicole ate it without the bacon.

Fuji Apple Salad with Honied Labne, Arugula and Bacon Spears

Fuji Apple Salad with Honied Labne, Arugula and Bacon Spears

For three dishes, the cooking time was really reasonable. I think about two and a half hours, so nothing crazy. (But used very efficiently…I must admit.) And I would do all of them again – everyone liked them. Almost surprisingly, the “dessert” salad was the favorite. It was such a crazy combination of flavors that all worked together, that it not only tasted great, but was a sensory surprise. I mean, who eats salad for dessert?

Anyway, back to now. I am about to head to the gym, but am sipping my last cup of coffee and paging through Chang’s cookbook again – just reading some of his text. And one paragraph caught my eye and reminded me what I like about Chang and his cooking philosophy (and it’s a philosophy that I talk about over and over again with friends when we talk about favorite restaurants and good food):

“I didn’t want to make my bones as a mainstream badass cook like my heroes. I liked the periphery of the culinary world: fast food, ramen, subs, pizza. Simple and delicious food people could afford. I wanted to succeed, but I wasn’t eager to play the game I’d come up in. I wanted to succeed on my own terms.”

This idea that great food does not need to be expensive or be served in a “don’t talk too loud or you will shatter the crystal” environment…this has become key for me. And more and more, the best food I find is in places like this. This doesn’t mean that The French Laundry, el Bulli and Noma aren’t wonderful restaurants and that I wouldn’t enjoy eating there. But that is not what great food is about on an everyday level. And great food is something that one should be eating every day if possible – great tasting and healthy.

Yeah, I am not sure how healthy those pork buns are either….but indulgence is also necessary once in a while.

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