Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Taco Salad and the Return of the Salad Spinner

Moving is tough. Not only is it a lot of work, packing boxes and carrying them from one place to another, but it's also mentally exhausting. It forces you to consider how much stuff you have and mostly don't need. It's almost depressing, really. I find myself feeling weighed down by the burden of owning so many things and trying to figure out what to do with them. Do I keep it and bring it with me to my new place? Give it away? Who could I give it to? Sell it? Throw it away? There are so many little decisions to make in regards to all this stuff. Some of it has sentimental value or monetary value which complicates the decisions.
When I moved into my studio apartment a few years ago, I needed to simplify my belongings. I found this liberating, and for a long time I was very good about scrutinizing each of my purchases. In the end, I became more lax about this, and for that I am sorry. My recent move will hopefully rejuvenate my desire for simple living. The kitchen is one place where you can get especially out of control. There is a gadget or appliance for everything and every specific purpose: an avocado slicer; a rice steamer; plastic discs to make the perfect fried egg; a hand-held immersion blender; a mini food processor to chop small amounts of vegetables. When I downsized my kitchen space, I realized that what I needed were the basics: a good set of knives; pots and pans; a nice cutting board, and some basic utensils. All else seemed frivolous and unnecessary.
....O.k. ALMOST all kitchen gadgets could be classified as frivilous and unnecessary. There are a few exceptions. My little plastic lemon squeezer that allows you to squeeze the juice of the lemons without getting seeds in things is one of the better kitchen gadget inventions. Also, now that I have more space, I have been able to pull out my salad spinner. These two items have greatly enhanced the quality of my cooking life. Do you have any idea how much time I have spent picking lemon seeds out of salad dressings and drying lettuce with dish towels?
Tonight, in celebration of the freeing of my salad spinner from the box it's been in for the last several years, I decided to make taco salad. Actually, the driving factor was really that it was to darn hot to turn the stove on. Of course you can imagine that this is not the taco salad you'd find at Chili's with some big fried taco shell full of ground beef and sour cream. This is a slightly edited version. It probably has nothing to do with a taco, really, but I'm not sure what else to call it. There's lots of variations and options, so I'll give you the basics.

Taco Salad
Lettuce torn into little pieces. 2 c. per person. I typically use red leaf.
Onion: either red onion sliced into thin pieces or scallions.
Cheese: I've used shredded cheddar or crumbled feta
Black beans, rinsed, 1/4 of a cup per salad
"Dressing": A fruit/spicy salsa. Mango peach is a good option.
Bell pepper, red, yellow or orange, sliced into thin pieces
Tortilla chips. Rectangle strips work well, but anything will do

Other options for toppings:
Avocado, chopped into small pieces
Carrot, shredded
Cucumber, chopped into small pieces
Jicama, shredded
Lime juice

1. Lay greens onto separate serving plates. Add all other toppings except for salsa and chips and lime juice, if using.
2. Spoon salsa on top, and squeeze lime juice on top, if using. I usually start with about a 1/4 of a cup of salsa per salad, and add more as I eat it. Place chips all around side of salad or crumble on top.
3. I don't think I need to tell you how to eat, but I typically use a combination of a fork, and the tortilla chips to scoop up the salad. It's a fun salad to eat and the tortilla chips add a nice crunchy texture.

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