By the end of March, my green-thumbed friends start to formulate their dream garden. Most of them love basil, and even though there's often snow on the ground, wax on about all pesto they plan to blend up. I get caught up in their fervor, and end up planting a seedling or two. But the truth is I'm not a basil groupie, and the mature leaves usually end up on my rabbit's dinner plate.
For me, summer hoopla is about strawberries, sweet corn and arugula.
I first tasted arugula in culinary school when Chef Piper laid out a wide variety of greens and directed us to create a signature salad. Like so many Americans, I was used to the flat flavor of iceberg lettuce. When the radish-like zip of arugula filled my mouth, I was captivated. The unremarkable looking green was Indian-American's dream. I've been a devotee ever since that first sampling. In the summer, I become an addict.
Eager for a taste of its peppery punch, I planted a palm full of arugula seeds in mid-April this year. The temperature dipped and the double-leafed seedlings took weeks to appear. I fretted like a young mother. They eventually pushed out of the ground, but took an unusually long time to gain some height. By the time the leaves were mature enough to harvest, soft oak leaf and Simpson leaf lettuce had sprung up in the common area of the community garden. Both pair beautifully with arugula, adding a mild undertone to its zesty flavor and bringing a silky softness to the mix.
ARUGULA AND SMOKED SALMON SALAD
Folger's Coffee company used to run a commercial that featured an elderly woman who carried a jar of their crystals where ever she went. My mom used to joke that she would do the same thing in her senior years. Instead of coffee, she brings dry beef curry when she and my dad visit me. It is a beloved dish among many Syrian Christians men in Kerala. I love everything about the dish, especially the chewy chunks of coconut. But I'm conflicted about eating it after befriending so many kindhearted cows in Kerala.
Recognizing this, my mom has started to tote beef curry and a wedge of smoked salmon to my house. The beef is for my dad and the fish is for me. A few weeks ago, I was pressed for time so I threw a few chunks of the salmon over fresh arugula and some other fresh lettuce. I sprinkled it with a teaspoon or so of red wine vinegar mixed with olive oil. It was a delectable pairing and is now a dinner staple. The salmon adds a bacony chew and a faint taste of the ocean. The red wine vinegar, a slightly boozy tang.
If you pull together this delightfully simple salad, use the best olive oil your money can buy. (A secret...I often find great deals on olive oil and other essential staples in the gourmet food section of Marshall's and TJ Maxx.)