Summer (De)construction: Nicoise Salad, Shrimp Tacos & Banh Mi

Many years ago, one of my closest friends and I (you know who you are), had a conversation about the difference between cooking and preparing. Does cooking mean you have to heat and/or combine any number of the ingredients, whereby the sum is greater than the parts? Is preparing just combining ingredients without creating something new that didn’t exist when the parts were separate?  I’m beginning to confuse myself. Is a salad prepared and soup cooked? We went around and around in circles, both arguing for both sides. There is no answer in my book and I’m more than okay with that. I’ve never been one for definitions when it comes to what I do in the kitchen, which is probably why I’m a better cook than a baker, and why I will never work as a professional chef. I am also okay with that.

Out of sheer curiosity, and because I know you are all wondering now, I looked up the proper definitions (according to my Apple Dashboard dictionary):

cooking |ˈko͝okiNG|  noun. the process of preparing food by heating it

prepare |priˈpe(ə)r| verb [ with obj. ] make (food or a meal) ready for cooking or eating: she was busy preparing lunch

Mutually inclusive!

And so, I dedicate this post to another way of ‘making food’: constructing and deconstructing. Repeated 100 degree summer days create a challenge for me in the kitchen. Mornings I barely have an appetite because it’s already so hot. Lunch is either on the run or I throw together leftovers. And then there’s dinner. I love dinner and like to make a big deal of it when I have the time. But sweaty days make for tired nights and dwindled motivation, so I had to get creative with my recipes. Coincidentally, a recent e-newsletter from my favorite artisanal gourmet shop in Boulder, Cured, also talked about the idea of constructing dinner. The following three meals are both prep-cooked, or cook-pared, but either way, they consist of a bunch of ingredients constructed on the plate, or in the Banh Mi case, deconstructed.

1. Arugula Potato Salad —> Nicoise Salad

No need to stick to the rules, especially when it comes to Nicoise salad. Last week I made my favorite arugula potato salad from baby potatoes purchased at the City Park Esplanade farmers market. I had so much leftover and not a single mid-week BBQs to attend (shocker, I know), so what better than to fill the “potato” portion of a Nicoise salad! This salad is by definition simply a salad made up of foods traditionally found in the Nice region of France: lettuce, tomatoes, haricoverts, potatoes, anchovies, hard boiled eggs, olives–the list goes on. But the best part of the Nicoise definition is that it literally says throw together anything from that region and call it a salad. And so I did, with pictures to prove it. NICOISE SALAD:

  • Grape tomatoes, halved
  • Haricoverts, lightly steamed
  • Canned tuna (in water or olive oil)
  • Kalamata olives
  • Hard boiled egg, halved
  • Sweet peppadews
  • Arugula potato salad
  • Drizzle of olive oil and fresh lemon juice
  • Sprinkle of black pepper and fleur de sel

2. Shrimp Tacos —>  The Taco Construction Business

Shrimp are definitely cooked, but I like the idea of constructing my taco–it leaves room for imagination and creativity. No two tacos on my plate, or the table, are alike. Variations on this theme are endless: Fried or grilled fish? Shellfish or fins? Red or green salsa? Shredded or crumbled cheese? You can’t go wrong as long there is a hint of sharpness, either from salsa, lime, crema, or all three.

SHRIMP TACOS (this week): 

  • Organic corn tortillas
  • Shrimp, rubbed with lime, salt, and chili powder, then grilled for a few minutes on each side.
  • Sliced avocado
  • Pico de gallo
  • “Crema” – made at home with half plain yogurt, half sour cream, fresh lime juice, chopped cilantro

3. Banh Mi —> Deconstructing the Sandwich

When I lived in Brooklyn, the Bahn Mi from Hanco’s was a weekly go-to. Shredded chicken, medium spicy, easy on the mayo. Oddly, in my eight years in New York City, I never found a decent vietnamese restaurant, so Banh Mi were the closet thing to maintaining my obsession. Last night I read an article in Sunset magazine on make your own Banh Mi. I wanted to cut out the bulky white bread baguette for the people I was cooking for, so I deconstructed the sandwich and here’s what I came up with.

BANH MI ON A PLATE:

  • Boneless chicken breasts – generously rubbed with Asian 5 spice, a bit of canola oil, and hoisin sauce
  • Shredded cucumber, carrot, jicama – soaked in rice wine vinegar, agave, canola oil, red pepper flakes, salt, small amount of canola oil (to taste)
  • Cilantro and lime wedges for garnish
  • Serve over brown rice

NOTE: I didn’t follow any recipes for these dishes, so I didn’t give you quantities. All of these dishes are taste-as-you-go so trust your taste bud intuition. Those buds will take you to great places. Feel free to contact me if you have questions about quantities.

PS – My apologies for the variation in photography. I’m playing with new options and clearly have yet to perfect.

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