"A person cooking is a person giving: Even the simplest food is a gift."

Laurie Colwin

Monday, December 20, 2010

La ensaladita

How many times have I tried to write this entry?  Many.  Every time I start, my emotions run away with me and I hit the “delete” button just as the voices in my head start screaming, “MAUDLIN!”

But write it I will, albeit in shortened form, because it’s the end of the year, and as I count all the blessings I received in the last 12 months, I must also take note of what I lost.  Only one thing fills my mind:  Dani.

My beloved cousin Dani was a year younger than I.  Some months ago, unthinkably, suddenly, and tragically, she died.  I can’t tell you what this loss meant and continues to mean.  But the people who have known me the longest could tell you that while most little girls feel the first stirrings of motherly instinct with their dolls, with me it was with Dani, and that explains just about everything you need to know.

One of my favourite memories of Dani and me is of me organising picnics where I would make “la ensaladita” – a little salad.  This little salad was one I’d watched our grandmother Elsa make countless times, and I want to share it now not just because I’m thinking of other times and other places, but because there is something you should know:  tomatoes and mint are a heavenly combination.

Somehow, in our passion for tomatoes and basil, we have forgotten this.  But it’s worth remembering, as the only proper tomatoes of the year start appearing in the shops and the mint revives in sleepy gardens, often so enthusiastically that it threatens to take them over.  (My herb garden, by the way, is looking – for the first time in my life – like something out of a Better Homes and Gardens feature, with thyme tumbling down the walls, lush cushions of oregano, and mint with leaves as big as my hand).

So this isn’t a recipe, just a reminder:  tomato, and mint.  Yeah.

Enjoy this salad with someone you want to make a happy summery memory with.  


Perfect, run-ripened tomatoes
Lebanese cucumbers, sliced
Salad onions, finely sliced
Lots and lots of fresh mint, shredded
Extra-virgin olive oil
Red wine vinegar

1. Cut tomatoes  into wedges, or cut in half and then cut into thick slices.  Combine with cucumbers, onions, and mint in a salad bowl.  Sprinkle with salt, then dress with salt and vinegar, and toss.  Don’t skimp on salt!  You need it to draw out the delicious juices of the tomatoes.
2. That’s almost it, except that although the salad will already smell divine and you’ll want to dig in immediately, it needs one final, vital step:  allow to rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before tossing again and serving.  Serve with plenty of crusty bread to mop up all the juices.

Yumbo McGillicutty!

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