101 Simple Meals
Avocado from a guy selling them two-for-$1 out of crates on Broadway
Tomatillo and cilantro from the 175th Street Greenmarket
Queso blanco from the new Mexican greengrocer on St. Nicholas Ave.
Limes from a street vendor on W181st Street
Black beans from Key Food near W187th
Halve avocados and scoop out some but not all of their flesh. Roughly chop and toss with black beans, queso blanco, cilantro, chopped tomatillos and lime juice. Serve in the meaty avocado shells.
Two years ago, Mark Bittman came up with 101 easy-to-make summer meals, and being an aficionado of all things in list form, I decided to make my way through the lot. I got through about two dozen, almost all of which were great (and, I discovered, I really quite like anchovies).
Well, now there’s a new list — 101 Simple Salads for the Season — and I’m giving it a go.
Here’s our first entry: 15. Cut cherry or grape tomatoes in half; toss with soy sauce, a bit of dark sesame oil and basil or cilantro. I love this — the tomato juice-soy thing is incredible.
I honestly think I may never eat tomatoes any other way ever again. It doesn’t seem like it would be that great, but the salty/savory/pungent combination of the soy sauce, sesame oil, and cilantro is a perfect match for tomatoes at their peak of sweetness.
At this point, I’ve been making these meals for so long now, I’ve sort of forgotten how to live any other way. I’m about to make a grocery list and once I jotted down staples we’ve run out of (sugar, milk) and things I’d like to have (olives, oatmeal), I picked up my battered, stained printout of the 101 meals and started to think about what to cook next.
I’ve made several of these meals without writing about them. Specifically:
35: Cold soba with dipping sauce: Cook soba noodles, then rinse in cold water until cool. Serve with a sauce of soy sauce and minced ginger diluted with mirin and/or dry sake. Messy but good. Still, without any real fat/protein in this, I was starving two hours later.
36: Fried egg “saltimbocca”: Lay slices of prosciutto or ham in a buttered skillet. Fry eggs on top of ham; top with grated Parmesan. Uh, fried prosciutto? Haven’t we already gone over this? Of course it was good.
99: Cook a couple of pounds of shrimp, shell on or off, in oil, with lots of chopped garlic. When they turn pink, remove; deglaze the pan with a half-cup or so of beer, along with a splash of Worcestershire sauce, cayenne, rosemary and a lump of butter. Serve with bread. I bought some awful Gulf shrimp from Whole Foods. They were mealy and just bad. But the sauce that resulted from deglazing the pan? INEDIBLE. I don’t know what happened. The beer took on this horrible, acrid taste. I actually spat it out; it was that bad.
101: Hot dogs on buns — with beans! Two things I learned: Aaron’s Best Glatt Kosher All Beef Dinner Franks are amazing. Key Food’s Vegetarian Beans are not.
Now, with summer — and its produce — almost gone, I think it may be time to semi-retire the list. Many of the recipes are seasonless (and I still want to try my hand at “not exactly banh mi”) but I think, for the most part, I’m going to try to move on from Mr. Bittman’s amazing list for now.
Description: “A Roman classic: In lots of olive oil, lightly cook lots of slivered garlic, with six or so anchovy fillets and a dried hot chili or two. Dress pasta with this.”
Notes: I had more than six fillets from the tin I opened earlier in the week, and I was wary of putting them all in, but I figured it couldn’t hurt.
We all sat down to eat this and after a couple bites, I looked up and said, “Well, here’s something I never thought I’d ever say: I really think this could use more anchovies.”
I gave it about half a lemon’s worth of juice for an acid note, because I think everything tastes better with a little acid, and other than needing a few more anchovies, this was really great.
Rating: She may not look like much, kid, but she’s got it where it counts.
Description: “The New York supper: Bagels, cream cheese, smoked salmon. Serve with tomatoes, watercress or arugula, and sliced red onion or shallot.”
Notes: I think I’m a bagel prude. I like my (never raisin and never ever blueberry) bagel with cream cheese and, if I’m feeling especially sassy, maybe tomato. So, I stuck with the basics here: bagel, cream cheese, smoked salmon.
Anyway, I’m from an almost totally goyim town, so maybe you’ll understand why I had never eaten smoked salmon before this salmon I bought at Zabar’s yesterday.
Sweet fancy Moses, it’s like… Kosher bacon. Fatty, smoky, salty — if G-d told me bacon was off-limits, this would be the first place I’d turn, too. I think the Zabar’s salmon was especially good, as even my husband said it was the best he’d ever eaten.
Rating: Fifteen hours after eating this, I already want to eat it again.
Description: “Combine crab meat with mayo, Dijon mustard, chives and tarragon. Serve in a sandwich, with potato chips.”
Notes: My first instinct is always to say “oh, I don’t like crab” but once I think about it, I realize I’ve only had imitation crab.
Well, this was canned crab — and I don’t like that either.
It wasn’t bad; in fact, I ate most of before turning the rest over to my husband. It was just flavorless, except for a somewhat… oceany aftertaste. Really, the best part of this sandwich was the yellow tomato I put on it. Maybe I should just get real crab and try this again.
Description: “Canned sardines packed in olive oil on Triscuits, with mustard and Tabasco.”
Notes: Yeah, that’s clearly an anchovy and not a sardine, isn’t it? I didn’t actually, oh, look at the list until I sat down to write this entry.
That being said, before trying this, I’d never actually eaten an anchovy before. It was… pretty good. They smelled like Lynn Beach in August, but they tasted considerably better. Salty, chewy, a little fishy — not bad.
And, to the amazement of my husband and I both: the kid ate an anchovy. The whole thing. And said it was “really good.” Go figure.
Rating: I need a do-over on this one.