Taste. The pairing of ordinary ingredients in the hopes of extraordinary results. It’s funny how a single bite can recall streams of memory – patterns of blue patchwork painted under glazed porcelain. Rain pattering on gumdrop leaves, falling into the creaks and crannies of a cobblestone pathway.
Food may be more peripatetic than the mind, changing flavors with each new remembrance. The edges of the past fading into the salad coming together before me. As it is the start of summer, I find myself longing for the colorful church spires of Moscow and the frosty streets of Saint Petersburg.
This salad is an homage to one I first sampled in a small, medieval-like inn in the city of Novgorod, situated halfway atwixt the two cities. Roofed of a deep mahogany wood with slats whistling in the freezing wind and candlelight as the only illumination of the table, the meal enjoyed there was my first introduction to fruit as a savory accompaniment. My first taste of juicy sweet cherries and, for someone who wasn’t much of a vegetable fan, one of the first salads I actually finished.
The Cumin Vinaigrette in this recipe is my attempt to recall the smoky oil dancing on green sleeves that day 13 years ago (as I type this I realize it may have been the greens that added the rich notes being a kale like lettuce tasting similar to bitter kohlrabi). Time has blurred the edges enough that all I recall is the depth of flavor more than the flavors themselves.
As I toss ingredients together, I realize just how simple this salad is designed to be. It’s a dish that would travel well. If I were in Hungary, I would swap out the Cumin Vinaigrette for a dressing of equal parts smoked and sweet paprika, replacing the onion for the crunch of red cabbage – the need for color reigning supreme. In France, I would try an almost Willy Wonkan addition of dark chocolate shavings – a world of pure imagination. In England, small hints of Colman’s English mustard would pair nicely with Leicester cheese instead of the crumbly Feta I’ve chosen here. German sauerkraut with an apple cider vinaigrette. Italian fennel paired with a deep sage vinaigrette, omitting the almonds when the vegetables provide the much needed crunch. It’s amazing how the basic building blocks of a recipe can yield a world of varied results.
- 1/2 tablespoon white wine vinegar
- 1/2 tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
- Sea salt and fresh cracked pepper, to taste
- 10-12 Bing cherries, pitted and halved
- 3 leaves of Romaine lettuce (or a nice handful of Boston Butter), julienned
- 1/8 red onion, thinly sliced
- 1 teaspoon slivered almonds
- 1/2 tablespoon Feta cheese
- Whisk all of the ingredients together until well combined. Toss in the halved cherries ultimately destined for the greens, turning to coat and set aside to macerate until the salad is ready.
- Wash, dry and prep the lettuce as desired, Add thinly sliced onions, slivered almonds and the Feta cheese. Season to taste. Give the Cumin Vinaigrette a quick stir. It should be a lovely cherry red in color. Carefully remove the cherry halves and add them to the salad. Drizzle the remaining Cumin Vinaigrette over the salad until well coated. Serve Immediately!