I’ve been cooking for weeks during COVID-19. And now we are confined to home in Victoria, I’m cooking more. Interesting, how my cooking has changed. No, not changed – my cooking habits have been reinforced. For a start, because I am trying to limit my shopping to once (or maybe twice) a week, I am wasting almost no food. I was never a big waster, but by the end of the week, the fridge is pretty bare. It’s not that I am planning a weekly menu, although I think some people do. It’s a daily “what is there in the house? what shall I make?” It sometimes feels like the start of a new reality TV show, where contestants (I, that is) have to come up with a meal with the ingredients on hand. The answer to those questions is always influenced by the weather and my mood.
Spring is on its way, and I find that I’m thinking more about salads. An old favourite: lettuce (baby gem, in this case), potato, avocado and apple. The potato is cooked first (either steamed, or cubed and dropped into a little boiling salted water) and then dressed with a little vinegar and some olive oil. (The 2020 harvest is now on the shelves, and is wonderful.) That needs to cool to room temperature.The apple – I prefer golden delicious for this salad, but pink lady would do as well – is peeled and cubed and sprinkled generously with lemon juice. The avocado is peeled and cubed, and sprinkled generously with lemon juice. The lettuce leaves are washed and dried, and go into the salad bowl, then everything else is added. Taste – it may need more oil and more salt. It’s a refreshing and satisfying salad that works well as a first course, or as a light lunch with some bread and cheese.
I’ve been experimenting with potatoes in salads. It all began when I was matching dishes to the Thursday concert on Melbourne Digital Concert Hall www.melbournedigitalconcerthall.com That’s a story in itself, and I strongly recommend music lovers follow it up. So, for the Thursday at 7pm concert for the weeks that performers were playing in the Athenaeum Theatre, I was matching a dish, or more than one, to the music. One concert, when pianist Hoang Pham was playing music related to Vienna, I went searching for food in Vienna in the late 18th and very early 19th century, when Beethoven was living and composing. A forerunner of chicken schnitzel, called backhendl, was all the rage with aristocratic families, and served with potato salad. It still is. The dish was – and still is – a boned quartered spatchcock, dipped in flour, egg and breadcrumbs and then fried.
What I learnt was that the potato salad was not coated with sour cream or mayonnaise. The potato was generously sprinkled with vinegar (or white wine) and chopped onion while still warm, and a little oil added before serving. Often it is pumpkin oil.
There have been other salad including potato, like last night’s beetroot (roasted first, then cubed) and potato salad with smoked trout, chives, and slices of pickled cucumber.
The trick with all of them is not to refrigerate them, because that so changes the texture and flavour of the potato. It makes the potato firm and somehow sweeter. And since there is no cream or egg in the dressing, there is no need to refrigerate. Eat when ready – and that’s particularly true of the avocado salad. The others can sit around for an hour, and will improve.