Fresh Zucchini Salad with Avocado, Toasted Almonds and Feta
Fennel, Orange and Walnut Salad with Smoked Paprika Vinaigrette
I haven’t always liked the mandolin; it scared me, for the obvious reason – it can seriously hurt you! One of my first positions out of culinary school was at an amazing restaurant in Los Angeles. I dreamed about working at this place. I started in the pantry station (salads, hot and cold appetizers, pretty much the bottom of the brigade, but boy was I happy to be there!). One of the first jobs the Chef gave me was to slice a case of Brussels Sprouts. That’s probably the equivalent of the entire display at the grocery store, and I was to use a mandolin, gulp.
But why couldn’t I have just used my knife? “No, they need to be shaved extremely thin, like only a mandolin can do.” Surely this must have been a test. She could have easily given the job to one of the more experienced Chefs, who could do the job in a fraction of the time, blindfolded. This was one of those defining kitchen moments that would determine my destiny. If I’d failed, I’d have been humiliated and sentenced to peeling potatoes and chopping mushrooms for the duration of my stay.
So there I was, the newbie, and the only female on the hot line, sweating, not from the extreme heat but because of all the eyes fixed on me, giggling to themselves. They probably had bets going to see how long it would take me to get rushed to the hospital, quit, throw something or even worse – cry! Did I mention this was a non-paying internship?
Well, failure wasn’t an option, so I put on a triple layer of latex gloves, took a deep breath, put my head down and shoveled through the case, one by one. I survived with only minor injuries, which I kept to myself.
I’m not big on kitchen gadgets, I use very few of them. But the ones I own, I use all the time, and the mandolin is one of them. It’s a time saver that makes beautiful, uniform slices and ribbons of any size, from paper thin radishes for salads to potatoes, perfect to scallop or fry into chips. Few of us can manage this with a knife, and for the rest, there’s a mandolin. If you’re not already using a mandolin, I encourage you to pick one up. You may consider getting a pair of cut resistant gloves, because you can never be too careful. In my opinion, the Japanese Benriner is the best, it’s scary sharp, lightweight and for $20, the price is right! (click here for more info)
I received this amazingly fresh Zucchini and Fennel in my CSA share this week, and immediately knew I wanted to use them in salads, uncooked. These are bright, summery salads, and judging by the horrific weather a lot of you are having this winter, I hope it brightens your day a bit.
Fresh Zucchini Salad with Avocado, Feta and Almonds:
I was so excited to unwrap the ginormus, New York Times Cook Book for Christmas. One of the first recipes I flipped to was called “Zucchini Carpaccio,” it sounded perfect. I’ve adapted it a bit. I didn’t have pistachios or the oil, but I did have slivered almonds and almond oil, and thought a firm salty feta would be a nice addition. I also added the Thyme to the Zucchini as it marinated, I wanted the Thyme to have a chance to marry with the rest of the flavors in the dish, instead of adding it at the end as the recipe suggests. I have to say, this is one of the best salads I’ve had in a long time.
Fennel and Orange Salad with Smoked Paprika Vinaigrette:
I used the Tangelos and Lemons from my share, but any orange or tangerine will work great. If you don’t have a lemon, white wine or champagne vinegar will do the trick. I added the fennel fronds and fennel seeds to bring out the full flavor of the fennel. The smokiness of the Paprika plays well with the sweet tangelos and tart lemons.