In praise of Mark Bittman

I loved Jill Silva’s interview with Mark Bittman in the Star magazine June 9.

And although I’ve never been tempted to become a vegan, his argument for eating vegan until 6 in the evening was interesting and well thought out.

This old planet of ours is rapidly filling up with people and meat is very expensive to produce.

We, and the planet we live on, will probably be better off if we eat more plants and grains and fewer steaks.

I have to give the New York Times credit for asking Mark Bittman to write for the opinion section of the paper, as well as the magazine, and before that, the food section. Food policy issues could end up being the most important issues in the future. If things get bad, everyone still needs to eat.

I confess I do miss Mark’s writing for the food section though. He pushed you gently in the right direction, not with specific recipes that had to be followed to the letter, but with ideas.

I have one of his pieces from July of 2009 that I keep in my folding file and have lugged all over the country as I ply my trade as an itinerant food person.

It’s titled 101 Ideas for salads for the season, and the newspaper sheets are yellowed and filled with side notes that I’ve written.

Here then, are 12 ideas for salads of the season. They have all morphed from Mark’s original suggestions and I expect you to change them again. Mark would want you to make them your own.

•  Toss baby lettuce with toasted silvered almonds and chopped up fresh figs. Crumble some goat cheese on it, sprinkle with olive oil and sherry vinegar and toss, or make a dressing with almond butter thinned with water and the sherry vinegar for a double almond taste.

•  Combine wedges of tomato and peaches. Add some silvers of red onion, some cilantro or parsley, and a few red pepper flakes. Dress with olive oil and lime juice.

•  Combine pitted Kalamata olives, a can of drained chickpeas, a cucumber, peeled seeded and sliced or cubed, and tomato chunks. If you have some garlic around, throw in a couple of cloves, minced. Dress with olive oil and red wine vinegar.

•  Grate carrots, toast some sunflower seeds and some pumpkin or sesame seeds, toss with blueberries, olive oil, lemon juice and a generous amount of black pepper

•  Mix some diced jicama with chopped peppers, green red and yellow, red onion, fresh jalapeno that has been seeded, and corn tortilla strips (roast in a 350 degree oven until crisp or use packaged chips broken up). Season with chili powder, lime juice and a little olive oil. You can add avocado to this if you have one.

•  Make a grilled cheese sandwich with good bread and make it crispy. Let it cool and cut into croutons. Add to a regular green salad or a tomato, basil salad. As Mark says, “This you will do forever.”

•  Mix watercress or arugula with smoked salmon, avocado, red onion and capers. Dress with olive oil, sherry vinegar, and mustard powder. This is good with bagels and cream cheese.

•  Sear tuna until rare and cut into small cubes. Toss with avocado, sliced radish, grated jicama, shredded Napa cabbage, season with wasabi paste to taste, mirin, soy sauce and cilantro.

•  A version of Cobb salad: any combination of hard cooked eggs, chopped prosciutto or salami, cooked chicken, crumbled blue cheese, chopped tomatoes, little green beans, blanched, white beans, pitted olives, crumbled bacon. Toss with drained capers, olive oil and vinegar.

•  Thinly slice a Vidalia onion and dress with olive oil and vinegar. Sear a hanger or skirt steak. Let it sit 10 minutes, then slice it thin. Toss the steak and onions with salad greens, roasted red peppers, cucumber slices, blue cheese or goat cheese crumbles. Finish with oil and vinegar.

•  Soak rice noodles in boiling water until soft, then drain. Toss with unripe (crunchy) mango, chopped peanuts, shredded carrot, bean sprouts, minced scallion, chopped mint and basil. Cucumber, too, if you want. Dress with rice vinegar, fish sauce, lime juice, chili, and a little sugar. Maybe a drop of hot sauce.

•  Toss cooked, cooled wheat berries or farro, with some cooked, cooled barley or quinoa. Add chopped toasted hazelnuts, toasted sesame seeds, feta cheese, chopped parsley and maybe some thinly sliced Romaine. Dress with olive oil and lemon juice.

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