When you live in a household of vegetarians, and you are a devout omnivore, there’s a certain degree of existential soul-searching that occurs. Asking “Why are we here?” garners many answers, but somewhere in my chorus I distinctly hear “To eat meat.”
Do vegetarians gain as much pleasure from a meal as a meat-eater? I am hazarding a strong ‘yes.’ Do the increased health risks of eating red meat reduce the pleasure gained? I think that depends on the individual, her mental state and her body’s unique physical response. Many of us don’t think twice about it. However, from an environmental standpoint the carnivores among us should all be thanking the vegetarians. By now the disparity of resource usage between meat production and plant production is greatly documented. PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America) demonstrates it in a research article , stating that the carbon footprint for a standard meat-inclusive diet is ten times the carbon footprint of a vegan diet.
It is the environmental concern that most resounds with me. If I want to fill my arteries with butter and cholesterol tartar, that is my concern. Over-contributing to ozone-depletion — well, I wouldn’t call it my ‘right.’ So eating meat is detrimental but ‘cold turkey,’ ending all meat-eating, has proven a non-starter for me. This leads me to focus on reducing my meat consumption. This idea I can digest - the umami of meat, especially when preserved, can have a culinary impact in even marginal quantities. Instead of making a meal of a five-ounce salmon fillet, I can season my otherwise vegetarian dish with an ounce of cured fish, or even half of that. The preservation reduces waste by using more of the animal and of course, extending the shelf life of the food. Yesterday at my grocery store’s butcher counter I bought a pint of lox ‘trimmings.’ It was half of the price of their sliced lox and suited my purposes just fine - what a bargain!
I made a Niçoise-style salad of boiled potatoes, fennel, green beans, soft-boiled eggs and olives. I sprinkled it with shredded lox, and dressed with a condiment of aioli and sour cream, olive oil and lemon. It was a robust, warm winter salad with a depth of flavor rounded richly by the umami of the preserved salmon.
Scroll down for a printable version of this recipe
Makes 4 entrée portions
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
For the dressing:
2 teaspoons garlic, finely minced
1/2 cup mayonnaise (I used homemade aioli, which is superior for this application)
1/4 cup sour cream
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire (optional)
Mix these ingredients. Spread in a thick pool on a serving plate.
For the salad:
1 pound small Yukon gold potatoes, whole
1 bulb fennel, sliced against the grain 1/4 inch
1 pound green beans, trimmed
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 lemon zest
Fresh lemon juice to taste
Salt and fresh ground pepper
1/2 cup olives of your choosing, sliced
1/2 cup Vidalia onion, thinly sliced
1 cup small yellow bell peppers, thinly sliced
4 eggs, boiled for 4 minutes, chilled, peeled and quartered
2 ounces lox
1. Add the potatoes to a pot, cover with water by an inch, and bring to a low simmer. Cook (without boiling to keep the skins and flesh intact) until tender when pierced with a paring knife, about 10-15 minutes depending on the size of the potatoes.
2. Remove the potatoes from the water, blanch the fennel for one minute in the same water and remove with a spider or slotted spoon.
3. Blanch the beans in the same water until slightly softened and remove them as well.
4. While still warm, cut the potatoes into bite-sized chunks and put them in a bowl with the fennel and beans. Toss with the olive oil, zest, some juice (not too much!), salt and pepper.
5. Distribute the potato mix on top of the plated dressing. Scatter olives, onions and bell peppers on top. Scatter the lox, and place the eggs on the salad. If you have some parsley leaves throw them onto the pile. Drizzle a thin layer of olive oil to make it glisten. Add a little cracked pepper and enjoy!
Most people familiar with Salad Niçoise think of it containing tomatoes. Further, traditionally canned tuna is used, a simple vinaigrette is the dressing, and the salad is served cool. But true cooking is flexible. I wanted this to be relevant to a chilly February night, so I served it warm. The rich dressing also served as a winter salve. I had no tomatoes and no faith in winter tomatoes, so I eliminated them.
These are simple adventures that all cooks can experiment with, as we discuss in our Culianry Boot Camp classes. Much of my salad I topped with some shaved, good quality Parmigiano. It felt way out in left field and I found it to be surprisingly harmonious. It worked with the salmon, and if I ever choose to quit meat cold turkey, it will work without as well.
If you want to learn how to make a delicious brunch that just happens to be vegan, two spots are still available in our Hands-On Vegan Brunch class at the Mart on Saturday, February 19 at 11am. You'll make:
- Whole Grain Blueberry Muffins
- Mushroom and Swiss Chard Quiche
- Sweet Potato Hash Browns