Last month, when I switched over from soups to salads for my Recipe of the Month, I picked out two salads from Mark Bittman that I wanted to try. I chose the rice salad over the Chickpea Salad with Arugula because it seemed like a pity to buy arugula from the store when we had arugula growing in the garden that would be ready to eat in a month or so. We'd planted our arugula one square at a time, about a week apart, to space out the harvest so that we'd get enough for one or two nice salads each week instead of a whole week of salads at once. We'd also sown it thickly, using the "carpet bombing" method that we first adopted with our basil, which guarantees that enough of the plants will grow to fill the square nicely and also helps choke out any competing weeds. Thus, we figured, by early to mid-May, we should have at least one square of arugula that was ready for thinning, and the tender young plants we pulled out to make room for the surrounding plants to grow should be just right for this salad.
Sure enough, by last weekend, the first square of arugula had formed a nice, dense patch of little plants all crowded together, ripe for thinning. Brian pulled out the excess, along with a couple of volunteer arugula plants he discovered growing in the neighborhood of the compost bin, and carefully washed off all the dirt that clung to the roots. This, he reports, was the most labor-intensive part of preparing the recipe.
Making the dressing, by contrast, was pretty simple: just sauté some fresh ginger, garlic, and cumin seeds in olive oil for a couple of minutes, then add a can of chick peas (with salt and pepper to taste) and stir it around for another few minutes, and then take it off the heat and stir in a tablespoon each of water, honey, and rice wine vinegar. (Rice wine vinegar, more properly called rice vinegar, has a sweeter and milder taste than most other vinegars. We had actual rice wine vinegar on hand, having bought some at the H-Mart after encountering a couple of recipes that called for it, but if you don't, you can substitute apple cider vinegar with a pinch of sugar added.) While you're doing this, mash up a few of the chick peas with a fork to give the mix a more interesting texture. This dressing goes over top of the arugula while it's still warm, along with a thinly sliced red onion. And presto: dinner.
This light and simple recipe made a meal for the two of us, with just a little homemade rye bread (and a bottle of Mike's Hard Limeade) to accompany it. And for such a quick meal, it was remarkably flavorful. The arugula, being young and tender, had a milder and less peppery taste than mature leaves, but the lightly sweet and spicy dressing provided plenty of flavor. And the leaves, slightly wilted by the hot dressing, made a nice texture contrast with the crisp red onion and the chewy chick peas. Brian didn't even bother to add any salt and pepper during the cooking, and I thought the dish stood up perfectly well without it, though Brian found a touch of salt helpful to bring out the flavors. Between us, we polished off the entire bowl, but considering that everything in it is so wholesome, we didn't feel any guilt about eating it all. And Brian commented, "We'll definitely be making this again"—which shouldn't be a problem, since there's plenty more arugula where this batch came from.
So, five months into the year, our soup-and-salad experiment is going pretty well. January's Hearty Vegetable Soup was a bit of a disappointment, but February's Winter Soba Noodle Salad was worth making again, as was the Hearty Bluefish Chowder Brian dreamed up for March. And last month's Colorful Rice Salad will certainly come in handy for pot luck meals, since it's both vegan and gluten-free, meaning that pretty much everyone can eat it. So all in all, I think this year's version of the Fruit or Veggie of the Month experiment has been the most successful so far at helping me eat healthier. Here's to seven more months of tasty soups and salads that are easy on the waistline.