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I know that I promised you quail. Stuffed quail to be exact. But due to a glitch with our butcher’s bird supplier, the quail won’t be coming until Sunday. Apparently, when he ordered caille (French for quail) that some how translated to canard (duck) and the delivery last Saturday included two ducks instead of two quail. I love duck, but I didn’t need two of them. This weekend, he promised us, he’d go pick up the quail personally. We’ll see. I think he knew I was so disappointed.

In the meantime, I give you a Français-Sud Américain blend for lunch. Red Bean Plantain Empanadas with Tomato Mozzarella Salad.

I’d been thinking about empanadas for some time. They just sounded fun. Simple – only a few ingredients are in the filling. Hot – baked in the oven. With a crust. I love crunchy crusts. I’m a pie-without-the-pie-filling kind of girl. It’s weird.

Why red beans you ask? Well, I have looked EVERYWHERE – in fact in every market and grocery I go to, I still look – and I cannot find black beans anywhere. If you live in Provence and know of a place that sells black beans let me know. Or, if you’re feeling generous and live in the States, I haven’t lost anything in the mail yet.

There are many different recipes out there for empanada dough. But I was feeling lazy and simply bought two pâte brisée, which are close enough. That’s the French twist to these I guess.

Red Bean Plantain Empanadas

(Makes 8 LARGE Empanadas)

  • 1 can red beans – drained
  • 1 plantain
  • 1/3 red onion finely chopped
  • 1 – 2 cloves of garlic
  • ½ tsp of chili powder or to taste (I have super hot chili powder so I have to scale it back a lot)
  • ½ tomato finely chopped.

Slice up your plantain. In a heated frying pan with a little bit of oil, sautée your onion, garlic, and plantain until softish – about 8 minutes. Lower heat. Add beans, tomato, and chili powder. Cook until heated, then remove from heat immediately. Mix and mash up the plantains a bit. This is really just a texture thing and to get a good blend of plantain-bean in your filling. It’s entirely unnecessary.

Roll out your dough.

Here’s where I decided to forget the half-moon shape and just go for ease in presentation. I scooped a generous portion of the bean-plantain mixture onto one of the dough circles in about 7 portions.

Then I laid the other dough on top of it. Used a big coffee mug to mark out my empanadas. Cut the excess away and used it to make one final empanada.

Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes at 180°C or until golden brown.

You might want to add a little more oil to your filling before making your empanadas for some extra moisture. Or add cream or cheese if you’re like the husband and can’t imagine having something that doesn’t have meat and cheese in it:

“Mexican food has cheese!” He cried. Apparently, he’s the authority despite never having eaten Mexican food until he met me.

“They’re not Mexican,” I told him. “They’re from South America. Some say Peru, some say Argentina.” Actually, I looked it up and they’re originally from Moorish Spain and Portugal.

“Oh,” he said. But I could still hear the unspoken cries of “CHEESE!!!” going around in his head.

Serve your Empanads with something light. Because these babies are deceptively heavy. Tomato salad is a good choice. Simple, fresh, and so colorful.

  • 2 tomatoes
  • 1/3 red onion
  • 1 avocado
  • 1/2 can corn
  • 1/2 ball of mozzarella
  • Salsa verde or dressing of choice (lemon, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, mustard)

Chop all ingredients. Put into a bowl. Mix. Season with salt and pepper. Add a little salsa verde. Mix. Serve.

What is so fabulous about this lunch is that it’s so few ingredients and easy to prepare. Other than putting the empanadas together, it takes little time (around 30 minutes) and there was no stress involved, the way stuffing a quail might be stressful.

Definitely Thursday lunch comfort food. The type of thing you eat on a day off and then lie on the couch after with a cup of coffee trying not to fall asleep, so you type up a blog entry about your lunch that includes a myriad of run-on sentences because you’re so excited about how well your empanadas and tomato salad worked out and how the textures and flavors binded so wonderfully together and yet it was so SIMPLE.

I need more simplicity in my life. But that’s something for another day. Sorry about the run-on sentences and the quail. Here’s hoping Sunday won’t disappoint!

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Before you read the first part of this, you’re going to need a drink. I recommend a vodka tonic with a twist of lemon – or lime if you have it.

If you haven’t noticed, it’s August. To many people August means high heat and vacation. To me, no month is more dreaded. Not because of the heat, I love the heat. Not because I have to work while everyone goes on vacation – I get to take my vacation in September when everyone else is left with memories and mountains of work. I dread August because no other month in the year reminds me more that I am a foreigner in a hostile and confusing land. Or is it confused? I can never tell.

This comes two fold:

First, August is the month when I must begin the long and paperwork filled process of renewing my titre de séjour. No matter that my titre doesn’t expire until November. I have to begin making my appointments with the marie (town hall), getting my list of requirements – which changes every year, getting new official photographs taken, finding every piece of official looking paper with my name on it and then photocopy all of it – in triplicate.

Second, August is the month when everyone in Europe comes to Provence. And I do mean EVERYONE in Europe. La Seyne and Toulon, which are quiet, desolate towns 11 months out of the year suddenly explode in population. The boat I take to work is suddenly completely packed and I’m lucky to find a seat. Shopping at the market becomes a wrestling match where I have to push and shove in order to get to the table, then push and shove again in order to pick out the best vegetables.

But there’s another drawback to these out-of-towners. Obviously, many of them aren’t French. Obviously, I couldn’t care less, except that every time I go out of my house and open my mouth my accent immediately gets me treated like a tourist.

This was no where more apparent than in two examples from this week.

On my way to work yesterday morning, I walked through the market and decided to stop off at a fruit vendor and buy a peach for breakfast. I can buy a peach in French. It’s not hard. I can tell you what kind of peach I want. I can tell you if I want one that’s bien mûr (nice and ripe) or if I want one un peu dur (a bit hard) for later in the week. But as soon as I said “Je voudrais un pêche jaune” the man started answering me in English. Never mind that I was answering him in French. Never mind that his English was so terrible he had to repeat himself 3 times before I understood what he was asking. Never mind that I asked him to please speak French because I couldn’t understand him. I’m not a French citizen. Therefore he was required to speak to me in very bad English.

Today, was slightly different. I was in Toulon teaching. Went to the park after to have lunch. Then decided to stop and have a glass of wine at a café before heading home. I sat down at a café in the center of the city, near a lovely fountain, where I can watch the world walk by. The waiter came up to me. “Madame?

Un verre de rosé.

He didn’t even ask me to repeat it. He called over his colleague who “speaks English.”

“Tell me,” she said.

Un verre de rosé.

So now I had two blank faces staring at me.

Un verre de rosé,” I said again a little louder and getting lightly annoyed.

“Glass wine?” she asked.

C’est quoi j’ai dit.

“Red?”

J’ai dit rosé. Trois fois.

“Red?”

ROSE!” I half shouted and then turned my back on both of them.

They brought my glass. It was rosé.

The fact is, I’ve been to this café before. The fact is, I order a glass of wine all the time. The fact is that this ONLY happens to me in August where, whenever I open my mouth and my accent marks me as a foreigner, I’m immediately treated like an ignorant tourist who can’t speak any French.

And worst of all – I’m marked as an ENGLISH tourist.

Vous venez d’où en Angleterre?” They ask me.

Nul part. Je suis americane.

Quoi?” My god, she answered me in French – cannot compute.

After a very large inward sigh on my part: “London. I’m from London.”

C’est bien, Londres.

“Yeah, it’s great.” Too bad I’ve only been once when I was 14.

 Ironically, going to the marie where I can present proof that I have an address, a job and a life here in France, despite the paperwork, appointments and photographs, is much more pleasant. As they expect me to speak French, when I speak it, they don’t call over their colleague immediately upon me presenting my passport.

Also, to be clear, I have nothing against the British. But as it’s  British tourists that come to Provence and not American, apparently the locals can’t comprehend that there might be an American in their midst.

25 days of August to go. I’m counting them down.

In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy the rest of the summer with salad. Strawberry Spinach Salad.

I begged the husband to buy strawberries when he went shopping yesterday. It’s the last of the season, and they’re a bit pricier than in June, but I will miss them when they’re gone. I wanted to take advantage of the fact that they are still around, albiet in smaller quantities.

Perhaps you’ve seen this salad at restaurants. But it’s easy and tasty to make at home.

  • Strawberries
  • Fresh spinach
  • Chopped pecans
  • Sliced chicken
  • Gorgonzola
  • Onion – red works best.
  • Salt and pepper
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Dijon mustard
  • Honey

(not pictured: salt and pepper)

For this salad, I used already prepared chicken slices, but if you’re cooking your own chicken, you probably want to do that first.

Wash your fruits and veggies. If you don’t have chopped pecans, crumble, crush or chop them yourself. There’s no real reason for this other than that they’re easier to get on the fork and eat.

Slice your strawberries. Mince your onion. As it says above, red onion works best as the flavor gives the best contrast to the strawberry, but I forgot to specify what kind of onions I wanted when I gave my shopping list to the husband, so I had to use yellow.

Crumble or thinly cut your gorgonzola into chunks. I had a very soft, creamy cheese this time, so it was easier to cut it.

For the dressing:

Put some balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, honey, and dijon mustard into a salad bowl and whisk together. Only use a tiny bit of mustard and less than half a teaspoon of honey. These are really for an extra zing to your vinaigrette and you don’t want them to overwhelm your salad. You can use balsamic vinegar alone if something more simple is desired.

Add your chicken, strawberries, pecans, and onion. Coat them in the dressing.

 

 

Add spinach and gorgonzola. Toss and serve.

The combination of sweet strawberries, the crunch of pecans, bite of the onion, and the gorgonzola give this salad a wonderful and fresh flavor. It’s fun to eat and extremely satisfying. Especially when you’ve had a hard day of trying to prove yourself in a country that – at least for a month – can’t figure out that you speak their language.