Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Perfect Salad

Last week Sean and I met a couple who recently moved to Toronto for lunch.  He is a colleague.  The lunch was a mix of business and pleasure.  We met at a restaurant near his new job since he had another appointment afterward.

The company was delightful.  My afternoon was free until school pickup, and Gilah and I schmoozed for two more hours.

On the other hand, lunch... not so delightful.  (Although Sean says he had a great sandwich.)  I had onion soup and a salad caprese.  The menu said, "Tomatoes, Olives, Fresh Mozzarella and Red Onion tossed with our Olive Oil Balsamic Vinaigrette on Romaine Lettuce with a splash of Pesto."  A real salad caprese is buffalo mozzarella, plum tomatoes, and basil leaves with a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  There are variations with mixed greens, other vegetables, and even meats (but why would you make the world's most perfect salad treyf?).  Both onion soup and salad caprese are favorites of mine.

My soup was okay.  That is not stunning for onion soup.  Onion soup is one of the easiest soups to make.  Lightly brown lots of sliced onions in whatever fat you are using (butter, olive oil, etc.).  Add some flour to thicken; then liquid.  Simmer for a while.  Look!  Yummy soup!  This soup lacked onion flavor, but made up for that with an oily texture.  This is not a good thing.

The salad was a complete disappointment.  I don't like olives, but they were on the side, and Sean does like them.  That's my own personal problem, which we solved easily.  The best mozzarella is made from buffalo milk, although cow's milk mozzarella is acceptable.  Unless the menu states mozzarella di bufala, I expect cow's milk.  It is cheaper, and more readily available.  Good mozzarella is also soft.  It is stored in water, and absorbs that moisture.  This is the kind of mozzarella that should be used for salad caprese.  Low moisture mozzarella is often used in the food industry (Think pizza.).  While it's not the ideal, I expect this is what I will get in a mid-line restaurant.  There is also smoked mozzarella, but it's not for this kind of a salad.  The so-called "fresh mozzarella" was shredded cheese you can buy in bag in the supermarket.  It had barely any flavor, and was more of a topping than the focus of the salad.  The salad also contained about 1/4 of a tomato.  The whole point of salad caprese is the cheese and tomato combination, so to have them as a topping was a total disappointment.  If the vinaigrette had balsamic, it was a cheap light version.  The salad was mostly red onion and lettuce with a lousy vinaigrette.

A few days later, now craving a salad caprese, I bought some mozzarella fior di latte.  That's cow's milk for non-Italian speakers.  At home I began to build my salad.  Turns out we were out of balsamic, a tragedy that has not previously occurred in my marriage.  The only basil was dried.  I had an okay salad with mozzarella, but not the caprese for which I yearned.

Last night, 9 days after the first fiasco, I had the perfect salad.  We bought good balsamic.  I now have a basil plant on my desk, and I picked up some mozzarella di bufala.  My dinner was a beautiful layering of that splendid cheese with sweet, flavorful sliced grape tomatoes and freshly picked basil leaves, drizzled with balsamic and olive oil.  I had a sliced avocado on the side, just because.  It was perfect.  I even licked the plate.

Finally, satisfaction.

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