Fish Sauce Junkie

My shoulder has really kept me from the kitchen, but last week I went to Russo’s for the first time in months. There were plums and peaches and pluots, although the apricots were still a touch more than I wanted to spend. And the radishes were a vivid pink, so much so that I couldn’t leave them behind. I started plotting a salad using plums and radishes. Rich was skeptical, but I pushed forward, throwing in cucumber and tomatoes, and a touch of butter lettuce.

I bought plums, but Lilli got a cupcake.

I bought plums, but Lilli got a cupcake.

But what really made this salad was the dressing, the recipe for which has been sitting in my drafts folder for well over a year. I think it’s from Gwyneth Paltrow. I borrowed her cookbooks from the library last year and was happy I did. Think what you will about GOOP, but her dressings are great.

It’s called Vietnamese Salad Dressing, and I think it’s wonderful. Rich does not. I’m an admitted fish sauce junkie, and I know that’s not everyone’s cup of tea. If you like Vietnamese food, you’ll probably love this dressing, too.

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My friend Caitlyn, who lived in Thailand, advises that Squid is the brand of fish sauce you want to use. I don’t own spicy sesame oil, just regular, so I used that, instead. I keep mine stored in the fridge, by the way. Agave nectar isn’t as healthy as once thought to be, so I use honey; I think palm sugar would actually be perfect for this recipe if you have it on hand.

Vietnamese Salad Dressing

¼ cup fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
2 teaspoons soy sauce
¼ cup fish sauce
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon hot pepper sesame oil
2 tablespoons agave nectar
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon minced ginger
2 tablespoons finely diced red onion or shallot

Combine all ingredients in a jar. Screw on lid, give it a good shake, and go for it.

“You’re never fully dressed…”

Magical miso dressing atop some crisp Romaine and a few discs of Daikon radish.

I didn’t have a meal plan in college. Not sure who decided that students working on two BAs simultaneously wouldn’t have the need for a cafeteria, but there we were, 18-year-olds with a kitchen, a pot, a pan, a blender and a few cookbooks.

One of my go-to cookbooks had a terrific salad dressing recipe that I absolutely adored and made all the time. The garlicy miso dressing was made for a crunchy lettuce such as Romaine. After graduation, I moved to a cockroach-infested but very affordable one-bedroom in a soon-to-be-gentrified neighborhood in Harlem.  But I soon learned that cockroaches and cookbooks do not mix, and I had to toss out nearly my entire collection, including the one that had the amazing salad dressing recipe.

It was about a year ago that I discovered Freecycle, a grassroots and non-profit group of folks who give and get stuff for free. It’s really pretty simple: What you have, but don’t want, may be exactly what someone in your town is looking for. And what you want but don’t have, may be exactly what someone in your town is trying to give away. You can give and take all you want, but you can’t “want” (request a particular item) until you give. So far this year, I have given away an exercise bike with a busted monitor, a dozen antique doors a friend of mine had in his yard (don’t ask), and an out-dated ipod Nano car charger. And some of the gems I have found off of Freecycle include a panini press, some Laura Ashley cake plates, and about a dozen cookbooks, including a brand-new copy of that cookbook from college that had the magical salad dressing recipe! Isn’t karma amazing?!?

Just a warning about Freecycle: The e-mails are fast and furious nearly 24/7, so you might want a digest to come to your inbox once a day, especially if you sign up for a few Freecycles in your area. The downside of the digests is that you might miss out on some of the good stuff which gets claimed as soon as it’s posted.

Miso Dressing from Quick Vegetarian Pleasures by Jeanne Lemlin

Miso's one of those things that can hang out in your fridge for eons with no adverse effects.

3 tablespoons rice (white) miso or barley (red miso)

2 garlic cloves, chopped

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, or red wine vinegar

1 1/2 tablespoons oriental sesame oil

3/4 cup vegetable oil

1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon water

Makes 1 1/2 cups

1. Blend the miso, garlic, vinegar and sesame oil in a blender or food processor until smooth.

2. With the machine still running, very slowly pour in the oil. When the mixture has emulsified, slowly pour in the water and blend 10 seconds or so. The finished dressing should have a smooth, mayonnaise-like consistency. The dressing can be kept refrigerated for up to 4 days.

Liquid gold. My bet is one of us will have a need for a fresh salad by lunch tomorrow.

Note: If by chance your dressing separates, try scraping the dressing into a bowl. Clean and dry  the processor or blender, put 1 tablespoon cold water in the container, and turn on the machine. With the cover off, pour in 1 tablespoon of the dressing. Once incorporated, add another 1 tablespoon of dressing. Once incorporated, add another 1 tablespoon dressing. Repeat until all the dressing has been added. It should rebind to a thick, creamy consistency.