"The only real stumbling block is the fear of failure. In cooking, you have got to have a what-the-hell attitude." ~ Julia Child

You say tomato salad, I say $@@!*&?$!

by Julie on August 23, 2010

in Good Ideas Gone Bad, Lunch, Vegetarian

The difference between you and me is that you could make this delicious Spanish-inspired tomato salad on the first try. It’s really very simple and straight-forward. No strange ingredients. Nothing requiring more than a basic ability to read English and just a smidge of linear thinking.

Me though. I put in too much of that and too little of this. Over-seasoned it all somehow, and then, for my trouble, violently sliced through the top of my thumb. And that was before I was done quartering all those cherry toms. Ouchie!

That said, the salad didn’t turn out as bad as it could have. Indeed, not bad at all for a first try, rushed for time as I was, and so very gravely, tragically injured …

It was a little soupy though.

Spanish tomato salad

Soup and salad, anyone?

And everyone agreed: a little too tangy. Perhaps it was a portion issue. I’m famous for those. Maybe too much red vinegar or too few tomatoes … maybe my garlic cloves were too big… who the heck knows what I did wrong.

Because how easy-peasy is this one?

The recipe: (courtesy of Eating Well Magazine)

1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon paprika, preferably smoked (in fact, insist on smoked paprika.)
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs, preferably whole-wheat  (for God’s sake just make your own: I cut the crusts off two pieces of whole wheat bread and rubbed them against a grater over a plate. Fried all that up in a little olive oil. Worked great.)
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar or red-wine vinegar
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 pounds tomatoes, cut into wedges (I used two clamshell cartons of organic heirloom cherry tomatoes from Trader Joe’s, cut into halves or quarters depending on their size)
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
16 caperberries (WTF? I used capers. 1/4 cup. rinsed.)

Heat 1/3 cup oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and paprika and cook, stirring, until the garlic is fragrant and sizzling, but not brown (good luck with that) — about 20 seconds. Transfer to a large bowl to cool.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in the pan over medium heat. Add breadcrumbs, and cook, stirring, until crispy and golden brown, about 5 minutes.  I let them cool off, then crumbled them into a jar for later use. Transfer the breadcrumbs to a plate.
Whisk vinegar, pepper, sugar and salt into the garlic-paprika oil. Add tomatoes, parsley, caperberries (or capers); gently stir to combine.
Transfer the tomato salad to a platter and top with the fried breadcrumbs.

I added some cucumber. I tried some crumbled feta cheese on top of the breadcrumbs. Naw.

Of course the sample  neighbor Robin brought down earlier this week was a revelation: fresh and piquant, a vibrant red.  She then made savory vegetable pancakes with which to serve this salad on, and sent me a cell phone picture  (which I unthinkingly deleted or I would show here…) with the come hither message: They’re hot. Come and get one. And I unquestioningly obeyed, and was rewarded with a meal I would happily have paid $20 for at any bistro in Silverlake.

But that’s her. She’s in the Kitchen Goddess classes. Where I got the idea that I could make this same meal for my mother-in-law before she returned to England today has me wondering what I was smoking.  Robin knows what she’s doing. She even calmly talked me through the prep. To no avail. And I ran out of time to even think about making the savory pancakes.

But again, not as bad as it could have been. And delicious enough for a do over, maybe as soon as next week (as soon as the thumb heals…)

tomato salad

One of the last cellphone pictures I will ever take for this blog. Promise.

Lessons for next time:  Don’t try this again during summer vacation, when one half of the children are in the next room screaming instructions to some fellow Halo-player in Bolivia  and the other half is texting you demanding to be picked up NOW from her 48-hour playdate. And your Mother-in-law is about to board a plane in four hours, and there is a major egg recall, compelling you to keep one eye on the computer for work the whole time.

Don’t do it when you don’t have a single bottle of beer to fortify you on a 90-degree day.

Try it again and don’t try to season expertly or improvise with the ingredients. Just follow the damn instructions.

And next time, schedule an hour for the pancakes …

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Mrs Puddle August 24, 2010 at 12:15 am

Julie! OMG I just learned an awesome trick for cutting cherry tomatoes in half. You take a deli lid (like off of sour cream or cottage cheese), and put the tomatoes on top of it, and then take a second lid and put it upside down on top of those. Then you just run your knife through the gap, effectively slicing all those tiny tomatoes into perfect halves instantly! I’m so pleased by this method that I sometimes do it just for the hell of it. Also works well with grapes. 🙂


Bruce August 24, 2010 at 5:16 pm

Sounds fantastic. And I’ve been looking for a caperberry recipe 😉


Robin August 24, 2010 at 9:56 pm

Oh, Jules. The tricky thing about cucumbers is that when you add them to anything with salt, they weep like Mother Teresa. This may have been the cause of the soupage. Please try to make it again. I’ll have the smoky paprika waiting for you.


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