The Antidote

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     As long as a cool touch persists in our spring weather, we will continue to have these big, beautiful strawberries available.  My friend L, who is moving here from Kathmandu, reminded me recently of the strawberries that were available to us in the winter there.  I had heard that the introduction of strawberries to the Himalayas was an aid project from some decade, which is part of the experience of living in Kathmandu: realizing a variety of surprising cultural introductions that well intentioned organizations thought Nepalis needed.  Maybe they did.  As a result, for a few weeks in the winter, we could preorder little boxes of berries.  They arrived, neatly packed and tiny, more white than red.  Still, at a time of year when the fresh produce selection was the holy trinity of cauliflower, carrots, and tomatoes, they provided some longed for acidity and sweetness.  At least a little.
     I’m craving acidity today.  We had one of those community international day events at the school yesterday where families wear their national dress and bring their best national dishes to share.  It was actually pretty incredible.  There are 74 countries represented in our student population, but the African countries always take the prize for me on days like this and we have students from 38 out of the 52 African countries.  You can only imagine the color, particularly since I didn’t take any pictures.  But eating kim chi, next to Omani stuffed fry bread, topped off with Ethiopian injera, and then a number of European sweets has left me feeling a little like a dog that knows it needs to go munch on some grass in the yard.
      The only thing that sounds good to me is Dorie Greenspan’s “Mozzarella, Tomato, and Strawberry Salad”.  You can’t believe the interplay of the ingredients in this salad unless you try it.  As she points out, tomatoes and strawberries actually have quite a bit in common, aside from the fact that they are both red, unless you are in Nepal.  It’s the acidity quality they share and with some shreds of fresh basil and just a drizzle of our ‘touch of bitter’ Tunisian olive oil, it’s the tonic.  But, and this is key, you must have some slices of the best possible mozzarella on the side as a creamy counterbalance to the berries and tomatoes.  If you can, it is well worth it to buy the finest mozzarella di bufala.  Unfortunately, our Italian import shop was out of it today so I had to settle for the more common buffalo mozzarella in the plastic packages, which is still acceptable.
     At the market, we lucked into finding some bunches of chive bulbs, cilantro, and a ruby red piece of fresh tuna so we made a spicy tuna tartare for the side.

     Finally, I made some strawberry cakes from a Martha Stewart recipe.  They were wonderful, with the perfect balance of butter to fruit and not too sweet.

     I am feeling much better tonight.

Thank you Dorie for this rejuvenating ‘day after international day’ antidote. 
½ pound fresh mozzarella
16 small sweet strawberries, hulled
16 grape or cherry tomatoes or 2 regular tomatoes
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil
A few pink peppercorns
4 fresh basil leaves, halved lengthwise and shredded
Raspberry or balsamic vinegar (optional)
Assemble this salad immediately before eating as the acid in the produce will quickly start to break down the cheese.
Drain the mozzarella, if it’s in water, and lightly pat it dry.  Cut into slices and put two on each plate.
Cut strawberries in half, lengthwise, or into thirds if they are large, and put them in a bowl. Cut the tomatoes crosswise if they are small or into cubes the size of the strawberry pieces if they are large.  Add them to the strawberries.  Season lightly with salt and pepper and moisten, Dorie emphasizes just moisten, with a few drops of olive oil.  Turn the fruit around gently in the bowl and taste for seasoning.  Decide if you want to add a dash of vinegar, but don’t add it yet.  Arrange the berries and tomatoes alongside the mozzarella on the plates.
Finish the salad by pouring a little olive oil over the mozzarella, then crushing the pink peppercorns between your fingertip and sprinkling over the salad.  Scatter shredded basil leaves over the top.  Now, add the touch of vinegar if you have chosen to so as not to diminish the juiciness of the fruit.
Makes 4 servings
From Around My French Table, page 118

One thought on “The Antidote

  1. It will be nice to find RIPE berries and not be charged an obscene amount of money for them. I'm sure you remember the prices at Cold Storage for Australian strawberries. $35 SGD for 250 grams. Sigh.

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