Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Knack, Knack?

What's yours? Everyone's got at least one.

You know what I'm talking about: what's your special talent that makes life just a little more fun? What do you have a knack for? I'm not talking about a learned skills that may have taken you the Gladwellian 10,000 hours to perfect. I'm not talking about your college major, or what you do professionally or even as a hobby. I'm thinking it may not be something that makes you money or brings you acclaim. It probably comes intuitively to you.

"She has a knack for figuring out what is wrong with broken toasters."
"He has such a knack for always knowing just what to say."
"She has a knack for picking perfect paint colors."

I'm interested in knowing your knack: your God-given talent with a sprinkling of fairy dust. I'll get us started. I've got two. One you already know about: I can find four-leaf clovers, big bouquets of them. See, how silly is that? Of course it will not make me any money or even bring me any acclaim, unless you are a seven-year-old and in awe of such talent. But it does bring me joy every time I reach down to pluck one up.

My second knack is my ability to read a recipe and know instinctively if it will work, or, if not, how to tweak it so that it does. I glance at a number of cooking blogs, but there are only a few that I read on a regular basis. Usually the writers of those blogs are 1) good writers/story tellers 2) good photographers and 3) cook like I like to cook.

On Monday night, I read this post by Shauna James Ahern's of Gluten-free Girl and the Chef. At the end of her heart-breaking post about her tough summer, she shared a recipe for peach-tomato-watermelon salad with basil-lemon-tahini dressing. I read it and thought it sounded a bit odd. I've seen some recipes that include both tomatoes and watermelon and they have never done much for me. I've never had the urge to combine the two flavors. But this recipe also had peaches and jicama in it – and is topped with a lemony tahini dressing. The recipe caught my eye and I began to imagine what it might taste like.

I happen to have a bucket full of tomatoes straight out of my garden, peaches from Mulberry Orchard, and a watermelon that came from Kroger. I also had some basil growing in my garden, a bag of lemons, and some tahini on my pantry shelf (which I keep around for making Smitten Kitchen's Ethereally Smooth Hummus).

I did not have a jicama, but missing one ingredient has never stopped me from trying a recipe. I just substituted some carrots from my garden, cut into matchsticks for a bit of crunch.

I made it and then I tasted it. Then I ate most of the entire bowl – sharing only a spoonful or two with Ed.  It was amazing – like nothing I've ever tasted before. Something about the watermelon-tomato-peach fruit, combined with the creamy, nutty and earthy flavor of the tahini, was sheer brilliance. I made it again last night (without the carrots) and today I bought a jicama so that I can make it again on Friday. (I have a bad habit of finding a recipe I like and then making it non-stop until everyone screams for me to stop.)

I hope you will try this recipe. It requires no cooking. Just some chopping up and blending of the dressing. It is as pretty as it is tasty. Trust me. I've got a knack for it.

peach-tomato salad with basil-lemon-tahini dressing
3 ripe peaches, cored and thinly sliced
3 large ripe tomatoes, cut into equal chunks
2 cups watermelon, cubed
1 half medium jicama, peeled and cut into matchsticks
2 ounces feta (or more if you love feta), cut into small cubes
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Note: the measurements on this recipe are only approximations. When you make the dressing in the blender, keep tasting it and adding — a little more lemon, a little more olive oil — until it tastes right to you.
2/3 cup tahini
juice of three lemons
zest of one lemon
3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup olive oil
Pull out your blender. (The Chef has taught me that making dressings in a blender makes them much, much better than stirring them with a fork!) Throw in the tahini, lemon juice, lemon zest, balsamic vinegar, and salt. Pulse in the blender until all the ingredients have become one. Taste. Add more of anything you feel it needs.
Slowly, through the top of the blender — ideally, you have a lid with a hole in it for this purpose — add the olive oil in a drizzle. Continue to add it until the dressing reaches the consistency you desire. If you leave it a little thick, this makes an excellent dip. If you keep adding oil, you will have a silky-smooth dressing in a few moments. Even when it has reached the consistency you wish, let the blender run for awhile, which will allow the oil to truly blend with the rest of the ingredients.
Makes two cups of dressing, which should keep in the refrigerator for a few weeks.
1/2 cup fresh basil
Make the salad. Combine the peaches, tomatoes, watermelon, and jicama. Season with salt.
Finish the dressing. Combine the lemon-tahini dressing with the fresh basil in a blender. Blend until the dressing is bright green.
Drizzle the dressing over the salad. Toss. Add the feta. Serve.
Feeds 4.

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