I arrived home from my very fabulous trip yesterday in a terrible mood. As a kid, I used to cry on Christmas night because it was “another whole year ‘til Christmas,” and I experienced similar post-vacation emotions last night. It doesn’t help that Logan is still in Rio drinking caipirinhas and giving himself the meat sweats (business school is tough), and that I’m forced to deal with my vacation withdrawal alone.
I will give you a full run-down of my South American extravaganza at some point, but let’s just say that it was indulgent on many fronts. I am actually grateful to have the next week to myself, since it will probably take that long for me to recover. I look forward to the “me-time” that will be spent wearing Biore pore strips, sleeping in full-blown pajama sets, and eating exclusively detox salad.
|Preview of the next week. No shame in my game.|
This salad was actually inspired by one that I ate approximately four times a week while living in Paris. It is a brilliant creation by the chefs at a lovely restaurant called Le Pain Quotidien. You may have heard of it. In fact, you probably walk past one of these fine establishments on a daily basis (especially if you live in NYC, DC, or LA). I’m sure you’re wondering why I would ever eat at a chain restaurant multiple times a week while living in a culinary hub like Paris. The answer is simple: I love salad.
Allow me to elaborate. I’ve always been very attached to my personal conception of salad, which involves fresh lettuces piled high with vegetables and grilled meat or fish and tossed with a light dressing. (This is probably due to my Californian roots.) I also enjoy the occasional addition of nuts, dried fruit, whole grains, and maybe a sprinkling of cheese, but in my mind, salads are meant to be light and refreshing. You should be satisfied after eating them, but never feel the need to unbutton your jeans or take a nap.
Unfortunately, the French don’t exactly take this “light and refreshing” approach to salad. I distinctly remember learning this the hard way during my first week in Paris. I ordered a chicken salad on one of my “dining alone” excursions, and when it came out, I thought the cute French waiter was messing with me. The plate was piled high with hardboiled eggs (which I do NOT like in my salads, sorry), gruyere, roast chicken, green beans, tomatoes, and like seventy other ingredients, which were soaked in a ridiculously creamy dressing. Needless to say, this “salad” was a very unexpected and disturbing beast.
For weeks I held out hope that not all salads in Paris would be this heavy. I varied my order at many different cafes, but each time, I found myself disappointedly picking at a heavy meal passed off as a salad. Even a simple “salade verte” would come out swimming in thick vinaigrette. My taste buds and my tighter dresses simply could not stand it.
And then, one day when I was ambling along the streets of my neighborhood (as one who is unemployed does), I spotted it. Sitting at a quaint wooden table outside a café was a very stylish Parisian girl laughing with friends over a plate of greens with what looked to be fresh vegetables and quinoa. I could distinguish these things because the dressing was translucent, which was practically a Parisian miracle. I wanted this girl’s outfit and social life, but more importantly I wanted her salad.
I immediately sat down at an empty table and demanded ”whatever that girl was having” in my best French. Apparently, it was a “salade detox,” which I very much liked the sound of. While I was anxiously awaiting my greens, I noticed the menu on the next table with Le Pain Quotidien emblazoned on the front. Sacrebleu! An international chain? Blergh. Yes, I was disappointed that I hadn’t discovered some hidden Parisian gem, but I was so thrilled by the salade detox that I chose to ignore its chain status and thought of it as my personal salad haven for the next year.
I was so grateful for this glorious salad that I became my local PQ’s most dedicated customer. I regularly ate lunch at their communal table in winter and on the sidewalk in summer. I picked up a salad to go for dinner after school several nights a week, which was necessary since I spent most of the day cooking and eating incredibly delicious and heavy French food. In fact, I became so well known that even the short-order cook would greet me on his cig breaks by calling into the kitchen, “Elle est ici! La fille ‘sans tomates’!” Translation: She’s here! The ‘no tomatoes’ girl! (Note: I always ordered my salad without tomatoes. I despise raw tomatoes.) Clearly, I was a PQ celebrity. It was like my own personal version of Cheers, where everyone knew my name.
I grew so attached to my salade detoxe over time, that when my lease was up I limited my search radius for new apartments to within 4 blocks of the restaurant. At least I did until my roommate gave me a lecture about how we could not make decisions about apartments based on their proximity to PQ. That was a hard pill to swallow. However, by some stroke of “luck” our new place ended up being just around the corner. It’s funny how things like that work out…
Weirdly, I have not been able to eat at Le Pain Quotidien since returning from Paris. It’s too emotional, and they don’t even have my beloved detox salad on the menu here. However, I do make my own awesome version of it all the time. Peppery arugula serves as the base of this incredibly textured salad. Grated carrots give a hint of sweetness, thinly sliced radishes and cucumbers lend the necessary crunch, and creamy avocado adds richness. A generous serving of quinoa rounds everything out and gives the salad a subtle nutty flavor. The zippy dressing is little more than lemon juice, olive oil, and a spoonful of Dijon.
Detox salad is incredibly easy to throw together, and it’s the perfect light summer meal or side dish. I love the idea of serving it outdoors with some simple chicken paillard or grilled halibut. You can also use whatever leftover grains you have in your fridge in place of quinoa (farro, barley, etc.). The best part about this salad, which is packed with anti-oxidants, fiber, and healthy fat from the avocado, is how good you feel after eating it. De-toxing is rarely this delicious, friends. Get on board.
¾ cup uncooked quinoa
1 cup grated carrots
4 large radishes, thinly sliced
½ medium English cucumber (or any seedless variety), thinly sliced
1 avocado, sliced or chopped
5 ounces baby arugula (about 5 cups)
Juice of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon honey
½ teaspoon kosher salt
Pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
Cook the quinoa according to the package directions. Set aside and allow it to cool to room temperature.
Using a mandolin or sharp knife, finely slice the radishes and cucumbers. Grate your carrots if using whole carrots. (You can obviously use store bought grated carrots to save time). Wait to slice your avocados until just before serving, since they brown quickly.
In a small bowl, combine all of the ingredients for the dressing and mix well.
Time to assemble your salad! You have two options, both of which are awesome: Place all of the salad ingredients in a large bowl and toss with the dressing. (This is obviously the easier method.) Toss the arugula with the dressing. Divide the arugula among 4 plates. Top the arugula with ½ cup quinoa. Arrange the cucumbers, carrots, radishes, and avocado around the quinoa. This looks fancier (see below), but the choice is yours.
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