Sometimes, I consider my own health. Sometimes, I even write about it. When I say this, I don’t mean that I stand in front of the mirror to point out my superficial flaws: a sparsely and incongruously hairy chest, a pocket of fat on my lower stomach that has resided there since birth (despite countless exercise regimens), big ol’ monkey ears, or two tiny matchstick legs with the knobbiest of knees. When I consider my own health, I think about the things I eat and drink. I think about how I treat my body. More recently, I’ve been thinking about how strange it is that, so often, the things that give us the most pleasure are often the most damaging to our bodies and our minds: a hamburger, a piece of chocolate cake, too much wine, a cigarette. With these kinds of pleasure, there is payment: heart disease, diabetes, alcoholism, lung cancer.
That which is “good” for us does not typically provide the same satisfaction. But why is it that, every once in a while, we find ourselves almost drunk with pleasure, soul weeping and rejoicing, over a bowl of the most perfect lettuce? Is this pleasure somehow deeper, somehow more true? I come to you with questions only. Today, I found myself almost tearing up while eating a salad. I understand that, to you, this might seem like very strange behavior. You might assume that such a reaction indicates emotional instability(as if our emotions are considered more stable when they are hidden from our faces). But we laugh and cry when moved by the strings of the violin, or the perfectly ordered brushstrokes on the canvas, the images of a film, the words and the story of a great novel. Are these things, created by men, somehow more deserving of our deepest emotion? We know the author by her work. And thus, we taste, touch, see, smell, breathe her work through the lines of the broken canyon, the great burning globe of sun, the downy hills of snow white snow, the sour apples in spring, the very lettuce in our fridge or on our plate.
The salad I present to you today is pretty special. Of course, it was not my idea to pair fennel with grapefruit. But I’ve done my best to elevate this from being something more than just pretty. It starts with fennel bulb, shaved impossibly thin, with perfectly balanced segments of pink grapefruit. It is dressed with sherry-shallot vinaigrette, sprigs of fresh mint, roasted cashews, and finished fresh fennel fronds. Normally, I’m not one to worry too much about the exact amounts of ingredients, but this time was different. The amounts I have listed are right on the money. Follow them correctly, and you’ll be happy. I’m not being hyperbolic when I tell you that this is the greatest salad that I have ever eaten, and that the whole sensual experience of it is beyond compare.
Fennel and Grapefruit Salad (serves 4 small portions, or 2 large)
For the Salad
1 fennel bulb, shaved
2 grapefruits, segmented and removed of all pith and skin
1/2 cup roasted cashews
1/4 cup whole fresh mint leaves (do not pack them in the measuring cup)
fennel fronds, for garnish
For the Sherry-Shallot Vinaigrette
3 tbsps shallot, chopped finely
3 tbsps sherry vinegar
1/4 cup canola oil
1 tbsp white sugar
1/2 tsp salt
juice of 1/2 lemon
When all the ingredients have been chopped and measured, add the shaved fennel to a large mixing bowl. In a separate, smaller bowl, mix together all of the ingredients for the vinaigrette and stir to combine. Once mixed, add 3/4 of the vinaigrette to the bowl of shaved fennel and gently mix until the fennel is well-coated. For me, this was enough. But if you have a large fennel bulb, you may need to add more. To the large bowl, add the grapefruit segments, mint, and roasted cashews. After plating the salad, add a few sprigs of mint and fresh fennel fronds. This dish is to be eaten alone and in silence in front of a large window overlooking a row of matured maple and oak trees.