Right before I left for France, like an hour before, I read this post by the ever thoughtful and ever hilarious Cheryl. She had just celebrated the same birthday that I was about to fly off and celebrate, and she chose to be very quiet about what they actually did. It was just the thing I needed to read before my trip. I realized I had been approaching this vacation with more thoughts about how I would write about it than with thoughts of how I would experience it. I never obsessed about the food I was going to eat but I was kind of obsessing about the fact that I wasn’t obsessing. What food-loving person doesn’t plan her every meal and snack in Paris?
I had a vague idea of some of the things I wanted to eat but I really wanted to try and keep things fluid. I think staying more relaxed about expectations means a smaller chance of disappointment. In my mind, I composed a list of things I would like to eat, but I tried to not have any emotional attachment to those things. My list included: crèpes, croissants, café crème and baguette with jam each French morning, felafel in the Marais, Berthillon’s salted caramel ice cream on the Île St. Louis, and somewhere along the line, a big French salad. Any or all would have been fine.
The truth is, Paris is not a great city for a vegetarian, especially at dinner time. Not only is French food meat-heavy to begin with but, in my limited experience, the Parisians seem to be as baffled by the idea of not eating meat for a main course as they were when I studied there 20 years ago. I get funny looks when I say I don’t eat meat, not even poisson, and inevitably I end up with a plate of vegetables for dinner. Good vegetables, but still. This is not the case if you go to a Moroccan restaurant or an Italian restaurant, both of which are easily found all over Paris. But if you are going traditional French, vegetable platter it is.
As it turns out, I didn’t have a crèpe, only one café crème breakfast because I slept late every morning (poor me!), only part of a croissant, and I did not get my big French salad. I eat a lot of salad in my life so you might be surprised to see a salad on my “want to eat” list. Have you ever had a French salad? I don’t mean the palate cleaning greens that you see in multi-course meals, I mean the kind you find in any good brasserie. A filling, healthy, perfectly balanced salad. You see, Paris is a pretty good place to be a vegetarian at lunch time. Omelets, crèpes, salads and pommes frites are in abundance. They look at you a little strangely when you ask to leave the poulet off the salad, but it is still filling and wonderful and features that perfect, mustardy, and oh-so-simple and yet totally perfect French vinaigrette.
Over the next few weeks, I plan to make some of the food I missed (including the main course portion of an Indian dinner at a beloved restaurant in London), some of the food I ate successfully, and some other things that were inspired by the trip. But for now, salad. And a few photos.
The morning of the baguette and café crème.
Let me tell you, it was hot in Paris. Like 90 degrees hot. Also let me tell you that my parents are both leaning and I am standing upright. And my mom is still taller than me. 5’3″ baby. I got the short gene in the family.
Yes, I got my salted caramel ice cream. As much as I wanted to, I was not actually two fisting it here. Just holding Randy’s while he took the photo. He had sorbet. If it had been more salted caramel, I would have eaten his.
One Year Ago: Spring Vegetable Salad
Two Years Ago: Mushroom Pearl Pasta with Sweet Peas and Goat Cheese
Big French Salad
Dana Treat Original
You will notice green beans in the recipe but no green beans on the plate. The whole time I was eating my salad, I felt like something was missing. All the while the already-blanched beans were calling to me from the refrigerator. Next time, drink wine with dinner not before.
1 handful green beans, trimmed
2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes
1 handful cherry tomatoes, halved
1 10-oz. can corn, drained
1 carrot, peeled and shredded
½ small avocado, cut into ½-inch pieces
2 hard boiled eggs, peeled and halved
Several leaves of romaine lettuce, torn
Lemon Mustard Vinaigrette:
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 tbsp. white wine vinegar
Juice of ½ a lemon
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. chopped chives (optional)
For the salad: Bring a medium saucepan of salted water to a boil. Have a bowl of ice water ready. Put the green beans in the water for 2 minutes, then scoop them out and into the ice water. You want them blanched, not cooked, so they still have a crunch but are not raw. Once they are cool, drain the beans.
Meanwhile, add the potatoes to the water and cook until just tender, about 10 minutes. You don’t want mush so if anything, undercook them a bit. Drain the potatoes.
Lay some lettuce down on each of two dinner plates. Group the remaining vegetables around the plate and don’t forget the green beans. Drizzle dressing over the salad and serve with a crusty French bread.
For the dressing: Put the mustard, vinegar, lemon juice, a healthy pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper into a glass jar. Top with the lid and shake vigorously. Remove the lid and pour in the olive oil. You want this dressing to have a lot of bite, so you will use less oil than the traditional 3:1 ratio. Top with the lid and shake vigorously once again. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.