Remember in high school when you learned about sonnets? I always found them particularly impressive. I have a book of Shakespeare's sonnets, and there are so many I love. He manages to get across a point that is so astute, emotionally resonant, and verbally nimble, all in 14 very strictly regulated lines. All forms of poetry have their merits, and I can get a lot out of the most self-governed rambling TS Eliot poem. But there is something to be said for starting with a set of restrictions, and working within them to build a great piece of art.
I feel the same way about dietary restrictions. While I have some remnants of a kosher childhood baked into my diet, for the most part, I myself eat most things. But I love the opportunity to entertain guests who can't eat one thing or another. I used to be annoyed with the hassle of working around a handful of limitations, but now I enjoy the creative challenge. Whether it's for family members who keep kosher, bookclub members who are vegan (and if you're talking restrictions, veganism is the sestina of the culinary world), it's fun to come up with an appetizing dish without resorting to the old standbys.
I have a couple friends who have made cooking within dietary restrictions their life's work. One is a vegan chef whose sloppy joes and pumpkin 'cheesecake' have singlehandedly turned me around on the plausibility of delicious vegan food. The other is currently in Paris, studying to be a wheat-free pastry chef, in the interest of making pastries she can actually eat. I look forward to tasting the fruits of her hard work when she's back in town (last I heard, she was learning to make macarons... mmmm)!
I had my friend Rachel over for dinner tonight. Rachel is lactose-intolerant, or as she says herself, she's a lactard. She's discovered over the years that the smallest bit of dairy can destroy her insides, so she steers clear. We went with an Italian theme tonight; for the main course I made this recipe for sliced steak with arugula (she loves arugula, and so do I). It feels very much like summer this week, and so I felt like a caprese salad would be delicious alongside. But alas mozzarella would mean certain destruction for dear Rachel. Time to improvise... let's see... summery, California, rich, fresh, and sliceable.... got it! Avocado! I replaced the mozzarella with avocado, which I sprinkled with a little lemon juice to prevent discoloration. I added some lemon zest to the whole lot -- not traditional, but we've gotta give the lactards something special!
So the complete menu: caprese salad, mini ciabatta, sauteed broccoflower (have you seen this stuff? It's kind of amazing), and the steak. Satisfying and lactose-free. By the way, the lactard caprese works great as an appetizer to a meat meal in a kosher kitchen (in fact, use kosher meat for the steak, and you're good to go on the entire menu). Gluten-allergics can replace the bread with a gluten-free bread, and for vegans, it would be interesting to try replacing the beef in the steak dish with sliced portobello mushrooms.
By close of meal we felt we'd ate a horse,
And ended with some tea -- no milk, of course.
(ok so i'm no shakespeare...)
file under: dining in