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My “I Love You All” Papaya Salad

Papaya salad on an Asian dressing

Blame it on the rain. – We were all set up at the market, us vendors, ready for the customers. But it was unusually grey and wet and unfriendly on that specific morning, and the clients very obviously were not in a rush. So we had time to walk between each others booths, and chat. And of course we talked (mostly) food. My friend from San Salvador told me about a meal a Chinese neighbor had fixed for her – a Thai version of green Papaya salad with chicken. She gave one of the green – not quite ripe – Papayas her neighbor is growing in Matlacha to me. I was fascinated and kept on tinkering about what I would be transforming my green gift into.

Later that day, my son came home from his farm job with a box of longish, yellow, beautifully glowing peppers I had never seen before. A little research made clear that they were Aji Amarillo. From Peru. – One more tempting country and cuisine. One that ignited my plan: I was going to make  salad of Floridian products that have their roots in South- and Central America, and an Asian style dressing. An ode to all of my international food and market friends.

unripe papaya

open papaya, with  seeds

Julienning the Papaya on a mandolin makes for a good crunch. I used Aji Amarillo, Serrano and Red Bell peppers, simply because I had those on hand. One can adjust the varieties to desire, creating a more or less spicy salad. I also added red and yellow Cherry Tomatoes, which turned out to be vibrant eye catchers. For more green speckles (besides the fine strips of Serrano), i put in fresh, chopped Cilantro and some green onions. Basil would work very well also, as would the addition of cooked green beans. By using sesame oil, lime juice, soy sauce and cooking rice wine, I kept the dressing simple yet tasty. This salad can be served as a light appetizer, a refreshing side dish or, complemented by fresh, grilled or dried shrimp, some cooked chicken, seared Tofu and a handful of toasted peanuts or cashews, as a healthy main dish.

Oh, and it works as a cooling meal on a sweltering hot day just as well as for a brightening and soothing bite on a rainy one. So no blaming here.

ingredients for papaya salad

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West goes East

sauteer broccoli with asian flavors

While browsing the farmers market recently, the piled up bunches of Broccoli Raab looked like flower bouquets to me. There was nothing spectacular about them, no shiny colors or bold contrasts. But something intriguing, something very calming and attractive. Of course, some went home with me. Where they lasted for a while, without having been appointed a specific use or occasion. Not yet.

It was a small heap of seaweed salad on my plate one night, that suddenly changed this situation. Sesame oil, asian flavors, that was what I wanted to pair my Broccoli Raab with. Take this staple of the Mediterranean – especially southern Italy, Portugal and areas of north western Spain – east, marry its lovely bitterness with the clean, nutty nuances of sesame. Eureka!

broccoli rabe, bunch

The wilted Broccoli Raab, as I had decided to prepare it, can be served hot, right out of the pan, luke warm, or, for those who prefer it, cold. It can substitute a salad, stand as a side dish of any kind of protein, or even run the show on its own, maybe accompanied by some eggs, bread or a hunk of cheese (or tofu, for that matter). Left overs can be added to a soup, stuffed into a sandwich, chopped into scrambled eggs or an omelet. Rice noodles, anyone? Some bits of this green would look and taste very good in there…

Broccoli Raab, aka Broccoli Rabe or Rapini, belongs to the mustard family and, narrowed down further, is part of the turnip species. (Meaning that, except for the similar look of their florets, Broccoli Rabe and Broccoli are not related with each other.) Even though a lot of people only use the leaves and the buds, also the stems are edible and deliciously bitter and peppery. They just need a bit more time in the pan.

Simply sautéing Broccoli Raab is the easiest, quickest, healthiest and probably most satisfying way to prepare this vegetable. No need to look for more sophisticated techniques here. – Rather use your creativity when defining the character you want to give your flower bouquet, and choosing the matching ingredients.

edible stems of broccoli rabe

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