Sometimes cooking is all about tradition and following certain rules about what ingredients classically belong together in a given type of cuisine. Other times, cooking is about what’s delicious and creating new combinations based solely on great flavor. What I like about Girl in the Kitchen, the new book by Stephanie Izard of which I received a review copy, is that it follows the latter approach. Izard, the first and only woman to win the Top Chef title, strives to balance a mix of flavors in every dish to “make your whole mouth happy.” So, you’ll find miso used in dishes that aren’t otherwise Asian-inspired, truffle oil mixed with poblanos in a vinaigrette, and shrimp cooked with sambal paste for a mango gazpacho. The book offers a fun approach to cooking in that it’s suggested to be used as a guide rather than strictly followed. She encourages you to think about what each ingredient brings to a dish so that if you want to make substitutions, you can choose something else that will work similarly. I’ve marked several pages of recipes I plan to try. Those include the crispy chickpea fritters with salsa verde, seared duck breasts a l’orange with braised duck spring rolls, roasted radishes with blue cheese peanuts and cilantro, and the miso-marcona almond butter for sauteed scallops. Last weekend, I wanted a salad with zippy flavor to wake up one more meal of leftover turkey, and the shaved fennel and bok choy salad with ginger vinaigrette fit the bill.
Although it’s called a salad, the thick dressing is intended to coat the vegetables like a slaw. The vinaigrette is an emulsion with Dijon mustard and an egg yolk, but the flavor is all about the ginger. An entire half cup of minced fresh ginger is used, and don’t be afraid. It mixes into the vinaigrette nicely, and once it’s incorporated with the fennel and bok choy, the flavor is perfect. The salad also has basil and cilantro, and delightfully, I actually have both of those herbs in my garden in the fall. My basil is on its last legs, but I had plenty for this use. Thinly sliced bok choy and fennel shaved on a Benriner were tossed with chopped cilantro and a chiffonade of basil. The dressing was made in a blender with minced ginger, shallot, Dijon mustard, white balsamic vinegar, an egg yolk, soy sauce, maple syrup, and grapeseed oil. Of course you can add whatever amount of dressing you prefer, but a generous coating was lovely here.
There’s freshness from the fennel, ginger, and herbs, but this is no deprivation salad. The dressing’s richness prevents that. Next time, I might turn this into a meal in itself by adding some crunchy cashews on top. Radishes might be nice too for added color. This book already has me thinking creatively about how to use it, and I can’t wait to spend more time with it.
Shaved Fennel and Bok Choy Salad with Ginger Vinaigrette
re-printed with publisher's permission from Girl in the Kitchen
1/2 cup minced peeled fresh ginger (about 3 ounces)
1/2 cup minced shallot
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 cup grapeseed (half vegetable, half olive oil)
Freshly ground black pepper
1 fennel bulb
2 heads bok choy
2 tablespoons chiffonade of fresh basil
2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh cilantro
Freshly ground black pepper
1. To make the vinaigrette: In a blender, combine the ginger, shallot, mustard, vinegar, yolk, soy sauce, and syrup. On low speed, slowly drizzle in the oil until the dressing is smooth and thickened. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate until needed.
2. To make the salad: Remove the stalks from the fennel, cut the bulb in half, and shave it thinly on a mandoline, shaving around the core.
3. Cut off the bottom couple inches at the base of the bok choy and discard. Be sure to wash off any dirt and fully dry the leaves. Pile a few leaves on top of each other at a time and cut them crosswise very thinly.
4. Put the fennel and bok choy in a salad bowl with the basil and cilantro and toss with the dressing. Add as much as you like; I prefer this salad to be heavily dressed, like a slaw. Season with salt and pepper.
Drink Tip: Wit beer is pronounced just like wheat beer, and technically it is the same, but these Belgian-style wheats have less of the clove and banana notes you’d get out of German hefeweizens and more clean citrus notes that line up perfectly with fennel and ginger.