Anytime I travel for an extended period of time, let's say longer than a couple of weeks, I end up craving certain foods from home. The craving creeps up on me like a fungus - not bad at first, but in the end, formidable. This trip it was avocado, then leafy salads, eventually dovetailing into broccoli. The greenest of the green stuff. I stocked up on the lot when I arrived home, and the salad parade started shortly thereafter (hence today's recipe). But let me back up a bit. If you want to avoid the host of digestive pitfalls India serves up, you're told to religiously avoid raw vegetables and greens. And for the most part I did, except for once. I ate one salad in the weeks I was in India. It was arugula, it was grown in Jaipur, and there is a story behind it.
Those of you who have been readers for some time know there are few things I love (or assign more importance to) than serendipity. It is the root of many good experiences and relationships that have intersected my life. And this is one of those examples. Wayne and I walked into the Anokhi Cafe, in Jaipur, to grab a bite to eat, and as we sat down Melissa Millward came over to our table to introduce herself. Anokhi is a much-loved textile company, with shops throughout India, doing all sorts of good work related to traditional textile printing, communities, and craftspeople. And Melissa, she's the lovely ex-pat who heads up all things related to the cafe. Most days she is gone by the time we arrived, but we lucked out. She recognized me from the site(!), and it was our good fortune that we got to chatting, because she was kind enough to invite us out to the Anokhi Farm the following day - an experience that turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip.
The property includes the company headquarters, an organic farm, a commercial kitchen (where much of the food is prepped for the cafe), and residences. This is a glimpse of an area set-up to test out new patterns and ideas - long tables lined with cotton, where fabric is hand-stamped. Each color gets its own pass (above / below). It's incredible. And as a side note, if you're interested in textiles and traditional printing techniques you can't miss the Anokhi Museum of Hand Printing.
I suspect Anokhi Cafe is the only restaurant in Jaipur (all of Rajasthan?) using ingredients that are both organic & in-season. They have multiple greenhouses to protect certain crops from the intense elements, and this is where they grow a range of beautiful lettuces, tomatoes, and basil for the cafe. The nets you see are embedded deep into each bed to protect the crop from insects, and the height of the beds is for ergonomics - also, to optimize the number of beds you can arrange in the space (you need less space if farmers are standing straight up rather than bending forward).
The greens are gently harvested, washed in purified water, and served at the cafe in a range of beautiful salads. If you're in Jaipur needing a salad fix - Anokhi is the place, Melissa is your girl.
This is Babulal. He's one of the cooks who helps Melissa each day. He babies the lettuce which makes him her go-to salad guy.
Thank you Melissa, Pritham, and Rachel, for the wonderful impromptu lunch and visit. I hope to return the favor if you find yourself in San Francisco.
Today's recipe? This was the first salad I threw together upon arriving home - with good lettuce, avocado, AND broccoli. I shredded some baby romaine, blanched the broccoli, added some pistachios for crunch and tossed it all with a tarragon-balsamic vinaigrette, avocado, and some feta.
The Greenest Salad
1 medium head / 6 oz romaine or baby romaine lettuce
1 medium head of broccoli / 8 oz / TK g or equivalent broccolini, florets and stalks cut into small bite-sized pieces
1 small avocado, sliced
1/3 cup toasted pistachios
a bit of crumbled feta
big splash of balsamic tarragon vinaigrette*
Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil, salt as you would pasta water, add the broccoli and simmer for just a minute or so until the broccoli is bright and just tender. Drain, run under cold water to stop cooking, pat dry with a clean cloth, and set aside.
Trim the base off the head of romaine, then slice it crosswise into 1/2-inch strips of lettuce. Wash well and dry gently but completely. Set aside someplace cold until ready to use.
Just before serving, in a large bowl, combine the broccoli, lettuce, and pistachios with a generous slug of vinaigrette. Toss well, add the avocado, and gently toss once or twice more, Serve topped with the feta, and a pinch of salt if needed. You can use any remaining vinaigrette drizzle over all sorts of vegetables, frittatas, bread, savory tarts, and the like.
*Balsamic tarragon vinaigrette: In a blender or food processor, combine 1 small peeled shallot, 1/4 cup tarragon, 1/3 cup flat-leaf parsley, 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard, scant 1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt, and 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Pulse until smooth, taste, and adjust with more lemon juice, salt, (or a kiss of something sweet), if needed. Makes about one cup of dressing.
Prep time: 10 minutes