Do you have a page-turner ingredient? You know, a slightly unfamiliar perhaps, (but not always) exotic ingredient that you spot in a recipe and your brain automatically thunders, “NEXT!” My brain just yells “pudhe chalaa” (Marathi for move forward) so loudly that my fingers feebly comply and turn the page. Fellow Mumbai BEST bus commuters, tell me I’m not loony and that these two most frequently uttered words by the bus conductor have turned up in your head too? Possibly in different scenarios?
My page turner, until recently, was not any ingredient, but a little kitchen tool called mandoline, not to be confused with the mandolin Shah Rukh Khan lugged around in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. Really, why did I need to add a slicer to my already cramped kitchen when I already have a box grater and a zillion attachments for the food processor_? “Don’t let unfamiliar ingredients scare you off_,” affirmed Jenny Rosenstrach’s friendly voice from ‘Dinner a Love Story’ and lingered in my mind for days after I’d finished reading her book. She of course, was referring to exotic or expensive ingredients that made you automatically skip a recipe. But really, this is a no-win game, she explains, because if one truly wants to expand one’s repertoire of recipes and not feel intimidated in the kitchen, then, she coaxes, it’s imperative to bite the bullet and just get on top of what’s niggling-ly holding you back.
Just think about it, a little kitchen tool was holding me back from putting together this easy-peasy salad! And it took me just one trip to a nearby kitchen ware store to get a mandoline and slice up this beautiful fennel bulb. And then the apples too, because once I got started, there was no stopping me! I was playing the _mandoline_as easily as SRK probably played the _mandolin_in DDLJ!! I know, there are too many exclamations going on, but surely you can understand my euphoria in a ‘kitchen being the metaphor for life’ sort of way?
If cutting a fennel bulb is the reason why fennel is a ‘page turner’ for you, then this video by Melissa Clarkshould ease you into it. Cut the stalks, reserve the fronds and cut the bulb lengthwise. If the bulb does have a core, cut that off too and then get the mandoline going for some slicing action! The apple just needs to be cored and then it’s ready to be sliced up.
I got a handful of cashew nuts toasted in a pan while I was getting the dressing ready. You could totally crank up a 180 degree Celsius pre-heated oven for this instead, and toast them for about 10 minutes. Whisk together the Dijon mustard, lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil and add a pinch of salt to balance out the tanginess of the dressing. Keep an eye on those cashews and turn them over so that they’re evenly toasted on both sides. Arrange the sliced fennel and apples in a bowl and quickly coat it with the dressing to keep the apples from browning.
The smoky flavour of the toasted cashews adds a bit of bite to the salad, but my absolute favourite is the topping off of the salad with the reserved fennel fronds! So fragrant! A faint hint of liquorice, sweet and crisp apple slices all zested up with the dressing and the toasty crunch of cashew nuts… have I got you hungry for this salad for one? The ingredient list will show you that the recipe doubles up very easily, and if you’re craving for some more fennel recipes, you should totally try my Fennel Soup from a few weeks ago.
Recipe adapted from Goop