The table as the gravitational center of our lives.

Grilled Summer Vegetable & Wild Rice Salad with Fish Sauce Vinaigrette

“Imagination is the real and eternal world of which this vegetable universe is but a faint shadow.”  -William Blake, very Romantic British poet and master of watercolor

As a kid, I spent an awful lot of time being fantastically jealous of the various winners of Nickelodeon‘s Super Toy Run.  (For those of you unfamiliar with the rules, the contest winner was given an empty shopping cart in a vacant Toys R Us store, along with 5 minutes on the clock.  In those 5 minutes, that lucky little brat was basically allowed to run wild through the aisles with a license to loot freely until the time was up.)  Man, being that kid would’ve been so cool.

These days, though, I’d probably prefer to win Supermarket Sweep at the Red Hook Fairway and then invite everyone I know over for dinner.  Self control is a difficult thing to exercise under normal grocery shopping conditions, where everything signals the potential to be delicious…..to present a new challenge…..to make people happy.  Everywhere there are art projects waiting to be made, experiments to conduct, and omni-sensory experiences to be had.    The produce section is always particularly alluring for me…..a giant crayon box full of colors you can actually eat.  I guess a go at Supermarket Sweep would mean lots and lots of salad.

A particularly bountiful run through the Venice Whole Foods recently meant a haul of some of the most beautiful vegetables I’ve found so far this summer: Perfect, chubby zucchini and yellow squash.  Bright purple bell peppers.  And the most unique ruby-flecked corn I’d ever seen.  I thought immediately of a recipe I’d come across via Pinterest a few weeks back.  It comes from FCI graduate and Fatty ‘Cue/Fatty Crab chef/owner Zakary Pelaccio, and it immediately caught my eye.  Part Asian, part Latin, and all summer sunshine, this recipe does everything right.  It’s colorful, it has wonderful, intriguing, balanced flavors, and it’s good for you.  I made a bunch of little tweaks, like substituting wild rice for the jasmine rice in the original recipe, and subbing out some of the vegetables and things, but it’s essentially the same vegetarian animal.

If you invite me to a barbecue this summer, I am totally bringing this salad, and you are totally going to love it.  And if you see a crazy lady running around the produce section with an empty shopping cart like a bat out of hell, it’s just me practicing for the imaginary Super Snack Run that I want to win.

Ingredients:

For the rice:

Kosher salt

8 oz. uncooked wild rice (NOTE:  I used Lundberg brand, which comes in an 8 oz. size.)

1/2 medium yellow onion, washed and peeled

1 large bay leaf

1 clove

For the vegetables:

2 small-to-medium zucchini, washed, trimmed, and halved lengthwise

1 small yellow summer squash, washed, trimmed, and halved lengthwise

2 ears good summer corn, shucked and washed but left whole (NOTE:  I used a super pretty red speckled variety that I randomly came across at the market.  Regular good ol’ fashioned summertime yellow or white corn will work wonderfully too.)

1 medium Japanese eggplant, washed, trimmed, and cut into rounds roughly 1/4″ thick

Neutrally-flavored oil, such as vegetable or canola

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the dressing:

2 long (preferably red) chiles, such as ripe poblanos, washed (NOTE:  The store didn’t have the fully ripened red ones, but I did find some green ones that were starting to turn orange in lots of places.  They worked fine but the fully ripe red ones will be much easier to peel.)

1 large garlic clove, washed, smashed, and peeled

1 tsp. brown sugar

2 tbsp. fish sauce, also known as nam pla or nước mắm

Zest of 1 lime

Juice of 1 lime

To finish:

Big handful of mixed fresh herbs, such as basil, Thai basil, purple basil, dill, tarragon, marjoram, chive, mint, shiso, or cilantro – washed and dried well but leaves left whole

Another idea would be to use washed nasturtium flowers, which will add a mild peppery flavor and would look gorgeous as a garnish here (of course I thought of this after I took the photo…..)

Instructions:

For the rice:

1.  Bring a large saucepan full of salty water to a boil over high heat.  When the pot is at a nice rapid boil, add all of the wild rice.  Pin the bay leaf to the onion with the clove (this is called an onion clouté), and add it to the pot with the rice.  Toss in a smashed garlic clove.  Cook rice at a lively boil until the grains explode and are tender, about 40-50 minutes.  Drain well and set aside on the counter, covered tightly, while you make the rest of the recipe.

For the vegetables:

2.  Preheat an oiled grill until very hot.  (NOTE:  An outdoor gas or charcoal grill is fine; so is an indoor stovetop grill.)  Rub all of the prepared vegetables with a light coating of oil and a good sprinkling of salt and pepper.  Grill vegetables, cut side down, flipping only once, until good char marks develop but vegetables are crisp-tender, about 6-8 minutes per side.  As vegetables are done, reserve in a bowl off the heat to cool slightly.

For the dressing:

1.  Roast the chiles whole over an open stovetop flame, turning occasionally with tongs, until black and charred all over.  Place the charred peppers immediately into a paper bag and roll it up.  Allow the peppers to steam inside the bag for about 8-10 minutes.  Over the sink, gently rub off the black outer skin of the peppers and remove the stems.  Toss the skinned, stemmed peppers into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the regular steel blade and allow to cool to the touch.  Add the garlic and brown sugar and process until a smooth puree forms.  Add lime zest and juice, and fish sauce, and pulse until combined evenly.

To assemble:

1.  Combine rice, vegetables, and dressing in a large bowl.  Stir very gently until well combined.  Allow to sit for 10-15 minutes.  Add mixed herbs and toss gently.  Serve at room temperature or slightly warm.

Yield:  Enough for 4 people as an entrée or 6-8 people as a side dish

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