Sunday, 6 June 2010

Salade francaise a la grec (Γαλλική σαλατα α λα Ελληνικά)

When we ate out in France, I was kind of annoyed at the lack of vegetable dishes in the mains section (plats) of the menu at the Chartier. I'm not a vegetarian, but I do like vegetables in my meals, and I prefer more of them than meat on my plate. On the other hand, I got the understanding that Parisians do indeed eat a lot of vegetables, judging from the array of fresh fruit and vegetables on sale in the epiceries that we passed by in the streets; even ratatouille has been given a new dimension through the Disney film. There must be other equally tasty French vegetable dishes out there that we don't often hear about. If the restaurants aren't serving them in plenitude, then how do the locals who are buying them prepare them?

There were some vegetable dishes featured in the appetiser section (entrees) at the Chartier: salade de tomate, salade frisee, salade aux endives, salade verte; as well as in a separate section labeled 'legumes': pommes anglaise, champignons provencale, haricots verts a l'anglaise, carrottes rapees, celeri remoulade. Note that each one of these mentions one vegetable and is a separate dish: it doesn't seem to feature a variety of vegetables together (as would be more common in Greece), and they all resemble something like a salad rather than a main meal (a Greek salad can easily constitute a main meal).

We didn't try any of those legumes. Mr Organically Cooked was not impressed with the mention of a single vegetable forming a whole dish. Just like I didn't fly all the way to Paris to have souvlaki, he didn't fly all the way to Paris to be served grated carrots, steamed potatoes and boiled green beans. We can (and do) prepare that kind of stuff at home. But they are always prepared a la grec, ie with olive oil and lemon poured over them, leaving an oily residue at the bottom of the dish, perfect for dunking thick slices of sourdough bread in.

remoulade carrottes 
Celeri remoulade; carrottes rappees

Some of those entrees constituted the cheapest items on the menu - which should signal the warning bells: if it's going to be cheap, it's going to be simple, maybe so simple that you can make them easily yourself. David Lebowitz has simple recipes for carrottes rapees and celeri remoulade on his site, both of which are considered French national dishes. His recipes allowed me to sample both these salads on the Chartier menu, prepared by my very own self. They don't use overly exotic ingredients, unless items like celery root (not grown in Crete) are considered exotic where you come from - in Crete, it's always imported from (you guessed it) Hydroponically Holland...

We make a Greek salad (known in Greece as 'horiatiki salata' - village salad) nearly every day in the summer when we have our own garden fresh tomatoes - at any other time, a Greek salad tastes like the chemicals used in a greenhouse. I always add purslane to mine, a self-rejuvenating weed that grows in our garden without being sown. The one below is how we recently enjoyed it on an outing.
greek salad meal with tzatziki and bread

Mr Organically Cooked was right: there really was no need to have had to pay for the luxury of sampling grated carrots and celery root. This stuff - no matter how tasty and filling and satisfying and easy to prepare - cannot surpass the average Greek (horiatiki) salad served at all tavernas during your summer vacation on a Greek island. You can make a meal out of that one: it contains your protein in the form of feta cheese, and you can mop up the olive oil left in the plate with some good quality sourdough bread.

to kima paleohora hania chania
This is probably one of the simplest menus you will find at a Greek island taverna (and it happens to be very cheap too); the term Λαδερά is translated here as 'Vegetables', but it actually means 'oil-based food'.

The non-vegetable meal option in the Chartier is so unlike the typical Cretan taverna menu that the average tourist will encounter, where a vegetarian will be right at home. The vegetarian option is usually entitled 'Λαδερά - Ladera', meaning 'oil-based food'. Where there is no meat, there is olive oil: boureki is a local specialty from Hania, and consists of zucchini and potato in a cheese pie, briam is an oven-cooked (ratatouille-like) vegetable medley, green string beans (haricots verts) are often paired with potatoes and summer squash in a tomato sauce, as is okra, yemista are hollowed vegetable shells stuffed with herbed rice, and giant beans are the Greek version of baked beans in tomato sauce.

french salads
French entree salads served a la grec: celeri remoulade, carrottes rappees, rocquefort, champignons (sauteed and seasoned), garnished with a few olives and capers.

If those tasty entrees at the Chartier were served together, instead of customers having to order them separately, with some rocquefort sprinkled over them, they would probably be more appreciated. They would make a great assiette vegetarienne if plated altogether. By adding one or two oeuf dur mayonnaise (another entree listed at the Chartier), I suppose I'd be having a kind of salade nicoise without the tuna.( I wonder if this is what the Chartier served as an assiette vegetarienne, in their 'legumes' section.) If they did decide to serve their entrees like this, the meal would end up looking like a kind of salade a la grec, wouldn't it, and we'd all be diving into the middle of the table with our forks to get our share, something you can't do with separate entrees, especially if some of the members of your party find the 'wandering fork' syndrome intolerable. It all depends on one's table habits, and I can tell you that the wandering fork syndrome is very much de rigeur here in Crete.

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