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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Dynamic Duos

The cheese menu was impressive. Four or five offerings were listed and I was carefully contemplating them all as I enjoyed a post-gnocchi sense of well being at a local San Francisco institution: Zuni CafĂ©. My friend, JB, made a little face (well, it was actually a little face, accompanied by a dismissive shrug--as if to say, "so passe") when I mentioned going to Zuni for a meal. Ignoring the shrug, I braved the hordes of Zagat-toting tourists and grabbed a single table in the bar a few weeks ago. A gorgeous beet salad, followed by ethereal ricotta gnocchi made me a fan forever. The server offered pitch-perfect service. After the gnocchi, we discussed the cheese menu. I asked what Dori’s something-or-other was. He said, with a totally straight face, “Dori is a goat on this farm in Northern California. The cheese is made with her milk…hence…” and here is where I nodded and chimed in as we finished together “Dori’s cheese”. We laughed. I ended up choosing a Gorgonzola, (sorry Dori) which was drizzled with a local honey, and a glass of Sauternes. It was a happy, happy pairing. The salty cheese doing a sultry tango with the chilled, sweet wine. There was perfection in the balance of flavors.

Think about it….oranges and chocolate… bacon and eggs…(here I go with the cheese again…Stilton and walnuts. Beets and (more cheese!) goat cheese. French fries and mayonnaise. Oh, I could go on and on. More often than not, it's the yin/yang combinations in food that make things memorable.

So here’s one pairing that isn’t quite on everyone’s radar, but is one of my favorites. My friend, Didier, introduced me to this combination and it has become something I crave on a regular basis.
Salmon and lentils. Don’t ask my why, but it works. Beautifully.
The earthiness of the lentils, typically dressed with a mustardy vinaigrette, stands up to a fish like salmon, which is no shrinking violet, and the combination is one of the most delicious things I can think of. It’s one of those meals that you can eat in virtually any season. Hearty enough in winter and, if you chilled everything slightly, a perfect meal on a hot day. Now, granted lentils are not really pretty, but gussied up with a handful of fresh herbs, they more than hold their own against the “pretty-in-pink” salmon. In fact, I ate them straight from the fridge, right out of the plastic, leftover container the other day while standing at the counter and I swear they were even better than the night before. Throw some steamed asparagus on the plate, if you want to be fancy and spring-like, but just know that the asparagus may feel a bit like a ‘third wheel’, because salmon and lentils are a perfect match.

Slightly-Asian Salmon
for one serving

one fillet of salmon, per person
1 tablespoon bottled Teriyaki sauce of your choice
(I like the Soy Vay brand--it's got nice flavor and sesame seeds), but you could also easily substitute miso here

Brush the salmon with the marinade and broil to desired doneness.

Lentils in Vinaigrette
serves four

1 cup dried lentils, preferably de Puy--the tiny, dark green French lentils,
sorted and rinsed
1/2 onion, in one chunk with root end intact
1/2 carrot
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons olive oil--the good stuff
2-3 teaspoons sherry vinegar, or you can use juice of 2 lemons if you prefer the lemony version
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
salt and pepper to taste
handful chopped fresh herbs of your choice--I like chives and parsley

1. Put the lentils in a medium pot and cover with water by an inch. Add the onion, carrot and bay leaf and bring to a boil.
2. Cover and lower the heat so the lentils bubble gently.
3. Cook approximately 20-30 minutes, until tender.
4. Mix the remaining ingredients in a small jar and shake, or whisk in a small bowl.
5. Drain the lentils, pick out the onion, carrot and bay leaf and discard-- mix in the vinaigrette.
6. Salt and pepper to taste -- taste and adjust the seasonings. I usuall add an additional heap of mustard.
7. Stir in the fresh herbs.

To plate -- make a nice bed of lentils and then place the fillet of salmon right on top. Serve with steamed asparagus, or a mixed green salad.

oh-so-nice with a hard-boiled egg and some tossed green salad and toasted baguette.