Thursday, April 1, 2010

Salad and spring, earned.

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The air is different around here. I noticed it when I came home tonight -- that my apartment had this fresh, crisp feel to it, like it was breathing again. The windows were open, and it was a warm, breezy evening, and the air was full of life. Yes. This is it. I remember this.

Around this time last year, Chicago was gypped of a spring. We went from cold and wintery to cold and rainy, and the transition to warm and sunny was long, slow, and late. So now, as buds of green start to speckle across the trees as if by magic, I can't help but just soak it all up in complete amazement. It's April! It's springtime! This is what we've been waiting for all those months of snowy boots and scarves worn 24/7 and stale, dry air. This is what we thought would never come, what we had forgotten even existed. It is the big burst of light at the end of the tunnel, and oh what a tunnel it was. We deserve this. We earned this.



It's so true that when you work for something, you can just appreciate it much more. Like when I'm on the treadmill and I fight to run that last five minutes, and I finally make it, drenched in sweat and out of breath, and it just feels better. That sweat was earned. Those miles are mine.

Or when I spend an extra 45 minutes in the kitchen, long after the dinner dishes have been cleared away and the leftovers stashed safely in the fridge, to prepare my work lunch for the next day. It can be exhausting, and sometimes I look around at the mess I just made in the kitchen at 10 p.m. and wonder if this is really worth it, if a salad should involve this much effort, or if I'm just wasting my time.

But then lunchtime rolls around the next day, the one hour of my work day that's all mine, and really, that hour should be an enjoyable one. Not spent regretting an $8 lunch that consists of soggy Ceaser salad and greasy bag of chips. No, that's where the hard work pays off. And that's why I made a batch of this salad a couple of weeks ago and a second batch the week after. It's just that good and that satisfying.

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It's the tofu that does it, I think. Browning the tofu in some olive oil gives it a nice bite, and the texture works well with crisp green beans and the burst of tomato. The dressing is light and not at all overpowering, letting the flavors of the ingredients stand alone. And it's filling! A cup and half at 187 calories, paired with a piece of fruit, is a perfect lunch.

So there you have it: A delicious salad, green buds of spring, and an honest appreciation for all of it.

Pasta, Crispy Tofu, and Green Bean Salad (Adapted from Cooking Light)

Salad:
1 (15-ounce) package extra-firm tofu, drained and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 cups uncooked pasta (original recipe calls for penne; I used rotini)
2 cups (2-inch) cut green beans
2 cups halved grape tomatoes
1 tablespoon chopped fresh or 1 teaspoon dried dill

Dressing:
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon low-sodium soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon sugar
3 garlic cloves, smashed and minced
salt and pepper


For the salad: Pat tofu cubes dry with a paper towel. Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add tofu and sauté 5-10 minutes, until lightly browned on all sides. Remove from pan and set aside.

Cook pasta in boiling water for 5 minutes; add beans, and cook an additional 5 minutes. Drain. Rinse with cold water, and drain. Combine tofu, pasta mixture, tomatoes, and dill in a large bowl.

For the dressing: Whisk together vinegar and remaining ingredients in a bowl. Pour dressing over salad; toss well to coat. Cover and refrigerate 30 minutes.

Makes 8 servings.
Serving size: 1 1/2 cups
Calories per serving: 187

6 comments:

  1. I'm glad the weather is breaking in Chicago. We've had some doozy weather in the Northeast. I was without power for 6 days. I'm glad you stopped by and found some interesting things on my blog! You should check out Kulinarya Cooking Club and join.

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  2. I'm not sure that I've posted a comment here before but I love this post. I LOVE this post. Partially because I couldn't enjoy this season last year, as you said, we skipped it. This year seems full of deep breaths. I had wine with a friend in my garden tonight. On April 1st. It was wonderful. The same for ownership over both miles and meals. When I fold a pie together with my hands, it tastes better. Even if dinner is as simple as steamed veggies with lemon juice and olive oil, I love it the next day. Things feel fresh right now.

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  3. Agreed! I once had a convo with my Grandpa about this and he wisely said that here in the Midwest we can appreciate the sunshine more since we know what it's like to not have it for so long. I'm ok with some gray days if a fresh burst of sunshine feels this good! My husband grilled pork loin chops, broccolini and bread for garlic toast last night and I feel like it was the best meal ever on a gorgeous spring evening. Your pasta dish looks great!

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  4. ninette - thanks for dropping by! i checked out the kulinarya cooking club -- looks like so much fun! i've found that there's not many filipino food blogs out there, so it's always refreshing and familiar to see one. i would love to join, if only i didn't leave most of the filipino cooking to my mom!

    tktc - hi! and thank you! so fun to find another chicago-area food blogger! i love how every time warmer weather rolls around, everyone is just kind of in shock and disbelief. i don't even think our winter was that bad! and steamed veggies with lemon juice and olive oil sounds soooo good right now. even leftover. :)

    nicole - oh that sounds like a perfect meal! your husband is a good man. and it's true -- i think we do appreciate the weather so much more after a long, hard winter. makes me think the midwest isn't so bad, after all...thanks for your sweet comment!

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  5. oh i love your description of spring! thanks or this recipe, too.

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  6. thanks anna, and so glad you dropped by! i hope you try that salad -- so easy and delicious!

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