Veggie and smoked fish salad: my “madeleine moment”

It all started with a sample I was offered at a newly opened grocery store in our area. It was a sample of smoked salmon, meaty and delicately smoky, with a vibrant color and an enduring appeal. I tasted the fish and, like in Marcel Proust’s famous madeleine scene, my mind went back in time to my childhood and to a salad my mom used to make a lot: potato and smoked fish salad. Back in those days any meat was considered a delicacy, and my mom was very excited whenever she could get her hands on some smoked fish from the local general store. Usually it was smoked mackerel – tasty, but oh so full of bones! Nevertheless, we never complained: we just had to spend some extra time taking the bones out. It was food – and this was all that mattered. 🙂

With these memories in mind, I decided to buy smoked fish and to remake mom’s salad in an American setting. I found some gorgeous looking smoked rainbow trout and got a piece which weighed a bit over 1lb. In this salad I also wanted to pay tribute to the years I spent in England, so I decided to marry the smoked trout with another very dear ingredient: pickled hot & sweet cherry peppers.

I first came across hot & sweet cherry peppers when I was in England. It was love at first bite: the heat of these peppers was unexpected yet not overpowering, whereas their sweetness really appealed to the “sweet toother” in me. I decided to use hot peppers as an unexpected spicy element in my salad, and after much searching I found some really delicious peppers at my local Aldi:

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I still had to decide upon an ingredient which could aptly symbolize the influence of Chicago’s culinary landscape on my cooking. I wanted a refreshing herb, and my first thought was to use fresh parsley. I thought parsley was not “Chicagoan enough” though – but what about fresh cilantro? Indeed, cilantro seemed to satisfy my requirements, plus I was sure its flavor would complement those of the other ingredients beautifully. So, cilantro it was! 🙂

Ingredients

4 medium size potatoes

1/2lb smoked rainbow trout, shredded, with skin and bones removed

7 hot & sweet cherry peppers

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 bunch cilantro

Salt and pepper to taste

Juice from 1/2 lemon (optional)

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Boil the potatoes in a pot of water until tender, about 20-30 minutes. Remove the potatoes from the pot and let them cool down. Take the skin off the potatoes when they are warm using a knife or your bare hands (I used the latter) and cut them into 1-inch pieces. Put the pieces in a large bowl.

Add the rainbow trout. Cut the cherry peppers into tiny pieces and chop the cilantro finely. Add both ingredients to the bowl. Lastly, pour over the olive oil and sprinkle salt and pepper.

 

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Mix the ingredients until well combined. Taste and add more salt and/or pepper if necessary. Lastly, add the fresh lemon juice (optional).

Let the salad “rest” in a cool place (preferably the refrigerator) for at least 30 minutes before serving.

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Serve the salad chilled, with extra cilantro on top:

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A true joy to the eyes – and stomach! -, this salad keeps well in the refrigerator for a couple of days. The freshness added by the cilantro elevates the unassuming potato, rendering it light and supple. Moreover, the hot cherry peppers deliver a much-needed flavor punch and satisfy both heat aficionados and conservative gourmets.

I am glad I made this salad – to re-enact a much cherished past, to elevate my present, and to remind me that future possibilities are wide open.


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