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“Spice Up Your Dinner With an Asian Salad,” the entreaty came, sprawled across my computer screen. Go ahead. Spice it all up. As if it’s not already spiced, or partially spiced, or certainly spiced enough, given the other issues of the day. Immediately, upon reading the dictate, I had visions of serving people in kimonos, chopsticks in their hair, rice paddies to their backs. Scents of soy and teryaki infiltrated my olfactories and I, let alone my kitchen table, felt instantly, well, spiced up.

I don’t mind cooking. When I was first learning, I viewed it as a creative process. I worked in the department of a women’s magazine that edited food stories, so I read a lot of recipes, mainly to make sure that “T” meant tablespoon and that we said “1/4 tsp” instead of “1/4 cup.” That is bad, when it comes to salt. And yeast. During this time, I also amassed quite a collection of plates and cups and such, none related, except to me. 

Before I had babies, I was at my zenith. Top of my culinary arc. The corona. I made a lot of tasty and beautiful things. Now, fourteen years after they were babies, I still cook most every night, but have fallen into a bit of a predictable pattern, I must say. I have the books, I have the knack, I have the inventive spark. But by the time dinner comes around, I’ve used them all up on other endeavors.

So, when I was told, so forcefully, to spice up my dinner with an Asian salad, I took a little offense. Who the heck are you, telling me to make an Asian salad. But then, I realized that making an Asian salad is exactly the kind of thing I would do if I had the time. I would make the time, I declared, talking to the screen. I read on.

You, that would be me, will need…dried shrimp, sliced pork, hot chilies, preserved radish. What is “preserved” radish? And how long has it been preserved? And in what, where, how, by whom? Okay, then. Preserved radish, fish sauce, and to round out the list of staples I would have in our pantry, tamarind juice. Oh yes, pass me a little tamarind juice, won’t you? It’s right there, on the shelf next to the oyster butter.

Please. 

I lost my enthusiasm. I cannot cook an Asian salad, tonight anyway. I will have to fly to Korea to buy the ingredients. This is insane, I thought. Often, I play a sort of game-show game with myself. I am told that I must cook a meal using just five ingredients that exist in my freezer, fridge and pantry. Sometimes, I get to use six. Then, ready, set, go…select them, whirl the possibilities in my head, and begin.

I clicked off the Asian salad web page and went into the kitchen. Mushrooms, carrots, hoisin sauce, chicken, rice. You want Asian? You got it.


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