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(Siraj Sindhu)–I’ve long considered myself a bit of a chef: I love baking and cooking, and have been known to put together some particularly delectable desserts when expecting company for dinner. Last year, I also started an herb garden next to my lawn, where I grew a variety of herbs and vegetables, including chamomile, rosemary, parsley, and lemon verbena, to incorporate into my culinary endeavors.
When I arrived to Amherst and found myself housed in Appleton, a first-year dorm without so much as a kitchenette to wash dishes, let alone a real kitchen, I was a bit disappointed. How would I keep up my cooking and baking hobby without convenient access to a clean, usable kitchen? More importantly, I soon realized that I simply didn’t have the time to cook regularly, even if I had access to necessary resources. It’s now March, and I still haven’t cooked anything substantial in my time at Amherst.
But recently, I discovered something that changed all this. Buried in the recesses of the http://www.amherst.edu webpage, I discovered a link to a phenomenal .pdf page containing a recipe book. Entitled “Student Valentine Recipes,” it features dozens of recipes that students have submitted and compiled over the years. Each recipe claims to be made “using ingredients from the servery.” Since I go to Val every single day, I decided that this would be a perfect, convenient opportunity to break out of my daily routine of grabbing pre-made food from Val. More importantly, it was an opportunity to do some cooking.
I promised to myself to follow each recipe to the letter, or as closely as possible. If this experiment goes well, who knows? This bit of fun might turn into a series.
Without further ado, let’s get down to today’s meal.
LUNCH: Carrot Raisin Orange Salad
Ingredients: Yogurt, Shredded Carrots, Raspberry Jam, Raisins, Orange Slices
Preparation: Scoop a spoonful of yogurt into a bowl of shredded carrots. Add
raspberry jam, raisins, and cut orange slices. Mix together.
Apparently a salad, this meal starts with shredded carrots. I wasn’t sure where to find shredded carrots, so I asked around. The workers at Val pointed me towards the carrots in the salad bar. The problem is that these were your standard baby carrots, totally unshredded. I turned to the smoothie bar, thinking I could shred the carrots there, only to realize that it was already past 10 am and that the blenders had been put away. Resigned to my fate but determined to succeed at making this salad, I grabbed a bunch of baby carrots and a knife and returned to my table to shred some carrots.
To put it simply: Val’s blunt knives are NOT meant for shredding foods as firm as carrots. I struggled for about 15 minutes while the knife failed to shred each and every carrot. Several times it slipped, and would have cut my fingers if it were sharper. I quickly became grateful for the dullness of my knife—although realistically, if it were sharper, I would have been shredding carrots like Patrick Stickles shreds guitar.
Eventually, I switched over to a slicing method. I sliced up the carrots into little discs, which worked much better. Then, to the next step.
The recipe called for yogurt. Now, I’m a Greek yogurt fan—the thicker, the better. Since the recipe was unspecific, I decided to go for Greek instead of regular yogurt. I heaped a big spoonful on top of the carrots, followed by a spoonful of raspberry jam.
Let me clarify: as I made this salad, I read each step right before doing it rather than read ahead. In fact, I at first thought it was only carrots, raisins, and oranges, so I was surprised to see that I needed yogurt and jam. This was the point where I finally started to have some misgivings about the whole enterprise. Raspberry jam, Greek yogurt, and unevenly cut carrots. I wasn’t sure where this was going, but it was going to be interesting, that was for sure.
Next, I heaped a bunch of raisins on top. Naturally, the raisins all stick to the tongs, and I had to pry them off in clumps, but I overcame the challenge. I was finally on to the orange slices. I first removed the individual slices. Then, taking my knife, (still covered in flecks of carrot) I carefully cut each orange slice into three smaller pieces. The knife was slightly more functional for this task.
With the orange slices atop my bowl, I was ready to mix and enjoy. The final product looked like an absolute mess—the jam dyed everything purple-pink, the orange slices were squashed and effectively juiced, and the raisins were lost in the mix. I was thoroughly daunted. I suppose this is where I ought to add that I’m also a picky eater; I’m pretty particular about what I’ll put in my mouth.
It took me a few minutes to psyche myself up for trying this “salad”. Most of all, I wondered what qualified this lumpy bowl as a salad. It didn’t have any greens, and the carrots were the only vegetables in it. I stared it down. The people sitting around me at Val egged me on. Finally, I took a bite.
The only way I can describe the taste and texture is that it was aggressively mediocre. It certainly wasn’t bad! But it definitely wasn’t good. It was an explosion of flavors, really. The salad just had too many outlandish, clashing flavors that didn’t complement each other. I do think that if I find an easier way to shred carrots, this is a meal that I might make again. Though healthy and interesting (in terms of both visual appeal and taste), I think I’d rather eat each ingredient separately, to be frank. The people who watched me craft the salad all tasted it as well; comments ranged from “this is alright” to “meh”. Overall, I’d recommend trying this salad at Val if you’re an adventurous eater, and especially if you like raspberry jam, which has a tendency to overwhelm other flavors.
(A note about my rating scale: each item is scored out of five potential forks, with five forks meaning that I highly recommend the dish, and one fork indicating my severe disapproval.)