I've been thinking a lot about the idea of belonging lately. For so long, I've struggled with how to answer the question, "where are you from?" I've skirted around it, giving a one state answer just for simplicity's sake, but that never felt right. I've launched into long monologues about moving around a couple of times as a kid, how the different places I've lived are all important parts of my identity, and how I feel more connected to some places than others. I've spent countless hours pondering about what it means to call a place home, and hell, I even majored in Geography because I was so interested in the complexities around place and identity. I've moved around and around, from the country to the city, and I keep landing in the same place. We're allowed to belong where we want to belong –– where we feel we belong. I am a strange breed of midwestern and southern, and maybe now, northeastern.
My personal geography can't be explained without food, and my passions for food couldn't have come to be without the places that influenced me. I come from a home in a small town south of Cleveland and was raised in a simple colonial-style house, built in the early sixties, on a 2-acre lot. When I was eight, my parents painted it a nice shade of light yellow, hung hunter green shutters, and built a small vegetable garden in the back corner of our lot. My mom, who I give all the credit for instilling my passion for plants, grew all kinds of things around the perimeter of the house – hydrengeas, grape hyacinths, daffodils, tulips, roses, ferns, and even a handful of herbs – but this was our first vegetable garden. They filled this tiny garden with tomatoes, peppers and corn, among many other things, and built a fence with chicken wire to keep the deer out. Dad, a devout vegetarian with a hunger for all things spicy, grew jalepeños from a bushy plant. I loved to run my fingers across the stalks of the tomato plants –– the smell of the vines is one that I'll never be able to disassociate with this garden or our home in Ohio. In late August, we'd shuck the corn on the back porch, the silks drifting into the yard with the wind, and prep the ears to be slathered in butter and thrown on the grill. Sometimes Mom would remove the kernels from the ears and make a simple succotash as a side – corn, lima beans, and carrots chopped in little cubes.
The meals of my childhood are the most comforting ones; strawberries from our little garden dipped in white sugar, Dad's french toast, Mom's potato-pea soup and side of corn, beans and carrots. We ate simply growing up. Meals weren't a huge production, but we always came together around the kitchen table. This table was my first home, my first sense of belonging.
A few weeks ago, I tried fava beans for the fist time at a restaurant in Bed Stuy. They were smeared over a piece of thick toast and sprinkled with sheep cheese. I hadn't ever encountered these beans before - not as a kid in Ohio, or in any of the places I lived before coming to New York - but their shape reminded me of the lima beans in Mom's corn salad. Growing up, I picked the beans out of salad and shoved them around on my plate after gobbling up all of the corn and carrots, but this toast made me excited to give them another try. My CSA has been overflowing with corn, carrots, tomatoes and peppers, so the next chance I had to swing by the market, I piled a bunch of speckled fava bean pods into my tote, and built a salad reminiscent of the simple meal I've known all my life.
Succotash Salad with Jalepeño Vinaigrette
For the salad:
> 6 ears corn, kernels removed
> 2 cups fava beans, removed from pods
> 1 cup thinly sliced carrots
> 2 cups cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
> 1/2 cup cucumbers, seeds removed and chopped into small pieces
> 2 tablespoons thinly sliced basil
For the dressing:
> 1/4 cup olive oil
> 1/2 cup champagne vinegar
> 1 jalepeño, thinly sliced
> 1 tablespoon grainy mustard
> 1 tablespoon honey (I used Mike's Hot Honey - it's incredible)
> Salt and pepper to taste (Maldon Sea Salt Flakes always makes everything taste better)
1. Make the salad. In a pot of boiling water, blanch the fava beans. Once they've cooled, remove the waxy skin. Add the beans, corn, carrots, tomatoes and cucumbers to a bowl and stir. Sprinkle with the basil.
2. Make the dressing. Add all ingredients to a small ball jar. Shake vigorously, until combined.
3. Combine. Liberally pour the dressing over the salad. Stir. Serve as a main course or as a simple summer side (like my Mom's).