Sometimes, the little inconsistencies of travel are what fuel my curiosity and makes travel exciting and fun.
In Italy, “where will I find coffee?”
In Turkey, “how do I order a pastry?”
In Japan, “is this toothpaste or spackling for the tub?”
But sometimes, it’s the inconsistency of routine that exhausts me most. I miss my kitchen, the little comforts of my own space; the smell of coffee brewing in the morning, sipping it from my favorite mug. Watching our little block wake up, seeing the light dance across the rug as the dog stretches across it. And, without these little comforts that make me feel at home and grounded in the world, the compounding effects of long days, hard work, thinking outside the box and navigating with a smile harden me in a way that could never happen if I simply got to wake up and drink coffee in my kitchen – wearing or not wearing pajamas – every morning, watching the sunrise and the plants grow.
So, when I land in a new place, I immediately try to find little comforts that make any place feel a bit more like my place. I find the coffee shop, I pick intriguing and quiet streets to walk down. I fill the hotel room with flowers if I can, and buy bananas and sparkling water no matter what.
I found myself in a lovely part of New York City a few weeks ago; a little corner of the city that I hadn’t explored before. So I had to find new creature comforts. There was a Bodega up the street from the hotel for the bananas, a flower shop down the way for blooms. There was an ice cream store (heart-eyes!) up the street a bit and a couple of spectacular restaurants across the street that served up healthy, fresh meals basically around the clock. This isn’t to say that I wouldn’t have been happy with an excellent Jewish deli across the street, but….honestly, I know less about a fantastic bagel and would have a harder time recognizing one it if was staring me straight in the face than I would a great plate of avocado toast and a green smoothie.
Most days on my trip were spent making work rounds all over the City for Rapha Rides; across town to the Green Market, Uptown to spend some time in the kitchen, and just a few blocks away to the butcher, the baker and the ice cream shop (ahem.) But in the mornings, and late afternoons when the errands were done, I’d head back to my little corner of the City to shower, and have a grounding meal across the street. And, through the buzz of riding busy streets in Manhattan crazed my country mouse tendencies, though the late nights of parties and early mornings of bike rides deprived me of my rest, I found myself settling in and feeling at home in the hustle.
For breakfasts, I typically ordered two slices of avocado toast, a big green smoothie, and coffee (like I said, I know what I know.) But for lunch or an early dinner, I would swing in here for whatever was on offer. I loved the decor, the music they played, the cool sneakers the waiters were wearing and the kind of rose they had by the glass. The homemade lemon focaccia was to die for. The spicy octopus, perfection. One night, I enjoyed a chicory salad and my mind was officially blown – topped with toasted nori, sesame oil, buttery avocados and perfectly toasted hazelnuts. And just like that, a taste memory was made that stuck.
When I got back to Colorado, it was the first thing on my mind and the first thing I wanted to cook. Chicories are a bit hard to find at our markets here just now, but there are lots of beautiful greens to stand in and take their place and, I’m happy to report, I love the result of the substitution.
Is there anything better than finding something inspiring in a new place that makes it feel like it has become part of you? I think not.
So, about this little salad – it’s simple to pull together, a real stacking of flavors and textures. And this is an important thing to remember about it; the flavors together in combination are what make it great, not the composition, or the way you put it on the plate. That said, there are so many ways to amplify those flavors and blow minds. The basic recipe calls for a few types of chicories and Asian greens that can be grilled for more mystery and depth, or eaten raw in the interest of time. My favorite way to enjoy the salad is to grill up some of the heartier greens (adding smoke,) and to leave others raw (to keep the crunch) that’s what I’ve suggested below.
As for the toasted nori, you can find nori flakes in your favorite well-stocked grocery, or in an Asian grocery store, or you could buy whole sheets and toast them yourself, then chop them into strips (just brush with Bragg’s Liquid Aminos or water – et voila!)
You don’t have bok choy? Can’t find tat soi? Endive and radicchio will do. Just make sure those avocados are buttery, and the hazelnuts are well toasted. Oh! And, if you like, adding a poached egg, some grilled shrimp or squid, or even grilled flank steak is a great option to make this salad a meal. I served it over chilled black rice noodles and spicy grilled shrimp the other night, and it was the loveliest little summer dinner.
So, now my little New York lunch has become my favorite lunch at home in Boulder. Isn’t that funny how that works out? Enjoy!
- serves 2 for an entree or 4 as a nice meal accompaniment
- 6 cups chicories (and/or tat soi, radicchio and bok choy)
- 5 small, fresh radishes, sliced very thinly
- 1-2 avocados, soft but not squishy to the squeeze, sliced thinly
- 3/4 cup hazelnuts, toasted with the skins removed and chopped coarsely
- 3/4 cup toasted nori, crumbled
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice or rice vinegar
- 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup (plus more to taste)
- flaky sea salt and black sesame seeds, to finish
- rice noodles
- steamed rice
- poached eggs
- grilled shrimp or flank steak
- Preheat your grill (if you'll be grilling bok choy or radicchio, or grilling meat.) Allow to get nice and hot.
- In the meantime, drizzle bok choy or other heartier chicories with olive oil. Transfer to hot grill and allow to cook until nice charred grill marks form on one side. Flip, and repeat on the second side. Remove the greens from the grill and allow to cool slightly while you prepare the other ingredients.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice or vinegar, oil, and maple until well combined. Set aside.
- On individual plates, or in a large, broad bowl, layer the chicories with the grilled bok choy - make it colorful! Drizzle the dressing over the chicories and toss to coat the leaves completely. Next, sprinkle with the sliced radishes, sliced avocados, toasted hazelnuts, nori and sesame seeds and a sprinkle of flaky sea salt.
- Serve with cold rice noodles, steamed rice, or with a poached egg or grilled meat for a nice complete and delicious meal.