Arugula, anyone?

Photographer: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

You Binged for the Holidays. Now It's Time to Nibble.

Megan McArdle is a Bloomberg View columnist. She wrote for the Daily Beast, Newsweek, the Atlantic and the Economist and founded the blog Asymmetrical Information. She is the author of "“The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success.”
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The holidays are over, and my stomach is breathing a sigh of relief.

Don’t get me wrong: I love the holidays, the food, the sweets after the main event. The problem is, I love it all too much. By the time I’m eating my last slice of cranberry fruitcake (usually for breakfast, several days into the new year), I’m ready to subsist on nothing but water and a few grains of rice. For a month or six.

But since that's a little extreme, I usually don't dial back quite that far. At this time of year I turn to salads, soups and other relatively light fare, to give my stomach some time to recover. It's not deprivation. I love some of these winter staples.

All of these ideas could plausibly constitute a main dish. These are not salads where I put three raw carrots on a bed of kale and try to convince you that this will make a delightful filling meal. But these are also not salads where I put 10 ounces of flank steak on a bed of greens and pretend it’s a vegetable. The object is to walk away from the table feeling satisfied, but not stuffed.

These dishes have passed the hardest test there is: My husband ate them. He is a recovering picky eater, intensely suspicious of vegetables and at one point basically a meatatarian. I was then a vegan. We have moved toward each other: I eat meat (humanely raised if possible), though not every night, and Peter dabbles in previously disdained foods. Anyway, if it’s on this list, you know that it’s good enough to win the heart of someone who came to the table fully expecting to be disgusted.

Poached Egg and Arugula Salad
(Serves two as written, but can be easily expanded)

This is a variant on the classic French frisee-and-egg salad with bacon lardon. I personally don’t care for frisee, which I find too bitter, with a texture that suggests munching on some dust-encrusted spider web you found under the bed. And in most of the U.S., one would have a hard time laying hands on the right sort of bacon for proper lardon. So I use arugula and cubed pancetta, which thanks to the food revolution is now widely available in American grocery stores. If you buy the pancetta pre-cubed, you can have this salad on the table 10 minutes after you think of making it, which is why I often have it for lunch or a quick dinner when I’m in the middle of something else. It isn’t exactly diet food, nor is it as cheap as a can of beans, but it’s certainly cheaper and lighter than steak.

It’s topped with a thin lemon vinaigrette. The egg yolk will add a lot of fat, so you want to minimize the oil; otherwise, the result is unctuous rather than delightfully refreshing.

I also add a tiny drizzle of very high quality white truffle oil, which will make purists blanch, but which we quite like. However, by tiny, I mean tiny -- like, an eighth of a teaspoon. If you use good oil, this is more than enough. This sounds like a crazy, fancy ingredient that only effete coastal types such as myself would have on hand, but a $20 bottle has lasted us more than a year, even though my husband, with the zeal that only a converted former mushroom-hater can muster, likes white truffle oil on practically everything.

  • Four ounces of pancetta, cut into quarter-inch dice
  • 2 tablespoons of pine nuts (optional)
  • 1 large box of arugula
  • 1 large or two small shallots, sliced thin
  • 4 poached eggs
  • Parmesan
  • Lemon vinaigrette (I omit the sugar)
  • White truffle oil
  1. Place your arugula in a large salad bowl.
  2. Whisk up the vinaigrette (I keep it in the fridge, then microwave for 10 seconds to turn it back into its proper liquid form, and shake up the container to re-emulsify).
  3. Sauté pancetta over medium heat for a couple of minutes, until it begins to release fat. Add shallots, and a little butter or olive oil as needed if they are not releasing enough fat to sauté the shallot. Sauté together for a minute, then add pine nuts and cook, stirring frequently, until the nuts are just beginning to brown. Remove from heat and place into your salad. Don’t worry if the shallots are just barely soft. You want a bit of crunch.
  4. Poach four eggs. There are basically three ways you can do this:
    1. The traditional method is dropping an egg into just-simmering water. Most people find this method very hard to manage. That's not our fault. The traditional approach worked when people stepped out back to grab an egg from the henhouse. Modern kitchens are usually farther from the laying hens. Over time, as eggs make their way toward you through our nation’s vast agricultural supply chain, the white breaks down and gets thinner, leaving you with a tendril-ridden mess useful mostly for frightening your children. Very hard to poach. However, it can still be done with regular supermarket eggs, using this method.
    2. Use poached egg cups or a poached egg pan. I have a poached egg pan, and it works pretty well. You are technically not really poaching your eggs; you’re sort of shirring them in a double boiler. The eggs won’t know the difference. But you do have to be careful to get them out before they essentially hard-boil, which means watching them closely: You want the white to still have a sort of a translucent shimmer, rather than the hard white of a fried or hard-boiled egg.
    3. Sous vide them at 140 degrees for 45 minutes. This is David Chang’s method, and I’m pretty excited about it, but haven’t gotten around to testing it out yet. I will report back.
  5. When the eggs are done, place on the salad immediately. You’re going to break up the egg as you eat it anyway, so feel free to break it when you're adding it to the salad. Top with Parmesan shaved with a microplane grater (not much, just a light dusting), fresh ground black pepper, and a very small drizzle of white truffle oil. Serve with good crusty bread and another vegetable on the side. I like grape tomatoes sautéed in a little olive oil and garlic.

David Chang’s Chicken Soup
I’m not going to pretend I made this recipe up or even improved it; it’s perfect just as it is. It is a little bit fussy, like all his recipes, but like most of his recipes, well worth the effort. The flavor of the broth is thinner and clearer than traditional American-style chicken soup, and in these post-holiday days, that’s just what I want.

Arugula Salad With Pesto White Beans
You’ll sense a certain theme developing here, salad-wise; my household goes through arugula like others go through milk or peanut butter. It isn’t that I don’t like other sorts of lettuce, but I’m not going to lie: I play favorites. If it’s not seasonal, it’s going to be arugula. But you could do this or the poached egg salad with other greens, and it would still come out nicely.

I started making this salad because I fell in love with the restaurant version at Le Pain Quotidien. I did not, however, fall in love with paying $15 for some beans, lettuce and a slice of prosciutto. It’s a lot cheaper at home, and just as delicious.

Since I start with dried beans (canned beans disgust me), this salad takes a little planning, but not a huge amount of work.

  • Arugula
  • One pound dried cannellini beans or Great Northern beans
  • Lemon juice (I just used Minute Maid frozen lemon juice -- cheaper and more convenient than fresh squeezed)
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • One recipe of Marcella Hazan's pesto (or store-bought pesto, or your favorite recipe)
  • 4 ounces prosciutto or ham, sliced thin or cut into chunks
  • 1-2 ounces lemon vinaigrette
  1. Make your white beans. Rinse the beans and soak overnight in four quarts of water and two tablespoons of salt. I usually make them in a pressure cooker: four quarts of water, two teaspoons of salt, one tablespoon olive oil, at pressure for 12 minutes in an electric, 8-10 in a stove-top pressure cooker. If you don't have a pressure cooker, use extra water (cover by about two inches) and check periodically to make sure it won't boil off. Simmer for 1 to 1.5 hours on the stovetop, until tender. 
  2. Mix beans with the pesto, two tablespoons of olive oil and about two tablespoons of lemon juice (check for flavor). You will have way more than you need for one salad. You can freeze, or just keep making the same salad for a week -- which is what I usually do.
  3.  For a salad that serves two, I usually use most of a box of arugula to two cups of pesto white beans, and two slices apiece of prosciutto. But this is a free-form jazz odyssey; vary the proportions to suit yourself. Add pine nuts or a grating of Parmesan! Go wild with whatever you want to add on. This salad will probably forgive you.

Beef Soup
I thought about retyping my standby slow cooker recipe, but that seems silly when I already wrote it up years ago. The only variant is that I now make it in the pressure cooker (45 minutes instead of 9 hours), and try to add a couple of beef bones, roasted in the oven while I’m broiling the chuck. Butchers have caught on to the fact that bones are in demand, and the days of inexpensive marrow bones are long over. But you can economize by adding a couple bones or short ribs without breaking the bank. Even a few bones will go a long way toward making your soup special.

Slow Cooker Tuscan White Bean Soup With Pork
Our meat CSA was kind enough to give us pork bones a few months back. As it happened, I was in the middle of experimenting with white bean soup, and had had difficulty getting just what I wanted: a traditional style soup, with a little bit of meat. Chicken was too bland, ham too strong. And while chicken and sausage together made an interesting flavor combination, the result was overwhelming: good, but you could eat only a tiny cup of it.

Pork bones turned out to be the answer. They give you a little bit of meat, but not so much as to turn this into a meat soup. They also add great flavor, and the richness that comes from bones, without the overwhelming notes you get from their cured compatriots. The only problem is that pork bones are not as easy to come by as their beefy cousins. You could use ribs, I suppose, but that seems like a waste.

Fortunately for us, the butcher at nearby Union Market carries pork necks for the comparative bargain price of $2 a pound. Neck bones are ideal for this sort of thing: cheap, a decent amount of meat, and they give great flavor. There’s just one small problem -- literally. The bones are tiny, which means they can fall off and get lost in your soup.

There are two ways to deal with this problem. The first is to tie the bones up in a cheesecloth bag and nestle it at the bottom of the slow cooker. The second is to be the kind of wild, dangerous character who accepts the risk of having bones in their soup.

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 pound cannellini or Great Northern beans
  • 4 ounces pancetta
  • 3 onions, minced
  • 8 garlic cloves, minced or crushed
  • ½ to 1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper, or ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 3 pounds pork neck bones, cut into pieces that will fit in your slow cooker
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 Parmesan rind (any small piece of withered old Parmesan that’s too hard to eat will do, but if you don’t have such a thing on hand, you can be extravagant and use a piece of fresh Parmesan, or parsimonious, and leave it out)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  1. Rinse the beans and soak overnight in four quarts of water dissolved with two tablespoons of salt.
  2. Discard soaking liquid and rinse well.
  3. Salt and pepper the neck bones well on each side and roast at 450, turning once, until brown, about 10 minutes for first side, 5-8 for the other.
  4. While the bones are roasting, heat oil in pan over medium-high heat and cook pancetta for five minutes. Add onion, garlic, and Aleppo pepper, and sauté until onions are soft, 8-10 minutes.
  5. Place everything except the rosemary in your slow cooker. YOU SHOULDN'T PUT THE ROSEMARY IN THE SLOW COOKER NOW. TERRIBLE THINGS WILL HAPPEN IF YOU PUT THE ROSEMARY IN NOW. Sorry about the shouting, but I wanted to make sure you noticed that you shouldn’t put the rosemary in the slow cooker now. Terrible things will happen if you put the rosemary in now. Did I mention that? It will develop some strange, horrid flavors if you cook it that long. Save the rosemary for the end.
  6. Pop everything else in and cook until the beans are soft and the meat is tender, 5-7 hours on high, or 9-11 hours on low.
  7. At this point you will be asking “Should I add the juices from roasting the pork bones, or just the pork bones?" The answer is that this is your personal decision. They are delicious. They will also make a heavyish soup really rich. Personally, I omit them.
  8. Fifteen minutes before you’re ready to serve, take the pork bones, the Parmesan rind, and the bay leaves out of the soup, and put the rosemary in. Yes, it’s crazy, but 15 minutes of steeping is really all you need to give it great flavor.
  9. While the rosemary is steeping, let the bones cool for 5-10 minutes, then slide the meat off the bones. Add your pile of meat to the soup when you take the rosemary out. Salt and pepper to taste, stir, and serve.

Slow Cooker Lentil Soup
The Official Blog Spouse was convinced he hated lentils, until he ate this. To make it vegetarian, use vegetable stock and omit the bacon.

  • 1 cup brown lentils
  • 4 ounces bacon or pancetta
  • 2 onions, minced
  • 5 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1-2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
  • ½ ounce dried mushrooms
  • ½ cup white wine
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme (or a few sprigs worth of fresh)
  • 5 cups of chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 box Pomi chopped tomatoes
  • 1-2 cups baby carrots, cut in half (the Official Blog Spouse really loves carrots, and is always pushing me to add more)
  • 12 ounces cremini (baby bella) mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 bay leaves
  1. Place white wine and mushrooms in a small dish and microwave on high for 30 seconds, then let steep while you prepare the rest.
  2. Sauté pancetta or bacon until they release their fat, then add enough butter or olive oil to sauté your onion and garlic until soft, 8-10 minutes. If you want a spicier soup, add a little Aleppo or some red pepper flakes here.
  3. Add everything to the slow cooker and cook 5-7 hours on high, 9-11 hours on low.
  1. Not navy beans. Cannellini or Great Northern. I prefer to order mine in bulk from Amazon, where they are somewhat more expensive but better quality. Cannellini beans can be hard to find in the local supermarket.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Megan McArdle at mmcardle3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Philip Gray at philipgray@bloomberg.net