As a European immigrant to America, I’m continually inspired by some of the little known ingredients adorning the displays of my local Windy City grocery store, where the avocados are always ripe and delicious, the watermelon seed free, juicy and sweet. Despite backpacking in Mexico some years ago, I never ate cactus or jicama, but filled up on street side tacos, quesadillas, pickles and oil drum rotisserie chicken with the occasional splurge on a restaurant meal which invariably wasn’t half as good as the street food.
The street vendor struggle is well documented in our city, where officially no one is allowed to prepare and sell food on the street for public consumption. There are a number of dormant food vans awaiting a change in the law to legalize the preparation and sale of food streetside. The culinary landscape in Chicago is already diverse, add this movement to our repertoire and it’s a new dawn. There’s been a burgeoning of artisanal businesses, a movement which in some cases reflects the food truck model.
Operating in a confined space with limited ingredients to produce quality, freshly prepared goodies for waiting customers can be best served by employing a refined and focused menu. Just as the spatial limitations of a food truck do nothing to hinder the quality of the output, the same applies to our small 8’ x 8’ raised beds in our garden Urban Community Garden. The smaller the space, the more resourceful you have to be, a lot of it is about the preparation.
The winter months put a stop to most growth in the raised beds, with the exception of some winter salad leaves grown under plastic. The augmentation of small scale street vendors of late correlates to that warm sun we've been feeling, and is the inspiration for this Mexican style chili-dressed salad, using the winter leaves which are available. It’s vibrant and refreshing, made more substantial with the addition of some sticky and salty Valbreso feta cheese and a chilli kick from mixed spiced nuts.
Mexican inspired crunchy, spicy salad
Serves 4 as a starter
8oz spinach, washed and torn
1 cucumber, peeled and sliced into batons (no need to peel if using an English Cucumber)
½ / 8oz Jicama sliced into matchsticks
16oz watermelon cubed into 1cm cubes
4 salad onions sliced lengthways
7oz Valbreso Feta cheese, crumbled
3 limes, juiced
1tspn mexican chilli powder
2oz spiced nuts (see recipe below)
1. Put the spinach, cucumber, jicama, watermelon, onions and feta into a large bowl
2. Mix the lime, chilli and salt and pour over the salad ingredients, toss together carefully
3. Sprinkle the salad with the spiced nuts and serve
Spiced and candied Mixed Nuts8 oz mixed nuts
2 tbspn confectioners sugar (icing sugar)
½ tspn of each of the following: cayenne pepper, ground cinnamon, allspice, cumin, salt, ground black pepper
2 tbspn vegetable oil
1. Place the nuts in a bowl and blanch in boiling water for 1 minute then drain.
2. Stir the confectioners sugar into the nuts to coat.
3. Mix the spices together in a bowl and set aside.
4. Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed skillet (frying pan) and fry the nuts until they take on some color, about 1 minute.
5. Remove the nuts from the pan with a slotted spoon and toss into the spice mixture, making sure all the nuts are evenly coated.
6. Spread the nuts out onto a tray to dry out and store in an airtight container in a cupboard for up to 2 weeks