Beautiful Beet Sandwich

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Beautiful Beet Sandwich

Peter called in the the middle of the day and said he had a little free time and could we have lunch together. My husband knows there is always food at home. Having been hungry when I was growing up made me anxious when the food supply is low — my two large fridges in the kitchen are always full.  We live 5 minutes from his hospital and usually it means he can easily go back to work 24/7 at a moment’s notice. But today is one of the rare occasions that living close afforded him a quick stolen lunch at home.  I had just made Angela her favorite massaged kale salad when Peter called, and there was left over beet in the fridge from yesterday.

Ten minutes later Peter was home and this tricolored lunch was already waiting at the table as if I had been expecting him to come home all along. I almost felt like a magician. This very satisfying vegetarian sandwich could definitely last him until dinner.

If I didn’t already had the kale salad, I would have used arugula or cucumber. Or I could substitute pine nuts with pistachio nuts, or walnuts.

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Ingredients:

Cooked beet, sliced

Kale salad, click here for recipe

Goat cheese

Pine nuts

Avocado, sliced

Lemon juice or balsamic glaze

Salt and pepper to taste

Bread slices

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Preparation:

Spray goat cheese on bread and sprinkle pine nuts.  Toast in the toaster oven until the crust is crunchy and the cheese soft. Layer sliced cooked beet. kale salad and avocado slices. Drizzle with lemon juice or balsamic glaze or both.

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Open Sandwich with Smoked Salmon, Fresh Pesto and Pickled Onion

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I made a quick run to Costco to buy bulk food for a friend, who is hosting a large party tomorrow in Tahoe. Angela is in up there in Tahoe at a writers’ workshop and I will be driving there first thing in the morning to attend some of the panels. Instead of succumbing to the temptations of buying oily chips and the sugary drinks for the road trip, I prepared the most delicious sandwiches using the multigrain bread with seeds that was freshly out of the oven from Costco. I used home made fresh pesto simply because it is the easiest thing to do and it tastes so much better than what you can buy from a store.  For lunch today, I made an open faced version of the sandwich that reminded me of the ones I had in Budapest last summer when I was filming Marco Polo. But the resemblance stops when it comes to flavor and texture. My smoked salmon pesto sandwich is so delicious and healthy that you should definitely try it. Or if you are a vegetarian, try my favorite vegetarian open sandwiches by clicking here

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Open Sandwich with Smoked Salmon, Fresh Pesto and Pickled Onion

Ingredients:

Fresh multigrain bread from Costco or any other bread of choice

Wild Alaskan smoked salmon

Cucumber slices

Fresh pesto, click here for recipe

Pickled onion, click here for recipe

Pine nuts

Olive oil spray

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Preparation:

Spray the sliced bread with a little olive oil and toast it until crust is crunchy. Spread the bread with pesto, layer with cucumber slices and then salmon. Top with smoked salmon and sprinkle with pine nuts.

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Caprese Salad

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Caprese Salad

Audrey and I spent 5 weeks in China where we worked on a Chinese comedy about the art of traditional Chinese cooking. I played a character by the name of Tom, which in Chinese sounds like Mother of Soup汤母, and Audrey played the young version of my character in the flashback.  We stayed in a hot spring resort in the boondocks of Xing Yang by the Yellow River.  Everyday, the production brought us two three-tiered lunch boxes with staples such as stir fried tomato with eggs, bell pepper with shredded pork, braised eggplant or mutton radish soup. After two weeks, Audrey groaned whenever those shiny tin boxes were delivered to us and she craved for caprese salad and pizza. When I had a day off, we drove for an hour to the nearest large city of Zheng Zhou in search of them.  We found pizza in a shopping mall, but no one there had heard of caprese salad.

Naturally that was the first thing we ate when we came home. And we have been enjoying it almost every other day. A little deprivation does wonders to renew your appreciation of something you took for granted. I have been jet lagged and there is so much to catch up around the house after a long absence. This caprese salad is not only delicious, it is also the easiest meal to make.  The trick is to buy the best quality tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. Drizzle with the best quality balsamic cream or glaze and olive oil.

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Caprese Salad

Ingredients:

Cherry tomatoes (halved)

Fresh baby mozzarella balls (halved)

Fresh basil leaves

Extra virgin olive oil

Balsamic Glaze or balsamic cream

Salt and pepper

Preparation:

Half the cherry tomatoes and the mozzarella balls. sprinkle with fresh basil leaves. Drizzle with balsamic glaze and extra virgin olive oil.

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Avocado Toast with Kale Salad & Fennel Salad

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Audrey’s soon to be alma mater, The Hamlin School, put on a lovely musical The Wizard of Oz. I went to see it last night and was pleasantly surprised by how good it was, especially considering the fact that they only had two weeks of rehearsal. The girls looked like they were all having a lot of fun, singing and dancing their hearts out.  I have always believed that anyone can act if he or she is given the right part.  And these kids proved me right. They were all impressive in playing the characters they were assigned to do.  According to Audrey, she had the most embarrassing part in the whole show — Toto the dog. She was in a thick furry dog suit, bouncing around and sweating like crazy.  I could tell that there were moments she subconsciously wanted to hide when she was on stage. I told her afterwards that, like anything in life, the only way to enjoy something is to give it all. According to Angela who went to see her in today’s performance, Audrey was having a great time prancing around with confidence.  

I made some yummy avocado toast with massaged kale salad and lemon olive oil marinated fennel salad for lunch — a perfect light meal to enjoy two hours before curtain time. Massaged kale is one of Angela’s favorite salads, while the marinated fennel is Audrey’s favorite. The ingredients are deceptively simple, but the result is refreshing and tasty.

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Ingredients:

4 slices of bread of choice

2 avocados, separated

1 bunch lacinato kale, stemmed and sliced

1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon fresh squeezed lemon juice, separated

2 tablespoons olive oil, separated

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon or more toasted pumpkin seeds

A pinch lemon zest (optional)

A couple of mint leaves (optional)

A few slices of radish (optional)

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Preparation:

Make the massaged kale salad according to instruction in this link

Make the marinated fennel according to the instruction in this link.

Mash 1 avocado with 1 teaspoon of lemon juice and a pinch of salt.

Toast the bread slices.

Spread mashed avocado evenly on the 4 pieces of toast.

Top the toast with kale salad or marinated fennel. Add thinly sliced avocados. Top with thinly sliced radish or mint leaves and sprinkle on the pumpkin seeds.

The recipe makes 4 servings.

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Healthy Mini Tarts with Fresh Berries

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The last week of May in San Francisco is absolutely my favorite time of the year. Today is a warm and sunny day that signals the coming of summer. Audrey and I will be going back to China to visit my parents when school breaks.  She will also be playing my character on screen in the flashback scenes.  We went shopping for summer clothes for our upcoming trip.  In a little boutique on Union Street, I saw the prettiest skirt in the whole wide world but they didn’t have my size. “I’m so fat,” I lamented. Audrey stopped me right there and said, “Don’t ever say things like that about yourself.  You are beautiful.” Did I sense some sort of a role reversal? She totally sounded like the mother between us when she said that.

After we were done with shopping, we came home and made these simple and delicious tarts with patriotic colors to celebrate Memorial Day.  They are healthy and quite guiltless to enjoy. For those of you who are allergic to gluten, They are also gluten free!

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Healthy Mini Tarts with Crispy Almond Flour Crust & Fresh Berries

Ingredients for the Shells:

1 cup almond flour

1/4 cup oat bran

1 1/2 tablespoon honey or molasses

2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Pinch of salt

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Ingredients for the Creamy Filling:

1/2 cup nonfat Fage or other Greek yogurt

1/2 cup 1/3 less fat cream cheese

3 tablespoons xylitol or sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Fresh berries to top it off

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Preparation:

Pre-heat oven to 325.

Grease muffin pan well with coconut oil (grease only 8 cups and not all 12 cups)

Mix all dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. Mix all the wet ingredients in another bowl. Fold wet into dry and knead until well mixed.

Separate the dough into 6 to 8 equal balls. Press into 8 muffin cups to create the shape of the tart shells. If you make 8 mini tarts, the shells will be thinner and shallower. If you make 6, the shells will be thicker and deeper.

Bake for 13 to 15 minutes. Let cool.

Cover the muffin pan with a cutting board and flip them over. Pat the back of the muffin pan with your hands to loosen baked shells from the pan.

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Enjoy Tortilla Chips without Guilt!

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I received a package today from Que Pasa with three bags of chips made of organic whole grain yellow, blue and red corn, just in time to celebrate Cinco De Mayo.  There was also a bottle of yummy organic salsa that came with the chips.

I grew up in China and knew nothing about Cinco De Mayo when I was there.  As a matter of fact, I had not known about its meaning until I read about it on wikipedia today. According to wikipedia, the date is observed to commemorate the Mexican army’s unlikely victory over the French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, under the leadership of General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín. It is a victory celebration!

These chips are quite delicious — fresh, crunchy and salty (but not too salty).  The only negative is my tendency of consuming too much of it in one sitting. So I decided to make a salad with the chips. This way you can at least eat a lot of fresh vegetables while you indulge on your chips.  The salad turned out beautifully with such vibrant Mexican colors, flavors and texture. It was so delicious that I had two plates of it. No guilt, though. I had to use a fork (for the vegetables), a spoon (for the salsa) and my hands ( for the chips and to scoop up the salad with the chips) all at once.

The salad was made of the vegetables that I would have used to make a guac plus a few more ingredients. It doesn’t need any dressing except for the lime juice that I used to coat the avocado, salt and pepper and a little salsa from Que Pasa.

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Some of the chips arrived crushed in the mail, but perfect for sprinkling on the salad

Cinco De Mayo Salad

Ingredients:

1 cup Que Pasa tortilla chips

1 to 1 1/2 large avocado, sliced and coated with lime juice

2 cups tri-color cherry tomatoes

1 cucumber, sliced

5 to 6 radishes, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon minced red onion

fresh corn kernels from one ear of corn, cooked

1/4 cup queso fresco cheese or fresh feta cheese, crumbled (omit if vegan)

3 to 4 tablespoon Que Pasa salsa

1 stock green onion chopped

Salt & pepper to taste

1 lime, for juicing

cilantro for garnish

Preparation:

Mix all the vegetables. Lay them on tortilla chips in separate individual plates. Top with chopped green onion, minced red onion, cheese, salsa and garnish with cilantro.

Or

Mix all the vegetables. Top with chopped green onion, cheese, salsa. Sprinkle on crushed chips and garnish with chopped cilantro and salsa.

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Note:

It’s important to enjoy the salad as soon as it is mixed if you don’t like soggy chips.

Freekeh Tabbouleh: Or, Shout Your Rejection

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When Angela was in third grade, she started going with her classmates to Stanford football games. Although she didn’t understand football, she loved the veggie burgers and tailgate parties, and she quickly became a Stanford fan. When she learned that Stanford was considered by many to be the best university in the world, she decided – at age eight – that she wanted to be a Cardinal someday. She wore Stanford sweatshirts and Stanford sweatpants and we sent her to programs at Stanford over the summer. My friend whose daughter went to Stanford met Angela, recognized her intensity and tenacity, and declared that Angela would go to Stanford someday.

On December 11, 2015, Angela’s world came to an end. She learned that she had been rejected by Stanford despite her 2380 SAT, 5s on all 5 AP exams, stellar GPA, and long list of extracurriculars and community service hours. She was heartbroken, and in the days and nights after she was rejected, she couldn’t stop crying. “Why would they do that to me?” she asked. “What did I do wrong?”

Come March, the next two college decisions she received were both waitlists. Zero for three. We were all in full panic mode. Most of her friends have already committed to their early decision colleges, and she was the only one in her friend group left hanging.

But the world did not end. That was the lesson. Life must go on and you persevere: there were classes to attend, assignments to complete, friendships to be enjoyed, and laughter to be shared. 

On the last day of March, Angela was accepted to Harvard; maybe she can’t be a Cardinal, but she will wear Crimson. To me, it doesn’t matter where she goes to school. I thought about the possibility of her being rejected by all the elite colleges. She’d still be my precious Angela with her intelligence, her perseverance, her achievements, regardless of whether they will shine through the capricious haze of the college admissions process.

We feel extremely grateful for how things have turned out for Angela. We realize that there will be many more new challenges and new setbacks in her life. We hope that she will always bravely carry on no matter what happens. Ultimately, life obliges us only one thing: to carry on.

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Anyway, you’re probably tired of my humble-bragging about Angela so here’s some food. This is a really simple, but very delicious and satisfying vegan recipe. Well, it can be vegan, but I cheated today. I cooked the freekeh with chicken broth. No one in the household is religiously vegetarian. Angela cannot stand the taste and smell of meat or seafood.  Audrey became vegetarian after she saw the film Food Inc.. Peter loves all meats and seafood, but is cutting back because I make him. I used to be a shameless pork lover, but find myself eating less and less meat as I age.

I have shared a Mediterranean Freekeh Salad and a Freekeh Pilaf with Beets in previous blogs and talked about what a great grain it is in terms of both nutrition and taste. An ancient grain from a distant land, it was food fit for the Pharaohs. If you haven’t yet tried it, you are in for a treat. 

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Tabbouleh with Freekeh and Walnuts

Ingredients:

1 1/2 heaping cup cooked fresh (I cooked mine in the rice cooker)

1 1/2 heaping cup chopped parsley

1 cup quartered cherry tomatoes

1 cup seeded diced cucumber

1/4 cup thinly sliced radishes

20 black olives, chopped

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

3/4 cup toasted walnuts

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Preparation:

Cook freekeh according to package direction. It is about 1 cup freekeh to 2 cups liquid.

Prepare the vegetables while the freekeh cooks.

Mix the cooked and cooled freekeh with the vegetables, olives, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.

Mix in the walnuts right before serving.

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Fennel Salad with Grapefruit Orange & Avocado

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We are having the balmiest early spring here in San Francisco. I decided that it was a perfect day for a refreshing salad when I saw the beautiful, tender bulbs of fennel in the neighborhood grocery store. I love fennel. If you have not yet tried fennel salad, you ought to. For me, the best way to prepare fennel is marinating it in fresh lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Simple, but perfect. I usually serve it with Burrata cheese, but decided to serve it today with avocado, orange slices and grapefruit slices.  It was crunchy, creamy, sweet, tangy and savory all at once. My favorite salad just got better.  It was absolutely delicious!

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Fennel Salad with Grapefruit Orange & Avocado

Ingredients:

2 heads fennel, thinly sliced

1/2 to 2 avocado, sliced

1 orange, peeled, pith removed and sliced

1 grapefruit, peeled, pith removed and sliced

1/2 cup tender green leaves of choice (I used watercress)

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon lemon and orange zest

1/4 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper

1/2 teaspoon fennel fronds

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Ingredients for Dressing:

1 tablespoon orange juice

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon honey

Salt & pepper to taste

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Preparation:

Place fennel, oil, zest and lemon juice in a shallow dish; season with salt and pepper. Let stand 15 minutes.

In the meantime, slice off the skin of the grapefruit and orange, remove the pith.  Save the juice in a bowl to use in the dressing.

Peel and slice the avocado.  Squeeze lemon juice on the avocado slices to prevent them from getting brown.

Mix ingredients for the dressing in a bowl.

Divide marinated fennel into four to six plates, top with orange and grapefruit slices, avocado slices, green leaves, fennel fronds. Drizzle with dressing before serving.  You need only very little dressing since the fennel is already marinated.

Note:

Use only very fresh and tender fennel bulbs for fennel salads. 

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Butternut Squash Salad with Pomelo & Pomegranate

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Butternut squash is in season.  Pomegranate is in season.  Pomelo is also in season.  When I saw them in my neighborhood grocery, I decided to put them together in this delicious winter salad that bursts with flavors and colors.  During the filming of Marco Polo in Malaysia, Chef Duyen often prepared the most refreshing pomelo pomegranate salads with Vietnamese dressing for us.  The sight of the pomelos in the store brought back memories of that extended “summer camp” in the tropics, where every Thursday, my friend Russel would buy pomelos for me from the “Pomelo Man” who drove a truck to a certain cross road in Johor to sell the fruit from his farm. 

This is a relatively easy and simple salad to make.  The only time consuming part is preparing the pomelo and pomegranate.  The best way is to use your hands after you open the fruits with a knife.  I happen to enjoy this type of work where your eyes and the hands are engaged in a task and the mind is free and relaxed, you feel the sensual texture, inhale the sweet scent of the fruits and free associate.

Pomelo is a fragrant citrus fruit that is sweeter than grapefruit.  If there is no pomelo in your super market, you can probably substitute with a grapefruit.

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Roast Butternut Squash Salad with Pomelo and Pomegranate

Ingredients:

1 butternut squash, peeled and cubed

1 pomelo, peeled, pith and seeds removed

Seeds from 1/2 pomegranate

1 packed cup arugula

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Ingredients for the dressing:

2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon light maple syrup

1/4 teaspoon salt or to taste

2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

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Preparation:

Preheat oven to 400F.

Mix all dressing ingredients in a bowl and set aside.

Toss cubed butternut squash with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, salt and pepper.  Roast in a baking dish lined with parchment paper in a single layer for 30 to 35 minutes.

while the butternut squash is roasting, prepare the fruits.

When the butternut squash is done, take the baking pan out of the oven and let cool.

When the butternut squash is cool, mix in pomelo, pomegranate seeds and arugula.  Add the dressing and toss to coat before serving.

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2 Great Dishes with Fennel

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We went to a friend’s house for dinner last night.  I was to bring a fennel salad with burrata, yam casserole,  potato avocado salad and a no-bake mango cheesecake.  The ingredients for the dishes were prepared and packed in separate containers.  Then I took a shower, blow-dried my hair, put on makeup, got dressed and changed a few pairs of shoes before settling on a pair of Alexander Wang heels.  That was when I looked at the clock and realized that we were going to be late.  In the rush to leave the house, I left the pickled red onion for the potato salad and the burrata for the fennel salad in the fridge at home.  The mangos that I used to make the mango cheesecake were not as flavorful as the ones from Malaysia where I first made the cake.  I’m afraid that I have kind of ruined the Hungry Empress’s reputation.  

So today I remade the less-than-ideal dishes to redeem myself at least in my own mind.  I wish I could switch the dishes from last night like how people exchange gifts that don’t fit them on Boxing Day.

I received a beautiful two-toned ceramic serving bowl from my friend, whose house we were at last night.  I used it to serve my potato salad with the right ingredients for lunch. So Amy, if you read this, this is what I meant to bring yesterday.

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Potato Salad with Fennel, Avocado and Eggs in Greek Yogurt Dressing

Ingredients for the salad:

10 medium red skin potatoes, boiled and diced with skin on or off

1 tender fennel bulb, rough parts discarded and chopped

3 to 4 avocados, diced

4 to 5 boiled eggs

Pickled red onion from 1/2 red onion

Fresh lemon juice to coat the diced

Ingredients for pickled onion:

1/2 red onion, thinly sliced

1/4 cup apple red wine vinegar

1/2 cup water

1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon salt

Ingredients for the dressing:

1 cup Fage or other Greek yogurt

2 to 3 tablespoons pale mustard

2 stocks green onions, minced (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

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Preparation:

Mix all the ingredients for the dressing in a bowl and set aside.

To make pickled onion, bring vinegar, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1/2 cup water to a simmer in a small saucepan. Add onion, bring to boil again and then remove from heat, and let sit 4 to 5 minutes; drain. Drain and let pickled onion cool.  Pickled onion should be crispy.  Don’t over cook it or let it stay in the hot brine for too long.

Boil the eggs for 5 minutes (counting from after the water boils) and rinse with cold water.  Do not over boil the egg. The yolks will get flaky if you overcook them.  Peel and cut into quarters.

Cook the potatoes in a pot of water to al dente and cut into bite size.

Cube the avocados and chop the fennel bulb.  To prevent the avocado from browning, coat the cubes with a little fresh lemon juice.

Toss all salad ingredients with the dressing.  Garnish with fennel fronds and serve at room temperature.

The recipe makes 8 to 10 serving.  You can easily half the recipe for fewer people.

I made a similar potato salad with chili peppers in the dressing when I was in Malaysia.  You can check out that recipe by clicking on the link here.

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Fennel Salad with Burrata:

Ingredients:

2 medium heads fennel, cored and very thinly sliced

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for serving

6 strips lemon zest, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon lemon juice

8  to 12 oz burrata

Fennel fronds for garnish

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

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Preparation:

Place fennel, oil, zest and lemon juice in a dish; season with salt and pepper. Let stand 10 to 20 minutes.  Just before serving, arrange fennel salad on a large platter. Cut burrata into halves or quarters and lay on fennel. Drizzle with additional olive oil, if desired.  Garnish with fennel fronds.

The original recipe calls for 1/2 cup of mint leaves, but I found the salad delicious without it.