Most of my pictures have some kind of cat things somewhere in the background. That’s because you can’t avoid it; anywhere you look in our house, you will see a cat or two. Or a couple of dozen. Kitchen towels and throw pillows, blown glass swizzle sticks and spoon rests, coffee cups, salad bowls, pitchers, paintings and prints – cats are everywhere! That’s not counting the two most important denizens of this place, Beba and Barmalei.
Meet Beba. In Odessa, it is short for Bella, and Bella, in Italian, means beautiful. Beba was rescued a couple of weeks later than her brother Barmalei. The wonderful ladies who rescued them had counted the litter when mama cat had them, and just kept looking for the missing tiny black and white fur ball. And tiny she was! Sick and malnourished as well, so that when they finally did find her, the vet didn’t think she was going to survive. She did, though, and by the time we first saw her, at the age of four weeks, she was still very small, but healthy and playful. My husband picked her up, she looked at him with green eyes that remarkably resembled his own, and he said, “This one is coming home with us! I am not letting her go.” She would always be small, we were told, she would never grow. Guess what – she did grow! She is pretty big, fluffy, with an incredible tail that curls up like a question mark, and with a penchant for climbing up curtains and drapes and pulling them down. She is not as smart as her brother, and sometimes I claim that she is developmentally disabled (that’s a politically correct term for silly and childish), but she is so beautiful that it doesn’t matter, and she does have my husband’s eyes. She is his cat.
Her brother Barmalei, on the other hand, is extremely intelligent. He understands every word and does what he is told. When he feels like it, of course. “Barmalei” is what the Russian boogeyman is called. We came up with this name because he is all black. He is thoughtful and contemplative. Sometimes it looks like he is practicing for a cat male fashion magazine, when he elegantly freezes in a picturesque pose. He is very protective of his sister and always takes care of her. When a treat is announced, he flies up on the counter where treats are offered, yet he wouldn’t eat it until Beba joins him. He would literally summon his sister with his paw and sometimes meow at her if she is still asleep.
They eat together from one dish and drink from one bowl. Every Friday morning they get their erev Shabbos special, wet food served on a kitchen counter (as opposed to everyday dry food on the floor). How a cat knows days of the week is a mystery to me, but he does. Every Friday morning he is up on that counter loudly demanding the delicacy and nudging my arm. He is a true big brother. When the little silly gets stuck in interesting places where she is not allowed, Barmalei starts screaming on very high notes until we get the message and get her out. He is sweet and kind, friendly and sociable, and he is my cat.
So while the cats are gobbling up their chicken in gravy, I have a chance to finish my salad. I do a Russian-style table, with a bunch of appetizers. I try to have a variety, both in terms of different food groups, and in an aesthetic sense of colors and textures. Two more important considerations are nutritional value and prep time. Because there are quite a few salads, in addition to a soup, main dishes, and dessert, time is always of the essence. This salad is bright green, very healthy, not too spicy (but that’s up to you!), and it literally takes only a few minutes to prepare.
You need some young string beans. I like organic frozen ones that you steam for a couple of minutes in the bag, and they are just the right al dente consistency, somewhat softened, but still a bit crunchy. Of course, if you want to get your kids occupied by cleaning raw string beans, that’s a great idea too – better than video games for sure! Then you get a red onion, enough garlic to give it a bite, and fresh cilantro.
I use garlic quite a bit, so before I even start working on several dishes at once, I peel at least a head of garlic, if not more, depending on what I am making. Diced red onion goes into almost every salad, and I usually do a whole big onion on a food processor. Add chopped fresh cilantro, olive oil and balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper, and presto! You are done.
I am ready to serve it, but if you want it really picante, spice it up with some cayenne pepper. Not everybody is that adventurous, though, and we usually have Shabbos guests, so I try to keep it on the mild side. Incidentally, if you have seen some of my posts, you might have noticed those plastic bags with pre-chopped herbs. To see my trick of always having fresh herbs at my fingertips, please click here.
- 1 lb young string beans, fresh or frozen
- 1/4 finely diced red onion
- 3 – 4 cloves of garlic, squeezed
- 1/2 cup of fresh cilantro, chopped
- Olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper to taste
- Optional cayenne pepper
Steam beans, add the rest of the ingredients, mix well and serve.