CPK Grilled Vegetable Salad
I hate California Pizza Kitchen. It’s nothing personal or anything. I’m not really a fan of most chain restaurants for the same reason I dislike CPK– at best, they serve decent food at high prices. Sure, the atmosphere is pretty great and people who have no taste buds and deep pockets love the place, but as a wise man once said, “good decor and a blind following does not a good restaurant make.” Wise guy, that one, eh?
On second thought, hate is a strong word. Who knows, maybe if I were stranded in a deserted town in the middle of Montana with 4 day old hunger pangs I might love CPK. It’s just that in Birmingham, on a recently fed stomach, you can either eat at CPK, The Cheesecake Factory or any other middle of the road chain restaurant. Or you can search out the mom and pop restaurants like Highlands Bar and Grill, Hot and Hot Fish Club, or GianMarcos and enjoy a truly great meal featuring great ingredients alongside a great atmosphere. It all costs roughly the same, but the difference in quality is astounding. Oh and I’d probably forage for my own food before I ate at CPK, even stranded and starving in Montana.
With that rant behind us, it’s with great regret that I admit that CPK serves just about my favorite salad ever. The Grilled Vegetable Salad with its layers of grilled Japanese eggplant, zucchini, asparagus, corn, avocado and sun dried tomatoes tangled in a slightly spicy Dijon laced balsamic vinaigrette is a formidable foe in the world of salads. I have many a fond memory that involves spending Brittany’s lunch breaks from her job at the GAP happily munching on said salad and a bowl of hummus, all the while hating the very idea of loving it all so much. Though, in my defense, the 20% discount given for being an employee of a neighboring business must of made my hypocritical actions easier to swallow. That and I haven’t been back to CPK in over two years. Whatever helps you sleep at night, right?
CPK Grilled Vegetable Salad (serves 2 hungry people):
- 1 Japanese eggplant, sliced lengthwise into 1″ patties
- 1 pound green asparagus, stems removed
- 2 yellow squash, halved and seeds removed
- 2 zucchini, halved
- 1 sweet corn, shucked
- 2 cremini mushrooms, washed
- 1/4 cup, plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil or butter
- 2 to 3 teaspoons high-quality sherry vinegar, we use “O” brand
- 2 to 3 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 to 3 teaspoons fresh thyme
- 3 tablespoons fresh basil
- Salt and Pepper, to taste
Coat the vegetables in the 1/4 cup of oil and season lightly with salt and pepper. Grill the vegetables, basting with the remaining oil as needed, over medium-high heat until tender, but not mushy. Remove from the grill and, if desired, slice the eggplant, squash, zucchini, and mushrooms into 1/2″ thick pieces. With a sharp knife, gently run the blade down the corn to remove the kernels from the cobb. Gently toss the vegetables with the oil,vinegar, thyme, and basil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm/hot.
I’ve purposefully left this recipe a bit open ended so feel free to add whatever suits your mood. As for ideas, shaved parmesan or fresh goat cheese would be great. As would lightly grilled cherry tomatoes. Or if you’d like to go the CPK route add diced avocado, sun dried tomatoes and replace the sherry vinegar with balsamic and a teaspoon of Dijon mustard. Whatever the case, get creative and get cookin’!