By Molly Moss
I have always had an obsession of sorts with food. Surprisingly, the Campus Dining Services here at Oberlin have in no way hindered my drive to create elaborate and well-seasoned meals. I entered Stevie on Saturday evening with one goal: to craft a surprisingly delicious dinner using the seemingly mundane materials at hand. Pushing past students who coddled plates of food that mimicked the color palate of the Sahara desert, I began my search for culinary excellence at the salad bar.
A good dinner salad requires nothing more than a combination of different colors and textures. Dreaming up a hearty barbecue chicken salad, I loaded my plate with all the standard fixings: mixed greens, kidney beans, olives, red and green peppers, garbanzo beans and shredded cheddar cheese. I opted to forgo cutting up a hard-boiled egg and sprinkling it on top, for I thought the combined creaminess of the yolk and the cheddar cheese might overpower the vegetables below.
Now that my plate was sufficiently colorful, I headed back into the main dining area to find something with a crisp texture that would give the salad the heartiness that I crave at dinnertime. I immediately noticed the long line of students waiting to load their plates with the buzz-worthy seasoned waffle fries—a specialty I usually only see once or twice a week. I grabbed a few of these fries and crumpled them on top of my salad to add both a subtle bite and a crouton-like texture. A cut-up onion ring could also suffice as a crouton substitute, especially because the caramelized onion within would add a delicate sweetness to this generally savory salad.
While at the “Wild Fire Grill,” I also grabbed a grilled chicken breast to serve as my protein. For vegetarians, tofu or cut-up pepper jack cheese from the sandwich station can add the desired “meatiness.” Now that I had acquired all the standard ingredients of a barbecue chicken salad, it was time to improvise. Though the options at the Vegetarian and Classic Comforts stations change daily, they typically serve some sort of rice dish. I spooned a small mound of that day’s “Southern Style Hoppin’ John” onto the top of my salad to add even more spice and a softer consistency. I then finished off my salad with a heaping ladle of ranch dressing and a few good pumps of barbecue sauce.
When I sat down, I could sense my friends’ disappointment in their own habitually beige meals. I dug into my salad with an odd sense of accomplishment. I happily discovered that my unusual improvisations—the addition of peppery French fry croutons and the vegetarian rice dish—coalesced perfectly with tangy sweetness of the barbecue ranch mixture.
For the past three months or so, I have been overwhelmed with horror stories of college dining. Perhaps these silly tales prepared me for the absolute worst; however, after a month of Stevie, I still do not believe that CDS serves less-than-appetizing food. Sometimes, it just requires a little bit of creativity to conceive a brag-worthy meal. So, I urge all you fellow foodies or general fans of good cooking to forge flavor from whatever you can get your hands on.