Leo Navin has no respect for ethnic boundaries.
One of his all-time most popular culinary creations is a bold mixture of a western European dish completely reconfigured with a Middle Eastern dressing.
How did he know it would work?
"Twenty or thirty years ago I dreamed up this salad," Navin said of his shrimp cauliflower concoction.
"I developed this recipe from an old German cookbook from my mother - she was a great cook and loved to try different things - which used shrimp and cauliflower with a sweet and sour dressing. And I adapted it to a simple Middle Eastern dressing recipe that I had seen my wife's stepmother use many times."
The father of Navin's wife, Joanne, was Lebanese, he explains.
"So, nothing original except combining the two," Navin said modestly.
"We enjoy it, and everybody who's been a guest has said they like it."
The key, he says, is achieving perfect balance between opposing flavors in the dressing.
"The four critical things you balance are the salt, lemon, garlic and mint. It's just a question of balancing to your taste."
Navin himself prefers to double the recommended amount of mint, for example.
A Detroit native, Navin moved to Bowling Green in 1964 to take a job as an instructor of economics at the university.
It was a happy marriage. Armed with a Ph.D. from Michigan State University in 1968, he rose steadily through BGSU's academic ranks and is now a retired professor emeritus of economics. He currently does consulting in forensic economics and government budgeting for both Michigan and Ohio.
During tax season he aids senior citizens with tax preparation through the Wood County Senior Center.
He and Joanne are serious world travelers, having been to Poland, Hungary, Germany, France, Gibraltar, the Panama Canal, and 48 of the 50 United States. Only North Dakota and Oklahoma have so far eluded them.
Navin has also been to China, and this spring the couple took a memorable river cruise from Amsterdam to Vienna. About four years ago they visited some members of her father's family in Lebanon and Syria, picking up more ideas for great Middle Eastern cooking.
"Joanne's stepmother - since her dad died - she remarried a Syrian fellow and they live in Syria part of the time. We stayed with them, and visited (the stepmother's) parents who live in Lebanon."
Next to travel, including summer days spent at their cottage closer to home, Navin admits cooking is an increasingly important retirement hobby. His greatest enjoyment comes from preparing Oriental and Middle Eastern foods and he has been a "regular" at the men's cooking classes held in the winter at Stoneridge Country Club "for the camaraderie" each of the past four years.
"We had different people set up the menu different nights and the night I did the class" two years ago "I had a little mix of Vietnamese, Korean, Thai and Chinese."
The congenial group numbers about 20 and there's a waiting list to join. The men represent varying backgrounds including engineers, professors, doctors, dentists and people who work for the city.
The classes usually run for six weeks "and on the last day we invite the significant others. We put on a meal for them" showing off what the guys have learned.
Navin has learned plenty. Try his shrimp cauliflower salad. It will make true believers even of people who think they don't like cauliflower.
It can be served room temperature or cold.
"I like it chilled and marinated to create a flavorful taste treat," Navin said. If pressed for time, the marinading can be done a couple of hours before the salad is to be served, although he said overnight is ideal.
Shrimp cauliflower salad
Body: 1 small cauliflower cut into small flowerets
8 oz. of cooked salad shrimp or cocktail shrimp in small chunks
Half cup of water
¼ to ½ cup of lemon juice
½ cup of vegetable oil
1-2 Tablespoons of minced garlic
2 Tablespoons of dried mint or 1/2 cup of fresh chopped mint leaves
2 Tablespoons of dried parsley or 1/2 cup of fresh parsley tips
1-2 tsp. of salt
Cut cauliflower from the stalks into small flowerets. Place in a microwaveable container with the half cup of water and cook in the microwave on high for 4 minutes. (Keep a bit al dente). Rinse immediately in cold water when done.
Prepare the shrimp running cold water over them and eliminating tail shells if cocktail shrimp are used. Cut up into small chunks if using cocktail shrimp.
Dressing: Mix lemon juice, vegetable oil and minced garlic in a bowl. Add salt (to taste), mint and parsley. Mix thoroughly. Pour mixture over chilled cauliflower and shrimp in a medium size bowl and mix to coat thoroughly. Place in the refrigerator a few hours before serving and mix occasionally. Excellent when marinated several hours or over night.
The salad may be served alone or on a plain lettuce salad if preferred.
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