Art by Erin Taj and Dicko Chan

The Caprese Catastrophe: A Salad Messier Than Your Love Life

Introducing Discomfort Food, a heartbroken spin on our favorite recipes

I don’t know how it is for the rest of you devastated millennials, but my romantic disasters take the form of multi-car freeway pileups. Maybe you were seeing five people, sexting with 10 more, and finally collapsed under the weight of all this effort. Maybe your image was used to catfish 700 strangers into coming over for sex. Maybe your mom is asking who the paramour in your latest Instagram is. (Ugh, please just let me brag about my sexual conquests in public, mom!)

When I get to that sad point, when I’m spending a solid four hours per night researching the symptoms of sex addiction and whether there’s a support group meeting near enough that I won’t have time to wuss out and run home before I get halfway there — around then, not starving drops to life-priority position number 3,879. If I eat at all, it’s from taco trucks and dumpling shacks and maybe, maybe, a double order of Burger King chicken fries with BBQ sauce. I am certainly not going to bust my ass cooking, in part because I can’t be trusted around open flames.

That’s why my trash version of the classic caprese salad owns. You chop and tear a lot of things up and throw them in a bowl and inhale it over Futurama. No stove, no oven, no scalding cast-iron skillet or blender that broke when you tried to make a kale smoothie. It’s as delectable as it is cathartic, and it sure beats another Kraft mac & cheese hangover. So let’s get started:

Ingredients

The Tomatoes
Look, heirloom tomatoes have their place, but that place is not in my caprese. I don’t want ingredients that look more rotted-out than my heart. And don’t mess with the little cherry tomatoes, which have always been confused grapes. Instead, grab an attractive cluster of vine tomatoes. Get some of the yellow ones, too, especially if you haven’t seen the sun in a while. These guys are the perfect size and consistency, much like your favorite fuckbuddy’s genitals.

Despite what the bourgeois chef on TV told you, there’s no right way to slice a tomato. Do it whatever dumbshit way you have your whole life. My advice is to get the pieces pretty small so that all the nasty ooze and jelly and seeds leak out like your unmentionable feelings — then you can leave that garbage on the cutting board and use only the juicy, ripe, firm tomato-meat.

The Shirtless Selfie
Stop here in the recipe. Take your shirt off and snap the most risqué selfie you’re comfortable posting “online.” Later, when you’re chowing down, you can check how validated you’ve been.

The Mozzarella
Lifehack: If you’re poor this week or lactose-intolerant or for some bizarre reason trying to be vegan — and please note that no relationship is worth this — you don’t actually need mozzarella. Crucify me, I don’t care. This is the most expensive, least healthy part of the caprese, and didn’t you say you wanted to cut back on saturated fat? Well, it’s none of my business. I personally, annually consume enough Italian cheese to kill several mafiosos and of course cannot relate.

If mozzarella is a must, don’t insult your tastebuds with low-moisture Polly-O nonsense. While my caprese is indeed a catastrophe, it cannot abide a lesser dairy element. The mozz should be fresh, preferably swimming in mozz-water, and come in the shape of a dinosaur egg. Fish that fist of fury out of its tupperware and start ripping it up by hand. Dare not to use a knife upon it.

The Basil
Ah, basil. Notable tasty herb, yet impossible to use all of before it becomes a slimy horror. Basically your decent option is to get the version that’s still attached to a clod of dirt in its packaging. Pull half the leaves off and wash them in a strainer (whoops, should have done that for the tomatoes, but I’m typically on my third vodka-rocks around the hour I’m desperate enough to prepare myself a gourmet dinner). Then tear those suckers up like you did the mozz, if you did. Why does everything have to be torn rather than cut? Because it’s art, you asshole.

The Cluttered Gaze
Completely forget what you’re doing and just gaze into the fridge, overcrowded with months of leftovers that shouldn’t have been saved in the first place. Wonder if this is a bad metaphor.

The Onion
“The hell? No one puts onion in a caprese salad.” Yeah, and nobody airs their sexual baggage on the internet for money, either. You’ll have to dice a nice big chunk from a nice big onion, color of your choosing, and put it in this caprese. And I don’t want to hear a lot of complaining about it! Onion improves any dish while making you unkissable, which I’m told is what we’re after.

Don’t worry, you’re allowed to use a knife for this part. Peel a few of those thickly emotional layers off the bulb and get to dicing. DO NOT CRY WHILE DICING THE ONION. Your bitter tears, aside from being wasted alone in the kitchen, will ruin the caprese with notes of urea.

The Garlic
Ask your grandma the trick to garlic, I’m tired. Can’t remember. All I’ll say is have a bunch of it, chopped into a fine paste. Four cloves. No, five. Absolutely not six. Five and a sixth small one.

The Usual Overconfidence
By this point you should be insanely, preemptively proud of the unfinished caprese, which means you are about to ruin it somehow. This routinely happens in the seasoning phase (see below), where a fine touch is required, but with enough genuine hubris you can accomplish something far worse, like dropping a handful of grated parmesan on your dog’s head. There’s no parmesan in this — who told you to grate parmesan? Was it the same inner voice that told you long-distance Skype affairs are healthy? Focus up for a sec and finish one stupid thing, okay?

The Oil, Vinegar, Salt, Pepper, and Other Pepper

If your roommate doesn’t have olive oil to steal, this falls apart in an instant. I sincerely apologize if that’s happening to you now, because there’s no worse fear than the dread of a dry caprese. If you’ve got it handy, however, slop plenty on — he won’t notice how much is missing.

White wine vinegar is a matter of taste that I’m not going to argue about. If you don’t want to level up then I can’t very well talk you into it. Just understand that I’m disappointed for you, and that you are squarely on the wrong side of history, and that I tried to help you as best I could.

Salt and pepper should be huge, coarsely ground morsels and be sourced from places you’d never visit, like the Himalayas. Nothing against them. Great salt they’ve got over there. Shower your salad with these simple spices after coating it in the oil (and vinegar, you bastard), then stir the whole mess and blizzard it with both again. Then, since it is a mortal sin not to put red pepper flakes on a meal, liberally sprinkle those on top. Keep tossing the bowl — should be a big bowl, forgot to mention, sorry, lay off, I never said I was perfect — until you’re fairly salivating.

Bite in. Enjoy the tart if transient bliss of obliterating flavor. Eventually you’ll be hungry again.