Archive | January 2016

Eating Kale Moon

The Native Americans named each full moon for the characteristics of each month… Wolf Moon, Hunger Moon, Egg Moon, Thunder Moon….I declare January to be Eating Kale Moon. Winter is the season for kale. The leaves are sweeter, the green intensely nourishing… and kale is about the only thing left in the garden right now, so we’re going to eat it.


We’ve been eating lots of kale since fall—wonderful kale salads, garlicky sautés, taco fillings, and stirred into soups. But I wanted to really honor this winter-hearty green. For inspiration, I turned to the Italians. I don’t think anyone does kale better, most likely because they enjoy powerful-tasting vegetables and aren’t shy about seasoning with garlic and chiles, not to mention delicious olive oil.

I have three Italian cookbooks that reflect what Alice Waters calls “vegetable reverence.” They are Franny’s Simple, Seasonal, Italian from Franny’s restaurant in New York, Domenica Marchetti’s The Glorious Vegetables of Italy, and Cooking with the Italian Grandmothers by Jessica Theroux. All reveal Italian cooking as a celebration of vegetables …creating out-of-the-ordinary dishes with ordinary, simple ingredients and allowing vegetables to star in the menu. Simplicity and honesty in the cooking and devotion to seasonal eating are both part of the respect these cookbooks show to vegetables.

Lacinato Kale Pesto

Kale Pesto

This is an adaptation of a recipe from Franny’s. It doesn’t have to be made with Lacinato (Tuscan or Dinosaur are other names) kale, but this heirloom variety is sweeter and more tender than most and a beautiful dark black-green. Kale pesto is great for tossing with pasta—choose a wiggly shape like fusilli to hold the sauce. It’s also a wonderful with a smear of goat cheese as a topping for bruschetta.

Ingredients: 1/3 cup toasted walnuts, 1 bunch kale (12 oz), 4 Tbs lovely-tasting olive oil, 4 Tbs thinly sliced garlic cloves, pinch red chile flakes, 2 Tbs walnut oil, 4 Tbs finely chopped flat-leaf parsley, grated lemon zest of 1 lemon, 1/4 tsp sea salt, 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

Toast the walnuts in the oven at 350 degrees for about 7 minutes. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Strip the kale leaves off the thick center ribs and add them to the boiling water. Cook 2 to 3 minutes, until tender. Scoop the leaves into a colander and cool with cold tap water. Drain and squeeze the leaves gently to remove excess water.

Warm 1/4 cup olive oil in a small skillet with the garlic and red chile over low heat. Cook about 2 minutes, until small bubbles rise around the cloves and they soften. Add 2 Tbs water to the pan and remove from the heat.

Transfer the kale, garlic-oil, walnut oil, parsley, lemon zest, salt, 1/2 of the walnuts, and the cheese (if using) to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to make a coarse paste. Crush the remaining walnuts using a mortar and pestle and stir them into the pesto.

Toss with freshly cooked pasta or spread on toasted bread or slices of polenta with a few more shavings of Parmesan

Winter Risotto with Winter Squash and Kale

Winter Squash

Domenica Marchetti makes this risotto with butternut squash and Tuscan kale. I used my wonderful Zucca Berrettina Piacentina (just saying the name makes my mouth water), a more flavorful squash from Seeds From Italy. They also supplied seed for Galega de Folhas Lisas, a curly kale. I like to think the flavor is incomparable, but maybe I just grow them for the way their names roll off my tongue.

Ingredients: 3 Tbs olive oil, 1 Tbs butter, 1/2 cup diced yellow onion, 1 lb winter squash, 8 oz kale, 1/2 tsp sea salt, 2 cups Arborio or Carnaroli rice, 1cup dry white wine, 5 cups vegetable or chicken broth, 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, freshly ground black pepper

Bring the broth to a low simmer in a saucepan.

Warm the olive oil and onion in a Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Stir frequently for 7 or 8 minutes, until the onion is softened and translucent. Cut the winter squash into 1/2-inch cubes. Remove the center ribs from the kale and slice the leaves into thin ribbons. Add the squash and kale to the onion and stir to coat them with oil. Sprinkle with salt and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until the kale and squash are just tender.

Add the rice and continue stirring 2 to 3 minutes to completely coat the grains with oil. Raise the heat to medium-high and pour in 1/2 cup wine. Stir constantly until it is absorbed, then add the remaining wine. When the wine is absorbed, begin adding the hot broth, 1/2 cup at a time. Reduce the heat to medium and stir frequently, allowing each addition of broth to be absorbed before adding more.

Taste the rice after 20 minutes of cooking. It should be tender, but firm to the bite—al dente. Add liquid in smaller amounts as the rice approaches being fully cooked. It should be moist but not runny. Stir in the cheese to fully incorporate it into the risotto. Remove from the heat and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Zuppa di Ceci e Laciniato

Chickpea and Kale Soup

Chickpea soup

A soup from la cucina povera—poor people’s food. Drew calls it “frugal luxury.” Greens and beans are easy on the budget and combine to make a dish of luxurious flavor. In this case, a creamy and comforting background of beans is given a jolt of flavor and color from the deep bright green of kale and the warmth of chile. Zuppa is a soup made for dipping, so serve with crusty bread or croutons and a swirl of chile-herb oil. The soup also makes a fine sauce for pasta.

If you start with dried chickpeas, the liquid from cooking the beans will provide a flavorful broth for the soup. I always make a big pot when I cook dried beans. The beans cook more evenly, and the extras freeze beautifully for future use. If you are using canned chickpeas, you can substitute a homemade or commercial vegetable or chicken broth for the bean broth.

Ingredients: 1 1/4 cups dried chickpeas (you will need 2 to 2 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas, freshly cooked or canned), 1 sprig fresh rosemary, 2 bay leaves, 1 small dried red chile, 4 cloves unpeeled garlic, 3 Tbs olive oil, 1 cup finely chopped onion, 1/4 tsp red chile flakes, 2 Tbs minced garlic, 1 8-oz bunch kale (about 7-8 cups chopped), 1/2 cup chopped sundried tomatoes, 3 to 4 cups bean broth or vegetable/chicken stock, salt and freshly ground black pepper, grated pecorino-Romano for serving

Chile-Herb Oil: 4 Tbs olive oil 2 minced garlic cloves, 1 tsp red chile flakes, 2 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary, 1 tsp finely chopped fresh thyme… (Or 2 tsp Rachel’s Sicilian herb salt with sundried tomatoes, smoked chiles, onion, garlic, and rosemary) Mash the garlic into a paste with a pinch of sea salt with a mortar and pestle. Add the chile and fresh herbs and crush with the pestle. Whisk in the olive oil and allow to sit 1 hour.

To cook dried chickpeas, start a day ahead. Rinse the beans and pick through them for small rocks. Put the beans in a pot with 1/2 tsp baking soda and add at least 2 qts water to cover. Soak them 12 to 14 hours.

Drain the soaked beans, rinse well, and put them in a large pot with 8 cups fresh water. Bring to a boil and skim off any bean froth that rises to the surface. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and add the bay leaves, rosemary, dried chile, and whole garlic cloves. Simmer about 1 hour, or until the chickpeas are tender but not beginning to fall apart. Stir in 1 1/2 tsp sea salt and turn off the heat. Remove the rosemary, bay leaves and whole garlic from the pot. Discard the herbs and squeeze the garlic cloves into the pot.

While the beans are cooking, strip the kale leaves off the stems and cut them into thin strips. Wash and drain. Warm the olive oil in a saucepan or Dutch oven. Stir in the onion and cook 8 to 10 minutes, until soft and translucent. Add the minced garlic and chile flakes and cook 1 minute. Add 3 cups bean broth or other liquid and bring to a simmer. Add the chopped tomatoes and kale leaves; stir to combine. Cover and simmer 10 to 15 minutes, until the kale is tender.

Set 1/2 cup cooked chickpeas aside. Add 1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas ( if you are using canned chickpeas, add beans and their liquid) to the kale broth and simmer an additional 5 to 10 minutes. Use an immersion blender, food mill, or regular blender (be careful with hot liquid!) to puree the soup in batches. Add more beans if it is too thin, more broth or water if it is too thick. Season with salt, pepper, or red chile to your taste. Re-warm the soup if needed. Stir the reserved chickpeas back into the soup, or scatter them on top.

I like to toast the whole chickpeas in a skillet with a little herb-chile oil before scattering them over the top of the soup. If you are making croutons, you can toast them in the oven. Serve the soup with toasted bread or croutons and a bowl of freshly grated pecorino- Romano cheese. Drizzle with chile-herb oil, or perhaps a squeeze of fresh lemon.


Turmeric Pesto and Other Ways to Brighten January

Who would have guessed? Fresh turmeric is a revelation! The boring yellow powder that mostly gives color to curry powder is actually a mouth-popping, I-can’t-stop-eating-this, delicious flavor when eaten fresh (the difference between powdered ginger and fresh ginger root, only more so…). And it can grow in North Carolina!!

hawaiian red turmeric (grown by biker dude)

hawaiian red turmeric (grown by biker dude)

I was very excited when a friend from Brasstown, NC, visited and brought a jar of her homemade turmeric pesto made with fresh turmeric grown in Clay County on Qualla Berry Farm. Turmeric (Zingiberaeae Curcuma longa) is a member of the ginger family and is known as “Indian saffron” because of its brilliant orange color. John Clarke and Karen Hurtubise grow both ginger and turmeric in a large hoophouse, harvest in October and November, and sell the fresh rhizomes at farmers’ markets as well as from their own farm. They advise that the rhizomes may be stored in a warm, dry, dark place for up to three weeks or sealed in zip-lock bags to store in the freezer for a year-long supply. Contact for more information.

Qualla Berry Farm Turmeric

The fresh turmeric pesto is amazing. Can something have a yellow flavor? The flavor is sharp and earthy and somehow lets you know that it is sending good energy to all the cells of your body. I have been using turmeric powder for its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and healing properties, but it is so much more fun to eat the vibrant fresh rhizomes. It’s like adding a burst of sunshine to your food.

My Thai cookbook by Su Mei Yu says that fresh orange turmeric is used for its color, aroma, sweet crunchy texture, and peppery taste. When fresh turmeric isn’t available, Yu suggests substituting 1 Tbs grated carrot, 1/2 tsp grated fresh ginger, and 1/2 tsp turmeric powder for 1 Tbs minced fresh turmeric. This gives you an idea of the taste—a rather subtle, wild carrot flavor with hints of black pepper and the woods. I didn’t want to substitute; I ordered some from Qualla Berry Farm right away.

turmeric grown at Qualla Berry Farm

turmeric grown at Qualla Berry Farm

When my order of fresh turmeric arrived , I cut some up into matchsticks and started eating. The fresh flavor is not just yellow, it is orange…like some crazy carrot. The rhizomes are easy to grate or slice and can be used raw to garnish or add to dishes for maximum color and texture impact… or pound into spice pastes or add with other aromatics like ginger, garlic, and fresh chiles to stir-fries or curry. Use minced fresh turmeric in soups, dips (try it in hummous, Romesco sauce, or mixed into yogurt or goat cheese), rice and other grain pilafs, vegetable or meat braises, lentils or beans, eggs…. or make tea.

Turmeric Infusion

This recipe for fresh turmeric tea is from Qualla Berry Farm. The addition of black pepper enhances the medicinal properties of turmeric by making its healing components more easily absorbed.

Ingredients: 2 oz fresh turmeric, 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper, 2 quarts water

Chop or grate the fresh turmeric. Coarsely grind the peppercorns with a mortar and pestle or spice grinder. Bring the water to a boil and pour over the turmeric and pepper in a glass or ceramic pitcher. Allow to steep overnight or until cool. Strain into glass jars and store in the refrigerator. Strained out turmeric may be used in cooking.

Add fresh lemon juice or honey to taste. Some people enjoy hot turmeric tea with milk.

Carla’s Spice Paste

Carla Owen of Murphy, NC, provided this recipe for the growers at Qualla Berry Farm. This is a generous amount that should keep you in turmeric heaven for a while. Carla advises to eat some every day…in any dish. You can use it as a condiment, stir it into slow-cooked stews or braises near the end of cooking, or add a bit to the oil before a quick-cooked stir-fry or sauté.

Ingredients: 1 lb fresh turmeric, 1/4 lb peeled fresh ginger (or fresh ginger in season), 1-6 oz peeled garlic cloves to suit your taste, zest and juice of 2 organic lemons, 1 tsp black pepper, 1 cup olive oil

Put all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until you get the consistency you want. Add salt if you like and adjust quantities to your own taste. Store in glass jars topped with olive oil in the refrigerator.

Turmeric Pesto

Turmeric Pesto

The pesto made by our friend Linda is a simplified version of Carla’s Spice Paste. It has a beautiful pale yellow color and subtle flavor. I loved it so much I ate it by the spoonful, spread it on toast and tortillas, and put it in everything until it was gone.

Ingredients: roughly equal parts fresh turmeric rhizomes and peeled garlic cloves—let’s say 4 oz of each, 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, 1/4 cup olive or sunflower oil, sea salt, fresh lemon juice

Put all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse to make a rough or smooth puree, as you wish. Add lemon juice and salt to taste.

Turmeric Pesto II

Turmeric Pesto II

I ran out of Linda’s pesto very quickly, so I had to make my own. I didn’t have any fresh turmeric rhizomes yet, but I did have a big jar of pickled fresh turmeric from India. It is pretty much just shreds of fresh turmeric in a salty brine, so I gave it a try. It was delicious, but on the salty side, so I mellowed it out with roasted red pepper. The color is even more joyful.

Ingredients: 1/2 cup pickled fresh turmeric, 1/2 cup peeled garlic cloves, 1/2 tsp black pepper, 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 or 2 roasted red peppers (canned are fine)

Put all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse to a rough or smooth puree. Enjoy!

Chershi Kara’a

Chershi are piquant condiments from the culinary traditions of the Jewish community of Tripoli, Libya. I learned this from Jerusalem a Cookbook, by Yotam Ottalenghi and Sami Tamimi. They made mention of a crushed pumpkin salad—chershi kara’a, which sounded like it could only be more delicious with an addition of turmeric pesto. Roasted winter squash chershi is traditional; I used wedges of roasted sweet potato.

Ingredients: 3 Tbs olive or sunflower oil, 1 large sweet potato ( 12 to 16 oz), 1 large white onion (1 1/2 cups finely chopped), 1 Tbs harissa, 2 Tbs turmeric pesto or spice paste, 1/2 tsp toasted and ground cumin seed, 1/2 tsp toasted and ground coriander seed, 2 Tbs fresh lemon juice, 1 cup chopped parsley leaves, salt

Peel the sweet potato and cut it into 3/4-inch wedges or chunks. Toss with 1 1/2 Tbs oil and sprinkle with coarse salt. Spread on a baking sheet and roast in a 400 degree oven for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until crusty brown outside and tender inside. Turn halfway through. Heat the other 1 1/2 Tbs oil in a skillet and cook the onion over medium heat until golden brown, about 10 minutes.

Scrape the onions into a bowl and stir in the harissa, turmeric pesto, cumin and caraway. Chop the roasted sweet potato into bite-size pieces and combine with the onion mixture. Add the parsley and lemon juice and toss to combine. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Allow the flavors to meld 1/2 hour or more before serving.

Turmeric Turkey Meatballs in Thai Curry Broth

Ingredients: 1 lb ground turkey or chicken (dark meat), 1/2 cup finely chopped onion, 1 large free-range egg, 2 Tbs chopped mint, 2 Tbs chopped cilantro, 2 Tbs grated fresh turmeric, 1 Tbs finely chopped garlic, 1/2 tsp freshly ground white or black pepper, 1 tsp toasted and ground cumin, 1 tsp toasted and ground coriander, 1 tsp salt, 2 Tbs sunflower or peanut oil for searing

Broth: 1/2 cup coconut milk, 2 tsp Thai curry paste, 2 thinly sliced shallots, 1 cup low-salt chicken broth, juice of 1 lime (about 1 1/2 Tbs), 2 tsp raw cane sugar, 2 tsp fish sauce, 1 cup grated carrot, fresh cilantro or mint leaves for garnish

Combine all the ingredients for the meatballs in a large bowl. Mix gently with your hands. Shape the mixture into about 16 balls. Heat 1 1/2 Tbs oil in a large frying pan over medium heat until shimmering. Add half the meatballs to the pan and sear on all sides, about 4 minutes total. Remove to a plate and sear the second batch, adding oil if needed.

Use the same pan to make the broth. Add the coconut milk and bring to a simmer. Whisk in the curry paste and cook 1 or 2 minutes. Add the shallots and cook 3 to 4 minutes. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Add the lime juice, sugar, fish sauce and reduce to a simmer. Return the meatballs to the pan, cover, and cook over low heat 15 minutes, or until cooked through. Stir in the carrots and sprinkle the top with fresh herbs before serving.

Turmeric Sambal

The perfect condiment/salad to accompany meatballs, especially if you eat them with rice or wrapped in a tortilla. This is an adaptation of a Chris Schlesinger-John Willoughby recipe, “Sambal in the style of Java.” If you have a stash of turmeric pesto or spice paste, you can jump-start the dressing. Best eaten freshly made.

Ingredients: 1 1/2 cups finely sliced or shredded green cabbage, 1 1/2 cups grated or matchstick-cut carrots, 1/2 cup bean sprouts, 1 Tbs minced fresh turmeric, 1/4 cup toasted and chopped peanuts or cashews

Dressing: 1 Tbs minced ginger, 1 Tbs minced fresh turmeric, 1 Tbs minced fresh chile, 2 tsp minced garlic, 1 tsp shrimp paste or 2 tsp fish sauce, 1 1/2 Tbs toasted and cracked coriander seeds, 1/4 cup fresh lime juice, 2 Tbs palm sugar or Mexican cane sugar, 2 Tbs soy sauce, 1 Tbs pomegranate molasses, 1/4 cup peanut or sunflower oil

In a large bowl, combine the cabbage, carrots, and bean sprouts. Use a whisk or blender to combine all the dressing ingredients. Adjust the seasonings to balance the flavors—hot, sweet, salty, and sour. Pour the dressing over the vegetables and mix well. Allow to sit 10 to 15 minutes. Sprinkle with minced turmeric and toasted nuts before serving.

Fresh Cut Turmeric

Herb Salt

Sometimes a person comes into your life just like a shooting star—lighting up the sky and sending sparks into the universe. Rachel Williamson is a person like that. She stayed for a summer on our farm some years ago, and I instantly liked her so much that I gave her a couple of garden beds to tend. She had a lot of seedlings and not much space, so she planted intensively with wild companionship. I admit I had my doubts about the crowded plots, especially when the weather turned dry. Rachel hauled water and brewed 55-gallon tanks of herb tea to water her plants, and everything thrived! I am reminded of her garden each year when the volunteers from her sunflowers come up and brighten another growing season.


Rachel has a farm of her own now, and she makes tea for people. She moved farther north up the Blue Ridge Mountain Range to an acre of land near Afton, Virginia, where she grows herbs and vegetables and turns them into the most wonderfully flavorful teas and culinary herb blends imaginable. You can choose from “Civili-Teas” or “Profani-Teas”depending on your sense of decorum (or lack thereof). Do you feel like “Content-Mint” or want to “Cheer the F***Up”?

She also offers culinary blends with names like “Smoke”(smoked chiles, garlic and herbs—good for all things south of the border), Sicilian”( for the love of Sicily–dried tomato, smoked peppers, herbs…divine on pasta and in olive oil), “First Frost” (lemony, smoky flavor made with all the vegetables saved from the garden before the first frost, smoked and dried), and “Salt of the Earth” (lovage, parsley, onion, sweet and hot peppers, garlic, winter savory, thyme…A.K.A. “Good Salty S***”! Rachel markets her herbs mostly at fairs and farmers’ markets in her area, but offers them for sale on her website,

Seasoned Salt

I mostly avoided using dried herbs before I tried Rachel’s. Hers are the distillation of summer and are so tasty that I lick them off my hand. I pretty much sprinkle her herbs on everything–salads, soups, lentil and bean dishes, grilled or roasted vegetables, rice pilafs and various grains, roast chicken or meat, pop-corn…its an easy way to make almost anything taste more wonderful.

Here are some ideas, or excuses, from Rachel’s website for using herb blends.

Rachel’s Salad Dressing

A note from Rachel: “I don’t actually follow recipes.” I would say she learned that from me, but it is just a trait we have in common.

Ingredients: 2 tsp dried herb blend of choice, 1 to 5 cloves garlic, and 1/2 to 1 Tsp sea or kosher salt (some herb blends include salt), 2/3-cup olive oil, 1/3 cup red wine vinegar

Use an immersion blender or a large mortar and pestle and whisk to make a smooth puree of the herbs, garlic, salt, and oil. Drizzle in the vinegar last.

About garlic: The more garlic, the creamier the dressing. Use an entire head of garlic in the recipe to make a thick aioli sauce.

Winter Salad

“Nothing could make me happier in January than an intensely garlicky dressing over a giant salad of tender baby kale, arugula, and mizuna topped with copious chunks of grapefruit and avocado. It’s enough to make you dream about winter all summer long.” Rachel

Ingredients: 5-clove (at least) garlicky salad dressing, 2 to 3 generous handfuls mixed baby spinach or kale and other spicy greens per person, avocado slices, grapefruit chunks

Follow Rachel’s description and dream.

Herby Oil


Ingredients: 1 cup olive oil, 1 Tbs dried herb blend of choice

Rub the herbs between your palms to release their scent as you sprinkle them into the oil. Stir well and allow to steep 1 or more hours before using. Alternatively, warm the herbs and oil gently in a pan over low heat for 1 to 3 minutes. Do not allow to simmer. Pour the oil into a jar or bowl and allow to steep 10 to 15 minutes before using.

Use for dipping bread or toast, drizzle on roasted or grilled vegetables, mix with beans or lentil salads, toss with pasta, brush on pizza dough, broiled fish, or grilled chicken…

Homemade Herb Salt

Herbal Salt

I ran out of Rachel’s herb blends and decided to try some batches of herb salt with the herbs still growing in my late fall garden. I still had rosemary, sage, thyme, chives, cutting celery, parsley, dill, and a few angelica leaves. Oh, and garlic.

Basic recipe: 1/2 cup coarse sea salt, 3/4 to 1 cup fresh herbs, 1/2 cup fine sea salt

Put the herbs (no stems) in a food processor with 1/2 cup coarse salt. Pulse to chop the herbs and blend them with the salt. Add the fine salt and stir. Spread the herb-salt mixture on a baking sheet and dry in the oven at 200 degrees for about 2 hours.

Sample blends: Rosemary-sage-garlic, rosemary-sage-thyme, thyme-celery leaf-chives-lemon zest-garlic-angelica…mix and match. Add freshly ground black pepper, red Chile flakes, or smoked jalapeno chiles if you like.

Awesome Potato Soup

I made this today using Rachel’s “Barcelona” herb blend. Never underestimate the value of a good potato.

Ingredients: 2 Tbs butter, 1 Tbs olive oil, 2 bay leaves, 1 1/2 cups finely chopped onion, 1 diced carrot, 2 thinly sliced stalks celery, 2 thinly sliced garlic cloves, 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock, 4 cups water, 6 to 8 cups diced potatoes (about 1 pound), 2 tsp dried herb blend (I used a blend of smoked sweet pepper, parsley, parsley, onion, ancho chile, chipotle, garlic greens, and criolla sella pepper…the “Rivanna” mix of dill, lemon thyme, pepper and winter savory would by good, too), 1 cup milk or cream, salt, freshly ground black pepper, chopped fresh parsley.

Warm the butter and oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Stir in bay leaves, onion, carrot, and celery. Cover and cook over very low heat for 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook about 1 minute. Add the chicken broth, bring to a simmer, and cook 5 minutes. Add the water, potatoes ,herbs, and 1/2 tsp salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer slowly until the potatoes are completely tender, about 25 minutes.

Use an immersion blender, blender or potato masher to puree the soup with milk or cream. Taste, and season with salt and black pepper to taste. Garnish with finely chopped parsley.