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Salads for the Summer Solstice

Lettuce Leaves

“Whenever I chop fresh herbs, I think of you.” That’s what my friend Ginny told me, and it is one of the most wonderful ways to be remembered that I can think of.

There’s a lot of chopping in these salads, and lots of fresh herb flavor. I made them to celebrate the beginning of summer and the end-of-spring harvest of young carrots, snap peas, spring onions, early cucumbers, fresh herbs, and abundant salad greens.

Wild Onion

My garden is a wild abundance of flowers and herbs, rubbing shoulders (if not pushing and shoving) among the vegetables. There are volunteers and galloping weeds looking for available space. It’s a jungle…and a salad maker’s paradise. I wander the pathways with a basket, picking this and that–whatever looks colorful and tasty. Then I invited friends for lunch.

Calendula

My friends and I ate salads and toasted the summer solstice. Then we jumped into summer by plunging in an icy- cold, rushing mountain stream.

Carrots in Harissa

A Middle Eastern inspired carrot salad with North African chile paste…. tone it down for a salad, spice it up for a condiment.

Ingredients: 8 to 10 young carrots (about 1 1/2 lbs), 2 Tbs olive or sunflower oil, spring onions or sweet onion (about 1 1/2 cups small dice), 1/2 tsp crushed cumin seed, 1/2 tsp crushed caraway seed, 1 tsp coarsely ground coriander seed, 3 Tbs fresh lemon juice, pinch sugar, 1 to 2 Tbs harissa (how hot is your harissa?), 1/2 cup finely chopped parsley, 1/2 cup chopped cilantro, 1/4 cup chopped chives, 2 to 3 cups baby spinach, arugula, or kale for serving

Red Onions

Peel the carrots and cut them into 1 1/2 to 2-inch long, thin matchsticks (or round slices). Blanch in salted boiling water for 1 minute (or steam about 5). Chill the carrots in ice water to stop the cooking. Drain and set aside.

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Stir in the spices and cook 30 to 60 seconds. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and sauté 3 to 5 minutes to soften. Add the harissa and stir to combine. Transfer the onion-spice mixture to a large bowl and add the carrots, stirring to coat well. Stir in the chopped fresh herbs, lemon juice, and sugar. Taste and adjust the flavors, adding salt, lemon juice or more harissa as needed.

Make a bed of greens (spinach, endive, arugula, kale…) on a platter or shallow bowl and arrange the carrot salad on top.

*Excellent Spicy Carrot Tapenade

Mix extra carrot salad with green olives, chopped pecans, capers, and garlic.

*Harissa

I make harissa in the fall with whatever hot chiles I harvest from the garden. This year it was a combination of red jalapenos, aji dulce, and a type of cayenne called Red Fire. Naomi smoked the peppers, and I blended them with spices and garlic to make the paste. Harissa can be made with dried chiles any time of year. Choose the type and quantity of chiles according to your heat tolerance.

Ingredients: 1 to 2 oz dried red chiles (ancho, Anaheim, New Mexico Red, pasilla, cayenne, guajillo, etc), 1 roasted and peeled red bell pepper, 1 tsp smoked paprika, 1/2 tsp cumin seed, 1/2 tsp caraway seed, 1 tsp coriander seed, 2 to 4 garlic cloves, 1/2 tsp sea salt, 1 tsp smoked paprika, 2 tsp red wine vinegar or 1 Tbs fresh lemon juice, 2 Tbs olive oil

Toast the dried chiles briefly on a dry skillet over medium heat. Remove the seeds and stems and put the chiles in a bowl. Cover with hot water and let soak 1/2 hour, until soft.

Toast the spices 30 to 60 seconds on the hot skillet, stirring constantly. Transfer to a mortar and grind to a powder. Add the garlic and salt and pound to make a paste. Add the paprika, vinegar or lemon, and oil. Stir to combine, then scrape the mixture into a blender, along with the soaked hot chiles and the roasted red pepper. Process to a smooth paste. Store in the refrigerator of freezer.

Sugar Snap Pea Tabbouleh

This is an herb salad made with a little bulgur wheat and snap peas replacing the usual tomatoes. It is sharp and refreshing with lemon juice, and best eaten soon after it is made. If you don’t have fine grain bulgur wheat, use regular bulgur wheat and prepare it with boiling water. Let it soak 10 to 15 minutes, then drain in a large sieve. The salad is also good made with cooked freekah or quinoa.

Ingredients: 1/4 cup fine grain bulgur wheat, 1/4 cup plus 1 Tbs warm water, 12 oz sugar snap peas (strings removed), 3 small cucumbers, 4 to 5 cups finely chopped flat-leaf parsley, 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh mint leaves, 3 or 4 thinly sliced scallions (white and tender green parts), 1 finely diced seeded jalapeno, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp ground cumin, 1/4 tsp ground allspice, 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/4 tsp black pepper, 1 to 2 tsp pomegranate molasses and Romaine lettuce leaves for serving

Fresh Garden Herbs

Dressing: Using a mortar and pestle, mash1 garlic clove with a pinch coarse sea salt to make a paste. Add 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, a pinch sugar, and 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil. Whisk to combine.

Pour water over bulgur in a small bowl or saucepan. Leave 1/2 hour to soften.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and blanch snap peas 30 seconds. Drain and cool in ice water. Drain, chop in 1/2-inch pieces, and set aside in a colander.

To chop parsley, hold a handful of parsley sprigs together tightly with one hand and use a sharp chef knife to slice the tender stems and leaves into very thin shreds. Cut cleanly to avoid bruising the leaves. Discard tough stem ends. Thinly slice mint leaves only–no stems.

In a large bowl, mix together the softened bulgur, chopped peas, diced cucumber, chopped parsley and mint, scallions, and jalapeno. Sprinkle with salt and spices and toss to combine. Pour on the dressing, toss well, and taste. Adjust the seasoning. Drizzle pomegranate molasses on top. Serve with Romaine lettuce leaves for scooping.

*Homemade pomegranate molasses: Boil 1 quart pomegranate juice (add 1/4 cup sugar if unsweetened, or 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice if sweetened) until reduced to syrup. That’s it. You can use cranberry or cherry juice for delicious variations.

Mango-Avocado and Black Bean Salad

It appears to be mango season in Western North Carolina, so I have been making mango-avocado salsa recently and love the combination. I added cucumbers and black beans for a salad.

Ingredients: 1 can or 1 1/2 cups cooked black beans, 1 large firm-ripe mango, 1 firm-ripe avocado, 3 small thin-skinned cucumbers, 1 cup diced red onion, 2 seeded and diced jalapeno chiles, 1/2 tsp toasted and crushed cumin seed, 2 Tbs thinly sliced mint leaves, 1 cup chopped cilantro leaves and stems, 1/4 cup fresh lime juice, salt

Drain and rinse the black beans, set aside in a sieve. Peel and dice the mango and avocado. Dice the cucumbers. Put all the ingredients in a salad bowl and toss gently to combine. Add the lime juice, and season with salt.

Dill Flowers

 

Garden Herbs

Looking for Spring–a Green Lunch for Happiness

fern

I have never been so ready to see spring come after this bitter winter. I planted early seeds in the garden, and when they didn’t come up fast enough I planted more…and more. Now the garden beds are a jumble of tiny seedlings. I promise them I will sort it all out.

Meanwhile I am foraging for the first intrepid plants of the season–wild and cultivated: tiny dark green spikes of chives, crinkled mint leaves, shocking-green sorrel, fragrant chervil, lacy arugula… tender nettles, ramps, and cat-briar leaves from the woods…and abundant watercress from the branch. High above us on the ridge tops the trees are barely leafing out, but spring is happening from the ground up. The forest floor is covered with wildflowers, and lively flavors from deep green leaves are there to be gathered if you know where to look.

Ramps

Looking is half the fun. You have to walk carefully in the spring woods because there are so many little plants uncurling from their winter’s sleep. Wild iris and geranium, trillium, Solomon’s Seal, blood root, phlox, rue anemone, trout lily, bellwort…all mixed in with red-tinged poison ivy leaves, stately cohosh, fairy kingdoms of moss, and tangles of fern fronds. I even found some showy orchis and the newly unfolded leaves of ginseng.

Two Shades of Orange Salad

beets

Golden beets (found in miraculously good shape after hibernating in the vegetable bin of the refrigerator all winter!) and oranges provide the two shades of orange for this salad–a riff on a Moroccan ” two shades of red salad” made with beets and tomatoes, found in the cookbook Flatbreads and Flavors by Alford and Duguid. The salad also borrows from the orange and beet salsa from Jerusalem, the cookbook.

Ingredients: 2 medium golden beets, 1 orange, 1/2 cup finely chopped red onion, 1/4 cup chopped kalamata olives, 1/4 cup chopped parsley, 1/4 cup chopped cilantro, 1/4 cup chopped chives, 2 Tbs chopped fresh mint leaves, 3/4 tsp coriander seed, 3/4 tsp cumin seed, 1/2 tsp smoked paprika, 1/2 tsp red chile flakes, 1 garlic clove, 2 to 3 Tbs fresh lemon juice, 2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil or walnut oil, pinch of sugar, salt and freshly ground black pepper, 2 cups watercress or arugula leaves, 1/4 cup toasted walnuts

Place the beets in a saucepan, cover with plenty of water, and bring to a boil. Partially cover and cook at a low boil for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the beets are easily pierced with a sharp knife. Drain, cool, and peel before cutting into 1/2-inch dice.

Peel the orange and remove all the pith and seeds. Slice the orange about 1/4-inch thick. Separate the slices into segments, removing tough connective membranes. Add the orange pieces and their juice to the diced beets, along with the onion, chopped olives, and herbs.

Toast and grind the coriander and cumin seeds in a mortar and pestle. Add the paprika and chile. Add the peeled garlic clove and pound to a paste with 1/4 tsp salt. Whisk in the lemon juice and oil. Pour the dressing over the beet mixture. Toss gently and season with salt and pepper. Arrange the salad on top of a shallow bowl of watercress or arugula leaves and sprinkle with walnuts.

Chickpea Soup with Watercress and Wild Greens

Nettles

Mild-flavored chickpeas combine well with deep green-flavors of a wide variety of greens including spinach, chard, and kale, as well as foraged greens like nettles, lambs quarters, and coneflower. Watercress adds a welcome bite, and the North African spice blend ras el hanout adds spicy fragrance.

Ingredients: 2 1/2 Tbs olive oil, 1 thinly sliced large onion, 1 Tbs finely chopped garlic, 2 Tbs finely chopped ginger, 2 cups cooked chickpeas, 2 cups vegetable broth or chickpea cooking liquid, 4 cups chopped greens (about 5 oz), 6 cups watercress leaves (6 to 7 oz), 2 tsp ras el hanout, 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon, salt, lemon wedges

Warm the olive oil with the onion in a Dutch oven or other soup pot over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is completely soft, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the ginger and garlic and cook about 1 minute. Stir in the ras el hanout, cinnamon, chickpeas, and broth and bring to a low boil. Add the chopped greens and watercress and simmer until the leaves are wilted and tender, 1 to 2 minutes.

Use a blender or food processor to blend the soup to a smooth puree. Return to the pot to reheat. Season with salt to taste. Serve with lemon wedges and thick yogurt.

Fava Bean Pesto with Sorrel

Sorrel

This is a green salsa/spread for spring…a great topping for bruschetta or crackers. I added frozen edamame from last year’s garden for brighter green color.

Ingredients: 1 cup peeled fresh fava beans, 1/2 cup shelled edamame, 1 large garlic clove, 1/4 tsp kosher or sea salt, 2 Tbs chopped fresh mint leaves, 1/4 cup chopped sorrel leaves, 1 Tbs fresh lemon juice, 2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil, 2 Tbs Pecorino Romano, freshly ground black pepper

Cook shelled fava beans in salted boiling water until tender, 1 to 2 minutes. Drain and cool in cold water. Drain again and slip off the outer skin.

Chop the garlic and put it in a mortar with the salt. Mash with the pestle to make a paste. Add the rest of the ingredients gradually and use the mortar and pestle or a food processor to make a chunky, spreadable pesto.

Spring Green Kuku

Dandelion

A kuku is the Iranian version of a frittata, and my Silk Road Cooking book says that a fresh herb kuku is eaten on the spring equinox to symbolize rebirth, fertility and happiness.

Arugula

Ingredients: 6 free-range eggs, 2 Tbs cream, 1 Tbs flour, 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper, 3 Tbs olive oil, 1 cup chopped spring onions (including green stems), 1 cup thinly sliced ramp leaves (chives or garlic chives), 3 cups chopped nettle leaves (baby kale or spinach), 1/4 cup finely chopped parsley, 1/4 cup finely chopped chervil (fennel or dill), 2 Tbs chopped fresh mint, 2 Tbs currants or dried cranberries

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream, flour, baking powder, salt and pepper. Set aside.

Heat 2 Tbs olive oil in a 10-inch oven-proof skillet. Add the onions to the skillet and cook 4 to 5 minutes. Add the ramp leaves or chives and cook 1 minute. Add the greens and cook until just wilted. Stir in the fresh herbs and currants.

Stir the onion-herb mixture into the beaten eggs. Clean the skillet and return it to the heat and add the remaining 1 Tbs olive oil. When hot, pour in the egg mixture and transfer the pan to the oven. Cover and cook 15 minutes. Remove the cover and continue to cook about 5 more minutes, until the eggs are just set.

Cut the kuku in thin slices and eat with bruschetta or flatbread, with a dollop of yogurt sauce.

Yogurt Sauce

Ingredients: 1 cup thick yogurt. 1 finely chopped garlic clove, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper, 2 tsp fresh lemon juice, 2 tsp sumac powder, 1/2 tsp dried mint, 2 Tbs finely sliced chives

Put the garlic and salt in a mortar and mash the garlic to a paste. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir to combine.

Hungry Gap

Old English farmers had a term for the time of year when winter’s stores were getting low and spring was still just a promise. They called it the “hungry gap.” It makes my stomach growl just to think about it. Modern grocery store shoppers don’t experience a hungry gap anymore; it’s always summer somewhere in the world, and produce from afar flows in year-round. Asparagus from Peru, zucchini from Mexico, greens in plastic boxes from California…they fill the hunger gap but leave a flavor gap.

Just when I am thinking that the spring garden harvest is a long way off, and we will indeed suffer a hungry gap, the garden and woods wake up. It’s a forager’s paradise; the wild plants and garden survivors offer some of the most vibrant and flavorful food of the year. Chives, sorrel, mint, corn salad, garlic chives, chervil, arugula, and chickweed emerge…full deep green. Last year’s chicory, radicchio, chard, kale, mustard, and celery send out new leaves, full of energy stored all winter. In the woods, the ramps are poking out of their blanket of fallen leaves. I am as happy to see these first leaves of spring as any of summer’s more extravagant bounty.

Eating foraged plants in spring is an immersion in the here and now. Every day brings new growth–mint creeps from between the rocks, chicory emerges from under the mulch, and the winter pea shoots become succulent and enticing. I notice each leaf…its shape, texture, and color, and how it unfurls, almost blinking in the sunlight. Flavors range from  sharp and intense to sweetly mellow, tamed by a long winter.

The most direct (and my favorite) way to eat these wild flavors of spring is to snip the tiny leaves into a salad. The Italians call this kind of salad misticanza, a mix of greens that includes a complex range of flavors and textures. My early spring mix includes peppery arugula, soft and mild leaves of chicory “Zuccherina di Trieste“, crunchy endive or escarole, spicy mustard leaves and flower buds, slightly bitter radicchio or chicory “Catalogna Pugliese” (Italian dandelion), delicate pea shoots, and mild chickweed. Pile the leaves into a salad bowl and toss them with good olive oil, a little salt and black pepper, and a drizzle of wine vinegar. That’s all you need.

spring green salad

Some people aren’t as fond as I am of the intensely green, slightly bitter taste of these wild and wonderful greens. For these taste buds, a little oil and vinegar are not enough. Happily, there is a remedy. Adding ingredients like cheeses, cooked beans, toasted nuts, and crisp croutons soften the overly zealous green-ness and introduce welcome contrasting textures. Crispy fried bacon or pancetta pair perfectly with salads of sturdy greens–a lesson we learned from the local old-timers, who dressed their foraged spring greens with bacon grease.

Spring Misticanza with Marinated White Beans

spring salad with beans

I made this with a perfect head of radicchio “Palla Rossa” that over-wintered under two layers of row cover, surviving sub-zero nights. The beans were big fat Borlotto beans that I shelled out and put in the freezer last September. Any large white beans or cannellini beans will work. The mild, soft-textured beans are the perfect foil for sharp, spicy greens.

Ingredients: 4 cups thinly sliced radicchio, 4 cups mixed spicy salad greens, 1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion, 1/2 cup chopped fresh herbs (parsley, chervil, chives, mint), 1 1/4 cooked white beans, 2 cloves minced garlic, 1/2 tsp red chile flakes, extra virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar, fresh lemon juice, feta cheese and/or crisp fried bacon or pancetta

Warm 3 Tbs olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and chile and cook 1 or 2 minutes. Add the cooked beans and 2 Tbs of their cooking liquid, reduce the heat to low and simmer gently 2 to 3 minutes. Add 2 to 4 tsp red wine vinegar, salt and black pepper to taste. Turn off the heat and allow the beans to marinate while you make the salad.

Toss the radicchio, mixed greens, herbs, and onion together in a large salad bowl. Drizzle with fruity olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour the warm bean mixture over the top and garnish with crumbled feta cheese and pieces of crisp bacon or pancetta.

Frittata with Spring Greens and Ramps

Ramps

Ramps are a special member of the onion family that grows wild in rich, moist mountain coves. They are one of the first signs of spring and much beloved for their pungent flavor and ability to drive off the last of winter.

Ingredients: 5 large eggs, 12 ramps (substitute scallions or garlic chives–about 1 cup chopped), 1 small bunch greens (kale, chard, mustard, nettles, watercress–3 to 4 cups chopped), 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano, pecorino, or grana Padano cheese, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp black pepper, 3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil, 2 to 3 Tbs chopped fresh herbs (parsley, chervil, mint), red chile flakes

Heat the oven to 275 degrees F. Clean and trim the ramps. Thinly slice the white ends and chop the greens into 1-inch pieces. Remove any tough stems and roughly chop the greens into bite-size pieces. Heat 2 Tbs olive oil in an ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Add the chopped ramps and cook 2 to 3 minutes, until soft. Add the chopped greens and saute a few minutes until wilted. The young leaves should cook quickly.

Whisk the eggs with the salt and pepper in a large bowl. Stir the ramps and greens and grated cheese into the eggs. Wipe the skillet clean, then set over medium-high heat with an additional 1 Tbs oil. When the oil shimmers, pour in the egg mixture into the pan. Transfer the pan to the oven and bake until the eggs are almost set, 15 to 20 minutes. Allow the frittata to cool 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

To serve, cut the frittata in wedges. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with chopped herbs and a pinch of chile.

Ramp Butter

I found the instructions for making ramp butter in a cookbook written by the owners of Franny’s, a restaurant in Brooklyn dedicated to simple, seasonal, Italian food. They cure their own meats and like to pair ramp butter with pancetta on crostini. I raided my small ramp patch for this recipe, but had to supplement with wild onions to make enough.

Ingredients: 2 2/3 cups thinly sliced ramp leaves (or wild onion tops), 2/3 cup thinly sliced ramp or onion bottoms, 1/2 lb. unsalted butter, 1 tsp chile flakes, 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt

In a saucepan, melt 6 Tbs butter over medium-low heat. Add 1/3 cup ramp bottoms and cook 3 to 4 minutes. Add the chile flakes and stir 20 to 30 seconds. Add the ramp tops and salt and cook until the greens are tender, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, transfer to a bowl, and cool to room temperature.

In a food processor, blend the uncooked ramp bottoms with the cooked mixture. Pulse in the remaining room-temperature butter. Transfer to a sheet of parchment paper or plastic wrap. Roll into a log and twist the ends of the paper to seal. Refrigerate until used. The butter will store 1 week in the refrigerator or 3 months in the freezer.

Cracking the Coconut

“Learning to crack open a coconut is essential to becoming a Thai cook.” Su-Mei Yu

DSCN3761

One good thing about winter is that people go to Florida, and they bring back coconuts. That’s how I happen to have a real live coconut–hairy husk and all–sitting on my kitchen counter. It’s an awesome package–a thick, fibrous outer covering and tough, hard inner shell protecting the sweet aromatic coconut meat. How do you turn this hairy ball into coconut milk?

Su-Mei yu’s book, Cracking the Coconut has the answer. I love reading this book about ancient Thai cooking traditions and the intricacies of Thai curry. Su-Mei writes that coconut is to the Thais what butter, cream, and oil are to Western cuisine, but more than that the coconut is the “spirit of Thai cooking.” The coconut tree spiritually and literally “anchors, protects, and secures the land” and is second only to rice as Thailand’s most important crop. The rich coconut cream extracted from the grated flesh is essential to the Thai way of stir-frying, and just one coconut can provide enough milk and cream for a sumptuous pot of curry.

Even though I often make Thai curry, I have always relied on canned coconut milk and cream. But Su-Mei says there is no comparison between the taste and aroma of fresh coconut cream and the canned product. I believe her, so I gather up the tools she says are necessary to the endeavor: heavy hammer, Phillips head screwdriver, regular screw driver, dish towel, potato ricer, 3 or 4 bowls, vegetable peeler, and a metal spoon. It sounds like preparation for major surgery, but Su-Mei considers it “coconut therapy.”

Once the outer packing is removed, you will see three indentations, or “eyes” on the top of the coconut. To extract the juice, position a Phillips head screwdriver in one of the eyes and tap it with the hammer to punch a hole. Repeat on a second eye. Drain the juice into a clean glass jar and refrigerate for drinking or other use.

Place the coconut on the center rack of a preheated 375 degrees F oven and bake for 20 minutes. Remove and cool to room temperature. Put the coconut on a hard surface (preferably concrete) and strike it with the hammer to crack it open. Break into four or five pieces. Hold a piece of coconut with a dishtowel to protect you hands and pry the meat loose with a flat-blade screwdriver. Use a vegetable peeler to peel the dark outer skin off the white meat (I saved these peelings and toasted them on the wood stove…they were delicious).

Now cut the coconut meat into 1-inch pieces and use a food processor with a metal blade to chop the chunks into very small pieces. Pulse and blend until the coconut turns to pulp. Add 1 cup warm water and process for 30 seconds. Transfer the pulp to a large mixing bowl and “milk” the coconut by squeezing and rubbing with your fingers. Massage and squeeze 89 times–this is the ritual number required to produce rich and creamy milk.

Cracked coconut

Put the pulp into a potato ricer or fine strainer over another bowl. Press to extract the liquid. Refrigerate the liquid at least one hour to allow the cream to rise to the top. Skim off the cream and refrigerate the cream and milk in separate containers. Meanwhile, put the coconut pulp back into a mixing bowl and add 3 cups warm water. Repeat the massaging and squeezing process 89 times. Strain, as before, and refrigerate the liquid at least one hour. Skim off the cream and add it to the first batch of cream. Refrigerate the thin milk separately.

Su-Mei Yu recommends cracking and extracting the meat from more than one coconut at a time. The extra coconut can be frozen up to a month for making more coconut milk or toasted coconut flakes. Once you make a batch of fresh coconut milk, you will be hooked and never want to go back to the canned stuff again.

Freshly grated coconut flakes: the pulp left over from making coconut milk may be saved for baking or dry-roasted to use for a topping on salads or stir-fry.  Flakes made from coconut before the milk is extracted have a richer flavor. Roast about 1 cup freshly grated coconut in a large dry skillet over medium heat, shaking and stirring until evenly browned. Cool completely before storing in a tightly sealed glass jar.

Coconut Snacks: Miang Kati and Miang Kum 

Coconut chutney in lettuce leaf

This snack from northeastern Thailand–a fresh chutney wrapped in leaves– is the perfect way to sample freshly made coconut flakes and cream. Traditionally, native bitter greens are used, but tender sorrel, spinach, radicchio, or even bib lettuce leaves all make good wrappers. The bundles make great appetizers or snack with afternoon tea.

Miang Kati

This version is adapted from Su-Mei Yu’s recipe (I used much less sugar). Miang means “leaf bundle” and Kati refers to the coconut cream drizzled on top.

Ingredients: 20 to 24 well-washed and dried spinach, radicchio, or lettuce leaves, sunflower or peanut oil, 1/2 cup thinly sliced shallots, 1/3 cup chopped dry-roasted peanuts, 2 Tbs palm or brown sugar, fine sea salt, 3.4 cup dry-roasted freshly grated coconut flakes, 1/3 cup fresh coconut cream, lime wedges, minced fresh chiles

Warm 2 Tbs oil in a skillet over medium low heat. Separate the shallots into rings and add them to the oil with a pinch of seas salt. Fry slowly, stirring occasionally, until golden brown. Transfer to a plate to cool. Add 1 or 2 tsp oil to the pan, if needed. Add the peanuts to the pan with 2 Tbs sugar and 1/4 tsp sea salt. Stir to coat the peanuts, 1 minute. Add the fried shallots and toasted coconut flakes and stir to combine. Transfer to a serving bowl.

Serving: Set out a platter of leaves of your choice next to the bowl of miang kati. Set small bowls of coconut cream, minced chile, and lime wedges nearby. To eat, place a spoonful of filling in the middle of a leaf, drizzle with coconut cream, add a pinch of chile and a squeeze of lime juice, wrap it up and pop in your mouth.

Miang Kum

This second recipe is adapted from a coconut-lime chutney found in Mollie Katzen’s Still Life with Menu Cookbook. Again, I decreased the sugar–feel free to re-instate it if your taste runs sweet.

Ingredients: 8 oz spinach or radicchio leaves, 1 small lime, 1/3 cup chopped sweet onion, 1/3 cup chopped dry-roasted peanuts, 1/3 cup toasted freshly grated coconut flakes, 2 Tbs palm or brown sugar (Mexican piloncillo cane sugar is very tasty), 1/4 tsp sea salt, 1 tsp red chile sauce, 2 tsp minced ginger, 1/4 tsp shrimp paste (optional)

Wash and cut the lime into small dice (remove seeds). Put the lime and all the other ingredients into a food processor and pulse to make a coarsely chopped mixture. Adjust the seasoning to suit your taste.

Serving: In addition to the chutney, Mollie sets out small bowl of finely chopped onion, lime, and ginger, as well as more roasted peanuts and coconut flakes. A pinch of each is placed on a leaf with the chutney before rolling it up to pop in your mouth. As usual, I would add a bowl of minced chiles to the assortment.

Coconut Sides

More Roots and Bulbs–when life brings you kohlrabi

Fall Vegetables and Condiments

I am always on the lookout for more kinds of hardy vegetables to grow for fall and winter harvest. All kinds of cabbages, cauliflower, broccoli, kale, collards, endive and escarole, radicchio, leeks, fennel, carrots, parsnips, beets, turnips…why did I never think of kohlrabi?

This year, when I stopped by a local grower’s greenhouse to pick up some seedlings for the fall garden, she sent me home with a dozen little kohlrabi plants. “You’ll love them! They’re really good raw in salads,” she assured me. I was skeptical, because Kohlrabi is a strange vegetable that grows like an aboveground turnip and looks like a small spaceship with green leaves sprouting out the top…or a small cabbage with a topknot. But, she was right: they are mild-flavored and crunchy–something like a cross between a cabbage and a turnip–and make a delicious salad ingredient. Along with the kohlrabi, I planted a package of seeds from Beth and Annalie’s garden in Sweden for something called “Rotvit” that turned out to be a crisp red turnip.

Fall vegetables have a range of deep flavors–earthy, sweet, sharp, hot, sometimes bitter. They are juicy and crunchy raw; sweet and mellow steamed, braised, or roasted. Their flavors, colors, and textures complement each other and can be combined to make great salads. Since I had never grown kohlrabi before and didn’t know much about eating rotvit or turnips, I went traveling in my cookbooks for ideas.

I admit that I have long lumped kohlrabi with other homely sounding vegetables like turnip, rutabaga, and mangold…things grown by northern European peasants to feed livestock and hungry farm families when there was nothing else to eat. But it turns out that these roots and bulbs are valued by many cultures around the world, and the ingenious recipes that have evolved are an adventure in unexpected combinations. How about a stir-fry of young turnips and dates seasoned with cumin seed? Or daikon (substitute turnip or kohlrabi) and pomegranate seeds with toasted sesame oil?

When I play with these recipes, I use my roots interchangeably. For instance, if Moroccan Date and Orange Salad is good with matchstick carrots, why not with turnip, daikon, or kohlrabi?  Or, how about letting sweet young turnips stand in for cucumber in a Shirazi Salad with red onion, olives, and pomegranate seeds? And, if an Iranian mung bean soup calls for kohlrabi, why not try turnips or parsnips instead? Come to think of it, I’m sure any of them would be good in mung beans salad, too.

Root Slaw

Root Vegetable Slaw

This salad is inspired by a photo of a confetti-like pile of vegetables in Jerusalem, the Cookbook. The humble roots rise to a new level with the combination of brilliant colors, lots of fresh herbs, and bright lemon juice. The vegetables are cut into thin matchsticks, which keeps the flavors distinct and delivers maximum crunch.

Ingredients: 3 medium beets, 2 medium carrots, 2 medium turnips, 1 kohlrabi

Dressing: 4 Tbs lemon juice, 4 Tbs olive oil, 2 tsp whole black mustard seeds, 3 Tbs sherry or white balsamic vinegar, 1 tsp sugar, 1 tsp salt

Herbs: 2/3 cup thinly sliced mint, 2/3 cup roughly chopped parsley, 2/3 cup roughly chopped cilantro or arugula, 2 tsp lemon zest

Peel all the vegetables and cut them in thin slices. Stack a few of the slices at a time and cut them into 1/8-inch matchsticks. Put the strips into a bowl and drizzle the lemon juice over them. In a small saucepan, heat the oil and mustard seeds until the seeds begin to sputter. Add the remaining dressing ingredients and bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt. Pour the hot dressing over the vegetables and toss gently. Allow to cool before chilling in the refrigerator 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Before serving, toss the vegetables with the chopped herbs, lemon zest, and freshly ground black pepper. Serve on a bed of curly endive or escarole, with a bowl of quark or thick yogurt on the side.

Herbed Carrot Salad with Chermoula

Fall Carrots

Warm North African spices meet sweet fall carrots and fresh herbs.

Ingredients: 6 large carrots (about 1 1/2 lbs), 1 thinly sliced small red onion or 2 shallots, 3 Tbs chopped fresh cilantro, 3 Tbs chopped fresh parsley, and 2 Tbs chopped fresh mint, 1 cup arugula leaves

Chermoula: 1 tsp cumin seed, 2 tsp coriander seed, 1/2 tsp black peppercorns, 1 tsp sweet paprika, 1/4 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp cayenne, 2 garlic cloves, 1/2 tsp salt, 3 Tbs lemon juice, 2 tsp lemon zest, 1/2 tsp sugar, 3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

Make the chermoula: Dry roast the cumin seed on a hot skillet, stirring until fragrant and lightly toasted, 30 to 60 seconds. Transfer to a mortar or spice grinder. Dry roast the coriander and black pepper about 2 minutes, stirring until toasted. Transfer to the mortar and add the paprika, cinnamon, and cayenne. Grind to a coarse powder. Use the mortar or cutting board to mash the garlic to a paste with the salt. Add the lemon juice, zest and sugar and let sit 5 minutes. Stir in the spices and olive oil. Set aside at least 30 minutes to allow the flavors to blend.

Peel and slice the carrots 1/4-inch thick on the diagonal.  Steam until just tender, 3 to 4 minutes (or cook in boiling water 1 to 2 minutes). Drain well and transfer to a bowl. Add the chermoula dressing, herbs, and onion and toss well. Arrange the salad on a platter and garnish with arugula leaves.

Note: The carrots could be replaced with raw fennel or kohlrabi or roasted parsnips, turnips, sweet potato, potato, or a medley of root vegetables. You might replace the cilantro and parsley with chopped fennel fronds.

Fall Vegetables and Spiced Chick Peas

This salad is adapted from a chopped Middle Eastern salad called Fatoush made with summer vegetables: cucumber, tomato, and bell pepper, but I think it is equally good with sweet fall roots and bulbs. The crunchy raw vegetables pair well with warm, spicy chickpeas.

Ingredients: 1 fennel bulb, 2 carrots, 1 kohlrabi, 1 small red onion, 3 or 4 radishes, 1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas, whole wheat pita bread and plain yogurt

Spices: 1/4 tsp ground cardamom, 1 tsp ground allspice, 1 tsp ground cumin, 1 tsp ground coriander

Herbs: 1 cup arugula leaves, 1/2 cup chopped mint, 1 cup chopped parsley, 1/2 cup chopped cilantro, 1/2 cup chopped fennel

Dressing: 1 garlic, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (or 2 Tbs lime juice and 2 Tbs orange juice), 1 tsp dried mint, 1/2`tsp black pepper, 1/2 tsp red chile flakes, 1/4 tsp sugar, 2 Tbs sherry vinegar, 5 Tbs extra virgin olive oil, 2 tsp sumac powder (reserved)

Trim the fennel bulb, peel the carrots and kohlrabi, and cut the vegetables into small dice or thin matchsticks. Thinly slice the onion and radishes. Put all the prepared vegetables in a bowl of cold water while you prepare the rest of the salad ingredients.

Make the dressing: Mash the garlic and salt to a paste with a mortar and pestle. Add the citrus juice and let sit 5 minutes. Whisk in the remaining ingredients, reserving the sumac.

Make the spiced chickpeas: Mix the spices together with 1/4 tsp salt and toss with the chickpeas to coat well. Heat 1Tbs oil in a skillet over medium heat and fry the chickpeas 2 to 3 minutes, shaking the pan so they don’t stick or burn. Remove from the heat.

Drain and dry the vegetables in a salad spinner or towel. Put the vegetables in a bowl and toss with the dressing and herbs. Arrange the chickpeas on top and sprinkle with sumac powder. Serve with toasted pita bread and thick yogurt.

Fall Vegetables: How to eat a turnip.

Turnip Salad

I love places where the change of seasons is celebrated by feasting on seasonal produce. In Japan, the chestnuts, persimmons, sweet potatoes, soybeans, and other fall vegetables  are welcomed like well-loved guests and ushered to the table. My own garden provides much to celebrate this time of year–not the wild, party crowd of summer, but a hard-working solid bunch that doesn’t mind frost and fading light. The insects and weeds are gone, and what is left are hardy plants quietly growing their sweet green leaves and roots. It’s the closest thing to free lunch that a gardener gets. The lunch includes a host of broccoli heads and gorgeous purple cauliflower, but it’s mostly about deep green leaves and roots. So, I’m digging in to my roots.

Colorful Turnips

A few years ago my friend Rachel sent me seeds for “Oasis” turnip, along with a rave review. She and her gardening partner loved them so much they were slicing them raw into salads and eating them whole like apples. I was dubious. My memory of turnips was from the years we grew them to feed to the cows–softball sized monsters with a powerful “turnip” aroma. But then I went to Japan and tasted sweet, crunchy turnips–a revelation! So, I planted seeds of “Oasis” in mid-August, and the tender, mild-flavored  roots are finding their way into lots of dishes.

Quick Kimchi Turnip Pickle

White Turnips

Ingredients: 3 or 4 small turnips (8 to 12 oz), 1 to 2 tsp sugar, 1 Tbs unseasoned rice vinegar, 2 to 3 tsp minced fresh red chile or 1 tsp crushed red chile flakes (or to taste), 1/2 tsp sea or kosher salt, 1 minced garlic clove

Peel and cut the turnips into 1/8-inch thick matchsticks. Use your hands to gently combine the turnips with the seasonings. Let stand at least one hour before serving.  The pickle is best fresh, but will keep in the refrigerator two or three days.

Japanese Quick Pickled Turnips

I adapted this from a salt-rubbed cabbage and cucumber salad/pickle prepared by Mieko, a farm woman from Mino, Japan, whose passion is passing on the traditional county farm cooking of her grandmothers.

Ingredients: 6 to 8 medium young turnips with leaves (about 1 1/2 lbs), 4 tsp coarse kosher or sea salt, juice and zest of 1 lemon (preferably Meyer), 2 small red chiles, 1 tsp grated ginger

Cut turnips in halves or quarters and slice thinly. Cut lower stems into 3/4 -inch pieces. Cut a couple handfuls of the leaves into bite-size pieces. Toss together in a bowl and rub the salt into the vegetables with your hands. Add thin slices of lemon zest, chile (optional), and ginger  to the turnips. Serve immediately, or refrigerate until needed. Sprinkle with lemon juice before serving. This pickle will keep for about a week but becomes less crunchy.

*This is brilliant: Make Quick Pickled Lemons the day before you make the turnip pickle. It’s the same process: Cut 3 small lemons in half lengthwise and slice the half-lemons as thinly as possible. Make a paste of 1 hot chile, 1 garlic clove, 1 Tbs sugar, 1 1/2 tsp salt, and the juice of 1 lemon. Rub the paste into the lemon slices with your hands. Transfer to a bowl, cover, and let sit overnight. Add thin slices of pickled lemons to the turnip pickle.

Japanese Sweet Vinegar Pickle

Turnips and carrots

This is another quick pickle from Mieko. Her version included cucumber, bell pepper, cauliflower, lotus root, garbanzo beans, daikon, kidney beans, and celery.

Ingredients: 1 cup unseasoned rice vinegar (I like brown rice vinegar), 2 Tbs sugar, 4 to 6 turnips (3 cups prepared), 1 large carrot (1 1/2 cup prepared), 1 1/4 tsp kosher or sea salt

Bring the rice vinegar  and sugar to a simmer in a small saucepan. Stir until the sugar is dissolved and remove from the heat.

Peel and cut the turnips and carrots into thin matchsticks, 1 1/2 to 2 inches long. Put them into a colander and sprinkle with salt. Mix well with your hands, rubbing the salt into the vegetables, and drain over a bowl or in the sink 15 to 20 minutes. Gently squeeze out excess moisture and transfer to a bowl. Add the cooled vinegar mixture and stir gentlyChill a few hours before serving.  This pickle will keep in the refrigerator for several days.

Lentil Soup with Turnips from the Italian Grandmothers

This recipe is adapted from a soup prepared for Jessica Theroux by a woman named Irene, made with yellow-fleshed heirloom Caprauna turnips. I used my Oasis turnips, but am inspired to search for yellow turnip seeds for next year. Prepare the soup a few hours ahead of time to let the soup thicken and flavors meld.

Ingredients: 4 Tbs flavorful olive oil, 1 medium yellow onion, 4 garlic cloves, 2 tsp fresh rosemary, 2 tsp fresh marjoram, 2 tsp fresh thyme, 1 small dried chile, 1 1/2 cups small French or Spanish lentils (washed and drained), 1/2 cup white wine, 5 1/2 cups water, 1 1/2 cups diced turnips, 1 tsp salt

Garnish: 1/3 cup toasted walnuts (pounded in mortar), chopped parsley, olive oil infused with chile

Chop the onion in a small dice, mince the garlic, and finely chop the herbs. Slowly sauté the onion with a pinch of sea salt over medium heat until soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and fresh herbs and stir them with the onions 3 minutes longer. Add lentils and sauté a few minutes. Stir in the wine. Add water and bring to a simmer. Partially cover and simmer about 40 minutes. Add turnips and salt; simmer 15 to 20 minutes more.

Irene garnished  her soup with a sprinkling of pounded fresh walnuts, chopped parsley, and a drizzle of olive oil. I gave the soup a flavor boost with a walnut-parsley pesto.

Inflamed Parsley-Walnut Pesto

Ingredients: 1 cup parsley leaves, 6 sorrel leaves, small handful fresh mint leaves, handful garlic chives, 1 garlic clove, zest of 1 lemon, 1/3 cup toasted walnuts, 1 small hot chile or 1/2 tsp red chile flakes, 4 Tbs walnut or olive oil

Chop the herb leaves. Mash the garlic to a paste with a pinch of coarse salt. Use a mortar and pestle or food processor to roughly chop all the ingredients except the oil. Stir or pulse in the oil to make a chunky rustic pesto.

Note: The ingredients for Lentil-Turnip Soup make a very good lentil salad. Cook the lentils in 3 1/2 cups water with the garlic and herbs, but remove from the heat and strain off the liquid as soon as the lentils are tender. When cool, mix with diced raw sweet onion, carrot, and turnips. Add the chopped fresh herbs, minced chile, and lemon zest. Dress with olive or walnut oil and fresh lemon juice. Season with salt and black pepper to taste.

Asian Noodle Salad

Soba Noodles and Umami Mushrooms

Soba, or buckwheat noodles, are one of the culinary treasures of Japan. Our friends Tomo and Noriko prepared a special dinner with homemade soba noodles made with buckwheat grown by Tomo’s father. We ate them simmered in duck broth with cabbage. One misty fall day they took us to a generations-old noodle restaurant for a soba meal. The noodles were served at room temperature, arranged in an artful swirl on a flat woven tray. They were garnished with finely cut green onion, freshly grated wasabi, and slivers of pickled ginger. Also on the table were a bowl of dipping sauce, four different types of sautéed and braised mushrooms, and an array of soy-pickled vegetables–watercress, equisetum, fiddleheads, shiso flower buds, and thin burdock. The wild flavors mingled well with the earthy flavor of buckwheat.

 Soba Noodle Salad

Noodle Salad

(6 servings)

Cold soba noodles make a perfect summer lunch or supper salad when mixed with spicy greens and served with a flavorful dipping sauce. Grilled or steamed vegetables, a sauté or braise of mushrooms, cubes of tofu, or thinly sliced grilled meat or fish can be served on top or on the side.

Ingredients: 12 to 16 oz dried soba noodles, 3 cups spicy mixed greens (chopped endive, escarole, arugula, mizuna, baby kale or spinach leaves), 4 to 6 Tbs thinly sliced scallions or green onion, 1/4 cup finely chopped garlic chives or regular chives

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Drop the soba noodles into the water, fanning them out so they don’t clump. Stir the noodles and cook at a low boil 4 to 5 minutes, until they are soft but still firm to the bite. Drain the noodles (you can save the cooking water for a hot drink) and rinse well in cold water. Set aside in a colander to drain.

Toss the noodles with the chopped greens and scallions. Drizzle with dipping sauce and top with chives. Serve with more dipping sauce and umami mushrooms, or any extra toppings you like.

Seasonings for Dips

Ponzu Orange-Soy Dipping Sauce

 *Ponzu Orange Soy Sauce

Freshly made ponzu sauce is a delicious blend of bright citrus juice and savory soy sauce. Traditionally it is made in Japan with juice from daidai–a bitter orange similar to Seville orange. If you don’t have daidai or other bitter oranges, a blend of other citrus juices makes a reasonable substitute. The combination below is Diana Kennedy’s recipe found in The Cuisine’s of Mexico…or make a blend of 4 parts orange juice and 1 part lemon or lime juice.

Ingredients: 1/2 cup soy sauce, 3 Tbs fresh orange juice, 3 Tbs fresh grapefruit juice, 2 Tbs fresh lemon juice, 1/2 tsp grapefruit zest, 1/2 tsp orange zest

Poki Dipping Sauce

Poki is a Hawaiian relative of ponzu used to marinate sashimi tuna. My husband, Drew, often has this as part of his favorite lunch at Heiwa restaurant in Asheville, “Tuna poki“–a salad of raw tuna, thinly sliced red onion, avocado, and red bell pepper in poki sauce. Tuna (or tofu) poki is perfect on a bed of soba noodles.

Quick Poki: 2 minced garlic cloves, 1 Tbs minced ginger, 3 Tbs soy sauce, 3 Tbs rice vinegar, 3 Tbs mirin (sweet rice wine), 1 to 2 Tbs fresh lime or lemon juice, 2 tsp red chile sauce, 2 to 3 Tbs toasted sesame oil

Whisk all the ingredients together. Use a blender for a more emulsified sauce. Adjust the flavors to your taste.

Rayu: Spicy Infused Sesame Oil

Rayu is a spicy infused toasted sesame oil that may be drizzled on noodles or grilled foods as it is, or mixed with additional ingredients to make poki sauce.

Warm 6 Tbs toasted sesame oil and 2 Tbs canola, grapeseed, or peanut oil in a small saucepan with 2 Tbs peeled chopped ginger, 2 Tbs thinly sliced garlic, and 2 or 3 crumbled small dry red chiles (or 1 tsp red chile flakes). Heat slowly over low heat until small bubbles rise around the garlic and ginger. Maintaining very low heat, stir the oil for 3 minutes. Do not allow the oil to simmer. Turn off the heat, cover, and allow the oil to cool to room temperature. Strain the oil before storing in the refrigerator.

Rayu-Poki: Whisk together 3 Tbs rayu with 2 to 3 Tbs soy sauce, 3 Tbs rice vinegar, 3 Tbs mirin (or 11/2 Tbs balsamic vinegar), and 1 Tbs fresh lime or lemon juice, and 3 Tbs minced scallions.

Rodney and Heather’s Umami Mushrooms

Shitakes

Rodney and Heather, our neighbors, made these shitake mushrooms for our last pizza party, and they were delicious on the pizza and straight out of the bowl. Their umani (savory) flavor goes well with buckwheat noodles.

Method: Clean and slice the mushroom about 1/4-inch thick. Discard tough stems. Heat a large skillet (large enough to hold the mushrooms no more than two slices deep) over medium-high heat. When hot, add 1Tbs oil and 1 Tbs butter to the pan. Add 3 to 4 cups sliced mushrooms. Stir the mushrooms to coat with oil-butter mixture and cook about 2 to 3 minutes, until just softened. Sprinkle with a tsp or 2 fish sauce or soy sauce and 1 tsp umeboshi plum vinegar (or substitute sherry or balsamic vinegar). Reduce the heat to low and cook 1 minute longer. The mushrooms will be tender and moist at this point. Cook them longer if you want to evaporate all the liquid. Remove from the heat and serve hot or at room temperature.

Note: Rodney likes to dry-roast the mushrooms in a hot skillet for a minute or two to evaporate moisture before cooking them in oil and/or butter.

Awesome Sake-Braised Mushrooms

Ingredients: 4 cups fresh shitake or other wild or cultivated mushrooms (cleaned, tough stems removed, sliced about 1/4-inch thick), 1 Tbs oil, 1 Tbs butter, 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (or 1 or 2 crumbled dry red peppers), 1 minced garlic clove, 4 Tbs sake or other dry white wine, 1 tsp soy sauce, 2 pinches sea salt, 1 Tbs finely chopped preserved lemon

Heat a skillet large enough to hold the sliced mushrooms in a layer no more than two slices thick over medium heat. Add the oil and butter and let the butter begin to color. Add the red pepper, garlic and mushrooms and stir to coat the mushrooms. Add the wine soy sauce, and salt. Cover and cook over low heat 5 minutes. Uncover and stir in the preserved lemon. Serve hot or at room temperature.