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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.

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.

Making Masa with Kelley

Red Flint Corn

One of my most memorable meals ever was eaten on the street in Mexico City. An Indian woman sat on the sidewalk beside an open fire and a heavy iron griddle. She patted out a blue corn tortilla, tossed it onto the griddle, and cooked it while I waited. She covered the hot tortilla with a crumbly white cheese and a sprinkling of red chile and handed it to me. It was perfect.

I was really excited to learn that my friend Kelley has become a tortilla aficionado and that she would let me come over and show me how to turn corn into masa (the dough for making tortillas). Kelley takes “real” and “local” seriously when it comes to food. She likes to grow what she eats and has planted so many different fruits and vegetables that she often doesn’t have to stop for meals–she just nibbles her way through the garden and greenhouse. That’s how I learned how delicious the seedpods of daikon are, not to mention gotu kola leaves, oca, and my new favorite vegetable, yakon.

Corn Growing

Kelley is both serious and joyful about corn, as it is an important part of her diet. She grows open-pollinated, heirloom corn varieties with names like Oaxacan Green, Hopi Blue, Bloody Butcher, and Calais Flint. As I admired the ears of corn with kernels in jewel tones of blue, red, yellow and green, I could understand how Native American tribes would regard corn as a gift from the creator and want to identify themselves as “People of the Corn”. Selected for hardiness and flavor for generations, these corns survive in the modern world of hybrid and GMO corn because they are so good, and because there are farmers and gardeners like Kelley who are hungry for authentic taste and willing to go the extra mile to save seed.

Colored Corn

Kelley explained that there are two basic kinds of dry field corn: dent and flint. Dent corn has a soft starchy interior that is easily ground into flour, cornmeal, and masa for tortillas. It’s also good roasted in the milk stage or parched when dry. Flint corn is flinty hard and excels when ground into grits and polenta. This year I grew a flint corn called “Floriani”, a family heirloom brought to this country from the Valsugana Valley of Italy, where it was the staple polenta corn. Floriani cobs have beautiful red pointed kernels with a rich, corny flavor. Kelley and I decided to make masa with my Floriani corn and her Hope Blue Dent for comparison.

This is what we did: We started by cutting off the husks, saving the larger ones for wrapping tomales. We ran the ears through a corn sheller to get the kernels off the cob, cranked the kernels through a Rube Goldberg antique seed cleaner, and put the cleaned corn into a big pot of cold water with a few spoonfuls of slaked lime (pickling lime). Boiling the corn with lime for 1/2 hour softens the kernels and loosens the outer skins. After 30 minutes, the heat is turned off and the corn soaks in the limewater 4 to 8 hours (or overnight). After soaking, the kernels are drained and rinsed thoroughly in cold water, rubbing to remove as many skins as possible. At this point the corn is called hominy.

Now the corn is ready to be made into masa (the dough for making into tortillas). I have a hand-cranked corn mill, but Kelley has an electric one, so we poured the whole kernels into the mill, and two metal plates ground it into coarse, wet meal. Kelley put the meal through the mill a second time to make smoother dough. Kelley adds water “until you think you have added too much” and shapes the wet dough into a ball. The ball is covered with a towel and allowed to sit 10 or 15 minutes while the water is absorbed and the dough becomes more plastic and workable.

Corn Tortillas

Making tortillas: Kelley heated a large iron griddle over high heat on the stovetop. We pinched off lumps of masa and rolled them into balls the size of a large walnut. The balls are flattened, patted on both sides, and placed on a tortilla press between two sheets of plastic to be pressed flat and thin. When the griddle is hot, the tortilla is peeled off the plastic and slid onto the hot iron. Each tortilla cooks 30 seconds on the first side. When the edges begin to curl up, it is turned over to cook the second side a minute or so. Finally, it is flipped over and tapped gently for about 15 seconds to encourage puffing. Keep the cooked tortillas warm, wrapped in a thick kitchen towel, until they are all cooked. Kelley says it’s best to let them rest a bit, but I like to eat them right away.

Of course, you can make quite good tortillas with dried masa found in most grocery stores in a 5 lb. bag, or from fresh masa sometimes available in a Mexican food store. Follow the directions on the bag (though I add more water than the instructions say).

I took my pile of mustard-yellow tortillas home and ate them with black beans and a sauté of sweet potato, onion, and chard. A salsa of yakon and another of roasted tomato added piquancy and crunch. Chopped cilantro and fresh lime wedges are essential!

Other memorable taco combinations:

*Trout and chopped broccoli with queso fresca

*Fried fish roe and spinach with ricotta salata

*Andouille sausage ragu and roasted asparagus spears

*Mushrooms and kale with smoked Gouda cheese

*Garlicky chard with roasted poblano and potato

*Spicy guacamole and blue cheese

Yakon Salsa/Salad

Kelley gave me a couple of yakon plants (Smallanthus sonchifolius) in the spring, grown from tubers she over-wintered in the greenhouse. The plants, a distant relative of sunflowers, grew a robust 6 feet tall in my garden. I dug them in the late fall to uncover a huge cluster of sweet potato-like tubers under each plant. The harvest filled a garden cart, which I hauled up to the root cellar. The tubers, sometimes called Peruvian ground apples, are crisp and juicy…kind of like a jicama, which is kind of like a big radish with no radish heat. In other words, yakon is mostly about crunchy texture and a great ability to absorb flavors.

Ingredients: 1 large yakon or medium jicama (about 1 lb.), 1 small red onion, 1 or 2 jalapeno or serrano chiles, 1 medium red bell pepper, 1 lime (2 or3 Tbs. fresh lime juice), 1 or 2 handfuls chopped cilantro, salt. Optional additions: 1 orange (sectioned, membranes removed), 4 or 5 thinly sliced radishes or 1 daikon cut in matchsticks, slices of avocado, chopped arugula

Peel the yakon or jicama. Cut into quarters, slice thinly, and cut the slices into matchsticks. Cut the onion in half, slice thinly, soak in cold water if very pungent, and drain. Seed and mince the hot chiles. Thinly slice or dice the bell pepper. Toss everything together in a bowl, sprinkle with salt, and add fresh lime juice to taste. Add the chopped cilantro and any other additional ingredients.

Charred Tomato Salsa

I make this with vine-ripe plum tomatoes from the summer garden. In winter, I use canned or frozen fire-roasted tomatoes.

Ingredients: 1 1/2 lb. (6 or 7 plum tomatoes) or 1 can diced fire-roasted tomatoes, 4 medium unpeeled garlic cloves, 2 jalapeno or 3-4 serrano chiles, 1 small white onion, 1/3 cup chopped cilantro, salt, fresh lime juice

If using fresh tomatoes, put them close under a hot broiler or over a grill fire, turning frequently, until the skin is blistered and charred in spots. Remove the skins and chop to use in the salsa, saving all the juices.

Place a small iron skillet over medium heat. Slice the onion about 1/3-inch thick and arrange the onion slices, chiles, and garlic cloves on the skillet. Dry-roast until softened and charred in patches, about 10 minutes for the chiles and onion, 15 minutes for the garlic. Turn them over half way through roasting. Peel the garlic, seed the chiles, and use a knife or food processor to chop finely, along with the onion. Add the tomatoes and the cilantro and stir or pulse to combine. Season with salt and lime juice to taste.

Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

Tomatillos

Tomatillos (Physalis ixocarpa) are sometimes called Mexican green tomatoes. They are not tomatoes at all, but a small citrusy green fruit that grows inside a papery husk on low, sprawling plants. They are easy to grow and easy to find in Mexican and most American grocery stores. They are most tart when green (the way they are sold in grocery stores), but sweeten slightly as they turn yellow. The less common purple variety is smaller, with a more intense flavor. You can use fresh or frozen tomatillos to make this salsa. Kelley puts her frozen tomatillos directly onto a hot griddle to pan-roast.

Ingredients: 1 lb. tomatillos (8 to 12, husked and rinsed), 4 medium unpeeled garlic cloves, hot chiles to taste (1 jalapeno, 2 serranos, or more), 1/2 cup finely chopped white onion,  1/3 cup chopped cilantro, and salt

Optional additions/substitutions: lime juice, 1 or 2 chipotle chiles en adobo, 1 or 2 roasted/peeled/seeded poblano chiles, 1 or 2 roasted/grilled green onions.

Heat a large iron or non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Dry-roast the tomatillos and garlic cloves until well browned and soft (3-4 minutes per side for the tomatillos, 6 or 7 minutes per side for the garlic).  Put the tomatillos and peeled garlic in a blender or food processor with the seeded and chopped chiles, 1/2 tsp salt, and any optional additions. Blend to a coarse puree. Add the cilantro and chopped onion and pulse to combine. Add fresh lime juice to taste, and water if you want a thinner sauce.

Tomatillo salsa is great in guacamole, with scrambled eggs and cornbread, mixed with cooked chicken or fish, or added to lentil soups.

Corpus Christy Chiles

Chiles

Our friend Phil has an aunt down in Corpus Christy that makes a fabulous condiment known simply as “Chiles”. No meal is complete without it. Phil didn’t give quantities other than “some” and “a few”, so I made an experiment using the following proportions.

Ingredients: 1 tsp whole cumin seed, 1/2 tsp black peppercorns, coarse sea salt, 3 chopped garlic cloves, 2 or 3 small hot chiles (chiles pequin or bird chiles for more heat, jalapeno or serrano for moderate heat), fresh lime juice or cider vinegar, water

Dry-roast the cumin and peppercorns on an iron skillet over medium heat until toasted and fragrant, about 1 minute. Be sure to shake the pan or stir the spices often to prevent burning. When cool, use a mortar and pestle to grind them to a powder with a generous pinch of coarse salt. Add the chopped garlic and pound to make a paste. Add the chopped chiles (seeded or not, according to your heat comfort) and mash them into the paste. Add one or two tsp. lime juice or cider vinegar and 4 or 5 Tbs water to make a thin sauce.

My sauce was extra delicious– fresh tasting and fruity– because I used about a Tbs or so of our friend Justin’s homemade smoked red jalapeno salsa (just smoked red jalapeno peppers and vinegar).  I tried two more experiments: I added a few Tbs fresh orange juice to the sauce (very good–a great dressing for a yakon-carrot salad), and I stirred a few spoonfuls of the sauce into a small bowl of extra virgin olive oil for dipping bread (wow!).

**Kelley will be teaching a class called “Mother Corn” for the Asheville Organic Growers School in early March.

Salad Days

Salad in a Bowl

Vegetables are so abundant and beautiful right now that every day is a salad day. Salads for lunch, salads for dinner, salads for parties and picnics… Combining lots of vegetables and herbs with whole grains turns salad into a meal-in-a-bowl–perfect for the end of summer. These salads are light and refreshing, they travel well, and they welcome all kinds of garden-fresh vegetables.

Beautiful Floral Salad

Bulgur wheat, an ingredient of Tabouli salad, might be the most familiar of grains used in salad, but there’s a wide range of whole grains to discover that contribute interesting texture and structure to salads. My list includes wheat and rye berries, barley, farro, kamut, wild rice, Bhutanese red rice, short grain brown rice, and quinoa. Their subtle and earthy flavors blend well with vegetables and fresh herbs and support all kinds of flavorful vinaigrettes and add-ins like olives, capers, nuts, and dried fruits.

The first key to making a delicious grain salad is to cook the grains properly. Like pasta, grains for salads are best cooked al dente –they need to be cooked through, but retain something to chew on. When the grains near the estimated end of the cooking time, taste them frequently and remove them from the heat as soon as they taste done. Cooking times for grains vary depending on variety and age (just like beans, old grains take longer) and range from 15 to more than 60 minutes. Soaking long-cooking grains overnight can shorten cooking time by one-half.

 Tips for Cooking Grains

Grains

* Toast grains for more flavor.  Dry-roast grains on an iron skillet to add depth and bring out their nuttiness. Or, sauté them for a few minutes in a little butter or oil for added flavor. Get even more flavor by including finely chopped aromatic vegetables like onion, carrot or celery in the sauté.

* Cook the grains in chicken or vegetable stock instead of water to boost flavor. Add herbs, aromatic vegetables, or whole spices to the cooking liquid.

* Do not overcook! When the grain is done, drain off excess liquid and transfer to a platter or baking sheet to stop the cooking.

*Let the grain cool before mixing with other ingredients. Warm grain will wilt herbs or other tender vegetables and absorb too much vinaigrette.

One cup dry grain will yield 4 to 6 generous servings when used in a salad.

Classic Tabouleh and Variations on the Theme 

Classic Tabouleh

I like to make Tabouleh with roughly equal parts bulgur wheat, chopped parsley, and diced tomato. It’s a great summer meal, served with flatbread or scooped up with leaves of romaine lettuce. What makes it truly delicious are the bright taste of herbs and plenty of fresh lemon or lime juice.

Ingredients: 1 cup bulgur wheat, 4 or 5 medium tomatoes (about 2 1/2 cups diced), 2 cups finely chopped flat-leaf parsley, 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh mint leaves, 1/2 cup finely chopped green onion, 1 finely chopped jalapeno or mildly hot banana pepper.

Vinaigrette: 1 garlic clove mashed to a paste with a pinch of coarse salt, 1/4 cup fresh lemon or lime juice, 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, 1/2 tsp salt, freshly ground black pepper to taste. Whisk all ingredients together.

Make the salad:  Heat a skillet and dry-roast the bulgur briefly to toast the grains. Transfer to a bowl, add 1/2 tsp salt, and pour 1 1/3 cups boiling water over the bulgur. Cover and let sit until the water is absorbed and the bulgur is tender, 20 to 30 minutes. Gently combine the chopped vegetables and herbs with the cooked bulgur. Pour on the dressing and toss again. Season with more salt and pepper or lemon juice, to taste.

Variations

Replace the chopped tomato with green beans, Swiss chard, or broccoli: steam or boil the vegetables in salted water until tender-crisp. Drain, cool, and chop before mixing into the salad.

* Replace the fresh tomato with sticky oven-dried tomatoes: cut plum or cherry tomatoes in half, place on an oiled or parchment lined baking sheet cut-side-up, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt. Bake at 250 degrees F 1-1/2 to 2 hours, until they are wrinkled and the skins are starting to brown, or roast them at 350 degrees F for 1 hour for juicier results.

* Add diced cucumber, green pepper, and coarsely chopped green olives.

* Make a bulgur-chick pea salad with 1-1/2 cups cooked chickpeas, sun-dried or oven-dried tomatoes, and crumbled feta cheese.

  Wheat Berry-Pomegranate Salad

We first ate Coliva–a wonderful mixture of wheat berries, toasted seeds and spices, dried fruit, herbs, and pomegranate seeds–during our long-ago travels in Greece. There it was sweetened with sugar and served as part of religious ceremonies, but I have adapted the flavors to make this salad.

Ingredients: 1 cup soft wheat berries (soaked overnight), 1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds, 1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds, 1/4 cup currants, 1/4 cup golden raisins, 1 cup pomegranate seeds (1 pomegranate), 4 carrots (enough to make about 3 cups diced), 1/2 cup chopped parsley, 1/2 cup chopped cilantro, 2 Tbs chopped mint.

Spice-oil Vinaigrette: In a small skillet, warm 4 Tbs extra virgin olive oil with 2 finely chopped garlic cloves and 2 tsp lightly crushed cumin seed until small bubbles begin to rise around the garlic. Turn off the heat and let cool 30 seconds, then stir in 1/2 tsp ground coriander seed, 1 tsp paprika, 1/2 tsp Aleppo pepper, pinch cinnamon, and 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper. Let the spice oil steep 1 hour. Whisk in 4 Tbs fresh lemon juice and 1/2 tsp salt.

Cook the wheat berries: Put the soaked wheat berries in a saucepan with 4 cups water  , 1/2 tsp salt, 1 bay leaf, and 2 sprigs fresh thyme. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer partially covered until the wheat is tender but chewy–anywhere from 45 minutes to 1 hour or more. Cut the carrots into small dice or matchsticks. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil; blanch the carrots 1 minute. Drain and cool.

Mix the cooled wheat berries and carrots with all the other ingredients (save the toasted sesame seeds to sprinkle on top). Toss with the vinaigrette. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Farro Salad with Roasted Cauliflower

Farro Salad

Farro is an ancient form of wheat widely used in Italy. Its large grains cook quickly to a tender-chewy texture. Emmer, spelt, or pearled barley could be used instead of farro.

Ingredients: 1 cup farro cooked with 1 carrot, 1 small onion, and 1 celery stalk; 1 head cauliflower, 1 pint quartered cherry tomatoes, 1/4-cup chopped green onion, 2 cups chopped mixed tender herbs (parsley, cilantro, arugula, mint),1 Tbs chopped fresh marjoram or oregano, 1 Tbs toasted whole cumin seed, 1/4 cup chopped green olives, and 1 Tbs capers

Vinaigrette: 1 garlic clove mashed to a paste with a pinch of coarse salt, 3 Tbs fresh lemon juice, 1 Tbs white wine vinegar, 1/2 tsp lemon zest, 3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil, salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Cook the farro: Toast the farro on a dry skillet for a few minutes. Transfer to a saucepan and add 1/2 tsp salt, 1 carrot cut in half lengthwise, 1 small onion cut in half, 1 celery stalk, 1 bay leaf, and 2 1/4 cups water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer 15 -20 minutes, until the farro is tender and pleasantly chewy. Drain any excess liquid and discard the vegetables and bay leaf. Put the farro on a large platter or mixing bowl to cool.

Making the salad: Heat the oven to 450 degrees F. Cut the cauliflower into florets of equal size (about 3/4 to 1-inch), toss them with 3 Tbs olive oil and 1/2 tsp coarse salt, and spread them on a roasting pan. Cut the bell pepper in half and place it cut side down on another pan. Roast until the cauliflower is toasty brown and tender (25 to 30 minutes). Flip after 15 minutes. Mix the cauliflower, green onion, tomatoes, herbs, and cumin seed into the farro. Add the vinaigrette and toss to mix well. Season with salt, pepper, and lemon juice to taste. Top with chopped olives and capers.

Good additions or substitutions: Chopped artichoke hearts, shelled peas or edamame (green soybeans), roasted zucchini and eggplant, toasted nuts or seeds, nasturtium flowers…

Wild Three-Grain Salad

Sometimes I like to substitute one grain for another in a salad or combine them for their different textures and flavors — a good opportunity to use up left over cooked grains. This salad combines three grains, kamut, quinoa, and wild rice, which have very different qualities that complement each other well. Kamut is an ancient strain of wheat with very large kernels and a nutty flavor. Quinoa is the seed of a plant related to lamb’s quarters, and true wild rice is the seed of a grass that grows in rivers and lakes and is harvested by hand (I feel very lucky when I get some delivered from Minnesota!) The grains should be cooked separately because of their different cooking times.

Ingredients: 1/2 cup kamut or triticale (soaked overnight), 1/2 cup wild rice, 1/2 cup quinoa, 1 finely chopped small red onion (rinsed in cold water), 1 finely chopped carrot, 1 diced red bell pepper, 1 diced green or yellow bell pepper, 3 or 4 chopped sundried tomatoes, 1/3 cup dried cranberries,  1/2 cup chopped green onion, 1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley or cilantro, 2 Tbs chopped mint, 2 Tbs chopped basil.

Vinaigrette: Mash 1 garlic clove to a paste with a pinch of coarse salt. Whisk in 2 Tbs fresh lime juice, 3 Tbs fresh orange juice, 1/2 tsp orange zest, 4 Tbs extra virgin olive oil, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper.

Cook the grains: Put the kamut in a saucepan with 1 1/4 cups water. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer over low heat 35 to 45 minutes. Wash the wild rice, drain, and put in a saucepan with 1 cup water. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer over low heat 15 minutes (true wild rice cooks very quickly!). Dry roast the quinoa briefly, stirring, in a saucepan. Add 1 cup water, bring to a boil, cover, and simmer over very low heat 15 minutes.

Mix the cooled grains with the prepared vegetables and cranberries. Toss with the vinaigrette. Stir in the herbs. Taste and adjust the seasonings.

Serve on a bed of baby arugula, spinach, or curly endive, and top with crumbled feta cheese.

Smoky the Dog

Smoky the dog supervising.

This glorious wealth of vegetables!

Does this happen every summer? This glorious wealth of vegetables! The mild-mannered and orderly garden we left in early July has turned into a jungle of wild exuberance…bean tendrils reaching into space and dangling fat green pods…tomato vines loaded with fruit and clamoring for new territory…cucumbers and squash taking over the pathways …corn waving like sparklers in the sky…Everyone is shouting for attention–Pick me! Pick me! And so I do. Bounty from the garden turns into sumptuous summer meals.

All this New-World produce–tomatoes, potatoes, beans, squash, corn, hot chiles and sweet peppers–begs for a Mexican meal, so that is a good place to start. I put on a pot of pinto beans to simmer and started to think about delicious things to cook on the grill and put in tortillas.

Grilled Tomato and Green Chile Salsa

Tomatoes

This is so good, I feel like I’m in Mexico! You can make this on a stovetop griddle or under a broiler, but the grill is more fun and gives a smoky flavor.

Heat a charcoal fire or gas grill to medium. Wrap a head of garlic in foil and place it on the grill (or place 6-8 unpeeled individual cloves on an iron skillet over medium heat for about 15 minutes, turning occasionally until soft). Grill 6 to 8 red-ripe plum tomatoes, 5 to 6 minutes per side, until the skin is blistered and blackened in spots. Grill 1 or 2 green Anaheim chiles and/or 2 to 4 jalapeno or serrano chiles (or any other hot green chiles you might have) until blistered and softened (you can do this on a skillet, too). Cut a medium-size white onion into thick slices (or use large green onions with a bulb) and grill or skillet-roast about 10 minutes.

Pull the skins off the garlic cloves, remove the stems, seeds and loose skin from the chiles and put them in a large mortar or food processor. Mash them with a pestle, or pulse in the machine to finely chop. Add the onion and peeled tomatoes and chop until the salsa is the consistency you want–chunky or smooth. Add 1 or 2 tsp fresh lime juice or cider vinegar, 1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves, and salt to taste.

Salsa Cruda/ Salsa Fresca

Fresh tomato salsa. Make it when the tomatoes are fully ripe and full of flavor. Make it with a sharp knife and a cutting board, or in a food processor if you must. Tomatoes, onions, chiles, and garlic–that’s the basics, and it’s all you need.

Cutting board method: Chop about 1 pound ripe tomatoes (I use 6-8 small plum tomatoes) into 1/4-inch dice. Dice a small red or white onion to make about 1/2 cup. Finely chop fresh hot green chiles (stemmed and seeded)…one, two, three or more jalapeno or serrano chiles for whatever heat you like. Mince some garlic to make about 1 Tbs. Toss it all together in a bowl and add 2 or 3 tsp fresh lime juice, salt to taste, and a handful chopped cilantro. Eat soon! It’s best eaten within a few hours.

Note: Salsa isn’t just for chips. Use it as a topping for grilled meat, chicken or fish… or eggplant with a bit of crumbled cheese…add it to a stir-fry of shrimp or a pan of scrambled eggs…or a salad of white beans and arugula…or black beans, corn, and roasted red pepper. When do you not want salsa?

Grilled Calabacitas

Calabacitas

Calabacitas is a Mexican name for a squash and corn sauté with roasted chiles. It can be made as a sauté, but I like to grill these vegetables and toss them together with toasted cumin seed and a squeeze of lime.

Prepare a charcoal fire or heat a gas grill to medium.

Grill the vegetables: Cut 2 or 3 medium zucchini lengthwise into 1/2-inch slices or 6-8 wedges. Cut 2 small onions into quarters (hold them together with a toothpick). Coat the vegetables with vegetable or olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt. Grill the zucchini and onions, 2 or 3 ears of corn in their husks and 2 whole green chiles (poblano or Anaheim or other mildly hot chiles) 5 to 6 minutes per side, until lightly charred outside and tender inside.

When done, chop the zucchini and onions, cut the corn from the cob, cut the peeled and seeded chiles into strips, and toss them all together. Add a tsp toasted cumin seed, a handful chopped cilantro leaves, a Tbs chopped fresh oregano or mint, a tsp or so fresh lime juice, and salt to taste.

Variations: To make Calabacitas as a sauté, heat 2 Tbs olive oil and 1 1/2 cups small-diced onion in a sauté pan or Dutch oven. Cook over medium-low heat, covered, for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover, raise the heat to medium, and sauté another 3 to 4 minutes. Add 1 Tbs butter or oil to the pan and stir in 2 cups small-diced zucchini. Cook, stirring occasionally, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in 2 generous cups fresh corn kernels-off-the-cob, 1 finely chopped garlic clove, and 1/2 tsp salt. Cook until the corn is tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Sprinkle with 1/2 tsp ground cumin seed and 1/2 tsp toasted whole cumin seed; cook 30 seconds. Before serving, top with some chopped mint and oregano leaves and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Note: Char-roast the poblano or other green chiles over a direct flame or under the broiler. Peel, seed, and cut the chiles into strips. Add to the sauté.

Mix any leftover Calabacitas with 1 1/2 cups cooked black beans and plenty of fresh herbs for a hearty salad. Dress with more lime juice or Cilantro- Lime Dressing (below).

Green Bean Salad with Cilantro-Lime Dressing

Green Bean Salad

I use skinny French beans (haricots verts) for this salad. A pound of beans (5 to 6 handfuls) will make 4 to 6 servings. Trim off the stem ends and boil the beans in salted water about 3 minutes, until tender-crisp. Scoop the beans out and place in a colander to cool.

Thinly slice a medium- size red onion. Toss the onion with the cooled green beans and sprinkle with kosher salt.

Make the dressing: Mash 1 or 2 garlic cloves with 1/4 tsp kosher salt to make a paste. Mix the garlic paste with 2 Tbs fresh lime juice, 1/4 cup salsa verde (green tomatillo salsa), and 1/2 cup olive oil. Whisk to combine and stir in 1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves. Add salt and black pepper to taste.

Toss the beans and onion with several Tbs of dressing. Garnish with more chopped cilantro (or mint) and halved cherry tomatoes.

Note: this dressing is also delicious on a salad of shredded cabbage and carrot… or jicama, cucumber, and avocado.

Grilled Chicken with Yucatecan Marinade

Grilled Chicken

I love the flavors of this herby-citrusy marinade. The combination of fresh orange juice and lime juice, with the addition of the zest, tries to approximate the flavor of the wonderful sour oranges of Mexico. You can play around with the herbs: I use combinations of cilantro, oregano, marjoram, anise hyssop, lemon balm, and mint. The marinade is too good to save for grilling chicken–try it as a dip for cucumbers, summer squash, grilled eggplant…or melon!

Make the marinade (enough for 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs): In a blender, combine 2 or 3 garlic cloves, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 tsp black pepper corns, 1 tsp toasted and crushed cumin seed, a big pinch ground cloves, 1/8 tsp cinnamon, 1 1/2 Tbs fresh oregano leaves, 2 or 3 Tbs fresh mint leaves, 3 Tbs fresh orange juice, 2 Tbs fresh lime juice, The zest from 1/2 orange and 1 lime, and 3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil. Puree smooth.

Other options: Add 1 fresh serrano or jalapeno, or 1 or more tsp red chile sauce or chipotle en adobo. Substitute 3 or 4 Tbs cilantro, lemon balm, anise hyssop, or Thai basil for the oregano and mint…or try other herbs.

You can leave the chicken pieces whole, or cut them into 1/2 to 3/4-inch chunks or strips to grill on skewers. Pour the marinade over the chicken and turn to coat well. Cover and refrigerate 1 up to 8 hours. .

Prepare a charcoal fire or heat a gas grill to medium (or heat the broiler on high). Soak skewers in water, if using. While the grill heats, take the chicken out of the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature. Sprinkle the meat lightly with salt. When the fire is ready, grill or broil the chicken, without moving, from 4 to 6 minutes (skewers will take less time), until dark brown grill marks appear. Flip and grill until cooked through–4 or 5 minutes more. Thigh meat may need an extra minute or so. Transfer to a cutting board and let rest 5 to 10 minutes. Cut the chicken into thin slices or remove from the skewers; place on a bed of thinly sliced onion and chopped arugula or salad greens, with a sprinkling of cilantro or mint leaves.

Serve with hot corn or flour tortillas.