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Adventures in the Land of Kimchi

“The umami, spice, crunch, and sweetness of kimchi are the thread in which the lives of Koreans are woven.” Hannah Chung

Kim Chi in a Jar

I didn’t travel to the land of kimchi, but I have been exploring the world of microbes…specifically, the microbial world that thrives in a fermenting crock of kimchi. I got interested in learning more about making kimchi after reading Michael Pollan’s book, Cooked. In the book, he devotes a section entitled “Earth” to fermented foods. He traveled among the “fermentos”— explorers in the world of culinary microbes–to learn more about the benefits of fermentation. This led him to Sandor Katz, who has written two books about fermented foods, Wild Fermentation and The Art of Fermentation.

Katz writes that fermentation is an “everyday miracle, performed by microscopic bacteria and fungi—the “ubiquitous agents of transformation.” I discovered that the symbiotic relationship that microbes have with the human body is just as crucial and exciting as the relationship they have with plants and garden soil. Beneficial bacteria exist symbiotically in our digestive systems, where they break down foods into nutrients our bodies can absorb and help our immune systems function. Live, unpasteurized, fermented foods are the mode of delivery. Wow! Kimchi is compost for our guts.

Katz also explains that some cultures of microorganism are responsible for extraordinary culinary transformation. “Tiny beings, invisible to us, bring us compelling and varied flavors. Fermentation gives us many of our most basic staples, such as bread and cheese, and our most pleasurable treats, including chocolate, coffee, wine, and beer.” And kimchi!

Making Kimchi

I wasn’t always enamored of kimchi. Two things helped me become a born-again kimchi lover. One was the realization the kimchi is basically Korean salsa. To paraphrase John Willoughby, I had achieved the zen of kimchi and was at one with the little dishes of intense flavor. The second life-changing event was the arrival of a jar of kimchi made by Hannah Chung, owner of Simply Seoul Kitchen. She is known as the Atlanta Kimchi Queen. Friends Jim and Margaret handed me the jar and warned that it should only be opened while holding it over the sink. I followed their advice, and the kimchi erupted out of the jar with an explosion of chiles and garlic. That is live culture! I wanted to make kimchi that good.

So, what’s the difference between kimchi and sauerkraut? They are both made in low oxygen conditions by lactobacillus bacteria, which convert the sugars in cabbage or other vegetables to lactic acid. The fermentation helps preserve the vegetables and gives the finished product its tangy flavor. Sauerkraut is usually made with green cabbage, while kimchi is most commonly made with napa cabbage. Kimchi can include a variety of other vegetables or be made without cabbage at all, but is usually enhanced by modest-to-generous amounts of garlic, ginger, scallions, and hot red chiles.

Kimchi Ingredients

The Kimchi Queen’s website, simplyseoulkitchen.com, explains that the unique, tangy taste of kimchi comes from fermentation at low temperatures. In Korea, a winter’s supply of cabbage was traditionally fermented in large urns buried in the ground to maintain a steady, cool temperature. This method also represents the Korean belief that “Heaven, earth, and humanity are one.”

So…how to become one with kimchi? I looked around and found a wide variety of recipes with a confusing variation in ingredients. Some include apple or pear, anchovies and squid, fish sauce and shrimp, Korean chile flakes or “any form of hot pepper you like”, little ginger and garlic, lots of ginger and garlic, rice flour or cooked rice… Sandor Katz simply advises to “experiment with quantities and don’t worry too much about them.” But, I was a little worried about exploding jars or worse.

How to make Kimchi

Luckily, I discovered a Korean woman named Holly who blogs on a website www.beyondkimchee.com. I liked Holly immediately. She posted a photo of a bug-eaten cabbage leaf and said, “I like to see cabbage with holes in leaves…it means your cabbages are not overly pesticide.” She de-mystified the process of kimchi making with step-by-step photos and good advice, like “you need to wash the leaves to get rid of the bugs,” and you need good salt to make good kimchi—Korean sea salt, to be exact. She also explained why rice, rice flour, or even cooked potato appear in the list of ingredients for many recipes. The starch helps make the seasoning stick to the vegetables and aids the fermentation process by feeding the good bacteria. Apple and pear promote fermentation, as well. Holly fortifies her kimchi with a stock made from anchovies and shrimp heads and adds other seafood like salted shrimp, squid, or crab. “Adding extra sea flavor will make your kimchi so flavorful when fermented,” she says. “Hope you don’t skip it!”

With Holly’s enthusiastic guidance and a promising list of ingredients, I was ready to turn my bountiful harvest of Napa cabbages into kimchi.

The Basic Kimchi Process

Napa Cabbage

I followed directions for “quick kimchi,”which ferments faster and is ready to eat sooner than traditional kimchi made with whole cabbage leaves. I started with Napa cabbage, but then went on to “kimchi” almost every other vegetable in sight.

Ingredients: 2 lb head Napa cabbage, 1/2 cup coarse sea salt (preferred) or kosher salt, 2 quarts spring or filtered water (no chlorine), 1 bunch green onions (scallions)

Cut the cabbage into quarters lengthwise. Trim away any tough stem or core. Cut each quarter into about 5 pieces. The leafy part should be larger than the white stem sections. Wash the leaves well and drain in a colander. Transfer to a large bowl.

Make a brine with the salt and water, stirring until the salt dissolves. Pour the brine over the cabbage and weight with a plate to keep the leaves submerged. Let the cabbage soak in the brine 1 to 2 hours. (Holly says one, Hannah says two)Turn the leaves so that the top goes to the bottom . Let it sit another 1 to 2 hours. The cabbage should be softened, but not limp. Take the cabbage out of the salt brine and rinse in a large bowl of water three times. Taste the cabbage. It should taste salty, but not overly so. Rinse again if necessary. Drain in a colander and press out excess water.

While the cabbage is soaking, make “sea stock” and seasoning paste. You can also prepare other vegetables you might want to add in to the kimchi.

Hannah’s Vegan Seasoning Paste

Fresh Ginger

This Simply Seoul Kitchen recipe was published in the Atlanta newspaper. I scaled it down for a single 2-pound head of Napa cabbage. I also reduced the chile flakes by half in my own batch of kimchi.

Ingredients: 1/2 small onion, 1/4 cup chopped garlic, 1 Tbs minced fresh ginger, 2 Tbs sweet rice flour, 3/4 cup water, 1/2 to 1 cup Korean chile flakes (gochugaru)

Use a food processor or blender to puree the onion, garlic, and ginger. Whisk the rice flour (I used toasted rice flour) into the water. Add the onion mixture and whisk to combine. Stir in the chile flakes.

Holly’s Seasoning Paste

I adapted this version from Holly, substituting dashi for her seafood stock made with anchovies and shrimp, and fish sauce for Korean anchovy sauce and salted shrimp. I wanted to use what I had on hand…or maybe I’m squeamish.

Ingredients: 1/2 onion, 1/2 apple, 1-inch piece peeled ginger, 5 large peeled garlic cloves, 1/3 cup cooked white rice, 1 cup dashi or sea stock, 2 Tbs fish sauce (Holly uses 3 Tbs anchovy sauce and 2 Tbs salted shrimp), 2/3 cup Korean chile flakes, 1 Tbs sugar

Sea Stock: Dissolve 1 tsp instant dashi in 1 cup water. Or simmer a small handful bonito flakes and one 5-inch piece kombu kelp in 1 1/2 cups water for 8 minutes. Let steep 8 minutes before straining. Holly simmers 5 to 6 anchovies and 3 or 4 shrimp in 2 cups water to make sea stock.

Put the onion, apple, ginger, garlic, rice, 1 cup sea stock(or water), and fish sauce in a blender. Blend to make a smooth puree. Pour into a bowl and stir in the chile flakes and sugar. Let sit 10 minutes.

Seasoning Paste 3

Spice Paste Ingredients

I made this paste with red-ripe, fresh serrano and jalapeno chiles Delicious! Use a blender to puree all the ingredients. Add more water if needed.

Ingredients: 1/2 onion, 1/2 apple, 1/4 cup chopped garlic, 2 Tbs grated ginger, 4 Tbs cooked white rice, 2 Tbs fish sauce, 1 cup seeded fresh hot red chiles, 1 Tbs brown sugar, 1/2 cup water

***

Mix it Together: Chop the scallions into 1 1/2-inch pieces and mix them into the wilted cabbage. Pour 2/3 of the seasoning paste over the cabbage and mix it well. Use your hands, wearing plastic gloves to protect your skin from the chiles. Taste the kimchi and add more of the paste if needed. Any extra paste can be used to make small batches of kimchi experiments.

Put the kimchi in a glass container that has a lid. Let it ferment at room temperature for 24 hours, or longer if you prefer a more fermented taste. Store in the refrigerator, where it will continue to ferment slowly. It is best eaten within a month.

More Kimchi

Vegetable Medley

Adding chunks or slices of other vegetables into the cabbage kimchi provides more crunch and interest. Carrot, onion, radish, daikon, kohlrabi, bok choi, sweet potato, beet, and turnip all make good add-ins. They also make great kimchi individually or in various combinations.

Ingredients: 1 1/3 to 1 1/2 lbs vegetables, 1/3 cup coarse sea salt, 1 recipe seasoning paste

Method: Cut the vegetables into thin slices, chunks, or matchsticks. Cut bok choi in quarters. Sprinkle the cut vegetables with the salt. Toss and rub gently to coat all surfaces well. Let rest 1 hour, tossing gently 2 or 3 times. Rinse well and drain in a colander. Gently press out excess water. Toss vegetables with seasoning paste. Eat the kimchi fresh, or let ferment a day or two before storing in the refrigerator.

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Eating Kale Moon

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

Kale

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

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

Lacinato Kale Pesto

Kale Pesto

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winter Risotto with Winter Squash and Kale

Winter Squash

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

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

Bring the broth to a low simmer in a saucepan.

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

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

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

Zuppa di Ceci e Laciniato

Chickpea and Kale Soup

Chickpea soup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kale

Cooking for Friends/ Rick’s Fish Soup

“…Pearlescent black mussels, earthy gray-brown clams, and delicate pink shrimp all look beautiful floating in a fragrant broth redolent of the sea.” Cucina Rustica

Mussels

Who would not want to make this soup?

“Cooking for friends” is one of the best ingredients for any recipe. It’s right up there with love and joy, and a good way to insure plenty of the latter ingredients. While we were in Paris, Rick’s dear friends Marie and Jean-Charles came to visit, and Rick embarked upon a cooking odyssey. It was an all-day event that involved more than one trip to the market, improvisation, several bottles of wine, and much love and joy–especially on the part of  who got to eat Rick’s fish soup.

Vegetables at Paris Market

Luckily for Rick, the outdoor market fell on the day of his extravaganza. The Bastille Market is renowned even among the Paris markets, and stretches from the neighborhood of our apartment all the way to the Bastille, half a mile away. The fishmongers’ stalls are extraordinary, with fish so fresh they seem to have just jumped off the boat. Six-foot eels wind their way around the piles of seafood, and giant fish with giant eyeballs stare at you from their beds of ice. Rick went early and chose cod, snapper, scallops, and shrimp. He filled his shopping bag with onions, potatoes, red and green peppers, tomatoes, and a bundle of fresh thyme and set off for the kitchen.

Paris Fish Market

Rick’s cooking brought to mind the musings of Michael Pollan in his book about making food, titled Cooked. He wrote, “Time is the missing ingredient in our recipes–and in our lives.” Rick didn’t need to spend all day cooking to make this stew, but he did. There is something very wonderful about spending a day in the kitchen cooking for friends and infusing ingredients with love and joy. Another thought from Pollan: “Great cooking is all about the three “P’s”: patience, presence, and practice.” Rick used all three.

Rick’s Fish Soup

Fish Soup

Rick’s fish soup was very much in the spirit of using the catch of the day. He chose ingredients that called to him at the market, took them home, and turned them into a wonderful stew. Fish stew lends itself to a gathering of friends because it is best made in a wide, generous pot that allows the precious seafood to poach gently in the broth at the very end of cooking. Rick made enough for six, well-satisfied people.

Ingredients: 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 finely chopped yellow onion, 1 tsp anchovy paste or 3 or 4 anchovy fillets, 2 tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves (added in stages), 2 cloves minced garlic, 1 diced red bell pepper, 1 diced green bell pepper, 1 1/2 cups diced smooth-skinned potato, 1 1/2 to 2 cups dry white wine (Rick used Muscadet), 2 diced medium tomatoes (or 1cup canned plum tomatoes with juice), 1 lb. cod fillet (Rick chooses the thicker “Captain’s cut”), 1 lb. snapper fillet, 1/2 lb. scallops, 1/2 lb.peeled shrimp, 1 cup heavy cream, 4 Tbs chopped flat-leaf parsley, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, pimente d’espelette or red chile flakes (or, if you are lucky enough to have some, smoky Hungarian paprika)

Warm the olive oil in a large stockpot or Dutch oven. Stir in the onion and sauté 8 to 10 minutes, until soft and translucent. Add the anchovy paste or chopped anchovy fillets (here’s where Rick had to use a handful chopped oil-cured black olives to get the briny flavor he wanted because in the Paris markets, anchovy paste n’existe pas) and stir until they meld with the onions. Stir in 1 tsp thyme leaves and the garlic; continue cooking 1 to 2 minutes. Add the peppers and potato; stir a few minutes longer and add the wine. Let the wine simmer for a few minutes and add the tomatoes and their juice. Add water or broth if more liquid is needed to barely cover the vegetables. Cook at a low, steady simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Season with salt, freshly ground black pepper, and the rest of the thyme. Cover and reduce the heat to very low. You can turn off the heat and go out to the market for more wine at this point, if you like.

Bring the soup back to a simmer and add the scallops and shrimp (being denser, they take slightly longer to cook, so are added first). Cover and cook 3 minutes. Cut the fish into 1-inch cubes or slices and season lightly with sea salt. Carefully add the fish pieces without stirring. Cover and cook about 3 minutes more. Stir in the cream and a pinch or two pimente d’espelette or smoky Spanish or Hungarian paprika.ungarian paprikapppap Sprinkle the soup with parsley and serve with a loaf or two of crusty bread and a few bottles of cherished wine.

More Fish Soup

More Fish Soup

Rick’s masterpiece inspired me to make a fish stew to share with friends when we returned home. The origin of fish soups from Italian brodetto to French bouillabaisse lies in the answer to the question, “What do I do with all the little fish left in the net after I’ve sold all the big fish?” Traditional recipes call for fish stock made with fish heads and bones, as well as a dozen or more varieties of fish and shellfish for the stew, all contributing to the many-layered flavor of the finished soup. Unshelled shrimp, mussels, and clams and very small whole fish make the most flavorful broth.

Alas, most of us don’t live in fishing villages and have a much more limited choice of fish. But, after sampling Rick’s wonderful soup, I knew I didn’t need an ocean of fish to make a tasty stew. I went fishing at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods; then I went fishing for recipes to match my catch. I turned to a recipe from John Ash, originally printed in Fine Cooking magazine, for turning chicken stock into a flavorful broth using shrimp shells. The stock is used to make broth for his version of Cioppino, a San Francisco-style fish soup.

Faux Fish Stock

Fish Stock

Ingredients: 1 lb. large shrimp, 6 cups homemade or low salt canned chicken broth

Peel the shrimp, reserving the shells. Refrigerate the shelled shrimp to add to the soup later. Simmer the shells in chicken broth for 5 to 10 minutes, covered. Strain and refrigerate or freeze until ready to use.

I was able to test this recipe using trout heads from the giant trout lurking in our pond, known as “Troutzilla”. I simmered trout heads with chopped onion, carrot, celery and garlic in homemade chicken broth for about 15 minutes. Then I threw in a handful of dried bonito flakes for extra umami and let the broth steep another 5 minutes before straining.

Celebration Fish Stew

Fish at the Market

I adapted two recipes for my celebration fish stew dinner party. I knew the fish would need the help of Ash’s brightly flavored Cioppino broth and I also liked the looks of a Tunisian fish soup in Ottolenghi’s cookbook, Jerusalem, which would let me use my beautiful fennel bulbs and preserved lemon. Ginny and Danny brought fresh Carolina shrimp to provide “redolence of the sea.”

Cioppino Broth: 1/4 cup olive oil, 3 cups coarsely chopped yellow onion, 2/3 cup coarsely chopped celery or fennel, 1 cup coarsely chopped carrot, 3 Tbs chopped garlic, 3 cups canned tomatoes with juices, 2 1/2 cups dry red or white wine (Ash uses Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese…I used Pinot Grigio), 6 cups faux fish stock, 3 large bay leaves, 3 sprigs fresh thyme, 2 tsp. crushed fennel seeds, 1/2 tsp red chile flakes, Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In the olive oil in an 8-quart or larger pot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, celery or fennel, and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are lightly browned, about 15 to 20 minutes. Add the tomatoes and their juices, wine, shellfish stock, bay leaves, thyme, fennel seeds, chile flakes, 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp cracked black pepper. Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce the heat and maintain a low simmer for about 20 to 30 minutes.

Strain the broth, pressing the solids to extract all the liquid. Discard the solids and return the broth to the pot. Boil until reduced to 8 cups. Taste and adjust the seasonings. This broth may be made ahead of time and refrigerated or frozen.

The Stew: 2 Tbs olive oil, 4 thinly sliced garlic cloves. 1 large waxy potato (6 to 8 oz), 2 medium fennel bulbs (about 12 oz), 1/2 preserved lemon, 1 Tbs sweet paprika, 2 cups diced tomatoes, 1 lb scrubbed clams*, 1 lb scrubbed mussels*, 2 1/2 lbs fillets of firm-fleshed white fish–halibut, flounder, sea bass, monkfish, etc, 1 lb peeled shrimp, 1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves, 2 tsp chopped fresh tarragon

*Use whatever fresh seafood is available.

Note: Adding more vegetables is optional. You can and go straight to cooking the seafood in the prepared broth, if you like. Cut the potato into 2/3-inch cubes. Trim the fennel bulbs and cut into very thin wedges. Warm the olive oil in a wide sauté pan or large Dutch oven over medium heat. Stir in the garlic and cook 1 minute. Add the potato, fennel, and chopped preserved lemon and cook 4 or 5 minutes. Add the strained broth, bring to a simmer, then cover and cook over low heat 12 to 15 minutes, until the vegetables are barely tender. Add the tomatoes and paprika and simmer 4 to 5 minutes more.

Now cook the seafood. Add the scrubbed clams to the simmering broth and cook until they open, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the mussels and cook another 2 to 3 minutes. When all the shellfish have opened, add the fish and shrimp, trying not to break the pieces. Cover, and cook 3 to 5 minutes, until barely cooked through. The fish will continue to cook in the hot broth until served. Garnish with chopped parsley and tarragon. Serve with couscous or crusty bread o sop up the broth.

Vegetables at Market

Joie de Vivre and Thanksgiving

Last summer, when I couldn’t cook, words I read in Su Mei Yu’s book, Cracking the Coconut, took on new meaning. She gives insight into the cooking of Thailand by explaining that “the Thai people are Buddhists who believe that life is marked by suffering, impermanence, and constant change. They seek and grasp at every chance to celebrate pleasure and happiness. Good food and the community spirits of sharing reflect this philosophy.”

The Thai philosophy of food can be summed up in two words, according to Yu: arroy, meaning delicious as well as “touching one’s heart”, and sanuk, meaning fun and spiritual joie de vivre. Sounds like they celebrate Thanksgiving every day.

We were in need of an infusion of joie de vivre, so we went with friends Joe and Suzy to France. As we traveled south into the Dordogne, I knew immediately that we were in the land of arroy and sanuk, as well as joie de vivre. This is a region of rich river valleys blessed with a temperate climate, ample sun and rain, and a coastline on the Atlantic Ocean. Contented cows and sheep dot deep green pastures, fields of vegetables and fruit and nut orchards thrive, and the wine is legendary. This is a land where almost every village gives it’s name to a kind of cheese, wine, or sausage–all you need to do is pop into the village baker, and you have a feast.

French Landscape

French Door

Our first stop was in Villaines les Rochers, a village of willow basket makers. We were the guests of David and Judy, who make their home in one of the cave houses common to the area. These houses are dug into the soft rock in the bluffs above the river to create a unique space that is open to light yet insulated from both the heat of summer and the cold of winter. The sun-facing rock wall has the added advantage of creating a superb microclimate for tomatoes and peppers and plants like grapevines and figs (even better, you can climb up on the roof and pick the figs!). David and Judy tend a garden that produces some of the most beautiful and delicious vegetables I have ever seen or tasted.

French Tomato Plate

One of the great things about being a traveler welcomed into someone’s home is that they know the flavors of their home terroir and want to share the best food possible. Our hosts gathered sun-ripened tomatoes and herbs from the garden, goat cheese from the near-by town of St. Maure, figs from the tree outside their door, mackerel from the Atlantic, and wine from a small neighboring vineyard to make a welcoming meal full of joie de vivre.

As you will see, this is not fussy cooking–not the image of the French chef. This is wonderful food staight from the earth and the sea, shared with good friends, and remembered forever with gratitude.

Appetizer of Goat Cheese and Figs

French Fig

Cut ripe, fresh figs in half and arrange on a baking pan. Place a 1/4-inch slice of goat cheese (Judy prefers the ash-coated Chevre de St. Maure) on top of each fig. Broil until the figs are softened and the cheese bubbles. Voila!

David’s Tomato Salad

French Tomato

David and Judy grow sweet, richly flavored heirloom tomatoes–Zebra and Corno-de- something, as well as the hybrid “Sungold” cherry tomato. Red, green, and gold create a spectacular mosaic of flavor and color. This is David’s speciality.

Arrange slices of red, green, and yellow tomatoes in a pleasing pattern on a large platter. Sprinkle with sea salt and pepper, finely chopped red onion, and fresh basil leaves. Drizzle fruity olive oil over the top. Enjoy!

Grilled Mackerel

We bought whole, fresh mackerel at the local grocery store (cleaned as we waited), and David prepared it for the grill, using fresh herbs from the garden.

Rub the mackerel with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and coat with finely chopped sage and rosemary leaves. Tuck a sprig of rosemary and a few sage leaves into the cavity of each fish and set aside in the fridge while you prepare the grill fire. Grill over medium heat until cooked through, about 3 to 4 minutes per side. Bon apetit!

Serve with a salad of lettuce and gorgeous red radicchio.

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.

Eating Green

Chickweed

“Green” has become a buzzword of living these days, but I take eating green literally. It’s all about the color. I’m not sure anyone truly knows about green if they haven’t experienced spring in the mountains of North Carolina. Every day is an explosion of green. Every leaf that unfolds, every seedling that emerges unfurls it’s own gorgeous shade of green. I want to eat them all.

My friend Vicki once introduced me as the person who could grow everything better than she could excepting chickweed. That’s not really true, but I am a person who is always on the lookout for, and who recognizes superior chickweed. Vicki has lush, extravagantly green chickweed growing on the banks of her branch–the best kind for eating.

Chickweed is a wild plant that is a major ingredient in my daughter Naomi’s spring tonic pesto. Making this pesto involves foraging in the garden for early spring volunteers and exploring in the woods for wild edible greens… a wonderful way to spend a misty spring day. While harvesting green leaves we discovered patches of trillium, trout lily, bellwort, tightly wound ferns, and legions of violets.

The early spring garden is also full of surprising abundance. All those wonderful Italian chicories and Japanese mustards are making new leaves, as are the chard and kale plants that survived the winter. Wild arugula (sylvetta), chives, and garlic chives spring to life…mint, sorrel, and wild fennel are at their tender best. Garden-grown chickweed and the tips of my Austrian winter pea cover crop are succulent and sweet. It’s a green feast.

Here is a collection of recipes for eating green. Feel free to mix and match and substitute one green for another. Like the Mexican cook said when asked whether her soup should be made with chard or spinach, “Which one do you have?”

Wild Spring Tonic Pesto

Wild Spring Greens

This is food as medicine at it’s best. You can feel the energy and exuberance of the plant world in this deep green pesto. If it’s possible to capture the essence of spring, this is it.

Naomi and I gathered chickweed, cleavers, nettles, plantain, dandelion, arugula, chives, ramps (wild garlic-leek), violet flowers, sorrel, and watercress. About 3 cups of mixed leaves are pureed in the food processor with 3 crushed garlic cloves, 2 or 3 Tbs fresh lemon juice, a pinch of sea salt, 1 or 2 tsp balsamic vinegar, and 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil. Freeze in small portions to use whenever green energy is needed.

Spring Garden Pesto

Garden Green

This is a tamer pesto made with the earliest tender garden herbs–a handful each chopped young parsley leaves, French sorrel, chives, Chinese garlic chives, mint, and a touch of wild arugula. Mash a few garlic cloves with a pinch of sea salt to make a paste. Use a large mortar and pestle or a food processor to finely chop or pound the herbs to make a rough pesto. Add extra virgin olive oil until the pesto is as you like it.

Watercress -Chickpea Soup

It is important to harvest watercress only from clean, uncontaminated water, like the spring water that bubbles out of the mountain above our house. Watercress has a strong, spicy flavor that mellows with cooking. Arugula, broccoli rabe, or spinach could replace the watercress in this soup. Ramps are wild garlic-leeks that grow in rich mountain woods.

Ingredients: 2 Tbs olive oil, 1 1/2 cups chopped onion or leeks, 2 or 3 thinly sliced garlic cloves, 5 or 6 ramps, 1 finely chopped jalapeno, 1 1/2 Tbs minced ginger, 1/2 tsp ground cumin, 1 tsp ground coriander, 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon, 1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas (one14-oz can with liquid), 2 cups vegetable or chicken broth (or chickpea cooking liquid), 8 oz well-washed watercress, 4 oz spinach leaves, salt, freshly ground black pepper, yogurt (optional)

Warm the olive oil in a heavy soup pot with the onions or leeks over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, until the onion is very soft. Stir in the garlic, ramps, jalapeno, and ginger; cook 1 or 2 minutes. Add the spices, one cup chickpeas, and broth; season to taste with salt. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer 5 minutes. Add the chopped watercress (reserve a small amount for a garnish) and spinach leaves and simmer 1 or 2 minutes, until wilted. Cool slightly and puree the soup in a blender until smooth. Add liquid as needed. Season with salt and pepper

Toss the remaining chickpeas with a drizzle of olive oil and 1/2 tsp crushed cumin seed. Shake them around in a hot skillet for a few minutes to toast the seeds, and scrape them onto the surface of the soup. Scatter the reserved watercress on top. Serve with a dollop of yogurt.

Note: The combination of chickpeas and watercress makes an excellent hummus. Puree the 1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas with 2 garlic cloves, 1 or 2 Tbs fresh lemon juice, a large handful watercress, and 3 or 4 Tbs tahini. Add salt to taste.

Green Fritters

Ingredients: 1 cup cooked rice, 1/2 cup farmer’s cheese or crumbled feta, 1 large egg, 1 tsp lemon zest, 1 bunch chard or other greens (enough to make 1 1/2 cups cooked and squeeze-dried), 1/4 cup chopped scallions or garlic chives, 2 Tbs chopped dill or fennel greens, pinch cayenne, 1/4 tsp salt, freshly ground black pepper, sesame seeds

Steam the greens a few minutes, until tender and wilted. Drain and press out excess liquid. Put all the ingredients except the sesame seeds in a food processor and pulse to combine. Shape the mixture into small patties and coat with sesame seeds. The fritters may be fried in a skillet or baked in the oven at 400 degrees F. for 20 minutes.

Serve with lemon wedges or quick pickled lemon slices.

Green Rice with Rajas

Nettles

This is a lovely way to eat nettles. Harvest by pinching off the top few leaves of tender young plants in spring. Violet leaves are a nice addition. If you don’t have nettles, use spinach, chard, or beet greens. I like using white rice for this dish to show off the green color. Long grain white Basmati or short grain Arborio rice give different, but equally good, results. Rajas are strips of roasted and peeled poblano chiles.

Ingredients: 1 cup rice, 1 1/2 Tbs olive oil, 2/3 cup chopped onion, 8 to 10 oz nettles or other green leaves (enough to make 1 to 1/2 cups when steamed), `1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley, 1 1/2 cups water, 1/2 tsp salt

Wash the rice and set aside to drain. Wash the nettles or other greens and steam 2 or 3 minutes until wilted and tender. Warm the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat and sauté the onion 2 to 3 minutes. Add the drained rice and cook, stirring constantly, about 5 minutes. Using a blender, puree the greens and parsley with the water and salt. Combine the rice and greens in a saucepan and bring the liquid to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover tightly, and cook the rice about 20 minutes, until all the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender.

Serve topped with strips of roasted and peeled poblano chiles.

Watercress Guacamole

Ingredients: two diced ripe avocados, 1/2 cup finely chopped sweet onion, 1 or 2 finely chopped jalapeno or serrano chiles, 1 cup chopped watercress, juice of 1 lime, salt and black pepper

Combine all the ingredients and season to taste with salt and pepper. Leave chunky or mash smooth, as you like it.

Add an avocado and increase the onion to 1 1/2 cups and the watercress to 2 or 3 cups. Sauté the onion until soft. Stir in the chopped watercress and cook 1 or 2 minutes to wilt. Puree all the ingredients with cold water or broth (or yogurt) in a blender. Sprinkle chopped chives or cilantro on top.

Spring Garden Salads

Garden Greens

While I wait for the lettuce to grow, I fill the salad bowl with the first spinach leaves, arugula, baby kale, chickweed, and the leaves of over-wintered chicory. My favorite salad varieties are Chicory “Bionda Folie Larghe” and Chicory “Zuccherina di Trieste”, that I found in the Seeds from Italy catalog and planted last fall. The new spring growth is mild and tender–perfect for eating raw in salads.

Because greens such as spinach, chicory, endive, and kale are stronger flavored and sturdier than lettuce, they are particularly well suited to combining with salad add-ins like slices of avocado, feta or blue cheeses, shavings of aged cheese, crumbled bacon, diced apples or pears, hard-cooked eggs, or toasted nuts. Add a scattering of tender fresh herbs (parsley, chives, mint, chervil…) and a lively citrusy dressing. Try vinaigrette made with fresh orange juice and a splash of balsamic vinegar to complement slightly bitter greens. For even more flavor, serve the salad with a bowl of spring garden pesto or salsa verde on the side. Or, don’t bother making a salad…just put little bowls of “add-ins” and pesto on the table with a platter of beautiful green leaves. Wrap whatever you choose in a leaf and pop it in your mouth. What could be more delicious?

Salsa Verde: Use a large mortar and pestle to mash together a large garlic clove and a pinch of coarse salt. Combine the garlic paste with 2 Tbs red wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice, 2 tsp dijon mustard, and 3 Tbs finely chopped shallot or sweet onion. Set aside while you finely chop about 3/4 cup fresh herbs (parsley, chives, mint, chervil). Mix the herbs with 2 Tbs chopped capers and 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil. Scrape the garlic mixture into the herbs and stir well. Adjust the flavors by adding salt, black pepper, more oil or lemon juice.

Variations: Incorporate anchovies into the garlic paste. Add chopped green olives to the salsa.