I have never been so ready to see spring come after this bitter winter. I planted early seeds in the garden, and when they didn’t come up fast enough I planted more…and more. Now the garden beds are a jumble of tiny seedlings. I promise them I will sort it all out.
Meanwhile I am foraging for the first intrepid plants of the season–wild and cultivated: tiny dark green spikes of chives, crinkled mint leaves, shocking-green sorrel, fragrant chervil, lacy arugula… tender nettles, ramps, and cat-briar leaves from the woods…and abundant watercress from the branch. High above us on the ridge tops the trees are barely leafing out, but spring is happening from the ground up. The forest floor is covered with wildflowers, and lively flavors from deep green leaves are there to be gathered if you know where to look.
Looking is half the fun. You have to walk carefully in the spring woods because there are so many little plants uncurling from their winter’s sleep. Wild iris and geranium, trillium, Solomon’s Seal, blood root, phlox, rue anemone, trout lily, bellwort…all mixed in with red-tinged poison ivy leaves, stately cohosh, fairy kingdoms of moss, and tangles of fern fronds. I even found some showy orchis and the newly unfolded leaves of ginseng.
Two Shades of Orange Salad
Golden beets (found in miraculously good shape after hibernating in the vegetable bin of the refrigerator all winter!) and oranges provide the two shades of orange for this salad–a riff on a Moroccan ” two shades of red salad” made with beets and tomatoes, found in the cookbook Flatbreads and Flavors by Alford and Duguid. The salad also borrows from the orange and beet salsa from Jerusalem, the cookbook.
Ingredients: 2 medium golden beets, 1 orange, 1/2 cup finely chopped red onion, 1/4 cup chopped kalamata olives, 1/4 cup chopped parsley, 1/4 cup chopped cilantro, 1/4 cup chopped chives, 2 Tbs chopped fresh mint leaves, 3/4 tsp coriander seed, 3/4 tsp cumin seed, 1/2 tsp smoked paprika, 1/2 tsp red chile flakes, 1 garlic clove, 2 to 3 Tbs fresh lemon juice, 2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil or walnut oil, pinch of sugar, salt and freshly ground black pepper, 2 cups watercress or arugula leaves, 1/4 cup toasted walnuts
Place the beets in a saucepan, cover with plenty of water, and bring to a boil. Partially cover and cook at a low boil for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the beets are easily pierced with a sharp knife. Drain, cool, and peel before cutting into 1/2-inch dice.
Peel the orange and remove all the pith and seeds. Slice the orange about 1/4-inch thick. Separate the slices into segments, removing tough connective membranes. Add the orange pieces and their juice to the diced beets, along with the onion, chopped olives, and herbs.
Toast and grind the coriander and cumin seeds in a mortar and pestle. Add the paprika and chile. Add the peeled garlic clove and pound to a paste with 1/4 tsp salt. Whisk in the lemon juice and oil. Pour the dressing over the beet mixture. Toss gently and season with salt and pepper. Arrange the salad on top of a shallow bowl of watercress or arugula leaves and sprinkle with walnuts.
Chickpea Soup with Watercress and Wild Greens
Mild-flavored chickpeas combine well with deep green-flavors of a wide variety of greens including spinach, chard, and kale, as well as foraged greens like nettles, lambs quarters, and coneflower. Watercress adds a welcome bite, and the North African spice blend ras el hanout adds spicy fragrance.
Ingredients: 2 1/2 Tbs olive oil, 1 thinly sliced large onion, 1 Tbs finely chopped garlic, 2 Tbs finely chopped ginger, 2 cups cooked chickpeas, 2 cups vegetable broth or chickpea cooking liquid, 4 cups chopped greens (about 5 oz), 6 cups watercress leaves (6 to 7 oz), 2 tsp ras el hanout, 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon, salt, lemon wedges
Warm the olive oil with the onion in a Dutch oven or other soup pot over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is completely soft, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the ginger and garlic and cook about 1 minute. Stir in the ras el hanout, cinnamon, chickpeas, and broth and bring to a low boil. Add the chopped greens and watercress and simmer until the leaves are wilted and tender, 1 to 2 minutes.
Use a blender or food processor to blend the soup to a smooth puree. Return to the pot to reheat. Season with salt to taste. Serve with lemon wedges and thick yogurt.
Fava Bean Pesto with Sorrel
This is a green salsa/spread for spring…a great topping for bruschetta or crackers. I added frozen edamame from last year’s garden for brighter green color.
Ingredients: 1 cup peeled fresh fava beans, 1/2 cup shelled edamame, 1 large garlic clove, 1/4 tsp kosher or sea salt, 2 Tbs chopped fresh mint leaves, 1/4 cup chopped sorrel leaves, 1 Tbs fresh lemon juice, 2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil, 2 Tbs Pecorino Romano, freshly ground black pepper
Cook shelled fava beans in salted boiling water until tender, 1 to 2 minutes. Drain and cool in cold water. Drain again and slip off the outer skin.
Chop the garlic and put it in a mortar with the salt. Mash with the pestle to make a paste. Add the rest of the ingredients gradually and use the mortar and pestle or a food processor to make a chunky, spreadable pesto.
Spring Green Kuku
A kuku is the Iranian version of a frittata, and my Silk Road Cooking book says that a fresh herb kuku is eaten on the spring equinox to symbolize rebirth, fertility and happiness.
Ingredients: 6 free-range eggs, 2 Tbs cream, 1 Tbs flour, 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper, 3 Tbs olive oil, 1 cup chopped spring onions (including green stems), 1 cup thinly sliced ramp leaves (chives or garlic chives), 3 cups chopped nettle leaves (baby kale or spinach), 1/4 cup finely chopped parsley, 1/4 cup finely chopped chervil (fennel or dill), 2 Tbs chopped fresh mint, 2 Tbs currants or dried cranberries
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream, flour, baking powder, salt and pepper. Set aside.
Heat 2 Tbs olive oil in a 10-inch oven-proof skillet. Add the onions to the skillet and cook 4 to 5 minutes. Add the ramp leaves or chives and cook 1 minute. Add the greens and cook until just wilted. Stir in the fresh herbs and currants.
Stir the onion-herb mixture into the beaten eggs. Clean the skillet and return it to the heat and add the remaining 1 Tbs olive oil. When hot, pour in the egg mixture and transfer the pan to the oven. Cover and cook 15 minutes. Remove the cover and continue to cook about 5 more minutes, until the eggs are just set.
Cut the kuku in thin slices and eat with bruschetta or flatbread, with a dollop of yogurt sauce.
Ingredients: 1 cup thick yogurt. 1 finely chopped garlic clove, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper, 2 tsp fresh lemon juice, 2 tsp sumac powder, 1/2 tsp dried mint, 2 Tbs finely sliced chives
Put the garlic and salt in a mortar and mash the garlic to a paste. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir to combine.