Saturday, May 31, 2014

Trash Talk

In two weeks, I am supposed to be the guest chef for a farm to table fundraising dinner in a place where the abysmally cold, wet weather has kept the farm from growing anything that can be usefully harvested by then. So I've been madly improvising to put together an attractive menu guests will feel was worth the price of admission. I've got rhubarb sauce for spring chicken and finally today found Hakurei/Tokyo/salad turnips which I can cook with their greens in sesame oil and seeds. (See How to Fix a Leek..., the book.)

But what I now plan to feature is my new creation: trash torte. Or, if you will, scavenged spring greens torte. This is to say, I've grabbed any greens I can get right now--beet greens, radish greens, flat leaf parsley, pea shoots, spinach, baby kale and arugula--and fashioned them together into a crustless pie that's a cross between the Italian chard torte and no phyllo spinach pie in my book, Veggiyana, the Dharma of Cooking. It's turned into a tasty confection. And it fits in with the super new ethic of using up everything from the farm, not just the choicest morsels.

 (Here's my haul of pea shoots, spinach, radish greens, beet greens and behind cilantro and parsley.)

So here's my Scavenged Spring Greens Torte for 8

Olive oil the bottom and sides of a 9" springform pan. Heat the oven to 400º.

I can't give exact measurements for the greens because the two times I've made this I've just used what I could find and that differed every time. All I can say to guide you is this:

pea shoots: a fat handful
beet greens: from a bunch of beets
radish greens: from a bunch of radishes
spinach: about a pound
arugula: maybe 1/4 pound
baby kale: a handful
cilantro: half a bunch, leaves only
flat leaf parsley: half a bunch, leaves only
mint: 4-5 fresh leaves only

6-8 scallions with greens, cleaned
1/4 lb feta cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Asiago cheese
1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to your taste
1 jumbo egg
pinch of ground nutmeg

Using a food processor or your best knife, finely chop all the greens and scallions.
Crumble to feta.
Combine everything in a large bowl and blend well.

Spoon the greens mix into the prepared springform pan and be sure to level the top.
It should be about 1/2" high.  Lightly sprinkle nutmeg around the top.

Bake at 400º for 18 minutes. Remove from oven and cool.
Carefully run a spatula around the rim to loosen the torte from the pan. Remove from the pan.
Garnish with chive flowers or scallion flower buds.
Serve warm or at room temperature.

You can also gussy this up by encasing it in layers of butter brushed phyllo dough.
I'd say six on the bottom and six on top. And I'd say it would be a lot easier to do this in a square or rectangular pan.

To be even fancier, you can make this into a jellyroll inside the phyllo. For that you will need 8 layers.

Whatever, it's going to be very tasty trash.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Rhubarb: you really should love it

Rhubarb, freezing Mongolia's gift to the world, is a nutritious spring tonic full of much needed Vitamin C and hard to find potassium. Plus, like celery stalks, rhubarb stalks are composed of so much water, they're nearly calorie free. And they're oh so easy to prepare.

Yes, okay, they're bitter. That's easily and quickly remedied with honey, brown sugar, currants or raisins or of course strawberries (which all add sweetness) and/or fragrances like vanilla, rose or orange flower water. And sometimes you want a tart bitter taste to compliment a very sweet or salty one. So don't overlook rhubarb right now.

Here's what you can make of it:
Rhubarb Chutney: two versions
My favorite for serving with roast chicken or grilled swordfish or rice and beans or on toast atop mascarpone.

Simpler one, like a confit
1 lb rhubarb, woody base trimmed off, stalks washed and diced
3/4 c light brown sugar
1/2 cup raspberry vinegar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp dried currants
1" fresh ginger root, peeled and grated or minced
In a heavy non-aluminum pt, combine vinegars and sugar. Boil over medium heat until bubbles are thick and dark, maybe 12-15 minutes, Lower heat, stir in ginger, rhubarb, currants and cinnamon. Cook 5 minutes or until rhubarb is soft.  Pour into a ceramic bowl and refrigerate at least 3 hours before serving. Serve at room temperature.  Pour into a glass jar if you want to use it within a week and refrigerate.

More flavors added including chili
1 tbs corn oil
1 serrano chili, seeded and diced
1 sm red onion, diced
1 1/2" piece fresh ginger root, peeled and grated or minced
1 lb rhubarb stalks, trimmed, washed and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup dried currants
1/2 cup cashew nuts halves or pieces, lightly toasted
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp ground cardamom
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 lemon, juice of
1 lime, juice of
Heat oil in large heavy gauge saucepan over medium heat. Add chili, onion and ginger. Sauté until onion is soft and translucent, maybe 5 minutes. Add rhubarb, currants, and cashews and cook over medium/low heat for 2 minutes.  Add spices, sugar and citrus juices, Stir to blend. Cook over medium heat 10-15 minutes until chutney thickens. (It may spatter as it gets hot so be careful.) Cool to serve.

Oven Braised rhubarb to put over yogurt or ice cream
1 ½ lb. rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 2" pieces on an angle
1 cup fresh orange juice
¼ cup honey
½ tsp. kosher salt
8 green cardamom pods
2 star anise
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped and reserved
1 ½" piece ginger, peeled and thickly sliced crosswise
Yogurt or vanilla ice cream, for serving
Heat oven to 400°. Mix together rhubarb, orange juice, honey, salt, cardamom, star anise, vanilla bean and seeds, and ginger in a 9" x 13" baking dish. Bake, stirring occasionally, until rhubarb is tender, 1416 minutes. Let cool to room temperature. Serve over yogurt or ice cream, if you like.

Rhubarb Sauce for, say, chicken

8 thin stalks rhubarb, trimmed, washed and diced
1/2 cup dried currants
1/4 cup honey
2 tbsp maple syrup (genuine)
1 tbsp brown sugar
1/2 cup orange juice
2 tbsp grated orange rind
1 tsp orange flower or rose water
2 star anise,
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
5 green cardamom pods crushed or 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
pinch of salt
1 1/2" piece fresh ginger root, peeled and grated
Put everything into a medium sized heavy-gauge saucepan, cover and cook over medium heat 30 minutes until mixture is as thick as jam. Stir and remove from heat. This is now ready to go over chicken you want to roast or bake.*

*For my trial run with this, I used 4 large chicken thighs. I sprinkled them lightly with my berbere spice mix and put them skin side down in a saute pan with about 1/2" corn oil when the oil was very hot. I browned the chicken for 12 minutes, flipped it and cooked it another 5. Then I removed the chicken from the oil, put it on a small baking dish and poured the rhubarb on top, spreading it around. I covered the dish and baked the chicken at 400º for 30 minutes.  I liked the results and am sharing them tonight for confirmation or criticism.

Rhubarb Crisp
Heat oven to 350º.

2 lbs rhubarb stalks, trimmed, washed and coarsely shopped
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar (3/4 cup if you like "sweet")
1/2 cup dark raisins
2" piece ginger root, peeled and grated
1 tsp rose water
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground cardamom
Juice of a lime
Combine all ingredients, well blended, in a 9" round pie plate or baking dish.
For the topping:
In a medium sized bowl combine the following:
2 cups chopped walnuts
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup all purpose non bleached white flour
pinch salt
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
Combine these with your hands to make clumps. Distribute the clumps across the top of the rhubarb. There will be air spaces and that's okay. The juice will bubble up through them. Bake at 350º about 40-45 minutes or until top is nicely browned and the rhubarb has bubbled up through it.  Serve warm with vanilla or ginger ice cream. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Exotic Spring Possibilities to Wake your Taste Buds

If you'd like to try something, shall I say, far out, you could prepare your local fiddleheads or asparagus Himalayan style.  Here's a recipe from Sikkim in which you can use either spring green.

Sikkim Spring Vegetables
serves 4-6

1 pound fiddleheads or asparagus                        
1/4 lb farmer’s or feta cheese  
1 medium red onion
2 medium tomatoes
2 teaspoon garlic/ginger paste (2 cloves garlic minced and 1 inch ginger peeled and grated)
2 tablespoons corn or canola or safflower oil
salt to taste
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Wash and clean the Fiddleheads (called ningro in those mountains ) thoroughly. Or rinse the asparagus. Cut each fiddlehead in half or remove the tough ends of each asparagus stalk, then cut each into 2 inch pieces.
Fill a medium sized saucepan about 1/3 full of boiling water, add the cut vegetable and add a pinch of salt. Cook two minutes. Drain immediately but do not dry. (A little bit wet will come in handy.)
Chop the onion. Chop the tomatoes.

Heat the oil in a wok or medium sauté pan and over medium heat sauté the chopped onion until it’s soft. Add the chopped tomatoes and ginger paste and stir-fry for about two minutes. Add the cheese and fiddleheads or asparagus. Add a pinch of salt and a pinch of black pepper. Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes.  (Mrs. Ongmo says during this time you may need to add a tablespoon or two of water, so the dish doesn’t get too dry.) The cheese will melt into the juices forming a sauce. Remove from heat. Adjust for salt and pepper seasoning.  Serve hot as a side dish.

Here's a version with potatoes added:
1 sm. red onion, peeled, finely chopped
4 tbsp. unsalted butter
½ lb. fiddleheads, cleaned
3 new potatoes, cleaned and sliced into thin disks
1 cup water
1 med. fresh green chili (about ½ oz.), seeded and sliced in thin strips
¼ tsp ground coriander
8 oz fresh soft sheep cheese, farmers’ or feta cheese or soft ricotta, crumbled
1/8 tsp. salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
Melt butter in a large saucepan. Add onion and sauté until translucent and soft. Add fiddleheads, potatoes and water. Simmer over low heat about 10 minutes until vegetables are tender.  Add the chili, coriander, cheese and salt, stirring to blend. Continue to simmer until cheese melts into a smooth sauce, about 5 minutes. Add freshly ground black pepper to your taste and serve hot. 

Bhutanese style Asparagus
This means adding chilies to the mix.
1 sm red onion, peeled          
4 tbsp unsalted butter
½ lb asparagus, lower ends trimmed off
¾ cup water
1 med fresh green chili, stemmed and seeded
1 cup (6 oz) farmers’ or feta cheese, crumbled
1/8 tsp. salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Quarter the onion and chop finely. Slice the chili into thin julienne strips. Cut the asparagus into 2 inch pieces.
Melt butter in a large saucepan. Add the onion and sauté until translucent and soft. Add asparagus
and water. Simmer over low heat until asparagus is tender, about 10 minutes
Add the chili, cheese and salt. Stir to blend. Continue to cook about five minutes until the cheese melts into a smooth sauce. Add black pepper to your taste and serve hot.  
Here are two Bhutanese monks making this for me a few years ago:

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

More on Spring greens

Here, as promised, are more ways to enjoy Spring green.
First, a traditional Spanish recipe for asparagus with scrambled eggs, and a touch of chorizo. A luscious breakfast or brunch, even a lunch dish with a side of salad or potatoes.

Spanish style asparagus, a "revuelto"
serves 4 or 5

3 tbsp Spanish olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled
2 cups day old bread, cut into bite-sized cubes
2 tbsp chorizo, finely diced
1 1/2 lbs thin asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1" lengths
1 bunch scallions, cleaned and chopped
1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
8 eggs
1 tbsp milk
1/2 tsp Spanish paprika (1/4 tsp if it's smoked)
2 tbsp flat leaf parsley leaves, chopped for garnish
salt and pepper

Beat the eggs with the milk. Season with salt and pepper and the paprika. Set aside.

If you have a cast iron skillet, this is a place to use it. If not, use a med/large frying pan. Coat either with the olive oil and heat over medium flame. Add garlic cloves to flavor it and sauté them until they start to brown. Remove the garlic and discard. Toss in the bread cubes, salt and pepper and gently fry until they get brown and crisp. Remove with a slotted implement from the pan.

Toss the chorizo into the oiled pan and stir it around to flavor the oil. Add asparagus, salt and pepper and continue frying until the asparagus is heated through but still stiff, maybe 3 minutes. Add scallions and minced garlic, stirring to blend. Fry 60 seconds.

Pour the seasoned eggs into the pan, stirring with a wooden spoon. Cook until eggs are softly scrambled and still look creamy, maybe 2 minutes or so. Stir in parsley. Remove from heat and put onto serving platter. Top with the fried bread and serve.

From Nepal, a nettle curry
This is reportedly excellent for diabetics. I've also been told that nettle curry and nettle soup can help heal fractures.  Nettles are known to be exceptional at bolstering the immune system. Just handle them with care; after all, they're not known as "stinging nettles" for nothing. Hint: any heat removes the sting.
Serves 4

1/4 lb nettles (delicate ones are best, meaning stems aren't thick yet and leaves are small)
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
3-4 dried Arbol chilies
corn or mustard oil for sautéing
2-3 tsp corn meal (fine)
1 tsp garlic and fresh ginger root mashed together into a paste (1 clove garlic, 1/2" peeled ginger)
salt and pepper to your taste

Using rubber gloves or tongs to protect your hands, wash the nettles. Blanch in salted boiling water until soft. (Now no more sting.) Drain really well. Puree in a blender or processor.

Coat the bottom or a medium sauté pan with oil and heat over medium flame. Fry the garlic cloves and chili in the hot oil for a minute, until they are fragrant and slightly soft. Add the nettle puree, stirring to blend and continue cooking until the nettles are thoroughly hot, 3-5 minutes.

Stir in the corn meal, ginger/garlic paste, salt and pepper to your taste. The mixture should be slightly thick so that it doesn't run off the spoon. If you need to add corn meal, do so a tsp at a time.  Heat through and serve.

This goes over rice or macaroni. It can be a side dish with meat. You can thin it with vegetable broth to serve as soup. 


Thursday, May 1, 2014

Putting the spring in Spring

Those exuberant spring vegetables bursting through the ground right now are the spring tonic we need to rev our bodies out of winter mode. All that energy that gets these plants through the thaw into the sunlight   goes into us when we eat them. Fiddleheads and asparagus--the ferns, ramps--the wild leek, nettles, green garlic--the first new shoots off last year's bulb, green onions aka scallions, pea shoots, dandelion leaves, and in warmer climates fresh shelling or English peas. Notice these are all green, spring green.

There's a simple scallion pancake recipe in my book How to Fix a Leek... but I just discovered a twist on it: a cooked pancake was refried to be browned on one side, then rolled up like a tortilla around a wad of barbecued beef. 

Pea shoots are yummy simply sautéed in olive oil that's been flavored with three or four garlic cloves removed before serving, and sprinkled either with soy sauce or sea salt. Their freshness will shine through. But do be careful. Delicate shoots can go straight into the pan; if the stems are, say, as thick as parsley stems, you'll have to pull the leaves off and discard them or your shoots will be tough and chewy.

The simplest fastest way to enjoy asparagus is to cut off the tougher bottom end of each stalk, and then spread them out on aluminum foil lining a baking tray: if it's only one bunch you might fit it all on the toaster oven baking tray, which I do. Season with salt and a good spritz of olive oil (the oil is what will conduct the heat but you don't want to drown the asparagus in it).  Roast at 450º about 10 minutes, until the stalks are soft and starting to brown. (Timing depends totally on how thick the stalks are.) That's it. You can serve them hot just like that or later on at room temperature, as a side dish, cocktail fare or part of a salad plate. Cut any leftover stalks into bite sized pieces, sauté them in olive oil with a minced clove or two of garlic, perhaps optionally scraps of chorizo or pepperoni and/or a few cleaned, ramps, a tbsp of bread crumbs, season with sea salt and pepper and toss over pasta. Garnish with grated parmesan cheese and a wedge of lemon.

Next post will have a Spanish asparagus/egg dish, a nettle curry and a salad of roasted soybeans with green garlic.  But for now, for the days and weeks ahead, here's a spring green "hummus" spread or dip for 4-6 people.


2 cups shelled peas (more or less 1 lb shelled peas)
1 bunch fresh green onions (8), roots off and stalks trimmed (do not remove all the stalk)
1 clove garlic, minced
3 tbsp olive oil 
1/3 c chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
1/3 cup chopped fresh mint leaves, another 2 tbsp for garnishing
Freshly ground black pepper to your taste
Sea Salt to your taste
4 oz creamy soft unflavored goat cheese
1/2 cup cooked cannellini beans, drained
pinch of nutmeg

Chop the scallions coarsely.
In a medium/large sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium flame. Add scallions and garlic and sauté 1 minute or until scallions start to soften. Be careful not to burn garlic. Lower heat if necessary. Add the shelled peas and shake the pan. If it's too dry and they want to stick add another tbsp olive oil. Add 1/2 cup water and cook over medium heat 3-4 minutes until peas start to soften. Add the parsley and cook another minute.  The peas should be soft but not soggy or losing color. Drain off any excess water and pour the contents of the pan into a food processor. (if you have an immersion blender you can keep the peas in the pot, okay). Add the mint, salt, pepper, goat cheese and beans. Quickly puree into a thick paste. If it's too thick, add a tbsp or two of olive oil. Sprinkle on a pinch of nutmeg.

That's it.  You can serve this with or on sliced cucumbers--a very cooling dish. You can spread more creamy goat cheese on a slice of baguette and top it with a smear of the pea hummus and a sprinkling of chopped mint leaves. You can use this to fill radicchio leaves--the lower half or smear it on a lavash, top with mascarpone and salmon roe, then roll up the lavash into a large cigar. Now cut it into serving size pieces. In a pinch you can just stick a spoon in and enjoy all the freshness of spring.