Monday, July 27, 2015

Salad Days

There's some bad news about good stuff. Your local farmers' market is fast becoming the only place you're going to get your greens, salad greens that is.  Drought in California's Central Valley and overuse of irrigation water in the Salinas Valley, the "salad bowl of America", is quickly limiting the lettuce supply, especially those gorgeous heads of Romaine you need for Caesar salad. So grab the local lettuce and eat until you're sick of it because you might not get any good stuff this coming winter and if indeed you do, you might have to mortgage your home for it.

Better yet, practice making salads that don't need lettuce. In earlier posts this summer I passed on a terrific crunchy, tasty recipe for celery date salad with roasted almonds and mint. I passed on roasted chioggia beet salad with walnuts, dill and goat cheese. There's always Greek salad, German cucumber salad (recipe in How to Fix a Leek....the book), French carrot and parsley salad (recipe in Veggiyana, the Dharma of Cooking), Nepali peanut salad (recipe posted very recently) and the great Italian panzanella: fresh basil leaves with tomatoes, garlic croutons and all the trimmings. Here's one recipe for it:

Serves 6

(This is how to use day-old bread)

6 thick slices Tuscan, French or Levain bread (any very crusty, dense bread)

2 sm red onions, sliced into thin rings

1 lg green bell pepper, diced into bite-sized pieces (about 1” sq)

4 med/lg freshly ripe tomatoes (these are the star of this show), chunked

½ cup shredded Parmesan, Romano or Asiago cheese

12 black olives, pitted

1 tbsp capers (optional)

½ cup fresh basil leaves, finely chopped

¼ cup fresh flat leaf parsley, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tbsp red wine vinegar

½ cup best quality olive oil + 3 tbsp more

Freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste

*Put 3 tbsp olive oil in a shallow bowl. Cut bread into bite sized chunks and soak in the oil.

Toast the bread at 400º for 5 minutes or until crunchy and browned.

*In a small bowl, whisk together garlic, salt, vinegar and olive oil to make a dressing.

*Put toasted bread into the bottom of a large serving bowl. Add the onion rings, chunked tomatoes and diced pepper. Add olives, cheese and herbs.

*Pour on the dressing and blend everything. Season liberally with black pepper freshly ground and serve.
  *   *   *   *   *
If you want to take advantage of all those luscious tomatoes coming at you, slice 'em thin, arrange on a platter and dress with fragrant rosewater this way: 
Combine the following in a small bowl and whisk to blend. This will serve 6-8 and last a few days.
 2 tbsp rosewater
2 tbsp olive oil
4 tsp cider vinegar
 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
*   *   *   *   *   *

And don't forget slaw! The recipe for a colorful one is in Veggiyana, the Dharma of Cooking.  Variations are easy to improvise. Right now at the end of July, you could shred kohlrabi, Hakurei turnips aka Tokyo or salad turnips, carrots, scallion greens and purple cabbage. You can season that with sea salt, black pepper and a few crushed caraway seeds plus lemon juice and olive oil.

I'll post more salad as winter gets closer.

And now for some worse news, at least for kale freaks.  Here's the latest word from the masterful Tom Philpott on why you should back off a bit:'s kale-fixated juice-heads may doing themselves a disservice.
That's a possibility raised by an article in Craftsmanship magazine by Todd Oppenheimer. The piece doesn't establish a definitive link between heavy kale consumption and any health problem, but it does raise the question of whether too much of even a highly nutritious food like kale can have unhappy side effects.
The article focuses on an alt-medicine researcher and molecular biologist named Ernie Hubbard, who began to notice an odd trend among some of his clinic's clients in California's Marin County, a place known for its organic farms, health-food stores, and yoga studios. Extremely health-conscious people were coming into to complain of "persistent but elusive problems": "Chronic fatigue. Skin and hair issues. Arrhythmias and other neurological disorders. Foggy thinking. Gluten sensitivity and other digestive troubles. Sometimes even the possibility of Lyme Disease."
Hubbard began to find detectable levels of a toxic heavy metal called thallium in patients' blood samples—at higher-than-normal levels—as well as in kale leaves from the region. Meanwhile, "over and over," he found that patients complaining of symptoms associated with low-level thallium poisoning—fatigue, brain fog, etc.—would also be heavy eaters of kale and related vegetables, like cabbage.
And he found, in a peer reviewed paper by Czech researchers, evidence that kale is really good at taking up thallium from soil. The paper concluded that kale's ability to accumulate soil-borne thallium is "very high and can be a serious danger for food chains." There's also a peer reviewed 2103 paper from Chinese researchers finding similar results with green cabbage; a 2015 Chinese study finding green cabbage is so good at extracting thallium from soil that it can be used for "phytoremediation"—i.e., purifying soil of a toxin—and a 2001 one from a New Zealand team finding formidable thallium-scrounging powers in three other members of the Brassica family: watercress, radishes, and turnips.
Now, just because kale and other Brassicas can effectively take up thallium from soil doesn't mean that they always contain thallium. The metal has to find its way into soil first. It exists at low levels in the Earth's crust, and the main way it gets concentrated at high enough levels to cause worry is through "nearby cement plants, oil drilling, smelting, and, most of all, in the ash that results from coal burning," Oppenheimer reports. The researcher he profiled, Hubbard, has so far not succeeded in nailing down the source of the thallium that he found in his kale samples.
And there's also the question of quantity. One of Hubbard's patients with heightened thallium levels in her urine and mild symptoms of thallium poisoning ate so much cabbage over the years that  she called herself the "cabbage queen." When she "cut way back" on her favorite vegetable, she tells Oppenheimer, her thallium levels dropped, and her symptoms improved.
Where does all of this evidence, anecdotal and otherwise, leave us—beyond the need of much more research on US-grown kale? There's nothing here that makes me want to stop eating Brassicas...
But it does make me wary of downing Brassicas daily at great quantities over extended periods, the way some people may be doing as part of the juice craze.

Another reminder that moderation is everything.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

More Quick Farm to Table Dishes for Right Now

Farmer's markets are running close to high tide. Colorful arrays of roots, shoots and fruits abound. There's so much to pick, what to do?  Here are a few more suggestions: get yourself cauliflower, parsley, cherry tomatoes, cilantro, spinach and feta or paneer or halloumi cheese, arugula, shiny fresh smallish purple onions, mint and fresh dates. These will be the basis for 4 vivid, tasty and memorable summer offerings--if you are not allergic to peanuts. You can serve them all as a vegetarian feast or as side dishes with grilled meat or fish.

Seared Cauliflower with Chimichurri

Make the chimichurri:

1/2 bunch flat leaf parsley, leaves only coarsely chopped

3 tbsp red wine vinegar

4 large garlic cloves, minced

2 tbsp dried oregano leaves

2 tsp crushed red pepper

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

In a food processor, combine the parsley, vinegar, garlic, oregano and crushed red pepper. Process until smooth; season with salt and pepper. Add olive oil and whiz into a puree. Let stand 20 minutes. 

Cook the cauliflower:
1 large or 2 med heads of cauliflower, trimmed only of the greens
1/4 c corn oil
1/2 tsp sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375º. 
Slice cauliflower into 1/2" thick slabs, like steaks.* Season with salt and pepper.
Heat a large cast iron pan over high flame and when its very hot add the oil.
When oil is hot, add cauliflower slabs and brown 3-4 minutes on each side, until each is getting golden and crispy.
Transfer the pan to the oven and roast the cauliflower 10-12 minutes or until it is tender.
Transfer to a serving platter and spoon the chimichurri over it. 

*No worries if these fall apart into florets. Just keep going the same way. The final dish will still be exciting and delicious.

Nepali Peanut Salad
serves 4-6

1 lb dry roasted peanuts (can be salted, no problem)

2 Serrano chilies, seeded and minced

12 cherry tomatoes, sliced thin

1 small red onion, peeled and diced

½ bunch fresh cilantro, leaves only finely chopped

1 tsp coarse sea salt, less by half if peanuts are already salted

½-1” piece fresh ginger root, peeled and grated

1 med garlic clove, peeled and grated or minced

¼ tsp red pepper flakes

2 limes, juice only

3 tbsp peanut, mustard or corn oil

¼ tsp ajwain seed

pinch dried mint

1/8 tsp anise seed

1/4 tsp cumin seed

 ¼ tsp ground or minced turmeric root

 1/8 tsp ground coriander

 1/8 tsp black Himalayan salt or asafetida if you have one of them

Optional: 1/4 tsp chili powder if you like food very spicy

Combine the peanuts, chilies, tomatoes, onion, cilantro, salt, ginger, garlic, pepper flakes and lime juice in a large bowl. Thoroughly blend.

In a small frying pan, heat the oil over medium/high flame. Add all the spices and sauté one minute until their aroma is released and they are lightly browned. Pour the contents of the pan over the peanuts and stir to blend everything.

Saag Paneer 
serves 4 as a side

1 1/3 lb fresh spinach, well washed

2 tbsp ghee or unsalted butter
½ lb paneer or feta or best halloumi cheese, cubed 
1 small onion, very thinly sliced (a mandolin is helpful)
4 fat garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
1” fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 fresh small green chili, deseeded and thinly sliced
1 tsp garam masala
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp salt

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Add spinach, blanch for 10 seconds, then drain and cool in ice water. Squeeze well to dry. Finely chop the stalks and roughly chop the leaves. Squeeze again and again until no more water comes out – it should be as dry as possible.

Heat the ghee/butter in a large heavy frying pan on a medium-high heat and fry the cheese cubes until golden and crusty. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt. Heat the remaining ghee/butter until it just starts to smoke.
Add onion, garlic, ginger and chili, then the spices and salt. Fry, stirring vigorously, until everything is browned but not burnt.
Add the chopped, dry spinach and cheese and stir vigorously until everything is hot. Taste for seasoning and serve.

Arugula, Mint and Date Salad plus variation with grilled Halloumi

1 bag fresh arugula,
3 stems fresh mint, leaves only
2 spring purple onions (very small) or 1 smallish fresh purple onion
1/4 c chopped roasted walnuts
3 fresh dates, pitted and chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to your taste
Juice of 1/2 large fresh lemon
3 tbsp olive oil
very light pinch of cinnamon

Whisk together the lemon juice. cinnamon and olive oil.
Slice the onion into very thin rings.
Mince the mint leaves.
Remove any long stems from the arugula.
In a medium serving bowl combine arugula, onion rings, chopped mint and dates.
Season with salt and pepper and dress with the lemon juice and olive oil. That's it.

Variation: grill or pan fry slices of halloumi brushed with olive oil until each side is golden brown. Season immediately with dried oregano and sea salt. Serve the salad on individual plates with one slice of hot halloumi on top.

Pasta with Peas and Pea shoots
After I finished this post, I cobbled together a quick dinner essentially out of nothing.
I had already shelled fresh peas and, this is vital, boiled the pods in water to make pea broth.
So I sautéed in olive oil a small fresh purple onion minced with a clove of garlic and two handfuls of pea shoots, coarsely chopped. I threw in some feta cheese I happened to have but ricotta or goat cheese would have worked too. Salt, pepper and a few mint leaves all cooked until soft.

while that was going on I boiled the pea broth, added lots of salt and threw in penne plus the fresh peas.  These took about 10 minutes to cook.  I drained them and threw the peas and penne into the pot with the pea shoots. Blended the mess with a spritz of olive oil and sprinkle of sea salt and debated whether or not it needed the crunch of chopped walnuts. Didn't go there and the dish was just yummy comforting fine.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Farm to Table: Just add Friends and Serve

Here's an early summer lunch among friends, served with Prosecco and love for momentous food of the moment: peas, young golden beets, rhubarb, cheery tomatoes, pea shoots and strawberries. 

Put them in differing combinations and you get: roasted beets with baby onion, walnuts and local goat cheese; cherry tomatoes with raw rhubarb marinated in rosewater; watermelon, strawberries, pitted Kalamata olives, mint leaves and grilled Halloumi cheese; fresh pea and mint hummus (recipe posted May 2014) on fresh baguette slices with chopped pea shoots and snippets of smoked salmon (using leftovers); rhubarb date chutney (recipe posted in June) with local cow milk cheeses,  Happy healthy handsome.

The tomato salad for 2-3, with cues from Yotam Ottolenghi, needed 2 thin stalks of fresh rhubarb and about 1 lb of multicolored tomatoes--only cherries available right now where I am--sliced on a platter and seasoned with a good pinch of sea salt.  Before you do this, however, you make a dressing by whisking together 3 tsp rosewater, 1 tbsp best olive oil, 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard, 2 tsp cider vinegar and 1 garlic clove smashed and minced.  Slice the rhubarb on the diagonal into 1" pieces and marinate them in the dressing for 30-60 minutes.  Pour over the tomatoes, add a fat pinch of sea salt and if you have them, fresh oregano leaves. If you don't have them sprinkle some dried oregano and top with chopped fresh flat leaf parsley.

The roasted beet salad started with cleaning the beets, packing them with a sprinkle of olive oil and pinch of salt into a tin foil package and roasting them at 425º for about 35-40 minutes. The size of the beet determines how much time is necessary to get them soft to the core. Smaller beets are more mellow. Once the beets are cooked and cooled, peel and chop them. Put in a serving bowl with a handful of roasted walnuts, 3 scallions or 1 baby onion thinly sliced in rings, crumbled goat cheese and at least 1 tbsp chopped fresh dill. Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper before you dress with vinaigrette.