Carrot-Beet Salad with a Leek-Lemon Vinaigrette

Last week, when I was making the carrot-beet cutlets, I thought a carrot-beet salad might be good – and nice to look at, too. Both vegetables have an earthy sweetness; in this recipe, carrots’ milder tone help counter beets’ dark intensity.

Just carrots and beets seemed a little dull – I thought about making this a grain salad, with quinoa or couscous, but I wasn’t in the mood, so in the chickpeas went. I think it would work well, though, to toss this with one of those, with or without the chickpeas.

I had this for dinner, tossed (along with a little bit of extra dressing) with some red leaf lettuce from our CSA box. The carrots are also from T&D Willey, the beets are from K.M.K Farms, and the mint, lemon and leeks are from Il Giardino Organico.

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Lunch with the In-Laws

It’s a real pleasure to have someone else around to cook for and eat with. Chimp called his parents at the hotel in the morning and said, “Come on over when you’re ready; Jocelyn’s making lunch.”

He had cooked some lentils the night before, and I figured it would be quick work to turn them into a simple soup with some garlic, olive oil, zucchini and lemon juice. I had planned to make another batch of chickpea-flour based fritters this week, too – I had cooked the carrots in anticipation of that – and then I realized that I also still had the beets I’d roasted. The cutlets became carrot-beet cutlets.

If I had blended the cutlet mixture less, I could have had an orange cutlet studded with red squares of beet, which would have been pretty spectacular. However, I think achieving that might have required something like the food stylist trick of placing the individual chocolate chips strategically in the specially-shaped ball of dough before baking.

The accompanying salad contains lettuce and cucumber from our CSA box and sunflower sprouts from Nueva Frontera Produce at the farmers’ market.

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Mean Peas

It’s been a very long time since I shelled peas.

I had plenty of time to try to think of when it might have been that I last did so while I was shelling the peas, since I don’t do it often and I am terribly slow at it. I honestly couldn’t remember what year it might have been.

In the springtime in Michigan, we bought our peas already shelled at the Kalamazoo farmers’ market. I will admit, I appreciated these peas I shelled myself more, knowing what it took me to get this little bowl together, than I did the ones in Michigan when I could just dump a shelled pound into a pan without a thought.

Repetitive food tasks appeal to me – they become meditative. When I worked for Whole Foods as a cheesemonger, I genuinely enjoyed the first few quiet hours of the day, when there were few people around and I could wire-cut 120 lbs. of cheddar, wrap it, and stack it in neat rows. My mind could be somewhere else while I did that, as the task became second nature to me over the five years I did that work.

I was trying to be mindful of the peas as I shelled them, though. To shell peas, you press down on the far end of the pod first to open it, then peel it open and tease the peas out. When pressed, tightly-packed pods tend to make a cracking noise, I discovered on this occasion, and ones where there is a little space at the end make a tiny popping noise, one that sounds like the natural antecedent of the opening of a champagne bottle.

I cooked these peas in salted water with butter until they were creamy and soft – I was surprised to find that it took 10 minutes – then tossed them with sautéed onions, garlic and spices. I remembered, as I was getting my seasoning together, that peas have a natural affinity for cardamom, and was pleased I had – it really brought the dish together.

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No-Kebab Kebabs: Vegetables with Lemon-Herb Tofu

I’ve been trying to put together a lemon-herb tofu for a while, and I think I’ve finally got it.

The original inspiration for this was kebabs. However, you will notice that no sticks were harmed in the making of these vegetables.

They did not go on sticks for a couple reasons. Mixed skewers are beautiful-looking, with all the vegetables arrayed in a colorful progression, but no matter how evenly everything is cut, one foodstuff inevitably cooks before another, resulting in burned something and nearly-raw something else. Additionally, I don’t own a grill (it seems somewhat pointless when my favorite food is beans) and I find that placing the vegetables flat on a baking sheet under the broiler works very well.

I usually make something like this at midsummer, when there are plenty of appropriate vegetables. I especially like broiled small tomatoes, their skins puckering and their flesh slumped into a juicy mass that collapses over the other ingredients when tossed together. In May, though, there are no such ideal tomatoes on offer, so we limited ourselves to what was locally available: the yellow squash and red onions from our CSA box, plus zucchini and fennel from the farmers’ market.

Despite the lack of tomatoes, these came out very well. The summer squashes developed a buttery, almost nutty toasted flavor, the onions softened and caramelized beautifully, and the fennel yielded its crunch just enough to provide an interesting counterpoint to the softer vegetables and the springy-textured seasoned tofu.

I’ve been wrestling all week with how to describe the red onions used in this recipe – I would call them green onions, because they have their soft stalks on – except they’re red on the bottom. Green red onions sounds confusing. Perhaps they’re immature red onions, because they haven’t been dried for storage?

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Chard Fritters

Yes, that is an okay I can’t bear to photograph and not eat this for another moment image. I needed a little box lined with parchment paper to nestle these into, and I didn’t have one. If you’re dissatisfied with the aesthetics of this, let me assure you that there’s a far better-looking recipe coming tomorrow.

Chickpeas really are the endless vegetarian miracle. Beyond their charms in whole form, they give us hummus, falafel, and chickpea flour, the last of which assists egg-avoiding vegetarians in all sorts of helpful ways. For example, I put up the chickpea pancakes last week, and now I’m putting up a little fritter.

I saw that the women at Naughty Curry had made some chickpea-flour bound Peppy Greens Pattycakes last week, which had been inspired by Rayma’s greens-potato-breadcrumbs Mustard Greens Cutlets.

I had leftover cooked chard in the fridge, which had come from K.M.K Farms at the farmers’ market. Actually, some of it was the white chard from K.M.K., and the other portion was the tops off a bunch of beets (which are effectively chard) that – I confess – I bought from Whole Foods because they looked so good, and besides, they were only from Bakersfield! It’s not that far away…and they were probably from north of Bakersfield, really…

At any rate, it was two huge bunches of greens I had cooked, and both Chimp and I had grown tired of eating cooked chard and beet tops, so I decided to make them into fritters, which helped the leftover greens disappear tout-suite.

These would be great dipped in yogurt, raita, or with a dab of chutney atop each. And you can do this with cooked or raw vegetables – in fact, I’m planning to inflict this method on some cooked carrots later in the week, and make larger cutlets, more like what Naughty Curry got up to. I’m in a vegetable cutlet mood – but it seems like I’m not the only one, huh?

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Escarole Gratin

I had already washed the escarole from our first CSA box and cut it in quarters. I was searing it in olive oil, one quarter at a time, when Chimp walked into the kitchen.

“Oh man,” he whined in mock exasperation. “Not burned lettuce for dinner again!

“Burned endive, my dear. Escarole is an endive, not a lettuce.”

At our house, escarole most often ends up paired with white beans, olive oil, and lemon juice in a brothy soup. Liquid helps mediate its slight bitterness somewhat. I was in a different sort of mood today, though, and was thinking about how I could execute a gratin mostly in line with the Eat Local Challenge.

I knew I was going to brown one of my onions from K.M.K. Farms and make that part of the topping. I had Dry Jack cheese from Vella Cheese Co. in Sonoma in the fridge, and I knew that would go in. (Three Sisters Serena, from just south of Visalia, about an hour away, would have been much more local, but the wheel on offer at WFM wasn’t in the shape I wanted it to be. As a former cheesemonger, I’m terribly, terribly picky when it comes to the condition of my cheese. That tends to happen when you have 200 cheeses in front of you every day for five years and can eat each one at its peak.)

With the cheese figured, I also had cream, which would help add richness and moisture. Breadcrumbs are the traditional gratin topping, but I wasn’t in the mood for even a small amount of wheat, and there’s certainly nothing local about it.

I pulled a bag of walnuts out of the pantry. Chopped, they would add a crunch like breadcrumbs would, and though I bought these particular walnuts before I started the Challenge, there are plenty grown around here – I even know a couple local walnut growers.

Endive gratins I’ve undertaken a couple times before. I can remember a tomato-and-cheese topped one that I made probably ten years ago now. Escarole works better, though, in my opinion; because the ribs are thinner, it cooks more quickly and evenly.

The real evaluation is this, I suppose: there was none left within an hour of it coming out of the oven.

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Something Simple with Zucchini

This white bean and zucchini stew is an old standby; over polenta or pasta or with a slice or seven of garlic bread, it is a comfortable balance of familiar flavors that makes me feel calmed and taken care of.

For six summers, starting twenty years ago next month, I went to St. George’s Camp, which is ostensibly run by the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, but was effectively run by a batch of insanely smart, funny and musically-talented college students. (If you want a sense of it, page through these pictures and count how many people you see with their arms around each other or holding guitars.)

I should not get started on telling camp stories, as I will never stop, beginning with the counselor I had a crush on (James Brown) and going on to the friend for life I netted. It would be hard to overstate how much influence the place had on me. It would not be going too far to say that it is a real part of why I’m working in produce – though that might seem like a stretch, believe me, I could explain exactly how it links up in less than a thousand words.

Among the activities at St. G’s were camping trips: two cabins went each night through the middle part of the session. One of these trips is the source of one of my favorite outdoor truisms, learned from then-counselor Stuart Gunter, through this exchange:

Camper: (bored) Stu, what time is it?
Stu: (kindly) Dude, you’re in the woods. It’s daytime. It doesn’t matter what time it is.

Dinner on these trips, prepared by the counselors, was what was referred to as salmagundi, with macaroni and cheese. Salmagundi, as interpreted there, was a tomato and vegetable stew, with too many dried herbs applied to it by an overzealous counselor from one of those divided plastic shakers with a different herb in each compartment. It always tasted great out in the woods, though, as everything does – steaming-hot vegetables cooked over a wood fire piled on top of pasta.

This isn’t exactly it, of course. There were no white beans, not to mention no arugula, in what I ate out in the woods when it didn’t matter what time it was, but whatever time it might have been, this reminds me of it, and for a little while when I make it, I imagine we are all singing with our arms around each other while James plays banjo, Kat plays guitar, Stu plays bongos, and everything is right with the world.

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