Radish, Cucumber, Onion & Chickpea Salad with a Lemon-Parsley Dressing

Frankly, given how often I make this, it’s hard to belive it hasn’t made it to the blog before now.

This is one of my favorite dinner salads. We make it in spring, when the first radishes appear, along with green onions and green garlic. At that time of year, it tastes like a spring tonic after a winter of cooked green vegetables. The salad gets a rest during the height of the summer when the heat is too much for radishes here, and then it returns with the fall crop. This time of year, we use mature onions and garlic, and it’s a reminder that the days are starting to gather in.

Part of my love for this salad is that it’s super-easy – if the chickpeas are already cooked, it’s just a little chopping and getting the dressing ingredients into the food processor. Sometimes I’ll toss a little cooked grain into this salad – bulghur is my favorite, but quinoa or millet or even some cold brown rice would be nice. I do that – as I’ve mentioned before – because the grain picks up the dressing nicely and also gives the salad a bit more heft and a pleasant chewiness.

We had this with Yukon Gold potatoes from our CSA box that I roasted with olive oil and tossed with lemon juice, parsley and garlic after they came out of the oven. They were the sweetest-tasting white potatoes either of us had ever had.

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Foods I’ve Come to Love: Apricots

This is the first in what I intend (best laid plans of those with CFS, of course) to be an occasional series of lessons from a year of eating locally.

There were quite a few fruits and vegetables that I came to a new appreciation of this year because of the Eat Local Challenge – items I saw new sides of, new parts of what they have to offer, things I had never had a love for that I came to adore – things I had never known before. Here’s the first of them.

Apricots.

I once put together an alternative Easter basket filled with dried fruit instead of candy for a friend who was trying to eat healthier. I put dried pineapple rings on dried papaya spears to make flowers to go in the plastic grass. It was silly fun.

There were some unsulfured dried apricots in the basket too. Dried was primarily how I knew apricots at that point. I never had liked fresh ones very much – my East Coast experiences with them had pretty consistently delivered wan flavor and mealy texture. And it was usually a lot of money for something that didn’t taste very good.

But as I’ve found with so many fruits, once you land in California, you suddenly understand what all the fuss is about. It was some apricots I got from Fred at Savage Island Farms early last summer that changed my mind.

Apricots come on after all the other stone fruits – cherries, peaches, plums and nectarines – have already begun. “Hey guys,” they say, walking in when everyone’s already ensconced in conversation and well into their second drink, “I came to the party too!” The peaches, plums and nectarines are going to keep on coming well into the fall, though, and the cherries and apricots are going to run their season’s course by July.

So, in deciding what fruits to make yourself sick on when, I’d suggest you start with the cherries, move on to the apricots, then shift to the other stone fruits. It’s a strategy that works for me.

This was Fred’s first weekend of the season with apricots. The market crowd parted when I was about a dozen paces away from his booth, and I spotted the pink-blushed golden fruits beaming in their little green baskets. By the time I got to the table I was smiling from ear to ear.

Fred saw me coming. I think he thinks I am crazy.

I bought five pint baskets of cherries last week – and Fred doesn’t skimp on packing the pints – and had eaten them all by Friday night without devoting any of them to a pie or a tart. “I finished all those cherries,” I told him. I’m not sure if I was expecting praise or admiration or a comment on the apparent robustness of my digestion. He gave me that smile that I can never decide if it’s pleased or wary. But he keeps selling me fruit, and that’s all that matters.

Fred’s apricots – how can I explain them? They’re sweet and dense and perfumed and carry the barest note of tartness, just enough to smooth out the fruit’s sweetness. It’s not the super-sweetness of cherries, nor the exuberant brash tartness of a traditional yellow peach. What the fruit is really about is that floral note that the meaty flesh conveys as it separates cleanly from the stone as you bite into it. It calls out to be combined with raisins, or walnuts, or basil, or honey, if you can restrain yourself long enough to come up with a recipe idea.

I restrained myself in terms of how much I bought, anyhow. I got two pint baskets each of apricots, Ranier cherries and Tulare cherries from Fred.

But my restraint is not holding. I have already eaten six apricots in the last two hours. Okay, now the count is up to seven.

If you can manage to stash some in a folded-over paper bag or a fruit bowl for a day or two, you will really be rewarded. I’m one of those people who likes really ripe stone fruit – a “leaner,” as we say, for the posture you’re forced to adopt to try to avoid being dripped on – and really ripe apricots are incredible. The tartness starts to wane as they ripen, and the fruit’s cell walls weaken until it really does taste like you’re biting into some sort of mythical ambrosial fruit plucked from the heart of a magnificent flower.

Which you are, I suppose – but it’s a tiny pink unassuming-looking apricot blossom.

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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Vegan Spring Tacos with Cucumber, Radish and Avocado

I came home from WFM the other day, having gone there for a few staples.

“I found some local food you’ll like,” I said to Chimp.

“What’s that?” he asked.

I held up a snack-food bag. “La Tapatia tortilla chips.” (Hooray, another anthropomorphized tortilla mascot!)

“Cool. Where are they made?”

On Belmont.”

So though the corn for the masa may not be local, those chips, and the tortillas I bought with them, were made within eight miles of our house.

I’ve often seen the La Tapatia trucks driving around Fresno. Fresh corn tortillas are another animal entirely from the store-bought ones that have been previously frozen. I’ve never had the great fortune to have someone hand-make me tortillas from freshly prepared masa, but if it was another magnitude better than those from La Tapatia, I might not be able to go on living.

This dish is definitely in service of my need for cooler food.

We pile a great deal of different things on top of black beans throughout the year to make seasonal tacos – corn and tomato salad in the summer, hot-sauce-laced roasted butternut squash in the fall, shredded cabbage, carrot and red onion salad in the winter. For spring, here’s a crunchy-creamy-cool mixed vegetable salad. You could add crumbled Mexican, feta or jack cheese if you felt like you just couldn’t live without the dairy.

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