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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K.M.K. Farms Tour Part II

When I left off last time, Kyle was just gathering a group together for a tour.  I walked up as he was describing how they’d started off with just the avocado grove that’s in the background of this shot.  Taking that crop to a farmer’s market was the beginning of what’s turned into a 10-year adventure for Michele and Kyle.  (You can see from the browned leaves that the trees suffered some in last winter’s freeze; Kyle said the waiting after the freeze to see what the damage was had been a tense time, but that despite some damade, the trees seemed to be rallying.)

Their farm, while diverse in terms of crops and managed without synthetic sprays or pesticides, isn’t certified organic.  "We’d rather be certified by you folks," Kyle said at some point during the tour, indicating their openness and willingness to discuss and explain their cultural methods.  They use practices you’d expect on an organic farm – soil-building with organic matter and companion planting being two examples, and in general, Kyle said, continuously explore better ways to farm while getting the best out of their seven acres and reducing the impact of their practices on the land.  Some of those practices will be visible in the images to come.

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K.M.K. Farms Tour Part I

This is the first of a set of long-overdue posts on our tour of K.M.K Farms back on May 6.

The day was a combination open house and 10th farming anniversary celebration for Michele and Kyle. Michele had long ago invited us to come down and check the place out, and we’d never seemed to find the time, so this was a perfect opportunity to see where so much of our food of the past year was grown.

Michele and Kyle farm about seven acres outside of Kingsburg, CA – the “Swedish City.” They started out just selling avocados and over the years have expanded the number of crops to include additional orchard crops and a variety of row crops as well. Michele is one of the year-round sellers at the Vineyard Farmer’s Market. When Michele heads up to Fresno on Saturday mornings, Kyle heads down to Visalia to run another K.M.K. Farms stall there.

The day was sunny and warm when we headed down to Kingsburg. The farm is just outside of town – not that there’s a whole lot of charming little Kingsburg to be outside of.

We were greeted by cheerful plantings at the farm’s front gate,and their young helper Lauren was kind enough to help me save my strength by giving me a ride in the golf cart down the long drive back to the patio, with the avocado grove on the left and the farmhouse on the right. This shot is looking back down the drive toward the road, so the avocados are on the right and the house (not visible in this shot) is on the left.

Behind the house, the patio, surrounded by plantings and a low fence, was set with tables strewn with cherries and glass containers full of flowers from the farm’s gardens.

We munched a few cherries and sat in the shade for a little while as more visitors arrived. Michele came over to chat for a bit. It turned out that Kyle was down in the fields below the house, giving some earlier arrivers a tour. She welcomed us to walk around while we waited for him to return for another round. And so we did.

First I took a walk by the herb garden. The oregano was trying to eat everything else, as mints usually do. (My little bit of it is in a container for just that reason, as I don’t have the room Michele does to let it run a little wild.)

We visited the chickens, who have a house in a shady spot under the avocado trees – pretty nice digs. At the moment, though, most of them were engaging in a dust bath in the shade beside their house.

I once asked Michele how many chickens she had, and she said, “Just enough to drive me crazy.” I forgot to count how many there were, but I could see their crazy-making potential pretty clearly. One mother chicken was enjoying a shady roost with her brood. I felt bad taking her picture; as I looked through the viewfinder, I could see she was trying to shield the chicks from me. “I don’t eat chickens,” I told her softly, “and I hardly ever even eat anything with eggs in it either.” She shifted against her brood and out of the frame as I tried to get one last shot, and I told her in what I hoped was a soothing voice, “Look, that’s the worst I’m going to do: I accidentally cut off your head in a picture. And I’ll delete it and use a good one.”

Adolescent chickens were hanging out in a fruit bin partially covered by a pallet. This was, apparently, a “keep the growing chickens ahead of the cats” strategy.

Just as I was looking at the teenaged chickens, I looked up and realized Kyle had returned from the first tour and another group was gathering. I walked over to join them.

And that’s all I have the juice for tonight…next time, what Kyle had to say, then we head down the hill into the stone fruit and row crops.

Part II of the tour can be found here.

What You Missed at the Market

I woke up at 6:40 this morning.  Thinking I’d time my arrival at the market with the 10 a.m. Chefs at the Market demonstration (this week, Mike Shackleford of Trelio in Clovis), I took my time getting ready, installed some software on my work machine, and caught up on email.

It’ll be fine, I thought to myself.  I haven’t missed out on any items on my list lately despite having shifted from arriving at 7-something to 9-something.

Well, I knew I was taking chances, and this was the week my luck ended.  Michele was out of parsley by the time I arrived.  Being the queen of Too Much Information, I said to her, “This is what I get for taking the time to sit around and exfoliate and moisturize my feet this morning!  And I’m not even wearing sandals!”

I got Il Giardino Organico’s last bunch of parsley, and then had to hunt around for more.  I totally struck out on mint and had to go to WFM for that.

So that means back to the 7 a.m. habit for me.  It’s cooler at 7 a.m., and we’re getting into the time of year where the difference between the 7 a.m. temperature and the 9 a.m. temperature is significant.  Plus the market is less crowded then, so it’s probably for the best.

As for what’s new this week, Vince Iwo had the first Santa Rosa plums of the season. I knew they were coming on, but it’s still hard to believe we’re already up to Santa Rosa.  Plum varieties harvest for ten days to about two weeks, creating a minutely-partitioned seasonality as each one of the couple hundred in California production gives way to the next.

Stone fruit varieties don’t often stand the test of time. There are some longstanding ones, but a variety chart from even as little as 10 years ago is likely to have a fair number that are no longer grown.  Many varieties fall by the wayside as breeders develop newer ones with more positive traits – but Santa Rosa is one of those rare, enduring, standard-setting classics.

Developed by botanist Luther Burbank, the Santa Rosa is a classic sweet-tart plum – sweet yellow-amber flesh overlaid with tart purple-red skin.  If you leave them to ripen until they’re just past springy into slightly soft – which is my preference – the skin will get a little less tart and bracing.

Their sweet-tart nature makes them a great choice for jam or preserves, or for those of you who don’t mind a little plum skin in your plum crisp or pie, baking, as well. Because of their complex flavor balance, they’ll have more depth after cooking than a straight-sweet fruit will.

And here’s Vince’s banner…he made me promise I’d say where I got ’em…

As for this week’s installment of Chefs at the Market, the gents from Trelio Restaurant in Clovis were preparing a mixed green salad with cherries.

It seemed to have originally been a Salad of Duck Confit, Mixed Greens and Cherries, but luckily enough for me, the duck confit hadn’t made it to market, and they’d added shiitake mushrooms to the mix, and had made some other improvisations as well.  The nicest, I thought, was the use of chocolate mint as part of the greens in the salad – I grew it a couple years ago, and I always struggled to find ways to use it.  It made an unexpectedly wonderful match with the cherries.  There’s culinary creativity for you.

Their recipe, after the jump…

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What You Missed at the Market

Another Saturday morning where I thought “It can’t possibly be any busier than it was last week…” and it was. Everybody was just flying. I didn’t need much, but I hung around for a long time this morning, just enjoying being out and watching people shop before heading off to WFM for the rest of the groceries.

Beautiful artichoke and cardoon flowers on offer today…much queried about and examined.

Michele of KMK had green peppers – this is the second week she’s brought them, and they’ve sized up a little bit more now. Had some tonight on a pizza made by Chimp…excellent.

Today’s Chefs at the Market featured Michelle Orgill of the apparently-soon-to-open Pangea, and formerly of Upstairs Downtown and Lantana. She was preparing a tomato and nectarine pizza with Gorgonzola on the grill. It reminded me of this pizza a little bit.

The matching sweet-tart flavors of the Black Russian tomatoes and nectarines were nice, especially when combined with the meaty, slightly bitter blue cheese.

And it was great fun just to chat with Michelle as well…we briefly discussed our histories connected to Washington D.C.

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.

What You Missed at the Market

Today, Michele at KMK had the first kohlrabi of the season, which was getting its usual share of quizzical looks and furrowed brows. “It looks like an octopus,” a young woman next to me said softly to her husband. They turned to the other end of the table, where I was clearly taking a picture of it. “What is it?” she asked.

“It’s kohlrabi. It’s a member of the cabbage family. It’s quite good.”

They weren’t convinced today. Maybe they’ll give it a shot some other time.

Varouj of Bistro Rustico and Kasabella Catering was back to treat marketgoers with a delicious fresh vegetable salad. More about that, and a vegetable riot, behind the jump.

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