Asparagus & Edamame Salad with Green Garlic

Edit 2/26/07: Hi Readers! If you’re visiting from the Bariatric Eating forums, please check out my post about the use of this recipe. Thanks, and enjoy your visit!

This is another dish from a what’s good in the produce section? moment. There was green garlic on offer, and that happens so infrequently that I cannot pass it up. It’s a springtime-only item.

Those of you who eschew soy, take heart; you could make this with lima or fava beans and achieve a lovely result as well. I had this all on its own for a light dinner. It would also work well over pasta or with a risotto.

I only used one stalk of green garlic in this – it came in a bunch of five. Green garlic looks like an overgrown scallion or a 98-pound weakling leek, but it is orders of magnitude stronger than either. Be sure to taste a thin slice before adding it to anything so you get a sense of how to harness its power rather than be overwhelmed by it.

The mustard in the dressing might seem a little incongruous. It does something to the lemon juice, though – it provides a mediating factor so that you don’t just taste the sharp acid note.

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Baby Turnips and Greens in a Moghul-Style Sauce

The finished dish here may photograph about a two, but it tastes a ten.

This is an entry for The Spice is Right #1, the theme of which is “Ancient Spices.” Finally, a blog event that makes sense for me to participate in – no wine or eggs or such required!

To get ideas together for this challenge, I thought I might take a flip through Dalby’s Dangerous Tastes, which sits on my food bookshelves in the living room (the cookbooks have their own bookcase in the kitchen). However, that never happened. It was a chance encounter with some baby turnips in the produce section at Whole Foods on a Sunday afternoon that set this entry in motion.

I had come to the store without much of a list, which can be great fun when the seasons are changing as they are right now. I found green garlic available, and picking that up, I thought I’d get some radishes for a highly springtime-y radish/fennel/asaparagus/green garlic/dill salad. While picking out my radishes, I looked down and saw the smallest, sweetest, greenest-leaved new turnips.

Mr. Man-of-Few-Words Produce Guy was standing next to me, stacking bags of the ubiquitous whittled carrots.

“These turnips look wonderful.”

“Yep. Picked on Thursday.”

“T&D Willey?”

“Yep. Madera.” (About 20 miles away from where we were standing.)

I selected three small bunches. “Well, they’re getting cooked tonight.”

He grunted. I took this as a sign of approval.

As noted in the title, this is a Moghul-style dish. Dishes named for the Moghul period (from the early 16th century to late 19th century – perhaps not truly ancient in the term of India’s civilization, but well before my time) are those that are supposed to have been concocted for and particular favorites of the Moghul rulers. The dishes are generally richly sauced with the inclusion of yogurt in the sauce’s preparation, light on vegetables (the Moghuls were big on meat) and warmly spiced. Though the spices used are undoubtedly ancient, it’s that recipe and cooking method date of provenance I’m using to tie this back to the “Ancient” part of the challenge, rather than focusing on a single ancient spice. The original inspiration for this recipe was a lamb-and-turnip dish I came across in an Indian cookbook and resolved to put to my own herbivorous purposes. It had no greens in it. If you’re buying turnips with tops, you have to use them – they’re delicious.

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Pea and Lettuce Soup

Check out them housewares – way louder than the bright green soup, even. Food blogging from the 70s, here…I had two shots before the camera died, and eating was a higher priority than waiting for the batteries to charge and getting a better picture. My apologies.

The inspiration for this is peas and lettuce. If you’ve never had the pleasure: fresh peas are turned in a pan with butter and a little bit of chopped onion or shallot. (I’d recommend shallot.) Torn Boston (also known as butter) lettuce is added and cooked until just wilted. A little salt and pepper is added, and you’re there.

This version is lightly adapted from Jack Bishop’s A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen. This soup is the easy way to welcome spring, because it uses frozen peas. Frozen peas don’t feel very springlike when you’re dumping them out of the package and they’re rattling into the work bowl of the food processor, but if you can get past that to cooking them, they’ll feel much more verdant when you’re done.

If it’s not quite springtime where you are, even better; though the peaches, plums, nectarines and almonds are all blooming up a storm out here, I know not everyone is as lucky. This will bring a little vernal spirit to your kitchen if the weather is still raw outside. It may make you yearn to go bare-legged, though.

This soup is a bit of a puzzler for what to serve with it; it’s so green that you feel you should hardly put anything green with it. Most of the springtime vegetables are green, and it starts to feel like folic acid overload around this soup if you add one of them. So instead, go for something with sharpness and earthiness that will help balance the soup’s creamy ethereality. This is just the place for a lentil and radish salad, which happens to be in the same book as this recipe.

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A Perfect Artichoke

Artichokes are one of my favorite vegetables – okay, all vegetables, save eggplant, are my favorite vegetables, which is a handy quality for a vegetarian, but artichokes are a special favorite. They’re coming into season now – there will be many more available around the country (from California) in a month or so, but at least in California, they’re widely distributed now.

On your way into Monterey, the last few miles before you can see the water, there are rolling artichoke fields to the left, silvery, spidery plants that seem in motion, creeping and starting over the crests and turning into the hollows.

I know I was offered artichokes as a child – I can remember pulling the flesh off a leaf between my teeth, probably on the cusp of a dinner party that took place after my bedtime – but I was never a fan of mayonnaise or melted butter, the traditional accompaniments. I am certain that the flavor of the artichoke alone didn’t appeal to me as a special treat.

I had very Spartan tastes as a kid: no butter on my baked potato, bread, toast or pancakes; no mayonnaise on anything. No butter, even, on broccoli, my favorite vegetable, another with a stem. Artichoke stems are even better than broccoli stems; don’t cut them off. Have a cardoon, too, if you can find one, which you sometimes can in California around the turn of the year – that’s the ultimate artichoke stem.

My father remembers that his mother cooked artichokes – he wasn’t sure whether to place his first experience with them in Argentina or Brazil, but he remembered mayonnaise being involved.

I still don’t tangle with mayonnaise in conjunction with artichokes at home. I’ll use a little good-quality bottled dressing if a plain artichoke doesn’t feel like enough of a treat. Out, I’ve had a number of red pepper and other remoulades that have been quite good.

If there is an artichoke on the menu, I will invariably order it. In Vegas last weekend I had fried artichoke hearts. They were beautifully done – pan-turned until golden and slightly crisp, with ribbons of Parmigiano-Reggiano, remoulade and a sliver of lemon.

On my trip out to New Jersey a couple weeks ago, I had one grilled and stuffed with breadcrumbs. The breadcrumbs were forgettable, but having laid the artichoke on the grill did something magical just this side of burning to it. Some of the outside leaves were deeply browned and incredibly flavorful.

Now, this is purely a discussion of whole artichokes, not artichoke hearts – when we get to that perhaps I’ll dig up that invented appetizer Debbie and I did for Elizabeth’s going-away party – half artichoke hearts filled with romesco and run under the broiler.

To cook artichokes to perfection, here’s what to do.

First, set a large pot of water to boil. One you can fit in a saucepan. For two artichokes you’ll need a stockpot.

There are not many vegetables I boil, but this is one. I do feel sufficiently guilty for throwing out the water afterwards, don’t worry. I hereby absolve any followers of any guilty feelings they might experience from boiling an artichoke.

While the water works on coming to a boil, start by washing the artichoke as well as you can for a closed thistle. I usually force the top leaves open slightly and try to jam the thing on the faucet, hoping to drive out any beautiful black Castroville dirt that might be hiding in there.

Cut the cruddy-looking bottom of the stem, but not the stem itself, off the artichoke. Peel the stem lightly. Using a good paring knife and setting the choke head down on the cutting board is probably the easiest way to go at this. A few leaves may come off in this process; no matter, you would probably have pulled them off anyhow. If you have any wilted or badly split leaves around the outside of the choke, remove them now.

Do not worry about purplish leaves – those darkened tips are the result of cold temperatures and aren’t a problem. This year there haven’t been any frost-kissed artichokes so far – a warm winter out west is the reason.

I don’t bother lopping the top off the choke – more to hold onto when you’re eating, I figure, and it eliminates having to try to remember what type of metal your knife is, what type of metal is the problem, and to instantly rub everything in sight vigorously with a lemon as soon as you cut the thing in order to prevent discoloration.

Is that water boiling yet? If so, salt it – salt it seriously – and then taste it. You want it to be almost too salty to be used for soup in order to get the artichoke sufficiently seasoned. Add a good slug of olive oil – a tablespoon or so for two chokes. Plunk them in as well. Cover.

If you like, at this point you can add the juice of a lemon and its zest and/or a bay leaf to the water. Gilding the lily? You decide.

Turn the heat down to a simmer and cook the artichoke for 20 minutes, then turn it over (tongs) and cook for another 20 minutes. Check it at the end of 40 minutes for doneness. Remember that it is a very dense vegetable, and the inside will take longer to become tender. I generally cook artichokes for about 50 minutes. A leaf will come off easily and almost all of the flesh will scrape off without effort. Try pulling a leaf from further into the choke to check if you can – if you find that it looks white and waxy and the flesh will not pull, cook it longer.

When the artichokes are done, remove them from the water with tongs (tongs allow you to aim them head down and squeeze a little to get the water inside out) and place head down in a bowl to drain still further. Allow to cool somewhat.

Artichokes can be served warm or cold, but they don’t taste like much when steaming hot, and they’ll do nothing but frustrate you. You’ll think the thing is cooling, but as you remove layer upon layer of leaves, you’ll find that they’re a fine insulator, and the last row of leaves will burn your palate nearly as effectively as the first.

Dip leaves in melted butter, mayonnaise, or good-quality dressing if desired. If not, feel virtuous – even though you likely added a slug of olive oil to the water, an average artichoke has only about 80 calories – and it takes you about 20 minutes to ingest them.

Warm Greek Lentil Salad with Feta and Dill

This came from A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen, which I’ve been using a lot lately.  I like that it’s seasonally arranged – keeps you from looking wistfully at that corn-and-basil salad (summer) when you should really be reading about asparagus (spring), or pomegranates (fall), or citrus (winter).

The proportions in this are nice, and the pre-cooking of the carrots gets them to just the right texture – not jarringly crunchy, as they would be if added to this batch of ingredients raw.

1 1/4 c. dried green lentils, picked over to remove and stones and then rinsed (these are the "French green lentils" or "Lentilles de Puy" that I’m so fond of.  They’re smaller and more toothsome than the garden-variety brown lentils, though those can be nice too.)
3 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly crushed
3 bay leaves (this sounded way overboard based on my super-potent Morton & Bassett bay leaves – I used half of one)
3 medium carrots, peeled and finely diced (about 1 cup)
1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil
2 T. fresh lemon juice
1 medium celery stalk, finely diced (about 1/3 c.)
3 medium radishes, finely diced (about 1/3 c.)
2 T. minced fresh dill
freshly ground black pepper
8 c. packed mesclun or other tender salad greens
5 oz. feta cheese, crumbled (about 1 c.)

1. Bring the lentils, garlic, bay leaves, and 2 quarts water to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat.  Reduce the heat and simmer briskly for 15 minutes.  Stir in 1 tsp. salt and the carrots and continue cooking until the lentils and carrots are tender but not mushy, about 10 minutes.  Drain and discard the garlic and bay leaves.

2. Meanwhile, whisk the oil, lemon juice, and salt to taste together in a large bowl.

3. Add the drained lentils and carrots, celery, radishes, and dill to the bowl with the dressing.  Toss to combine and then adjust the seasonings, adding salt and pepper to taste.  Let the lentil salad cool for about 10 minutes.

4. Divide the mesclun among four large plates.  Spoon the lentil salad over the mesclun, sprinkle with the feta, and serve.

Spring-Ingredients Chickpea Salad

SpringchickpeaI went to the farmer’s market this morning. It’s not something I’ve been good about since we moved to Fresno; being so incapacitated for the past year has done a lot to prevent that. Having myself organized and being energetic enough to get to the market on Saturday morning wasn’t happening. But I’ve been a couple times lately. This morning I went around 9 a.m. There are only two organic growers (only one certified), and they have a lot of the same things; mostly greens and herbs. There are other growers with strawberries, root vegetables, and broccoli, but all conventional. I suppose they may have more as the season goes along, but it’s a limited selection compared to what we had available in Kalamazoo, which is not what I would have expected.

I bought some radishes, arugula, herbs, swiss chard, and kale. Later on in the day I made a run to Whole Foods and got the rest of my groceries. This is what I made for dinner tonight. This is pretty much a spring vegetable party. If you are a lover of feta cheese, on top of this salad would be a good spot to put some.

If you wanted to make a simple light spring meal in courses, you could start with a pureed lettuce-and-fresh-pea soup, serve this along with roasted asparagus, and finish with strawberries and sweetened whipped cream.

2 c. dry chickpeas, soaked for 8 hours or overnight

1 T. olive oil

Few grinds black pepper

½ T. olive oil

2 bulbs fennel, chopped into ½ in. squares

1 bunch radishes, chopped into similar-sized pieces

5 oz. arugula, washed and dried

1 clove garlic, minced

Juice of 2 lemons

¼ c. olive oil

¾ c. chickpea cooking liquid

Salt and pepper to taste

Place the chickpeas in a pressure cooker with water to cover plus a half-inch. Add olive oil and a few grinds black pepper. Close the cooker. Bring the cooker to pressure and cook the chickpeas for 20 minutes. Bring the pressure down by running the cooker under cool water. If you do not have a pressure cooker, place the same ingredients in a regular pot, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until tender, about 1 hour. When the chickpeas are tender, drain them, reserving the liquid.

While the chickpeas are cooking, heat the oil in a large sauté pan. When it is hot but not smoking, place the fennel in the pan. Sauté, stirring, until the fennel has just lost its raw texture, about five minutes. Place in a large bowl and set aside. Add the radishes, arugula, and garlic to the bowl.

When the chickpeas are cooked, mix the ingredients for the dressing together. Place the drained chickpeas atop the vegetable ingredients in the bowl. Pour the dressing over the bowl’s contents, then toss all the ingredients together gently. Season with additional salt and pepper if necessary. Makes 6 entrée-sized servings.