What It Takes

SIO Lettuces
Lettuces at Sauvie Island Organics

For as much time as I spend working for and with farms I spend a very small amount of time actually on farms. I recently spent several hours at Sauvie Island Organics and in that time learned more about soil ecology, biology and chemistry and related strategies employed to bring a palatable variety of produce to my table, than I can convey here.  I don’t fully understand how cover crops create conditions in the soil to enable minerals and nutrients of all kinds to be available to both the plant and eventually us, the eaters. I can’t imagine the complexity of having a handful of different soil types on one small farm and the different methods and crops rotations it takes for each one to produce delicious and nutritious food year after year.


All this to say, I was reminded of Slow Food Founder Carlo Petrini’s point that farmers are some of the most skilled workers on earth and that we should hold them in the same esteem we hold folks with PhD’s (and paid accordingly and that’s up to us eaters in great part). And I was humbled to really stop and think about what it takes to grow the produce I eat every day.  So, as CSA and farmers’ market season come into full swing I want to thank all the farmers and producers–the ones who fight with row cover on windy days; who plant gorgeous (and useful) swaths of flowers to attract the bugs that then eat the harmful bugs in the neighboring plots; who manually weed the onions so they grow big and juicy; who harvest and wash and pack a dozen varieties of greens each week–for ALL they do so that we can eat and thrive. Let’s make them thrive! Sign up for a CSA, shop your local farmers’ market and get a glimpse of what these farmers are doing for our soil, water, flora and fauna, not to mention our communities and our table. The future of food is the future!


SIO kale
Kale at Sauvie Island Organics

Salad, Soup, Patties: One Ingredient, So Many Options

aspargus bulgur mustard greens lemony vinMaria Speck (author of cookbooks Simply Ancient Grains and Ancient Grains for Modern Meals) is inspiring, knowledgable and endlessly creative when it comes to this vast category of flavor, texture, culture, . . . Hearing her talk about her youth in Greece and Germany and her mother’s simple, deeply flavorful, fresh food and her own many decades of cooking all over the world made my mouth water. Her philosophy echoed mine: fresh produce and simple staples, cooked at the beginning of the week, can be the foundation of many a meal. She reminded me of bulgur. I have neglected my jar of it for many months and I had a busy week so I figured I’d cook a pot of it and see how I could use it throughout the week.

Monday: Salad of roasted asparagus, mustard greens, arugula, radishes, bulgur, toasted sunflower seeds and a lemony vinaigrette (recipe below).

Tuesday: Added bulgur to chicken soup for my son’s school lunch.

Wednesday: Black beans in their broth topped with bulgur (that I had toasted in a small skillet in some olive oil which gave it an extra dimension), cilantro and harissa.

Thursday: Broccoli and bulgur patties with cilantro, eggs, a bit of sharp cheddar and more harissa (recipe on the Seasonal Recipe Collection).

Greens, Asparagus and Bulgur Salad with Lemony Vinaigrette

Serves 4-6 depending on what else is being served

3/4 cup cooked, cooled bulgur (see below)
7 or so fat spears of asparagus (I prefer the fat ones for this but any will do)
Olive Oil
3-4 radishes (optional but beautiful and delicious), washed and cut into small dice or thinly sliced
5-6 cups tender, spicy greens like mustard greens, arugula, mizuna or any chicory, washed, dried and cut into ribbons or bites-sized pieces (I used mustard greens and arugula in this version)
1/2 cup cilantro, leaves and stems, chopped
2 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
1/3 – 1/2 cup toasted sunflower seeds (toss raw seeds with a little olive oil and salt and spread on sheet pan and roast for about 10 minutes at 350 until golden)

2 teaspoons Dijon-style mustard
2 cloves garlic, minced and mashed up a bit with the side of a chef’s knife or put through press
2 tablespoons lemon juice (or cider or red wine vinegar)
5 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Set your oven to broil. Snap off the tough ends of the asparagus. Put the washed spears on a sheet pan and drizzle with just a little olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Broil, turning once, for about 10 minutes until browning and tender. Remove from oven and let cool. Slice into 1/2-inch slices on the bias.

Whisk the dressing ingredients together in a small bowl or shake them up in a tightly sealed jam jar. I make this type of dressing in a jar and top if off as needed all week. You may have more dressing than you need for this salad so the jar method is a good one here.

Put all the salad ingredients in a large blow. Add about 3/4 of the dressing and toss well. Taste and adjust with salt, lemon, etc. and/or add more dressing. Serve immediately.

To cook the bulgur: Bring 1 3/4 cups water or broth (I used homemade veggie bouillon broth) and several pinches of salt (if you’re using water) to boil in a saucepan. Add 1 cup of bulgur and stir well. Simmer the bulgur, covered for 10 minutes. Turn off the burner and keep the pan covered and let the bulgur steam for 10 more minutes. Fluff with a fork and use as needed. Store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

moro beans bulgur harissa
Soupy black beans topped with bulgur (warmed up by toasting in a skillet with some olive oil), cilantro and harissa.


Don’t Do What I Do . . .

. . . or at least not to the letter! What I have in my pantry, fridge, freezer, garden is likely not exactly or not at all like what you have. Often, when I write recipes for the Seasonal Recipe Collection or this blog or just post a photo on Instagram I say things like “use what you have” or “substitute x for y” or “if you don’t have this use that!” This may get annoying but my hope is of course, that this approach is freeing and gives you control and creative license. It’s also economical, quicker.

I was talking about slaw the other day and a friend mentioned that her slaw includes x, y, z, etc. and I imagine many of you have THE slaw that you make but I realized that I’m not sure I’ve ever made the same slaw twice. I’m sure those slaws are delicious but do they get made when there’s only a browning wedge of cabbage left in the fridge, maybe a few carrots and a chunk of red onion, a wilty half-bunch of cilantro and just a few sprigs of mint in the garden? That list may not sound appealing but I guarantee you the sum of those parts will be great and fresh and bright. And if you’re like me, you’ll feel smug and satisfied that you cooked with next to nothing. My grandmother (and mother!) would be/are proud. And of course fresh, newly purchased vegetables make wonderful slaws too so no need to wait until the wilt sets in but don’t forget that slaw idea if time takes its toll!

Less waste, more creativity, fewer rules. . . . are a few of the principles that get my going. However, I also know that the fun of this kind of cooking, i.e. using recipes as a template or loose guide, often comes with experience and years of experimentation and comes more easily to some than others. Temperament seems to play a big role here. But whatever your experience level or temperament I hope that there might be some new or continued fun to be had in cooking-with-what-you-have and to your taste!

Cabbage and Tatsoi Slaw w/ Miso Dressing

I never tire of slaws and this is a quick, delicious one. As usual, substitute other kinds of cabbage or greens or herbs. Mint would be wonderful here instead or in addition to the cilantro. Any kind of miso will do but I tend to keep red miso on hand so it’s what I typically  use.

savoy tatsoi slaw miso dressing

Serves 4

1/2 small head savoy or regular green cabbage, cored and very thinly sliced
1 small bunch tatsoi, washed, dried and thinly sliced
Handful cilantro, roughly chopped, including stems (or other herbs, see headnote)
Handful radishes, trimmed and thinly sliced (optional)

2-3 teaspoons red miso (see headnote)
1 tablespoon mirin (rice cooking wine or a bit  more rice wine vinegar and a pinch or two of sugar)
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon peanut oil or other oil
Juice of half a lemon or lime
1 clove garlic, minced (or 1 stalk green garlic, minced)
Back pepper and a possibly a little salt–probably not needed as the miso is salty

Put the vegetables and herbs in a large salad bowl. In a small bowl mix the dressing ingredients together well. Toss the salad with the dressing, taste and adjust seasoning.