Summer (Cherries, Green Couscous, Garlic Scapes)

Dessert in a tree.

My four-year-old son Ellis and I spent a night at my mother’s place last week.  She lives in the middle of nowhere and has neighbors with cherry trees and fruit picking ladders. Ellis climbed right to the top of this rather tall ladder and ate his fill of Royal Ann cherries, gleefully spitting the pits down onto our heads. Actually he mostly missed our heads but cackled with each dropping pit. The setting sun and a sticky, happy kid . . .. Summer, finally here (though absent again today) is so wonderful. And if you have lots of cherries and need a new idea for them, try this wonderful recipe by David Lebovitz for Cherries in Red Wine Syrup.

My cooking has been somewhat sporadic and a bit frenetic of late. We’ve been out-of-town, had visitors, had lots of picnics and barbeques, even a meal or two out. I want to be outside all the time and am spending more time processing berries than making dinner. This means we’ve had a lot of frittatas, salads and artichokes for dinner lately or anything else I can throw together in minutes so I can get back outside.

Green Couscous from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

I have made two dishes worth noting in the last few days. The first comes from one of my favorite cookbooks Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi that you’ve  heard me rave about here before. It’s called Green Couscous and is a herb-heavy, full flavored dish. If you, or you in combination with your neighbors grow mint, cilantro, tarragon, dill, parsley, and arugula, you might be able to make this salad on a moments notice. The recipe calls for toasted pistachios but I didn’t have any and substituted toasted almonds which worked beautifully. This recipe is not super quick. It has a few more steps than most of my dishes but it’s well worth it.

I know our spring here in the Pacific Northwest was cooler and wetter than others so if you no longer have garlic scapes (tops, whistles) in your neck of the woods just file this away for next year. Garlic scapes are the long, elegant stalks that grow up out of a garlic plant. So while the head of garlic is finishing up its growth underground the plant gives us a fragrant, sweet, tender shoot to work with as well. These scapes make a wonderful pesto so if you have some in your garden or see a bunch at the farmers market or in your CSA box, this is one thing to do with it.

Garlic Scape Pesto. Next to the bowl of pesto you see the very tops of the garlic scapes which hold the flower of the plant. You want to use the scape right up to this part but I typically don't include the immature flower in the pesto but come to think of it I'm not sure why. . . .

Garlic Scape Pesto

1 bunch (about 7-8) garlic scapes

generous handful of toasted (or raw) walnuts

1-2 ounces parmesan or Asiago stella

3/4 cup (or more) basil leaves

1/3 cups of good-tasting extra virgin olive oil

salt, pepper

Roughly chop the garlic scapes, with our without the very top, flower part (See note in caption above). Process the nuts and cheese in a food processor. Add the remaining ingredients and process until smooth. Adjust seasoning to taste. Serve on toasted bread, with pasta, potatoes, eggs dishes other grains. . . .

Happy Cooking and Eating!

P.S. Two spots left in my August Eat Better Series. Save money, eat well, fewer trips to the store and more fun in the kitchen . . .

Herbs to the Rescue

Chives and Oregano in my garden. They both come back year after year with total neglect from me (other than cutting back the oregano each winter).

Herbs are always at or near the top of the home gardening lists that tell you what things are most economical to grow yourself, i.e. where your gardening efforts will result in the most savings in your grocery budget. Those bunches of herbs in plastic clamshells are expensive and rarely very fresh.

I started with a few parsley starts about 8 years ago. I let a few go to seed every year (they are biennials though so they have two seasons before the go to seed) which keeps me in new seedlings so I always have plenty of parsley–one of the most versatile herbs.

In addition to saving $$ many any of them grow with the most minimal care and attention and some do well from seed so your up-front costs are truly minimal. They can grow in pots on your window sill, deck, porch, fire escape. . . and of course in any free spot in the ground. And they are delicious, nutritious and can make most any staple, from eggs, to grains, beans, veggies and meats, sing.

Having just returned from a trip my refrigerator was fairly bare this morning and I needed to make lunch for my husband to take to work and for myself at home. And since I am a bit bean-crazed or as a neighbor noted yesterday, the bean queen, I was able to pull together a decent lunch thanks to the parsley and oregano in the backyard. I had thawed a container of white beans when I returned yesterday so I had those. I chopped up a few handfuls of parsley and oregano, added some lemon zest, juice, chili flakes, olive oil, and salt and pepper. I mixed that with the beans and filled some whole wheat tortillas with that on a bed of grated sharp cheddar.

Quesadilla with white beans, herbs and sharp cheddar, aka impromptu, filling lunch.

I do realize I’ve been emphasizing greens and beans of one sort or another here for a while but in this in-between season of sorts, before the summer squash and tomatoes, beans, peppers and corn surface, they’ve been keeping me good company.

I’ve also been working on an upcoming class on salad rolls that is one of the most fantastic uses of herbs I know. Rather than the sideshow, they are the main attraction in salad rolls, even edging out that peanut sauce. There’s still plenty of room in that class if you’re interested in learning how to make this simple delicacy.

Mint might be the most prolific herb and is best grown in a pot since it can take over any garden. Mint features prominently in the upcoming Salad Roll class on June 25th.

The herbs I grow and love to cook with most are: parsley, chives, thyme, oregano, mint, sage, tarragon and rosemary (actually  my neighbor has the giant rosemary bush) and cilantro, though it bolts easily and has a shorter season than the rest and you have to keep seeding it so it’s actually probably easier to buy.

Happy Cooking and Eating!

Salad Rolls

I used to buy Salad Rolls for lunch when I worked downtown  from one of my favorite food carts. They were fresh and inexpensive and the peanut sauce was addictive. And I didn’t have to wait in line since they were ready-made and I always had exact change. Sounds pretty rushed for the devoted “Slow Foodie” that I am. . . . but sometimes work called!

salad rollsNow many years later, I’ve finally learned to make them. I held a private cooking class this weekend and was asked to teach an Asian-inspired menu. Salad rolls were the first thing that came to mind so that was our starter.

This dish brought with it a conversation (mostly with myself) about using local produce. My classes/menus (and my everyday cooking) are driven by the produce I buy at the farmers’ markets. All of a sudden I found myself wanting/needing basil, mint, and cilantro–none of which are at local farmers’ markets right now. I bit the bullet and bought these things at the grocery store. I actually buy cilantro at the grocery store occasionally without giving it much thought but not the basil and mint. I grow both, but the mint is barely peeking out of the ground at the moment and of course the basil is months away. Now I do buy oranges and bananas in the winter and plenty of other non-local staples but because of the plethora of wonderful veggies that do grow here year-round,  I’ve never really bought much produce out of season. I’m bemused and interested by my mental games and parameters I’ve somewhat unwittingly developed. More on this in a later post and I’m curious to hear your thoughts on the subject. . . .

My conclusion, post salad roll making and eating, is that a) I’ll plant more basil this year, and add cilantro to the mix (hoping it doesn’t bolt too fast) and b) I’ll occasionally  indulge in salad rolls out-of-season too. They were just so good and so light and fresh after months of heavier winter fare.

One of my early attempts – before I wised up and skipped the lettuce and just used herbs. Much tastier and easier to roll.

So, now to the recipe. I adapted recipes from Gourmet for both the rolls and the peanut sauce. I made enough changes that I’m posting my versions here, but here’s also the original in case you’re curious.

Herb Salad Spring Rolls – adapted from Gourmet

1 ounce bean-thread (cellophane) noodles

1 ½ tablespoons rice vinegar

eight 8-inch rounds rice paper plus additional in case some tear

1 green onion (scallion), cut into 2-inch julienne strips

1/4 cup finely shredded carrot

3 oz firm tofu, well-drained and cut into thin strips

1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, washed well and spun dry

1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, washed well and spun dry

1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, washed well and spun dry

Soaking Rice Paper

In a bowl soak noodles in very hot water to cover 15 minutes and drain well in a colander.  With scissors cut remaining noodles into 3 to 4-inch lengths and in a small bowl toss with vinegar and salt to taste.

In a shallow baking pan or cake pan soak 2 rounds rice paper in hot water to cover until very pliable, 45 seconds to 1 minute.

Lay a dry dish towel on a large, flat dinner plate. Carefully spread 1 soaked round on it and blot top with other half of  dish towel. Peel paper off and place on plate (it will stick to the towel if you leave it on the towel). Leave remaining round in water, and blot with dish towel. Arrange several basil leaves on bottom half of sheet, leaving a 1-inch border along edge. Top basil with about one-fourth of noodles, arranging them in a line across lettuce. Top noodles with one-fourth each of scallion, carrot, tofu, and cilantro and mint. Roll up filling tightly in rice paper, folding insides after first roll to completely enclose filling, and continue rolling.

Blot remaining soaked rice paper round on dish towel and blot other side then move to the plate. Wrap rice paper around spring roll in same manner. (Double wrapping covers any tears and makes roll more stable and easier to eat.) Wrap spring roll in rinsed and squeezed dish or paper towel and put in a resealable plastic bag. Make 3 more rolls with remaining ingredients in same manner. Rolls may be made 1 day ahead and chilled. Before serving, bring rolls to room temperature.

Halve rolls diagonally and serve with spicy peanut sauce.

Spicy Peanut Sauce  – adapted from Gourmet

3 garlic cloves, minced

1-2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger

1/4 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes, or 1 small Serrano chili, minced, or to taste

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

4 tablespoons creamy peanut butter

2 tablespoons soy sauce, more to taste

3/4 cup water

Juice of 1 lime, more to taste

In a small saucepan cook garlic and red pepper flakes or Serrano and ginger in oil over moderate heat, stirring, until garlic is golden. Whisk in remaining ingredients (except lime) and bring to a boil, whisking. Simmer sauce, whisking, until thickened, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and whisk in lime or lemon juice. Sauce may be made 3 days ahead and chilled, covered.

Serve sauce warm or at room temperature.