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i am a sheep

By on Jul 2, 2015 in experimenting, quickie, salad, vegetarian | 0 comments

I should never, ever, be allowed unsupervised in a farmer’s market. My eyes light upon row after row of crisp, vibrant vegetables, and a switch will flip in my brain. I am honestly not sure exactly what that switch does. I only know the end result, where suddenly single me has enough produce to feed a family of four. For a week. But the thing is, I’ll eat it. You see, this is my favorite time of year for the deceptive salad. I say ‘deceptive’, since most of us just view it as some drudgery, that thing we have to eat before the main course so we ‘get our vegetables.’ We drizzle some sad concoction out of a bottle onto some anemic greens, maybe some dried out carrots, and done. Not me. I love salads. Not salads as some forced thing to eat before the meal, but as the main event. Salad in a giant bowl, a terrifying mound of chlorophyll that would make you think I am about to feed a small herd of sheep. But I am those sheep. I will rifle through the greens I have purchased, ranging from sweet to bitter, pungent to mild, admiring the fascinating patterns that roil through the supposed chaos of nature, and throw them willy nilly into a bowl. Admittedly, the ratio tips more in favor of the sweet and mild. I will shower the pile of greens with long, tender sweet curls of carrots. I’ll thinly slice legions of radishes, some milder pink ones, maybe. And then I will simply mix together fresh lemon juice, really good extra virgin olive oil, and maybe some fresh herbs from my little window box, and dress the whole thing. Maybe a crank of fresh ground black pepper, a generous sprinkle of kosher salt. And then… I will graze. Slowly, languidly, feeling the warm summer breezes float through my apartment. I will enjoy the hell out of that salad, every last bite as it wanders through the spectrum of taste. Maybe next time I’ll make croutons, or dig up some goat cheese. Maybe not. Maybe new greens will be in store for next week. Maybe I’ll just try one green. This last week I picked up some pungent wild watercress, which might need to hang out with a bit of Treviso raddichio. I have garlic scapes, maybe they can make an appearance. Who knows? As long as this bounty is around, I will revel in it. Dive head first into it. Make salads a celebrated main course. And graze until fall comes. Baaaaaaaa. No recipe here, because there isn’t one. I mean, it’s salad. I’m sure there is an art to balance, but I sort of roll with what is in front of me. Mix things up, find contrasting tastes, make a simple dressing of lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper, maybe some fresh herbs if you’ve got ’em, and...

cabbage, my new love affair

By on Aug 6, 2014 in dinner, salad, vegetarian | 0 comments

Some day, if you are a fan of farmer’s markets, you will find yourself irresistibly drawn to a cabbage quite literally the size of your head. It may actually be larger than your head. The compacted center beckons from the center of the lush furled outer leaves, and before you know it, you are attempting to wedge it into your bag (which once seemed so voluminous,) hurriedly flinging a few dollars at the person who so carefully grew it. Then you get it home. You rearrange half of your small refrigerator in an almost vain effort to fit it in. And then reality sinks in. You just bought a cabbage bigger than your head. You are one person. What in god’s name are you going to do with that much cabbage? Coleslaw, while a venerated summer tradition, just doesn’t do it for you. While you do enjoy pickling and preserving things, sauerkraut is really not going to happen in your kitchen.   So now what?   You turn to someone who always knows better when it comes to vegetables. Deborah Madison, your favorite cookbook author. You skim through the four books you have from her and finally land upon a recipe that not only seems appealing, but makes some use of your small attempt at an apartment herb garden. A wilted red cabbage salad with mint, dill, parsley, and goat feta. Sure, you’re missing the lemon part, but you have white wine vinegar, and it appears to be there only for sharpness. You cut into the massive head of cabbage, the magnificent JT of cruciferous vegetables that is bringing sexy back to this much maligned member of the Brassicaceae family. You really do not like most of the other members, but somehow… the humble cabbage speaks to you. Usually. The oddly random yet mathematical swirls of the vibrant compacted leaves laid bare as you gaze upon the freshly cut vegetable is intriguing, yet you can’t quite be completely in love with the idea of eating it. The doubt is there. That faint odor you can’t quite place but makes your nose wrinkle wafts up with each sharp slice into the massive beast. Even as you wilt it in a large pan (noticing that clearly an 11” skillet is not big enough and you need an even bigger one,) you are suspicious. Will this become a nasty cooked cabbage nightmare, a thing of 50s dining past that made everyone hate cabbage for decades? You hold steady, keeping faith with the instructions of Ms. Madison. Your eyes flick back and forth between the pan and the clock, timing out the brief tosses of the brilliant purple shreds. You swear softly as you lose a few bits of cabbage to the gap between the stove and the wall. You really do need a bigger skillet to cook a pound of sliced cabbage.   After a few short minutes, it is done. You toss it with fresh herbs, plucked straight from your back deck, and wonder why you don’t use all the herbs five times a day. The lingering scent of mint mixed with dill on your fingertips is heavenly. A dash of vinegar, a generous grind of black pepper, a shower of piquant goat feta, and it is done. Somehow, magically, that off-putting scent has vanished. You spear a generous round of cabbage and somewhat hesitantly taste. You pause. You continue to chew, but more slowly, savoring every heady moment. You are now comforted in the knowledge that you know how you are going to deal with the remaining half of the giant head of cabbage. You are going to make this again. Tomorrow.   Wilted Red Cabbage Salad with Goat Feta   (This is not my recipe. This is from Deborah Madison’s latest work, Vegetable Literacy. I am more than a little in love with her books, ever since I bought my first copy of Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone 15 years ago. You don’t have to be vegetarian to love her.)   4 cups packed red cabbage, sliced thinly (a scant pound) 1 medium red onion, sliced thinly 1 clove garlic, minced fine 2 tablespoons olive oil 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh dill 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh mint 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley juice of one lemon (or, if like me you have no fresh lemon, a generous splash of white wine vinegar) salt and pepper to taste goat feta to finish (I honestly don’t know why goat feta as opposed to normal, but I found some and it was deliciously mild.)   In a large skillet or wok, heat the olive oil until hot. Add onion and sauté for one minute, just until it starts to get soft. Add in the cabbage and garlic, and a generous pinch salt. Cook for about two minutes, tossing all the while. You just want it to get slightly wilted, not completely cooked. Remove from heat and toss into a large bowl. Add in lemon juice (or vinegar) and a generous grinding of black pepper. Taste, adjust salt and pepper as necessary. Add in the fresh herbs, reserving a pinch or two for serving. Toss together. Portion out onto serving dish and sprinkle with crumbled goat feta and the remaining herbs. Be alarmed at how much you suddenly like cabbage....

it’s not a spring renewal, it’s a summer one

By on Jun 23, 2014 in cooking, love, salad, vegetarian | 0 comments

It has been a while, has it not? Asparagus season is swiftly passing, and with it my urge to channel the Spargelfrau of Germany and prance merrily amongst the green stalks. Strawberries with all their intoxicating floral scent have arrived, leaving me with faintly stained fingertips and a culinary endorphin rush. Farmer’s market tables, being slightly delayed this year from the long winter, are suddenly exploding, tables heavily laden with a chorus of greens, oranges, and reds, every table calling out to the person hungry for fresh vegetables after the long winter. And where have I been, you might ask? Working. Working. And then working some more. But with this begins a renewed effort to maintain a regular round of postings, both of my own devising, and visiting folks who make such delicious things as, well, beer. Because beer is always in season.   I have been thinking of you, dear readers, these past mute months. I have made things, eaten them, consumed them. I have occasionally photographed them, and then more often than not, I have just plow through the cooking so I could get to the good stuff and be done with it so I could eat and get back to work, work, and more work. And so I present to you a recipe not of my own devising at all (but of course I modified it to my own tastes.) A recipe that transcends seasons, as it can be a comfort and remarkably hearty in the cold, as well as lighter and filling without weighing down the gut in the warmer months we are now so blissfully sailing through. And it is… lentil salad. I know, I know, the idea of lentil salad for some brings forth some horrific affair of muted brown colors and the bland vegetarian fare of the 70s-era variety. Or at least, it did for me. The last time I encountered a lentil salad it involved a well-meaning effort from an ex-boyfriend’s father who wanted to welcome me into their home and was accommodating his daughter’s vegetarian ways. Which to him meant lentils. And it was a pile of mushy brown lentils topped with some vinegar and oil. There might have been a scrap of carrot.   But did you know that there are many, many types of lentils? And they really don’t need to be mushy at all? Brown and green, the type we mostly know, the type I like to use in a nice pilaf. Red, which fall apart beautifully in soups. And the now more readily available ones with enticing, sexy sounding names like “French green” and “Beluga”, smaller, more saturated with color, glistening, more toothsome than the more standard fare. This recipe originated from one of my favorite sites, the Kitchn. I scanned the recipe, looking for something that I could make easily that I could then pack every day for lunch. And something vegetarian, as I have a weird tic and really do not, for the most part, enjoy meat reheated in a microwave, which is all I had available there. I knew I could get French Green lentils fairly easily, but then my eyes lit on the amount of sun-dried tomatoes, and I almost called the whole thing off. They seem to be one of those things you are supposed to like. People seem to ooh and ahh when something involves a scrap or two of these desiccated vermillion bites. Me? I will confess… I really do not like them. Something in the process of drying makes them so cloyingly sweet I think they overwhelm everything in their immediate vicinity. I am convinced that simply placing them next to my coffeepot would cause my delicious brew to be tainted with their syrupy sweet flavor. And in looking at this recipe, in looking at all the other lucscious things therein, I decided that I needed to come to the defense of the warm walnuts, the crisp sweet peppers, the showers of mint and parsley, and I had to chuck the tomatoes.   And it was delicious. There was a lovely balance of sweet and savory, none being too bold or meek, and it had the added lunchbox benefit of being a salad that improved with age. The week I ate it (because believe you me, this recipe made enough to last solo me for a week and not tire of it) the weather yo-yoed between chilly dank and perfect sunny breezes, and somehow this salad bolstered my spirits every single day. The rich earthiness of the lentils felt delightful on the grey days, and the bright tang of the peppers and onions, the fresh hit of mint and parsley spoke of the promise of the warmer days that inevitably really did come.   So try it. Try it using their original recipe, if you are a fan of sun-dried tomatoes, or try taking them out. They have optional cheese involved, and much as I love me some cheese, it didn’t seem right after the tomatoes were gone, and without it was flatout vegan.   And with that, I have a head of lettuce soaking in the sink right now, slowly releasing dirt as it is fresh from the ground. So I can eat the sunshine now here in leafy form. And photograph it. And write it. Because I am back, ready to eat! Colorful Lentil Salad with...

i shall eat all the green

By on Apr 10, 2014 in cooking, salad | 0 comments

Yesterday I drove home from work. With the window down. To those who live in a warmer clime, this may seem nothing, but to anyone in the northern half of the U.S. this winter, you know it is a big deal. The sensation of a warm sun and gentle air felt like a welcome madness. This morning I noticed fresh green grass beginning to force its way out of the ground, brazenly challenging Nature to snow on it. And Nature will likely oblige. But you see, the sun has warmed. The air is gentler. Hope springs eternal. Deep within my stocking feet, my toes are involuntarily flexing, imagining the day when they can be freed to the open air and sink deeply into fresh green grass. This hope runs in a giddy undercurrent through my brain, wrapping verdant tendrils around neurons frozen by this brutal winter, causing them to awake and demand green. To see green. To smell green. To eat it. Enter the Freekeh salad from The Kitchn. “Freekeh?” you might ask. To be sure, the only reason I had heard of this was because I live around the corner from a Middle Eastern market, even though I never knew what to do with it. It is a grain. Wheat, to be exact. Wheat in toasted green form. So this green wheat gets combined with chickpeas, warm spices, and deep green collard greens to create a salad of hopeful spring. When you cook freekeh (labeled “frika” at my market,) you will have to stop and take pause. It actually smells like a fresh cut field of hay. If I closed my eyes, I could imagine late summer sunlight spilling carelessly out of the simmering pot. It is a remarkable thing. It does not taste like fresh cut hay, or at least what I assume hay tastes like, having never actually eaten it, but it does have a lovely fresh nuttiness I have not encountered in a grain before. Then comes the dressing, a heady mix of olive oil, vinegar, tahini, and a generous round of a spice mix known as za’atar. Again, I luckily live around the corner from a Middle Eastern market that sells this in large packages, but it can be acquired online fairly readily, or you could make your own, should you be so inclined (and when I run through this giant pile of it I now have, I will be making my own!) Mix the fresh chew of the freekeh and the warm tang of the dressing with the fresh air of thinly sliced raw fennel, a fair quantity of chickpeas, and a pile of raw collard greens, and you believe for a moment that the mere act of moving fork from plate to mouth will cause trees to bud outside your window. Spring is pressing itself upon us. Why not help it along?   Mediterranean-Spiced Freekeh Salad with Collard Greens and Chickpeas (straight from The Kitchn)   Serves 8 For the salad: 1/3 cup (45 grams) sesame seeds 1 cup (185 grams) freekeh 1 bunch collard greens, de-stemmed, leaves thinly sliced (about 2 cups) 1 cup (170 grams) rinsed and drained chickpeas 1 small fennel bulb, quartered, cored and thinly sliced For the dressing: 2 small garlic cloves, finely minced 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 3 tablespoons tahini 2 tablespoons lemon juice 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar 2 1/2 tablespoons za’atar 1 teaspoon ground coriander 1 teaspoon ground allspice Pinch sea salt and ground pepper Warm a small, dry saucepan over medium heat and add the sesame seeds. Toast until fragrant and light golden-brown, 6 to 7 minutes. Shake the pan periodically to avoid burning. Once toasted, pour the seeds onto a clean plate and aside to cool. Bring a medium pot of water to boil and add the freekeh. Bring back to a boil, then cover the pot and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the grains are al dente. Drain excess water and set aside. In a large bowl, combine cooked freekeh, collard greens, chickpeas, and fennel. Whisk together garlic, tahini, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, and spices for the dressing in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Toss the salad with the dressing; season with additional salt and pepper as needed. Sprinkle the sesame seeds over top before serving. Enjoy room temperature or cold. Cover and refrigerate leftovers for up to three days.   (And I’m not going to lie… I would make more dressing. Just do it. Trust...

breathe in the fennel

By on Oct 12, 2013 in dinner, for one, love, quickie, salad, unprocessed october, vegetarian | 0 comments

“Eat your salad.” It is a refrain most of us have been hearing since childhood, and as adults we do (mostly) understand we should probably be eating more vegetables, but in reality, most of us view the act of eating salad as drudgery. Some sad little bowl of pale lettuce with a viscous bottled dressing poured over it, all hoovered down with one eyeball on the main plate, which is all you really care about. That is what most people encounter when they think of salad. This just makes me sad. When I eat a salad, I make it an event, piling mixed greens with exotic sounding names into a bowl the size of my torso, throwing whatever veggies I can get my hands on. Invariably, the cool delicate crunch of a cucumber gets involved. A sliver or twelve of red onion, perhaps briefly pickled in some red wine vinegar. Some sweet little tomatoes. If goat cheese happens to be in my fridge, it will be on my salad. Or blue cheese. Croutons. I insist upon croutons. If I’m really ambitious, I make them myself, chopping up a baguette from the store, letting it dry out overnight then tossing with some melted butter mixed with paprika, salt, maybe some garlic powder, and baking until crispy. Fruity olive oil, a splash of vinegar, a grind or two of pepper, a sprinkle of a nice kosher salt, and I am good to go. No need for the eerily red “French” dressing of my youth (which was my favorite, but now I can not stop thinking about what on earth goes into it…) But sometimes, I ponder a giant bowl of lettuce, sigh deeply, and think, “Really? This again?” There is an answer to this vegetable quandary. Get rid of the lettuce. Judith Jones, the remarkable editor for “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”, wrote a lovely little book called “The Pleasures of Cooking for One”. Yes yes, the joke can be easily made about the depression level of a single person cooking alone, but really, it can be enjoyable. And no one sees you when you manage to drop noodles on your cleavage and scoop them up with your fingers and slurp them down. Not that I have ever experienced that situation before… But I digress. Ms. Jones wrote this book with the idea that you should be able to cook for just one, and cook well. And despite her long relationship with Julia Child, this does not instantly translate into a cookbook filled with 24 step recipes. As fall slowly descends upon Chicago (well, it seems to be waiting somewhere, bathing us in bizarre mid-70s days in October, which of course means it will snow at some point in the next two days,) apples crop up everywhere. And so I decided to try a quick recipe for an apple fennel salad for one, of course tweaking the recipe just a hair for my own good. This involves not a single leaf of lettuce. It is simplicity writ fancy. Bright crisp apple mingles with the cleansing yogic breath of raw fennel, wreathed through with a classic vinaigrette of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and mustard. And of course in my case, it was whole grain mustard I had made myself (it is October Unprocessed, after all!.) It is a salad without a familiar leafy refrain, yet still crisp and cool, feeling a bit more substantial than a wedge of iceberg lettuce. Give it a whirl. I guarantee it will not be drudgery. Apple Fennel Salad Serves 1-2, depending on your appetite   1 small tart apple 1 small fennel bulb, fronds removed and reserved 8 walnut halves, roughly broken 1 Tbsp. olive oil 1 tsp. balsamic vinegar ½ tsp. mustard (whole grain or Dijon) pinch of salt a grind of black pepper   Core the apple and slice thinly. If you have a mandoline, use it on a very thin setting. Trim the fennel bulb, getting rid of the tough bit at the bottom, and slice thinly (again, using the mandoline if you want). If it is just you and you only want half of this salad now, place half the apple and fennel slices in a container with cold water and refrigerate. Trust me, it’ll hold for a few days.   In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, mustard, salt, and pepper. Arrange the apple and fennel slices in a bowl, and yes, you should make it fancy just for you, because you deserve it. Drizzle the dressing over it. Mince a few of the fennel fronds and scatter over the whole. Toss the walnuts on. Sit down, breathe deeply, and...

delicately obscene salad

By on Jul 24, 2011 in salad | 0 comments

The salad was delicately obscene, rife with ingredients that had been eying each other shyly across the tables at the farmer’s market, now mingling together under a light dressing of olive oil and vinegar. In the base of the wide cool bowl, lettuce coyly shows its underside from beneath fluttery edges, like a Victorian lady revealing a slip of ankle from beneath her skirts. Deep purple carrots that reveal pale creamy centers to their flesh,  the effervescent cool of a firm crisp cucumber, impertinent young garlic fresh from a quick saute olive oil, and the surprising sweetness of wheat sprouts add to the gloriously fresh pile. A baguette is thinly sliced and toasted in the garlic-scented olive oil left in the pan, with fresh sage and salt sprinkled freely over top. The hard crunch of the impromptu croutons is countered by a slathering of the sweet tang of soft goat cheese. Soon the whole is consumed, causing the diner to believe the deceptively innocent salad is sunshine made tangible in glorious vegetable form.   I’d like to say there was a recipe for this, but there really isn’t. It’s a salad. Add veggies to your heart’s content. Find a farmer’s market and try stuff you never see in supermarkets. Try things you have never even heard of. Try heirloom varieties. I tend to lose all control and make salads the size of my torso. But that is the glory of greens. You can eat giant piles with impunity.   As for the impromptu croutons, it is simple. Heat a bit of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Thinly slice a garlic clove and toss in, stirring constantly. Never let it brown. This will take 20, maybe 30 seconds. Flip the garlic slices out of the pan. Add slices of thinly sliced baguette, or any other similar type of bread. Toss a bit of salt and freshly chopped herbs, if you like. Again, keep an eye on this. It doesn’t take long to go from brown to burned. Once one side is reasonably browned (they will never be perfect,) flip to the other side and repeat the process. As soon as they are done, remove them from the pan, otherwise they will burn. Hopefully you have timed it so you can plop them right on top of the salad. I like to smear them individually with goat cheese before putting them on the salad, but again, do what you like. Try a nice gorgonzola, maybe some shaved parmesan, or go with no cheese at all!  ...