Spring Farro, Asparagus and White Bean Salad

FarroIngredients

It’s the time of year when a clear, blue-skied day still carries with it strands of winter’s hard breeze. On a morning bike ride over the bridge, the churning Pacific was the color of jade with little white peaks. I returned chilled and rosy from the blast of air. A stop at the farmer’s market for eggs to scramble with dill goat cheese for brunch.

Beguiled by spring, I left my house later in flip flops only to have frozen toes after a few blocks. The best foods right now echo the hillsides: pastorally plump and green asparagus, grassy chives, crisp leek stalks.

I’m pairing this medley with Tenuta Rapitala’s 2011 Grillo from Sicily (via Bi-Rite), a wine described to me as “sea-foamy.” It’s tart with a faint finish of strawberries.

Spring Farro, Asparagus, and White Bean Salad

  • 2 leeks
  • 1 sprig green garlic
  • chives
  • a bunch of asparagus with tough parts from the bottom snapped off
  • Dino kale
  • a lemon
  • 1 cup farro
  • 1 can white beans like Great Northern
  • olive oil
  • Grated reggiano or hard Manchego

Sautée chopped leeks and green garlic in olive oil until the leeks start to appear translucent. Add some white wine if you’re drinking it anyway, and let the liquid burn off. Add chopped asparagus, FarroFinishedkale, and canned or cooked white beans. When the asparagus is just tender, turn off the heat. In a large bowl, combine the veggie mixture with cooked farro, chopped chives, lemon juice, some olive oil, and salt and pepper. Top with some grated cheese. Can be eaten hot or cold.

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Office Salad Club

My Mother Jones coworkers and I have started a communal lunch tradition: called salad club, it’s based on the premise that everyone has something to share in their fridge that will go well on a salad, so why not compile our tidbits and make masterfully creative (and cheap) salads everyday at work. Especially popular ingredients have included figs, homegrown tomatoes, homemade goat cheese, and anything cut with our club mandolin. Since its inception about a month ago, the plan has been working great. So great, in fact, we (being digital journalists) decided it needed a blog. Behold, officesaladclub.tumblr.com

Squash Green Chile Enchiladas

Butternut Squash, photo by iamsalad/Flickr

A running theme on this blog: Who said vegetarians can’t have fun with traditional Mexican food? To prove this point, take this direct quote from my father as he chowed down on these enchiladas after a long day of skiing last week: “These are the best enchiladas I’ve ever had.” This is from a man who made steak and lobster on Christmas Eve, followed by bacon Christmas morning. Despite their health-nut-sounding title, these enchiladas will even make meat lovers make a dash for round two.

Inspiration for this recipe comes from Tracy Young, soon to be living in Egypt and learning to cook with rosewater.

Squash, Kale, and Green Chile Enchiladas

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 large bag small white corn tortillas (the fresher the better)
  • 1 Butternut Squash, sliced in half and baked at 400 degrees in a pan of water for 45 minutes or until soft, and scooped out into small chunks
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 1 bunch of kale
  • Olive or walnut oil
  • Cumin, cayenne, salt, and pepper
  • Goat cheese
  • One 28 oz can of Las Palmas Green Chile Enchilada Sauce, medium spice

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Saute chopped onion in a tablespoon of olive or walnut oil until clear, and then add chopped kale (without stems), turning to low heat. Add the pieces of cooked squash along with however much cumin, cayenne, salt, and pepper you see fit. Mix together and cook on medium for 3 minutes.

Make sure the plastic bag of tortillas is tied shut, and put the whole bag in the microwave for 1 minute. This is to get the tortillas nice and flexible for rolling; if you don’t have a microwave, make sure your tortillas are super fresh or heat the stack in the oven.

Spread a thin layer of goat cheese down the middle of a tortilla, and then add a layer of the squash/kale/onion mixture. Roll the mini-burrito into the shape of a taquito, and place in a large glass baking dish. Do this with every tortilla until you’ve run out of squash mixture or space in the pan. I added my extra squash mixture onto the top of the tortilla rolls. When it’s ready, dump the entire can of green chile sauce on top, and bake in the oven for around 35 minutes, or until edges are starting to get crispy and the sauce is bubbling. Best served with some fresh salsa, sour cream, margarita in hand, and beans and rice on the side.

Wake Up From Winter Risotto

The view from 21st Street

I’m writing from my parent’s house in Boulder, CO. Snow has been falling in big, furry flakes today, a few days too late for a White Christmas, but at this rate, perfect timing for a New Year’s Eve White-Out. You’re probably reading this from a similar situation. The roads are blocked all along the East Coast, flights are canceled out of Denver, high winds equal disaster in Southern California, and it’s been raining buckets in San Francisco. Wherever you are, you’re craving something warm and savory and perhaps a little bit zesty to wake you up out of a seasonal lethargy.

It’s rare to eat a food that’s bright magenta. Save for a raspberry smoothie, I can’t think of many dishes that present such aesthetic brilliance to the diner as beet risotto. This dish was sent to me by my dear friend and expert experimental chef Tracy Young, who found the recipe while perusing Epicurious.com.

A note: When I first made the risotto, I was sort of disappointed by the flavor–sort of sweet, definitely creamy, but all in all, semi-bland. But add the horseradish, and the fun starts. Something about the combination of the mild, earthy risotto and the loud tang of a bit of horseradish makes for amazing flavor. Even if it sounds strange, I urge you to try the combo before foregoing horseradish for a fine but ultimately less satisfying dish.

Beet and Beet Green Risotto with Horseradish

From Gourmet Magazine, 1998 (taken from Epicurious.com)

1 small onion
1 pound red beets with greens (about 3 medium)
4 cups water
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
1 cup Arborio or long-grain rice
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan (about 1 1/2 ounces)
1 tablespoon bottled horseradish

Finely chop onion and trim stems close to tops of beets. Cut greens into 1/4-inch-wide slices and chop stems. Peel beets and cut into fine dice. In a small saucepan bring water to a simmer and keep at a bare simmer.

In a 3-quart heavy saucepan cook onion in butter over moderate heat until softened. Add beets and stems and cook, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes. Stir in rice and cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute. Stir in 1 cup simmering water and cook, stirring constantly and keeping at a strong simmer, until absorbed. Continue cooking at a strong simmer and adding water, about 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly and letting each addition be absorbed before adding next. After 10 minutes, stir in greens and continue cooking and adding water, about 1/2 cup at a time, in same manner until rice is tender and creamy-looking but still al dente, about 8 minutes more. (There may be water left over.) Remove pan from heat and stir in Parmesan.

Serve risotto topped with horseradish.

A Day For Soup

Photo by Libby MacFarlane

The idea was rejoin at 8 for soup. It had been, after all, a thick, wet day made for thudding around in pajama bottoms and wool socks, a Sunday, the drizzle thin at first but then turning, after noon, into full, taut drops that smacked as they hit the pavement, creating networks of unrelenting puddles, so many that it had been a day to pull out rain boots too. After clutching ginger tea through the storm and making trips to several grocery stores, I had a pot full of raw vegetables, glistening carrot tops and leeks protruding out the top, so when I walked across the street, the woman who waited in her car when the light changed saw a hooded figure clutching a bounty full of dense green shrubbery exploding out of a witches brew-worthy vat, hurrying across Divisadero to her soup date.

Welcomed with flushed cheeks and candles and the warmth that emanates only from kitchens on such chill days in such high ceilinged Victorians, we washed first and laid everything out in its place, one of us taking photos because the carrots and the beans were just too radiant not to. Then shelling dappled cranberry beans, slicing leaks, dicing purple, orange, cream colored carrots, why wouldn’t one spend all of their resources on purple carrots? With their raspberry outer layers and sunset centers. Zucchini, the events of the weekend spilling out as we split sharp garlic into tiny pieces, a dream I had last night, the soccer game that was played one man down, making equal pieces of green beans through meditated cutting, puncturing the summer’s last tomatoes, readying them for their steaming fate, oh and someone spent a late October day surfing.

Spilling everything out, there were years when, pushing tomato juices into the pot along with everything else, when my relationship with food was far more complicated, and mine, sauté everything until it’s golden first, then add vegetables, then tell me what that was like, one tying a bundle of thyme, rosemary, parsley together with only a stalk of thyme is not an easy task, nor is running a race against yourself, but soup, so simple, everything melting together a little, the vegetables losing their edge, becoming less flashy and more mushy, becoming tempting and comforting and everything that goes well with wine and tea.

The last detail being torn pieces of basil, almond slivers, a little parmesan, the pistou, is that the same as pesto? It sure tastes that way. The week’s about to start, what a charming heap of flavor on top of the rich broth, a dash, the perk on your tongue before a deep nurture, no holding back, the conversation flowing up and out like steam, I am worried, that too shall pass, that will run together with other flavors, a mouthful of deep, soft, summer into fall soup.

Photo by Libby MacFarlane

Minestrone with Shell Beans and Almond Pistou

From The New York Times, published on September 28th, 2010

For the soup

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 sprig rosemary

3 bushy sprigs thyme

4 parsley sprigs

2 leeks, white and light green parts only, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 medium zucchini or yellow squash (or half of each for color), diced

1 carrot, diced

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

2 cups vegetable or chicken broth

1 pound fresh shell beans like cranberry or cannelloni, shelled (about 1 1/2 cups)

4 plum tomatoes (about 3/4 pound), diced

1/2 cup thinly sliced green beans

FOR THE PISTOU

4 cups fresh basil, packed

1/3 cup slivered almonds

1/4 cup chopped plum tomato

2/3 cup grated Parmesan

2 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil.

1. In a large pot over medium-low heat, heat the oil. Tie rosemary, thyme and parsley in a bundle with kitchen string if desired (this makes it easier to fish out later). Add the herbs, leeks, garlic, zucchini or yellow squash, carrot, salt and pepper to the pot and sauté until the vegetables are golden, 10 to 15 minutes.

2. Add broth, shell beans, tomatoes, green beans and 4 cups water to the pot. Simmer partly covered until the beans are tender, 30 to 45 minutes. Discard herbs. Thin with a little water if the soup is too thick.

3. Prepare the pistou: Pulse the basil, almonds, tomato, Parmesan, garlic and salt in a food processor until basil is chopped and all the ingredients are combined. Drizzle in olive oil while the motor runs and continue processing until a paste forms. Serve the soup with dollops of the pistou, letting people add more as needed.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

Corn Pancakes with Spinach, Goat Cheese, and Maple Balsamic Syrup

Think about a kernel of fresh corn. Imagine its coolness, its glassy surface and small firmness. The sweetest corn is just pale of butter yellow, so plump it wants to explode. You manage to wrangle it out of its dormancy within its stalk, shucking the papery peels into a brown bag on the front porch. All of the tiny tendrils keep cloying to the cob, refusing to relent this beautifully symmetrical art form to you. You finally get it as clean as it’s going to get, and you run your fingers down it because it’s as nice and easy as the warm evening all around. And think of the subtle pop this small entity makes when your teeth hits it; a tiny spurt of sugary juice, the crunch, the final realization that the tension of spring has finally burst and summer wants to melt all over you.

I couldn’t get corn out of my mind, succumbing to the smell of it at the farmer’s market or at roadside stands. My friend Ashly made a corn and walnut soup last week, and the taste of it lingered on my tongue for days. Tonight, I had to have corn. And Alice Waters had the perfect recipe for this cloudy evening. Taken from her cookbook Vegetables, the corn cakes offer inspiration for both sweet and savory dishes.

I opted for savory and made a meal of it. The fluffy egg whites made the pancakes soft and light, a perfect complement to the denser fresh kernels inside. Using fresh corn is the only option; don’t even think about canned.

After making the pancakes (see below), surround them in a bed of wilted spinach, top with crumbled goat cheese, and use a sparing amount of Maple Balsamic Syrup. Other options include topping the pancakes with jam, dousing them with honey and butter, or eating them plain.

Hot off the griddle

Corn Cakes (from Vegetables, by Alice Waters)

1 1/2 cups corn flour

1 1/2 t baking powder

1/2 t salt

2 eggs

1 T honey

1 cup milk (soymilk works great too)

4 T unsalted butter (I only used 1 Tablespoon and the pancakes were still delicious)

2 ears sweet corn

Remove kernels from uncooked corn. Combine the flour, salt, and baking powder in a bowl. On the stovetop, heat butter, milk, and honey until butter is all the way melted. Separate egg yolks from whites. Whisk the yolks into the stovetop mixture, and then pour the whole mixture into the dry ingredients. Add the fresh corn.

Whip egg whites until they form soft peaks, and then fold into the corn batter. Ladle onto a lightly oiled medium-hot griddle, making 2 inch pancakes. Makes around 18.

Maple Balsamic Syrup

  • 2 T Balsamic Vinegar
  • 2 t Maple Syrup
  • 1 T sweet hot mustard
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • a pinch of cayenne

Gracias Madre

"Ni Tanto Que Queme", original painting by Dottie Oatman

A new take on Mexican Gourmet, sans the carne and queso

After reading the above subtitle, some of you may be ready to stop right now. Mexican food without meat or cheese might just be too painful to imagine. But if so, your palate is sorely in need of some education. Many parts of Mexico serve sophisticated recipes that would take your tongue to complex spice realms it had never dreamed were possible (think cacao, cumin, hundreds of chile varieties), and many said dishes lovingly feature vegetables (zucchini, squash, poblano pepper, even corn fungus) rather than the expected pork or beef. Authentic Mexican food relies not on the layers of melted cheese Americans have come to expect in their Tex-Mex enchiladas, but instead features dashes of fresh crème or often no cheese at all.

Gracias Madre, a new organic restaurant on Mission and 18th in San Francisco, capitalizes on the healthier vegetarian side of Mexican cuisine while still retaining the authenticity of gourmet Mexican flavors. In fact, all food in Gracias Madre is vegan, so no animal products are used in any of its production (they use Agave instead of honey, for those of you who were about to ask). Opened by the same owners of Café Gratitude (a famous raw food restaurant just blocks away on Harrison St.), Gracias Madre uses 100% organic produce, and their menu shifts depending on what is available at their Organic Farm, The Be Love Farm. I found the food to be a reasonably priced and innovative take on the cuisine that draws people to the Mission District night after night, and both meals I had there have been surprising, delicious and healthy.

I’ll now address the most pressing question you have first, which is, How am I going to like Mexican food without cheese? The short answer is, there is cheese and you will like it. The long answer is, the cheeses, ice creams, and milks are made from ground nuts. The most prominent dairy product on the menu is their cashew cheese. Both times I had it, the cashew crème was fashioned like crème fraîche on my plate, in dollops above the beans and sautéed vegetables. The cream is airy and smooth, with a subtle flavor that reminded me of quark. One woman at my table didn’t even realize that she wasn’t eating cheese until after the meal was over. Sure, this cashew cream will never have the sharp, tangy edge of a Cabot cheddar, but it’s a fitting substitute for Mexican cheeses, which are often very mild and sometimes flavorless.

To start the meal, Gracias Madre offers antojitos such as squash and caramelized onion quesadillas with pumpkin seed salsa, roasted potatoes with garlic and “nacho cheese” (a spiced up cashew cheese), and sopa de coliflor (cauliflower). I had the Tostada as my main meal during my first visit, and it made a nice small meal: the tortilla made from ground heirloom corn was crispy and flavorful, there were strips of fleshy green chiles, and the whole thing was topped with delicate roasted pumpkin seeds. The refried beans were mouthwatering; I don’t know how they do it, but these black beans stood out to me as one of the best things about the food at Gracias Madre. The legumes had the richness and depth of beans fried in lard, but obviously that’s not their secret.

As for main courses, I was dying to try the mole and see whether it lived up to my memories of the velvet-deep spicy sauce of Central Mexican cooking.  The Enchiladas con Mole Poblano came topped with sauteéd mushrooms, cashews crème, and smothered in beans. The sauce itself was delicious–no, not quite the chocolaty mole I remembered–but nicely spiced just the same. It was on the lighter side of Mole sauces, and persimmon colored rather than burgundy.

Another addition to my meal was a simple side of Asparagus grilled with a light dusting of cumin. The vegetable came perfectly grilled, slightly smoky in flavor and not the least bit stringy. The beauty of Gracias Madre is they aren’t afraid to serve a plain vegetable as a side, and reveal the vegetable’s fresh flavor without suffocating it in cheese or herbs. I thought about trying the Kale, Roasted Squash, and Roasted Poblano Chile Strips (Rajas), but will have to wait until next time.

One drawback of Gracias Madre is the layout of the restaurant. The cramped tables and low ceilings were passable for nighttime, but my lunchtime experience made the place seem like a dark cafeteria. The chairs out front, behind a metal gate artfully fashioned like corn husks, seem OK for afternoon get-togethers, but I doubt I will dine inside during the day again.

For dessert, I finished with tasted of a flan entirely composed of nuts. It had the same silky texture as normal flan, and the same sweet creaminess, but without the eggs and milk. A couple of bites of the rich concoction and a final drag of sangria were enough to send me on my way–nourished, content, and with my taste buds singing Gracias.

Gracias Madre is open daily from 11am to 11pm. They serve local beers on tap, wine, and cocktails made with Soju. Reservations can be made for parties of 5 or more at (415) 683-1346