Arugula, Lamb’s Quarters, and Goat Cheese Salad

Yesterday offered a sobering reminder of why gluttony is a sin. Fred and I joined a friend at our beloved  Federal to watch Butler and VCU in the Final Four. I found myself drinking barley wine, a deceptively named beer that even I, normally not a beer drinker, could enjoy. We dug into a plate of fries, then moved on to a pork belly sandwich (Fred ordered, I sampled). We downed a mountain of nachos. 

After seeing a plate of nachos with guacamole at a nearby table, however, and realizing that we had at least 30 more minutes of basketball remaining, I decide that additional nachos were needed. This was a serious error. The onslaught of more cheese, beans, sour cream, and chips–now with guacamole thrown in–proved devastating to internal systems already groaning under the weight of the garlic fries and the barley wine. The rest of the evening was lost to a food coma of monumental proportions. I’m still recovering.

The moral of the story? Greens are your friend. Greens will make up for a multitude of sins. Greens are what I will eat for the rest of this week. (Guacamole does not count as a green.)

Most importantly, greens are delicious, and the Durham Farmers’ Market has some beautiful examples right now, including some I’ve never tried. Recently, for instance, I picked up lamb’s quarters, pictured below. They may look like tree leaves, but they have a mild flavor–more like lettuce than a green–with a light peach-like fuzz that disappears after they’re washed.

I bought Russian kale as well. (Note the continuation of the tree leaf theme.) This is a mild kale, and the purple adds a nice bit of color.

Most people recommend lightly sauteing these greens before serving. I’ve found, however, that both lend themselves quite well to salad. The lamb’s quarters, in particular, offered the perfect balance for some sharpish arugula we picked up on the same day. The resulting salad was, according to a friend who came over for dinner, the best he’s ever had. Truth be told, it was even better than the nachos.

Arugula, Lamb’s Quarters, and Goat Cheese Salad

Serves 4

Salad
6 cups mixed lamb’s quarters and arugula, large stems removed from lamb’s quarters, all greens rinsed and dried
4 spring onions, all but 1″ of green part removed, halved lengthwise and sliced 1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese, or to taste

Dressing
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large clove garlic, cut into six pieces
1 1/2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp. fine grain sea salt, or to taste (can substitute regular or kosher salt)
Fresh ground pepper to taste

Whisk all dressing ingredients together in small bowl. Let sit for 15 minutes or so. Place greens in large bowl. Remove garlic pieces from dressing. Whisk dressing again and pour over greens. Add additional salt and pepper to taste and toss. Add onions and goat cheese. Toss one more time before serving.

Other ingredients that work in this salad: Mushrooms, cubed Granny Smith or other sour apple, chicken, Parmesan cheese instead of the goat cheese.

Jicama and Watermelon Radish Salad

I regret to report that my sweet potato recipe did not win the contest. God only knows whether I’m getting my just desserts for not paying attention to the sermon, or whether retribution is in order for the contest judges, or whether God is too busy with a few other things to worry about than who wins the North Carolina Sweet Potato Recipe contest.

So–off to other vegetables. Recently, I was thrilled to pick up this beautiful watermelon radish.Though it is indeed large. it’s not actually the size of a watermelon; it’s closer to your average orange. You can see, though, where it gets its name. 

Apparently this radish is a type of daikon, but I didn’t spend enough time investigating to find out if that is true. There also appear to be many different varieties. Apparently most of these are actually available in the fall rather than the spring; I’ll start looking for them at the Durham Farmers Market.

Descriptions of the watermelon radish on the Internet say that it’s slightly sweet. This was not the case here. It tasted more like a typical radish–sharp and crisp. So I decided to pair it with jicama, which is sweeter and milder, and added a South American twist by including chili powder. (The chili powder idea came from a dinner party I attended years ago, when the host served mangoes covered in it.)

The result was a nice mix of sweet and sour. I’ve tried it with regular radishes and apples since, with good results.
 
It seems unlikely that North Carolina’s watermelon radish farmers have developed a contest, but if they did I am certain this recipe would win.


Jicama and Watermelon Radish Salad

1 watermelon radish (or other radish of your choice), cleaned and cut into 1/2″ pieces
1/2 large jicama, peeled and cut into 1/2″ pieces
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1 tbsp. honey
2 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. cloves
1/4 tsp. allspice

French Lentil Salad

The winter rut has been hitting hard over the last few weeks. You can eat only so much kale, roast, and potatoes before you start longing for plums, or a peach, or a tomato. But good luck finding plums or peaches that aren’t tasteless balls of concrete or a tomato that has more flavor than the box it came in.

Last Saturday, then, I found myself roaming the aisles of Whole Foods for novel fare, carefully adding up each item as I placed it in my basket, trying desperately not to exceed our miserly monthly food budget with the purchase of a fillet of fish or a single Meyer lemon.

In the spirit of cash-strapped shoppers everywhere, I trotted over to the rice and beans in the bulk aisle. There, after buying some arborio rice at $2.49 a pound, I found these lovely little French lentils (also $2.49 a pound). Feeling wildly indulgent, I poured two pounds of each item into an ecologically disastrous plastic bag (happily noting the irony that I’d brought a canvas bag to carry home my groceries).

These French lentils were a joy to prepare and eat. Not only do they look like tiny pebbles, but they also hold their shape nicely when cooked–making them ideal for salads when other lentils can be easily overcooked and fall apart (much like I did when I realized that I’d managed to blow ten bucks on rice and beans). They also have a nuttier flavor than other lentils, so they require very little seasoning to add a little culinary spark to a dish.

I cooked two cups to start, pulled out a cup or so partway through the process to make a salad and letting the rest simmer a little longer to soften them for a soup. The salad turned out to be the perfect winter meal–hearty enough to satisfy on a cold day but offering a welcome hint of summer.

French Lentil Salad

Note: Adjust amounts as needed to suit your taste; I feel silly offering a recipe for salad in the first place. These portions will serve 2 as a meal.

1 cup French lentils
3 cups water, and more as needed
4 mushrooms, sliced
2 cups fresh baby spinach leaves
1/4 cup olive oil
Kosher salt
Fresh ground black pepper

Sort and rinse lentils. In a medium saucepan, bring lentils, about 1 tsp. salt, and water to boil. Reduce heat. Cover and cook 20 – 25 minutes, until lentils just become soft. Drain lentils and rinse in cold water for a few seconds, until they are warm but no longer hot. Allow lentils to continue draining while you prepare the rest of the salad.

Toss spinach, olive oil, and kosher salt to taste in a large bowl. Slice mushrooms and add to salad, then lentils. Place in serving bowls and top with more salt, if desired, and fresh ground black pepper.

Possibly the Worst Recipe Ever

I’ve lately rediscovered the Treasury of Tennessee Treatsa cookbook put out by grandmother’s church, Keith Memorial United Methodist in Athens, TN. It was first issued in 1957, and my copy is the revised version from 1962. It is so battered that the index, long detached from the binding, is stuffed into random pages throughout. The two pages of pecan pie recipes look like a Jackson Pollock painting.

The book is a testament to small-town life of the late 1950s and early 1960s, when time-honored but time-consuming ways of cooking were slowly giving way to modern convenience foods. There are many gems here–black bottom pie, dozens of lovely cakes, wild goose with apple and sweet potato stuffing, quail pie, chili, stew. But you can also see how cooks like my grandmother were being seduced by the siren song of convenience foods, luring them down some dark paths lined with canned asparagus and cream of mushroom soup.  

The recipe below represents the worst excesses of the era. It’s hard to imagine a combination more hideous than marshmallows, jarred pimento cheese, and Maraschino cherries. But the cooks of Athens, TN, must have been fascinated by the exotic wonder of this salad–which contains real whipped cream only, I am sure, because Cool Whip was not invented until 1966.

I have serious doubts that anyone from Los Angeles ever made this. My guess is that it was some Southern cook’s way of getting back at a snooty California relative.

Los Angeles Salad

1 1/2 lb. marshmallows
Small can crushed pineapple
10 Maraschino cherries
1 4-oz. glass pimiento cheese
1 cup whipping cream

Mix cheese and whole can of pineapple. Add cherries and juice, and marshmallows, cut in small pieces. Whip cream. Add to mixture. Place in ice tray four or five hours. Serve with mayonnaise.

Flounder with Green Tomatoes and a Radish Salad

Seasonal cooking is ideal for the easily bored: if you don’t eat some things all the time, you get the chance to appreciate them anew every year.

Right now, we’re appreciating green tomatoes, as well as radishes, turnips, and their accompanying greens.

At $2.00 – $2.50 a bunch, these radishes from the Durham Farmers Market are costly little beauties. So I suggest you use every last bit and add the greens to a salad. I posted a simpler recipe for radish salad back in the spring, but the dressing here has a little more heft and can stand up to fall’s richer foods.

Radish Salad (Makes 2 large salads)

4 cups cleaned and dried radish and/or turnip greens, torn into bite-size pieces
6 radishes or small white turnips, thinly sliced

Dressing

1 tsp. olive oil
3 tsp. white wine vinegar
1 tsp. brown mustard
1/2 tsp. honey
Salt and pepper to taste
1 small clove garlic, crushed or grated with zester

Whisk dressing ingredients together. Toss with greens to coat; add more salt and pepper if desired and toss again. Top with radishes and serve.

As for the green tomatoes: Every decent Southerner knows that you’re supposed to slice them and fry them up in bacon fat. But my fried green tomatoes are often abject failures– slimy green discs with bits of charred breading sliding across them. So I’ve turned to other methods.

Green tomatoes, it turns out, are wonderful accompaniments to fish. Their tart, citrusy flavor is perfect with any mild white fish that you’d pair with lemon–like this beautiful flounder from our CSA.
 

Baked Flounder with Green Tomatoes
1 whole flounder, 1 – 2 lbs, headed and gutted, skin and tail on
4 cups chopped green tomatoes
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 extra large cloves garlic (ours came from the Durham Farmers’ Market)
1/4 c lemon juice
1 tsp. red pepper flakes, or more to taste

1/4 cup olive oil

Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

(Special Note: If you are The Cat, pretend that you do not want to wrestle the flounder to the floor and gnaw its bones. )

Preheat oven to 350. Lay flounder in broiler pan. Brush with enough olive oil to coat fish. Salt and pepper both sides. Stir together remaining ingredients together in large bowl. Pour over fish.

Cover with foil and bake for 20 – 30 minutes. To serve, scrape top layer of fish from bone, set on plate, and cover with tomatoes. Peel off bone and serve remaining fish. Be sure to let a piece or two fall to the floor so The Cat can take it with dignity.

A Beet, a Pickle, and a Potato Walk into a Bar . . .

My explorations of Sundays at Moosewood continue, and thank God I’m I nicer person than I was in the early 1990s. In reading through the section on food from the Southern United States, I came across the very sentence that nearly led me heave the book out the window: “I had to redefine Southern cooking in order to present it without meat.”

Therein lies the major shortcoming of the book. If the cuisine I grew up with has been rendered unrecognizable (the author suggests adding Gouda cheese instead of bacon to give Southern dishes their smokey flavor, an idea that’s only slightly better than shoving a fork into your own eyeball), then I can only imagine how they’ve desecrated the cuisines of Africa, India, and China.

But I’m a calmer person now, content to labor along in abject ignorance of other cultures and willing to accept butchered versions of “authentic” dishes if they are edible. Thus I came across the recipe below for Russian salad–which used a miraculous combination of beets, pickles, and potatoes to clear out the entire supply of oddball items left lurking in my refrigerator.

The recipe comes from the section in Sundays at Moosewood on Finnish cuisine. The recipes, focusing on root vegetables, are fascinating, but there’s still a lot of earnest vegetarianism to overcome. The author of this section is a grad-school dropout who adopted some goats from a Finnish farmer, couldn’t bear to kill them, and started rescuing animals at livestock auctions. I sympathize (heck, I still can’t bring myself to eat veal)–but then, there’s the problem with the fish and the need to take advantage of what’s available in local conditions. Never mind that “the Finns do eat a great deal of fish, as is quite natural in such a watery place”; the author writes: “I don’t eat fish myself or recommend it to others, so I’ve not included fish recipes in this chapter.”

I’ll let the reaction of her Finnish neighbors to the smorgasbord Moosewood put on for them sum all this up: “Knowing how nostalgic Finns can be about their traditional foods, it was with some trepidation that we presented our [vegetarian] versions of some age-old dishes. But all was well. Nothing was too far off the mark or else, with the usual quiet steadiness and reserve of the Finnish folk, they didn’t let on.”

If those Finns had been in North Carolina, they’d have been saying, “Bless their hearts” quietly to themselves.

To honor the fishy Finns, I served the Russian Salad with a mackerel recipe adopted from James Beard’s “Mackerel in Escabeche.” It was a great combination of spicy and sweet, hearty and light. In this case, I DO recommend fish to others.

Russian Salad (Venalainensalaatti) (from Sundays at Moosewood, p. 263)

2 c. cooked, diced potatoes (the recipe says to peel; I did not)
2 c. peeled, diced, and cooked carrots
1 c. peeled, diced tart apple
1 c. minced dill pickles (we used Claussen’s)
1/2 c. minced onion
2 c. cooked, peeled, and diced beets

Cooked beets for Russian Salad, from Britt Farms

Dressing
1 c. sour cream (or 2/3 c. heavy cream)
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice or cider vinegar (we used lemon juice)
Dash of salt, sugar, and freshly ground black pepper

Hard-boiled eggs, sliced

Dressing for Russian Salad

Mix potatoes, carrots, apple, pickles, and onion in large serving bowl. Chill. (I did not.) Combine all the dressing ingredients and chill. (Again, I did not.) Add the beets to the other vegetables just before serving. Fold dressing into salad just before serving. Can also serve dressing on the side or mounded on top of the salad. Decorate with egg slices.

Russian Salad ingredients assembled

Mackerel in Escabeche

3 mackerel steaks, salted and peppered (1 1/2 lb.)
1/4 c. lemon juice (recipe calls for lime)
1/4 c. orange juice
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 tbsp. red pepper flakes
4 small cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp. minced fresh cilantro
White wine

Mackerel awaiting saute

Saute all ingredients except mackerel, cilantro, and wine in large skillet until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes.

Vegetables in saute

Add cilantro and mackerel.

Mackerel sauteing, just before covering

Cover and cook for about 2 minutes. Turn fish, cover and continue to cook until mackerel is just done, about 5 more minutes. Check after 1 – 2 minutes, and if sauce begins to dry out, add a few splashes of white wine.

Voila! Finland meets Mexico

Radish Salad

I’m feeling better about Food, Inc. today. Sure, it trod much familiar territory, but walking through the Whole Foods Industrial Complex yesterday, I was struck with the happy thought that the film also featured one of my favorite rants: the high cost of sustainably grown and/or organic food. At one point, the filmmakers follow a working class family through the supermarket, where they have to consider how reasonable it is to buy two pears for 99 cents when they could get an entire hamburger for the same price.

I was faced with the same dilemma in Whole Foods yesterday as I stood in front of a gorgeous display of organic radishes, their round little magenta bottoms delicately nestled in a lush bed of crispy green leaves. Feeling guilty about some recent purchases of factory-farmed meat at ridiculously low prices, I had decided to punish myself by walking over to Whole Foods, loading up on expensive but sustainably farmed meat, and lugging all twenty pounds back home in a single large cloth bag. Maybe if I threw my shoulder out, I reasoned, God would forgive me.

My self-righteously reusable cloth bag bursting with swordfish, a whole chicken, a roast, two pounds of ground chuck, half and half, and a wallet soon to be considerably lighter, I contemplated the radishes, at $2.49 a bunch, wondered if my shoulders could take on an additional half pound of costly produce. I thought of the people who agonized over the pears and about how crazy it was that you could get a hot dog and soda at Costco for the same price as those radishes. What the heck, I thought.

I like to think that I made up for my indulgence just a bit by using every bit of those radishes in the salad I made for supper. Radish greens can be quite good, as long as they are fresh, bright green, and not too large. They also should be thoroughly cleaned, as they tend to collect dirt. This salad is very easy and brings out the best of the greens and the radishes themselves.

Radish Salad

Serves 2

1 bunch radishes
Olive oil (extra virgin)
White balsamic vinegar
Salt

Cut radishes from leaves and set aside. Thoroughly clean greens and trim stems. Dry in salad spinner or on towels. Wash radishes and trim ends; dry. Tear greens into bite-sized pieces, if necessary, and place in large salad bowl. Thinly slice radishes and add to greens. Drizzle olive oil (1 – 2 tbsp.) over top, lightly splash with vinegar (1 – 2 tsp.), and salt to taste. Toss until greens are coated and serve immediately.