Bright, fresh, plenty of crunch, and adorned with sweet fennel flowers
It's Fennel Week! On Sunday I introduced my new "About" series. This series will shine a spotlight on a vegetable, fruit, grain, herb, or legume in season now. Each "About" series will start with an informational post followed by back-to-back recipes starring our feature ingredient. The first of the about series features fennel- a hardy Mediterranean herb that packs a lot of flavor, fiber, and crunch. This particular dish uses both the fennel bulb and the flowers. The bulbs are slightly more mild and crisp while the flowers give a strong hit of sweet anise flavor. My fennel is only just starting to flower, but I'm lucky to know many gracious gardeners who've shared their abundant flowers with me. This time of year, they shouldn't be terribly difficult to find. Luckily, even if you can't get your hands on any, this salad will still be delicious and refreshing. The tart green apple, the juicy, bitter grapefruit, and the crisp, fragrant fennel compliment each other beautifully among the soft greens. I've been making some variation of this salad for a while now, with it slowly evolving each time. The balance of the recipe is just right for me, but you should know that I appreciate bitterness. If the thought of eating raw, un-sugared grapefruit turns you off, I would advocate replacing it (in both the salad and the dressing) with orange. It should substitute very nicely. The salad will pack well for lunch, as long as you reserve the dressing until you're ready to consume it. It's super refreshing- so if you've got outdoor things to do early in the day, I highly recommend it for an afternoon cool down.
Hitting reset , a new post series, and an ode to fennel
Today was the summer solstice. Tomorrow the days will start getting shorter (they're already getting hotter). And 2015 is half-way over, startlingly so. The start of the year feels so fresh in my mind. I resolved to start my days more intentionally, to acknowledge my accomplishments as well as my shortcomings, to bring myself closer to a vegan diet again. I resolved to invest more in this blog. Some of these resolutions have stuck, others have slowly faded back into the background. That's just the nature of things- progressing somewhere, regressing elsewhere, and still elsewhere standing perfectly still. But it's good to set goals for yourself, to re-evaluate your priorities and approach to life. And there's something about feeling as though a new page has turned over, a fresh start has been given. Truly every moment of every day is a fresh start, but being aware of that doesn't necessarily make me zen enough to integrate it into my every day reality. So I take advantage of moments when I can remind myself of this with some external feeling of significance, like new years. But new years isn't enough. After a strong start to the year and yet another busy spring, I'm feeling a little puttered out. So how about some summer solstice resolutions? I have a lot already in mind, probably too many, and I know I ought to pair them down rather than overwhelm myself with unrealistic expectations (another of my new year's resolutions!). So I'll share with you just a few that I am very confident in, and that have to do with food, exercise, and this here little blog. Spoiler alert: one of these resolutions has to do with you learning all about the glories of fennel today (And this post is long! Sorry).
A lighter take on custard with homemade pistachio milk, a touch of honey, and cardamom
There have been a lot of soft foods in the house lately. Chris has been getting some dental work done and eating cautiously to avoid a toothache in the meantime. On day one he brought home some preserved fruits, applesauce, bunches of soup, and pudding. Dark chocolate Jello brand pudding- those powder packets that you whisk some milk into. And although at first it seemed like just another strange mutant food product from my childhood, I have to admit that it was pretty delicious. With the weather heating up fast here, I couldn't help but think how wonderful it would be to have a cold pudding or custard around the house more often. I was not, however, sold on the prospect of eating a whole bunch of milk and sugar granules all summer long. I thought perhaps a nut milk would serve as a healthier alternative and soon it became abundantly clear what I had to do. I had to make pistachio milk. I have distinct memories of eating Jello's lime green, ridiculously artificial pistachio pudding. I used to love it, long before I ever loved actual pistachios. So now as a pistachio-lover trying to avoid dairy and artificial flavors, everything has come full circle in this pistachio milk custard, lightly sweetened with honey and accented with a hint of cardamom. This custard came together like some kind of fated romantic encounter, leaving me completely and utterly in love. It's light and creamy, nutty and floral. It feels decadent, but it's high in protein, packed with healthy omegas, and low in sugar. Indulgence doesn't have to be bad for our bodies, my friends. And you can safely indulge away with this one.
White wine sangria with stone fruit and citrus
I adore spring, but it always seems so fleeting. New growth budding up all around, warm sun and cool breezes, long days, leafy greens- it's a good season. I feel like it just arrive and yet it's already slipping through my fingers, succumbing to the intense summer sun as it charges closer each day. May was very kind to us, but June will not be so forgiving. Today it was nearly 100 degrees. The heat was not just heat, it was an omen. Summer is coming. But I'm ushering in the summer with gratitude this year. I know after a full month or two of 100 degree days I'll be singing another tune, but at the moment, summer means freedom, flexibility, and even vacation- and that is something I welcome with open arms. So what better way to celebrate the last few weeks of spring, than with a refreshing spring sangria? On a the last Monday night of the quarter after an unpleasantly sweaty ride home from work? Yes, please. I'll take two.
Crispy, shredded-carrot, potato, and scallion waffles drizzled with curry
This dish, or something like it, has been brewing in my mind for some time. It all started a few years ago, when Chris and I tried out these potato, cheddar, and chive waffles from Joy the Baker. They were gluttonous and delicious. Not exactly something I'd prepare often since they're predominately dairy and potatoes, but the idea of a savory waffle stuck with me. Perhaps a year or so later, I made malai kofta and was struck by a vision of kofta waffles drizzled in creamy malai curry. Chris wasn't sold by the idea, but I knew it could work. I still long to make this dish and I promise to report back when I do, but for whatever reason, I've never quite got around to it. It got stuffed inn the back of the ideas folder in my brain's overfilled filing cabinet and all but forgotten about. Recently, it was pulled back in to the front of my mind by a post on pinterest for hash brown waffles. I just so happened to have some left-over panang curry paste in the fridge so I decided the malai kofta waffles would have to wait just a little longer, but savory curry waffles were absolutely going to happen right away. And they did not disappoint. I think the waffles stand alone well, as crunchy savory treats, but are nicely complimented by a rich curry sauce. There's immense flexibility in the type of curry you use- Indian or Thai- either style would go willingly with the carrot and potato waffle base. They're surprisingly easy to make too, especially if you have curry on hand. And really, could there be a better use for leftovers than savory waffles with curry sauce? I think not.
Over-ripened bananas, bitter dark chocolate , and a sweet, salty, crunchy peanut topping
When I was young, I hated bananas. They are stringy and soft and, at times, off-puttingly sweet. I don't think that any of my sisters ever cared for bananas much either, but for whatever reason, my mom kept buying them. It seemed as though we constantly had a big bunch of uneaten, overripe bananas sitting in our fruit basket. Thinking back on it now, I wonder if my mom knew each time that she purchased bananas that their fate would be to become banana bread. I don't think I know a single person who doesn't like a good banana bread, regardless of their stance on bananas- myself and my sisters included. And we ate a lot of banana bread growing up. Not only did my mother make it often, but every time we visited my Nana, she'd send us home with a loaf or two and a jar of peanut butter. I'm happy to report that I do enjoy bananas now. In fact, I have several banana trees in the yard and harvest dozens upon dozens of little apple bananas every year. But once a banana starts browning, even the slightest, it may as well be banana bread already. Bananas are like peaches or melons, in that if you don't eat it in just the right window of time, they loose all of their best attributes. So I buy my bananas under-ripe and as soon as the body yellows up, I start eating them daily. Somehow last week, the bananas got neglected, and since there are few things more unpleasant to me than eating an over-ripe banana, I knew exactly what I had to do. And as often happens in the kitchen, a simple recipe that I intended to follow (my Nana's) got away from me. Happily, it led me to this creation, which, so far, has only received reviews along the lines of "Oh my god- that banana bread!".
Korean warn rice salad with bulgolgi-style tofu, raw and pickled vegetables, and a fried egg
I hold this dish near and dear to my heart. It has traveled with me through many years and places and grown and changed in that time. My first encounters with it were at Blue Cactus in Columbia, South Carolina. I was maybe 20 then and had never been exposed to Korean food in my life. In fact, I'm sure at the time I'd never eaten any authentic Asian cuisine of any kind. I was intimidated. I didn't know what to think of this strange bowl of hot rice, cold lettuce, and unidentifiable pickled things with a big old runny egg yolk sitting on top. What the heck is this thing? Who eats like this? It turns out, I do. Of course, you all probably know that by now, but I didn't know it then. This was totally uncharted food territory for me. The only pickled thing I'd ever eaten was pickled cucumber. This dish was one of the many that began opening doors for me- showing me new parts of food, new ingredients, new techniques. And it certainly didn't hurt that it was served at one of the best restaurants in town. A little hole in the wall place. The food takes forever and it's bring your own beer- but that's part of what made it great. We'd go and spend hours there, drinking some wine and waiting anxiously for our mouth-watering dishes to emerge from the kitchen. If you're ever in Columbia and have a few hours to spare, I highly recommend a visit. And I highly recommend the bibimbap.
A fresh, light, spring bowl and full of nutty, green-y flavor!
Yesterday morning before the farmer's market, Chris and I stopped by Augie's coffee for breakfast. The house was pretty barren food-wise so we figured we'd take the opportunity to treat ourselves. I enjoyed a fantastic goat cheese and apple tart and Chris had a little lemon cake. It was delightful. And in the short few blocks between Augie's and the downtown market we passed a sign for the Inland Empire Salsa Festival. Say what?! That's right. Salsa Festival. So naturally after our Saturday morning errands were done, we had to swing back by and check it out. About a dozen salsa samples and a gratuitous basket of pig pen crispy fries later, we found ourselves stuffed to the brim and deprived of all things green (other than tomatillos and jalapenos- thank you salsa verde!). Luckily, between our haul from the farmer's market and what's left in the garden, we had ample delicious spring greens to create this light, refreshing dinner. Which was exactly what we needed.
Crispy tortillas stuffed with beans and cheese and topped with salsa and vegetables
Two weeks ago I was in Mexico. More specifically, in the Yucatan Peninsula- in and around Meirda. I went with a team of professors to host a soils workshop at the Autonomous University of the Yucatan (UADY) and to visit some sites for a new research project. I spent an entire day touring agroforestry systems, milpas, and Mayan home gardens. It was lovely. There was a gorgeous variety of fruits available and a host of native spices. Yucatecan cuisine is quite unique- punchy and flavorful, acidic, easy on the heat in the dish, heavy on the heat in the salsa. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was not like Meixcan food I've had before, yet reminiscent of it. This garden tortilla pizza is also reminiscent of Mexican food you've likely enjoyed before. And it too, calls upon a few native Mexican ingredients. However, unlike Yucatecan food, this dish could not be farther from traditional.
A crunchy, yolky, bitter, fresh, crisp spring panzanella that comes together in no time
Something really exciting is happening right now. Spring. Going to the market when the season changes is one of my very favorite things. Just as I'm starting to tire of brussels sprouts and broccoli (that's a ridiculous statement- who gets tired of broccoli?) the asparagus, peas, and young onions appear. To everything- turn, turn, turn - there is a season - turn, turn turn. And that season is turning to spring before my eyes. Everything is waking up, leafing out, and getting down to business. I hacked down most of the winter garden to make way for summer. The weather here is already starting to feel like summer, so I'm fast-tracking all of the garden preparation. Tomorrow's going to be a busy day. After hitting the market this morning though, I wonder what great treasures I mat have unknowingly cast into the compost pile. During our Saturday morning market shop, Chris came across a big bundle of arugula flowers from Sage Mountain Farm. Arugula flowers (which are abundant right about now) are the most unexpectedly delightful thing I have tasted in a while. Only slightly bitter and surprisingly nutty. I grabbed a bunch and some dandelion greens and knew what I'd be making tonight.
Hi there! I'm Cara- plant ecologist, gardening addict, and whole foods enthusiast. My whole life revolves around plants, including my kitchen. Join me here at LWM each week as I post local, seasonal, plant-based recipes and write about my never ending quest to find balance and tranquility in this crazy little world.