Vegetables

Spring Soup by Anne Livingston

Why is it so hard to get—and stay—healthy with food in this day & time (& place)? It’s a question I ponder almost daily. Our country is so bizarre when it comes to food. How do we navigate all the pyramids, diets, charts, supplements, and plans? How do we do it cheaply, quickly, without too much thought? I guess we can’t, that’s the thing. But sometimes, we can.

When Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page said at IFBC last year that one of the hottest food trends in the U.S. is vegetables, I was optimistic. No chart or diet or plan will disagree: vegetables are where it’s at, man. Of course, they always have been, but making them sexy to the general public could lead to some interesting culinary developments. I can’t wait to see what happens in the next few years in restaurants, cookbooks, and grocery stores. Let’s watch it develop together.

So meanwhile, vegetables! There’s never a bad time to eat them, but now that it’s spring, it’s an especially good time. According to both Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic principles, now’s the time to be extra nice to your liver and gall bladder after a long winter of heavy comfort foods and hibernating. I have been studying Chinese 5 Elements and nutrition, so I’m starting to understand some ways to support those parts of the body.  Right now we need to focus on foods that are:

  • GREEN  all the green vegetables. Leafy greens, such as spinach, chard, kale, and fresh herbs
  • RISING QUICKLY – If it grows quickly or shoots up as it grows, it’s great for spring. Asparagus, bamboo shoots, and radishes
  • ACIDIC/SOUR – citrus, vinegars, pickles, kimchi
  • YOUNG – young shoots or roots, such as mung bean sprouts, baby carrots or beets

All this sounds like a chance to pull out the blender and make a green smoothie, right? Yes, if you live in southern California or Arizona, where it’s already hot. But if you are like me and live in cooler climes, our bodies need it warm and cooked until the weather warms up some more.  This will ease our digestion and ultimately give us more energy. We need something like a green smoothie in our regular rotation, but cooked. And delicious, of course.

This “recipe” is easy, quick, and has interchangeable ingredients. I’ve mixed and matched several soups and have loved them all. I also throw in a few young (unsprayed!!) dandelion leaves from the front yard. Being a wild food, dandelions are beyond ridiculously good for you in the spring, although they’re also intensely bitter, so be sparing if you have a sensitive palate. Shiitakes or other mushrooms also enrich this soup as a garnish. The soup pictured above is asparagus, with a few sauteed shiitakes sprinkled in at the last minute.

I also have some edible flowers growing in the garden, so I use them for festive garnishes. In case you didn’t know, dandelion petals are edible! It takes no money to be fancy around here.

SPRING SOUP

Serves 4 | Start to finish: 15 minutes

INGREDIENTS:

  • About 1 pound green vegetables, such as trimmed asparagus, spinach, chard, or broccoli
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion, scallion, or shallot
  • 2 cups stock, preferably homemade
  • 1 cup assorted herbs, such as parsley, chives, dill, mint, and a few dandelion leaves
  • 1/4 cup cream
  • 1/4 cup yogurt or crème fraîche, plus more for garnish
  • Sea salt, to taste

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Cook the vegetables and onion with the stock for about 10 minutes over medium heat, or until just cooked and still bright green.
  2. Place the fresh herbs, cream, and yogurt into a blender, and pour the stock and vegetables over the top. Place the lid on the blender, remove the inner “plug” to allow steam to escape during blending, and cover the hole with a kitchen towel to avoid splattering. Blend until completely smooth.
  3. Pour into bowls and garnish with edible flowers and more yogurt or crème fraîche. 

The Whole Tomato by Anne

tomatoes.stockThe less food I waste, the better I feel -- it's more economical, and it is better for The World At Large.  Saving energy by buying less.  It's so difficult, though!  It takes strength of will, organization, and some ingenuity to keep yourself from buying too much.  Whole corporations are built to strategize how to get us consumers to purchase more food.  Those tricks sure work on me.   What a weird problem we have in this country--so many of us have so much food we don't know what to do with ourselves, or it. I'm by no means an expert conserver-of-foods, but it gets better the more I work at it.  Someday I will be the proud owner of a fridge with no science projects lurking in the crisper.  At the moment, though, I've still got things like the tired lime wedges, some mopey moldy strawberries, and the leftover oatmeal that "could" become fodder for future pancakes.

So, here we are, at the end of fresh tomatoes for the year.  On one of the last warm days of fall, I celebrated with a round of gazpacho.  The heirloom tomatoes from Billy's Gardens at the farmers' market were way redder and readier than my own garden's, so I bought a bunch of seconds and got to it.   As I blanched and peeled the tomatoes, though, I started thinking about the tomato tops and skins.  They were beautiful and gemlike, in their various colors. Sure, they would go into compost, but what if I could do something with them?

This time, I put them into a vegetable stock to see what would happen. I used chopped carrots, celery, onion (including the toughest-yet-edible outer shell of a red onion), thyme sprigs, and yes, the tomato tops and skins.  The tomato flavor definitely dominated the stock, probably because there were so many of them, but maybe sometimes that's okay, depending on the stock's purpose.  I could use the stock in a tomato based soup, for example, or maybe in a pasta dish or risotto that had lots of related flavors. 

At any rate, it felt good to use the whole thing, and the leftover cooked parts will compost all the quicker. 

Last week in school our teacher taught us about making proper stocks, using the best part of fine ingredients.  He said, "If you want to make garbage stock, then make stock with scraps."  That really made me think.  It's a good point, especially for a restaurant.  Meanwhile, back here at the house, I'll go with the modified philosophy of, If I would eat it anyway (and I usually do eat tomato skins), then it's good enough for a home stock. 

Next I'm going to try to make tomato-skin powder.  Apparently you take your just-peeled tomato skins and either put them in a food dehydrator or a low-heat oven until they are dry and crumbly.  Then grind them up with a spice or coffee grinder.  I've never had this powder before, but it sounds like it would look and taste wonderful.  Tell you later if there's anything to report on that.

tomatoes.green.to.red

Culinary School, Week I by Anne

IMG_8577 It sure feels surreal to step on the speedy river raft of a Life Dream.  When you fantasize about something for so many years--decades, even--it's weird to start experiencing the real-life details that accompany the dream.  Fluorescent lights.  Combination locks.  Attendance.

The first week of culinary school was a heaping platter of details.  We survived a four-day onslaught of information about the school's program and individual instructor expectations.  Being in a cohort-style group, the 26 of us managed not to get lost by more or less shuffling around together from place to place. 

Seattle Culinary Academy's program itself is brilliantly organized, and it runs like a well-oiled machine.  The whole system must have taken years to perfect.   I wish I could draw you a diagram of how it all works--it's that cool.  Anyway, as first-quarter students, we'll rotate through many experiences during these next weeks, both in our own kitchen and those of the more advanced students. 

Some days I'll be in our 1st quarter kitchen doing prep for SCA student lunches, other days I'll be in the galley washing pots, and others I'll bus tables in the school's two restaurants (for which the more advanced students cook).  On other rotation days, I'll visit the advanced students' kitchens, and they'll give me something innocuous to do while I observe them in action, making me both useful and able to absorb what's to come. 

The teachers themselves seem amazing, too.  I'll likely be telling more about them as the weeks and quarters pass.  Chef Gregg Shiosaki, the one who teaches us the bulk of our first quarter theory and practicum, comes from a well-rounded professional background and obviously holds high standards for himself and us.  I reckon this is the kind of chef you want teaching the new lot--a teacher that people want to work hard for.  On the first or second day he told us that we should walk with purpose and pride when we are in the kitchen.  When we cook, we hold ourselves accountable, and we present what we have prepared with pride, not carelessness. 

Here's something I liked from his knife demonstration yesterday.  It's about onion slices versus julienned onions (example pictured above).   During the demonstration Chef Gregg was showing us sliced and julienned onions. To explain the different cuts, I'll pretend the onion's a globe, with north and south poles.  If half an onion lies north/south on a cutting board, flat side down, then onion slices are cut through the "lines of latitude," east to west, basically making half onion rings.  Julienned onions are cut north to south, like lines of longitude, or time zones.  Julienned onions require angled cutting near the cutting board to create consistent shapes.  In the picture above, the slices are on the left and the juliennes are on the right. 

So, why do we care about the difference between slices and julienne cuts for onions?  When you cut slices, you have cut against the grain of the onion, which makes them easier to break down easily in soups, and also makes them easier to eat in salads; julienned onions, since they are sliced along the fiber lines,  would be more stringy and less easy to eat raw in salad.  Sometimes you want your onions to retain their form in certain cooked dishes, though, such as a stir fry.  So juliennes are better for that. 

On some level I must have known all of this and how the onion fibers affect different cut types.  It's common sense, right?  Chef Gregg reminds us to use our common sense quite a bit.  Still, though, this small fact has filled me with geeky glee today.  It's the sort of "Ah ha!" that I've been hoping will fill my next 7 quarters.

Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes by Anne

Mashed Potatoes Photo by Quinn Dombrowski (thank you!) Well, here come those holidays.  For many turkey or tofurky consumers, this means mashed potatoes are coming, too.  I have several favorite mashed potato recipes, but there's one in particular that is a splendid, fluffy, make-ahead recipe, which is perfect if you are either joining a Thanksgiving/holiday potluck or are hosting and needing to juggle many dishes in one day. 

I love this recipe because the potatoes are incredibly light, fluffy, and creamy.  You can make it ahead and then bake it right before you are ready to serve it.  After eating and adoring this recipe that my stepmom made several times, I finally had to demand to know the secret behind the gorgeous light texture and the tangy richness.  

Once I learned the ingredients, I was surprised.  Perhaps you will see the ingredients and think it doesn't even sound that good.  However, trust me.  This is an incredible bowl of mashed potatoes--a perfect foil for some rich gravy and stuffing.

Baked Mashed Potatoes

Ingredients

  • 4 cups of peeled, boiled and very well-mashed potatoes
  • one 8 oz. package cream cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 T flour
  • 1/2 cup finely minced onion
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

  1. Blend all ingredients together in a medium-large bowl until it is completely creamy.  Spoon into a baking dish, and either put dish into a 350˚ oven immediately or cover and refrigerate until ready to cook. 
  2. Bake uncovered for about an hour or until lightly browned and puffy.  If the potatoes are browning too quickly, you can add a cover until the potatoes are finished baking.  You don't want the potatoes to be too dry.

Makes about 8 servings

Not Guilty Pleasure by Anne

beet.chips.and.dip Some treats that I crave are so guilty that I can’t even stand them sometimes.  To want them, I need to be in a dark and reckless mood (or on a road trip).  We’re talking perpetrators like Rice Krispy Treats, Sno Cones, and Chee-tos.   They require alternate spellings of words because they are not legally food.

Then there are those treats that bring me joy from the first luscious bite until long after I eat them.  Instead of using specially formulated chemicals designed to hit my taste buds right, the trick to these delicacies is that they take a little extra  care: an exquisite salad that someone else made for me, a perfectly crafted spicy tuna hand roll, and the lunch I made for myself and Rosalie the other day.

Yes, I fed my kid chips and dip, and not only did I feel good about it, I felt like a benevolent, morally unambiguous mother.  I sliced beets thinly and fried them until crisp.  Then, for dipping, I mixed herbed goat cheese with yogurt.  The sweet, dark, crispy beets with the rich and generously creamy dip tasted good enough to accidentally eat them too fast, and yet feel fabulous afterwards.   The toddler agreed.  She doesn't appear to feel guilty at all.

Beet Chips with Chevre Dip

Ingredients

  • 3 medium beets
  • Frying oil, such as peanut oil or canola oil—enough to fill a medium-small pot a few inches deep
  • Sea salt or other table salt
  • 5 ounces herbed goat cheese (I used Laura Chenel’s Chevre—chabis & herbs flavor.  If you do not have access to goat cheese that is already herbed,  use plain goat cheese and blend in small amounts of thyme, rosemary, savory, and salt)
  • ¾ cup yogurt
  • Extremely helpful tool: Deep frying thermometer.  I bought one at a drug store for less than three dollars and it made the work so much easier and saved me many mess-ups.

Directions

  1. Slice the beets very thinly with a sharp knife or (even more fun,) a mandoline.  Lay the beets out on clean towels or paper towels, then cover them with another layer of towel, pressing down to absorb moisture from both sides of the slices.  Note: if you use a towel, plan on possibly having a towel with large, pink polka-dotted stains on it.
  2. Heat oil to 350˚ over medium heat.  If the temperature gets too hot, remove pot from heat until the heat goes down, and turn the heat down slightly (I found that slightly on the lower side of medium got me to 350˚.  Your stovetop’s individual behavior will determine your exact heat setting).
  3. Put a few beet slices into the oil, giving each slice plenty of room to move around.  Hopefully the oil will sizzle softly around each slice and won’t do that unpleasant popping, because the moisture has been pressed from the surface of the beets.  About a minute into the cooking, turn the slices over to ensure even cooking.  Fry until the beets begin to change color from the deep magenta to a slightly lighter color, almost brown.   The whole frying process takes about 2 minutes per batch of chips.
  4. With tongs or a slotted spoon, remove chips from the oil and set on a plate lined with paper towels (or clean towels).  Sprinkle with a pinch of salt.
  5. When you get into a groove with the frying, take a moment to make the dip.   Blend the cheese and yogurt together thoroughly in a small bowl, and keep chilled until ready to use.
  6.  Serve chips on a plate with the bowl of dip. 

Makes a light snack for 3 or 4 people. 

Gazpacho Andaluz by Anne

gazpacho.andaluz
gazpacho.andaluz

If I had a nickel for every time I said, “Today is the hottest day in history,” I would have a nickel.  Yep, today is predicted to be the hottest day in Seattle’s recorded history.  This sounds pretty hot.  But really, for those who live in other places, 101˚ F is uncomfortable, but still do-able.  For the inhabitants of this temperate city, however, it’s hard to think of anything else today.  Most Seattleites do not own air conditioners, because the weather does not generally require it.  At this moment there are many new air conditioner owners in Seattle now. I know this because the entire city is sold out of air conditioning units.  There is a reason I know this, of course.  You guessed it.  Feeling crafty this morning, I showed up with Rosalie at Sears, anyway.  New deliveries happen all the time, right?  We walked in and asked a customer service rep in Tools how to get to the appliance department, and he replied in a bored and automatic voice, “Second floor on the right.” 

“You’ve been getting this question a lot this morning?” I asked.  He nodded, even more bored.  Nobody was buying tools, for some reason. 

You know those long, sad lines at the airport when several flights are cancelled, the security check is understaffed, and the airport is about to shut down because of some weather calamity?  This is what the scene was like on the second floor at Sears, except instead of luggage, giant boxes perched next to impatient and slightly manic-looking people as they stood in a terrifically unmoving line with one person at the register.

As I had hoped, a new truckful of air conditioners had just started unloading.  A guy with a hand truck emerged from the swinging doors with another few boxes, and people grabbed at the boxes impulsively, not even looking at what kind of units were inside.   “Is that a 1500 or 1000?” someone asked.  I had no idea of what he was asking the hand truck guy, but it was clear that people were attempting to purchase the largest units they could get their hands on.  A couple of people rushed around like frantic spiders in a sink, trying to get their hands on a box. 

I stood there for a second, stunned, trying to figure out if these people had ordered them ahead of time or not.   Was I supposed to wait in one of these lines, or did I need to muscle through with my heavy kid in one arm and somehow claim an enormous box with the free hand?   One lone woman called from a corner, “There’s a small one over here.”  People ignored her.   Rosalie and I came over and looked at it.  It was a unit made to cool one room, such as, say, a bedroom.  This is all we had needed, anyway.  Why else have a kiddie pool? 

When we were walking away from the scene, I heard a guy call out, “That’s all we’ve got.” A voice on the intercom suggested pointedly,  "All available employees please come to the second floor to assist people with air conditioners to their cars.”   That cracked me up.  Usually you hear general requests like "Second cashier, please, " not the more specific, "Holy crap, help me with the crazy people and their air conditioners! There's only one cashier!  Why are you not already up here??!?"  As we were exiting the store with our box perched in a shopping cart, a friendly, sweating man was just approaching the door, and asked, “Are there any more left up there?”  Sadly, it was likely that the swarms had already swept them all up.   

If you happen to live in Seattle and are as unprepared for history-changing as I am, I think the hand truck guy said more units are coming in this afternoon. 

If you can’t get your hands on an air conditioner (and even if you can), I’ve got another cure for the historically-significant-heat blues: gazpacho.  When we were living in Spain in the summer of 2006, I first tasted Gazpacho Andaluz on a day probably hotter than today.  It left an indelible mark on my psyche and palate.  I was moved to write about it, so to quote myself from back then:

Gazpacho Andaluz, the kind made with fresh tomatoes, seems to cool the body several degrees after the first spoonful. When the ingredients are right, you can taste sunshine and rainshowers in it. I’ve been reading articles about gazpacho every day since I had it in Salobrena last week. They served it blended smooth and ice-cold, with a separate saucer mounded with diced tomatoes, sweet onions, green peppers, and cucumbers. This way I could add whatever combination I wished to my soup. Naturally I dumped the whole contents into the bowl and a few bites later felt like I’d fallen into a swimming pool of refreshment. I kind of stopped talking.

Several days and many bowls later I’ve read that gazpacho was originally a peasants’ dish and also one that Roman legions ate while traveling throughout the empire. It didn’t originally contain tomatoes, since that ingredient came later to Spain and Europe. The key components of the ancient mixture were stale bread, olive oil, salt, garlic, and vinegar. There are so many types of this cold soup, and so many versions of its history that it’s hard to keep track. It has a possibly Arab-based etymology meaning “soaked bread” or “fragments,” but even that is debated. In school I teach the sixth graders about the concept of cultural diffusion. One day maybe I’ll show up to class with vats of soup.

Another type of gazpacho, ajo blanco, is made with the above key ingredients, but rather than the tomato/pepper/onion/cucumber-type medley, it’s made with crushed almonds and fresh grapes or melon! Totally intriguing. As I experiment with good gazpacho recipes, maybe I’ll branch out to ajo blanco.

Since writing about it that summer, I have put together a recipe that represents my favorite version of gazpacho, the kind of Gazpacho Andaluz I first tasted. 

If you are not growing tomatoes this year, you can use the “seconds” tomatoes at the farmers’ market—the kind that are on their last legs and need to be used immediately.  They’re perfect because they are cheap, ugly and intensely tomato-y. 

You can add a little extra bread if you want a thicker, more sustaining cold soup, or you can minimize the bread a bit for a lighter, more refreshing treat that you drink from a glass.  It's great both ways.  In heat like this, floating an ice cube in the soup is more than a novelty—it’s a necessity to maintain that refreshing coldness that will cool down your body and spirit like a fresh wind. 

Gazpacho Andaluz

For the soup:

  • 3 lbs fresh tomatoes, peeled* and chopped coarsely (about 6 cups)
  • 1 cucumber, peeled and chopped
  • 1 small garlic clove or ½ large garlic clove
  • 1 cup chopped onion (do not overdo onion—it can overpower)
  • ½ of a bell pepper (either green or red; green tastes just wonderful, although red adds a great color)
  • 2 T Sherry vinegar (or Balsamic will work in a pinch)
  • 1 slice of white bread, such as a baguette or other crusty artisan loaf, torn into chunks (should be about 1 ¼ cup after torn), soaked in about ½ cup cold water. Stale bread is fine.
  • 1 tsp salt, or to taste—having enough salt is important
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  1. In a blender, combine all the vegetables and garlic and purée until smooth. 
  2. Add the vinegar, the bread with soaking water, and the salt, and puree until fully incorporated and smooth.
  3. Add the olive oil at the end.  The additions of the bread and oil will probably lighten the color of your gazpacho.
  4. Chill in the refrigerator about an hour or more until ready to serve.
  5. In each glass or bowl, drizzle with olive oil and/or a touch of vinegar.  Serve with garnish (below), if desired, and an ice cube, if the day is hot—or if you cannot wait for the chill time to start eating it!

*I usually peel tomatoes by blanching a few at a time in boiling water, then plunging them in ice water to keep from cooking the tomato.  The skins slip off effortlessly. If they don’t, try blanching for a few seconds longer on the next ones.

For the garnish:

Optional but wonderful—you serve these on the side and give each person a chance to add some as desired.

  • 1 to 2 tomatoes, diced
  • ½ to 1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced
  • 1 green or red pepper (usually I saw green pepper when in Andalucia), seeded and diced
  • ½ onion, diced

Arrange all four ingredients on a plate and serve with bowls or glasses of soup.  Alternatively, you can offer a small individual saucer for each person.

Solving the Potato Salad Problem by Anne

potato.saladPotato salad does not turn my crank.  Too many times it comes to the plate a bland, light-colored afterthought, even after many loving attempts to bring it to life.   I’ve had good potato salad, but not as often as sadder versions, so oftentimes I opt for other salads to avoid disappointment.   How can this beloved vegetable turn into such a flavor vortex in a salad?  Is it just me who feels this way, or do you see this potato salad problem, too?  Whatever that problem is, keep it in mind when I tell you that we were invited to a great barbeque on the 4th of July.  I was excited to go.  However, when my friend emailed me about other people’s contributions—including barbequed ribs and cole slaw—it became clear to me that a potato salad was in order.  No gettin’ around it, I was destined to bring The Flavor Vortex to the party.  Maybe you are thinking, “Really? No, Anne, you can always fight destiny.  You could have brought baked beans.”  But it was hot.  And we Americans love our potatoes.  What else could I do?   

My best Saturday solution to the potato salad conundrum was to pack it with powerful flavors and balance the potatoes evenly with other ingredients.  Cherry tomatoes, green beans, and new potatoes made a pretty, crunchy, and juicy triad, and for flavor I called in the help of many capers, fresh herbs, and orange juice, among other boosters. 

The combination was tangy and tasty.  It tasted more alive and fresh than a standard potato salad.  I even enjoyed it enough to have seconds.  I’ll be honest, though:  I loved other salads more that day.  I didn’t want to stop eating my friend Jen’s awesome coleslaw with chipotle peppers and her mom’s green salad with mangos, mint, basil, avocados and honey.  Those were the salads I was thinking about on the way home.  Even so, I felt good about the “potato” (and other things) salad.  It has crank-turning potential.  However, is it really a potato salad if it only plays a role in an ensemble cast?  If you happen to know a way out of the Flavor Vortex, please tell me about it.  I really do want to be a better person and learn how to make—and enjoy—a mean potato salad, if there truly is such a thing.  It’s not over yet, potato.

Potato Salad with Green Beans and Cherry Tomatoes

Modified from Bon Appetit, June 2001

  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 t minced fresh thyme and/or fresh oregano (tarragon or chives would also work nicely).
  • 6 tablespoons drained capers
  • ¼ tsp (or more) salt
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 2 pounds new potatoes, quartered
  • 1 1/4 pounds green beans, trimmed and cut into one-inch pieces
  • ¼ cup finely chopped red onion
  • 1 1-pint basket cherry or teardrop tomatoes, halved.  Choose a variety of colors, if available.
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley

Directions

  1. Stir together two T each of the vinegar and orange juice in a small bowl. 
  2. In a separate bowl, make dressing: stir together the remaining orange juice and vinegar, along with the oregano, capers, salt, and pepper.  Let these flavors meld while preparing other ingredients.  (Later, when the salad is ready for dressing, you can whisk in the olive oil for pouring over the salad).
  3. Boil potatoes in well-salted water for about 8 minutes, or until tender, and transfer to a bowl immediately.  Pour the first orange juice-vinegar combination over potatoes and coat well.  Cool potatoes, stirring occasionally to re-coat with the liquid.
  4. Boil green beans in well-salted water for about 4 minutes, or until bright green and still crisp.  Drain and add the green beans to the potatoes, along with the onion. 
  5. Whisk olive oil into the rest of the dressing, and pour dressing over salad, and mix gently but thoroughly (try using clean, bare hands for maximum gentleness and coating potential).  Add tomatoes and Italian parsley, and mix gently a final time.  Adjust seasonings, if necessary.  This dish is best enjoyed within a couple hours of making it.

 Makes 6 side-dish servings or about 10 polite potluck servings

Olive Oil is the New Garlic by Anne

cucumber.soup.nasturtiumIb“I smell salt.” Michael stopped and looked around.  We had been taking an evening stroll in our neighborhood, and at the moment we were standing in the fading light next to a house with a lush garden. I looked around, too.  “I don’t think salt has a scent,” I said.  Or does it? “Are you smelling the ocean? Maybe the wind’s blowing over from Puget Sound.”

“No…” he replied, turning his head to try to locate the source of the smell.  “This is just salt.” 

I sniffed.  “All I can smell is this rosemary bush—Wait!  You’re smelling rosemary!” Mike’s favorite bread from Essential Baking Company is Rosemary Diamante, a loaf made with fresh rosemary and topped with a chunky, sparkling crust of…you know what I’m gonna say.  So Mike smells rosemary and thinks, “Salt!”

Now I smell rosemary and think, “Mike is adorable!”

Anyway, my adorable husband and I went out to eat last weekend at How to Cook a Wolf, and found ourselves facing another sensory mystery.  It was a warm night, the windows were open, and the sun still slanted on our shoulders, so I was looking for something refreshing to eat.  The chilled cucumber soup sounded dreamy to me, but this restaurant serves “plates” intended for sharing.   And Mike, he’s not a cucumbersman.  However, he was game to try it.

The pretty soup came as our first course, dolloped with yogurt and drizzled with bright oil made greener with tarragon.  Mike took the first taste.  His face instantly turned into a grimace—but it was a grimace of too much pleasure, one usually reserved for chocolate and cheese.  The pleasure-grimace over cucumber soup?  What universe had I been zapped into?

“Wow,” he said, reverently.  “This is rich!”  I heard his words but could not understand how he could be saying them.  But then I tasted this soup.  Creamy smoothness and sweet cool hit my mouth like a swimming pool splash on a hot afternoon.  The cucumbers and rich yogurt were subtly offset by tarragon, tasting of freshly built summer treehouses.    But there was something else…what was it?

“Garlic,” Michael asserted.  This is not what I was tasting at all. 

“Is this like your ‘salt’?” I teased him.  What else could this mystery ingredient be?

He insisted that since it had a round, umami flavor and reminded him of salmorejo (one of his favorite dishes that I learned to make in Spain), and salmorejo is indeed garlicky, then the secret to the round flavor must be garlic.  At this point, curiosity overcame our reluctance to bug our waiter, so when he came over to fill our water glasses we asked him what was in the soup.

“Cucumbers, yogurt, and tarragon,” he listed.  Well, duh. These are the three ingredients listed on the menu.  That’s all?  “That's all,” he assured us, graciously but definitively.  He must get this question all the time.  But what about the oil that the tarragon leaves were suspended in? “Well, that’s olive oil,” he said offhandedly, as if to say, Doesn’t everything contain olive oil?  

Then he also confided proudly that the yogurt was made with goat milk.  This surprised me, since I couldn’t taste one iota of goaty-ness.  The yogurt must come from local goat farmers.  Even with its immense subtlety, though, the goat couldn’t be the secret weapon of the soup.   There was something else happening.  Now I had to figure it out.

On our way home we stopped by the store, and I bought cucumbers and goat milk yogurt.  Experiments commenced, and here’s what I found.  Mike and I agree, it really is that simple.  Five ingredients compose this rich yet refreshing soup: Cucumbers, yogurt, salt, oil, and tarragon (and a touch of water for the right constency. Does this count?). 

So where was the garlic?  It was the olive oil.  That garlicky salmorejo Mike loves also contains a generous amount of olive oil, so the association has stuck for Mike’s palate.   This is why olive oil is the new garlic.  But I totally get it.  Mike correctly pointed out that I have my own flavor associations. Tarragon tasting like treehouses?   Hah.

Notes About Making This Soup

Just to see, I tried adding a hint of garlic powder, because I felt that fresh garlic would be too overwhelming for this relatively subtle flavor.  If you let the soup chill for awhile and let the garlic flavor calm down, it does taste good with a touch of garlic powder—but it’s probably not what we were tasting the other night.  I also tried scallions of varying amounts. It was definitely not scallions, or any onion, in that soup last Friday.   

The pungent grocery store goat yogurt is not going to work if you make this soup. I might try goat yogurt from the farmers’ market, but meanwhile, I recommend that you go for the rich and flavorful Greek yogurt.  I’m guessing any full fat yogurt would also taste good, if you can’t get your hands on Greek.

If tarragon is not your flavor of choice, you can substitute it with another fresh herb. I also tried it with dill and it was lovely.  As with the tarragon, though, keep the herb-to-oil ratio low.  The soup is mostly about the cucumber.  You could even just drizzle the oil without herbs at all and it should still have that great summertime-treat flavor.   

Finally, like all cold soups that I know of, there’s quite a bit of salt.  The cooler temperature diminishes the flavor of salt, so you need more salt in a cold soup than you do in a warm soup. And by the way, this soup would be nothing without salt.  And when I say salt, I’m talking about the kind you cannot smell. 

Chilled Cucumber Soup with Tarragon Oil

Adapted from How to Cook a Wolf’s menu

  • 4 cups chilled cucumber that has been peeled, seeded, and chopped very coarsely
  • ½ cup plus 2 small dollops yogurt
  • 1 tsp plus one pinch kosher salt
  • 4 T best quality extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 tsp minced tarragon

Directions

  1. Puree the cucumber in a blender until smooth.  Add ½ cup yogurt, 1 tsp salt, and 2 T of the olive oil. Blend thoroughly.   
  2. Pour tarragon and pinch of salt into a tiny bowl, and gently bruise the tarragon by pressing it with the back of a spoon against the granules of salt to release the flavor.  Stir together with 2 T olive oil.
  3. Pour soup into small bowls or glasses, and top with a dollop of yogurt and a drizzle of the tarragon oil.

Makes 3 cups – 4 small servings or 2 larger ones.

Cooking with Sea Beans by Anne

whitesalmoneditAfter a couple of happy experiments with sea beans this week, I think we have a winner.  When I go to Ballard Farmers’ Market this Sunday, I’ll definitely stop back by the Foraged and Found Edibles booth in search of sea beans.   So if you find yourself at that booth too, staring at those funky-looking stems, listening to people murmer "Sea Beans..." quizzically aloud to themselves as they pass, and you're wondering whether to try them or not, you could consider these ideas for starters. 

First, they perked up a regular old tuna salad.  In the salad, the sea beans provided salt and a compelling crunch.  That crunch compelled me, actually, to keep adding more of them to the salad as I ate it, so you might find that ¼ cup from the recipe below is not enough for you, either.  I was surprised that while the sea beans have a distinctive taste on their own, once in the salad they did not command attention—rather they seemed to enhance the flavor of the tuna like good backup singers.  For the tuna salad magic alone I want to keep buying sea beans. 

 

Tuna Salad with Sea Beans

Tuna salad lovers often have their own favorite versions.  Here is a simple version that I used to give the sea beans a chance to have a say-so in the flavors, although they were subtler than I expected.

Ingredients

  • 1 can of tuna packed in oil (preferably olive oil)
  • 2-3 T of mayonnaise
  • 2 stalks celery, diced finely
  • 3 T minced sweet onion
  • A few turns of ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup rinsed and chopped sea beans

Directions 

  1. Pour the whole can of tuna, oil and all, into a medium mixing bowl.  Begin flaking tuna with a fork, then add mayonnaise and continue to flake tuna to get a fine texture.  
  2. Add celery, onion, pepper, and sea beans. 
  3. Enjoy with crackers or on a sandwich.

Serves 2. 

 *  *  *  *  *  * 

 

This week I also tried sea beans in a salmon dish, which was another hit, although I have to say it was a bit lacking in color.  Isn’t it a bummer when something delicious doesn’t look very pretty?  Well, I’ll take delicious any day. For color, though, this might shine next to some sliced fresh tomatoes, as soon as tomatoes start coming this summer.   By the way, if you cannot get sea beans, this dish would still taste lovely all on its own.  However, they add texture and a satisfying crunch, as well as hints of salty seaside. 

Seaside White Salmon

Marinade Ingredients (modified from The Bride & Grooom First and Forever Cookbook):

  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup dry white wine
  • 3 T fresh rosemary or other herbs of your choice (rosemary stands up to cooking, though)
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Half of an onion

Main Ingredients

  • 1 lb white salmon
  • 2 medium red potatoes
  • 1 onion
  • 1 large fennel bulb
  • 1 cup sea beans

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425˚.
  2. Combine all the marinade ingredients in a blender or food processor.  Puree until smooth.  Place the fish into a shallow dish and pour marinade over it. Let it rest on the counter for 20-30 minutes. 
  3. While the fish is marinating, chop the onion and the fennel, and slice the potatoes paper-thin.  Using a mandoline is helpful here but not necessary. 
  4. Combine the onion and fennel at the bottom of a baking dish that will later easily accommodate the salmon.  Then arrange the potatoes in a layer over the onion and fennel, overlapping the slices, if necessary. 
  5. Place salmon on top of the potatoes, and spoon most of the marinade over the fish and the potatoes. 
  6. Cover tightly, and cook for 30 minutes.
  7. While salmon is cooking, rinse sea beans and chop them coarsely.
  8. After removing the dish from the oven, lift salmon from the bed of vegetables, transfer it to a cutting board, and slice it into 4 pieces.
  9. Gently mix the sea beans with the vegetables and sauce.
  10. To serve, place a few large spoonfuls of the vegetables and sauce on a plate, and place salmon atop the bed.   

 Serves 4.

 

Foraged and Found: Sea Beans and Forest Greens by Anne

foragedandfoundFor me, shopping at the farmers’ market feels like traveling. Similar feelings arise at the market as in another country—I’m exhilarated, overwhelmed, and intimidated.  Why intimidated?  Well, there’s the feeling-like-a-visitor part.  And then there’s the language barrier.  I thought I had the hang of English pretty well, but it turns out that there are many words out there that I have not learned yet.  Since becoming a regular farmers’ market shopper I’ve learned about kohlrabi, mizuna, and celeriac.

I have yet to know anything about burdock root, sorrel, and wait—I can cook with chrysanthemum leaves?!  There’s so much to know.  It is, yes, exhilarating, overwhelming, and intimidating.

One booth in particular holds a special intimidation/fascination: Foraged and Found Edibles, a popular booth that sells wild mushrooms, fiddleheads, and other items that I cannot identify or remember.  People who work there (and shop there!) just seem so cool to me.  I imagine these mavericks wandering in the wilderness, finding food in secret places and maybe also living off the grid somewhere in a remote cabin.   

Today I was passing by Foraged and Found Edibles and saw a pile of something that looked strange, stemmy and jointed, like something I might have weeded out of my garden.  The sign said, “Sea Beans.”  I was strolling with my baby girl, so I pointed to them and said, “Look! Sea Beans.”   

A card next to the sea beans explained that they grow in salt marshes.  You need to blanch them for 30 seconds to remove some of their intense saltiness.  They are great on salads, with seafood, or in brothy soups, the card read.  The part of the description that really caught my fancy, though, was that they “taste like the sea.”  This is how I describe fresh oysters when they are good, so I wondered how it worked with these little stems. 

Anyway, as I was standing there debating whether to get some, people kept wandering past and saying aloud thoughtfully, “Sea Beans.”  I started to crack up the sixth time it happened.  It’s like we can’t help it.  When you see a sign that reads, “Sea Beans,” apparently it compels you to utter it aloud—maybe even against your will.  (Though, why wouldn’t you want to say “Sea Beans”?  It’s pleasant and almost funny to say.  Have you said it aloud yet?  If not, I salute you.  You are a stronger person than me or anyone else shopping the market this morning).  Well, I thought, any food that is this compelling to a crowd must be given a fair culinary shot in the kitchen.  I bought a few handfuls of them, along with a bag of some lovely, delicate salad greens that were also foraged (in the forest, I think? Perhaps next to that imaginary cabin?). 

I felt victorious with this purchase, finally having broken that invisible barrier – after years of wistfully passing by Foraged and Found Edibles I finally bought something from them, those cool people.   After this personal coup, I lingered, talking with the kind, informative, and approachable woman working the booth.   I asked her if one might put Sea Beans in pasta, and she said yes.  But really, she said, they taste awesome with fish. 

Optimistically I planned to get some fish tonight for dinner.  Then life happened.  What I’m saying is we had takeout Chinese.  But after Rosalie went to bed I tasted my adventurous purchases.  The salad greens were quite mellow, not bitter like I had expected.  They tasted like the fresh air you breathe in when you are hiking in spring rain.  Then I boiled some water and blanched some sea beans.  They were salty, alright.  But they indeed tasted like the sea, in a clean yet intense way.  The texture was cool, too.  Imagine if green beans were very slender and grew underwater in a very salty ocean.  This is how I would describe the flavor and texture of sea beans.  Tomorrow we’re off to Fresh Fish Company to find a main dish to go with these wild side dishes.  Oh.  Fish Markets?  They have their own language, too...so much to learn.