[Climbing the Filbert Steps, San Francisco, March 2012.]
March, which seemed to trod along quite slowly (no complaints here) is suddenly over and here it is April and – it’s finally spring, yes? Spring is sun (and some rain, too). Spring is birds singing morning ’til night! Spring is green grass and petals falling from trees (and exacerbating allergies) and daffodils along Bloomfield Road. Spring is asparagus, strawberries, a little lingering citrus, baby beets, lots of green goodness. Spring is long daylight hours and the promise of summer in not-too-long. Not that I am in a rush to hurry up the days, but I can tick off on my fingers what I am most looking forward to in the coming months (new lettuce, plums, summer squash,tomatoes). Spring is a strong wind blowing out the dark clouds of winter. The air just tastes different right now: invigorating, clean, pushing energy back into weary souls. Would you agree?
For some reason in spring I become even more obsessed with vegetables than I usually am. Of course, I am nearly always obsessed with vegetables; each season brings its own particular pleasures and I try to appreciate each in turn (sweet potatoes, winter squash, winter greens, good garlicky potatoes – yes, winter was quite nice to me). So perhaps I should amend that to this week I have been very obsessed with vegetables, even more than is usual for me.
Example 1: Sunday dinner was a pot of polenta and a big helping of beef stew (more on this soon) chock-full of carrots, garlic, potatoes, onions, mushrooms, and peas for him; I topped my serving with a delicious stir-fry of sliced garlic, an entire bunch of chopped chard, and white beans. (Yes, there was ice cream for dessert but: all those veggies!)
Example 2: Monday morning I snuck in a swim (o, glory) before lunch and came home to raid the fridge for the farmers’ market spoils I’d picked up the day before. Ravenous, I roasted a sweet potato and topped it with a (small) slice of sharp cheddar, and ate that along with sauteed shiitake mushrooms, snow peas, broccoli, and sesame seeds. Miam miam.
Example 3: Monday evening I made carrot-coconut soup and an enormous bowl of cabbage-kale salad inspired by Ms. Shutterbean. I may have had seconds (and I’m still working through that salad this week for lunches). I also baked almond butter chocolate chip cookies for the office but that’s neither here nor there.
Example 4: Wednesday dinner comprised a big pan of vegetable fried rice (with brown rice) full of all sorts of decadence: shiitake mushrooms (sorry Kate), green onions, broccoli, red pepper, spinach. I could’ve eaten thirds if there had been any left. (OK yes I did have another small dish of vanilla ice cream topped with chocolate sauce for dessert but I’d run 6 miles earlier through a chilly – if sunny – Golden Gate Park, so.)
This weekend we are away to the woods to spend time with dog and chickens and the salt-sea. I have a hot date with the Bear Valley-Arch Rock trail (hopefully more than one) and will take my parents up to Mt. Vision via the Inverness trail. Though we’re not really religious folk, we do like to celebrate the holidays and Easter is no exception. As it always does it falls on a Sunday – yet another excuse for me to dream over the Sunday dinner menu. This is what I am thinking right now (note: menu subject to change at cook’s whim) – surprise! It incorporates loads of vegetables):
asparagus soup + garlic toasts
baked salmon w. lemon + white wine
roasted fingerling potatoes
roasted cauliflower + green beans
lemon cake w. fresh fruit and whipped cream
(Mom if you’re reading this pretend you forgot by Sunday. And yes: goal is to have some leftovers!)
But to circle back to that kale salad and because I’m about to dive into another bowl for lunch, I’d be remiss if I didn’t share the recipe. Now, you may be thinking kale? Even worse, raw kale? I know. But I promise sincerely it’s not that bad. In fact, it’s rather good. Kale somewhat unexpectedly became my ‘vegetable to like in 2012’ (see also: 2010, the year of cabbage, and 2011, the year of butternut squash) which is unfortunate because last summer I had access to all the home-grown organic kale I could stomach … alas. Still, better late than never. My brother would be so proud of me.
Anyway, one thing to do with kale to ease yourself into it is to make that really addictive and crave-able chard gratin except use kale in place of chard. After many, many experiments (for research, you see), I’ve decided I think I prefer kale rather than chard in the recipe. You could also do kale chips, which are sort of funny but addictive in their own right. You could do a kale-white bean soup (skip the cabbage and add kale). You could do a simple stir-fry with carrots and chickpeas. Or you could make this salad.
I know I’m biased because it contains two of my favorite things – cabbage and kale – and is dressed with a healthy amount of some of my other favorite things – sesame oil and ginger – but it’s more than that. It’s healthy, yes, but not boring. You barely register the amount of good greens that are going down your gullet (eased in, maybe, by the sliced almonds) and don’t mind at all that they’re uncooked. And the mint! is a revelation, bringing together all the disparate flavors to create a wintry (yet pretty springy) mix perfect for April, for right-now, and perhaps for this weekend too. I did say my menu was subject to change, right? I may have to amend it right … now …
Cabbage-Kale Salad, adapted from Tracy at Shutterbean
As I type this, I realize I left out the agave syrup called for in the original recipe for the dressing (2 Tb.) … I did not miss it, but I will note it here as an option. To chop the kale finely, roll the leaves lengthwise and chop as thinly as possible, then cut width-wise (discard the lower stems). Repeat until the leaves are to your desired level of shredded-ness (I like mine pretty shredded). Take a similar approach with the cabbage. I may try some shredded carrots here on the next round, ad I think a bit of lemon juice would be lovely too.
1 bunch lacinato kale, finely chopped
1 small head green cabbage, grated or finely chopped
4 scallions, finely chopped
1/2 bunch fresh mint, roughly chopped
1/2 cup (or more) sliced almonds
1/4 cup sesame seeds
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
4 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 inch piece ginger, grated
1 clove garlic, minced
salt and pepper
After chopping, place the kale, cabbage, scallions and mint in a large bowl. In a small bowl add the agave syrup, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, ginger and garlic and puree with an immersion blender or in a food processor. Add the almonds and sesame seeds to the greens and pour in the dressing, tossing and stirring lightly to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper.