beet box: over 30 ways to serve the ruby orbs in your refrigerator crisper

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Having been rather beeten down by a mountain of beets, I turned to my Facebook readers, who generously suggested some new and thrilling recipes for this unmistakable vegetable.

Most of my own favorite recipes, unsurprisingly, minimize the sweetness and hail from Eastern European roots.  These include the spectacular molded Russian chopped beet, herring, vegetable, and egg salad called Herring under a Fur Coat that Portland’s Kachka has made fashionable again.  Or perhaps my Polish-style grated salad of sauerkraut, apple, carrot and beet (mixed at table).  And I always have on hand beet kvass to sip or fortify cold borschts.

But shall we head over to India with a beet raita and pickled mustard-seed beet stem relish instead?

If none of my recipes appeal, you might like some of these:

  • Similar in style to beet kvass, you might try fermented beet pickles.
  • Nutritionist Yaakov Levine suggests a simple raw salad of cups grated raw beets, juice of one lemon, 2 tbsp of olive oil and a pinch of fresh dill.
  • A cumin-scented, grated beet quinoa with chickpeas?  Why not?
  • The Master Food Preservers turned me on to this beet chocolate cake at a potluck.
  • Cinnamon-poached beets, which are braised in liquid with cinnamon sticks.
  • “Dirt candy!” said one reader, recommending roasting simply. Some folks use olive oil, and some use butter, plus salt and pepper.  I always add thyme, and orange zest if I have it, when I’m roasting beets in foil.  It’s a great shortcut to peeling beets, as well, since the skins slip right off after roasting.
  • My favorite recipe is a warm salad that uses light-colored beets, parsnips, a fruity vinegar, and plenty of grated ginger.
  • Chef Yotam Ottolenghi does beets, I am told, with tomatoes, preserved lemons, roasted red peppers and more. The word in the Math-Science library on campus is “It’s delicious.”
  • Beet salad with walnuts and feta or a walnut oil vinaigrette, adding rosemary and/or parsley, or go more exotic with a:
  • Moroccan-style beet salad with mint, grapefruit, and red onion, or Lebanese-style with pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, and mint.
  • Belly’s delicious beet, red cabbage, capers, creme fraiche and mint chopped salad is a must in early spring as soon as the mint comes up. Here’s my version with fennel fronds.
  • Or get even more creative with your pomegranate molasses and try Chef Chris DeBarr’s “Beet the Day ravioli,” which is a name I just made up: “Roast ’em (yellow ones give the best illusion of pasta), peel ’em, slice ’em as thinly as possible, whip soft chèvre with truffles (peelings are okay, but I frown on truffle oil), stuff a good dab of the trufflicious goat cheese on a round, top with another thin round.  In the restaurant we took it next level by briefly heating the faux ravioli in a hot oven in avocado oil (cuz it is more heat stable than olive oil and rich yet neutral in taste), finishing with pomegranate molasses and red wine syrup from Sardinia called saba, and sprinkled with pink Himalayan salt…but you can just use the inexpensive pom molasses and call it a day.”  OK, will do!
  • In Australia, my friend and fellow travel writer Richard Sterling recounts, they put a slice of beet on a cheeseburger, reminding me of:
  • PartyDowntown’s beet ketchup for winter months when tomatoes aren’t in season.
  • Chopped beets with brown butter, ricotta, and pistachio as a topping for thick short pasta shapes was suggested, and I heartily agree: the beet/soft white cheese/pistachio is one of my favorite flavor and color combinations. See, for example, Melissa Clark of the NYT’s recipe here. Or take a hint from 900 Wall restaurant in Bend, which turns the pistachio into a pesto and serves the beets and cheese à la caprese.
  • Another pasta recipe you might try includes chopped beets, Oregon blue cheese from Rogue creamery, and beet greens sauteed in a little olive oil.
  • Beets and grains go well together. I remember having a wonderful wafer-thin raw beet and emmer wheatberry salad with goat cheese, showered with sesame and sunflower seeds, at Sitka and Spruce in Seattle a few years ago.  Or sample, as a reader suggested, a beet risotto with goat cheese and hazelnuts.
  • And if all else fails, put them “In the compost. Don’t look back.”

duck egg leche flan for pi day

IMG_5784Of the fowl I coddled recently on a two-week farm stay, I became a duck supporter.  Go Ducks!  I had heard that ducks have a presence that chickens lack, and it’s true. Their soft, smooth heads and facial expressions just charmed the pants off me. And they don’t have roosters who insist on pecking me and they’re not geese, period.  Seriously, a plus.

I was helping out some family farmers who needed livestock coverage in nearby Cottage Grove, a bucolic little rural town of covered bridges, plant nurseries, bookshops, and great breakfasts.  Part of my daily job was to process dozens of eggs from 24 chickens, a single egg a day from the horrible four-goose thug team, and whatever eggs the six ducks saw fit to lay.  I also had to milk two goats, an endeavor I enjoyed quite a bit, and one I’ll write about later.

IMG_5966So I suddenly found myself in the middle of the road of my life, surrounded by eggs.  I’ve been experimenting quite a bit.  I was reminded how delicious a classic béarnaise sauce is with a ribeye steak.  I learned that, despite a promising concept and the heart willing, leftover béarnaise sauce does not a good scrambled egg make.  I’ve made a glorious caramel duck egg bread pudding, a single goose egg chilaquiles (above), frittata, aioli, and Alice B. Toklas’ tricolor omelette with spinach and saffron layers, draped with tomato sauce.

And, my friends, I made this.

IMG_6024Duck egg leche flan with blood orange.  Doesn’t look like much, does it?  But o o o o that simple appearance belies a rich, deep, exquisite flavor of almost savory sweet egg custard, and the whole thing is bathed in caramel.  It’s a Filipino specialty, and traditionally relies on creamy water buffalo milk and a sour lime called a dayap (similar to a calamansi), but now uses pantry ingredients.  I opted for the “traditional” version with evaporated milk and condensed milk, managing to source some organic varieties of both.  For some thoughts on the rich variety of recipes using different kinds of dairy and eggs or whole eggs, click here.  I may still try it with cream and honey, but I present you with my first go, which was absolutely delicious.

The recipe uses 12 duck egg yolks.  If you ever find yourself in duck egg heaven, you won’t regret making it, since duck eggs are noticeably richer than their chicken cousins, but farm-fresh chicken egg yolks would work too.  It just wouldn’t be as rich.  And I hate to be a snob, but I wouldn’t bother making this with grocery store eggs and their pale yellow, tasteless yolks.

The traditional mold, a llanera, can be replaced by a cake or pie dish or ramekin.  A ramekin will give you less caramel on top, so screw that.  I found it much more reliable to bake the flan in a water bath versus steaming it (also more traditional).

What to do with the duck egg whites?  Well, they’re thicker and richer than chicken eggs, so they don’t work the same way in cakes and pastries.  I suggest beating them to soft peaks and making chiles rellenos out of them, which is what we had for dinner the night of the flan.  Yes, it’s decadent, but hey, I’ve got farm work to do.

Duck Egg Leche Flan with Blood Orange

Serves 12, very rich.

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 12 duck eggs, yolks and whites separated
  • 1 blood orange
  • 1 can condensed milk (best quality), 14 oz.
  • 1 can evaporated milk (best quality), 12 oz.

Prepare a waterbath for a 10-inch cake pan or deep pie dish using a roasting pan or similar that will allow you to fit the dish in the pan and add hot water.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Place your cake pan next to the stove.  In a light-colored skillet, melt and caramelize the sugar on low heat.  As it melts, gently push the unmelted sugar into the melted sugar to help keep the heating constant.

Watch the skillet constantly, especially near the end, as burning is quick and fatal.  You want a medium-dark brown color, but dark brown will impart a bitter flavor, so take it off the heat immediately when done, and pour it into your reserved cake pan, tilting the pan for a thin layer and ensuring that the caramel goes on the sides as well as the bottom.

Place the pan in the roasting pan, and add very hot water to about midway up the side of the cake pan.

Zest the orange and squeeze about a tablespoon of juice.  Add to egg yolks in a medium bowl, and whisk.  Reserve whites for another use.  Whisk in condensed and evaporated milk, then pour batter into caramelized cake pan.  Place pan into water bath prepared earlier, and cook until just set, about 1 hour.  A knife inserted in the middle should come out almost completely clean (the caramel will make the tip wet).  Don’t overcook.

Let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for several hours.  Carefully slide a thin spatula around the sides of the pan, then invert onto a dish quickly.  Be sure the dish is large enough for the liquid caramel on the bottom.

Serve with whipped unsweetened cream, berries, or supremed blood oranges, grapefruit, and limes tossed with a little Grand Marnier.

greening breakfast

IMG_5583I’ve finally found the perfect breakfast for me, and it’s easy being green.  It lends itself well to overwintering hardy greens in the Willamette Valley, although we may have to search for them in the snow today.  It’s a perfect farm meal, since kale lingers in the garden, and leeks can store well for a while.  Until my rosemary unceremoniously gave up the ghost, I could harvest the herbs fresh each day.

Contrary to what a hundred years of breakfast cereal propaganda will have you believe, protein in the morning is a good idea since it doesn’t burn through you like empty carbs and sugar.  After leaving my bagel habit behind, I’ve tried every kind of breakfast imaginable, including hot cereal, poached eggs, yogurt with fruit, and a ham sandwich.

But the Breakfast of Champions — a bowl of kale, ground beef, and leeks — is without doubt the best thing I’ve eaten for breakfast, and I eat it almost every day. It instantly makes me happier, not sleepy, and if I wait long enough in the morning, I can skip lunch.  I’ll often make enough for two days and reheat a serving.

IMG_5587You’ll probably guess that with these ingredients and the paleo/gluten-free/nutritionist slant, I did not come up with this breakfast on my own.  It’s the work of my friend and kayak-builder Brian Schulz, with whom I (mostly goodnaturedly) quarrel almost daily about diet.  He’s often right, but I know how to cook, so it’s a pretty even match.  (Incidentally, if you want to make your own traditional skin-on-frame kayak in one of the most beautiful places on the Oregon Coast, take one of his classes in Manzanita or other locations on the road.)

Anyway, he insisted on making me this breakfast one day when I was visiting his farm, and I got hooked on the flavor combination of coconut oil and kale.  Who knew?  For someone that pretty much follows the if-it-grows-together-it-goes-together principle of food combinations, and eschews fad oils altogether, I believe I have the necessary street cred to say it tastes good; try it.  And yes, they’re paleo-friendly.

Charred chard with an egg is another green breakfast I eat when I’m out of hamburger meat.  I really like the contrast of well browned leaves, crispy on the edges, and the silky softness of sautéed chard with the sunnyside up egg nesting in it.  In early spring, try mixing your chard with another and punchier green mixed in during the last few moments, preferably wild nettles or arugula.  I developed the recipe as I was writing my next column for Eugene Magazine, which will show you how to use the stems in a delicious chard stem pickle.  Stay tuned!

Breakfast of Champions

Serves 2.

  • 6-8 cups torn kale or kale/chard mix
  • one large leek
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mixed herbs: rosemary, sage, and thyme
  • 2/3 lb. lean ground beef (about 7% fat)
  • 2 tablespons of coconut oil
  • salt to taste

Rinse and drain dry kale and chard (if using).  Tear up greens into bite-sized pieces.

Clean leek by removing the tough green tops (save these for soup stock), slitting the leek lenthwise partially through the stalk, then rinse well under cold water, making sure to get any sand trapped in the outer layers.

In a large skillet or wok, melt coconut oil on medium heat, then add leeks and saute until golden.

Add herbs and ground beef, crumbling up the large pieces.  Once no longer pink, allow the beef to sit without stirring to acquire a bit of browning, about 2-3 minutes.  Turn beef over and let sit again for the same amount of time, then add greens.  If your wok or skillet is too small, you may need to add in batches.  Be careful, as the water clinging to the leaves may splatter.  Cook greens down until tender.

Charred Chard with An Egg

Serves 2.

  • 4-5 cups chard leaves, washed, patted dry, and torn into pieces
  • optional: 1 cup of spring nettles (be careful!) or dandelion greens, washed, patted dry, and torn to pieces
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 tablespoons butter or coconut oil
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 2 eggs

Preheat a well-seasoned cast iron skillet on medium-high heat.  Add greens and stir until any water on leaves has steamed away.

Add butter or coconut oil and minced garlic, and stir to coat leaves well. Sprinkle on salt and pepper to taste.  Smooth out the greens into one layer, and let cook, without stirring, until the bottom is crispy.  The goal is to mark the chard with little near-burned bits.

When chard is crispy on bottom, separate into two piles in the skillet with a spatula.  Create a divot in the middle of each pie for the raw egg.

Crack an egg into each divot, and add salt and pepper to taste.  Cover the skillet with a lid and let egg cook through until the yolks are done to your liking.

Carefully scoop out the kale and egg servings, and present on a plate with toast.

when the greens begin to bore you

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Even in our kale-besotted burg, there gets to be a point when our blood runs green and we start growing leafy fringes.  Maybe not this week, maybe not next week, but it will happen as it inevitably happens each year.  And then you’ll stop protesting and thank me for these, my go-to greens recipes.  Truth be told, you can them all year ’round, since mustard greens and collards overwinter, but after the first blush of green in April is when you’ll really appreciate a good Chinese, Indian, or Ethiopian treatment to spice things up a bit.

Looking for recipes for raab, or the tops of bolting greens?  Look no further.

For each of these recipes, they’re best using the greens specified, but feel free to substitute any green, keeping in mind collards and some kales need to cook longer than tender young Russian kale, mustard greens, or spinach.

IMG_3158Buttery Collard Greens with Anaheim Peppers (Ye’abesha Gomen)

Serves 4 as a side dish with another Ethiopian stew or two.  I use my fermented peppers all winter long as a substitute for local peppers, but you might try freezing Anaheims when they’re in season; the texture will change but they are fine in long-cooked dishes like this one.  Above: with split peas and lettuce salad.

  • 1 large bunch collard greens, cleaned
  • 1/2 cup chopped red onions
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 stick to 1 stick butter (let your conscience be your guide)
  • 2 Anaheim peppers, deseeded and chopped (or substitute fermented peppers)
  • handful of fenugreek leaves or a few shakes of powdered fenugreek (optional)

Remove the tough ribs from the collards and chop the greens well.  Bring a cup or two of salted water to the boil.  Boil collards until soft, about 15 minutes, with the lid on.  Meanwhile, in a frying pan, melt the butter and cook onions and garlic until soft and golden over medium low heat.  Add peppers and cook until soft, about 5 minutes, then add cooked greens and fenugreek leaves or powder.  Cook for another 10 minutes.  Serve with rice or injera.

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Sichuan Spicy Kale with Celery

This dish, wonderful with any pork preparation, is an adaptation of Fuchsia Dunlop’s Twice-Cooked Swiss Chard from her cookbook, Every Grain of Rice.  You might use chard, but do blanch it ahead of time (that’s the “twice-cooked”).  This makes a thoughtful dining experience, as munching on the juicy stems of chard and celery slows one down and turns even the most heathen glutton pensive.  You might think about this dish as poverty food: chard, Dunlop tells us, was until recently seen as pig fodder in China.  Or just use kale instead, as I do, since it adds a layer of sweetness and provides a more tender experience, and doesn’t need to be blanched. You can now find top-quality Sichuanese chili broad bean paste at Sunrise Market in little brown packages tied up with string.  It’s well worth having some on hand.

  • 2 bunches ruffled-type kale (I prefer ‘White Russian’)
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons Sichuanese chili bean paste
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 1 tablespoon green or spring onion bottoms (save tops for garnish)
  • 1 tablespoon fermented black bean paste (or substitute 2 tablespoons rinsed and drained fermented black beans, chopped)
  • 1/4 cup chicken stock
  • 1/3 cup minced celery
  • 2 tablespoons minced cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons thinly sliced green onion tops

Prepare all the ingredients ahead of time.  Clean and strip kale from its ribs.  Tear into bite-sized pieces.  Heat the oil on medium high in a wok but not until smoking or you’ll burn the spices.  Add chili bean paste, garlic, and ginger, stirring to break down the bean paste, then add the black bean paste and chicken stock and cook until it turns saucy, another 2-3 minutes.  Fold in the kale pieces and stirfry until wilted and soft, about 5 minutes, then add celery and cook for another minute.  Remove from heat, stir in cilantro and green onions, and serve.

IMG_3172Indian Mustard Greens with Paneer Yogurt Cheese (Saag Paneer)

There are roughly a gazillion versions of saag paneer, the ubiquitous creamed, pureéd greens with white, tofu-like yogurt cheese cubes that one sees on Indian restaurant menus.  Some are thickened with yogurt, some are more of a thick sauce in texture.  Needless to say, anything one makes at home with late-spring greens will be better than the frozen spinach preparations available on the buffet line.  As you can see in the first photo, I use tomato paste instead of the more usual tomato and throw a couple paneer cubes in the food processor with the greens to combat the dish’s tendency to be watery.

Paneer can be purchased frozen or fresh, or you can make your own easily if you have some time.  I like the color added when you brown the cubes, but browning tends to toughen them up, so you might just add them as is.  I’ve seen some recipes recommend soaking the cubes in hot water before browning and even after browning to prevent this issue. If you try that, let me know.

  • 2 bunches mustard greens
  • 6 – 8 oz. cubed paneer
  • 2 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 medium white onion, minced
  • 2 teaspoons grated ginger
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons garam masala
  • 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
  • salt to taste

Clean the greens and remove large stems, and cube the paneer.  Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Blanch greens in the boiling water for 2 minutes (in 3-4 batches) to make them easier to handle.  Plunge in a bowl of cold water, then allow them to drain well in a colander.  Add to a food processor with a couple of cubes of the paneer, puree until finely chopped.

Heat the oil in a large skillet using medium heat.  Brown paneer cubes on two sides, just until they have a nice golden-brown crust.  Remove paneer and set aside.

Using the same oil in the skillet, fry the cumin seeds until fragrant, then add onion, ginger, and garlic.  Cook until golden, then add tomato paste and garam masala, stirring constantly to break down the paste and ensure no burning.  If the burner seems too hot, add a little water.

Add greens mixture and cook for another 5 minutes or so, blending the flavors. Add paneer cubes and cream and lower heat to a simmer.  Salt generously to taste.  Cover skillet and cook for 5-15 minutes, stirring every few minutes, depending on how soft or fresh you want your greens.

eats weeds and leaves: edible spring pruning

IMG_3152Hello!  Long time no see.  It’s planning season in academia, and I’ve been scrambling to pull together grants and reports and abstracts and introductions and applications.  Like so many young(ish) scholars working in adjunct positions, I’ve also been struggling with job instability and will be moving to a joint position teaching in English and Comparative Literature at the university in the fall.  Although I’m excited to work with colleagues I know and respect already (don’t forget Eugene is a small town, so this is like moving down the street), it will shift priorities for me as the new classes and structure will take up more time.  Some additional family financial pressures mean I will need to start prioritizing stability and writing much more, both for academic journals and professional food publications to make ends meet.  Having to move is a very real possibility.

Unfortunately, this will mean fewer events and volunteer projects for the community starting next year, and I’m deeply sorry about this.  It’s important to give back, and the pleasures of the volunteer work I do, including the radio show, this blog, the preservation classes, the events I host at the UO through my research group, the promotion of others’ work, and volunteering at festivals and reporting on my travels and such make life worth living in Eugene.  Don’t worry, I still have a few things planned for next year that are pretty fabulous.  But I need to “lean out,” as they say.

So the prospect of eating from the garden is suddenly even more appealing.  And it’s culling time, so here are some ideas.

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  • Fresh oregano salad, substituting oregano for fresh parsley in any tabbouli recipe, supposedly helps young people study in the Middle East.  And who doesn’t need to sharpen up the memory?  With the tender spring leaves tempered by spring onions and a lemon and olive oil dressing, you won’t be overwhelmed by the dark, musky flavor and woody stems.
  • Common snails. Yes, escargot.  I felt my gorge rise when I realized in France our garden pests — yes, the exact same variety — were one of the species used for escargot.  But Molly Watson has published a piece in Edible San Francisco that lays out how to prepare and cook them in a rather appetizing way.  And what with the foraging all around town making its way into local bistros…new business, anyone?
  • Any basket-weavers who are pruning?  Consider a traditional grilled fish basket made of Mediterranean bay branches (above image).  We lunched on delicious salmon prepared this way on our tour of Sunset magazine a few weeks back as part of the International Association of Culinary Professionals conference.  You might be able to do something similar with rosemary branches, if that’s your unruly hedge issue.
  • Dandelion greens can be wilted and used as a deeply flavorful green in a stirfry or potato curry, or try my fellow Oregon blogger Dr. Fugawe’s adaptation of Duguid’s Spiced Burmese New Potatoes with dandelion greens and shallot oil.

But where it’s really at is RAAB.  These are the tops of cruciferous vegetables that sweetly greenly provided iron-rich leaves all winter long, now bolting in the lovely sun.  The market gives us a bunch of them, all tasting basically the same once cooked, but some sharper, some darker when raw.  Try brussels sprouts raab or collards raab, my favorite (pictured first against tree — a very timely delivery by my beloved neighbor), or the lovely purple cabbage raab.

Easiest recipe?  Chop up a bunch of raab with its pretty yellow flowers and throw atop fried meat, like the utterly succulent chunks of bo ssam Biancalana pork shoulder I made the other day, before wrapping morsels in butter lettuce leaves.  But then there’s also

Pasta.  Try it chopped and sauteed in olive oil that has been warmed up with a little chopped garlic or culled green garlic from the garden, lemon zest, and red pepper flakes (add a little anchovy if you’re adventurous and/or wise).  Throw the cooked raab into a bowl of fresh pasta, something chunky like rotini, and grate fresh parmesano all over it.

You might also sample it steamed or fried with a little oyster sauce, just like the gai lan you see in dim sum houses.

Or little green potstickers, anyone?  Finely minced raab works especially well with ground pork as a filling.

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But best of all is this recipe for stir-fried chopped raab with pork and fermented red chili (above, photographed by the paparazzi).  It’s an adaptation of Fuchsia Dunlop’s Bo Bo Cai Xin, or Stir-fried Chopped Choy Sum, from her cookbook, Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking, that just came out in an American edition.  It’s a wonderful cookbook, with a big chapter on leafy greens that I’ve already explored extensively.

My palate is a bit duller than Dunlop’s so I usually use more spice and salt than she does.  You might decide on your own.  But either way, definitely use the pork if you’re a meat eater.  Although we sliced it thickly because of gluttony for Laughing Stock Farm pork and its delicious fat, I’d recommend mincing finely next time.  Another difference is that with raab, you don’t need to blanch ahead of time.  It’s much thinner and more tender than choy sum.  I also substituted my own fermented red ‘Facing Heaven’ chilis for plain red jalapenos, so the recipe reflects that.

Stir-fried Chopped Raab with Pork and Fermented Red Chili

Serves 2 with rice and Chinese pickles, but make several dishes and turn it into a party.

  • 2 tablespoons peanut oil, divided
  • 3 cups of chopped raab
  • 1 tablespoon chopped Sichuan fermented red chiles, or substitute finely chopped fresh red jalapeno or even red bell peppers
  • 1/2 pound ground pork or finely chopped pork shoulder meat, best quality
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
  • 2 tablespoons spring onions (good use for culled onions from garden)
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons chili oil (optional)

Do all your chopping and measuring ahead of time, and set aside each ingredient in little bowls.  Heat wok to sizzling, then add a tablespoon of the peanut oil to heat, then quickly add the chopped raab and cook until bright green and still crunchy, just two minutes or so, then stir in red chiles.  Set aside in a serving dish.

Add rest of peanut oil, then add chopped or ground pork and a little salt.  As the pork loses its pink but is not yet completely cooked, add ginger and garlic.  When everything is nicely browned, add back the raab, stir to blend flavors and cook for a couple minutes more, then remove from heat, stir in sesame and chili oil, then serve with rice.

of cabbages and drag kings: a gay marriage salad

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Searching for the perfect reddish pink salad to serve your “gay-wedding” guests?  Seek no further.  With most of the blue states and every single rhetoric instructor ever chuckling over the Supreme Court transcripts for two cases challenging the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996, it’s clear we need to celebrate with something simple and sassy, something that waves the colors and is topped with a veil of crème fraîche.

I vow love for this early spring salad: love, love love.  It’s my take on downtown restaurant Belly‘s tangled beet salad.  I’ve loved her since the day I met her — only a week or two after the restaurant opened.  It was a little unusual, I’ll admit, for one so carnivorous to love, really, what amounted to a pile of leaves, but we weren’t committed to traditional and outdated definitions of marriage, only fearing the censure of the courts.  So we capered about, rejoicing in our newly minted promise to be true.  We occasionally faced tough times, sometimes united in furtive silence, sometimes daringly holding hands in front of our close friends.

And being progressive and the sharing type, I’m opening up this relationship to you.  You can thank me in your champagne toast.

Keep in mind that she’s a local girl.  You can pick her up in the markets this weekend.  Some tender, nubile cabbages are ready now, or you might have a wizened old specimen hanging out in your crisper — I don’t judge.  Beets are also a great storage crop, so I hope you have some left or can get some larger ones at the market.  You made some berry vinegar last year, right?  This salad cries out for the special combination of sweet berries with vinegar, and I even add more fruitiness with a splash of pickled cherry juice.  Spearmint and fennel fronds are up in gardens right now; you might skip the fennel but don’t omit the mint.

Crème fraîche, which is essential to serve on the side, is stupidly easy to make with some cream and buttermilk. Don’t you dare buy it.  Recipe below.

So if you think we shouldn’t legislate love and really want to move forward, this salad is really a perfect way to celebrate spring, when the world is mud-luscious, and the queer old balloonman whistles far and wee.

Beet and Cabbage Salad with Mint, Fennel, and Crème Fraîche

Serves 4.

  • 1/2 small head of red cabbage, or quarter head if larger (aim for 5-6 cups of shreds)
  • 1 medium dark red beet (3-4-inch diameter)
  • 3-4 shallots, sliced very thinly
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons capers, rinsed (salt-cured are better than brined)
  • 2 tablespoons fruity olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons berry vinegar (substitute balsamic)
  • splash of pickled cherry juice or cranberry juice, if you have it
  • handful of spearmint, leaves rolled up and sliced finely in chiffonade
  • fennel frond tips, torn into little pieces
  • 1/2 cup or more crème fraîche

Shred the cabbage as finely as you can with a knife.  Do the same with the shallots, then soak shallot shreds in cold water for 5-10 minutes to remove some of the strong flavor.  Drain.  Using a box grater, grate the beet.  Toss vegetables with the salt and capers, and set aside for 15-30 minutes.  Whisk together the oil and vinegar, and add to shreds.  Just before serving, add the splash of juice, then top bowl with a chiffonade of spearmint and little fennel frond bits.  Serve with a generous dollop of crème fraîche for each serving.

Crème Fraîche

Makes 1.25 pints.

  • 1 pint freshest, most organic, lovely heavy cream you can find
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1 quart-sized jar (pint is too small)

Plan ahead several days before serving, as it takes time to set up.  In the gloomy, rainy PNW, it often takes mine three days, but I like it thick and tangy.

Mix together cream and buttermilk in a sterilized jar.  Cover with cheesecloth and let sit on the counter for anywhere from 1-3 days, depending on how thick you want the final product.  The longer you wait, the stronger the flavor.  Don’t bother mixing it, as it will even out over time and get a uniform thickness.  Refrigerate and enjoy with soups, salads, or desserts.

has it sprung?

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Did you get some gardening done during this sunny, gorgeously warm weekend?  I finally planted the peas (Green Arrow and Cascadia shellpeas and Oregon Sugar Pod II snowpea) at the end of last week, hedging my bets again this year by planting both seed and starts.  Getting smarter in my old age.  So I had some time to weed all the back beds, turn the compost, and do some pruning of the blackcaps, raspberries, grapes, and elderberries.

If you haven’t pulled out the Little Western Bittercress yet, do it very soon, as the little seeds are almost ready to shoot across the garden and into your eye.  True story, 2011.  It’s fine to leave it in until about now, because it does serve as a weedy cover crop if you have enough, but you want to move fast now as the flowers and seed heads form.  If you don’t know what it looks like, see former Food for Thought co-host and former Corvallis blogger Laura McCandlish’s post and images.

I also started chitting potatoes, German Butterball and a new variety called Island Sunshine (says a customer: “Developed by two organic farming brothers on Prince Edward Island. Most talked about yellow variety since Yukon Gold appeared in 1980. Most resistant to late blight. Thin smooth yellow skin, creamy yellow flesh.”).  Much smaller crop this year, but i’m going to try to get more yield.

I love this time of year, because I find the difficult transition of the sleeping plants into spring helps me celebrate the passage of time and the cyclical nature of life instead of just feeling morose, aging, damp, and cold.  Flowering quince (above) are my favorite of the flowering plants and bushes in Eugene, and we have many from which to choose.  What are yours?

Now we just have to keep our fingers crossed we don’t get snow.  Let’s not forget about the First Day of Spring Snowstorm last year:

IMG_0617That’s my flowering quince before I ran outside, dodging a downed powerline, to beat the snow off the branches and flowers with a broom.  Because no one, and I mean NO ONE, is going to ruin my damn quince flower quality time.