salads in jars: asparagus, mango and buffalo mozzarella


It has been a busy couple of weeks and the next few are going to be even busier. In other words, I've been living on smoothies, salads, and essentially anything that travels well in a glass jar. That pretty much sums up my days. My dinners have been a bit more exciting, but when it comes to lunch salad it is.  

Most of these salads have been without leafy greens. Life is just easier if you don't have to worry about how soggy your salad greens are going to be by the time you eat lunch, or if that little container of dressing will make it through that bumpy bike ride to work (I once soaked an entire backpack with a salad dressing of tamari and honey: I know what I'm talking about). Also, it is pretty fun to think about how anything can become a salad. Anything.

It is easy to get into a steady routine of replacing salad greens with quinoa or millet or rice, but even that routine is worth breaking out of. Generally I've been avoiding tomatoes (unless they are roasted slowly in the oven for hours and hours) so that I can refrigerate my salads without their flavors getting a severe case of vegetable frostbite/tastelessness. 
One memorable combination I had this week (that I plan to repeat) was fennel marinated in lemon juice and olive oil overnight, and mixed with pear, parmesan, slivered almonds and lots of black pepper. Another one had chickpeas, mango, avocado, a chipotle dressing and red pepper. Yes, being busy is no excuse for me to not eat well. 

But my favourite salad has been with thin ribbons of green asparagus, chunks of juicy Alphonso mango and creamy buffalo mozzarella. It, folks, is a winner. Luckily asparagus season and Alphonso mango season overlap. Nature is kind. And spring is perhaps even kinder.


Please, please, please use buffalo mozzarella. The real stuff. It is more expensive, that I will not deny, but it makes all the difference in the world. Seriously.

Last year when I was in Naples I wandered further south and away from the coast in Campania to visit the home of buffalo mozzarella. After leaving the highway, it was as if each country road led to a buffalo farm. I even saw buffalo getting massaged by bright yellow machines. It kind of felt like utopia both for the buffalo and for cheese enthusiasts (something I would identify as).

 I've always taken cheese seriously, but this road trip taught me that I hadn't been taking buffalo mozzarella seriously enough. The buffalo yogurt was creamier than I knew yogurt could be and the buffalo mozzarella was so fresh that it too tasted closer to rich and decadent yogurt than most cheese that passes as mozzarella elsewhere. I ate it only a few minutes after it was made. The cheese shops in this area all seem to have a large sink of water that links the store counter to the backroom so that someone can plunk a fresh ball of mozzarella into the water to then have the next person grab it and sell it to a very lucky person who can eat it right away. I really mean right away. We can't all be that lucky all the time, but we can get by in the meantime by eating the best buffalo mozzarella we can find close to home.

If you make this salad ahead of time and let it hang out in the fridge to stay fresh, make sure to bring it back to room temperature before eating it. Also, this recipe (or formula, I should probably say) easily doubles and triples et cetera.


Asparagus, Mango and Buffalo Mozzarella Salad

serves 1

ingredients

5 stalks green asparagus
2 tbsp cold pressed extra virgin olive oil, plus an extra drizzle
1 tbsp lemon juice
pinch of flaky sea salt
pinch of chili flakes
1/2 Alphonso mango (or a whole one depending on the size)
1/2 ball of Buffalo mozzarella

Wash and dry asparagus. With a vegetable peeler, peel each stalk of asparagus into long, thin ribbons, from one end to the other. The better your peeler the easier this is!

Place the asparagus ribbons in a bowl and dress with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and chili. Toss well so all of the asparagus is well coated in dressing and then leave for 30 minutes to marinate.

Slice the mango into cubes and then do the same with the mozzarella. Once the asparagus and the dressing have gotten intimate, add the mango and mozzarella. Toss well. Drizzle with a bit more olive oil, and season to taste with more salt or chili flakes.

Guten! 

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some like it savoury, some like it sweet: rhubarb and nut bread


I was going to title this post Treating Vegetables Like Fruit as a follow-up to my recent post about exploring the savoury sides of that one vegetables that we often forget is a vegetables: rhubarb. However, on second thought, chopping or shredding a vegetable and baking it into a quick bread that is sweet is actually quite routine. Carrot cake. Zucchini Bread. Chocolate Beat Cake. Parsnip Bread. So even though we're adding rhubarb to cake we can still think of it as a vegetable.

Speaking of routine, this Rhubarb and Nut Bread has become part of my spring repertoire. I first made it three springs ago when I was living in Sweden and it inspired me to write about the dangers of baking cakes. Although I did share my experience of losing all self control when something wonderful comes out of the oven, I did not share the recipe for this quick bread. See: sharing a favourite baked good can sometimes be a real challenge. This year I'm finally sharing.

I've baked this bread every spring since which means that this year Rhubarb and Nut Bread and I are celebrating our third anniversary by - what else - chopping rhubarb, baking and then eating big pieces straight from the bread pan. This is my kind of coffee cake. It is subtly sweet but not achingly so. It has a minimal amount of sugar which means it is a worthy breakfast option, but it has enough sugar to give you an extra kick with your afternoon coffee or tea. It looks humble on the table, but the chunks of rhubarb pretty it up with some pink here and there. The walnuts - or whatever nuts you add - add some crunch and the oat topping keeps the texture of the bread interesting. Rhubarb and Nut Bread really has everything going for it. 


I've made this bread with walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds. I've liked all versions so much that I can't decide on a favourite so feel free to use your favourite nut or what you happen to have 1/4 cup of on hand. Other than the one egg, the recipe is almost vegan so if you want to make that almost into a definitely then substitute one chia or flax egg for the hen's egg. If you want to make that almost into a definitely not vegan, then feel free to use buttermilk instead of the almond "buttermilk" and butter instead of coconut oil. 

The original recipe calls for orange zest, but I usuaaly opt for lemon instead. I always have lemons on hand and oranges not so much. Plus, the lemon adds a nice sour citrus tang that contrasts nicely with the brown sugar in the topping, but also picks up on the slight sourness of rhubarb. Okay, okay. You get that I'm crazy about this bread. Instead of merely describing it, I feel like the words above pretty much read like a love poem. I'll stop writing now, but only if you promise me to go make some this spring. Preferably today or tonight or the first chance you get. Don't worry. I won't tell anyone you've made it so you don't have to share if you rather not. Or just double the recipe, bake two loaves and keep one for yourself? 




Rhubarb and Nut Bread

adapted from Good Things Grow

ingredients

topping

1/4 cup rolled oats
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp fresh grated lemon zest
1 tbsp coconut oil, softened

batter

1 1/4 cups flour (I used light spelt, but I've also used whole wheat and AP)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
1/2 cup unrefined brown sugar
1/4 cup coconut oil, softened
1 1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup almond milk
1 egg (or 1 flax or chia egg)
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup (2 stalks) rhubarb, chopped
1/4 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped 

Preheat the oven to 350 F / 180 C/ gas mark 4. Grease a loaf pan with coconut oil or use a silicon loaf pan.

In a measuring cup measure the almond milk and add the lemon juice. Set aside while you prepare the rest of the batter. The lemon juice will donate a buttermilk like taste to the almond milk.

Prepare the topping: in a small bowl mix together the brown sugar, rolled oats, lemon zest and coconut oil until combined. Set aside.

Mix together the flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium sized bowl and set aside. 

In a large bowl cream together the sugar and coconut oil. Beat in the the egg and vanilla extract and then add the almond milk mixture. Mix until combined. 

Gently fold in the flour mixture to the wet ingredients until just combined. Fold in the rhubarb and then the walnuts. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and then sprinkle the topping mixture all over. 

Bake for about 50-60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Leave to cool in the pan for about 10 minutes and then transfer to a baking rack. Let cool completely before cutting (trust me, you don't want it to completely crumble apart). Store tightly wrapped in plastic wrap or in a container for a few days.

Guten! 


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ramps across the pond: wild garlic and cheese scones

 
Ramps are wild leeks. Bärlauch is wild garlic. But are wild leeks Bärlauch? This is where I get confused. It is like the whole sweet potato versus yam distinction all over again, but now in two different languages and on two different continents. 

From afar, a patch of wild garlic blanketing the ground looks nearly identical to a patch of wild leeks. Both have a fragrant smell and, to the enthusiastic forager, bring the same exciting gift that is free! wild! organic! food! The leaves are nearly identical. However, the ramson of North America is Allium tricoccum and the ramson of Europe is Allium ursinum, two different species. In North America ramps have stems that are a mix of purple and pink. They have a small bulb that is also edible. In Europe ramps have white stems and a much smaller bulb. 

Allium ursinum, the European variety, translates as bear's garlic which is one of the translations that came up when I was first trying to figure out the relationship between Bärlauch and wild leeks. I find this quite charming. We've all heard of bears loving honey and now I like to imagine them pawing up some wild fish and eating said fish with both honey and wild garlic. An elegant wild meal, indeed. 

As if the smell alone wasn't enough incentive to start picking bunch after bunch of wild garlic, it has a delicate white flower. You can forage for food and for table decor all with one plant.  


I don't ever recall eating ramps in Canada. I might have left before they became standard farmers' market fare, but in Germany Bärlauch is well loved. It is a spring classic and wild garlic pesto is a typical way to eat it. 

Now that I think that I've finally conquered the formerly confusing relationship between wild garlic and wild leeks, I can tell you about wild garlic scones. These scones are so good that I would actually be confused if I found any left-over. I made a batch last week and they were gone, completely gone, crumbs included, within 24 hours. Actually, it was probably closer to 12 hours and we are only 2. We have no pets, no dog to gobble up the crumbs. Instead, it was us gobbling up the crumbs after we ate all of the scones.  

Since I live in Germany I used wild garlic, but I suspect that wild leeks would also work just fine. I used a combination of parmesa and aged cheddar. The two were quite happy to share the same stage, but feel free to use on or the other or a different combination of hard cheese. 

Lastly, if you're anything like me, you might want to consider doubling the recipe. Or, just don't let anyone know that you've been baking. Seriously. Try at least one first to make sure that you are willing to share. 


Wild Garlic and Cheese Scones 

adapted from Delicious Days

makes 8 scones
ingredients

200 g flour (I used light spelt)
15 g wild garlic, chopped
10 g parmesan, finely grated
15 g aged cheddar, finely grated
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp fine sea salt
60 g butter, cold
135 g full-fat milk

for brushing

1 tbsp milk
3 tbsp grated cheddar 

Preheat oven to 425 F / 220 C / gas mark 7. Line a baking sheet with baking paper.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, chopped garlic and grated parmesan and cheddar. Cut the cold butter into small chunks and add it to the bowl. With a pastry cutter or two knives, cut the dough until the pieces of butter are no larger than a small pea. Stir in the milk and mix until combined and you no longer see pockets of flour. 

Alternatively, you can do the above in a food processor. 

Sprinkle a large cutting board or a clean counter top  generously with flour. Dump out the dough and knead shortly. Do not over-knead or else you'll end up with tough scones. However, give the dough a few good kneads so that you're able to shape it.

Shape the dough into a circle that is about 3 cm (1.25 inches) thick. Cut the circle in half and then in quarter and then in eights so that you have eight scones. Place the scones on the baking sheet lined with baking paper, leaving space in between. Brush each scone with milk and then sprinkle cheese on top.

Place the baking sheet in the middle of your oven and bake the scones until they are nicely browned, about 12-14 minutes. Remove from the oven, let cool for a minute or two and then transfer to a wire rack.

 Serve warm or at room temperature.

Guten!

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treating vegetables like vegetables: rhubarb and lentil salad

 
By now we all know that rhubarb is a vegetable. We hear it spring after spring, year after year, but does that stop us from cooking it into jam or baking it into cake? Certainly not. 

I haven't stopped treating rhubarb like a fruit, but the past few springs I have been embracing its vegetable side. I'm making baby steps and those baby steps have been with lentils and spices. My first rhubarb-as-vegetable act was making Mark Bittman's Lentil and Rhubarb Stew with Indian Spices. He was bang on with pairing rhubarb with spices. I mean rhubarb and vanilla is as classic as classic gets and vanilla is just a hop, skip and a jump away from cardamom and ginger. From there, it isn't that much further to cumin and turmeric. In the stew, the rhubarb melts right it and makes it's self feel at home. You might not even guess that it is there if you haven't been told. 

Convinced about the lentil-rhubarb-spices trinity, this spring I've approached this combination slightly differently. Instead of making a stew, I made a salad. And then I ate it day after day. For someone who isn't always so thrilled about meals on repeat (with a few exceptions of course, mainly breakfast exceptions), I didn't complain. 

Spring took a while to arrive in Germany and I hope that it doesn't plan to leave too soon. I don't mind waiting for summer if it means that I have a fair chance at making the most of rhubarb season. Produce that is just as home in sweet recipes as it is in savoury, such as rhubarb, is really the best kind of produce there is.  


Black Lentil and Maple-Roasted Rhubarb Salad

serves 4

ingredients

salad

1 cup black lentils
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
2 large rhubarb stalks, sliced into medium-to-thin chunks
arugula, a handful
1/3 cup almonds, coarsely chopped and toasted
1 tbsp maple syrup
goat cheese, to taste (I used two small rounds)
pinch of sea salt

vinaigrette

5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp sea salt
black pepper
1/4 tsp cardamom
1/4 tsp cayenne
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of ginger
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp turmeric
1 tsp dijon mustard

Preheat oven to 200 C / 400 F / gas mark 6.

Wash and slice rhubarb into medium-to-thin chunks. Place in a baking dish, drizzle with 1 tbsp maple syrup and then toss well. Roast for about 10 minutes or until the rhubarb is soft but not mushy. Once soft, remove from the oven and let cool.

While the rhubarb is roasting, rinse lentils well and put in a pot with 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cook for about 20 minutes. After 15 minutes check to see if the lentils are cooked. They should be al dente. Do not overcook!

While the lentils cook and the rhubarb cools, prepare the vinaigrette. Place all ingredients in a jam jar and give the jar a rockin' shake until everything is well combined. Set aside and then toast the almonds (or walnuts), wash and dry the arugula, slice the onion and let the goat cheese warm to room temperature. 

Once the lentils are cooked, drain and then run them under cold water to stop the cooking process. Place in a bowl and add a pinch of salt. Add the vinaigrette and mix well until the lentils are well covered. Add the almonds, red onion, and rhubarb (with the pan juices). Season to taste and then toss with arugula and crumbled goat cheese. Serve.

If you want to make this salad ahead of time, just wait until serving to add the arugula. Everything else is fine to mingle, covered, in the fridge. 

Guten! 

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where fields are with lavender and crêpes are with chickpeas


Even if you don't live to eat (and instead eat to live), it is more or less compulsory to be swept up by food when you travel to France. Even if you're don't devoutly praise the simplicity and brilliance of bread and cheese France might change that. Even if you claim you don't have a sweet tooth, a rainbow coloured macaroon can prove you wrong. Needless to say, it is a country that I find easy to feel at home in. In France good food is a way of structuring daily life. A local market can remind you what day of the week it is. A market where shop venders are packing up the rest of the artichokes and putting away bowls of olives can remind you what time of day it is. Food in France acts as a keeper of time. It signals the season, the day and the hour. And if you happen to lose track of the roads that you're driving on or the train stop you've gotten off at, food will always let you know where you are. The regional dishes of France are the only compass you'll need.

Although I always feel slightly at home in France - I speak the language, have adequate knowledge of yogurt flavours and cheese, and know how to keep my elbows up at the post office for when people, especially older women, try to bud me in line - my relationship to the country is of the classic love-hate variety. It is where I learned how to feel comfortable in my own skin, as well as how much some people will challenge that. It is where I learned to love, but also where I experienced what rock bottom feels like. Perhaps this is why it feels a bit like home. Even though I lived there for a rather short time, it feels like where I grew up and learned how to keep my elbows up. I associate the country with my youth-on-the-verge-of-adulthood. I associate it with learning how to really shop for vegetables and then how to cook those vegetables. With learning to sit down to eat a pain au chocolat as opposed to rushing my bites to be in synch with my feet. And, of course, with wine. I also learned that even rock bottom can better with a pain au chocolate and some red wine.

My experience with France is more emotional than it is geographical. The truth is that I know only small pockets of the country. It was my first time in Provence a few weeks ago. I expected olive oil - and very good olive oil - but it was still a surprise to see just how many olive trees there were. The region is as romantic and fertile as I imagined it to be. Bushes of rosemary grow on top of strong looking villages built on stone. Even the smallest of villages carry the basics of fresh oysters, cheese, honey and rosé.


From a good meal to a big city, Provence is a region where nothing is ever far away. You can stay in a small village and still end up city hopping, which is what we did. In addition to eating cheese at least twice a day everyday for a week (and drinking plenty of rosé of course), we got a taste of some of Provence's well-worn towns and cities. Steak-frites in Vence on the way to the Matisse chapel. Pizza at Chez Etienne in Marseille. Grapefruit gelato in St Tropez. Macaroons from La Durée. Socca in Nice at Bar Rene Socca (well worth the epic wait in line). Then vanilla and rose pepper ice cream at Fenocchio in Nice. And then an accidental four-course vegetarian lunch at La Zucca Magica, also in Nice (the best kind of lunch if you ask me). 

In case you're not familiar with socca, it is a famous street food from Nice. A few years ago, recipes for socca were making their way across different blogs. I was living in Sweden at the time and had not yet traveled to Nice and so I made chickpea flour, mixed up a batter and made socca in my oven at home. It was good, but I didn't make it again. David Lebovitz warns that even though you can make socca at home the homemade version is comparable to baking S'Mores instead of making them over a campfire. Close, but not quite there. Now that I've been to Nice I entirely agree. 


Related to the edible but not actually edible itself, a visit to Maison Empereur in Marseille is well, well worth it. You know what they say about feeling like a kid in a candy store. Well that is exactly how I feel seeing rooms full of wooden spoons and Le Creuset pots and pans. 

In fact, I find that one of the greatest joys about traveling to France isn't eating out. It is shopping out and then eating in. My better half's family lives right at the German-French border and when we go home to visit we always try to make a trip over that border to go grocery shopping. The supermarkets in France alone are pretty spectacular, I think, but the fresh produce markets are so inspiring that they make it easy to write poetry with vegetables. Even simple meals at home in Provence sound like short poems. Lavender honey with yogurt each morning for breakfast. Radishes rolled in butter and sprinkled with sea salt. Artichoke ragout that makes even the toughest of thistles melt. Melon, cut in half and filled with port.  


It was too early for lavender, but nonetheless the mere thought of fields and fields of purple inspired me. When I got back to Munich I bought a lavender plant that is now perking up my balcony. Its label even came with a recipe for lavender panna cotta. Yes please. When I make it, I promise to let you know if it tastes as dreamy as it sounds. Oh, Provence. Even without the lavender you made me swoon.

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