Friday, June 19, 2015

Sugar Snap Pea & Strawberry Salad with Garlic Scape Yogurt Dressing

As of the past few weeks, I've been on a binge sugar snap pea diet: crunching my way, oh so earnestly, through a pound of sweet, snacking goodness every day. I just find everything about the tiny pods so satisfying: the crisp edible casing that hugs the tiny sugary peas, the confirmation of each bite with that signature audible snap. Speaking of, I must offer my sincerest apologies to my coworkers...a good desk mate does not a snap pea addict make.

Like any addict, I have to work diligently to keep my stash plentiful. On Wednesday, this involved trekking to the Union Square Greenmarket in balmy, humid heat (sans my trusty travel deodorant) with full knowledge that I'd return to the office glistening with a full body sheen of perspiration, aka, a hot sweaty mess. But I had no choice. (Coworkers, again— sorry!)

As I pushed through the crowds to get to my hands on the much anticipated heaping bundle of snap peas, I passed a tent where chefs from the Natural Gourmet Institute were distributing samples from a cooking demo.  I stopped for a taste—and was absolutely blown away by the glorious Christmas-colored flavors in my cup, bursting like a symphony on my tongue. What is this!?  I inquired, noting that my drug of choice, le sugar snap pea, was a leading ingredient in the salad. It's a Sugar Snap Pea & Strawberry Salad with Garlic Scape Yogurt Dressing, the chef replied, adding that 4 of the 8 ingredients are prime seasonal produce at the farmers market right now.

This salad is seriously fantastic. The two main ingredients, sugar snap peas and strawberries, play off each other brilliantly: the earthy, peppery peas against the confectionery field strawberries. The dressing is divine: creamy yogurt dotted with garlicky scapes, refreshing balsamic and basil, and cooling olive oil. It's simple, but with such fresh, quality ingredients, it's simply outstanding.  My raw sugar snap pea addiction had met its match.
Garlic scapes, known for their serpentine shape, are abundant at the market right now. But if you can't find them, feel free to substitute 1 large minced garlic cloves and 2 minced scallions. Also, I encourage you to extend the dressing to other types of salad—it will work well any time a creamy balsamic vinaigrette seems fit.

Sugar Snap Pea & Strawberry Salad with Garlic Scape Yogurt Dressing (from the Natural Gourmet Institute via GrowNYC)
Serves 6-8

1 pound sugar snap peas, trimmed and de-stringed*
1 pint strawberries, chopped*

For the Garlic Scape Yogurt Dressing:
1 cup plain yogurt (Greek is OK)
2 tablespoons white wine balsamic vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
4 garlic scapes, minced*
1/2 ounce fresh basil, chopped* (about 1 tbsp; I recommend doubling)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (OK to half)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Pinch black pepper

*Ingredients available seasonally at the Greenmarket

1. In a small bowl, whisk together yogurt, white wine balsamic vinegar, garlic scapes, and basil. Slowly stream in olive oil while stirring, then season with salt and black pepper. Set aside.

2. Steam sugar snap peas until barely tender, about 2 minutes. Let cool for a minute before slicing diagonally into 1/4 inch pieces. Toss with strawberries and let cool completely.

3. Toss salad with dressing and serve.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Green Bean Salad with Mustard Seeds and Tarragon

Spring is a tough time for us farmers market fanatics, when the crown jewels of summer (peaches, cherries, watermelon, corn) are popping up all over supermarkets but the local farm fare remains lovable yet limited. Don’t get me wrong, I jump for joy every time I see a fresh bundle of asparagus, bin of snap peas, sheaf of radishes, or swirl of fiddlehead ferns, but when I get home and lay out all my crunchy vegetables on the counter, my mind goes recipe-blank! I end up eating the peas and radishes raw, like crudités, and they never even make it into dinner. While usually a stickler for hot supper meals, the balmy, humid weather has me uncharacteristically craving cold evening fare. But will a cold salad fill me up for dinner? Ruminating this thought over my not quiet chewing, I couldn’t think of a solid recipe candidate. And now, half of my potential meal is gone.
But alas, the problem is solved with this Green Bean Salad with Mustard Seeds and Tarragon recipe! (I should’ve known that Ottolenghi, master of le vegetable, would have the answer.) After picking up a bunch of fresh tarragon from the greenmarket last week (I was seduced by its intoxicating, anisey fragrance, more on this later), I realized I had absolutely no idea how to cook with the common French herb.  Heading straight to “T” for tarragon in my cookbook recipe indexes, I came across this vibrant, robust salad in Plenty, and what else did I see on the ingredient list? Snap peas and string beans, with the potential to add any or all of my crunchy spring crudité friends. Sold.
What’s so great about this salad is that seasonally, it works right now. Start with your base of winter leafy greens (I know in your mind that season has passed, but they are still abundant at the market, and need your love now more than ever!) such as kale, arugula, spinach, or chard. Next, commit to the crunch: the recipe calls for peas, snap peas, and string beans, but any desired spring munching vegetable will work here.  Finally, err on the side of abundance with the herbs. They are prolific at the market, and a bundle of anything fresh literally defines spring. Tarragon is the first choice here as its mollified licorice scent harmonizes with the earthy greens and sweet peas—a complexity of flavor subtleties that’s as varied as the shades of green in the salad—but lovage, chives, savory, chervil, basil, or mint can substitute.  With its spice-shrouded dressing and lemony zest, the salad is complete here: seemingly so simple, but riddled with flavor intricacies underneath.  But by all means, you don’t have to stop just yet. Those tiny field strawberries, bursting with sugary sweetness, at the market right now? Throw in a bunch to offset the hot red chile. To ensure the green salad filled me up for dinner, I added garbanzo beans and feta cheese; when I made it again the next night, in went diced sweet potatoes and chicken breast.
Just like the vegetables, the dressing of this salad is versatile. Although the tiny whole spice seeds add lovely texture to the dish, no worries if you don’t have them: use ground coriander and mustard seed instead, or, a heap of Dijon mustard, which contributes a nice vinegary punch. If using mustard spice, you may want to add a tablespoon of white wine vinegar and the juice of the lemon as well as the zest to satisfy that acidic tang you expect from a vinaigrette.
As for the tarragon, I can’t wait to keep cooking with this regal herb.  In France, it’s known as the “King of herbs”, and now I get why. The pungent perennial adds flavor to a multitude of dishes, pairing seamlessly with chicken, hollandaise, pestos, aiolis, potatoes, and eggs. Even if you’re not a licorice lover, I urge you to try it—or least take a whiff next time you come across it. The licorice flavor is totally tempered, and the sweet scent is absolutely divine.

Green Bean Salad with Mustard Seeds and Tarragon (derived from Plenty)
Serves 4

1 ¼ cups green beans, trimmed
2 ¼ cups snow peas, trimmed
1 ¾ cups green peas (fresh or frozen)
¼ cup thinly sliced radishes
2 tsp coriander seeds, roughly crushed with a mortar and pestle (or ground coriander)
1 tsp mustard seeds (or ground mustard/ 2 tsp Dijon mustard)
3 tablespoons olive oil (1 is plenty)
1 tsp nigella seeds (optional, I used sumac instead)
1 mild fresh red chile, seeded and finely diced 
½ small red onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar (optional)
2 Tbsp chopped tarragon
Coarse sea salt
1 cup baby chard or other winter green leaves
Optional add-ons: garbanzo beans, feta cheese, diced sweet potato, diced chicken 

1. Fill a medium saucepan with cold water and bring to the boil. Blanch the green beans for 4 minutes, then immediately lift them out of the pan and into iced water to refresh. Drain and dry.
2. Bring a fresh pan of water to the boil and blanch the snow peas for 1 minute only. Refresh, drain and dry. Use the same boiling water to blanch the peas for 20 seconds. Refresh, drain and dry. Combine the beans, snow peas, and peas in a large mixing bowl. Add radishes.
3. Put the coriander seeds, mustard seeds and oil in a small saucepan and heat up*. When the seeds begin to pop, pour the contents of the pan over the beans and peas. Toss together. In a small bowl, combine nigella seeds/sumac, red onion, chile, garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, and vinegar. Add dressing to large bowl, along with tarragon. Mix well and season with salt to taste.

4. Just before serving, gently fold the chard leaves in with the beans and peas, and spoon the salad onto plates or into bowls.

*If using ground spices and/or Dijon mustard, mix directly into dressing ingredients.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Aztec Salad

A few week ago, I threw open my storage closet—with the frenzied excitement of a child going to Disney World—in hot pursuit of one specific item located in the very back of the top shelf.  It had been sitting there for one year, almost to the exact date, and would soon meet an unapologetic fate of many a weekend spent blanketing the earth: grass stains, damp dew, and one too many rose spills than I care to admit. Have you guessed? My animation isn't exact discrete. It's picnic season!
We're in the heart of spring, and the city is blossoming and alive with blushing flowers, trees, and so, so many people. I feel like the picnic is almost a respite from the crowds: we all laze in our own privatized space—emphatically partitioned by the four corners of our respective blankets—to enjoy the boundless fresh air, fair-weather temperatures, and long days spring so generously offers. A departure from our everyday bustling schedules, these idle, lounging hours feel so luxurious; made only more so in the presence of good company, and of course, good food.  I can't help you with the former (well, I am generally free most weekends) but I sure can with the latter. I present to you Aztec Salad, the perfect picnic prandial. 
When I think picnic, my mind goes straight to potluck. I’ve definitely had some misses (cue the 4th of July sangria which leaked from its cooler, leaving me drenched in sticky wine with only a bowl of boozy fruit and rinds to boot.) Not this time, though: our mesoamerican salad is terrific in transit. Not only can you serve cold or at room temp, but its vegan nature makes the salad virtual un-spoilable, so it can sit out, even on a hot day, for hours.

But most of all, its tasty and easy, simple as that.  I have such fond memories of eating this salad (my mom's recipe) at picnics and barbeques growing up, awed by the sophisticated flavors and vibrant colors of the dish, and how surprised I was when I finally learned how effortless it is to make.  Guided by a southwestern ethos, freshness, flavor, and spice are guaranteed: black beans, corn, peppers, and tomatoes compose the bulk of the salad, plenty piquant from the addition of jalapeno, coriander, cumin, and cayenne pepper. The ingredients bask in a tangy, acidic dressing of freshly squeezed limes and two types of vinegar; finished off with herby vim and vigor due to a hearty helping of chopped cilantro.

Another great thing about this salad? All that acidity from the lime and vinegars lends almost a pickling quality to the dish—if you keep it for a few days—which preserves it really well. I often make a large batch to eat for lunch for the week, and the fresh ingredients are totally intact by the time Friday rolls around.

Aztec Salad (from my mama)
Serves 4-6 sides

For the salad:
15 oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
15 oz can corn, drained
2 large tomatoes, diced
1 large green pepper, diced
1 large red or yellow pepper, diced
1 jalapeno, seeds removed, diced
½ cup chopped red onion
¾ cup chopped fresh cilantro
½ cup chopped or shredded carrot (optional)

¼ cup green olives (optional)

For the dressing:
2 Tbsp seasoned rice vinegar
Tbsp  apple cider vinegar
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
pinch of cayenne
½-1 tsp salt

juice of one lime

Mix the salad ingredients together in a large bowl. Set aside. In a small bowl, combine all dressing ingredients. Pour over large bowl and mix thoroughly.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Rosemary-Cucumber Gin Fizz

As Spring takes its sweet-ass time rolling into New York, and produce of the season anew is on the forefront of our minds but not yet in our hands, I would like to remind you of one warm-weather phenomenon that we can count on for punctuality: cocktails! While we patiently await for asparagus, peas, and sun; bartenders, busy behind counters, work their dexterous magic to revive cocktail menus for the season of rebirth. Get ready for fresh herbs, spritely citrus, and vibrant vegetables to whip mimosas, gimlets, and Pimm's cups into seasonal shape! But locking up those mulled wines and hot toddy's with your winter puffer is only the first step— do not underestimate the serious thought required in creating your ultimate springtime imbibement. Luckily, I've given it lots.

Many factors must be weighed in the making of a solid springtime cocktail. Is it light enough to feel warm-weather appropriate, yet suitably flavorful to hold your interest? Does it acknowledge the juices, spices, citruses, and other edible accouterments of the season, yet boast an ingredient list that is common and pantry item plenty? Finally, does it taste fair-weather nectarous, without screaming sugar hangover in the morning? Answering a firm "yes" to each of these questions, I introduce to you a Rosemary-Cucumber Gin Fizz to sip into Spring.

A quick tutorial on our spirit of the hour. While many associate gin with the English, its origins actually trace back to 16-century Holland, where it was used mostly for medicinal purposes. Gin's blend of herbs and aromatics were believed to "guard against all the ills to which flesh was heir." Chief among those aromatics is juniper, its Dutch translation, genever, is the linguistic root of the word gin. But for gin's distinguishing strong perfume, juniper cannot take all the credit— licorice, dried citrus peel, caraway, and coriander seeds also contribute to the spirit's unique bouquet.

So, what do all all of these herbs and aromatics mean for us? Basically, versatility is the name of the game—we can blend our gin with all sorts of liquors and fruit juices! But remember, our libation is a marathon, not a sprint, so subtly is key.

Aside from gin, this drink has only five ingredients —lemon, sugar, seltzer, rosemary, and cucumber—and each component plays an essential role. The first three comprise a classic “fizz” base; combining sour with effervescence to kick-start our taste buds. Rosemary brings an herbal twist; infusing woodsy, evergreen notes into the simple syrup that nod to the gin’s natural aromatics and also quell the tartness of the lemon. The finishing touch is a cucumber slice, a tangible token of ubiquitous refreshment. Lightly herbal, revitalizing, and delicate: it's quite spa-esque, and it's quite delish.
I've provided a recipe for one (strong) cocktail and enough simple syrup for about twenty—really, this drink begs to be made as a pitcher. If you enjoy rosemary, let the sprigs steep in the simple syrup for a few hours to achieve maximum flavor. (The syrup can be prepared ahead and chilled for about 1 week.) Also, feel free to experiment with your herbs and citruses: consider swapping the rosemary for basil, or lemon for lime, a la gimlet.
Rosemary-Cucumber Gin Fizz (adapted from Sassy Radish)
Makes 1 drink and 2 cups rosemary syrup

¼ cup (2 oz) gin
½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice
½ cup sugar
Ice cubes
Cold club soda
Cucumber slice
4 rosemary springs +1 extra sprig for garnish

1. Make the rosemary syrup: Combine 2 cups water, the sugar, and the 4 rosemary sprigs in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, then simmer over moderately low heat for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and let steep for 10 minutes. Strain the syrup and chill.
2. In a tall glass, stir the gin, lemon juice and 1 ½ tablespoons of rosemary syrup.
3 Fill the glass halfway with ice; top with club soda. Add the cucumber slice. Garnish with the rosemary and serve.

Reference: Walton, Stuart. The Bartender's Guide to Mixing 600 Cocktails & Drinks. London: Anness Publishing Ltd, 2009. Print.