The eating is so good right now it really brings me joy. The transition from winter to spring eating is so dramatic here. I’ve never been a big salad eater (and soup is not for dinner), but growing my own lettuce, greens, and spinach has changed my tune. Right now, before things start to bolt in the heat, is prime time for salads in our house. And also for building up those salads with additional veggies and herbs that are coming into season.
I remember when I entered a stage of dedicated local and seasonal eating a friend said, “But I couldn’t live without olives, lemons, and avocados.” I reassured her I wasn’t suggesting she follow me or that there was a moral imperative here. Also, she made a good point. There are a lot of things we can’t get locally or that I want to eat all year round. Once I got in the habit of thinking locally and seasonally first, I relaxed my standards to gain more variety. (That cheese making with local milk? Not so much anymore.)
I’m a big fan of the New York Times cooking site. It’s replaced Epicurious.com for me as my go-to recipe site. This spring, they ran a feature on rhubarb that I read with interest. I really wanted to add rhubarb to savory dishes and wasn’t sure how to do that. It seems like it should be doable because rhubarb isn’t sweet. But the key was to embrace it as a fruit and still use it in savory dishes.
This recipe for a chicken tagine with rhubarb caught my eye. Martha Rose Schulman never leads me astray. I didn’t get as far as the tagine, but I did make the poached rhubarb. I didn’t even have a vanilla bean, but I added a splash of vanilla after cooking. The secret to this rhubarb is to drain off the syrup (you can save that for sweet dishes). The rhubarb becomes sweet pieces like cranberries or raisins and can be used in that way. I used half the rhubarb in a layer with spinach and salmon. The other half I used on a “big salad.”
Julia Moskin has a guide up called “How to Make Salad.” In it she encourages people to think of a green salad as a “real vegetable” with a meal, just greens and dressing. I have to say the best salad I have ever eaten in my life was in a Palo Alto restaurant circa 1992 that consisted only of butter lettuce and vinaigrette. It was perfection. But it’s true I forget you can just throw greens in a bowl and dress them for the vegetable.
Her other instruction is on the “big salad.” This is the area I’ve been exploring lately, based in part on a salad nicoise and in part on the Greek salad, but using seasonal things as the base (we’ll get to nicoise when I have green beans and baby potatoes and Greek when I have tomatoes and cucumbers).
Right now I have a mix of lettuces and greens, asparagus, radishes, garlic, and rhubarb. I also have chives and lots of dill I’m trying to thin and get under control. I have started buying cherry tomatoes, which are flavorful and easy to use.
Local sunflower oil is available at the farmer’s market. I’m also trying to eat more grains, since I get a pound of them every three months from my Rancho Gordo bean club membership. I have a half pound of amaranth and quinoa to get through for breakfasts (with almonds and dried cherries) and salads. That goes in the salad, too. And for protein, shrimp is easy, or leftover chicken thighs, local eggs, or beans from that club.
Feta or blue cheese, nuts, or other non-local non-seasonal things make good additions. But I still have a flush of pride over what I’ve grown, both the bounty and the variety, and more and more each night I’m not trying to come up with a way to eat the produce but just building meals.