Thursday, July 18, 2013

Farmers Market Salad with Marinated Baby Artichokes

Salads are my thing, and I love making salads out of rich, earthy lettuce varieties and incorporating lots of fresh herbs.  I also love salads that include some cooked elements (such as beets, artichokes, or potatoes) as well as some crunchy raw elements (such as cucumbers, radishes, carrots, onions, and raw seeds and nuts).  My favorite salads inevitably are the ones inspired by the fresh seasonal ingredients I find from local growers at neighborhood farmers markets.  This week I visited the famed Santa Monica Farmers Market -- one of the best markets in all of Southern California, and I was duly inspired to make a piquant vegan green salad with marinated baby artichokes.

The main ingredients that inspired this salad include two heirloom romaine lettuce varieties, along with radicchio, spearmint and dill -- a fresh, tangy, and slightly bitter combination of lettuce and herbs.

For crunch I found these marvelous lemon cucumbers!  I literally jumped for joy when I came across them at the market -- despite the fact that my friend Francesco had already clued me in that the lemon cukes had arrived -- as I really look forward to their appearance every summer.  Lemon cucumbers have a clean, crisp, lovely flavor, and they are even more delicious than standard cucumber varieties found in the supermarket.

Finally, I picked up these adorable baby artichokes.  While I had never prepared them before, I love artichokes in green salad, and my foodie friend Francesco, who was advising me, convinced me they would be very easy to prepare because they have no choke.

The first step is to prepare the artichokes, which can be done well in advance of composing the salad.  To prepare the artichokes, I ready a bowl of cold water, add the juice of one lemon, and set it aside.  Then I wash the artichokes, and one at a time, I remove the outer leaves until I reach the lighter yellow, more tender layer -- typcially 2-3 layers of leaves need to come off.  Next, with a sharp knife I cut the top off the artichoke in order to remove the prickly tips.  And finally, I completely remove the stem, which unfortunately is quite bitter in baby artichokes.  As I finish cleaning and preparing each artichoke, I place it in the lemon water to keep it from browning.  Once all of the artichokes are prepped, I steam them with just a bit of salt until they are fork tender -- about 20 minutes.  I let them cool for a few minutes before marinating them in a simple marinade comprised of 2-parts good olive oil and 1-part lemon juice, (I prepare just enough to nicely coat the artichokes).  The artichokes should marinate in the refrigerator for at least an hour, but they can also be prepared several hours or even a day in advance of composing the salad.  

The salad itself is pretty basic.  Shortly before serving time, I wash, chop and spin the romaine lettuce, and put it in a serving dish, topped with a hand full each of loosely chopped radiccio, dill, and mint. Then I partially peel 2-3 lemon cucumbers, cut them into wedges (just as you would a lemon), and put those on top.  And right before serving, I add the marniated artichokes and dress the salad with a simple vinegarette made up of 2-parts very good olive oil, 1-part acid (either lemon or any type of vinegar), a bit of dijon mustard, and salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.

Farmers markets make me smile!
Photo by Kathleen Taylor

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Inside My Refrigerator

When we get together with our friends Natalie and Levent for dinner, we often play word games at Natalie's urging. She is from Russia, and she says the games really help her with her English.  Asaf and I love all kinds of games, so we eagerly participate.  Recently we played "In my grandmother's refrigerator...," that popular road trip game where you take turns naming things you would find in a refrigerator (and some you would not), in alphabetical order.  Each player in turn must recite all the prior items, in order, and then add another to the list using the next available letter.

Inspired by the game, I thought it might be interesting to see how many letters I could find in my own refrigerator.  I think I came pretty darn close to naming all of them!

In my refrigerator there is ... asparagus, beets, cherries, dill pickles, edamame, flaxseed oil, Greek olives, hummus, Italian dressing, jam, kimchi, lettuce, miso, nuts, onions, peanut butter, quince spread, radishes, sour kraut, tomato juice, vegetable broth, wine, and yogurt.  So that's 23 out of 26 letters -- not bad!  I guess this weekend I'll be heading to the market in search of umeboshi, XS energy drinks, and zucchini.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Improvised Seasonal Summer Squash

I had a lovely time with my friend Paul at the Playa Vista Farmer's Market this morning.  We ate tamales and sampled other vegan treats, and then we hit the produce stands.  Paul was on a quest for seasonal fruit -- the elusive boysenberry being his primary target.  Well, not only did Paul find his boysenberries, but he also picked up a basket of mulberries, along with a nice variety of seasonal stone fruit.

While Paul shopped for fruit, I hunted for seasonal vegetables that I could doctor up.  Feeling indecisive, I noticed this rather large and colorful summer squash was calling my name.  I resisted, unsure just what I could do with it, but Paul persuaded me to get it, certain I would figure something out, and worst case, he suggested I could use it as a centerpiece.  That convinced me.

One of the hallmarks of the summer squash varieties is that they have edible skin.  So I began by slicing the squash into thin wedges, as you might an apple, and carefully removing the seeds and pulp from each slice, while preserving the meat and leaving the skin in tact. I placed the squash slices (measuring about 2 cups) in a colander over a bowl and sprinkled 1/2 teaspoon of salt on them and let them rest for 20 minutes to soften.

In the meantime, I thinly sliced a bulbous green onion, from top to tail, and I chopped two cloves of garlic.  Next I peeled and diced two large tomatoes (one red and one gold), and sprinkled the tomatoes with just a bit of salt to really bring out their flavor.  

Then I heated 2 tablespoons of very good extra virgin olive oil in a large frying pan and sautéed the onions for a minute and then added the garlic and sautéed the onions and garlic together for one minute more, stirring frequently.

Next I added the sliced squash and sautéed everything together for five minutes, still stirring often.  Finally I added the diced tomatoes and let everything cook together for another 5 minutes until the squash was tender (but not mushy).

I put the sautéed mixture into a serving dish, and sprinkled on just a bit of cumin and black pepper, and I topped the dish with very thinly sliced fresh mint.  I love, love, love fresh mint with cooked tomatoes, but substituting parsley, dill, or basil would be delicious as well.

Served with red quinoa, the sautéed summer squash was a healthy, delicious, and satisfying VB6 lunch.