The Teacup Chronicles

Category: Salad

Warm salad for a chilly spring day

I can’t explain to you how this happened, but somehow, April and March have switched places. March, normally drizzly and cold and still struggling to escape the grasp of winter, was full of warm days with bright sunshine – some days that were even positively hot and summery. Grass grew and leaves unfurled, plants sprouted, flowers bloomed. Rather than anxiously awaiting the appearance of those first tender little dandelion leaves and the first sweet tasting wild ramps as I usually am in March – I was past all that before it even began, thinking it must be about time for strawberries, rhubarb and asparagus. It was eerie.

But now that we are moving into April, it is for all respects, March again (or March as it should’ve been). Each day is as cold and overcast as the day before. Snow flakes fall and sometimes threaten to stay around like unwanted house guests. Warm weather seems distinctly out of one’s grasp. The very thought that in March I was wearing sandals and summer dresses, that we ate crisp salads every day out in the sunshine, and that – dare I say it, I was sometimes even hot and near to cursing the warmth – seems like a dream that could not possibly have happened. Those thoughts are more like visions of the future than they should be memories held under the domain of March. It seems I have gone backwards in time rather than forwards.

But it is back to cool and careful spring again, so here we are. Doesn’t it seem like all those plants who came rushing out of their shells in that summery sunshine are now frozen in mid-step, holding their breath and hoping that winter won’t see them – won’t know how easily they were seduced by the warm caress of spring? I feel a little like them too. I can’t seem to go back to the idea of my winter self – but just the same I’m not quite ready for all the crisp radish and fresh mint that I was craving in that early spring heat. I need something half way between.

This salad embraces that idea I think – lots of vibrant vegetables barely wilted so they retain a bit of bite – smothered in a warm garlic and chile infused oil with earthy olives, tempeh and caramelized onions tucked in to keep one grounded and not sprouting out too prematurely. The top gets a little breath of freshness though – a hint of the bright sunshine and warm days to come – with a little lemon zest. The best part is that this salad utilizes one of the very first spring wild harvests to come to the table – little tender baby dandelion leaves – sweet and bitter both. The ability, after months of cold and snow and brown parched earth, to walk out and eat something growing right out the back door has always felt like a miracle to me, just in the way that warm breezes, bird songs and all the other forgotten spring treasures do when winter begins its retreat.

You’ll notice that many of the things growing this time of year have a hint of bitterness to them. Bitterness awakens the digestive tract and helps to move out stagnation – so whether the plants do this purposely for us or not I can’t say – but there could be no flavor more perfectly suited for adapting us to spring. I wrote an entire article on just how imperative bitterness is to our health that you can read here if you like. Anyhow, if you haven’t graced your palate with this neglected flavor before, I urge you try it now on these cold spring days, when it could never be better suited. It satisfies deeply, like it were nourishing you to the very depths of your roots.

I hope you have a delightful Easter – I like to think about it being a celebration of re-birth in the widest sense – a celebration for spring. In some ways, I’m glad that the cold has come back for a little while yet, because it really emphasizes the miraculous tenacity of those first spring flowers, of those tender little green shoots emerging from the earth.

A Warm Salad of Bitter Greens, Broccolini and Tempeh with Garlic Oil

Adapted from a recipe in Skye Gyngell’s A Year in my Kitchen. Use wild dandelion greens if you have access to them, if not organically cultivated dandelion greens can usually be found in most well-stocked grocery stores.

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large red onion, sliced thinly
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • pinch of sugar, salt and black pepper
  • 1 bunch broccolini
  • 1 small head radicchio
  • a few good handfuls of dandelion leaves
  • 1/3 cup kalamata olives
  • finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

For the tempeh:

  • 8 oz tempeh, sliced into thin rectangular strips
  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2-3 tablespoons tamari, or to taste

For the garlic oil:

  • 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Start by preparing the garlic oil. Warm the olive oil in a saucepan and then add the garlic and chili. Let it sizzle for about 30 seconds and then turn off the heat. Let sit for at least 30 minutes before using. You can re-heat just before serving.

While the oil is infusing, prepare your onions. Heat the olive oil in a medium skillet over moderate heat. Add the balsamic vinegar, the pinch of sugar, salt and pepper, and stir well. Let the onions cook for a good 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they are a glossy deep purple and sticky sweet.

While the onions are cooking, bring a well salted pot of water to boil (for the broccolini) and begin to prepare your tempeh. Heat another skillet over moderate heat and add the olive oil. Once the oil is hot, add as many strips of tempeh as you can fit so that they are not overlapping. Splash a tablespoon of tamari over the tempeh and then roll the pan around so that the liquid is evenly distributed. Cook for several minutes, then flip and cook on the other side until well browned. Continue with the rest of the tempeh.

Meanwhile, trim up the broccolini by cutting off the woody base of the stems and trimming any larger pieces into smaller bits. When the water has come to a full boil, plunge the broccolini into the water and cook for 2 minutes.

Drain the broccolini and place in a bowl with the dandelion greens and radicchio. Drizzle a little of the warmed oil in and toss with a little salt and pepper to coat the greens. Scatter over the tempeh, olives, caramelized onions and a little salt and pepper. Drizzle over the remaining oil along with the squeeze of lemon juice and garnish with the lemon zest. Serve at once on warm plates.

Kale salad with apple, roasted beet and caraway

I never though I’d say so, but after a winter of nearly no snow and long stretches of mild sunny days, I’m happy tonight to hear the plow scraping up and down the road again, happy to see the snowflakes briefly exposed in his headlights. It’s a nice feeling. I thought I was ready to welcome an early spring and be done with winter, but now I know that I wasn’t. I need a few more days filled with the sort of quiet and stillness that only falling snow can create. Those days are golden. They are what winter is all about.

It’s been a very long week for me – a week of working those sorts of extra long days that make you almost collapse into bed by the time you finally arrive there.  Needless to say, there isn’t a whole lot of energy leftover when I get home to invest in cooking. The romanticism of a slowly simmering stew or a long, slow cooked joint of meat is quite lost on me on such days.  Instead, I want something easy to put together, something nourishing and satisfying that will keep my head above water (not like the box of cookies and carton of ice-cream that have so tempted me) . So it’s been a week of winter salads – chunks of brightly colored roots, tender greens, beans, nuts – you name it  (whatever I can find in the fridge or cabinet really) – tossed together and smothered in various dressings. I have to say, I’ve really been enjoying them.  Pairing those sweet earthy roots (which frankly have begun to lose some of their charm) with bright and fresh flavors, with the crisp bite of freshness, seems to reinvigorate the winter larder in a very necessary way.

Last night, I blessed my Sunday self for having the foresight to roast a batch of beets to have on hand throughout the week. Discovering them each wrapped up in their shiny coat of aluminum foil was like discovering a box of treasure hidden away as a child. Rarely do I feel so pleased with myself.  I sliced them up and tossed them with a crisp and juicy apple, tender Red Russian Kale, a scattering of toasted almonds and sharp, tangy cranberries, and topped the whole thing off with toasted caraway and a sweet-sour pomegranate dressing. Just looking at it seemed to make me feel better.

Kale salad with apple, roasted beet and caraway

I love the nutty earthy flavor of caraway and I think it pairs really nicely with the beets, kale and apple. I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, however, so leave if out if you wish. The beets can be roasted ahead of time, as I have done, which makes the salad preparation much speedier. 

Serves 4

  • 1 bunch Red Russian kale
  • 3 smallish sized beets or 1 large beet
  • 1 apple (granny smith or another more tart variety would be a good choice), cut into matchsticks
  • 1 medium-sized or 2 small shallots, thinly sliced
  • 3/4 cup walnuts
  • 1 good handful dried cranberries (about 1/3 -1/2 cup)
  • 1 tablespoon caraway seeds

For the dressing:

  • 1/8 cup walnut oil
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
  • 1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Wrap each of your beets individually in aluminum foil (seems wasteful, but you can save the foil for future beet roasting) and place on a baking tray in the oven. Check them after about 40 minutes for doneness. When done, you should be able to easily pierce a knife through the center of the beet (which is rather like plunging a knife through a heart, if you are so morbidly inclined as I am). Set aside to cool. Once cool enough to handle, use your thumb and forefinger and rub the outer skin off.

To toast your walnuts, place in a baking tray or dish in a single layer and put them in the oven for about 8-10 minutes. They should be fragrant and turning golden. Be sure to set a timer as there is nothing worse than discovering a tray of charcoal black nuts in the oven!

While your beets are roasting and your nuts are toasting, prepare the kale. De-stem the leaves and tear them roughly into bite sized pieces. Place them in a bowl and add a drizzle of walnut oil and a little salt and pepper, massaging the oil into the leaves to slightly wilt them.

Mix together the ingredients of your dressing in a small jar with a lid. Place the lid on and shake vigorously to incorporate the ingredients. Taste and adjust the flavors to your liking.

Once all of your ingredients are prepared, assemble the salad. Add the sliced roasted beets, the shallots, apples, cranberries and dressing, and lightly toss a few times with your hands (which will turn them a lovely oily carmine). Place a good heap onto each plate and top with a scattering of walnuts and caraway.

Quinoa salad with cauliflower, pomegranate and mint

There is something nice about a Sunday. Something quiet and still, something sleepy. I went for a long, Sunday drive this morning on my own, something I don’t often do. But I felt like exploring, and I needed to find some good apple trees to pilfer for the apple butter  I plan to spend my afternoon making (a chair pulled next to the oven, a wooden spoon, a cup of tea, a book). I liked seeing people gathered at kitchen tables through warmly lit windows, I liked the smoke curling out of the chimneys, I liked the way the grass glowed in the cloudy November light.  It left with me a feeling that only a Sunday can.

I came home to be snug at my own kitchen table, and ate a bowl of this delicious salad – a beautiful contrast of crisp vegetables, mint and tart pomegranate with the heartiness of quinoa – that I think I may be eating quite a lot more of this winter.  Especially since I now have my first ever bottle of pomegranate molasses in the cupboard. Have you tried it? Amazing stuff that.  I can’t believe it took me so long to try it.

Quinoa salad with cauliflower, pomegranate and mint

Adapted from a recipe in Casa Moro by Sam and Sam Clark. 

Serves 4. 

For the salad:

  • 1 cup red or black quinoa
  • 1/2 medium sized cauliflower, broken into tiny florets
  • 1/2 fennel bulb, trimmed and finely chopped
  • 6-7 radicchio leaves, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped flat leaf parsley
  • 1/8 cup finely chopped mint
  • seeds of 1 pomegranate, all membranes removed

For the dressing:

  • 1 smallish shallot, finely minced
  • 1/4 cup pomegranate molasses
  • 1/3 cup walnut oil (or other mild oil like sunflower or extra virgin olive oil)
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon organic sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Place the quinoa in a medium saucepan over moderate heat. Stir occasionally until fragrant and nutty, and then cover with 2 cups of water and a pinch of salt. Cover, let come to a boil, and then turn down to a gentle simmer until the water is absorbed and the quinoa is fluffy.  Discard the water by dumping the quinoa into a large mesh strainer, and then rinse with cold water until cooled.

While the quinoa is cooking, whisk together the ingredients for your dressing in a small bowl.

Place the quinoa and remaining ingredients together in a large bowl. Add the dressing and toss well. Taste and add more salt, pepper or a trickle more pomegranate molasses if desired. Serve garnished with a few torn mint leaves over the top.

P.S. On a side note, my friend Iris of Blue Flag Medicinals and I are offering a Winter Herb Share (a box of handmade herbal goodies designed for winter wellness) for those of you who live in Vermont. For more information, send me an email at teacupbotanicals@gmail.com.