Friday, November 16, 2012

Winter Salad, California Style

Living in a new part of the country means re-learning what "seasonal eating" is. We lucky people who live in the Bay Area are, well, spoiled. Winter doesn't mean that farmer's markets are limited to root vegetables, storage squash and the last of autumn's apples. It means we get to pile all of those things along with many others, on top of fresh new lettuces and greens which, up in Sonoma, finally have enough water and shade to grow. After the searing summer heat and more peppers, eggplants and zucchinis than I ever care to see again, our winter garden is leafy, spicy and growing at the rate of a full salad bowl every other day. Like I said, lucky. When I first lived in the Bay Area, years ago, I worked for a dear friend at The Gardener, in Berkeley. The lessons I learned from her are innumerable, and among them was how to eat a persimmon.
Persimmons are not something I ever encountered as a child in Los Angeles. And of all the produce sent from California to New England, persimmons are seldom seen. Around here they show up at the start of November and stay on through the holidays, lending their festive orange glow to menus and decorative arrangements alike. While sort of intimidating and almost quixotic on the shelf, they are simple to prepare and easily digested by the body. Most importantly, they are delicious, sweet at first bite but without any lingering or excessive sugary taste.  My preferred variety is the Fuyu which is squat like a tomato and firm like an apple. These are eaten while still hard and crisp and are delicious in salads, with dry, salty cheeses, or in slices on their own.
Hachiyas, the larger, more oval shaped variety, are eaten soft and ripe when they are practically pudding in the skin. Both varieties are said to soothe sore throats and an irritated intestinal tract and contain enzymes that break down damaged cells and foreign microbes in the body. Pete came home from Sebastopol the other day with a bag full of both kinds so I have been enjoying them every way I can. Most recently I sliced them into this salad of the-best-spinach-I-have-ever-had (it is almost meaty in its richness), escarole and mustard greens. I added pomegranate seeds, another favorite winter fruit.
Pomegranates grow on trees all over town and my friend Emma has been plucking them from her Edenic back yard and bringing them to work, so I eat the seeds in my granola, in salads, dropped in a glass of soda water or get the idea.
Crunchy persimmon, the tart pop of pomegranate seeds, crisp, spicy greens. What's missing? Oh yeah, cheese. I just discovered how much I love ricotta salata. It has an odd, almost springy texture that I really enjoy. I tossed the whole shebang in good olive oil, juice from half a lemon, and a sprinkle of Maldon sea salt. Now that's my kind of winter meal.

Winter Salad with Persimmons & Pomegranate
serves one hungry person or two as a side

A handful of really good spinach*
A few large mustard or kale leaves
A few large escarole leaves
1 firm Fuyu persimmon
1/4 cup pomegranate seeds
2-4 oz ricotta salta, cubed or crumbled
1 T high quality olive oil
juice of half a lemon
Maldon or other flakey sea salt

* If you are able, try to get your hands on hearty spinach that has textured, knobbly leaves. It is more likely to have that lovely meaty quality I mentioned than "baby" spinach or more the more delicate, thin-leafed variety.

Put the spinach in a bowl and cover with cold water. Lift the spinach out. The sand and dirt will settle in the bottom of the bowl. Rinse the bowl and repeat until all the sediment is removed from the leaves. Do the same with the other greens.

Spin or pat the greens until very dry.

Using a paring knife, remove the stems from the mustard or kale by cutting each leaf lengthwise down either side of the stem. Cut or tear the stemless leaves into fork-bite size and place in a salad bowl. Cut or tear the escarole to a similar size and add to the bowl along with the spinach.

Cut the stem off the persimmon, then halve the fruit vertically. Some Fuyu persimmons contain seeds but many are seedless and just have a pretty flower-like pattern inside. Place one half, flat side down, on a cutting board and slice thin half moons. Do the same with the other half and add to the salad bowl.

Cut the pomegranate in half, vertically. Store one half in the fridge, covered, to enjoy later. Cut your remaining half in half again, vertically. Remove the seeds from the white pith and sprinkle over the bowl of greens. One half should yield at least 1/4 cup of seeds, sometimes more.

Add your cubed or crumbled ricotta salata, the olive oil and lemon juice and toss until salad is evenly coated. Add a good pinch of sea salt and a crack of black pepper and gently toss again. Enjoy as a light, vitamin-rich meal, a first course, or a fresh Thanksgiving side.

Other Fun Facts
Spinach is one of the best greens you can eat. It is very high in iron, clorophyll and vitamin A. It promotes peristalsis (the involuntary wave-like movement of the muscles in your digestive tract that moves your food through your system), soothes intestinal inflammation, is a great detoxifier and can help restore pH balance to your digestive system.

Pomegranate is another cleansing and cooling food which can be great in a season marked by celebratory and, often, heavy eating. Along with cranberries it is known to promote a healthy bladder and urinary tract. The astringent rind is said to make a good skin wash.

Escarole, cousin of endive, is high in vitamins C, K, and A, as well as calcium, iron and magnesium.

Mustard Greens are incredibly high in water content making them a great detoxifying, tonic food. They belong to the Brassica family which is widely considered to be one of the most powerful anti-cancerous groups of vegetables.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Favorite Pancakes & Fall Trips

November 1st!!! How did that happen so fast? In the past few weeks I've experienced the splendor of autumn (New England), an early taste of winter (Tahoe), and even a few searing, summer-like days here in Sonoma; a last hurrah before the much needed rain we got this week.
My trips have been a wonderful mix of the nostalgia-stirring and the brand spanking new.
The trip to Maine was a homecoming. Familiar, sentimental in an almost painful way. Even though it was October it smelled like every summer of my whole life: of wet pine, of moss, faintly of smoke and strongly of the sea. It smelled like capture the flag, blood drawn by a barnacle, mildewed rope bracelets, first kiss, first drunk, and lying on the lawn after dinner with my sister and my parents because the stars were too bright and too startlingly milky to ignore. And bed can always wait.
I have been to Tahoe a few times now and feel like I am only just beginning to understand its greatness. On our most recent trip we left Sonoma in the dark, at 6am, when it was already 60 degrees, and made it to Donner Summit by 9am to find thigh high snow, fog over Donner Lake, and that bright mountain sun already glaring against the white- a reminder that you have been thrust several thousand feet towards it in only a couple of hours.
 I have also, in recent weeks, found a favorite pancake recipe. Purists be warned! This is not your standard flapjack. But stay open minded if you are able. My pancake obsessed sweetheart has completely converted from his flour-based pancakes to these gluten-free, energy packed, and truly scrumptious stacks instead. 
Said sweetheart, Pete, is a rock climber, and thus, has chronic joint pain. When its particularly bad we try to eat an anti-inflammatory diet. For those of you new to this idea it basically means eating a mostly raw, plant-based diet, and cutting back on alcohol, meat, dairy, caffeine, sugar and gluten. I know. Even as I type the list I realize it sounds severe. But in reality, when we eat this way, it never feels abstemious. I love to cook (as you know), we both love to eat (those of you who know us can attest), and we want our food to taste good even when consuming with the specific intent to heal the body, or even fuel it.

After making this pancake recipe once I decided to make a quadruple batch of the dry ingredients to have the mix on hand all the time. I have since gone from being a once-every-couple-of-months pancake eater to a bi-weekly pancake eater. Very happily and healthily so.

The Pancakes
adapted from Sprouted Kitchen
1/3 cup almond meal *
1/3 cup oat flour **
1/3 cup quinoa flour
1 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
2 T sugar
pinch of fine grain salt
1 egg
1 cup almond milk (or milk or buttermilk)
coconut oil or butter for cooking
1 t vanilla (optional)

*You can make your own almond meal by grinding whole or slivered raw almonds in a food processor until very fine.
**You can make your own oat flour by grinding whole organic oats in a food processor until very fine.

Combine all the dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix well. 

In a small bowl lightly beat the egg, then add the cup of almond milk and the vanilla.

Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir to combine. 

In a cast iron or heavy bottomed pan, melt the coconut oil or butter over medium heat.  When the pan is ready add about 1/4 cup of the batter and repeat as desired without overcrowding. Personally, I like to limit it to 2 pancakes at a time so they are easy to flip.

When bubbles form on the top of the pancake, flip and cook another minute or so. When making larger batches for a crowd I pre-heat the oven to 250 degrees and keep the finished pancakes warming on a plate so everyone can eat at once. 

The options for toppings are endless. As documented in the photo above, I mixed some Maine maple syrup with whole milk yogurt and topped my pancakes with that and fresh figs picked from a tree up the street. We have also eaten them with homemade apple syrup from a friend. They are great with just a slab of high quality salted butter melted on top, or a scoop of your favorite nut butter if you are looking for enduring energy.

How do you like to eat them? Please let me know!