I spent a precious 27 hours in my most favorite of places, my lake home in Western Wisconsin, taking just a short window of time to draw away from the battlements and the never-ending stream of life and gaze out instead over a body of water. The ebb and flow of the wind, the constantly changing surface of the lake seems to calm my ever-present rumination on life and ease the stress. I love the lake and the feel of this place, listening to the profound quiet of mid-week, early season lake life before the docks go in, the boats come out, where early mornings feel like a gift, sipping coffee on the screen porch while the birds sing and chatter.
March gave us some exceptionally warm days, but the past few weeks haven’t been quite as toasty. Once the sun drops lower in the sky, I’m still shrugging in to sweatshirts and occasionally drawing wool slippers on my feet. I’ve got soup on the mind, with the chill in the air, but not the hearty simmering pots that I dreamed of in January.
What I’m dreaming about is this succulent chowder, light and refreshing for Spring, brightly colored with vibrant greens and flavored with the rich taste of smoked salmon. This is a simple soup to put together so it won’t be interfering with your outdoor time and you won’t feel bogged down from it when you finish.
The first time I made this soup I think we darn near polished off the entire pan. What was left over was barely worthy of lunch the following day, and instead of slipping this in the ‘Done’ pile and never looking at it again, I kept it front and center, and dropped another chunk of lovely smoked salmon in my grocery cart for a second showing. It’s a surprising recipe, as on first glance it just doesn’t look like a whole lot. Then you lift the spoon to your mouth and taste the coconut milk broth, rich with curry flavor, the delicious vegetables and then, the sharp smoky fish. It’s a bit sweet, it crunches and it delights.
The soup is wide open for your own personal interpretation too, employing just about any vegetable you have on hand. You could skip the smoked salmon if it isn’t to your liking, instead adding maybe some grilled shrimp or scallops for a bit of boldness. The curry is completely adjustable too. Add more for a bigger kick, if you like. Or just substitute turmeric to add the bright and sunny color. While I used broccoli and kale, I think green beans and bok choy would be delicious in this soup. Not a fan of corn? Skip it. Add peas instead. Or chunks of dark orange sweet potato. That’s the best part of this recipe; it’s superbly easy to make it your own.
Curried Vegetable and Smoked Salmon Chowder
Coconut oil for cooking
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced (I’ve used yellow onion too)
1 jalapeno pepper, cored and seeded, thinly sliced (for extra heat, use a serrano)
1 T. minced fresh ginger
2-4 garlic cloves, finely minced (the amount you use is entirely up to your taste)
2 Broccoli crowns, sliced to bite size (can sub in cauliflower)
2 c. fresh kale, roughly chopped (can sub in baby bok choy, chard or spinach too)
1 c. frozen corn kernels
1/2# smoked salmon
2 T. red curry paste (substitute your basic curry powder if it’s all you have)
1 15-oz can light coconut milk
3 c. broth of choice, or water (I filled the coconut milk can twice)
1 T. fish sauce, or fresh squeezed lime juice
1 T. pure honey
Cilantro, basil or mint, fresh lime wedges, crushed peanuts for toppings, if desired
In a medium stockpot with a lid, warm about a tablespoon of the coconut oil and add the onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened, maybe 10 minutes or so. Add the jalapeno, ginger and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring. Pour in the coconut milk and broth (or water) and stir together. Then add in the curry paste, fish sauce, and honey and stir well to incorporate, add in the broccoli, kale, and corn. Stir to blend, then bring to a simmer, cover and allow to cook until the broccoli is tender to your liking. Add in the smoked salmon and heat through. Top each soup with some of the fresh herbs, a squeeze of lime juice and chopped peanuts, if you like those. The soup is perfectly fine without them as well.
Previously in this space, we talked about mushrooms. Specifically, we talked about my quick and decisive learning curve that led me to an all-out lustrous affair with fungus.
Today, it’s all about Beets.
Beets and I had a torrid love affair back in 2009; it was then that I discovered the merits of this earthy root vegetable, one that turns tender and appealing from a long stretch in a hot oven; that it’s earthiness and deep, dark flavor isn’t so overpowering when paired with any number of other ingredients, and most specifically, that the nutrients in this little orb are well worth an incorporation to one’s regular eating. The greens also made their way in to my heart, one of the first to do so, and I believe they were responsible for me learning to love all things dark green and leafy.
Beets have a spectacular nutrient profile, primarily being a superb source of anti-oxidants, with anti-inflammatory and detoxification properties as well. Beets are in the same Chenopod family as spinach, chard and, surprisingly, quinoa. And while they contain an incredible amount of anti-oxidants, it’s the specific ones in beets- lutein and zeaxanthin- that make these vegetables stand out with their nutritional defense for your well-being. Lutein is especially beneficial for eye health, and the anti-oxidant mix in Beets is highly supportive of the nervous system. The anti-inflammatory properties of Beets also support heart health, and can help balance inflammation brought on by Type-2 Diabetes.
But even with all that, many people can’t get past the taste of Beets. They are dark and earthy, and quite honestly, I struggled with them at first, but I discovered that the lovely gold Beets are far less heavy tasting than their red cousins. Once I was able to enjoy the gold, I tried several recipes with the red and found a lot to enjoy about them as well.
Then, along came this recipe, pairing mellow and tender roasted beets with garlic studded mashed potato in a classic Skordalia. One bite and I was in love. With Beets. Again. Oh the glory…..
Served warm, with toasted pita bread on the side, this simple, non-fussy dish was rich with flavor and texture. The soft, fragrant potato mix, studded with garlic and thickened with a swirl of a soft, fruited olive oil lends a beautiful contrast to the hearty and tender roasted beets. I would have never imagined that the two of these foods together, both so simple and humble, would be so perfect.
Roasted Beets with Skordalia4 medium red beets (about 1 1/2 lbs.) trimmed and cleaned10 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oilKosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste1⁄4 cup finely ground toasted walnuts1 tbsp. red wine vinegar6 cloves garlic, smashed and minced into a paste (I sauteed the garlic in some of the olive oil before adding it to the potato for a more mellow garlic flavor)2 medium russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1″ squares and boiled until tender
Heat oven to 425°. Put beets in an 8″ x 8″ baking dish and drizzle with 2 tbsp. oil. Season with salt and pepper and pour in 1 cup water. Cover pan tightly with foil and crimp edges to form a seal. Bake beets until a knife inserted into beet slides easily into the center, about 1 hour. Transfer pan to a rack, carefully uncover, and let cool for 30 minutes. Peel beets and cut into 1″–2″ pieces; set aside.Put walnuts, vinegar, garlic, and potatoes into a medium bowl and mash potatoes until smooth. Vigorously stir in remaining oil and season with salt and pepper. Transfer beets to plates and serve with some of the skordalia spread on the side.
I came away from a long visit to the Minnesota State Fair this year with two prominent thoughts:
#1- The absolute BEST way to attend such a gastronomic event, where most everything is deep fried, with enormous portions, not so very healthy and most always made with meat is to go with a big group of like-minded friends so you can share all the gustatory delights and not leave feeling bloated and ill.
#2- I went to the Fair, knowing all the above regarding the food offerings and I ate everything that I felt like eating- including meat- sort of as a means to remind myself why I prefer to fill my belly with healthy and nutritious foods instead of the crap that often constitutes the American diet.
And that night, after sharing in the consumption of fried cheese curds, an Asian style pork burrito, fried pickles, cajun french fries, honey sunflower ice cream, sweet corn ice cream (FOUR portions shared between six of us- wow, so darn good), falafel, gyros and a strange but satisfying vegetarian dish that included lentils, rice, pasta and fried onions, I went to bed with aching legs from the 7 hours of walking, and woke in the night with a fully expected belly-ache. And I mean a raging hurricane of complaints from the tummy, saying over and over and over again “What did you DO to me!!!???”
I mean, four months is not a lot when compared to a lifetime in terms of good eating. But four months IS a lifetime though, because really, it took me only two days at the start of those four months to realize that changing the eating game for me was really beneficial. And it doesn’t take but one day of eating lousy to send my body back into a whirlwind of pain and suffering. It’s that easy, and your body is pretty good at reminding you of what happens when you feed it junk. My poor belly whirled and twisted, like an angry toddler with flailing fists as if it just couldn’t believe what I’d done to it.
The harder part however, was fighting off the urge to continue eating more junk, despite the protesting belly. It was like a switch was flipped in my head, a switch that said ‘GIMME!!‘ with red-hot intensity, to grease and fat. One day of eating poorly and I suddenly was flooded with urges for food I hadn’t regularly eaten in years. Mike made oatmeal for breakfast and I couldn’t eat it. With my tummy still doing cartwheels over the previous days intake, a bowl of something warm and healthy was the last thing it wanted, but really what I was craving was a huge carb and fat feast the likes of which I haven’t consumed for a long time. I drank a protein shake instead and that sort of helped, but I still fought off intense cravings for junk all day long. By late afternoon, I gave in and devoured a partial bag of chips that was in the cupboard, then by dinnertime my stomach was pleading with me to give it something green and chock full of vitamins. I can’t recall ever feeling so desperate for something healthy. Ever. With my mind and body at war over the onslaught, I was disoriented and restless, feeling depressed and scattered. It was eye-opening and somewhat scary how quickly all that junk food took over my mind and belly and fought for domination.
But I am nothing short of stubborn.
And my belly and mind can try and fight for domination over my heart and common sense but it won’t work. I knew what I needed and thankfully, it was all right there in the kitchen. A bag of chard, the remains of a container of cherry tomatoes and a can of great northern beans and soon I was happily consuming something green, sending my belly the message that those cries for help had been heard.
I even included the colorful and crunchy chard stems in my meal.
Tossed with a bit of oil and dusted with salt and pepper, I roasted this batch of stems until they were tender and nicely chewy, giving a pleasant added texture to the soft earthy chard. The stems are a really nice touch to any medley of roasted vegetables, especially tiny red potatoes and fresh carrots and they are rich with chard’s lush, dark flavor. This dish is quick to come together, making it a cinch to readily step up and cure what ails you, whether it’s a gastronomic overload of wanton delights or just a stressful, busy day.
Simple Chard Sauté
1 bunch chard, stems removed
1 15-oz can Great Northern beans, rinsed well
1 small leek, split, washed and sliced thin
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 pint cherry tomatoes
Wash the chard leaves thoroughly and spin them dry. To make them easier to cook and eat, rough chop them into manageable pieces. Wash the stems, trim the ragged edges and chop them in to bite sized pieces.
In a medium skillet with a lid, heat a small amount of oil and add the leek and chard stems. Season with a bit of sea salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the chard stems are tender and the leek is browned slightly, maybe 10-15 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for a few minutes, until the mixture is very fragrant.
Add the chard leaves by the handful, stirring the leaves to begin wilting them. Continue adding leaves and stirring until they cook down to a manageable size. Add about 1/3 cup of water to the skillet, stir in the beans and tomato and then cover the skillet. Allow to steam over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes undisturbed. Remove the cover, season with sea salt and fresh cracked pepper.
August is almost over.
And even writing that out doesn’t feel like it’s real. But it is; the month is over next week, then September comes and summer fades into the rear view mirror, leaving it’s fingerprints in our memory, waning like a summer tan. It has truly been an amazing and beautiful summer.
But it’s been a glorious August in Minnesota, a perfect end to this fleeting season. Despite June’s cool weeks, July roared in with it’s searing heat and choking humidity, and storm after storm after storm charged across the sky, darkening the hours, drowning us in rain. And what a delight too. I didn’t water my grass once this summer and it’s stayed lush and green through all the record-breaking heat. That’s pretty rare here. And the abundant rain has turned our surroundings in to a thick rainforest of growth, with a fresh earthy smell that’s nearly intoxicating. August ushered out the heat, and brought us gorgeous sun, endless blue sky and cool nights with fresh breezes. I’ve just fallen in love with August this year. If summer in Minnesota was like this month has been, no one would ever see the need to complain.
Then there’s the bounty, the amazing bounty sagging the tables at the Farmers Markets every week. It’s staggering how much produce is weighing down those tables, with over-loaded trucks parked behind, waiting to dispel their goods. I can take a $20 dollar bill and bring home two big sacks stuffed with food each week. My last trip was so fruitful that I could hardly stagger to the car with my load. And for only $28 dollars, I could have collapsed our kitchen island with the weight.
The one item I’ve been a bit disappointed with this season has been the sweet corn. I’ve had more misses with my ears than I’ve had wondrously sweet experiences, and one farmer I spoke to said that the intense heat and heavy rain can cause such quick ripening of the corn that it’s difficult to get it at that sweet tender state that so many people like.
A recent batch of corn that I purchased was a bit too starchy and dry for my liking, but mixed with red pepper, dark green kale and a few handfuls of good cheese, it turned in to a delightful dish that took the focus off the chewy over-ripe corn.
This cheesy baked dish was so yummy, rich with fresh summer flavor. I’d love to try it again, adding more vegetables to it, maybe change the cheese to something stronger, or try it with chard since I seem to have glided up and over the moon for this particular dark leafy green. Did you see in that photo that I bought THREE bunches of it? I am crazy.
But that’s what I need to do; dive head first into these seasonal delights and enjoy them while I can. Like summer, and August, they’ll be fading all too quickly, and I’ll be back in the produce aisle of the grocer, surveying my options, rubbing my arms from the cold, wishing I was dodging sunlight, an overstuffed sack slung on my bare shoulder.
Cheesy Corn and Kale Bake
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 medium leek, sliced thin (or an onion, if you wish)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 large bunch of curly leaf kale, washed and spun dry then chopped
4 c. fresh corn kernels
2 T. unsalted butter
2 T. AP flour
1 c. milk (i used soy)
1 c. freshly grated cheddar cheese (or mix it up a bit with pepper jack)
1 T. cream cheese (I used sour cream)
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Salt and black pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 375°
In a deep cast iron skillet, or other oven proof skillet, sauté the leek and pepper in a bit of olive oil until soft. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for about a minute or two. Add in the kale and stir until it’s coated with the oil, then cover the pan and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring once or twice. Scrape veggies in to a bowl and set aside.
In same pan, melt the butter, then add the flour and stir to make a roux. Cook, stirring, for about two minutes to cook out the raw flour taste. Slowly whisk in the milk until smooth, then cook, stirring constantly until the mixture is very thick. It may look a bit reddish brown from the pepper, but that’s just fine. Mix the cheese in a little at a time until you have a nice cheese sauce, stir in the cream cheese and cooked pepper mix, and then the corn kernels. It will be very thick. Season with salt, pepper and the cayenne and spread it evenly in the pan. Place the pan, uncovered, in to the oven and bake until hot and bubbly, about 30 minutes.
Original recipe is from The Kitchn website; I made heavy modifications.
You can use frozen corn in this if you wish, just be sure to run it under cold water to thaw it out, and shake all the extra moisture out before adding it to the cheese sauce mixture.
Eventually, we all know it’s going to happen; the bounty of summer vegetables is going to begin to overwhelm home cooks. This rapid increase of summer heat has brought my tomato plants into full force growth, skyrocketing up in the garden and bursting out buds like crazy. If this keeps up, August is going to be both delicious and ridiculous. And zucchini? We all know that one plant per home garden is enough to keep a happy cook in oblong green delight, but the overly enthusiastic gardeners who tend several plants will one day walk out to their garden and be confronted with tons of zucchini. Mark my words. Then they’ll do whatever they can to pawn the excess off on anyone who’ll look their way. Then there’s eggplant. The purple orbs are everywhere once they’re ripe. My word. It’s craaaaa- zee. But in a good, good way.
Because I found The. Best. summer vegetable option once your countertop is over-flowing with fresh zucchini, tomato and eggplant.
Provided your willingness to turn on your oven, here’s a dish that screams out “SUMMERTIME!!” in every bite, from the heady garlic and fresh herb infused olive oil that you drizzle over everything to the fresh vegetables that make up the bulk of this gratin. Get a really, really good loaf of bread for the base, a fine bottle of white wine for you, and enjoy a meal worthy of any fancy summer dinner party, or simply a way to ease yourself out of a hectic day.
I spied this recipe on the Food & Wine website, searching for some new plant-friendly recipes to add to our eating repertoire. I knew we’d love it and I wasn’t disappointed. Once out of the oven, the smell was killing me. I could barely wait for it to cool enough to cut a slice and dig in. Mike came home from meeting with some of his clients, and despite having already eaten lunch, I pretty much shoved a slice at him and demanded that he try it. Which he did. He’s got the right attitude, hmm?
The base of this gratin is made from good rustic bread, torn in to pieces and drizzled with a heady blend of garlicky oil inundated with fresh herbs. It bakes up nice and crunchy, aromatic and flavorful, adding a nice contrast to the soft baked tomato, zucchini and eggplant slices gracing the top. A smattering of fresh basil, a spray of good parmesan cheese and a fork. Oh, and don’t forget the wine. It’s a dish that tastes of summertime, reeking of warm days, the scent of cut grass and the way the night air sulks around at dusk with the lingering scent of the day before finally giving way to the cool of night. If anything else smacks of good seasonal eating, show me, because I really want to know.
You know that day will come when you glance, overwhelmed, at the summer bounty before you and you think ‘Oh dear, what do I do NOW???’ Well I have the answer, my friends. You will make this dish. And with one bite, you will determine when you can make it again. And maybe, again.
Do you have any favorite ways to use zucchini and eggplant??
1 medium eggplant, sliced 1/4″ thick
2 medium zucchini, sliced 1/4″ thick
3-4 medium tomato, sliced 1/4″ thick.
1/2 c. good olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced extra fine
1 heaping tablespoon each fresh thyme, parsley and basil, minced fine, plus extra for finishing
1 1-lb loaf good quality artisan bread, torn in to 1-2″ pieces (i used a good sourdough, left in a paper bag overnight)
Stir olive oil, garlic and the heaping tablespoons of fresh herbs together in a small bowl. Whisk well to combine.
Toss eggplant and zucchini with 1-2 teaspoons of kosher salt and let stand for about 20-30 minutes. Drain any liquid and gently squeeze dry, if possible. Sprinkle tomato slices with salt and pepper.
Spray a 9×13 baking dish with cooking spray and arrange torn bread in bottom. Pack the bread in as tight as possible in one layer, using the entire loaf. Drizzle the bread with about 2 T. of the garlic/herb oil. Arrange the eggplant slices on top, then the zucchini, then the tomato. Drizzle the top of the vegetables with another tablespoon or two of the oil and sprinkle some thyme leaves over that.
Bake the gratin for 30-40 minutes, or until the vegetables are aromatic and slightly browned and the bread crust is crispy. Remove from oven and allow to stand for 10-15 minutes. Sprinkle with minced basil and parsley and fresh grated parmesan before serving, if desired. The gratin can be served warm, or at room temperature. To reheat, place gratin on a baking sheet and rewarm in a low oven.
From Food & Wine, with heavy modifications