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Eating with the Seasons: Spring Menu - Main and Side Dishes

Rock That Gem

I hope you had fun making the artichoke appetizer from yesterday's blog post -- wasn't the heart delicious? Since artichokes are only available for 3-4 months out of the year, it's fun to savor their goodness during this short window of time.

In the spring we turn to lighter foods with an emphasis on steaming and boiling. The vegetables that grow in the spring have a rising energy that you can see clearly in the way they come up from the ground. Think of leafy greens, sprouts, chives, garlic, and asparagus. During this change in weather we want to embody that kind of energy as well. On that note, let's start with our spring side dish! (For all ingredients, choose organic when available).

Spring Asparagus with Lemon Miso Dressing

Serves two (or one very hungry person)

Ingredients:

1 bunch of asparagus 

1 teaspoon chickpea miso (or similar light miso)

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon olive oil or sesame oil 

2/3 teaspoon umeboshi plum vinegar

1 teaspoon filtered water

Herbamare (an herb salt seasoning)

A note about umeboshi vinegar: if you have never tried umeboshi vinegar before, this is a must-have in your pantry. You can often find the Eden brand in health food stores (and larger chains like Whole Foods). It is worth ordering online if your local stores don't carry it (but feel free to ask them to!). Umeboshi vinegar has a salty, tangy, bright flavor that works well with vegetables and in sauces and dressings. This vinegar is excellent for your digestion and balancing your body's acidity/alkalinity -- if your stomach is upset from something you ate, sprinkle a few shakes of umebosh vinegar in a glass of water and drink it for relief. Your world will be changed from this one liquid!

When choosing your asparagus, look for the leaves at the tip to be tight -- if they are open, dry, or slimy, they're not as fresh and won't be as tasty. The stalk thickness doesn't decide tastiness, so feel free to get skinny stalks or fat stalks, whatever tickles your fancy! If you're purchasing the asparagus a day or two before eating, cut the very ends and place them in a Ball jar or vase with a half inch of water at the bottom and store them in the refrigerator. This drink of water will help prevent them from becoming wilted before you're ready to cook.

I think the tastiest way to cook asparagus is by steaming it -- you could always boil it, but I find steaming retains the green flavor a bit more. If they are thin stalks, it could only take a few minutes to steam. You want the color to brighten and the crunch to soften a bit. Taste and try the stalks as you steam them, and take them out just before they're perfect. They cook a bit more when steaming on the plate, and taking them out a moment early keeps them from yellowing and overcooking. 

Asparagus is another vegetable, like the artichoke from yesterday, that is tastiest when hot. Make this sauce on the side as you're steaming the asparagus so that it is ready to drizzle on top and serve!

Preparing the dressing: In a small bowl or teacup mix the miso, lemon juice, oil, umeboshi vinegar, and filtered water together with a fork. This sauce should have a creaminess from the miso, a smoothness from the oil, and a tang from the lemon juice and umeboshi vinegar. Taste it and see what it needs -- these amounts are just a starting point! I love to add a splash more umeboshi vinegar as the acidity brings out the sweetness of the asparagus. Try not to make the sauce too thin and watery. You want the dressing to adhere a bit to a dipped stalk or when drizzled over the whole bunch. 

 My favorite vintage pink LuRay platter!

My favorite vintage pink LuRay platter!

Present the asparagus on your favorite serving platter -- beautiful objects are meant to be used and enjoyed! You can keep the dressing on the side and dip the asparagus stalks one by one, or drizzle the dressing over the asparagus bunch. If you choose the former, a sprinkle of Herbamare seasoning is lovely to accentuate the flavor of the asparagus. This is finger food -- use your hands to eat the stalks, feel free to get dressing on your fingers, and enjoy!


Bitter Greens Pesto over Soba Noodles

Serves 3-4

Ingredients:

Soba noodles

Your choice of spring greens and herbs -- basil, kale, arugula, watercress, mustard greens, dandelion greens, chives, scallions, garlic scapes are wonderful options to choose from

Your choice of seeds or nuts -- sunflower seeds, slivered almonds, or cashews work well

Olive oil or sesame oil

Umeboshi plum vinegar

Herbamare (an herb salt seasoning)

Filtered water

This is a lovely and light main dish that shows up on the table in spring and stays into the summer months. Bitter greens are nutritional powerhouses and are fantastic in promoting enzyme production and digestive well-being. In the spring you want to awaken your system and clean it out. Bitter greens do just that!

The recipe for this sauce is purposely vague with the proportions -- I want you to taste as you go, see what it needs, and make it perfect for you! Choose the greens that look best at the greenmarket that day, the ones you're most drawn to. Try to add one of the more peppery or bitter green options to your mix, like watercress or arugula, alongside an allium like chives or scallions. Dandelion can be quite bitter, so use a light touch when adding it. My favorite mix always includes basil and garlic scapes (when they're available). I love sunflower seeds with this pesto because they add a hint of sweetness and provide a bit of texture to the sauce. If you use cashews, consider soaking them in water beforehand so they're extra creamy when blended.   

Preparing the sauce: Add all your greens to the blender with a little bit of water and blend until they are well chopped. If you're lucky enough to own a Vitamix it will make it even easier to get a smooth sauce. Now add your seeds or nuts and the oil, and blend again until very well mixed. If the sauce gets too thick to blend, add a bit more water. At this point you want the sauce to be as blended as possible. Start blending again and slowly pour water in. The key here is that if everything has been blended well enough beforehand, the water will be adding a smooth lightness and increasing the yield considerably. Avoid making the sauce watery, but as long as it's frothing up nicely, feel free to add more water, making sure it will still adhere nicely to the noodles. Add a few shakes of Herbamare and umeboshi vinegar, blend, taste, and adjust until it's to your liking. As you now know I adore umeboshi vinegar, so I always add a little more to make the flavors pop.

Cook your favorite type of soba noodle -- in this instance I made soba that contains mugwort, which has its own cleansing and digestion properties and a tasty strong flavor. It also has this great green color, which matches so well with the colors of springtime. Try to avoid choosing a refined white pasta for this dish -- the processed grains absorb quickly into your bloodstream and result in a sugar spike, leaving you ultimately less satisfied. Soba noodles like these are made from a variety of whole grains and provides proteins, complex carbs, and iron. 

You have your artichoke appetizer and now your main dish and side vegetable. Join me tomorrow for a light and tasty dessert and a warming beverage to cap off your spring meal! 

Once you make these dishes I would love to hear your thoughts -- are you all about umeboshi vinegar now? Found a new bitter green you love? Do tell!