Mason jar salads

Springtime is the time for light pasta dishes and very green salads.

All the fresh seasonal spring vegetables:
Fava beans and leaves
Flowers: borage, calendula, chives, fava, pansies, peas, rose, wild mustard, wild turnip, etc.
Green garlic
Green peas and pea shoots
Spring greens
Spring onions
The first cherry tomatoes,

as well as late season winter produce:
Bitter greens: arugula, baby kale, chicories, etc.
Root vegetables and their tops

– all work well in both salads and pastas.

Recently some of my clients asked me to lighten their spring menus, and to replace the soup with a fresh salad that they can enjoy all week, and take to work for lunch. For this, mason jar salads are a perfect solution. These salads have been a trend in the last couple of years, and they make a lot of sense for busy people who like to eat healthy and well.

The idea is that you pack your salad in a mason jar, 1/2 pint, 1 pint or 1 quart, depending on your appetite, in an order that helps to keep it fresh in the refrigerator for the whole week. The dressing goes on the bottom of the jar. Then you add a vegetable, legume, or protein, to separate the dressing from the greens, so that the greens don’t wilt, and the greens, nuts, and edible flowers go on top. When ready to eat, turn the jar out onto a plate, and it will dress itself. Or, mix it and eat it from the jar. Pack the jars tightly: the less air there is, the slower will the salad dry out.

– Greek yogurt, mint, lemon juice, minced garlic or spring garlic; fava and garbanzo beans; grilled chicken; fava bean tops
– White wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, minced shallot, olive oil; quail eggs; mâché
– Balsamic vinegar, olive oil; fire roasted peppers; prosciutto; cannellini beans; wild arugula, pine nuts
– Lemon juice and zest, garlic, olive oil; olives, feta; red onion slices, rinsed, bell pepper strips, cherry tomatoes, Persian cucumber (sliced, salted, and left to drain, then squeezed dry); baby spinach, borage flowers
– Strawberry infused balsamic vinegar, walnut or olive oil; strawberries, goat cheese; walnuts, baby greens
– Orange slices and juice, olive oil; steamed green beans or cooked cranberry beans; shaved fennel; baby arugula

Please go out into the garden or to the farmers market, get whatever looks the best, and improvise! Don’t forget to add some edible flowers, to make the jars more fun to open.

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Location:Tiburon, CA

Green for spring

“Eat the rainbow” may be a nice slogan to tempt kids to eat more vegetables, as opposed to the colorless packaged food-less food; but if you follow the seasons and try to get the best and freshest produce that the local farmers have to offer, you’ll find yourself eating your rainbow a few colors at a time.

The summer is red, blue, and purple: it starts with strawberries, raspberries and blueberries, then tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplants, watermelons, figs. The fall colors are orange and yellow: squashes, pumpkins, persimmons, apples and pears.
Winter is, predictably, white: cabbage, potatoes, turnips, parsnip, rutabaga, mushrooms; citrus fruits and pomegranate add much needed color accents.

Now, in the spring, the green color dominates the garden and the farmers market. The green vegetables that were available all winter – leafy greens, lettuces and cabbages – are still here, and taste as great as ever. They will be gone soon, eat them while you can! Beans and peas first produce delicious greens, then tender pods. I love to mix the two in the same dish, and the middle of spring is the time when both are available. The strictly seasonal artichokes, asparagus, ramps (wild leeks) and fava beans have to be enjoyed in spring: the season is short, and it’s now! The first vegetables of summer make an appearance, and their color is green: summer squashes and cucumbers are here to stay, but they are in their most tender “baby” stage now.

What’s in season:
Beet greens
Bok Choy
Brussels sprouts
Collard Greens
Dandelion Greens
Fava beans
Green beans
Mustard greens
Pea greens
Rappini (broccoli rabe)
Swiss Chard
Turnip Greens

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Spring moments in the kitchen

Squash blossoms. Stuff them with seasoned cottage cheese and fry.

Heirloom tomato salad, fillet mignonette, new potatoes with ramp pesto


Pappardelle with rabbit ragu. The spring version includes peas and spinach

Spring lamb chops, asparagus with quail egg and ramp-lemon butter

The first heirloom tomatoes with herbs and olive oil

Grilled chicken and bacon sausages, rosa blanca potatoes, heirloom tomato salad

Springtime mirepoix: spring onion, green garlic, baby leeks, carrots

Paella mixta with asparagus and fava beans

Green peas


Baby greens with herbs, flowers, and goat cheese salad

Cowgirl Creamery Inverness cheese
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Spring in California

Mixed microgreens salad with purple asparagus, sunchoke, and boiled egg;

Cowgirl Creamery St Pat cheese, fresh baked roll.
 Everything for this lunch comes from the farmers market, except the roll that I just baked.
 Am I turning vegetarian? No way. But after all the long braises and hearty soups of winter, I really enjoy the effortless, no-recipe, no-cooking, fresh food of the warmer seasons. And eating it outside.

St. Pat is a soft ripened cheese wrapped into stinging nettle leaves. It’s only available in spring.

For the salad:
 (1 serving)
 A handful of mixed microgreens, or baby bitter greens
 2-3 sunchokes, unpeeled, scrubbed, thinly sliced
 4-5 thick purple (or tender green) asparagus stalks, thinly sliced
 One large egg, boiled 9 minutes, halved
 Maldon sea salt (or flaky salt of your choice)
 Good olive oil
 Combine the greens, sunchokes, and asparagus, toss with your hands. Garnish with egg, season with salt and olive oil. Enjoy.
 True leaves. Here is another sign of spring: the Persian cucumbers 2014 show their first true leaves.

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A beautiful bowl of greens

Look what a handsome bowl of greens I got from Mount Tam Microgreens at Mill Valley Farmers Market this morning!

They have different mixes of greens, growing in large good-looking recycled paper bowls. Mine is called “One World”, because it contains “Chinese tatsoi, Russian kale, American rocket, Indian amaranth, Japanese mustard and mizuna, and Italian broccoli” – yes, I always want it all at the same time! (BTW, being born and raised in Russia, in a country house with a vegetable garden, I never heard of kale until I came to California. We had white and red cabbage, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts, but no leafy cabbages or broccoli. I wonder where the “Russian kale” comes from… I also have an impression that the American rocket is in fact Italian ruccola that California farmers started growing just recently. But this is not the point. I wanted them all, and I got them!)

The tender, elegant microgreens are almost as delicate as sprouts, but they have the pronounced flavor of the mature greens. The difference between sprouts and microgreens is that the sprouts are just seeds, germinated in a greenhouse environment, usually with no soil, and eaten whole, the seed, root, and the top; while microgreens are juvenile plants with one or two pairs of true leaves already developed, grown in soil; only the green top is eaten, the roots are cut off and go to compost for the next cycle. According to the Mount Tam Microgreens leaflet, many microgreens have four to six times the vitamin content of the mature plants of the same varieties. A good reason to eat them, besides their wonderful flavor, tender bite, and beauty.

I’ve been experimenting with microgreens on my own. I have micro-beets and micro-sunflowers coming up in the next few days. However, this whole bowl was $20 – this is probably less than I paid just for my seeds – and it’s LOTS OF GREENS! Sometimes it pays to have people who know what they are doing to do it for you 🙂

The instructions leaflet tells you to thin aggressively. This is the first thing I did after getting the bowl home – I thinned aggressively, and had a chiabatta sandwich with prosciutto, gruyere, home-made mayonnaise, and mini-greens. The bowl looks like nothing happened. I’ll thin aggressively tomorrow again.

The microgreens are not just for sandwiches, use them to garnish soups, meat, fish, and vegetable dishes; they can be used in most recipes to replace either sprouts, or mature greens. An example, my signature roasted beets and baby arugula salad, made with microgreens:

Beet salad
Serves 6
6 medium beets, mixed colors, with root and 1 inch of the greens on
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp sherry vinegar
Salt, pepper
Dash of truffle oil (optional)
4 Tbsp olive oil
10 oz mixed microgreens
1 cup walnut pieces

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place beets in a deep roasting pan, add 1/2 cup water, cover tightly with aluminum foil, roast 30-45 minutes, depending on size of the beets, until beets are easily pierced with a knife (test through the foil). Let cool.
Rinse onion under cold water, drain. Toss onion with sherry vinegar, let sit 20-30 minutes.
When beets are cool enough to handle, trim the root end and the greens, peel with your fingers (use gloves to handle red beets). Thinly slice beet, season with salt, pepper, optional truffle oil, and olive oil. Toss beets with marinated onion, serve on top of greens, garnish with walnut pieces.

Orange and fennel salad with microgreens:

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Location:Mill Valley, CA

Ingredient of the month: cauliflower

The media say that cauliflower is the new kale. Cauliflower is receiving the same acclaim now from the nutritionists and the chefs alike as the fashionable kale was enjoying over the last two or three years. Well deserved, too. Cauliflower is packed with vitamins and minerals, is easy to grow and to cook, has negative calories, pleasant mild bitter-sweet flavor that shines on it’s own and combines well with other ingredients, intriguing texture, and it looks great on you plate!

Cauliflower is not just a white flower. It’s also gold, green, and purple flower! All colors do well steamed until almost tender (either in a steamer or in a microwave), then sautéed, or prepared ou gratin. Cream of cauliflower soup is a life-saver for people who can’t tolerate milk products: the pureed cauliflower supplies the creamy texture, no cream needed.

To trim a head of cauliflower: place it stem-side up on a working surface. With a sharp paring knife, cut out a cone shape around the stem and through the leaves. The leaves will fall off – discard them, or use them to flavor soups. Remove the stem. Break off the florets, cut the larger ones into halves or quarters to get uniform sizes.

Cauliflower coconut soup
Serves 6
2 Tbsp coconut oil
1/2 tsp mild yellow curry powder
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 large heads white cauliflower, trimmed and chopped (use both the florets and the stems, discard the ugly outer leaves, but use the nice inner ones)
1 can coconut milk (or coconut milk made from 2 coconuts)
4 cups water
Sea salt, fresh ground black pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add curry powder and onion, sauté until fragrant and the onion is soft, 3-4 minutes. Add garlic, sauté 1 minute. Add cauliflower, coconut milk, and water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to maintain a slow simmer, cook until the cauliflower is very tender, about 20 minutes. Puree with an immersion blender. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Cauliflower gratin
Serves 6
2 medium heads cauliflower, separated into florets
2 Tbsp water
1 Tbsp olive oil
Sea salt, fresh ground black pepper
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup Panko breadcrumbs (or fresh breadcrumbs made from 2 thick slices of toasted rustic bread)
2 Tbsp grated Parmesan

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place cauliflower florets and water into a microwave dish, cover with a paper towel, microwave until the cauliflower is crisp-tender, 4-5 minutes. Carefully remove the cauliflower from the microwave, drain. Grease a shallow ovenproof dish or a gratin dish with olive oil. Arrange cauliflower florets in the dish, fitting tightly. Season with salt and pepper. Pour cream and chicken stock over the cauliflower. Mix the breadcrumbs and the cheese and sprinkle on top. Bake in the oven until the cheese melts and the top is golden, 15-20 minutes.

Sautéed cauliflower
Serves 6

1 small head white cauliflower, separated into florets
1 small head golden cauliflower, separated into florets
1 small head purple cauliflower, separated into florets
2 Tbsp water
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp butter
Sea salt, fresh ground black pepper

Place cauliflower florets and water into a microwave dish, cover with a paper towel, microwave until the cauliflower is crisp-tender, 4-5 minutes. Carefully remove the cauliflower from the microwave, drain. Heat oil and butter in a large pan over medium heat. Add cauliflower; sauté, stirring frequently, until the cauliflower is tender and golden, 3-5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Mashed cauliflower
Serves 6

6 Qt. Water
2 Tbsp salt
2 heads white cauliflower, trimmed, chopped
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp heavy cream
Salt, pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add in the cauliflower, reduce heat to maintain a slow simmer, cook until the cauliflower is very tender, 15-20 minutes. Drain, place in a bowl. Heat butter and cream over medium heat until the butter has melted. Add the butter-cream mixture to the cauliflower. Mash with a potato mashed or a fork to a relatively coarse texture. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

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Location:San Rafael, CA

First Fall menu, from the Farmers Market

Fresh produce from the Farmers Market

All produce for today's menu came from San Rafael Sunday Farmers Market

The menu for the first Fall day of 2013:

Sweet potato coconut curry soup
Vegetable lasagna
Fruit salad

Tomato and spinach flan, roasted pepper sauce
Quinoa with zucchini and lemon

Chicken, sausage, and cabbage casserole

Beef and quinoa meatballs, tomato sauce

Cannellini beans with kale and tomato

Salads for the summer

The summer is almost here, bringing us the delicious summer vegetables, and the favorite hot-weather food, fresh vegetable salads.
Salads are:
– Healthy
– Fast and easy to put together
– Easily adaptable to vegetarian and vegan diets
– Require little or no cooking, for these hot days
– Colorful
– Help us to stay in shape throughout the swimsuit season
– Fun picnic and backyard party food

Here are some of my favorites:

Classic Nicoise, and it’s variations, can be served as a complete dinner entree. Lettuce, cucumber, potatoes, olives, tomatoes, bell peppers, Italian canned tuna, eggs, anchovies, mustard vinaigrette.

This version has frisee, arugula, tomatoes, new red potatoes, fava beans, green beans, spring onion, Italian canned tuna, egg, anchovies, sherry vinaigrette.
Note: Please use good Italian tuna in olive oil; don’t try to substitute the supermarket “cat food” chunk tuna variety – tuna makes or breaks this dish. The use of fresh grilled tuna is a recent American restaurant invention. They use canned tuna in the South of France, I checked.

Rainbow kale slaw, adapted from Whole Foods website: thinly sliced black kale and red cabbage (salt the cabbages, then squeeze them with your hands to soften), red bell pepper, red onion, orange, sunflower seeds; dressed with orange juice + Dijon mustard + Tamari + olive oil.

Mediterranean garbanzo salad, adapted from Whole Foods website: bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, fennel, shallot, garbanzo beans, sheep’s milk feta in lettuce cups, lemon vinaigrette. I garnished it with chives flowers, just because I can.

Classic Greek salad: tomato, bell pepper, cucumber, olives, feta, good olive oil, a squeeze of lemon, a lot of fresh ground black pepper. This is how they served it to me in Delphi: with a large brick of good feta on top. No silly feta crumbs 🙂

Shaved summer squash with almond salsa, adapted from the “Beauty Detox” cookbook.

Cucumber salad, mint yogurt dressing.

Daikon and zucchini salad, lemon basil vinaigrette.

And the all-time summer tomato favorite, Caprese salad: heirloom tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, basil, balsamic vinaigrette. Simple and perfect. As perfect as the tomatoes are.

A party appetizer version: cherry tomatoes, fresh mozzarella balls, basil leaves, on skewers, balsamic vinegar and olive oil for dipping.

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What’s in season?

Seasonality chart, from the Agricultural Institute of Marin

Some of my favorites in the late spring:


Green beans and peas



Fava beans

Spring onions


Asparagus, chive flowers

California King salmon

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Colorful spring menu today

From my previous post it may look like my vegetable garden is losing it’s struggle with the local wild life. It is not so. I’m learning to garden in these difficult conditions, and I had some successes. The key is to protect the plants they favor, to plant what the beasts don’t like, or to grow whatever grows faster than they eat it. Most culinary herbs (basil, red sorrel, and dill are the exceptions) don’t seem to interest them. This year, my fava beans are my pride and joy. Fast growing, beautiful plants bear tons of tasty beans, and the only one who is interested is the gopher – and he cannot take them all. Well, he got a couple of plants, but I still have the rest!

Now they are at the peak of their short season, and they go happily into a ragout of fava beans, green beans, and English peas, seasoned with sautéed red onion, garlic, white wine, and good olive oil.

This week I also started cooking with fresh tomatoes again. They are not at their best yet, but after roasting the flavor gets more concentrated, and they make a good roasted tomato soup.

On the menu today:

Roasted tomato soup with pasta

Mushroom, ricotta, and spring onion tartlets
Tangy macaroni salad

Zucchini and carrot “spaghetti” primavera

Duck legs roasted with sweet onions, lemon, and olives
Herbed new potatoes

Lamb chops, chimichurri sauce
Fresh peas and beans ragout

Emerald-green goodness of fava beans and English peas bring the spring to the table.

This isn’t your orthodox spaghetti primavera. The “noodles” are cut out of Nantes carrots and zucchini with a julienne peeler, then steamed briefly and topped with a spring vegetables medley. I first developed this technique for a client who cannot eat any grains – I wanted to make a pasta for her. Then I realized that anyone who wants a vegan dish would probably enjoy it.

Today’s client, a mother of two, gets a little bunch of edible chive flowers for the Mother’s Day on her lamb chops.

Wild mushrooms sautéed with thyme and garlic, and thinly sliced spring onions, top these classic puff pastry ricotta tartlets.

What I bought as packaged “duck legs” in a Chinese grocery store turned out to be whole duck leg quarters! Good. More duck. First, cooked in a skillet, skin side down, to render the fat and to crisp the skin; then, slow-roasted in the oven on top of sweet onion slices, with lemon, rosemary, thyme, and white wine. Garnished with olives.
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Location:Cupertino, CA