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

Summer squash “spaghetti”

Are you wondering what else to do with all these summer squashes that your garden keeps producing (or your neighbors pushed them on you, or you overbought them at the Farmers Market)?

These beautiful and tasty green spaghetti are cut out of a zucchini with a julienne peeler. A julienne peeler looks like a vegetable peeler, but it has additional teeth next to the blade that shred the vegetable into thin strips. There are many models, mine looks like this:

I lightly cook the “spaghetti” to soften (sauté, microwave, or plunge them into boiling water for a minute or two, then drain), and season with salt, pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil. They work with any pasta sauce, homemade or store-bought. Use 1 medium zucchini per serving. Slice off as much off all the sides as you can, discard the core with seeds. I feed zucchini cores to my Japanese quails, they love them!

Here I serve them with meatballs in tomato-pepper sauce. My meatballs are a bit unorthodox, I add shredded sautéed carrot, celery, onion, and garlic, and minced fresh parsley to the mix. This makes them super-juicy, and adds flavor, but it also makes them somewhat trickier to shape. Make sure to dip your hands into cold water before shaping meatballs, so that the mixture doesn’t stick to your hands.

The meatballs are good with regular pasta, too!

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Location:San Rafael, CA

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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Garden herbs: Chervil

Chervil is of the classic fine herbes (the others are parsley, tarragon, and chives); mild anice flavor. Likes full sun and a lot of water. Chervil is an annual plant that will self-seed if the conditions are right. Use the delicate leaves and flowers in salads and sauces.

Omelette with fine herbs
Serves 1
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 Tbsp butter
2 large chicken eggs, or 10 quail eggs
1 Tbsp chopped parsley
1 Tbsp chopped chives
1 Tbsp chopped chervil
1/2 Tbsp chopped tarragon
Salt, pepper

Heat oil and butter over medium heat in a small non-stick or cast iron pan. Beat the eggs with a fork in a bowl until well combined but not foaming, about 20 strokes. Pour eggs into the pan. When the bottom of the pan is set, add the herbs, season with salt and pepper, tilt the pan, and fold the omelette over in two. Cook 1-2 minutes more, until the desired doneness. Serve at once.

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Location:San Rafael, CA

Garden herbs: Borage

Borage is really easy to grow: it’s an annual, but once in your garden, it will self-seed and come up every year. It loves sun and water; it’s pretty indifferent to the soil quality.

Young leaves and striking bright blue star-shaped flowers are used in salads, for ravioli stuffing, and as a garnish; mild cucumber flavor.

Goat cheese rolled with herbs and flowers
 Makes 12 appetizers
 12 ounce goat cheese log, at room temperature
 12 borage flowers
 12 mustard flowers
 1 Tbsp chopped chives, plus some chive flowers, broken up
 1 Tbsp chopped chervil
 Salt, pepper
 Cut 12 squares of plastic wrap, approximately 6×6 inches. Divide clovers and herbs between the plastic squares. Cut the goat cheese into 12 pieces, place each piece over the herbs and flowers, season with salt and pepper, wrap the plastic around the cheese, refrigerate until ready to use. Before serving, unwrap the cheese, place over salad or on toasts, drizzle with good olive oil. The cheese keeps refrigerated 2-3 days.
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Garden herbs: Bay

Bay is one of the easiest herbs to grow in California. It’s a perennial shrub that does very well in any kind of soil, doesn’t require a lot of water or fertilizer. All it needs is sunshine.

For all your soups and stews, this is the savory herb that adds complexity and brings it all together.

There are two kinds of bay: the Mediterranean (noble) laurel, and California bay. Both trees grow everywhere in the Northern California. The Mediterranean laurel, most often used in cooking, has slightly pointed rounded leaves, peppercorn-size berries, and strong but delicate smell. The California Bay, often found growing wild in parks, has elongated leaves, walnut-size berries, and very strong, sweet and pungent, up-in-your-face smell. It can be used in soup and stews as well, but be careful to remove it after 10-15 minutes, or you’ll end up with a laurel soup, it’s this strong!

Chicken stock

Homemade chicken stock makes the house smell good, and it cannot be replaced with store-bought chicken broth in the recipes for clear soups, or, in fact, anything, soups, stews, sauces, whatever.

The best chicken to use for a flavorful, clear, inexpensive homemade chicken stock is a mature hen (“stewing chicken”) that Asian grocery stores sell for next to nothing. Some farmers markets have whole chickens with head and feet on – these are even better. The goal is to get a lot of connective tissue that adds body to the stock. As an alternative, use chicken backs that are left over from the whole chickens that you cut up for roasting or frying, or buy at Whole Foods real cheap; or even leftover roast chickens, supplemented with chicken feet and necks, sold separately.

For the aromatic vegetables, use fresh clean trimmings from the vegetables that you used for other dishes – cut carrots for a salad, put the carrot cores in the stock; braise fennel and leeks, use the green parts in the stock; use the large outer cloves of garlic for a sauce, save the inner cloves, unpeeled, for the stock; etc.

Makes about 4 quarts

1 whole chicken, preferably with head and feet, large chunks of fat removed, liver and gizzards removed, cut up
3 chicken backs, plus any chicken necks and feet you can get
2 roast chicken carcasses and bones, plus some necks and feet
Cold water to cover
1 large onion, peeled, halved
2 ribs celery, cut into large chunks, or trimmings from a bunch of celery
2 carrots, cut into large chunks, or equal amount of leftoverp carrot cores and trimmings, chopped
1 small whole fennel, or equal amount of fennel tops, chopped
2 medium leeks, or green tops from 4 leeks, chopped
1 bunch of parsley stems, or one whole parsley plant
3 sprigs thyme
15 whole black peppercorns
2 bay leaves

Put chicken in a large stockpot, cover with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low. Skim all the foam that floats to the top, discard. Add onion, celery, carrots, fennel, leeks, parsley, thyme, peppercorns, and bay leaves. Adjust the heat to maintain a low simmer (a bubble breaks the surface every second). Simmer for 4 hours. Laddle the stock through a sieve into a clean pot; discard the solids. Refrigerate the stock for 5 days, or freeze in an air-tight container for up to 4 months.

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Garden herbs: Basil

Here we are: it’s the middle of summer, and it rained! All the plants in the garden are happy, but the herbs are happiest of all! They love both the heat and the water, and now they got both. I saw them shoot up this morning, full of life and flavor.

I am starting a series of posts about the herbs that I have in my garden, and how to use them.

I don’t have anything with “A” now, and “B” is for basil.

My beloved “pesto plant” tastes like summer: long sunny days, warm evenings, heirloom tomatoes picked from the plant, a bunch of basil… Basil pairs naturally with tomatoes and other summer vegetables, most white meats and fish, beans, fresh cheeses. Pasta! Basil is also a popular garnish for South-East Asian soups and curries. There are countless varieties of basil; my favorites are the tender emerald-green Genovese, perfect for pesto, and the purple-veined, tougher and stronger, opal basil, for the Asian dishes.

Fresh basil doesn’t store very well, only pick as much as you need.

To cut basil into thin strips (chiffonade) to garnish salads and other dishes:
– Pick a few large basil leaves, of approximately the same size
– Toss the leaves with some olive oil, to keep the air out (when oxidized, cut basil leaves will turn dark)
– Stack the leaves, roll them up lengthwise, slice the roll thinly with a sharp knife, unroll

Shrimp cocktail, mango basil dipping sauce
Serves 6
1 ripe mango
Juice of 1 large lime
10-12 basil leaves, chopped, plus more to garnish
Salt, pepper
Dash Tabasco, or to taste
30 large cooked shrimps, tails on, chilled

Cut two mango halves off the seed. With a sharp paring knife, cut the flesh inside mango half into cubes, not cutting all the way through the skin. Turn mango half inside out over a bowl. Slice cubes of mango off the skin. Repeat with the other half.
Combine mango, lime juice, and basil in a blender, puree until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Add Tabasco, if desired. Chill.
Serve shrimps with dipping sauce.
Calories per serving: 187

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Location:San Rafael, CA

Menu today

Chicken and vegetables soup with pesto

Pan-fried sablefish (black cod), Meyer lemon salsa
Smashed potatoes and fava beans

Braised duck legs with savory cherry compote
Black rice

Saffron chicken with spring onions and sugar snap peas
Parmesan pudding

Beef fillet steaks, mushroom and green garlic topping
Steamed asparagus

You can see right away that I’ve been reading Susan Goin’s Sunday Suppers at Lucques – most recipes are either close adaptations from the book, or are inspired by it. With all the seasonal cookbooks that appeared recently, some of them featuring stories of the farmers, others giving tips on growing your own produce, this one is still the best.

The asparagus is the last of the season (at least from the local farmers at the Farmers Market; there will be asparagus flown from far away at the supermarket, but it won’t be the same). So I prepared it simply: steamed in the microwave until just tender and bright green, cooled quickly, dressed with salt, pepper, and good olive oil.

The potatoes with fava beans recipe is my own, and a very simple one – I desperately need to use up my garden fava beans, they were planted as a placeholder for tomatoes, and now the tomatoes sit waiting in little pots while the beens just keep on producing…

If using conventionally grown potatoes in this dish, peel them. Most of the chemicals, as well as the vitamins, accumulate in the skins. I like to use organic potatoes from the Farmers Market, and leave the skins on – they add color and textural contrast to the dish.

Smashed potatoes and fava beans
Serves 6

2 lb. organic small red potatoes, scrubbed, unpeeled
2 lb. fava beans in the pods (makes about 2 cups shelled and skinned)
3 Tbsp unsalted butter
Salt, pepper
2 Tbsp chopped parsley and/or chives, to garnish

Put the potatoes in a medium pot, cover with cold water, bring to a boil, reduce heat to maintain a slow simmer, cook until potatoes are very tender, about 20 minutes. Drain, return the pot briefly to the heat to dry the potatoes.

Meanwhile shell the beans. Bring a pot of water to a boil, prepare a bowl with ice water. Place the shelled beans in a wire strainer or a metal colander, lower into the boiling water, boil 1-2 minutes, remove and immediately dip into the ice water – this will loosen the skins. Skin the beans by pinching the skin on stem end and squeezing the bean out. Add to the potatoes.

Coarsely mash potatoes and beans with a large fork or a wooden spoon. Season with salt and pepper, sprinkle with parsley and chives.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Palo Alto, CA

Spring in the garden

Fava beans are coming up, alpine strawberries in fill swing, my first artichoke appeared this morning, green garlic is good and plentiful; mourning doves are reusing the nest that they built in my garden storage three years ago.

The gopher ate through a plastic planting container trying to get to the celery. Now tell me that no one likes celery.

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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