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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Menu today

Menu today for a family of four:

Sole with lemon-cream sauce
French green beans
Baked French lentils with chicken sausage
Honey-glazed winter squashes
Pork medallions with peaches
Farro pilaf
Braised beef short ribs

The beautiful fruits and vegetables for these meals come from Marin Farmers Market.

People often ask me how to cook thin delicate fish fillets, like Dover sole, so that they don’t fall apart. One way is to season them, then roll them up and cook:

And the fish turner spatula helps a lot!
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Location:San Rafael, CA

Grilled corn polenta

The summer version of the favorite comfort food is made with fresh corn, and it’s a completely different animal. It’s fresh, sweet, tender, a little crunchy, smells like magic, and, in my case, it’s also smoky – instead of cooking the corn for the polenta on the stove, as many recipes suggest, I choose to grill it on the cob. Because it’s still summer (MB, take notice).

Todays farmers market only had white corn, so this is what I made my polenta with. I suppose it could be even better made with yellow corn, although it’s hard to imagine something better.

Allow 2 corn cobs per serving.

Preheat the grill for direct grilling. Remove the husks and as much silk as you can from the corn, rub with salt and olive oil. Grill, turning a few times, until tender and slightly charred on all sides. Let cool.

Working over a large bowl, cut off the kernels off the cob with a small sharp knife. Then run the back of the knife along the cob to get what’s left. Make sure you go from the stem end to the tip, going in the opposite direction can create a splash of flying corn!

Puree in blender. As a lucky owner of a Vitamix blender, I just dropped the corn into the blender cup and whizzed it to the desired consistency. My challenge was not to over-blend and still have some texture. In fact, I saved a handful of whole kernels to add to the polenta after blending. And I didn’t even need to reheat the polenta – the blender did the job. if you are using a normal blender without super powers, you may want to add a little water (or milk), to make blending easier, then to cook the polenta for 10-15 minutes, to evaporate the water and to reheat the polenta.

Here it is, served with basil pesto, poached quail eggs, and parmesan.

Other topping ideas:
Fresh berries (breakfast?)
Fire-roasted peppers and pine nuts
Fresh tomato sauce
Meatballs and tomato sauce
Grilled baby octopus
Grilled eggplant and feta
Herbed goat cheese
Grilled prawns, herb butter
Sautéed mushrooms
Grilled chicken
Whatever your heart desires

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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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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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Ingredient of the month: asparagus (of course!)

It was very difficult to decide which of my favorite March vegetables should be my ingredient of the month. These days I cook a lot with radishes, fennel, baby leafy greens, peas, and asparagus. Then I thought that the radishes will be here for a while, fennel we had since January, baby greens can be grown at home almost all year, and the peas are not at their peak yet. But the asparagus, the lovely asparagus is in season for such a short time, and this time is now! Later in the season it will mature, grow tough skin that needs to be peeled, and lose most of it’s charm. Let’s eat asparagus now.

Out of green, white, and purple asparagus, only the green variety is popular in California. White asparagus, the same plant as the green one, but grown without light, is very popular in Europe for it’s tenderness and mild flavor, but it didn’t catch on here yet. When shopping for white asparagus, pay close attention: since the price is high and the demand is low, some stores tend to keep their white asparagus forever. But it is very perishable! Make sure it’s fresh: crisp, no blemishes, the root end isn’t dry. The purple asparagus is beautiful to look at and a delight to eat raw. It is sweeter and more tender than the green kind. But it costs a fortune! Get a few very young stalks to eat raw out of hand, or to slice into a salad. Don’t bother to cook with it – it will lose it’s color. Don’t get the mature stalks that need to be peeled: it’s green inside! It’s beauty is skin-deep.

The crisp, tender, delicious green asparagus is best prepared simply:

– Raw: break off the root end (save for a soup), slice on the diagonal, or peel into ribbons with a vegetable peeler, to add to salads.

– Steamed: break off the root end, place in a microwave-safe dish with a splash of water, cover with a paper towel, microwave on “high” 2-5 minutes, depending on the quantity, size, and your microwave. I steam a medium (about 1 pound) bunch of medium-thick asparagus in most microwaves for 3 minutes. Drain, season with olive oil and flaky sea salt, serve. Or, steam 3-4 minutes in a vegetable steamer, season, serve.

– Roasted: trim, steam in the microwave or steamer (see above) until almost tender (2 minutes or so). Toss with olive oil. Season with salt and: minced garlic; or grated orange, lemon or Meyer lemon zest and a squeeze of the juice; or sliced shallots; or shaved Parmesan; or, minced anchovies; or wrap in thin prosciutto slices. Roast in a preheated 425 degree oven until you see a tint of golden color developing, 8-10 minutes.

– Grilled: trim, toss with olive oil and salt. Grill on charcoal, wood, or gas grill, or on a cast iron griddle, over medium heat, turning, until softened and slightly charred, 4-5 minutes.
– Sautéed: trim, cut into bite-size pieces, sauté in hot oil over medium-high heat until softened and light golden, 3-4 minutes, season.
– Creamy soup: sweat 1 chopped large leek (white and light-green parts), 1 medium chopped onion, 2 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped, in 3 Tbsp butter in a large pot over medium-low heat until tender, without browning, 10-15 minutes. Add 1 large bunch asparagus, root ends and all (reserve a few tips for garnish), chopped, and water to cover. Increase heat to high, bring to a boil, reduce heat to maintain a slow simmer, simmer until the asparagus is tender, 15-20 minutes. Puree with an immersible blender. Stir in 1/2 cup heave cream, season with salt and pepper, reheat gently, served garnished with the reserved asparagus tips and (optional) croutons.

– Chunky soup: add bite-size pieces or asparagus to chunky vegetable soups for the last 3 minutes of cooking

Chicken soup with spring vegetables and brown rice
Serves 8-12

For the chicken stock
1 whole chicken, cut up
1 whole medium onion, or 1 cup onion trimmings
Green part of 1 large leek
3-4 small garlic cloves, unpeeled
2 celery stalks, cut into large pieces
1 large carrot cut into pieces, or 1 cup carrot trimmings
1 fennel top
1 bunch parsley stems, or 1 whole parsley (root, stems, and leaves)
Root ends of 1 bunch asparagus
1 bay leaf
3 thyme sprigs
1 tsp whole black peppercorns

For the soup:
1/2 cup long-grain brown rice, rinsed
2 Tbsp butter
1 medium onion, cut into small dice
White and light green parts of 1 large leek, thinly sliced
1 celery stalk, thinly sliced
1 large or 3 small carrots, thinly sliced or julienned
1 fennel bulb, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1 large bunch radishes, roots quartered, greens coarsely chopped
1 medium bunch asparagus, trimmed, cut into bite-size pieces, a few tips reserved for garnish
1/2 cup shelled English peas
(optional) 1 cup fresh pea shoots, and/or pea sprouts
Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper

Make the chicken stock:
Place the chicken back, neck, and wings in a large stockpot, cover with water. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to maintain low simmer, skim the foam from the surface. Add onion, leek, garlic, celery, carrot, fennel top, parsley, asparagus trimmings, bay leaf, thyme, and peppercorns. Simmer for 3 hours. Add chicken breasts and legs, increase heat to high, bring back to boil, reduce heat to simmer, simmer for 30 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. Strain the stock through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean pot. Discard the vegetables. Set the chicken pieces aside to cool.

Assemble the soup:
Bring chicken stock to a boil over high heat. Add the rice, reduce the heat, simmer until the rice is cooked, 35-40 minutes.
While the rice is cooking, heat the butter in a large sauté pan over medium-low heat. Add onions, leek, celery, carrot, and fennel. Sweat without browning until the vegetables are tender. Add tomato paste, stir to distribute. Remove from heat.
When the chicken pieces are cool enough to handle, pick the meat and chop into bite-size pieces; discard the bones and skin.
When the rice is cooked, add the sweated vegetables, radishes, radish greens, asparagus, peas, and (optional) pea greens to the soup. Cook until the peas and asparagus are done, about 3 minutes. Taste, season with salt and pepper.
serve garnished with the reserved asparagus tips and (optional) pea sprouts.

On the seemingly difficult wine pairings: This dish of a brined pork chop with romesco, roasted artichokes and asparagus with Meyer lemon, and a salad of microgreens, can look to some people as a sommelier’s nightmare: all the foods known to be difficult to pair with wine are here: artichokes, asparagus, lemon, leafy greens.

One simple solution: a really crisp, acidic, grassy New Zealand Sauv Blanc is a good match for all the herbal flavors in the vegetables, and it loves the lemon! I had Starborough Sauvignon Blanc with it, and they worked very well together.
Other wine pairing tricks:
– wrap the asparagus in prosciutto
– top the asparagus with Parmesan, stuff the artichokes with Parmesan and breadcrumbs mixture
– toss the greens with a flavorful olive oil
– braise the vegetables in wine
– for the vinaigrette, orange and Meyer lemon are more wine-friendly then regular lemons and vinegars

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:San Rafael, CA

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

Late summer menu

This is the time of the most luxurious summer fruits, the best tomatoes, and general happiness at the farmers market.
Most people skip the soup course and go for a salad instead.

My menu today had two salads: Caprece salad made with a variety of heirloom tomatoes, mozzarella fresca, and basil from my garden; and a summer fruit salad that this time included yellow-flesh watermelon (probably the sweetest watermelon that I ever tasted, but with lots of seeds), Galia melon, green and black figs, yellow and white nectarines, yellow peach, and pink and green seedless grapes.

My “Green beans” are not really green: I’ve included my garden heirloom purple and striped rattlesnake beans, together with the Romano and Blue Lake beans from the farmers market. Seasoned simply with garlic sautéed in olive oil, lemon, and sea salt. Unfortunately, the colored beans lose most of their color in cooking, so the resulting dish looks just green.

On the menu today:

Summer fruit salad
Heirloom tomato Caprece salad


Grilled salmon with peaches and ginger vinaigrette
Dijon chicken
Lamb chops, mint sauce


Grilled zucchini
Smashed potatoes with garlic and herbs
Steamed green beans

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Location:Burlingame, CA