May 24, 2012

Spring Root Vegetables with Fresh Herbs

I recently relocated back to Montana, where spring is just beginning and the temperatures are still cool.  The local farmer’s market is in full swing but fresh vegetables are just starting to arrive.  Among them are radishes and Japanese or baby turnips, some of the most delicious brassicas due to their spicy yet tender nature.  Turnips are so often overlooked or overcooked and radishes are rare, generally relegated to salads and garnish, I wanted to offer a spring side dish featuring both roots in all their flavorful glory.  Though both brassicas can easily be eaten raw, steaming them mellows their flavor and softens their crunch.  I have a variety of fresh herbs growing on my back porch and I simply pruned a few, chopped them and added them to the marinade, which leads me to believe most combinations would be excellent.  These spring root vegetables would go well with a leek galette and roasted green beans.
I used a combination of savory, basil, parsley and sage in the marinade, but any fresh herbs will work.

1 bunch or 8-10 radishes, trimmed and halved if large
1 bunch or 8-10 Japanese or baby turnips, trimmed and halved if large
1 tbsp red onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp fresh herbs, finely chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper
1. Combine herbs, olive oil and red onion in a small bowl and set aside.  Meanwhile, steam the turnips and radishes until barely tender.  Once the vegetables are tender, remove from heat, place in a medium bowl and set aside.
2. After the vegetables have cooled slightly, pour the marinade over the vegetables and gently fold to thoroughly combine.  Marinate for at least one hour before serving.  
3. Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve warm, room temperature or chilled.  
Serves 3-4

May 19, 2012

Buttered Dandelion Greens

Often overlooked or under appreciated due to their bitter nature, dandelion greens have become one of my favorite green side dishes to compliment any number of different meals.  Humans have been eating dandelions for thousands of years, as the plant, considered a beneficial weed, is believed to have evolved millions of years ago in Eurasia.  The word dandelion is an English interpretation of the French term dent de lion or lion's tooth, named such for the rough edges on the leaves.  The younger the dandelion green, the less bitter the taste will be, so early spring and late fall are the best times for harvesting leaves.  However, I enjoy them year round, because when served with balancing starches such as root vegetables and grains, the bitterness becomes a flavorful addition to most any meal.  

I harvested my own dandelion greens from weeds growing on the law, but the larger varieties sold at most grocery stores or farmer's markets will work just as well.

6-8 c or 1 bunch dandelion greens
¼ yellow onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp butter
salt and pepper
1. Heat a large skillet or pan over medium heat and add the butter.  Once the butter melts, add the onion and sauté until lightly golden brown.  Add the dandelion greens, reduce the heat to medium low, cover and cook the greens until tender, stirring frequently to prevent burning.

2. Once greens are tender, remove from heat and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve greens warm or room temperature. 

Serves 3-4

May 12, 2012

Dandelion Blossom Fritters

I grew up in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, where sagebrush, pine trees and prickly pear cactus flourished.  Needless to say there was little in the way of manicured lawn, what little we did have was generally a sea of dandelions.  My sister and I learned to forage for edible plants at a young age, as our mother was a botanist and our father was a renaissance man of sorts, and dandelions were one of the easiest and, thanks to my parents, tastiest finds.  I have fond memories of fresh dandelion blossoms being batter and fried for an afternoon snack or side dish at dinner.  I recently relocated to Montana, where spring is just beginning and the many of the lawns host their fair share of dandelions and fritters were on my mind.  They are just as easy and delicious as I remember them being, providing a great use for an otherwise common weed.   Dandelion blossom fritters pair well with buckwheat flatbread and rye or wheat berry salad

The blossoms should be used immediately and may be rinsed, but are easier to fry dry.

2 c dandelion blossoms, stems removed
1 large egg
¼ c flour
¼ c milk
2 tbsp oil
salt and pepper
1. In a small bowl, whisk the egg, milk and flour together until smooth.  Season the batter with salt and pepper.  Makes about one cup of batter.

2. Place the oil in a medium skill over medium heat.  Once the oil is heated, dip a dandelion blossom in the batter, holding the flower by the bottom to fully submerge the blossom in the batter, gently shake and place in the skillet.  Repeat the process until the skillet is full.  Fry the blossoms until golden brown, flipping as needed, about 1 minute.  Remove the blossoms and set aside drain on a paper towel, while continuing to fry the remaining blossoms. 

3. Season the fritters with salt and pepper as desired.  Serve immediately.

Serves 3-4

May 6, 2012

Wilted Spinach Salad with Bacon Dressing

Like many classic American dishes involving bacon, Germans settlers, specifically those settling New England and Pennsylvania, including the Amish and Mennonites, likely brought spinach salad to the Americas.  German immigrants brought a salad recipe which they served in springtime, composed of dandelion greens, bacon, vinegar and hardboiled eggs.  The dandelion salad later evolved into the more familiar spinach salad, which substitutes the dandelion greens for spinach, another spring green, and includes red onions and mushrooms.  Pennsylvania produces the greatest number of mushrooms, an industry started by the Quakers in the late 19th century and increases the likelihood the spinach salad has Pennsylvanian Dutch roots.  The mushrooms and onions can be added raw, but I like to slightly warm both ingredients before add them, so the spinach becomes even more warm and wilted when served as a salad.  Spinach salad is delicious with another German dish, potato salad.  
4 c spinach, roughly torn
½ red onion, thinly sliced
8 button mushrooms, quartered
2 eggs, hardboiled, peeled and roughly chopped
8 strips bacon, cut into 1" pieces
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
¼ tsp mustard
¼ tsp honey
salt and pepper
1. Place the spinach in a large bowl and set aside.  Combine the vinegar, mustard and honey in a small bowl, whisk and set aside. 

2. Heat a large pan over medium heat, add the bacon and fry until golden brown.  Remove the bacon, leaving the fat in the pan and toss the bacon with the spinach.

3. Reduce the heat to medium low, add the onion and sauté until slightly browned.  Add the mushrooms and gently sauté with the onions until they are lightly cooked.  Turn the heat off and remove the onions and mushrooms and toss them with the spinach and bacon. 

4. Pour the vinegar mixture into the pan, whisk well pour over the ingredients in the bowl and toss well.  Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately. 

Serves 2-4