Friday, January 28, 2011

Winter at the greenmarket

This is the time of year when I start rebelling against roasted root vegetables–I mean really dreading them. What was such a refreshing change from tomatoes and zucchini back in October is now about as welcome as another snow day. Although I don’t follow the Animal, Vegetable, Miracle diet by any stretch, I do try to support regional farmers by eating as locally as comfortably possible through the winter–and that’s no easy feat in the New York City. It can be limiting. Our growing season looks like a mirage glimmering in the distance right now, and our fresh vegetable and fruit CSAs won’t kick in again until June. And yet, on certain days–yes, even freezing ones–I find myself craving a nice crisp raw salad–one bursting with real, vibrant leafy things beyond the wan lettuces on the store shelves.

It turns out, thanks to inventive, intrepid growers, we have quite a few options around here now: wonderful, colorful creations that were actually grown within a morning's drive. Roots, of course, store well, and we still have some nice looking ones from this fall’s CSA–and believe it or not, roots don't have to mean cranking up the oven (more on that in a second). Our winter share, from a Hudson Valley-based cooperative called Winter Sun Farms, not only keeps us in frozen vegetables for our soups and berries for our smoothies, but delivers the sprightliest (greenhouse) pea shoots you can imagine, which we enjoy this fine way.


They're brave people, the farmers up here, and I'm grateful for that. Last Saturday I trekked to the Grand Army Plaza greenmarket in Brooklyn with temperatures in the teens, and quite a few growers had shown up, offering wares such as grass-fed milk, crisp apples, sustainably raised pork, frilly mushrooms, and roots–and even some whole, frozen heirloom tomatoes from last fall.

Then, on Wednesday, at the start of another mighty blizzard, I hopped the subway to the Union Square Greenmarket to answer the burning question of what sort of inspiration can be found on a snowy day. The answer was this: plenty, including some truly amazing options for salad. And not just sprouts, like the psychedelically-hued selection at Windfall Farms. I also spied cucumbers, lettuces, and peppers at Bodhi Tree Farm. Peppers! Even my beloved shishito peppers, which I blister in a hot pan and dip in paprika salt, and to which I thought I had bid farewell until August. At first coming face to face with them in a greenmarket tent in January felt all wrong, until I realized that the bell peppers I occasionally buy in our organic market are raised in greenhouses and shipped all the way from Holland.
In the end, there were simply too many choices. I paid a pretty penny for some of the greenhouse items, but I believe supporting local growers will pay dividends in the end, on many different levels. The salad I ended up tossing together was a happy marriage of greens and of raw root vegetables. What's that? Raw root vegetables in a salad? Yes! If you have a mandoline or even a very sharp “Y” peeler, you can shave your root vegetables thin as petals, for texture and flavor that are brighter, more delicate, and leafier than what results from cubing and roasting those very same vegetables. Jerusalem artichokes, which are actually the roots of sunflower plants, taste especially nice this way and add a touch of nuttiness. Watermelon radishes and black radishes (below) supply color and drama and a hint of heat. Try it–just make sure to get them thin enough to let light through.  
My salad was mostly raw, but I did sprinkle some toasted hazelnuts on top because they work so nicely with the nuttiness of the sunchokes and the sunflower and rosy buckwheat sprouts. I used hazelnut oil too, and would recommend it, but there’s no reason not to use other nut oils, or olive oil. (The hazelnuts were not local, and if anyone could point me in the direction of hazelnuts grown around here, I would be grateful!). The recipe below is a loose guideline, meant to incorporate anything you might happen upon in the market, on any given day. If you sprout your own beans and seeds at home, this is a perfect place to use them.

Winter Greenmarket Salad: 
Serves about 2
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 1/8 teaspoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon white wine or champagne vinegar
  • pinch sea salt
  • crank of black pepper
  • 3 heaping tablespoons hazelnut oil (or other oil, such as walnut or olive)
Whisk together all ingredients except oil. Gradually whisk in oil a drop in a time, then in larger dribbles until it's all incorporated smoothly. Taste, and if you feel it's too acidic add a couple more drops of oil. 

  • Young greens: dandelion, mizuna, arugula or tat soi
  • Sprouts: sunflower, buckwheat, or radish
  • Roots: Jerusalem artichoke, radishes, turnips, celeriac
  • Hazelnuts
  • Optional: minced chives
Toast hazelnuts in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes, until deep golden brown. Cool them, and rub the skins off. Crush the hazelnuts under the side of a large knife, or in a bag, with a rolling pin. Wash the roots you have selected, dry, and then thinly shave them horizontally (see picture above of the pink watermelon radishes). It's up to you to decide the amount and proportion of roots and greens you want. Count on a small handful of greens per person, with about half the volume of roots. Put these in a large bowl and drizzle dressing, starting with about 1 tablespoon per person. Toss gently with clean hands, adding more dressing if needed. Gather up haystack bundles of salad and heap onto plates. Sprinkle with toasted hazelnuts and, if you like, fleur de sel (fine sea salt crystals).

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Good mornings

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: we are not morning people around here. Ben and I missed our own post-wedding brunch because we couldn't wake up in time, and old habits stick. So yet again, in 2011, I'm vowing to greet the day more gracefully, and to motivate the rest of my crew to do so. Will the resolution stick? Not likely. With the exception of my bright-eyed four-year-old, the rest of us excel at hitting the snooze button, ignoring the daylight creeping in, and hiding beneath the duvet until we have no choice but to crawl out in search of coffee. Our six-year-old, who in the morning hours is simply known as “The Teenager,” sets the tone, and even our energetic puppy has come around to our way of doing things.

I know there are important things I’m missing by rising at 10:00 on weekends. The sunrise, for one (there were fleeting windows, when the girls and the pup were new, when sunrise viewing was a big part of my life). I'll never show my face at the first yoga class of the day, and I'll always forfeit dibs on the choicest eggs at the farmer’s market–the ones from Grazin’ Angus Acres and Flying Pigs Farm, who sell out by 9. The scones and muffins will always already have cooled by the time I drag myself to Ted and Honey, and I can forget about ever making it out for a weekend breakfast date.

But compensatory strategies have evolved, and these have yielded rewards of their own. We're pretty good company at night, and those post-dawn lie-ins are delicious. The rogue earlybird of the family now pulls her weight in the morning; she is, dare I say it? Well-trained now. When we’re in the country, we’ve mastered the art of sending her downstairs to unlock the door, let the dog out, and push the ON button of the pre-loaded coffeemaker (next she’ll be fixing herself breakfast, as my own parents taught me to do by age five). By the time the pup has circled the yard and the aroma of Stumptown has wafted upstairs, we’re ready to join her, and then the six-year-old floats downstairs sometime in the next half hour: wraith-like, dandelion-headed, unwilling to eat or talk.

So to help revive her, and to make Saturdays a bit sweeter for all of us, I have a secret weapon, and it's called Meyer Lemon and Ginger curd. That last word does not sound very nice, so I prefer to just call it “morning sunshine” instead. I think of it as the golden love child of custard and marmalade: smooth and rich and tart. The ginger imparts a bit of added bite but can be toned down or left out altogether.

If you're not already acquainted with the meyer lemon, it's a lovely cross between a lemon and a mandarin, with lemon's bright and clear tones, the pucker tamed and rounded out by a hint of orangey sweetness. If moving to California were ever a consideration for me, meyer lemons, which grow like crazy there, would certainly be the deciding factor.

I'm aware that a curd can be whisked together over direct heat, but I prefer the security of an improvised bain-marie, or double boiler: by setting a metal bowl over a pot of simmering water, you heat an egg mixture more gently and help prevent scrambling or an uneven texture. If you'd like to try the recipe below over direct heat, go for it–just keep the heat very low and don't stop stirring.

When we have this addictive confection on hand, we slather it on toasted croissant halves or crispy toast. The girls sneak it out of the jar by the tottering spoonful, and we've found these spoonfuls an even more effective elixir for weekday mornings. And, although the sugar content is somewhat toned down here, this recipe is also great as a dessert component, with pound cake and fruit or in a flaky, pre-baked tart shell with berries on top. But we prefer to save this much-needed brightness to take the edge off our mornings. Graceful? It's a start.

Morning Sunshine  
adapted from recipes by David Lebovitz, and Claudia Fleming's The Last Course 


  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1/3 cup sugar 
  • Zest of 2 large meyer lemons (preferably organic)
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed meyer lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon grated ginger (less for a more subtle taste)
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 6 tablespoons (3 oz.) unsalted butter cut into pieces, at room temperature


Prepare a medium saucepan with water in the bottom, and find a metal bowl that fits snugly on top of it without touching the water. Bring the water to a gently simmer. Meanwhile, in the bowl, whisk together eggs, yolks, and sugar. Stir in juice, zest, ginger, and salt. Place bowl on top of saucepan and cook, whisking constantly so eggs don't scramble, for about 10 minutes. Stop when mixture is glossy and custard-like and coats the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and whisk in butter in a few additions, until it blends into mixture. Strain the mixture through a fine mesh sieve (use a spatula to push it through), and refrigerate immediately.