Root-Sprouted Legumes

Sprouted Soybean and Shitake Soup

Sprouted Soybean and Shitake Soup

Sprouted Mung Bean And Pea Curry

Sprouted Mung Bean And Pea Curry

Dried beans and peas are inexpensive, nutritious and satisfying – perfect ingredients for cold weather fare. But many cooks avoid dried legumes, put off by their long cooking time and reputation for causing, shall I say, “gastric distress.”

There’s a simple trick, though, to address the issues of long-cooking time and indigestibility: root sprouting.

You’re probably already familiar with the crunchy sprouts you can pick up in the produce section of most grocery stores; perhaps you make your own.

The process is simple. The seeds are rinsed in clean water, then soaked for several hours until they swell. They are then drained and placed in a container that has plenty of room for growth (dried legumes will expand at least four-fold), typically a glass jar with a piece of plastic screening bound with a rubber band over its top to allow for air circulation and drainage.

root-sprouted mung beans

root-sprouted mung beans

The jar is placed on its side in a fairly warm spot out of direct sunlight and twice a day the seeds are rinsed well with lukewarm water and drained; this prevents the seeds from growing unwanted fungi or bacteria. After several days (depending on seed viability and variety), roots emerge, followed by the “cotyledon” or first leaves.

For our purposes, though, we don’t need or even want the cotyledon to sprout. As soon as the root begins to pierce the skin of the legume, the formerly hard as a rock bean or pea has been transformed by metabolic activity into something soft enough to cook fairly quickly, its undigestible starches transformed into much more easily digested sugars.

Some sprouted legumes, such as dried peas and mung beans, cook up soft enough to eat without becoming mealy and mushy like most cooked legumes. Too, root-sprouted legumes are more nutritious than conventionally cooked dried beans and peas because sprouting results in a spike of nutrients meant to feed the growing seedlings.

And finally, because root-sprouted legumes must still be cooked before eating (unlike fully sprouted seeds), there’s no need to worry about the pathogens, such as salmonella and e-coli, that sometimes cause illness when people eat raw sprouts. Long simmering kills most food-borne microbes, so it’s fine to sprout dried legumes bought off the shelf in the grocery store, rather than buying guaranteed pathogen-free seeds, as is recommended if you intend to consume sprouts raw.

I have had good luck sprouting many different legumes; most will work just so long as they are whole, have skins intact and are not too old. In my experience, chickpeas, lentils, soybeans and mung beans all germinate rapidly and taste great. I have had less luck with black beans, kidneys and pintos, all of which I suspect were too old to be viable. If four or five days go by with no sign of roots, I recommend simply cooking the beans in the conventional manner rather than waiting any longer.

Here are two easy recipes for root-sprouted legumes. The first is a nutritious Japanese-style soup full of the umami flavors found in shitake mushrooms, seaweed and soybeans. The second is for a tart-crunchy-spicy Indian curry that goes together quickly and could make a vegetarian meal accompanied by flatbreads or brown rice, or would also be delicious as a side to grilled fish or meat.

Sprouted Soybean and Shitake Soup

Sprouted Soybean and Shitake Soup

Sprouted Soybean and Shiitake Soup

  •  2 cups root-sprouted soybeans (start with about 1/2 cup dried)
  • 2 cups sliced fresh or reconstituted dried shiitakes (if dried soak 1 cup mushrooms in 2 cups water and reserve the water for the soup)
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 2 cups water (can include the mushroom soaking liquid)
  • 1/2 cup sake or white wine (optional)
  • 1tablespoon dried wakame seaweed, soaked in 1 cup water
  • 1 small bunch scallions, trimmed then sliced into rings, white and green parts
  • salt to taste (may not be needed depending on how salty the seaweed is)
  • pieces of lime for squeezing or good rice or cider vinegar (optional)
  • ground hot red pepper or sriracha sauce (optional)

Place the soybeans, the shitakes, stock, water (and/or mushroom soaking liquid), and sake together in a large pot and bring to a simmer. Cook for about 20 minutes, skimming any foam that gathers on the soup’s surface and discarding.

When the shiitakes and soybeans are tender, add the wakame and cook 5-10 minutes longer. Taste to see if the broth needs salt – the seaweed may have added enough seasoning already.

Just before serving, stir in the chopped scallions. Pour the soup into warmed bowls and serve with lime slices or vinegar and hot pepper on the side, so that guests may add as much acid and heat as desired to their own bowls.

Serves 6-8.

Sprouted Mung Bean And Pea Curry

Sprouted Mung Bean And Pea Curry

 Sprouted Pea and Mung Bean Curry

  •  2 tablespoons oil, such as sunflower
  • 1 large onion, red or yellow, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1/4-1/2 cup pickled jalapenos, chopped (more or less to taste)
  • 4 cups root-sprouted dried peas and/or mung beans (you will need to start with 1 cup dried)
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt (more or less to taste)
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 small bunch cilantro (try to find a bunch with roots still on it), rinsed and chopped, including stems and roots

Heat the oil in a heavy pot, then add the onion and saute, stirring for 5 or 10 minutes, until just beginning to turn brown around the edges. Add the garlic and cook for a minute and then add the turmeric, cumin and coriander and cook, stirring for a few minutes. Add the chopped jalapenos, and stir well, then add the beans and peas and stir for a minute or two.

Stir in the water and salt, bring to a simmer, lower the heat and put a lid on the pot. Allow the mixture to simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the legumes are cooked, but still have a nice crunch to them. Stir in the chopped cilantro, taste for seasonings and adjust if desired.

Serve with lime slices on the side for diners to adjust the tartness of the curry, if desired. Serves 4-6 as a main dish, 8 as a side dish.

Recipes that you and your gut flora will love

Yesterday, I wrote about all the amazing things the trillions of symbiotic microbes that live in our guts do for us. If we want to keep them happy, we need to feed them lots of complex carbohydrates, mostly in the form of whole plant foods. Here are some recipes I took to the farmers markets last week for my gut flora talk. Folks gobbled them up, and I’m guessing so did their microbes.

  • Try to incorporate whole grains and new kinds of grains into your meals. Add in lots of fresh herbs and spices for added phytonutrients. Use unfiltered extra virgin olive oil – it has more antioxidants and keeps longer without going rancid than filtered olive oil – and work in kefir or yogurt for their nutrition as well as their ability to lighten dough and keep it moist once cooked. Here’s a recipe that does all that.

 Herbed Whole Grain and Kefir Flat Breads

  • 2⅓ cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup chickpea flour (also called besan)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons minced mixed fresh herbs (I used cinnamon basil, parsley, garlic chives and dill)
  • 1/4 cup packed chopped scallions, white and green parts
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup kefir or plain yogurt

Combine all the ingredients, except the oil and the kefir, in a large bowl and toss to combine well. Drizzle in the oil and toss the mixture lightly to disperse it through the mixture. Pour in the kefir or yogurt and mix in well with your hands.

When well combined, turn out onto the counter and knead well for a few minutes. Cut the dough into 16 equal pieces and roll them into balls. Cover with plastic wrap and let them sit for 1/2 hour or more before rolling out and cooking.

When ready to cook, sprinkle a little flour on the counter and roll the balls out into thin rounds about 6 inches in diameter. Heat a heavy skillet or griddle over medium high heat and cook the breads as you continue rolling.

Cook the breads on one side for a few minutes until small bubbles begin to appear in the surface of the bread. Flip the bread and continue cooking a minute or two. The bubbles should puff up a bit and the bottom will also have several small rounds of brown.

Stack the breads on a plate as you cook them – this will keep them moist. Serve as you go, or when all the breads are cooked. They can be cooled in the stack then covered with plastic and refrigerated for a day or two before serving. Reheat on the skillet or allow to come to room temperature before eating.

  • Eat lots of fresh greens. One way to do this is by turning herbs into sauces to liven up other foods. Check out Indian cookbooks for many such recipes – this mint and cilantro and hot pepper recipe is very common in many parts of India.

Mint and Cilantro Chutney

  • 2 cups mint leaves
  • 1 cup cilantro leaves
  • 2 hot green peppers, such as jalapenos, seeded and chopped (leave in seeds if you want this very spicy)
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • salt to taste

Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until it becomes a chunky puree. Taste for seasonings and add more of any of the seasonings as desired. This will keep, sealed in a jar in the refrigerator for several days.

  • Kamut is an ancient form of wheat from Egypt and is easy to find in grocery stores these days. It stays chewy, even after being soaked and cooked, and adds a lot of body to this Mediterranean style-salad. If you are avoiding wheat of all kinds, simply leave it out.

 Kamut, Feta and Vegetable Salad

  • 2 cups cooked Kamut (follow directions on the package)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced or put through a garlic press
  • 1 medium red onion, chopped
  • 1 medium sweet red pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1 medium chopped cucumber (peel it in stripes, if it’s organic, to leave on a bit of skin)
  • 2 cups chopped fresh cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters
  • 1 tablespoon chopped dill
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped mint
  • good olive oil and vinegar, to taste

Combine all ingredients. Refrigerate if not serving immediately.

  • Try to find ways to make desserts that use healthier ingredients. Here, olive oil replaces butter, nutritious ground walnuts replace some of the flour, and oranges and blueberries (you can substitute other nuts and fruits), add vitamins and antioxidants.

Blueberry Walnut Cake

  •  3 eggs
  • grated rind one orange
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 generous cup walnut pieces
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2/3 cup white flour
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1½ cups fresh blueberries, rinsed and dried

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (325 if a convection oven). Oil an 8 inch square pan, line with parchment paper, oil the paper, then dust the whole thing with flour. Set aside.

Whisk together the eggs, then whisk in the orange juice and olive oil. Set aside.

Place the walnut pieces, sugar and orange rind in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the walnut pieces are finely ground. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the walnut-sugar mixture and whisk until homogenous. Add 1 cup of the blueberries and toss to coat with the dry ingredients.

Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and gently fold together using a rubber spatula until well combined and there are no large lumps of dry ingredients remaining.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the remaining berries over the top of the cake. Bake in the preheated oven for 50 mins. – 1 hour, turning once so it cooks evenly.

  • Use local ingredients with short shelf lives as they become available. Yellow Transparent Apples are a tart heirloom variety good for eating and cooking that ripens in August at the same time as mulberries – a sweet, nutritious, dark purple berry that grows on a tree. Both are perishable, which means they’re hard to find even at farmer’s markets. Pick them yourself when you can find them – they’re a summer treat that you will never find in winter. And if you can’t find them, simply substitute another tart cooking apple and whatever berry is available, including frozen ones (just don’t thaw them before adding them to the apples).

Transparent Yellow Apple and Mulberry Oat Crumble

For the Oat Crumble:

  • 1 cup oat flour
  • 1 cup whole rolled oats (not quick cooking)
  • 2 sticks cool unsalted butter cut into chunks (plus a little more for the pan)
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 cup sugar

Put the oat flour, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and one stick of butter chunks in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse several times, until the mixture is crumbly with some chunks about the size of a pea. Put the mixture into a large bowl.

Put the whole rolled oats, the other stick of butter chunks and the other teaspoon of cinnamon into the bowl of the food processor and pulse until the mixture begins to come together into loose clumps – don’t over-process. Add the mixture to the mixture in the bowl.

Add the sugar and the pinch of salt to the bowl. Toss with your fingers, until the mixture takes a chunky crumble texture. Place in the refrigerator or a cool spot until the filling is ready.

For the filling:

  • 2 pounds Yellow Transparent or other tart summer apple (2½ pounds if organic and in need of a lot of trimming), peeled, cored, and cut into thin slices
  • 3 cups fresh mulberries or raspberries
  • the juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1/4 cup light summer honey

1/4 cup of Oat Crumble (removed from the completed crumble recipe)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees (350 if a convection oven). Butter a 13 x 8 inch oval baking dish (you may also use a rectangular dish of a similar size).

Combine the ingredients in a large bowl and toss to combine. Pour into the buttered baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining crumble evenly over the top of the fruit.

Place in the oven and bake, turning once or twice so the crumble browns evenly. The crumble is done when the crumble is golden and the fruit bubbling in the center.

Allow to cool for at least an hour before serving to set the syrup in the fruit filling. Serve warm or at room temperature.

  •  Soba Noodles are made of buckwheat, and sometimes buckwheat with a little bit of wheat. If you are gluten intolerant, be sure to buy only noodles that are 100% buckwheat. They come in packages with single servings divided out with a paper wrapper. They are often served tossed with sesame oil, chilled and with a variety of toppings.

 Soba Noodles with Toppings

  • Soba noodles, cooked (follow package instructions) one bunch per person, rinsed with cold water and tossed with a little sesame oil to prevent sticking
  • Kimchi
  • cucumbers mixed with a little grated ginger, vinegar, and salt
  • fresh tomatoes chopped and mixed with a little sesame oil, chopped scallions and salt

Place noodles into bowls and then allow diners to top them as desired.

  • Cut back on your meat consumption by mixing meat with grains and vegetables. Here, ground beef is mixed with a quinoa pilaf to make meatballs that are then cooked in a roasted carrot and tomato sauce.

Tomato Carrot Sauce

  • 1 pound carrots
  • 2 pounds tomatoes
  • olive oil
  • 1 large onion, peeled and minced
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
olive oil
  • 1 quart water or stock
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil or 2 tablespoons fresh basil chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Clean the carrots and trim them of the leaf end and spindly root end. Cut into pieces that are 3 or 4 inches in length. Toss with a little olive oil and place on a baking sheet and put into preheated oven. Bake for about 1 hour, until tender.

At the same time, cut tomatoes into even pieces and toss in olive oil and bake in the same way as the carrots.

When both are tender, remove from oven and set aside until cool enough to handle. Place in batches in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until pureed. Set aside.

Saute the onions and garlic in olive oil heated in a large skillet until translucent, then add the pureed carrots and tomatoes. Add the water or stock, basil and salt and pepper. Allow to simmer for 1/2 hour or so, then remove from heat and either use immediately or cool be before using. It may be refrigerated for a week or frozen for up to 4 months.

 Beef and Quinoa Meatballs in Tomato Carrot Sauce

  • 1 medium onion, peeled and minced
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3/4 cup white quinoa
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • salt and ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 recipe roast tomato and carrot sauce

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Saute the onion and garlic until softened. Add the quinoa and saute for about 5 minutes, until lightly browned and glossy. Remove from heat and cool.

When cooled, mix with the ground beef, cumin and salt and pepper. Form into small meatballs about 1 inch in diameter.

Brown the meatballs in a large skillet in batches if necessary to prevent crowding. When all the meatballs have been browned, put them back into the pan and add the sauce. Cover and simmer until the meatballs are cooked through. The quinoa will have expanded and the “tails” turned white.

Serve the meatballs warm or at room temperature.

Ramps, Asparagus and Dandelion Greens Pizza

ramp, asparagus and dandelion green pizza

ramp, asparagus and dandelion green pizza

The longer I garden, the more I appreciate perennial vegetables. Plant them once, take care of them by weeding, watering and feeding the soil around them with good compost, and they’ll return reliably year after year. Many of these perennials are among the first edibles of spring, which seems to make them taste even more delicious to winter-weary taste buds.

dandelion greens

dandelion greens

Some perennial spring vegetables don’t even require planting. Dandelion greens, chicory, sorrel, and, later in spring, lambs quarters and nettles, are all wild plants that are abundant self-seeders (aka, weeds). All of them are best picked young and tender, before they’ve flowered (with nettles, be sure to wear gloves, to avoid the stinging hairs that are destroyed in cooking).

Many of these “weeds” are so delicious that vegetable breeders have come up with more refined versions sold through seed catalogues. Two of my favorites are super-cold hardy Italian Red Dandelion (it’s actually chicory) and Good King Henry, a member of the weedy Goose Foot family that tastes like spinach and can be harvested from early spring into fall.

Asparagus, unlike perennial weeds, takes a bit of work. It likes lots of good compost and requires watering all summer, or it won’t be productive year after year. Too, you have to keep grass from growing in amongst the shoots, and war with the dreaded asparagus beetle, which can wreak havoc.

One method of achieving both weed and bug suppression is to interplant asparagus with parsley and dill, which can out-compete grass and which asparagus beetles hate. The herbs are also a good use of space, providing a season long crop even after the 4th of July, when good gardeners let their asparagus grow into full, tall ferns to gather energy for next season.

purple asparagus

purple asparagus

It’s not too late to put in an asparagus bed this year, though you won’t be able to harvest any juicy spears until a few seasons have passed and the bed has filled in. Though asparagus can be grown from seed, the most productive plants are male clones (they don’t go to seed) bought as 2 or 3 year-old roots. Two widely available and good choices are “Jersey Supreme” and “Purple Passion.”

ramps and dandelion greens

ramps and dandelion greens

Ramps, if you’ve never encountered them, are a wild native woodland allium, related to both onions and garlic and tasting a bit like both. They’re happy at high, cool elevations, in the kind of moist mixed woodlands where trilliums and golden seal grows beneath maples and beeches, and can completely carpet the early spring forest floor. It seemed likely that ramps would grow around here, but though I scoured our woodlot every spring, I could never find wild ramps growing in it.

Finally, a few years ago, I took matters into my own hands and ordered a shipment of mature ramps from Ramp Farm Specialties in West Virginia. Owner Glen Facemire only ships his bulbs in February and March (seeds are available all the time), so when he heard that New Hampshire had a big snow storm brewing just as he was putting my ramps in the mail, he gave me a call to talk me through how to care for his “babies” until I could put them in the ground (it turned out that a couple of window boxes in a cold frame did the trick).

ramps in window box and cold frame

ramps in window box and cold frame

The ramps arrived huge and healthy, and now, a few seasons later, are beginning to spread both where I’ve planted them in the woods, and in the more cultivated sections of my garden. They’re particularly happy growing under the shade of the grape arbor. Though you can buy 3 dozen ramps for $24.75, the most economical way to order them is 1000 bulbs for

ramps growing under a grape arbor

ramps growing under a grape arbor

$194.00 (shipping is free). I’d suggest splitting an order with friends and scouting likely locations this summer (you’ll want to try several spots to be on the safe side). Do order early, so you don’t miss out, and be prepared with window boxes and a cold frame, just in case.

Early spring vegetables fresh from the garden don’t need much in the way of preparation. All of them are delicious cooked fast and hot with olive oil or with chopped bacon. They’re also perfect stir fried along with fresh spring chives, a bit of ginger and a little soy sauce combined with water or orange juice. Ramps and asparagus can be lightly tossed in oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper, placed in a grill basket and cooked briefly on the grill.

Below you’ll find a recipe that combines dandelion greens, ramps, and asparagus cooked with bacon as the topping for pizza. Though the pizza dough needs a full day to rise (or overnight in the refrigerator), once it’s ready, the recipe goes together in a snap. Feel free to substitute store-bought dough if you’re short on time. Too, feel free to leave out the bacon if you’re a vegetarian, and to substitute in whatever fresh spring vegetables you have on hand. Spinach or escarole would be delicious.

And if you’re only feeding two people, divide the topping recipe in half. Store the extra pizza dough in the refrigerator in an oiled plastic bag and use it later in the week. It will be good for several days.

Ramp, Dandelion and Asparagus Pizza

for the dough:

  • scant 4 cups flour (can be up to ⅓ whole wheat)
  • ¼ teaspoon dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt (can be up to 2 teaspoons, if desired)
  • 1½ – 1¾ cups water (if your water is chlorinated, use spring or filtered water)

for the topping:

  • 4 slices thick bacon, cut into ½ inch chunks
  • 1 large bunch dandelion greens (about ½ pound), trimmed of roots, well washed in cold water and chopped
  • 1 large bunch ramps (about 10), trimmed of roots, well washed and chopped; or use 6 large cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 1 large bunch asparagus (about 1 pound or more), trimmed, washed and chopped
  • 1½ pounds fresh mozzarella, broken up into chunks
  • hot red pepper flakes, salt and black pepper, to taste
  • good olive oil for drizzling

For the dough, combine all the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add the water (you will need the larger amount if using whole wheat flour) and stir well with a spoon until well combined – do not knead. If the mixture seems too dry (it should be quite sticky), add a little more water to incorporate all the flour.

Cover with plastic and set on a cool counter to rise. If it is very warm or you’d like to use the dough more than 18 hours later, place in the refrigerator. Allow the dough to rise until doubled – if it’s warm this will happen in about 12 hours, if it’s very cool, in about 18 hours.

When ready to make the pizza, preheat the oven to 450-500 degrees (my oven doesn’t go to 500 – use the higher heat if you can). If you have a pizza stone, place it on the top rack.

Divide the dough into 4 balls. Lightly oil them with olive oil, cover them with plastic and set aside on the counter to rise and soften while make the topping.

Heat a large skillet and add the bacon if using (otherwise, heat a tablespoon of olive oil in the pan and continue with the greens, below). Cook the bacon until it is beginning to brown. Remove the bacon from the pan, pour off most of the fat, and return the skillet to the heat. Add the dandelion greens, ramps or garlic, asparagus and bacon pieces, if using. Cook, stirring, until the greens are wilted and tender. Season to taste with hot red pepper, black pepper and salt (you may not need any salt, depending on the bacon). Remove the greens from the pan and set aside.

Turn the oven to broil to super-heat the pizza stone. If you don’t have a pizza stone, place a large aluminum sheet tray in the oven to heat (do not use a tray that has a non-stick coating as it will burn).

Stretch the dough either by rolling with a rolling pin (you’ll need to use flour to keep the dough from sticking) or with your hands to a very thin, approximately 12-inch rough circle. Place the round on a well floured pizza peel (if you have one), or onto the back of a well floured aluminum sheet tray. Cover the dough to within about 1 inch of the edge with ¼ of the greens and then ¼ of the mozzarella (leave spaces between the pieces of cheese). Drizzle the pizza with a little olive oil.

Open the oven door and slide the pizza from the peel onto the pizza stone. If you are not using a pizza stone, carefully remove the hot sheet tray from the oven, sprinkle it with a little flour, then slide the pizza from the overturned sheet tray onto the hot sheet tray and return it to the oven.

The pizza will cook very quickly – in about 2-4 minutes, depending on your oven. If the pizza begins to burn (a few black spots are desirable, but not an over-all char), turn the broiler off, but leave the oven temperature at 450-500 degrees.

You may need to slide a spatula under the pizza and turn it, or turn the sheet tray, so that it cooks evenly. It is done when the edges are well browned, and black in spots. Remove from the oven, slide onto a cutting board, and cut up and serve immediately.

Repeat with the other three pieces of dough. Serves 4 generously.

Spring Moussaka, Two Ways

a baking dish of spring moussakaIt’s always a gamble, planting seeds in late fall in hopes of having a harvest in early spring. In the middle of last August, I sowed three long rows of Scarlet Nantes and White Satin carrots. By September, they were growing well; that is, until the deer came along and chomped them to the ground. After that, I kept them out of sight under fabric row cover.

over-wintered carrots in spring

over-wintered carrots in spring

And when the top few inches of soil finally froze, I spread a layer of straw over them several inches deep.

Timing the straw-spreading is tricky. Too early, and the ground doesn’t freeze until deep winter, creating a cozy home with a well-stocked pantry for voles and mice. Spread it too late, and you wind up with carrot-sicles that turn to mush in the spring thaw.

Last week, when the snow was finally off the garden, I peeked under the straw; this year I got lucky. There they were, all three rows of frost-sweetened carrots, nary a one nibbled by rodents. In another part of the garden, the parsnips, too, have been spared this year, and are super-sweet and tender. As soon as they begin to sprout they’ll grow woody, so now is the time to eat them. Under a glass-windowed cold frame, the radicchio and endive I cut to the ground last autumn, are sending up fresh growth from their roots and will be ready to harvest in late April or early May.

In my unheated greenhouse the mâche and kale that have been providing us with salads all winter are starting to bloom, to the delight of hungry honey bees, and will soon go to seed. I’ve begun to harvest the cold-loving greens I seeded inside in January and planted outside in February, along with the radishes and pea shoots I direct-seeded two months ago. Here and there, volunteers are sprouting up – parsley and fennel, lettuce and poppies, red shiso and dill.

In the greenhouse, too, the perennials, like dandelion greens, rhubarb, Red Venture celery, chives, and chervil, that took a little time off during the coldest weather, are now are big enough to pick. At this time of year we can also harvest small heads of cauliflower and broccoli, planted as sturdy small plants in September. These die back almost to their roots in winter, and miraculously reappear as soon as we get more than ten hours of light a day.

purple cauliflower in early spring

purple cauliflower, grown in an unheated greenhouse over the winter

Looking for a way to use up my carrot and parsnip harvest, I found a recipe in Leanne Kitchen’s beautiful cookbook, Turkey: More than 100 Recipes with Tales from the Road, for a moussaka made with veal and rich in roasted carrots. Because I have a mixed crew to feed in my house, some vegetarians, some carnivores, I decided to riff on Kitchen’s recipe, making two baking dishes, one with fresh purple cauliflower instead of meat, and another in which locally raised grass-fed beef replaced the veal. And because I had parsnips to work with as well as carrots, I used both.

The results were delicious – the creamy layer of lemon-scented béchamel sauce is a perfect foil for the tomato and roasted vegetable enriched bottom layer. Too, this dish, though it takes some time to put together and is probably best saved for a weekend project, is not only crammed with the vegetables we’re all supposed to be eating more of, but is also economical to make. The pound of ground beef in the meat version will feed six people easily, and cauliflower, even if it isn’t locally grown, is abundant and inexpensive at this time of year.

If you don’t want to make both versions, feel free to cut the béchamel and roasted vegetable recipes in half, and use whichever base, meat or cauliflower, you prefer.

Two Spring Moussakas

  • Lemon Béchamel Sauce (recipe below)
  • Roasted Carrots and Parsnips (recipe below)

    spring moussaka

    spring moussaka

  • Meat Moussaka Base (recipe below)
  • Cauliflower Moussaka Base (recipe below)
  • olive oil for the bottom of the baking pans

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Use about 1 tablespoon of oil to grease the bottoms and sides of two baking dishes (anything approximating a 13 inch oval or an 8×11 inch rectangular dish will work).

Pour the meat base into one dish and the cauliflower base into the other dish. Spread them out evenly. Sprinkle half of the roasted vegetables over the meat base and the other half of the roasted vegetables over the cauliflower base. Spread half the béchamel over the meat and roasted vegetables and the other half of the béchamel over the cauliflower and roasted vegetables.

Place both dishes in the preheated oven. Bake for about 45 minutes, turning at least once so the tops brown evenly. The moussakas are done when they are bubbling and browned in spots here and there on top. Serve hot. This can also be reheated the next day in a low oven or microwave.

Each moussaka serves 4-6 people.

Lemon Béchamel Sauce

  • 5 cups whole milk
  • 7 tablespoons butter
  • 2/3 cup flour
  • grated rind of one large lemon or 1½ small lemons (use organic if possible and wash well before grating)
  • 4 egg yolks, whisked together lightly in a bowl
  • several gratings of fresh nutmeg or 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • salt and pepper to taste

Heat the milk either in a microwave or on the stovetop until quite warm. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large saucepan. When the butter has melted, whisk in the flour. Allow to bubble for a few minutes, stirring often.

Whisk in the milk about 1 cup at a time, whisking until the mixture is smooth after each addition. Continue heating over medium-low heat, stirring almost constantly, being careful not to burn the bottom of the pot. Alternate between a wooden spoon that scrapes the mixture from the bottom (where it will thicken more quickly) and a whisk, to smooth the sauce. When the mixture has thickened and is just beginning to simmer a little, remove from the heat and whisk well to smooth.

Temper the yolks by pouring about 2 cups of the hot sauce into them, whisking constantly. Pour the mixture back into the pot, whisking constantly. Whisk in the lemon rind, the nutmeg and the salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Cover with a piece of plastic wrap or parchment paper placed right on the surface of the sauce to keep it from forming a skin. Set aside while preparing the rest of the moussaka.

Roasted Carrots and Parsnips:

  • 2 pounds carrots, peeled and cut into half-moons about 1/4 inch thick
  • 2 pounds parsnips, peeled and cut into half-moons about 1/4 inch thick
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • several sprigs fresh thyme
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the carrots on one sheet tray and the parsnips on another. Divide the olive oil between the two trays, strip the leaves from the sprigs of thyme and divide between the trays and sprinkle both with salt and pepper. Toss the vegetables to coat well with oil, thyme and salt and pepper. Bake in the preheated oven for about 15 minutes stirring the vegetables and turning the trays once or twice so they cook evenly. When the vegetables are softened and browned here and there, remove from the oven and set aside.

Meat Moussaka Base:

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 onions, peeled and chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 2 cups chopped canned plum tomatoes, with their juice
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup currants
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried marjoram or oregano
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a large skillet or dutch oven. Add the onions and garlic and cook until softened. Add the beef and cook, breaking up the meat and mixing it with the onions and garlic. When still a little pink but mostly cooked, add the remaining ingredients. Simmer for about 10-15 minutes, stirring often to prevent scorching, until thickened a bit and the flavors are well combined.

Cauliflower Moussaka Base:

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 onions, peeled and chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 small head or 1/2 large head cauliflower, washed and cut into 1 inch chunks
  • 2 cups chopped canned plum tomatoes, with their juice
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup currants
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried marjoram or oregano
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a large skillet or dutch oven. Add the onions and garlic and cook until softened. Add the cauliflower and cook, mixing it with the onions and garlic. When the cauliflower is beginning to soften, add the remaining ingredients. Simmer for about 10-15 minutes, stirring often to prevent scorching, until thickened a bit and the flavors are well combined.

Puff Pastry Recipes

Puff pastry is a sublime demonstration of the power of mathematics. You begin by layering a block of butter between two layers of dough. Fold the dough in thirds, and now there are 3 layers of butter between the layers of dough. Let it rest, roll it out, fold it in thirds again and now there are 9 layers of butter. Repeat – 27 layers of butter. Repeat – 81 layers of butter. Repeat – 243 layers of butter. And one last time – 729 layers of butter, and 730 layers of dough (including the top and bottom layers).

As the puff pastry bakes, the butter fat melts, which separates the layers of dough, while the butter liquids turn to steam, forcing the layers apart and causing the pastry to rise in a spectacular fashion. And unlike a soufflé, which must be served immediately before it falls, properly baked puff pastry will maintain its loft even after it cools.

When golden brown and fully cooked, puff pastry is a delight in the mouth, melting almost as soon as it hits the tongue into rich, delicate shards. And rich as it is, puff pastry provides a neutral backdrop, working well with both sweet and savory fillings.

I think puff pastry’s reputation for being tricky to make has more to do with the cultivated mystique of the pâtissier than the reality of the recipe. It’s actually a pretty straightforward process, though it does require a cool kitchen and patience through all the resting and rolling. It also requires care in choosing ingredients – the butter needs to be cold, the flour needs to be bread flour.

It also requires care in measuring. I recommend weighing ingredients whenever you’re baking, for this recipe in particular. If you don’t have a scale, make sure you fluff up the flour, dip a measuring cup designed for dry ingredients into it, and then use a knife to level the cup (rather than tapping it on the counter, or pushing it down with your fingers, which compacts the flour). Here’s a link to my recipe for Puff Pastry.

The best thing about puff pastry is how flexible it is. Once it’s in your freezer, you’ll be able to throw together an impressive and delicious main dish or dessert in an hour or less. Here are links to three recipes that use puff pastry (either purchased or home-made):

Spinach Feta Tart

Spinach Feta Tart

A Rhubarb Tartlet

A Rhubarb Tartlet

A slice of maple tarte tatin

A slice of maple tarte tatin

Maple Syrup Season: Maple Almond Praline Roulade and Roast Chicken Glazed with Maple, Garlic and Smoked Paprika

Sunset Cross-country Ski on Corn Snow to Canterbury Shaker Village

Sunset Cross-country Ski on Corn Snow to Canterbury Shaker Village

Every season has its Trio of Delight. In mid-March the troika is: 1) almost twelve hours of light a day; 2) cross-country skiing on corn snow; 3) steamy sugar houses where maple sap boils over wood fires.

My in-laws, who own North Family Farm here in Canterbury, NH, seem to never sleep during sap season. Maple syrup is nearly half their living (the other half is a combination of hay and wood). It’s hard work, all the tapping and sap-hauling and wood burning and syrup boiling. Never mind the canning and promoting and selling and shipping.

In August, dragging a crate of maple syrup to a farmers’ market feels old. But now, in March, when the sun is rising higher in the sky day by day, and the air is warm enough to stand in for a coat, and the red-winged black birds have returned with their dopey cowbird step-brothers, and the sap isn’t just running, it’s gushing – now, gathering sap and making syrupfeels likes the best job any person has ever had in the history of the world.

Loading Wood to Boil Sap

Loading Wood to Boil Sap

Unless, maybe, you have the job of creating recipes for this year’s fresh-out-of-the-sugar-house maple syrup. So far, it’s Grade A Light Amber. And it’s sublime.

I am tempted to say that you could replace the maple syrup in the recipe for Roast Chicken with Maple, Garlic and Smoked Paprika with another sweetener – brown sugar, maybe, or honey. But don’t. This recipe is really good just as it is. And if you don’t happen to have any smoked paprika on hand (it’s pretty easy to find in grocery stores these day) use regular paprika, or take a chance and substitute any herb or seasoning that strikes your fancy.

As for the Maple-Almond Praline Roulade, the recipe looks long and complicated, but really is pretty fast and easy to put together. The hardest part is making the praline, and that could be left out completely if shy on time or ingredients. Keeping in mind that maple is a subtle flavor, and that the roulade is worth savoring on its own, it would also be delicious with a sauce made from frozen berries, or, in season, fresh ones. Continue reading

Beet Recipes

March is the month when gardeners begin starting seeds inside and eating the last of the vegetables stored in their root cellars. They’re called “root” cellars for a reason, because roots, like carrots, rutabagas, storage radishes (such as daikon) and beets, are what keep there best.

This is because most root vegetables are designed for a winter of storage below ground. They’re biennials; that is, they live for two years. The first season, they turn out leaves above ground for photosynthesis, and large swollen tubers below ground in which to store energy for the following year. If left in place or replanted in spring, these tubers would send up flowers in their second year of growth, go to seed, and, having reproduced successfully, die.

At the end of the winter, stored root vegetables have a remarkable ability to tell that their second growing season is approaching. They sprout new leaves and use up their stored sugars, going limp and bitter. It’s time to use them up and seed in new plantings.

Beets are one of my favorite root vegetables, sweet enough to moisten a cake, yet full of antioxidants and folates, B vitamins and potassium. Raw grated beets tossed with lemon juice and olive oil make a great salad; roasted beets are delicious tossed with butter and dill, or in one of these recipes:

Beet Hummus

Beet Hummus

Borscht

Borscht

Spicy Beet Soup with Turmeric Rice

Spicy Beet Soup with Turmeric Rice

Beet Tzatziki

Beet Tzatziki