Spring Risotto with Asparagus and Walnuts

asparagus-walnut-risotto

This is a simple, yet flavorful method of preparing risotto, more of a pilaf really. Good as a side dish or main course, this recipe is different from the traditional butter, wine and parmesan cheese approach, but every grain of rice maintains an inherent full and creamy flavor. I find asparagus at the local farmers market, thin or thick stalks are fine. The walnuts are from last year’s harvest.  Fresh nuts make a tremendous difference in flavor and texture.

Serves 6

Risotto:

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon garlic, minced

3/4 cup shallots, peeled and thinly sliced

1/4 cup red bell peppers, finely chopped

1/2 cup garnet yams, peeled and cubed

1/2 cup peas, freshly podded

1 bay leaf

1/4 cup fresh fennel weed, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon white pepper

1 cup organic Arborio rice

1 teaspoon sea salt

2 1/2 cups water

Separate pan:

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

2 cups asparagus, cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon balsamic reduction (or 1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar)

1 cup walnut halves and pieces

1/2 tablespoon tamari

In a wide, thick-bottomed saucepan on medium heat, cook the oil, garlic, shallots, red bell peppers and yams until the shallots start to turn clear. Stir in the remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer, turn down and cover. Stirring frequently, cook for 20 minutes until the rice is tender and most of the water is absorbed.

While cooking the rice, heat a sauté pan on medium high heat, add oil and asparagus.Cook, turning frequently, until the asparagus starts to brown on the edges, add the red pepper flakes, stir in and add the balsamic reduction or vinegar.When the vinegar cooks out, add the walnuts, stir them around letting them toast lightly.Add the tamari, stir to coat the nuts and asparagus.Take off the flame and set aside.When the risotto is cooked, fold in the asparagus and nut just before serving.Save a few pieces of asparagus tips and walnut halves for garnish.Serve immediately.Optionally, one may garnish each dish with shaved organic asiago or parmesan, but I prefer ground toasted tamari walnuts sprinkled over the top.

Asparagus En Papillote

Superfoods for better living!

I prepare food based on culinary traditions from around the world. The dishes are healthy, full of flavor and enriched with the vitality of the freshest local ingredients. This is an encore post celebrating this year’s wonderful asparagus harvest.


Springtime is an ideal time to jump start your health by adding the wonders of the early Spring “super foods” to your diet. At local markets across the country, the farmers are bringing in their bounties–a reflection of the powerful, regenerative energy of the earth. Every Sunday I marvel at the variety of freshly harvested produce at my local farmer’s market in San Diego–the Hillcrest Farmer’s Market. One of my spring favorites, organic asparagus, disappears early, so I try to arrive before the large crowds and am always thrilled to find I haven’t missed them.

Asparagus, one of the healthiest vegetables, acts as a diuretic and is full of vitamin K and folates. It helps to lower blood pressure, reduces arthritic inflamation, promotes cellular rejuvenation and has anti-cancer properties. The perfect resume for a vegetable.

Otherwise known as “baked-in-parchment,” en papillote is a wonderful method for cooking vegetables quickly while infusing flavor and retaining nutrients. I thought we would cook my treasured asparagus en papillote for a quick lunch. The entire process took 30 minutes and that included preheating my Wolf oven to 400 degrees convection. If you do not have a convection oven, preheat it to 425 degrees.

Farmers Market Indian Lunch


Lamb’s quarters is one of those pesky plants farmers have been trying to eradicate since the beginning of industrial farming.  Probably used as a potted plant in the Victorian era, the edible plant commonly sprints in sidewalks and gardens.  It was only a few years ago that I started seeing it sold at farmers markets.  Up to that point it was used as a tender spinach-like vegetable in traditional foods around the world by herbalists, wild-crafters and foragers.

My first  encounter with lamb’s quarters was in 1971 during a trip to Crete where my aunt was using it in place of spinach in Spanikoptia and in her delicious horta (boiled greens).  I immediately fell in love with the buttery texture of the leaves and looked for it in markets for years afterward.  The next time it was on my plate, a banana leaf plate at that, was in rural India at my friends Pranava and Vanamali’s home.  She had made an unforgettable spinach-style dish using it.  Eventually, I began seeing it in farm stalls at local markets and began using it extensively in rice, sags, shaks, palaks, savories, raitas, breads and dahls.

Two types of Lamb’s quarters are usually sold at the farmers markets; the first is a green variety which farmers routinely treat as weeds and the second is Magenta Spreen, originally from India and often found in heirloom seed catalogs.  They can be found at the markets near the amaranth, red orach and kale.  I have been buying it in San Diego from Suzies Farm, mostly at the Hillcrest Farmers Market and the Little Italy Mercato.  It is best to purchase certified organic because the lamb’s quarters the normally very positive nutrient absorption in this plant makes it a repository for chemicals and toxins leached from the soil.

 

Last week, I was inspired to create an Indian-style dinner with my Hillcrest Farmers Market bounty of vegetables and grains.  The menu included the  Bolivian Red Quinoa I had purchased from Michelle at Conscious Cookery,  Lamb’s Quarters and Coconut Subji and Asparagus, Carrot and Red Onion Curry–there were no left-overs!

Bolivian Red Quinoa

2 cups water
1 teaspoon coconut oil
1 bay leaf
¼ teaspoon turmeric
1 two-inch cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup Bolivian red quinoa, rinsed

In a 2 quart sauce pan on medium-high heat, cook water, oil, bay leaf, turmeric, cinnamon and sea salt until the water boils. Add the quinoa, bring to a boil, then turn down to a low simmer and cover.  Cook for 15 minutes, turn off the heat and reserve until ready to serve.

I wash the lambsquarters, carefully removing the larger stems.  Then peel the white spring onions assemble the remaining ingredients. One of the secrets for preparing Indian food is to assemble all the ingredients in little bowls and plates in order to cook with proper timing and technique. This subji has a buttery texture which is accentuated with the delicate crunch of cashew nuts.  Its enchanting mild flavor and texture wonderfully compliments the red quinoa.

 

Lamb’s Quarters and Coconut Subji

2 teaspoons coconut oil
½  teaspoon black mustard seeds
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon ginger root, minced
1 teaspoon green chile, minced
1 cup spring onions, chopped
1 cup raw whole cashews
4 cups lamb’s quarters, stemmed
1 ½ tablespoons lime juice
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ cup organic coconut milk

Heat oil in saute pan on medium-high heat.   Add mustard and cumin seeds and cook until the mustard seeds start to pop.  Stir in ginger root and chile, then add the onions and cover.  After 30 seconds, stir in the cashews and cook for 30 seconds.  Add the lamb’s quarters, lime juice and salt, cover and turn heat to low.  Cook until the lambs quarters are tender then add the coconut milk and cook for another minute.  Serve hot.

This week, Sage Mountain Farm had beautiful fresh asparagus, heirloom multi-colored carrots and sweet spring onions. Asparagus is another springtime super food.  With so many micro-nutrient infused foods available at this time of year, it is a boost Mother Nature gives us to re-energize the body after the winter dormancy.  This dish is full of color and beautifully enhanced by the energizing spices. Served with the Red Quinoa and Lamb’s quarters and Coconut Subji, it adds color and flavor to the meal.  Both dishes have onions, but they are different, stimulating and very mild this time of year.

Asparagus, Carrot and Red Onion Curry

1 teaspoon coconut oil
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 tablespoon ginger root, minced
¼ teaspoon turmeric powder
1 ½ cups red spring onions, diced
2 cups carrots, sliced into ¼ inch thick rounds
1 teaspoon curry powder
½ cup water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 cups asparagus cut into 2 inch sections
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ cup cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped 

In a 12 inch skillet on medium high heat, cook the oil and cumin seeds until they start to brown.  Add the red pepper, ginger root, turmeric, onions, carrots and curry then turn down to low heat and cover.  After 30 seconds, add the water.  Cook for 5 minutes until the water is cooked out.  Add the lemon, asparagus and sea salt then cover and cook for another 5 minutes until the asparagus is tender.   Add cilantro and serve right away.

 

 

If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

~P.B. Shelley

Seasonal cycles have ruled humanity since the beginning of time. No matter how hard we try to control them, inevitably everyone must succumb to the laws of nature.  Farmers markets, by definition, work with the earthly cycles of growth and regeneration. When shopping at them, we become partners with the land, locally and regionally.  The food we procure and the interactions at the markets enhance our lives with the energies of the earth and the vitality of communing with it. There is no better time to experience this than the transition from winter to spring. 

Winter

Winter in the Midwest, where I lived most of my life before San Diego, is often brutally cold, yet hardy shoppers come to the markets to buy cold storage items such as apples, leeks, onions and potatoes.  As the farmers gear up for spring, they order seeds, tend to cold frames, greenhouses and hoop-houses in order to get a good start on the season.

In Southern California, the hallmark of the winter season is citrus.  Unique varieties such as Satsuma tangerines, Paige tangerines, Naval oranges, Mandarin oranges, Persian limes, Mexican limes, Kaffir limes and citron grace the stalls of the local markets.  Lettuces, greens, herbs and vegetables are also available in moderate quantities, depending on the location of the farms and the methods used for growing, ie, permaculture, dry farming, hoop houses, plastic covers or other warming techniques.  On rare occasions, usually once every few years, a frost will temper the harvest in the warmest areas.

Since the growing season here is year round, farmers stagger plantings in order to prolong the harvest of tender varieties into months instead of weeks.  Examples of this are arugula, spinach, tat soi, chard and many varieties of kale.  Staggered plantings of garlic, leeks and green onions do the same.  San Diego farmers have to keep their market stalls filled year round, so the approach is very different from commodity farmers who supply their harvests for commercial food production, national and international supply chains

Spring

One of the joys of living in the Midwest is the arrival of spring. The animals and humans share the phenomenon with a flurry of activity. Buds pop up from half-frozen soil, birds are feathering nests and singing, land is cleared then tilled and people are running around in short-sleeves.  It is a time of dramatic change and the collective mood is one of exuberance. I do miss this and hope to experience some of it when I travel to Michigan in late March for my next book tour.

I’ll be be hanging out at the Royal Oak Farmers Market with my farmer friend Don Cinzori of Cinzori Farms who, in addition to having his greenhouse planted herbs and plants, will have green garlic shoots, spinach and leeks. 

Other Michigan spring delicacies to be discovered are morel mushrooms, fiddle-head ferns and asparagus. As spring progresses, baby lettuces, raspberries and sugar snap peas will bolster the drama of spring at the Michigan markets.

In San Diego, spring is different. To say there is no spring in Southern California is incorrect; it has its own unique version. While the markets of San Diego continue to bustle all winter, I always get excited when spring crops start showing up. The warm ever-constant sun brings people to the markets and the romantic days of mid-February to early-March find shoppers searching for the abundant sensual pleasures.

The first sweet strawberries appear at JR Organics in early February.  Depending on the Santa Ana winds and warmth of the sun, the harvest steadily increases until it peaks in May. Giant one and two pound sweetly-fragrant Chanterelle mushrooms from the mountains near San Luis Obispo are sold.

Tender lettuces, baby kale, spinach and green elephant garlic are abundant at Sage Mountain Farms. Young broccoli, radicchio and baby beets are at Suzies Farm. Siberian Kale and cilantro accompany the basil of Archi’s Acres.

Fuerte avocados, chermoyas and guavas begin in February at Korals Tropical Fruit Farm with Kumquats and a continuing plethora of citrus  in March.

Lone Oak Ranch begins to press fresh pomegranate juice. Terra Bella Ranch has the very special Livermore red walnuts, almonds and Chandler walnuts. Spring doesn’t just pop up in San Diego, it comes in like a high tide. The arrival is heralded by the bounty and festivity of the markets.

I encourage everyone to shop at the local farmers markets.  Even during the off-season months, there is much to discover. In addition, we make a community connection, life is enhanced and we are healthier for it.


In the coming months I will be working on a lot of quick and easy to prepare recipes which I plan to share with my subscribers.  So if you haven’t already done so, subscribe to my blog below, or on the upper right hand corner of this page.

See you at the markets!

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Cooking Inspiration From Sage Mountain Farm

Last Sunday at the Hillcrest Farmer’s Market in San Diego, Phil Noble of Sage Mountain Farm was showing passersby a large shoot of elephant garlic. He was explaining the colossal versatility of the leek look-alike which is only available a few weeks in the Spring when the shoots are young and tender. The mature oversized bulb is usually found in stores labeled as a mild alternative to the traditional garlic bulb. Phil said that every part of the shoot can be used in cooking–from the tentacle-like roots to the top of the dark green shoots.

Back at home, I began lunch preparation, anxious to incorporate my latest find. Since it is mild, elephant garlic can be used in greater quantity without the fear of being the “stinking rose.” I thinly sliced the white portion of the elephant garlic and braised it with some baby beets (also from Sage Mountain Farm), a little extra virgin olive oil, a small amount of water and then I covered and simmered it for about 20 minutes. The tiny beets became tender morsels still attached to the buttery soft beet greens.

I also prepared elephant garlic-herb tofu by sautéing firm tofu with a little extra virgin olive oil. As the tofu turned golden brown, I added dried basil, elephant garlic roots and premium tamari (Nama Shoyu from Goldmine Natural Foods). To serve, I garnished it with slivers of the green top of the garlic shoot. The firm meatiness of the tofu was nicely complemented by the seared herb flavor and the slight pungency of the garlic. The tender roots retained a slight crunch, enhancing the texteral landscape of the dish.

As a third dish, I prepared sautéed red amaranth from La Milpa Organica with minced white elephant garlic, crushed red pepper and coarse sea salt. As the amaranth wilted, I added the Sage Mountain asparagus, covered the pan and turned the heat down to a simmer. Served with freshly baked bread, a Fuerte avocado from our tree and a beautiful salad of Sun Grown Organic sprouts, the meal was at once delightful and energizing.

Vegetarian traditions are as old as humanity and are the key to longevity in cultures where disease is diminished. Central to these traditions are local, fresh and organic foods. By supporting local markets, we bolster our health while sustaining the planet for future generations.