Articles in Vegetables w/recipe

Prosciutto over baby spring greens. Credit: Copyright 2015 Laura Holmes Haddad

Looking for a new, healthful yet satisfying option for lunch or a light dinner? Skip the old standbys (Caesars, wedges, mixed greens) and upgrade your salad bowl with these 10 tips.

This Mexican tortilla salad features jicama in a tangy dressing. Credit: Copyright 2015 Laura Holmes Haddad

This Mexican tortilla salad features jicama in a tangy dressing. Credit: Copyright 2015 Laura Holmes Haddad

Make your own salad dressings.

Homemade dressings put store-bought bottles to shame; the flavor is unparalleled. And they’re easy to make, especially if you have a blender of any kind or a food processor on hand. (It’s also easy to bolster the nutrition level by adding a tablespoon of chia seeds or flaxseeds.) Try matching your dressing to a salad based on its regional or seasonal ingredients. Making a Mexican tortilla salad? Whip up a batch of cilantro, lime and pumpkin-seed dressing (recipe below). Or liven up a chilly day with hazelnut-orange dressing over winter greens such as radicchio.

Fresh romaine hearts can stand up to heavier salad dressings. Credit: Copyright 2015 Laura Holmes Haddad

Fresh romaine hearts can stand up to heavier salad dressings. Credit: Copyright 2015 Laura Holmes Haddad

Practice the golden rule of salads.

The lighter the lettuce, the lighter the dressing. That means pairing hearty dressings such as Caesar, lemon-buttermilk and creamy ranch with heavier greens such as romaine, kale and cabbage. Save the more delicate mâche and baby lettuce for lightweight dressings such as lemon-garlic vinaigrette or three-herb vinaigrette.

Crunchy nuts and seeds can add a whole new dimension to your salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 Bigstockphoto.com

Crunchy nuts and seeds can add a whole new dimension to your salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 Bigstockphoto.com

Add crunch with a handful of nuts.

From peanuts, walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts to pecans, macadamias and cashews, nuts can bring a burst of flavor and texture to an ordinary bowl of greens, elevating it from blah to wow. Toasting them is an easy step that boosts their flavor immensely: Just place a pan over high heat, add the nuts and toast for 1 to 2 minutes while shaking the pan (be careful not to burn them). Seeds offer a similar crunch: sesame, pumpkin and sunflower seeds are easy to find and full of flavor.

Take a day off from the olive: nut oils bring an unexpected layer of flavor to salad dressings. Credit: Copyright 2015 Bigstockphoto.com

Take a day off from the olive: Nut oils bring an unexpected layer of flavor to salad dressings. Credit: Copyright 2015 Bigstockphoto.com

Add an unusual oil.

Give a flavor and nutrition boost to your salad by drizzling it with walnut, pecan or hazelnut oil. Pistachio oil drizzled over steamed asparagus is sublime. (Note that nut oils are highly sensitive to light and heat, so store them in the refrigerator.) Meanwhile, avocado oil is a neutral, healthy option that can be substituted for canola oil.

Swap ordinary proteins for tangy cheeses, sliced prosciutto or roasted chickpeas. Credit: Copyright 2015 Bigstockphoto.com

Swap ordinary proteins for tangy cheeses, sliced prosciutto or roasted chickpeas. Credit: Copyright 2015 Bigstockphoto.com

Punch up the proteins.

Ditch the roasted chicken breast and try a new source of protein: Roasted chickpeas, marinated feta, roasted pork loin and broiled shrimp make quick and easy alternatives. Chop up leftover ingredients from a weekend cookout — grilled steak, barbecued chicken, grilled peppers or mushrooms — and toss with a hearty lettuce such as romaine.

Broccoli slaw makes for a quick, healthy and hearty lunch. Credit: Copyright 2015 Bigstockphoto.com

Broccoli slaw makes for a quick, healthy and hearty lunch. Credit: Copyright 2015 Bigstockphoto.com

Make a side salad the main dish.

Sides like coleslaw can easily achieve main-course status with the addition of a few ingredients. Tossed with roasted turkey and a few tablespoons of homemade poppyseed dressing, chopped or shredded broccoli and roasted walnuts make a hearty, portable lunch or quick dinner. Prepackaged, shredded veggies are available in nearly every grocery store if you’re in a time pinch.

Sweet fruit balances out the bitter and salty elements of a salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kitchen Gardeners International/kgi.org

Sweet fruit balances out the bitter and salty elements of a salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kitchen Gardeners International/kgi.org

Add fresh fruit.

Tomatoes are the gold standard, but fresh orange segments, sliced pears and grapes add brightness and seasonality to a salad. Sliced strawberries are perfect paired with peppery arugula and balsamic vinegar, while hunks of fresh papaya offer a sweet contrast to crunchy green cabbage. In summer, sliced peaches make a great counterbalance to creamy mozzarella.

Acid is key for any salad dressing, be it a drizzle of vinegar or a tablespoon of fresh lime juice. Credit: Copyright 2015 Freefoodphotos.com

Acid is key for any salad dressing, be it a drizzle of vinegar or a tablespoon of fresh lime juice. Credit: Copyright 2015 Freefoodphotos.com

Remember: A is for acid.

An often-overlooked but key salad ingredient is acid, whether in the form of vinegar, citrus juice, soy sauce or pickled vegetables. Just a few tablespoons of high-quality balsamic vinegar or rice vinegar or a squeeze of fresh lemon can brighten the flavor of any salad. And pickled veggies, from kimchi to plain old cucumber pickles, can add oomph to a can of tuna or a plain roasted chicken breast.

With a bit of heat, your salad will sizzle. Credit: Copyright 2015 Freefoodphotos.com

With a bit of heat, your salad will sizzle. Credit: Copyright 2015 Freefoodphotos.com

Spice things up.

Adding chili peppers to a salad or its dressing gives a big flavor boost. Chopped jalapeños, raw or pickled, are a must for Mexican-style salads; you could also try a chipotle dressing. Or add sliced red Thai peppers to cabbage, peanuts and rice vinegar for an Asian flavor.

This vibrant spring salad from cookbook author Maria Speck combines asparagus and kamut. Credit: Copyright 2015 Erin Kunkel, from Simply Ancient Grains by Maria Speck, Ten Speed Press

This vibrant spring salad from cookbook author Maria Speck combines asparagus and kamut. Credit: Copyright 2015 Erin Kunkel, from “Simply Ancient Grains” by Maria Speck, Ten Speed Press

Expand the definition of “salad.”

Go beyond greens to incorporate grains like quinoa, farro and bulgur wheat. Carbs such as rice, couscous and orzo add a little bulk and act as a neutral base for other flavors. Pasta comes in so many varieties these days that even gluten-free eaters can enjoy pasta salad. Cooked vegetables can also star: Brussels sprouts, asparagus and roasted beets become salads with the addition of just one or two other ingredients, such as roasted nuts, shaved ricotta salata or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. (Time-saver tip: you can cook the grains on the weekend so that they’re ready to go for a weeknight supper.)

Mexican Salad With Cilantro, Lime and Pumpkin Seed Dressing

Note: This is an easy salad that pairs crisp lettuce and jicama with a tangy, satisfying dressing. Add cooked chicken or a handful of shrimp for a more substantial meal.
Prep time: 15 minutes
Total time: 15 minutes
Yield: Serves 4

Ingredients
2 1/2 cups chopped romaine lettuce (about 2 large heads)
1 large jicama, peeled and sliced into 1/8-inch pieces
3/4 cup thinly sliced radishes (about 10)
1 cup Cilantro, Lime and Pumpkin-Seed Dressing (see recipe below)
1/2 ripe avocado, diced
1/2 cup tortilla chips, crushed, for serving (optional)
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Directions
1. In a large bowl, combine the lettuce, jicama and radishes.

2. Add the dressing and gently toss to mix. Add the avocado and tortilla chips and gently toss again.

3. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

Cilantro, Lime and Pumpkin-Seed Dressing
Prep time: 5 minutes
Total time: 5 minutes
Yield: 1 1/4 cups

Ingredients
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves
1/2 cup avocado oil (canola oil can be substituted)
1/2 cup fresh lime juice (about 4 limes)
2 small cloves garlic, peeled
1 medium jalapeño pepper, halved and seeded
1/4 cup unsalted, roasted pumpkin seeds
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt

Directions
1. Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth.

2. Season to taste with salt. The dressing will keep in the refrigerator for up to three days.

Main photo: Prosciutto over baby spring greens. Credit: Copyright 2015 Laura Holmes Haddad

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Spinach Salad With Strawberries and Feta. Credit: Copyright 2015 Brooke Jackson

The verdant piles of greens at the market herald the arrival of spring: Bunches of watercress, baskets of baby arugula, heaps of spinach and kale, newborn heads of butter lettuce and curly sprigs of pea shoots are just part of the riot of ingredients out there now that are perfect for your salad bowl.

Spinach Salad With Strawberries and Feta

 

Prep time: 15 minutes

Total time: 15 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

For the salad:

6 packed cups of baby spinach leaves

2 1/2 cups stemmed, thinly sliced strawberries (about 1 1/2 pints)

3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted

For the dressing:

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 teaspoon honey

3 to 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1. Put all the salad ingredients in a large mixing bowl.

2. Make the dressing by mixing lemon juice and honey together in a small bowl. Gradually whisk in olive oil, adding it in a very thin, slow stream and whisking rapidly until an emulsion forms. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

3. Toss the dressing with the salad and serve.

Twisted Niçoise Salad

Prep time: 40 minutes

Cook time: 30 minutes

Total time: About 1 hour, 10 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

For the salad:

24 asparagus spears, woody ends broken off

4 medium beets

1/2 teaspoon of salt

16 to 20 butter lettuce leaves

4 eggs, boiled to hard or semi-hard, peeled and halved

1 medium cucumber, cut in 1/4-inch slices

2 tomatoes, cored and cut in wedges

20 Castelvetrano olives

2 (5-ounce) cans of Italian tuna in olive oil (such as Genova or Cento), drained

For the dressing:

1 large clove of garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice

3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1. Lay the prepared asparagus in a 10-inch frying pan and add about 1 inch of water. Cover tightly with a lid and bring to a boil over high heat.

2. Lower the heat to a strong simmer and steam the spears until just tender, about 5 to 7 minutes.

3. While the asparagus is cooking, make an ice bath in a large bowl using cold water and plenty of ice. Once cooked, plunge the spears into the ice bath to stop them cooking.

4. When cool, remove from bath and drain. Add more ice to the bath and set aside.

5. Put beets in a medium saucepan and add enough water to just cover them, then add a 1/2 teaspoon of salt.

6. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to simmer; cook until beets are tender when pierced with a fork, about 20 to 30 minutes depending on size.

7. Remove from cooking water and submerge in ice bath until cool enough to handle. Slip off the skins and slice each beet thinly.

8. Make the dressing by placing the garlic, mustard and lemon juice in a medium bowl. Gradually whisk in olive oil in a thin stream until a cohesive dressing forms. Add salt and pepper to taste.

9. Assemble the salads by arranging lettuce leaves to cover four dinner plates. Make a pile of six asparagus spears on one side, a stack of beets on the other and fill in the rest of the plate perimeter with the egg halves, cucumber slices and tomato wedges. Scatter the olives over the top.

10. Put half a can of tuna in the middle of each plate and drizzle the salads with some of the dressing.

11. Finish the plates with a few grinds of fresh pepper and serve. You can pass more dressing at the table.

Spring Salad

Prep time: 15 minutes

Total time: 15 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

For the salad:

1 bunch of pea shoots, tough stems removed, washed and spun dry

1 bunch of watercress, tough stems and roots removed, washed and spun dry

4 big handfuls baby arugula leaves

1/4 cup hazelnuts, roasted and skinned

2 tablespoons of mild, creamy cheese, such as chèvre, farmer cheese or ricotta

3 thin slices of watermelon radish, stacked and cut into little triangles

For the dressing:

1 tablespoon best-quality sherry vinegar (I like O brand)

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon hazelnut oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1. Tear pea shoots and watercress into bite-sized pieces and put in a large salad bowl.

2. Add the rest of the salad ingredients to the bowl.

3. Make the dressing by whisking the vinegar with the oils until it comes together. Add salt and pepper to taste.

4. Toss the dressing with the salad and serve.

Mexican Kale Salad

Prep time: 20 minutes

Total time: 20 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

For the salad:

1/2 cup grapefruit sections, preferably from Oro Blanco or Melogold

2 packed cups of Tuscan kale leaves cut in thin (1/2-inch) ribbons, from about 5 or 6 large leaves with stems removed

1/4 cup radishes, cut in thin matchsticks

1 small avocado, peeled, pitted and cubed

1/4 cup crumbled cotija cheese

4 tablespoons pumpkin seeds (pepitas), roasted and salted

For the dressing:

1 heaping teaspoon grapefruit zest

1/4 teaspoon minced jalapeño pepper

2 tablespoons grapefruit juice

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1. Zest 1 heaping teaspoon of grapefruit skin for the dressing by cutting the stem and bottom skin and white pith off. Stand the fruit on the flat bottom (not stem side) so it is stable. Take a sharp knife and cut the skin off from top to bottom, cutting the white pith as you go.

2. Over a bowl, cut the sections from the membrane, catching any juice. Save 2 tablespoons of juice for the dressing and 1/2 cup sections for the salad, cutting any larger sections in half crosswise. Reserve the rest for another use — such as drinking it right down!

3. Put the grapefruit sections, kale ribbons, radishes, avocado and cheese in a large salad bowl.

4. Make the dressing by mixing the zest, jalapeño pepper and juice together, then whisk in the olive oil until combined. Taste and add salt and pepper.

5. Toss the salad with the dressing until well mixed. Sprinkle the pumpkin seeds on the top and toss again. Serve immediately.

Asian Chicken Salad With Peanut Sauce

Prep time: 35 minutes

Total time: 35 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

For the salad:

4 packed cups romaine, cut crosswise from 1 large heart of romaine

1/2 cup cucumber, peeled, seeded and thinly sliced into half moons

1 cup shredded cooked chicken

3 small sheets wasabi roasted seaweed, cut in strips

2 tablespoons roasted and salted sunflower seeds

2 tablespoons unsweetened toasted coconut flakes

3 tablespoons sesame sticks

For the peanut sauce:

1/4 cup peanut butter

1/4 cup peanut oil

2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

2 tablespoons tamari

2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice

2 garlic cloves

6 fresh cilantro sprigs

1 tablespoon fresh ginger, chopped

1 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes

Directions

1. Make the peanut sauce by putting all the ingredients into a food processor or blender jar and combining until smooth. Reserve.

2. Toss the romaine with the cucumbers then mound in the middle of a large platter.

3. Make a crown of chicken around the top of the mound.

4. Place the seaweed, sunflower seeds, coconut flakes and sesame sticks in each corner of the platter.

5. Put a large dollop of the peanut sauce on top of the romaine mountain.

6. Bring to the table so everyone can see your lovely creation, then toss all the ingredients together, adding more peanut sauce if necessary.

7. Divide among plates and enjoy.

Cherry Quinoa Salad in Lettuce Cups

Prep time: 40 minutes

Cook time: 20 to 30 minutes

Total time: About an hour

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

For the salad:

2 cups water

1 cup red quinoa

1/2 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons dried cherries

1/2 cup walnut halves, toasted and coarsely broken

1 small fennel bulb, finely diced

1/2 cup finely diced crisp apple

1 head butter lettuce, washed and spun dry

For the dressing:

4 tablespoons orange juice

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

Zest of 1 orange

5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon walnut oil

1 tablespoon chives

1 tablespoons fennel leaves

1 tablespoon parsley

Directions

1. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil and add quinoa and salt. Cover and turn heat to low. Cook until all the water is absorbed and the quinoa germ has expanded, about 20 to 30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, make the dressing by combining the orange and lemon juices with the vinegar and zest. Gradually drizzle in oils, whisking continuously, until dressing comes together. Mix in herbs.

3. When quinoa has cooked, scrape it into a mixing bowl and add the dressing, stirring to combine.

4. Add all the other salad ingredients except the lettuce. Cool to room temperature.

5. Set out lettuce leaves on a large platter and fill with quinoa salad. Serve.

Main photo: Spinach Salad With Strawberries and Feta. Credit: Copyright 2015 Brooke Jackson

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Bright Salmon-Pink Mexican Papaya Table Salsa. Credit: Copyright 2015 Nancy Zaslavsky

The jalapeño vs. the serrano: What exactly is the difference between the two most popular fresh chiles in the U.S. and Mexico?

Both are vibrant emerald green, with the larger jalapeño looking like a serrano on steroids. Jalapeños tend to be beefier, while serranos are more slender. Both have a torpedo shape that tapers to a point and curved green stems and smooth skins with no soft spots or wrinkles.

Bigger not always better when it comes to chiles

And as with almost all chiles, the rule of thumb applies: the larger the chile, the milder it is. In this case, the larger jalapeño is milder than the spicier serrano. But bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better. Sometimes bigger is just, well, bigger.

Jalapeños and serranos belong to the common Capsicum annuum family of peppers and can easily be found year round in most supermarket produce sections thanks to domestic and imported crops. Jalapeños (named after the city of Jalapa, Veracruz, Mexico, sometimes spelled Xalapeños after the local spelling of Xalapa) measure about 4 inches long and an inch wide at the stem end. Serranos (translates to “from the mountains” because they were first grown in the high-elevation mountains of Puebla, east of Mexico City) measure about 3 inches long and a half-inch wide at the stem end.

Their flavors are similar, and I find an excellent way to appreciate any subtle differences is to taste them when they turn bright red. That’s when they are at their peak of ripeness and when their spice intensity drops and they become slightly mellow, almost sweet. I always look for red-ripe chiles in late summer at farmers markets.

Make salsas to compare jalapeños and serranos

A favorite way to understand their differences is to make two simple table salsas (see recipes below). Choose either green or red for both chiles, and remove the seeds from both to control the unadorned (no onion, cilantro, etc.) heat.

When choosing between the two for a recipe, decide whether you’re looking for a lot of green flavor or more spice with less vegetable taste. For example, when I whirl up fresh fruit table salsas I choose serrano because I want the specific fruit flavor to be front and center but with plenty of backup chile heat. I choose green jalapeños for tomatillo salsas where a spicy chile with plenty of green bean vegetable flavor adds to the green sauce. Of course, they can be used interchangeably; add less serrano or more jalapeño and you’re all set.

After jalapeños and serranos ripen and turn red, they are dried and sometimes smoked. For size comparison, there are about 8 dried jalapeños per ounce or 11 dried serranos per ounce. A good rule of thumb is 10 pounds of fresh chiles weigh 1 pound when dried. The dried form of each chile has a different name: a dried, red jalapeño is a jalapeño seco and a dried, red serrano is simply called a chile seco.

Fiery hot, the small, 1½-inch chile seco has a slight citrus flavor and is usually found ground (sometimes called tipico and balin) and added to cooked sauces for heat.

A dried and smoked red jalapeño is a chile chipotle. Other dried and smoked chipotles are called morita and meco. The morita is a dark red, almost black, shiny, smoky, leathery chile that can vary in length from an inch to 4 inches. Many smaller moritas are canned in adobo (a chile-tomato sauce) and called chiles chipotles en adobo. The easy-to-use chiles are readily available in 7- to 8-ounce cans. After removing a few for a recipe, you can freeze the rest. The usually larger meco is smoked at least twice as long and turns medium brown with the look of an old, fuzzy brown tobacco leaf. Aficionados relish its spicy, super-smoky qualities.

The prized red-ripe, fresh jalapeño called huachinango (the same name as the famous Gulf red snapper fish because its stripes simulate the fish scale pattern) comes from central Mexico, mostly around Puebla and Veracruz. Usually found during the hottest summer months, it is easy to identify the coveted, 4- to 5-inch beauty, which has thin white lines running vertically on its skin. When dried and smoked, the thick-skinned delicacy becomes an extra-large, expensive chipotle meco grande with a subtle chocolate aroma.

Mail-order sources

Melissas.com: Melissa’s sells fresh and dried chiles. 5325 Soto St., Vernon, CA 90058. (800) 588-0151. Hours: 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays to Fridays

Spices.com: Spices Inc. is a mail-order company that sells dried chiles. (888) 762-8642

Simple Green Chile Table Salsa Taste Test

If you have sensitive skin, wear gloves while preparing these salsas. Choose either all green or all red chiles for both jalapeños and serranos.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Total time: 10 minutes

Yield: Makes 1/3 cup of each salsa.

Ingredients

2 ounces (1 or 2) fresh jalapeño chiles, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped

2 ounces (3 or 4) fresh serrano chiles, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped

Corn chips or warmed corn tortillas

Directions

1. Put the jalapeño chiles in a blender jar. Measure in 2 tablespoons water. Purée on high 20 seconds until foamy. Pour into a serving bowl.

2. Rinse the blender jar.

3. Put the serrano chiles in the blender. Measure in 2 tablespoons water. Purée on high 20 seconds until foamy. Pour into another serving bowl.

4. Taste with corn chips or warm corn tortillas.

Bright Salmon-Pink Mexican Papaya Table Salsa

If you have sensitive skin, wear gloves while preparing this salsa.

Prep time: 20 minutes

Total time: 20 minutes

Yield: Makes about 2 cups.

Ingredients

1 very ripe Mexican papaya, about 12 inches long and 6 inches in diameter

2 Mexican (aka Key) limes, juiced (about 3 tablespoons)

1 medium (3 inches) white onion, coarsely chopped

2 teaspoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon sea or kosher salt

2 serrano chiles

1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves

Directions

1. Cut the papaya in half vertically. Scoop out the black seeds from one of the halves. Peel it and chop it, measuring out 3 cups chopped fruit. Put it into a blender or processor. (Wrap the remaining fruit in plastic and save for another use, such as smoothies or slices with a squirt of lime.)

2. Pour the lime juice on the papaya. Blend 5 seconds.

3. Add the onion, sugar and salt and whirl again 5 seconds. Pour the slightly chunky mixture into a serving bowl.

4. Stem and mince one of the 2 chiles and stir it (with seeds) into the papaya along with the cilantro. Taste. If you want a spicier salsa, stir in more of the remaining minced chile. Adjust salt or lime juice if necessary.

Notes: Don’t process the salmon-colored papaya, green chiles and cilantro together all at once or they will turn into an off-putting brownish mash (although the taste will still be great).

Save the papaya’s black seeds. Rinse and then dry them on a baking sheet in a low oven (200 F) for about an hour. Cool completely. The spicy seeds can be ground like peppercorns.

Main photo: Bright Salmon-Pink Mexican Papaya Table Salsa. Credit: Copyright Nancy Zaslavsky

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Buy the freshest cauliflower you can find for Cauliflower à la Greque. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rosemary Barron

Although cauliflowers are sold in our supermarkets all year round, this beautiful member of the wild cabbage family (Brassica oleracea) is at its bright and healthy best in early spring. Cauliflowers harvested at that time have had the benefit of a longer growing season (about 80 days, instead of 50 days for their summer-grown counterparts), allowing their valuable nutrients more time to develop.

The cauliflower, whose name derives from the Latin caulis (stem) and floris (flower) is actually a cabbage bred for its flowers. The edible part of the plant, the head of tender stems and flower buds, is known as a curd. Similarly to broccoli and calabrese (close relatives), the cauliflower stores nutrients for the developing flowers at the base of the buds, so a fresh, crisp curd is packed full of vitamins and minerals. Its Latin botanical name, Brassica oleracea var. botrytis (meaning cluster, or grapelike), is an apt description of this remarkably clever vegetable, which grows with a protective layer of leaves curled around its head.

Hats off to the French, though, for giving cauliflower (chou-fleur, or cabbage-flower,) a prettier, and horticulturally more correct name, than the rather pedestrian Anglo-Saxon “flower on a stalk.”

Mysterious origins

There is disagreement over the origin of the cauliflower. Some say it was developed by 11th century Arab gardeners, or by Romans a thousand years earlier. But the wild cabbage grew throughout the ancient eastern Mediterranean and, with its tendency to produce “freaks,” prototypes of the cauliflower probably originated spontaneously in different places. Curious gardeners have since, through seed selection, improved nature’s work and we are now reaping the benefits.

Medieval Italian kitchens and, later, those of Louis XIV of France, served stylish and elegant cauliflower dishes. Catherine de Medici is said to have appreciated the lovely vegetable, and to have introduced it to France to help alleviate arthritis. But its earlier French name, chou de Chypre, suggests it arrived from Cyprus and Cypriots are, understandably, happy to claim its origin. For the past 200 years, the cauliflower has been a popular winter vegetable in northern Europe, but without its former prestige in serious kitchens. Until now.

Hardly humble

With cauliflowers piled high in our markets, this inexpensive and highly nutritious brassica is at last losing its humble status and taking its rightful place on our tables. A reputation for being bland and soggy is the fault of the cook, not of the cauliflower. Its very gentleness is the perfect foil to many fine flavors, and it takes only a few minutes to cook.

“Organic” and “local” have real meaning when selecting cauliflowers: snails, aphids and caterpillars love them, so pesticides are often used and, once harvested, their nutrients and flavor dissipate quickly. Most cauliflowers are attractively creamy-white, but we also have wonderfully colorful varieties. Buy cauliflowers that smell and look fresh, with deep-green, outer leaves and tight heads; avoid brown-spotted white ones, or dull-looking purple, yellow or green heads. Size doesn’t affect flavor, but age does: older cauliflowers taste and smell stronger.

Richer in vitamins and minerals than any other brassica, cauliflowers are an excellent source of vitamin C, folic acid and potassium; a very good source of niacin, copper, manganese and vitamins A, K, B5 and B6; and a good source for protein, phosphorous, magnesium and vitamins B2 and B3. Raw, they are even better.

Avoid nutricide

Cauliflower cooks quickly: Keep florets whole or cut large ones in half and simmer in a little water or steam for five minutes. After this time, cauliflower loses 20% to 30% of its phytochemicals; after 10 minutes, 40% disappear. Where possible, cook in ways that don’t commit nutricide – in soups and stews, grilled or baked. In its wonderful ability to host spicy flavors, some of the best preparations for cauliflower can be found in the kitchens of the Indian subcontinent and the Mediterranean. With winter soon drawing to an end, it’s time to enjoy the vegetable that has spent the past three months developing the nutrients we need to take us into a healthy spring.

The cauliflower is actually a cabbage bred for its flowers.

Cauliflower cooks quickly: keep florets whole or cut large ones in half and simmer in a little water or steam for five minutes. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rosemary Barron

 Simple Greek ways to serve

  • Serve raw or lightly-steamed small florets with a dip of mashed anchovy, capers, herbs, and olive oil or with hummus, small radishes and young wild green leaves.
  • Mix thinly sliced cauliflower florets and fine-julienned carrots with olive oil, lemon juice, sea salt, lightly chopped flat-leaf parsley, and Greek oregano (rigani ).
  • Dip small florets in a light garbanzo-flour batter and gently fry the fritters in olive oil; serve with olive oil and lemon juice mayonnaise, olives, and lemon wedges.

Cauliflower à la Greque

À la Greque (French for “in the Greek style”) describes a method of cooking, one that presumably a French cook/traveler admired and added to his/her own kitchen repertoire. There are many versions of this popular dish, but most are a pale imitation of the original Greek creation. Buy the freshest cauliflower you can find and, for a lightly spiced dish, prepare two hours ahead; for a more mellow taste and texture, leave overnight in the marinade.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 12 minutes

Total time: 17 minutes

Yield: 8 for a meze serving, 4 as a vegetable dish

Ingredients

4 cups small cauliflower florets

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons dried coriander seeds

1 cup dry white wine

3 bay leaves

1/2 tablespoon aromatic honey such as Hymettus

1 tablespoon cracked black peppercorns

Coarse-grain sea salt to taste

For serving:

4 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped

1 tablespoon lemon zest, in very thin strips, optional

Lemon wedges

Directions

1. Trim most of the stem from the florets and cut an “x” in the base of each with a small sharp knife. Blanch 1 minute in boiling water, drain, and set aside.

2. Heat the olive oil in a large heavy saucepan over low heat. Add the coriander seeds and florets in a single layer and stir with a wooden spoon to coat with the olive oil. Add the wine, bay leaves, honey, pepper and salt. Bring just to a boil, cover, reduce the heat, and simmer 10 minutes or until tender.

3. Transfer the contents of the pan to a nonreactive bowl and set aside until cool. Cover the bowl and shake it gently to redistribute the marinade.

4. To serve, taste the marinade. If more salt is needed, combine with the parsley. Transfer the cauliflower to a shallow serving bowl and pour over most of the marinade (strain it first, if you prefer). Sprinkle with parsley and lemon zest and serve with the lemon wedges.

Main photo: Buy the freshest cauliflower you can find for Cauliflower à la Greque. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rosemary Barron

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Potato gratin stuffed with Swiss chard. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

Winter is about the only time of year that the description “rib-sticking” actually sounds appealing. We burn more calories in the winter as we are shoveling more snow, or, here in Southern California, as we complain about how it’s freezing when the temperature drops to 60 F. Winter is when our stew or roast recipes come out and when we love to cook with bacon, cheese, and cream. Let’s not forget that there are great winter vegetables and the way to cook them is not the way we want to do in the summer.

I love winter vegetables, including all the root vegetables as well as leafy greens like Swiss chard, spinach, collard, kale, and many others. One dish I make often is inspired by the cooking of the Savoy in France. It is a potato gratin, but my twist is to form it into a kind of potato pie that is stuffed with rainbow Swiss chard. Rainbow Swiss chard is simply a bunch of multicolored Swiss chard stems bunch together for sale by the purveyor. You’re not using the stems in this recipe so you won’t actually see a lot of color other than green in the finished dish.

You’ll want to use baking potatoes, like russets, rather than boiling potatoes like Yukon gold, because you’ll want the potatoes to disintegrate slightly to form a kind of “crust.” This is a rich dish, so if you’re making it to accompany something I suggest something simple, like roast chicken or pan-seared chicken breast or even just a salad.

Potato Gratin Stuffed With Swiss Chard

This is a perfect winter vegetables dish made with thin slices of potato that form the bottom of a kind of pie filled with Swiss chard cooked with bacon and salt pork and then covered with another layer of sliced potatoes before being baked.

Potato gratin stuffed with Swiss chard. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

Potato gratin stuffed with Swiss chard. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

Yield: 6 side-dish servings

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: About 1 1/4 hours

Total time: About 1 1/2 hours

Ingredients

1 1/2 pound Swiss chard, leaves only, save stems for another purpose

1 ounce slab bacon, chopped

1/2 ounce salt pork, chopped

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

Salt to taste

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided

One 1-pound baking potato, peeled and cut into 1/8-inch thick slices

2 ounces Gruyère, comte, or vacherin cheese, sliced

1/2 cup heavy cream

Directions

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the Swiss chard leaves until soft, about 10 minutes. Drain well and chop. Set aside in a bowl.

2. Preheat to oven to 350 F.

3. In a large cast iron skillet, cook the bacon and salt pork over medium-low heat until beginning to get crispy, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until it is sizzling then remove all to the bowl with the Swiss chard and season with salt.

4. Add 2 tablespoons butter to the skillet and, once it melts, arrange half of the sliced potatoes, slightly overlapped in a spiral covering the entire bottom of the skillet. Salt lightly. Spoon the Swiss chard mixture on top of the potatoes, spreading it around to cover all the potatoes. Salt lightly. Arrange the remaining potatoes in an overlapped spiral covering the Swiss chard completely. Salt lightly. Arrange the cheese on top of the potatoes, dot with the remaining butter and pour the cream over everything.

5. Move the pan to the oven and bake until golden brown and bubbling, about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool 5 minutes then cut into wedges for serving.

Main photo: Potato Gratin Stuffed With Swiss Chard. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

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Pirjati Zelje (braised cabbage). Credit: Clifford A. Wright

Cabbage is the Rodney Dangerfield of vegetables: It doesn’t get any respect. It gets a bad rap. Cabbage never gets mentioned as one of the hip vegetables like kale. It’s not a super-vegetable like broccoli rabe. It’s not an adorable vegetable like baby Brussels sprouts. It’s not a “cool” vegetable. It’s stodgy and old-fashioned. I mean, they make sauerkraut from it.

All those cooler vegetables just mentioned, though, owe their existence to cabbage. The big green head we associate with cabbage today was not always what cabbage was. Today there are hundreds of varieties of cabbage that have developed from the progenitor cabbage, called the wild cabbage, including the many forms of cabbage and further horticultural developments such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoliflower, broccoli rabe and kohlrabi.

Botanists divide the cabbage into five groups. It is the head cabbage, green, red, crinkly-leafed or Savoy cabbage, that I’m speaking of. But there are some 400 varieties of head cabbage.

The cabbage is probably native to the Mediterranean, but in Roman times the head cabbage we think of as cabbage today did not exist. The Romans had only leafy cabbage, probably kale. There are some obscure references by Roman naturalists Pliny and Columella to what has been taken by some to be head cabbage. These descriptions refer to heads of the plant being a foot in diameter, but it is not at all clear whether this refers to a compact headed cabbage that we know today or is simply an expression referring to the above ground portion of the plant.

The wealthy citizens of Rome, in the period after Cato the Elder (mid-second century BC), thought of cabbage as poor people’s food as we know from the description in Juvenal’s satire when he described the difference between the food that the patron ate, namely olives to garnish an excellent fish, and the food of the client, who finds cabbage in his “nauseous dish.”

It seems that the head cabbage we know today was developed in Germany in the 12th century. Soon it would be the single most common plant in the medieval garden.

Cabbage rolls. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

Cabbage rolls. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

It’s not a popular vegetable today, but it is a vegetable that does draw the curious cook. The most obviously intriguing thing to do with cabbage is to separate the leaves and then stuff them by rolling them up. There are many great preparations for cabbage from sauerkraut, to kimchi, to coleslaw, and every culture has a recipe for stuffed cabbage. Here are two recipes for cabbage lovers from cabbage-loving Slovenia and Croatia, next door to Italy.

Braised Cabbage

Cabbage is a very popular vegetable in the Balkans, served raw, in the form of sauerkraut and cooked in a variety of ways. In the northern part of the former Yugoslavia, today’s Slovenia and parts of Croatia, cabbage may be cooked with sour cream or tossed with noodles and smoked bacon. In Bosnia or Montenegro, it might be cooked with tomatoes. This recipe from Slovenia is typically served as a bed for a roast duckling.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cooking time: 55 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 bay leaves

2 tablespoons tomato paste mixed with 2 tablespoons water

1 cup dry white wine

One 2-pound green cabbage, cored and sliced as thin as vermicelli

15 peppercorns

8 juniper berries, lightly crushed

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat, then add the bay leaves and cook until they begin to sizzle. Reduce the heat to medium and very carefully add the tomato paste and wine, which will spurt and splatter rather dramatically.

2. Continue cooking for a minute then add the cabbage, peppercorns, juniper berries and thyme. Mix so the cabbage is covered with sauce.

3. Add the lemon juice and continue to braise over medium heat until the cabbage softens, 6 to 8 minutes.

4. Reduce the heat to low, season with salt and pepper, and cook until the cabbage is completely soft, about 45 minutes. Correct the seasoning and serve hot.

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

These cabbage rolls are a winter specialty known as arambašici in their home of Sinj, a town near the Dinaric Alps on the Dalmatian coast of Croatia. Traditionally, this casserole of stuffed cabbage leaves is made from a whole head of cabbage that has been prepared as sauerkraut. Each sauerkraut leaf, or as in this recipe cabbage leaf, is stuffed with beef, pork and bacon, and flavored with lemon zest, onion, garlic, cloves and cinnamon. Each roll-up is separated from the other with pieces of pršut (Croatian prosciutto) and smoked tongue.

Arambašici can be made with fresh cabbage leaves or grape leaves, too. My recipe uses fresh cabbage, which is the easiest to find and is what a cook from Sinj would use in the summer. Many cooks also like to make the casserole in the evening and then reheat it the next day, and you should consider doing that as it is delicious.

The casserole cooks a long time so the meats are very tender and the cabbage leaves become silky. The smoked bacon, smoked pork, smoked tongue and prosciutto can all be picked up at the deli counter of most supermarkets.

Prep time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: 4 hours

Yield: 20 to 26 rolls, or about 6 servings

Ingredients

1 large green cabbage (about 2 3/4 pounds), central core removed

1 1/4 pounds boneless beef neck meat or beef chuck, finely chopped

5 ounces smoked bacon (preferably) or lean slab bacon, finely chopped

2 ounces beef fat (suet), finely chopped

6 ounces boneless pork shoulder or neck meat, finely chopped

2 large onions, chopped

3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped

Grated zest from 1 lemon

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon unsalted butter or beef fat for greasing

One 4-inch-long beef marrow bone (optional)

1 ounce smoked pork (any cut), finely chopped

2 ounces prosciutto, thinly sliced into strips

2 ounces smoked tongue (optional), thinly sliced into strips

1 cup water and more as needed

Directions

1. Heat the oven to 300 F.

2. Remove and discard any of the outermost leaves of the cabbage that are blemished. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil, salt and plunge the whole cabbage in and cook until the leaves can be peeled away without ripping, about 10 minutes. Drain well and, when cool enough to handle, separate the leaves carefully, setting them aside.

3. In a large bowl, mix together the beef, bacon, suet and pork. Add the onions, garlic, lemon zest, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, salt and pepper and mix well with your hands.

4. Arrange a cabbage leaf in front of you with the stem end closest to you. Place 2, 3 or 4 tablespoons (depending on the size of the leaf) of filling on the end closest to you, then roll away once, fold in the sides and continue rolling away until you get a nice, neat package.

5. Continue with the remaining cabbage leaves. Arrange the cabbage rolls side by side, seam side down, in a lightly greased 13- x 9- x 2-inch casserole (you may need to use two casseroles), making sure you leave some room for the beef marrow bone. Sprinkle the chopped smoked pork over the cabbage rolls.

6. Place the prosciutto and smoked tongue slices (if using) between the cabbage rolls. Pour the water over the cabbage rolls and cover with aluminum foil. (The casserole can be refrigerated at this point to bake later.)

7. Bake until the cabbage rolls are very soft, slightly blackened on top and bubbling vigorously, about 4 hours.

8. Serve hot or let cool to room temperature and serve as an appetizer the next day.

Main photo: Pirjati Zelje (braised cabbage). Credit: Clifford A. Wright

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Hoppin’ John. Credit: Brooke Jackson

The New Year’s holiday is a time of closure and new beginnings. Resolutions are a common rite of New Year’s Eve, with people making goals for the coming year and raising a glass to the old one. A dinner of foods representing good fortune then completes the tradition in many cultures.

Around the world, foods are eaten on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day that are auspicious and thought to bring prosperity for the coming year. The ingredients are often chosen for their resemblance to money: coin-shaped legumes and winter greens that look like bills, to name a couple.

In Europe and Asia, fatty, rich pork is considered a lucky food because a pig roots for food in a forward direction, charging into the future and obviously getting plenty to eat. In Italy, a traditional dish is cotechino con lenticchie — juicy pork sausages paired with lentils. The cotechino sausage is fatty and represents abundance, while the lentils’ roundness and green color bring to mind money.

In Asia, long noodles are slurped to guarantee long life, the caveat being that the noodle can’t break before being swallowed. In some cultures, people bake treasures or money into desserts and treats.

In England, a sixpence is steamed in the Christmas pudding; whoever gets the portion containing the coin will have a prosperous year. In Mexico, a traditional King Cake is baked with a small doll in the batter; the lucky diner who gets the doll in their piece of cake gets to be king for a day.

Many cultures celebrate the New Year by eating ring-shaped food such as bagels or doughnuts. The shape is thought to bring good luck by representing the year coming full circle.

In Spain and Portugal revelers eat 12 grapes at midnight, and the grapes must be consumed before the last stroke of the midnight bell. Each grape represents a month of the year, so if the fourth grape is extra-sweet, for example, this could mean April will be a terrific month.

U.S. traditions for ringing in new year are varied

In the United States, the melting pot of cultures adds many choices to New Year’s celebrations. Often decadent or expensive victuals such as caviar and Champagne are consumed, with the pricey roe of the sturgeon thought to bring prosperity.

Throughout the South, Hoppin’ John is served on New Year’s tables. Black-eyed peas with rice are thought to bring luck because the peas are round like coins and the rice grains swell — like your wallet, not your waistline — when cooked. Often served with a mess of greens meant to emulate dollar bills, this is good old-fashioned down-home fare.

The recipe for Hoppin’ John included below has some peppers and spice for heat, but you can temper that by using less jalapeño. I like the pre-soaked black-eyed peas and steamed black-eyed peas from Melissa’s produce company, which can be found this time of year in the produce section of grocery stores. If you can’t find either of these, use canned black-eyed peas and rinse them.

The menu is rounded out by a salad of spicy greens, like dollar bills, with pomegranate seeds for abundance, satsumas for luck and grapefruit for flavor. The dressing is made with fig vinegar, whose plentiful seeds must surely mean prosperity. If you can’t find a ready-made version, I’ve included an easy recipe adapted from “Fig Heaven” by cookbook author Marie Simmons.

After this dinner, good fortune will surely be smiling down on you. Wishing everyone a New Year full of health, good fortune and peace.

Hoppin’ John

Some of the ingredients for Hoppin' John. Credit: Brooke Jackson

Some of the ingredients for Hoppin’ John. Credit: Brooke Jackson

Southern-style cornbread, with buttermilk and just a little sweetness, is a natural choice to eat with Hoppin’ John.

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 1 hour

Total time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

3 ribs celery, chopped

2 medium red bell peppers, diced

1 jalapeño pepper, minced (or more or less to taste)

3 cloves garlic, minced

2  (11 -ounce) packages fresh black-eyed peas or steamed black-eyed peas (Melissa’s, for example) or 2 (15-ounce) cans black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed

1 meaty ham hock or ham bone

1 bay leaf

1 can diced tomatoes with green chiles, undrained

2 teaspoons Cajun or Creole seasoning

1 teaspoon fresh thyme

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup water, or as needed

For serving:

2 cups hot, cooked long grain rice

4 green onions, green and white parts, thinly sliced

Directions

1. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Add the onion, celery, bell peppers and jalapeño and sauté until the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes.

2. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant.

3. Add the rest of the ingredients and enough water to make the mixture soupy.

4. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to low; cover and simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally, until the flavors are combined.

5. Check liquid level periodically and add more water if the peas are getting too dry.

6. Remove the ham hock and cut off the meat. Dice the meat and add it back to the pot.

7. Serve over white rice with a shower of green onion on top.

Citrus Salad With Fig Vinaigrette

Citrus Salad With Fig Vinaigrette. Credit: Brooke Jackson

Citrus Salad With Fig Vinaigrette. Credit: Brooke Jackson

Prep time: 20 minutes

Total time: 20 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

For the dressing:

1 tablespoon fig vinegar (see note and recipe below)

3 tablespoons walnut oil

Salt and pepper to taste

For the salad:

2 packed cups baby spinach leaves

2 packed cup arugula

2 satsuma tangerines, peeled and sectioned

1 large ruby red grapefruit, peeled and sectioned. Remove as much white pith as possible

1/4 cup pomegranate seeds

Black pepper

Directions

1. Make the dressing by putting the vinegar in a small bowl and gradually drizzling in the walnut oil, whisking constantly, until an emulsion forms. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

2. Place spinach and arugula in a medium salad bowl and toss with enough dressing to just coat the leaves.

3. Distribute salad among six plates.

4. Divide the satsuma and grapefruit sections among the salad plates and then evenly then sprinkle each salad with the pomegranate seeds.

5. Drizzle a bit more dressing over each plate and finish with a few grinds of fresh black pepper. Serve immediately.

Note: If you don’t want to make the fig vinegar, you can substitute fig balsamic vinegar or a good-quality aged balsamic vinegar.

Fig Vinegar

This recipe is adapted from “Fig Heaven” by Marie Simmons. It is a wonderful gift to share with friends.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 5 minutes

Rest time: About 24 hours

Total time: About a day, but only 20 minutes active.

Yield: About 2 cups

Ingredients

3 cups red wine vinegar

6 ounces dried Calimyrna or Black Mission figs, stems trimmed and cut up (about 1 cup packed)

1/4 cup sugar

1 cinnamon stick

Directions

1. Combine the vinegar, figs, sugar and cinnamon stick in a medium saucepan and heat to a boil.

2. Reduce the heat to low and cook, covered, for 5 minutes.

3. Let stand 24 hours. Strain the vinegar, pressing down on the figs to extract their flavor.

4. Reserve half the figs; discard the remaining figs and the cinnamon stick.

5. Purée the vinegar and the reserved figs in a food processor. Line a strainer with a doubled layer of dampened cheesecloth and set it over a bowl.

6. Pour the puréed vinegar mixture into the cheesecloth-lined strainer and press down on the solids. Let drain for 30 minutes.

7. Transfer the strained vinegar to a jar and store in a cool, dark place or in the refrigerator.

Main image: Hoppin’ John. Credit: Brooke Jackson

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Namasu. Credit: Sonoko Sakai

New Year’s is the most important holiday in Japan, and the centerpiece of the annual celebration is what the Japanese consider to be lucky foods.

For New Year’s, I want to cook up a storm of good-luck foods that bring forward movement, prosperity, health and longevity.

The actual preparation of these celebratory foods begins two or three days before the end of the year to allow time for everything to be ready for New Year’s Eve, because the holiday is, according to tradition, a time for rest in Japan. Along with cooking, people in Japan also tidy up their homes — a major “spring cleaning” is undertaken at the end of the year so you don’t carry forward the dust of the past year.

The good-luck foods are meant to last throughout the week of New Year’s, so they include braised vegetables and vinegary dishes that keep well and can be reheated or served at room temperature to feed a lot of people.

These good-luck foods are traditionally served in a Jubako, the special three-tier lacquer boxes brought out from storage once a year for this special occasion.

Each box contains something different. The top box has the most eye-catching and colorful good-luck food, such as a salmon wrapped in kombu seaweed, grilled Tai snapper or a bright red lobster that connotes wholeness. The second tier usually has the best edibles — caramelized sardines and egg rolls for fertility; sweetened black beans for hard work and longevity; and pickled lotus with its multiple holes to help you to see things clearly. In the third tier are root vegetables, which connote balance and stability.

So many possibilities exist for the Jubako boxes. Another favorite is Ozoni, a soup served with sticky mochi (a rice cake), which is supposed to give you endurance. Growing up, I had to eat everything — even the whole baby sardines, from head to tail — all for the sake of superstition.

The New Year’s ceremony itself is simple but somewhat austere, at least in my family. We dress up, sit around the table and have a sip or two of Otoso — a syrupy sweet sake infused with Japanese pepper, cinnamon, ginger and rhubarb among other medicinal herbs. Then we bow our heads and thank our family members, share the food in the Jubako and have a sip of sake. We do the same ritual over and over for three days, with a break to visit our ancestor’s grave.

Homemade good-luck foods such as Namasu worth the effort

The sad truth is that the tradition of cooking these dishes is slowly dying. Instead, many Japanese people opt to buy ready-made good-luck foods packed in disposable fake lacquer boxes, even though they don’t come cheap — some have price tags as high as $300 to $500.

I find these store-bought New Year’s foods horribly unsatisfying. As a home cook, I encourage people to make these traditional foods at home the way their grandparents or parents used to, even if they make just one good-luck food each year.

One of my favorite good-luck foods — and one that’s simple to prepare at home — is Namasu, a salad made with carrot and daikon radish. I enjoy this dish so much I make it year-round. You can serve it alongside grilled fish or barbecue meats and roasts. It’s very refreshing.

namasu1

namasu1
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Start julienning by making larger slices that you can cut into matchstick-sized pieces. Credit: Sonoko Sakai

Daikon Radish and Carrot Namasu

When making Namasu, make sure to use reddish and white root vegetables. Red is the symbol of good luck and corresponds with fire and connotes forward movement and joy. In Japan, we even use the word for red to refer to newborns.

Carrot is the perfect red for this dish. Julienned, it can look like the good-luck mizuhiki cords used in Japan to tie around plants to bring good luck. The color white is the symbol of purity. Daikon radish is white and delicious. Combined with the carrot, daikon makes for a great contrast in crunch and flavor.

I like to add some heat to the salad with red pepper and then add some lemon or yuzu rind for fragrance. Dried fruits such as persimmon, apricot and pear add sweetness as a garnish, and roasted sesame seeds give the salad an additional crunch and flavor. This salad will keep well in the fridge for 3 or 4 days.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Total time: 15 minutes

Yield: 8 servings

Ingredients

For the salad:

1 medium-sized daikon radish (about 1 pound)

1 medium-sized carrot

2 teaspoons salt

For the vinegar dressing:

1/2 cup rice vinegar

2 1/2 tablespoons cane sugar

1 dried red pepper, seeded and chopped

For the garnish:

1 teaspoon roasted sesame seeds

1 teaspoon lemon peel, julienned

1/2 cup dried persimmon, pear or apricot, julienned (optional)

Directions

1. Peel the daikon radish and carrot and slice into julienne pieces about 2 1/2 inches long and 1/8-inch thick.

2. In a large bowl, rub the salt into the carrot and daikon radish slices until they become tender. Do a gentle massage until the excess water comes out of the vegetables. Discard the water.

3. Combine the rice vinegar, cane sugar and dried red pepper and combine well to make the dressing.

4. Pour the dressing on the daikon and carrot and mix well. Let the vegetables marinate in the dressing for at least one hour.

5. Just before serving, garnish the salad with the sesame seeds and lemon peel and dried fruit, if desired.

Main image: Namasu. Credit: Sonoko Sakai

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