Kale and Mint Salad with Spicy Peanut Dressing

A haiku:

‘Tis salad season
What came in this week’s farm share?
Yes, lettuce again.

It is the time of year to have greens on the brain. My Golden Earthworm Organic Farm CSA started distributing its shares just three weeks ago, and I am already racing to keep up. I don’t to come across as complaining–this is some of the freshest, most nutritious food I can eat. And remember Crystal’s experiment? You might be interested in catching up with her here. Sounds like she might enjoy salad right now.

I used recipes from all different sources for my weeks’ inspiration. There was the Warm Orzo Salad with radishes and Dijon vinaigrette, from Good Housekeeping magazine, which I ate spooned over mixed greens. I cracked open Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food II to mix it up and make Red Romaine Salad with Sherry Vinegar and Garlic.
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Joy the Baker inspired me to use the baby kale in her Tuna, Kale, and Egg Salad recipe.
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A real highlight, these strawberries arrived in last week’s share. Eating them sliced over arugula with balsamic glaze drizzle was almost as good as dessert, and I didn’t even add the usual goat cheese!

One particular kale salad I made last week was special. It was a rock star salad; it rocked with flavor. Since kale is so hip, perhaps I should call it a pop star salad? If so, it would compare to those pop stars you think of and say, “he’s so famous, he can’t be any good,” and then you end up being impressed by his talent.

Once again, this salad has an Asian flair–the soy sauce, the spice, the peanut butter. It reminded me of the flavors I loved so much at a restaurant named Chin Chin, in Melbourne, Australia. It’s the kind of heat that makes your nose run a little, but you don’t feel like you’re dying.

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Kale and Mint Salad with Spicy Peanut Dressing
from Food52 user dymnyno

Salad*:
1 large bunch lacinato kale, chopped very small
1 Cup fresh mint, minced, or a combination of fresh mint and fresh cilantro
1 Cup walnuts, chopped

Dressing:
3 Tablespoons smooth peanut butter
3 Tablespoons warm water
3 Tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 Tablespoon pomegranate molasses
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon fresh garlic
, minced
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon dried red chili flakes

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*These quantities aren’t meant to be precise. I realize that a “large” bunch is very subjective–usually one of my pet peeves in recipes, so I should have given you a weight by ounces. But the idea is to vary the ratios based on your taste preferences and what you have at home. In my case, I had leftover cilantro, a herb that would sensibly fit in with this flavor profile.

DSC_8726Mint was one of the first plants to assert itself in my garden this spring. Some people consider them weeds, they take over so much. If you have to pull some up, try to use it in a salad before tossing the rest!

When you are prepping the salad, the step of mincing the kale makes such a big difference in the texture. Kale can be tough, and this method helps tenderize the leaves without pre-cooking them. I found that the most efficient way to mince the kale was to remove the stems, stack and leaves, roll them up, and slice, using the chiffonade method. See below.
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Toss the chopped kale, chopped herbs, and the walnuts together.
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DSC_8741To a blender or food processor, add the peanut butter, warm water, garlic, rice wine vinegar, pomegranate molasses, soy sauce, minced ginger, sesame oil and red chili flakes. Mix at high speed until everything is smooth. So easy.

Since every bunch of kale is a different size, and every salad is going to be a different size, pour just some of the dressing into the salad at first. Add more as you go until you feel it is adequately dressed, and save the rest for another salad.
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I see more rock star salads like this in my future. But the next batch of green lettuce I get? I think I’ll put some on a burger.
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Tuscan Soup

It has been two weeks since we returned from our vacation to Italy and France, and I haven’t yet recovered from withdrawal. I long to return to days of wandering through historic cities in the spring sunshine. The jet lag lasted about five days before dissipating, but these cravings have lingered.

Italy was a feast. My main impression of the food is that people love meat, based on the abundance of meats we tried and encountered. Cured meats and sausage and porchetta. Yes, there was some excellent pasta (mostly enjoyed in a meat sauce), one excellent roasted shrimp “secondi” and two times I ordered a market-fresh (but not necessarily stellar) Mediterranean fish. I should have sought out vegetables more often. In Florence, I enjoyed one outstanding, flavorful chickpea soup, where some of the chickpeas had been blended to create a thickened, creamy base. Sadly, it was served at a restaurant where there service was so poor that I left fuming–we were treated almost as if we were invisible. Later that week, I had a lentil soup as part of a no-nonsense, prixe-fixe lunch at a restaurant frequented by locals, and it was terribly bland and uninteresting–clearly reflecting its place as part of a “value” lunch.

I don’t want to sound unimpressed with the trip; we loved the vibe of Italy, and savored numerous inspiring dishes. Here’s a small sample of our photos. Hover your mouse over each picture and click to view full captions.


It was rather timely to come across this Tuscan vegetable-based soup recipe last week, on the website Blue Apron, a grocery subscription service. The less fortunate part was that I couldn’t find toscano (also known as lacinato) kale! Tuscan kale is darker green and flatter, without the curly edges, and I really wanted to use it. After trying four stores, I resigned myself to a fact I already knew, that toscano kale is woefully out of season here right now, so I shouldn’t be using it anyway! Regular kale it is.

I will admit that a big part of the recipe’s draw for me was the soft-boiled egg on top–I am such a sucker for a runny egg. Drool. On a side note, is there anything more disappointing in life than when you expect the egg yolk you are being served at a restaurant will be runny and it’s not?

I have made poached eggs many times (they don’t always turn out great) but for some reason, I never made soft-boiled an egg. What an epiphany! It’s a much less messy-and still healthy-way to enjoy the liquid yolk.
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Tuscan Ribollita Soup with Soft Boiled Egg
From Blue Apron
2-4 servings

Part 1 ingredients:
1 onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
salt and pepper to taste

Part 2 ingredients:
about 8 ounces kale (any type)
1 14.5 ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3.5 Cups vegetable broth

salt and pepper to taste

Part 3 ingredients:
2 slices sourdough bread
, or 1 large sourdough roll, cut into bite sized pieces
1/2 Cup parsley, coarsely chopped
1/2 Cup Parmesan cheese, grated
2 eggs (or more for additional servings)
salt and pepper to taste

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The reason I divided the ingredients into three parts is that you can use your time more efficiently by prepping the ingredients for each part while the previous set of ingredients are cooking. I did all my mise en place at first, which took quite some time, and then I was less occupied during the cooking stages. One could do dishes during those down times, of course.

Firstly, take your eggs out of the refrigerator to come to room temperature. Perhaps you are one of those lucky ones who has such fresh eggs you don’t need to refrigerate them in the first place? I envy you. Fill a small saucepan with some water and a pinch of salt and set aside for later.
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In a large pot, heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil on medium. Add the onion and garlic and cook 2 to 3 minutes, until softened. Add carrots and a little bit of salt and pepper. Cook the mixture for a few minutes, until the carrots have softened.
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Put the small saucepan over heat so it comes to a boil.

To your large pot, add all of the Part 2 ingredients (beans, diced tomatoes, kale, vegetable broth, and crushed red pepper flakes).

See why you need a large pot?

See why you need a large pot?


Season with salt and pepper. Increase the heat to bring the soup to a boil, and then reduce the heat to medium and simmer 6 to 8 minutes, smelling and tasting to see if the flavors have come together enough for your liking.
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Add the bread cubes, half the parsley, and half of the Parmesan cheese to the soup and stir.
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If you feel there is not enough liquid, it is fine to add a little water (especially if you are using a rich vegetable stock). Let the soup cook, without stirring, for 5 to 7 minutes, or until thickened. Add even more salt and pepper to taste!
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While the soup is simmering, gently place the eggs in the saucepan of boiling water. Cook for exactly 5 minutes. Have a small bowl of cold water ready, and transfer the eggs into the bowl with a slotted spoon. Then run the eggs under more cold water for 30 seconds. Gently peel the eggs (be careful) and set aside.

Fill two bowls with soup and place one soft-boiled egg in each. Garnish with Parmesan cheese and parsley.
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That’s what I’m talking about!

Orange and Green, Two Ways

I’m getting nervous that my food is starting to look the same.

I was going to make my next post about pasta with cauliflower pesto. I’m putting it off because I’m afraid it will remind you of a recent post, one that happens to use the same pasta and has many of the same textures. You’d rather have some visual variety, right?

As you know, with my mostly seasonal, vegetable-based, waste-minimizing cooking, I find myself looking for recipes that use up ingredients I have on hand, ideally many at once. Through this pursuit of efficiency, I have come to learn about certain important combinations. The sweetness of dried fruits counteracts bitter greens. Earthy vegetables take well to sugar. If a vegetable has a lot of sweetness, particularly after roasting, it will benefit from a touch of acid, from vinegar, or perhaps can be enhanced by the tang of a tomato from my garden. And orange and green make a solid couple.

Sure, I could learn these lessons through broad culinary study. But it is the personal experiences that make the facts “stick.”

I prepared the below two recipes a few weeks apart, realizing their connection only afterwards. The broccoli bowl recipe is from a Smitten Kitchen blog post, and the kale dressed with roasted vegetables and tahini through a random search. Both authors suggest that sweet potato could be replaced with butternut squash, which is also in season. I’m sure the kale and broccoli could be interchanged. Whatever items you choose to pair, they will look together.

Roasted Sweet Potato and Chickpea Over Kale
From The Vegan Cookbook Aficionado adapted from Orangette

15-ounce can chickpeas (about 1 ½ cups, you can also attempt soaking and cooking from dried beans like me), drained and rinsed
2 lbs (about 3-4 medium) sweet potatoes cut into 1 ½-inch pieces
1 large garlic clove, smashed
3/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
2 tablespoons olive oil

Kosher salt and pepper, to taste
4 Cups kale, washed, stems removed and roughly chopped
1/4 of a medium red onion, finely chopped
1/4 Cup cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped

Sauce:
1 garlic clove
, finely minced with a pinch of salt
3 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 Tablespoons tahini
(be sure to stir well)
3-5 Tablespoons water
up to 1 tablespoon olive oil
1-2 teaspoons maple syrup

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Dry chickpeas slightly by blotting with a paper towel in a large bowl. Add cut sweet potato, garlic, allspice, cinnamon, cayenne, olive oil, salt and pepper. Toss until the sweet potato and chickpeas are evenly coated. Spread on a baking sheet, and bake for 15 to 25 minutes, mixing from time to time until the sweet potato has softened.

While the sweet potato is baking, combine the kale, onion and cilantro in a mixing bowl. Set aside.
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Make the tahini sauce. In a small bowl, whisk together the garlic and lemon juice. Add the tahini, and whisk to blend.
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Add the water and olive oil, whisk well, and taste for seasoning. The sauce should have plenty of nutty tahini flavor, but also a little kick of lemon.

Transfer roasted chickpea-sweet potato mixture to the mixing bowl with the kale. Let the mixture rest for a minute while the heat wilts the kale, and then toss gently to combine.
DSC_6226Add tahini sauce to taste, and toss carefully. If you are not serving the full recipe at once, you may want to keep the tahini sauce on the side.
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Miso Sweet Potato and Broccoli Bowl
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Grain and vegetable bowl:
1 cup dried rice* or another grain
1 to 2 large sweet potatoes (about 1.5 pounds)
1 large bundle broccoli (about 1 pound)
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
Coarse or kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

2 teaspoon sesame seeds, ideally a mix of black and white

Dressing:
1 Tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
1 small garlic clove, minced
2 Tablespoons miso**
2 Tablespoons tahini
1 Tablespoon honey
1/4 Cup rice vinegar
2 Tablespoons toasted sesame oil
2 Tablespoons olive oil


Adaptation notes:
*The heartier the grain, the better, in my opinion. I used the deliciously nutty Trader Joe’s brown rice medley, the one used in the hummus fritters recipe.

**The original recipe (like so many I keep finding) suggested white miso, but I only had the red kind on hand, so I used that, dang it. Incidentally, when I first bought the red miso it was for a broccoli recipe. Since then, I have learned that the general rule for miso is “the lighter the color, the more mild the flavor.” Well, go bold or go home, I say.

Heat oven to 400 degrees.
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While you prep, cook rice or grain according to package directions. Peel sweet potatoes and cut into 1-inch cubes. Cut broccoli into bite-sized florets.

Coat a rimmed baking sheet with olive oil. Layer sweet potatoes and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 20 minutes, until browning underneath. Flip and toss chunks around, then add broccoli.
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Season again with salt and pepper, and roast for another 10 to 20 minutes, until broccoli is lightly charred at edges and sweet potato is soft. Check periodically to see if you need to toss the vegetables more for even cooking.

Toast sesame seeds until fragrant, either on a stovetop skillet or in the oven (being careful not to burn).

Black sesame seeds would have made this much prettier!

Black sesame seeds would have made this much prettier!


While vegetables roast, prepare dressing: Combine everything in a blender and run until smooth, scraping down sides once.
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Taste and adjust seasonings. Deb suggests that the dressing should taste more salty than sweet for this dish.

Scoop some rice into bowls and top with the roasted sweet potatoes and broccoli. Coat with a little dressing and finish with toasted sesame seeds.
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Set extra dressing on the side to add as needed.
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