May 6, 2015

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I wrote the following column two weeks ago, just before my computer went kerflooey. In the interim, the Japanese cherry blossoms bloomed and died and the asparagus patch began producing. I’m glad Mother Nature is more reliable than my computer.

Dear friends,

The violets bloomed on my lawn last week and our first cherry blossoms unfurled. Asparagus can’t be far behind. I check my patch on daily walks with my dog, but no spears have broken through the soil yet. Still, it’s full-fledged spring. I don’t care if the temperature dips to freezing this weekend, I’m declaring spring.

I’ve been eating asparagus for a couple of weeks already, rushing the season a bit after denying myself all winter as a matter of principle.  Some foods just taste better in season.

What I’m looking forward to: salmon and chive cheesecake, violets scattered in field-lettuce salads, sugar snap peas eaten right from the vines, morel mushrooms sautéed in butter,  and rhubarb compote over my morning yogurt.

But first, on one evening soon, I will make a voluptuous meal of seared salmon with  tart-sweet rhubarb marmalade. Imagine the bright, jam-like rhubarb draped over the pink fish. I will eat it alone, savoring every bite.

Tony will still be at work, so I won’t have to hear why salmon tastes better raw, and why rhubarb shouldn’t be eaten for any reason. This wonderful dinner will be just for me. Well, me and the dog.

•    1/4 cup water
•    1/4 cup sugar
•    1 tsp. grated peeled ginger
•    1/4 tsp. ground allspice
•    1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped
•    1 lb. rhubarb, stalks only, cut into 1-inch pieces
•    Salt, freshly ground pepper
•    1 tbsp. canola oil
•    4 6-oz. salmon fillets with skin
•    4 oz. pea shoots or watercress

In a saucepan, combine the water, sugar, ginger, allspice and vanilla bean and seeds. Add the rhubarb; bring to a boil. Cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is jam-like, about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Discard the vanilla bean.

In a nonstick skillet, heat the oil over moderately high heat. Season the salmon with salt and pepper. Cook, turning once, until lightly browned, 8 minutes. Spoon the sauce onto plates, top with the salmon and pea shoots and serve.

From the July, 2002 edition of Food & Wine magazine.


From Maryann Aguilar, Stow:
I read your newsletter about the Panera broth bowls with great interest since we had just tried them. Both my husband and I liked them, which is unusual in that we rarely like the same kinds of soups.

One of your comments, however, really alarmed me. You said you thought the basis of the soup was beef broth. Since I’m allergic to beef and pork, I’m always inquiring at restaurants as to the ingredients of seemingly innocent dishes. I didn’t think to ask about the broth bowl with chicken that we tried. I didn’t remember having a reaction after eating the soup, but sometimes it’s only a mild reaction that I might barely notice.

Not to worry, though. When I went to Panera this past week, I checked with them, and was told that the broth was entirely a vegetable broth, and if it’s ordered without the chicken it qualifies as vegan.

Dear Maryann: Well, I’m stunned. I would never have guessed it’s vegetable broth. Thanks for the note.

From Sherrie Weitzenhof, Bath:
Several columns ago you suggested buying whole spices and then grinding them as needed.  What type of spice grinder do you suggest?  I bought a VA ECID SILVER Hard Top 4 piece grinder – 2.5″ through Amazon, . When I used it with coriander seed, it didn’t grind the seeds into smaller pieces as I wanted. Am I doing something wrong or should I get something else?  If so, what should I get?

Dear Sherrie: I’m not familiar with the grinder you bought, and the description on Amazon was confusing with its talk of pollen collectors and interchangeable disks. I use a simple, inexpensive Krups burr-type coffee grinder for seeds, leaves and such, and a tiny box grater for larger spices such as nutmeg.

From Betty, Carrollton, Ga.:
When we lived in Akron, I fell in love with a chickpea dish often served on the lunch buffets in both the Indian restaurants we visited from time to time. It was not a “saucy” dish, but the beans were well flavored and looked as though they might have had a good bit of turmeric. I can’t find anything similar in my cookbooks or online. My description may not be good enough to ring any bells, but thanks for trying.

Dear Betty: I found a recipe for a rather dry, highly spiced chickpea dish with turmeric in my old but much-loved copy of “The Bombay Palace Cookbook” by Stendahl (he goes by one name). The author says it is a Punjabi recipe from the town of Pindi. An Indian spice mixture he calls “chana masala” is recommended, although you may use the more common garam masala, Stendahl says.

•    1/2 lb. (about 1 cup) dried chickpeas or two
•    15-oz. cans chickpeas, drained)
•    1/2 packet chana masala or 1 rounded tbsp. garam masala
•    1/2 tsp. Ground coriander
•    1/2 tsp. ground cumin
•    1/2 tsp. paprika
•    1/2 tsp. turmeric
•    1/4 tsp. red chili powder
•    2 tomatoes, coarsely chopped
•    1 piece fresh ginger, size of a Brazil nut, minced
•    1/2 cup water
•    4 tbsp. butter, melted
•    Salt, pepper to taste
•    1/2 packet chana masala or 1 rounded tbsp. garam masala
•    2 tbsp. chopped cilantro
•    1 tsp. garam masala

If using dried beans, wash and then soak in hot water to cover for at least 2 hours. Drain. Bring to a boil in water to cover, with a bit of salt added. Boil for 3 minutes, removing any scum that rises to the surface. Cover and simmer until tender, about 40 minutes, adding more hot water if needed. Drain and transfer to a bowl. Set aside.

Blend together the ground spices and add to the chickpeas. St in the tomatoes and ginger. Heat a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chickpea mixture and the ½ cup water and simmer until liquid evaporates. Transfer to a serving bowl.

Pour melted butter over the chickpeas. Garnish with the half packet of chana masala or the garam masala, coriander leaves, and final 1 teaspoon of garam masala. Serve hot or at room temperature.
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