Dog Day Salad

It was 95 degrees when I arrived for tonight’s 7:00 CSA work shift. We checked members off on a list, restocked vegetables and loaded the unclaimed food into a car for transport to a local food pantry. As it happened, all four of us were nonprofit workers, so we talked shop–and sweat. By 8:30, we said our goodbyes and headed off in search of air conditioning, dinner and (at least in my case) a cold beer.

My tote contained my weekly share of red and yellow tomatoes, scallions and more of those delightful cucumbers. In the fridge at home I had some fresh dill and Greek yogurt left over from this past weekend’s Russian extravaganza.

Dog Day Salad

1 large cucumber, seeded and diced
2 large tomatoes, diced
3 Tbsp fresh dill
3-5 scallions, minced
2 ounces crumbled feta or farmers cheese
1/4 cup Greek yogurt
1 Tbsp creamy Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
Pinch of salt
Fresh-ground black pepper
Juice of 1 lemon

Crack open a cold beer. Toss the above ingredients together in a small mixing bowl, taking swigs of the beer as needed. If you’re not starving, chill this in the fridge for a bit. If it’s all you’re eating, you might want to toast some whole wheat flatbread, tear it up into bits and mix it right in.

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I found that this paired well with a Dogfish Head Raison D’Etre and Dog Day Afternoon, which is one of my all-time favorite movies. Make this salad or not; I don’t really care. But, if you’ve never seen Al Pacino in his prime, do yourself a favor.

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Pretty in Pink Borscht

Last week’s CSA share included a handful of beets. I knew they would keep until this week, when I had a hunch I’d be getting some more. Sure enough, Tuesday brought another bunch–along with some of the crispest cucumbers I’ve ever tasted.

That very day, NPR reported that this is the hottest summer on record in the U.S. Roasting the beets was out of the question.

But cold borscht was not. I boiled my beets and eggs while preparing my morning coffee and a garlic, beet greens and egg scramble that I ate with a sliced fresh tomato–the first of the season! With the hot work completed early in the day, dinner preparation would really just be a matter of assembly.

Cold Borscht (serves about four)

  • 2 bunches beets (greens reserved for a nice sauté)
  • 2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 large onion
  • 3 cloves
  • 2 whole allspice
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp coriander seed
  • ½ tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp pink peppercorns
  • 1 tsp green peppercorns
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (or more if you like a little heat)
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 tsp salt (and more to taste)
  • 2 Tbsp prepared horseradish (or to taste)

Clean the beets by soaking them in water and scraping off any lingering dirt. (I recommend using the edge of a teaspoon; three days and a few showers later, I am still trying to dig dirt our from underneath my thumbnail .) Trim the tops, bottoms and any rogue hairy stuff. Add these along with everything above except the horseradish to a large pot, cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until your beets give easily when pierced with a fork (somewhere between one and two hours). Remove beets and strain liquid into a bowl using a chinoise or other fine mesh sieve. Once beets have cooled, slip peels off with your hands. Add all but one of the beets, reserved liquid and horseradish to the work bowl of your food processor and purée until smooth. You may need to add more water to get the desired consistency. Pour mixture back into the bowl and refrigerate for at least a few hours. (A full day would be fine.)

  • ¼ cup crème fraiche, sour cream or plain yogurt
  • Black pepper
  • 1 cooked beet, diced
  • 4 hard-boiled eggs
  • 2 Tbsp minced dill plus more for garnish
  • 1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced

Whisk minced dill and crème fraiche, sour cream or plain yogurt into soup and season to taste with fresh-ground black pepper, salt and/or vinegar. Ladle soup into bowls, garnishing with halved eggs, beet and cucumber cubes and sprigs of dill.

It turned out that these were Chioggia beets, which were breathtakingly beautiful, though the dramatic stripes faded a bit during cooking and, ultimately, made for a borscht the color of Molly Ringwald’s prom dress at the end of Pretty in Pink. (Am I alone in having found that dress rather disappointing after all of the buildup?)

Still, it was damn tasty. I served it with a kale, sugar snap pea and pickled red onion salad and toasted pumpernickel bread topped with a crème fraiche spread and some killer smoked salmon that I’d picked up from Josephson’s Smokehouse in Astoria, Oregon. (Astoria is the town where Goonies was filmed, which makes for two ’80s movie references in a single blog post.)

An earthy rosé rounded out our feast, though I suppose that vodka would have been more traditional.


Mid-July CSA Salad

The tomatoes are here!  Tonight’s CSA share included basil, cucumbers, scallions and some truly glorious tomatoes.  I had a wedge of red cabbage left over from the five-spice kale and cabbage slaw I made for a Fourth of July Party.  And I has some feta–yet another great emergency protein source.

Mid-July CSA Salad

  1. Finely slice a quarter of a head of red cabbage and toss with a teaspoon of salt in a wooden bowl.  The salt will start to break down the cabbage, allowing it to wilt and more fully merge with the rest of your salad.  (Fun fact: sauerkraut is just cabbage, salt and, possibly, seasonings that have been left to ferment.)
  2. Peel a few cucumbers, slice them up in half and scrape out the guts, which will make your salad too watery.  Then dice them and add them to the bow. 
  3. Add a couple of diced tomatoes.  Some folks would have you de-seed these as well, but there was no way I was wasting any of that glorious tomato goodness.
  4. Add a few thinly sliced scallions and some basil chiffonade.  Chiffonade is fancy chef speak for thinly sliced.   I find the best technique is to stack the leaves (about 10 in this case), roll them into a spiral and then slice the whole stack.
  5. Crumble two or three ounces of feta and toss that in too.
  6. Drizzle with a tablespoon of good quality olive oil, a couple of tablespoons of red wine vinegar and some fresh-ground black pepper and toss it all together.

You could toss some toasted whole wheat pita bits or some quinoa in if you’re looking for something a little more filling.  If you are a patient person, you could let it sit for a bit so that the flavors meld.  Alternately, you just could pour a glass of Vinho Verde and get to work.

Eat Your Veggies

I’ve taken on a full CSA share this year. This is an ambitious quantity of vegetables, even for a serious vegetable lover. My goal is to keep some staples on hand that will allow me to convert pretty much anything into a quick weeknight meal. Whole wheat flatbread and ricotta cheese are on the list.

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Tonight I seasoned the ricotta with nutmeg. I used a vegetable peeler to shave thin slices of zucchini and marinated them in lemon juice, fresh basil and a fruity olive oil. I topped it off with a few sliced cherry tomatoes and some scallions that I halved and grilled in the same cast iron pan that I used to toast the flatbread. When making something this simple, it’s important to season each element.  I added salt and pepper as I went and then sprinkled a little fleur de sel over the top.

I ate this with some green leaf lettuce dressed with Greek yogurt, white wine vinegar, a minced garlic scape, pepper and a bit of honey. For dessert I polished off some strawberries that were definitely not going to keep through my long weekend in Sonoma. Then I turned a bag of leafy greens over to my appreciative neighbor and dragged out the suitcase.

Quick Springtime Lunch

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My local farmers market is really starting to pick up. Mindful of the excessive amount of kale still in my fridge, I limited myself to radishes, scallions, turnips, carrots and thyme. (More on those last three later.) Having hit the gym on the way home, I wanted a quick but virtuous lunch.

I started with half of a whole wheat flatbread. I am a big fan of these because they keep in the refrigerator pretty much forever and can be dolled up an infinite number of ways. I heated up my cast iron skillet and toasted the bread on both sides before applying a layer of ricotta cheese, which is a great source of quick protein that also keeps in the fridge. I added a layer of thinly sliced radishes. In a moment of inspiration, I decided to use the already-hot skillet to grill strips of scallion in a teaspoon or so of olive oil. Freshly ground pepper, fleur de sel and a light drizzle of truffle oil topped my springtime tartine.

It was fresh but lush, and it screamed out for a crisp white wine. Lo and behold, there was an open bottle of Gruner Veltliner on the top shelf of the refrigerator. OK, maybe lunch wasn’t all that virtuous.