Friday, April 17, 2009

Faboo Spring Spinach

Friday morning I volunteered to help harvest the season's first spinach at Growing Home, an urban farm initiative in Chicago's Englewood neighborhood. They currently sell their beautiful greens at Green City Market and to various chefs around town.

Spring spinach is bright, more tender and flavorful than winter spinach and well worth your time to search out. Here are some ideas on how to use it:

Salad - Tear pieces of tender spinach in a bowl with a chopped avocado, bacon, shaved red onion, and feel free to toss in goat cheese, blue cheese - your choice. A boiled egg is nice and if you like crunch, add toasted breadcrumbs or croutons. Mix 2 parts olive oil to one part red wine vinegar (or more to taste), a bit of Dijon mustard, salt and pepper in a jam jar and shake like crazy. Toss with salad.

Soup - throw ripped up handfuls of fresh spinach directly into your soup of choice - just heat through and eat. you're adding beautiful flavor, vitamins and iron without work.

Greek Odyssey
- Sauté ground lamb or ground dark meat chicken in a small amount of olive oil in a pan, add a touch of cumin and paprika, chopped garlic, salt and pepper - cook through. Throw meat in a lavash or soft pita with fresh spinach leaves, some chopped mint and parsley, red onion, feta and a hearty squeeze of lemon and more olive oil if needed. I also love the homemade parsley tahini sauce at Middle East Bakery in Andersonville - that would be a gorgeous addition.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Raw Beet Salad

I began experimenting with a lot of raw foods last summer, particularly different chopped salad variations. This is one of my favorites and it's a runaway hit at my barbecues. To me, a raw salad with some crunch, dressed with a bright vinegar and combined with a perfectly grilled or braised piece of meat is my idea of the perfect meal.

I am not an exacting cook in terms of measurements. I'm giving you the basics here and you can season to taste. It's good practice anyway, to have fun with your palate and with this combination there's plenty of room for play.

Raw Beet Salad

4 medium to large beets (buy local!) trimmed, peeled and grated. A box grater or Cuisinart works best.

heavy handful pitted, chopped, Kalamata olives

combination of chopped fresh herbs such as dill, basil, parsley, mint - dealer's choice

oil and vinegar to taste - OK, here's where it gets fun. I've done everything from blood orange infused oil, to a really grassy olive oil and walnut oil's a winner too.

For vinegars I like O's port vinegar the best or a well made red wine or sherry vinegar is perfectly super.

1 to 2 oz. of sheep Feta crumbled

salt and pepper to taste

optional - toasted walnuts, hazelnuts or pumpkin seeds

Toss it all together and I'd season the salad with the vinegars before adding the cheese. The fat from the cheese has got your back in case you over-vinegar.