Spring

Before they disappear, run out and get those early season asparagus and fresh garlic bulbs and make this dish or the kitchen gods will be angry. This is a very versatile soup – it can be eaten, hot, lukewarm and cold. Unlike 99.99% of asparagus soups served in restaurants especially those in Paris, this soup has no cream. But it does have a secret fatty ingredient.

1.5 pounds asparagus – chopped
Reserve tips of 3 asparagus and mince very finely
4 cloves fresh spring garlic – garlic greens are also good (for a nice switcheroo substitute baby or spring ginger which is just coming into season – about a 1/2 inch piece chopped)
1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1/4 cup sake or dry white wine like a sauvignon blanc
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
Couple of pinches of coriander powder

1. Heat stock for 2 minutes; add all the ingredients except the minced asparagus tips and coriander. Heat under medium heat (covered) for 10 minutes.

2. Pour contents in a blender (if you have a Vitamix there is no need to strain it, but you may want to strain it to remove any woody asparagus pulp if you have a regular blender) for 3 minutes until completely smooth.

3. Pour contents back in pot under low heat for 10 minutes, add coriander powder and adjust salt.

4. Serve in bowls and garnish with minced asparagus.

pastasalad.jpg Who doesn't love a good tangy pasta salad?  I have tried many, many recipes over the years and I have to say I like the idea of antipasto meets pasta salad.

Every bite is something different, I love that; crunchy cucumbers, salami, artichoke hearts, kalmata olives and especially the smoked mozzarella.  It's quite the yum factor.

This salad is best when made and dressed a day ahead so the flavors can marinate.  If you don't have the time to do that, adding a generous splash of red wine vinegar just before serving gives the salad the same bright, tangy flavor.

Make it now or for an upcoming picnic. You will love it.

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asparaguspeasaladWith each and every passing day we're just a little bit closer to spring. I know I can't wait to find delicate green vegetables at the market any time now. I just came back from a trip to San Francisco and as always, whenever I visit a city, I make sure to stop by the local farmers' market. I was so impressed to see that on the West coast they already have bright green asparagus, among many other spring vegetables. Asparagus is really the harbinger of spring. Just like those early crocuses, asparagus bursts out of the ground with an eagerness to embrace spring.

Here on the east coast, our spring vegetables haven't yet sprung, but we do have asparagus from California. I couldn't help myself when I found a bunch of beautiful pencil-thin asparagus at the supermarket just the other day. I was inspired by the many wonderful salads I had on my trip to create a recipe of my own that encapsulates the season of renewal.

Start the recipe by blanching the asparagus and snow peas. This step brings out their brighter green color and makes them more tender. I like to chop half the asparagus and slice half the snow peas for the salad. The remaining whole stalks and pea pods are perfect for garnishing. The lemon vinaigrette adds a sharp wintry note and features minced shallot, which has been mellowed from a soak in vinegar. This salad would make a great appetizer before a spring-themed dinner party.

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mizunasaladGrowing up "salad" meant a plate with iceberg lettuce, cucumber, carrot, and tomato slices, and bottled Catalina dressing.

Like TV's, salads have come a long way since then.

I remember in the 80's everyone started eating Caesar salad, and romaine bumped iceberg as the lettuce of choice. Then sometime in the '90s peppery salad leaves like arugula and radicchio were clandestinely added to salad plates. Back then people would disparagingly call them "the lettuce that bites you back." Ah, how things have changed.

Then came mesclun, and salad was never the same. Mesculn is a mix of tender, young salad leaves. Its name comes from the French mescla meaning "to mix." Mesclun varies depending on the source but may include arugula, mustard greens, oak leaf, radicchio, red beet greens, and sorrel.

The first time Jeff and I ate fresh mesclun from the farmers' market here in California we were taken aback:

"Wow! This salad has lots of flavor. You can really taste the greens," Jeff said.

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swisschard.jpgThe second coolest thing about Swiss chard is that it cooks so darn fast. (The first coolest thing being its amazing neon color—especially the Bright Lights and Rainbow varieties.) So I hate to spoil the party, but I’m going to. My recipe takes a bit longer than the standard sauté.

That’s because most recipes tell you to discard the chard stems and “use them for vegetable stock” or something else. (I know how many of you are busying yourselves making vegetable stock.) This is so you can then wilt the leaves like spinach and have a side dish in seconds. But if you have a few extra seconds (okay, minutes), you can simply slice up those stems and cook them until crisp-tender before adding the leaves to the pan. The stems add nice texture and make the side dish feel a little more substantial, too.

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