Spring into the Season’s First Veggies
By Emily E. Horton
Who doesn’t love springtime? It’s a chance to revive the gardens from the frozen winter grounds with new herbs and produce, to reap the benefits of the local farmers’ markets and to pay attention to the seasonal produce so your wallet does not feel the pain. In the springtime we are all conscious of what we eat because summer is just around the corner. We turn in the chili and the heavy soups for salads, steamed vegetables and grilled protein.
When it comes to pulling together pieces for a meal there are two things a cook, whether professional or not, can do: one, frequent the farmers’ markets and purchase the local produce. Farmers’ markets are typically open for business in April or May. Or, if there is need for further guidance, turn to Culinary Artistry by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page, which has a list by seasons of produce and proteins that can be very helpful in the kitchen.
To shed the layers of the winter, loading up on fruits, vegetables and lean protein is the way to go. For a casual weekend meal, start with something simple such as an appetizer that can be prepared in advance, Greek salsa. Casually move into a mixed green salad with arugula greens, strawberries, toasted almonds and a homemade vinaigrette. An optional topping to the salad is any type of protein, my favorite being a pan-seared chicken breast. If the salad is a first course, a great pairing for a second course is grilled halibut filet seasoned with salt and pepper, a side of sautéed snow peas with feta and pecans, and some perfectly seasoned couscous.
This is a fairly quick meal some components of which can be prepared in advance. Notably, almost everything on the menu is a seasonal item and can most likely be found at a local farmer’s market.
Chop one 16-ounce can of large olives. Chop one 3.5-ounce bag of sun dried tomatoes, or start with a packaged julienne sun dried tomatoes that will be easy to work with. Chop green onions, approximately three to four stalks. Mince a handful of dill, remembering that fresh works best and has the best flavor. Crumble feta cheese; pre crumbled is available. Drizzle olive oil and add in salt and pepper. Mix completely until all flavors are combined and set aside.
Mixed Green Salad (serves 4)
Clean four handfuls of arugula greens. Clean and quarter strawberries, approximately four whole strawberries per person. Toast a handful of almonds. Crumble eight ounces of feta cheese. Whisk together a spoonful of Dijon mustard, approximately four tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, slowly add approximately six tablespoons of canola oil while whisking.
To serve, dress the greens. Add strawberries, almonds and feta cheese to the bowl.
Bring one cup of water to a boil and add one cup of couscous, drizzle about one tablespoon of olive oil and sprinkle in black pepper and salt. Stir couscous in, cover and set aside.
Sautéed Snow Peas with Feta Cheese and Pecans
Cut ends off snow peas. Mince approximately three garlic cloves and pour approximately four tablespoons of olive oil into a sauté pan on medium heat. Add snow peas to sauté pan and cook until bright green. Add pecans and cook covered for about 10 or 15 minutes. Mix in crumbled feta in the sauté pan and transfer to serving bowl. Can serve this warm or at room temperature.
Grilled Halibut Filet
Season both sides of skinless halibut filet with salt and pepper. Grease the grill as well as the filets. Place the filets on the grill surface. Cook the filet through, marking each side with grill diamonds.
The Greek salsa can be served with homemade pita chips or any kind of desirable cracker. The salad can be served with any dressing, but in my kitchen no salad is complete without my homemade vinaigrette. Any spice can be incorporated into the couscous, however, keep it consistent with the flavors of the rest of the meal. If inspiration or guidance is needed, turn to the trusty chef’s assistant, the book Culinary Artistry.
So enjoy the meal, stay seasonal and eat local!
Emily Horton is studying to become a chef at L’Academie de Cuisine in Gaithersburg. She can be reached at email@example.com.