Spring (Roll) Recipe: NOW, not January, is the time for eating seasonally.

Okay, maybe not now-now, as people here often say when they mean “at this very moment,” but spring is surely the time for taking up the practice of eating (at least some things) that are local and seasonal. Now’s the time to find a CSA (some of them even deliver, which can be so convenient) or plant an itty-bitty garden, if you can spare the space and effort. Even if all you’re able and willing to grow is a pot of herbs on a windowsill, by all means, do it. 

Do it for this recipe alone. You may be thinking that it is weird to eat a bunch of herbs all together, but once you taste the cilantro, basil, and mint in these rolls, you’ll see it’s not weird at all. The peanut dipping sauce is pretty much all-season; it’s equally good with spring rolls as with rice and cooked veggies and strips of grilled meat, chicken, or fish (and even with tofu, if you like tofu. I do, especially with peanut sauce.)

You know those fancy food blogs where the house is so perfect and there's no crumpled up napkins lying around, or, if they are, they're lying around artfully, somehow? This isn't one of those blogs.
You know those fancy food blogs where the house is so perfect and the table is so retro-fabulously beautiful and things are out of focus, but in a good way, and there’s no crumpled up napkins lying around, or, if they are, they’re lying around artfully, somehow? This isn’t one of those blogs.

Spring/Summer Rolls and Peanut Sauce
For the Rolls:
8 sheets rice paper
8 soft lettuce leaves
4 ounces thin rice noodles, soaked until tender (but not mushy)

A quantity of vegetables:

  • Grated or julienned carrots, cucumber, avocado, radishes—be creative!
  • ½ cup each fresh mint, cilantro and basil leaves torn into pieces. (If you lack one of these, feel free to omit one or the other, but it’s really best with all of them; see above!)

Soak 1 sheet of rice paper in warm water for 10 seconds or so, then lay out on a kitchen cloth. Place a lettuce leaf in the middle, and fill it with a finger size portion of noodles, a bit of each vegetable and some of the fresh leaves. Roll up the rice paper wrapper like a burrito, closing in both sides. Repeat with the remaining ingredients, making sure not to allow rolls to touch, or they will stick together. You can wrap them in a damp towel and plastic wrap and serve within an hour, with peanut sauce (my favorite) or go easy-lazy style with a simple dipping sauce of equal parts soy sauce and rice vinegar with a couple tablespoons of sesame oil stirred in.

For the Peanut Sauce:

Chop finely and sauté together in 2-3 tablespoons of neutral oil
(like corn or grapeseed) until tender and fragrant:

  • 1 small onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1-inch piece ginger
  • 1-2 stalks lemongrass (optional)

Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon turmeric and stir to coat, 1 minute.
Then add:

  • 1 can (organic is best, if you can!) coconut milk
  • 2-3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons brown or turbinado sugar (you can also use maple syrup; or substitute 1/4 cup hoisin sauce and reduce soysauce to 1-2 tablespoons)
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • ½-1 cup non-hydrogenated peanut butter
  • Ground cayenne pepper to taste

Simmer, stirring constantly to keep from sticking and adding water to achieve the desired dipping consistency. Taste and adjust seasonings and serve liberally over everything.

{Shameless plug: adapted from a recipe in my new book, where you’ll find more non-guilty, joyful reasons to eat seasonally as well as fun, tasty recipes that are healthy and fresh without being nutso about the whole thing}

How weirdly long and thin does the Stone Doctor's arm look in this photo? Feed that man!
How weirdly long and thin does the Stone Doctor’s arm look in this photo? Feed that man!

Good Food Does Not Have To Be Snooty Food

This is a re-run of a recipe I posted a year or so ago. Here in Malawi, I can’t quite get all the ingredients for it. So if it appeals to you, maybe you can make it and enjoy it for me.

The spirit behind this recipe is this: that in eating, we don’t have to choose between organic whole-grain everything and mac-n-cheese in a box; nor do we have to choose between comforting-but-totally-from-cans casseroles and fancy-pants cuisine. This casserole holds its head up high. It’s real food. It’s real comfort. It’s delicious.

(a note on the potato chips: if you want to be super fancy, you can make your own. Elise Bauer’s recipe at Simply Recipes comes out quite well. If not, try to choose a brand that’s just potatoes, oil, and salt—preferably lightly salted.)

Salmon Noodle Casserole

Preheat oven to 400F. Set a large pot of salted water to boil for the egg noodles, and a smaller pot of salted water to boil for the broccoli.

In a saucepan over medium-high heat, dry saute 8 ounces fresh, cleaned, mushrooms, broken into pieces.

Continue to stir them for 10 minutes or so, or until they have given up much of their moisture. Add 1 medium onion, minced finely, and just enough butter to keep it from sticking. Cook another 10 minutes or so until onions are just short of browning. Remove from pan and set aside.

In same saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons butter, stir in 2 tablespoons flour and blend well over low heat until just short of browning. Whisking constantly, pour in 1 cup half and half. Continue to whisk and bring to just short of the boiling point, add onion and mushroom mixture, salt and pepper to taste, 1/3 cup milk and set aside.

Meanwhile, blanch and cool 1/2 lb (2 cups) of fresh broccoli. (ie. throw it in some boiling salted water for 1 minute, then drain and run under cool water; set aside.)

I think these noodles are the best ones.

Cook 12 ounces extra-wide whole-egg noodles for three minutes less than the shortest time suggested on the package, drain, rinse thoroughly with cool water.

Mix cooked noodles, sauce, and broccoli with 2 cups grated mild cheddar or jack cheese and 2 cans wild-caught salmon* (drained) and spread in shallow buttered ovenproof pan, sprinkle with 1 cup crushed high-quality potato chips.

(Yes, I realize that potato chips are not “healthy,” whatever that is. You can leave them out if you want, but don’t blame me if your casserole doesn’t attract the adulation you desire.)

Bake 20-25 minutes.