Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Miso Soup... for the springtime soul!

It’s easy to think that colds and the flu disappear in the spring and summer. But in fact spring can often “spring” a wave of cold and flu viruses, if for no other reason than because we were least expecting it and because of those sunny days that urge us to forget our jacket and scarf when we leave the house! When the body is sick it is important to nourish it with simple foods that provide optimal nourishment in an easily digestible form. Hence chicken and other nutrient dense easy to digest soups that most kids remember being fed while sick and home from school.

My boyfriend got sick this week and I had to pull out all the stops. My stash of home made stock in the freezer had run low, most likely because of the springtime shift and there were only a few vegetable odds and ends floating around from last weeks farmer’s market. This is what I threw together and it was delicious!

Miso is a salty flavoring paste traditionally from Japan that is made from fermented soy beans, rice barley and/or other grains. Unpasteurized miso can be found in the refrigerated section of most natural health food stores and is a good source of protein, vitamins, minerals and live active cultures! There are many different types of miso, I prefer the rich taste of the darker brown or red varieties of miso, while white miso is usually on the sweeter side.

2 stalks fresh green garlic, sliced into moons
¼ cup cilantro, coarsely chopped
1 cup broccoli crown and stems, split into bite sized pieces
1 cup brown rice, cooked
2 heaping Tbs. red miso paste
small handful daikon radish sprouts, although any fresh sprouts will do

In a medium saucepan bring 1½ - 2 cups of water to a simmer. Add broccoli, green garlic and cooked brown rice and cover. Let simmer for 2 – 3 minutes, turn off heat add cilantro and cover. Meanwhile place 2 heaping Tbs. of red miso paste into a mug, pour boil water into the cup, leaving yourself enough room to stir. Then stir the mixture together until the miso is fully dissolved and all chunks are gone. Pour the miso concentrate into the soup, stir well and serve. Garnish with sprouts and a twist of fresh black pepper!

Variations: Add 1 – 2 tsp. raw tahini to your miso/water mixture for a little extra flavor and nutrition (it really tastes great). Tahini is a nut butter made from sesame seeds, which are high in protein and calcium!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

It's the season for...ASPARAGUS!

Asparagus is native to parts of Europe, northern Africa and eastern Asia. It grows wild in its native homes as well as in some parts of the United States and is widely cultivated as a vegetable. We eat the tender young shoots of the asparagus plant; left to mature it will grow tall with feathery, thin almost wiry leaves. If you see it growing wild you will most likely identify it from afar by its fragile and feathery appearance, often blowing in the wind along roadsides or by railroad tracks.

The tender shoots begin to appear in early spring, after some moisture and heat have given the roots the signal that it is safe to start their seasonal push. The roots will produce “spears” or shoots continually, until at the end of the season they will be allowed to grow to full maturity and nourish their roots in preparation for the winter and following spring.

I love asparagus and while I could see myself getting tiered of them if I eat too many, the short growing season and high price make asparagus always feel like somewhat of a treat. Don’t be fooled by those thin asparagus spears either, while they too are delicious the fat ones are often more flavorful!

I have two favorite ways to eat asparagus and I look foreword to them partially because of these much loved preparations. To prepare asparagus wash the spears well, then gently snap the hard base from the tender shoot. If you just bend or break the spear gently it should snap at its natural breaking point separating the tough part from the delicate top. From there, follow one of the following simple preparations:


Gently steam washed and “snapped” asparagus until tender and bright green. Remove from heat and set aside on a platter to cool. Serve asparagus cold with fresh home made aioli as a dipping sauce (see rosemary aioli, 3/28)! I often use plain salted aioli or add a garlic clove cut into a few pieces to the aioli as I whisk. The oils from the garlic give the aioli a mild garlic flare, without overpowering the sauce or the asparagus. I also sometimes add a small twist of lemon to my aioli at the end, perhaps just a tsp. or so, this also goes great with asparagus.


Slice washed and “snapped” asparagus into thirds on the diagonal, and in half if they are on the thicker side. Sauté the asparagus pieces in 1 Tbs. of olive oil over medium heat. They will take about 10 minutes to fully cook, you may want to cover them for just a minute or two but not for too long or they will begin to steam rather than sauté. Sautéd this way the flavors and sugars will develop and richen and the edges will become nicely browned. Before serving, toss with a bit of salt and fresh ground pepper.

It is amazing how fresh food prepared simply, but carefully can taste so good!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Rosemary, dew of the sea

I have been thinking and talking an awful lot about rosemary lately! With my students and in my own life Rosemary seems to be all around. Perhaps it is the spring season, and those lovely little purple flowers that pop between rosemary’s beautiful bounty of green leaves, or perhaps the taste has just been calling to me. Regardless, just as with spring, rosemary gives us a lot to celebrate. A member of the mint family, rosemary is stimulating to the skin and the senses. It can be helpful as a facial steam for relieving acne, dry skin or sinus pressure and as a hair rinse to stimulate hair growth and relieve an itchy scalp. Rosemary is anti-bacterial and has a rich tradition as a culinary herb. It is also renowned amongst herbalist for its nourishing and healing actions on the heart muscle.

There are two types of rosemary commonly found throughout the bay area. One is the upright rosemary with long, thin leaves and the other is crawling, creeping or hanging rosemary that has a tendency to be more decorative and aesthetic. What I call hanging rosemary usually has smaller, dark green leaves with a lighter underside. While both are edible and tasty, you can probably tell from my description that I prefer the upright rosemary for cooking. If you purchase fresh rosemary at the store or farmer's market, this is the kind you will find.

In cooking I usually chose to pair the strong taste and fragrance of rosemary with saltier foods, although nothing beats a honey mustard salad dressing with a splash of balsamic vinegar and a handful of fresh rosemary leaves. I love fresh rosemary on pork, chicken, steak, lamb and most other meats, on potatoes and other root vegetables and in soups. I also enjoy rosemary as an accent in pesto and combined with orange peel and warming spices in teas, see Rosemary Spice tea below. I also like to add rosemary leaves to my bread and I always enjoy it paired with thyme, sage and winter savory.

Rosemary’s Latin name, Ros Marinus means dew of the sea. I always thought this seemed appropriate, especially in the bay area where rosemary bushes are common and plentiful, those little green leaves as tasty and magical as the dew drops of the sea.

Rosemary Spice - Herbal Tea

2 fresh rosemary branches, or 2 Tbs. dried leaves
½ cinnamon stick, or 1 tsp. cinnamon chips
1 Tbs. orange peel, or the peel of one small organic orange or tangerine

These measurements are approximate; follow your nose and your tongue. This recipe makes about 1 quart of tea, about the size of a large teapot.

To make an herbal tea/infusion place the herbs in a cup, teapot or glass jar and pour boiling water over to fill the jar or pot. Place on a tight fitting lid and let stand for anywhere from 15 minutes to up to 8 hours. The longer you let the herbs sit the better, especially with these herbs the flavors will release and become richer over time. You can strain your tea before you drink it or let the teapot catch the big pieces and enjoy the little tid bits that make it into your mug. If you do a long steeping infusion you may want to heat your tea slightly on the stove, or add a little fresh boiling water to your tea to heat it up before drinking.