Spring is in full bloom and I want to catch you up on what I’ve been doing for the past few months. I just completed a Master Cooking Class taught by Chef Peter Berley at the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York City. Peter is an amazing whole foods chef and you can find out more about him and his wonderful cookbooks by visiting his website: www.PeterBerley.com
Winter is a tough season for me and unless I can spend a lot of it outside, preferably on the ski slopes, I have to be really proactive to stave off the winter blues. The Master Class turned out to be an amazing blues buster despite my husband’s skepticism that cooking for eight hours every Friday could actually cheer a person up.
Admittedly when you cook for five people almost every day it can get old by the end of the week but the class environment is very different. It’s more like a laboratory where you can experiment with cooking techniques without the pressure of a hungry audience and the familiar refrain, When’s dinner going to be ready?”. You get to create truly beautiful food and eat it, too — what a luxury!
I’m looking forward to bringing more cooking into my practice and sharing more of Peter Berley’s delicious recipes over the next several months but for now, I’d like to focus on greens the most important color in the spring palate!
Food Focus: Spring Greens
Eating greens in the spring provides us with a natural way to cleanse and detoxify our bodies after a winter of eating heavy, warming foods. Greens like radicchio, arugula, chicory, endive (a relative of chicory), dandelion greens, cabbage and other wild greens are foods to favor in spring.
Spring is a damp, moist season and eating green foods helps us to clear the excess mucus our bodies produce to combat winter dryness. Greens help to cleanse and purify the liver and gallbladder, organs that work hard at internal cleansing all year long. In the spring we seem to naturally migrate toward lighter proteins and leafy greens and away from the heavier animal proteins and root vegetables that got us through the winter.
In addition to supplying us with an abundance of vitamins and minerals, greens contain chlorophyll, the substance responsible for their green hue. Chlorophyll is a powerful internal cleanser that facilitates our body’s own “spring cleaning”.
Other sources of chlorophyll are the micro algae (spirulina, chlorella and wild blue-green), which are available in powders and tablets—and wheat grass, which can be juiced.
Juicing wheat grass is time consuming and requires an expensive juicer but you can buy frozen organic wheat grass juice that is sold in little trays that resemble ice cube trays. Each “cube” is one shot of wheat grass juice. This has made it incredibly convenient to add wheat grass to a green smoothie or to just drink on its own. Dogs love wheat grass, too, but use caution! Too much wheat grass can cause loose stools and/or diarrhea in dogs as well as humans!
Spring brings an abundance of leafy greens, some of which may be unfamiliar to you. Don’t be timid about trying some new greens this year. The pungent peppery taste of arugula is delicious with blood oranges and goat cheese. Belgian endive is one of my all time favorite spring salads and watercress adds just the right punch to the simple fare of fish and potatoes below. Whatever you choose, enjoy the renewal and freshness of spring inside as well as out.
Recipes of the Season
Pan-Roasted Monkfish with Olive Oil Crushed Potatoes and Watercress by Peter Berley
1 lb. thick monkfish fillet, cut into 4 pieces (any thick, “meaty” fish works well in this recipe)
Coarse sea salt
Crushed black pepper
1 1/2 lbs. Yukon gold potatoes, peeled
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 bunch watercress, touch stems discarded and roughly chopped
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar, boiled until reduced to 4 tablespoons (use inexpensive balsamic vinegar)
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Season the monkfish with salt and pepper and refrigerate for 15 minutes.
3. Simmer the potatoes in salted water until tender.
4. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet until hot. Pat the fish dry and sear for 3-4 minutes turning until nicely browned. Transfer to the oven and roast for 10-12 minutes until just cooked through. Remove the skillet from the oven and cover loosely to keep the fish warm.
5. When the potatoes are done, drain and return them to the pan with the remaining olive oil and any pan juices from the fish.
6. Crush the potatoes against the side of the pan and add watercress, folding together.
7. Serve the monkfish over the potatoes, drizzled with a little of the reduced balsamic vinegar and seasoned with sea salt and pepper.
Sautéed Mustard Greens by Peter Berley
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 large shallots, halved and very thinly sliced (about 1/2 cup)
1 teaspoon honey
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
Small pinch cayenne pepper
Sea salt or kosher salt
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 bunches mustard greens (1 1/2 to 2 lbs), rinsed well and roughly chopped
1. In a small bowl, combine the vinegar, shallots, honey, garlic and cayenne with a pinch of salt. Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes (or cover and keep on the counter for up to 2 days).
2. In a large pot, warm the olive oil over high heat. Add the mustard greens with some water still clinging to the leaves and 1 teaspoon of sea salt. Cover and cook until wilted and tender, about 10 minutes.
3. Uncover and cook, still over high heat, stirring until some of the liquid cooks off, 4 – 5 more minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the greens to a serving dish.
4. Season the greens with the vinegar and shallots to taste. (Note: the vinegar and shallots need ample time to macerate so the only “shortcut” is to make the “sauce” ahead of time and let it sit on the counter.)
Green Bean Salad with Apricot Vinaigrette—adapted from Bon Appétit April 1999
1 1/4 lbs. slender green beans, trimmed
5 ounces mixed baby greens
1 papaya peeled and seeded or mango, peeled and stoned
3 tablespoons chopped unsalted dry roasted pistachios
1 1/2 ounces ricotta salata or feta cheese, crumbled
1. Cook the green beans in large pot of boiling, salted water until crisp-tender – about 5 minutes
2. Drain beans and ice down.
3. Dry beans
For the Vinaigrette:
12 ounces of apricot nectar (peach nectar also works)
1/4 cup brown rice vinegar
1/4 cup chopped dried apricots
1/2 teaspoon celtic sea salt
1. Boil nectar in a small saucepan until reduced to one cup (about 4 – 5 minutes)
2. Mix in vinegar and apricots
3. Let stand for 15 minutes until apricots soften
4. Puree in blender
5. Add sea salt and fresh pepper to taste
6. Cool, store in glass jar in fridge.
Note: This dish can be prepared in advance except for fresh fruit. Store beans and dressing separately. Cut fruit on day you are serving dish.
Place beans in large bowl. Add 6 tablespoons vinaigrette and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper. In another large bowl, toss mixed greens with enough remaining vinaigrette to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Mound mixed greens in center of 6 plates. Surround with papaya slices. Arrange beans atop mixed greens. Sprinkle with pistachios and ricotta salata.
Mache, Frisee, and Radish Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette—adapted from Gourmet, 2007
1 tablespoon coarse grain mustard
2 tablespoons minced shallot
1 teaspoon maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon celtic sea salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 cups loosely packed mache (lamb’s lettuce)
2 cups loosely packed frisee (French curly endive), torn into bite-sized pieces
4 medium radishes, trimmed and thinly sliced
3 Tablespoons chopped fresh chives
Whisk together mustard, shallot, maple syrup, salt, pepper and vinegar in a small bowl. Add oil in a slow stream, whisking until emulsified. Store in glass jar in fridge.
Just before serving toss salad ingredients with just enough vinaigrette to coat and season to taste with salt and pepper.