Asparagus, arugula, avocado soup recipe

Last weekend, I went foraging, for the first time in my
life. And I think I fell in love. There I was, with a new group of people, in the woods, learning about a completely new topic. I felt so alive.

This was the
perfect symbiosis of nature and cooking. And you probably have gathered by now
how much I love cooking. Perhaps I can share a little bit here about my love of nature.

Not to be overly dramatic, but the love of nature might have
saved my life, many years ago. 

When I was 16, I had what you might call a crisis of faith.
Faith in life. In its value. I was a cerebral kid, who spent a big amount of
time in my own head. My head was my space, for better or for worse. And so not
so surprisingly, at 16, I reached the very cerebral conclusion that one should
live only as a deliberate act, provided one could find something worth living
for. Something that could justify going on living when everything around seemed
hopeless and dark.

And I had come up with nothing. Everything that might make
life worth living seemed either inaccessible or inauthentic. And so I was
coming close to the inevitable conclusion: I had no business going on living.

Then, there was a trip to the United States. A backpacking trip
with a group of other teens, traveling across the country.

And there was the Grand Canyon.
The day I flew over the Grand Canyon,
the overwhelming beauty and immensity of it, I thought for the first time: this is worth living for. Seeing this.

So this land, this
beautiful land, now my land, gave me
a reason to live when I needed one.

As I spent more and more time in the United States (I ended up actually working at
the Grand Canyon for a few summers before
moving here), my love of nature became less cerebral and more real. It got me
out of my head and grounded me. Ever since, it has made me feel like I belong
on earth. I love to seek it out as much as I can, whether it’s hiking through Yellowstone, or going camping, or simply eating outside.

And now, there’s foraging.
I mean, what’s not to love: you go hike in the woods, learn about wild
edible plants, learn how to cook them or how to use them in your cooking.  (And it will be so great to take Pablo
foraging when he’s a bit more of a functional hiker :-))

I am so thankful to my good friend Linda for introducing me
to Pascal Baudar and Mia Wasilevich this weekend, the lovely and talented couple who guided our
foraging experience. (If you are in the LA area, definitely check these guys out.)
Pascal Baudar, a Belgian man who has lived in the US for many years and a forager for
the past 13 years (he forages for chefs too!), had black fingers, from
harvesting thousands of black walnuts, he explained. How I love hands who tell a
story.

He guided us down a trail and talked (among many things) about green, red and
black currants, elderflowers and berries, wild peaches, wild fig leaves, mugwort,
thistle and chickweed. I munched on wild mustard flowers that taste like broccoli,
smelled white sage and sage brush.

What better way to commune with nature than to actually eat it? Its flavors open up every one of your tastebuds at once. Nature as a tastebud opener. I like that. Next time, I can’t wait to forage wild spinach,
wild radishes and watercress.

After our walk, Mia, a very talented wild food chef (more
about her right here) had prepared some treats for us: roasted potatoes with her foothill spice blend made with local wild aromatic
plants. Wild spinach empanadas. Nectarines roasted inside a wild fig leaf. And a wild watercress gazpacho with wild watercress flowers (picture below), that tasted like a cool running creek at dawn. And there was Pascal’s fermented white sage lemonade and wild mugwort beer too…      

I plan on experimenting first with fermented sage lemonade
and elderflower syrup, recipes I will be sharing with you here soon (should they be
successful, that is ;-))  

I have so much
to learn it makes me feel young.

So if culinary hiking sounds like something you would enjoy,
I highly recommend you give foraging a try! And if you have gone foraging,
please tell me all about it! What have you made? What have you found?

It’s such an appropriate metaphor for life too. Let us spend
less time in our heads and more time in the real world. Let’s forage the good
stuff out of life, for it is so flavorful…

In the meantime, I leave you with this lovely & seasonal asparagus wild arugula soup, nicely
complemented by some wild mustard flowers foraged by yours truly. 

Asparagus, wild arugula & avocado soup with wild mustard flowers

Barely adapted from Small Plates and Sweet Treats by Aran Goyoaga

Serves about 4 generous bowls

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 10 minutes

Age for babies: Without the crabmeat (just the soup), 6-8 months.

2 tbsp coconut oil

1 shallot

2 cloves of garlic

1 bunch of green asparagus

3/4 tsp salt

3 cups vegetable stock

2 cups (about 2 oz) wild arugula

1 avocado

4 oz crabmeat (optional)

2 tbsp sheep’s milk yogurt

Foraged wild mustard flowers (optional)

Mince the shallot and garlic. Cut off the tough ends of the asparagus, and dice them. Peel, pit and dice the avocado.

Heat the coconut oil in a large pot of medium heat. Add the shallot, garlic and asparagus with 1/4 tsp salt, stir, and cook for about 3 minutes (do not brown).

Add the vegetable stock, bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 5-6 minutes, until the asparagus are tender.

Add the arugula and cook for another minute. Remove pot from heat. 

Pour mixture in the blender, add the avocado and remaining 1/2 tsp salt. Blend thoroughly, until very smooth. 

You can serve hot or chilled, topped with some crab meat, a swirl of yogurt, and a few wild mustard flowers on top. 

Arugula pesto and cooking class

In the past month or so I have been volunteering for these cooking classes at this awesome place called Kitchen in the Market at the Minneapolis Midtown global market.  I  always have a great time there. Even when I’m doing dishes. So today I went and took one of their classes. It was a class about “preserving the bounty” and Chef Scott Pampuch and Stephanie Mayer from Fresh Tart taught us a bit about pickling, salting, blending and otherwise preserving all the wonderful vegetables we will get in the next few months.

And the class was great fun!

We learned about making flavored salt with ramps and nettles and morel mushrooms. We learned about “passive” and oven drying. We learned about pickling liquid and how long we can store pickles. We learned about preserving radishes in butter and about making pesto. And we learned that the best place to buy the necessary gear for pickling is fleet farm.

Then we got to work and we produced the bounty you can see here: from top ramp salt, pickled ramp, arugula pesto and pickled radishes. And we all got samples of everything to take home with us.

Now, if you are in Minneapolis, and you are interested in learning about storing and preserving, check out the Kitchen in the Market website. They will offer two more classes for this series and they seem to be well worth your time. I for one am planning on heading to fleet farm to get the jars and then start canning.

Of the things we did during class, I was responsible for arugula pesto. As usual when it comes down to cooking I cannot bring myself to follow a recipe. I might read the list of ingredients, but ultimately I use the recipe much more as a guideline than as real instructions. And with something like pesto you should do too!

So I made arugula pesto. I started out with the arugula and added the other ingredients try the pesto after every addition. At the end of the whole process there was something missing. The pesto was just too grassy and herby. I was kind of at a loss. And then chef Pampuch came to the rescue and suggested to add lemon zest which gave it a bit of brightness and then some honey which took away some of the bitterness from the nuts. And then we let it sit and develop its flavor. And then it was awesome spread on flat bread.

I only have two pieces of advice for pesto: 1) keep it pasty it is healthier, cheaper, tastier, stores better and you can always thin it out when you serve it; and 2) go easy on the garlic. For the rest is just add everything a bit at a time starting from the herb you use as a base or the pesto.

Arugula pesto

Ingredients

  • 4-6 cups arugula
  • 2-3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2-3/4 cups pecan nuts
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan
  • 1-2 garlic cloves
  • 1 lemon (zest + juice)
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1 tsp salt

Directions

  1. Start blending the arugula with 1 tbsp olive oil and 2 tbsp of pecan nuts. Keep blending until you have an arugula paste. If necessary add another bit of oil, but you want it to be a paste.
  2. Add about 2 spoons cheese and keep blending. Taste and adjust adding more nuts/parmesan as needed.
  3. Add the lemon zest, half of the juice and the honey and blend again. Taste and add more lemon if needed.
  4. Salt to taste and use to dress pasta or spread on bread.
  5. Preserve in the freezer or in the fridge covering with a bit of oil to avoit it getting dry.

Summer pasta with arugula

Let’s try to get back on track and share another recipe before next year….

lately I have been cooking a lot of simple dishes. Mostly salad or pasta salads. It is probably the beginning of summer heat (although today it is kind of cold here), but I really crave light, bright dishes.

I’ve been using raw or lightly cooked ingredients a lot, added in bright dressings based on lemon juice and stayed largely vegetarian. This pasta was no exception: barely cooked tomatoes and arugula, a little olives and mozarella for flavor and nothing more.

Simple, yet delicious!

Summer Pasta with Arugula

Ingredients

  • 7 oz. short pasta (I used cellentani)
  • 20-30 cherry tomatoes
  • 8-12 pitted kalamata olives
  • 6-10 mozzarella cherries
  • 1-2 cups arugula
  • salt
  • olive oil

Directions

  1. Boil water and cook pasta al dente according to instructions.
  2. Meanwhile, slice the cherry tomatoes in half and cook in hot oil for a couple of minutes.
  3. Add the olives and the arugula and let cook until the arugula is wilted (5-10 minutes).
  4. Drain the pasta well al dente and add it to the sauce adding a spoon or two of cooking water.
  5. Add the diced mozzarella and turn off the heat – Mozzarella tends to become gummy if you heat it too much, so don’t wait to turn off the heat, the heat of the pasta will be enough to melt the cheese.
  6. Mix well and serve hot.