A Japanese salad recipe

I always knew it would be a priority to initiate my son to
the pleasures of the palate, that his “education of taste”, as we call it in
French (éducation du goût), was
something dear to my heart. For many reasons. Because we just love good food so
much. Because it’s the way I was raised. Because it’s good for his health.
Because it’s a big part of his French culture.

 As I started on this journey and
writing this blog, I realized that it went beyond that. Food and everything
about it (cooking it, growing it, shopping for it, eating it, learning from it,
approaching it from the five senses, among many other things) have become a
golden learning opportunity. For me and for him. I have talked about how food
can be a bias to practice patience and anticipation. And learning to be in the moment. And
appreciating the process. And experiencing human connection, friendship.

It’s also a way to experience beauty.

Our society tends to
have a very limited, narrow-minded vision of what beauty is nowadays. Yet, here’s
what Merriam-Webster has to say about it:

beauty – the quality or aggregate of qualities in a person or thing that
gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit

Beauty is in the soul and mind, the wide-open mind, of the
beholder.

In this sense, young children know how to see beauty, almost
everywhere. Their mind is completely open to things of amazement and interest,
unspoiled by expectations, preconceived notions, prejudice, judgment.  To Pablo, a garbage truck is a thing of
beauty. Or a worker painting a window. Or ducks and squirrels. Or the ocean.
The snow. A guitar. A voice.

Or an artichoke, a carrot, a gratin hot out of the oven. A
colorful salad.

Knowing how to see beauty around us, sometimes having to pry
our grown-up minds open to do so, our senses on alert, fully connected to our
world body and mind: now there’s something worth living for. 

And very dear to me is the desire to preserve and nurture my
son’s open mind, share with him how rich life is when we can see beauty. When
we see it a lot, every day, particularly in the little things. That’s where
it’s the juiciest and most delicate. In the little things.

We expect children to get excited about garbage trucks and
ducks on a pond. Grown-ups, myself included, tend to pump them up about such things,
anticipating their thrill.

And perhaps the best tip to parents out there wanting their
children to enjoy eating well, the best “education of taste” tip I have, is to
apply that same excitement to food. I get excited about food because it is a
thing of beauty.  And that excitement is contagious. And I am happy to report that after 21 months of lots of food-related excitement, Pablo gets it.

The definition above could very well be the definition of
good cuisine. Eating and sharing a delicious food is experiencing beauty with
body and mind.

Food is a rich way to experience beauty from a very young
age. With all five senses.  

See the beauty of an endive, for example. Oblong and smooth,
pale nuances of green and yellow. Its smell fresh, almost like rain. When you
squeeze it, you hear it crack a little. After you feel it crunchy on your
teeth, you taste its light bitterness.

Yes, an endive is a thing of beauty.

(This, by the way, is an “exercise” of sorts I like to do
with Pablo and will be doing a lot more.)

Now. Let’s travel together.

I have been in love with Japanese cuisine and culture for
many years. I was lucky enough to visit Japan a few years ago, and realized
how kindred in spirit the French and Japanese are, particularly in regards to
food. Great care is devoted not only to the flavors of the foods (and how to
combine them artfully and deliciously), but also presentation, color and
texture.

Subtlety – or the ability to see the value in the little things – is
embraced. The sushi chef, like a painter adding touches of paint and
brushstrokes of color to his work, adds a pinch of special sea salt on a
scallop, a leaf of shiso, a dash of pickled plum, a few seeds of sesame over
rice that is in itself a work of art, just the right texture, just the right
temperature. Those things make a difference. Their sum is the experience of
beauty at every bite.

I am no expert at Japanese cuisine. I know I love it.
(I have learned so much about it thanks to the wonderful Nami at Just One Cookbook, I highly recommend her easy and delightful recipes.)
So I just improvised this ridiculously simple Japanese salad just
combining different ingredients I like. It’s a nice little “visit to Japan” the time of a meal, so if
you get a chance to stop by a Japanese grocery store in your area and pick up some of these
ingredients, give it a try (if you are unfamiliar with raw seafood, this is definitely a salad for the fearless and open-minded!)

A lot of Occidentals have issues with the textures of raw
fish and seafood, but toddlers can be very open-minded on this front as well.
Pablo adores raw oysters, fish, clam, urchin and salmon roe. Perhaps your child, or yourself,
will see the beauty of it too?

Japanese tofu seaweed salad

Makes 2 servings

Age for babies: I started giving raw seafood (once in a while) to Pablo past 12 months. Check with your pediatrican. You can of course make a vegetarian version of this salad, skipping the seafood.

Note: All quantities are really up to you and can be adjusted to your taste.

Half a package of soft tofu

4 tbsp salmon roe (ikura)

2 shiso leaves

1/4 cup soy sauce (or Ajipon sauce if you can find it)
Juice of one lemon (omit the lemon if you have Ajipon)

Assorted pickled vegetables – eggplant, daikon radish, plum.

Cut up the tofu in bite-size pieces. Dispose in each plate or bowl. Drizzle half the Ajipon over it (or the soy sauce and lemon whisked together).

If you are using yamaimo: cut a thick slice. Peel it quickly and run it under cold water, chop finely and as quickly as possible so it doesn’t get too slimy. (Yes, I know, it sounds gross, but it adds a nice crunch to this salad. For more information on yamaimo, go here. Some people with sensitive skin get itchy after manipulating yamaimo, so if you are, you might want to wear gloves to cut it up, or wash your hands well right after.)

Add the chopped yamaimo over the tofu  (if you were hardcore enough to give it a try!), and the seaweed salad on top.

Chop the shiso leaves and sprinkle over the salad.

Spoon the salmon roe over the top of the seaweed salad, and finally a couple of pieces of sea urchin.

Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Drizzle the rest of the Ajipon and serve with some pickled vegetables on the side.

Pastel Romanesco salad

With much excitement (because we get excited about such things…), our CSA basket brought us a couple of heads of Romanesco broccoli last week. This Madonna-reminiscent bright green vegetable is somewhere between broccoli and cauliflower, with a very subtle flavor and pleasant texture, soft and crunchy at the same time.

Its vivid beauty inspired me to improvise something colorful and fresh for lunch, in the way of this salad, which I am sharing with you today, along with the week’s menu (scroll down below the recipe for it.)

Wishing you a wonderful, fragrant week.

Romanesco purple potato smoked salmon salad

Serves 4

Age for babies: 8-10 months (Romanesco florets make a great finger food)

Prep time: 15 min

Cook time: 25 min

1 head of Romanesco broccoli, florets separated and washed

4-5 purple potatoes

4 slices of smoked salmon

Fresh dill

Half a lemon

Dressing:

1 shallot, finely minced

A few sprigs of fresh dill

2 tbsp red wine vinegar

5 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp hazelnut oil

1 tsp mustard

Salt & pepper

Place whole blue potatoes in a pot of cold salted water. Bring to a boil, lower heat to medium and cook until tender, about 15 minutes depending on their size.

Bring another large pot of water to a boil.

Meanwhile, separate the Romanesco florets and wash them.

Cook the Romanesco florets in boiling water for about 10 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water.

Let potatoes and Romanesco cool down to lukewarm.

Combine all the ingredients of the dressing.

Peel potatoes and slice. Place potatoes and florets in a bowl, sprinkle with fresh dill, pour dressing and mix well (but gently).

Serve in salad plates or bowl, adding small pieces of smoked salmon on top, and some more dill if desired. Drizzle lightly with lemon.

Pablo’s weekly menu… & a crisp pea salad

I think I’m getting into a groove here, posting a simple salad or soup recipe with the menu on Sunday or Monday, and another recipe mid-week, Wednesday or Thursday. How does that sound to you, my good readers? (So thankful for you, by the way). I have a very bad tendency to overextend myself and spread myself too thin, but I’m slowly improving on that front (I think.)  So this should be a reasonable compromise for the time being…

Scroll down for the week’s menu, we had some changes of plans last week, so you will find some of the dishes I didn’t get to try last week. My mom visited the fair city of Seattle and brought back several dozens oysters and clams and a gorgeous fresh Pacific lobster tail. We savored it simply grilled and topped with crème fraîche and fleur de sel… What a feast! The excitement was such I didn’t even think of photographing it! I never want to eat frozen lobster again… 

By the way, I wanted to invite you to follow me on Pinterest if you’re not already, where I pin recipes I have tried and loved, or want to try, in case you’re looking for extra inspiration!

Speaking of inspiration…

A piece of spring

Pierced me with love for this empty place

Where a
prairie creek runs

Under its cover of clear ice

And the sound it
makes,

Mysterious as a heartbeat,

New as a lamb.

(Excerpt of “In the Late Season”, by Tom Hennen)

I know it’s only March 3rd, but I’m feeling the breath of spring… And a bite of the lovely pea, herb & spring onion salad I’m sharing today, made it even more palpable.

Spring is far from the words above in Southern California… No covers of clear ice here. But that ice breaking to release a rushing creek is a perfect metaphor for the season of renewal. There’s just something in the air right now.

The other day, I noticed our jasmine bush was full of buds, soon to invade the air with its intoxicating scent. And as I looked up, our resident mockingbird was sitting on the line. Not calling for love at all hours of the night quite yet. But thinking about it.

T’is the season of anticipation.

May this crisp salad ease you into it…

UDPATE: Turns out what I used above wasn’t spring onions, but green (or spring) garlic! They do look strangely similar! And you could make it with green garlic as I did (unwittingly), but it has a serious kick! Meanwhile, can’t wait to find real spring onions here (like scallions, but with more of a rounded bulb). May just have to grow them myself! And since green garlic season is in full swing, am currently working on some recipes to share soon 🙂

Pea, herb & spring onion salad

Adapted from Petit Larousse des Recettes aux Légumes du Potager by Valérie Lhomme 

Serves 3-4

Prep time: 10 mn

Cook time: 3 mn

Age for babies: 8-10 months, omitting the dressing. Peas are a great first finger food. If used as finger food, only give the peas, as the spring onions & herbs would be too hard to chew. You could also finely mix peas/chives together with a drizzle of olive oil as a cold puree.

3 cups frozen peas (fresh peas are hard to come by here, if you can find them, all the better, use about 2 pounds unshelled)

1 handful of chives

5 sprigs of Italian parsley

3 spring onions (or scallions)*

1 handful of micro broccoli (or microgreens of choice) (optional)

*Note: Spring onions definitely have a kick to them, you can make them milder and more tender by soaking them (once chopped) in cold water for 1 hour (up to 24 hours in the fridge). Otherwise, go for scallions, shallots, or omit entirely.

Dressing:

3 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp Balsamic vinegar

1 tbsp soy sauce

Drizzle of honey (optional)

Salt & pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Put the frozen peas in and let cook 3-4 minutes (from the time you put them in, not when it starts boiling again.)

(If you’re using fresh peas, cook them 4-5 minutes).

Drain them and pour them in a large bowl of cold water and ice cubes.

Wash the herbs and microgreens. Chop the chives and parsley with scissors. Cut off the dark green ends of the spring onions, keeping only the bulb and light green stem. Wash and chop the onions (*see note above on soaking).

Prepare the dressing by combining all the ingredients.

Drain the peas, mix with onions and herbs.

Just before serving, add in dressing and mix well.

Onto the week’s menu… Wishing you a crisp, flavorful week.

Cheeses of the week: Following French tradition, I always offer a little bit of cheese at the end of every meal, between the main course and dessert. Rotation this week: Goat gouda, Comté (type of Swiss), Enoteki (sheep’s milk).

Desserts: At lunch, I offer a fruit yogurt (or plain yogurt with fresh fruit), but at night, I prefer sticking to plain yogurt (regular homemade* whole milk, sheep’s milk, goat’s milk and Greek yogurt for extra protein) to avoid too much sugar before bedtime.

If you would like a particular recipe on the menu, feel free to contact me! (I marked with a * the recipes that will be the topic of upcoming posts).


MONDAY

Lunch
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Pea, herb & spring onion salad above!
Main course: Smoked salmon, dill, endive tartine

Goûter (4pm snack) – Homemade chocolate pudding*

Dinner
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Oysters on the half shell
Main course: Roasted chicken thighs with clementines from Sassy Radish (we didn’t get to make it last week, had lobster brought back from Seattle instead!) + leftover sunchoke gratin dauphinois*

TUESDAY

Lunch
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Avocado
Main course: Trying this leek feta lemon quiche from London Bakes

Goûter – Apple compote

Dinner
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Turnip and turnip greens velouté*
Main course: Lamb chops, creamy carrots & rosemary baked in a parcel

WEDNESDAY

Lunch
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Authentic Greek salad
Main course: Duck breasts with braised pink radishes*

Goûter – Homemade chocolate pudding*

Dinner
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Cauliflower, green beans salad
Main course: Dover sole filets with micro broccoli puree

THURSDAY

Lunch
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Cucumber Feta rolls from Good Life Eats
Main course: Ham, quinoa

Goûter – Banana

Dinner
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Tomato, heart of palm, purple potato salad
Main course: Mushrooms stuffed with cream of sardines

FRIDAY

Lunch
Appetizer / Finger Foods: White asparagus in creamy tarragon sauce
Main course: Tuna steak baked in parcel with avocado and cilantro*

Goûter – Pear-blueberry compote

Dinner
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Artichoke soup, a recipe I found here
Main course: Pan fried skirt steak, & the Swiss chards with blood orange dressing from Vanilla Bean

SATURDAY

Lunch- OUT

Goûter – Kiwi

Dinner
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Leftover artichoke soup
Main course: Shrimp & lime over coconut rice

SUNDAY

Lunch – OUT

Goûter – Tangerine

Dinner
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Butternut leek soup
Main course: Oven roasted pork ribs, fingerling potatoes

A birthday picnic menu, a lentil salad, & a short journey in the future

It is April 2055. I have just celebrated my 80th birthday. I am sitting on a bench at dusk, reading this poem. And like Alice in Wonderland, I plunge into the rabbit hole that is memory lane.  I think of you, my son, love of my life, and that night 42 years ago, that night before we celebrated your 2nd birthday. It was the night before the storm, the whirlwind of party preparations, cooking and more cooking side by side with my mother, planning and organizing, listing and anticipating. The night before the cheers, the laughter, the hugs and songs, I remember a moment of calm, before the festivities, everyone asleep; I took in that moment, with all its thoughts, and tucked it away in a hidden treasure box, close to my heart. Tonight, I can open that box and treasure it once again. This moment of gratitude, of love, of acknowledgement of my life transformed for the better, of the many lessons already learned thanks to you, this moment of realization there really was so much to celebrate. Life is full of these treasure boxes. This one, I shall leave out, open, as it radiates the tranquil warmth that is the meaning of my life.

Menu for Pablo’s birthday party/picnic/bbq at the park

Four savory cakes (they could also be called “breads” or loaves): mixed herbs; ham & green olives; goat cheese, walnut, raisins; asparagus mushrooms.

Chicken gouda muffins

Ratatouille feta muffins

Tray of crudités (carrots, cucumber, tomatoes), with hummus and creamy feta dip with mint parsley pesto

This leeks, feta, lemon quiche with homemade spelt cream cheese crust

French-style grated carrot & parsley salad

Mixed quinoa salad (with beans, corn, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, olives…)

Lentil shallot salad (recipe below)

Potato salad

Cheese platter with homemade bread

And some hamburgers too 🙂

Chocolate cake made by my good friend Elleni at Deer Eats Wolf

Fresh fruit platter

Lentil shallot salad

This very simple recipe is a staple in our family, we have it almost every week. It can be made ahead and keeps well in the fridge for 3-4 days. It’s an easy first course, and so delicious.

Serves 6-8

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes

Age for babies: 10-12 months (avoiding the raw crunchy shallots)

12 oz Du Puy Lentils (or green lentils)
1 onion
4 cloves (optional)
4 bay leaves
4 garlic cloves, peeled and whole
4-5 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 large shallot
Dill for garnish (optional, substitute any herb you like or have on hand)


Dressing:
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
5 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp walnut oil
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Salt & pepper

Rinse the lentils in a colander. In a large pot, place the lentils, the whole onion (pricked with cloves if using), whole garlic cloves, bay leaves, the thyme leaves and enough water so the onion is immersed.

Bring to a boil, lower heat, cover and simmer for about 25 minutes. (Taste for consistency, should be soft but not mushy).

Meanwhile, prepare your dressing by combining all the ingredients and reserve in a bowl.
Dice the shallot.

Drain the lentils, discard the onion and bay leaves. Let cool to room temperature.

Then add the shallots and dressing, and combine. Add dill for garnish if desired.

Serve cold or at room temperature.

Seeking raw simplicity… & rediscovering the Greek salad

Today, two little things made me feel true joy and
happiness, as if I could feel my whole being smiling: Pablo, bare feet, ate
grapes from a grapevine, and drank from a natural fresh water spring. And this, of all places, happened in Greece, a place with which I have a difficult family history. Yet could
happiness be that simple? Certainly seems naive from the outside.  But my theory is that if the enjoyment of
simple things (one could also call them pure, or authentic things) is encoded
in our brain somewhere, even from very early childhood, or perhaps especially from very early childhood, it
remains an enjoyment we will be able to experience later in life. Or come back
to, if we steer away from it. I guess the same theory goes with getting baby to
taste simple / pure flavors when young, a simple single vegetable puree for
example. Hopefully simplicity and purity of flavor, and of experience, remain
in the brain as the reference, the
standard of authenticity other things in our life get judged by.

Speaking of simplicity, let me rewind a few days back. Here
we are, sitting by the port of the island of Tinos, fresh (or not so fresh) of a
four hour ride from Athensport of Rafina.
I am so happy to be here. My sister has organized everything and it’s wonderful
to be led in complete trust and open-mindedness. I am ready to eat anything
she’ll order, sleep anywhere she chooses, see anything she recommends. It’s
going to be a wonderfully rich experience no matter what. We sit under
grapevines. As Pablo discovers life without the high chair, he can walk around
the table and be fed, as he checks in near my plate. I let it go, I’m too eager
to savor the moment. The waiter brings the much anticipated Greek salad…
Tomatoes, cucumber, pale green bell peppers, small red onions that look like
shallots, black olives, a thick slice of Feta cheese sprinkled with dried oregano,
with freshly pickled capers on top, and lots and lots of olive oil.  Along comes a loaf of thick Greek country
bread.

At home, we eat a “Greek salad” almost everyday, especially
in heirloom tomato season. I love Feta cheese. We basically throw together
tomatoes, cucumber, feta (I do get the blocks of sheep’s cheese feta), basil or
oregano if we bother to go pick it in the backyard, and (Greek) olive oil. But
it really pales in comparison with the authentic Greek salad we have enjoyed
here.

Like the white walls and blue shutters bursting out of the
arid landscape all over the Greek isles, every bite of this salad is a burst of
flavor. The Feta is strong and salty, the onions even seem crunchier, the
cucumber, juicier. The olive oil actually tastes of olives, and the capers… oh
the capers, they’re the sleepers. So strong in flavor, but complementing
perfectly the feta and tomatoes, they’re the perfect substitute for vinegar in this salad. I can honestly say I don’t intend to ever buy
capers in a jar in an American supermarket again. If only I can find a way to
grow the plant and pickle them myself. They’re that good… This salad is the
perfect combination of flavors and textures. Crunchy cucumber, peppers and
onions (but in different ways), soft tomatoes, crumbly feta. Salty, tart,
tangy, watery, sweet… You taste the sea, the sun, the salt in the air, the
wind, the heat. In short, you taste Greece.

Traditional Greek Salad

Age for babies: I started giving tomatoes and Feta to Pablo as finger foods between 8 and 10 months, raw cucumber and bell peppers a bit later, about 12 months, because they’re harder to chew.

Serves 4-6

5 large ripe tomatoes, quartered

2 cucumbers, peeled and sliced

2 small Greek onions, or shallots, sliced

3 green or yellow bell peppers, cored, seeds removed, and sliced

12 black kalamata olives

Freshly pickled capers (see if you can find them in a specialty grocery store or Greek shop, they’re worth it!)

1 thick slice of sheep’s milk Feta cheese

Fragrant dried oregano, or fresh oregano

Salt & pepper

Greek olive oil

Toss all the vegetables in a large salad bowl. Sprinkle some dried oregano on top of the slice of Feta and place on top of the salad.

Pour a fair amount of olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.

Greek “paparra” tradition: Dip some country bread in the sauce directly in the bowl, it’s the best!