Spicy Salmon Peach and Barley Salad

“If this is a salad, then anything is a salad,” Gary teased me last time I served this and expressly called it a salad. His taunting highlights something I’ve  given idle thought to before: the definition of a salad.

Any quick search of a recipe site will prove salads are much more than beds of lettuce. I’ve seen just about any vegetable made into a salad; some of the best are completely sans lettuce, like the black bean and corn salad that graces so many picnic tables in the summer.

Nor are “salads” purely the domain of vegetables. Where would lunch be without the tuna  or egg salad?

Perhaps “salad” refers to a cold temperature? But no, obviously there is hot German potato salad and wilted salads made with hot bacon dressing.

Could “salad” be a preparation technique of mixing  disparate ingredients into a big pile and uniting them with a dressing? Hmmm…. mayb—- Nope. Both the casual Caprese salad of neatly overlapping mozzarella cheese slices, tomato slices, and basil leaves and the elegant towers of a sea scallop, caramelized onions, and a cornichon served in white tablecloth restaurants testify against that.

I remain at a loss. I only know that a salad is different than a casserole, which is different than a soup. And that this is surely a salad.

I used unhulled barley rather than the more common pearled barley because in addition to retaining more nutrients, I enjoy the chewiness of unhulled barley. While the long soaking step is technically optional, I strongly recommend  making the time for it as your barley will cook more quickly and your body will be better able to absorb the nutrients from the grain. The added vinegar aids in the neutralization of phytic acid, a nutrient inhibitor.

Szechuan peppers are not actually related to regular peppercorns. They are members of the citrus family and hence impart an almost floral aroma and flavor. Szechuan pepper is a component of the popular Chinese Five Spice mixture. They compliment other truly spicy flavors like cayenne and chili by contributing a tingly sensation on your lips and tongue. Most bulk spice suppliers will carry them, and they are unquestionably worth trying. Though if you cannot find them, you may substitute plain black peppercorns.


Spicy Salmon Peach and Barley Salad

2 wild caught Alaskan salmon fillets about the size of a deck of cards, or two cups leftover flaked salmon
2 Tbs coconut oil (if using leftover salmon, omit this)
1 cup dry unhulled barley
2 cups chicken stock or water, plus extra if necessary
3 ripe peaches, peeled or unpeeled as you prefer
1/2 sweet onion, peeled and sliced thinly on a mandolin
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
3 Tbs fruity olive oil
2 Tbs cider or rice wine vinegar
2-3 Tbs of spice mix, to taste
1/4 cup of any mixed herbs you have-  I like garlic chives, thyme, basil, and oregano

Spice Mix
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 Tbs whole Szechuan peppercorns
1 Tbs whole coriander
1 tsp red chili flakes
a pinch or two of cayenne pepper (to taste)
1 Tbs salt

The night before, toast the barley in a saucepan by placing it over high heat and giving it an occasional gentle shake or stir until the toasty aroma fills your kitchen.  Take it off the heat and let it cool slightly. Then add water to cover the grains by several inches. Dribble in a little vinegar and give it a stir. Cover the pan with a tea towel and let the barley soak in a warm place overnight. Whenever you’re ready to cook it the next day, drain the water and return the barley to the pan. Add the chicken stock and a generous pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer covered with a tight lid for about 45 minutes. Check it a few times during cooking and replenish the liquid if necessary.

Meanwhile, in a small skillet, heat the coconut oil over medium heat until  it shimmers. Add the salmon fillets skin side down and sprinkle the tops with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover with a lid and cook until the fish flakes easily, lowering the heat if it begins to burn. Cut it into large chunks. It will be further broken up when you mix the salad together. If I can resist eating the crispy skin, I mix it with the salad as it is a source of healthy fats; if it’s texture bothers you too much, feed it to your cats. Set aside until the barley is done. If you’re using leftovers, just remove it from the fridge when you start the barley so it can come to room temperature.

Combine all your spices in a mortar and pestle or a spice mill and grind until they are powdered. Sometimes the Szechuan pepper refuses to powder completely. In this case, you can either go with it or shake it through a fine mesh colander to remove the stubborn bits.

In a large bowl, combine the warm barley, chunked salmon, garlic, onion, and peaches. Drizzle the olive oil and vinegar and sprinkle with a Tbs of the spice mixture. Mix well, preferably with your hands so you can feel when it’s all been evenly incorporated. Taste and see what you think of the spice. Add more until it suites you. Add salt and pepper to taste. Keep the leftover spice in an airtight jar in a dark cupboard for next time.

If you have time, let it sit in the fridge for a few hours so the flavors can meld. If you don’t, serve it with confidence because it will still be good. Just before serving, mix in the chopped herbs. This salad is good cold or at room temperature. I like serving it on a bed of wilted greens.


Posted 11 years, 10 months ago at 2:55 pm. 1 comment

an encouraging use of space

While the quality of the picture is anything but encouraging, this use of space certainly gives me cause for hope. Someone refused to let their lack of outdoor space deter them from having a garden. It’s encouraging because it proves there are people out there who are thinking creatively and willing to put in some work (even if unconventional) to grow a bit of their own food.

What things have you seen recently that have been encouraging?

Posted 11 years, 11 months ago at 9:08 pm. Add a comment

urban forage notes: plantain and dandelion

This past Sunday I attended my second forage with herbalist, permaculturalist, and community builder Nance Klehm. While we discussed more than two dozen plants, I wanted to share two of the most useful and easiest to identify: plantain and dandelion. I’ll share a few more as the weeks go on, that is if my notes don’t get buried amidst wrinkling laundry, evolving to-do lists, and tottering wooden blocks.

  1. Plantain
    You probably have this growing in your yard or at least on the sidewalk down the street. Go check… seriously. Go find it and grab a leaf. Then come back and do an experiment with me.Didja find one? Now, put it in your mouth and chew it up, but don’t swallow it. Pretend you’re chewing gum. When you’re sure no one’s looking, spit the whole mess out onto your inner arm. And leave it there. We’ll come back to it in a few minutes.Meanwhile, I want to  talk about the secret power the plantain seeds possess. Let’s say you your friend had overinduldged a bit and was now having trouble with ….er…. elimination. If you wanted to help “your friend,” you could go out to your yard and pick a few of the seed pod stems. Choose ones that are brown and dry. Rub the pods between your palms to release the seeds- you might want to do this over a table in order to catch all the seeds. Once you’ve collected about a tablespoon of seeds, put them in a clean quart jar and fill the jar up with cold water. Let it sit overnight or 6-8 hours. The water will thicken slightly. The next morning, you can either drink the water straight, mix it with juice, or use it to make your oatmeal. The seeds release a gentle laxative into the water that’s safe for children and even pets. This simple, gentle, and effective medicine will enable “your friend” to get back to … regular life.Bring your attention back to the wad of plantain leaf on your arm. Do you feel anything? Pick it up and move it a couple inches.  As the compounds in the leaf mix with your saliva, it turns ice cold. You can use this plant to draw out the pain from bites, stings, and burns. This means it relieves the fire ant bites you southerners are cursed with every summer. Perhaps my people at City Roots can start a new farm fashion of plantain “tattoos” on their arms and legs? This also works with poisin ivy and poisin oak rashes. If you have just a small rash, you can use the same “chew and spit” method as for bites. However, if you need a larger area of your body covered, you will want to pick a bowlful of leaves and whiz them up in a blender with some water to make a paste. You can add some oatmeal for extra relief. Spread it over your rash like you would an over-the-counter cream. You can do this as many times a day as needed.*Do be aware of your body while doing this. As I said, this plant turns ice cold, so covering large portions of your body in it could give you the chills. Follow your body’s lead and rinse it off when it’s had enough.*
  2. Dandelion
    I’ve personally never shared the lawn owner’s hatred of dandelions. When I walked home from work, I always loved discovering their sunny flowers amidst a dessert of concrete. And I must admit that I still feel a magical twinge when I find a completely rotund puffy flower and blow all the seeds into the air.So it is with smirking delight that I’ve learned of the dandelion’s myriad uses.Every part of this plant is useful in some way- from the yellow bloom all the way down to the long taproot. The crunchier ones among us are probably familiar with the pleasant bitterness the leaves add to “mixed green” salad bags. If you think they’re delicious in your bagged salad, imagine how much better they’d taste with a heaping side of self accomplishment if you foraged them yourself. In addition to tasty-ness, the leaves also are high in minerals like calcium and magnesium, which are minerals most people are deficient in.  Not only that, but they are a diuretic; they will help you pee more and thus flush toxins out of your body. However, unlike plain water, dandelions replace the potassium that’s often lost when you go a lot. Therefore a dandelion salad is a great hangover food.The roots can be chopped, roasted, and brewed as a tea. Though roasting is optional, I highly suggest doing so as it not only increases flavor, but fills your kitchen with an aroma that’s similar to what would happen if you brewed a pot of strong coffee as you pulled sugar cookies out of the oven. The tea tastes like the earth- deep and loamy with a bitterness reminiscent of a good cup of coffee. While it might sound off putting, everyone I’ve seen try it takes a small sip and then several big gulps. Even Babytidian likes it. The roots have similar properties to the leaves- high mineral content, diuretic, ect. It’s also a blood stimulant, which means it’s good to drink anytime you’ve lost a lot of blood such as post surgery, childbirth, or after your period. Like the leaves, it’s a good drink for Monday morning ailments after a weekend of overindulgence.The yellow blossoms are also useful. While you can make great flower chains out of them to decorate your tree house, they also have slightly more adult uses. During a big bloom (normally in the spring), you can gather 300-400 of the blossoms and make dandelion wine or mead. If none of the other dandelion uses have convinced you to overcome your hatred of these weeds, one sip of this elixir will. Promise

And the poofy white seed heads? What’re they good for?  Why, for making more dandelions of course!

Posted 11 years, 11 months ago at 7:57 pm. Add a comment

Gerund Pudding

  • Convincing myself that “shucking” is onomatopoetic
  • Embracing summer rather than retreating from her
  • Admitting that his baby feet are not so baby anymore
  • Smiling at my little man’s inventiveness concerning games- can you guess his favorite?
  • Discovering the savory side of berries
  • Pedaling ever more confidently all over the city
  • Puzzling over  how one meets people in a new city without a bank of classmates or coworkers
  • Appreciating how old friends in a new place can make the new place feel more comfortable
  • Ironing out my laundry routine so that I’m not monopolizing the coin op machines but also have diapers always at the ready
  • Expanding my carnivorous horizons through Mint Creek Farm’s meat CSA. (Lamb spare ribs, where have you been all my life?)
  • Witnessing a paradigm shift in my thinking about nature after realizing that animals observe us just as much as (or more than) we observe them
  • Finding excuses to put herbs from my window boxes into anything
  • Growing a new kombucha scoby
  • Flavoring that kombucha with the essence of summer- blueberries, tarragon, peaches, pineapple sage, and melon, and…
  • Pointing out every time I see a front yard/ roof top/ community garden that’s thriving

Posted 11 years, 11 months ago at 8:01 pm. 1 comment

A Time for Everything

There is a time for everything.

A time for persevering

and a time for idleness.

A time for cool baths

and  a time for warm towels.

A time for naps

and a time for… er… more naps.

A time for sun

and a time for shade.

There is a time for fire

and a time for ice.

A season  for every purpose under heaven.

Even if that season is endless summer.

Posted 12 years, 10 months ago at 10:38 pm. Add a comment

Zapotec Pizza Margherita

One of the regrets I have every September is that I never make enough of these pizzas. Even with a family tradition of Friday pizza and movie nights, I can never seem to get enough in. And it’s my fault. I spend the better part of spring and early summer pinning for the First Tomato, inevitably resulting in darn near deification of the first month of harvest.  These tomatoes are above such things as flame and heat. They are the pure essence of summer and therefore must be eaten in their pure state, accompanied only by such acolytes as salt and olive oil.

As July meanders into August, I become less of a tomato zealot and start throwing them willy nilly into everything. After all, what dish is not made better by the addition of a tomato slice or two? This is when I seem to remember the Pizza Margherita. Not needing a recipe, making them become a kind of meditation. I am completely in the present moment as I make it. The golden olive oil pooling in the dimples of the crust. The feeling of the knife brushing my knuckles as it carves off the thin slices of tomato. The spicy green smell of snipped basil lingering on my fingertips. The sizzling of the cheese blistering in the oven. Pizza nirvana follows with the first bite.

And then September comes. Tomatoes are once again precious. Only this time I scrimp and save them up to make this pizza one last time, vowing to make better use of Tomato Time next year.

This year a new tomato wondered across my cutting board. The Zapotec. It’s an heirloom variety from the Oaxacan region of Mexico.  Much like a Roma tomato, it lacks the copious amounts of jelly/guts. Its lower moisture content means it doesn’t make the pizza soggy. Unlike a Roma, however, it’s pleated shape adds visual appeal to a pizza. And it tastes good. All of which leads me to the conclusion that even though pizza might be Italian, its tomato mate speaks with a Mexican accent.

Pizza Margherita*

1 recipe of your favorite pizza crust
Olive oil
Mozzarella cheese
Zapotec or other low moisture tomatoes (peeled if you wish)
Fresh basil

Preheat oven to 500°. Stretch or roll out your dough. Drizzle olive oil over the top and brush all the way out to the edges. Shred or slice the cheese and lay it out on the pizza. Horizontally slice the tomatoes as thinly as possible. Layer them over the cheese. Slide the pizza into the oven and bake for about 9-12 minutes, until the cheese is pleasantly blistered and the crust is golden brown. While it’s baking, snip the basil into small pieces. If you’re a perfectionist, you can officially chiffonode the basil. If not, cutting it up with scissors works just as well. Once you’ve taken the pizza out of the oven, sprinkle the basil over the top like confetti. Wait about 2 minutes for everything to set, then slice it up and get on your way to pizza nirvana.

*Yes, I realize there are no amounts for the ingredients in the recipe. That’s because it all depends on how big your crust is. I’m trusting that you all are smart enough to eyeball the ingredients.

Posted 12 years, 10 months ago at 7:58 pm. Add a comment

Prosciutto Basil Peach Sandwich

Ladies and Gentlemen, meet the BLT’s posh older sister– the PBP. I saw this on the menu at Drip in Five Points but didn’t have the moolah to order. But like an intriguing stranger, it’s been on my mind ever since.

Now that I’ve finally had the opportunity to make them, I think they will become standard summer fare for the Quotidian household. When ingredients are fresh they don’t require lots of culinary cover up to hide the under eye circles developed in red eye flights from Argentina or China.  But what I love most about this recipe is the crispness of the idea. Even when the produce is spectacular, there’s only so many Caprese Salads a girl can eat. Especially in summer when there are so many other chores to be done and activities to be enjoyed, seasonal eating can get stale. Balsamic Cucumber Tomato salad again? While fast and easy are rarely the sole determinants of what I cook, it is nice to have a few of these types of recipes in my apron pockets. A side salad of arugula microgreens makes a perfect meal.

Prosciutto Basil Peach Sandwich

3 slices of a crusty bread, such as ciabatta
soft goat cheese
3 slices of prosciutto
1/2 a ripe peach, thinly sliced, peeled if you wish
3 large basil leaves

Toast the bread lightly and let it cool slightly. Spread it with the goat cheese. Fold the prosciutto slice over the cheese. Top with the basil leaves followed by the peach slices.

Posted 12 years, 10 months ago at 2:42 pm. Add a comment

Summer Pleasures

As summer slugs into August and settles it’s sultry cloak over our shoulders, it’s easy to raise a stink (in more than one way). Late summer seems to be the hardest to endure. Gone is the novelty of shorts and bare feet. Summery foods have even begun to loose their luster as you remember the comforts of the long simmering soups of winter.

So it is at this time that it is especially beneficial to remember the pleasures of summer. To repeat as a mantra all the things that seemed so exotic in January. Of eating a tomato bigger than your fist over the kitchen sink while the juice dribbles down your wrists. Of thunderstorms that catch you by surprise, leaving you no time to seek shelter before it hits you with the force of sopping sheets. Of the sizzle of ice cubes dropped into iced tea. Of wading into a thick pool of honeysuckle scent. Of sharing frosty beers on the front porch swing with the same people you’ve shared work and sweat with all day long.

What are some of your favorite summer pleasures?

Posted 12 years, 11 months ago at 11:20 am. 2 comments

Sangria on a Stick

Sangria will always have a special hold on my taste buds. In my pre-married days I lived at a house where there was always a frosty pitcher of Sangria in the fridge. It was the accompaniment of many a weekend backyard cookout and afternoon share-more-than-you-meant-to  conversations. To this day I cannot make Sangria without thinking of my much cherished roommates.

This summer, however, while a sangria pitcher is not a stranger to my fridge, I needed something different. I’d been itching to try some of Mark Bittman’s adult ice pops and given my penchant for sangria, figured that would be a good place to start.

It was.

Normally part of the appeal of sangria is the wine soaked fruit at the bottom of the glass. But I wasn’t sure that would work for an ice pop, so I blended the juice in with the wine. While I personally used blackberries for this recipe, any berries (or fruit for that matter) would probably work. Although, if it’s something like peaches, you can probably skip the straining step.

Sangria on a Stick

1 lb berries
1 cup dry red wine
a good pinch of salt
a couple swigs of brandy

Blend all the ingredients together until smooth in a blender or food processor. Press the mixture through a fine sieve, discarding the solids.(Compost or chickens!)  Pour liquid into ice pop molds or paper cups. Freeze for at least 5 hours. If you are using paper cups, don’t forget to insert the stick once they thicken but before they are completely frozen. Take out of the molds as needed for summer afternoon pick me ups and incognito happy hours.

Posted 12 years, 11 months ago at 8:47 am. 1 comment

Rustic Fresh Fig Tart with Lavender and Goat Cheese

I feel like this post ought to start with some quip about the inferiority of Fig Newtons and Pop Tarts. But anything I think of either sounds lame or pretentious. “Fig Newtons are only a figment of your imagination compared to this!” or  “Pop Tarts: the illegitimate child of a tart.” See? I told you– I somehow manage to be lame and pretentious (and slightly risque) at the same time. Continue Reading…

Posted 12 years, 11 months ago at 1:20 pm. 2 comments