salad

warm summer soba salad (gf, v) + buckwheat by Annie Jefferson

The word 'soba' means both 'buckwheat' and 'noodle' in Japanese. In traditional Japanese diet, soba noodles are led only by rice as a go-to grain of choice. Buckwheat is a seed, not a grass or a grain. It got it's name in part because of how the seed was utilized - as wheat. It's history is long, with first evidence around 6000 BCE in China, and incredibly, it's the world's highest elevation crop, cultivated in the Yunnan province on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau, which - 14,800 feet in elevation - is called 'the roof of the world'.

Their ability to grow up in the sky adds to my existing sense that there's something special about buckwheat. To me, buckwheat noodles feel like the earth. Unlike regular white wheat pasta, their dark speckled grey hue is the color of something found in nature, like sand or the branch of a tree. Their flavor is nutty and earthy. Their texture firm, but yielding. I love the delicacy of their flat edges, the lightness of each noodle. They are grounding to all senses. Actual buckwheat flour has a consistency that makes me want to swim in it, and a color that I want to decorate my whole house in. The seeds are shaped like perfect little triangles and often used for porridge.

The hand production of soba noodles is a labor of patience and repetition, a lesson in mindfulness and following instincts. Masters of the trade are trained in precision and take great care to 'adjust their dough according to the humidity in the air, according to the variety of buckwheat, according to the grind of the flour.'

In "The Art of Homemade Soba Noodles" (Saveur, Francis Lam, February 2016), artisan soba maker Sonoko Sakai describes her house as a 'buckwheat monastery'. At her Los Angeles residence, Sakai 'teaches the meditation of noodle making... work(ing) in elegant, nearly ritualistic movements...and committ(ing) herself to the intimacy, the humanness, the smallness of a simple craft that you make, serve, and watch disappear over and over again.' Making soba noodles by hand involves many steps of kneading, forming, rolling, flattening, all requiring great attention to detail and extensive practice, eventually establishing a somewhat meditative state, where the mind is at rest and the body performs the ritualistic work without prompt.

'Soba saved me', Sakai says of the passion she found after leaving behind a career as a producer and buyer in the film world.

This salad is light and refreshing, a lovely choice for a summer day. The noodles are tossed in a combination of coconut oil, miso, sesame oil, maple syrup, and tamari, and then folded together with spring onions, sweet peas, arugula and fresh herbs, topped with lime juice and sesame seeds. It's easy to make and will leave you feeling fresh and maybe even zen.

A note on soba noodles:

Most soba noodles that you'll find at the supermarket are made of both wheat and buckwheat. I find my 100% buckwheat flour noodles at my local Asian grocery. Sometimes farmer's markets carry them. You can also make your own. All buckwheat noodles tend to be darker in color and stronger in flavor. Do be aware of the ingredients when you buy, especially if you're following a gluten-free diet. When you get the full buckwheat experience, you are getting loads of protein, fiber, B vitamins and minerals, such as magnesium 

INGREDIENTS
1 pack soba noodles
3 tablespoons coconut oil
1 tablespoon miso paste
1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
4 green onions, sliced
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon red chili pepper flakes
2 tablespoons tamari
1/2 cup sweet peas
1 large handful arugula
2 tablespoons fresh basil, chiffonade cut
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
juice of half a lime
optional: avocado

METHOD

Heat a large pot of water for the noodles. In the meantime, add the coconut oil to a saucepan and once hot, stir in the garlic. Cook for 1-2 minutes until softened. Whisk in the miso paste. Add the green onions and cook for another minute. Remove from the heat. Stir in the sesame oil, maple syrup, red chili pepper flakes, and tamari.

Once boiling, add the soba noodles to the water. They should only take 4 minutes to cook. With 1 minute remaining in cooking time, add your sweet peas (if frozen). Drain and rinse under cool water to prevent the noodles from sticking. Transfer the noodles and peas to the warm saucepan and toss with the miso sesame mixture. Fold in arugula, basil and cilantro. Transfer to a serving bowl and top with sesame seeds and lime juice.

Serve with sliced avocado and fresh basil leaves.

warm farro with wild mushrooms and melted shallots + seavey vineyard by Annie Jefferson

I spent this past weekend at my family's vineyard in Napa Valley. I've been coming here since I was born. I learned to swim in the pool here, to listen for rattlesnakes near the big rocks by the winery, to cook with my Grandma, and eventually to pay attention to the flavors that followed the grapes from our land to the bottle. It's such a special place, and one that has only occurred to me in recent years to be so much more than just my grandparent's home.

Seavey Vineyard is a family-owned vineyard and estate winery nestled in the hills of Conn Valley that hand-crafts small lots of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay. Napa's mountain region is home to some of the most under the radar and exciting winemaking right now. Relatively untouched by tour buses and bachelorette parties and Instagram hashtags, the wineries here tend to be more rustic and unassuming than their more popular peers down on the valley floor. Seavey is exactly that - rustic and unassuming - and so much so that you might drive right by it if you miss the rusted, red mailbox at the head of the driveway that announces your arrival.

My grandparents bought the property from my Mom's high school geometry teacher in the late seventies. In pursuit of a shared dream, they set about reviving the century-old vineyards and renovating the old stone dairy barn into a winery and tasting room. The first vintage was released in 1990 and Seavey has since been producing age-worthy, Bordeaux-style wines using old world winemaking techniques and gentle extraction methods, such as whole berry fermentation, to help reveal the complexity of flavors, colors and textures in each grape. Every extra effort exists, in the words of the winemaker, to help the land express itself through the wine.

Seavey Cabernet grapes, photo taken right before 2015 harvest

Seavey Cabernet grapes, photo taken right before 2015 harvest

Traditionally a red wine so robust as a Cabernet Sauvignon will be paired exclusively with red meat. It's been suggested that a grilled marbled ribeye and a deeply tannic Cab are the perfect pairing. Bold for bold, red for red, like for like being one of the most straightforward rules of wine pairing. When I was asked to develop a recipe pairing for Seavey, which is known for its big, bold Cabs, and specifically for a vintage described as 'fierce',  'masculine' and displaying 'muscular intensity', I knew this wasn't going to be all layer cakes and lattice pies for me.

I'm a very rare meat-eater. Not only this, but I literally never cook meat and don't claim more than the most elementary understanding when it comes to technique. I do, however, love wine and love drinking wine with plant-based foods. When I started my research for this recipe, I was surprised that many experts warn against pairing Cabs with anything but meat. 'Save the entrée salad for another night', they say. This seemed anciently outdated and unnecessarily limiting to me, and unsurprisingly, since my family eats and grows a lot of plants, Seavey agreed.

Modern California cuisine, after all, is all about openness and flexibility, including greater flexibility when it comes to wine pairing. The idea that a wine is so drinkable that it can be paired with either a salad or Mexican food very much reflects the thinking of the 1970s vegetable-driven movement in California towards seasonal, local and fresh ingredients. I wanted the style of this recipe to reflect the region and have a shared sense of place with the wine, so I decided to consult our family friend and alum of Chez Panisse, who served as executive chef at the Berkeley restaurant at the time of its great influence on California cuisine. 

Jean-Pierre Moullé was the perfect person to ask for advice. As a chef, it's customary to start a menu with the food and then select the wine accordingly. But, after years as an accomplished chef, when Jean-Pierre met his future wife Denise Lurton, who is part of the Lurton winemaking family in Bordeaux, her father insisted that all meals begin with the wine selection, and the dishes that follow serve only to encourage the character of the wine. And so, as Denise and Jean-Pierre describe in their beautiful, dreamlike book on French-inspired cooking and good living, Jean-Pierre became an expert in reverse pairing.

French Roots   by Jean-Pierre Moullé & Denise Lurton Moullé

French Roots by Jean-Pierre Moullé & Denise Lurton Moullé

Jean-Pierre suggested a farro salad with roasted vegetables and fresh greens to pair with Seavey's full-bodied 2013 Caravina Cabernet. Farro, with a nutty heartiness and a satisfying chew, seemed like a logical starting place for a dish that was trying to be a match for the 'muscular' wine with mouth-coating tannins that it's paired up against. We toast the grain in the oven to bring out an extra layer of nuttiness before boiling it until al dente. Then, wild mushrooms - shiitake and maitake - chosen for their rich umami content, are browned in butter over high heat, tossed with shallots and garlic, and deglazed with a splash of white wine. The dimensions of flavor added to the mushrooms - including a spoonful of maple syrup and a pinch of cayenne - reflect the nuanced complexity of the wine, which brings hints of plum, spice and sweet floral notes. Fresh herbs, lemon juice and grated parmesan added while the ingredients are still warm help bind the dish together and add layers of acidity and freshness. Both the dish and the wine light up the tastebuds at the back of the mouth and have a soft finish.

Seavey Vineyard and Francie Pie hope you enjoy!

WARM FARRO WITH WILD MUSHROOMS AND MELTED SHALLOTS

INGREDIENTS
1 cup uncooked farro
salt for cooking water
3 shallots, finely sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 pound wild mushrooms, cleaned and cut into bitesize pieces*
olive oil
4 tablespoons butter
white wine
salt & black pepper
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh chives, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped
juice of half a lemon
¼ cup freshly grated parmesan

*I used equal parts shiitake and maitake. You can use whatever wild mushrooms you come across - chanterelle, oyster, porcini, crimini, etc. Avoid cultivated white button mushrooms. Whatever you find, cut them into pieces if they are too large for a bite, but not too small, as mushrooms have high water content and so shrivel up when cooked. As you'll see in the recipe, I like to cook the maitake separate from the other mushrooms. This is because they have thin, tender petals, and crisp up beautifully if given enough space in the pan. I also like to add sweetness and heat to them because it brings out their rich umami flavor. If you can't find maitake for this recipe, feel free to cook all your mushrooms together.

METHOD
Heat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Rinse your farro under cold water and drain. Spread farro on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for 10 minutes until fragrant and golden brown. 

I like to cook my farro like I cook pasta. In my experience this protects it from overcooking and becoming sticky. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a rolling boil. Remove farro from oven and add to boiling water. Turn heat down to medium and boil farro until al dente - tender, but not mushy. Drain the farro and spread it on a baking sheet to dry and cool. You may also soak your farro overnight in the refrigerator and follow the same instructions, reducing cooking time to about 10 minutes.

Heat two frying pans with a tablespoon each of olive oil and butter over high heat. Add the maitake to one pan and the shiitake to another. Allow the mushrooms to cook in the pan untouched for 5 minutes or so. If they begin to burn, turn the heat down slightly. As soon as the mushrooms release their liquids add another tablespoon of butter to each pan, followed by half of the shallots and garlic to each. Stir until incorporated and then let the mushrooms continue to cook, stirring only occasionally so that they can brown and crisp. Your mushrooms should be slightly shriveled and browned with bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Add a generous splash of white wine to each pan and allow the liquid to cook off, scraping the bottom of the pan with your spoon as you go. Add maple syrup and cayenne to the maitake. Stir. Remove from heat. Add salt and pepper to taste to both pans of mushrooms.

Combine warm mushrooms and farro in a serving bowl. Add chopped herbs, lemon juice and parmesan. Stir to incorporate. Add freshly cracked pepper to taste. Serve while warm with 2013 Seavey Caravina.*

*Seavey suggests decanting the wine at least one hour before serving to let it open up.

crispy rice spring salad with lemon zested vinaigrette by Annie Jefferson

The mark of a paella that’s good enough to reserve a place in your mental drawer of fried Spanish rice dishes is how much you get of that caramelized to a golden crisp, glued to the pan, nutty crust around the edges. The mark of the universal popularity of such a cooking outcome is the number of cultures around the world that have designated to it a special word.

Referring to those crispy rice edges, the Spanish word socarrat comes from the verb socarrar, meaning ‘to toast lightly’. In Chinese the word is guoba meaning ‘pan scrapings’. In Persian it’s tahdig meaning ‘bottom pot’. In Korean it’s nurungji for ‘scorched’. In Baghdadi it’s hkaka, which refers to the sound of a spatula scraping the rice from the bottom of the pot. In the Philippines, it’s customary to actually disable the automatic shutoff button on rice cookers in order to get the coveted dukot. The list, I’ve discovered, goes on.

Whatever the name, evidence suggests that everyone everywhere is on to the same thing – the brittle, glutinous, crackly portion of an otherwise not dish; the exciting byproduct of a traditional method of cooking; the sideshow that’s a bigger crowd-pleaser than the show itself. It’s a similar thing that has us hooked on the crackling of pork, the sear on a cut of meat, the crispy edges of a pan of lasagna or the thick crust on a loaf of bread.

All are examples of the results of the chemical changes that take place when foods are exposed to high temperatures, collectively referred to as the Maillard Reaction. Much of the appeal here is due to the deepening and complicating of flavors, which takes place as sugar and protein compounds shift, but an entirely separate variable also joins the team when this type of transformation takes place.

Texture isn’t talked about as much as flavor and smell when it comes to food, yet it’s tightly wrapped up with these concepts. Chef Daniel Patterson of San Francisco’s Coi sees texture as ‘the delivery mechanism for flavor’. Texture can also be seen as a way to trap and transport aromas to the mouth - think about the holes in a loaf of sourdough that trap warm, yeasty fragrances. And while much of our perception of texture takes place on a subconscious level, we’re nevertheless extremely sensitive to and particular about the feel of food in our mouths.

As humans we’re born with a ‘deeply ingrained need to chew’ as food scientist, Malcolm Bourne observes in his book Food Texture and Viscositya fact which becomes apparent when you consider how much chewing infants do – on toys, chewing rings, fingers. We’re wired to start chewing almost immediately and as a result we develop a long history of close familiarity with different textures – creamy, chewy, springy, gritty, spongy, slimy, etc. – and very specific preconceptions about which foods should fall into which categories.

A well-crafted dish will speak to this range of experience and offer contrast between, for example, things that crack and things that flow, things that linger and things that dissipate quickly. This salad attempts to do just this. It will make you chew like an infant all over again. The inspiration for the paella-less fried rice comes from Jessica Koslow – owner of Los Angeles’s famous eastside brunch spot Sqirl – and her Crispy Rice Salad, which is served at breakfast with ‘the works’ – a fried egg and sausage.

Here, I wanted to pair the pop of the ‘socarrat’ fried rice with some items from today’s farmer’s market haul – the smoothness of the butter leaf lettuce, the starchy chew of the sweet English peas, the snap of the root vegetables and the delicate give of the dill. The creaminess from the vinaigrette helps bind it all together, giving something in common to each of the otherwise disparate ingredients.

And once you’ve mastered this crispy rice technique, you can use it for anything – as a garnish for creamy soups, atop a morning yogurt bowl, baked into chocolate chip cookies…as with the names around the world for ‘crispy rice’, the list of possibilities goes on.

CRISPY RICE SPRING SALAD
Serves 2-4

INGREDIENTS
3/4 cup long grain brown rice (here I’ve mixed in some daikon radish seeds for variety)
1 cup vegetable oil (or other high smoking point oil for frying)
half a small red onion
1/2 lemon and ice water to bathe onion
2 cups mixed variety beets, scrubbed
half a fennel bulb, shaved
1 1/2 cup fresh English peas, shelled (2 pounds peas in their pods will yield 2 cups shelled)
1 head butter leaf lettuce, leaves washed and dried
1/2 cup fresh dill, roughly chopped

METHOD
Rinse rice under cold water. Transfer to a large saucepan of boiling salted water and cook until tender, 25-30 minutes. Drain any remaining water, return rice to the pot, cover, and let sit for 10 minutes. Spread the rice out in one layer on a large baking sheet, and let it stale for several hours or overnight in the oven. Drying out the cooked rice is a critical step in achieving desired results in fried rice.

Once rice has dried out, pour vegetable oil into a frying pan and heat over medium-high heat. You want the oil at 350° F, which you can determine either with a thermometer or by inserting a wooden spoon, which will bubble around the stick when oil is ready for frying. Cook rice in four batches until puffed and golden, about 1 minute per batch. Remove from the oil using a fine mesh sieve and allow to drain on a paper towel. Season with salt and allow to cool.

Preheat oven to 350° F. Place whole beets on a piece of foil. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil and sprinkle with coarse sea salt. Wrap foil into a sealed pouch with a small opening at the top. Through the opening pour a small amount of water. Wrap pouch up securely and place on a baking sheet. Roast for 20-25 minutes, until slightly softened but still firm. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Once cooled, using a mandolin on the thinnest setting, shave beets into thin slices. Alternatively, slice as thin as possible with a sharp knife.

Using the same mandolin setting, slice onion. Transfer to a bowl of ice water with lemon (this helps to remove the pungency of the onions).

Shell and rinse peas. Bring a pot of water to a boil and quickly blanch the peas for about 1 minute. Transfer immediately to a bowl of ice water.

Using a vegetable peeler, shave little slices off of the fennel bulb.

To assemble, toss all ingredients with vinaigrette, recipe below.

 

LEMON ZESTED VINAIGRETTE

INGREDIENTS
zest of half an unwaxed meyer lemon
juice of 1 meyer lemon
1/4 cup plain greek yogurt
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
flaky sea salt
fresh ground pepper

METHOD
Whisk lemon, zest, honey, yogurt and vinegar together in a small bowl. Continue to whisk as you slowly add the olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste.