Soba valentine.

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Winter is drinking out of mugs and eating from bowls. Winter is Valentine’s Day- we say we don’t like it but love it anyways. Winter is the scarf you knit in eighth grade and still wear; it’s remembering and nesting. And, as it happens, winter is finding the last delicata squash, sweet and tender and golden, in a picked-over bin at the market. Which is what happened this past week and is what leads me to soba.

This recipe employs a lean winter larder- seaweed, soba, kale, squash- and a bit of memory. When I was in high school, I spent some time as a foreign exchange student in Japan. My first bite on the mainland was that of soba. It was summer, and the soba was hot, and I was jetlagged in an Ambien-induced haze. Needless to say, soba was not particularly impressive to my sixteen year-old self; it would take a nudge from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty, seaweed, and a little pantry desperation to make me reconsider the earthy, buckwheat soba noodle.

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Living near the ocean in Seattle makes me want to try new things. Maybe that’s why unbelievably ridiculous shows like Jersey Shore and The Real World happen on the beach. The expanse of unknown water, the strange little creatures that make their way onto the shore, the barnacles and salt; I’d like to think that, though oceanic nudging, I’ve become a new-found devotee of many new things, including soba. (Other subjects- thigh tattoos, double IPAs, purposeful hipster mullets- are still under debate.)

In recent times, soba has gone mainstream and you’ll find it in the ethnic aisle of most grocery stores. Watch it when you’re boiling the noodles; cooked too long soba will be as bland and mushy as boiled cardboard noodles. Cooked al dente and seasoned while still warm and soba takes on a new identity: buttery, complex, and beautifully supple.

So, soba, tonight for Valentine’s Day dinner when you ask me to remember you and to cook and to love you, I will check “yes.” You taste exotic and yet comforting, humble and rich. You absorb flavors like no other noodle and you soften tough vegetables like kale and seaweed. It’s nice to dine with you again. Happy Valentine’s Day, friends! ❤

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Soba with Seaweed and Delicata Squash

Inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi’s “Soba Noodles with Aubergine and Mango” from Plenty.

Serves four.

  • 2 medium delicata squash, cored and sliced in 1/4-inch thick rounds
  • 2 tablespoons high-heat cooking oil (such as canola oil)
  • 1/2 large red onion, very thinly sliced
  • small bunch of lacinato kale, roughly chopped
  • 12 ounces / 3 bunches dried soba noodles
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, divided
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and finely minced
  • grated zest and juice of one large lemon
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup rice vinegar
  • 3/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • 4 sheets dried seaweed laver, cut in strips
  • handful of fresh cilantro and/or parsley, chopped
  • handful black sesame seeds and/or peanuts, chopped

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with foil.

In a large bowl, toss delicata squash rounds with  1/4 cup brown sugar, canola oil, and a hefty pinch of salt. Pour out onto baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally , until squash is crisp and caramelized.

In the meantime, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Make the dressing by combining vinegar, remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar, salt, garlic, red pepper flakes, ginger , sesame oil, and lemon zest and juice in a jar. Shake jar until sugar dissolves and liquids emulsify.

Cook the soba noodles in large pot of boiling salted water, per package instructions, or until just tender. Drain and rinse under cold running water. Shake off as much of the excess water as possible, then leave to dry in the colander or on a tea towel. While the noodles are still warm, place in a large bowl and toss with dressing, cooked squash, onions, kale, some of the seaweed, and most of the herbs. Garnish with remaining seaweed, remaining herbs, and peanuts and serve warm.

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Citrus salad with black pepper and tarragon.

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Helloo-oh, it’s winter. And Seattle has had some dark, short days. When I moved here this past summer, I selectively forgot about latitude, sun patterns, and the winter solstice. Why would a southern girl ever need to remember things like that? Evidently, it’s important in the Pacific Northwest. Evidently, it’s why the vampires from the Twilight series live in a town near me.

But (non-vampire) people have survived this far north for decades, centuries; I must be able to adopt the evolutionary adaptations that Seattlites use to cope with pasty skin and seven months of darkness, right? From my initial observations I’ve found that some days you have ginger cookies and milk for lunch. Some days (ahem, all days) you take hour-long baths. Some days you kayak and/or hike in the snow and/or rain. Every day you eat well.

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Never before have I been in a place that loves its seasonal food as much as the Pacific Northwest does. Winter is no excuse for bland colors. Instead, the markets burst with sunny persimmons, dark green lacinato kale and seaweed, silver-gilded oyster mushrooms, temptingly red endives, and citrus, their oranges, reds, and yellows like sweet, fragrant winter suns.

When our winter began in November, I made this citrus salad with grapefruit, tangerines, and pomegranate seeds. It was simple  and bright, a challenge to the months of gray to come. As winter has progressed, I’ve added a splash of sultry blood oranges, bit of freshly ground black pepper, handful of allspice. I need this salad like I need Vitamin D; in all its peppery, herbaceous lightness, it’s edible sun.

Postscript: As I write to you the sun is out in Seattle. In fact, the past week has been wonderfully, surprisingly sunny (three days of [foggy] sun! Sun, people!) Coincidence? I think not. Thank you, citrus salad.

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Citrus Salad with Black Pepper and Tarragon

Feel free to make this salad your own with different fresh herbs, spices, and types of citrus. For balanced flavor and pleasing visual appearance, pick types of seedless citrus with different levels of bitterness and varied interior colors.

Serves four, with leftovers for breakfast.

  • 1/8 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup fresh tarragon leaves, split in two bowls
  • 2 blood oranges
  • 2 mandarin oranges, navel oranges, or tangerines
  • 1 pomelo or oroblanco
  • 1 grapefruit (ruby red looks particularly lovely)
  • Freshly ground black pepper (pink pepper would work wonderfully as well; it’s just a bit harder to find.)

Add sugar, 1/8 cup tarragon, and 1/8 cup water in a jar and shake until the sugar dissolves and tarragon bruises. Strain syrup through a fine-mesh sieve and reserve for salad. Tarragon syrup will keep for a week in the fridge and can be used as a cocktail mixer, pancake topper, etc… the sweet possibilities are endless!

Cut off the base and stem end of each citrus and peel citrus with cut side flat on the cutting board. Make sure to peel off any bits of bitter white pith. Slice citrus crosswise into 1/4-inch thick rounds.

Arrange citrus on a platter. Grind a bit of fresh black pepper over top, drizzle with tarragon syrup, and finish with remaining tarragon.

Butter-roasted carrots.

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Remember these guys?

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Well, they’re back with a recipe (and more pictures.)

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These roasted carrots are so easy. Inexpensive. Quick. They add a lot of color to a plate, making them great for dinner parties. And when roasted in butter, (just a little bit, I swear!) they become guiltlessly addictive.

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Butter-Roasted Carrots

Serves 6 as a side. Adapted from Cooking Light.

1 lb carrots, sliced longways and finger-length (wash well but leave the skin on– it’s where most of the nutrients are and it’s easy)
1 Tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon olive oil (it’s important to use both butter and olive oil; the oil will raise the flash point of butter and prevent it from burning)
2 generous pinches of kosher salt
1 smaller pinch of coarse black pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 425.
  2. Toss carrots with melted butter and olive oil, salt and pepper.
  3. Bake for 15 minutes, or until tips of carrots are crisp and the skin begins to wrinkle.

Locavore: sweet potato enlightenment.

Locavore, n.

a person who eats food produced locally, within a 100 mile radius.

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We embark upon a new “Locavore” series as of today. Look forward to recipes made from in-season, local ingredients.

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Since I write from North Carolina’s CSAs and Farmers Markets, I’ll focus on ingredients produced in the Southeast.

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The inspiration for this series comes from a bunch of sixth graders and a class I taught them on “Food Sustainability.” I didn’t realize it would be so difficult to tell kids where their food comes from; America’s food industry is in dire straits.

American consumers demand the same vegetables year-round. Yet mother nature doesn’t work that way. She creates a thing called winter that freezes the ground and makes growing certain vegetables difficult. So we Americans use fossil fuels to ship our cucumbers and tomatoes from summery fields south of the equator up north to our wintry supermarket shelves.

Although our equatorial method is crafty, it’s not sustainable; we can’t eat bananas from Guatemala forever. Global oil reserves exponentially decrease while our atmospheric carbon levels exponentially increase and America won’t be able to depend on fossil fuels to transport its travel-wary summer squash in December for very much longer.

In honor of local eating, here’s a North Carolina winter recipe, Apple Cider Sweet Potatoes. North Carolina is the leading producer of sweet potatoes in the United States and grows 40% of the country’s supply. Sweet potatoes store well in farm cellars and the ground, making them the perfect year-round vegetable even in North Carolina’s occasional frosty weather. Made with local sweet potatoes, apples, onions, and honey, this recipe fantastically balances sweet and sour. This side or salad topper’s sweet potato orange and candy apple red is so bright, it’ll be sure to rouse you and your taste buds from gray winter days.

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Apple Cider Sweet Potatoes

This recipe was invented by my friend, M.K., and inspired by the blog Whole Living.

Serves 4.

2 medium-sized apples, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch-thick wedges (I prefer Fuji or Braeburn)
3 cups sliced sweet potatoes (leave the peel on when you use local, organic potatoes; the skin is yummy and nutritious)
2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
1 large onion, peeled, trimmed, and sliced thinly
1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup chopped toasted walnuts or hazelnuts (optional)

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Toss sweet potatoes, apples, olive oil, salt, and pepper on a baking sheet and roast in oven for 25-30 minutes until golden and tender, stirring a couple times.
  3. In the meantime, caramelize the onion with olive oil and salt. Add a pinch of baking soda to speed up caramelization (optional.)
  4. In a small bowl, mix apple cider vinegar and honey. Toss your onions and roasted creation in a serving bowl and drizzle vinegar-honey mixture on top. Add walnuts (optional,) salt, and pepper to taste. Serve warm with local love.

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