Spring Green Veggie & Herb Lettuce Cups

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Super simple and fresh, this is essentially a handheld salad that celebrates the early bounties of spring.

I opted to stick with lemon and olive oil for the dressing to let the brightness of the vegetables shine through; if you’re keen to douse the lettuce cups in tahini or have a green goddess or other dressing that you like, definitely do!

Great as a side dish, these lettuce cups can easily become a full meal by mixing in some flaked salmon, chickpeas or other protein of choice. Happy spring!

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Spring Green Veggie & Herb Lettuce Cups
Makes 4 lettuce cups

Ingredients
1/2 bunch asparagus
1/2 lb English peas (in their pod)
1 Meyer lemon
2 Tbsp. pine nuts
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/4 cup mixed herbs (mint, dill, chives, parsley, chervil are some nice options), roughly chopped
1 avocado, sliced
a few handfuls alfalfa sprouts
4 large butter lettuce leaves
salt & pepper

Directions
1. Cut off the bottom woody ends off the asparagus (1”-2” up from the bottom) and discard. Cut each asparagus stalk into 1/4” slivers at an angle and put into a medium sized bowl.
2. Zest the lemon and set zest aside. Squeeze the juice from the entire lemon over the asparagus. Add a couple pinches of salt, toss and set aside.
3. De-pod the English peas, adding the peas to the bowl with the asparagus as you go. Mix the two together.
4. In a small pan, toast the pine nuts over medium-low heat until golden brown, 5-7 minutes, stirring or tossing frequently. Once they’re golden, transfer immediately to a cutting board so they don’t burn. Roughly chop.
5. Add the olive oil, lemon zest, 3 Tbsp. of the chopped herbs and a few grinds of black pepper to the asparagus and peas. Stir to combine. Taste and adjust salt and pepper as needed.
6. Assemble the lettuce cups: In each butter lettuce leaf, place a layer of alfalfa sprouts, slices from 1/4 the avocado, and a couple spoonfuls of the asparagus and pea mixture (and its lemon-oil-herb dressing). Finish off with a few pinches of chopped pine nuts and the remaining fresh herbs.

Marinated Asparagus, Red Onion & Goat Cheese Salad

"To create one's own world takes courage"
                                         -Georgia O'Keeffe

I've been thinking a lot about balance lately. Not so much the typical idea of work/life balance, but balance of a more internal and personal kind. That sweet spot between constantly striving for better and knowing that what you do, make or share—even in its imperfections—is worthy. That space between brash confidence and utter lack of faith in your capabilities or qualifications. That tenderness, compassion and flexibility that yearns to be breathed into your choices when you tell yourself you're "slacking off" on whatever aspirations or regulations you have set for yourself, be it exercise goals or eating goals or personal project goals. That delicate and somehow elusive courage to keep doing, making and sharing even though you know there is still so much space for you to perfect and to learn.

It is both incredible and entirely unsurprising how many beautiful food blogs exist today. And now, with the ubiquity of Instagram as a tool for people to compulsively and publicly share their lives, we can stare at gorgeously prepared and styled photographs of food literally ALL DAY LONG. In ways, this is massively exciting. It is also terribly overwhelming and can spark a dark vortex of self-doubt. The "I'm not ______ enough"s are endless, if you let them be. I speak from experience. Even if you aren't a food blogger or aspiring Instagram superstar, the avenues through which people are now able to carefully curate and share a particular image of their lives are many; with innumerable opportunities for comparison today, it is often hard to trust that what we have to offer is enough. Maybe you can relate.

I am so appreciative of the bloggers who keep their entire history of posts up to view even after achieving massive success, book deals, etc. It's easy to forget (or not realize in the first place) that many of them have been producing work online for YEARS, as far back as 2008 or 2009. If you look at those first posts, they never look like they do now. The lighting, the props, the composition, the image quality—all of these things are skills and resources that take time to acquire. And these bloggers acquired them through their passion, their tenacity, their belief that what they had to share was exciting and worthy even when they had five readers and their posts included sentences like, "Hi, Mom!". They had the courage to create their own worlds, to pursue the activities that made them feel alive, and to share their offerings with the world not because they wanted fame or notoriety but because it was something they felt deeply compelled to do. Everyone, at any given time, is at a different point in the process, the journey, of their life. In this world of excessive sharing and digital connectivity, we should take inspiration from those further along in their journeys than we are and, even amidst comparison and kernels of frustration or doubt, find the courage to keep walking our own.

I've been sitting on this post for awhile. I was excited to have a free morning to shoot it and thought that the early afternoon light would be perfect. As it turned out, the light was harsh, blew out the colors in most of the images and cast drastic shadows from the windowpanes onto every shot I composed. I didn't have the "right" plate ware for the dish (wherever I get my ideas about plate ware from), and the salad took up way too little space on the plate. Some of the images were salvageable, but needless to say, I was bummed. Weeks passed and the images sat idly on my computer. And as I continued to flutter between engagement and disengagement with the other projects and things in my life, I began to think about balance. And worthiness. And the courage to do, make and share things with this world even when I don't think it's my best. To trust that in being gentile with myself, in being authentic, and in continuing to actively show up in this process that is life—in all of its messy imperfections—everything will, in time, fall into place.

______________________________


If you read my first-of-the-season asparagus recipe post, you'll already know that this oft-coveted springtime vegetable was a reeeeeally hard sell for me. Like, 27 years of life hard sell. But eventually, as my taste buds and my psychological aversion to vegetables both evolved, I began to willingly eat these green stalks of goodness. The recipe that was the asparagus turning point for me is actually the one I'm sharing with you here. It was created by one of the chefs at my former place of employment (hey, Mike!), who made this for staff lunch one day. It blew me away, not only because it was delicious, but because it was RAW. Raw asparagus?! Who would ever think to eat such a thing?! As it turned out, I actually like the taste of raw asparagus better than cooked because I find its flavor to be more mild. It also retains more of its vitamins and minerals when consumed raw. Letting it marinate in some acid, like we do here, also helps break down its starches which makes it softer and easier to digest. Win-win!

Asparagus: All the Best Anti-'s

I'm sure it comes as no surprise that asparagus is crazy good for you. While it is not in the cruciferous vegetable family (think cauliflower and cabbage), it contains comparable levels of anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients as these powerhouse vegetables. Its antioxidant profile includes beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, manganese and selenium. Eating a diet rich with anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant foods is essential to ward off some of today's most prominent diseases—type 2 diabetes and heart disease—which develop out of chronic inflammation and oxidative stress in our bodies. Vegetables like asparagus help keep our bodies in balance and these diseases at bay. Food is medicine, y'all! 

Another health-supportive property of asparagus is its incredible B-vitamin content. One of the main responsibilities of B-vitamins is to convert the food we eat (carbohydrates, fats and proteins) into into fuel (glucose), which then gives us energy. Because they play a key role in this metabolization process, they are essential in maintaining healthy levels of blood sugar. Asparagus contains high levels of vitamins B1 B2 and B6, folic acid (B9), niacin (B3), choline and pantothenic acid.*

*Nutritional information from WHFoods and University of Maryland Medical Center.

Marinated Asparagus, Red Onion & Goat Cheese Salad
Serves two
Recipe adapted from Mike de la Torre

Ingredients
1 bunch asparagus
1/2 medium red onion
1 large Meyer lemon (regular is okay too if you can't find a Meyer), zest and juice
3 Tbsp. good quality cold-pressed olive oil
generous pinch of salt
1/4 cup raw almonds
goat cheese, to finish
soft boiled egg (optional)

Directions
1. Slice the onion into very thin half-moons. 
2. In a medium bowl, zest the lemon and then squeeze 1/4 cup's worth of juice into the bowl.
3. Add the onion slices, toss with the lemon juice, add a generous pinch of salt and set aside.
4. Cut off the woody bottom third of the asparagus stalks. Slice the remaining tender part of the stalks on a diagonal into 1/4" thick coins.
5. Add the asparagus to onions and toss to coat.
6. Heat toaster oven to 325°F. Toast the almonds until fragrant, about 10-12 minutes, tossing halfway through. Roughly chop.
7. Add the olive oil to the marinated asparagus and onions, gently mix, and transfer to your serving bowl. Add chopped almonds and your desired amount of goat cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Finish with a soft boiled egg, if desired.

Asparagus, Caper & Toasted Almond Tartine

A native of Los Angeles, I grew up with a rather skewed experience of the seasons. Winter to me was orange, yellow and red tinted leaves that clung to their branches well into December, suburban streets lined with hues that I thought were vibrant until the East Coast taught me otherwise. To my thin California skin, the marked chill of a day that peaked in the low 50s drew my puffy purple jacket out of the closet, which I then layered over a sweatshirt and long sleeved tee. Aside from the eventual trickle of the foliage and its indistinct renewal, seasons in Los Angeles were subtle. The sky grew grey and sometimes poured rain, but the landscape always looked pretty much the same.

My first year in New York was a shock to the system, to say the least. I will never forget how impossibly long that first winter felt—truly, like, It's April, how the hell is it STILL snowing?! It got to a point when I almost couldn't remember the particular sensation of sunshine on skin. But slowly the thaw did come. And slowly, then seemingly all at once, new life began to emerge. In the early stages of spring, the tulips struck me most. Vibrant and elegant, they covered my school's campus, a proclamation of what was just around the bend: a world overcome with rich renewal. For the first time in my life, springtime was more than just a concept, a nondescript string of months between the chill and the heat. Not only could I see spring, I could feel spring in my bones.  

While I no longer reside in a climate with such dramatic shifts, living back East taught me not only to notice the particular markers of springtime but to relish this wondrous time when the world jolts back to life. Even during distinct environmental transition, it is so easy for us not to notice. We live such busy, plugged-in lives that we become disconnected from our surroundings and focus our attention solely on our personal dramas, obligations and narratives. Yet these cycles are not separate from us. They dictate what we eat, what we wear, how we move, when we sleep, how we feel. They provide opportunities for us to turn inwards, to hibernate and reflect and then to turn outwards and grow anew with the world.

While it may be doing so more rapidly in California than in other places at present, the thaw is approaching and new life is beginning to emerge. As beings who not only inhabit this Earth but are connected to it, it serves us to tap into this natural regeneration and use it as momentum within ourselves. The days are getting noticeably longer and new, less hearty and heavy crops are popping up, both of which offer us opportunities for more buoyant and sustained energy. Spring is the perfect time to sow seeds, set intentions and bring new projects and goals into fruition. So, here is my invitation to you: set a springtime intention. Something that will bring you joy, that will help you grow. And then do it. Notice the beauty that is emerging in the natural world around you, harness the energy of that new life, and set something enlivening for yourself in motion.

It's a little crazy that I spent four paragraphs talking about the changing of the seasons with only a fleeting mention of the food that comes with the turn of spring. Living in California, the seasonal transitions are almost marked more by the rotations of produce that adorn farmers' market stalls than by drastic shifts in weather. Each season has its show stoppers, the fruits or vegetables that define a particular time of year. For springtime, it's asparagus. (Okay, and green garlic and probably a few other things, but asparagus is definitely high up on that list.) Some people probably wait all winter long to see those lean, green stalks appear at the market. No offense, but these people seem absolutely nuts to me.

Let's be real: asparagus is a challenging vegetable. It is potent (some may argue pungent) in flavor and scent. I hated it until, um, last year. I still don't love it. But! I have been introduced to methods of preparing asparagus that compliment or mellow its taste in ways that make it palatable if not even, dare I say it, delicious. The most recent method—which was so good that it is now the subject of this post—came by way of my boyfriend, who (conveniently for me) is a pretty spectacular cook. I was decidedly disinterested the evening he excitedly proclaimed he had bought a bunch of asparagus and I remained so when he later departed to the kitchen to turn it into a "snack". Twenty minutes later, drawn to the kitchen by the sweet smell of toasty almonds and browning butter, I found my anti-asparagus resolve melting away. I leaned towards his plate to examine its contents, was offered a bite, and succumbed. I was immediately dumbfounded. Staring at T in disbelief, I demanded to know what he put in that thing to make the asparagus taste so delicious. And then I ate half the food on his plate.

I knew immediately that I needed to share his divine and startlingly simple concoction with you. At the start of spring, so you can make it for yourself and then for your friends and then for your family and then for yourself again, all before the season ends. So, what are we waiting for?

Springtime Asparagus Tartine
Makes four generous tartines

Ingredients
1 bunch asparagus (preferably skinny stalks)
1 Tbsp. ghee or butter (sub cold-pressed olive oil if you're vegan)
1/2 Tbsp. dry white wine (or juice from half a lemon)
1/4 cup raw almonds
2 Tbsp. capers (preferably salt preserved), rinsed
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, minced
2 large slices of fresh, crusty Boule (whole grain blend & sourdough are great), cut in half
salt & pepper, to taste

Method
1. Heat oven or toaster oven to 325°F. Spread almonds on a baking sheet and toast until fragrant, 10-12 minutes, tossing halfway through.
2. While the almonds are roasting, prep asparagus. Cut the woody bottom third off all the stalks and discard. Cut the remaining stalks into 1 1/2" segments.
3. When the almonds are toasted, remove from the oven and roughly chop. Set aside.
4. Heat the butter or ghee in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. When hot, toss in asparagus, reduce heat to medium low, and sauté, gently stirring, until the spears start to become tender and acquire a bit of color, about 5 minutes.
5. While the asparagus is cooking, brush your bread slices with a bit of olive oil and toast them (or char them on a grill if that's accessible!).
5. Add a generous pinch of salt and some fresh ground pepper to the asparagus and stir.
6. Add your glug of white wine or squeeze of lemon juice to deglaze the pan. When stirred, it should emulsify with the oil and create a sauce-like glaze over the asparagus. Taste for doneness; you want the asparagus to be cooked but still have a bit of crunch to it.
7. Remove the pan from the heat. Toss in the capers, minced parsley and chopped almonds. Toss to combine.
8. Pile the asparagus mixture high onto each slice of toast. Enjoy immediately.