Curry Cilantro Vinaigrette for a Winter Salad

Yesterday, I wrote about winter salads and in that post I mentioned using a robust dressing…one that can stand up to the bulky textures and flavors of cabbages and kale.

To follow up on that note, I decided to write about making a basic food processor vinaigrette in today’s post. Admittedly, I use bottled dressings in my kitchen. They add incredible convenience and if I choose carefully, they add flavor without a ton of fat. (I prefer the nonfat balsamic dressing from Trader Joe’s.)

However, there are many days when I make my own vinaigrette and without a doubt my trusty Cuisinart food processor or mini chopper is the tool for the task. Whisking the mixture in a bowl can do the trick but I find that my food processor lightens my dicing load and blends everything together beautifully.  I also like making my own vinaigrette because it saves me money and lets me tweak to my preference.

The basic approach is to use one part vinegar (or acid) to three parts oil. It’s then important to add an emulsifier, or blending agent, like mustard or garlic to hold the mixture together. I vary my vinaigrettes seasonally. In the summer when I make a rice and black bean salad, I make a garlic, cilantro and cumin-laced dressing. For those days when I am craving classic French salads, I make a tarragon shallot vinaigrette. Right now, because my garden is producing winter cabbages and kale, I am making hearty salads and reaching for robust vinaigrettes.

This morning, I made one of my favorites–a Curry Cilantro Vinaigrette. Using fresh ginger, lime, cilantro and curry powder, this concoction brings the warm flavors of curry and ginger to big bowls of crunchy seasonal produce. Here’s the recipe. Feel free to tweak it to your taste:

Curry Cilantro Vinaigrette

one 1 inch piece of fresh ginger root, peel and chopped into chunks

2 teaspoons curry powder

juice of 1 lime

1 Tablespoon honey

1/2 cup olive oil

1/4 vegetable oil

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 bunch fresh cilantro, leaves and stems included

In a mini chopper fitted with the metal blade, put the ginger root, curry powder, lime juice, and  honey. Blend for 30 seconds to chop the ginger root and combine the ingredients. Add the oils and the salt and process for 30 seconds to combine. Add the cilantro and process for another 15 t0 20 seconds to chop the cilantro. Transfer to a small jar and keep refrigerated. Makes about 3/4 cup.

Note: When using this vinaigrette, use a big bowl, toss well, add toasted seeds or nuts to the mix and toss in fresh seasonal fruit or  a little cheese if that suits your taste.





Warm up to Winter Salads!

Let’s face it.  Salad doesn’t get a lot of press during the dark days of winter. For sure it’s the stews, chowders and chilis that hog the limelight for much of the colder months of the year.

That being said, I still eat salad during the winter and the fact of the matter is that I simply craft my winter salads differently than my summer ones. In the summer, tender refreshing cucumbers, homegrown tomatoes, aromatic basil and light dressings rule the roost.

During January and February, I sharpen my chef’s knife and hunker down to use heartier produce like cabbage, kale, chard, carrots, red onions, apples, and pears. Over the years, I’ve learned that a winter salad can be downright satisfying when dressed with a more robust dressing and served with a warm soup.

Here are some tips on how to create and compose a satisfying winter salad:

Use the Boxed Mixed Lettuces as a Base

During the winter, I can’t grow enough lettuce to meet my  family’s salad needs so I rely on the large boxes of mixed organic greens or spinach sold at Sam’s and Costco. These lettuces offer tons of convenience because they are pre washed and make a solid foundation for building my salad. To prevent the greens from going mushy, I’ve learned to pull some out of the big  box and store them in separate plastic bag. By aerating and fluffing the greens I find that the greens keep better overall.


Winter Salad Kale Chard 2016Go for Color

We all need more color in our lives during the winter months so when you start to plan a winter salad, seriously consider adding items like red cabbage, dark green kale, or colorful chard. The trick to using these sturdier brassicas is to sharpen your knife and slice them thinly. This can take some practice but it makes a huge difference. When working with chard or kale, stack the leaves, roll them up like a cigar and slice them crosswise, which will result in an array of thin ribbons. As for cabbage, cut the head into smaller manageable hunks and slice thinly over the leaves.

Add Some Crunch

Create some crunch by adding croutons, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and even chow mein noodles. This might seem like an obvious tip but items like sunflower and pumpkin seeds can add a significant nutritional boost and a welcome nutty flavor that complement the whole shebang.

Winter salad wooden bowl 2016

Get a Big Bowl and Toss

Don’t underestimate the power of a big wooden salad bowl and an energetic salad toss. Yes, you can make a salad in a small bowl but during the winter months it’s a lot more fun to do it in a large bowl. After all, all of the winter salad ingredients are more robust than those found in a summer salad and they can certainly take the heat of a few hefty heave hos with the salad tongs. Furthermore, the added value of using a big bowl is that the salad dressing gets distributed more evenly and you thus have to use less salad dressing!




Seattle’s Best Garden Resources

As someone who has been gardening in the Emerald City for twenty years now, I am rather opinionated about my green resources. I don’t have a huge garden or a perfect one for that matter, but I do have a kitchen garden that produces a lot of chow for my family of five.

Over the last two decades, I’ve learned to rely on some tried and true resources…the ones that give me great information, top quality reliable starts, friendly service, or just unusual plants that bring joy and diversity to my dinner table and my little urban oasis.

Sky Nursery-The Gardener’s Garden Store!

Family run since 1953, this large garden store is located in Shoreline, just north of Seattle. I head to Sky year round. During the winter months, I head there for bags of Cedar Grove Compost, Carpinato Chicken Manure, and soil amendments like Cascade Minerals Remineralizing Soil Booster. At Sky they make it easy for me to haul these hefty bags home because the guys in the pick up section grab the receipt and load everything into the back of my car. (At Home Depot, I’d be humping those bags from cart to car all by myself.)

When things are starting to spring to life in February, I rely on Sky’s massive greenhouse for inspiration and much needed respite from the dreary weather because the greenhouse is filled with primroses and forced bulbs. The staff is always informative and they have shared tons of information with me all these years. This is also when I start to mooch around their vast selection of seeds, potato starts, and vegetable starts.

Berries Geraniums Vertical Gardening
Kitchen Garden 2015

Swanson’s Nursery-Seattle’s Favorite Garden Store Since 1924

Tucked into a residential neighborhood, Swanson’s is where I have purchased all my edible fruit trees and berries over the years. My collection is pretty big now–two figs, columnar apples, grafted plum, espaliered cherry and pear, plus an array of raspberries and loganberries. Their dwarf fruit trees perform beautifully in my little urban yard. If you want to add some fruit trees to your garden, be sure to check out their Bare Root Sale coming up from February 11 to March 6th. Bare root fruit trees and berry canes are deeply discounted so it’s a great time to stock up and save. If you want information on Fruit Tree Health Care, check out this seminar being held at the nursery on January 23rd.

Seattle Tilth-The Garden Hotline! 

When I first moved to Seattle in 1995, I loved my new gardening climate but I had a lot to learn. I think it was the landlord at our little rental house who tipped me off to Tilth. And, oh what a great tip it was! Located in Wallingford at the Good Shepherd Center, Tilth became a wealth of inspiration for me. I became a member and visited their demonstration garden often. It was their hotline, however, that really got me digging. Whenever I had a random question, I’d call and they would answer. Admittedly, I haven’t had to call very often these days but it’s worth noting that their website is an excellent resource. Clearly their communal impact has expanded far beyond that land line I used to call. So, if you aren’t familiar with Tilth, check them out and mark your calendar for their annual March Edible Plant Sale on March 12th.

Northwest Flower and Garden Show-February 17-21, 2016

Although I haven’t been to the flower show in a couple years, I plan to go this year. For many years, my husband and I would go to the show, happily poking around and getting ideas, tips, and advice. For a while there it seemed that the show was losing some momentum so we didn’t go,  but this year it looks like they have their game on big time. Themed “America the Beautiful,” the show will feature 20 theme gardens, the massive marketplace, and a very impressive lineup of seminars covering everything from gardening with children to creating outdoor decor on a dime.

So even though it’s still rather dark and dreary out here in the Emerald City, rest assured that there are lots of delicious gardening resources ready to wet your whistle for the sunny summer months ahead. Do you have a favorite garden resource?







January in the Garden: Research and Resources

Garden resources and research
January in the garden…gearing up with resources and research

Even though I have a winter garden here in Seattle, I admit there isn’t all that much to do in the yard during the month of January.

My cabbages are stalwart while  the kales and lettuces are holding steady until the weather starts to get a bit warmer and the days get longer. The elephant garlic, planted in early October, is looking great and  will sprint to life in the spring. Any beds that aren’t planted for the winter are heavily mulched with compost, foraged leaves and manure and covered in a blanket of burlap.

So, during January, I pretty much shift into research and development mode. The garden catalogs hold center stage on the kitchen table and the holiday cookbooks are put away and replaced with my motley collection of current and vintage gardening books. This is when I analyze what I did last year, coming to terms with what worked and what didn’t. I review all my garden photos to prompt my memory and then start to scratch out a game plan and goals for the year.

Last year, one of my goals was to maximize my yields in my small garden and I think I hit that goal in early July when I harvested about 80 pounds of zucchini in the first two weeks of the month.  I also definitely met that mark in terms of tomatoes. Thanks to some seriously sunny and hot weather here in Seattle, I got a bumper crop that kept on giving through October.

For 2016 one of my kitchen garden goals is again to maximize my yields in my relatively small yard. In order to do this, I will be exploring different varieties and planting methods and I’ll be looking to confiscate any unused garden space. This year, it’s all fair game.

So whether you are an experienced green thumb or a garden newbie, rest assured that January is a great time to sow the seeds of a serious garden goal.  To help get you started here are just a few of my favorite resources:

Territorial Seed Company in Oregon: I’ve been ordering many of my seeds (lettuces, kales, beets, winter cabbages and more) from this fabulous company for nearly 20 years now. Their catalog is filled with information and their seeds produce beautifully. Their customer service reps have always been great when I call and they can usually find an answer to my quirky question.

Johnny’s Selected Seeds: An excellent resource on the East Coast, Johnny’s catalog and offerings are off the hook. Get the catalog. Get inspired. Order and Sow. I bought my micro green seeds from them last year and they were great.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac: Yes, I know this one seems like an antiquated blast from the past,  but I have my dear Dad, who was a Master Gardener,  to thank for this one. For as long I can remember my Dad always had the current copy of this almanac at the ready. He’d consult it often and then prattle off into the garden. I bought a copy last year and checked the predictions for the summer in the Pacific Northwest. They predicted hot and dry so I rolled the dice, commandeered the sunniest corner of the yard, and invested in more tomatoes. The results were stupendous.

So, if you are struggling to get through the dreary days of January, cheer up, do some research and spring ahead to the bright days of summer!




January in the Garden: Community Gardening

P-Patch Community Garden Seattle
New Year’s Day 2016 at my P-Patch Community Garden. Wonders await under burlap!

2016 marks a new year and a gardening adventure revisited for me.

Twenty years ago, shortly after I moved to Seattle, I wrote an article for The New York Times on Seattle’s wonderful P-Patch Community Gardening Program.

Back then I was enchanted with the program and eventually landed a plot of my own. Located only a stone’s throw from our rental house in View Ridge, this garden, which was once an orchard, was a beautiful oasis.

Nestled on a hill overlooking Lake Washington and surrounded by heirloom fruit trees, my P-Patch plot was a blank slate for me. Gardening in the Pacific Northwest was new to me back then and I loved getting my boots wet by working in that lovely garden. I met fellow gardeners, surveyed their plots, gained inspiration and learned many tips and tricks for growing in Seattle’s temperate maritime climate. I was shocked at how easily plants grew here and I was delighted when I was told that I could grow a winter kitchen garden!

My  P-Patch participation was short lived because we eventually bought our first home, which had an enormous sunny garden suitable for growing all sorts of fruits, vegetables and berries. Sadly, that P-Patch garden itself was eventually mowed over and the land is now occupied by offices for Seattle’s Children’s Hospital.

I’ve been an active gardener since and still maintain an organic 400-square foot kitchen garden. Last spring, I spontaneously decided to visit a few community gardens around town and without a doubt the P-Patch bug bit me again…hard. I loved the diversity displayed between each of the individual plots and was fascinated with how the program has grown and expanded over the years.

With little delay, I decided to sign up for a plot. I was put on a waiting list for various gardens in my area and last fall I received an exciting email informing me that I was being offered one. Did I still want it? Yes, of course.  I replied within minutes.

With little delay, I went through P-Patch orientation on one ridiculously cold and rainy morning, paid my annual fee of about $40, and loaded up my 100-square foot plot with additional compost, numerous bags of foraged leaves, and lots of manure. Now, nestled under a cozy layer of recycled burlap, my P-Patch awaits. I’m planning, researching, gathering and plotting.

Not sure what my community garden plot will yield, but it sure feels great to come full circle.






Kitchen Garden Tips: Washing and Spinning Salad Greens

Seattle's mild maritime climate allows me to have a wonderful winter garden each year. This Arctic Butterhead always survives the winter and springs to life in the spring. The slugs love to hide in the crevices so it's important to wash it WELL!
Seattle’s mild maritime climate allows me to have a wonderful winter garden each year. This Arctic Butterhead always survives the winter and springs to life in the spring. The slugs love to hide in the crevices so it’s important to wash it WELL!
Without a doubt, a bountiful garden is indeed an awesome way to control the family food budget. But, I know from my own kitchen garden experience, that a garden glut can easily overwhelm the cook. It’s a pleasure to have lots of fresh homegrown vegetables to work with, but if you don’t know how to prepare them quickly and efficiently, all of your green thumb effort will be pitched right back into the compost heap when the items deteriorate in the fridge.

With that in mind, I am going to discuss how to wash and dry homegrown lettuces, greens, and spinach. Although organic mesclun mixes are widely available in produce departments, lettuces are some of the easiest and more rewarding things to grow. The supermarket lettuce mixes can’t compare to a diverse selection of homegrown greens destined for the salad bowl. And, of course, freshness is unsurpassed.

It’s well known that slugs and grit take refuge in the leaves’ crevices, so the greens need to be washed properly. Cleaning is generally done by plunging the greens into a bowl of cold water, swishing them gently, removing them and pouring off the dirty water. It can take a few rounds to completely remove the grit and slugs, and once the lettuce is clean it needs to be dried properly so you don’t have a soggy salad once dressed.

Kitchen towels can work, but the best tool for the task is a salad spinner. Both the rinsing and drying can be done in the spinner, so the task is simplified. I like the Oxo Good Grips Salad Spinner. The three piece dishwasher safe device has a bowl, a perforated basket, and a lid with a non slip knob. It’s easy create the drying centrifugal force by pumping the large knob on the lid. The patented pump mechanism features a brake button that quickly stops the spinning process.

The large spinner has a bowl capacity of 6.22 quarts. The mini spinner is suitable for small families and for drying fresh herbs.

So, getting to the root of things, it’s obvious that having the right tool can put a whole new spin on dinner!

This blog post originally appeared on Amazon’s Al Dente blog in May 2009.