Kalettes, Wasabi and Colorful Cauliflower

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Grow The Newest Trendy Foods At Home

I work at the local library, a dream job if there ever was one. As I soft and shelve books, I notice that the balance of most-checked-out books is shifting from cook books to gardening books. That reflects the turning of the year’s tide as days grow just a bit longer and softening rains prepare beds for planting. However, plenty of foodie books are still circulating, especially those having to do with unusual vegetables. That amazing savant, Yotam Ottolenghi, author of Plenty, my favorite vegetarian cookbook so far, has come out with yet another masterpiece of vegetable bliss.

Ottolenghi’s newest book, Plenty More, is packed with tantalizing pictures of gorgeous vegetable dishes that beg to be made. Watercress features largely in this collection, including an amazingly delicious raw vegetable salad also involving cauliflower, French breakfast radishes, asparagus, peas and fresh basil. Yikes! His recipe for crunchy roots calls for rutabagas, turnips, kohlrabi, and carrots tossed with a zippy dressing that’s lively with cilantro and pomegranate seeds.

Fresher From Your Garden

Here in the maritime Northwest, we can harvest many root crops clear through the winter, storing them in the ground instead of in the pantry. I’m still enjoying slender, tender-crisp carrots that were sown last fall, as well as the final few potatoes and beets, and the last of the kale is still delicious as well. Though foodies are now declaring kale to be so last year, it’s still tops on my table, especially the various forms of Italian heritage kales. My top fav is still Black Magic, a kale/cabbage cross with crinkled leaves and a sweet, earthy flavor. I also love Portugese Beira, whose wide leaves look like jade porcelain and make amazing cabbage rolls.

Though temporarily trendy, there’s a reason that kale has been a staple plant in many cultures for hundreds if not thousands of years. Handsome, tasty, healthful and easy to grow, kale lasts through winter’s cold snaps and tastes even sweeter when dug out of a snowy bed. That’s why there are dozens of kinds of kale, from Nagoya White and Peacock Red to Petit Posy, a recent kale/Brussels sprouts cross with flavorful leaves and plump little rosettes.

The Newest Cover Girls

Those ruffled, pink-and-purple-tinged Petit Posy sprouts show up in Ottolenghi’s new book, causing several readers to ask me where on earth those adorable sprouts might be found. They are perhaps rivaled only by kalettes, a new kale/Brussels sprout cross resulting in adorably frilly little critters that taste as good as they look. So far,  three kalette introductions are available;  green-and-purple Autumn Star,  mid-winter Mistletoe, and late-season Snowdrop.

Cauliflower is closing in fast on kale as the new chef’s favorite, and it’s about time. I often roast cauliflower in a little avocado oil with raw cranberries, then toss them with sea salt and coconut aminos for a stunningly flavorful side (actually it’s my entire meal when eating alone). The colorful cauliflowers offer a wider range of those healthy cole family nutrients, and besides, they are gorgeous in raw salads. Dazzling Graffiti Purple, a summer-into-fall header, has been joined by Purple Cape, a winter header that brings fresh snap to the table in the darkest months. Creamsickle orange Sunset is also lovely and tasty raw but the color fades with heat.

Waking Up Overwintered Wasabi

I totally forgot to bring in or protect my pot of wasabi and figured it was toast after the hard frosts we’ve had, but when I was clearing the deck, I noticed that the pot is packed with bright, fresh green leaves. I’m moving it up to an even bigger pot with a wide, deep saucer to keep those roots reliably moist. An aquatic horseradish (and kale) cousin, wasabi prefers to grow by streams but accepts damp shade as well. Real wasabi is a culinary marvel, utterly unlike the gummy green paste offered in most sushi bars. Both the rhizome and the big, heart-shaped foliage have an astonishing pungency that blows the glop out of the water.

Freshly grated wasabi is a delicate, baby ribbon green, with a bright, sharp heat that sings in the mouth, but it’s a fleeting song. Within minutes, the grated rhizome loses its warmth and power, so it’s only outrageously delicious when absolutely freshly prepared, preferably at the table. (A fine microplane is perfect for grating fresh wasabi.) Luckily, you can store the harvested root in the fridge, wrapped in clean cheese cloth and set in a bowl with a little water. It will keep for up to two weeks, so you can grate just a bit at a time as needed.

A Waiting Game

Wasabi’s heart-shaped foliage and slim stems are also tasty raw or lightly steamed. Don’t harvest too much foliage from a young plant, however, or you’ll end up robbing the slower-growing root, which is of course the main event. The roots need a couple of seasons to reach harvest size, and you can tuck the smaller offshoots back in for another crop.

Half-hardy, wasabi can take a few degrees of frost but may be killed by prolonged, deep freezes, so they are best overwintered in a greenhouse in colder areas. In England, wasabi is commercially grown in open streams, along with watercress, where the running water protects the root from hard frost. Here on Bainbridge Island, wasabi planted decades ago has colonized the banks of Issei Creek as it runs through Bainbridge Gardens Nursery half a mile from my home.

Raw Spring Salad With Wasabi Greens

2 cups baby spinach
1 head butter lettuce, pulled in pieces
1 cup pea tendrils
1 cup thinly sliced wasabi foliage and stems
1 cup raw asparagus, thinly sliced on the diagonal
1 cup chopped cucumber
1/4 cup chopped toasted almonds
1 tablespoon avocado oil
1 teaspoon plain rice vinegar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Combine all ingredients, toss gently and let stand 10 minutes before serving. Serves 4.

Poached Salmon With Fresh Wasabi

1 pound salmon fillet, cut in four pieces
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 inch fresh wasabi root
1 tablespoon minced basil

Place salmon skin side down in a wide, shallow pan and sprinkle with half the salt. Add water to bring the liquid depth to about 1/4 inch. Bring to a boil over medium high heat, cover pan, reduce heat to low and cook to an internal temperature of 136 degrees F (about 6-7 minutes). Remove from heat and let stand for 10 minutes. Grate the wasabi, blend quickly with the basil and remaining salt, add a teaspoon of the paste to each serving of fish and serve immediately. Serves four.

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