Springtime cocktail snacks straight from the Farmers’ Market

Although I have a huge weakness for chips and dip, I try not to serve them as cocktail snacks because people simply get too full and it diminishes their enjoyment of the meal I have worked so hard to prepare. I’ll often serve something light but full of flavour to get the tastebuds revved up for the meal ahead so when I saw an intriguing collection of miscellaneous goodies in my Farmers’ Feast challeng basket last week, I quickly knew what I’d like to pull together. With a plate of spicy pickled carrots from Rochon Garden along with quick-pickled ramps and green onions, I knew I’d have a tangy taste treat for my next gathering. Then I decided to add in some freshly-popped cobs of popcorn from Acorn Creek Garden Farm, seasoned with a few generous splashes of hot sauce from Chamomile Desjardins. As you have likely guessed, all of these products came from the Ottawa Farmers’ Market. Below are the recipes for the pickled ramps and green onions. Happy cocktail partying!!

Brighten up your cocktail party offerings with a plate of pickled local vegetables and some popcorn sprinkled with salt and hot sauce.

Brighten up your cocktail party offerings after a trip to the Ottawa Farmers’ Market with a plate of pickled local vegetables and some popcorn sprinkled with salt and hot sauce.

Quick pickled ramps

Wild leeks are one of the forager’s first finds of springtime. Characterized for their tender green leaves and a white bulb, they are usually referred to as ramps and are a fleeting delight, given that their season is very short, although pickling has become a very popular way to extend the enjoyment of them.  This recipe is adapted from one by David Chang, known for his wildly successful Momofuku restaurant empire. If you can’t find peppery-tasting Japanese seven-spice powder, Chinese five-spice would be a tasty substitute.

This is a nice alternative to pickling ramps in a simple vinegar-salt-sugar-water brine. If you want to fit more ramps in the jar, cut the leaves off before pickling.

This is a nice alternative to pickling ramps in a simple vinegar-salt-sugar-water brine. If you want to fit more ramps in the jar, cut the leaves off before pickling.

Ingredients

  • 1 bunch young wild leeks (ramps)
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon Japanese seven-spice powder

Method

  • Trim the roots off the bulb ends of the ramps. Wash well in cold water, removing any dirty or bruised outer layers. Trim off any coarse or discoloured leaves.
  • Combine the vinegar, sugar, water and seasonings in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring, until the sugar and salt have dissolved.
  • Gently put the ramps into the pot. Let sit on the heat for three minutes, prodding gently with a wooden spoon to be sure all sections of the ramps are immersed briefly.
  • Remove from heat and then extract the ramps from the brine with tongs or your fingers, pulling them out by the bulb ends.
  • Coil the ramps into a canning jar (a widemouth 1 cup / 250 mL is the perfect size). Pour the brine over top and let cool to room temperature.
  • Once cooled, refrigerate the pickled ramps.
    The ramps will be ready to eat in 24 hours and can be stored in the fridge for several months.
  • For longer storage, follow safe hot water bath canning practices.

Makes one jar.

Quick Pickled Green (Spring) Onions

Like tender ramps, spring onions have a mild flavour that is ideal for pickling. Reminiscent of pickled cocktail onions, these pickles are great as-is, or ideal for adding to sandwiches as well.

I wish I'd thought to pickle green onions years ago. I'm hooked!

I wish I’d thought to pickle green onions years ago. I’m hooked!

Ingredients

  •  1 bunch green onions
  • 3 tablespoons (45 mL) fresh dill
  • 1 1/3 cups (340 mL) white vinegar
  • 2/3 cup (180 mL) water
  • 3 tablespoons (45 mL) white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) coriander seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) whole black peppercorns

Method

  • Wash the green onions, removing any discoloured layers. Trim off the root ends of the bulbs.
  • Stand the green onions up (bulb ends down) in a 2 cup (5o0 mL) canning jar and trim the green onion tops to just barely fit in the jar. Poke the dill sprigs around the onions.
  • In a small saucepan, combine the vinegar, water, sugar and salt. Bruise the coriander and pepper using a mortar and pestle or the bottom of a mug and add spices to the pot.
  • Heat, stirring often, until mixture is boiling and sugar and salt are dissolved.
  • Pour hot brine over the onions and put a lid on the jar, squashing the onion tops down into the jar as you do so. Shake the jar a few times to distribute spices.
  • Let cool at room temperature then refrigerate for up to 2 months. The onions will be ready to eat in 48 hours.

Makes 1 jar.

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Grilled Asparagus and Spring Onions

When I spotted huge bunches of asparagus and green onions (also called spring onions or scallions) in my Farmers’ Feast challenge basket from the Ottawa Farmers’ Market, I knew right away what I wanted to do with them. I love the simplicity of splashing on a little olive oil plus some salt and pepper then grilling fresh, seasonal vegetables until they are just barely tender. Add some fresh herbs and a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime juice, and the taste can help you really embrace the love and care that the farmers have put into their produce. This dish is just as delicious at room temperature as it is straight off the grill.

Really fresh vegetables like the ones found at the Ottawa Farmers' Market benefit from careful cooking and gentle seasoning so as not to mask the vegetables' great taste.

Really fresh vegetables like the ones found at the Ottawa Farmers’ Market benefit from careful cooking and gentle seasoning so as not to mask the vegetables’ great natural taste.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound (454 grams) asparagus
  • 1/2 pound (225 grams) spring (green) onions
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) olive oil
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) chopped fresh dill
  • 1/2 lemon

Method

  • Wash and pat dry the asparagus, snapping off the woody ends.
  • Trim the bulb ends of the green onions and strip off any discoloured parts.
  • Place the asparagus and onions on a rimmed plate or baking tray and drizzle with olive oil.
  • Sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss them gently with your fingers so they will get uniformly coated with oil.
  • Separate the onions and asparagus as you’ll want to grill them separately.
  • On a medium-temperature barbeque (or oven at 350F), grill the asparagus first until it is tender and just beginning to char. A grill basket or perforated grill pan is helpful.
  • Remove asparagus from the grill.
  • Grill onions for just a few minutes until they are wilting.
  • Put the asparagus and onions on a platter.
  • Sprinkle dill over the vegetables and squeeze lemon juice over top.
  • Serve immediately.

Makes 3 – 4 servings as a side dish.

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Rhubarb Mousse

So often rhubarb is either used ‘as is’ in pies or fruit crumbles, or stewed up and served in rather uninspiring-looking ways. Taking the time to puree the cooked fruit not only makes it look a little more attractive, it gives it a uniform texture that is ideal for a mousse. You can serve this dish chilled or frozen, depending upon your preference (and how far ahead you get it made). I love the combination of rhubarb and cardamom but powdered ginger is a good substitute as well. Best of all – you can use just-from-the-garden rhubarb or some you have stashed in your freezer.

Tangy rhubarb is the ideal flavouring for a refreshing mousse, served chilled or frozen.

Tangy rhubarb is the ideal flavouring for a refreshing mousse, served chilled or frozen.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound (225 g) fresh or frozen rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 1″ pieces
  • 4 tablespoons (60 mL) freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) water
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL)  freshly ground cardamom
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) packed brown sugar, divided
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 egg, separated
  • 1/3 cup (90 mL) heavy (35%) cream
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) mascarpone or cream cheese, softened
  • Mint leaves for garnish (optional)

 Method

  • Put rhubarb, juice, water and cardamom in a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer until tender (about 5 minutes). Cover and let cool for 10 minutes.
  • Place rhubarb and cooking liquid in a blender (or high sided container for immersion blender) and add 1 tablespoon (15 mL) of the brown sugar plus the pinch of salt.
  • Puree until smooth.
  • Clean the pot you cooked the rhubarb in and return the puree to the pot. Add egg yolk and remaining 3 tablespoons (45 mL) of brown sugar. Cook, whisking constantly, until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and refrigerate until cooled.
  • When rhubarb is cool, beat egg whites in a medium bowl until stiff peaks form; gently fold into rhubarb mixture.
  • Rinse and dry the egg yolk bowl. Beat cream on high speed until stiff peaks form. Add in mascarpone and whip until smooth.
  • Add cream mixture to rhubarb and fold until combined; you will still see some streaks of white in the mixture.
  • Spoon into four serving dishes; freeze for up to 8 hours. Remove from freezer 20 minutes before serving; garnish with mint leaves at serving time.

Makes 4 servings.

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Open-faced radish sandwiches – a French treat!

Leave it to the French to figure out that the very best way to enjoy radishes is to slice them thinly then pile them on top of bread that’s been slathered with high quality butter. Add a sprinkle of fleur de sel or your favourite finishing salt, and you’ve got a breakfast treat, quick lunch or easy appetizer. I’ve fed this concoction to people who told me afterwards that they previously had an intense dislike of radishes, and I’d turned them into radish-aholics. While the French would traditionally use baguette or a rustic country loaf, I prepared them this week with both the sourdough and Borodinsky Rye from Pure Bread at the Ottawa Farmers’ Market (they were in my Farmers’ Feast challenge basket) and they were equally delicious. Pair the sandwiches with a cup of strong coffee (mine was made this morning with Monsoon beans from the Market’s Poppa Bean Coffee Company) and you’ll almost certainly be very content with your meal.

Hearty Rye bread and fresh spring radishes from the Ottawa Farmers' Market make this traditional French sandwich extra tasty.

Hearty Rye bread and fresh spring radishes from the Ottawa Farmers’ Market make this traditional French sandwich extra tasty.

Ingredients

  • Several thin slices of fresh bread
  • Good quality butter, at room temperature
  • Handful fresh radishes
  • Sprinkling of fleur de sel
Aren't these just the most beautiful radishes in the world? You can make open-faced radish sandwiches at any time of the year, but they are especially delicious with young spring radishes.

Aren’t these just the most beautiful radishes in the world? You can make open-faced radish sandwiches at any time of the year, but they are especially delicious with young spring radishes. These lovely ones came from Rochon Garden at the Ottawa Farmers’ Market.

Method

  • Generously butter the bread on one side.
  • Slice the radishes as thinly as possible with a sharp knife or mandoline.
  • Arrange the radish slices attractively in a single layer on top of the butter.
  • Sprinkle salt over the radishes and devour.
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Salad of tender greens with pickled rhubarb

This salad is an excellent way to showcase and enjoy some of the first produce of spring, now available at the Ottawa Farmers’ Market. The pickled rhubarb adds a huge flavour element to the salad, along with some great colour. The tender greens (kale and sorrel) have a delicate flavour and texture so it’s important not to overdress them when using in a salad. If you haven’t tried sorrel before, you’re in for a treat; it’s got a slightly tart, almost citrusy taste. Some people find it too strongly flavoured to enjoy on its own so combining it with other greens in a salad is an ideal way to enjoy it. Don’t skip the fresh breadcrumb garnish – the crunch it adds is worth the extra step. This salad is the first thing I made when I received a basket full of goodness from the OFM as part of this spring’s Farmers’ Feast challenge. 

While you could make this salad anytime of the year, it's a true celebration of the first produce available for harvesting in the spring.

While you could make this salad anytime of the year, it’s a true celebration of the first produce available for harvesting in the spring.

Pickled Rhubarb

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) Acorn Creek sweet black currant vinegar *
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) kosher salt
  • 1 cup (250 mL) cut rhubarb (in 1/4 inch or 65 mm pieces)
  • 1 inch (2.5 cm) piece of ginger, cut in thin slices

* or ½ cup / 125 mL raspberry wine vinegar plus 3 tablespoons / 45 mL white sugar 

Pickling fresh rhubarb gives it a softer texture and reduces is natural tartness. The leftover pickling liquid can be used for in all kinds of recipes!

Pickling fresh rhubarb gives it a softer texture and reduces is natural tartness. The leftover pickling liquid can be used for in all kinds of recipes!

Method

  • Put vinegar and salt (and sugar, if using raspberry wine vinegar) in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.
  • Put rhubarb and ginger in a heatproof bowl or jar and pour hot brine over top.
  • Cover and let come to room temperature, then refrigerate.
  • You should let the pickles steep for at least four hours before eating.
  • Drain before eating but do not discard the brine – you can use it in sauces, dressings, cocktails or even drizzle it over ice cream.

Salad

Ingredients

  • 1 bunch kale (4 cups / 1 L chopped)
  • 1 cup (250 mL) sorrel leaves
  • 1 cup (250 mL) thinly sliced cucumber
  • 1 cup (250 mL) pickled rhubarb, drained (reserve liquid)
  • 3 tablespoons (45 mL) pickling liquid from rhubarb
  • 3 tablespoons (45 mL) sunflower or canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) Dijon
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1.25 mL) each kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) chèvre, crumbled
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) butter
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) fresh bread crumbs, preferably sourdough

Method

  • Wash kale, massaging well while leaves are under water (this tenderizes them). Cut or tear kale into bite-sized pieces, discarding tough stems. Measure out four cups (1 L) of kale.
  • Wash sorrel leaves gently and pat dry.
  • Put kale, sorrel and cucumber in a serving bowl.
  • Make dressing by putting rhubarb pickling liquid, oil, Dijon, salt and pepper in small jar with a tight lid. Shake well to combine.
  • Drizzle dressing over greens and toss gently.
  • Sprinkle pickled rhubarb and chèvre over greens.
  • In a small heavy pot (a cast iron frying pan is ideal), melt butter over medium heat. Add breadcrumbs and cook until golden brown, 2 – 3 minutes. Sprinkle over salad and serve immediately.

Serves 4.

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Farmers’ Feast Challenge – Spring 2015 Edition

After a long and exceptionally cold winter, I am appreciating our local farmers more than ever. Their ability to bring a diverse selection of produce to market early in the growing season is amazing, all the more so when you realize they have to contend with things like frost on the second-last weekend in May. A visit to the Ottawa Farmers’ Market (OFM) at this time of year is a true delight, especially now that it is operating outdoors at Lansdowne Park three days a week (Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays). There’s also a great satellite market in Westboro on Saturdays. I’m always happy to shop locally, especially when it comes to food.

After a long, hard winter, fresh local produce at the Ottawa Farmers' market is a particularly welcome sight.

After a long, hard winter, fresh local produce at the Ottawa Farmers’ market is a particularly welcome sight.

Once again, I’ve been fortunate to receive a basket full of goodness from the OFM, as a spring Farmers’ Feast cooking challenge. Here is a list of the basket’s suppliers and contents:

  • Needham’s Market Garden – Rhubarb
  • Acorn Creek Garden Farm – sweet black currant vinegar and popcorn cobs
  • Avonmore Berry Farm – asparagus
  • Rochon Garden – spicy pickled carrots, radishes, cucumbers, dill, sorrel, baby beets
  • Pure Bread – classic sourdough and Borodinsky rye
  • Just Farm – ramps, green onions, mixed bags of kale
  • Poppa Bean – Monsoon coffee beans
  • Chamomile Desjardins – Cool Canadian hot sauce

I’ll be adding some delicious new recipes to this site in the days ahead (see list below). Why not make a trip to the Ottawa Farmers’ Market this week and cook along with me?

Salad of tender greens with pickled rhubarb

Open-faced radish sandwiches – a French treat!

Rhubarb Mousse (chilled or frozen)

Grilled Asparagus and Spring (Green) Onions

Posted in Fruits and vegetables, local | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Vietnamese Chicken or Shrimp Salad

I love crunchy salads that are packed with flavour and colour so this one is a real winner for me. I find the hot-salty-sour-bitter-sweet flavours of Vietnamese food absolutely irresistable and appreciate that Vietnamese food is also considered to be one of the healthiest cuisines on the planet. This is an easy dish and best of all, everything can be prepared ahead of time and assembled at the last minute for a nutritious, delicious lunch or dinner. I’ve made it with both chicken and shrimp and it’s equally delicious; it would probably be great with tender sliced beef as well. It’s also a perfect one-dish meal for summertime picnics – just be sure to keep the chicken or shrimp chilled with ice packs and add it to the salad at serving time.

This Vietnamese Chicken Salad is fresh and flavourful! Everything can be prepared ahead of time and assembled at the last minute for a healthy, delicious lunch or dinner.

This Vietnamese Chicken Salad is fresh and flavourful! Everything can be prepared ahead of time and assembled at the last minute for a healthy, delicious lunch or dinner.

Salad

  • ½ small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) white vinegar
  • 4 cups (1 L) shredded Savoy or Napa cabbage
  • 1/3 cup (90 mL) chopped mint (or more, to taste)
  • 1/3 (90 mL) cup chopped cilantro (or more, to taste)
  • 1 cup (250 mL) grated carrot
  • 2 cups (500 mL) sliced English or Lebanese cucumber
  • 3/4 cup (180 mL) chopped red pepper
  • 1 large boneless, skinless chicken breast, grilled and sliced OR 2 cups (500 mL) medium shrimp, cooked, peeled and chilled
  • 1/3 cup (90 mL) roasted cashews, chopped
  • Lime wedges (garnish)

Dressing

  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) Asian chili paste (or more, to taste)
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) rice vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons (45 mL) freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) fish sauce
  • 5 tablespoons (22 mL) white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) canola oil
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) sesame oil

Method

  • Put the red onion in a small bowl with ice water. Add the vinegar and let soak while you prepare other ingredients. This will take reduce the onion’s harshness.
  • Make the dressing by combining all the ingredients in a jar with a tight lid. Shake well to blend.
  • Combine the cabbage, drained red onions, mint and cilantro in a bowl. Pour ¼ of the dressing over top and toss to mix well.
  • Put the cabbage mixture on a platter and top with carrot, cucumber, red pepper and sliced chicken. Drizzle enough dressing over top to coat well but not drench the salad.
  • Top with cashews and serve, with lime wedges on the side.

Serves 2 as a main course or 4 as an appetizer.

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