This week has been a week of celebration. Spring officially arrived on March 20th along with the first asparagus and strawberries at the farmers’ market. I passed my qualifying exam for my doctorate in nutrition from Hawthorn University, advancing me to doctoral candidacy as I work on my dissertation. And this is my 100th post on Gastronicity! I would have never known I’d take it this far and that the blog would help to spawn a book as well.
After I got the good news about my exam I cooked up the dinner you see pictured, a nod to the flavors and feeling of spring. Salmon steaks poached in mirin and tamari topped with Fermented Cilantro Relish, a side of dandelion green and dill kraut, steamed asparagus, escarole salad with pickled beets, kumquats and candied walnuts, a glass of cotes du rhone, a side of Morel’s sourdough rye and butter and that family favorite, strawberries, creme fraiche and brown sugar for dessert. Spring has hit, and I’m craving light, fresh and green. Rather than embarking on a formal spring cleanse, simply incorporating spring foods into the diet cleanses gently and gets us in the mood for the rapid growth and movement of the warmer seasons. Making your own fermented condiments is a great way to add flavor, variety and nutrition to your spring menus. Spring ferments are best made more quickly than those in fall and winter and do well to incorporate some pungent flavors as well as salty and sour, to support the reawakening of our energy. I like to make green condiments of many varieties, such as Nettle Pesto, to sneak in an extra vegetable serving into meals. Nettles are popping up now in the California hills at the the farmers’ market and offer incredible nutrition once you blanch them to remove the sting.
While condiments based on fresh green herbs appear in many cuisines, mostly they taste best when consumed shortly after they are made. Incorporating capers into a classic recipe provides a source of lactobacillus which will ferment the sauce if left out overnight, allowing it to stay fresh-tasting and bright green for up to a week. Try it with fish, on beans or eggs, meat, roasted vegetables or a baked sweet potato for an extra dose of green power to help you begin feeling spring.
Fermented Cilantro Relish
This riff on salsa verde, pesto and/or chimichurri gives you the flavor and health benefits of a fresh herb condiment with superior keeping qualities and probiotics. Seek out the salt-cured capers (most are made with vinegar) which are truly fermented and the source of the bacteria that will make this recipe a success. Based on the recipe for Fay’s relish in Heirloom Beans by Steve Sando of Rancho Gordo and my pal Vanessa Barrington, author of the wonderful make-it-yourself kitchen manual DIY Delicious.
2 tablespoons salt-cured capers
1 bunch cilantro, coarsely chopped (stems OK)
1 medium shallot, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves or 2 stalks green garlic, coarsely chopped
Zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for keeping
Soak the capers in water to cover for at least 20 minutes. Drain, and combine the capers, cilantro, shallot and garlic in the bowl a food processor with the chopper blade, and pulse to chop into a coarse paste. Add the lemon zest and olive oil and pulse briefly to combine. Alternatively, chop all ingredients finely and mix to form a paste. Place into a small jar with a lid, cover, and let sit at room temperature for 24 hours. Refrigerate and enjoy for up to a week. Pour thin film of olive oil over the top for storage if you like.