When flowers bloom, so does hope.
Although spring doesn’t mark the beginning of the calendar year, for me it is about new beginnings and celebrating the endless possibilities of the human spirit. At this time of year I can’t help but feel hopeful and even more optimistic than usual about a variety of things—particularly in finding new ways to explore the art of living. Perhaps it has something to do with the cycle of life beginning again—new life sprouts from the ground and trees, early signs of life are in bloom and when flowers bloom so does hope. It’s paradoxical but true, the most certain way for people to bring hope, meaning and joy to their own lives is by reaching out and bringing hope, meaning and joy to the lives of others. One of my hopes for the future is that my son will one day experience such a beautiful phenomenon for himself.
Lately, it’s almost as if Mother Nature took out her paintbrush to give us vibrant strokes of color in varying shades of pink, yellow, red and green. Her gifts have been magical—trees bursting with pink petals under the spring sun and the scene…like a dream.
I spend one morning a week with my little one and several other parents with their toddlers at a Nature Sanctuary. We parents explore the meandering trails with our kids and get a glimpse of nature through their unfiltered little eyes. Yesterday morning, I didn’t have my camera with me so I decided to go back later in the day to take some photographs. I called a friend who has a son exactly the same age as mine and insisted the opportunity to frolic under the blossoming trees should not be missed. We met later and had a great time watching our boys run around and explore as toddlers do.The boys found an old fire hydrant. Attracted to it’s intriguing shape, similar height and yellow paint, they spent a good while examining it. Attached to this old hydrant was a short chain.
With clear blue skies and dreamy pink trees, the moment we had to watch the boys explore and enjoy the scene was so lovely. My little one even brought me a little gift. He picked a small dandelion flower in a field of grass, scrunched up his nose while breathing in (as if to smell it) and said, “yeyo fow-wa maman, how nice”.
Spring is replete with reminders to keep the inner child alive. It was then, during our last moments of April, that I understood what William Shakespeare meant when he said, April hath put a spirit of youth in everything.
Asparagus, T’is the Season
Besides flowers, the coming of spring promises little green spears poking their heads up and showing their faces everywhere. Spring is the time for asparagus. Not only do they have great health benefits, but they also have a wonderful and delicate flavor. It is said that the finest texture and the strongest and yet most delicate taste is in the tips. The points d’amour (“love tips”) were once served as a delicacy to Madame de Pompadour.
I’ve been cooking a lot with asparagus lately and when the temperature dropped to wintery weather earlier this week, asparagus soup seemed like a good companion to keep me warm. Here I’ve made a vegan version using cashew cream.
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 large bunch (1 pound) of asparagus, ends trimmed, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 leek, white and very light green parts only, sliced
2 large shallots or ½ onion, chopped
6 cups (1½ quarts) vegetable broth
1 bay leaf
1 cup thick Cashew Cream
2 cups fresh baby spinach
freshly ground pepper
1 leek, white and very light green parts only, cut in 2-3-inch pieces and julienned
3-5 stems asparagus, cut in 1-inch pieces
fresh parsley, chopped
Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the garlic, shallots, leek, and onion and sauté for 5 to 10 minutes, until the leek is soft. Add asparagus with a generous pinch of salt and sauté another 5 minutes.
Add the broth and bay leaf, bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until asparagus has softened, about 30 minutes. Add the Cashew Cream and 1 teaspoon salt and simmer for an additional 10 minutes. Remove and discard the bay leaf.
Working in batches, pour the soup into a blender and blend on high. Return to a cleaned pot or a large bowl. Add the spinach to the last batch and continue blending until smooth. Pour last batch into bowl or soup pot to incorporate the spinach batch. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
For garnish, in a small skillet, sauté leeks until slightly brown, about 5-7 minutes. Set aside. In the same pan, sauté asparagus pieces until softened, add peas. Cook for about a minute, season with salty and pepper. Remove from heat.
To serve, ladle soup into bowls. Garnish with frizzled leeks, asparagus, and/or peas. Add lemon zest, if you like. Another option, add a dollop of cashew cream to serve. Also, we like to eat the soup with farro or brown rice.
Another very tasty dish for spring and any other time of the year are these lentil galettes (or lentil patties). Highly versatile and very simple to prepare, the Middle Eastern inspired flavors in this dish can be easily adjusted to suit your taste and dietary preferences. These galettes pair nicely with the mild flavored asparagus and lemony tahini sauce. Serve it with a simple salad and there isn’t much need for more. They can be made spicy or mild.
½ cup green or brown lentils
½ cup barley (or farro, brown rice or other grain of choice)
½ cup breadcrumbs
3 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
3 green onions, sliced thinly
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon za’atar, plus more for garnish
2 teaspoons cumin
pinch of cayenne pepper (more if you want it spicy)
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil
4 tablespoons pine nuts
sumac, for garnish
cilantro sprigs, for garnish
8-10 or more asparagus, some split in two, others sliced in thin pieces
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Sort, rinse and drain lentils. Place them in a small saucepan, cover with plenty of water, bring to a boil, cook until lentils have softened, about 25-35 minutes, depending on the type of brown lentils. Drain after they’re cooked.
Rinse barley (or other grain of choice) and cook according packaged directions. Set aside.
Combine lentils, barley and all the ingredients for the lentil galettes except, for the sun-dried tomatoes and pine nuts. Add 3/4 teaspoons salt. Set aside. In a food processor or blender, blend tomatoes and pine until it becomes a smooth paste. Add paste to lentil mixture and combine thoroughly..
Add olive oil to a skillet and heat over medium heat. Form galette (patties) with your hands, or drop large (depending on the size of galette you prefer) spoonfuls of lentil mixture into pan and slightly flatten with a spatula or wooden spoon. Be careful to keep the galettes in one piece.
For the topping, heat oil in a small skillet and sauté asparagus pieces until softened, add peas. Cook for about a minute, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Remove from heat.
3 tablespoons tahini paste
2 tablespoons lemon juice, fresh
2-3 tablespoons, or more, water
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1/4 teaspoon salt to taste
freshly ground black pepper
Whisk all ingredients together in a small bowl, adding more water or lemon juice if it seems too thick. Taste, adjust seasoning.
To serve: place lentil galette on a serving plate, place a asparagus stem on top with a dollop of tahini sauce. Garnish with asparagus pieces, peas, cilantro, za’atar and or sumac, black pepper and lemon zest.
Martine’s Notes: The grains I’ve tried are barley and einkorn, a hearty ancient wheat from Italy. If you can’t find za’atar, feel free to use a blend of thyme, oregano, toasted sesame seeds, and sage. I served the lentil galettes with a simple salad of mâche, mixed baby greens, sliced red onions, and sliced almonds with a simple vinaigrette.
Time with Friends
The coming of this spring also brought with it wonderful opportunities for me to share quality time and good food with great friends.
A friend from Azerbaijan invited us over for a fabulous meal. The flavors were so deliciously distinctive that my husband and I continued to talk about them well after our meal was over. Azerbaijani cuisine is known for an abundance of vegetables and greens that are traditionally used in dishes. Fresh herbs, including mint, coriander, dill, basil, parsley, tarragon, thyme, marjoram, and watercress are just a few popular seasonings that often accompany main dishes. In addition to a variety of vegetables, she baked whole wheat bread and a light banana bread for dessert. It all was delicious. As I learn more about cooking Azerbaijani cuisine, I’ll be sure to share my adventures with you.
Until then, enjoy spring!