Monday, May 9, 2011

herbs and grains


This is my favorite season in the garden. Everything looks fresh, green, tender, and not yet overgrown. We have waited so long for this moment and the reward is heavenly. The dogwood tree planted last year which did not flower that first spring is now covered in blossoms! Ahhh!!

I do not posses the greenest of thumbs despite my passionate gardening heart. I seem to have the most success with herbs, which I use abundantly in cooking. The tenderest of herb shoots are now spreading themselves out in my planting beds and I am ready to make the most of them.

Lemon Balm grows like a weed! I love it in iced tea. 

I happened to be scurrying around Chelsea Market yesterday, sourcing ingredients for a big catering event, and tripped over a pop up restaurant being hosted by the James Beard Foundation. I had only minutes to spare, but managed to swoop around, hitting all the free tastings and I even checked out their lunch menu, which featured some very attractive grain salads. Not having time to actually sample one, I decided to go home and make my own.
Sorrel has a tangy sharp flavor. This varigated variety is so pretty.

Grains and fresh herbs seem like a perfect springtime combination. I wanted to also include the Turkish olive oil my sister brought home for me from her recent travels. The rice blend I used had a satisfying, chewy-nutty flavor and it paired perfectly with the intense herby-garlicky vinaigrette that I doused it in. My first bite immediately made me wish for some feta cheese, so I would recommend that addition to this recipe.

Rice Salad with Feta Cheese and Fresh Herb Vinaigrette

1 cup of brown rice (or a brown rice blend)
1 quart of water
1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup finely chopped mixed *fresh herbs
1 garlic clove finely minced
3 Tbs. red wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt & pepper to taste

1/2 cup green olives, chopped
1/2 cup feta cheese, cut in 1" cubes
1 cup of fresh spinach or sorrel leaves, sliced into ribbons

In a sauce pan, bring the water to a boil, add the rice and the salt and cook till rice is tender, about 25 minutes for brown rice. Drain Rice.
Make the vinaigrette: combine the herbs, garlic, vinegar, salt and pepper in a small bowl (you can set this up while the rice is boiling to allow the herbs to infuse the vinegar with their flavor).  Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, whisking as you go. Combine the warm rice to the vinaigrette, add the olives, feta cheese and the spinach or sorrel.

Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Allow the herbs time to infuse the vinegar
to intensify the flavor

*the herbs I used from my garden for this recipe: lemon balm, oregano, sorrel, chives
Also good would be: dill. basil, tarragon, parsley, savory, chervil

Looks gorgeous! Your pictures are the impetus for me to get my own herb garden started! In an effort to cut down on my lunch expenses at work, I like to make a big batch of "something" on Sundays that I can bring to work the following week. In the wintertime, I spend a good 2-3 hours over the weekends preparing healthy, hearty soups. For some reason, I have a harder time coming up with spring/summertime options. Gazpacho is one of my staples. And, now Deb's rice salad is a new addition! I will be making a batch of it this weekend!

There are many, many wine choices that come to mind. There are definitely reds that will work here. However, this time of year I stick to mostly whites. I have a hard time enjoying reds in the warmer weather, especially as summer draws near. But Pinot Noir and Beaujolais are good choices if red is what grabs you. And, both wines are wonderful served with a little chill. The softness of Pinot Noir and its abundance of fruit in particular are great qualities to contrast the saltiness of the feta and olives.

My first choice, however, would be a domestic Pinot Gris - something from Oregon. These wines can be "off-dry" (slightly sweet) which again, provides contrast to the salty nature of some of the salad ingredients. A to Z winery in Oregon produces a favorite Pinot Gris of mine. Juicy and rich, flavors of pear and vanilla abound, and a fresh acidity gives lift to some of that richness. My mouth waters as I consider this wine with Deb's salad! This Pinot Gris can be found for about $14.

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