Spring Has Sprung!
Spring has sprung and I am ready. In East Tennessee, the redbud and dogwood trees are in bloom, the grass has greened and the smiling faces of yellow and purple pansies welcome visitors to my front door. My garden has four kinds of lettuce and two kinds of kale ready to pick and the cool season herbs like cilantro and dill are going gangbusters. Meanwhile, at my old Yankee home in New England, the morning after a balmy Easter found new snow on the ground and temps back near freezing. Brrrr!
For the past few seasons our little garden has been quite a bit smaller than before. A year of construction and then opening the brewery last summer left little time to plant and putter. The good news is that, although we were not up to our elbows in compost, local farmers WERE and they loaded our markets with an amazing variety of produce. As the weather warms, our farmer’s markets will soon re-open and I can hardly wait to sample the best of spring! Just-picked asparagus, tender peas, crunchy radishes, they taste of the newness of the season. Baby broccoli, multi-colored carrots and juicy beets are at their best when nights are still cool. I love all the spring veggies in a big green salad.
Our garden has plenty of lettuce. More than enough for us AND all the neighborhood rabbits! If we harvest only the outer leaves and keep the center core growing, we will be in loads of lettuce until early June. Freshly picked lettuce will change the way you think about salads---especially if you find them blah and boring! All the produce of spring is so fresh and vibrant; the best way to enjoy it is raw. I like to pile up the biggest platter I can find with the youngest, most tender veggies and serve them up with a tasty dip or two.
Your basic ranch dressing is the dip you’re most likely to find on a crudité platter, and I have no problem with that. Snip some fresh chives to mix in, and it’s good to go. I prefer something a little more substantial, like a chick pea hummus. My SMOKY GARLICKY HUMMUS recipe is such a go-to classic, I could make it in my sleep. The smokiness comes from smoked paprika which puts it a level or two above a supermarket hummus. The bonus comes from the protein in the chick peas. Add some torn pita to your platter and you have a complete meal! Another favorite dip for veggies is my OVEN ROASTED MOROCCAN CARROT DIP. This is not just a dip FOR carrots, it’s a dip OF carrots! It also features smoked paprika and cumin, which give the roasted carrots and other veg in the mix a rich, warm, exotic flavor. Both of these are stars in their own right, and perfect year-round. Now that Spring has sprung, search out the wares of your local farmers. Take advantage of the freshest of the fresh. Spring is short. Don’t miss out!
SMOKY GARLICKY HUMMUS
Makes at least 2 cups
4 garlic cloves, peeled
2 cups canned chickpeas, drained
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
1/3 cup tahini (sesame paste)
1-2 Tablespoons grated lemon zest
6 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 lemons)
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (more, if needed)
2 Tablespoons water (more, if needed)
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
Turn on the food processor that has been fitted with the steel blade and drop the garlic down the feed tube. Process until the garlic is finely minced. Turn off processor, remove cover and add the rest of the ingredients. Process until smooth. Add more water and/or olive oil, a little at a time until desired consistency is reached. To serve, spoon into a small bowl and drizzle with a small amount of extra virgin olive oil. Store leftovers, covered, in the refrigerator for up to a week.
OVEN ROASTED MOROCCAN CARROT DIP
Makes about 2 cups
1 pound (about 6) carrots, peeled (if not organic) and cut in half lengthwise
1 large red onion, peeled and quartered
1-2 whole heads of garlic, cut in half
2-3 Tablespoons olive oil
1-2 Tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
1 Tablespoon ground cumin
1 Tablespoon paprika (smoked paprika is best)
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste (optional)
1-4 Tablespoons water (can substitute vegetable stock or carrot juice)
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 375°.
Spray a sheet pan or baking dish large enough to hold all the vegetables in one layer. Place carrots, onion and garlic in pan and drizzle with 1 Tablespoon of the olive oil and 1 Tablespoon of the tamari or soy sauce. Rub this all over the vegetables and arrange cut side down. Bake until the carrots are soft (test by piercing with a fork) and vegetables have browned somewhat. This will take about 40 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool.
Roughly chop cooked carrots and place in a food processor. Cut stem end from onion and add to carrots. Squeeze softened garlic cloves from their paper skins and add to food processor, discarding any that may still be hard or have turned very dark brown. If there is any liquid on the sheet pan or baking dish, add this as well. Add remaining 1 Tablespoon of oil, cumin, paprika and cayenne (if using). Process. The mixture will be dry and chunky. Add water (or other liquid) 1 Tablespoon at a time until smooth. Season to taste with remaining tamari or soy sauce, salt and pepper.
Allow the dip to mellow in the refrigerator overnight, or up to 3 days. Take it out one hour before serving to let it come to room temperature.