Hello Buttercup! Hello Summer!

Posted on June 20, 2011

Not long after the last school bell of the year sounded, my group of childhood friends would find ourselves lazing about on one neighborhood lawn or another.  If we felt particularly motivated, we might pluck buttercups from the grass we were lying on and then hold the flower’s golden bowl to the tender undersides of our friends’ chins in turns, asking, “Do you like butter?”

The flower’s yellow reflection always answered yes, but really, the answer never mattered.  What mattered was the fact that we had time, miles and miles of time, it seemed, stretching before us in which to do just this: hold flowers up to our best friend’s skin.  Or to play a game of kickball in the street.  Or to sit in someone’s cool basement and listen to records.  Or to do absolutely nothing more than lie on our backs on the grass and stare up at the blue sky.

I have always loved this about summer, the fact that it holds the promise of so much unstructured time.

These days, it means more unstructured cooking for me.  I love cooking fresher food, I love that it doesn’t matter if those fresher, simpler meals make it to the table later and later.  Some people like directing the elaborate theatre that is fall and winter cooking – bringing together the pots, the pans, the techniques, the depths of flavor.  Me?  I prefer to take a step back and let the produce steal the show.

This week, between Tendercrop Farm and Heron Pond Farm in Southampton, New Hampshire, we have had a lot of these scene stealers at our meals.  It feels, finally, as if summer has dropped by and decided to stay for a bit.

Garlic scapes became several batches of scape-almond pesto for the freezer.

Multihued radishes were quartered and then quickly sauteed in butter for an easy but tasty side dish.

Radishes lose the peppery bite when cooked briefly, turning instead into sweet, earthy mouthfuls.  If you think you don’t like radishes, turn them around a few times in a pan of hot butter, sprinkle them with salt, and get back to me.  I’ll bet you’ll have changed your mind.

With mature bok choy, I like to separate the dark green leaves from the celery-like stalks, cooking each part separately before reuniting them at the end.

Yes, bok choy tastes like cabbage with that same signature water-packed crunch, but it also has an edge I find hard to describe.  Not quite bitter, not astringent, but certainly not bland either.  Its flavor, whatever it is (and I know I’ve only said what it isn’t), calls out for asian spicing: soy sauce, ginger, garlic, chili.

The surprise of the week was a meatless meal.  Fresh spinach frittata and red leaf lettuce salad with sliced tender white harukei (or salad) turnips.

Both served with kohlrabi pancakes.  That’s right, kohlrabi.

Who knew this homely vegetable would make an eighteen year old boy go back for thirds, therefore almost decimating the rest of the family’s portions?   But I’m here to tell you this happened.  Served with a greek yoghurt sauce seasoned with lemon juice, minced garlic scapes, olive oil, and chopped cilantro, the fritters mugged their way into this audience’s hearts.

Strawberries remain in full swing, and some got pureed into a coulis to be served with almond praline semifreddo.

Kohlrabi Pancakes with Cilantro Yoghurt Sauce

  • 1 cup plain Greek yoghurt
  • juice of 1/2 very juicy lemon (or 1 whole lemon if not so juicy)
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed (or 1 Tbsp. minced garlic scapes)
  • handful of cilantro, roughly chopped
  • splash of olive oil
  • about a pound of kohlrabi (about 3 small-medium sized ones. I used a mixture of red and green)
  • 1 cup chopped scallions
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • black pepper to taste
  • vegetable or canola oil for frying

Make the sauce first.  In a medium bowl, combine yoghurt, lemon juice, garlic or scapes, and cilantro.

Add a splash of olive oil to the mixture and stir to blend.  Add a bit of salt to taste, if desired.  Cover and chill until ready to use.

For the pancakes, trim the kohlrabi tops and the tough root end.  Trim rough edges.  Cut the kohlrabi in half to fit the feed tube of a food processor and grate the it in the food processor fitted with the grating blade.  (Alternately, you may use a box grater and do it by hand.)

Blot dry with paper towels and place in a large mixing bowl.  Add the scallions and toss.  Add to this the flour, spices, salt, baking powder, pepper.  Toss again, then blend in the beaten eggs.  Mix well without overmixing.

Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat.  Add to it enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan.  When the oil is hot but not smoking, drop large tablespoons of batter into the pan and cook until golden brown on both sides.

Do these in a few batches and do not overcrowd the pan.  Keep the first few fritters warm on a baking sheet set in a low oven while you cook the rest.  Makes about (12) 3-inch fritters.  When all are finished, serve immediately with Cilantro Yoghurt sauce.

©2011  Jane A. Ward