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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Savor Summer

     I can hardly believe it's August already!   Where has the summer gone?  When the marine layer hangs thick overhead all day in the grey Bay Area, it's hard to know it even is summer. That is, until I go to the farmers' market--there, the season is undeniable.  The market in summer is the largest and busiest of the year. Each week, new varieties of summer produce tempt me: I wander the aisles drinking in the bright, warm hues of the season, sampling everything and indulging in fresh berries, stone fruits such as apricots, cherries, peaches and nectarines, plums, figs, melons and celebrate the return of local apples, the Pink Pearls, Gravensteins and Galas. The vegetable array is dizzying, too: summer’s darlings such as sweet corn, green beans, basil, summer squash, garlic, okra, cucumbers, avocadoes, tomatillos and this year's late crop of blushing local tomatoes. Many crops consumed year round are harvested in summer, and reach a flavor peak now, such as onions, garlic, and new potatoes (a lot less starchy and more nutritive than storage potatoes).
     Herbs are reaching their maximum growth and it is a great time to indulge in bunches of fresh herbs from the market or your garden, seasoning your food generously and drying what you don’t use to bring flavor and nutrition to the cooler seasons. I had an epiphany the other day when I was at the store about to buy a box of peppermint tea. What I am doing buying something that is all over my and the neighbor's garden?   I've been harvesting and drying herbs for the winter like crazy since then. Another trick is to make big batches of pesto with assorted  herbs and freeze them to brighten winter's soups and stews.
     Summer's abundance can make it challenging to decide what to eat.   While it is appropriate to eat more raw food in summer, and focus your diet on fresh produce, this is best balanced by a steady stream of warm, cooked foods.  Dahl is a summer staple in our house, as it can be consumed for almost any meal, incorporate most of summer's best produce, and makes a great complement to salads and raw veggies.  I like to top it with a dollop of yogurt or sauerkraut to add a dose of probiotics. It allows me to cook once, eat twice (or more times), a cardinal rule for saving time in the kitchen.  I always freeze a serving or two for another day, too. The recipe will appear in my forthcoming book Real Food All Year, to be released this coming spring by New Harbinger Press.

Red Lentil Dahl with Sweet Corn

In Chinese medicine, red lentils are classified as having a slightly bitter taste, which makes them particularly beneficial to the heart, the organ most important to nourish in the summertime. Dahl is a staple food in India and Nepal, and can be enjoyed for breakfast, lunch or dinner. It can also be used as the basis of a seasonal fast, traditionally used at the beginning of summer or as a transition to autumn.  The recipe can be easily varied by the addition of almost any seasonal vegetable. A bunch of chopped arugula, stirred in the last few minutes of cooking, is particularly tasty.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.

6 cups water

1 cup red lentils

1 6” strip kombu seaweed

1 tablespoon olive oil, ghee or coconut oil

1 medium onion, diced small

1 teaspoon mustard seeds

1 tablespoon curry powder, or a mixture of 1 teaspoon each of cumin, coriander and turmeric

2 carrots , cut in ¼” thick rounds

3 celery stalks, diced

2 ears sweet corn, kernels removed from the cob

1-2 lemons, juiced

1 small ginger root, grated (about 3 tablespoons)

Sea salt

Chopped cilantro, for serving

Fill a large pot with the water and add the lentils, soaking overnight if possible. Bring to a boil and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes, skimming off any foam that rises to the surface. Add the kombu to the pot, cover and turn the heat down low. Meanwhile, heat the oil or ghee in a skillet, add the onion, and sauté for 5 minutes or so, until it begins to turn clear. Add the mustard seeds and curry powder, and stir occasionally until the spices give off their fragrance. Now add the carrots and celery and continue to cook a few minutes more. Scrape the carrots, celery onions and spices from the skillet into the soup pot. Add the corn kernels, cover and simmer until the lentils are soft and creamy, 10-30 minutes more. Squeeze the ginger and lemon juice into the pot, and add sea salt to taste. Serve garnished with cilantro.

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