Category Archives: Sides

Asparagus Soup

We are finally getting our winter storms here – as I write in the first week of March it’s finally raining. Much needed raining!  But previous bouts of warmer weather have brought some spring produce to market earlier than usual, and just in time to add welcomed variety from winter greens.  Imagine my delight in seeing local asparagus make their appearance over the last couple weeks!


Except it’s still cold outside.  As in record-low-temperatures-cold.  So I’ve used my earliest asparagus purchases to make this warming soup with a hint of spring to come.


I have been a longtime fan of Heidi Swanson’s 101 Cookbooks blog and now several cookbooks.  Her appreciation for using fresh, seasonal ingredients; and simple but imaginative preparations speaks to my sensibilities.  It’s a bonus she’s based in San Francisco, so when she posts seasonal recipes, I can enjoy the same bounty at the same time.


Cilantro-Mint Chutney Freezes Perfectly. You’ll appreciate how convenient they are to have at hand!

Her “Simple Asparagus Soup” recipe uses green curry paste for the punch of flavor.  I’m a fan of her version, and I encourage you to try it out.  Jarred Thai-style green curry paste is widely available in most grocery markets, and you’ll save the time it takes to make the cilantro mint chutney.  Oh wait – you can make a scratch Thai-style green curry paste too!  Silly me…


Speaking of scratch-made:  the cilantro-mint chutney – I hope you’ll give it a try, even though prepared versions are also available.  It comes together in a jiffy, with all the heavy-lifting done by the blender.  You may recall I also use it in my bhel puri chopped salad.  I’m known to fold a defrosted pod, or two, into hot steamed rice for a fun change.  Delicious and adds a glorious green hue!


You’ll see I’m serving the asparagus soup with a stack of pappadam (poppadum), Indian lentil wafers.  I confess to purchasing prepared wafers from Vik’s Market in Berkeley, and only roasting them to crisp them up.  One of these days I may take on making them from scratch, as they are a family favorite.  Oh yes, and topped with my cilantro-mint chutney…

Asparagus Soup

Adapted from Heidi Swanson, 101 Cookbooks

Makes about 6 cups


  • 2 tablespoons ghee, or unsalted butter, or extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/ 2 cup white onion, chopped
  • 1/ 2 pound new potatoes, finely diced
  • 1-2 tablespoons cilantro-mint chutney, or to taste. Recipe below.
  • 1 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into pieces 1/ 2” long
  • 1 14-ounce can full-fat coconut milk
  • 1-1/ 2 teaspoons sea salt, or to taste
  • 1-1/ 4 cup water, or to cover
  • 1 lemon

Fancy toppings:  chopped chives, green onion, shallots, grated hard-boiled egg, croutons, toasted seeds or nuts, yogurt, etc.


  1. Cook the ghee/butter/olive oil and onion over medium-high heat in a large soup pan (of at least 3 to 4 quart capacity). Stir until the onion is well coated and sauté a few minutes until the onion becomes translucent. Stir in the potatoes and cook about 10 minutes, until completely tender.  Add a splash of water to help speed the process.
  2. Add the cilantro-mint chutney and cook another minute. Add the coconut milk, water and salt.  Bring to a simmer and add the asparagus.  Cook about 2-3 minutes until the asparagus is just tender.
  3. Use a hand, immersion blender or counter-top blender and blend until the soup is completely smooth. If using a hand, immersion blender, you will be glad for extra height in your soup pot.  There’s a bit of splashing that goes on, and it’s nice to keep it in the pot!

Taste and tweak:  Add more water if a thinner consistency is desired.  Taste for salt and seasonings, add a squeeze of lemon juice to brighten the flavors.

Add a flourish of toppings as desired.

Cilantro-Mint Chutney

Makes about 2 cups

  • 2 cups packed fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems
  • 1 cup packed fresh mint leaves
  • 1 jalapeno or serrano pepper, or other green chile; to taste
  • 1 – 2 teaspoons fresh ginger root, grated or minced
  • 1 teaspoon fresh garlic, grated or minced
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/ 2 teaspoon sea salt, to taste
  • 2-3 tablespoons of water, as needed to desired consistency

Thoroughly rinse the cilantro and mint leaves.  Spin or pat dry.  Place the leaves in the jar of a blender, then add all remaining ingredients, except the water.  Blitz and whir until the chutney is smooth.  Add water as needed to reach the desired consistency.  Optional:  Stir in up to 1/ 2 cup of plain yogurt just before serving if desired.

Tip:  This chutney freezes perfectly.  I fill silicone mini-muffin molds and, after freezing, store them to use as needed.  Once you have these gems on hand, you’ll find countless ways to use them.

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Fresh Herbs and Garlic Cream Cheese Spread

Is it just me, or did September fly by?  I must have been ecstatic last month, (“Time flies when you’re having fun…”).  So it’s with a bit of a rush that I prepare this month’s Piedmont Pantry column for The Piedmont Post, because I blinked and my deadline is nigh.


As it turns out, this recipe is a nice metaphor for making the best when time is of the essence.  Surely you may find yourself in a similar position – the need to pull something together quickly to serve, with ingredients you may already have on hand; or are easy to gather.


High impact with minimal effort – there’s much to love about this easy, homemade cheese spread.  It’s always a crowd pleaser, slathered on sliced baguette, crackers or a variety of vegetables.  Best of all, it takes only a few minutes of chopping and mixing from start to finish.


The instructions say to refrigerate it for a couple of hours before serving to allow for the flavors to fully develop.  Truth be told, it’s perfectly delicious as soon as it’s made – as you will notice when cleaning up the bowl.


Cream cheese is a refrigerator staple in many homes, including ours.  Here we’re fond of cream cheese and smoked salmon on a bagel or toast.  An unopened package of cream cheese will last several months in the ‘fridge.  So why not keep it on hand?


I have a small herb garden, in pots, in our back yard.  It’s easy-peasy for me to head out and snip away as needed.  Bits and pieces from your garden or refrigerator are fine here.


This recipe is flexible.  Mix and match the herbs to suit your taste or availability at hand.  Try using other soft, spreadable cheeses such as fromage blanc, chèvre, or ricotta.


And it’s scalable.  Make only a fraction of the recipe to use up a bit of cream cheese you have, or multiply it for a crowd.  Soon you will be whipping up your own versions on instinct, with no recipe required.


Bonus:  This cheese spread is also delicious on pasta.  Boil pasta to desired doneness.  Drain, reserving at least 1/ 2 cup of the boiling liquid.  Add cheese spread to taste and mix until evenly distributed.  A few splashes of the reserved pasta water will help loosen up the sauce and make for a luscious coating on the pasta.  Serve with a generous scattering of grated Parmesan cheese and flourish of more fresh herbs.


Fresh Herbs & Garlic Cream Cheese Spread

Makes about 1 cup


  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened to room temperature
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1 – 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chives, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh herbs, finely chopped (Basil, marjoram, and thyme; alone or in combination, are all delicious.)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste, start with about 1/ 4 teaspoon each


  1. Combine the cream cheese and butter in a medium mixing bowl and blend well until they are smooth. This can be done by hand, or with an electric mixer or food processor.  Fold in the garlic and herbs.  Taste and season with salt and pepper to your preference.
  2. Transfer to serving bowl or ramekins, cover and chill in the refrigerator for several hours; up to 2 days.
  3. Serve with sliced breads, crackers, sliced vegetables – whatever you like. It will soften up at room temperature, making it not only spreadable, but “dip-able” with a sturdy celery or carrot stick.



Few and fresh ingredients

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Paula Wolfert’s Mint and Egg Salad

Fresh mint, and easy-to-grow!

Fresh mint, and easy-to-grow!

     Paula Wolfert is a culinary icon, and one I admire greatly.  You’ve seen her inspired recipes from me before, as her focus has been flavors of the Mediterranean; a climate much like ours here in the San Francisco Bay Area. Paula has been a long-time resident of Sonoma County, so many of her ingredients, originally discovered during her travels in the Mediterranean, also capitalize on our bountiful, local harvests.

     This latest cookbook of Paula’s recipes, Unforgettable:  The Bold Flavors of Paula Wolfert’s Renegade Life by Berkeley-ite, Emily Thelin, is a compilation of Paula’s previous recipes.  Moreover, it is a heartfelt biography of Paula’s journeys in travel and life.  It is an interesting read, and generous in photos of Paula, her past travels, and the amazing recipes.

Pastured eggs from Capay Valley

     Out of so many recipes, I chose this simple egg salad.  It’s spring now, and this salad is a light, fresh bite of the season.  Fresh mint abounds in my backyard.  It is paired aptly with spring onions (scallions) and grated eggs for a sophisticated combination that’s simple to prepare.

     Please give this a try with mint, even if you haven’t thought to use this much mint with eggs.  If you must, substitute some flat-leaf parsley for some of the mint.  Or take it in a slightly new direction and use tender, spring watercress.  It will be different, still delicious.

     In addition to enjoying this recipe as a first course, you might also want to serve it up on your favorite crusty bread, or planks of sliced cucumber.

Mint & Egg Salad Plated 1

Mint and Egg Salad

Adapted from Unforgettable:  The Bold Flavors of Paula Wolfert’s Renegade Life

Serves 4 as a light, first course


  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 to 2 cups slivered mint leaves, depending on the intensity of the mint
  • 1 cup thinly sliced green onions, white and green parts
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons mild red pepper flakes, preferably Marash (substitute piment d’esplette)
  • Juice of 1/ 2 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons fruity olive oil
  • Sea salt, to taste


  1. Boil the eggs: Put the eggs in a saucepan and cover with water to cover by one inch and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  When the water boils, turn off the heat and set a timer for 8 minutes.  After 8 minutes, drain the hot water and run cool water over the eggs to prevent further cooking.  Peel the eggs and set aside.
  1. Assemble the salad: Using the large holes of a box grater, and working over a large bowl, grate the eggs.  Add the mint, green onions and red pepper flakes; mix well.  In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil and lemon juice to taste; then drizzle over the egg mixture.  Toss to coat lightly and evenly.  Season with salt.
  1. Serve immediately at room temperature or slightly chilled.

Note:  It’s easy to upsize this recipe.  The number of eggs in it will provide a clear indication of portions.  Make more, you will be glad you did!

Grating eggs results in crazy-light textured salad

Grating eggs results in crazy-light textured salad

From Unforgettable: The Bold Flavors of Paula Wolfert's Renegade Life

From Unforgettable: The Bold Flavors of Paula Wolfert’s Renegade Life

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Potato Leek and Greens Bake

The makings of a fine dish

The makings of a fine dish

     THIS dish is the star every time we sit down to our spring time, corned beef dinner.  Yes, we all appreciate the corned beef, but these potatoes, aka colcannon, are what my family love.  Homey comfort food in the spotlight.

     My version has plenty of flavor and we like the combination of both cabbage and kale.  The extra step of browning the top in a medium-high heat oven creates crispy bits that are everyone’s favorite.  If you bake it in a square pan, be prepared for the corners to be in high demand!

     I hope you will make this your own, preparing it to suit your taste buds.  It’s pretty goof-proof, so there’s leeway for additions and substitutions.  Use any proportion of cabbage and kale.  A vegan option using olive oil and vegetable stock will have plenty of punch; and it should also adapt nicely to mashed cauliflower in place of potatoes, if that’s your thing.

     And, by all means, prepare it year-round too.  It’s a wonderful accompaniment for a variety of meals.

Colcannon Baked Q60

Potato Leek and Greens Bake


  • 2-1/ 2 pounds russet potatoes, about 6-7 medium
  • 1/ 2 medium head of green cabbage, yielding about 1-1/2 cups steamed
  • 1/ 2 bunch kale, yielding about 1-1/ 2 cups steamed
  • 1 cup leeks, white and pale green parts only; halved lengthwise then sliced crosswise in 1/ 4-inch pieces
  • 1/ 2 cup half-and-half (whole milk is OK), plus additional if needed
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus 1 tablespoon
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Cut the cabbage into two wedges through the core. Cut away the core, then cut each wedge crosswise into 1/ 2-inch slices.
  1. Remove the tough center stem from the kale leaves. If the leaves are very wide, cut into about 2-inch widths; then cut into 1/ 2 –inch slices.
  1. Steam or sauté the cabbage and kale until just tender. Set aside.
  1. In a small saucepan, melt 4 tablespoons of butter. Add the leeks and cook until softened, stirring frequently to ensure even cooking.  Add 1/ 2 cup of half-half, remove from heat and set aside.
  1. Peel the potatoes and cut into 2-inch chunks. Place in a pot large enough to cover the potatoes with water, with at least 1-inch of room left to the top of the pot to avoid the water boiling over.  Boil with medium heat until tender enough to pierce through with a fork using only slight pressure, about 10 – 15 minutes.  Drain the potatoes and coarsely mash, with a potato masher.  It is preferred if bits remain.
  1. Transfer the mashed potatoes into a large mixing bowl. Add the leek-half-half mixture and stir until incorporated.  Stir in the cooked cabbage and kale, making sure to achieve even distribution throughout the potatoes.  The result should be the consistency of chunky mashed potatoes.  Add additional milk, sparingly, if needed to create the consistency you prefer.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
  1. Transfer this entire mixture to a shallow 2-quart baking dish that has been well buttered. Dot with the 1 tablespoon of butter.  Bake in a preheated 400*F oven, set at “Convection” for about 10-15 minutes to brown the top as desired.

Notes:  IF you happen to have leftovers, my best tip for reheating is to form the potatoes into about 4-inch patties and cook in a lightly buttered skillet until heated through and a bit of brown-crispiness is achieved.  These are so good you may find yourself doubling the recipe just for the leftovers!

A bonus to this recipe — Save the potato peels for making these crisps.

Roasted Potato Skins 200Pixels Q50

Crispy Potato Skins! Peels, olive oil, salt, pepper and 400*F at convection setting until crispy. Stir after about 10 minutes for even crisping or about another 5 minutes. Watch them carefully — they are thin so go from crisp to burnt quickly!

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