If you do not live in California or some such all-season growing area, chances are you are still waiting for your local produce to show up. One of the very earliest local goodies to appear around here is spinach. Like that salt-of-the-earth old salt , Popeye, I just loves my spinach.* And the tender baby leaves are so delicious uncooked, that a spinach salad is the first thing that comes to mind when it arrives. I have an old favorite, but I decided to try a couple of new things this year.
One is a spinach and pear salad using the rest of my duck confit. (I haven't forgotten about the duck breasts and the duck soup I promised. Consider this post a semi-related interlude.) The other is an idea I got from reading Karin Welzel's article in the Tribune Review**, about Cafe Zao, a local restaurant I have yet to visit-despite the fact that it is located only a couple of blocks from my workplace, and next door to the Public Theater. As you might guess, this has been mostly a cost issue.
After reading about the place, I've concluded that I need to save up for dinner at Cafe Zao. In the interim, though, I thought would try Chef Toni Pais' recipe for Cold Spinach Soup and Shellfish Salad, which you can find with Karin's article. I was so very not disappointed. Wow. As she points out, the soup can also be used, hot or cold, as a sauce for fish or poultry. Surprisingly, large quantities of pine nuts are involved, and the effect is brilliant. It's so intense, and fresh tasting- really amazing stuff. The seafood salad is also pretty special, and I found that it was well worth looking for the ponzu- a citrus-y vinegar.
It did take me some time to find it- the Lotus Market here is enormous- and not all the sauces have English labels. The ponzu didn't have one, but there was an ingredients list on the back, and it said "Ponzu" on top.
I made the soup according to instructions, but my seafood salad was a shrimp-only affair. Also, I did not do the fancy business with the PVC pipe rings, but put the shrimp salad in a little dish centered in the soup bowl instead. Another serving option might be an ice-cream scoop of the salad in the center of your dish, and the cold soup poured carefully around it. That's how I plate up rice with an estoufee or gumbo, and it works pretty well.
Here is the recipe for the spinach salad. I used toasted walnuts, as well as substituting the confit for the bacon. It was yummy.
I have an attraction to dark green vegetables that is so intense that I suspect it is based in some nutritional deficiency. I made a special bus trip to Whole Foods for dinosaur kale on a snowy day this winter, only to discover they were out of it. I nearly cried. Surely this is not normal? I can tell you that the produce guy looked at me with something between pity and fear when I, uh, ...expressed my dismay.
BTW, if you use the google search function in the left hand column, and search the blog for "spinach", there are few other nice things you might want to try.
*I was surprised to discover, reading up on the original Popeye comics, that in the days before animation, our man Popeye did not have a spinach habit at all. He was just, well, cranky and violent and not-so-brilliant- in the nicest possible way, of course. He had a generous heart and was always, naturally, devoted to the lovely Ms. Oyl. I highly recommend these early cartoons, they are fascinatin', as he might put it. If he, say, had a blog. Or could read and write. Or was, you know, real. But, as always, I digress.
**I don't subscribe to, the Tribune Review, one of our two local papers. Thus, I was unaware of its really nice food section, which, fortunately for me, can be read on the internet. I met Karin Welzel when she emailed me to talk about peas, and I've been catching up on past articles ever since.