Mackerel Smoked over Fennel

Seafood, Tapas

When I saw the luminescent skin of the Pacific jack mackerel, as if imprinted by ladders of coral and stamped by plumes of seaweed, I couldn’t resist buying them. Still mesmerized by the succulence of the smoked sardines, I decided to do a variation with the beautiful fish using wild fennel.

Wild fennel is beginning to reach its peak. While out harvesting fennel pollen, I stumbled into some of last year’s stalks, dried out to make room for the new, flowering growth. Once I got it home, I ripped it into small chunks resembling wood chips used for smoking. The wood has a subtle fennel sweetness and an earthy mushroom fragrance. Once incendiary, the greenish smoke emits an almost sweet, piney aroma.  You can imagine how well this mixes with the saltiness of the juicy mackerel meat.

Sardines Grilled over Pine Needles (Sardinhas Assadas no Enguiço)

Seafood

Only days after the summer solstice, on June 23, people all across Spain gather for La Noche de San Juan, St. John’s Eve. For those living near the sea, this is a vivacious event at the beach, a jubilant celebration of the summer to come, a time to clean one’s humanness of past debris.

In Galicia, the northwest Spanish province right above Portugal, the sands erupt in bonfires at night. People jump over them, symbolically passing into a new stage of life. Later, for many, a wash in the sea ensures a proper cleansing of corpa e alma, the body and soul.

There is dancing and music and, of course, lots and lots of eating. The typical and most popular dish is grilled sardines. Often, they are served alongside tapas and bread. So beloved is the sardine in Galicia during San Juan that La Voz de Galicia, a Galician newspaper, reporting on the market scarcity of sardines, said, “Without a doubt, tomorrow night it will reign at the barbecues.”

Braised Beet Greens

Vegetables

Sometimes beets come in a bunch at the market, a 2-in-1 kind of deal. My drive to use the entire part of the plant or animal, where appropriate, one day brought a beet green to my mouth. Very similar to chard, the beet green has a pleasant, earthy and slightly bitter flavor raw. It is good enough to chop up into a salad. So I shaved the raw beet into a salad of its own greens and served it to my family. They had never eaten beet greens. All they could say was that the lettuce was so flavorful.

And while the beet greens are flavorful raw, when braised momentarily with a bit of wine, onion and garlic, and tossed with roasted almonds and fennel, they really come alive. Plus their brilliant green, coated in a glossy finish, is such a pleasing experience to the eyes. As you gardeners get ready to pull your beets, or as you beet buyers begin to see the bunches, consider doing your senses a favor with this one.

Galician Octopus Broth (Caldo de Polbo)

Seafood, Soups & Stews

This dish, like so many of my dishes, is inspired by the verdant and bewitched land of Galicia, the northwest province of Spain. The streets of coastal Galicia, from cities, like A Coruña and Santiago de Compostela, to small towns, like Ribadeo, are filled with pulperías, or octopus restaurants. These cephalopods are caught in the rías, the canals that flow through the land into the Cantabrian Sea and Atlantic Ocean.

Here in Seattle, octopus isn’t as popular. Even though our own ocean-connected water, the Puget Sound, harbors some of the largest octopuses in the world, they are only really served at the Asian restaurants and, occasionally, at more mainstream restaurants like Coastal Kitchen or Golden Beetle. Commercial octopuses here come from Japan, the Philippines or China. Only by accident do fishmongers have Puget Sound octopus. Because they are a protected species, they can only legally be sold if caught by accident; that is, if they get mixed up with other fish being caught. But that is so rare.

Salmonberries in Their Own Syrup

Desserts, Fruit

For those unfamiliar with salmonberries, or those who have had unexciting or unpalatable experiences with them, this recipe is for you.  The natural tartness of the berries is sweetened by the sugar, heightening the pleasant qualities of their overall flavor.  For sweeter berries, add more sugar.  Pair with ice cream, cheese, pastries and baked goods like scones or soft breads. Or eat them as I prefer: by themselves with your sticky fingers.

Salmonberries Stuffed with Cognac & Mascarpone

Desserts, Fruit

One benefit the salmonberry has over more popular and cultivated berries is its ability to be stuffed. Because of its dry exterior and the strong flesh around the seeds, these berries can handle a little poking around. The honey and the elderflower introduce the tongue to a subtle but complex sweetness. The slight sourness of the salmonberry is barely tasted as the sweet cognac cream returns with the layers of sugars initially desired.

Smoky Nettle Pesto

Sauces & Spreads

Since nettles are weeds, they are also a free and prolific source of food. Right now they are concentrating their energy in producing seeds. Regardless, their phenomenal nutrient content still makes them worthy of consumption.  They are one of the highest plant-based protein sources around.  They are loaded with calcium, vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin K.  Nettles also have detoxifying properties, making them great for your kidneys and adrenal glands.  Not to mention, they are absolutely delicious.

This smoky nettle pesto is a great way to cook with nettles late in their season.  The leaves have adopted a subtle bitterness and the overall flavor of the leaves is slowly dissipating.  You still get to taste the essence of the nettles with this, but the roasted nuts and smoked cheese–variations of aging–really complement the nettle’s complex and quiet flavor, as the plant enters its new cycle.

Salmonberries with Wine

Desserts, Fruit

Salmonberries are as varied in color as they are in taste.  Sometimes they are sweet, sometimes they are sour, sometimes they are insipid and sometimes they are an indescribable mix of flavors.  Because this is my first harvest of the season, I thought it best to keep them the centerpiece.  They are the first spring berry to ripen in the Pacific Northwest, and their presence is a reminder of the long, warm days to come.

Keep this plate small.  Salmonberries aren’t known for their abundance.  You might be able to put this plate together from only one bush, if you’re lucky, and if the bush is large.  The simple syrup recipe makes way more than you need, but you can store it in your fridge for a long, long time.