In temperate climates like ours in western Oregon, and also traditionally in the United Kingdom and Ireland, the weeks between March and April are known as the Hungry Gap for gardeners and local producers because we have nearly run out of winter storage crops and the new season’s growth does not provide a substantial amount of nourishment.
Most of us don’t think about this anymore, since we have access to almost any type of food we’d like from all across the globe. Easter is next weekend however, and for me, Easter marks the beginning of true spring. Likewise, I associate Easter with strawberries and rhubarb at home with my parents and extended family. Because I manage a garden, I’ve become aware that this pairing won’t come together locally until early May, and though I’m okay with purchasing a few berries from afar to enjoy sooner, I’m nearly always disappointed with the flavor. When I spent a summer on the strawberry farm as their trials intern, I was surprised at the diversity of varieties. Some were super-packed with flavor and others were big and beautiful, but tasteless. Interestingly, all the varieties went into the same punnets and at the grocery store, I could just as easily pick up tasteless strawberries as flavor-packed ones. In any case, it is not common for commercial fruit and vegetable varieties to be bred for outstanding flavor. It is early yet in this new season and this year we won’t be traveling home for Easter. So I think I will wait on strawberries.
I’ve noticed a little of this hungry gap in shopping for local vegetables lately too, as there is a plethora of greens and some winter storage roots like rutabagas, turnips, parsnips, and beets, but the variety that other seasons provide is missing. Still, in our age of abundance, there is a bounty during this season.
I’ve been doing a better job too, of planning meals since moving, taking on grad school, and commuting. I thought I would be letting go of cooking creatively during this new phase, but the opposite has actually been true. Using seasonal produce as the foundation for meals and then planning for busy weeks, being flexible, and doing a little more batch cooking on slower days has been quite instrumental. William’s one day of managing dinner has also allowed for simpler things like pizza, tacos, and pasta primavera to show up in our rotation.
Even during this hungry gap and busy season, we are enjoying lots of variety. This is what I picked up in the last week, and how we enjoyed them:
Turnips + Rutabagas: Rustic Indian Samosa Pie
Beets: We had beets, lentils, tahini + flatbread last weekend and leftovers into the early part of the week.
Leeks, Nettles + Potatoes: We enjoyed a nice Irish Nettle Soup with leeks and potatoes for St. Patrick’s Day.
Sprouting Purple Broccoli + Collard Raab: I lightly roasted these with tempeh and za’atar, and served them alongside harissa and millet. Yum!
Eggs : William powers through tax season by eating eggs and green juice most mornings for breakfast.
Green Salad mix with lots of winter greens like kale, arugula, frisée, bok choy, and chard: To round out meals.
Carrots + Parsnips: For snacking and carrot + parsnip oatmeal.
Parsnips + Sage: I am experimenting with a parsnip + sage risotto for dinner tonight and serving it alongside white bean fagioli from Heidi’s new book.
What local abundance is available lately in your corner of the world?
Rustic Indian Samosa Pie with Mint + Cilantro Chutney, serves 4
I first got the idea for this pie from Kelsey, when I attempted to make her Sweet Potato Samosas and failed miserably with tiny pastries and gluten-free crust. Since then, I decided to turn it into a seasonal veg pie and finally perfected a savory crust. I’ve made this a few times and change up the vegetables depending on what I have. It is a good one for using up random vegetables that might be hanging about. This version has rutabagas, turnips, and peas and only a top crust. If you want more of a true pie, double the pastry recipe and make a double crust. It will take a little longer to bake. A word to the wise, I tend to air on the side of spicy with seasonings, and then serve a cooling mint and cilantro chutney alongside to tame it down. Use a little less cayenne if you prefer less heat.
1/2 cup brown rice flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 cup quinoa or amaranth flour
3/4 cup chickpea flour
1 tsp. salt
1/4 cup olive oil
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 medium onion, medium-diced
5 cups chopped vegetables (mix of turnips, rutabagas or any others)
1 cup frozen peas
2 cups vegetable broth
1 1/2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
3/4 tsp. ground coriander
1 1/2 tsp. garam masala
3/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. salt
3/16 tsp. cayenne
1-inch piece ginger, minced
1 Tbs. arrowroot or tapioca starch
1 large bunch cilantro
1 cup tightly packed mint
3 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup plain coconut yogurt
1/4 tsp. salt
- Make the crust: Combine the flours and salt in a food processor. Pulse a few times to aerate and mix. Add the olive oil and 1/4 cup cold water. Pulse until the dough just comes together, adding a little more water as needed.
- Transfer the dough to a plastic wrap, wrap it loosely and press it into a flat disk. Chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes while preparing the other ingredients.
- To make the filling: Heat the oil in a large sauté pan and then add the onion, and cook until lightly browned. Add the chopped vegetables and 1 cup broth and let simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add vinegar, coriander, garam masala, cumin, cayenne, salt, minced ginger, and remaining cup of broth. Simmer for another 10 minutes until the vegetables have softened. Stir in the peas and arrowroot starch mixed with a small amount of water. Bring the mixture to a boil, and then turn down to a simmer and let cook a couple minutes more. Remove from heat and transfer to a 9-inch pie dish.
- Dust a large flat surface with rice flour, and roll the pastry out until it is about 1/8-inch in thickness. It should be just larger than the pie pan. Roll the dough carefully around the rolling pin and transfer it to cover the filled dish. Trim the edges and fold under. Crimp them around the edge of the pan, then cut a couple slits in the top to let steam escape. Bake in an oven preheated to 375 degrees F for 20-30 minutes, or until starting to bubble and the crust has become golden.
- To make the chutney: Put mint, cilantro, lemon juice, yogurt, and salt in a food processor, and purée until smooth. Serve alongside the pie.