“Sustainability” is a slippery term with a meaning clouded by overuse. At its core is the notion of maintaining a healthy existence. That’s something I take seriously in all my cooking. At my last Portland restaurant, Rocket, we had an enormous rooftop garden where some of Oregon’s finest produce enjoyed the city’s best view. I’m pleased that this garden reduced our carbon footprint, but I’m overjoyed that in downtown Portland I could climb out of a hatch and snag tiny radishes, crisp peas, sparkling lettuces, and loads of fresh herbs just before serving them. When I or my cooks dashed upstairs with a bucket and scissors in hand, we became part of the argument for sustainability; pulling vegetables from the dirt buoys the spirit and gives a tangible rationale for protecting our planet. Here are some of my favorite springtime recipes for an Earth Day feast, using ingredients found easily at most natural groceries.
Black Kale Gratin
Serves 8-10 / This dish is loaded with iron and antioxidants. Ingredient tip: Lacinato, or dinosaur, kale works best, but any dark leafy green will do. Prep tip: Use one side of your sink to drain kale and the other side as an ice-water bath to stop the cooking.
Arugula Salad with Citrus Dressing
Serves 4-6 / In early spring, I spike salads with radishes, dill, mâche, and rocket flowers. In high summer, it’s basil, tarragon, delfino (a cilantro cousin), nasturtiums, and finely sliced raw beans. The dressing is a citrus mix, reduced to concentrate flavor. It’s a friendly and accommodating dressing that encourages you to concoct your own mix of herbs and greens.
Serves 6 / These are great with lamb or rice or just a spoon. They’ll keep for a week in the fridge. Serving tip: Serve warm or at room temperature.
Warm Bean and Goat Cheese Salad with Mint Vinaigrette
Serves 6 / The mint, both raw and blanched, is a bright flavor contrast to the cheese. Ingredient tip: You’ll need 3 pounds of favas in the pod to yield 2 cups shelled, blanched, and peeled beans. If you can’t find fresh beans, frozen will do; just be careful not to overcook. And any seasonal mix of beans will work; in the fall, try cranberry beans.
Roasted Halibut with Spicy Sofrito
Serves 4 / This recipe employs the technique of echoing flavors: smoked pepper spice on the fish in a stew of peppers and onions. This dish is also neat because it’s served from the cooking vessel and the moist cooking environment makes it difficult to overcook the fish. Prep tip: If you prefer less heat, substitute sweet red bell peppers for half of the hot peppers. Serving tip: Great over rice or stuffed into tortillas for fish tacos.
Brown Butter Cakes with Rhubarb-Strawberry Compote
Makes 12 / Prep tip: The key to really red compote is a preliminary maceration (marinade) in sugar. Serving tips: The compote can be added to the cake in two ways: A tablespoon of purée dropped on top of the batter before baking, or used as a sauce.
Leather Storrs has created award-winning food at Noble Rot and Rocket in Portland, Oregon.