Cook's Grab Bag: Year of the Rat, CSA Sign-Up, Spinach Salad

Gung Hay Fat Choy! Today is the beginning of the year 4706 on the Lunar Calendar. It is the year of the Rat - and if you were born in 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984 or 1996, this is your year, kid.

The first sign of the Chinese zodiac (in the Western zodiac, it's Aries), the Rat is characterized as industrious and ambitious, a sing that is willing to take risks. It signifies new beginnings, so this would be a good year to put long-stewing plans into action.

Over the past several years, I've consulted cookbook author Grace Young ("Breath of a Wok") for guidance on how to commemorate Lunar New Year at the stove. As she explained in an online chat with me a few years ago, the Chinese prepare foods that symbolize good health, prosperity and fortune and strength on the domestic/family front.

I didn't get my act together to whip up a batch of dumplings (aka jiao-zi), but in lieu of this more time-consuming project, I'll commemorate the new year with a quickie stir-fry garlic lettuce, as the green lettuce leaves are said to open the door to fortune. Served over rice, this makes for a snappy supper; right after you cook the lettuce in the wok, you can fry an egg and season with sesame oil. Dinner will be ready in about 10 minutes.

P.S. For a vegetarian version of the jiao-zi, leave out the pork and replace with shredded carrots, sliced shiitake mushrooms, and a small handful of chopped water chestnuts.)

CSA Update
Several readers have been requesting sign-up info on local farms offering CSA (community supported agriculture) shares for this year's growing season. Just in time, the Food section's Walter Nicholls compiled an extensive list of farms still accepting applications, but as he mentioned, there is no time to lollygaggle. For folks living outside of the Washington area, check Local Harvest, a handy Web site with a clickable national map, with listings (and sometimes reviews) of CSAs from a farm near you.

Please weigh in on your favorite CSA or add additional names to the list - but only if you know it's still accepting applications.

Costa Rica Followup

As promised, a recipe from Luis Protti, chef at Pura Vida Spa in Costa Rica, where I spent several days last week. Below, Protti's take on a spinach salad, sweetened with fruit and a simple white wine vinaigrette. Strawberries are in season in Costa Rica, but we've got to wait a little while for local berries to appear. In the meantime, I'd try a ripe mango or even a few apples, thinly sliced.

Spinach-Strawberry Salad
¼ cup vegetable oil (he recommends something neutral, like Canola)
1/8 cup white wine vinegar
¼ cup brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon each sesame seeds and poppy seeds
Salt to taste
1 bunch spinach, cleaned, dried, stemmed and chopped
2 cups strawberries, hulled and sliced (alternatively 1-2 mangoes, peeled and diced)

Pour oil into a small mixing bowl, then whisk in vinegar and sugar until blended. Add paprika and seeds, then salt to taste. In a large serving bowl, pour vinaigrette over spinach and fruit and toss to completely coat. Serve immediately.

By Kim ODonnel |  February 7, 2008; 10:44 AM ET Chinese New Year , Farmers Markets , Vegetarian/Vegan
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Hello Kim

Stir fried lettuce? Good idea. Question: Where does the pork come in, it's not mentioned in the ingredients list. Is it in the form of ground pork, fried with the garlic before adding lettuce?

All the best, D

Posted by: David Lewiston | February 7, 2008 2:21 PM

Hi David: Pork is in the jiao-zi (dumpings), not the lettuce. Try it, it's a goodie! I'm headed to the store right now.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | February 7, 2008 2:31 PM

The pork is in the dumplings, not with the lettuce.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 7, 2008 2:31 PM

Hi Kim:

I have a green cabbage I don't know what to do with--could I use that in the stir-fried lettuce recipe? If I do, I imagine I would have to cook the cabbage longer?


Posted by: Bethesda Mom | February 8, 2008 9:54 AM

Bethesda Mom, green cabbage is a great sub for this dish. Yes, you'll need to cook for longer, but not by much. Keep me posted.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | February 8, 2008 11:23 AM


Thanks for the reminder on CSA's I keep thinking about it when I am away from the computer. You motivated to check a few out and make a phone call.


Posted by: late to the party | February 8, 2008 12:40 PM

Thanks to your prompting I just signed up for my first CSA through Winterpast Farms in Strasburg, VA. I can't wait to get started and look forward to hearing other people's experiences as well.

Posted by: AddE | February 8, 2008 3:54 PM

What would you think about added roasted butternut squash to the spinach salad?

Posted by: BG | February 11, 2008 8:37 AM

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