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Mediterranean Cooking from the Garden with Linda Dalal Sawaya—easy Spring vegan salads, sautéed veggies with tahini sauce, and Community Supported Agriculture!

posted on: Feb 17, 2016

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Lebanese beet salad and avocado salad © linda dalal sawaya 2016

It’s not even officially spring yet, which is a month away, but the beginning of Lent symbolizes springtime in a way that makes me long for light, vegan dishes after a winter of more indulgent fare.

It’s easy to be vegan with these two simply sublime salads that use the same dressing but create totally different results: Lebanese beet salad with scallions and Italian parsley and avocado salad with a bit of cilantro, just picked in the garden. The beet salad is a lovely, fresh contrast of sweet with salty, while the avocado salad is creamy and salty, while both are laden with garlic and lemon.

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Lebanese beet salad with garlic paste, lemon, scallions, Italian parsley, and olive oil © linda dalal sawaya 2016

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Mama’s avocado salad with garlic paste, lemon, and olive oil © linda dalal sawaya 2016

Additionally, my favorite vegan main course is sautéed vegetables with tahini sauce. Easy to make, but the tahini sauce elevates simple vegetables to another plane when drizzled over them. I use whatever vegetables I have on hand: starting always with onions, carrots, and cauliflower. In the summer, I add garden fresh kousa (squash) and peas, but in the spring: asparagus, broccoli shoots, and mushrooms are wonderful seasonal additions. Begin by cooking the more dense vegetables, and then add in the more delicate ones after the others have gotten their start.

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Khudra makhlouta (sautéed vegetables) with tahini sauce © linda dalal sawaya 2016

The tahini sauce is excellent on fish, if you are not vegan. It, too, is simple to make by the addition of garlic crushed with salt, lemon juice, and a bit of chopped Italian parsley.

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Making garlic paste with sea salt © linda dalal sawaya 2016

Avocado is not native to the Middle East; in fact I read that it arrived there about 100 years ago, only 10,000 years after it appeared in the Puebla area of Mexico. But this did not stop my Lebanese father from planting an avocado tree in our Los Angeles garden where it thrived, nor did it prevent my mother from Arabizing this into a fabulous salad when not making it into guacamole which we discovered in the 1950s at one of LA’s early Mexican restaurants in Eagle Rock, where it topped tostadas with fresh salsa and was sprinkled with a dry Mexican cheese. I clearly remember those tostadas with longing.

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Mama’s avocado salad garnished with just picked cilantro © linda dalal sawaya 2016

As I’ve mentioned in the past, there’s not much going on in my garden at this time other than greens, which I am so delighted to be able to find: kale and chard, Italian parsley and cilantro, which amazingly overwintered and survived snow and ice, brief as it was. Who ever would have thought of planting cilantro as a fall crop to overwinter in the Pacific Northwest? Not me. But I did a fall planting, and am totally grateful that it survived so I can pick a few sprigs for my avocado salad.

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freshly picked cilantro from my garden © linda dalal sawaya 2016

This year, I am scaling down my garden and have decided to become a site sponsor for an organic farm in the rural community of Forest Grove about 30 minutes from where I live. Love Farm Organics is a family owned farm that has a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. Programs like this exist all over the U.S., and chances are you might find a farm near you, where “Farm to Table” can enhance your family’s health while supporting local farms at the same time.

I was a site host for an organic farm in Vallejo, California, where the local farmer’s market had very little organic options back in 2000. By finding 8 or 10 families to sign up for membership, the farm produce was delivered weekly to my place, even though I still planted a garden. Members would come by to pick up their weekly share during a 3 hour window. In the bay area of California, the farm ran year round. This year beginning in June, I will be a site host for Love Farm Organics, and neighborhood families are signing up now for their weekly freshly picked organic produce to be picked up in my art studio! This is going to be a great community blessing.

Every healthy diet regime includes fresh vegetables and fruits, so if you are able to find a CSA farm in your area, now is the time to sign up for this year’s season, which in Oregon goes from June through November. One of the aspects of this I love is getting vegetables I’d never before tried, and have truly enjoyed. Celery root (celeriac) and Italian fennel were vegetables I’d never tasted, that were a part of my weekly share and I loved them. Last November, Love Farm included beautiful popcorn in the week’s share, with instructions to not pop it until after January. I recently popped this in coconut oil and it was the best popcorn I’d ever tasted: in purple, golden yellows, and white. Of course, melted butter from grass-fed cows made it over the top!

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Popcorn from Love Farm Organics popped in coconut oil © linda dalal sawaya 2016

So even though I’m planting peas, I am delighted to be a recipient of Love Farm’s organic produce this coming summer and fall. This past week I read of the country of Denmark going 100% organic. I have a sense that eating organically, which is certainly what was done in Lebanon back in the day, is the healthiest way to eat, and I encourage you to consider it. Find a farm near you via Local Harvest website and eat your vegetables!

Recipes for the beet salad, garlic lemon dressing, khudra makhlouta and tahini sauce are in Alice’s KitchenSahtein and happy cooking!

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Linda Dalal Sawaya is a Portland artist, cook, Master Gardener, daughter of Lebanese immigrants, and author of Alice’s Kitchen: Traditional Lebanese Cooking   

Remember, as my mother Alice said, “If you make it with love, it will be delicious!”

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story and all photos © linda dalal sawaya 2016