Friday, March 9, 2012

Spring awakening

Express Staff Writer

It's March, and while daylight saving time and warmer temperatures are ahead, snow is still on the ground and nighttime lows are dipping into the single digits.

Target and other chain stores are releasing their bathing suits and spring dresses even as we pull on our long underwear and wool socks before we take our dogs out for that early-morning walk.

If you're a skier, you might be enjoying the juxtaposition of spring sunshine and the 48-inch base of winter snow on Baldy. For foodies, this not yet spring is a bit of a challenge when trying to decide what to have for dinner.

Personally, I'm done with soup, stew, chili, lamb, pot roast and all of those amazing winter dishes—I'm ready for lemonade, pasta salad and chicken on the grill. I want to eat all of the wonderful recipes that Bon Appetit and Real Simple are printing. I want to make sun tea. I want to go into a grocery store and find a tomato that is actually red, rather than a sickly winter orange.

I want to eat giant salads with fresh veggies, artisan cheese, salty olives, grilled chicken and homemade dressing. Have you ever tried to eat a salad when it's 10 degrees out? I don't recommend it.

But there are recipes you can make that are warm enough for a Wood River Valley spring (or late winter, depending on your perspective) and still light enough to shake the winter doldrums out of your taste buds.

The key to spring food tends to be the same as making "light" food—keep dishes low on the carbs, high on the veggies and use cheese or red meat as a condiment, not the main feature.

That's why this peanut stir-fry is fabulous for March. One, it has a crap-ton (technical term) of veggies. Two, the peanut sauce is warm and spicy enough to keep you from feeling like you're eating lettuce in Antarctica. Three, it's so colorful that you'll instantly feel a little cheerier.

So instead of getting frustrated over how cold it still is or how few vegetables are actually in season, make a giant bowl of this stir-fry, curl up in front of your fireplace and patiently wait for spring to arrive for real.

Spicy Peanut Stir-fry

Serves 4

For Stir-fry:

2 Tbsp sesame oil

6 cloves garlic, minced

1 large yellow onion

1 small head of red or green cabbage, sliced

2 cups chopped carrots

3 cups broccoli, cut into florets

2 cups sliced mushrooms

1 cup red, orange or yellow bell pepper, chopped

2 Tbsp soy sauce

Peanut Sauce:

1/4 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup creamy peanut butter

1/4 cup honey

1 Tbsp chili-garlic sauce

3 Tbsp sesame oil

Heat 2 Tbsp sesame oil in a large, heavy pan on medium heat. Add garlic and onions; saute for 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add cabbage; saute for 2 minutes, stirring frequently until the onions start to turn translucent. Add carrots, turn heat to low and let sit on the heat, covered, for 5-7 minutes.

Make the peanut sauce by combining ¼ cup soy sauce, peanut butter, honey, chili-garlic sauce and 3 Tbsp sesame oil in a small bowl and whisk until smooth. Set aside.

Uncover pan and turn heat back to medium. Add broccoli, mushrooms and 2 Tbsp soy sauce. Sauté, stirring frequently, until the mushrooms have shrunken and given up their juices. Keep stirring until juices are slightly reduced and broccoli is slightly tender. Add pepper and stir until combined.

Spoon sauce over vegetables and stir until vegetables are coated. Serve over rice or whole-wheat pasta. Leftovers can be kept covered and refrigerated for three days.

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