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A&E >  Food

Kim O’Donnel’s latest title celebrates plant foods of the Pacific Northwest

Let’s get something straight from the outset: Kim O’Donnel isn’t a vegetarian.

But she is a master of incorporating more vegetables into her meals. And she’s written about how to enjoy veggies as a die-hard meat-eater in her Meatless Monday blog and her first two cookbooks: “The Meat Lover’s Meatless Cookbook” and “The Meat Lover’s Meatless Celebrations.”

Her latest title celebrates plant foods of the Pacific Northwest. Wednesday night at Auntie’s Bookstore, she’ll be talking about those locally sourced, seasonal ingredients and signing copies of “PNW Veg: 100 Vegetable Recipes Inspired by the Local Bounty of the Pacific Northwest.” She’ll be accompanied by Spokane food writer and pie-baker extraordinaire Kate Lebo, who contributed a morel-and-asparagus tart recipe for the book’s mushroom section.

O’Donnel, a self-described “part-time vegetarian, has written about food for the Washington Post and USA Today. She lives in West Seattle, where she oversees classes and programming for the new healthy-living kitchen at the local YMCA. This book tour marks her first visit to Spokane.

What are some veggies Inland Northwest home cooks should be using now?

Fiddlehead ferns. I’m battering them in chickpea flour and quickly frying them until they’re crispy. They’re super fun, just a beautiful little snack.

Rhubarb. I like to make a salsa from rhubarb. Instead of waiting forever for tomatoes to arrive, I make pico de gallo with finely chopped rhubarb, cilantro and cucumber. I like to be able to use rhubarb like that and surprise folks.

Purslane. Purslane is a warm-weather weed. Some people find it in cracks in their sidewalk. It’s really prolific. And it’s wonderful in potato salad. It has a lemony tang to it, and it’s one of the few plants that has omega 3 fatty acids in it.

What are your go-to pantry staples to enhance flavors in vegetables?

Fresh herbs. You don’t have to have a full vegetable garden to grow herbs right outside your door, and fresh herbs can add all kinds of layers of flavor to your vegetables. You can throw mint into your iced tea for more flavor, or you can throw a handful of cilantro into the blender with some mint and olive oil and have the beginnings of a green sauce.

Spices. Buy things in small quantities in the bulk section. It’s a much more economical way to have spices at home and actually use them at their peak.

Eggs. You can do so many things with them: frittatas, or poach or hard cook or fry one up. They go with so many vegetables.

Lentils. I always have lentils on hand. They are sort of the training wheels of the legume universe. You don’t need to soak them. Add greens on top, building layers, all of which are earthy.

Canned and dried garbanzo beans and black beans. I keep the canned on hand because sometimes you need to make dinner in 20 minutes and you don’t have time to think.

Leftover cheese rinds. I throw them into soups. They add extra flavor.

And more. Onions and garlic. Always. Even a knob of ginger. Soy sauce. Fish sauce. Maple syrup. Sunflowers seeds.

Warm Chickpea Smash with Skillet Greens

From “PNW Veg” by Kim O’Donnel

Instead of making hummus – the chickpea spread that Americans have embraced as their own – I move these chickpeas away from the food processor and into the skillet. In a style similar to refried beans, the chickpeas get smashed in warm spiced oil and garlic. The smash meets a mess of garlicky skillet greens, all of which get a top coat of lemony onions and cook’s choice of assorted raw goodies. Everything comes together in less than hour.

1/4 cup very thinly sliced red onion or shallot

4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 1 to 2 lemons)

2 bunches quick-cooking greens (such as beet, chard, kale, mustard or watercress), washed and dried

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons ground sumac

4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

2 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained, or 3 cups cooked chickpeas

2 to 4 tablespoons warm water

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon Aleppo or other medium-heat ground chile pepper

Optional toppings:

1/2 cup feta cheese

1/2 cup halved cherry tomatoes

1/2 cup sliced cucumber

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro or mint leaves

2 to 4 warmed pitas

In a small bowl, soak the onion with 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice (this mellows it out and makes it easier to digest). Remove the center ribs of the greens with a knife (or pull the leaves with your hands, as if you were zipping them off). Stack into small piles and roll up like a cigar or carpet and thinly slice into 2-inch pieces.

To make the chickpea smash, heat a 10- or 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add 4 tablespoons of the oil, tilting the pan to coat. Add the cumin and sumac along with half of the garlic, stirring constantly to prevent burning. Add the chickpeas, stirring to coat with the spices and garlic. Cook until the chickpeas are heated through, about 8 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons of the warm water, and with a fork or potato masher, roughly mash the chickpeas. The mixture will be both pasty and textured. If it seems dry, add the remaining warm water. Season with the remaining 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, and the black pepper. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and cover to keep warm.

Carefully wipe the skillet clean with a paper towel, and set over medium heat. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil, tilting the pan to coat. Add the remaining garlic, and then add the greens in batches, turning with tongs until coated with the oil. Cook the greens until wilted and tender, 3 to 5 minutes, adding a few tablespoons of water if the mixture seems dry. Season with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt and the Aleppo pepper.

To serve, spread the warm chickpea smash evenly in the center of a large plate or serving platter. Top with the marinated onions and lemon juice. Arrange the greens around the perimeter. Garnish with any or all of the suggested toppings and serve immediately.

Yield: 4 servings

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