OPB’s “Superabundant” explores the stories behind the foods of the Pacific Northwest with videos, articles and this weekly newsletter. To keep you sated between episodes, we’ve brought on food writer Heather Arndt Anderson, a Portland-based culinary historian and ecologist, to highlight different aspects of the region’s food ecosystem. This week she’s turning a bunch of weedy lemon balm into a luscious herb sauce for dover sole.
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While everyone was turning their attention to the succulent plenitude of local strawberries, mint-family herbs have been over here quietly doing their best, getting ready to bloom for the bees. They may be weedy and scrubby, but they matter! It’s not their fault they’re so good at taking over every nook and cranny. Why does Portland, Oregon, have so much gosh-darn lemon balm and oregano growing everywhere, anyway? Read on to find out!
James Beard Awards, burying climate change, salmon hitch a ride, and more tasty news nibbles
Freshly picked morsels from the Pacific Northwest food universe:
Portland talent wins big at the James Beard Awards
Portland’s James Beard Award winners made us proud last week! Berlu’s Vince Nguyen (who, in full disclosure, gets elderflowers from “Superabundant” newsletter writer Heather Arndt Anderson’s garden) took Best Chef NW, and predictably, critical darling Kann took top honors with its Best Restaurant win. In the media awards, Eater Portland’s Brooke Jackson-Glidden won the Jonathan Gold local voice award for her food reporting, and Hannah Che won a cookbook award for her Vegan Chinese Kitchen. The podcast Copper & Heat took an award in the audio programming category and video series All The Homies Network (a Portland-based collective featuring members of the BIPOC culinariat), nabbed the top award in the prestigious reality or competition visual media category. Congratulations to all the winners!
For you a rose in Portland grows
If the sudden appearance of numerous meandering sailors downtown is any indication, Portland’s 116th Rose Festival is upon us. (The City Fair technically started over Memorial Day Weekend but it just doesn’t feel like the Rose Festival until we see floats and boats downtown.) This is the last weekend to get your fair food fix: corn dogs, cotton candy, elephant ears, funnel cakes and slush puppies as far as the eye can see.
Ensuring the First Salmon won’t be the last
For members of the Colville Confederated Tribes, the First Salmon ceremony is not just a celebration of the people’s connection to their land and traditional foodways, it’s a bittersweet acknowledgment that an animal that once wholly sustained them now needs their help to survive. As OPB’s Courtney Flatt reports, it’s been five generations since Colville elders last saw salmon at Kettle Falls (before the Grand Coulee Dam was constructed), but recently tribal members took things into their own hands — they’ve been physically moving the fish, driving them around the dams and releasing them upstream. Though it’s not a permanent solution, the results already show the effort’s payoff, as salmon are now able to fight their way north to their Canadian spawning grounds.
Mycorrhizal fungi let us bury our problems
As if we needed another reason to appreciate the Wood Wide Web, a new study from University of Sheffield suggests that the vast underground network of fungi stores an astonishing amount of carbon — they store more than a third of all annual global fossil fuel emissions in the soil, or 13 gigatons of carbon worldwide. These fungi form symbiotic relationships with specific plants; in doing so, the fungi act as a bridge to better living, allowing, for example, a crop of chanterelles to colonize a stand of nearby pine and spruce trees even when they’re growing under a birch. There’s never been a better time to invest in soil conservation — mycorrhizal fungi could save the planet.
In the ‘Superabundant’ garden this week
Now that the threat of a chilly snap is behind us (knocks wood), the persimmon, peach, plum, apple and fig trees are setting lots of fruit. In fact, the apple trees are so laden that they needed a stern thinning over the weekend; culling half the young fruit helps reduce apple fly infestations and makes for a higher-quality yield down the line (most apple trees will do this on their own; it’s called “June drop”). The garden is also overflowing with lemon balm and oregano — two of our weediest herbs, growing all over Southeast Portland thanks to Italian immigrants who brought the herbs to their new backyard gardens when they arrived between the 1860s and 1890s. Eventually organized as the Oregon Gardeners and Ranchers Association in 1915 (and setting up an official building a few years later), Italian immigrants set up the city’s earliest farmers markets to sell produce they were growing in Ladd’s Field (now the Ladd’s Addition neighborhood).
Good things in markets
This is not a drill: Hood strawberries have arrived! Run, don’t walk to your nearest farmers market or local grower-friendly produce department (and keep an eye out for sweet cherries, which should soon be making an appearance). Red currants might be hard to find but are definitely in season. Green garlic and garlic scapes are at their peak, and lavender is blooming its heart out — try it in lemonade, poppyseed scones or buttery shortbread. Local asparagus is winding down, so it’s your last chance to stock your pickle shelf for summer Bloody Marys.
Recipe: Dover sole with olives and lemon balm salsa verde
Like many mints, lemon balm grows like a weed here in the Northwest (many gardeners consider it one!), but it does have some uses besides making your compost bin more sweet-smelling. Add a few sprigs to a batch of sun tea, muddle it into a citrusy julep, whiz it into herby vinaigrettes, or try this chunky salsa verde. Chimichurri, chermoula, pesto and pistou are all riffs on the same green sauce — just grind herbs and a few other ingredients like garlic and/or other alliums to make it more savory and nuts and oil to bind it all together (we also like a squeeze of citrus to brighten it up). Feel free to use whatever fresh herbs and nuts (or seeds, if you can’t eat nuts) you have on hand; basil and pine nuts are classic for pesto, but we also find that mint plays well with pistachios in Mediterranean and Levantine cuisine, cilantro goes with peanuts for Thai and Vietnamese food, and parsley goes with walnuts for Middle Eastern dishes. We like this dish with similarly fast-cooking angel hair pasta. Serves 4.
2 handfuls of lemon balm leaves
1 scallion or 5-6 chives
1 clove garlic
¼ cup smoked almonds
¼ cup olive oil (use the good, grassy stuff here)
½ tsp fine sea salt
1 lb Dover sole filets
Salt and pepper
⅓ cup all-purpose flour
1 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil (less-good is fine here)
½ cup good, oily green olives (a castelvetrano, manzanilla or cerignola is right here)
- Blitz the salsa verde ingredients in a food processor or use a mortar and pestle to grind it. If you like it smoother, go longer, or if you like it chunkier then just pulse a few times until the sauce comes together.
- Pat the sole filets dry with a paper towel and season on both sides with salt and pepper. Dredge them in the flour to coat evenly.
- Heat the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat until it starts to foam, then add the olive oil. Add the olives and toss to coat.
- Add the sole filets and pan-fry until cooked through, about 2-3 minutes on each side. Be careful not to break the filets when turning them — sole is delicate!
- Serve the fish with a spoonful of the salsa and olives over the top.