The Vernal Equinox
March 20th - the vernal equinox - marks the beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere. If you were to ignore all cultural significances attached to this date, it would still be important to pay attention to the fact that this date marks the beginning of Spring. It indicates that our days are now becoming longer and our nights shorter. We’re leaving winter in the rearview and speeding toward summer. But it’s also important, and interesting, to pay attention to the importance of the vernal equinox in other cultures. Previous to modern-age technology, the sun and its warmth were integral to our survival. We would not be able to grow food, work, or survive without the Northern Hemisphere pivoting its way back towards the sun and allowing us to once again grow our crops, breed our livestock, and… do just about everything we love to do. So you can see why, in pre-modern times, the days getting longer and warmer were so heavily celebrated. Rituals and feasts have been cataloged all over in celebration of the vernal equinox, and in many places still are.
Energetically speaking, this time of year is more in line with a new year. In fact, many cultures celebrate their new year around the time of the vernal equinox. So if you have any New Year’s Resolutions that you haven’t gotten around to yet. Not to worry! It’s not your fault - the sun and the moon were actually in opposition to those resolutions coming true. However, spring is the time! With more sunlight, we have more baby greens, which are notorious for their effervescent energy, and when we eat more fresh foods and have more sunlight in our lives, we finally feel active! After a long winter of sleepy sluggish behavior, we finally have spring back in our lives. This is the time of year we do spring cleaning, not just in our homes but also in our bodies, our relationships, and our careers. We take stock of what has worked and is valued, and what can be gotten rid of, replaced, or repaired. This act of spring cleaning is incredibly cathartic and that’s probably why the ancients have placed so many wonderful rituals along the path leading up to the day of the equinox.
However you choose to celebrate the wonderful return of the sun, may we suggest they all involve treats of some sort. Here are just a few recipes to keep your equinox celebrations tasty.
Snacks for a Spring Celebration!
All Natural Homemade Lozenges for Allergy Relief
While this time of year is absolutely beautiful, you may be like me and need a break from all the beauty to blow your nose and apply eyedrops to flush all the pollen out. This often isn’t enough so here’s a quick and easy recipe for cough drops. Recipe by Tastyeverafter.com
½ cup honey
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
Using a wooden spoon, mix together honey, lemon juice, and fresh ginger in a medium-sized, deep saucepan with heavy sides and bottom. Heat to boiling over medium-low heat, stirring often to prevent burning.
Using a candy thermometer, heat the mixture to 300-310F/148-154C degrees, until it reaches the hard crack stage (If no thermometer, test the mixture by dropping some of it in a cold bowl of water and if it hardens, it's ready).
**Watch the pan closely, as the mixture will foam up the sides of the pan. Take the pan off the heat briefly to allow the foam to subside, then place the pan back on the heat to continue cooking. May have to turn the heat down to low to prevent honey from burning.
Once the mixture reaches the hard crack stage, remove from heat, and allow it to cool for a couple of minutes until thickens slightly.
Pour mixture into small candy molds or drop by teaspoons onto parchment paper or a silicon mat. Allow to cool until drops are hard and firm.
Once drops are fully cooled, dust with powdered sugar, cornstarch, arrowroot powder, ground cinnamon, etc, to prevent drops from sticking together. Store in a tightly covered container in a cool, dry place.
Bright Spring Salad:
This salad employs some of spring's loudest cheerleaders: tender asparagus, spring peas, mint, chives, and radishes! Recipe adapted from Love & Lemons
1 bunch of asparagus, tender parts, chopped into 1-inch pieces
½ of chopped snap peas
A few handfuls of salad greens
2 radishes, thinly sliced
½ cup crumbled feta cheese
½ avocado, pitted and diced
¼ cup chopped, toasted pistachios
½ cup roasted chickpeas
Fresh herbs, for garnish (basil, mint and/or chives)
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
¼ cup fresh basil or a mix of basil and mint
1 small garlic clove
1 tablespoon lemon juice, plus ½ teaspoon zest
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, more as desired
¼ teaspoon sea salt
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and set a bowl of ice water nearby. Blanch the asparagus for about 1 minute, until tender but still bright green. Transfer to the ice water for 1 minute, then drain. Allow the asparagus to dry and transfer it back to the bowl and add the peas.
Make the dressing: In a food processor, pulse together the herbs, garlic, lemon juice, zest, vinegar, olive oil, and salt.
Add half of the dressing to the bowl with the asparagus and toss to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Assemble the salad. Arrange the salad greens on a platter, then layer the asparagus/pea mixture, the radishes, feta, avocado, pistachios, chickpeas, and herbs. Drizzle with remaining dressing, season to taste with more salt and pepper, and serve.
Red Quinoa Salad with Radish and Carrot
recipe from The Herbalist’s Kitchen by Brittany Wood Nickerson: with the spring sun back in our lives, we get to welcome the return of picnics and potlucks, meals with friends, and casual hang-outs. This meal is the perfect lazy meal that is equal parts low-effort and beautifully delicious, brimming with spring’s possibilities.
1 ½ cups uncooked red quinoa
1 tablespoon raw apple cider vinegar
1 cup grated carrot (1 large or 2 small)
1 cup grated radish or hakurei turnip (about ⅓ pound)
Juice of 1 lime
½ cup finely chopped chives or scallions
¼ cup finely grated fresh ginger (2-3 inches)
⅛ - ¼ cup finely grated garlic (3-4 cloves)
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons tamari
½ - ¾ cup chopped cilantro
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Soak the quinoa with the apple cider vinegar and enough water to cover by 2 inches for 12 to 24 hours. I usually start soaking the quinoa the night before I prepare the dish; that way I can cook it anytime the next day.
Strain the quinoa from its soaking water, rinse in cold water, and combine in a saucepan with enough water to cover by 3 inches. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat, cover, and let cool for 10 to 15 minutes. Strain the quinoa through a fine-mesh strainer and place in a bowl to cool completely.
Meanwhile, combine the carrot and radish with the lime juice in a large bowl and mix well. Add the chives, ginger, garlic, oil, and tamari, and mix well. Once the quinoa has cooled, add it to the bowl along with the cilantro. Mix well, season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve.
English Pea Toast
Recipe from Six Seasons by Joshua McFadden
This recipe is a perfect showcase for early-season peas. It can be an appetizer, a first course, or a light main course.
1 ½ to 2 pounds of English peas in their pods, shelled (1 ½ to 2 cups of peas)
3 red spring onions or scallions, trimmed (including ½ inch off the green tops), thinly sliced on a sharp angle, soaked in ice water for 20 minutes, and drained well
1 lemon, halved
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small handful of mint leaves
Extra-virgin olive oil
Four ½-inch-thick slices of country bread*
1 cup fresh sheep cheese, fromage blanc, mild goat cheese, or whipped ricotta
Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for grating
* I personally prefer sourdough bread
Put the shelled peas and onions in a bowl, squeeze in the juice from half the lemon, and season generously with salt and pepper. Add the mint, taste, and adjust with more lemon, salt, or pepper, and then add ¼ cup olive oil.
Grill, broil, or toast the bread on both sides. Spread the fresh cheese onto each toast and arrange on plates. Tumble the peas onto each toast, pressing lightly so that most of the peas stick to the cheese. Finish with a nice shower of grated Parmigiano and a thin ribbon of olive oil.
Wild Herb and Green Garlic Soup by The Herbalist’s Kitchen
4 tablespoons butter
2 cups chopped green garlic (3-4, including the bulbs and green tops) or 4 cloves cured garlic
2 cups chopped potatoes, in ½-inch cubes (I leave the skins on)
1 cup chopped onion (about 1 medium onion)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups vegetable stock
2 cups whole milk, heavy cream, or a combination
6-8 ounces wild herbs (about 6-8 packed cups)*
Creme fraiche or sour cream, for garnish (optional)
* Delicious wild herbs that are perfect for spring: garlic mustard, nettle, lamb’s quarters, dandelion, wild sorrel, mallow, violet, and watercress
Melt the butter in a soup pot over low heat. Add the garlic, potatoes, and onion, and saute, stirring often, until the potatoes have begun to soften at the edges, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Add the stock and milk. Increase the heat to medium, bring just to a simmer, then reduce the heat and simmer until the potatoes are soft, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the greens and boil gently, uncovered until the greens are just tender but still have their vibrant green color, 3 to 5 minutes.
Remove from the heat. Puree with an immersion blender or in a blender. (always be careful when pureeing hot liquids in a blender. Never fill the container more than ⅓ full to avoid the risk of the lid blowing off.) Serve hot, garnished with creme Fraiche or sour cream.