The Rites of Spring

t's a new season: The days are longer, the sun a little stronger. Fresh and local produce, not forced or imported, is now flooding the marketplace. With artichokes, asparagus, baby lettuces, spring onions and a bevy of berries making their springtime debuts, there's no better time to plan an easy Shabbat luncheon.

Serve on the patio or in the front or back yard. Daffodils and crocuses will be in bloom; or bring spring indoors and fill vases with cheerful blossoms.

The menu below may be made ahead of time, ready to serve at a moment's notice. Bisque, strudel and vegetables are more flavorful when served at room temperature. A show-stopping dessert may be assembled while guests are sipping their coffee.

It takes just one artichoke to elevate a simple bisque to the status of haute cuisine. Trim, steam and pull off the inner petals to toss on soups and salads. Dice the heart for added garnish. When deciding on artichokes, they should be heavy for their size. Don't worry if the outer leaves have brown spots, known as "winter burn" to farmers. These leaves are tough and woody, and are always removed anyway.

The slender stems of springtime asparagus are amazingly easy to cook. Rinse in cold water, wrap loosely in paper towels and microwave at high for six minutes per pound. For individual salads, arrange four to five spears on a plate, top with three slices of orange and drizzle with your favorite fruity dressing.

As an entrée, savory strudels make a meal special. Double the recipe and freeze one. Then impress with a fuss-free Strawberry-Mocha Gâteau, certain to bring "oohs and aahs," and requests for the recipe. Bake the meringue layers the day before. Cover with wax paper, but do not refrigerate, then assemble in minutes.

Butternut Apricot Bisque


Frozen squash used for this recipe was McKenzie's Southland traditional recipe (O.U.-certified). It's available in the frozen-vegetable case in supermarkets.

1 medium artichoke
1 lemon, halved
2 tsps. unsalted butter
1 Tbsp. grated ginger root
1 can (8.75 oz.) apricot halves, drained
1 package (12 oz.) frozen puréed butternut squash, thawed
1 cup orange juice
1 tsp. white vinegar
1/2 to 3/4 cups milk
salt and white pepper to taste

Fill a medium bowl with water. Add the juice of half a lemon. Toss in the rind.

Remove the tough outer leaves from the artichoke and discard. Trim the spiky tops from remaining leaves and peel the tough parts from stem. Rub artichoke with juice from remaining lemon half.

Place in the lemon water for at least 15 minutes.

Pour about 2 inches of water into a small saucepan. Insert a steamer basket and bring water to a rolling boil. Add the artichoke. Cover and steam until artichoke heart and stem are tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and set aside.

In a medium, nonstick saucepan, heat the butter over medium heat. Add the ginger and apricot halves. Sauté 2 minutes.

Stir in the squash,orange juice and vinegar. Heat through. Stir in enough milk to make the consistency of thick cream.

Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To Serve: Remove leaves from artichoke. Dice artichoke heart. Pour soup into bowls, garnish each with a few artichoke leaves and diced artichoke heart.

Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Serves 4.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 177; protein, 6 g; carbohydrates, 35 g; fat, 3 g; cholesterol, 9 mg; sodium, 117 mg.


Salmon Strudel


Any mixture of cooked or canned fish may be used. Be sure to thoroughly drain off all liquids.

5 Tbsps. margarine, divided
3 Tbsps. chopped red bell pepper
1/2 tsp. minced garlic
1 Tbsp. dry vermouth
11/4 cups cooked, flaked salmon
4 oz. low-fat cream cheese, cut in chunks
1/4 cup parsley sprigs
1 egg, lightly beaten
salt and white pepper to taste
6 sheets of filo-dough leaves
3 Tbsps. seasoned dry breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Spray a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray.

Heat 2 tablespoons margarine in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the bell pepper and garlic. Sauté for 2 to 3 minutes, or until bell pepper begins to soften. Do not let the garlic brown.

Add vermouth, salmon, cream cheese and parsley. Reduce heat to low. Cook, stirring, until ingredients are combined.

Beat in the egg. Cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Mixture should be smooth and thick. Remove from heat.

Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Melt the remaining margarine. Place a filo leaf on a sheet of waxed paper. Brush with margarine and sprinkle lightly with breadcrumbs. Repeat until all leaves are stacked in this method.

Spread salmon mixture over the filo-dough leaves, lengthwise. Roll up, as if for a jelly roll. Place on baking sheet, seam-side down.

Brush strudel with remaining melted margarine and sprinkle with remaining breadcrumbs.

Bake in preheated oven for 5 minutes.

Reduce heat to 375 degrees.

Continue baking for 15 to 20 minutes longer, or until crisp and golden. Slice to serve.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 250; protein, 11 g; carbohydrates, 14 g; fat, 16 g; cholesterol, 62 mg; sodium, 388 mg.


Polenta-and-Spinach Gratin


Prepared polenta may be purchased ready to use. To simplify clean-up, line the broiler pan with aluminum foil. When done, discard the foil.

1/2 roll (about 8 oz.) polenta
1 egg
3/4 cup milk
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
3/4 tsp. garlic powder
3 cups shredded spinach or 1 package frozen chopped spinach, thawed
salt to taste
11/2 cups grated Pepper Jack cheese

Preheat the broiler. Spray a broiler pan with nonstick vegetable spray.

Cut the polenta into slices about a half-inch thick. Arrange in one layer on pan.

Toast under preheated broiler until golden-brown. Flip over, and repeat to brown other side. Place over the bottom of a 10-inch gratin dish. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a bowl, whisk egg, milk, nutmeg and garlic powder. Stir in the spinach (if using frozen, thawed spinach, squeeze out all liquid until spinach is dry). Season with salt to taste. Pour the egg mixture over the polenta. Cover with cheese.

Sprinkle with paprika.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until cheese is melted and mixture is bubbly at edges.

Serve either warm or at room temperature.

Serves 6.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 279; protein, 14 g; carbohydrates, 29 g; fat, 12 g; cholesterol, 70 mg; sodium, 250 mg.


Marinated Asparagus, Oriental-Style


1 can (8 oz.) sliced water chestnuts, drained
11/2 lbs. fresh asparagus spears
3 Tbsps. peanut oil
2 Tbsps. sesame oil
2 Tbsps. regular or lite soy sauce
2 Tbsps. rice vinegar
1 green onion, sliced thinly on the diagonal

Trim the asparagus, cutting off the woody ends. Rinse under cold running water.

Wrap the asparagus loosely in paper towels.

Cook in microwave for 6 minutes at high, or until crisp-tender and bright-green.

Place on an attractive serving dish.

Add the water chestnuts.

In a small bowl, whisk together the oils, soy sauce and rice vinegar. Pour over the asparagus and water chestnuts, tossing to coat.

Scatter the green onion over top. You may refrigerate the dish overnight.

Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 149; protein, 3 g; carbohydrates, 9 g; fat, 11 g; cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 206 mg.


Strawberry-Mocha Gâteau


Do not substitute sweetened cocoa or hot-chocolate mix for unsweetened cocoa powder.

1 cup finely ground almonds
11/2 Tbsps. unsweetened cocoa powder
4 egg whites
1 cup sugar
11/4 cups heavy cream
3 Tbsps. confectioners' sugar
2 cups sliced strawberries
4 to 6 whole strawberries
confectioners' sugar

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Line any baking sheet with parchment paper. Draw two 8-inch circles on the paper. Spray paper very lightly with nonstick cooking spray.

In a small bowl, mix ground almonds with cocoa. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the egg whites until they peak softly.

Gradually beat in the sugar, about a quarter-cup at a time, whisking until stiff, glossy peaks form.

Fold in the ground almond mixture. Spoon half the mixture onto one of the 8-inch circles.

Spread to cover, smoothing with the back of a spoon. Repeat with remaining mixture.

Bake for 11/4 hours, or until crisp (center surface should remain firm when pressed lightly with finger).

Remove from parchment and cool on wire rack. Cover lightly with wax paper and leave at room temperature until needed.

To Assemble: Whip cream until almost stiff. Add the confectioners' sugar and continue whipping until stiff peaks form. Fold in the sliced strawberries.

Spoon onto one of the meringue layers, spreading to edges. Top with remaining meringue layer. Dust generously with confectioners' sugar. Garnish with the whole strawberries.

Serve immediately.

Serves 8.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 326; protein, 5 g; carbohydrates, 35 g; fat, 20 g; cholesterol, 51 mg; sodium, 43 mg.

Ethel G. Hofman is a cookbook author and a past president of the International Association of Culinary Professionals. Reach her at:



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