The first day of spring

Spring greens in red pepper paste

There is something magical in solstices and equinoxes. They stir ancestral, deep resonances inside me. I always forget equinox days though: they are not obviously bright or gloomy like the peaks of summer and winter. But this year I wanted to celebrate. This Saturday I planted a few handful of seeds in my garden. It’s going to be a struggle with the snails – and they’ll win as I well know, but I’ll try at least.

This quiet, unassuming recipe comes from the second Riverford cookbook; actually it is from a recipe by Madhur Jaffrey, as reported in their introduction.  I expected it to be an everyday recipe, and it is: easy and quick. But it tasted so good I know I’m going to learn the recipe for this paste by heart. The problem with spice pastes is that if they are not in your DNA – and they definitely are not in mine – you have to read a recipe for them. No matter if it takes ten minutes in the end, I find I have to rummage through my overcrowded spice cabinet for a good half an hour, going back and forth to the recipe measuring, toasting, getting it wrong.. It is just not obvious to me what needs to be roasted, what needs to go in last, what needs to be ground, what can be left whole, although I am developing a feel for it. I have no such doubts when cooking a European recipe, even a more involved one. I read it once and I normally don’t even need to look at it again. So during week time, when I’m busier, I rarely venture into spice-hunting mode. Now, this recipe is not spiced, although it is hot, but it tastes as if it is. It is grown up and complex, and makes spring greens, a vegetable I find a bit perplexing (should I think about it like a mild cabbage? Or rather, a cabbage-y chard? Or rather, a sweet kale? ), find their right place in the world. Of course you could use the paste for something else, and I most definitely will.

Spring greens

Spring Greens with Red Pepper

from Everyday & Sunday Recipes from Riverford Farm


1/2 red pepper

1/2 red onion

1 garlic clove

3-4 drops fish sauce (they call for blachan, but I didn’t have any)

1 red chilli, deseeded

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

2-3 heads of spring greens,  chopped

1 teaspoon sugar

squeeze of lemon



clean and chop onion, pepper, garlic and chilli. Whizz in a food processor with a bit of water to a rough paste. Add a little splash of fish sauce. Heat the oil in  a wide pan. Stir in the paste, and cook for a few minutes, stirring, until fragrant – about 5 mins. Add in the spring greens, some salt, stir, cover until wilted. Add a bit more water if needed. Let cook for about ten minutes until the greens are tender. Adjust salt and serve, hot or cold.

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12 Responses to “The first day of spring”

  1. Happy equinox! That recipe is marvelous. Spring greens are delicious.



  2. I totally understand what you mean about spices, the most simple paste becomes involved because we just did not grow up doing it. It is sort of like cooking pasta, looking at a strand of spaghetti and knowing if it is ready or not, or knowing how much salt to into the pot of boiling water. It is second nature. This paste sounds like it is right down my alley… just a minor problem. What are spring greens? Do you know the Italian translation?

    • I’ve never seen them in Italy! I believe they are very similar to what is called collard greens in the US. They have a sweet but assertive taste with a cabbage note and the texture of chard leaves. I think verza, coste or cavolo nero (or a mixture!) may work instead – although I was thinking about chicken and tofu as well.

  3. This looks interesting! I will admit I have never tried such a thing but your also never too old to try something new. So, I will make this up for me and my hubby later this week.


    Grandma Kat

  4. Thank you Caffettiera… I love the idea of cavolo nero, one of my favorites. And a great way to kick up a plate of tofu.

  5. When I looked at the photo, I thought about collard greens as well. Nice recipe! I have a few plants in my little garden, so every now and then I cook them and I like them a lot. They have a flavor of their own. Good luck with your seeds. Slugs and snails are a big problem where I live. I have used coffee grounds, but honestly I don’t think they work. Crushed egg shells seems better and here we use oyster shells as well. I have been recommended wheat germ, but I don’t feel comfortable using food in this way. I also practice relocation of slugs I find wandering around my plants.

  6. Madhur Jaffreys is THE BOMB. Her Eastern Vegetarian Cooking cookbook has been one of my favourites for a long time. It’s been around for decades now. It’s full of recipes like this: simple but more than the sum of their parts. BTW, we don’t have spring greens or collard greens in subtropical Brisbane. Shame, as they are so useful in a spring garden (I remember them from Ireland).

  7. happy Spring! I am very jealous because we are heading to winter now.

  8. I feel the same way about those transitional season changes. What a fine and healthy recipe to celebrate the rich colors of the coming months after the white dormancy of winter. : }

  9. Writing you again to wish you Buona Pasqua and to tell you I have an award waiting for you at my place.


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