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Turning Over a Few New Leaves: Salads By Season—Focus on the Eastern Seaboard

Let's see what the Eastern Seaboard has to offer in the way of seasonably forageable food and put some of winter’s tastiest finds on the table.

Welcome to the fourth and final installment of “Turning Over a Few New Leaves,” a four-part series of recipes inspired by traditional, seasonal forageable foods from the four major North American tribal regions—this time we travel from the Northern Plains where we put fall’s finest on the table to the Eastern Seaboard. Much of the east is now wrapped in winter’s white, and Mother Nature’s sustenance-giving gifts await just below the season’s frosty cape.

On the final stretch of our journey, we leave the vast stretches of fall’s dry plains and prairies and head into the wet and wintery climes of the Eastern Seaboard. Here, in the thick woodlands and shallow shoals of pebble-tossed shores, we find treasure after treasure of nutritious edibles, many of which may be eaten raw or used with very little preparation. Naturally low in cholesterol, saturated fats and calories, high in vitamins, minerals and other health-fortifying compounds, and rich in both flavor and tradition, the foods included in this season’s recipe appeal to the senses, offered up in an array of colors, textures, and tastes to tempt our culinary cravings and indulge our inner gourmands.

Thriving in icy, shallow tide-pools and on the edges of cold, jagged, wave-strewn rocks along the banks of much of the eastern strands, calcium-, potassium-, and zinc-rich clams and mussels are among the tastiest of the season’s gifts. Combined with the savory flavor of winter’s iconic and iron-rich chestnut, the biting tartness of antioxidant-packed cranberries, the earthy sweetness of maple, and the spicy crunch of phytochemical-filled, good-for-the-heart onion, the mollusks become the backdrop for a scrumptious starter or a meaty main course.

Scaling cold, jagged rocks along the Eastern Seaboard in pursuit of dinner not your thing? Fret not. All of the ingredients called for in this recipe are readily available year-round at (or can be ordered from) most natural grocers.

Tasty journeys. And may you always be ahead of the storm.

Photo by RoseMary Diaz

The ingredients for this season's tasty salad include oysters, cranberries, onions and chestnuts.

Shellfish, Chestnut, and Cranberry Toss with Maple Syrup-Sea Salt Drizzle

2 cups fresh clams, steamed

2 cups fresh mussels (baked or steamed)

1 cup fresh or 1/2 cup dried cranberries

1/8 to 1/4 cup pure maple syrup

1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon finely ground sea-salt

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Optional: 1/4 cup green- or wild-onion or garlic tops, rinsed, patted dry, and cut into 1/2-inch lengths.

Shellfish: In a large pot, add 2 tablespoons salt to 3 quarts of freshly drawn water and bring to a rapid boil. Rinse clams and mussels under cold, running water; using a paring knife or vegetable brush, remove any debris from the shells. Add to pot and boil for 2-3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove shellfish from pot and place on paper towels or a dishtowel to allow any remaining water to drain from shells; discard any shellfish that did not open during the steaming process.

Chestnuts: Rinse and pat the chestnuts dry. Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees, and line a baking try with parchment paper. Place chestnuts on tray, about 1/8 inch apart. Bake for 20 minutes.

Or you can arrange the chestnuts in a steamer and add to 2 quarts of boiling water. Steam for 5-10 minutes. Remove from heat; drain.

Maple Syrup Drizzle: In a small saucepan, heat syrup over low heat until just warm. Pour into a glass salad dressing bottle or other lidded jar, add salt, and shake vigorously to mix thoroughly and allow salt to dissolve into syrup.

Preparation: In a large serving bowl, mix shellfish, chestnuts, and cranberries; add in half of syrup-salt mixture, reserving half to drizzle on individual servings. Add onion tops (or set aside to sprinkle on individual servings as guests desire), and using hands or a wooden spoon, gently toss all ingredients to mix thoroughly, taking care not to loosen the fish from the shells. Prepared dish may be refrigerated for up to two hours; re-toss before to serving to refresh presentation.

Serves 6-8 as a starter; 2-4 as a main dish.

Photo by RoseMary Diaz

The finished toss might look something like this.

Food Safety Rule: Do not allow prepared dish to sit at room temperature for more than 1 hour. Any remaining portions after the final course of the dinner and should be discarded.

Presentation: Though serving the shellfish intact certainly makes for a more dramatic presentation, removing them before preparing the toss alters nothing but the appearance. A smaller serving dish may be used, as the mass of the dish will shrink considerably after removing the shells.

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