Spring is a beautiful time of year, with weather warming across the nation and nature bursting to life all around us. The symbolism of rebirth and new life that is synonymous with the beginning of spring makes this a great time to transform our eating patterns as well. The produce of the coming seasons lends itself to simple cooking techniques, or sometimes just the joy of eating beautiful, ripe produce without cooking it at all.

Wild Line Caught Ahi Tuna

Our Urban Plates menu gets a refresh this spring, including the addition of wild, hand-line-caught ahi tuna. In the past, we’ve had difficulty sourcing an ahi that meets our quality standards. It has been a few years in the making and we are thrilled to have found a partner that offers exactly what we have been searching for. Our hand-line-caught ahi tuna Fair Trade Certified, MSC certified sustainable seafood and has a “Best Choice” rating from the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch. Our purveyor has even taken the extra step of collaborating on a program called The Fishing & Living™. This program promotes sustainable fisheries and enhanced living conditions for fishing communities through improved fishing practices, education and donations.

We are maintaining the excellent quality and flavor of the ahi by simply preparing it with a light, house-made harissa marinade and quickly searing it on our grill until rare. We finish it with a light sprinkle of flaky sea salt and plate it with a wedge of lemon. The flavor profile of our ahi is clean, with a light mineral note. The harissa adds a little hint of spice that pairs well with the mild, sweet finish. My favorite sides with the ahi are the sesame ginger broccolini and our organic brown rice.

Nicoise Salad with Wild Ahi Tuna

We are also featuring the ahi on our all-time-favorite Nicoise Salad. This classic French salad originated in Nice, France in the 19th century and was originally made of tomatoes, hard-cooked eggs, Nicoise olives and anchovies, all drizzled with olive oil. Our version of the Nicoise Salad starts with UP baby lettuce blend tossed with our house-made mustard-champagne vinaigrette, lightly steamed green beans, organic hard-cooked eggs, organic diced tomatoes, soft-cooked organic potatoes, a pinch of capers and house-marinated chopped olives. We finish the salad with wild-caught ahi tuna grilled to perfection. This is one of my favorite salads, as it has a beautiful balance of ingredients. The simplicity of the juicy tomatoes, creamy potatoes and earthy green beans pair perfectly with the briny capers and olives. The hard-cooked eggs add an additional protein that tastes delicious with all the fresh veggies, making this salad light enough for lunch, but hearty enough for dinner.

Wild Ahi Tuna Banh Mi

For our twist this classic Vietnamese-style sandwich, we use a beautiful rustic loaf that is grilled to order and slathered with house-made green sriracha aioli and then layered with ahi tuna seared rare, fresh-sliced cherry hot peppers, a handful of cilantro and house-pickled carrots and jicama. This is my favorite sandwich right now. It is refreshing, which is sometimes impossible to say about a sandwich, and the light, fluffy center of the bread has the perfect texture to capture the punchy aioli. We make this from scratch with fresh egg yolks, organic olive oil blend, the bite of raw garlic, fresh-chopped jalapeno, a sprinkle of brown sugar and a splash of rice wine vinegar. This aioli is seriously addictive, with a combination of sweet, sour and spicy coming from the pickled vegetables and sliced cherry peppers that is tempered by the light and clean flavor of the seared ahi, and then reinforced by the creamy aioli. True to a traditional Banh Mi, we couldn’t forget the handful of cilantro, stem and all. This truly completes the sandwich, adding a refreshing piney and lemony aroma with overtones of mint and pepper.

Green Lentil Soup

While spring is often one of the most beautiful times of the year, the weather can also change with the blink of an eye. With this in mind, we wanted to have a soup available for when warm, sunny days yield to cool, cloudy ones, and our new Green Lentil Soup was a natural choice. Lentils have often been used to symbolize prosperity and good luck—a great way to start a springtime renewal. This highly nutritious legume is low calorie, but high in protein, fiber, folate and magnesium. We soak the lentils overnight to neutralize any anti-nutrients that can interfere with digestion, then we add them to a kombu dashi broth, essentially a Japanese-style vegetarian broth made by simmering the edible sea vegetable kombu, dried mushrooms, filtered water and tamari. This creates a beautiful platform for the soup. The glutamic acids in the kombu help break down the lentils, further aiding in digestion and absorption of the nutrients. We then sauté a beautiful mix of spring carrots, red bell peppers, celery, onions, fresh oregano and thyme with some spices and white miso until just tender and beginning to caramelize. The broth has an earthy flavor with a gentle sweetness in the background and a hint of pepper balanced by the fresh vegetables and rich lentils. This eats very light, but the lentils are hearty enough to satisfy your hunger, making it perfect for any spring day… cloudy or sunny. This healthy soup also has the added benefit of being vegan and gluten free.

Green Sencha Limeade Replenisher

“Refresh” is certainly a theme on our Spring menu, and the Green Sencha Limeade Replenisher is no exception. This stunningly beautiful drink gets its bright color from turmeric. A bright-orange root that is a member of the ginger family and contains curcumin, turmeric has powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. We blend ground turmeric with fresh-brewed green sencha tea (also high in antioxidants), organic lime juice, hemp seeds, organic sugar and a bit of stevia to barely sweeten this refreshing drink. This unique replenisher is just tart enough, with a little peppery note from the turmeric and a nutty, fruity and floral aftertaste from the green tea. It is a great pick-me-up that’s low in sugar and high in antioxidants!

Gluten-Free Pineapple Turmeric Layer Cake

Our pastry chefs make desserts from scratch every day in each location. The Gluten-Free Pineapple Turmeric Layer Cake is their newest creation, inspired by the beautiful, bright colors indicating new life and growth with the beginning of spring. This beautiful individual cake is made with layers of pineapple cake spiced with ground turmeric, vanilla and orange. We hand-chop fresh pineapple so you get little bits of juicy fruit in each bite. We then make a unique pineapple-coconut pastry cream, which is carefully cooked on the stove top like a home-made pudding. It is then chilled and folded together with freshly made whipped cream! This filing is lightly sweet, with a hint of nuttiness and fruit from the coconut and pineapple. The fluffy frosting is sandwiched between two mini cake layers and frosted on the outside. We garnish each cake with crushed goji berries, a superfood berry high in Vitamin C that boasts a tart flavor and beautiful reddish pink color. This final touch makes this perfect little indulgence an eye catcher with added health benefits!

We hope you are enjoying the spring season, and that Urban Plates is part of your plans for this exciting time of the year.

Chef Jen