Vibrance and Spice

Dare we say that fall is the loveliest season in Marin? Clear skies dablle in brilliance, and the air is soft and warm, like a pat of silken butter. The tilt of the turning earth shrouds us in a gauzy glow of sunshine, while shadows creep and days shorten, ushering in cool and crisp evenings. Outdoor time is at a premium now, and there is no reason to stop entertaining alfresco. Invite a group of friends over for an end-of-day cocktail, light the fire pit and candles, supply a pile of wraps and throws, and have a sensational party in the golden evening light. These appetizers will feed a small crowd, maybe even stand in for dinner. Spicy, warming and fresh, they make good cause of local Marin ingredients while complementing the fall season with vibrance, spice and heat. Click through to view each recipe.


Curried Butternut Squash and Apple Soup Shots

A small dollop of crème fraîche adds a cooling contrast to the warm and spicy soup.



  • 1 medium butternut squash, about 2 pounds
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 large Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, cut into ½-inch chunks
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup apple cider
  • 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons salt, to taste
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper Crème fraîche for garnish


Heat the oven to 375°F. Cut the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Lightly brush the exposed flesh with olive oil. Place squash, cut side down, on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until the flesh is fork tender, 50 to 60 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool slightly. When cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh and set aside. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until softened without coloring, 3 to 4 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the apple, curry powder, cumin, coriander and cayenne. Cook until fragrant, about 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add the roasted squash and chicken stock. (There should be just enough stock to cover the squash and apples. If needed, add additional stock to cover.) Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer until the apples are very soft, about 20 minutes. Carefully puree the soup in batches in a food processor (or with an immersion blender). Return to the pot. Add the apple cider, brown sugar, salt and pepper. Warm thoroughly over medium-low heat and taste for seasoning. Serve warm in small glasses or espresso cups, garnished with a small spoonful of crème fraîche.


Spicy Moroccan Lamb Meatballs with Yogurt Sauce

This recipe may easily be doubled. Serve with toothpicks for spearing and dipping.


Ingredients: Meatballs

  • 1 pound ground lamb
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • ¼ cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Whole mint leaves

Ingredients: Yogurt Sauce

  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • ¾ cup whole-milk Greek yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped mint leaves
  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon harissa paste (or hot sauce)
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


Combine all the meatball ingredients except the olive oil in a large bowl. Mix to combine without over-mixing. Form into 1½-inch meatballs, then flatten slightly. Arrange on a plate, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight. Whisk together the yogurt sauce ingredients in a bowl. Refrigerate until use. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the meatballs in batches without overcrowding. Cook until brown on both sides, turning as needed. Transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel and keep warm. Repeat with remaining meatballs. (Alternatively, thread meatballs on pre-soaked bamboo skewers. Brush with olive oil and grill over direct heat until brown and cooked through.) Garnish with mint, serve warm with toothpicks and yogurt sauce for dipping.


Quick Pickled Autumn Crudités

Feel free to mix and match your favorite vegetables for pickling and try a variety for a colorful presentation. When using cucumbers and zucchini, be sure to pre-salt the pieces for 30 minutes, then wipe off the excess moisture before brining.

Ingredients: Vegetables

  • 2 pounds assorted vegetables, such as cauliflower, green beans, fennel, peppers, carrots Dill sprigs

Ingredients: Brine

  • 8 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 3 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 3 cups water
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
  • 2 teaspoons brown mustard seeds
  • 2 teaspoons black peppercorns
  • 2 bay leaves


Wash and trim the vegetables into spears or bite-size pieces. Tightly pack them into heatproof- glass jars. Add 1 to 2 dill sprigs to each jar. Bring the brine ingredients to a boil, stirring until the sugar and salt dissolve. Remove from heat and pour the brine over the vegetables. Cool to room temperature, then close the jars. Refrigerate at least 24 hours and up to 1 week. The flavors will develop with time. To serve, remove from brine and arrange decoratively on plates or in small bowls. Garnish with fresh dill.


Cheddar and Horseradish Potato Poppers

These potatoes are a little time consuming to prepare, but well worth the effort. The stuffed potatoes may be assembled up to 2 hours ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Let stand at room temperature 15 minutes before broiling.



  • 20 baby potatoes (any kind)
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small garlic clove, minced
  • ¼ cup sour cream or Greek yogurt
  • ¼ cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated horseradish, or more to taste
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly grated black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons finely grated parmigiano
  • Fresh thyme leaves or snipped chivesz


Heat the oven to 450°F. Trim the potatoes: Slice a small tip from the base of each potato to create a stable bottom to prevent rolling or tilting. Slice about ¼ off of the top and discard tops. Place the potatoes and oil in a bowl and toss to coat. Arrange on a parchment-lined baking sheet, top-side down. Bake until tender, about 30 minutes. Remove and cool. Using a teaspoon, scoop out the centers of the potatoes without piercing the bottoms. Place the potato flesh, garlic, sour cream, cheddar, butter, horseradish, salt and pepper in a bowl. Using a fork, mash until well combined. Carefully spoon the filling back into the potato shells. Arrange, stuffed side up, on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with parmigiano. Broil until the cheese is melted and golden, about 2 minutes. Serve warm, garnished with thyme leaves or chives.


Warm Smoked Salmon Tartare and Kale Wraps

Kale and smoked salmon are a great flavor pairing. As an alternative to kale, the salmon may be served on sliced baguette.

MAKES 18 TO 20

Ingredients: Tartare

  • 8 ounces warmed-smoked salmon, flaked
  • ¼ cup finely chopped red onion
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh dill
  • ¼ cup whole-milk Greek yogurt or sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons capers, chopped
  • ½ teaspoon Tabasco, or to taste
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Ingredients: Kale

  • 8 thin lacinato kale leaves, stems intact
  • Finely chopped chives or dill for garnish
  • Freshly squeezed lemon juice for serving


Combine the tartare ingredients in a bowl. Mix with a fork to thoroughly combine. Cut the kale leaves crosswise into 2-inch pieces. Spoon the salmon mixture into the leaves and gently press the leaves around the salmon. Arrange on a serving plate. (The wraps may be prepared up to 2 hours in advance to this point. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.) Before serving, add a few more drops of fresh lemon juice over the salmon and garnish with chives or dill.

Lynda Balslev

Lynda Balslev is an award-winning food writer, editor and recipe developer based in the San Francisco Bay area. She authors the nationally syndicated column and blog TasteFood, and co-authored the cookbook Almonds: Recipes, History, Culture (2015 Silver Medal Winner Independent Publisher Awards). She is the 2011 recipient of the Chronicle Books Award (Recipe Writing) to the Symposium for Professional Food Writers, and a 2018 Fellowship Award recipient to the Symposium for Wine Writers at Meadowood, Napa Valley. Lynda’s writing and photography have been recognized by the New York Times Diners Journal, the Los Angeles Times, The Huffington Post and more.