Emerald City salad, inspired by PCC

I lost my gluten-free virginity at PCC.

In the late spring of 2005 — good god, that’s nearly 6 years ago — I wandered into the PCC in Fremont with a list from a dietician and big wide eyes. I had just been diagnosed with celiac disease that day.

Now, let me tell you, I was happy. For months I had been so ill that no one knew what was plaguing me. Some of my friends thought I was dying. Mostly, I was horrified that I was sleeping all the time, in pain, the sick girl. And I had lost my appetite for food. Me? I didn’t know who I was those months. To have an answer was a blessing.

Besides, I already knew it. Two weeks before I had my blood drawn for a celiac blood panel. I requested it. After all those scares of ovarian cancer, kidney failure, colon diseases, spleen difficulties and everything else the doctors threw at me, celiac sounded blissfully easy. As soon as those little vials of blood had left my arm, I started eating foods without gluten. Simple foods, since I had been eating mostly baby food to keep me going. Sauteed spinach. Scrambled eggs. Rice with butter. Salads. Foods from the produce section and around the perimeter of the grocery store.

However, by the time I had my results back, I was hungry for more. Much more. I wanted to cook again. I wanted meals. After two weeks without gluten in my system, I felt more alive than I had ever felt in my life. Time to eat.

The only place I wanted to go was the PCC in Fremont, one of my favorite neighborhoods in Seattle.

In that lovely store, the produce section seems to take up half the space. The red peppers and orange carrots and dark green lacinato kale and red raspberries gleam vividly. PCC works hard and well to support local farmers, not only with the produce they buy — anything local is proudly proclaimed so — but also with its PCC Farmland Trust. They raise money and give money to farms that are flailing, to keep the lives of organic farmers stable so they can continue growing great food for us. It’s a really incredible program.

Perhaps because of this goodness, the produce at PCC tastes better than anywhere else but a farmers’ market. Let me tell you, until you have eaten a carrot from Nash‘s, you have not eaten a carrot.

It’s not only the produce section of PCC that drew me there when I shopped to re-stock my pantry with entirely gluten-free foods. Every single product on the shelves is chosen thoughtfully. Walk down the aisles and you find a large selection of delicious foods that happen to be healthy and good for the community too. In the past few years, PCC has undertaken a non-GMO project. They have stopped buying any products with high fructose corn syrup as an ingredient. And they do everything they can to create a green workspace.

And, something that makes me beam with happiness: “May 2010 marked a milestone for PCC Natural Markets. Our cooperative earned the nation’s first Gluten-free Retailer Endorsement from the Gluten Intolerance Group of North America (GIG), a non-profit organization that provides support for those sensitive to gluten.”

Somehow I sensed, in May of 2005, that I was walking into a gluten-free-friendly store.

That didn’t make that shopping trip any shorter, however. From the time I walked into the Fremont PCC until I walked out the door with my bags of groceries? Three hours.

I walked down every aisle, holding every can or bottle or bag of food in my hands, examining the labels. Being gluten-free in 2005 was far more confusing than it is in 2011. Back then, the few resources online conflicted with each other, told a dour tale, and scared the heck out of me. Distilled vinegar had gluten in it? That eliminated mustard and mayonnaise. (By the way, that’s not true. There’s no gluten in distilled vinegar.) I loved oats and oatmeal, but there were no certified gluten-free oats back then. And what the heck was sorghum flour?

Whenever I started to grow alarmed, I looked up to see a PCC employee coming toward me with a broad smile. They must have seen this before. I asked a lot of questions and then I threw food into my cart. I walked out the front door feeling much better about the life I was cooking up.

I didn’t know until much later that Danny was living in an apartment across the street from PCC at that moment.

I had been a regular visitor before, but now I practically lived at the Fremont PCC. When summer came, I started going to farmers’ markets, but I still went to PCC for my locally raised meat, gluten-free flours, and kalamata olives. Most of the food you see photographed in the first year of this website came from that store.

After I met Danny, we started shopping there together, stopping to enjoy the sunlight swarming through the huge windows of the produce section. Later, to my utter delight, I started teaching gluten-free cooking classes at PCC, both with Danny and on my own. I never could have imagined this would be my life.

Danny and I moved to the south part of Seattle. I still taught classes for PCC, even when I was pregnant — I remember one cooking class I taught when I was 7 months along and I was exhausted but happy afterward. Before classes I grabbed food from the deli to make sure I could last the three hours. I always chose the kale and wild rice salad they called the Emerald City Salad. Anyone who has been to PCC knows this salad. Gluten-free and so damned good.

Danny and I still drove up there for groceries, since it was on the way to Danny’s restaurant in Seattle. We loved walking down the aisles hand in hand, finding brown rice vinegar to try in stir-fries or almond milk for his coffee. We may have walked more slowly, since I was pregnant, but we still enjoyed every moment of our grocery shopping.

And then Lucy arrived. And then we moved to our island, a 15-minute ferry ride away from the city. I stopped teaching cooking classes since we were writing a cookbook. We stopped going to PCC as often, and then not at all.

We love the grocery store on our island. It’s a very urbane store with plenty of selections. For corn’s sakes, the other day I saw five different kinds of coconut oil in that aisle. We’re not lacking.

But a couple of weeks ago, we stopped into the Fremont PCC, spontaneously. There was that sunlight coming through the produce section window, weak as it was in January. Lu ran around, giggling, practicing her jumping, refusing to ride in the cart. Danny and I picked up some local lamb for a shepherd’s pie recipe we were working on, a tub of olives, a bar of dark chocolate from Africa. As we moved through the aisles, we threw more and more into our carts.

You see, after becoming parents, and being a freelance writer and chef, we loved PCC but sort of cringed at the prices. Everything is just a touch more expensive there than it is in a more standard grocery store. We pinched pennies. Now, we’re still not rich, but we’re a little more comfortable. Or more we just trust the process more. Because, walking through the Fremont PCC, gathering ingredients for that Emerald City salad, we were both struck by how much it felt like home.

And with food the bulk of our budget these days, we decided to put our money where our beliefs are. Local, organic produce. Locally raised meats. Foods we can trust to be free of GMOs and high fructose corn syrup. Real food, as close to the source as possible. The money we spend on this is worth it to us, x 10.

At the check-out counter, Lu danced. Danny put food on the belt. He leaned back to me, laughing, and whispered in my ear. “You’re going to love the tattoo on our check-out person.”

I leaned forward to look. She had breathe tattooed on her too. Just as I was about to say something, she looked at me, held out her hand, and said, “You’re Shauna James Ahern.”

I didn’t even know what to say. Turns out that she’s a big fan of this site. So was the woman in line in front of us. So was the check-out person to the left of us. I felt sort of swarmed with love and laughter, conversations about great food, and a wonderful feeling of life coming full circle.

There I was, standing no more than 50 feet from where I had stared at jars of food in consternation and fear, wondering if I would ever eat again. And here was a young woman telling me how much she loves the recipes I write with my husband, who lived across the street from that store and I didn’t know him then.

Life continuously amazes me.

EMERALD CITY SALAD, adapted from Feeding the Whole Family: Cooking with Whole Foods

In these dreary grey days of winter, my favorite way to find color is on the plate. Purple cabbage, red pepper, dark green kale, pale fennel — everything blends into a riot of colors. Add to that the fact this salad is ridiculously healthy and you have our favorite salad of January.

We found the recipe for this salad in a really lovely book by Cynthia Lair called Feeding the Whole Family: Cooking with Whole Foods. She makes great food, not kid food, not dumbed-down food, not separate meals for everyone in the family. She shows folks how to enjoy their time in the kitchen with the kids and spouses. She speaks our language.

This salad is so wonderfully adaptable that you could make it every day for a week. Replace the lacinato kale with red kale, the red cabbage with green, the fennel with celery, the wild rice with brown basmati, the parsley with basil — a different taste each time.

Cynthia Lair’s recipe calls for a simple lemon-garlic vinaigrette, which is great. We happened to have some apple cider vinaigrette in the refrigerator, which is why we used this here. I’m thinking about a vinaigrette of pomegranate molasses, cinnamon, pepper, and walnut oil for the next one. (You’ll have vinaigrette left over, so use it on other salads through the week.)

Just be aware of this: you’re going to be addicted to this salad. Quickly.

For the wild rice
2 1/2 cups water (or vegetable or chicken stock, depending on your taste)
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup wild rice

For the vinaigrette
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
cracked black pepper
¾ cup olive oil

For the salad
1 cup shredded red cabbage
1 cup lacinato kale, stems removed and chopped
1/4 large red pepper, diced
1/2 cup finely sliced fennel bulb
1/4 cup Italian parsley, leaves removed
1 ounce French feta (optional)

1 ounce sunflower seeds (optional)

Making the rice. Set a large saucepan over high heat. Pour in the water and bring it to a boil. Add the butter, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, and the wild rice. Bring to a boil, then reduce to low. Cook until the wild rice has absorbed all the water but is not bone dry, about 60 to 70 minutes. (When you think the rice is done, tip the pan to one side to make sure there isn’t any water pooled on the bottom.)

Making the vinaigrette. Combine the apple cider vinegar, mustard, remaining 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt, pepper, and olive oil in a jar. Put on the lid and shake it all up. Vinaigrette is done.

Finishing the salad. When the rice is warm to the touch but not steaming, combine all the vegetables together in a large bowl. Toss in the rice. Dress with a few tablespoons of the vinaigrette. Toss the salad. Taste. Season with more vinagrette, salt and pepper, a little lemon juice, or whatever your taste says the salad needs. Crumble the French feta onto the salad, along with the sunflower seeds, and toss before serving.

Feeds 6.


42 comments on “Emerald City salad, inspired by PCC

  1. Elizabeth

    Your post today filled me with love and joy and almost brought me to tears from the soul-filling warmth you put into each story. Thank you.

    Also, I am delighted when life comes full circle!

  2. LSL

    Oh, wow. You just made me really homesick. I used to live near the old Ravenna PCC and still miss it when I come to Seattle. Just visited the Fremont store last summer. Thanks for a lovely post.

  3. Candy

    Delightfully told, Shauna. On my once-a-year trips to Seattle, if I ever see you, expect me to “go all groupie” on you. And this salad is just bursting with antioxidants. Can’t wait to make it!

  4. Manoli García Sánchez

    Yum! This is my kind of food, what I loooove to eat. Shauna, how fantastic to experience life rewards to saying yes! So often we focus solely on what we cannot do, we cannot have. I have never thought of gluten-free living as a pain. So I cannot eat a few flours? What else is on the menu?? So much! The gluten-free flours we use are beautiful and nutritios, and then there is grains, pulses, produce. So much and endless possibilities! My favourite place is a market, anywhere in the world. When I travel, markets are my museums, and here Barcelona we have so fabulous ones. My family actually had a fruit and veg stall at a market for thirty years, next to Gaudi´s cathedral in Barcelona. Coming out of the metro and looking up to the cathedral and then walking into the market, to its sounds, scents, colours and bustling life has filled me with great memories. It paid getting up at 5 am to walk into that wonderful place and see how the stalls filled with fresh produce every morning, and the relationships you build are forever. Now we no longer have it, but we have the first gluten-free cafe/bakery in Spain, and it´s also a joy to greet the same customers every day and see new ones coming in looking in disbelief a whole bakery full of goodies they can actually eat after years of celiac disease. Life is good when we say yes! Thank you so much for posting such beautiful food and pictures despite having a week of sleep deprivation. You guys are incredibly generous. Best wishes from Barcelona. Gracias!

  5. Kelly

    Love it! You definitely made me homesick, I love PCC, and miss it terribly….and Cynthia was my Whole Foods Production instructor while I was getting my Master’s at Bastyr.

  6. Cameron

    This sounds like the salad we had for lunch while we were up there, and it was ding dang delicious. How finely do you guys cut the kale?

  7. Charr

    PS You do know there is a PCC in West Seattle? The first times I ever went to a Co-op was in the U-District in 1969. I feel like I am in heaven there. T-way is nice – but PCC is the best!!!

  8. Annelies

    This looks fantastic and like my kind of salad. Lots of texture, color and flavor! PCC sounds like my kind of store too. Thanks for sharing it.

  9. Jane S

    I loved this post, and also the Emerald City Salad. One of my regular purchases at PCC! Enjoy the Seattle sunshine! 🙂

  10. Alison St. Sure

    That was a wonderful story! And I have been thinking that I really need to find a great kale salad recipe — this one looks like something I will love! Thanks!

  11. Melissa A. Trainer

    I love the PCC Emerald Greens salad. I have had numerous surgeries in my life and my first choice for post op food was always the Emerald Greens salad. I’d always make sure that my husband would bring some to me even before leaving the hospital! It is positively fabulous for detoxifying after surgery. I haven’t had surgery lately but during December and January I went to PCC to buy this salad for a couple friends who were recovering from surgery. Unfortunately, the delis were out of stock on both visits! I do have the original recipe in my recipe box, but I will try this one too. Thank you!http://www.aldenteblog.com/melissa_trainer.html

  12. Heather

    PCC is such a wonderful company! I work for Seventh Generation, and PCC is one of our biggest supporters in the Pacific Northwest. Living in Vermont, our natural food stores are small co-ops, and I’m amazed at how PCC has managed to grow so successfully. I wish we had a chain like that here! Thank you for tooting the horn of such a wonderful company, and thank you for always being here with a great post when I need you!

  13. Dana

    I’m only in Seattle once a year, but my relatives live on Upper Queen Anne so I sometimes hang out in Fremont. This New Years’ I was in the Flying Apron Bakery (I’m allergic to eggs and dairy, too, so that place is like heaven to me even with the increasing availability of gf products), asking the guys behind the counter for tips and they said, “You should check out the Gluten Free Girl online” and I said “I read her all the time!” 🙂

  14. Maggie

    Mmm, what a great and crunchy salad. Definitely making this one. I loved reading your story Shauna – I think we’ve all been where you were (deer in headlights look?). Thank goodness for all the people who have paved the way for us, and now you’re paving the way for soooo many people.

  15. Julie K

    I LOVE this recipe! Cynthia Lair was one of my professors when I studied nutrition at Bastyr. She has so many fabulous recipes, and her cookbooks are wonderful, too – very user-friendly. Thanks for posting this!

  16. Margy

    PCC! So many memories! Shopping with a toddler long ago who will graduate from HS in only a few months. Started using cloth bags and glass jars way back in 1993 thanks to PCC.

  17. Autumn Hoverter

    I just adore Cynthia’s recipes and I use her book with clients all the time! Lately, I’ve been counseling a lot of people on the anti-inflammatory diet and this recipe will be a great addition to that repertoire. Can’t wait to send them your way! Thanks for posting.

  18. Sunny

    This is my most favorite salad ever! I eat about once a week and I love your recipe adaptation.

    Shauna, I don’t know why you are surprised to meet so many people who know you already. This blog is amazing and you’re no small potatoes!

  19. Allison

    It really is quite a road we are on with all the allergies and disease today isn’t it? You two truly paved a fresh new path seeing how your diagnosis was at a time when it was near impossible to find packaged or prepared foods untainted by wheat/gluten. Unfortunately while I’ve been gluten/sugar/nightshade/soy/caffeine/alcohol/processed-food free for about a year (and my only dairy/meat/eggs are from local/organic/pastured/wild sources) I still feel awful every single day. I can’t figure it out! Oh how I’ve wished a simple blood test could answer my prayers.

    Anyway! This recipe looks really fresh and yum! I don’t have that cookbook but will check it out. While I don’t digest raw foods well anymore, and mostly avoid raw cabbage and kale since it supposedly interferes with thyroid function, I sure do miss the crunch. So let’s see, I would drop the kale, red peppers and feta, but could substitute chard, roasted beets, red onions, and sprinkle some vegan Parma on top. Ha – we’ve become masters at creativity!

    I also have luck adapting from The Whole Life Nutrition Cookbook, which I noticed you also have on your kitchen shelf from this fun post.

    Love the energy and inspiration on your site – thanks much!

  20. Brenda

    Love the PCC and love the Emerald City Salad. For me that salad was the first time I tried Kale and fell in love with it. I can’t wait to try your version.


  21. Barbara

    Shauna and family, thank you from the bottom of my heart for your blog. I thought life was over having to go GF but you have shown me the “way” time and time again. Blessings, Barbara

  22. Brady

    The PCC sounds like such a great place and a truly wonderful program! Wish there was one nearby, but I’ll have to visit one sometime when I travel close.

  23. The Healthy Apple

    Loving this post, Shauna…You are fabulous…this salad looks incredible…so colorful and beautiful with the vegetables…I’m surely going to create this tomorrow for lunch. Thank you so much for sharing; hope all is well with you…. xo

  24. jess


    this salad looks incredible. i have to tell you my “have you heard of gluten free girl?” story. i just recently joined a volunteer organization for women and they had an open house, with drinks and appetizers. i had no idea what i could safely eat, so i chose not to eat at all. everyone kept asking why and i would explain i was gluten free. one woman that i met heard that and her eyes lit up. she asked me”have you ever heard of gluten free girl? she has a great blog and i use her recipes every time i have to cook for a friend that is gluten free!” it made me laugh because i read your blog frequently. thanks so much for all of the wonderful stories and recipes.


  25. Eileen

    Love your site Shauna and Danny!! Made this salad last night when friends were coming over for dinner….we had it with fresh ling cod that my husband had caught the day before off the Oregon coast. The salad was AMAZING!! Our friends loved it and luckily, there was just enough left over to put in my lunch box today!!! Thanks for all the yummy recipes….folks always say how “bad” they feel that I can’t have wheat products and that I must feel so deprived….haaaahhhhhh……how can you feel deprived in any way when there is so much wonderful, healthy, delicious food just waiting to be cooked up!! Thanks again

  26. nancy

    So, so, so sweet! What a wonderful post. Makes me wish I lived in Seattle so I could be a PCC regular 🙂 And I cannot wait to make the emerald city salad – kale, wild rice, feta, what’s not to love? Best to you all.

  27. Cashie

    I made this for a potluck dinner I was hosting. My friend is allergic to wild rice, so I substituted brown basmati rice with some flaxseed thrown in (for color and taste). I also added a little horseradish & lemon juice to the dressing.

    Everyone raved about it.

    Afterward, I thought that quinoa would have also made an excellent substitute for the wild rice.

  28. pat

    This has to be the most delicious salad I have ever made. I couldn’t find organic kale, so I used romaine. I had the leftover for lunch today and it was still delicious. Thanks for such a great recipe!

  29. Wendy Sue (Seattle Mama Doc)

    Loved this. Recently we moved. On my way home from clinic sits a PCC, squarely, tall and proud, and then quiet on the corner. Think Wedgwood. I used to balk at the prices, become irritated with the short shelf-life of the produce, and wish for a bigger cereal section. Now I’m addicted. I stop there nearly every Thursday on my way home from work. It’s a transition and a time to prioritize my own health. The people are nice to each other in the store. They understand why I don’t accept the bag. It smells like the co-op from my childhood. And geesh, they make (and have created my addiction to) the Emerald City Salad. So this post was a *delight.*
    I grew up in Minnesota. My mother always wanted me to like wild rice. It’s one of two foods I don’t prefer (the other is meat loaf). I’ve always said wild rice tastes more like sticks and branches than food.
    The Emerald City salad has inspired change in me. It’s divine. Now I’m beginning to love eat wild rice.
    I have no excuse, except time, for not eating as healthy as I’d like. But PCC is sincerely helping me re-frame priorities. The store and the ethos there helps remind me how I can quickly eat a locally grown, organic, healthy meal, even as a busy working mother of two. So I’m a fan, even if more pennies are left at the door…
    Thanks, Shauna, for this delicious post.

  30. Anne Marie

    Made this over the weekend and it’s a wonderful, colorful salad! It will be a regular recipe in my kitchen.

  31. Kate

    Thank you for this! I made a special trip to Whole Foods this morning just to pick up the vegetables. As a gluten-free girl who craves winter salads, this really satisfied my craving. I’m looking forward to your next set of recipes – baking with flax/chia. I love to bake, but since being diagnosed g-free 3 years ago, I haven’t eaten a single cupcake…but I’m ready to give it a try with your step-by-step. And so is the Kitchen Aid mixer I abandoned in the corner of my pantry!

  32. jill

    Such a great post, thanks for sharing. This recipe is WONDERFUL. Although, I’m going to have to double the recipe so that I can have enough to share with my husband and 1 1/2 year old. Thanks!

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