The New “Hot Grain” and Millet Sushi with Avocado

 

Switch out Rice with Golden Millet

Switch out Rice with Golden Millet

I always love trend predictions at the beginning of each new year. Full of optimism and certainty, brave journalists try to let us know what we will be doing in the coming year. Will cronuts and cake pops fade away?  Will bone broth surpass juicing? We all want to know.

The Washington Post and Time Magazine online both posted lists of foods we will be loving this year. They even weighed in on the popularity contest in whole grain consumption. According to their considered opinion, quinoa will finally step aside and let millet, and possibly buckwheat, take their places in the sun.

Will it come true? Will millet finally make it out of the birdseed aisle and onto our tables? It’s a pretty good guess. If you look at what made quinoa into the mainstream food it is today, you can see some similarities, and also some big differences.

To my mind, the big selling point for quinoa was the protein. In our current obsession with protein (another trend that shows no signs of fading) quinoa has been singled out as a high protein grain. A cup of cooked quinoa has about 10 g, while millet has 6 grams. A cup of cooked amaranth has 9 g, teff has 10 g. Oats have about 7, wheat berries about 7. So quinoa, amaranth and teff are the “high protein” grains. Technically, they are “pseudograins”, but in practice, it really doesn’t matter.

The second big attribute of quinoa that made it a household staple was the ease with which it cooked up fluffy, with separate and not sticky grains. To my mind, that is what differentiates it from its high-pro peers, since amaranth and teff are teeny-tiny and cook up like porridge. Americans have not yet warmed to the idea of a stir-fry over soft porridge, and that is what amaranth and teff deliver.

Millet, on the other hand, has an enigmatic texture, which can cook up separate and fluffy with the right preparation and amount of liquid, or be a porridge or polenta with a little more liquid and a longer cooking time. That quality can be a curse or a blessing, as I meet people who have tried cooking millet and found the texture either too dry or too mushy, and given up on it.

So what else is the big selling point for millet? Well, it is cheap and grown in the USA, for one thing. Its gluten free, which is big these days, and has a lovely yellow color that doesn’t seem too “whole grain” to the critical eye. It has no branny bitterness, and is probably the whole grain that is closest to white rice in flavor. Which makes it a prime candidate for making Millet Sushi.

That cup of cooked millet has about a quarter of your days need for copper, phosphorus, manganese and magnesium, all valuable nutrients. Like all whole grains, it is protective of your heart, has cancer-preventive qualities, and has antioxidants.

If you want to get in on the millet craze, you need to know how to cook it. Then you can make Millet Sushi with Avocado, or whatever fillings you like.

COOKING MILLET:

For separate and fluffy millet: Start by dry toasting the grain in the pan. Swirl the grains over medium high heat until they crackle and give off a toasty scent reminiscent of popcorn. Then add water or stock, as little as 1 3/4 cup for very firm millet.

My secret to fluffy, not too dry millet? Saute onions, possibly a mirepoix with some carrots, maybe herbs or spices, then add the dry millet and cook until hot and toasted. Then add liquid. Bring to a boil, reduce to low, and check it in 20 minutes. When all the liquid is absorbed, let stand, covered, for at least five minutes.

For sushi millet: I used 2 cups water to one cup millet.

For porridgey millet: Start with three cups liquid to 1 cup millet. Toast if you want, for flavor. Simmer for about 25 minutes.

For millet congee: Start with 4 cups stock or water, simmer for 30-40 minutes.

So will millet be the hot grain this year? Who can say. I’m happy to see interest growing in any whole grain. If chefs are discovering my little yellow friend, more power to them.

 

A Little Wasabi and Pickled Ginger on the Side

A Little Wasabi and Pickled Ginger on the Side

 

Millet Sushi with Tofu and Avocado

Serves 4

1 cup millet

2 cups water

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

1 teaspoon sugar or agave

4 sheets nori, pre-toasted

1 large ripe avocado, pitted and sliced in 1/3 inch wide slices in the shell, then scooped out

a package of seasoned baked tofu, sliced 1/3 inch thick

1 large carrot, slivered

optional mayo

wasabi paste, pickled sliced ginger, tamari

gomasio for the plate (a mix of toasted, ground sesame seeds and salt, you can buy or make it)

Bamboo rolling mat, if you have one

First, dry toast the millet in a 1 quart pan over medium-high heat. Swirl it until toasty and fragrant. Take off the heat and carefully pour the water in, it will bubble up when it hits the hot pan, so hold it away from your body. Put back on the heat and bring to a boil, then reduce to low and set the timer for 20 minutes. Check to see if the water is all absorbed, if not, let cook a little longer. Take off the heat, fluff, and cover for five minutes to let steam.

Mix the vinegar and sugar in a cup and drizzle over the millet, then gently fold in. Let cool to room temperature.

Place a sheet of nori on your rolling mat, or you can go rogue and freestyle it. It’s not hard.

On each sheet of nori, spread about 3/4 cup of millet, to cover about 3/4 of the sheet, leaving at least an inch bare at one end to seal the roll. Pat the grain lightly in place. at the end of the sheet of nori closest to you, place a row of avocado slices, a row of tofu slices, and slivers of carrot to make a neat line of fillings. If desired smear a little mayo in alongside them, or some wasabi.

Pull the nori up and roll the roll, thumbs in back, fingers holding the fillings in place. Don’t roll too tight, the millet will expand and explode the roll. Place each finished roll seam side down on a cutting board.

Slice each roll in 6 or 8 even slices, using a sharp chefs knife. Serve with wasabi, ginger,tamari,  and a sprinkling of gomasio.

 

Bashed Blue Potatoes for an Easy Appetizer

Beautiful Purple Potatoes with a Schmear of Avocado

Beautiful Purple Potatoes with a Schmear of Avocado

Oh January, we may be done with the holidays, but we still want to see our friends. Preferably over a plate of something that makes us feel happy. Even when you start your January plan, a tasty appetizer should never be banished for long. Life is for the living, after all.

Call it an appetizer, small plate, or snack, we all like a tasty bite to go with a glass of wine. You can follow up with a big salad if you really think it is necessary. But enjoy it.

Too often, we see the same bruschetta, chips and dips, and cheese cubes put out for apps. They deserve their popularity, why not try a different twist? Skip the bread, and your gluten-free friends will be delighted. Everybody loves potatoes, which have gotten an undeserved bad rap in recent years. Put out these blue beauties, still warm from the oven, and your guests can enjoy their crisp edges and creamy, rich topping, all while thinking that they are being a little sinful.

They are not.

Yes, the potato, like so many foods that have a carb or two, has gotten accused of making people fat. Of course, the tons of french fries and potato chips that are consumed every day in this country may have something to do with this. But really, the potato itself is a fine food to eat. All potatoes are a very good source of vitamin B6, which is good for your heart. It’s also a brain protector, and helps lower blood pressure. Higher in potassium than a banana, the average potato also packs good amounts of copper, manganese, Vitamin C, Phosphorus, Fiber and B3.

Then, add the blue pigment anthocyanin, and you boost the antioxidant levels to another level. All those lists pushing blueberries and pomegranate as a superfood are into the anthocyanin- so think of this potato as a superfood.

All the virtue of pomegranate, in a crispy potato? Yes, please.

So, I picked the easiest way to make a potato into a crostini-and I didn’t even need a knife. I just bought  nice small potatoes, boiled them, then flattened them with the bottom of a cup on a sheet pan. Olive oil, a sprinkling of chipotle and salt, and a quick roast in a hot oven, and I had edges crisp enough to crunch. Once they cooled a bit, they transformed into finger food, perhaps not a sturdy as a slice of french bread, but ferried to the mouth easily enough with no silverware.

Boiled, Bashed, then Baked

Boiled, Bashed, then Baked

I love a dish that I can throw together for friends without feeling like I worked. For the most ease in serving, I would go ahead and do the boil and bash, then wrap the pan and keep at room temp for a couple of hours, or refrigerate overnight. Just bring it back to room temp before baking.

Mashing the avocadoes takes just a couple of strokes, and you can casually spoon the topping on the potatoes just before serving. A slice of the only fresh tomato worth eating in winter, the grape tomato, finishes the dish.

So if you are feeling a little blue, invite some friends over and eat blue. You’ll certainly bring a little color to their chilly day.

That always makes me feel better!

 

Bashed Blue Potatoes with Avocado

Serves 4

1 pound small blue potatoes (or small yellow or red potatoes)

olive oil

ground chipotle

coarse salt

2 medium avocadoes

1 medium lemon

another pinch of salt

1 cup grape tomatoes, sliced

 

Put the whole potatoes in a large pot of water and bring to a boil. Test every five minutes after about 10 minutes of cooking at a strong simmer. When tender when pierced with a paring knife, take out each potato to cool. Preheat the oven to 425 F.

Smear a baking sheet with olive oil. Place each potato on the sheet pan and use the flat bottom of a measuring cup, or a metal spatula, to flatten each potato. When all are flat, sprinkle with chipotle and salt to taste. Bake for 10 minutes, then carefully flip and bake for 10 more.

While the potatoes bake, mash the avocado and season with a good squeeze of lemon and some salt. Taste and adjust. Slice the tomatoes.

To serve, put the potatoes on a platter, top each with a spoonful of avocado and a slice or two of tomato. Serve immediately.

 

Bashed Blue Potatoes with Avocado #vegan #glutenfree #healthyeating

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brown Rice, Arsenic, and You, and a Great Loaf of GF Bread

Have a Slice of Nutty, Seedy Goodness #gluten Free #vegan #wholegrain

 

I have to admit, when I heard about rising concerns about arsenic in rice, I went into a denial spiral. “Not brown rice, the soul food of vegetarians everywhere!” I thought, as if the chewy, comforting grains were an old friend, now accused of a crime.

Good old brown rice has been a synonym for healthy eating for most of my life. Sure, there are steel cut oats and quinoa, but brown rice, that is health food for the masses.

But the sad truth is, my dear old friend has an unfortunate proclivity for picking up arsenic from the soil, and it is not a good habit. And while this is a sad day for anyone who loves a good brown rice stir-fry, it’s especially troubling for people eating alot of packaged gluten free foods. Brown rice has been a go-to flour for gluten free baked goods, in part because it has a healthy reputation.

The news about arsenic in rice really hit the news when it appeared in Consumer Reports in 2012. The CR people had analyzed 128 samples of various rices, and combined it with FDA analyses, and found that the levels of inorganic arsenic were high. Way too high.

Turns out that when rice is grown, it needs silica to build its bran layer. In the absence of silica, arsenic will do the job. Inorganic arsenic is naturally occurring in soil, but we have given it a boost by using it in pesticides, and feeding it to chickens. Chicken droppings are made into fertilizer and spread on fields, helping to build the arsenic content of the very soil we are growing our food in.

So, do I have to dump my dear, old friend brown rice? Well, Consumer Reports did another study, and found that if you shop carefully, you can still eat rice.

Brown rice has 80% more inorganic arsenic than other forms of rice, thanks to that bran layer. Fortunately, the arsenic problem is regional. Brown rice from California, India or Pakistan has less, and you can eat up to 1/2 a cup of uncooked brown rice a week and stay at a safe level. White rice from the same regions has less, you can eat 2 1/2 cups per week.

The FDA has weighed in, and has published reports and data, and concluded that there are not short term health risks, but promising to look into the long term effects of eating arsenic. Read a summary here.

So what’s a whole grain eater to do? Well, if you needed a reason to rotate in some other whole grains, this is a good one. Quinoa, Millet, Farro, Barley, all the other whole grains do not take up and store arsenic. For a gluten free diner, look to the naturally GF amaranth, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, corn, and teff.

If you are buying GF products, read those labels and steer away from brown rice based ones, at least most of the time. It’s still ok to have it a few times a week, so if you just love that cookie you found at the Coop, it is probably safe to have three or four a week, provided that you are not eating the max of brown rice in other dishes.

This issue is most serious when it comes to feeding babies and small children. Hot rice cereals and rice cakes are now not recommended, with one serving of either providing all the arsenic that they could safely consume in a week. Those developing brains and bodies need to be protected.

So, to cheer myself up, I decided to try baking a rice-free gluten-free loaf of bread. This one is based on a recipe from Josey Baker, a very talented baker in San Francisco. His book, Josey Baker Bread is a fresh and exciting take on bread in general. This bread has gotten quite a bit of interest, in part because it is a gluten-free bread that doesn’t try too hard to be like regular bread. Instead, it is chock full of nuts, seeds and oats, and held together with flax and psyllium, not xanthan gum or starch.

This is going to be bread, I promise

This is going to be bread, I promise

Bold move. I couldn’t leave well enough alone, though, so I tweaked it a teeny bit, using half ground flax instead of all whole, subbing hemp for part of the sunflower seeds, using more almonds and pumpkinseeds than the recipe called for. It’s still his basic architecture.

GF Bread Dough #glutenfree #vegan #wholegrain #healthyeating

 

It will, after a few hours of sitting in a bread pan, form a loaf, it really will.

Smooth the Top and Chill Out

Smooth the Top and Chill Out

 

So if you are skipping all those brown rice flour breads you used to eat, try making this. It’s sturdy, hearty, and a slice slathered with your spread of choice is definitely worth $4.

My Version of Josey Baker’s Adventure Bread

Makes 1 loaf

1 cup almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped
1 cup pumpkin seeds (hulled), toasted
2 1/4 cups rolled oats
1/4 cup hemp seeds
1/2 cup flax seeds, whole
1/2 cup ground flax seeds
1/3 cup psyllium seed husks (not powder)
3 tablespoons chia seeds
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/4 cup olive oil
2 1/2 cups water

1. Toast the almonds and pumpkinseeds, either in a saute pan on the stovetop over medium-low heat, or in a 350 degree oven. Leave the seeds whole, coarsely chop the almonds. Let cool.
Combine the oats, hemp, whole ang round flax seeds, psyllium husks, chia and salt in a large bowl, add the cooled almonds and pumpkinseeds and stir. In a medium bowl, stir the maple syrup, olive oil and water, then stir into the oat mixture. It will seem watery, you need to get in there with your hands and squeeze and mix to get the ingredients to hydrate. When it thickens to a porridge consistency, oil a loaf pan and scrape the mixture into the pan. Smooth top, then put the whole pan in a plastic bag or cover with wrap, and put in the fridge for at least three hours or overnight.
Bake at 400 F for an hour, then gently tap out of the pan onto a rack and cool for at least two hours before slicing thinly.

#glutenfree #vegan #rice-free

Soothe Your Holiday Tummy with Cranberry Cuke Juice

Antioxidant Rich and Tasty, Too

Antioxidant Rich and Tasty, Too

So, we survived the big Holiday week. Chances are, this was the most overindulgent week of the year, with folks piling their plates and filling their cups with Christmas cheer. Just between you and me, I did. I ate too many cookies, piled up the rich foods I love on my plate, and had a glass or two or three of something to wash it down, and it wasn’t water.

That’s what we do. And really, if you confine yourself to just a few days of giddy overindulgence, how much harm can you do? I figure it’s better for my soul to get into the holiday spirit, eat a few cookies (I only frost cookies once a year, for crying out loud) and pick up the pieces when it’s over.

Besides, the gym will still be there, when I hit my rock bottom of sloth and gluttony. A few good workouts and a week of clean eating and I’ll be back in balance.

Plus, I have a juicer. With a few carefully chosen drinks, I can heal my dyspeptic, oversaturated self with a few soothing extractions. I’ve even got some celery in the crisper, ready to make my headache potion.

So I planned ahead to save half a bag of cranberries, to make a cranberry spiked, soothing juice for the over-used digestive tract we call our tummy.

Cranberries are loaded with healing vitamin C, E and K. They are a “superfood,” because of the potent polyphenols and other antioxidants lurking in their bright red skins. They are associated with lower rates of heart disease and cancer, so bring on the cranberries.

Cucumber is a classic tummy soother, slick with soluble fiber that helps absorb whatever is going on in your digestion and move it along. Make sure you juice the skins, since they contain antioxidants that protect your brain.

A couple of apples, skin on, provide a little sweetness, and yet more heart healthy antioxidants. Then, in the ultimate tummy and immune system soother, I juiced up a nice chunk of ginger.

The resulting juice was just barely sweet, spiked with cranberry tartness, with the bite of ginger at the end. Sipping it over the course of my morning, I felt better and better. It was surprisingly filling, too, a good thing when trying to re-set my eating back to reality.

So give it a try, it’s soothing and tasty.

Sip a Soother

Sip a Soother

 

Cranberry-Cucumber Juice

Makes about 1 1/2 cups

2 cups fresh cranberries (frozen are ok, just thaw them so you don’t strain the machine)

2 medium green apples

1 large cucumber

1 inch fresh ginger

Juice it all together, enjoy.

A Sweet and Sour Squash for Holiday Sides

Apple-Braised Red Kuri Squash with Cabbage and Pumpkinseeds #vegan #holiday #wintersquash #sidedishes

 

Sometimes, I crave something so often, it might seem repetitive to anyone watching. I’ll think, “hmm, I don’t have a recipe test to work on tonight, so I can make whatever I want.” And as if I pushed play on a paused song, I go right back to where I left off with the obsessively desired food.

So, lately, it’s braised kabocha. That’s not new, I put a braised squash, garlic and hazelnut tart in my book, The New Vegetarian, back in ’07. In fact, I put that recipe on a menu recently, and was reminded just how much I love the way it works.

First, a saute of shallots, to get a little caramelization started, then the peeled hunks of squash go in, to seal their edges a bit, then herbs, garlic and wine. Putting a lid on seals in the flavorful steam of the wine, braising the squash just to tenderness while reducing the wine to just coat the squash.

This time out, I thought it would be fun to play with some browned cabbage as part of the mix, and use apple juice and vinegar to create a sweet and sour braise.

I think you’ll like it. It’s a punchy, palate-clearing side for any winter meal, and would break the monotony at a spread of rich holiday favorites. The hunks of squash melt in your mouth, and crunchy pumpkinseeds add textural contrast. That fact that you can do it ahead, carry it easily, and it can be served warm or at room temperature is also a plus.

It’s really easy to peel and chop the squash, despite what you may think. I used this showy member of the kabocha family, the red kuri.

MONOCHROME (1)

 

Don’t bother with a peeler, or even a paring knife. Just halve the beast, scoop out the seeds, and then cut in inch wide wedges. Lay each flat on the board and use your chefs knife to slice straight down, removing the skin in inch or two inch long sections. Then slice the peeled pieces in bite sized chunks.

For the four cups of chunks, I started with a 2 1/2 pound squash and used half of it for this. (you may remember that I am obsessed, so having four more cups to use later is a GOOD THING.)

So give this a whirl at your next meal, it will be a nice break from peas and carrots.

 

Tangy, Sweet, and Savory all in One

Tangy, Sweet, and Savory all in One

Sweet and Sour Braised Squash and Cabbage with Pumpkinseeds

You can prep this one ahead. The squash can be peeled and cubed and kept in an air-tight container until time to cook. Or, the whole dish can be made ahead, just wait to add the toasted pepitas at serving time.

Serves 4

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup chopped shallot

2 cups chopped cabbage

4 cups cubed squash

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped

1/2 cup apple juice

1 tablespoon honey or brown sugar

2 tablespoon cider vinegar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup pepitas, toasted

freshly cracked black pepper

In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil and saute the shallots. Add the cabbage and saute over medium heat until slightly browned.

Add the squash and stir for five minutes.

Add the garlic and thyme and stir until fragrant, about a minute. Add the apple juice, sugar or honey, and vinegar, and cover.

Steam for 5-8 minutes, until the squash is tender when pierced with a paring knife. Stir in salt.

Serve topped with toasted pepitas and black pepper.

A Savory Roasted Veg Strudel for the Holiday

A Savory Strudel for Everyone

A Savory Strudel for Everyone

Happy Holidays! It’s the time of year when we plan to sit down for some shared meals, with the people we love. That always means it’s time to navigate the mixed diet-style table.

It’s really not that difficult to do, with a dash of planning and and splash of creative thinking. I’ve been merging meals for so long that it’s just an automatic part of the menu. If you are an omnivore, hosting a vegan, an ovo-lacto eater and a gluten free person, this dish can be customized to serve all three. If you are the vegan, vegetarian of gluten avoider, you can make this dish to suit your needs and bring it to the table.

The Holidays should be a time to practice compassion. To share the bounty and try really hard to let some stuff go.

I know it can be a challenge. But as long as you have a delectable vegetable dish, you can sink into the soft, roasted veggies and be comforted. The food is the easy part.

So, to make a memorable dish for everyone, I went with roots, herbs and nuts.

Before the Roasting

Before the Roasting

To add lots of depth of flavor, I started with caramelizing a big pile of onions. That’s always a good start. Then, a mix of earthy, sweet parsnips and yams, and some brilliant blue potatoes. It’s a little bit special to have an unusual vegetable for a holiday treat, to draw the eye to your dish. Then, slow roast to bring out all the nutty, sweet flavors of your roots, and make them meltingly tender.

All that concentrated veggie goodness!

All that concentrated veggie goodness!

Stir in some parsley for a fresh note, and add some crunchy hazelnuts. If you have some gluten-avoiders in your group, you can save half of the veggies to serve solo, with a tasty sauce for drizzling and dipping. Just proceed to make a single strudel, instead of two. For everyone else, crispy filo will turn your veggie side into a showy main for the veg eaters, and a dressed up veggie side for everyone else.

Golden and Toasty

Golden and Toasty

 

I hope this dish will become an edible problem solver, pleasing all the people at your table. No need to wait for the holidays, either, you can start making this in September and rotate it with your regular menus until Spring.

I know I’ll raise a glass to having a happy, well-fed Holiday this year!

Savory Roasted Vegetable Strudel with Hazelnuts

This makes two strudels, serving about 6 per strudel. For gluten-free diners, just save some of the roasted veggie filling to serve without wrapping in filo. You can always make one with half a cup of shredded Gruyere cheese, for the ovo-lactos, or save one for you to eat as special leftovers the next day.

CARAMELIZED ONIONS:

1 tablespoon olive oil

4 large onions, chopped

VEGETABLES:

3 large parsnips, 5 cups peeled and cubed
1 medium sweet potato, 2 cups cubed
4 small blue potatoes, 2 cups cubed
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh sage, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup parsley, chopped
1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted, skinned and chopped coarsely

FILO:
6 sheets filo dough, thawed
1/2 cup olive oil, approximately

Two or three hours before you will assemble the strudel, heat the first measure of olive oil  over medium heat and add the onions. Bring to a sizzle, stirring to coat, then lower the heat to medium low and stir every ten minutes or so for two or three hours. Fully caramelize the onions until shrunken and caramel brown.

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Combine the vegetables in a large roasting pan and drizzle with the tablespoon of olive oil. Add the sage, thyme, salt and pepper and toss to coat. Cover the pan with foil or another pan that covers it completely, then roast for 25 minutes, uncover and stir, then cover again for 20 minutes. Let cool.
When the vegetables come to room temperature, add the onions, parsley and hazelnuts, and if desired, the cheese. Reserve.
Use a pastry brush to brush two sheet pans with olive oil, and then brush each sheet of filo and stack three on each pan. Divide the vegetable mixture between the two stacks, forming a rectangle in the middle with a border of about four inches of filo on all sides. Shape the filling evenly, the fold in the short sides, then the longer sides, and then carefully turn the strudel over. Brush the top with more oil. Use a paring knife to cut about six slits across the top, for steam to escape.
Bake for about 25 minutes, until the top is crisp and golden. Serve warm.

Go Native at the Mitsitam Cafe

One of the Regional Stations at Mitsitam

One of the Regional Stations at Mitsitam

We hear a great deal about what humans “originally” ate, these days. Do you want to go back a few hundred, or a thousand, or ten thousand years? Do you really know what a hunter-gatherer would have eaten in your neighborhood?

We do have a pretty good idea what was being foraged and cultivated in the Americas in the last few thousand years. From Wild rice to quinoa, corn and beans to pine nuts, our sprawling continent provided many culinary treasures.

If you’d like a glimpse of the food that was consumed by the original inhabitants of North America, right up to today, take a trip to the Mitsitam Cafe in Washington DC. The cafe is nestled into the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, where it provides some edible education on the Native cultures that lived here for thousands of years before Europeans came along to start a global fusion cuisine.

Mitsitam is an award-winning restaurant, and an oasis of genuinely healthy food in a city filled with tempting restaurants. If Quinoa and Wild Rice sound like real food to you, you will love Mitsitam. It’s not claiming to replicate the original cuisine, mind you, but more of a showcase of the ingredients, with some updated touches. I noticed that fry bread was a prominent menu item, which is a food that only exists in Native culture because the US government provided the reservations commodity flour and oil, after they had taken most of their land. It’s not ancient, but many of today’s Natives grew up eating it.

And I am pretty sure that chocolate chip cookies aren’t really a Native invention, just popular with museum goers.

In keeping with the museum vibe, the cafe is arranged by regional cuisines, with a station for each region. It’s divided into:

Northern Woodlands- Region that spans from the Atlantic Coast to the Mississippi and from Southern Canada to the Chesapeake
Mesoamerica- Home of the Papago or “Bean People” and spans from the American Southwest  to Mexico and Central America
South America- Region that encompasses the entire southwestern hemisphere
Northwest Coast- Region that stretches from Southern Alaska to Northern California
Great Plains- Region that stretched over the great landscape from Alberta, Canada to Texas

In the photo at the top, you see my friend Rebecca ordering Sopes with Calabacitas (squash) Refried Beans, Latin Cream, Queso Oaxaca, and Avocado. This is the dish:

Corn and Beans were Staple Foods for Meso American Tribes

Corn and Beans were Staple Foods for Meso American Tribes

I had to try several things, so I went ala carte, with this feast:

Quinoa and Grilled Corn, Queso Fresco, Mint, Aji Vinaigrette PineNut Tart with Rosemary, Roasted Butternut Squash, Turnip, Frisee & Sunflower Seed Vinaigrette

Quinoa and Grilled Corn, Queso Fresco, Mint, Aji Vinaigrette, Pine Nut Tart with Rosemary, Roasted Butternut Squash, Turnip, Frisee & Sunflower Seed Vinaigrette

The quinoa was crunchy and fresh tasting, with sweet hits of fresh corn kernels and bits of salty feta. The roasted vegetables were delicious, with the roasted squash falling apart to meld with the dressing. The tart, which I cut up and shared with my friends, was amazing, rich and creamy with an herbal note adding a bright, piney flavor.

My friend Diane ordered from the Northern Woodlands:

Cheese Filled Fry Bread, Wild Rice and Watercress Salad, Carrots Roasted with Honey

Cheese Filled Fry Bread, Wild Rice and Watercress Salad, Carrots Roasted with Honey, Cherrywood Smoked Apple Soup with Sassafras Compressed Apple

 

The fry bread was light and chewy, not greasy as is sometimes is. The wild rice salad was nutty and laced with peppery cress. The honey roasted carrots, sweetly earthy. The apple soup was like nothing I have every had, a puree of smoked apples and celery root, with no cream or anything to interrupt the sweet, smoky taste.

I also indulged in a Hunk of Concord Grape Cake.

Concord Grape Cake with Thyme Cream, and the rest of my haul

Concord Grape Cake with Thyme Cream, and the rest of my haul

The cake was buttery and tender, served warm with melting whipped cream on top. The meltingly soft  Concord grapes were underneath, adding a genuine grape flavor and a hint of bitterness in the deep purple skins. We all shared bites of that, too.

My friend Jan also tried the Buffalo Chili, which he thought was spicy, but good.

Buffalo Chili with Fry Bread

Buffalo Chili with Fry Bread

 

Sonia went for the Paella of the Day, with chicken. I’m not sure how paella is Native, except that the Spanish brought it to the continent and may have taught natives to make it. There’s that global fusion.

Paella of the Day

Paella of the Day

The menu at Mitsitam changes with the seasons, so it will be shifting from the Fall selections to the Winter, soon. I thoroughly enjoyed everything I tried, as did my fellow diners. For anyone looking for gluten-free, vegetarian or vegan options, as well as whole grains, Mitsitam provides many exciting dishes.

Good food with a side order of education, now that is a meal with benefits. Getting to know more about the foods of our own continent is just as important as learning about the great foods of Europe or Asia, and touches our lives in a different way. As part of the experience of visiting our historic capital, it provides a deep and delicious part of understanding a bigger picture. The museum is filled with fascinating artifacts, and the things you see there will stay with you for years to come.

After eating a little piece of history, I was fueled to walk the National Mall, and absorb a different perspective, carved in stone and cast in bronze. I’m glad that I had a taste of the Native side.

A sculpture at the National Indian Museum.

A sculpture at the National Indian Museum.

 

Lighten Up with a Big Fat Buddha Bowl

Clean Up Post Thanksgiving with a Big Bowl of Goodies

Clean Up Post Thanksgiving with a Big Bowl of Goodies

 

The Big Thanksgiving Feast is over, and at this point, the pie should all have been joyfully consumed. I know that I am thankful for every delicious bite.

In this post-holiday lull, before we start ramping up for the next one, it’s time to keep it simple. Cooking with elemental foods and eating lighter, simpler food feels right to me.

This is the time when an earthy, grainy bowl of food will fill you up and energize you, without all the heaviness. Rich foods will be coming soon enough, might as well set yourself up to make some lean and customizable dinners in the mean time.

That’s what I love about a Buddha Bowl. It’s basically a pile of your favorite grain, with some veggies and beans or tofu, or whatever you want arranged on top. A really tasty sauce or dressing ties it all together. If you really get into it, you can fill your fridge with pickles, like the beets in this recipe, or kimchi and kraut, and add them as you see fit. Share it with kids, and sub their fave veggies or toppings, right there at the table.

One big bowl of food is dinner. How simple is that?

 

Quinoa Buddha Bowl with Sweet Sriracha Drizzle

Serves 4

1 1/2 cups quinoa
2 3/4 cups water
1/4 cup apricot jam
1/4 cup tamari soy sauce
2 tablespoons sriracha sauce
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 clove garlic, pressed
2 cups cooked black beans, rinsed and drained
4 ounces baby kale, chopped
1 cup pickled beets, slivered
1 cup shredded carrot
1 cup microgreens, washed and dried

Bring the water to a boil in a 2 quart pot, and add the quinoa. Bring back to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and cover tightly for 15 minutes. Take off the heat and let stand.
In a medium bowl or pyrex cup, stir the jam, tamari, sriracha, cinder vinegar and garlic. Reserve.
On four wide pasta bowls, place 3/4 cup of quinoa, and arrange 1/2 cup of beans, and 1/4 of all the reamaining ingredients on top. Drizzle with dressing and serve.

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