The Real Food Journal
Few foods are as comforting and satisfying as polenta. Cornmeal polenta is soft and creamy, but with just enough texture to give it a toothsome crunch, and perfect for grilling to a crisp golden crustiness. Grilled polenta offers the best of both worlds, with the softness of mashed potatoes and the crusty outer shell of a french fry.
It’s a perfect food for Fall, keeping you warm from the inside as the chill winds start to blow.
The polenta we know is made from whole grain corn, which puts it in a special class. It’s one of the whole grain foods that has a gloss of gourmet, and makes it onto restaurant menus without a hint of healthful motivation. Its sunny yellow color and authentic Italian pedigree move it out of the ranks of brown and crunchy health foods and into the world of artisanal pastas and risottos.
It’s an amazing reinvention, for a food that was once the cheap gruel of the poorest peasants. A New World plant, corn didn’t make it to Italy until the 1600’s, so it is relatively new. Historians believe that the idea of polenta, or coarsely ground grains cooked in water, may have been one of the first grain foods, preceding breads and pastas, simply because it is so basic.
It’s not hard to imagine: people picked seeds, people cracked them with rocks, people cooked them in water, people saved the leftovers. Hello polenta. That same mass of congealed cooked grain eventually became pasta, fermented flatbreads, heck, beer was probably the happy accident that happened when cooked grains fermented on their own.
When corn made its way to Italy, it replaced the millet, farro, chestnut, chickpea and buckwheat polentas that were being made. The sunny, sweet flavor of corn won people over, and the grain was grown to feed the starving peasants. Northern Italians still make whole grain polenta from corn, although some buckwheat polenta is still popular.
In the US, grits and cornmeal mush have a similar backstory, serving as the cheap food of the poor during times of scarcity. In both cases, the lack of key nutrients led to malnutrition, since corn alone cannot supply all the vitamins and minerals you need.
So there is some irony in the elevation of Cucina Povera to the realm of the gourmet. But whole grain polenta is a delicious, healthful food, as long as you don’t try to survive on polenta alone! Cornmeal is a great source of the fiber that most contemporary diets lack. It’s got some Iron, Vitamin A and B-vitamins, too. More recent research finds that corn delivers on antioxidants that prevent a host of ills, from cancer to vision problems. It’s also got resistant starch, a kind of starch that keeps us full longer. Just like those peasants.
For today’s recipe, I used Bob’s Red Mill Organic Polenta. It has a good particle size, with some chunkiness, but not so coarse that it takes hours too cook. It’s also readily available, so you should be able to find it. If you have another polenta, it’s simple enough to adjust, just cook it until it’s creamy and there are no hard bits.
People used to do this on rocks, so it can’t really be that tricky.
I started with my sauce, which used up the last of my garden tomatoes and a red kabocha squash that I got from a farmer. I fired up the oven and roasted everything while I made the polenta on the stovetop.
Stirring the polenta is not as grueling as some would have you believe, especially with a small batch. I just kept it on low and stirred every five minutes or so, until it got thick. Then it needs some attention. Once it’s thick you just stir in the arugala, and if using, the butter and cheese. Vegans can use olive oil instead of butter, and throw in some nooch for cheesiness.
Once I spread it in the pan and chilled it, I thought it would be fun to put it in the panini press. This is completely optional, but it worked out well. It mashed the polenta into a less perfect shape, so if you need your food to stay perfectly square, you can use the griddle function of the panini maker and just grill each side.
I loved how the press made more crunchy surface area, giving the polenta more places for sauce to pool. But it was all about the crunch. However you grill the polenta, you need plenty of oil to keep it from sticking, and to help form that crispy crustiness.
The sauce is very rustic and chunky, I just mashed some of the squash cubes and whole garlic to give it some body, and left the rest in pieces. A handful of briny olives and a sprinkle of parsley was all it needed to show off the great flavor of all my vine-ripened tomatoes.
And there you have it, a whole grain dish to celebrate Whole Grains Month, all sunny and golden and steeped in history. It’s a great make-ahead dish, just reheat the sauce and grill the chilled polenta when it’s time to eat.
I know I’m thinking of the peasants who created this dish, and how it must have fueled them to work hard in the fields.
We are so lucky to have all kinds of amazing grains available, and to be able to try them all!
Roasted Squash and Tomatoes over Arugala Polenta
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
4 cups cherry tomato
1 pound large tomato, quartered
6 cloves garlic, peeled
6 stems fresh thyme
1 teaspoon salt, divided
2 pounds kabocha squash, peeled and cubed
1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1/2 cup kalamata olive, pitted and halved
1/2 cup Italian parsley, chopped
3 cups water
1 cup Polenta
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 cups arugala, chopped
4 ounces Asiago Cheese, shredded, divided, optional (or a couple of tablespoons nutritional yeast)
extra virgin olive oil, for grilling
Preheat the oven to 400 F. In a large roasting pan, toss half of the olive oil, the whole cherry tomatoes and large tomatoes, garlic, thyme and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Roast for about an hour, stirring every 20 minutes, until deeply wrinkled and browned.
In another roasting pan, toss the squash with the remaining olive oil and salt. Roast for about 30 minutes, until tender when pierced with a paring knife.
To make a sauce, mash several squash cubes and garlic cloves and stir into the tomatoes. Add the olives and reserve.
For the polenta, butter or oil an 8-inch square baking pan and reserve. Put the water in a small pot and whisk in the polenta and salt, and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Lower the heat and whisk often for about 25-30 minutes. When thick, stir in the butter and arugala, and stir until the arugala is softened, then stir in half of the cheese, and stir until melted. (vegans can skip the butter and cheese.) Spread in the prepared pan and chill until cold.
Slice in 9 squares and grill or press in a panini grill. Serve with sauce, covered with parsley, and if using, sprinkle with cheese.
Sorghum. Maybe one day it will have the same cultural cachet as Quinoa. Quinoa is right up there with lattes and arugula as a signifier of foodie culture. It’s been a long climb, but that Peruvian grain has been embraced by the gourmets, the health conscious, the vegans, the gluten free. And it is delicious. I love it.
Sorghum, on the other hand, is grown in the American heartland, and has yet to break out in the hip food scene. It’s an ancient grain, that originated in Africa about 5,000 years ago, and it made it to America on slave ships. Unlike quinoa, which we will pay top dollar to ship from a continent away, sorghum is right here, but because it hasn’t caught on, most of it is fed to livestock or made into ethanol.
For Whole Grains Month, I urge you to give sorghum a try, whether it is sorghum flour, whole grains, or sorghum syrup, if you can find it.
I hope that sorghum will share the spotlight with quinoa in coming years. It’s gluten free, like quinoa, which makes it a good candidate for the next “hot” grain. Sorghum also has the distinction of requiring 1/3 as much water to produce as other comparable crops, so it can be grown in dry areas where other crops would fail. Let’s face it, some parts of the World are becoming drier and hotter, and people need food. The other bonus is that the stalks and leaves provide lots of soil conserving plant matter that can be composted and used for other purposes. Sorghum is sustainable.
We look to quinoa as a high protein grain, and sorghum is no slump in the protein department. A typical serving, cooked up from 1/4 cup uncooked sorghum has 5.5 grams protein, 1/4 cup quinoa has 6. Both have iron and calcium, quinoa a little more calcium, sorghum a little more iron. Both deliver B-Vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Today I made two sorghum dishes, one a bowl with whole sorghum, and to follow that, a muffin made from whole grain sorghum flour. It worked out well, since I used the garbanzo beans to make the bowl, and their liquid to make aquafaba for the muffins. I’ve been obsessed with roasted garbanzos lately, so I roasted them up and sprinkled on some coarse salt and smoked paprika. That lead me to Spanish flavors, and it all just came together from there.
Sorghum Bowl with Smoky Roasted Garbanzos and Saffron Aioli
Drizzling a little aioli on the sorghum gives it some pizzazz, without having to work too hard. Once you have some whole sorghum cooked up, keep any leftovers in the fridge and use it throughout the week.
1 1/2 cups cooked sorghum
1 1/2 cups cooked garbanzos, drained (1 14.5 ounce can, drained, reserve liquids)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 pinch saffron
2 cups fresh spinach
2 cups peeled and cubed butternut squash, steamed
a small roasted pepper, sliced
8 pitted kalamata olives
Cook the sorghum, I cooked a cup with 2 1/2 cups water, I brought it all to the boil, put on a lid, reduced the heat to low and simmered it for about 55 minutes. It absorbed all the water and then I let it stand, covered, to continue steaming. It will be firm. If you want it softer, add more water and cook it longer, but it will stay a little crunchy, like wheat berries.
For the garbs, preheat oven to 400 F. Pat dry the beans and spread them on a sheet pan, and drizzle on the olive oil. Toss to coat and roast for about 35 minutes, til crispy but not too hard to chew. Sprinkle with salt and paprika, and toss to coat. Let cool.
For the aioli, mix the mayo, garlic and saffron and stir well. You will have some left over, and it will be great in sandwiches, etc.
For each bowl, mix a dab of aioli into the sorghum, then spread it in the bowl. Arrange spinach, garbanzos, squash, peppers and olives and peppers. Drizzle with aioli and serve.
On to the muffins!
I wanted to honor the vegans by making a vegan and gluten free muffin with whole grain sorghum flour that is actually tasty and tender. This can be a challenge, but I promise you, I couldn’t stop eating these muffins, especially warmed up a little and slathered with some homemade jelly given to me by a talented friend. These muffies feature not just whole grain sorghum flour, but also aquafaba, the latest and greatest of the egg replacers for baking. If you want to learn more about aquafaba, click here: Baking with Aquafaba.
So, to achieve the chemical feat of lifting up a healthful whole grain flour, I decided to whip the aquafaba to meringue-like loftiness, and then fold it into the batter. I hedged my bets with some guar gum and ground flax, which both provide the structure that gluten and eggs give to a standard muffin.
Here’s the whipped aquafaba and sugar:
Some mashed banana gave it some body, and I added dried blueberries for more fruity flavor. Of course, you could add any sort of muffin fruit or nut, it is up to you. Just don’t weigh it down with more than 3/4 cups. I’d stay away from anything too wet, like chopped pears or strawberries.
Sorghum. Say it out loud a few times to practice, because it will be coming to a restaurant menu or ingredient list near you.
Sorghum Muffins with Dried Blueberries
I used Bob’s Red Mill Sorghum Flour, which is widely available. You can also easily grind your own in a Vitamix. I kept this relatively simple, but if you want to add a teaspoon or two of cinnamon and spices, or sub other fruit or nuts for the blueberries. Get crazy and sub chocolate chips for fruit, and these would be divine.
Makes 10 Muffins
1 3/4 cups sorghum flour
1/2 cup tapioca flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons guar gum
1 large ripe banana, mashed
2 tablespoons ground flax seeds
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
2 teaspoons vanilla
3/4 cup garbanzo water, drained from one can beans
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
3/4 cup dried blueberries
Preheat the oven to 375 F, and line 10 cups of a muffin tin with muffin papers.
In a large bowl, combine the sorghum flour, tapioca flour, baking powder, salt and guar gum, and whisk to mix.
In small bowl, combine the banana, flax, melted coconut oil and vanilla and stir. If the banana is cold, the coconut oil may harden, you can pop the mixture in the microwave or warm it over a bowl of hot water to soften it to stir-able consistency.
In a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, or a large bowl with an electric mixer, combine the garbanzo water and powdered sugar. On low speed, mix until the sugar is dissolved, then raise the speed to high and beat for about 8 minutes. It will become thick and shiny like meringue, and hold soft peaks. 9see photo above)
Add the banana mixture to the flour mixture and add about half of the whipped garbanzo mixture and stir to mix well. Fold in the remaining garbanzo mixture, gently turning the batter to keep the bubbles from deflating. When mixed, quickly stir in the berries.
Scoop 1/4 cup portions of the batter into the lined cups and sprinkle with Turbinado sugar.
Bake for about 35 minutes, until the tops are golden and a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out with only moist crumbs attached. Cool on a rack.
It seems like only yesterday that I was sneaking out to the Farmer’s Market in the bracing chill of Spring, trying not to wake my sweetheart as I stumbled over shoes in the dark bedroom. Now, we are on the other end of the season, and the early morning chill is a bittersweet signal that it will all be over far too soon.
But on the up side, this is the time of year when we have the broadest selection. Tomatoes share display space with sweet corn, squash and raspberries, and tender leaves like spinach and arugala that got a little too bitter in the heat are starting to calm down.
So when I made my trek to pick up the makings of an easy meal at the Mill City Farmers Market, I knew that I would have my pick of great ingredients. I was already laser focused on getting pasta from Dumpling and Strand, Noodlers at Large, and of course, bread from Baker’s Field Flour and Bread.
So when I saw the breathtaking black noodles on display, I just had to try them. They are handmade, artisanal, and one of the limited, rotating variations that the D & S noodlers like to put out there to keep us on our toes. So even if you get to the Market this week, they won’t be there. Yes, they are made with squid ink, and some of you vegan readers will want to avoid that, so you can either buy the buckwheat noodles from D & S, or use Lotus Foods black rice ramen instead for this quick recipe. Click the link for a recipe for Black Rice Ramen with Nasturtiums. You can find Lotus Foods Black Rice Ramen at your local Coop or natural foods store. They are a fantastic whole grain noodle, too, making this an appropriate recipe for celebrating Whole Grains Month. (Click to enter to win a book!)
Just take a look at this amazing noodle display- you can see why I was drawn to the black ramen like a bee to a flower. It is made with ground sesame mixed in with the dough, for a wonderful nutty taste, and the texture is amazingly supple and just firm enough, not fragile or crumbly. Jeff at Dumpling and Strand tells me that this ramen will back, and we will just have to keep an eye out for it to cycle back in again. The other noodles are also fantastic, and I would grab that buckwheat noodle, or even the whole grain linguine to use in this recipe in a heartbeat.
My next find was some locally grown, absolutely fresh and tender baby ginger. It was so juicy and mild, I could have used twice as much. I’d already picked up a hunk of fresh turmeric, so I was leaning toward a bit of mild spiciness in my noodle sauce.
(Here’s a recipe for Carrot Turmeric Tonic from the last time I found fresh ginger and turmeric at the Market.)
Eating fresh ginger and turmeric is so health-promoting that I almost don’t want to bring it up, for fear you’ll think they are health foods. Trust me, as you enjoy the flavor, you will be building your immune system for the coming season, staving off inflammation, and protecting your brain from Alzheimers. It’s a win-win that they are also so delicious together.
So, I decided to “noodle” a little and improvise a sauce with ginger, turmeric, chiles, and the tomatoes and garlic chives I grow in my own garden. The noodles are so gorgeous as a backdrop for all that orange and red, I really didn’t need much more.
I wanted to really accentuate the sesame flavor, so I used toasted sesame oil to barely saute the ginger and turmeric. I kept the heat gentle to protect the delicate oil. I also pulled out my secret weapon, Gomasio.
Gomasio is a Japanese condiment, an ancient traditional seasoning made by simply toasting sesame seeds with coarse salt and then grinding the mixture to a coarse powder. I keep a jar of it in the refrigerator, where it keeps indefinitely. Try making your own, just put a cup of brown or white sesame seeds in a small saute pan and swirl over medium-high heat until the seeds are fragrant and oily. Add a teaspoon of coarse salt and transfer to a food processor, Vitamix or spice grinder, and pulse until the seeds are coarsely ground. It’s a quick recipe for an essential condiment that you can keep in your back pocket.
It’s one of the magic ingredients that can transform a bowl of leftovers into a feast. It’s also perfect for people trying to cut down on sodium, since it has a little salt and a ton of taste.
The dish turned out to be just what I needed on a warm Fall day. Light, but filling enough, and infused throughout with smoky, nutty sesame that delivered a satisfying umami punch. In keeping with the seasonal emphasis that guides so many Asian cuisines, I used the tomatoes at hand, rather than look for an exotic vegetable. I was rewarded with a tasty sauce that was a little sweet, rounded out with a splash of tangy rice vinegar. The gomasio clung to the saucy noodles like parmesan, coating the slippery strands to good effect.
All in all, a good way to make the most of my harvest of local foods.
Squid Ink Ramen with Ginger Tomato Sauce
9 ounces fresh squid ink ramen (or 1 package black rice ramen)
2 tablespoons julienned ginger
2 tablespoons julienned turmeric root
1 medium red chile, chopped
2 tablespoons dark sesame oil
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped garlic chives, plus flowers for garnish
2 large tomatoes, chopped and drained
Put the pot of water on to boil for the ramen.
Prep the ginger, turmeric and red chile, then heat the sesame oil in a medium saute pan over medium heat and add, stirring just to soften slightly. Cook for just a few minutes, then add the rice vinegar and salt and stir for a minute to thicken a little. Take off the heat.
Cook the ramen. It should take about 2 minutes, just check for doneness. Drain well. Put the ramen in a large bowl and add the chives,drained tomatoes and the ginger mixture and toss to coat. Add the cilantro as desired, sprinkle with gomasio on the plate.
Serve at room temperature.
Have you heard? It’s National Whole Grains Month.
I started early, and posted last week with a FREE COOKBOOK GIVEAWAY, so click here to enter to win, and check out Sweet Potato Toast on Toast.
The whole month of September you can be on the lookout for whole grain recipes, information and product specials to crop up all around you. Thanks to the work of folks at the Whole Grains Council, there will be a whole month devoted to raising awareness of healthful, sustainable whole grain foods.
To kick off the month, I wanted to show off my new toys, the Korean granite bowls I got at United Noodles. The granite bowl is a traditional cooking tool, sometimes called a Dolsot. If you don’t have one, you can crisp the rice in a hot cast iron skillet, or just skip the crisping and enjoy the Korean flavors in the bowl.
Cooking with hot stones goes back to prehistory, so it feels kind of primal to heat a rock and use it to prepare dinner. Of course, this lovely, machine turned granite bowl is a very evolved version of a hunk of stone heated in a fire, and thankfully so. It’s traditionally used for Dolsot Bibimbap, which is what inspired this recipe. You can also use it for stews like Doenjang Jigae and Kimchi Jigae, in which the hot stone both cooks and keeps warm a bubbling pot of stew.
When I bought the bowls, I took the step of soaking them in water, then putting them on the stove filled halfway with water and a generous pinch of salt, and heating them over low heat. Once they came to a simmer, I turned off the heat and carefully dumped out the hot water, and reheated them until they were dry. Then I brushed them with sesame oil to season, just like I would season a cast iron pan.
The granite bowl is actually safe up to 650 degrees fahrenheit, as long as you heat it up slowly and let it cool naturally. I was a little nervous about putting it over the gas flame, but it did just fine.
The point of putting the rice in the hot stone bowl is to crisp the bottom of the layer of rice, for a crunchy, chewy texture. The crispy layer of rice is called jurungji. Of course, this is usually made with white rice, but we are all in for whole grains, and it is just as fantastic with medium or short grain brown rice.
I love Korean food, as you may have noticed, as I have been touting the joys of gochujang for a while now. Try these recipes once you buy some, you’ll love Grilled Corn Pizzas.
So I assembled some of the fresh and fabulous ingredients that would make a great bowl. I lucked out and found some pink oyster mushrooms at my Coop, and wanted to honor them by just barely searing them and seasoning with soy sauce. I had some locally made fermented Chiogga beets made by the good people at Gyst and I lucked out and found some fresh and fragrant Shiso leaf. Shiso is a basil-like herb that is traditionally used in Japanese and Korean cooking. Broccolini and teeny baby zucchini were looking good that day, and I had a craving for mock duck. A Bibimbap bowl is always served with lots of Banchan, the Korean side dishes and toppings that make a simple bowl of rice into a celebration of fermented and quickly cooked vegetable flavors.
I took the time saving step of simplifying it a bit, just sauteing each veggie and seasoning it, and topping it all with fermented beets and fresh shiso. A schmear of gochujang makes it all complete.
So if you want to try some tasty brown rice topped with winning Korean flavors, give the Dolsot bowl a try. Modify it to use up the vegetables you have on hand, and it can be a quick and delicious bowl meal.
Dolsot Bowl with Maple Glazed Mock Duck, Veggies and Shiso
Makes 2 servings
dark sesame oil
2 cups cooked short grain brown rice
1/2 bunch broccolini, large florets
2 baby zucchini, sliced
10 small pink oyster mushrooms
1 can mock duck, torn into pieces
1/2 cup pickled beets or other fermented veg
Season two granite bowls by brushing them with sesame oil. Place over medium heat for 15 minutes.
While the bowls heat, stir fry all the ingredients separately. Have a plate ready to hold them as they are ready. Place a wok or large skillet over high heat and let it heat for a minute, then swirl in a bit of canola oil. Quickly stir fry the broccolini, just searing for a few seconds per side, then splash some shoyu over the broccolini, and stir until evaporated. Move to the plate. Repeat with the zucchini, searing, then spalsh with shoyu and vinegar. Transfer to plate. Sear the oyster mushrooms, and splash with shoyu and a pinch of salt. Stir fry the mock dusk, and when browned, sprinkle with shoyu and maple syrup, then toss in the pan until glazed. Transfer to the plate.
In each bowl, press 1 cup brown rice to cover the bottom. Arrange the vegetables and mock dusk over the rice. Move the hot bowls to large heavy plates or some other stone board that can be carried to the table. Let stand for 10 minutes to crisp the rice, then garnish with beets and shiso.
Serve with gochujang on the side.
September is Whole Grains Month, the month when we all think a little bit more about choosing whole grains, and how we can add them to our plates.
As you probably know, it’s whole grain month all year long around here, so I thought I would do two things. One is, GIVE AWAY A BOOK.
Yes, read on through this post and there will be a place to enter to win a copy of The Whole Grain Promise.
Second, I wanted to take note of an internet phenomenon that has gotten a bit of buzz on instagram, pinterest and lots of other blogs. That is the concept of “sweet potato toast.”
If you haven’t heard of it yet, it is just what it sounds like. Sweet potatoes, sliced like bread, and then toasted. In the toaster. Of course, the folks who are most excited about this are the ones who want to avoid bread. Maybe they are avoiding gluten, or grains, or carbs, or just want to eat more vegetables. So they toast slices of sweet potato and put things that would go in a sandwich on top, like lovely fans of avocado and drizzles of hot sauce.
Well, I am not avoiding grains, in fact, I am celebrating them.
Here is a short summary of the main benefits of whole grains, from the Whole Grains Council:
THE MAIN BENEFITS OF WHOLE GRAIN
The beneﬁts of whole grains most documented by repeated studies include:
- stroke risk reduced 30-36%
- type 2 diabetes risk reduced 21-30%
- heart disease risk reduced 25-28%
- better weight maintenance
Other beneﬁts indicated by recent studies include:
- reduced risk of asthma
- healthier carotid arteries
- reduction of inﬂammatory disease risk
- lower risk of colorectal cancer
- healthier blood pressure levels
- less gum disease and tooth loss
So there is no way that I’m giving up whole grains. I can still get in on this sweet potato toast thing, and just use them my own way.
So here are my slices of sweet potato in the toaster. I sliced them about the thickness of the kind of thin white bread you might use for tea sandwiches, about 1/4 inch. I did one test au naturel, and one brushed with a little oil.
It took two or three “toasts” to get them cooked through, but it worked. The bottom ones are dry-toasted, the top two had oil. Both are easily pierced with a paring knife.
The most important thing in a sandwich is the bread, and this is Baker’s Field Flour and Bread‘s 100% Whole Wheat bread. Feast upon it with your eyes. All naturally leavened, made with freshly ground wheat. This bread is going to make a good sandwich.
So I slivered up some kale and shredded a carrot, and stirred in some mayo to make a little slaw for the sandwich. A pinch of salt, a sprinkle of hot sauce. I put the sweet potato slices on the toasted bread, then covered them with slaw and shaved shallots.
Slices of gorgeous yellow tomato made it all complete. A glorious vegetable sandwich, celebrating whole grains.
So if you want to try sweet potato toast, either as a bread substitute or as a sandwich filling, give it a go. It is simple and easy, if you have a sharp knife. It’s probably something that you’d do if you are working in a limited kitchen, like say, a dorm room with just a toaster, or the break room at work. you can only toast a few slices at a time, so it’s not really practical for more than two people.
But, hey, sweet potatoes are a delicious, real food, and if you are looking for a gluten free bread, you could do far worse.
If you are like me and you love whole grains, get in on the free book giveaway.
Enter by checking out my facebook and twitter accounts, and feel free to comment here.
Sweet Potato Toast on Toast with Kale Slaw
4 leaves kale
1 large carrot
a tablespoon or two of mayo of choice
salt and pepper
hot sauce, to taste
2 small sweet potatoes (pick out 4-5 inch long ones if you can find them)
1/2 small shallot, thinly shaved
1 big tomato
4 big slices whole wheat bread
Sliver the kale thinly, then put in a bowl. Shred the carrot into the bowl and stir in mayo to taste. Add salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with hot sauce, if desired.
Slice the sweet potato in 1/4 inch slices. If desired, brush with oil. Toast for 2 cycles in the toaster, then pierce with a paring knife. If the slices are tender, take out and let cool slightly. If not, toast again.
Toast the bread.
Arrange the sweet potato slices on the bread, cover with slaw and shallots, top with tomato, and place the remaining toasted bread on top. Serve warm.
This summer was the summer of road trips. I know I clocked many hours in the car, trekking from Minnesota to Illinois to see my Mother. It’s a journey I’ve made many times, and I have learned a valuable lesson along the way.
Always, always, pack food.
Because unless you are a Road Food enthusiast like the Sterns on The Splendid Table, with local dining destinations all mapped out, you are going to get hungry and end up at truck stops and gas stations, looking for a snack.
It’s inevitable. We pull in for gas, and I end up scouting the store for edible food. We have our go-to’s, I’ve almost figured out where the unsweetened iced tea will be in the walls of coolers, hidden among the hyper sweet sodas, energy drinks, and beer. I’ve picked up lots of bags of nuts at truck stops, and the occasional granola bar. I even resort to truck stop coffee, when the podcasts I brought are not enough to keep me alert.
This year, we drove down to pick Mom up and bring her here, and spend a week. My Mother is allergic to wheat, so I always stock up on the flours and foods that she can eat. She is lucky, because she can tolerate Spelt, the ancient form of wheat that differs just enough that it doesn’t trigger her allergies. Ancient Grains are on the rise these days, in part because some of the people who don’t do well with conventional wheat find them easier to digest.
For the rest of us, Spelt is a tasty whole grain with a little less gluten that regular wheat. It is also a little higher in niacin, copper, iron, zinc, magnesium and phosphorus than whole wheat. Depending on which source you believe, it may be 9,000 or 8,000 years old, and was once the main grain grown in Europe. Because the gluten in Spelt is fragile, it’s not as well suited to bread baking, so when wheat varieties with stronger gluten came along, it went by the wayside. nobody bothered to hybridize it, so it is still the same simple grain it was, making it an Ancient Grain.
So for our drive, I wanted to bake a treat made from spelt. Over the years, we have found that whole and white spelt flours work best for her, and when combined, they work just like wheat. If you want to use all whole spelt flour, you certainly can.
I planned ahead and bought some of the locally ground Spelt flour from Baker’s Field flour and Bread, which is about as fresh as I can get it. (You can read my article about Baker’s Field in the Star Tribune here.) White Spelt flour is hard to find, but it is available in bulk at Valley Natural foods and Linden Hills Coop.
I decided to make us a pan of bars to get us through a 9-hour drive together, that Mom could eat and everybody would enjoy. So I chopped up a couple of peaches and mixed them with the blueberries from the farmer’s market, and cooked up the filling. An orange and its zest gave it a little sparkle of citrus. A simple, oaty crust and crumble came together quickly. You can use butter or coconut oil in the recipe, both with great results. If margarine is your thing, that would work, too.
Here’s a link to a Rhubarb Tart recipe that explains the measuring and chilling process for coconut oil.
All in all, it was a quick recipe that saved us from succumbing to processed foods on our journey. I packed some avocado sandwiches, water, tea and stuff. I would have brought some organic chocolate, but the last time I did that, it melted in the package.
And yes, I tried to eat it anyway.
So here is the recipe for a bar that you can take on the road, on the plane, or in your lunchbox to work. Simple, easy, and made with Ancient Grains.
Blueberry Peach Bars with Spelt Flour
Makes 24 or so
3 cups blueberries, washed and stemmed
2 medium peaches
1/2 cup organic sugar
1 large orange, zested and juiced
2 tablespoons arrowroot
1 cup whole spelt flour
1 cup white spelt flour
1 cup organic brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1/2 cup cold butter or coconut oil
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease a 9×13 metal baking pan and reserve.
To make the filling, put the blueberries, peaches, organic sugar, 1/4 cup orange juice and 1 tablespoon zest in a 2 quart pot and place over medium-high heat. Stir until it comes to a boil, then in a cup, whisk 1/4 cup of the remaining orange juice with the arrowroot and stir into the boiling liquids. Stir until the mixture thickens and the liquids become glossy. Take off the heat.
In a large bowl, place the spelt flours, organic brown sugar, soda and salt. Using the coarse holes of a grater, grate in the butter or coconut oil. Mix well with your hands, keeping bits of fat intact but allowing some to melt, just to bind the crumble.
Spread 2 cups of the oat mixture in the prepared pan and use wet fingers to pat it down firmly. Spread the blueberry mixture over the crust, then sprinkle the remaining oat mixture over the filling.
Bake for 50-55 minutes, until the blueberries are bubbling up in spots in the center of the pan, and the topping is golden brown. Cool on a rack, cut 4 by 6, if desired.
Do you ever suffer from “canning guilt?”
That’s when you see flats of berries and crates of tomatoes, all at peak flavor and ripeness, and think, ” I should really get some jars and lids and put up some some of this gorgeous produce, if I only had more time.”
And then you see your industrious friends’ posts of their beautiful jams and salsas, gleaming like sunlight in a jar, and you feel guilty.
Or maybe you feel envy, or just tired, because you are busy, and you can’t take on every kitchen project.
It’s ok. Like you, I don’t have time to bake all my bread, roll all my pasta, make fresh nut milk, ferment my own kimchi, and on and on. I pick a few and stick with them as best I can.
I make my own kombucha, just so you know. I’m not a slacker. Really.
And canning just doesn’t make the current cut. Maybe when I retire. I’m much better at freezing food.
So let me share my lazy lady’s way to put up some tomatoes. I call it Tomato Jam. I promise it will fit into your busy day. No blanching and peeling, no chopping, just some time in a pan and a buzz in the Vitamix. Don’t worry, the blender will vaporize any trace of tomato skins and seeds- leaving you with plenty of healthy fiber, and thickening the jam. You can use your food processor instead, if you don’t have a Vitamix.
Right now, my own tomatoes are ripening on the vine, and every day brings a new find in my tomato boxes. Hot, fragrant fruit hangs there, baking up sugars in the sun. I can take a quick stroll around my yard and come back with this:
So here is how I get my tomato jam on. I pick a bunch of tomatoes, or buy them. I weighed them so that I can give you a recipe, but you can just get a couple quarts or so of nice ripe tomatoes. Cut them in half, heat a generous dose of good olive oil in a cast iron skillet, and throw in the tomatoes. Toss in several cloves of whole garlic. Toss in some salt.
Then just crank up the heat to medium-high and stir occasionally, it will get really juicy, then thicken up, inside 30 minutes. The garlic melts down to tender sweetness, so you don’t have to do a thing to it. I used cast iron, which also transfers iron into the tomatoes, so this has extra iron for all you meat avoiders.
Once the mixture is thick, add some raw sugar just to take the edge off of the acidity. Simmer for a second, then scrape it into the Vitamix and blend. You’ll get a smooth, thick paste like this:
Once the paste is cool, just transfer to a quart sized zip-top freezer bag, flatten into a sheet, and freeze, if you want to save it for after the snow flies. You’ll be glad you did.
This is the same technique I use for fresh basil preservation, which you can read about here.
You can also just stash it in the fridge and use it on everything, it makes a fine crostini topping, sandwich spread, pizza sauce, pasta sauce, soup base, and if you use your imagination, you will only find more uses.
I even slathered it on some sweet corn, and it was delicious.
I like to keep it simple, but if you have an urge to add some herbs, like fresh thyme and rosemary, or a dash of balsamic vinegar, give it a try.
I hope you will get creative and jam a little with your own tomato jam.
Makes about 1 cup
2 1/2 pounds ripe, assorted tomatoes, halved
10 cloves peeled garlic
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt, more to taste
1 tablespoon organic sugar
Prep the tomatoes, peel the garlic. In a large cast iron skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat, and then add the tomatoes, garlic and salt. Bring to a boil and stir occasionally for about 30 minutes.
When the tomatoes have broken down and become thick, stir in the sugar. Transfer the mixture to the Vitamix and secure the lid. Select Variable Speed 1 and turn on the machine, then gradually increase to Speed 5. Blend for several seconds, until the paste is smooth.
Scrape the paste into a bowl or other container. Freeze in bags or eat within a week.