The Real Food Journal
Pancakes for breakfast. Just saying it conjures up memories of lazy weekend mornings, with warm syrup and a warm mug in your hand. And holidays past, when having visitors meant making something a little more special than a bowl of cereal.
How did cold cereal take over our breakfasts, when making pancakes is so easy? I get it, I have no desire to make a cooked meal every morning, either. But once a week, why not?
The pancake is such a simple food, and a perfect food for fooling around with tasty Ancient grain flours. If you’ve been seeing nifty new packages of things like Einkorn and Khorasan flour, or sprouted flours, you might want to make their acquaintance. Ancient grains are making a big splash these days, as people investigate alternatives to the wheat “monoculture.” Most of us do just fine with standard, “club” wheat, as the typical hard red wheat is called, but some people are experimenting with other varieties to see if they agree with their systems better. Others are trying out these flours for their flavors and heritage status. Sprouted flours are going to continue to grow in popularity, because the sprouting process increases their nutrient content, reduces acidity, and eliminates some compounds to make all the good stuff more absorbable.
So what the heck are Einkorn and Khorasan wheats?
Einkorn is known as the oldest variety of wheat, and the wild variety still grows wild in the Fertile Crescent, where the real paleos enjoyed it so much that they started planting it, eventually domesticating it and selecting for plants whose seed heads didn’t shatter, making them easier to harvest. It’s genetically simpler than modern wheat, with fewer chromosomes. It’s also lower in the kind of gluten that is in regular wheat, so some wheat sensitive folks can tolerate it. It’s higher in the antioxidants lutein and Vitamin E than standard wheat. It’s also higher in protein, fat and phosphorus.
Khorasan, also known as Kamut, is also ancient, and has some good origin stories, including the one where it was found in the Tomb of King Tut and sprouted. Then there is the one where it was carried on Noah’s Ark. While we take these colorful tales with a grain of salt, I do love kamut. Like Einkorn, it is often a good alternative for folks who have trouble with wheat, and it is a nutritious whole grain. It’s higher in protein, fats, and some vitamins and minerals than standard wheat. It’s distinctive in that the grains are nearly double the size of wheat berries, with a golden color and buttery, sweet flavor.
Sweet Potato and Ancient Grain Pancakes with Maple
Makes 12 cakes
1/2 cup unbleached Einkorn flour
1/2 cup Sprouted Khorasan flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup mashed sweet potato plus diced for garnish
2 tablespoons ground flax seeds
1 cup non-dairy milk
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
3 tablespoons maple syrup, plus more for serving
2 tablespoons canola oil
In a large bowl, combine the flours, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.
In a medium bowl, combine the mashed sweet potatoes, flax seeds and non-dairy milk, and stir well. Let stand for a couple of minutes. Stir in the cider vinegar, maple syrup and oil.
Place a cast iron skillet over medium heat, or heat a griddle. Turn the oven to 200 to hold the finished cakes, if desired. Pour the sweet potato mixture into the flour mixture and stir to combine.
Oil the skillet and use a 1/4 cup measure to portion batter into cakes, leaving room between them. If the batter seems thick, stir in a little non-dairy milk to make it spreadable. Cook the cakes for 2 minutes on the first side, until the batter is peppered with holes and the edges look firm. Flip the cakes, cooking for a couple of minutes. Flip again for another minute, to make sure it is all the way cooked through. Transfer to a plate or pan to hold in the oven and continue until all the cakes are done.
Serve with maple syrup, sweet potato dice and non-dairy yogurt, if desired.
I’m so proud to announce that my seventh book, The Whole Grain Promise, More Than 100 Delicious Recipes To Jumpstart a Healthier Diet (Running Press, $19.95), hits bookstore shelves on October 6.
If you haven’t noticed, whole grains are at the core of my cooking. I love the flavors, textures, and colors of whole grains and flours. I also love the way I feel when I eat them, and all the health benefits that whole grains provide. So when I look at this book, I see a collection born of years of recipe development while cooking at home and for clients, teaching classes, and working with whole grains organizations like the Grains for Health Initiative and the Whole Grains Council.
While I’ve been working, I’ve been listening.
I got the message, loud and clear, that the average consumer wants recipes that taste great, and that are easy to shop for and execute. Singles, people with families, gourmets and fast food lovers, like everyone else, want healthy choices to be fast and effortless; they want them to taste just as good as the less healthy option. So I wrote The Whole Grain Promise, to make whole grains easy. I hope you will take a look.
The “promise” that the title refers to is the overwhelming evidence that people who consume whole grains are healthier. In the murky world of health claims, whole grains are a pretty solid bet. Despite recent efforts to make grains into the dietary demon du jour, they have been the backbone of a healthy diet for centuries. Study after study finds that people who eat their grains whole have healthy hearts, lower rates of cancer, and lower rates of obesity.
So it’s a good thing that they are so tasty. In the book, I took a look at some studies done at the University of Minnesota that introduced whole wheat flour to kids in schools. In the course of a year, the children got increasingly whole-wheatier breads, buns and pizzas, and didn’t balk, or even notice. The gradual, unannounced way that the recipes shifted made the switch effortless. In the end, the kids were eating even more of the foods.
I think that this strategy can help you to introduce more and more whole grain foods to your family. It’s not that they don’t taste good, they just taste different, and a 180 degree turn might lead to resistance. No, you just need to slide into it, no big pronouncements, and make it tasty.
Then, you can dive into the recipes in this book, and make a tender Peachy Yogurt Coffeecake, or a savory Egg Curry Breakfast Bowl, depending on your sweet tooth or “spice-tooth.” Give the Super-Chunky Sweet Cherry-Almond Granola a try, if you like fat chunks of granola that you can eat out of hand.
Move into breads, and throw together a quick Make Your Own Baking Mix, and use the recipes for pancakes, biscuits and scones to have piping hot treats your family will love. No-Knead “Stealth”Bread and a pizza crust help to gradually work into making easy yeasted whole wheat breads, or easy Cheddar-Chive Cornbread will serve as a great side.
Salads like Wheat Berry and Shredded Cabbage Salad with Buttermilk Dressing or Wild Rice, Pear and Roasted Sweet Potato Salad with Walnuts have a Fall feel, and use easy to find ingredients.
Creamy Spinach Soup is fast and easy, and thickened by pureeing the vegetables and grains together. Mexican Tortilla Soup with Shrimp relies on your favorite corn tortillas for a crunchy whole grain accent, one that your kids are going to love.
They are in the Side Dish chapter, but the Whole Grain Mac and Cheese With Peas and Savory Spinach and Cheese Bread Pudding can stand their own as meatless entrees. Pastas made with whole grain penne, spaghetti and angelhair will get your whole grain sides on the table in a snap.
For the main event, there are two veggie burgers based on whole grains, as well as meatloaves and casseroles.
Quinoa-Feta Phyllo Triangles are perfect for entertaining, or you can make extra and take them to work for lunch- and make everyone jealous. A Savory Streusel Squash Pie with Oat Crust is a festival of crunch and the sweet, herby squash you crave this time of year.
For all you snackers, and the folks who feed them, there is a chapter on fast and easy whole grain snacks, with three recipes for flavored popcorns (popcorn is a fantastic whole grain!) and even graham cracker based treats. The Savory Oatmeal Cookies with Cheddar are studded with crystallized ginger, and will give you all the pleasure of a cookie with less sugar.
You probably noticed the lovely cake on the cover, the Orange-Raspberry Bundt. That’s just one, including one of my faves, Granola Brittle Chunks. That’s right, like peanut brittle, but with granola.
For your sampling pleasure, check out this recipe from the book.
If you like it, let me know.
Lemon-Strawberry Quinoa “Breakfast Salad”
Grain salads are not just for picnics and lunchboxes! When summer comes, a cool, grainy breakfast salad is a great way to start the day. Quinoa and juicy berries are light and fresh with lemon and will fuel your morning adventures in a delightful way.
3 cups cooked quinoa
1 pound fresh strawberries, halved
1 cup shredded carrot
3 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted
Put the cooked quinoa in a large bowl. Add the strawberries and carrot. In a cup, stir the honey, lemon, canola oil and salt, then pour over the quinoa and toss to coat. Chill for up to three days. Serve topped with sliced almonds.
September’s the in-between season, when we might be languorously savoring a golden Fall day, or we might be clutching our sweaters just to keep the brisk wind from chilling our bones. It’s Nature’s way of giving us a little nudge, to let us know that Winter is Coming. Enjoy your walks in the sun, because the days are getting shorter, my friends. And it is ok.
At times like these, you need a hearty, filling Farro dish, that can be served hot or cold. On the deck, with a glass of Rose, or at the dinner table, with steam wafting from the fragrant bowl. Either way, the chewy, nutty Farro delivers a satisfying and sustaining boost of Ancient Grain goodness.
It’s also nice to use up some of that Tuscan Kale that is still plentiful in my garden.
I had a feeling that Farro would become a household word when I first saw it being used by Mario Batali on the food network. Overnight, a whole grain that is remarkably similar to wheat berries was suddenly sexy. The same gourmands who look down their noses at a wheat berry and veggie salad were swooning for a Farro and Cucumber Salad by the Maestro. And for good reason.
Farro is an Ancient grain, and when you shop for it, you may be getting one of three grains. It’s either Einkorn (farro piccolo), Emmer (farro medio), or Spelt (farro grande) and it may be whole semi-pearled, or pearled. They are all ancient varieties of wheat. Farro gets some of its cachet from being a traditional staple in Tuscany, one of the most beloved food regions of the world. Like all wheats, it probably originated in the Fertile Crescent, and moved around the Mediterranean.
The Farro I used today turned out to be semi-pearled. That form is really popular, in part because it cooks in 20 minutes or so. It’s also less crunchy than your whole grain wheat berry, and is easily made into soft and juicy dishes like risotto or soup.
To match the big flavor of the Farro, I went with some deeply caramelized onions, and that was probably the most time consuming part of the whole affair. Fresh thyme from the garden, and some assertively bright orange zest and juice added some herbal and sweet and sour notes. Large handfuls of just-picked kale, sauteed just until wilted, gave it a minerally, bitter side. Creamy cannelini beans and a sprinkle of heat from red pepper flakes added more counterpoint to celebrate the whole grain Farro.
As I chewed a mouthful of these ancient grains, I let my mind wander to imagine how they must have been such a vital and revered food for the Roman legions and others who depended on them for sustenance all those years ago. Whole grains were the food of peasants, gladiators and kings. Here we are with a vast array of foods to choose from, and we are so lucky to be able to eat something so unique and storied. What was once the peasant’s porridge is now gourmet, and that’s the way I like it.
Farro, White Beans, Kale and Caramelized Onions with Orange
1 cup farro
2 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 large onions, slivered
3 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
4 ounces Tuscan kale, half a bunch
2 tablespoons fresh orange zest
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1 1/2 cups cooked cannelini beans, drained and rinsed
Cook the farro- Bring the water to a boil, add the farro, and cover tightly. Cook for about 30 minutes for semi-prealed (Bob’s is a little bit pearled) or longer for whole. When tender, drain any extra water and let cool.
In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium high heat, and add the onions. Stir until the onions start to soften, then reduce the heat to low. Cook for at least 30 minutes, until the onions are golden brown and shrunken. Add the thyme, garlic, kale, orange zest, red pepper flakes and salt. Raise the heat to medium high again and sute until the kale is wilted. Stir in the orange juice and bring to a boil. Take off the heat.
To serve warm, add the farro and beans and stir to heat through. To serve cold, toss the farro, beans and the kale mixture in a bowl and let cool.
September is Whole Grains Month, and since it’s always time for whole grains at my house, I’m going to feature several favorites as the month goes on.
Of all the Ancient Grains, Quinoa has been most successful in becoming a household name. Sure, farro has its moments of fame, but quinoa started a slow build in the 80’s and grew into a superstar with staying power.
Maybe it’s the high protein, maybe it’s the 15 minute cooking time, or the cool backstory. But let’s face it, quinoa would not leave the bulk bin if people didn’t like the taste.
Yes, quinoa is high in protein, with a cup of cooked quinoa promising about 10 g protein. But to think of it as a protein food is to shrink it down to one macronutrient. Quinoa is packed with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory chemicals, all of which protect you with every bite. Most whole grains are.
Quinoa is such a nutrient dense food that the ancient Incas could grow it as their central food, supplementing with vegetables, beans and animal foods. It was so revered that they used it in their religious ceremonies. When the Conquistadores came in 1530 and wanted to replace the indigenous plants and religious practices with their own, they outlawed the quinoa. Under threat of the new law, European crops were planted and quinoa existed only as a wild plant. When the Andean nations gained their independence from Spain in the 19th century, they were free to bring quinoa back. It took a while for it to get up to speed and make it to the US.
Luckily for us, quinoa is a delicious little whole grain, with a nutty, slightly grassy flavor. With none of the bitterness that people dislike in some grains, it is mild, with a slightly crunchy texture when you bite into it. It is easy to cook to the desired result, by either adding extra water and simmering to a porridge, or by dry toasting and sticking to a 1 1/2 to 1 water to grain ratio for a firmer texture.
I love to eat quinoa in all sorts of dishes, from replacing rice under a stir-fry or stew, to adding it to smoothies and baked goods. But it is special enough to take a starring role in these darling little appetizer cakes. Bound with white sweet potatoes and Chia seeds, the quinoa gives them a chewy texture, and the sesame seeds are both crunchy and full of flavor.
Look at that crispy crust, your guests will devour these as fast as you can make them.
I went with a little flavor of the Middle East in these cakes, with tahini, lemon and mint, and a creamy red pepper dip. The creamy centers are delicate, so make sure to chill until firm before frying, and be patient to get a nice crust that holds it all in place.
You’ll love the quick recipe for the sauce, too, with raw cashews that melt into a genuinely cream-like effect. Whole grains never seemed so fancy, but so easy at the same time.
Quinoa Sweet Potato Cakes with Creamy Red Pepper Sauce
Serves 3, Makes 10 pieces
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups minced onion, divided
1 cup cooked quinoa
1 cup mashed white sweet potato
3 tablespoons chia seeds
2 tablespoons tahini
1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
1/4 cup fresh mint
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 large red bell pepper, seeded and sliced
1 cup vegetable stock
1/4 cup raw cashews, 1/4″ dice
1 pinch salt
Canola oil, for frying
Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan, add the onion and stir. When the onion starts to sizzle, reduce the heat to medium low. Cook slowly, stirring ever five minutes, until the onions are golden and sweet. When the onions are done, scoop out a cup into a large bowl, leaving the remaining half cup in the pan, take off the heat.
To the bowl with the onions, add the quinoa, mashed sweet potato, chia seeds, tahini, mint and salt. Knead to mix.
Put the sesame seeds into a medium bowl, and prepare a storage container or plate to hold the formed cakes. Use a tablespoon to measure 2 tablespoon-sized portions. Form into round, flat cakes about 3/4 inch thick. Coat the cakes in sesame seeds, pressing gently to get them to stick. Put in the tub or plate, cover, and chill for at least an hour or overnight.
For the sauce, reheat the onions in the pan and add the peppers. Saute for a few minutes, then add the vegetable stock, bring to a boil, and cover. Braise over medium heat until the peppers are very soft, about 5 minutes. Take off the lid and simmer until the pan is almost dry. Transfer the pepper mixture to a blender with the cashews and puree, adding a pinch of salt. Transfer to a small pan to reheat when its time to serve.
To serve, heat canola oil over medium high heat in a large cast iron or stainless saute pan. Carefully place the cakes in the hot oil. Cook, turning carefully every two minutes, until the cakes are golden brown. Serve hot with sauce.
Sitting in a waiting room some time this summer, I picked up a health and fitness magazine and started leafing through it. (Sorry, I can’t remember which one.) But I remember a small feature on how women’s mindsets affected their workouts. It seems that when a group of slightly overweight women were asked to describe how they felt going in, about half said they felt fat, and needed to exercise to lose weight. The other half said that they felt fit and strong, and wanted to lose some weight.
In the study, the first group, who were motivated by feeling bad about themselves, quit their workouts sooner. The second group, who felt fit, well, they worked out harder and longer.
I didn’t realize that this bit of information would stick in my mind, and bounce around for weeks. I couldn’t help but extrapolate the lesson to all areas of life. Are you working on your career, filled with angst about not being as far along as someone else? Are you facing challenges, and feeling more fear than confidence?
But what I see most, as a cooking teacher, is the affect that a mindset has on your ability to get healthy meals on the table. As with the women going to the gym, people who walk into the kitchen feeling beaten are more likely to give up.
As someone who cooks for a living, I may have a few more skills than the average home cook. But really, anyone can get a meal on the table, with a sharp knife and the right mindset. The real difference between a cook and people who flounder in the kitchen is really confidence.
The cook has the fit and strong mindset, just transferred to the kitchen.
She is fearless. She enters the kitchen like a warrior, knowing that she will conquer, not like a victim of past battles. It may sound silly, but that shift in attitude will make all the difference.
Julia Child once said: “The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”
In the spirit of cooking like a warrior, I created a quick recipe for a smoothie that will charge you up. Juices and smoothies are fast, energizing pick-me-ups that help you stay nourished and upbeat as you move through the day- maybe even to plan your meals and hit the store.
This is a real meal smoothie, with mangos and a chunk of creamy silken tofu in the mix. The kicker, though, is the red chiles. As you slurp your creamy delicious smoothie, there is an undertone of heat that will awaken your mouth, and zap your brain awake. Perhaps, even awaken the warrior within.
Ignite your inner fire, and stay confident until it’s time to make dinner.
Cook like a warrior!
Mango Chile Smoothie
1 large mango, about 2 1/2 cups of cubes, frozen
2 small Red Fresno Chiles, or one hotter red chile, seeds and membranes removed
1 frozen banana
3 slices peeled ginger
1/2 package silken firm tofu (about 5 ounces)
1/2 cup soymilk
Put all the ingredients in the blender and process until thick and smooth.
We all want life to be easy. Or at least the basics shouldn’t be so difficult that we struggle just to keep ourselves going. There is almost no realm of life that people want to be easier than the acquisition of food. It’s the reason for fast food and packaged food: Ease.
But Ease doesn’t have to mean low quality, or junk food. Quick recipes can make your kitchen time a breeze.
In answer to that common refrain: “Healthy food takes too much time,” Laura Theodore has come to the rescue. Her new book, Laura Theodore’s Vegan -Ease An Easy Guide to Enjoying a Plant-Based Diet, is hitting the marketplace this month. And if you want to win a copy, and a bar of Pasha Chocolate, you will have an opportunity to enter at the bottom of this post.
You may know Theodore as “The Jazzy Vegetarian,” the name of her popular cooking show on PBS. It’s about to start a fifth season. On her show, Theodore welcomes celebrity guests, and cooks camera-ready vegetarian fare. She also does radio,and you can listen to her library of episodes here.
Vegan-ease is her third cookbook, and a companion to the show. And true to its name, it is packed with genuinely fast and easy recipes. It starts out with a vegan nutrition guide and a pantry plan, as well as some basics on equipment. The recipes are all ranked by “ease-factor,” on a scale of 1 to 3. 1 means almost instant, and 3 might take a little work, but nothing too major. All the recipes have nutrition analysis, so you can keep track of what you are taking in.
Many of the recipes only have a few ingredients, like the Four-Ingredient Chocolate Chip Cookies pictured above. She’s serious about cutting time.
Vegan-ease is a comprehensive book, in that it covers all meals, snacks, and even holiday meal planning. Theodore knows her audience, and she chimes in with tips on how to shop to save money, and all sorts of vegan advice.
This is a good book for beginners at vegan cookery, as well as people just looking for fast, easy to make food. Theodore stays away from convenient fixes, like fake meat, and recommends a little vegan cheese as an option. Part of her mission is to use ingredients anyone can get, in mainstream grocery stores. Her taste in food is very family friendly, with recipes like Hungry Guy Burgers with Baked Steak Fries, Not-So-Crabby Cakes, Mac n Peas with Creamy Butternut Squash Sauce, Peanut Butter-Chocolate Mousse and Lemon Buttermilk Cake.
Which brings me to the cookies.
If you are craving a chocolate fix, and want some cookies to serve sooner, rather than later, this recipe is for you. Mash, stir, scoop, bake. I made mine about twice the recommended size, and only got eight, and I baked them for 20 minutes. They are moist, chewy, and just chocolatey enough. Hot out of the oven, you can forget that you are basically eating oats and bananas. If any are left to cool off, you can pack them along for snacks.
Use gluten free oats, and they are not only vegan, but GF.
Four-Ingredient Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies
Makes 16 to 18 Cookies
Ease Factor 1
Oh yeah! These delectable little cuties are so simple to make, you just may want to make a double batch. With only four ingredients, you can’t go wrong with this easy twist on a classic cookie.
2 large, ripe bananas
1¼ cups rolled oats
1⁄3 cup raisins
1⁄3 cup vegan dark chocolate chips
Preheat the oven 375 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with unbleached parchment paper.
Put the bananas in a medium-sized bowl and mash with a potato masher or large fork until smooth. Add the oats, raisins and chocolate chips; stir to combine.
Using a cookie scoop or large spoon, drop a heaping tablespoonful of the cookie batter onto the lined baking sheet, gently flattening it with a rubber spatula or clean fingertips. Continue in this manner with the remaining cookie dough.
Bake for 13 to 17 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown and cookies are almost set. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack and let cool for 10 minutes. Stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, cookies will keep for about 3 days.
Recipe © 2015 Laura Theodore, published by Jazzy Vegetarian, LLC, reprinted by permission.
ENTER TO WIN!
a Rafflecopter giveaway
It’s officially the tail end of tomato season, where I live. So there is a twinge of pre-nostalgia as I savor the last of the best tomatoes of the year. The heirloom tomatoes are at their peak, as they finally finish ripening and hang heavy on the vine. Contemplating these tomatoes, so lovingly created by backyard gardeners faithfully saving the seeds from the best tasting tomatoes, you feel the past leading to the present. All those gardeners tended, tasted, and took the time to preserve these varieties.
You really have to thank them.
It’s the same with ancient grains, when you think about it. People grew these grains thousands of years ago, and saved the seeds.Genetic material always changes, as plants recreate it year after year, but they are still ancient stock. One of my favorite ancient grains is green-wheat freekeh. We usually call it freekeh, for short, but the full name includes the “green-wheat” part. Freekeh is made by harvesting green, unripe wheat, then roasting it in the husk, before removing the inedible chaff that encases the seeds. That process infuses the grain with a smoky, nutty flavor, on top of the wheaty qualities of bulghar. I’ve got a few recipes for it in the recipe index.
So heirloom tomatoes and ancient grains seem like a perfect match. Both carefully saved for their deliciousness, shepherded to us by a thousand hands. So I made these Heirlooms Stuffed with Freekeh and Pesto.
I’m using gorgeous Cherokee Purple tomatoes, streaked with dramatic deep tones. They are a symphony of sweet, tart, tomato-ey bliss. Since the freekeh is also so full of unique flavor, I wanted a simple, fast recipe to show them both off. To get every bit of the tomato magic, I took the extra step of straining the juicy pulp inside the tomatoes to use it in the cooking liquid for the ancient grain. I also saved the bits of flesh from inside and chopped them up, adding them to the grain as it cooked.
If you have ever scooped the seeds out of the tomato and thrown them away, you may be surprised to learn that the liquids inside the fruit are actually highest in umami. The clear, pulpy part is where the glutamic acid resides, which gives us that lovely, meaty, umami feel in our mouths. You can read more about that here. So as long as I’m cooking my whole grains with liquid, I might as well harness that bit of molecular magic.
A quick pesto was just the thing to bind the grain just a little, and give it some Mediterranean flair. Toasted almond slivers bring the nuttiness of the grain to the fore, and a few extra give you a crunchy garnish for the top. Whole grains have so much flavor, you need some punchy seasonings to pair with them. Timid pinches of dried out herbs just won’t cut it, when you go whole grain. Fresh basil, plentiful jolts of garlic, and these flavor-bomb tomatoes are just the companions who won’t get pushed into the shadows.
I don’t have to tell you that whole grains are at the core of a healthy lifestyle. With the amazing variety of whole grains out there, you can try a different one every week. I’m convinced that green-wheat freekeh is going to continue to gain popularity, for the smoky, nuanced flavor and chewy texture. If you don’t fall in love with it, you can always try this recipe with sunny yellow millet, or sweet, comforting pearled barley.
Eating ancient grains and heirlooms will certainly give you some old-school energy and a zip in your step.
Heirloom Tomatoes Stuffed with Freekeh and Pesto
The most common kind of freekeh on the market is a chopped, coarse chunk, but you can also find whole seed versions. The whole kind will take longer to cook, so check the package for instructions. Any grain that takes longer will need more liquids, just to cover the evaporation.
4 medium heirloom tomatoes
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1 large shallot, minced
1 cup freekeh
2 cups fresh basil
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons slivered almonds, toasted
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 sprigs fresh basil
Slice the tops from the tomatoes, and carefully scoop out the contents of each tomato into a bowl. Pick out the flesh, leaving the juices and seeds. Mince the flesh and reserve. Strain the juice and seeds in a fine strainer, allowing the juice to fall into a measuring cup. Press the pulp and seeds with a spoon, scraping and pressing until the remaining seeds are almost dry.
In a 1 quart pot, heat the teaspoon of olive oil for a few seconds, then add the minced shallot and stir. Over medium heat, let the shallots soften and turn golden as you stir. Add the minced flesh from the tomatoes. Stir and add the freekeh, and let toast for a few minutes. To the strained juice, add water to make 1 3/4 cup. Stir into the freekeh in the pan and turn the heat to high. When the pot boils, cover and reduce to low. Cook for about 20 minutes, then check to see if the liquids are all absorbed. When the grain is tender, take off the heat. Fluff and uncover to let cool.
While the grain cools, put the basil, garlic, and 1/4 cup slivered almonds in the food processor and grind. When the contents are finely minced, add the salt and olive oil. Process until smooth.
Stir the pesto into the cooled grain, then stuff the mixture into the tomatoes. Place each on a small plate and garnish with the remaining toasted almonds and a basil sprig.
Every precious, sustaining bite of food that we take is the result of a team effort. Many people worked to plant, raise, ship and process each and every ingredient. But one of the most important team players is the honeybee. Pollinators make plant foods possible.
Our pollinators are in trouble. In 2014 alone 40% of the bee population died. Lack of open spaces and flowers to feed on, pesticides called neonicotinoids, and mites are all contributing to the loss of bees. The White House recently announced a plan to help save the bees, and I posted a video of it below.
I had the privilege of visiting the White House last Spring, and saw the White House bee hive and garden up close. It’s a small hive, but it makes a statement.
What can you do? My personal effort has been to plant large swaths of my yard with pollinator-friendly plants, all neonic free. For people with yards or decks or balconies, this is a fantastic way to help the bees. It’s also incredibly rewarding. We enjoy the profusion of flowers, the native plants grow with very little help, and we get to spot visiting butterflies, bees, and birds.
I even hatched out a Monarch in my office, and then set it free.
But back to the bees. We need them, and one of the reasons we raise and care for them is the honey. Humans have been in love with honey since pre-history. Honey would have been the first concentrated sweetness that people got to taste, in a world of small, not so sweet fruits and gnarly tubers that would eventually be bred to be sweeter. That explains a risky enthusiasm for climbing trees and courting bee stings. Our very first alcoholic drink, Mead, was probably an accident, a natural reaction of honey, water, and free-floating yeasts. That must have been a popular discovery.
So for my celebration of Honeybee Day, I made a summery, quick recipe that features honey. I buy local, raw honey, which has many nutritional bonuses that refined sweeteners lack. I do boil the honey in this recipe, which mutes some of its health benefits, but the Vitamins and Minerals will remain.
Investing in honey from small operations with hives on farms throughout the region is a way to vote for the bee. These farmers keep the bees in small colonies, allowing them to fan out over the surrounding area. That is good for everyone, including the honey lover.
When we buy good, raw honey, we get all the terroir of a good wine, since the bees infuse the flavor of the plants they pollinate into a concentrated elixir. This sweet, fruity summer roll is a vehicle for the subtle flavors of honey, alongside some tangy-sweet, juicy plums. I bought the plums from the same Farmer who sells me honey at the Farmer’s Market. It’s entirely possible that the honey came from the bees who pollinated the plum blossoms.
I like this technique for glazing the tofu, because it is easy and fast. Instead of marinating, you just heat the oil and honey in the pan, and roll the tofu around in it as it cooks down to a golden glaze. I used salt, instead of soy sauce to keep from covering up the pure honey flavor, but for an Asian umami boost, you could try some shoyu or tamari in the glaze, instead.
Fresh mint, and tender rice noodles with a kiss of honey and lemon, and some pea shoots made up the rest of the filling. I stirred up a honey and peanut sauce with some red pepper flakes, for a simple and easy dip.
Honeybee Day is a good time to think about what you can do to help the pollinators. There are so many good causes, and many issues that need our attention, I know. But we need our sweet, hardworking bees, and they need our help.
If you want more info on what you can do to help honeybees, click on this link to National Honeybee Day.
Honey Glazed Tofu and Plum Summer Rolls with Honey Peanut Dip
The Summer Roll, with a tender rice paper wrapper, is fragile. Once you make your rolls, you should cover them with a wet towel, and eat right away. If you must wait, put the rolls in a wide storage tub, with space between them, and cover them with wet paper towels, then cover tightly. They will last up to 24 hours.
Makes 12 Rolls
14 ounces firm tofu
2 tablespoons canola oil
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup honey
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons grated ginger
1/4 cup tamari soy sauce
1/4 cup smooth peanut butter
4 ounces rice noodles
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 bunch fresh mint leaves
12 small plum
12 9 inch rice paper wrappers
Bring a pot of water to a boil for the noodles. Wrap the tofu with a towel and press to take out the excess moisture. Slice the block in half into two rectangular planks, then slice both into six strips. Reserve.
Pour the canola oil and honey into a large saute pan and heat over medium high flame until it starts to bubble. Carefully place the strips in the pan and use a metal spatula to move them gently so they don’t stick. Turn the pieces every couple of minutes, until the honey is covering the tofu and starting to brown. Reduce heat as needed to keep from burning. When golden brown, transfer to a plate and let cool.
In a small saucepan, heat the honey with the pepper flakes and ginger until it bubbles. Whisk in the tamari and peanut butter and bring to a simmer, then transfer to a bowl. Reserve.
Cook the rice noodles, then drain and wrap in a smooth towel to dry. Transfer to a medium bowl and toss with a tablespoon of honey and lemon.
Prepare a lasagna sized pan by filling it halfway with hot water, and place a towel next to it on a cutting board.
Tear the mint leaves from the stems, and cut the plums in thick slices.
Soak two rice paper wrappers. When they are just softened, transfer to the towel. On each, place a few mint leaves in a line along the center. Place sliced plums alongside the mint, and put a slice of tofu on the mint. Place a small handful of rice noodles on top, and a few sprigs of pea shoots. Fold in the sides and fold up the bottom, and roll up each summer roll. Place on a plate. Keep going until all twelve are done.
Cover the finished rolls with wet towels until serving.
Serve rolls with the peanut sauce.