Miyoko Schinner, Queen of Vegan Cheese, and Now The Homemade Vegan Pantry

Can you believe it's Vegan Feta?

Can you believe it’s Vegan Feta?


Miyoko Schinner is both a grande dame and a hot new face on the vegan scene. She is the author of one of the first wave of vegan cookbooks, the Now and Zen Epicure, which she put out in 1990. That book is out of print, although a revised new version did come out in 2001, the New Now and Zen Epicure. Schinner ran a famous restaurant in San Francisco in the ’90’s, the Now and Zen, and has been a mover and a shaker in all things vegan for at least 30 years.

But her last book, Artisan Vegan Cheese, is responsible for bringing her hot and buzzy global fame, with a whole new set of vegan fans. Yes, Schinner cracked the cheese code. Not content to make the simple cashew cheese puree (that I have been plopping on pizzas and into sandwiches for years) Schinner wanted more.

She made vegan cheeses that made the leap to immortality, with careful fermentation and aging. Her cheeses changed the way we look at fermented nut pastes forever. The book was a huge seller, and Schinner now has a successful vegan cheese production facility, and sells some mock meats, too.

(I hope that you read last weeks post on Miyoko’s “Cheese.” If not, just scroll down later.)

Not content to solve the cheese dilemma, Schinner is now going to make your whole foods life even more complete. She has written a new book.

The Homemade Vegan Pantry: The Art of Making Your Own Staples (Ten Speed Press $22.99)

Yes, she has put out a pantry book, so that you can make whole, home made versions of all the processed vegan foods that line the grocers shelves. Mayo, butter, mock meats, canned soups, pasta, biscuit mix, bread, sauces, energy bars, even mac and cheese mix. Everything you buy pre-made, but made with better ingredients.

SCHI_Homeade Vegan Pantry

After last week’s “cultured nut product” review, I had to give one of the cheese recipes a try. For newbies, the “feta” is a good starter recipes. It’s a process, but it’s really all quite easy. It just takes a few days.

First, I made Rejuvelac. Rejuvelac is one of those old-school health-nut foods that you don’t hear about anymore, and I am happy to see that she has put it to good use. It’s a live, fermented food, full of good bacteria, just like your beloved kombucha and kimchi.  For rejuvelac, all you need is some wheat berries (or quinoa for GF diners) and some water. Sprout the berries, then let them sit at room temp to ferment.


Easy to Make, Full of Lactobacteria

Easy to Make, Full of Lactobacteria

The resulting liquid is a culture, and when you add it to your cashew puree, you are seeding it with lactic bacteria to make it ferment. All  this adds umami and a tanginess that is reminiscent of the fermented flavors of cheese. You just let the almond-rejuvelac paste sit, then cook up a gel of water and agar powder to thicken it. Stir that in, spread in a pan, and you have cashew “cheese.”

First a fermentation, then the cheese is set with agar agar

First a fermentation, then the cheese is set with agar agar

After the mixture sets up, it gets a soak in brine, for the familiar briney flavor of Feta.

almond feta

I used the cheese to make a simple Greek Salad with Almond “Feta” The “cheese” was smooth and creamy, and had a mild, tangy note. I served it to a friend, who suspected nothing until I spilled the beans.

It’s not cheese, but it’s got good bacteria, the nutrition of nuts, and the taste is truly satisfying.

I’m looking forward to trying some of the other pantry recipes in the book. I’ve written many articles on the importance of the pantry: If you want to eat well, you have to have good food within arms reach. If your resolution is to eat plant-based, whole foods cuisine, invest the time into stocking up on Miyoko Schinner’s pantry staples.

It will make your life easier and tastier.

(From The Homemade Vegan Pantry: The Art of Making Your Own Staples (Ten Speed Press $22.99) by Miyoko Schinner)

almond “feta” 

I had almost forgotten the joy that feta cheese can add to dishes. For example, the wonderful Greek spinach pie, spanakopita—I had basically given up on this entirely. I’d made and had many vegan versions of it, but without the briny flavor of feta, the flavors just fell flat. After much knocking around in my noggin, I came up with the perfect vegan substitute. Salty and briny, this feta works beautifully crumbled over salads or slightly melted in all of the traditional dishes. Best of all, stored in brine, it keeps for weeks, getting stronger in flavor and more delicious as time goes by (in fact, it vastly improves after a month, so make this weeks ahead of time if you can).


2 cups blanched almonds, soaked in water for 12 to 24 hours

1 cup Easy Rejuvelac (see below) or juice from sauerkraut

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

2/3 cup water

2 tablespoons agar powder


6 cups water

3/4 cup sea salt or kosher salt


Drain and rinse the almonds. Place them in a high-speed blender with the rejuvelac and salt, and process on the highest setting for 1 to 2 minutes until smooth and no longer grainy to the tongue. Pour the mixture into a clean container and cover with a nonpermeable lid or plastic wrap. Leave on your kitchen counter for 1 to 2 days to culture, making sure you taste it each day, until it begins to get tangy. Keep in mind there is no hard and fast rule about how long it needs to culture—your taste buds will have to guide you in determining the right length of time. In warmer weather, it could be just a day, while in cooler weather, it could take 2 days or even longer.

Once the cheese is slightly tangy, you can move onto solidifying it. First, prepare the mold for the cheese by lining an 8-inch square pan with cheesecloth. Combine the water and agar in a medium saucepan and whisk well. Cover the pan with a lid and bring to a simmer over low heat. Don’t peek for 3 to 4 minutes, then check to see if it is bubbling away. At first, if you peek too early, it may look as if it has solidified. However, if you let it simmer over low heat for a couple of minutes more, it will start to liquefy again and bubble away. When the agar is fully dissolved, pour in the cultured almond mixture and whisk immediately until fully combined. Pour the cheese mixture into the cheesecloth-lined pan. Refrigerate for several hours, until hard.

Prepare the brine by whisking together the water and the salt in a large bowl until most of the salt is dissolved. Cut the cheese into four pieces and place in the brine. Cover and let sit for 8 hours at room temperature. Transfer the cheese to a storage container and pour the brine over the cheese until it is halfway submerged. Add more plain water to completely cover the cheese and dilute the brine. Store in the refrigerator for up to 3 or 4 months. The flavor vastly improves after the first 3 to 4 weeks.



easy rejuvelac

Fear not—making rejuvelac is really not that complicated or scary.

1/2 cup quinoa or wheat berries

Put the quinoa or wheat berries into a 1-quart wide-mouth jar. (Make sure that the grains aren’t already presprouted!). Cover them with water and let sit for 8 to 12 hours, then drain. Secure the top with cheesecloth and rinse and drain the grains twice a day until you see sprouts—quinoa sprouts in less than 24 hours, whereas wheat berries generally take about 2 days. Now fill the jar with filtered water, cover with a lid, and leave at room temperature (out of direct sunlight) for 2 to 3 days, until the water is cloudy and bubbly. Strain out the seeds and refrigerate the liquid, which is now lactic acid–rich rejuvelac. You can turn the strained sprouts into another batch of rejuvelac by filling the jar with water and letting it sit for another couple of days. The rejuvelac keeps in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 weeks.



Reprinted from THE HOMEMADE VEGAN PANTRY Copyright © 2015 by Miyoko Schinner. Photographs © 2015 by Eva Kolenko. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.


 Simple Greek Salad with Vegan Feta

Serves 4

1/4 batch feta (about 4 oz)

4 ounces salad spinach, about 4 cups

1 large cucumber, peeled and sliced

2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved

1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted

2 tablespoons capers, drained

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 clove garlic, crushed

1/2 teaspoon salt

coarsely cracked black pepper


Cut the feta into small cubes and reserve. In four large salad bowls, arrange the spinach, cucumber, tomato, olives and capers. In a small cup, whisk the lemon, olive oil, garlic, and salt. Drizzle the dressing over the salads and top with feta and cracked black pepper.

Serve immediately.

Tasting Vegan “Cheese” with a Professional Cheese Taster

What a beautiful cheeseboard!

What a beautiful cheeseboard!

When the vegan lifestyle comes up in conversation, a common refrain is often heard. “I can’t live without cheese.” Because of that, there have been many vegan cheese substitutes manufactured over the years, from the rubbery, unmelting soy cheeses to the melty but not very nutritious versions so popular these days.

I know I have always preferred to make my own nut cheeses, white sauces, and pestos to stand in for cheese. But it took a real visionary to take nut “cheese” to a whole new level.

Welcome, Miyoko Schinner’s new cultured and fermented nut cheeses. You can order them from her Miyoko’s Kitchen Website here. I’ve been hearing about Schinner’s cheese since she came out with the hit book, Artisan Vegan Cheese, and changed the way we think about non-dairy cheese forever. In fact, she calls it “cultured nut product,” and she is right to do so. It’s not a flawed attempt at real cheese, it is really its own thing.

I’ve made some of Schinner’s cheese, and will post a blog about it next week, so watch for that, it is absolutely worth the effort. But if you wanted to buy the cheese, well, you had to wait until she got her new Creamery up and going, then for your local store to carry it. Luckily for me, I scored a sample box, with all ten of the new cultured nut products.

For a fun experiment, I invited a good friend, who also happens to live and breathe cheese, over to taste with me. Elizabeth Nerud is a Certified Cheese Professional in the American Cheese Society, and manages a bustling cheese department in downtown Minneapolis. Liz is a trained, skilled taster, who can sense and name qualities in cheese that most people just call: “um, tasty.” She came along with an open mind and great enthusiasm for trying this new kind of ferment.

A Trained Cheese Taster, Elizabeth Nerud.

A Trained Cheese Taster, Elizabeth Nerud.

I was a little nervous. What if she hated it?

So we set about our tasting, and I took notes. It was a blast.

First up, Mount Vesuvius Black Ash

It looks like it was painted on, the ash is so black.

It is deeply coated with black ash.

Liz tasted. “It’s got balanced salt, and tanginess. A little smokiness in the ash. It’s really beautiful, with a nice range of flavors, it’s lively and has a good presence.” The ash was a big part of it. “The ash is prominent, clean, kind of vegetal, like the smell of ozone before the rain.”

Number 2, Fresh Loire Valley in a Fig Leaf.

Liz found the fig leaf wrap delightful, and took a little taste of the leaves themselves before trying the creamy interior. “It’s creamy textured, vegetal, and tangy. Lightly toasty and nutty. I can see this on something toasty, like crispy bruschetta, and this would be a great picnic cheese.”

Number 3, Rustic Alpine

“I have a quibble with the name Alpine, this is not associated with what Alpine means. That said, it is perfectly nice. It has a nice range, depth and height, character throughout. The salt is in balance, it’s not fruity, it would be lovely with pears, luscious with grapes.”

Number 4, Farmhouse Cheddar

“It has a nice, slice-able texture, it’s rough and doesn’t cling to the knife.” She admired the shape. “It has a nice crosshatch rind, and a deep taupe or toffee color. It’s very similar to the Alpine, it is a little firmer. Terrific on the whole grain baguette.”

Number 5, Aged English Smoked Farmhouse

The smoked rind of the Smoked Farmhouse

The smoky rind of the Smoked Farmhouse

“It smells very smoky, to me it is a nostalgic smell, because I grew up in a Farmhouse with a kitchen stove that burned wood. It’s very pleasant, it has a little enjoyable metallic quality, like the others, the smoke flavor is very bold, it is absolutely delicious. I’m thinking it would make a terrific sandwich, a BLT or with avocado, or mayo for some creaminess. You need crispy lettuce on there, too.”

Number 6, Double Cream Chive

Liz checked the packages for the fat content. “I’m glad that the double creams have higher fat content. They should. This is super yum city, it’s fantastic. I know I am just taking little tastes, but it makes me want to spread it all on one cracker and stuff it in my mouth. It took me out of the clinical tasting mode and into pure pleasure.”

Number 7, Double Cream Sun-Dried Tomato Garlic

“It has chewy bits of tomato, nice texture, not bold on garlic but tasty. No really strong feeling from me, maybe if you are a big sun-dried tomato fan you would love this one.”

Number 8, French Style Winter Truffle

We fell into a discussion on truffles before proceeding. We hoped that it would be made with real truffles, not the overbearing artificial truffle oil.  As she unwrapped the disk, she commented again on the packaging. “I really love the packaging, the little boxes are like opening a present, and they protect the delicate cheese. It’s a nice sticker, love the blue.”

The Truffle was really soft. “It’s so mousse-like, it looks like duck pate. The nose is different than the others, it’s forward with truffle at first, but kind of understated as it breathes. It’s really appealing, sexy, lush texture. It’s spreadable and pretty, would be good with a few sage leaves, for a Thanksgiving or Christmas celebration.”

Number 9, Double Cream Garlic Herb

“It’s floral, with rosemary, maybe summer savory? It’s tangy and nice, it’s nice that it isn’t full of onion, it’s not as bright green as the chive, it has browner herbs. It’s my favorite spread so far.”

Number 10, Country Style Herbes de Provence

“Very densely herbed, gorgeous texture, I want to sit in a vineyard and slather it on bread. It’s got a great range of flavors. The roundness of the sea salt makes a difference, it’s very present but very pleasant. Love this.”

I breathed a sigh of relief, as did she. “It like it that it’s called cultured nut product, I don’t want to have cheese expectations. There are no milk flavors in it, but it is good. It’s an interesting challenge to talk about it using cheese-specific words, I feel like I am translating new meaning to established terms.”

Liz summed it up beautifully:

“It’s like a tribute to cheese. Cheese is the inspiration, but the execution is a tribute to the product itself. It’s like cheese created the shapes and flavors but it inspired a whole new thing. You want for nothing, you don’t feel like you are sacrificing a thing.”

And that my friends, is how good this stuff is. Call it what you will, it made a cheese taster very happy.

She even took the leftovers.


A Trick for the Best Rhubarb Scones

Tender scones with soft, sweet rhubarb

Tender scones with soft, sweet rhubarb

Aah, the enigmatic rhubarb still has me in its thrall. Just walking by the plants gets my mind going, thinking of things to make with those fat, vigorous stalks. At this point, it’s taking up so much room in the garden that I need to use it, just to give the kale and lettuce some sun!

The unique qualities of rhubarb are always a fun challenge. It’s really like a sour, juicy kind of celery, in a way. The sourness needs to be balanced with sweet, and the juiciness needs to be taken into consideration. A sour, watery baked good does nobody any favors.

So I have taken to using an old school technique, called “maceration.” It sounds more complicated that it is. All it means it that I toss the chopped rhubarb with sugar, and let it stand until the juices are released. There a chemical process going on in the sugar-plus-fruit or veg that causes the plant cells to break down and leak out their precious bodily fluids. It’s called osmosis, and the sugar acts to cause the “solvent” of juice to cross over the barrier of the cell walls. On the savory side, salt does the same thing.

All you need to know is that a handful of sugar will do the work of extracting the juice, all while making the fruit or vegetable firmer, and it will hold its shape better in baking. You just have to wait for it to work.

So, for these scones, I just tossed the rhubarb with the sugar for the recipe, and put it away in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, I strained the result, and had enough rhubarb syrup to sweeten the whole batch.


An overnight maceration makes all the difference

An overnight maceration makes all the difference

The ease of this simple trick delighted me, since I had just used no effort at all to create a flavorful sweetener, and tenderize the rhubarb in one step. For a tender, whole grain treat, I used heritage Red fife Wheat flour, which has a nutty quality, as well as the slightly lower gluten that makes for a more pastry-friendly flour. Chilled coconut oil was the perfect fat, with the mouthfeel of butter.

Rhubarb Scones #vegan #wholegrain #springtime

I did this on a hot day, so I did chill the scones for about five minutes to firm up the coconut oil before baking. I didn’t want a floppy, spread out scone. I like my scones with some weight to them. These were studded with a generous amount of rhubarb, too.

A quick shaping, a sprinkle of organic sugar, and 15 minutes in the oven, and I had scones. I love it when my backyard gives me such tasty gifts, at no cost to me. Fresh as they could be, my rhubarb stalks were a fantastic addition to my breakfast.

Hot out of the oven

Hot out of the oven


Rhubarb Scones 

This makes a batch of six full-sized scones. You can always double it for a dozen, or cut the scones in smaller sizes. If you double, don’t double the salt, just do 3/4 teaspoon. If you make smaller scones, bake them for about 3 minutes less time and test them to see how done they are.

Makes 6

1 1/2 cups chopped rhubarb, 2 stalks
1/2 cup organic sugar, plus more for sprinkling
1 1/2 cups red fife flour
1/4 cup coarse cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup coconut oil, chilled after measuring
1 medium banana, mashed

The day before, combine the chopped rhubarb and sugar in a measuring cup or bowl, cover and let sit in the refrigerator overnight.
The day of baking, preheat the oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Drain the rhubarb in a strainer set over a measuring cup or bowl. You should have 1/4 cup of syrup drain off the rhubarb. Reserve both the rhubarb and syrup.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt and stir to mix. Grate in the chilled coconut oil. Toss to coat the coconut oil shreds with flour. In a medium bowl, combine the mashed banana and rhubarb syrup. Quickly stir the banana mixture into the flour mixture to make a stiff dough. Just as it comes together, stir in the rhubarb slices. Mix and turn out onto a floured counter. Form into a disk about an inch thick.
Cut the disk into 6 wedges. Place on the sheet pan and sprinkle with sugar. Chill the pan if the dough is soft- on a hot day the coconut oil will melt. I put the pan in the freezer for about 5 minutes.
Bake for about 15 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Sandra Gutierrez and Empanada Heaven

So delicious!

So delicious!

Empanadas! Little turnovers, filled with tasty stuff, you had me at hello. Every culture has some kind of dough-wrapped goodie that is irresistible, from the calzones of Italy, the samosas of India, the pasty of Britain, to the steamed dumplings of China. But Empanadas are their own little parcel of heaven.

Thanks to Sandra Gutierrez, we can now delve deeply into the delectable ways that the empanada is perfected in its many home cuisines. Her new book, Empanadas The Hand-Held Pies of Latin America (Stewart Tabori and Chang, $19.95) is a compendium of the many varieties that have evolved from the earliest bread wrapped pies.

According to Gutierrez, the ancestor of today’s empanada was made by the Persians in 250 BCE. Originally the dough was not meant to be eaten, but just to help preserve the foods inside. Eventually the casings became as delectable as the fillings, and the meandering ways of the Ottoman Empire took the form across the Middle East and Europe. The Spanish gave it the name, derived from “empanar,” meaning “wrapped in bread.” Thanks to Columbus, Spain’s foods crossed the ocean to the Americas.

Fast forward a few hundred years, and the empanada has been embraced all across Latin America, where the greatest diversity and variety of empanada types have flourished. From the savory to the sweet, simple to elaborate, Gutierrez captures the mouth-watering array of hand-held treats.

Gluten-avoiders will be thrilled that there are five crust recipes that you can try. Masa, masarepa, tapioca and even yucca and plantains are used to make GF doughs, and the crusts that result are so good that you will want to use them for all sorts of pies. For vegetarians and vegans, there are veg recipes, and plenty that you can veganize by subbing your favorite mock meat for beef.

For today’s blog, I made the Spicy Potato and Peanut Empanadas, a recipe that hails from Columbia. I opted to use the masa dough, although it is usually made with the equally gluten-free cornmeal and cassava dough. The results were spectacular.

Honestly, The filling was so delicious I had to hold back from just eating it with a spoon. It would be a fine stuffing for a burrito, if you find the idea of making the masa crust too daunting. But don’t miss this crust- it fries up like a corn chip, almost as it your tasty filling were encased in Fritos.

The filling takes a little chopping, and it is fine to make it a day ahead, so it can chill and set up overnight.

Potatoes, Serranos, and Peanuts with Achiote

Potatoes, Serranos, and Peanuts with Achiote

Gutierrez offers two options for rolling out the dough: you can use a rolling pin, or a tortilla press. I just happen to have a tortilla press, and this is a really wonderful way to do it. The soft, delicate dough is easy to flatten to an even, thin disk in the press, something that is harder to accomplish by hand.

The recipe says the masa dough makes 12, but I divided it into 20 pieces to match the filling.

Sandra uses a tortilla press

Sandra recommends using a tortilla press

I made the little pastries in a simple turnover shape, but the book describes all kinds of variations, from round to torpedo shaped. These held about 2 tablespoons of filling, and you need to leave room to seal them without breaking.

Filling and Sealing...

Filling and Sealing…

And yes, I dug out my ancient deep-fryer for this. If you want to make yours without frying, there are doughs that work just as well in the oven. I figured it was a rare and special occasion, and I wanted to try these the authentic way.

Frying in my ancient deep fryer!

Frying in my ancient deep fryer!

The resulting empanadas, golden and crispy, were a delight. Filled with the savory, nut-crunchy potato medley, they were absolutely irresistible. I’m sure that all the other recipes are equally delicious. There are chapters of vegetable, chicken, beef, pork and fish empanadas, and  I will definitely proceed to the dessert empanadas chapter next. The salsas and sauces chapter gives you options for gilding the lily, and manages to surprise with some salsas you may not have had before.

Thank you, Sandra Gutierrez, for bringing these little packages to the table. Everyone will find a recipe or two that will thrill their friends and family, even the ones with special diets.

They are truly little gifts, the kind that you can unwrap with your mouth.


Masa Dough

Fried or Grilled



In Mexico and Central America, you’ll find empanadas made from corn that has been soaked in water mixed with lye (the chemical known in Spanish as cal ). The process is called nixtamalization and it loosens the outer germ of the kernels, causing them to swell and become plump. The moist corn is then ground into masa or dried and ground into very fine flour called masa harina, used to make tortillas, empanadas, and other things. Empanadas made with this kind of dough can be either grilled or fried, depending on whether one wishes the dough to remain meaty in texture or to turn crispy. When working with masa harina, understand that brands will vary in the amount of water they’ll need to reach the desired consistency. So I recommend testing the dough before rolling it, as described below, and always keeping the dough covered as you work, so it doesn’t dry out. See opposite for more tips on working with this dough.


Makes 12 empanadas (I divided it into 20)


3 cups (340 g) masa harina, plus more as needed

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

2 to 21⁄2 cups (480 to 600 ml) warm water (110°F/43°C), plus more as needed


In a large bowl, whisk together the masa harina and salt. Gradually add 2 cups (480 ml) of the warm water, kneading the mixture with your hand until it comes together into a ball with the consistency of mashed potatoes (if the dough is too dry, add a few more tablespoons of water at a time; if it’s too wet, add a few tablespoons of the masa harina at a time). Turn the dough onto a clean surface and knead it until smooth, about 30 seconds or to the consistency of play dough; return it to the bowl, cover it with a damp kitchen towel, and let it rest for 10 minutes so that all of the liquid can be fully absorbed. To determine whether the dough is the proper consistency, shape a bit of the masa into a ball and press it flat into a disc. If the edges of the masa crack when shaped into discs, add a bit more water (a few tablespoons at a time); if the dough is too soft, add a bit more masa harina (a few tablespoons at a time).


Note: The dough is best made just before using but, if needed, it can be made up to 4 hours ahead of time (keep it wrapped in plastic and refrigerated). Empanadas made with this masa dough can be filled up to 1 hour before cooking; keep them covered and refrigerated until ready to grill or fry (depending on what each recipe calls for). Once cooked, the empanadas freeze beautifully (see individual recipes for instructions).


Spicy Potato and Peanut Empanadas

Empanadas de Pipian


These gluten-free and vegetarian empanadas are spicy, comforting, and exotic all at the same time. They combine the best of African and native Colombian flavors that define the cuisine of the Cauca region. The tomato-based sauce that moistens the filling is called hogao, and although most times it’s not spicy, my recipe carries a good kick courtesy of a hot chile. The potatoes must be diced finely and then cooked just until tender, so that each cube can retain its shape. The result is perhaps the most elegant empanada you’ll find in the Latin American culinary landscape, juxtaposing creamy and crunchy textures that explode on the palate. In Bogota, they’re served as tiny appetizers, dipped into a silken peanut sauce (see Creamy Peanut Sauce, page 165). My empanadas are on the larger side and I serve them as an entree.


Makes 20 empanadas


2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup (120 g) finely chopped white onions

1⁄2 cup (50 g) finely chopped leeks (white and light green parts only)

3 large cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon ground annatto (achiote) or Bijol (see Notes)

1 cup (185 g) seeded and finely chopped plum tomatoes

1⁄2 cup (60 g) roasted red bell pepper , cored, seeded, and finely chopped

1 small serrano pepper, finely chopped (with seeds)

2 teaspoons fine sea salt

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 cup (150 g) ground roasted peanuts (unsalted or lightly salted preferred)

3 cups (455 g) peeled and finely diced Yukon gold potatoes, boiled until fork tender

1 recipe Cornmeal and Cassava Dough (page 27)

Vegetable oil for frying


Make the filling: Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions, leeks, garlic, and annatto or Bijol and sauté them for 1 minute, or until fragrant. Add the tomatoes, bell pepper, serrano pepper, salt, and cumin; continue cooking until the mixture has thickened, about 3 minutes. Remove it from the heat and add the peanuts and potatoes. Cover and chill the filling for at least 4 hours or overnight.


Assemble the empanadas: After the filling chills, make the dough as directed on page 27. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper; set them aside. Divide the dough into 20 equal pieces (about 2½ ounces/70 g each). Roll each portion into a ball and keep them covered with a damp kitchen towel as you work. Line a tortilla press with a zip-top freezer bag that has been cut open on three sides so that it opens like a book. Place a ball of dough in the middle of the tortilla press and flatten it into a 5½-inch (14-cm) round, about 1⁄8 inch (3 mm) thick (or roll it out with a rolling pin). Place 3 heaping tablespoons of the filling in the middle of the round, leaving a small rim. Use the bag to fold the dough over the filling, forming a half-moon; press the edges together with your fingers to seal. Transfer the empanada to a prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the rest of the dough and filling, keeping the empanadas covered as you go.


Fry the empanadas and serve: Fit a large pan with a metal cooling rack and set it aside. In a large skillet with high sides, heat 1 to 1½ inches (2.5 to 3 cm) of vegetable oil to 360°F (180°C). You may also use a deep-fryer according to the manufacturer’s directions. Working in batches of 4 or 5 empanadas at a time, carefully slide them into the oil and fry them until golden, 3 to 4 minutes, turning them over halfway through. If the oil gets too hot as you fry and they’re browning too quickly, lower the temperature and let the oil cool slightly before frying any more. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the fried empanadas to the prepared rack to drain. Serve them immediately or keep them warm in a 250°F (120°C) oven for up to 1 hour before serving.


Notes: Once fried, these can be frozen for up to 3 months. Freeze them in a single layer on baking sheets lined with parchment paper; once frozen solid, these can be transferred to freezer boxes or zip-top bags. Reheat them at 350°F (175°C) for 12 to 15 minutes or until their centers are hot.


Bijol is a seasoning made with powdered annatto, which dissolves quickly in liquid and tints food yellow. If you use annatto paste in its place, dissolve it in an equal amount of hot water or stock before using it.


Cornmeal and Cassava Dough






South America


In Colombia, empanadas from the Cauca region will sometimes be made with a mixture of precooked cornmeal (called harina pan or masarepa) and yuca or cassava flour called almidón de yuca, also known as tapioca starch or tapioca flour. Cassava flour produces both a crunchier crust (almost like a corn chip) and a chewier bite than dough made strictly with cornmeal. The dough is made golden with ground annatto seeds or with a product made of seasoned annatto, called Bijol, which is easy to find in Latin American supermarkets (see Sources, page 172). Use whichever is easier to find, as the taste will be the same. Try my tortilla press method (see page 22) to simplify the process or stay traditional and roll out the dough with a rolling pin. This is a terrific gluten-free recipe that can be used in place of the Master Dough (page 29) used for fried empanadas; they won’t be authentic, but they will be delicious and wheat-free.


Makes 20 empanadas


3 cups (420 g) precooked yellow cornmeal (masarepa or harina pan) (see Note), plus more as needed

1⁄2 cup (64 g) cassava flour or tapioca starch

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 teaspoon ground annatto (achiote) or Bijol

3 cups (720 ml) hot water (about

115°F/46°C), plus more as needed


In a large bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, flour or starch, salt, and annatto or Bijol. Add the water slowly, in a thin stream, kneading the mixture with your hands until it comes together into a ball with the consistency of mashed potatoes (if the dough is too dry, add a few more tablespoons of water at a time; if it’s too wet, add a few tablespoons of the precooked cornmeal at a time). Turn the dough onto a clean surface and knead it until smooth, 45 seconds to 1 minute or to the consistency of play dough. Return the dough to the bowl, cover it with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel, and let it rest for 10 minutes (to allow the fine grains to absorb all of the liquid).


See page 38 for instructions on how to fill and shape this dough and a recipe for an empanada that uses this dough.


Note: Masarepa is a product that has been made with precooked cornmeal (there is no need for you to cook it before using here). Empanadas made with this dough must be fried as soon as they’re shaped or they’ll crack open. Plan to make the dough just before you have to fill the empanadas. This empanada dough is not suitable for freezing.



Carrot Hummus in Cucumber Cups

Carrot Almond Hummus in Cucumber Cups

Carrot Almond Hummus in Cucumber Cups

Hummus. It’s the breakout star of the dip world. Once upon a time, it was exotic, but now the packaged hummus industry churns out millions of tubs per year. According to a 2013 WSJ article, that year $350 million worth of the tangy bean dip was purchased by consumers. It was such a big rise in popularity that tobacco farmers started growing chick peas to provide for the burgeoning dip trade.

All good news. Like salsa before it, hummus has successfully mainstreamed. For vegans and omnivores alike, the familiar puree of chick peas, tahini and lemon is a great grab and go option. It’s taken over the dip aisle, with a proliferation in flavors, like red pepper hummus, avocado hummus, there is even a chocolate hummus out there.

Yup, chocolate hummus.

So as someone who used to make buckets of the stuff to sell, I’m thrilled for the hummus category. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer dip.

What is it that makes hummus so very appealing? I think that the combo of a nutty tasting bean, nutty, rich tahini, and tart lemon is as unassailable is the culinary combo world as the combo of cookie and chocolate chips. Everybody responds to hummus, the way we all respond to chocolate chip cookies. They are just perfect combinations.

That said, I like to fool around with that format. Why not try another bean, another nutty paste, and another tangy accent? Obviously, all those brand extensions are about the same thing, giving people another way to enjoy the hummus flavors that have captured our palates.

It is in that spirit that I created this carrot hummus recipe. Adding sweet, steamed carrots gives it a lively orange tint, and creamy white beans pair perfectly with lightly toasted almonds. Lemon for tartness, and a little zip from paprika, and you have a very appealing variation on the hummus theme.

From there, I added a little zazz with a fun presentation, that just happens to please the gluten-free, low carb crowd. This is a fun way to bring even more vegetables to the plate, and it is very summery and refreshing.

If it seems too fussy, you can always just slice cukes on a diagonal to make big “chips” for dipping. But this is really not hard at all, and gives your dip “curb appeal” for miles.

#cucumbercups #dips #appetizers

Super easy, super fun. I can see this as a great addition to a backyard spread. Finger food to nosh while the grill heats up, or an easy to eat salad alternative. Look Ma, no fork!

Happy, hummus-y summer to you all!


Carrot Hummus in Cucumber Cups

This is a fine hummus to smear on a bagel, or dip with a pita, too. Just make sure the carrots are tender enough to puree smoothly, for that velvety texture we all love.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups, 3-6 Servings


2 large carrots, chopped to make 1 cup

1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds, divided

2 cloves garlic, peeled

1 cup cooked navy beans, drained

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon salt

4 large cucumbers


Set up a steamer, and steam the chopped carrots until tender, about 10 minutes. Let cool. In a food processor, mince half of the toasted almonds and garlic until finely chopped. Add the carrots and navy beans and process until smooth. Scrape down and puree a few times for a creamy texture. Add the lemon juice, olive oil, paprika and salt and process until smooth.

For the cucumber cups, trim the tips off each end of the cukes, then slice on a diagonal starting an inch above the end, and make the next slice straight across ( see photo above) to make two flat bottomed, angled-topped pieces of cuke. Continue and slice all the cucumbers.

Use a small spoon to scoop out the seeds, leaving a base intact to hold the hummus. Scrape the hummus into a sandwich bag, then seal it and slice the corner off to make a piping bag. Squeeze the bag as you hold the tip in the cucumber cup, filling each with hummus.

Arrange the cucumber cups on a platter and drizzle with a bit of olive oil and sprinkle with paprika, garnish with the remaining sliced almonds.


An Appetizer or Snack that is Veggie-packed!

An Appetizer or Snack that is Veggie-packed!


Cress, Asparagus and Mango Salad with Chia

Sometimes it is fun to compose your salad...

Sometimes it is fun to compose your salad…

It’s almost, almost asparagus season in Minnesota, so I just had to jump when this gorgeous purple asparagus appeared at the Coop. It was teasing me with a preview of the spears certain to arrive in the coming weeks, freshly cut, from our local farms.

I figured I should put up a recipe for the big day when our own super-fresh asparagus bursts out of the ground. The cress and mangoes were also looking good, and I was craving a really sweet and tangy salad, with fruit.

So my stroll through the produce section sparked a composition in food, and I had little say in the matter. This salad just had to happen.

I’m deliberately using the word Cress here, since I used a plant called Upland Cress and not true watercress. Upland Cress is a similar tasting leafy green that is much easier to grow and harvest then traditional watercress. The name is a giveaway, as watercress grows in ponds and streams, and is often wild-crafted. Upland Cress is easy to grow in a garden or pot, given enough moisture. The lovely long stems make for a pretty salad, and make picking the leaves much easier than plucking all the leaves from regular watercress.

The distinctive flavor of watercress is peppery and strong, and Upland Cress is definitely milder. It still delivers some punch, making it a great foil for the assertively tangy mango dressing and purple asparagus in this dish.

The nutrition is similar, both plants are superfoods, delivering vitamins A C E, Folic Acid and Calcium and Iron. If cress seems too punchy for your palate, you can always mix it with some butter lettuce or spinach, for a toned down experience.

It’s still deliciously in-your-face, and I love that about it.

The Ataulfo Mangoes have been booming lately, too, they are the yellow variety that you sometimes see labeled as Champagne Mangoes. They are about 3/4 size of the standard Haden mango, and have a more creamy texture, depending on when you cut into them. They seem to arrive a little riper and less rock hard than the big kind, and always deliver tons of flavor. Of course, the sensuous mango is a super food, too.

Don’t let anyone tell you salads are boring. This baby is full of excitement.


a snap to make

a snap to make


Cress, Asparagus and Mango Salad with Chia

Serves 4

This makes extra dressing, which is good, since you will want to use it for salads for the rest of the week. You could certainly make more of a meal of it by adding some nuts, crumbled tofu, or cheese.

16 stalks asparagus

2 medium Ataulfo (Champagne) Mangos

2 tablespoons sliced fresh ginger

1-2 tablespoons lemon juice

3 tablespoons honey or agave

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 bunch Upland cress, washed and dried

2 tablespoons minced red onions

2 teaspoons chia seeds


First, steam the asparagus just a couple of minutes, just to soften slightly. Rinse with cold water and chill.

In the blender, combine half of a mango, the ginger, lemon, honey or agave, olive oil, and salt. Puree.

On each plate, spread cress leaves. Frame the salad with asparagus spears, and arrange the remaining mango over the cress. Sprinkle with red onion, drizzle with dressing, and sprinkle with chia seeds.

Serve immediately.

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