The Real Food Journal

Raw Asparagus Salad with Summer Squash

Shaved Yellow Squash and Asparagus

Shaved Yellow Squash and Asparagus

Local asparagus is in season, and it is time to celebrate those harbingers of Spring. The supple spears are tasty, with a creamy interior, a slightly funky flavor, and they are really easy to prep, if you just lop off the tips and slice the stems. If you need any more motivation to plunk a bunch in your market bag, think about the millions of mouths you have to feed, in your inner microbiome.

Yes, asparagus is a fantastic pre-biotic, if I may be so indelicate. Asparagus has a respectable amount of inulin, the unique fiber that’s also present in Jerusalem artichokes. Inulin is a polyfructan, a specific kind of carb that isn’t broken down in the digestive tract. So, as it makes its journey through you, all the health-promoting bacteria living in your gut digest it for you. This makes your beneficial bacteria very happy.

Asparagus is also just an all around nutritious veggie, with some outstanding B-Vitamins, Vitamin K, C and E, and lots of minerals you don’t see in every vegetable. It’s very perishable, because it has a fast rate of respiration, which means it keeps breathing after it is picked and many of the nutrients start fading quickly.

To really dig into fresh local asparagus in season, you need more than one fall-back recipe. Check out my past efforts with a Broiled Asparagus in Walnut Sauce recipe, Or Asparagus and Mango Salad with Chia.  I’ve written about the aphrodisiac reputation of asparagus, too.

For a break from your asparagus routine, give this little raw asparagus salad a spin. I skipped ahead a little by using summer squash, in part for the lovely color. I used raw asparagus and squash, and used the spiralizer to make thin slices of squash. If you have a spiralizer and only use it to make noodles, it’s time to branch out and use it to make a quick marinated little salad like this. It’s so easy.

 

The Spiralizer

The Spiralizer

Then I got out the chop top to slice the asparagus stems paper thin, too.I wanted the asparagus tips to be crunchy, and the stems to be tender without being cooked. Sliding them across the blade was just the thing, they were soft and had no crunch at all after being dressed.

 

Paper thin asparagus stems

Paper thin asparagus stems

Some fresh dill gives the whole affair a lively herbaceousness. Lemon juice and olive oil are all you really need to wake up your slumbering palate.

Spring is here, and asparagus has arrived to bring us back to life. The least we can do is jump out of our rut and give it a new way to grace the plate.

 

Raw Asparagus Salad with Summer Squash

Serves 4

2 medium yellow squashes

1 bunch asparagus

1 small red shallot, minced

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice and 2 teaspoons zest

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper

Set up the spiralizer with the shaving blade. Spiralize the squash, then slice into pieces. Cut the tips from the asparagus and reserve. Use a mandoline to shave the asparagus stems thinly. Put in a large bowl with the shallots.

In a bowl, whisk the lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Dress the asparagus tips and reserve. Drizzle the rest of the dressing on the shaved vegetables. Serve topped with asparagus tips and lemon zest.

Amy’s Kitchen Takes on Big Burger

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When you live for, cook with, and write about plant based food, as I do, people remember it. When your friends see something vegetarian, if you are lucky, they think of you.

That’s what happened when I visited sunny California in April. Yes, I visited some hot and exciting restaurants in LA, dining at Gjelina and Republique, among others. I even shared a bowl of Congee with the famed Jonathan Gold after a screening of his movie. Then I planned to food-tour through Sonoma, dining at places that featured just picked organic vegetables and chef-crafted menus.

But when I landed in Sonoma, the first thing my friend Dan wanted to show me was a brand new fast food joint.

For a BURGER and FRIES.

Had he forgotten my meatless lifestyle, my food snob tastes?

Not at all.

As a warm up to the wine tastings in the Russian River Valley, before the Sauvignon Blanc by the pool at his house, before the amazing meal at a restaurant in Glen Ellen that cooked everything in a wood fire oven, we took a trip to Amy’s Kitchen in Rohnert Park, near Healdsburg.

The green roof and water collection tower

The green roof and water collection tower

As soon as we pulled into the parking lot, it was apparent that this was no Mickey-D’s. The plants growing on the roof gave it away as a tree-hugging kind of joint. The water tower is where the business saves rain water, a smart move in rain-starved California.

Inside, it looked deceptively like a regular fast food place. But if you know Amy’s famous line of frozen meals, you know it was not a regular fast food place.

does that say vegan options?

does that say vegan options?

The burgers and fries, pizzas, mac and cheese and chili all looked “normal.” But they were all plant-based. Anything with cheese can be made with a non-dairy cheese, so it’s got vegan built right in.

But there were subtle differences, once you started looking. The crisp, flavorful fries were made skin-on, and it turns out that the potatoes are grown organically and locally, and never frozen. The cups, packaging and straws were compostable. Agave and celtic sea salt packets were at the condiment bar. Everything is organic, GMO-free, and as clean as it can be.

Fast food with a difference

Fast food with a difference

Plans for expansion into other cities are still in the works. According to the North Bay Business Journal, Amy’s has plants in Santa Rosa California, Medford Oregon and a possible future plant in South Carolina. Wherever there is a manufacturing plant, an Amy’s Drive Thru may well pop up, since the low prices are dependent on being able to get the food to the store with a minimum of time and shipping costs.

So, if you live near Santa Rosa, Medford, or possibly someplace in South Carolina, you may be seeing this new burger chain in the coming years.

I have to hand it to them, Amy’s Kitchen’s fare is a real rival to the kind of fast food that so many people fall into the habit of eating. A basic burger is $2.99, and you can get in and out of there in minutes, with a big bag of inexpensive food. It’s very family friendly, with all the foods you probably know and love from the freezer case, but fresh.

If they can make this model work, it will be a great thing for the communities around the new stores. Organic, GMO, and hiding in the form of a familiar burger and fries, what’s not to love?

Roasted Ramps and Red Rice in Ramp and Hazelnut Pesto

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The world can be divided into two camps. Folks who look forward to ramp season like it’s Christmas morning, the Superbowl and the premiere of Game of Thrones all rolled into one, and the opposing group, who say, “What are roasted ramps?”

You though I might go political for a minute there, didn’t you? Nope, this is just about food.

Of course, I wouldn’t want to be divisive, in these trying times. Maybe we should all just learn to live together, and accept each other, no matter how we feel about an annual wild allium. We all want a quick recipe, right?

That’s what ramps are, just a tasty wild leek and member of the allium family, that comes on in early Spring and then disappears. Like an elusive movie star or Bigfoot, the ramp knows how to keep us wanting more, always leaving the stage amid thunderous applause, always leaving us with a lingering whiff of onion.

And so it is in the world of local and seasonal foods, where chefs and diners can chart the calendar by the appearances of morels and raspberries, followed by blueberries, then crab apples. Ramps have the advantage of being part of Spring, when the seasonal forager has been waiting desperately for something new.

Last year, I made a Ramp and Quinoa Risotto, with Sorrel.

So when I saw ramps at my local Coop, I had to buy  a couple of bunches.

Beautiful Ramps

Beautiful Ramps

And then I decided to roast them. Not too long, as the sweet bulbs are small and easy to burn. The caramelize quickly, in a hot oven. I also saved the greens, to puree in a pesto and slice thinly to toss with the salad. These perky green tops are too good to waste.

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Soon to be Roasted Ramps

A little olive oil, salt and heat, and I had these gorgeous little flavor bombs, with crispy stems for a little crunch.

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Glorious Roasted Ramps

A handful of the greens went into the food processor, where I pureed them with some toasted hazelnuts, hazelnut oil, honey and vinegar. The fresh, mild garlicky flavor was a great addition to the dressing.

For the base, I wanted a good color contrast as well as a whole grain, so I went with a red rice. I love the sweet and nutty presence of the Burgundy rice from Lundberg. You could use Himalayan Red Rice, Wehani Rice, the red rice you have access to is the best one to use. The all have slightly different cooking times, so check the package.

It’s really a quick recipe, cooking the rice took longer than roasting the ramps or making the dressing.

To show off the ramps, I arranged them on top, so that you can admire them as you take bites around the plate. You have three levels of ramp flavor here, in the dressing, slivered, and roasted, so there is much ramp-iness to contemplate.

Who knows, maybe wild crafted leeks carry a little bit of wild energy to the table. The grow with no help from us, no chemicals, no genetic manipulation. They are ancient onions, so to speak.

Dig into some wild and tasty ramps, and reap their wild and authentic glory.

 

Roasted Ramps and Red Rice in Ramp Pesto with Hazelnuts

Serves 4

1 cup red rice ( I used Lundberg Burgundy Rice)

Water ( 1 1/2 cups for Burgundy, up to 2 cups for some red rice varieties)

2 bunches ramps

extra virgin olive oil and coarse salt for the pan

1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted and skinned

3 tablespoons hazelnut oil

1 tablespoon honey

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1/2 teaspoon salt

 

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 F. In a 1 quart pot, bring the water to a boil and add the rice. Return to the boil, then reduce to low and cover. Cook for 40 minutes, or as instructed on the package. When all the water is absorbed and the rice is tender, let cool.
  2. Trim the greens from the ramps as shown, and toss the ramp bulbs with olive oil on a sheet pan. Roast for 5 minutes, then shake to turn the ramps and roast for about 5 minutes longer. Let cool.
  3. Chop about half a cup of ramp greens for the pesto, and place them in a food processor with half of the hazelnuts. Process to grind finely. Add the hazelnut oil, honey, vinegar and salt and process until smooth and emulsified.
  4. Pour the dressing over the red rice. Save a couple of ramp leaves for garnish, if desired. Julienne the remaining ramp leaves by slicing finely across the leaf. Add to the rice and toss.
  5. Chop the remaining hazelnuts. Serve the rice topped with roasted ramps and hazelnuts.

Think Summer with Jamaican Rundown Greens

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It’s officially Spring, and Summer is going to leap out from behind a tree any second. That’s how it works, here in Minnesota. One minute you are wearing a parka, then it rains and the temps veer around and require six different jackets on any given day, then boom. Summer is suddenly present, with her green canopies of leaves, sun dancing on the ripples of your favorite lake.

You must make time for the lake. There are 10,000 of them to choose from.

Because summer is so precious, we like to start eating like it’s summer as early as possible. I’ve been smelling grill smoke since February, if you know what I mean. At my house, summer eating means taking some trips down memory lane to Jamaica.

We visited Negril a few years ago, and the food there won my heart. The Rastafarian religion is a vegetarian one, and because of that, many followers follow a cuisine of “Ital” or “vital” foods. It’s a tropical paradise, where fruits and veggies are abundant, and spices like turmeric, allspice and ginger grow wild.  Ital cooks, serving all manner of tasty patties, curries, and things over rice make vegetarian fare spicy and light. Even when stewed in coconut milk, the dishes were made primarily from vegetables and fruit, with some beans here and there.

There is a leafy green on the Island, called Callaloo, which is similar to collard greens. It’s often featured in the traditional “Rundown.” Rundown is a dish whose name refers to the cooking method, which is to stew all the ingredients in coconut milk. Just about anything can be cooked in a rundown, and as you might imagine, it will be delicious. It’s a quick recipe, too, requiring very little effort.

So, to get in the spirit of sunny days, spent sipping Red Stripe on the patio, I’m making some rundown. Collard greens will stand in for the callaloo, and I am using a green plantain, which you should be able to find at the local grocery.

Collards, Chiles and Plantain

Collards, Chiles and Plantain

The green plantain may look like a banana, but it behaves more like a potato, if you can imagine that. It’s starchy and not sweet, and even a little tannic. As the plantain ripens, the peel turns progressively blacker. If you get a ripe plantain, it will be sweeter and softer, and not require the steaming step. To eat the green one, you’ll have to cut the peel off and slice it, then steam it until tender.

Steamed plantain

Steamed plantain

Then, in the beauty of the rundown, I just heated up some coconut milk and added the greens, plantain, chopped chile, and scallions.

Stir up some run down

Stir up some run down

A sprinkle of Jamaican Curry Powder gave it plenty of flavor.

Spices!

Spices!

I have a big jar of authentic Jamaican curry powder, pictured here. The prominent difference between this and an Indian curry powder is a strong scent of fenugreek and a pale yellow color, because it features more turmeric and less cumin.  You can use your favorite curry powder, because, yah, mon, it’s copacetic.

For authentic flavor

For authentic flavor

Once the collard greens were tender, I stirred and simmered it a bit, and tasted it for heat and salt. Of course, you can make this authentically spicy with a Scotch Bonnet pepper instead of my mild little Red Fresnos, or you can double, triple or quadruple the two chiles I did use.

This creamy, spicy dish is terrific with rice, beans, jerked tofu or tempeh, or a big fat veggie pattie. I put a recipe for my favorite one in The New Vegetarian, if you want to learn to make the Jamaican answer to fast food.

Feel free to make rundown your own, and cook up whatever is fresh from the garden in coconut milk, with some chile and curry. It’s the Rastafarian way.

 Jamaican Rundown Greens

If you want to use kale or chard, go ahead, the coconut milk will work its magic.

Serves 2-4

1 green plantain

1/2 can coconut milk (3/4 cup)

2-6 red chiles, chopped, or a Scotch Bonnet

1 bunch collard greens, stemmed and sliced

1 bunch scallions, chopped

2 teaspoons Jamaican curry powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

 

1. Set up a steamer. Pare the peel from the plantain and slice it, then place in the steamer. Steam for about 4 minutes, until tender when pierced with a paring knife. Let stand, uncovered.

2. In a large skillet, heat the coconut milk over medium-high heat. As it comes to a boil, add the chiles, greens, and scallions. Sprinkle in the curry powder and salt, and stir. Keep stirring until the collard are tender but still green. Taste for spice and salt, you may want to add some hot sauce.

 

Spicy Stir Fried Radishes with Greens, Earth Day is Every Day

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Every Earth Day, we have a burst of consciousness raising about food waste. The hope is, of course, that all the helpful messages will be carried forward, helping everybody change a few habits in the coming year.

Every little bit helps, right?

For my little contribution to the cause, I hope to sing the praises of using up the greens that come with your veggies. Bunched carrots, beets, turnips and radishes all come with free greens attached. All are tasty, nutritious, and often wasted.

See a recipe I created using whole carrots and tops in the Star Tribune.

Cooking with them is also a great way to save money. You could buy a few loose turnips and then buy a bunch of kale, but a bunch of turnips with leaves is both things in one inexpensive bunch. Swiss chard is the leafy brother of beet greens, so you can always use the beet tops just the same way you would chard or other greens.

If you are into juicing, the green tops are a bonanza of free, nutritious green juice. Just blend them in with a few apples or carrots to take the edge off.

Try this Grown Up Green Juice for a template to use up greens in a juice.

For a plant based, environmentally low impact meal, try these Spicy Stir Fried Radishes with Greens, Tofu and Sliced Almonds. It’s easy, quick, inexpensive, and radishes are a nice change from the usual stir-fry veggies.

Today’s recipe makes use of the freshest Spring radishes for a seasonal and crispy snappy stir fry. You can use the same technique with the first tender turnips and other roots, too.

Soak those greens to get them clean

Soak those greens to get them clean

The only challenge to using the leaves is getting the sand out. Fill a bowl with cold water and soak them for a few minutes, then swish vigorously to loosen the soil. If your bunch had some wilted leaves, just pick through and use what you can. It will work with a lot, it will work with a little.

For my dinner, I went ahead and roasted some tofu separately, for a minimal amount of oil. You can also fry it in the pan.

Tofu for roasting

Tofu for roasting

I quartered the small radishes and quartered and sliced the watermelon radishes. A quick stir fry with some hot chile flakes is all it takes to make a crisp, crunch stir fry.

in a hot pan

in a hot pan

A quick stir around the pan, and a dousing with a little apple juice, tamari, honey or agave and a generous chop of fresh ginger and garlic, and you are ready for the greens.

add the greens

add the greens

The greens will shrink and wilt quickly, so add them after the radishes are crisp-tender. Then throw in the tofu and stir to coat with the simple sauce.

And there you are, enjoying a plant-based, low-impact meal, and keeping a bunch of greens out of the waste stream.

Happy Earth Day, may it last all year.

 

Spicy Stir Fried Radishes with Greens, Tofu and Almonds

You can sub two small bunches of small beets or turnips, and it will be just as fantastic.

Serves 4

8 ounces extra firm tofu

canola oil, tamari

2 bunches radishes with greens

1 medium watermelon radish

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/4 cup apple juice

2 tablespoons honey or agave

2 tablespoons tamari

3 tablespoons julienned ginger

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1/4 cup toasted sliced almonds

cooked rice

First, bake or fry the tofu. To bake, preheat the oven to 400. Drain and cube the tofu, then spread oil on a sheet pan and drizzle with tamari. Bake for 20 minutes. Cool. to fry, pour oil in a large saute pan and heat until shimmery, add tofu and stir until browned, then drizzle with tamari.

For radishes, soak the radishes and greens, then pat dry, pick out the best leaves and spin dry. Quarter the little radishes, and quarter then slice the watermelon radish.

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large saute pan or wok, add the radishes and red pepper flakes and stir for a couple of minutes, til crisp but starting to soften. Stir the apple juice, honey or agave and tamari in a cup, then stir into the hot pan. Add the ginger and garlic. Stir until the vegetables are glazed and the liquids are almost evaporated. Add the greens and stir for a minute. Stir in the tofu.

Serve over rice, topped with almonds.

Celebrate Stress Awareness Month with Pesto Kale Salad

Lemony Pesto Kale Salad with Walnuts

Lemony Pesto Kale Salad with Walnuts

Did you know that April is Stress Awareness Month?

(Stressed Inner voice: HOW DID IT SLIP BY ME!?!?! I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN!)

Yes, it’s a whole month in which we should take a deep breath, stop beating ourselves up for not knowing that it’s stress awareness month, and let a few things go in the name of reducing stress.

And stop saying “I should.” Should do more, should be more, should perfect my flawed, real self. Just stop.

Because for all my efforts to eat right an live a healthy lifestyle, I still indulge in some good old-fashioned freakouts. I wish I could tell you that I live in a zen state of perpetual peace, but, let’s just say I am working on it.

This month. Stress Awareness Month.

( Stressed voice again: Although I got a late start, the month is half over….)

Stress kills. Don’t panic, but it does. Running on stress raises cortisol levels, and puts your body into fight or flight mode. This lovely state of being is very useful when you need to flee the scene, or grapple with an attacking predator, but in modern life, it too often occurs when we really don’t need to fight or flee. Instead, our bodies go into crisis mode, and as we drive in gridlocked traffic, or sit at our desks trying to grapple with a difficult deadline, our pulses race.

But the real damage comes because your body sets aside many of its functions to allow all the energy to be shunted to anxiety and escape, and stops doing important things like flushing out cholesterol and regenerating worn out cells. Stress alone can cause you to build arterial plaque, when your body would have been able to keep those blood vessels healthy, if you had just been calmer.

Are you breathing deeply? Drop those shoulders, relax your facial muscles. Let those shoulds go.

That said, food can help support us in times of stress. To balance cortisol, eat leafy greens, which are rich in magnesium. Magnesium is great for undoing the damage, and can alleviate headaches.

Walnuts and other nuts are rich in zinc and good fats, both important for nourishing the systems taxes by stress.

Basil is considered to be an anti-depression herb, so eating plenty of it is a good way to soothe your mood.

Lemons are high in Vitamin C, which has been shown to help in decreasing cortisol levels.

Lemon Pesto Kale Salad(1)

So for today’s anti-stress recipe, I offer up a massaged, lemony basil kale salad with lots of lemon. For extra stress reduction, you even get to work off some aggro by massaging the leaves into submission.

In between calming deep breaths.

You really need to give it a massage

You really need to give it a massage

This salad has plenty of crunch and allows you to find calmness by chewing the hefty kale. Make a meditation of it, counting your chews, if you have the patience.

Then add the tomatoes and carrots

Then add the tomatoes and carrots

Stress Awareness month just got tastier, and more colorful.

Because we don’t need to sweat the small stuff, and it really is true, it is all small stuff.

 

Lemony Pesto Kale Salad with Walnuts

Of course you can sub spinach and skip the massage if you want. Anything that makes it easier and more appealing to you.

Serves 6

2 cups fresh basil
1 large garlic clove, peeled
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 bunches Lacinato Kale, stems removed
3 medium tomatoes, cored and wedged
2 large carrot, julienned
1/2 cup walnuts, broken

In a blender or food processor, place the basil and garlic and process to mince. Add the lemon, olive oil and salt and process until smooth.
Rip the leaves from the stems and chop the leaves of kale. Put in a large bowl, add the pesto, and massage forcefully for about 2 minutes.
Add the tomatoes and carrots and toss to mix, and add the walnuts just before serving.

 

Spring Radishes Star in Mexican Jicama and Orange Salad

A burst of color and crunch

A burst of color and crunch

Craving something light and Springy? These days I’m all about crunch, and tangy citrus flavors that seem to taste of the sunshine. The winter doldrums are lifting, and all the energy is flowing again. It’s amazing how you learn to live in darkness and cold, only to have a joyous reunion with warmth every year. You almost forget how great it feels.

Almost.

Nothing shouts Spring like radishes. They are the first roots to ripen in the garden, crisp with Spring snow melt and sunshine. For a fun salad, you can’t beat them. For this salad, I wanted a companion to a Mexican meal, full of earthy beans and sweet and tangy tomato sauces. This one serves as a perfect palate cleanser, waking up your mouth in between bites of burritos or tacos. Jicama pairs with the radishes, adding a moist and mild counterpoint and amping up the crunch even more.

Mexican Jicama and Orange Salad #salad #yum #Mexicanfood #vegan

There are still a few Cara Cara oranges available, and I love their sweet, pink-orange flesh in this salad. If you can’t find them, you can always use navel oranges. Just get something sweet. A red grapefruit would be a slightly tarter substitution, but would add a nice bitterness, too.

The one trick I use in the prep is a good one to adopt. I like to cut the citrus into supremes, slicing the fruit free of the membranes, then when the fruit is all freed, squeeze the leftover membrane over a measuring cup to extract the remaining juice. There are always at least a couple of tablespoons of juice hiding there in the skeleton of the fruit, and it’s a frugal move to utilize them in the dressing.

All you need then is a jolt of lime and a sprinkle of red Fresno chile and cilantro. Just enough olive oil to smooth it all out and give the salad a teensy bit of weight, and you have a perfect companion to your Mexican meal.

If you don’t want to make a whole entree to go with, you can always build it out with a handful of drained and rinsed black beans, or even some seared seitan, sprinkled with cumin and chili powder. For the cheese lovers, a crumble of queso fresco could make a light meal of it.

You have important outdoor activities to attend to, so a one plate meal may be just the thing.

Reawaken your mouth and jump start your Spring with a sprightly salad, you’ll be glad you did.

 

Mexican Jicama and Orange Salad with Watermelon Radishes

Serves 4 as a side

1/4 cup fresh cilantro, torn
8 ounces jicama, julienned
1 medium watermelon radish, julienned
2 large Cara Cara oranges, supremed, then squeeze the membranes for juice
1 large red chile, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt

 

Do the slicing, and when you supreme the oranges, squeeze the leftover membrane into a cup for the dressing.
On four small salad plates, sprinkle a few leaves of cilantro and compose the jicama strips, watermelon strips and orange sections. Sprinkle with red chile.
to the saved orange juice, add the lime juice, olive oil and salt and whisk to combine. Drizzle over the salads and serve.

Freekeh and Sorrel Tabouli for Whole Grain Sampling Day

Sorrel-Freekeh Tabouli

It’s Whole Grain Sampling Day, and time to celebrate a grain we love. I’m doing my “Sophie’s Choice” and picking freekeh for the day.

Or, I should say, “green-wheat freekeh,” the full name of this ancient and outstanding grain. Why green wheat? Well, the story goes, back in 2300 BC, a city in the Mediterranean was under siege, so they picked their wheat before it was ripe, and stashed it in a hiding spot. The city was burned, and the hiding spot, as well. After the fire went out, the hungry suriviors discovered that because the wheat was green, unripe, and full of juice, it didn’t burn. In fact, this act of aggression had only resulted in toasting the green wheat to a tasty smokiness, and pre-cooking it as well.

Ironic, no?

The other unexpected benefit of this act of war is that the freekeh is even more nutritious than ripe wheat, because it is picked early. According to the Greenwheat Freekeh site, freekeh stands out with higher protein (12 % protein, vs 7% for brown rice) and a remarkable amount of vitamin E.

Freekeh deserves to shine, it’s a grain on the move. Everyone who tries it is pleasantly surprised by the full flavor, chewy texture, and quick cooking times. The process of making freekeh gives it a subtle smokiness, and we know that smoke flavors are sources of umami, giving the grain a more substantial mouthfeel.

It’s an ancient form of wheat, so today I am pairing it with another oldie but goodie. I have a perennial sorrel plant in my garden, and it comes up with the crocuses, earlier and earlier every year.

Sorrel is an ancient food, and the cultivation of it in France and Italy in the Middle Ages was the beginning of the effort to breed milder, softer sorrel. Tangy as it is today, it must have been a mouth-puckering experience eating the original versions. The name sorrel is in fact derived from the word sour, and it is sometimes called sour grass, and pickled sorrel, called “sour dabs” was fed to English school children well into the 20th century.

I wonder if they liked it. Probably limp, khaki colored and salty-sour, I’m betting it was about as popular as cod-liver oil and canings. Too bad, because sorrel can be a vibrant, delicious herb, in the right hands.

The distinctive taste of sorrel is due to oxalic acid, which is present in much lower concentrations in spinach. Oxalic acid does inhibit the absorption of iron, so veg be aware, and don’t get carried away. Eat your iron foods at another time of day, and make sure to include vitamin C foods to encourage absorption.

So why deal with this puckery, iron-deflective plant? Well, like the freekeh, it has some great nutrition, and that flavor is great fun to play with. It’s high in calcium, iron, magnesium, vitamin A, vitamin C and B9, of all things. Like all greens, it has no fat, and cooks in an instant.

For this salad, I played with the smokiness of the freekeh and the lemony qualities of sorrel. Because it is so lemony and also a green, it takes the place of both lemon juice and parsley in tabouli.

So when you go to the store to look for freekeh, make sure to ask for “freek-uh,” which is the proper pronunciation. It’s fun calling it “freaky,” but that is incorrect.

Sorrel-Freekeh Tabouli

Serves 2 as a side, can become a main course with the addition of a cup of cooked garbanzos or a handful of toasted shelled pistachios. Make sure you wash the sorrel really carefully-grit can hide in the leaves.

1/2 cup cracked freekeh

1 cup water

1 cup (gently packed) sorrel leaves, ribs removed

1 cup fresh mint leaves, also gently packed

1 lage clove garlic

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt, lots of cracked black pepper

1/2 cup diced seedless cucumber

1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, chopped

1/4 cup chopped chives or scallions (my chive plant is right next to the sorrel, parsley and mint)

In a small saucepan with a lid, bring the freekeh and water to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 20 minutes. Check in 10, if your burner doesn’t go low enough, it may have boiled off the water too quickly. Just add more, cook for the 20, and then let stand for 10 to absorb. If there is extra water in the pan, drain the grain. Cool to room temp.

In a food processor, put the sorrel, mint and garlic. Process to mince finely, scraping down and processing again. Add the oil and process until smooth. Add salt and pepper and pulse to mix. Pour over the cooled grain. Add the cuke, tomatoes and chives or scallions, and toss to mix.

My Sorrel Plant

Sorrel in my Garden

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Green, Cracked and Toasted Wheat

Green, Cracked and Toasted Wheat

Sorrel-Freekeh Tabouli

Sorrel-Freekeh Tabouli

Have a Steak, Made of Cabbage, of Course.

You'll need a steak knife!

You’ll need a steak knife!

We can thank the plant-based cuisine movement. We’ve tried cauliflower steaks, Romanesco Trees, and the ubiquitous Portabella Burger. Whether you are into it as a main course, or as an exciting new kind of side dish for your omnivorous fare, the vegetable cooked in the manner of a piece of meat is much more interesting than plain old steamed broccoli.

Take this slab of cabbage. A rub of olive oil, smoky chipotle and garlic gives it a whiff of “Mexican grill”, and a generous sprinkling of salt helps to both draw the moisture out and to season. A hot oven sears the exterior and shrinks and concentrates the leaves, making the cabbage soft and intense. It also damps down some of the compounds in cabbage that make it sulfurous or funky. All the coleslaw qualities of the cabbage evaporate, leaving a tender, slightly chewy leaf with some crispy browned bits.

Cabbage Steaks #plantbased #vegetables #healthyeatingThe only tricky part is the slicing, as the cabbage is pretty big, and you need to get an even slice. It’s ok if you cut the cabbage in half, vertically, to make it easier to cut, it just won’t look quite as dramatic. You can try this with wedges, too. Just be mindful that you want the structure to stay together. Cutting in this direction keeps the tight wrap of leaves in place.

Cabbage Steaks with Garlic and ChipotleA drizzle of garlicky olive oil and a sprinkling of chipotle powder and coarse salt are all I wanted on this one, but you can always doll it up to go with whatever meal you have going on. Fresh rosemary and thyme would go with Mediterranean meals, while miso and sesame oil would pair with a Japanese theme. The sauce choices are limitless, anything from a drizzle of bottled dressing to a creamy sesame sauce would be delicious.

Get Some Good Browning for Flavor!

Get Some Good Browning for Flavor!

Then just don’t worry about overcooking. It’s better a little blackened and sweet. All you need is a simple little sauce, like this easy salsa.

You really do need a steak knife, if you even have one. It’s never been something we needed, around my house.

But with “steaks” like these, I’m going to need to update my knife collection!

Chipotle Cabbage Steaks with Salsa

Cutting the cabbage across the grain does give it a swirled pattern, almost like steak. But nobody will be confusing it with Porterhouse.

Serves 4

1 3 1/2 to 4 pound green cabbage

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1/2 teaspoon chipotle powder

1 teaspoon coarse salt

1 pint grape tomatoes

1/2 cup fresh cilantro

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

4 medium scallions, chopped

 

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment and reserve. Place the cabbage on the cutting board with the stem end to your right, and slice off the base. Begin slicing in 1- 1 1/4 inch thick slices, keeping the layers intact. When you get to the last slice, it may be too thin to use, so save for another use. I got four big slices.

In a cup, mix the olive oil and garlic, and brush a little bit on the parchment. Place the steaks on the sheet pan and drizzle with the olive oil mixture, then sprinkle with chipotle and salt. Rub the spices and oil across the surface to coat.

Roast for 40 minutes, until browned and tender. Drizzle with more olive oil and sprinkle with a pinch more salt.

Make the salsa- mix chopped tomatoes, cilantro, lime and scallions and season with salt. Since there is chipotle on the cabbage, the salsa doesn’t need heat, but if you want to add some, sprinkle with hot sauce.

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