The Real Food Journal
Are you a chile head, or do you lean toward the mild side of the spectrum? Believe it or not, there is a chile dish designed for your palate in the Chile Pepper Bible From Sweet to Fiery and Everything In Between (Robert Rose $27.95), written by Judith Finlayson. In this expansive and exhaustive new book, you are sure to learn a great deal about the history, health benefits, and preparation of the many chiles on the market.
For instance, did you know that when Columbus made his fateful journey, he was seeking not just gold, but the nearly as valuable commodity of black pepper? Before he settled for taking chiles back in its place, black pepper was the only heat known outside of the Americas.
Of course, the rest is history, as chiles have become part of the fabric of cuisines the world over. It’s hard to imagine Thai food with black pepper instead of Chiles isn’t it? This diaspora of hot peppers has resulted in countless new varieties, all integral to the culture they call home.
There are so many, in fact, that Finlayson has to admit that chile culture changes so quickly that she couldn’t hope to write the final word on any of them. To top it off, many chiles travel under different names in different regions of the world, so cataloguing them is a difficult task. Finlayson takes the smart tack of starting with the five major species of capsicum, and traces their descendants all over the globe. There is a handy grid for each one, listing the chile, heat level, description and uses.
The bulk of the book is made up of recipes, with a wealth of informative sidebars featuring the backstory of a chile or spicy preparation in the recipe. Chapters start with appetizers, soups, salads, all the variations on main courses, including a meatless chapter, sauces, even drinks and desserts.
The good thing about exploring chiles in your own kitchen is that you can customize the level of heat. If a recipe looks delicious to you, but you are afraid that a whole Scotch Bonnet or handful or Thai Bird chiles will be too much, you can make the dish and add the chiles as you see fit. As Finlayson points out, chiles are far more than just heat. Each brings a unique flavor, and in each dish, those flavors have been put to best use by the cooks of a faraway region of the world.
The range of this book is impressive, covering the kinds of global foods we have all fallen in love with. A chile laced version of Deviled Eggs might feel familiar for you, or you may be drawn to one of the Malaysian, Ethiopian, Haitian, or other recipes from faraway lands that are probably not as easy to find at restaurants in your town.
Finlayson is a world traveler, and has pursued a love of hot food since a trip to Mexico in the 1970’s. She has scorched her palate and taken the plunge to taste fiery dishes at every opportunity, and brought them home for you. Her research and depth of knowledge makes this more than just a compendium of hot recipes.
For this recipe, I sought out the elusive Aleppo pepper. If you have a Middle Eastern grocery you will find a jar of it it there, or you can always find it online. According to Finlayson, Aleppo Pepper has a medium-hot, deep fruity flavor. It may actually be Turkish Maras pepper, and if you must substitute for it, you can use ancho chiles or a bit of Italian red pepper flakes.
The dip was fantastic smeared on pitas, and the next day enlivened an avocado sandwich with all the nutty, fruity flavor it promised.
If you want to warm up with a culinary journey into the world’s chile-laced foods, this book will carry you through the winter and beyond
Middle Eastern Walnut Dip (Muhammara)
Courtesy of The Chile Pepper Bible: From Sweet & Mild to Fiery & Everything in Between by Judith Finlayson © 2016 www.robertrose.ca Reprinted with publisher permission. Available where books are sold.
Depending upon the source you consult, this roasted red pepper and walnut dip is Armenian, Arabian, Turkish or Syrian in origin. In any case, it is healthful, delicious and a welcome addition to any mezes platter. I like to serve it with warm pita bread or cucumber slices. If you are not meat-averse, this dip can also be used as a sauce for kebabs.
- Food processor
2 red bell peppers, roasted (see Tips, bottom, or store-bought)
1⁄2 cup walnut halves, toasted
1⁄2 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
4 green onions (white and a bit of the green parts), cut into chunks
2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tbsp pomegranate molasses
1 tbsp sliced red finger chile
2 tsp Aleppo pepper (or 1⁄4 tsp cayenne pepper)
2 tsp ground cumin (see Tips, bottom)
1 tsp salt
1⁄4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- Peel, seed and cut roasted red peppers into quarters. In food processor fitted with the metal blade, combine roasted red peppers, walnuts, pine nuts, green onions, garlic, lemon juice, pomegranate molasses, finger chile, Aleppo pepper, cumin and salt. Pulse until finely chopped, about 15 times, stopping and scraping down the side of the bowl as necessary.
- Add olive oil and pulse until blended and desired consistency is achieved, about 6 times. (You want some texture to remain from the walnuts.)
- Transfer to a small serving bowl. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days. If refrigerated, before serving, let stand at room temperature to allow the flavors to bloom, about 20 minutes.
Makes about 2 cups (500 mL)
To roast peppers: Brush peppers lightly with oil and place them directly on a hot grill on a preheated barbecue, or arrange them on a baking sheet and place under a preheated broiler. Grill or broil, turning 2 or 3 times, until the skin on all sides is blackened, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a heatproof bowl. Cover with a plate and let stand until cool. Using a sharp knife, lift off the skin, reserving any accumulated juices. Discard skin, stems and seeds.
For the best flavor, toast and grind cumin seeds yourself.
When you try to answer a question like “What is Minnesota food?” you can make yourself crazy, just trying to sort out where Minnesota cuisine begins and ends. Is it the food of the first wave of immigrants, or the tenth, or do you include the latest?
Well, leave it to a native Minnesota chef, artist, and poetic interpreter of all things, Betsy Nelson, to lasso this sprawling subject. Rather than try to hammer out a doctrine of regional purity, Nelson curated a selection of recipes from the current “tastemakers,” ranging from top restaurant, food truck and pastry chefs to cookbook authors to cocktail mixologists, all contributing to the vibrant, burgeoning cuisine that is happening in Minnesota.
The result is a collage of images and flavors that meld into a panoramic view of a food scene. A food scene that is rapidly rising to claim the respect it deserves.
This selection reflects the full span, with dishes that make the most of our bounty of freshwater fish, locally raised meats and dairy, outstanding produce, and of course, wild rice. Familiar names like Amy Thielen, Lenny Russo, Tammy Wong and Heather Janz share the same pages, representing the diverse cuisines that have become part of the fabric of Minnesota. Minnesota is not just about lefse and lutefisk, if it ever was.
Full disclosure: I’m honored to have been asked to contribute a couple of recipes to the book, and have them featured alongside the work of such an outstanding group of food creators. It also feels great to have had my recipe made and styled by Betsy Nelson and photographed by her talented husband, Tom Thulen. The book is truly a collaboration between the two, as Nelson selects the recipes and Thulen makes gorgeous photographs that create a sweeping snapshot of Minnesota food.
Roasted Ramps and Watercress with Pumpkin Seed Chèvre Medallions by Robin Asbell (Recipe below)
Tasting Minnesota is a big, glossy hardback with plenty of full page photos, worthy of a spot on your coffee table. It’s also got you covered for every meal, as well as drinks and dessert. If you haven’t had the chance to check out the hidden gem restaurants in Duluth, Two Harbors, Bemidji, Stillwater, Callaway, or for that matter, a Minneapolis neighborhood that you just haven’t gone to yet, the book gives you some teaser recipes to make your mouth water. After making it at home, you may find yourself wanting to make a breakfast trek to the Wild Hare Bistro in Bemidji for Wild Hare and Smoky Squash Chowder, or the Breaking Bread Cafe in North Minneapolis for Buttermilk Herb Biscuits and Chorizo -Poblano Gravy. Cornmeal Sunfish with Pickled Ramp Aioli from the Salt Cellar in St Paul, or Pepita Ancho Butter and Pumpkin Jam Sandwiches from the Lake Avenue Restaurant in Duluth might call your name. It would be worth a drive to Victory 44 in Minneapolis for the Buttered Popcorn Pot de Creme, or Alexandria, for Molten chocolate Cakes with Beer Ice Cream from La Ferme.
One such temptation is the recipe below for Pepita Granola from Hola Arepa. Hola Arepa is one of the hottest dining destinations in South Minneapolis, and I’ve been there a few times for dinner, but never brunch. Now that I know that there is Pepita Granola sprinkled over flan on Saturdays and Sundays, I may just have to get over there.
‘Til then, I can make the granola myself, and eat it by the handful.
If you already love Minnesota’s food, this is a perfect book for you. If you not familiar with our scene, Tasting Minnesota has put together a tasty introduction for you. This book is sure to be a keeper, and will soon be dog eared and stained with good memories.
Roasted Ramps and Watercress with Pumpkin Seed Chèvre Medallions
COOKBOOK AUTHOR, TEACHER, AND PRIVATE CHEF, MINNEAPOLIS
CHEF ROBIN ASBELL
This salad is a poem to spring, with the fresh and vibrant flavors of ramps and watercress accented by tangy chèvre. Roasting the ramps gives them a soulful, subtle flavor.
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup shelled pumpkin seeds
4 ounces firm chèvre log
1/4 cup pumpkin seed oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 head red leaf lettuce
1 bunch watercress, tough stems removed
1/2 pint raspberries
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Trim and clean the ramps, leaving the green tops intact. In a medium bowl, toss the ramps with olive oil and then place in a roasting pan. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil. Roast for 20 minutes, or less if the ramps are thin.
While the ramps are roasting, spread the pumpkin seeds on a small baking sheet and toast in the oven till lightly brown (watch closely so they don’t scorch), 5 to 10 minutes.
When the ramps are soft (poke with a paring knife), uncover and set aside to cool.
Chop the pumpkin seeds and spread on a plate. Slice the chilled chèvre log into medallions and roll in the chopped pumpkin seeds to coat.
In a small bowl, whisk the pumpkin seed oil with the lemon juice and salt and set aside
Wash and dry the lettuce, then tear into pieces. Arrange the lettuce on four plates and top with the watercress and raspberries. Arrange the coated chèvre and four ramps on each plate. Drizzle with the dressing and serve.
HOLA AREPA, MINNEAPOLIS
CHEF HEATHER KIM
This addictively snackable granola may become your new favorite. Hola Arepa serves this with their yogurt flan, but you can scatter it over a bowl of yogurt or just nibble it right out of the jar.
3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
3 cups frosted cornflakes cereal
1 cup coconut flakes
1 cup pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds)
1/2 cup powdered milk
2 tablespoons corn flour
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/4 cup sunflower seed oil or other neutral oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Makes 8 cups
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, combine the oats, cornflakes, coconut flakes, pepitas, powdered milk, corn flour, and salt and toss to mix. Distribute the mix evenly onto the baking sheets.
In a medium saucepan, bring the honey, maple syrup, brown sugar, and oil to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Pour the sugar mixture evenly over the dry ingredients on the sheet trays and mix with a spatula to distribute well. Bake for 20 minutes, mixing again with a spatula after 10 minutes to ensure even baking.
Remove the granola from the oven when it is a deep golden color. Spread the granola onto a clean sheet of parchment to cool completely. If you want larger chunks of granola, allow it to cool undisturbed on the baking sheet. Granola will become more crunchy after it has cooled. Store in airtight containers at room temperature for up to a week or in the freezer for a month.
Note: This recipe can be easily varied by substituting your favorite cereal for the frosted flakes or using peanuts, cashews, or other nuts in place of the pepitas.
Loving pears can feel like a dance with a cruel temptress. You’ll see one across the crowded produce aisle, all golden and curvy, aglow with sweet promise. But once you get it home, that seductive pear turns out to be mealy, gritty, or just plain flavorless.
But because you once had a pear so breathtakingly perfect, you are compelled to keep going back, hoping to experience it again.
I thought I knew what a pear could be, but until a few years ago, I really didn’t. It was an early morning at the farmer’s market, where a ruddy-cheeked farmer stood behind a table overflowing with baskets of fruit. Zestars, Honeycrisps, Macouns, Honeygolds, the apples were all there. But in the back corner, I saw a basket of little pears. They weren’t much to look at, just a greenish tinted skin with some russeting that made them look a little rough.
I leaned over the table, pointing. “What are those?” I asked.
“Well, those are Luscious Pears,” the farmer said, best pears you’ll ever eat. They grow real well here in the cold climate, nice and sweet.”
For a Minnesota farmer, that was downright effusive praise.
Well, I bought a basketful, and went back every week for another fix until they were all done for the year. Those pears became a featured treat, something to eat with great ceremony after dinner, or while watching a movie. I’d get out the paring knife and a plate, and lop off hunks of juicy, perfumed fruit, and we’d let it melt on our tongues like some kind of candy. A good Luscious smells a little like flowers, and tastes a little like floral honey. They are nothing like the bland and watery Bartlet that often arrives from far away, undoubtedly sapped of any flavor by a long trip in a box.
No, these pears really live up to the name. Luscious.
My farmer friend was right, the Luscious was designed to flourish in cold climates, and they do sell the trees at garden stores in Minneapolis. They were introduced in 1967 by the University of South Dakota breeding program, but are not grown all that widely. The ones I was buying at the market had some rough, peppery skin, but the ones I found this year at my Coop are much smoother and prettier.
Of course, most of them have been devoured out of hand, and enjoyed as the seasonal treat that they are. They are perfect for slicing over a salad, stuffing into a sandwich with almond butter, or sauteing briefly to pile on top of pancakes.
They make these scones irresistible, too.
But mostly, we just grab them and take a bite.
So if you encounter some of these precious, Luscious pears, buy a basketful. You’ll want to eat them every day until the season is over. Once you have had a few days of unadorned pear gratification, you can always branch out make these tasty scones.
Because once you experience true love with a lush, fragrant pear, you’ll never stop wanting more.
Luscious Pear and Maple Scones
Vegans can sub non-dairy yogurt and aquafaba for the eggs in the scone batter, and just skip the egg in the topping. For more on aquafaba baking, click here.
2 3/4 cups white whole wheat flour
1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, divided
3/4 cups plain yogurt
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups chopped luscious pear
1/2 large egg
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment.
In a large bowl, combine the whole wheat pastry flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Using the coarse holes of a grater, grate in the butter, tossing with your fingers to coat the butter with flour.
In a medium bowl, whisk the yogurt, maple syrup, egg, and vanilla.
Prepare your counter with a light dusting of flour. Add the byogurt mixture to the flour mixture and quickly stir just until all the flour is moistened. Fold in the pears. Scrape the dough onto the floured counter and dust with a little flour, and pat to make a large disk about 1 inch thick.
Using a chef’s knife or a bench knife, cut the round into 12 wedges, then brush with egg and sprinkle generously with Turbinado sugar. Use the bench scraper or a spatula to carefully transfer them to the baking pan.
Bake for about 20 minutes, until the topping is browned and the scones are firm. Transfer the scones to a rack to cool completely.
You may have noticed, I have been pretty immersed in bowls these days. Riffing on simple bases of grain, topped with little compositions of colorful vegetables, crunchy garnishes, and drizzles of sauce. My book Great Bowls of Food came out at the end of May, and life’s been a whirlwind of bowls and books. I had already spent some time contemplating what bowls are, are not, and why we love them, having written the book. But now, I’ve been teaching classes, sampling out bowl foods at book events, writing posts about bowl food, and I think I’ve gone deep into the meaning of the bowl.
The bowl is not a salad. It’s not mixed up. At the heart of it, the placement of the elements of the bowl in separate spaces is the core of the appeal of the bowl. Instead of tossing it and coating everything with sauce, we leave all the flavors and textures separate and give people more experiences to enjoy. Perhaps on some level, it gives you some freedom to choose with each bite, a freedom that may just be lacking in other parts of our lives.
Like I said, I’ve gone deep.
Maybe people just want convenience. But it feels like freedom to me.
As October rolls in and the soup season creeps up on me, I’ve been thinking about translating the appeal of the grain bowl over to the soup bowl. So, instead of putting everything in the pot and simmering it all together, I thought it would give my soup some “bowl-appeal” to make a simple base, and serve it topped with a couple of other intense flavors and textures.
It’s just red lentil soup. I know.
I think it worked.
I started with some robust red shallots that caught my eye at the market. Shallots these days are almost as big as onions, and offer up a sweet, slightly garlicky charm all their own. Roasting them at high heat brings out the sweetness and gives them a little browned char, which adds depth and complexity. A dousing in pomegranate juice concentrate added tangy sweetness and an antioxidant-rich red tint. I bought a bottle of pomegranate concentrate at the Coop, but if you don’t have any, you can also just boil down pomegranate juice to reduce it by half. Pomegranate molasses, sold in Import stores, is also made this way, and you can use that, too.
The red lentils cook quickly, making them an ideal pantry item for the season of the soup. I wanted a nice orange color, so I added a couple of carrots and some paprika. The key to this bowl was the texture, so I put it in the Vitamix and let it run for a minute or two, to really make it velvety.
The savory soup base now had the sweet and tangy shallots, but it needed some green and some herbal flavor. The kale in my garden and some fresh sage leaves provided the perfect counterpoint. Don’t skimp on the oil when you cook the greens, it’s vital to the whole picture. The sage infuses the olive oil and it becomes an earthy sauce of its own.
So you can see, with each bite, you get to choose. Should I spoon up a bit of the shallot with the soup, or will I steer my spoon toward the sage and crunch part of the landscape? Heck, you’re even free to stir it all up.
Because your bowl should give you more than just a great, incredibly nourishing meal of real food. It should give you a moment in your day when you get to decide.
I’ll take my freedom where I can get it, how about you?
Red Lentil Soup with Pomegranate Shallots and Frizzled Kale and Sage
The soup and the shallots can be made ahead, but cook the greens at the very last minute. You need that crispness to add crunch to the silky soup.
4 large red shallots
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons pomegranate juice concentrate
pinch of salt
1 cup red lentils
2 large carrots, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
3-4 cups water
1 teaspoon paprika
3/4 teaspoon salt
cracked black pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 leaves kale, slivered
8 large sage leaves
red pepper flakes, if desired
Preheat the oven to 400 F. Peel and quarter the shallots and if your shallots are very large, cut the quarters in smaller wedges for pieces about an inch wide. In a 8 or 9-inch square pan, combine the olive oil and shallots and toss gently to coat. Roast, uncovered, for about 20 minutes, then add the pomegranate concentrate and salt and stir, scraping up the seared edges of the shallots with a thin metal spatula. Roast for 5-10 minutes longer, until the shallots are limp and the liquids are thick. Transfer to a small bowl and let cool.
In a 2 quart pot, combine the red lentils, carrots, onion, 3 cups water, salt and pepper. Place over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and cover the pot, stirring occasionally for about 40 minutes. Add water, if needed. When the lentils are falling apart, transfer the contents of the pot to the blender and puree. It will be thick, stir in water as desired for a creamy soup.
For the greens, heat the olive oil in a wide saute pan over medium-high heat, and add the slivered kale and sage. Stir until the greens are crisp and bright green, about a minute. Sprinkle with salt.
To serve, ladle about a cup of soup in each bowl, spreading it out with the back of a spoon. Top with shallots and the crisped greens. Crack pepper over it, sprinkle with red pepper flakes, if desired, and serve immediately.
Few foods are as comforting and satisfying as polenta. Cornmeal polenta is soft and creamy, but with just enough texture to give it a toothsome crunch, and perfect for grilling to a crisp golden crustiness. Grilled polenta offers the best of both worlds, with the softness of mashed potatoes and the crusty outer shell of a french fry.
It’s a perfect food for Fall, keeping you warm from the inside as the chill winds start to blow.
The polenta we know is made from whole grain corn, which puts it in a special class. It’s one of the whole grain foods that has a gloss of gourmet, and makes it onto restaurant menus without a hint of healthful motivation. Its sunny yellow color and authentic Italian pedigree move it out of the ranks of brown and crunchy health foods and into the world of artisanal pastas and risottos.
It’s an amazing reinvention, for a food that was once the cheap gruel of the poorest peasants. A New World plant, corn didn’t make it to Italy until the 1600’s, so it is relatively new. Historians believe that the idea of polenta, or coarsely ground grains cooked in water, may have been one of the first grain foods, preceding breads and pastas, simply because it is so basic.
It’s not hard to imagine: people picked seeds, people cracked them with rocks, people cooked them in water, people saved the leftovers. Hello polenta. That same mass of congealed cooked grain eventually became pasta, fermented flatbreads, heck, beer was probably the happy accident that happened when cooked grains fermented on their own.
When corn made its way to Italy, it replaced the millet, farro, chestnut, chickpea and buckwheat polentas that were being made. The sunny, sweet flavor of corn won people over, and the grain was grown to feed the starving peasants. Northern Italians still make whole grain polenta from corn, although some buckwheat polenta is still popular.
In the US, grits and cornmeal mush have a similar backstory, serving as the cheap food of the poor during times of scarcity. In both cases, the lack of key nutrients led to malnutrition, since corn alone cannot supply all the vitamins and minerals you need.
So there is some irony in the elevation of Cucina Povera to the realm of the gourmet. But whole grain polenta is a delicious, healthful food, as long as you don’t try to survive on polenta alone! Cornmeal is a great source of the fiber that most contemporary diets lack. It’s got some Iron, Vitamin A and B-vitamins, too. More recent research finds that corn delivers on antioxidants that prevent a host of ills, from cancer to vision problems. It’s also got resistant starch, a kind of starch that keeps us full longer. Just like those peasants.
For today’s recipe, I used Bob’s Red Mill Organic Polenta. It has a good particle size, with some chunkiness, but not so coarse that it takes hours too cook. It’s also readily available, so you should be able to find it. If you have another polenta, it’s simple enough to adjust, just cook it until it’s creamy and there are no hard bits.
People used to do this on rocks, so it can’t really be that tricky.
I started with my sauce, which used up the last of my garden tomatoes and a red kabocha squash that I got from a farmer. I fired up the oven and roasted everything while I made the polenta on the stovetop.
Stirring the polenta is not as grueling as some would have you believe, especially with a small batch. I just kept it on low and stirred every five minutes or so, until it got thick. Then it needs some attention. Once it’s thick you just stir in the arugala, and if using, the butter and cheese. Vegans can use olive oil instead of butter, and throw in some nooch for cheesiness.
Once I spread it in the pan and chilled it, I thought it would be fun to put it in the panini press. This is completely optional, but it worked out well. It mashed the polenta into a less perfect shape, so if you need your food to stay perfectly square, you can use the griddle function of the panini maker and just grill each side.
I loved how the press made more crunchy surface area, giving the polenta more places for sauce to pool. But it was all about the crunch. However you grill the polenta, you need plenty of oil to keep it from sticking, and to help form that crispy crustiness.
The sauce is very rustic and chunky, I just mashed some of the squash cubes and whole garlic to give it some body, and left the rest in pieces. A handful of briny olives and a sprinkle of parsley was all it needed to show off the great flavor of all my vine-ripened tomatoes.
And there you have it, a whole grain dish to celebrate Whole Grains Month, all sunny and golden and steeped in history. It’s a great make-ahead dish, just reheat the sauce and grill the chilled polenta when it’s time to eat.
I know I’m thinking of the peasants who created this dish, and how it must have fueled them to work hard in the fields.
We are so lucky to have all kinds of amazing grains available, and to be able to try them all!
Roasted Squash and Tomatoes over Arugala Polenta
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
4 cups cherry tomato
1 pound large tomato, quartered
6 cloves garlic, peeled
6 stems fresh thyme
1 teaspoon salt, divided
2 pounds kabocha squash, peeled and cubed
1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1/2 cup kalamata olive, pitted and halved
1/2 cup Italian parsley, chopped
3 cups water
1 cup Polenta
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 cups arugala, chopped
4 ounces Asiago Cheese, shredded, divided, optional (or a couple of tablespoons nutritional yeast)
extra virgin olive oil, for grilling
Preheat the oven to 400 F. In a large roasting pan, toss half of the olive oil, the whole cherry tomatoes and large tomatoes, garlic, thyme and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Roast for about an hour, stirring every 20 minutes, until deeply wrinkled and browned.
In another roasting pan, toss the squash with the remaining olive oil and salt. Roast for about 30 minutes, until tender when pierced with a paring knife.
To make a sauce, mash several squash cubes and garlic cloves and stir into the tomatoes. Add the olives and reserve.
For the polenta, butter or oil an 8-inch square baking pan and reserve. Put the water in a small pot and whisk in the polenta and salt, and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Lower the heat and whisk often for about 25-30 minutes. When thick, stir in the butter and arugala, and stir until the arugala is softened, then stir in half of the cheese, and stir until melted. (vegans can skip the butter and cheese.) Spread in the prepared pan and chill until cold.
Slice in 9 squares and grill or press in a panini grill. Serve with sauce, covered with parsley, and if using, sprinkle with cheese.
Sorghum. Maybe one day it will have the same cultural cachet as Quinoa. Quinoa is right up there with lattes and arugula as a signifier of foodie culture. It’s been a long climb, but that Peruvian grain has been embraced by the gourmets, the health conscious, the vegans, the gluten free. And it is delicious. I love it.
Sorghum, on the other hand, is grown in the American heartland, and has yet to break out in the hip food scene. It’s an ancient grain, that originated in Africa about 5,000 years ago, and it made it to America on slave ships. Unlike quinoa, which we will pay top dollar to ship from a continent away, sorghum is right here, but because it hasn’t caught on, most of it is fed to livestock or made into ethanol.
For Whole Grains Month, I urge you to give sorghum a try, whether it is sorghum flour, whole grains, or sorghum syrup, if you can find it.
I hope that sorghum will share the spotlight with quinoa in coming years. It’s gluten free, like quinoa, which makes it a good candidate for the next “hot” grain. Sorghum also has the distinction of requiring 1/3 as much water to produce as other comparable crops, so it can be grown in dry areas where other crops would fail. Let’s face it, some parts of the World are becoming drier and hotter, and people need food. The other bonus is that the stalks and leaves provide lots of soil conserving plant matter that can be composted and used for other purposes. Sorghum is sustainable.
We look to quinoa as a high protein grain, and sorghum is no slump in the protein department. A typical serving, cooked up from 1/4 cup uncooked sorghum has 5.5 grams protein, 1/4 cup quinoa has 6. Both have iron and calcium, quinoa a little more calcium, sorghum a little more iron. Both deliver B-Vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Today I made two sorghum dishes, one a bowl with whole sorghum, and to follow that, a muffin made from whole grain sorghum flour. It worked out well, since I used the garbanzo beans to make the bowl, and their liquid to make aquafaba for the muffins. I’ve been obsessed with roasted garbanzos lately, so I roasted them up and sprinkled on some coarse salt and smoked paprika. That lead me to Spanish flavors, and it all just came together from there.
Sorghum Bowl with Smoky Roasted Garbanzos and Saffron Aioli
Drizzling a little aioli on the sorghum gives it some pizzazz, without having to work too hard. Once you have some whole sorghum cooked up, keep any leftovers in the fridge and use it throughout the week.
1 1/2 cups cooked sorghum
1 1/2 cups cooked garbanzos, drained (1 14.5 ounce can, drained, reserve liquids)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 pinch saffron
2 cups fresh spinach
2 cups peeled and cubed butternut squash, steamed
a small roasted pepper, sliced
8 pitted kalamata olives
Cook the sorghum, I cooked a cup with 2 1/2 cups water, I brought it all to the boil, put on a lid, reduced the heat to low and simmered it for about 55 minutes. It absorbed all the water and then I let it stand, covered, to continue steaming. It will be firm. If you want it softer, add more water and cook it longer, but it will stay a little crunchy, like wheat berries.
For the garbs, preheat oven to 400 F. Pat dry the beans and spread them on a sheet pan, and drizzle on the olive oil. Toss to coat and roast for about 35 minutes, til crispy but not too hard to chew. Sprinkle with salt and paprika, and toss to coat. Let cool.
For the aioli, mix the mayo, garlic and saffron and stir well. You will have some left over, and it will be great in sandwiches, etc.
For each bowl, mix a dab of aioli into the sorghum, then spread it in the bowl. Arrange spinach, garbanzos, squash, peppers and olives and peppers. Drizzle with aioli and serve.
On to the muffins!
I wanted to honor the vegans by making a vegan and gluten free muffin with whole grain sorghum flour that is actually tasty and tender. This can be a challenge, but I promise you, I couldn’t stop eating these muffins, especially warmed up a little and slathered with some homemade jelly given to me by a talented friend. These muffies feature not just whole grain sorghum flour, but also aquafaba, the latest and greatest of the egg replacers for baking. If you want to learn more about aquafaba, click here: Baking with Aquafaba.
So, to achieve the chemical feat of lifting up a healthful whole grain flour, I decided to whip the aquafaba to meringue-like loftiness, and then fold it into the batter. I hedged my bets with some guar gum and ground flax, which both provide the structure that gluten and eggs give to a standard muffin.
Here’s the whipped aquafaba and sugar:
Some mashed banana gave it some body, and I added dried blueberries for more fruity flavor. Of course, you could add any sort of muffin fruit or nut, it is up to you. Just don’t weigh it down with more than 3/4 cups. I’d stay away from anything too wet, like chopped pears or strawberries.
Sorghum. Say it out loud a few times to practice, because it will be coming to a restaurant menu or ingredient list near you.
Sorghum Muffins with Dried Blueberries
I used Bob’s Red Mill Sorghum Flour, which is widely available. You can also easily grind your own in a Vitamix. I kept this relatively simple, but if you want to add a teaspoon or two of cinnamon and spices, or sub other fruit or nuts for the blueberries. Get crazy and sub chocolate chips for fruit, and these would be divine.
Makes 10 Muffins
1 3/4 cups sorghum flour
1/2 cup tapioca flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons guar gum
1 large ripe banana, mashed
2 tablespoons ground flax seeds
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
2 teaspoons vanilla
3/4 cup garbanzo water, drained from one can beans
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
3/4 cup dried blueberries
Preheat the oven to 375 F, and line 10 cups of a muffin tin with muffin papers.
In a large bowl, combine the sorghum flour, tapioca flour, baking powder, salt and guar gum, and whisk to mix.
In small bowl, combine the banana, flax, melted coconut oil and vanilla and stir. If the banana is cold, the coconut oil may harden, you can pop the mixture in the microwave or warm it over a bowl of hot water to soften it to stir-able consistency.
In a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, or a large bowl with an electric mixer, combine the garbanzo water and powdered sugar. On low speed, mix until the sugar is dissolved, then raise the speed to high and beat for about 8 minutes. It will become thick and shiny like meringue, and hold soft peaks. 9see photo above)
Add the banana mixture to the flour mixture and add about half of the whipped garbanzo mixture and stir to mix well. Fold in the remaining garbanzo mixture, gently turning the batter to keep the bubbles from deflating. When mixed, quickly stir in the berries.
Scoop 1/4 cup portions of the batter into the lined cups and sprinkle with Turbinado sugar.
Bake for about 35 minutes, until the tops are golden and a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out with only moist crumbs attached. Cool on a rack.
It seems like only yesterday that I was sneaking out to the Farmer’s Market in the bracing chill of Spring, trying not to wake my sweetheart as I stumbled over shoes in the dark bedroom. Now, we are on the other end of the season, and the early morning chill is a bittersweet signal that it will all be over far too soon.
But on the up side, this is the time of year when we have the broadest selection. Tomatoes share display space with sweet corn, squash and raspberries, and tender leaves like spinach and arugala that got a little too bitter in the heat are starting to calm down.
So when I made my trek to pick up the makings of an easy meal at the Mill City Farmers Market, I knew that I would have my pick of great ingredients. I was already laser focused on getting pasta from Dumpling and Strand, Noodlers at Large, and of course, bread from Baker’s Field Flour and Bread.
So when I saw the breathtaking black noodles on display, I just had to try them. They are handmade, artisanal, and one of the limited, rotating variations that the D & S noodlers like to put out there to keep us on our toes. So even if you get to the Market this week, they won’t be there. Yes, they are made with squid ink, and some of you vegan readers will want to avoid that, so you can either buy the buckwheat noodles from D & S, or use Lotus Foods black rice ramen instead for this quick recipe. Click the link for a recipe for Black Rice Ramen with Nasturtiums. You can find Lotus Foods Black Rice Ramen at your local Coop or natural foods store. They are a fantastic whole grain noodle, too, making this an appropriate recipe for celebrating Whole Grains Month. (Click to enter to win a book!)
Just take a look at this amazing noodle display- you can see why I was drawn to the black ramen like a bee to a flower. It is made with ground sesame mixed in with the dough, for a wonderful nutty taste, and the texture is amazingly supple and just firm enough, not fragile or crumbly. Jeff at Dumpling and Strand tells me that this ramen will back, and we will just have to keep an eye out for it to cycle back in again. The other noodles are also fantastic, and I would grab that buckwheat noodle, or even the whole grain linguine to use in this recipe in a heartbeat.
My next find was some locally grown, absolutely fresh and tender baby ginger. It was so juicy and mild, I could have used twice as much. I’d already picked up a hunk of fresh turmeric, so I was leaning toward a bit of mild spiciness in my noodle sauce.
(Here’s a recipe for Carrot Turmeric Tonic from the last time I found fresh ginger and turmeric at the Market.)
Eating fresh ginger and turmeric is so health-promoting that I almost don’t want to bring it up, for fear you’ll think they are health foods. Trust me, as you enjoy the flavor, you will be building your immune system for the coming season, staving off inflammation, and protecting your brain from Alzheimers. It’s a win-win that they are also so delicious together.
So, I decided to “noodle” a little and improvise a sauce with ginger, turmeric, chiles, and the tomatoes and garlic chives I grow in my own garden. The noodles are so gorgeous as a backdrop for all that orange and red, I really didn’t need much more.
I wanted to really accentuate the sesame flavor, so I used toasted sesame oil to barely saute the ginger and turmeric. I kept the heat gentle to protect the delicate oil. I also pulled out my secret weapon, Gomasio.
Gomasio is a Japanese condiment, an ancient traditional seasoning made by simply toasting sesame seeds with coarse salt and then grinding the mixture to a coarse powder. I keep a jar of it in the refrigerator, where it keeps indefinitely. Try making your own, just put a cup of brown or white sesame seeds in a small saute pan and swirl over medium-high heat until the seeds are fragrant and oily. Add a teaspoon of coarse salt and transfer to a food processor, Vitamix or spice grinder, and pulse until the seeds are coarsely ground. It’s a quick recipe for an essential condiment that you can keep in your back pocket.
It’s one of the magic ingredients that can transform a bowl of leftovers into a feast. It’s also perfect for people trying to cut down on sodium, since it has a little salt and a ton of taste.
The dish turned out to be just what I needed on a warm Fall day. Light, but filling enough, and infused throughout with smoky, nutty sesame that delivered a satisfying umami punch. In keeping with the seasonal emphasis that guides so many Asian cuisines, I used the tomatoes at hand, rather than look for an exotic vegetable. I was rewarded with a tasty sauce that was a little sweet, rounded out with a splash of tangy rice vinegar. The gomasio clung to the saucy noodles like parmesan, coating the slippery strands to good effect.
All in all, a good way to make the most of my harvest of local foods.
Squid Ink Ramen with Ginger Tomato Sauce
9 ounces fresh squid ink ramen (or 1 package black rice ramen)
2 tablespoons julienned ginger
2 tablespoons julienned turmeric root
1 medium red chile, chopped
2 tablespoons dark sesame oil
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped garlic chives, plus flowers for garnish
2 large tomatoes, chopped and drained
Put the pot of water on to boil for the ramen.
Prep the ginger, turmeric and red chile, then heat the sesame oil in a medium saute pan over medium heat and add, stirring just to soften slightly. Cook for just a few minutes, then add the rice vinegar and salt and stir for a minute to thicken a little. Take off the heat.
Cook the ramen. It should take about 2 minutes, just check for doneness. Drain well. Put the ramen in a large bowl and add the chives,drained tomatoes and the ginger mixture and toss to coat. Add the cilantro as desired, sprinkle with gomasio on the plate.
Serve at room temperature.