The Real Food Journal

It’s Whole Grains Month, Try Sweet Potato Toast on Toast, Win a Book



September is Whole Grains Month, the month when we all think a little bit more about choosing whole grains, and how we can add them to our plates.

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As you probably know, it’s whole grain month all year long around here, so I thought I would do two things. One is, GIVE AWAY A BOOK.

Yes, read on through this post and there will be a place to enter to win a copy of The Whole Grain Promise.

Second, I wanted to take note of an internet phenomenon that has gotten a bit of buzz on instagram, pinterest and lots of other blogs. That is the concept of “sweet potato toast.”

If you haven’t heard of it yet, it is just what it sounds like. Sweet potatoes, sliced like bread, and then toasted. In the toaster. Of course, the folks who are most excited about this are the ones who want to avoid bread. Maybe they are avoiding gluten, or grains, or carbs, or just want to eat more vegetables. So they toast slices of sweet potato and put things that would go in a sandwich on top, like lovely fans of avocado and drizzles of hot sauce.

Well, I am not avoiding grains, in fact, I am celebrating them.

Here is a short summary of the main benefits of whole grains, from the Whole Grains Council:


The benefits of whole grains most documented by repeated studies include:

  • stroke risk reduced 30-36%
  • type 2 diabetes risk reduced 21-30%
  • heart disease risk reduced 25-28%
  • better weight maintenance

Other benefits indicated by recent studies include:

  • reduced risk of asthma
  • healthier carotid arteries
  • reduction of inflammatory disease risk
  • lower risk of colorectal cancer
  • healthier blood pressure levels
  • less gum disease and tooth loss

So there is no way that I’m giving up whole grains. I can still get in on this sweet potato toast thing, and just use them my own way.

So here are my slices of sweet potato in the toaster. I sliced them about the thickness of the kind of thin white bread you might use for tea sandwiches, about 1/4 inch. I did one test au naturel, and one brushed with a little oil.


It took two or three “toasts” to get them cooked through, but it worked. The bottom ones are dry-toasted, the top two had oil. Both are easily pierced with a paring knife.

Toasted Sweet Potatoes!

Toasted Sweet Potatoes!

The most important thing in a sandwich is the bread, and this is Baker’s Field Flour and Bread‘s 100% Whole Wheat bread. Feast upon it with your eyes. All naturally leavened, made with freshly ground wheat. This bread is going to make a good sandwich.


So I slivered up some kale and shredded a carrot, and stirred in some mayo to make a little slaw for the sandwich. A pinch of salt, a sprinkle of hot sauce. I put the sweet potato slices on the toasted bread, then covered them with slaw and shaved shallots.

Slices of gorgeous yellow tomato made it all complete. A glorious vegetable sandwich, celebrating whole grains.

So if you want to try sweet potato toast, either as a bread substitute or as a sandwich filling, give it a go. It is simple and easy, if you have a sharp knife. It’s probably something that you’d do if you are working in a limited kitchen, like say, a dorm room with just a toaster, or the break room at work. you can only toast a few slices at a time, so it’s not really practical for more than two people.

But, hey, sweet potatoes are a delicious, real food, and if you are looking for a gluten free bread, you could do far worse.

If you are like me and you love whole grains, get in on the free book giveaway.

Enter by checking out my facebook and twitter accounts, and feel free to comment here.

My most accessible, easy and fast recipes, all to get you eating whole grains.

My most accessible, easy and fast recipes, all to get you eating whole grains.

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Sweet Potato Toast on Toast!

Sweet Potato Toast on Toast!

Sweet Potato Toast on Toast with Kale Slaw

Serves 2

4 leaves kale

1 large carrot

a tablespoon or two of mayo of choice

salt and pepper

hot sauce, to taste

2 small sweet potatoes (pick out 4-5 inch long ones if you can find them)

1/2 small shallot, thinly shaved

1 big tomato

4 big slices whole wheat bread


Sliver the kale thinly, then put in a bowl. Shred the carrot into the bowl and stir in mayo to taste. Add salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with hot sauce, if desired.

Slice the sweet potato in 1/4 inch slices. If desired, brush with oil. Toast for 2 cycles in the toaster, then pierce with a paring knife. If the slices are tender, take out and let cool slightly. If not, toast again.

Toast the bread.

Arrange the sweet potato slices on the bread, cover with slaw and shallots, top with tomato, and place the remaining toasted bread on top. Serve warm.




Blueberry Peach Bars with Spelt, Celebrate Ancient Grains

Blueberry Peach Bars #blueberries #peach #bars #cookies #desserts #yum (1)

This summer was the summer of road trips. I know I clocked many hours in the car, trekking from Minnesota to Illinois to see my Mother. It’s a journey I’ve made many times, and I have learned a valuable lesson along the way.

Always, always, pack food.

Because unless you are a Road Food enthusiast like the Sterns on The Splendid Table, with local dining destinations all mapped out, you are going to get hungry and end up at truck stops and gas stations, looking for a snack.

It’s inevitable. We pull in for gas, and I end up scouting the store for edible food. We have our go-to’s, I’ve almost figured out where the unsweetened iced tea will be in the walls of coolers, hidden among the hyper sweet sodas, energy drinks, and beer. I’ve picked up lots of bags of nuts at truck stops, and the occasional granola bar. I even resort to truck stop coffee, when the podcasts I brought are not enough to keep me alert.

This year, we drove down to pick Mom up and bring her here, and spend a week. My Mother is allergic to wheat, so I always stock up on the flours and foods that she can eat. She is lucky, because she can tolerate Spelt, the ancient form of wheat that differs just enough that it doesn’t trigger her allergies. Ancient Grains are on the rise these days, in part because some of the people who don’t do well with conventional wheat find them easier to digest.

For the rest of us, Spelt is a tasty whole grain with a little less gluten that regular wheat. It is also a little higher in niacin, copper, iron, zinc, magnesium and phosphorus than whole wheat. Depending on which source you believe, it may be 9,000 or 8,000 years old, and was once the main grain grown in Europe. Because the gluten in Spelt is fragile, it’s not as well suited to bread baking, so when wheat varieties with stronger gluten came along, it went by the wayside. nobody bothered to hybridize it, so it is still the same simple grain it was, making it an Ancient Grain.

So for our drive, I wanted to bake a treat made from spelt. Over the years, we have found that whole and white spelt flours work best for her, and when combined, they work just like wheat. If you want to use all whole spelt flour, you certainly can.

I planned ahead and bought some of the locally ground Spelt flour from Baker’s Field flour and Bread, which is about as fresh as I can get it. (You can read my article about Baker’s Field in the Star Tribune here.) White Spelt flour is hard to find, but it is available in bulk at Valley Natural foods and Linden Hills Coop.

I decided to make us a pan of bars to get us through a 9-hour drive together, that Mom could eat and everybody would enjoy. So I chopped up a couple of peaches and mixed them with the blueberries from the farmer’s market, and cooked up the filling. An orange and its zest gave it a little sparkle of citrus. A simple, oaty crust and crumble came together quickly. You can use butter or coconut oil in the recipe, both with great results. If margarine is your thing, that would work, too.

Here’s a link to a Rhubarb Tart recipe that explains the measuring and chilling process for coconut oil.

Blueberries, Peaches, Sugar and Orange Zest #blueberries #baking #bars #yum

All in all, it was a quick recipe that saved us from succumbing to processed foods on our journey. I packed some avocado sandwiches, water, tea and stuff. I would have brought some organic chocolate, but the last time I did that, it melted in the package.

And yes, I tried to eat it anyway.

So here is the recipe for a bar that you can take on the road, on the plane, or in your lunchbox to work. Simple, easy, and made with Ancient Grains.

Just sturdy enough to eat in the car

Just sturdy enough to eat in the car

Blueberry Peach Bars with Spelt Flour

Makes 24 or so

3 cups blueberries, washed and stemmed
2 medium peaches
1/2 cup organic sugar
1 large orange, zested and juiced
2 tablespoons arrowroot
1 cup whole spelt flour
1 cup white spelt flour
1 cup organic brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1/2 cup cold butter or coconut oil


Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease a 9×13 metal baking pan and reserve.
To make the filling, put the blueberries, peaches, organic sugar, 1/4 cup orange juice and 1 tablespoon zest in a 2 quart pot and place over medium-high heat. Stir until it comes to a boil, then in a cup, whisk 1/4 cup of the remaining orange juice with the arrowroot and stir into the boiling liquids. Stir until the mixture thickens and the liquids become glossy. Take off the heat.
In a large bowl, place the spelt flours, organic brown sugar, soda and salt. Using the coarse holes of a grater, grate in the butter or coconut oil. Mix well with your hands, keeping bits of fat intact but allowing some to melt, just to bind the crumble.
Spread 2 cups of the oat mixture in the prepared pan and use wet fingers to pat it down firmly. Spread the blueberry mixture over the crust, then sprinkle the remaining oat mixture over the filling.
Bake for 50-55 minutes, until the blueberries are bubbling up in spots in the center of the pan, and the topping is golden brown. Cool on a rack, cut 4 by 6, if desired.




Tomato Jam is My Jam, the Easy Way to Savor and Save Tomatoes

Tomato Jam Crostini, with Basil and Pine Nuts

Tomato Jam Crostini, with Basil and Pine Nuts

Do you ever suffer from “canning guilt?”

That’s when you see flats of berries and crates of tomatoes, all at peak flavor and ripeness, and think,  ” I should really get some jars and lids and put up some some of this gorgeous produce, if I only had more time.”

And then you see your industrious friends’ posts of their beautiful jams and salsas, gleaming like sunlight in a jar, and you feel guilty.

Or maybe you feel envy, or just tired, because you are busy, and you can’t take on every kitchen project.

It’s ok. Like you, I don’t have time to bake all my bread, roll all my pasta, make fresh nut milk, ferment my own kimchi, and on and on. I pick a few and stick with them as best I can.

I make my own kombucha, just so you know. I’m not a slacker. Really.

And canning just doesn’t make the current cut. Maybe when I retire. I’m much better at freezing food.

So let me share my lazy lady’s way to put up some tomatoes. I call it Tomato Jam. I promise it will fit into your busy day. No blanching and peeling, no chopping, just some time in a pan and a buzz in the Vitamix. Don’t worry, the blender will vaporize any trace of tomato skins and seeds- leaving you with plenty of healthy fiber, and thickening the jam. You can use your food processor instead, if you don’t have a Vitamix.

Right now, my own tomatoes are ripening on the vine, and every day brings a new find in my tomato boxes. Hot, fragrant fruit hangs there, baking up sugars in the sun. I can take a quick stroll around my yard and come back with this:

Assorted tomatoes for Tomato Jam #tomatoes #seasonal #garden

So here is how I get my tomato jam on. I pick a bunch of tomatoes, or buy them. I weighed them so that I can give you a recipe, but you can just get a couple quarts or so of nice ripe tomatoes. Cut them in half, heat a generous dose of good olive oil in a cast iron skillet, and throw in the tomatoes. Toss in several cloves of whole garlic. Toss in some salt.

the lazy way- no chopping, no peeling!

the lazy way- no chopping, no peeling!

Then just crank up the heat to medium-high and stir occasionally, it will get really juicy, then thicken up, inside 30 minutes. The garlic melts down to tender sweetness, so you don’t have to do a thing to it. I used cast iron, which also transfers iron into the tomatoes, so this has extra iron for all you meat avoiders.

Simple and Full of Tomato Flavor, Ready to Use on Crostini, Pizza, and More

Simple and Full of Tomato Flavor, Ready to Puree and Use on Crostini, Pizza, and More

Once the mixture is thick, add some raw sugar just to take the edge off of the acidity. Simmer for a second, then scrape it into the Vitamix and blend. You’ll get a smooth, thick paste like this:

Tomato Jam #tomatoes #quickrecipe #sauces

Once the paste is cool, just transfer to a quart sized zip-top freezer bag, flatten into a sheet, and freeze, if you want to save it for after the snow flies. You’ll be glad you did.

This is the same technique I use for fresh basil preservation, which you can read about here.

No Ice Cube Trays For Me!

No Ice Cube Trays For Me!

You can also just stash it in the fridge and use it on everything, it makes a fine crostini topping, sandwich spread, pizza sauce, pasta sauce, soup base, and if you use your imagination, you will only find more uses.

I even slathered it on some sweet corn, and it was delicious.

I like to keep it simple, but if you have an urge to add some herbs, like fresh thyme and rosemary, or a dash of balsamic vinegar, give it a try.

I hope you will get creative and jam a little with your own tomato jam.

A seasonal treat!

A seasonal treat, why get complicated?

Tomato Jam

Makes about 1 cup

2 1/2 pounds ripe, assorted tomatoes, halved

10 cloves peeled garlic

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt, more to taste

1 tablespoon organic sugar

Prep the tomatoes, peel the garlic. In a large cast iron skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat, and then add the tomatoes, garlic and salt. Bring to a boil and stir occasionally for about 30 minutes.

When the tomatoes have broken down and become thick, stir in the sugar. Transfer the mixture to the Vitamix and secure the lid. Select Variable Speed 1 and turn on the machine, then gradually increase to Speed 5. Blend for several seconds, until the paste is smooth.

Scrape the paste into a bowl or other container. Freeze in bags or eat within a week.

Fresh Artisanal Pastas from Dumpling and Strand, with Squash Blossoms

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I rarely get that excited about a new product coming to market. Most of the time, it takes me months to get around to trying new things, in part because of my recipe testing queue. But fresh artisanal pastas might just get my attention.

Even as I am working on holiday recipes for December, the rebel on me wants to go to the farmer’s market and fill my basket with fleeting summer gems, like the first squash blossoms and heirloom tomatoes.

Nothing fits into that plan quite as well as a great fresh pasta, and I had been waiting for over  year to get to try “Dumping and Strand, Noodlers at Large” new line of artisanal pastas. That’s because I met the maker, Jeff Casper last year at the American Cereal Chemists International convention, where we were nerding out over whole grains.

It was clear that Casper was passionate about pasta, and had the background to make some amazing pasta and noodles.

“I spent 10 years doing product development work at General Mills.  Most of my time there was working in bakery and grain based foods.  While working in bread I began to seek out and learn from bakers such as Didier Rosada.  Only then did I really appreciate the amazing transformation of grains into incredible flavors by these master artisans.  That in turn led me to some culinary training at the Culinary Institute of America.  Later, I worked at a milling company and saw that many of these methods to develop flavor were not being applied to pasta, a food I have been making since I was a teenager.” said Casper.

He had my undivided attention when he told me of his plans to mill fresh, non-gmo flours, and to focus on bringing out the unique qualities of individual grains.

“Fresh whole grain flour tastes better: it is sweeter, more aromatic, and has a more complex flavor profile.  Our whole grain flours are ideally milled within a day or two of when we make our pasta.  The oils in whole grains are prone to oxidation, which in turn leads to an acrid bitterness and some cardboard-like off flavors.  This may be in part why many of the dried whole wheat pastas have a flat cardboard-like flavor.” he said.

He was even playing around with using levain, a pre-fermented starter often used to make traditional breads, as part of the pasta dough.

“I personally find many dried whole grain pastas underwhelming in flavor.  In bread, fermentation of grains awakens latent complex flavors that make whole grain flavor incredibly delicious.  Because of my disappointment with whole grain pasta, I was curious if some levain would help make a whole grain pasta stand out in a dish as an equal partner with other ingredients.  When I tasted some early versions with friends, some of them remarked that the pasta tasted like artisan bread- which made me happy because that is what the goal was.”

So of course, I was ready to eat a big plate full of this intriguing pasta then. I had to wait.

Well, I finally got my hands on the pasta at the Mill City Market. Take a look at the spread of oh-so-fresh noodle goodness.

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Amazing, aren’t they? It was oh so hard to pick, but I went with the Sprouted Whole Wheat Levain Fettucine, Sprouted Whole Wheat Levain Pappardelle, Toasted Farro Fettucine, and Gluten Free Fusillo.

When most of us buy pasta made in factories that deal in millions of pounds of product, we get something very standardized and predictable. A smaller, artisan operation like Dumpling and Strand has the ability to be a little more spontaneous. If they feel like making a sprouted farro pasta one week, they can make a small batch, and print a few labels. No million dollar marketing campaign or re-tooling at the factory.

These pastas are breathtakingly good. Just contemplate all the varying thicknesses of the noodles, and the care that went into selecting the shapes of each one. The delicate pappardelle is just a whisper thinner than the toothsome fettucine, while the traditional ramen is a fine thread, next to the thicker buckwheat soba. They cook in 2-3 minutes, depending on the shape, and have textures that will have you throwing those supermarket boxes of macaroni in the trash.

I’ve been on a soapbox for years about whole wheat pasta. It’s gotten better, and most of them no longer dissolve into a gritty mush as soon as they are tender enough to eat. I’m happy to say that Dumpling and Strand have cracked the code. Taking a bite of these whole wheat pastas gives you a sensation of both weight and silkiness. Tender and supple, the fettucine didn’t break up after being tossed with the sauce, and had an appealing variegated color, as if there were a granular constellation within the noodle, spiked with barely visible bits of bran. There was a depth of flavor that must have come from the levain.

And gluten-free pasta? I did write a book about it, so I know just how tricky it is to get it right. I am thrilled to say that this toasted basmati rice version, with no dairy added, is excellent.

” I have several friends with celiac parents or kids and wanted to develop GF pastas that they felt good about buying their family members and could enjoy themselves even though they did not need GF.  This meant a product with the texture and flavor of a fresh wheat based pasta while providing some whole grain content.  Our formula contains an heirloom benne (low oil sesame) flour to help give a wheat-like note to the cooked flavor.  We also have a GF fresh ramen noodle and 100% Buckwheat Soba noodle that are GF.  We  have dedicated space and equipment for producing our GF pastas. We are working to get GFCO certified for these products in early fall. ”

I tossed my fusillo with a quick basil and almond pesto, and some fresh tomatoes.

Gluten-free fusillo with pesto and tomatoes

Gluten-free fusillo with pesto and tomatoes

To give the fettucine an appropriate, seasonal and local send off, I bought baby zucchini with blossoms attached, and opted to sear the crisp little zucchini in some hot olive oil. I sliced the blossoms and some vine-ripe red and yellow tomatoes, slivered some basil, and chopped some pistachios to play off the nutty taste of the pasta.

Baby Zucchini with blossoms

Baby Zucchini with blossoms

Squash blossoms are available for such a brief moment at the market, so I felt lucky to have gotten them for this dish. If you haven’t worked with them, just be careful to wash them well and pat dry, and remove the base of the flower and the stamens, which don’t taste all that great.

Trimming the blossoms

Trimming the blossoms

Sliver the tender flowers in strips, so that you can simply marinate them in olive oil and garlic, and toss with the pasta.

If you are able to make it to the Mill City, Kingfield or Linden Hills Farmer’s Markets, make a beeline to the Dumpling and Strand display. The “noodlers at large” are working at getting the pastas into stores in the area, as well.

As for me, I’m glad that good things come to those who wait!

Fresh Sprouted Whole Wheat Levain Fettucine with Squash Blossoms and Pistachios

Serves 2 hungry adults


8 ounces fresh whole wheat fettucine

1/4 cup shelled, unsalted pistachios (toasted or raw, whatever you can get)

6 baby zucchini with blossoms

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided

1/2 cup fresh basil, slivered

1 clove garlic, chopped

2 small tomatoes, chopped

2 teaspoons fresh lemon zest

a generous pinch or two of coarse salt

Parmigiano Reggiano, if desired


Put on a large pot of water to boil for the pasta, and salt it generously.

Chop the pistachios so that some are finely powdered, and some are in small chunks, reserve.

Snap the zucchini blossoms off the zucchini and soak them in a large bowl of cold water to remove dirt and ants, then drain. Open the flowers and remove the bases as shown in the photo above. Pat the blossoms dry and sliver, then put in a medium bowl. Add 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, the basil, garlic, tomatoes, zest and salt and toss to mix. Let stand while you prepare the zucchini and pasta.

Slice the zucchini. Place a large saute pan over high heat, and when hot, drizzle in the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Let heat for a few seconds, then add the zucchini and sear for a minute before turning the slices. Sear the zucchini until browned on both sides.

Cook the pasta for about 2 minutes, then start testing, it may take 30 seconds or a minute more. Drain and quickly rinse with a splash of hot water. Drain well.

To the pan with the zucchini, add the squash blossom mixture and the hot pasta. Toss, and toss in half of the pistachios. Taste for salt.

Serve sprinkled with remaining pistachios and garnished with the remaining two squash blossoms. If desired, grate parmesan over each plate.





New Potatoes with Edamame and Avocado Miso Sauce Make a Great Bowl


Pile it up!

Pile it up!

As I explore the bowl, the more foods present themselves to be incorporated into my bowl-shaped World view. Once you get the basic structure down, it’s all ready to be a great bowl. Writing Great Bowls of Food seems to have changed the shape of my meals forever.

That is what happened when I spotted some tender young baby potatoes at the farmer’s market. Their fragile, papery skins beckoned, even as their sweet, ever so tender flesh awaited my fork. As much as I love whole grains, when I spot another starch that is this sexy, I have to stray.

Besides, potatoes have gotten an undue bad rap, in the carb wars. (Insert sigh here.) I hope that someday we look back at these as the dark days, when a form of madness struck a sizable part of the population, and the whole grain and potato babies got thrown out with the bathwater. Yes, let’s cut back on our refined sugar and white flour carbs, but no, let’s not kick the poor potato when it is down.

As it turns out, a cold new potato is a whole different animal than a french fry or a potato chip, as far as your body is concerned.

For one thing, when you refrigerate a potato, some of the starches morph into something called “resistant starch,” which is much harder for your body to break down. So much so that it is considered a weight loss tool. Resistant starch is present in other grains and veggies, but the potato is a perfect place to get it. If you want to stay full and have slow burning energy, eat a cold potato.

Another benefit of the resistant starch and fiber in the potato is that beneficial bacteria love it, and they will flourish as they break it down. They then release some powerful anti-cancer chemicals in the process.

The new potato, or baby potato, has twice the Vitamin C of a grown up potato, which is just another reason to stick to these tender little gems. All potatoes are a very good source of Vitamin B6, which is important to heart health, your brain and nervous system, and even athletic performance.

But really, it is all about taste and texture. For my bowl, I tossed my new potatoes in just enough Sriracha mayo to coat, and then I piled some edamame and shredded carrots on top. I slivered some baby kale and cucumber, and tossed that with a sprinkle of salt and a few drops of sesame oil. After a garnish of black sesame, I dolloped a creamy avocado-miso sauce over it all. Now that is a great bowl.

It was new potatoes-meet-Japan, all in a bowl.

New Potato Bowl with Edamame and Avocado Sauce

New Potato Bowl with Edamame and Avocado Sauce


New Potato Bowl with Edamame and Avocado Sauce

Serves 4

4 cups new potatoes, boiled and quartered

2 tablespoons Sriracha Mayo

1 cucumber

2 cups baby kale

1 pinch salt

1 teaspoon dark sesame oil

2 cups shredded carrots

2 cups edamame, shelled, thawed

black sesame seeds


1 large avocado

1 tablespoon fresh ginger

1 tablespoon white miso

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

1/4 cup mirin

1/4 cup brewed green tea

Toss potatoes with Sriracha mayo. Mix the cuke, kale, salt and sesame oil in a bowl and massage a bit, reserve. Prep carrots and edamame.

In a blender, combine the avocado, ginger, miso, vinegar, miring and tea. Blend until smooth.

Arrange the potatoes in  4 bowls, then top with kale mixture, carrot, edamame and a sprinkle of black sesame. Drizzle sauce over the bowls and serve.

Whole Wheat Bao with Black Bean Tofu, The Steamed Bun for Everyone

Take a big bite of bao

Take a big bite of bao

Bao are hot right now. At least if you pay attention to all the chatter about places like Momofuku in NYC. Bao are simply Chinese steamed buns, and they come in many forms. The folded bao that they serve at places like Momofuku are made with a fluffy, sweet white flour bun, that is opened and stuffed with a hunk of pork and some scallions and pickled vegetables, all with a smear of hoisin sauce.

Basically, a sandwich on fresh, warm bread, filled with savory, crisp, sweet and sour. No wonder everybody loves them. Of course, I had to make some with tofu, instead of pork.

They are delicious.

These buns are the descendants of a Taiwanese festival bun, Galled Gua Bao, and according to Lucky Peach, they were originally an offering to the Earth god, because they resemble a purse overflowing with money. Now they are sold at street stalls in China and all over the world.

The Bao is about the size of a slider, with a very particular kind of bread. I’ve been making dim sum for many years, and teaching classes on the art of steamed buns, dumplings, and other tidbits. The first time you have steamed bread it is a revelation, because the crust is soft and pale, rather than crisp and brown from the oven. The dough is always salt-free and has some sugar in it, making it a completely different experience from our Western bread.

For my whole wheat bao, I used white whole wheat flour. It’s paler and a little finer in texture, depending on the brand. It’s also a little lower in gluten, so it can make a tender dough, if you don’t over-knead it. I used coconut oil in and on the dough, a trick I came up with to replace the traditional lard. Lard is big in Chinese cuisine, where pork is a long time favorite food. Coconut oil has a buttery mouthfeel and a relatively neutral flavor. I used refined, not extra-virgin, just to keep the coconut flavor from being prominent. The dough is usually leavened with both yeast and baking powder, so it gets a nice rise in the steamer.

I have a large stainless steel steamer that I bought for making large quantities of steamed dumplings and buns, but if you don’t have one, you can rig one from things you have around. A plate, placed on a cake rack in a large pot of simmering water will work. you just need to be able to keep the water from touching the bottom of the plate, and to close the lid tightly. I’ve even used four wads of foil in the bottom of the pan to hold the plate above the water, and it worked. You just need the buns to be in steam, not water.

Once I mixed up the dough, it was quite tacky, which is good. Whole wheat flour absorbs more water than white, and it takes it a few minutes to do it. It’s far better to have a sticky dough and knead it a bit on a floured counter, then let it rest, than to add more flour at the start and have a dense, heavy bread.

Once I let it rise for an hour, the dough was supple and easy to shape. I divided it in 12 pieces and formed each into an oval, brushed it with coconut oil, and folded it to make the bao shape. Just fold it, don’t press, and the coconut oil will keep the bread from melding completely. Then I placed each one on a parchment square and on the steamer pan. I let them rise for 30 minutes.

While all of that was going on, I had tofu baking in the oven, coated with black bean sauce and hot sesame oil.

The tofu will never be as unctuous as I imagine pork belly to be, but it is pretty darn tasty in its own right, with all the umami of fermented black soy and tamari smeared over it.


Making Bao Dough for Tofu Bao with Black Bean Sauce #bao #dim sum #buns #vegan #vegetarian

I steamed the buns for about 20 minutes over medium heat, giving them some time to puff in the steam.

Bao buns in the steamer

Bao buns in the steamer

For the finished bao, I stirred up some hoisin sauce with peanut butter and honey, for a salty sweet spread. Some minced scallions, pea shoots, and julienned daikon and carrots tossed with rice vinegar and salt were all I needed.

Stuffing my bao

Stuffing my bao

Whole Wheat Bao with Black Bean Tofu

Makes 12


1 14 ounce block extra-firm organic tofu

3 tablespoons black bean sauce

2 tablespoons tamari

1 teaspoon hot sesame oil

2 tablespoons honey


3 cups white whole wheat flour

3 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon quick rise yeast

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 1/4 cup warm water

2 tablespoons coconut oil, plus a couple tablespoons for brushing


1 large carrot, finely julienned

1 cup finely julienned daikon

3 tablespoons rice vinegar

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 large scallions

pea shoots


2 tablespoons hoisin sauce

2 tablespoons peanut butter

2 tablespoons honey

Sriracha sauce to pass.


Preheat the oven to 400 F. Oil a sheet pan and reserve. Mix up the black bean sauce, tamari, hot oil and honey in a medium bowl. Press the tofu in a towel and then slice it into 6 1/2 inch thick slices, then slice them in half to make 12 squares. Gently coat the tofu with the black bean mixture and place on the baking pan. Bake for 30 minutes, let cool.

Cut parchment into squares about 2 inches by 2 inches. You need 12.

For the dough, stir the flour, sugar, yeast and baking powder in a large bowl. In a cup, mix the warm water and melted coconut oil and stir into the dough. Stir until it becomes a shaggy mass, then knead gently to mix. When it becomes sticky, place on a floured counter and knead until a soft dough is formed. Place in a oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap for an hour.

Prep the fillings, combine the carrot, daikon, vinegar and salt and toss, let stand. Mince the scallions and reserve. Mix the spread in a small bowl and reserve.

To make the bao, divide the dough into 12 pieces, then form each into an oval. Flatten each on the counter to make 5-6 inch long, 3 inch wide ovals of dough. Baste each on both sides with coconut oil, then fold and place each on a parchment square on the steamer tray or plate you will be using.

Let rise for 30 minutes.

Preheat the steamer, and when the buns are slightly puffed, place the steamer over the boiling water. Cover, and when the steam is filling the pan and escaping out the sides, reduce to medium. Cook for about 20 minutes, until the buns are puffed and cooked through.

To serve, open each bun and smear with hoisin sauce, sprinkle with scallions, place a tofu square inside and top with the daikon mixture. Top with a few pea shoots. Close and serve immediately, with Sriracha sauce on the side.


Puffy buns filled with savory tofu and crisp veggies

Puffy buns filled with savory tofu and crisp veggies













Witches Fingers and Figs make a Great Bowl

Pile up some visually striking, sweet fruit

Pile up some visually striking, sweet fruit

I love it when I wander into the produce section and stumble onto something really unusual. We always have our stand-by familiar Cavendish bananas, and I like the ubiquitous Gala as much as the next person. But a “witch finger” grape? That kind of jumped out at me.

And into my cart.

Because anytime you see a beautiful piece of produce, you should think, “that would make a great bowl.” The whole idea of a great bowl is to show off the colors and shapes of vibrant, nourishing plant foods. And of course, taste great.

Then I thought I should do a little research. These distinctive grapes are a new hybrid (not GMO) that was developed in 2002 in California. They are sweet and deep purple, with dense clusters on the vine and an elongated, finger-like shape. If you can’t find them, you can make this recipe with another purple grape, too.

These grapes taste like candy, and you will want to eat them by the handful. So it’s wonderful that purple grape skins are a source of antioxidant polyphenols and resveratrol, which prevent various cancers. They also have quercetin, which lowers cholesterol and inflammation, and even helps with your allergies. They are high in Vitamins A, K, and C. Considering how sweet they are, their high fiber content that keeps their glycemic index low, in the 50’s, so don’t shy away from them for their carbohydrates. Grapes are a superfood.

They just happen to be in season at the same time that we are getting exotic figs from California, so I thought I would put them both on display in a simple breakfast bowl.

All it took was some leftover brown rice, a bit of cinnamon, and a honey-lemon-rosemary black pepper drizzle. A sprinkle of chopped macadamias made the great bowl complete.

To make the honey drizzle, I just combined raw honey, cracked black pepper and a rosemary sprig, and warmed it gently, then stirred in some lemon juice.

2016-06-22 12.12.41

I like the combination of hot, crunchy black peppercorns and sweet, floral honey, and the rosemary gives it a vibrant, piney note. Lemon cuts the heat and makes it pourable. Don’t be fooled, if you think of black pepper as mild, you must be eating stale pepper. This will be hot. To crush the pepper, I just put it in a plastic bag and hit it with the bottom of the pan until it was all broken in chunks.

If you want coarse chunks of pepper, just pound it with the bottom of a pot

If you want coarse chunks of pepper, just pound it with the bottom of a pot

For the fruit, I halved the grapes and quartered the figs. They were so beautiful that I really just had to arrange them to show them off.

2016-06-22 12.40.29 Once it was all cut up and composed, I just drizzled the melted honey and pepper over the top, and it was ready to serve. You could do this with any leftover grain, really. Barley or quinoa spring to mind. Anything that goes with cinnamon and fruit.

Witch Finger Grape and Fig Bowl with Black Pepper Honey #food #bowls #yum(1)


“Witch Finger” Grape and Fig Bowl with Black Pepper Honey

Of course, you could use regular purple grapes for this, and switch out the brown rice for another grain.

Serves 1

1 cup cooked brown rice

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

4 large ripe figs

about 12 witch finger grapes

31/2 teaspoon black peppercorns

tablespoons raw honey

2 sprigs rosemary, divided

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, and zest for garnish

about 8 macadamias, coarsely chopped

Mix the brown rice with cinnamon, and place in your bowl. Top with fruit, arranging it to suit your mood.

Crack the black peppercorns with a pot. Place the honey, pepper and rosemary sprig in a small pot and warm on low heat. Stir in the lemon.

Drizzle the honey mixture over the bowl, and top with macadamias and lemon zest.

Eat and enjoy your great bowl.


Ochazuke-Japanese Rice and Tea Bowls


Long before Chipotle offered a taco bowl, Panera introduced Broth Bowls, or bloggers lit up the pages of pinterest with snaps of acai bowls, there was Ochazuke. Ochazuke, the great bowl of food that may have started it all.

Ochazuke is a traditional Japanese dish, which can be traced back to 795 AD. It’s essentially a home cook’s quick lunch, combining leftover rice and hot tea. In my exploration of all things “bowl,” I tip my hat to this old-school way of making a grain based meal in a bowl. It’s the thrifty great-great-great-great grandmother of a broth bowl, really.

Ochazuke is a simple dish to make, and as long as you are doing it, you might as well use Japanese style ingredients. You can also feel free to arrange a few leftovers in the bowl, whatever works for you.

I bought loose leaf Sencha tea, which is the everyday tea of Japan. If you haven’t tried a straightforward, Japanese green tea, try this one. It makes a pale, subtly green cup of tea, that tastes grassy and slightly sweet. I notice when I am buying tea that most grocery stores carry endless flavored green teas, from mango to pomegranate, but very few plain ones, and I fear that Americans think green tea tastes bad. If you have had experiences with green tea tasting bitter or astringent, you may well have been using overheated water, too much tea, or too long a steep. Sencha is generally best brewed with 160-170 F water. 2 teaspoons per cup is plenty, and 2 minutes steep is long enough.


Sencha Tea and Arare Rice Crackers for Ochazuke #bowls #wholegrain #tea #yum #food

For my bowl, I cooked up some short grain brown rice, and I roasted some tofu with tamari. It’s essential to the bowl that you have some rice crackers, and these Lotus cracker mixes just appeared in stores here, so I just had to try them. They are called Arare Rice Crackers, and they come in shoyu, Thai or Sriracha flavors. They are made with heirloom brown and black rice, and have a tasty glaze that is just a little sweet.

Because I didn’t have traditional Japanese pickled vegetables on hand, I went with a locally made Sesame-Seaweed Kraut from Fierce Ferments. It’s a lively Japanese-inspired fresh kraut, with cabbage, daikon, turnip, burdock, scallions, sesame, celtic sea salt, kombu, wakame and arame. For a garnish, I used some seasoned nori strips I picked up at the Asian market, which have a crispy texture and a light coating of sesame and perilla oil and sea salt.

Ochazuke #tea #wholegrain #japanese food #yum #bowls

Once I had my tea brewed and everything ready to go, it was just a matter of pouring the tea, and topping the rice with pickled veggies, rice crackers and slivered seaweed pieces. For a fun garnish, bring out your Japanese pickled ginger, or sprinkle with black or brown sesame seeds. I sprinkled on some Schichimi Togarashi, a Japanese condiment I made from orange zest, red pepper flakes, sesame seeds and salt.

Pouring the Tea

Pouring the Tea

If desired, you can always add some shoyu or tamari to the tea, or a pinch of salt. It would be really good with a tablespoon or so of red miso whisked into the tea, too.

Getting back to my bowl roots is a good way to keep my bowls fresh. Ochazuke is definitely soul food for the bowl lover.

Add the nori at the last minute.

Add the nori at the last minute.


Serves 2

8 ounces extra firm tofu

tamari and canola oil

1 cup cooked short grain brown rice

3 cups brewed Sencha tea ( 3 cups 170 F water, 1 tablespoon sencha)

1/2 cup pickled veggies

1/4 cup pickled ginger (gari)

6 pieces toasted seasoned nori, or 1 sheet nori, slivered

1/2 cup rice crackers, or more to taste

Schchimi Togarashi or sesame seeds

To bake the tofu, preheat the oven to 400 F. Lightly oil a sheet pan. Drain and pat dry the tofu, then slice in 1/2 inch thick slices. Place the slices on the pan and sprinkle with tamari to cover, then flip the slices and sprinkle that side. Bake for 20 minutes, then use a spatula to turn the tofu and bake for 10 minutes longer. Cool the pan on a rack.

Cook the brown rice, or use leftover.

Steep the tea for 2 minutes, and save the leaves for another steep. You can use them at least three times.

In each bowl, place 1/2 cup rice, and arrange slices of tofu against one side. Pour the tea over the rice, and let stand to warm the rice for a couple of minutes. Top with pickled veggies, pickled ginger, nori and rice crackers. Sprinkle with Togarashi or sesame and serve.

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