Every Spring, there is a moment when we can all relax into it. The last episode of freezing temperatures has come and gone, and all around us, green leaves are unfurling like slow motion fireworks. The plants have been waiting patiently, ready to make up for all those dormant months. The landscape changes from greys and bare trunks to every shade of green, leaves rolling out like clouds, softening all the harsh angles.
Welcome to Spring in Minnesota.
It has warmed up enough to get my seeds in the ground, and I eagerly survey the turned soil as I make my way on the backyard path. Even if I just walked past an hour ago, you never know when that spinach might pop up!
Every year, as I sprinkle my little packets of seed into furrows, I think about our local farmers. Here I am playing at it, while they are betting their livelihoods on a decent Spring. I have to salute them. It’s hard work, and often easily wiped out by unpredictable weather. Spring hail might knock all the blossoms off the stone fruit trees, or a dry spell could cause all the herbs to shrivel and bolt.
It’s a tough business. So it is with great anticipation that we look to our local harvests.
In fact, I am so looking forward to the day when my local farmer brings Spring berries to market that I worked up this recipe for a vegan fruit tartlet. You can use just about any fruit to fill it, although berries are the easiest, since you don’t even have to cut them. California berries are on sale right now, but this will really sing when I can stuff the little crusts with just-picked little juice-bombs.
I like to make the tartlet crusts in a muffin pan, so that you don’t need specialized mini-tart pans to do it. I don’t know how many people even own those. The kitchen cupboards are overcrowded as it is. This is an easy, press in the pan crust, that bakes up sturdy and crunchy. I’s also flexible, I used whole almonds, but you can use just about any nut you choose.
I opted to use maple syrup in the crust, and palm sugar in the filling. I wanted a liquid sweetener to help hold the crust dough together, and the flavor of maple gives it a depth of flavor as well as sweetness. Palm sugar, if you haven’t tried it, is a fantastic sweetener. I call it the maple sugar of Thailand, because it is tapped from the sugar palms there, and boiled down, in a process that seems to be the Tropical equivalent of syruping here.
Palm sugar is a wonderful whole sweetener, with all the minerals left in. It tastes like caramel and brown sugar at the same time. It’s also low on the glycemic index, if you are watching out for carbs.
A simple pudding, thickened with starch, provides a creamy filling. It’s just there to nestle your precious berries in. If you want a richer pudding, use canned coconut milk. Almond milk is more neutral in flavor, but both taste lovely with a little vanilla and lemon zest.
Let the Spring berry season begin! I’ll be ready, with my berry tartlet recipe.
Blackberry and Kiwi Tartlets
1 cup whole almonds
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
1/4 cup maple syrup
coconut oil for the pan
2 cups plus 1/4 cup almond or coconut milk
2/3 cup palm sugar
3 tablespoons arrowroot or cornstarch
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla
Assorted berries and fruit, I used 1 cup of blackberries and 2 kiwis
apricot jam, if desired, for glaze (I didn’t bother this time)
lemon zest for garnish
Make the crusts: preheat the oven to 375 F. In a food processor, pulse the almonds a few times to chop them coarsely. Add the oats and grind to a mince. Add the pastry flour and salt and pulse to mix, then add the coconut oil and maple syrup and process to mix. You may need to transfer it to a bowl and knead it by hand.
Generously grease the cups of a 12 cup muffin pan. Scoop 2 tablespoons of the dough into each cup, and if there is some left over, divide it evenly between them. Dampen your fingers and press the dough evenly into the cups. Press it up the sides, almost to the rim. Poke the bottoms of the crusts with a fork a few times, then bake for 15 minutes. The tops will be golden brown. Take out and cool on a rack. Use a paring knife to pop each of the shells out, carefully.
For the filling, combine 2 cups of almond milk with palm sugar in a 1-quart pot and warm over medium heat. Whisk to melt the chunky sugar. Once the lumps are gone, whisk the arrowroot or cornstarch with the remaining almond milk and then whisk into the hot liquid in the pan. Whisk and cook until thickened. Whisk in the zest and vanilla.
Let the pudding cool, then chill. When cold, assemble the tartlets. Scoop about 2 tablespoons of the pudding to each crust, then press fruit into it to cover. Have fun arranging the fruit in each tart a little differently. If desired, mix a couple of tablespoons of jam with a tablespoon of water in a cup, and use a pastry brush to glaze the fruit. Garnish with zest.
Vegetarians and Thai food are a match made in heaven.
Thai food is a go-to for the meatless crowd, because it is so packed with flavors and textures that don’t rely on animal foods. Rich coconut milk, tangy lime, lemongrass and tamarind, tongue tingling ginger, chiles and garlic all enliven the simplest, most basic foods to make a symphony. Peanuts and cashews add crunch and heft to the otherwise weightless salads. Rice paper wrapped veggies and noodles take a dip in peanut sauce, and all is right with the world.
So it is absolutely crucial that veggie minded folks have a source for authentic Thai recipes. Thanks to Nancie McDermott, we do, with Simply Vegetarian Thai cooking, 125 real Thai recipes (Robert Rose $19.95.)
Full disclosure: Nancie is a colleague and friend, and I look to her as an expert on this and other topics. She knows her stuff.
McDermott knows how to walk her talk, when she says “real” Thai recipes. You see, she lived in Thailand for three years as a Peace Corps volunteer. In between teaching English to Junior High students and exploring the Thai culture, she absorbed the flavors and practices of Thai food. At that time, she had no idea that she would ever write about food.
For her three year immersion, McDermott shopped in the farmers market every morning at dawn. She cooked in an open air kitchen, with a group of her English students as roommates and helpers. No imported cheesy poofs and peanut butter for her, she ate rice three times a day and learned to make the simple dishes that her young female students had learned at home. The market was a source for more amazing home-cooked foods, from snacks to freshly pounded curry pastes.
In the intervening years, she has returned to Thailand, as an accomplished food writer and historian. And we all benefit, thanks to her extensive writing on the foods of Southeast Asia. She has written two other Thai cookbooks, as well as Chinese and Vietnamese cookbooks, among her ten cookbooks. Her website is packed with well written blog posts and delicious recipes, check it out here.
According to McDermott, vegetarianism is not widespread in Thailand, even though there are several forms of Buddhism practiced there. The Theravada Buddhist Monks vow to live simply and take no life. As in other Buddhist cultures, practicing Buddhists offer the Monks food to live on, which may or may not contain meat and fish. Because someone else took the life of the animal, and it’s an offering, the Monks consume the meat. There is a growing movement toward vegetarian fare, though, a confluence of Buddhist practice and the contemporary awareness of the health benefits. She advises looking for vegetarian restaurants in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, if you are so lucky as to get to visit.
Simply Vegetarian Thai is a well-organized guide, with appetizers and snacks, soups, salads, curries and noodle dishes, as well as drinks and sweets. Unlike your local Thai place, where you have to make sure that no fish sauce or shrimp paste is in the dish, when you make it at home, you can rest easy. McDermott makes it a joy, with her clever substitutions, that stay as close to the authentic as possible. One such trick is her Mushroom Mince, a vegetarian alternative to ground meat that is used in several recipes in the book. She’s also got a method for replacing fish sauce: a little vegetable stock and salt, and a dab of soy sauce, rather than just subbing soy, for a subtler, more authentic taste.
There are many tempting recipes here, that you won’t find on the standard Thai menu. Crispy Mung Bean Fritters and Sweet Potato Shiao Mai (DUMPLINGS!) sound delicious. Kale Salad with Thai Flavors is a little bow to the American love of kale, among the traditional salads. Soups like Tome Yum and Jasmine Rice Soup with Mushrooms Green Onions and Crispy Garlic make your mouth water. An extensive curry chapter gives you options for all seasons, with Winter Vegetables Infused with Coconut Milk and Cashews or a summery Green Curry with Zucchini and Bamboo Shoots. Main courses like Sweet and Sour Tempeh with Cucumber and Cauliflower and Thai Omelet with Sriracha are a meal in themselves. Noodles and Rice recipes are also craveable, with Pineapple Fried Rice and Mee Grob, the crispy fried noodle dish that has more textures and colors than just about any food you will encounter. Desserts like Mango Sorbet and recipes for Thai Iced Tea and Coffee are worth the price of admission.
At the beginning of each chapter, McDermott gives you deeper explanations of the background and practice around the dishes, which is fascinating information.
So whether you are looking for a few new Thai dishes for Meatless Mondays, or you have been a veg for years, this is a great addition to your cookbook library. Fire up the wok, and give these recipes a try. They are just a teaser, there are plenty more in the book that you may never have had in a restaurant.
Who can resist a good Paht Thai? Not me!
In Thailand, most noodle dishes have clear Chinese origins and have been adapted very little, since they please Thais just the way they are. This is the exception, a Thai invention, with the basic technique of stir-frying applied to seasonings that marry sweet with sour and salty with hot in a way Thais adore. The full name for this dish is kwaytiow paht Thai. The first word means rice noodles and paht means to stir-fry in a wok or shallow skillet. The word Thai says that the use of tamarind, sugar, peanuts, bean sprouts and lime in this dish is a signature of Thai ingenuity in the kitchen. Noodle chefs in Thailand freely include their own touches to create a signature version, so use your ingenuity once you get the hang of cooking the noodles.
Serves 1 as a main course or 2 as an appetizer
Asian-style wire strainer or slotted spoon
4 oz dried rice noodles, the width of linguine or fettuccine
8 oz firm tofu, cut into slender 1-inch (2.5 cm) long rods
1 tbsp coarsely chopped garlic(4 to 6 cloves)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1⁄4 cup Vegetable Stock, homemade or store-bought
2 tbsp Tamarind Liquid (or freshly squeezed lime juice)
1 tbsp Asian bean sauce
1 tbsp granulated sugar
2 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp salt
1⁄2 tsp hot pepper flakes
1⁄2 cup finely chopped salted dry-roasted peanuts, divided
2 cups bean sprouts, divided
3 green onions, whites thinly sliced crosswise and tender, green tops cut into 1-inch (2.5 cm) lengths
1 lime, quartered lengthwise
- Place dried rice noodles in warm water to soak for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, pour vegetable oil into a medium skillet to a depth of about 2 inches (5 cm). Place over medium heat until a bit of tofu added to pan sizzles at once. Line a plate with paper towels and place near the stove. When oil is ready, add tofu in small batches to discourage them from sticking together.
- When noodles are very limp and white, drain and measure out 21⁄2cups (625 mL). Set near the stove.
- Heat a wok or a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tbsp (15 mL) oil and swirl to coat pan. Add garlic and toss until golden, about 1 minute. Add egg and tilt pan to coat surface in a thin sheet. As soon as egg is opaque and beginning to set, scramble well and transfer to a serving platter.
- Add 2 more tbsp (30 mL) oil to pan and heat for 30 seconds. Add softened noodles and, using a spatula, spread and pull noodles into a thin layer covering surface of pan. Then scrape down into a clump again and gently turn over.
- Add vegetable stock, tamarind, bean sauce, sugar, soy sauce and salt and toss well. Hook loops of noodles with edge of spatula and pull up the sides, spreading out into a layer again. Repeat this process several times as the stiff, white noodles soften and curl into ivory ringlets. Add pepper flakes and about half of the peanuts and turn noodles a few more times.
- Set aside a little less than half of the bean sprouts for garnish. Add remainder to pan along with green onions and cooked egg. Toss well and cook until bean sprouts and green onion tops are shiny and beginning to wilt, 1 to 2 minutes more. Transfer to serving platter and squeeze lime wedges over top. Garnish with remaining peanuts and bean sprouts on one side and serve at once.
This makes only one or two portions, which is the best I can do with a wok on a Western stove. In Thailand, expert cooks do only a batch or two at a time, too, even when a tableful of diners orders paht Thai. A wok can only do justice to so many noodles at one time.
My recipe instructs you to squeeze the lime juice over the noodles just before serving. This is because I have found that if I present the dish Thai style, with a lime wedge on the side, it is left behind like a parsley garnish on a dinner plate at a banquet. Thais always squeeze on lime juice, so I like to include some and then offer extra lime wedges to those who like an extra sour hit.
Green Papaya Salad
This sparkling tangle of shredded unripe papaya, juicy tomatoes, shallots and garlic is infused with an incendiary combination of lime juice, palm sugar and chiles. Known by its Laotian name, som tum, this rustic, intensely flavored dish is made from simple ingredients that epitomize the cuisine and spirit of northeastern Thailand.
- Mortar and pestle (see Tip)
2 fresh green serrano chiles or 1 fresh green jalapeño
1 tbsp coarsely chopped garlic (4 to 6 cloves)
1 tbsp coarsely chopped shallots
1 small hard, green unripe papaya, peeled and finely shredded (about 2 cups/500 mL)
9 green beans, trimmed and cut into 2-inch (5 cm) lengths
2 tsp palm sugar or brown sugar
1⁄2 tsp salt
2 tbsp vegetable stock, store-bought
1⁄2 lime, quartered lengthwise
9 cherry tomatoes, quartered
- In a large heavy mortar, combine chiles, garlic and shallots. Grind and pound with a pestle until everything is broken down but not completely mushy. Use a spoon to scrape down the sides occasionally and mix everything together well.
- Add papaya and pound until the stiff shreds become limp and soft, about 3 minutes. Use the spoon to scrape and turn the mixture over as you work.
- Add green beans and pound to bruise. One at a time, add sugar, salt and stock, pounding a little after each addition. Squeeze in juice from each piece of lime and then add pieces of squeezed lime to the mortar as well. Add tomatoes and pound another minute, turning as before as the tomatoes release some of their liquid. Pound more gently so that you do not get splashed.
- Taste sauce in bottom of the mortar and adjust the seasonings (there should be an interesting balance of sour, hot, salty and sweet). Using a slotted spoon, transfer salad to a small serving platter. Drizzle on some of the sauce remaining in the mortar and serve at once.
If you do not have a heavy Thai-style mortar and pestle, here is a shortcut version: To crush and bruise shredded papaya, place in a big plastic bag on your cutting board, leaving the bag open. Pound with a cooking mallet or rolling pin, working it until all the shreds are limp and bruised. Transfer to a bowl. In a blender or mini processor, combine chile, garlic, shallots, sugar, salt and stock and blend until fairly smooth. Toss with papaya. Add green beans and pound to bruise. Add tomatoes and squeeze juice from lime quarters over salad, tossing in lime pieces when you are done. Using your hands, toss again, squeezing salad to crush tomatoes so they release some of their juice as you mix in the lime. Transfer to a deep serving platter and serve at once.
I’ve always wondered why tofu is so much more popular than tempeh. I’m betting that it’s because tofu is on menus in Chinese, Korean and Japanese restaurants, while tempeh is really more Indonesian, so you see it on the rare Indonesian restaurant menu, and at vegetarian places. It’s a shame, since you could make a case that tempeh should be the star of the soyfoods roster. With 20 grams of protein in a 4 ounce serving, tempeh is as high in protein as ground beef.
With the wave of interest in fermented foods, like kimchi and kombucha, we might see a rise in tempeh love. Tempeh is a fermented soy food, with all the great benefits of having been pre-processed for you by beneficial bacteria. Any fermented protein, like miso, cheese, or tempeh, will have extra umami, since the process breaks the proteins into peptides and amino acids that give foods a meaty quality. Tempeh has umami, as well as a chewy, nutty texture that tofu lacks.
Tempeh has a slightly mushroomy flavor, and like tofu, is a great carrier for a tasty marinade or spice rub. The unique texture is really good crisped in oil, for a seared edge that crunches when you bite into it. It can also be ground for a “ground beef” substitute, that is great sauteed and made into chili or stew.
That texture is there because tempeh is a whole soybean, slightly cooked, then fermented. Tofu, on the other hand, is made with soybeans that have been cooked, then the fiber is strained out to make soymilk. That leaves tempeh with a bunch of healthy fiber that tofu doesn’t have. Many experts recommend eating fermented soy, because the process breaks down the proteins and makes them more digestible. It also liberates many beneficial compounds and makes them more absorbable. Tempeh is loaded with anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and immune building chemicals.
If you are new to tempeh, you may as well know, it is made with (ahem) mold. A really, really good mold. Not like the green stuff that crops up on your bread. This Rhizopus mold is added to cooked, cooled soybeans and allowed to flourish under controlled conditions. Letting the beneficial mold do this work for us is a good thing. The tempeh is bound by a fluffy mycelium, and that is what holds the beans together.
It’s best to lightly steam the tempeh before the final cooking process. This makes the cake a little moister in the center, and in this recipe allows the rub to adhere to a damp slice of tempeh. Don’t skimp on oil for the pan, it makes the edges nice and crisp and seals in the moisture.
To add even more umami, I went with smoked salt. Smoke is another umami boosting flavor, so it gives these strips even more satisfying flavor. It also reminds you of grilling, summer, and campfires, all things that make eating fun.
I recommend making a double batch of these to keep in the fridge, to use in salads, on bowls of grain and veggies, or just as snacks. They make a wonderful sandwich, so I piled mine on creamy avocado, and some tangy kraut. A few strips of sweet red pepper, and I was good to go. The avocado is so creamy I didn’t need any more condiments, but if you wanted to schmear some mayo and Dijon on there, it would be really tasty, too.
So give tempeh a try. It’s certainly a great way to get protein that uses less water and resources, and a bargain compared to beef or chicken. I much prefer a real, whole food like this to any faux burger, and it is easy to make and store.
Crispy, spicy, chewy and nutty, this one is a winner!
Smoked Salt Rubbed Tempeh and Tempeh and Kraut Sandwiches
1 package tempeh
1 tablespoon smoked salt
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon thyme
olive oil for pan
2 small avocado
1/2 cup sauerkraut, drained
1 medium roasted red pepper, drained and slivered
8 slices whole wheat bread, toasted
Preheat the oven to 450 F. Thinly slice the tempeh cake to make three thin sheets. This is easier if you cut the cake in half, but you can do it either way. Slice the sheets into inch wide strips. Set up a steamer and bring the water to a boil, then stack the tempeh in the steamer and steam for 3 minutes.
On a plate, mix the smoked salt, brown sugar, paprika, and thyme. Spread a relatively generous amount of olive oil on a sheet pan.
Dip the tempeh slices in the spice mixture, lightly coating each side. Place on the olive oil on the sheet pan. When all of the strips are coated, turn them to get olive oil on both sides.
Bake for 10 minutes, then turn the slices and bake for 5 minutes more. Cool on rack.
For sandwiches, slice avocado in the shell, then place half an avocado’s worth on each sandwich. Cover with kraut and tempeh, then slices of red pepper. If desired, spread some mayo on the top slice of bread. Put the tops on and serve.
It’s warming up, thankfully, and high time for me to embrace Spring and hug it so hard it screams. Maybe it’s just me, but the long Minnesota winters just make me love Spring with a fervent abandon. The trees have buds, the grass is greening, and the freaky snow showers of this week melted as soon as they ended.
It is Spring.
In the spirit of getting outside as often as possible, I’m opting for as many simple, fast dishes as I can. No “fast food” for me, just “fast to prepare food.” You know that I love my whole grains, and I am missing brown rice like a lost pet (see my post about arsenic in brown rice.) In the spirit of mixing it up, I’ve really been getting into pigmented rices.
Pigmented Rice is a category of rice varieties, all of which have color in their bran layer. Essentially, they are just like brown rice, but the brown outer layer has extra pigments that make it colorful. Shades of black, purple, red, and even green make pigmented rices both appealing and nutritious.
You see, the pigment molecules themselves are antioxidants. Black and purple rice have the same anthocyanins that make blueberries antioxidant all-stars. Sticky Purple Rice should not be confused with Forbidden Rice, which is a medium grain, Chinese rice. Thai Sticky Rice is a dessert rice in its home country.
Thai Sticky Rice is a glutinous rice, which means it is higher in Amylopectin starches, which make rice sticky, than in Amylose starches, which make rice firm. If you have ever bought a bag of it and tried to cook it the same way you cook long grain brown rice, or even black rice, it probably frustrated you terribly. This rice is born to be sticky, even when it is whole and has a sturdy layer of bran to hold in the starches.
For fun, I tried this blend, it looks to be about half white rice (shocking, I know) and it is pretty tasty. It’s a dessert, after all.
Cooking it with a little coconut milk brings out the natural sweetness of the grain, and the purple pigments stain all the white rice a lovely shade.
Since the strawberries are just getting good, and we may not see a Minnesota berry until June, I got some big berries at my coop. A simple twist on the classic Thai Sweet Rice dessert, this one has berries and pistachios, instead of mangoes or other tropical fruits. The almost-instant dressing of coconut milk and palm sugar lets you taste everything, while adding that exotic caramel flavor of the palm sap.
Palm sugar is no slouch when it comes to whole foods nutrition. Made from the boiled sap of the sugar palm, palm sugar is lower in glycemic load than most sugars, and rich in nutrients that are removed from refined sweeteners. Yes, it is a sweetener and acts like carbs in your body, but you just use a little and it adds a unique flavor.
So dig in to the sweet, rich, purple rice and forget about how good it is for your bod. The soft, comforting texture of the rice is a puffy pillow for sweet and tart strawberries, and the pistachios give it some lively crunch.
Go purple, and savor a dessert for Spring.
Thai Purple Rice with Strawberries and Pistachios
3/4 cup full fat organic coconut milk (half of a 15 oz can) divided
1 1/2 cups water
big pinch salt
1 cup purple rice or purple rice blend
2 tablespoons crushed palm sugar
2 cups whole strawberries, or more to taste
1/4 cup toasted pistachios, coarsely chopped
lime zest curls
Measure 1/4 cup of the coconut milk into a 1 quart saucepan and add the water and salt. Bring to a boil, then add the rice. Return to a boil and cover, turn down to low and cook according to the package directions or about 25 minutes. When all the liquids are absorbed and the rice is tender, take off the heat to cool.
In a small pan or a microwaveable cup, mix the remaining coconut milk with the palm sugar, and heat just to melt. Let cool.
Serve 3/4 cup of rice in each bowl, topped with halved berries, drizzled with a couple of tablespoons of the coconut milk mixture, and sprinkled with pistachios and zest.
Vegan foods have entered the mainstream.
A recent trend article suggests that “vegan foods” are growing in popularity. The number of self-identified vegans is hovering at 7%, which is up from previous surveys. But the big deal is that 36% of consumers now report buying non-dairy milks, meat alternatives and vegan food. They are not labeling themselves as vegan, but they are eating more plant based.
This is exactly what I was hoping for when I wrote my book, Big Vegan. I was going for the nudge toward eating more plants, to get the millions of people who aren’t ready for a full commitment to start easing in. I know that dedicated vegans will always prefer a 100% commitment. But in the big picture, I believe that every time an omnivore starts eating even a little bit more plant based, that is a win. A win for the environment, for health, for the animals.
When you start talking about 36% of the American public, which numbered about 320 million in 2014, those are many small actions that add up to big change. When a million people opt out of a burger for a bean burrito, you are talking about 250,000 pounds of beef not being consumed. A million quarts of almond or soy or other non-dairy milk replaces 250,000 gallons of cow’s milk.
So hurray to the omnivores who are buying vegan products. When an analyst like the one in the article talks this up at an industry expo, manufacturers take notice. That will mean many new and improved vegan products on the shelves. Vegans can enjoy more variety in their food choices, and everybody else can just enjoy the food for what it is.
So in the spirit of mainstreaming the plant based, I made some breakfast cookies. To answer the perennial question of “where do you get your protein?” I added some clean hemp protein. Chia seeds add a little, and raisins give you some fruity energy.
I like to pack these in individual waxed paper sandwich bags, put them in a big zip-top bag, and freeze them. Then I can grab one on the way to the gym, or out the door to teach a class.
Far better to eat a homemade cookie, speckled with chia seeds and sweetened with low-glycemic index grain syrups, than to buy an energy bar.
Whether you are vegan or just looking for a chewy, sustaining breakfast, this cookie will make you happy.
Almond Butter Breakfast Cookies
If you opt for the coconut oil, you may find the cookies a little crumbly. Be sure to cool completely before removing them from the rack. Keep them in the refrigerator until time to go.
1/2 cup chunky almond butter
1/2 cup coconut oil, melted, or canola oil
1/2 cup oat or brown rice syrup
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 tablespoons ground flax seeds mixed with 2 tablespoons water
3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup rolled oats
2 tablespoons chia seeds
2 tablespoons hemp protein powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup raisins
Line a sheet pan with parchment and reserve. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
In a medium bowl, combine the almond butter, coconut oil, syrup and extract, and whisk to mix well. Stir the flax and water in a cup and let stand while you mix the dry ingredients, then stir into the almond butter mixture. In a large bowl, combine the whole wheat pastry flour, oats, chia, hemp powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir the flour mixture into the almond butter mixture. Mix in the raisins.
The dough will start to thicken as it stands, so scoop the cookies in 1/4 cup portions onto the prepared pan right away. Leave 2 inches of space between the dough portions. Flatten slightly with your palms, to about 3/4 inch thick.
Bake for 12 minutes on the bottom rack, then switch to the top rack, rotating the pan, and bake for 12 minutes more. The cookies will be lightly golden and puffed.
Cool on pans on rack for 5 minutes before carefully transferring the cookies to the rack to cool. Cool completely before moving.
Store in airtight containers for up to two weeks in the refrigerator, or freeze for up to 3 months.
I swoon for Indian food. The culinary traditions of the many diverse regions of India all have crave-worthy vegetarian specialties, and they have been working out the flavors for hundreds of years. Ever since I scored a copy of Yamuna Devi’s book, The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking, back in the late 80’s, I’ve been stocking up on brown mustard seeds and black salt, and making pilgrimages to Indian restaurants wherever I go. So it has been with great excitement that I have watched fresh turmeric become a hot, trendy, and available food.
Yes, back in the day, I had to ride my bike for about an hour to get to North Minneapolis to buy fresh turmeric at one of the competing Indian grocery stores that were practically next door to each other. I never fully understood why the two sprawling stores, fragrant with spices and jammed with exotic beans and vegetables, had to go head to head. It was a delicious block!
I stuffed my backpack with Channa Dal and Curry Leaves, Gram flours and fresh Fenugreek greens. Trying to leave a little space for a bag of the addictive snack, Sev. And of course, turmeric roots.
Back then, fresh turmeric was only available at Indian grocery stores, and nobody was posting turmeric smoothies on the internet. In fact there was hardly an internet, if you remember that far back. But there were already lots of good studies pointing to turmeric as a miracle food. So I was doubly intrigued, since I was on a journey to find authentic ingredients and explore the wonders of the Spice Trail.
Since then, I’ve cooked a lot of Biryanis and improvised chutneys from just about every kind of fruit and nut. Yum. I also cook Indian food for many of my clients, since it is so easily customized to fit all kinds of diets. No dairy? Use coconut milk. No wheat? Easy to go with rice, millet, or quinoa.
So I got a little bored with some of my Indian go-to side dishes and decided to make up a new one, featuring fresh turmeric and an excellent method for cooking zucchini.
Zucchini is the ultimate in high water veggies, and can easily become a soggy mess when you cook it. That is no problem when you want to stew a ratatouille, where the juices of all the veggies combine and reduce to a syrupy finale. But for a solo act, I like to roast it at high heat, for an almost seared result. So, for this dish, I preheated the sheet pan in a 450 F oven, and used coconut oil to coat the zucchini. That way when the zucchini and spices hit the hot pan, the mustard and cumin will render their flavor the way they do in a saute, and the zucchini will be seared, then cooked to shrink and reduce it, not weep its juices into the pan.
It’s a little tricky to spread the ingredients on a smoking hot pan, just don’t burn yourself. Take the moment to make most of the zucchini planks are cut side down, to brown. Then get it back in the oven quickly.
This method is easily transferred, you can switch it to match your main course. Mediterranean flavors like rosemary and garlic, or Mexican seasonings like jalapenos and a lime would make your zucchini a good ensemble player in other meals.
Use lots of fresh turmeric and ginger, and you might just avoid some health concerns, and enjoy your zucchini more than ever before!
Roasted Zucchini with Fresh Turmeric and Spices
Serves 4 as a side
6 medium zucchini
2 tablespoons coconut oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh turmeric
2 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger
1 teaspoon whole cumin seed
1 teaspoon whole brown mustard seed
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon salt
Cilantro, lemon wedges and chopped cashews or peanuts
Preheat the oven to 450 F. Remove the stem and blossom end of each zucchini, and slice into long, 1/2 inch thick slices, then stack the slices and slice in half. Place in a bowl, and drizzle with coconut oil, add the turmeric, ginger, cumin, mustard, pepper flakes and salt, and toss to coat.
Place two heavy sheet pans in the oven to preheat for five minutes, then take it out and quickly transfer the zucchini to the pans. Spread to make an even layer, with room between the piecs, and place in the oven again.
Bake for 20 minutes, then stir and reverse the pans in the oven and bake for 15 minutes more. Serve hot, with a squeeze of lemon, a sprinkle of cilantro, and cashews or peanuts, if desired.
What is that spilling through my window, so early in the day? Bright light of some kind, kind of like the blinding white light reflected from packed snow all winter long. I think its… the Sun?
Sunlight, illuminating all the dust, all the dirty windows. It’s a seasonal sign that it is time to spiff the place up a little, now that you can see the roving cat hair tumbleweeds in all that bright light.
Like my dusty house, my body is in need of a little Springtime spiffing up. I didn’t let things go too badly, really. I managed to keep going to the gym and didn’t gain weight at the holidays, but the winter was all about feeling heavy and slow. All this gorgeous light has given me a burst of energy, and now I remember what it’s like. Spring in Minnesota is a moment of pure, shared joy, over a universal feeling of rebirth.
So, for a little spring cleaning on the inside, I created this fresh, green juice. Parsley is a great source of chlorophyll, and it actually deodorizes you a little bit as you drink it. Celery, which I have juiced before for a headache, is also a diuretic, and helps clear out any bloat and water retention. It’s a great source for potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron, folic acid and phosphorus, things you may be deficient in if you haven’t been eating enough greens. Cucumber, a perennial juice veg for me, is great for your skin, hair and nails, and soothes the stomach.
But the kale, that superstar green, is always going to stand out with its iron, calcium, and vitamin K. It’s an energizer, feeding your cells with some of the most potent antioxidants. I find kale to be a delicious food, but when I don’t have it on the menu, a kale juice is a great way to get all that deep green goodness.
As someone who often rushes things, I have had to learn one lesson. Taking the time to chop the fibrous veggies, like kale and celery, will keep your juicer from clogging and stalling. It’s tempting to drop whole kale leaves in, by the handful, but that’s a recipe for a clogged juicer, so just grab a knife and chop the leaves in in inch pieces. You’ll thank me later.
So grab some clean greens at the store and make yourself a “Spring Cleaner.” It’ll leave you feeling energized and a little lighter on your feet.
“Spring Cleaning” Juice with Kale
Makes about 3 cups, 2 servings
1 bunch Lacinato Kale
7 ribs celery
1 bunch parsley
1 medium cucumber
1 large lemon
Chop the vegetables into 1 inch chunks. Halve the cucumbers lengthwise. Cut the peel and pith from the lemon, and halve it.
Juice all the ingredients, alternating handfuls of greens with cuke and lemon, to keep the machine lubricated with moister ingredients.
Serve immediately, or cover tightly and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.
We are all Irish on St Patrick’s Day. Or so the saying goes.
Woo-hoo! Green beer for everybody!
St Patrick himself was not originally from Ireland, so we can all follow his lead and act Irish on his day. St Patrick was English, an unlucky guy who was kidnapped and enslaved the Irish back in the 400’s, and after 6 years a slave, made it back to England. There, he converted to Christianity, and decided to go back to pagan, backward Ireland to try to save souls.
The story of his driving the snakes from Ireland is really a metaphor- his mission was to drive the pagans from Ireland.
There were never any snakes.
St Pat’s Day, with all the parades and shamrocks, was really started in the US, where the wave of Irish immigrants who came here to escape the potato famine had settled on the East coast. Those early Irish Americans had lived in poverty and deprivation, and made it to places like New York City and Boston. Once a year, they celebrated their shared heritage with food, drink, and parades.
It looked so fun that all the rest of us joined in.
The iconic foods of Ireland are all peasant dishes. Poor farmers lived on what they could raise, and cabbage and greens are easy to grow. Potatoes fed the masses there, until the potato blight, so potatoes are part of the soul food of Ireland to this day. Champ, Colcannon, and Guinness Beef Stew are all traditional dishes that will be served in pubs across America on St Pat’s Day.
For me, the iconic Irish food is Irish Soda Bread. Simple and easy to make, an Irish farm wife could stir one up, using the buttermilk and butter from her precious cow. She might even bake it on the hearth, or in a cast iron pan.
If you have bought an Irish soda bread in the past and found it heavy and dry, don’t hold it against the Irish. It’s a quickbread, and often made with very little fat. It also requires delicate handling, to prevent the gluten from making a tough crumb. I’m sure a starving Irish farm worker would have been grateful for it, but to my taste, that stale, tough loaf is only good for bread pudding or feeding the birds.
For my St Pat’s I thought I’d make an Irish Soda Bread that is suitable for vegans, and mostly whole grain. I made four small loaves from this recipe, so that I could give away three. Because it’s not a party if you don’t share!
To replace the dairy in the bread, I used almond milk, curdled with apple cider vinegar. I mixed up a blend of whole wheat pastry flour with rolled oats and a little unbleached flour. Instead of butter, I used margarine, and you can use coconut oil, if you prefer.
Dried currants and some orange zest give the bread a lively texture and aroma. Of course, you could use another dried fruit, like raisins or cherries, if you prefer. The main thing is to mix just until a dough is formed, and don’t toughen up that gluten.
All those “Irish for a day” eyes will be smiling, when you share a loaf of orange-scented Soda bread!
Irish Soda Bread with Orange and Currants
Makes 4 8-inch loaves
3 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup unbleached flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons fine salt
6 tablespoons organic brown sugar
4 tablespoons chilled margarine or coconut oil
1 3/4 cups plain almond milk
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons ground golden flax seeds
the zest of one orange
1 cup currants
flour for shaping
1. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
2. In a large bowl, whisk the pastry flour, oats, unbleached flour, baking soda, salt, and brown sugar. Use a grater to shred the margarine or coconut oil coarsely into the flour mixture, tossing with your hands to mix.
3. In a measuring cup, stir the almond milk, cider vinegar, flax seeds and orange zest. Let stand for five minutes to hydrate the flax seeds. Stir the almond milk mixture into the flour mixture, until almost mixed. Add the currants and finish mixing, don’t over stir.
4. Flour a clean counter and dump the dough out, form a mound and cut in quarters. Shape each quarter into a disk about an inch and a half thick, and transfer to the prepared pan. Use a sharp knife to cut a cross in each loaf.
5. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the tops of the loaves are golden brown and the bread is firm when pressed. Cool on racks, then serve warm with jam.
As we wait for Spring to come, we still need some warming, energizing foods. Spices, with all their tongue-tingling tastes and scents, are my go-to for jazzing up my end of Winter fare. And while most of the time, I combine my own spices, some times it is absolutely fine to use a high quality blend. Especially a curry paste, which is a relatively labor intensive thing to make, and really good ones are available.
Red and Green curry pastes are the most common, and the most popular of Thai curries. But an interesting variation is the Massaman curry. Massaman is the Thai fusion with Indian cuisine, with a little less heat and more subtle spicing. While a red or green curry is usually made with chiles, galangal, lemongrass, and cilantro roots, a Massaman curry might contain cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, nutmeg and cloves. All of those are warming spices, that raise your inner fire. It’s traditionally used to flavor beef, lamb, or chicken, but it makes a really interesting sauce for vegetarian food, too.
A warming, spiced curry of tender carrots is a fun way to fulfill the potential of the exotic Massaman curry. I am always looking for a new way with a vegetable, especially when I am making food for my clients. Thai food is very popular, and everybody is familiar with Pad Thai and Spring Rolls. So sometimes I take a little license, and take a curry that might have been made with seafood or meat, and transfer the method over to a veggies.
In this dish, I took advantage of the gorgeous carrots at my Coop, to make the curry this deep, dramatic red. As you can see, the carrots were more distinctly rainbow colored when I started, but the purplish red pigments in the purple ones infused the whole bunch. There was still plenty of variety inside, though, for a lovely surprise while eating.
I had bought a new brand of curry paste that struck me as especially clean in the ingredients, with no mysterious spices or fish products. It was Kanokwan brand, in a packet. Not super hot, with a subtle, balanced spice to it. So I heated it in some coconut milk with a generous amount of julienned ginger. I went with apple juice instead of the usual sugar, and salt instead of the usual fish sauce or soy sauce. Soy sauce would taste great, but it would make the sauce a funky brown color, and that just wouldn’t do.
Once it simmered, In went the carrots. I covered the pan so they could steam in the braising liquids. Depending on the thickness of the carrots, you may need more or less time in the pan.
Once done, a sprinkling of cilantro finished the dish. That is the great thing about curry pastes: they already have lots of effort and complexity built in, all you have to do is add some simple ingredients, and it is as if you spent hours. Keeping these carrots simple makes them a great side for a less rich tofu and noodle dish, or a stir fry with some rice. Go for some green veggies in your companion dish, for a dramatic contrast. Black rice would be gorgeous.
Delight your palate and your eyes with these colorful, creamy carrots. You’ll be warmed from the inside out, to face the last bit of Winter chill.
Massaman Curry Rainbow Carrots
These carrots cook to tenderness in a spicy, creamy sauce, and their flavors concentrate to make a super-carroty curry.
24 small rainbow carrots (less than 3/4 inch wide)
1 cup coconut milk
1 tablespoon massaman curry paste
2 tablespoons julienned ginger
1/2 cup apple juice
1/2 cup cilantro leaves
Lightly peel the carrots, leaving the base of the leaves intact, just clean it up. In a large saute pan, heat the coconut milk and add the ginger and curry paste, stir and mash the paste to mix well as it starts to simmer. Let it come to a boil, then whisk in the apple juice. Add a half teaspoon of salt, you will adjust it later. Add the carrots and roll them around to coat. Cover the pan and bring to a boil, then reduce to medjum low for about 15 minutes, shaking the pan a few times and taking the lid off to stir well about halfway through.
When the carrots are tender when pierced with a paring knife, take them off the heat. Taste for salt. The color is best with out soy sauce, but if you don’t mind them turning brown you can add some. Serve sprinkled with cilantro.
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Kate Jacoby, co-owner and pastry chef at Vedge A vegetable restaurant in Philly. It was for an article about the trend in cooking vegetables more like the centerpiece of the plate, not the side. In the course of the interview, she described a dish that they make at Vedge with Romanesco. I couldn’t get the image out of my mind. I was so inspired by her ideas that I decided to try to make my own version of the concept.
Now mind you, the one at Vedge gets a blanch in seaweed infused stock, then it’s grilled over smoke,then seared to make a deeply flavored, complex centerpiece. I thought maybe I could just borrow the shape and the sear, and come up with my own sauce. At Vedge, this Romanesco is on a plate with a rouille sauce, saffron cream, a quenelle of roasted cauliflower and potato puree that has been sauteed to caramelize the exterior, and some shaved cauliflower, broccoli and Romanesco.
As Jacoby put it, “Steak used to be the most luxurious thing, but now people are looking at coconut water and goji berries as the way to pamper yourself. Meat is not the most interesting thing and not the only status symbol. You have to think about what you want to put into your body, too.”
Here is a link to the cookbook from the restaurant, Vedge 100 Plates Large and Small That Redefine Vegetable Cooking.
So, with all respect due, here is my Romanesco. You could use a small cauliflower, if you don’t have access to Romanesco. The Romanesco is a brassica that traces its origins to the area around Rome in the 16th century. People love to debate whether it is a broccoli or a cauliflower, but it really doesn’t matter. It’s often called Romanesco Broccoli, or cauliflower, there was even an attempt to rename it brocco-flower at one point.
It is its own, unique vegetable. Resembling a cauliflower whose rounded florets have gone cubist, the Romanesco defies our concept of a vegetable. In a fascinating quirk, the florets are arranged in perfect fractals, cascading in orderly geometric repetition from the tips of the florets. The quirky beauty of the vegetable makes it a perfect subject for a treatment like this.
This shows off the shape, and also a uniquely charming flavor. The Romanesco has a milder, sweeter flavor than a standard cauliflower or broccoli. Like the Vedge version, I’m going to blanch it, which denatures and removes a bit of the strong flavored chemicals in all the brassicas. Then in the sear, we can get a bit of bitterness and char, which makes the sweetness more apparent, by providing contrast. Then, a roast in the oven caramelizes and concentrates the whole affair, taking the vegetable into a whole new level of complexity.
Once that is all built, a sauce full of tangy blood oranges and funky olives is going to call out the underlying subtleties of the Romanesco.
So, since I can’t make it to Philadelphia to try the Vedge Romanesco, I’ll just have to make do with this. It’s got all kinds of flavors, and the presentation will wake you up from your side dish slumber.
Oh, and give everyone steak knives. They will get to carve each bite from the big, juicy roast.
Seared Romanesco with Blood-Orange Olive Sauce
1 large romanesco or cauliflower
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped shallots
2 teaspoons blood orange zest (from orange)
1/2 cup fresh blood orange juice (about one orange)
1/2 cup vegetable stock
10 pitted kalamata olives, chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
freshly cracked black pepper
1. First, trim the base of the romanesco to make it stable, and remove any leaves, rinse it to remove any dirt. Set it down on the base, like a pine tree, and cut it in half cross the highest point, then lay each side flat and slice in half again. Brain a large pot of water to a boil and salt it. Drop in the romanesco quarters and blanch for about 4 minutes, 5 if it was a particularly large romanesco. Drain, let cool, and pat dry.
2. Preheat the oven to 425 F. Lightly oil a sheet pan with canola oil. In a large skillet, heat canola oil over medium-high heat until shimmery, then place the romanesco in the pan, cut sides down. Sear, without moving, for about 3 minutes, then peek to see if it is browning. When the bottom is deeply browned, turn the vegetable and sear the second side. If desired, you can turn it to brown the tips, but it is not as pretty that way. Place the browned veggies on the sheet pan and roast for about 30 minutes, until a paring knife inserted in the stem of the vegetable slides in easily.
3. While the romanesco roasts, heat the olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallots and orange zest and stir. Stir occasionally and cook for about 5-10 minutes. When the shallots are very soft, add the juice and stock and raise the heat to bring to a boil. Cook, uncovered, to reduce by half, about 5 minutes. Stir in the olives, salt and pepper.
4. Serve the romanesco quarters drizzled with sauce.