The Real Food Journal
Have you ever had two separate experiences, and as they percolated in your mind, the combination inspired something else entirely? That’s exactly what happened to me at last month’s Grain Gathering, and my inspiration was buckwheat.
Buckwheat is Beautiful
As I wrote last week, at the Grain Gathering I toured an experimental grain field, planted with plots of wheat, buckwheat, and barley. Along with the dramatic purple barley, paradigm shifting perennial wheat, and heritage grains, were these gorgeous flowers.
I thought I knew what buckwheat looked like, but it turns out, I didn’t. Those lovely pink flowers will mature into perfect little three sided pyramid-shaped seeds, each wrapped in a black, papery hull. Unlike wheat and barley, whose seeds line up evenly along a central stem, these hang in little clusters, and must be harder to harvest because of it.
The Buckwheat that I was admiring turns out to be a variety from Bhutan, which is one of 120 buckwheats from 19 countries, all grown there for breeding diversity. Dr Steven Jones was giving the tour, but he made sure to give a shout out to the women behind the buckwheat. “Bethany Econopouly and Kim Binczewski are doing the work on buckwheat. Bethany is looking at flavor, color, and early maturity.” Econopouloly is a PhD student at WSU studying with Jones, and Binczewski is the lab manager, among her many jobs.
Buckwheat has long been on my list of grains that should rise again. Buckwheat thrives in poor soil and cold climates, needs no nitrogen fertilizers, and matures quickly, allowing farmers to plant a crop after harvesting another, for a fast turnaround before winter sets in. In the early 1900’s US farmers planted a million acres of buckwheat, but now only 50,000. It’s still big in Russia, where toasted buckwheat kasha is a traditional dish.
We would do well to start filling in between crops with buckwheat, if only for the honey. ” Buckwheat is great for the soil, the bees and us.” said Jones. Those pretty flowers attract honeybees, who make a deeply flavorful honey from the pollen. I recommend trying it drizzled over your breakfast!
The Pancake Grain
Chances are, you’ve only had buckwheat in pancakes. I love buckwheat cakes, too, but there is so much more to buckwheat. Those perfect little pyramids have a nutty, mildly minerally flavor, and a nuttiness that really comes out when toasted or baked.Unlike some whole grain groats, the bran layer softens quite a bit in cooking, and the grain can become soft and sticky, if you want it to.
But that brings me back to the two events that came together as one. You see, after my jaunt to the buckwheat field, I came back to the Bread Lab to attend some seminars. One I stopped into for a few moments was about making Muesli. The man behind the Mock Mill, Wolfgang Mock, was leading a group in making muesli from freshly flaked whole oats.
As he demonstrated his recipe, Mock began to extol the health benefits of one of his favorite add-ins, the Brazil nut. “One a day gives you all the selenium you need, ” he said, with infectious enthusiasm. ” If your selenium is low, they tell you to take supplements, but the supplements are made from Brazil nuts. Just eat the nuts!”
So as all these events percolated in my mind this week, I was seized by a desire to make muesli with buckwheat and Brazil nuts. Both buckwheat and Brazil nuts are anti-inflammatory foods, chock full of antioxidants and good fat. Brazil nuts are a recommended post-workout food, because of this.
But even more intriguing, they both taste nutty and sweet, and are good raw. So I made an easy overnight soak of the buckwheat, mixed with soy milk and a little water. It softened the grain enough to make it easy enough to chew, but still entertainingly crunchy. You could certainly add other stuff to your soak, from frozen berries to pomegranate juice, or chia seeds and cinnamon.
The one thing to know is that the milk will be thickened and a little stringy-looking, but it didn’t bother me a bit. If you want a smoother porridge, just buzz it for a few seconds in the blender.
So here’s to a rebirth of buckwheat in the popular consciousness.
Overnight Buckwheat Soak with Brazil Nuts and Fruit
Try the amazing flavor and texture of buckwheat in this easy overnight soak, and it may just take away some of that post-exercise soreness, as a bonus.
- 1 cup raw buckwheat groats
- 3/4 cup vanilla soymilk or other milk
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 pinch salt
- 3 Brazil nuts coarsely chopped
- 2 medium plums
- 2 medium nectarines
In a storage tub, mix the buckwheat, milk, water and salt. Refrigerate, tightly covered, overnight.
Serve topped with chopped Brazil nuts and fruit. If desired, drizzle with buckwheat honey or other sweetener.
Some people take time off at the end of July to visit a white sand beach.
But there’s no barley at the beach.
Instead, at 3;45 am, I found myself driving in darkness, about an hour North of Seattle, navigating country roads to get to an experimental grain field before dawn. There, as the light spilled over the silhouettes of purple mountains in the distance, I met with 38 like-minded people to follow a visionary through a field.
Of course, there was more to my trip than that. I was there to spend three days learning about grains, bread, local economies, farm policy, and of course, stuffing myself with swoon-worthy whole grain breads, pastries, and more at the Grain Gathering.
(scroll all the way down for pictures of just a few things I ate…)
Three Days of All-Grains, All the Time
The Grain Gathering is hosted by the Bread Lab, which is the brainchild of Dr Steven Jones. Jones is the visionary who lead the pre-dawn tour of the fields, and the head plant geneticist at Washington State University. He’s also a leader in the effort to improve the taste, hardiness, and sustainability of wheat and other grains. The Bread Lab is the place where the people who breed the grains, the people who grow them, and the people who bake and cook with them come together, to learn from each other.
And it took a visionary to make that happen.
If you wonder what a bread lab is, it’s basically a bakery with a whole bunch of specialized equipment that is used to analyze the flours and doughs on a chemical level. Big bread manufacturers do this, but in this lab, it’s all about guiding the breeding of grain toward a flour or flake that artisan bakers can make into something with great texture and flavor. The kind of flavor that makes converts out of white bread lovers, without commodity wheat flour, or enzymes, or chemical additives, just grain.
Local grain communities have been sprouting across the country, thanks in part to the model started around the Bread Lab. Before this new movement took hold, none of these groups talked to each other, and wheat breeding was all about yield. Growers grew and bakers baked, but wheat kept moving forward with everybody in a separate little bubble.
Which brings us to the Grain Gathering. Since 2011, this annual event has drawn bakers, growers, millers, chefs, cereal chemists, malters, and a bunch of other folks interested in the cross-pollination of grainy information to a beautiful spot in the Skagit Valley.
And there’s beer. It’s made from barley. Tasting beer is serious business, even if it looked like a bunch of people having a good time.
Think Globally, Act Locally
Steve Jones and his grad students maintain the experimental grain fields we toured, where a colorful patchwork of grain plots stretch toward the skyline, each square holding a piece of genetic diversity. There are ancient varieties, grown to study and use for breeding, as well as newer crosses, all carefully tended by the students who will analyze them, conduct tasting panels, and collect all the information necessary to bring better grains to the world.
Jones is passionate about the need to develop grains specific to a region, that will thrive in the conditions there without chemicals or intervention. The end goal is creating local grain economies, in which locally grown grains can be milled, malted, and made into their end products, is a way to keep money in the hands of the farmers and artisans.
And it’s happening, as the sharing and cross-pollination of these ideas helps to sprout local grain economies across the US and Canada, and eventually, the World.
Because the Grain Gathering is all about learning more about grains from all levels, from the field to the end product, there is a big emphasis on baking. Classes on pastry and bread formulation and baking are on the schedule alongside seminars on milling, noodlemaking, tasting, malting, brewing, farm policy, and more.
Among the many presentations at the gathering, we had a Sensory Evaluation of barley breads, crackers, cooked grain, and roasted barley tea. Another visionary, Andrew Ross, a cereal chemist and grain breeder who runs a Bread Lab at Oregon State, is also working on improving barley and finding ways to use it. He and WSU PhD student Brigid Meints shared barley info, and we all sniffed, savored, and rated the barley based foods.
It was a scientific way of quantifying our subjective opinions, and it was fascinating.
Because I was invited to present at the Grain Gathering this year, the cross-pollination included a few of my ideas.I knew that a crew of world-class bakers would be there, teaching and sharing their knowledge, so I put together a menu of desserts that you make on the stove top that feature the uniquely beautiful and flavorful barleys grown in the Camas Valley.
I’ve already posted one of the recipes that made the cut for my demonstration at the Grain Gathering, the Barley Pudding. Playing around with the barley from the Bread Lab lead to Rhubarb Barley Bars, Barley Chocolate Chip Cookies, Barley- Raspberry Muffins, and a Purple Barley Smoothie Bowl.
So, as I slowly digest all the information and experiences of the Grain Gathering, I give you another purple barley recipe. I needed a salad to take to National Night Out, and I wanted to make something beautiful that all my neighbors would try. Blueberries seemed like a good companion to my barley, and the fact that both are colored by the purple antioxidant pigment anthocyanin didn’t hurt. Crisp, peppery radishes give it a pop of red and some kick, and parsley and mint a cooling, herbal flavor.
Knowing where your food comes from gives you a whole new understanding of it, at the most basic level.
If you want to try the beautiful barley I used in this recipe, order it here. It’s gorgeous stuff.
I hope you’ll seek out some whole, naked barley, or any grain that’s been grown in your area. I’m lucky to be able to buy local barley in bulk at my Coop, and if you look around you might find locally grown grains where you are, too. We can support that local grain economy, and keep a farmer in business, while enjoying a tasty dish.
Think globally, act locally is more than a slogan, it really works. We can watch that come to fruition with grains, thanks to people like Steve Jones, and the many players at the Grain Gathering.
Tibetan Purple Barley and Blueberry Salad with Radishes and Mint
Beautiful Purple Barley is a delicious, filling grain to use in one bowl salad meals. For a main course, throw in a handful of walnuts or a crumble of goat cheese.
- 1 cup Tibetan Purple Barley or other hull-less barley
- 1 rib celery chopped
- 2 medium scallions chopped
- 1/2 cup fresh parsley chopped
- 1/2 cup fresh spearmint chopped
- 3 large red radishes diced
- 2 cups fresh blueberries washed and dried
- 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons local honey
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
- mint for garnish
Bring 3 cups water to a boil in a 1 quart pot. Add the barley and return to the boil, then turn to low. Cover tightly and simmer for 55-60 minutes. The barley should be tender but chewy. Drain and let cool.
Prep the veggies and berries and put in a large bowl. Add the cooled barley.
In a cup, combine the cider vinegar, honey, olive oil, salt and pepper. Whisk with a fork.
Pour the dressing over the salad and serve, garnished with more mint.
Whole Grain Food Porn from the Grain Gathering
If barley seems to be the star of my blog these days, there’s a reason. I’m visiting the barley and wheat fields of the Pacific North West this week, to expand my whole grain horizons. For us grain nerds, Washington and Oregon are a mecca of great grains and flours, in large part because of the agriculture programs at Oregon State and Washington State Universities.
I’ll be at Washington State U attending and presenting at the Grain Gathering, a unique brain trust of grain breeders, growers, millers, bakers, chemists, ag economists, food politics people, and anyone else who is interested in whole grains. If you’re into learning more about baking or any part of the bigger picture of whole grains, you might want to attend next year, if you can get one of the limited number of tickets.
There are hands on baking classes,field tours, talks, and lots of tasting of breads and baked goods, whole grain foods, and the main thing most people consume made from barley: beer.
Tibetan Purple Barley
This week I’ve been sampling the beautiful heirloom Tibetan barley grown in Camas County Oregon. This particular grain is “Purple Karma Barley,” named with a nod to the Tibetan Buddhists. These ancient barleys are revered by the Tibetans, who have to keep themselves warm and energized in a bitterly cold, mountainous environment. You can try out the Tibetan way of eating barley with Tsampa, which I wrote about previously.
This time out, I wanted to grind the whole barley into flour, and see how it performed in a muffin bound with aquafaba in place of eggs. I did add a little bit of wheat flour, just to give it a little gluten to hold it together. The resulting muffin has a lovely texture, full of little bubbles. The barley muffins are moist and tender, without a hint of the coarseness that plagues the reputation of whole grain foods.
Aquafaba-The Magic of Bean Juice
If you haven’t tried aquafaba yet, it’s time to give it a go. You don’t have to be a vegan to want to save money and resources by baking with the water leftover from cooking chickpeas. I always drain my chickpeas and freeze the leftover liquid until I feel like baking, and that’s what I used for these tasty muffins.
To make the liquids that come from a can of beans a little more powerful, I did boil them down a bit to concentrate the starches and proteins that do the work of eggs. Then, I whipped them into a frothy mix in the Vitamix, and drizzled in oil to make an emulsion. Then the other liquids went in, and it all melded into a creamy blend.
Once I stirred it into the purple flour, it was clear that it was going to be beautiful. I folded in some delicate, just picked raspberries and lemon zest, and baked them.
The results are a not-too-sweet muffin, with some heft without being too heavy. They are perfect with a dab of jam and a cup of tea.
I hope you’ll try purple barley, although you could make these with the equivalent weight or naked barley, or pre-ground barley flour.
Because barley is an ancient and nutritious grain, sustainable and full of flavor.
Start seeing barley, or as the hardworking barley geniuses at Oregon State’s Barleyworld say: Make #barleyalwaysgreatagain
Barley Flour Muffins with Raspberries and Aquafaba
These muffins are studded with fresh, tangy raspberries, and the purple barley flour gives them an exotic hue.
- 1 1/2 cups whole purple barley ground to make 2 cups (196 g)
- 1/2 cup unbleached flour
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup non-dairy milk
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 3/4 cup chickpea water boiled to make 1/2 cup
- 1/2 cup canola oil
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1 cup fresh raspberries
- 8 muffin liners
- 2 tablespoons Turbinado sugar for topping
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Line 8 muffin cups, or use the free standing liners I used in the photo, by placing them on a sheet pan. Spritz with canola oil.
Grind the whole barley in the Vitamix dry grinding container, or the regular container. Secure the lid, start on low, and increase to High speed. Grind for 2 minutes. Dump out on a plate to cool.
Measure the flour and put it in a large bowl. Add the brown sugar, baking soda, and salt. Whisk to mix.
In a cup, stir the non-dairy milk and lemon juice, reserve.
In the Vitamix, place the reduced aquafaba, and blend on high for 2 minutes. The mixture will be bubbly and pale. On low speed, drizzle the oil in through the hole in the lid. Pour the non-dairy milk mixture in gradually. The final mixture will be white and creamy.
Pour the contents of the blender over the dry ingredients, and stir in gently. When mixed, sprinkle over the lemon zest and raspberries and fold in just to combine.
Scoop 1/2 cup measures of batter into the prepared cups and top with Turbinado sugar. Bake for about 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in a center muffin comes out with no wet batter attached.
Cool on a rack.
When you think about grilling, it’s usually all about burgers, or corn on the cob, or even pizza. But have you tried grilling cantaloupe? Yes,. when the cantaloupes are heavy on the vine, fat with sweet, juicy goodness, it just happens to be grilling season. So why not grilled cantaloupe?
Like pineapple and peaches, cantaloupe is a natural for the grill. It has a firm enough texture to hold up to the heat, and plenty of sugars to caramelize on the hot grate. If you leave the slices intact, it won’t fall through the bars into the fire, the ultimate waste of a good piece of food. All you need is a little brush of oil, and you are good to go.
Grilled Cantaloupe for Salads, Pastas, or Desserts
I went savory with mine, slicing the grilled crescent moons into bite-sized pieces for a pasta salad. You can also toss it on a green salad, for an unexpected pop of juiciness and color. The grill marks will add curb appeal, as everyone wants to try the melon with a hint of smoke in their salad.
You can also make a dessert of grilled cantaloupe, with a drizzle of honey or chocolate sauce, a scoop of ice cream, or a crumble of cookie over it all.
The lush texture of the melon pairs well with tender pasta, bathed in a tangy vinaigrette. For a creamy, rich companion to the melon, I added diced avocado, to melt in your mouth like a rich cheese. A few crunchy shreds of purple cabbage add crunch and color contrast, and fresh basil gives it some Italian savor.
My garden offers up edible flowers, and I garnished this pasta with nasturtium blossoms. The orange petals complement the pale melon and green avocado, to make the pasta irresistible.
Try grilled cantaloupe, for a savory take on a favorite summer melon.
Grilled Cantaloupe Pasta Salad
Grill your cantaloupe to make it sweeter, and it melts in your mouth in this pasta salad. Creamy avocado and a tangy champagne vinaigrette complete a refreshing summertime meal.
- 1/2 medium cantaloupe sliced in thin wedges and peeled
- canola oil for grilling
- 8 ounces cavatappi or other curly pasta
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons champagne vinegar
- 1 teaspoon sugar or honey
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 medium avocado diced in the shell
- 1/2 cup finely sliced red cabbage
- 1/2 cup fresh basil slivered
Put on a pot of water to cook the pasta. Preheat the grill.
Cook the pasta according to package instructions, then drain and rinse. Reserve.
Lightly oil the cantaloupe slices and place on the hot grill, let them sear for a minute before turning, you want nice grill marks. Once they are marked on both sides, put them on a plate and let cool. Slice into bite-sized pieces.
In a large bowl, whisk the olive oil, champagne vinegar, sugar or honey, salt and pepper. Add the pasta, melon, avocado, red cabbage and basil and toss to coat.
Serve immediately, or refrigerate for up to 24 hours. The avocado will discolor if you keep it too long.
Purple Barley for a Post-Workout Powerhouse
There’s something special about the post-workout meal. You’ve really earned this one, and you are probably ravenous. So ravenous that you need a big bowlful of food, and pronto. But post-workout is also when you are still thinking about how great it was to feel strong and fit, and you want to eat something that supports all the goals you had while you were sweating it out. A smoothie bowl is a great solution, and may I suggest adding one food to it to make it even more satisfying?
That’s right, post-workout meals with barley are a step up from the usual protein shakes and smoothies. And I’ve found a colorful, nutty-tasting variety of barley that will make you forget about that boring barley you’ve had in soup.
Whole Barley Makes You Lean
I know I’ve been on a bit of a barley binge, of late, but hear me out. Whole barley has been shown to have several weight-loss supporting, blood sugar stabilizing, and cholesterol-lowering qualities. And above all, it keeps you full and happy longer than other foods.
Which is crucial when you have just reset your metabolism with some serious cardio. It’s too easy to spend the rest of the day grazing, because you didn’t have a filling enough meal, post-workout.
In 2010, Dutch researchers found that barley kept blood sugar stable after a meal, probably because the fiber was being gobbled up slowly by good bacteria in the gut, which is a good thing. (Link to study.)
That same slow digestion, caused by the presence of beta glucans fiber, has been shown to keep you full and satisfied longer than other carbohydrates. So you don’t chow down and then feel famished again in an hour. (Link to another study.)
A Purple Piece de Resistance
It’s important to make sure you are eating whole barley, not pearled barley. Pearled barley has had the bran layer scraped off, which takes away many of the minerals and much of the fiber. There’s still beta glucans fiber throughout the endosperm of the grain, so it’s better than white rice, but it’s so much better as a whole grain.
This purple barley is extra special. It’s a variety of Tibetan barley, grown for its flavor and color in the Pacific Northwest. You can buy it online, here. It’s also used to make Tibetan Tsampa, which I wrote about here.
Eat the Rainbow
You always hear that you should “eat the rainbow” to get a broad spectrum of healthy foods. Well, purple barley adds some color to your meal. The color purple in any food is a sign of potent antioxidants, which just add to the healthful aura of this beautiful, tasty grain.
So seek out some purple barley, and cook up a pot for the week. The grains cook up fat and gorgeous, and they snap a little bit when you chew them. Spread them on this smoothie bowl, or eat them anywhere you might have eaten rice, oats or even pasta.
Tibetan Purple Barley on a Cherry Almond Smoothie Bowl
Cook some beautiful purple barley, put it in the refrigerator, and you can make this bowl for breakfast the next morning.
- 1/2 cup purple barley
- 2 cup yogurt or non-dairy yogurt
- 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
- 1 large frozen banana
- 3 cups frozen sweet cherries
- honey optional
- 1/2 medium Dragonfruit scooped with a melonballer
- 10 large strawberries sliced
- 1/4 cup sliced almonds toasted
Cook the barley in plenty of water for about 40 minutes, simmering over low heat. Drain the barley and chill, drizzle with honey if desired.
In the blender, place the yogurt, almond extract, and cherries. Cover and select Variable Speed 1, turn on the machine, and increase the speed to High. Blend until very smooth.
Pour the blended ingredients into two low bowls, and garnish with barley, melon balls, strawberries, and almonds. Drizzle with honey if desired.
Turnips never make the list of sexy vegetables. I haven’t yet heard that turnips will be the “new kale,” but who knows, maybe the fruity crunch of Hakurei Turnips will change all that.
Unlike the usual purple tinged, pink, or just kind of rough looking over-wintered turnip, these Hakurei turnips are a joy to eat raw. All you have to do is start peeling and you can feel how tender they are, yielding to your paring knife like an apple. The sweet, slightly cabbagey scent lets you know that they are fresh and succulent.
The Hakurei is Made for Salad
Sometimes called a “salad turnip,” or “Tokyo turnip,” Hakurei is a variety bred for crunch and smoothness on the palate. The pristine white skin is more akin to a just picked parsnip than a turnip.
As the name would imply, the Hakurei is of Japanese origin. It’s not new, but they seem to only appear in Summer, in better stocked produce departments and farmer’s markets. They are just so pretty that I keep buying them, and I’m never disappointed. They have a fruity, slightly earthy flavor, with lots of juicy snap. The rooty, bitter notes of other turnips are nowhere to be found.
Not that I don’t like the other kinds, check out this recipe for Turnips Three Ways.
Like all turnips, they are high in Vitamin C, and the greens are even more nutritious. They are right up there with kale, nutritionally, full of Vitamin A, K, C, folate, copper, calcium, and cancer-preventing glucosinalates. My greens were kind of wilted by the time I got them home, so I didn’t put them in the salad this time, but you certainly should when they are fresh. I saved them for a saute later.
So if you see some mysteriously pale turnips in your CSA, at the Farmer’s Market, or at the grocery store, give them a try. They will be in season all summer long, to add variety to your same old salads.
Try this Asian-inspired salad, with a dressing that takes about 2 minutes to make. It’s so easy.
Big Salad with Hakurei Turnip and Hemp-Tamarind Dressing
A little chopping and a simple dressing pack lots of flavor and texture, showing off the sweet, tender Hakurei Turnip to full effect.
- 4 cups sliced Nappa cabbage use part turnip greens, if fresh and crisp
- 2 large carrots shredded
- 2 stalks broccoli cut in florets
- 4 large red radishes julienned
- 2 medium Hakurei Turnips julienned
- 4 handfuls pea shoots trimmed
- 1/4 cup hemp oil
- 1/4 cup tamarind paste
- 2 tablespoons tamari
- 2 teaspoons Sriracha sauce
- 2 teapoons fresh ginger minced
- hemp seeds for garnish
Prep all the vegetables, and arrange them on four dinner plates, in order.
In a cup, mix the oil, tamarind, tamari and ginger. If your tamarind is very thick, stir in a little water to make a pourable dressing.
Serve salads drizzled with dressing and sprinkled with hemp seeds.
Are you bored with berries? Maybe apples make you yawn, and a slice of watermelon fills you with overwhelming ennui? You need to step out on your usual fruit loves and try something new. Might I suggest a trip to your local Asian market to seek out some exotic Asian fruit?
Experiment with Asian Fruit
I’m lucky, here in Minneapolis, to have United Noodles as a resource. If you live in the area, you need to know that they plan to showcase at least a dozen new and exciting fruits all summer long. Wherever you live, you should be able to find a store carrying one of these delightful delicacies.
Dragonfruit is having a moment, thanks to it’s instagrammable beauty. With a pink and green exterior that might bring a dragon to mind, it holds a firm, melon-like flesh dotted with tiny black seeds. The flavor is not as sweet as some fruit, slightly reminiscent of kiwi, but when perfectly ripe, it’s sweet enough to please. To use it, simply halve the fruit lengthwise, then you can either scoop it out as a solid piece and slice it, or use a melon baller, as I did.
Korean Melons have perfumey white flesh, a little crisper than a cantaloupe, and taste like a honeydew and a cucumber had a baby. They are small enough to serve one or two, making them perfect for solo dining. They also make a great serving bowl for this fruit salad. Handle them like any small melon, scooping out the seeds and using the rest.
Lychee has been on the menu at Chinese restaurants for as long as I can remember, served as a dessert. That was canned lychee, and now that fresh ones are more available, it’s worth another try. Peel off the craggy skin and a pale white fruit shaped like an opalescent grape pops out, with a fragrance reminiscent of roses. The flavor is very sweet, with hints of cherries and bananas. Lychee is having a moment in the cocktail world, often speared as a gorgeous garnish for Asian fruit flavored drinks. To use it, slice through the thin shell and pop out the fruit, then remove the inedible seed in the middle.
The most startling of all the Asian fruit, the Mangosteen has a ruddy skin that hides a pithy layer, kind of like an orange, which pulls away easily from the pale white segmented fruit. The flavor has hints of peach, vanilla ice cream, and pineapple, with plenty of sweetness and acid for a truly delicious mouthful. To use, slice into the skin to reach the fruit, then peel like an orange, divide the segments, and trim out the seeds if they are large.
One of the most exotic looking of the Asian fruits, rambutan is the one that looks like a red ball that grew thick strands of tangled hair. (My cat decided that they looked just like his favorite toy and insisted on stealing them during the photo shoot.) The greyish fruit inside has a pineapple and cherry flavor with good acid and sweet balance. The texture is like that of a grape, with an inedible seed in the center. To use, simply slice through the skin, peel it back, and pop out the fruit.
The longan is called “dragon’s eye” in China, because once you pop the orb from the thin brown skin, it looks like an eyeball. Don’t be put off, longan is reminiscent of a sweeter lychee, with duskier, floral aromas to make you swoon. The pale, translucent flesh holds a black seed in the center, which you can either trim or simply eat around. To use, score the skin around the shoulder, peel it back and pop out the fruit.
A Simple Dish to Showcase Asian Fruit
To showcase the unique flavors and textures of all these fruits, I decided to simply bathe them in a simple lime-infused syrup and add some fresh spearmint. When you try them for the first time, plan to eat plenty of them out of hand, just to get acquainted. Then you can play with them in all your favorite fruity applications. Sorbets and mixed drinks are a perfect use, although they take away the textural elements. Adding a few peeled and seeded lychee or longan to a noodle of vegetable salad is a fun surprise.
Try some Asian fruit today, and let your imagination run wild. Your usual berries and watermelon don’t need to know that you have been seeing other fruits.
Asian Fruits in Lime Syrup with Mint
Exotic, perfumey fruits need only a simple syrup with a little lime to shine. If you can't find all the fruits, get what you can and enjoy!
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 large lime zest pared off in a strip
- 1 medium dragonfruit
- 1 medium Korean Melon
- 8 large rambutan
- 10 large lychee
- 10 large longan
- 8 large mangosteen
- several stems fresh spearmint torn
- spearmint for garnish
In a small pot, combine the sugar, water, and lime zest strips. Bring to a boil, stirring, and reduce to a simmer for about 5 minutes. Take off the heat and let cool with the lime zest in the mix.
Halve the dragonfruit and use a melon baller to scoop out the flesh into a large bowl, reserving the shell to use as a bowl. Halve and seed the melon, and use the melon baller to scoop the flesh, reserving the shell.
Use a sharp paring knife to score the skin of each fruit and slip out the soft fruits. The skin of the mangosteen is thicker, and the white segments will slip apart easily once it is peeled.
Add the mint to the fruit in the bowl. Drizzle the cold syrup over the fruit and toss gently, then portion into the reserved shells. Serve immediately.
I know that the internet is full to the brim with gorgeously staged smoothie bowls, and this is not one of them. Call it a naturalistic approach. This isn’t something I styled and then threw away after an hour under the lights. I made it after a long bike ride, and I was Hungry. Hungry with a capital H. That #postworkout meal is one that cannot be denied, and it’s a perfect time for matcha.
A smoothie bowl is a great way to eat a bunch of superfoods, and kale, hemp, blueberries and yogurt are all champions of the superfoods lists.
A teaspoon of magical matcha green tea added even more health benefits. If you haven’t gotten on the matcha bandwagon yet, now is a good time to start. Regular, brewed green tea is always recommended for a metabolism boosting, cancer-preventing drink. Matcha is not brewed, it’s actually whole green tea leaves that have been steamed, dried and ground to a powder, so you are getting the whole leaf, not just the bits that steep out in hot water.
One cup of matcha tea has the antioxidants of ten cups of brewed green tea, so it’s nothing to sneeze at.
Matcha has catechins, an antioxidant that protects you from cell damage. It also has L-theanine, an amino acid that helps you focus, which is complemented by a gentle caffeine kick. The caffeine in tea is a little different from that of coffee, tea contains theine, which is more suited to meditation than the kind of road rage inducing caffeine in coffee.
For my smoothie bowl, I started with the liquid base- using thick coconut milk yogurt, but you can use any sort of yogurt you like. Don’t fear the fat, whatever you do. Your brain and body need it, and you will stay full longer with a bit of fat in there.
Then I piled in some baby kale mix, for vitamins, minerals, and even a bit of protein. A big fat frozen banana for creamy sweetness, and my potassium for the day.
Hemp seeds gave me a bit of protein and more healthy fats, and in the powerful vortex of the Vitamix, melted into the smoothie.
Once the thick, creamy smoothie is in the bowl, you just top it with fruit, chia and hemp, and a drizzle of agave or honey.
That teaspoon of matcha kept me feeling great for hours, and undoubtedly ran some interference to protect my body from the ravages of age.
Gotta love that!
Matcha Kale and Hemp Smoothie Bowl with Fruit
You'll need a powerful blender, like a Vitamix, to make this thick, spoonable treat.
- 1 cup yogurt your choice, unsweetened
- 2 cups baby kale packed
- 1 large frozen banana
- 1 teaspoon matcha plus more for dusting
- 1/4 cup hemp seeds plus more for garnish
- 1/2 small nectarine sliced
- a handful blueberries
- chia seeds
- honey or agave for drizzling
Place the yogurt, kale, banana, matcha and hemp in the blender. Use the tamper to press the ingredients down into the blades as you increase the speed to high. When it is smooth, pour into a wide, low bowl.
Top with nectarines, blueberries, hemp and chia seeds, honey or agave, and couple of pinches of matcha.
If you read last week’s post, you know that I’ve been playing around with beautiful naked barleys from Oregon. This week is another installment in the theme. Instead of making rolled barley into bars or pudding, I ground whole, naked barley into flour and made cookies.
Chocolate chip cookies, just simple, easy cookies to really see what barley tastes like in a dessert. You see, barley has some gluten, but not as much as wheat. That makes it closer to a pastry flour than a bread flour, and that’s what you want in a cookie.
But my question was, could I pull off a vegan, low-gluten barley flour cookie, with only ground flax to act as a binder? As you can see by these photos, the cookies were a complete success, with no crumbling or breaking to mar a stack shot.
Coconut oil is the other secret ingredient, and it works really well in this cookie. The natural balance of fats in coconut oil makes it solid at room temperature, so the mouthfeel is like butter, once they are baked. I’ve found that treats made with coconut oil stay crisp longer than most baked goods, too. I use refined coconut oil in baking when I don’t really want a coconut flavor, just the richness.
The paleness of the naked barley makes the flour light in color, so nobody will suspect that they are eating whole grains.
Who cares, when you are enjoying a fabulous fat chocolate chip cookie?
Barley Chocolate Chip Cookies
Whole, hulless barley is easy to grind for a fresh flour, and makes an irresistible cookie. I made these as a birthday treat, and they were a big hit!
- 205 grams hull-less barley about 1 1/2 cup
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup coconut oil softened
- 1 cup light brown sugar
- 1/4 cup non-dairy milk
- 1 tablespoon ground golden flax seed
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 cup dark chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line two sheet pans with parchment.
In the dry grinding container or the regular container of your Vitamix, grind the barley for at least 1 minute. Dump out into a large bowl to cool. Stir in the baking soda and salt
In another large bowl, combine the coconut oil and brown sugar and cream with a fork. In a cup, stir the milk and flax and let stand for a few minutes, then stir into the coconut oil mixture, and add the vanilla, stir in.
Stir the flour into the coconut oil mixture, and when mixed, stir in the chocolate chips. Use a 1/4 cup scoop to portion the dough onto the pans, leaving at least 2 inches between the cookies. They will spread.
Bake for 6 minutes, then reverse positions of the pans and bake for 6 minutes longer. When the edges are browned and crispy and the middles still look soft, take out and cool on racks. Let them cool on the pan completely before transferring to a plate.
These keep at room temperature, tightly covered, for a week, if you don't eat them all immediately.
These cookies are whole grain and vegan, but don't tell anyone. If you miss the flavor of butter you can always use grass-fed butter for coconut oil. If you don't have barley, you can make these with whole wheat pastry flour, too.