The Real Food Journal
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.
Barley doesn’t get much play these days. This ancient grain was once the staff of life in some parts of the world. Analysis of archaeological sites in the Fertile Crescent find genetic evidence of it being domesticated and cultivated there 10,000 years ago. Barley is mentioned in the bible, and the ancient Egyptians made it into flatbreads. Roman Gladiators were fueled by barley, and the empire marched on with their barley in tow. The Tibetans took barley and made it their most iconic food, and to this day, eat barley Tsampa on a daily basis.
Now, well, you might have it in soup now and again. You probably don’t even think about the barley in your beer. That’s because wheat became the preferred grain, thanks to the higher gluten content made it better for bread making.
It’s time that we learn to enjoy barley in more than just soup. Like this Purple Tibetan Barley Pudding.
Our seeming indifference toward barley should be changing, if the Oregon State University Barleyworld project has its way. They sent me some amazing barley from the farms that are working with them to grow barley that is tastier and better than ever. With the help of some dedicated breeders and chemists, the program intends to make #barleyalwaysgreatagain.
A product I have been hoping would take off in a big way is rolled barley. Everyone is familiar with rolled oats, which have the health benefit of reducing cholesterol. Well, when you roll barley, you get the same kind of easy to use, tasty flakes. And barley actually has more of the beta-glucans fiber that helps take cholesterol out of the body. So rolled barley is even more heart-healthy that rolled oats, and you can use it in your favorite cookies, bars, porridges and everything else.
Purple Tibetan Barley is an ancient grain, and used for making Tsampa in Tibet for centuries. I wrote about Tsampa here. Purple and blue barleys are gorgeous, and their bran layers are packed with antioxidant pigments. Purple is a sign of anthocyanins, the same purple pigments that make blueberries the darlings of the antioxidant-rich superfood lists.
All whole barleys are high in calcium, potassium, Iron, and skin protecting selenium. If you want just one reason to seek out this heart protective, pre-biotic grain, think of how great it is for your skin. Go ahead and be shallow, the anthocyanins prevent premature aging at a cellular level. It will take care of your whole body anyway.
So start seeing barley, and we can make #barleyalwaysgreatagain!
Purple Tibetan Barley Pudding with Fruit
Show off a beautifully colored grain in a rich pudding, where it tints the milk and gives it a lovely chewiness. You can make this any time of year, just use the fruit that is best in the moment.
- 2 1/2 cups whole milk or coconut milk for vegans
- 1 1/2 cups Rolled Purple Tibetan Barley
- 1 pinch salt
- 1/2 cup wildflower honey plus more for drizzling
- 2 large egg yolks or 1 tbs arrowroot for vegans
- 2 cups seasonal fruit
- stirred Greek yogurt optional garnish
Combine the milk, barley and salt in a medium saucepan. Over medium heat, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and cover. Stir occasionally, and cook for about 30 minutes.
When the barley is soft, take off the heat. Whisk the remaining 1/2 cup milk, honey and egg yolks together in a bowl, then quickly stir them into the hot barley. Stirring constantly, return to the heat and cook for a minute to cook the eggs. Transfer to a glass storage container or bowl and chill.
Serve scooped into bowls, topped with chopped fruit and drizzled with yogurt and honey.
The original “slider” is well-known as greasy junk food. They are fast food mini burgers sold by the sackful that leave the consumer feeling kind of sick and guilty. I guess that they are called sliders because they are well-lubricated to slide right down. The one good thing about them, that has spawned an ocean of imitators, is the size.
Now we call any mini-burger a slider, and chefs are making lobster sliders on brioche buns, and other upscale versions of the three bite burger. There is something so fun about having two or three teeny burgers for dinner, instead of one big one. Sliders also fit in the “small plates” trend, since you can have a slider as part of a series of small taste. You can even put them out as appetizers.
Of course, my sliders are perfect for a Meatless Monday meal, because they are made with super flavorful tofu burgers. I love tofu burgers, especially when they are packed with flavorful stuff like artichokes and walnuts, and laced with fresh thyme and Dijon mustard. To make sure the buns are deserving of our attention, I opted to make fresh, whole wheat biscuits. They are a little more fragile than bread buns, but they are much easier and faster to make.
I’ve been working with a locally milled flour, a soft white wheat produced by Baker’s Field Flour and Bread in Minneapolis.
It’s sold as an all-purpose flour in a few select stores around the Twin Cities, and we are lucky to have access to freshly milled, unique flours like this. If you can grind your own in the blender, buy a soft white whole wheat. I’ve gotten it from Bob’s Red Mill. Or, you can always buy whole wheat pastry flour. The main thing is to have a lower gluten flour, so the biscuits won’t be tough. I went ahead and used some grass-fed butter in the biscuits, but you can keep it vegan by using coconut oil.
For the tofu burgers, just make sure you have the firmest tofu you can find, and don’t crush it too finely. You need a little texture to it, for a burger. Artichoke bottoms are the best, if you haven’t tried them, seek them out. They are the best part of the artichoke, without all the shaggy, hard leaf at the top.
Little food is so fun, I hope that you will have some fun with these sliders.
White Whole Wheat Biscuits in Artichoke Walnut Tofu Sliders
Bake up some warm biscuits and tasty mini-tofuburgers in the same hot oven, and serve with a quick dijon-mayo spread.
- 2 cups soft white whole wheat flour 250 g
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 6 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter or coconut oil
- 3/4 cup buttermilk or clabbered soymilk
- 18 ounces extra firm tofu drained
- 1/2 cup rolled oats
- 14 ounces canned artichoke bottoms drained and patted dry, divided
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme chopped
- 3 tablespoons minced shallots
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup walnut pieces finely chopped
- 11 leaves red butter lettuce
- 11 slices tomato
- 6 tablespoons mayonnaise your favorite
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
Preheat the oven to 400 F. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, stir the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Using the large holes of a grater, grate in the cold butter, gently tossing to coat with flour. Form a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the buttermilk or clabbered soymilk. Stir just until a rough shaggy mass forms. Lightly flour a counter and scrape the dough out, pat into a rectangle, then fold in thirds. Pat out to 3/4 inch thick and cut into biscuits with a 2 inch biscuit cutter. Place on a parchment lined pan. Pat the scraps together and press into the biscuit cutter to form the final biscuits.
Bake for about 15 minutes, until the tops are dry and the bottoms are browned. Cool on pans on racks.
For the burgers, wrap the tofu in a towel to blot dry, press to remove any extra moisture. Crumble into a large bowl. Drain the artichoke bottoms and pat dry, then divide in half. Mince half and add to the bowl. To a food processor, add the oats and grind to a chunky powder. Add the second half of the artichoke bottoms and process to coarsely puree. Scrape into the bowl, and add the thyme, shallots, dijon, salt, and walnut pieces. Mix with your hands, squeezing to make the mixture hold together.
Scoop 1/4 cup portions onto the second prepared pan, leaving an inch between the portions. Lightly oil your palms and flatten the portions to make 3/4 inch thick burgers.
Bake for about 30 minutes, until firm and a little crusty. Mix the mayo and dijon in a small bowl. Serve on split biscuits, with lettuce, tomato and dijon mayo,.
These can be vegan, if you measure the coconut oil and then chill it, then grate it into the flour mixture. To clabber soymilk, pour a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar into a liquid measuring cup and add soymilk to make 3/4 cup.
The rhubarb plants in my garden don’t care whether I ever get around to them. Every Spring, their crinkled leaves start growing under a coating of snow or ice, sure in the knowledge that it will soon pass. The moment the snow melts, they unfurl with great resolution and optimism. You can’t stop the rhubarb. It wants to be rhubarb bars.
And then they take over the back quadrant of the garden, with leaves the size of elephant ears that shade out the weeds. Every time I walk past, I think, what am I going to make with that rhubarb? Some years, deep in a cookbook project or two, I’ve done nothing more complex than throw them in a pan with some sugar and cook them into a compote. Nothing wrong with toast and rhubarb.
Other years, I’ve had time to make a pretty tart where the rhubarb looks like the spokes of a wheel.
Of the tasty rhubarb scones that even freeze well for later in the summer, when you don’t want to bake.
This year, I wanted to take a treat for the my mindfulness and meditation class. We’ve been together for eight weeks now, doing our best to be in the present moment. Our last class will be bittersweet. These rhubarb bars will be sweet and tangy to go with it.
I’ve also been fooling around with rolled barley. I’m always into whole grains, so when I got a package of rolled “Streaker Barley” from Oregon, I thought I should give it a try. The name, “streaker,” harks back to the fad of running naked, or streaking, at various public events. I’m not sure that the kids today know what streaking is, but we folks who survived the 70’s do. And why would barley be named for a moment of exhibitionism in our shared history?
Because it’s naked barley. You see, most people only make the acquaintance of pearled barley. Traditional barley varieties have the distinction of having a hull that is very hard to remove, so it became the norm to process them by scraping off not just the inedible hull, but also the bran layer. So pearled barley cooks more quickly, gives off bountiful starches to thicken a broth, and has fewer of the health giving qualities that come from bran.
But not naked barley. Naked barley gets its name from the fact that its hull is easily removed, like other whole grains. So it’s naked- get it? And it streaks across the plate, unashamed. Naked, or hull-less barleys cook up more like whole wheat berries, with a long cooking time and a sturdy bran layer that pops when you chew it.
The folks out at The Oregon State Barley Project are working on breeding varieties of barley that grow well in the Pacific Northwest, and finding good uses for them. They are even using a participatory breeding program, working in collaboration with farmers to improve the variety with each successive generation. This barley was grown by Hunton’s Farm, a family farm for 60 years. From there, it was taken to a local mill and flattened into rolled barley, so that I could make it into these bars.
This was a good recipe to try out with barley, to see just how different it would be from rolled oats. Rolled barley is a little thicker and sturdier than even thick, old-fashioned oats, and I like it. It’s almost crisp before you bake it, so there’s no chance of a soggy bar. I made these vegan, with coconut oil for the fat, and kept it simple so I could really taste the barley.
I have to say, the rolled barley is even better for a crumble bar than oats, because of the crunchy, chewy, assertive texture of the grain. It’s also got a little more nuance to the flavor, with all the mild sweetness of oats with a tiny hint of bitterness. The tanginess of rhubarb might well overwhelm another grain, but the barley holds its own.
Pretty good for a naked grain!
Rhubarb Bars with Sliced Almonds
Instead of oats, give rolled barley a try in these tasty bars. Rhubarb gives them a tart, sweet center, while the barley and almonds give it lots of crunch. A drizzle of lemon glaze gives it a special touch.
- 2 cups rolled barley
- 2 cups unbleached flour or half whole wheat pastry
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup coconut oil melted
- 1/2 cup non-dairy milk plus a little more
- 1 cup sliced almonds
- 4 cups chopped rhubarb about a pound
- 1 1/2 cup sugar
- 3 tablespoons non-dairy milk
- 3 tablespoons arrowroot
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
Oil a 9x13 inch baking pan and reserve. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
In a large bowl, combine the rolled barley, flour, brown sugar and salt. Drizzle in the coconut oil and toss to mix in, then stir in the milk. Scoop out 2 cups of the chunkiest part into a medium bowl, and toss with the almonds. Drizzle in a little more milk as needed to make the remaining clumps into a dough. Press into the pan.
In a medium pot, combine the rhubarb and sugar and place over medium heat. Bring to a simmer as the juices come out of the rhubarb. When the rhubarb is softened and juicy, whisk the milk and arrowroot in a cup, then stir into the simmering rhubarb. Stir until thick. Take off the heat.
Spread the rhubarb over the bottom crust, the top with the almond mixture.
Bake for about 40 minutes, until the juices are bubbling up around the edges and the topping is browned. Cool on a rack. For the neatest slices, refrigerate until completely cold. Cut 4 by 6.
I have big news! I finally bought a new grill. Yup, just a run of the mill, under $200 number. No bells, no whistles, no LED lights or motorized spit.
Because, really, I don’t need anything fancy. Just heavy grates and consistent heat.
It took me some time, after years in the vegetarian wilderness, to get into grilling. Like most people, I grew up with a family that grilled burgers, steaks, and baked potatoes wrapped in foil. We camped, and meals were cooked over campfires, all by my Mom. That trope in which all Dads grill wasn’t happening in our backyard.
But when I got out on my own, I had no interest in burgers and steaks. We bought grills over the years, and I found charcoal exhausting. Why mess with lighting it, waiting for the right moment, just to grill some tofu and vegetables?
It was a personal chef job that kind of forced me to start grilling. They wanted me to grill, so I did some reading, and I grilled their burgers and steaks and every other meat on a gas grill. I started to get the groove of grilling. It is so easy.
But what really changed everything was when I got into smoker chips. Suddenly, it wasn’t just about heat. Having smoke made the gas grill the best of both worlds, with the convenience of instant lighting, and the flavor of a smoky wood fire. For the last several years, that has been my thing. Smoke adds umami, and smoking your veggies gives them a real depth of flavor. Like these smoked oyster mushrooms. Or this smoked tomato pasta sauce.
I make pizzas, and even a crusty bread on the grill. And that old grill, well, it just kind of petered out. It never really worked right, and when the lines got frayed and looked dangerously leaky, we just wheeled it to the alley. We got a Char Broil and Put it together on the patio. And I got really busy and didn’t have a ton of time.
So the new grill was just sitting there, all shiny and ready to go. I was tired, I was hungry, and I hadn’t soaked the wood chips. But there it was, ready to deliver instant fire, so I cranked it up. I had a bunch of curly red kale, some nice local yellow and red tomatoes, and a zucchini. The Dumpling and Strand Durum Wheat Pasta that I picked up at the Mill City Market sealed the deal. It cooks in two minutes.
I was excited to try the new pasta, made with a softer wheat that uses fewer resources to grow. Somehow, the magicians and D & S managed to make a pasta from soft wheat, which has less gluten, and they didn’t need to use eggs to hold it together. Wow.
So, I chopped a few vegetables while the grill got hot. I simply tore the kale in bite sized pieces andnd mixed in lemon zest and chopped garlic. And to the fire it went.
Just a few minutes, turning the greens, then closing the lid for a minute, then turning again, and they were crisp in spots, chewy in others. I salted them off the heat.
While the kale cooked, I seared some zucchini slabs. I cut them this way to keep them from falling through. Then I cut them up later.
And within minutes, I had a lovely dinner. Because I didn’t bother with the smoker, I threw some smoked almonds on top, and I cooked the excellent pasta and tossed everything in a generous amount of good olive oil.
The crispy grilled kale is a winner, you can use that in all kinds of dishes, or you can keep it on the heat until you have kale chips.
The new grill will get lots of use this summer!
Grilled Kale and Smoked Almond Pasta
Fire up the grill for a veggie rich pasta meal. Kale cooks quickly on a grill mat or wok, and zucchini is at its best, seared on a hot grate.
- 1 bunch kale
- 1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice for finishing pasta
- 1 clove garlic sliced
- extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medi zucchini cut in planks
- 4 small yellow tomatoes chopped
- 2 small red tomatoes chopped
- 9 ounces fresh fettucine whole wheat
- 1 handful smoked almonds coarsely chopped
- espelette pepper or red chili flakes
- fresh violets
Pre-heat the grill. Put on a pot of water to boil for the pasta, and salt it generously.Tear the kale into bite-sized pieces and put in a bowl, then add lemon zest and garlic. Drizzle generously with olive oil and toss to coat. Coat the zucchini planks with oil and tuck them in the side of the bowl.
Put the grill mat or wok on the grill and add the kale, use tongs to turn. Place the zucchini on the grill and let sear. Close the grill for a minute, then open and turn the kale. Do this a few times until the kale is crispy but not burned.Check the zucchini, when it is browned, turn the pieces and let it sear again.
When the kale is crisped in spots, transfer back to the bowl. When the zucchini is tender and browned, transfer to the bowl. Turn off the grill. Put the zucchini on the cutting board and slice in bite-sized pieces. Salt the kale and toss.
Cook the pasta and drain. In the pasta pot, combine the tomatoes and a good shot of olive oil, salt and the lemon juice. Add the drained pasta and toss to mix. Serve topped with chopped almonds, Espelette pepper or chilis, and fresh violets, with the crispy kale all around.
When the season brightens and the asparagus is suddenly really good, it starts showing up in everything at my house. Creamy soup, stir-fries, pizzas, you name it. But it is easy to run out of fun ways to serve it, and start to get sick of your usual soups and stir-fries. You need a new way to use asparagus.
So, for a real treat, may I suggest wrapping each asparagus spear in filo dough, liberally sprinkled with Indian spices and toasted coconut? And serving it with a gingery Mango Chutney? I’m betting that this will be a fresh take, and one that your friends and family will fall upon like a pack of hungry wolves.
At least mine did.View Recipe
Chalk it up to the charisma of filo dough, or that bright orange mango chutney. It’s a vegetable dish that stands out from the pack. Paper-thin filo slathered with coconut oil will do that for a veggie. Just look at Spanakopita, in which spinach is wrapped in filo, and is featured on Greek restaurant menus everywhere. Filo just gives veggies curb appeal.
Asparagus is perfect for a marriage with filo. The spears are easy to wrap, and cook in the same amount of time that it takes to bake the filo. You want a medium or thick spear for this, and the number of spears in a bunch of asparagus varies widely, from 12 very thick to 30 very thin spears. Count the number in your bunch, and figure 1 sheet of dough for four spears.
If you haven’t worked with filo before, don’t be intimidated. Filo is paper thin dough, made of flour and water. The key is to prevent the amount of moisture in the dough from changing. That means thawing it slowly overnight in the refrigerator, to keep it from sweating out any moisture. Thawing the filo at room temperature can make the sheets a tiny bit damp, and they will stick together.
Once you open the package, the sheets will start to dry out when exposed to air. That is why the instructions tell you how to remove what you need, keep them covered, and re-wrap and refreeze the remaining dough. If you do this, you can save the rest of that pound of dough for another use, and often thaw and refreeze it once or twice before the sheets become brittle.
I’ve even got a recipe for Cauliflower Biryani, for those cutting back on carbs.
Happy Asparagus Season!
Coconut-Filo Asparagus with Mango Chutney
Surprise your guests with lightly spiced, crispy filo wrapped asparagus spears, ready to dip in a fruity chutney. Switching coconut oil for butter makes a crunchy, light filo wrapper that everyone can enjoy. Count the number of spears in your bunch- they vary widely. I used very thin spears, which came 30 to a bunch.
- 8 sheets filo dough thawed
- 3/4 cup chopped mango 1 Champagne mango
- 1 tablespoon fresh ginger chopped
- 1 teaspoon grated fresh turmeric or 1/4 tsp dried
- 1 large orange zested and juiced
- 2 tablespoons light brown sugar to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 1/2 teaspooon garam masala
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup finely shredded coconut
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 bunch asparagus about 30 spears
- 1/3 cup melted coconut oil
1.Thaw phyllo in the refrigerator overnight. Oil a sheet pan and reserve. Preheat the oven to 350F.
Make the chutney: combine the mango, ginger, turmeric, orange juice and zest, brown sugar, paprika, garam masala and salt in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring. Reduce the heat to simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes. Transfer the chutney to a blender and puree, if desired. Let cool to room temperature.
In a small bowl, mix the coconut, cumin seeds and brown mustard seeds. Spread on a dry sheet pan and toast in the oven for 5-7 minutes. When golden brown, take out and scrape back into the bowl to cool. Stir in the salt. Raise the heat of the oven to 400F.
To assemble: Trim the bases of the asparagus and save for compost. Open filo package and remove 6-8 sheets (one for every four spears), tightly re-wrap and freeze remaining. Place the sheets on a counter and cover with plastic wrap, then cover that with a barely damp towel.
Lightly brush each sheet of phyllo with oil, then sprinkle half with 2 teaspoons of the coconut mixture. Fold in half and cut into four four inch wide pieces. Place each asparagus spear diagonally, with the tip pointing to the lower left hand corner, and fold that corner over the tip. Roll the lower right corner over the spear and keep rolling to wrap completely, and place seam side down on the sheet pan. You can tightly wrap the pan and chill for up to 24 hours before baking.
Bake at 400 for 15-20 minutes, until crisp and golden.
These days, I think often about gratitude. It’s so easy to slip into focusing on what you want and don’t get, and to forget how incredibly lucky you are. One of the things that I am consciously grateful for on a daily basis is good food. A visit to the farmer’s market, or my Coop, or a unique restaurant puts my good fortune right there, on display. I hope I never get so jaded that I stop being excited about my absurd good luck.
So I try to pay attention, eat mindfully, and think about where my food comes from. With gratitude.
Which brings me to some of my favorite artisans, the folks at Dumpling and Strand, Noodlers at Large. There were fresh pastas around, before they came into my life. Dumpling and Strand is better. But more than that, when I am enjoying this particular noodle, there are faces behind the food. I’m connected to a larger thing. Because I buy my pasta directly from Jeff Casper and Kelly McManus, the pasta has more meaning. And through that connection, I can see the farmers who grow the grain, and the fields of grain, rippling in the wind.
It’s bigger than just me, a plate of pasta, and a fork.
I may have put in on the plate, but a whole team of people worked on getting it there. It wouldn’t be this good without each of them taking an extra step to make sure everything was done right.
Gratitude. I owe it to all those people to pay attention and be present when I eat this food.
This particular noodle, called Wild Rice “Minnesoba,” is a perfect example. Made from wild rice grown on the Red Lake Reservation, this noodle is not something you can find anywhere. The Red Lake Band Of Chippewa grew this, and take pride in providing a high quality, delicious wild rice. It’s got history. You don’t just douse it in a jar of red sauce, either.
Soba is an ancient Japanese tradition, and it’s usually made with buckwheat. But the creative locavore minds at D & S found a parallel in wild rice. Dark, earthy, nutty wild rice is the flavor of Minnesota, in my book. The grassy, slightly smoky flavor is like no other food. Putting the wild rice in a soba noodle allows you to really appreciate the flavor, with the element of texture removed.
So, to play it all up, I went with meaty, seared shiitakes, and toasty hazelnuts. The shiitakes are grown locally, so they are nice and fresh. Dark sesame oil gives it an Asian feel, as well as more meaty, umami oomph. A carrot for color and sweetness, and some anise-y Thai Basil adds more spark to the dish.
The fact that it all comes together in as long as it takes to chop some mushrooms and boil a pot of water is another thing to celebrate. Wild rice flavor, in a noodle that cooks in two minutes?
For that alone, a standing ovation, to everybody who made this meal possible!
Wild Rice "Minnesoba" with Seared Shiitakes and Hazelnuts
When you have a fantastically flavorful noodle, you hardly need to add much. To play up the nutty, grassy flavors of the wild rice, I opted for meaty shiitakes, toasty hazelnuts, and a sprinkling of Thai basil.
- 1 package Dumpling and Strand Minnesoba
- 5 ounces fresh shiitakes stemmed and sliced
- 2 teaspoons canola oil
- 1 large carrot julienned
- 2 teaspoons tamari
- 2 teaspoons dark sesame oil
- 1/2 cup fresh Thai Basil slivered
- 1/4 cup hazelnuts toasted and coarsely chopped
- 2 sprigs fresh Thai Basil for garnish
- Sriracha Sauce
Put on a big pot of water for the soba. Prep all the veggies and have them ready.
In a large saute pan, heat the canola oil over medium high heat. Add the shiitakes to the hot pan, and stir. Cook, stirring, until browned and shrunken, about 4 minutes. Take off the heat.
Drop the soba into the boiling water for 2 minutes, throw the carrots in, too. Stir well, and drain when just cooked.
Add the soba to the pan with the shiitakes, and drizzle with tamari and sesame oil. Toss to mix. Serve sprinkled with hazelnuts and basil, and garnished with a sprig of basil. Drizzle with Sriracha and serve.
Is Fusion Wrong?
Fusion cooking had a heyday, back in the 90’s. It was all good until it went too far, until monstrous hybrid experiments roamed the land. We all tried to walk the line between cool-fusion and con-fusion food. Strange combos became all too common. Soon it became almost a pejorative to call something “fusion cuisine.”
In our current quest for cultural authenticity, it’s become even more of a sensitive topic. But dammit, sometimes joyfully, lawlessly mashing up things that taste good together is, well, fun. Take this example. Sushi is all understated rice and smooth fillings, wrapped in seaweed. Burritos are spicy, loud flavors wrapped in flour tortillas. Fuse the two into a “sushi-rito” and you have a bunch of tastes that really work together, in one crazy package. The Sushirito is the best kind of cultural combo.
So Arrest Me
It’s all in good fun, isn’t it? Nobody is claiming that this is an ancient dish, created by Japanese peasants, or handed down from a pre-Columbian grandma. Nope, This is just stuff I like, wrapped in a glorious sheet of carbs. Whole grain rice, whole grain tortillas, and vegetables, nothing to get upset about. Just because I put wasabi mayo and Tapatio hot sauce on the same dish doesn’t make my Sushirito a crime against cultural authenticity.
For this bad boy, I cooked up some medium grain brown rice and seasoned it with a little rice vinegar and sugar, and I quick pickled some julienned watermelon radish. Some asparagus spears, steamed until crisp-tender, were perfectly in season. Wasabi mayo is always good, and some kraut and pickled ginger gave it some fermented goodness.
The Burrito Part
But then I veered over into burrito territory, by spreading it on a whole wheat tortilla and serving it with hot sauce. So there. I must say, my husband, who kind of politely goes along with sushi, ate this with no reservations. We both dug in like college kids at Chipotle.
So if you are craving both sushi and burritos, you are in luck. Maybe you can put on your favorite 90’s dance mix to complete the nostalgic feeling.
Try the Sushirito and enjoy a little honest fusion food.
Asparagus and Avocado Sushiritos
We love sushi, and we love burritos. Skip the sushi rolling and simply twist up a burrito with seasonal vegetables. Then you can douse it in your favorite hot sauce and dip in soy sauce, for a fun and easy meal.
- 1 cup medium grain brown rice
- 2 cups water
- 1 teaspoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar divided
- 1 small watermelon radish slivered
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise your favorite brand
- 1 teaspoon wasabi paste to taste
- 8 stalks asparagus
- 1/2 large hass avocado
- pickled ginger
- 4 10 inch whole wheat tortillas
- Hot sauce and soy sauce
Cook the rice: In a small pot, combine the rice and water and place over high heat. When it boils, cover tightly and reduce the heat to low. Cook for about 40 minutes, until the water is absorbed. Take off the heat and let stand, covered, for 10 minutes. Stir together sugar and 1 tablespoon of vinegar, drizzle over rice and fold in.
In a small bowl, combine the radish and remaining rice vinegar and toss to mix. Let stand to marinate for 15 minutes.
In a small bowl, combine the mayo and wasabi and stir. If you really like wasabi, add more to taste. Trim the avocado to the length of the nori, then steam just until crisp-tender. Cool.
Slice the avocado in half, then remove the pit. Slice the avocado fruit in the shell lengthwise to make 8 slices. Scoop out carefully with a spoon.
Lay out four tortillas, then spread 1/4 of the rice on one side of each tortilla. Smear 1/4 of the mayo mixture across the rice, then place the asparagus, avocado slices, pickled ginger, and kraut in rows alongside. Roll up like sushi, starting at the side closest to you. Slice in half and use toothpicks to hold the roll closed. Serve or wrap and refrigerate.
Happy Earth Day?
These days, the fight to protect the environment has had some setbacks. To put it mildly. But rather than throw your hands up in despair, I believe it is time to double down. Keep doing whatever you can to reduce your carbon footprint, because it matters. Going meatless is a powerful action that helps reduce the toll our lifestyle takes on the environment. For Earth Day, try the Meatless Monday approach.
While you’re at it, you can try my recipe to help reduce food waste. We can all help with saving the Earth just by eating everything we buy (which is harder than it sounds!)
Rather than quoting a bunch of numbers for you here, I’ll just give you a link to the Meatless Monday website, where you can dig deeper into the statistics. Suffice to say, we need to make some changes to how we live on the Earth.
For my part, may I suggest that you explore the delicious world of plant-based cuisine? It’s been my life’s work to create recipes that entice even die-hard meat lovers to have a bite. Then another, then another. Why stop?
Here’s me on TV, making meatless monday dishes.This episode was all about the Year of Pulses, and featured two delicious bean soups with breads to pair them with!
Cut Back on Food Waste for Earth Day
So, to show you just how easy it can be, I’m going to drag out the funky, wilted, embarrassing veggies in the back of my vegetable drawer. Yes, like you, I buy produce, cook parts of it, and then end up with perfectly good veggies languishing in the darkness. So, to prevent food waste, we all need a few strategies for using these precious resources up before they go to the landfill.
Here is my sad little pile of vegetables that have seen better days:
And here are the trimmed veggies, chopped for a quick stir-fry:
The trimmings go into the compost bin. I’ve been using compostable bags to stash my trims so that I can donate them to our city-side compost pick up, because my compost bin is full and I’m giving it time to finish rotting for this summer’s garden.
Millet, Edamame, and Tahini
For a low-impact stir fry, I dug out some frozen, American grown edamame. Then, I cooked some millet. Millet is an ancient grain, one that grows with little water, on poor soil, with very little need for any application of fertilizers. It’s grown in the USA, and if we all ate more of it, it would be grown somewhere near you, so let’s get into it.
Then, I made a super simple tahini sauce, just because you probably have a jar of tahini in the fridge, and it is a tasty way to make some leftover veggies appealing. I spiked it with turmeric for a lively color and because my brain needs all the help it can get.
A few minutes in a hot pan, and suddenly these funky, nearly spent vegetables became a delicious, colorful meal.
So, go meatless for Earth Day, and while you are at it, clear out that veggie drawer before you add more stuff to the landfill. I feel better knowing that all the energy that went into growing that wilted celery and slightly wrinkly jalapeno didn’t go to waste.
Happy Earth Day.
Use-It-Up Veggie Stir Fry with Edamame over Spiced Millet
You can use whatever veggies you have on hand to make this easy stir-fry. Just chop 'til you have 4 cups or so. The sauce is versatile and easy to make, just stir and drizzle.
- 1 tablespoon canola oil
- 1/2 cup chopped onion, shallot or other allium
- 1 large garlic clove chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 1 cup millet
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 3/4 cups water
Tahini Stir-fry Sauce
- 1/4 cup tahini
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- 2 tablespoons tamari
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar or honey
- 2-3 tablespoons water
- 1 tablespoon canola oil
- 4 cups chopped vegetables
- 1 cup edamame shelled, thawed
- 1 pinch salt
- Sriracha as needed
For millet: In a 1 quart pot, heat the oil over medium heat, and add the onion or shallot and stir. When softened, add the garlic and stir for a minute, then add the paprika and millet and stir until the millet is hot and fragrant. Add the salt and water and raise the heat to bring to a boil. Cover tightly, and cook for 25 minutes. When all the water is absorbed, take off the heat and let stand for at least 5 minutes.
For the sauce, combine the ingredients and stir, adding enough water to make a pourable sauce.
For the stir-fry, heat a wok or saute pan over high heat. When the pan is hot, add the oil and tilt the pan to coat the bottom. Add the vegetables and edamame and stir constantly until the veggies are crisp-tender, about 4 minutes. Add a pinch of salt and stir.
Serve over millet, drizzled with tahini sauce. Alternatively, you can toss the veggies with sauce before serving. Drizzle with Sriracha or other hot sauce as desired.
My Halvah Surprise
The last thing that I thought I would rediscover in Amsterdam would have to be halvah. On my recent trip to the city of Canals and VanGogh, I was wandering from shop to shop, just checking things out, when I happened into a place called Sum Sum. There, loaves of smooth, velvety halvah were beautifully displayed, and the staff shaved off sample bites upon request. The place was packed with enthusiastic samplers. Suddenly I was all-in on halvah, sampling creative flavor combinations, all of which melted in my mouth. Cinnamon Orchid, Whisky, or Matcha Halvah sound appealing? Yes, please.
Stop Forgetting Halvah!
I have to admit, I had kind of forgotten about halvah. Joyva halvah appears in the Kosher section of the store every year for the holidays, and I think, maybe I will get that again, some time. Years ago, one of the vegetarian places I worked in made a version of halvah that wasn’t cooked, just honey and sesame stirred up and chilled, and it was pretty gooey.
I figured it was something you had to grow up eating to really crave. Let’s face it, there are so many options in the sweets department, why would you opt for something dry and crumbly?
Until I walked into this little shop in Amsterdam. And I knew I had to start making halvah.
Since Easter is upon us, I decided to make my halvah into the shape of eggs. I based the recipe on one by Michael Solomonov, but I made my own tahini, and as long as I was at it, decided to make it half pistachio. The green of the pistachios would amp up the green of the matcha, and taste delicious, too. Dipping it in chocolate would give it Easter candy appeal, and a sprinkle of pistachio or sesame covers up the fact that I didn’t temper the chocolate.
If they last long enough for anyone to care.
It’s Not Hard to Make Your Own
If you don’t want to make your own tahini, buy an organic one, not the thin, smooth kind. I love Joyva and the other Middle Eastern brands because they are smooth and runny enough to drizzle, but for this, you want the thicker kinds.
Cooking the syrup requires a candy thermometer, so make sure you have one before you start.
Halvah is a fantastic treat, and meets my standard of having some real food in it as well as sugar. Sesame and pistachios are nutritious food. These eggs could probably qualify as energy bars, if you compare their stats.
We eat peanut butter and chocolate together all the time, why not try a sesame and chocolate treat? These cute little bites will convince you to get into halvah. If you can’t make the trip to Sum Sum, make your own.
Matcha and Pistachio Halvah Easter Eggs
These easy to make candies combine sesame seeds and pistachios with matcha tea for a bright green version of halvah. Instead of the usual loaf of halvah, these can be scooped and shaped while the dough is warm, then dipped in chocolate for an Easter candy. If you don't want to make the sesame-pistachio butter, use 1 1/2 cups of thick tahini.
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 1 cup sesame seeds
- 1 cup raw pistachios
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 tablespoon matcha powder
- 2 cups organic sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
- 8 ounces semisweet chocolate melted
- pistachios for garnish
In a Vitamix or other blender or food processor, place the oil. In a small saute pan, spread the sesame seeds and place over medium heat. Swirl for about 5 minutes, until the seeds are fragrant and toasty. Transfer to a bowl and let cool for 5 minutes. Line a sheet pan with parchment for the finished eggs.
Add the cooled sesame seeds, pistachios and pinch of salt to the blender. Secure the lids and use the tamper to press the ingredients into the blades as you start at Speed 1 and increase slowly to 5, then up to high, as the mixture starts to become nut butter. Keep pressing until a smooth paste is produced.
Scrape the nut butter into a stand mixer fitted with a batter paddle and add the matcha powder. Set the speed on low and mix, then turn off.
In a 1 quart pot, combine the sugar and water. Bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Clip a candy thermometer on the side of the pan and swirl the mixture as it cooks, lowering the heat so it boils but doesn't boil over.
When the syrup reaches 240 F, take off the heat. Turn on the stand mixer to medium speed, and slowly drizzle the hot syrup into the bowl. Beat in all the syrup, then raise the speed to beat for about 20 seconds.
Use a small (1 tablespoon-sized) scoop to scoop the warm dough onto the parchment lined pan. Dip your hands in cool water and use your palms to roll each portion into an egg shape, then place back on the pan. Chill for an hour or overnight.
Melt the chocolate and dip the eggs, and garnish with chopped pistachios and a sprinkle of matcha, if desired. Chill until set. Store, refrigerated, for up to 2 months.
You'll need a blender to make the butter, a stand mixer, a small scoop for forming the dough, and a parchment lined pan.