BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Straight From the Heart

National Salad Month may not get the same fanfare as other, more decadent food holidays, but it’s about time that all changed. After all, salad isn’t limited to the sad, pale iceberg mixtures most of the country associates with the word. Salad can truly be a mixture of anything, nebulously defined only as a mixture containing a specified ingredient served with a dressing. Restrictive? Bland? If you think salads are boring, then you’re just not tossing them right.

Truth be told, I would have had no idea that salads got a whole calendar month of celebration if not for the friendly reminder sent out by Driscoll’s and California Endive Farms. Salads of some variety make an appearance on my table every single day, so their offer of free greenery and berries was one I couldn’t resist.

Hemming and hawing over the best way to feature these ingredients without going with the typical endive boat presentation, it seemed an impossible task to pin down the perfect salad composition, considering the endless options. Ultimately, it was a combination of Mother’s Day approaching and the realization that I had a whole lot of heart[s] that inspired this dainty combination. Hearts are a surprisingly common ingredient in my kitchen once I began to riffle through the pantry, found in the form of artichokes, hearts of palm, hemp, and the endive itself. A bright, punchy, yet delicate dressing of grapefruit and cayenne gives the salad some kick, without smothering the vegetables’ subtle nuances. Of course, the “cherry on top” is actually a strawberry in this case, cut into sweet heart shapes.

It’s the extra little touches that go a long way, so although it would taste just as good with plain old strawberry slices, take an extra two minutes to show mom that you care.

Heart-Felt Endive Salad

4 Red and/or Green Endive Hearts
1 14-Ounce Can Quartered Artichoke Hearts, Drained
1 14-Ounce Can Hearts of Palm, Drained, Halved or Quartered if Large
4 Red and/or Green Endive Hearts
1/2 Cup Fresh Strawberries, Cut into Heart Shapes
1 – 2 Tablespoons Hemp Hearts
Fresh Chives, Thinly Sliced
Fresh Basil

Dressing:

2 Tablespoons Grapefruit Juice
2 Teaspoons Maple Syrup
1/2 Teaspoon Dijon Mustard
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
Pinch Cayenne Pepper

Prepare the dressing first so that it’s ready to go when you are. Simply whisk the grapefruit juice, maple syrup, and mustard together in a small bowl. Slowly drizzle in the oil while whisking vigorously to emulsify. Season with salt and add cayenne pepper to taste. Set aside.

Cut off and discard the woody bottoms, separating the leaves of the endive. Toss them into a large bowl along with the artichokes and hearts of palm. To cut your strawberries into heart shapes, begin by slicing them in half, and then cut a triangular notch out of the top. You can further shave down the sides to round them out if desired, but that starts to get a bit fussy, if you ask me. Add the berries in as well, along with the hemp hearts. Drizzle in the dressing, toss thoroughly to combine and coat all of the vegetables. Finish with the fresh herbs, roughly tearing the basil leaves if large. Serve immediately.

Printable Recipe

Driscoll’s and California Endive Farms sent me free produce but did not pay for nor require coverage. All opinions and recipes remain solely my own.


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Eats, Shoots and Leaves

A delicacy in many cuisines across the globe and a harbinger of spring, bamboo shoots certainly don’t get a fair shake in western kitchens. Commonly and erroneously considered woody, bland, or worse yet, bitter, these traits apply only to the canned variety, which is the only sort that most people have ever tasted in this part of the world. Available for only a short window as the earth thaws out from winter, fresh bamboo are nothing like the sad slivers found in your average Chinese takeout. Subtly nutty, tender yet toothsome, these pale young plant growths boast a unique nuanced flavor that gets lost in translation once any preservation methods enter the picture.

Now is the time to hunt through specialty produce stores and Asian markets, while bamboo shoots are still available in their natural form. Seek out smooth, unblemished specimen, and always check expiration dates. Even if they’re vital enough to be sold, older shoots should be avoided, as they become progressively harder and more fibrous with every passing day. Considering their scarcity and perishability, it’s not hard to understand why this seasonal treasure is so fleeting. Though I had no intention of buying any nor the vaguest idea of how to cook them, I couldn’t possibly just walk away when I discovered a few saran-wrapped shoots nestled in little Styrofoam boats at the grocery store.

For reasons unknown, it struck me that diced bamboo might make an unconventional yet tasty addition to the classic vegan staple: The humble but ever-popular bean burger. Mild white beans and Asian-inspired flavorings harmonize with the mild vegetable addition without overpowering the whole assembly. Veggie burgers for people who truly appreciate vegetables, these simple patties don’t pretend to be meat and aren’t afraid to show what they’re really made of.

No average white bread buns would do to contain such a special prize. Further accentuating the theme with edible bookends that have more in common with yaki onigiri than dinner rolls, ordinary rice is out of the question. Bamboo rice, infused with the very essence of green bamboo juice, is a perfectly matched pairing, adding another layer of the starring vegetable’s inherent flavor. Floral, reminiscent of jasmine tea with gently grassy, earthy undertones, it may just be my new favorite sort of rice, even without such a fanciful preparation.

Such a hearty yet gracefully composed stack of grains, vegetables, and beans celebrates fresh spring produce through a whole new lens. You don’t have to leave them inside when the weather turns warm, though; carefully packed, unassembled patties, buns, and condiments would make for ideal picnic fodder.

Bamboo Burgers:

1 Tablespoon Toasted Sesame Oil
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1 Cup Diced Fresh Bamboo Shoots
1/2 Cup Finely Diced Button Mushrooms
3 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
1 14-Ounce Can (1 3/4 Cups Cooked) White Beans, Drained
5 – 6 Scallions, Thinly Sliced
1 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/4 Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
3/4 – 1 Cup All Purpose Flour

Rice Buns:

1 1/2 Cups Water
1 Cup Bamboo Rice
Pinch Salt
2 – 3 Tablespoons Sesame Oil

To Finish:

Sliced Tomatoes
Lettuce
Mustard and/or Vegan Mayonnaise
Fresh Parsley or Cilantro

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Lightly grease and set aside.

Heat the sesame oil in a medium saucepan over moderate heat. When shimmering, add in the garlic, bamboo shoots, and mushrooms, and saute until aromatic. This should take no more than 5 – 6 minutes; be careful not to overdo it and burn the garlic. Deglaze the pan with the soy sauce, turn off the heat, and let cool for at least 10 minutes minutes.

In a separate bowl, roughly mash the beans with a fork or potato masher. You want to keep the texture fairly coarse so that the burger maintains a satisfying bite. Add in the scallions and spices, mixing well to incorporate. Once cool enough to handle, introduce the sauteed vegetables and stir once more. Begin mixing in the first 3/4 cup of flour, making sure that there are no pockets of dry ingredients remaining before assessing the consistency. It should be soft but manageable; something you can fairly easily mold into patties that will hold their shape. Add up to 1/4 cup more flour if necessary.

Measure out between 1/3 – 1/2 cup of the burger mixture for each patty, and form them into round, flat pucks with slightly moistened hands. Space them out evenly on the sheet at least 1 inch apart. Bake for 30 – 35 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool for 10 – 15 minutes before removing from the sheet.

Meanwhile, prepare the rice “buns.” (This can also be done well ahead of time, to streamline the serving process.) Bring the water up to a boil in a medium saucepan over moderate heat before adding in the rice and salt. Stir once, turn down the heat to low, and cover. Cook gently for 15 – 20 minutes, undisturbed, until the water has been fully absorbed. Turn off the heat and cool for at least 20 – 30 minutes, until you can comfortably handle it.

Transfer the rice to a non-stick baking dish and press it out into an even layer of about 1/4-inch in thickness. Use a lightly greased glass round cookie cutter to punch out circles to form the bun shape. Make sure that the rounds are large enough to contain your patties, without having a lot of overhang, either. Place the shaped rice buns on a sheet pan and move the whole thing into your freezer to chill rapidly. It’s easier to fry them when they’re very cold, or even partially frozen.

Heat a thin layer of sesame oil in a pan over medium-high heat and fry no more than 2 buns at a time. Cook each side until the exteriors are nicely crisped and amber brown. Transfer to a cooling rack and repeat with the remaining rice, adding more oil to the pan as needed to prevent the buns from sticking.

To assemble your bamboo burgers, spread a dollop of mustard or mayo on one rice bun. Top with sliced tomato, lettuce, a bamboo patty, and fresh herbs, as desired. The burgers are best enjoyed hot, but are still quite tasty cooled, packed in a lunchbox, and eaten at room temperature.

Makes 6 – 8 Burgers

Printable Recipe


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The “F” Word

Just when you thought it was safe to open up your home to visitors once again, now that the tinsel dust and artificial pine scent has settled, I’ve come to ruin your day. More of a curse than a gift, it’s a dubious “treat” that has gained (and quite frankly earned) little respect over centuries of unsavory history. Not to be rude or anything, but it’s time that I dropped the F-bomb.

Fruitcake. Pardon my language.

Yes, I know, head for the hills and don’t accept packages from strangers; I’m offering you a genuine fruitcake, of all things! Trust me, I’ve been a very vocal naysayer of this brick-like food substance, never having seen the benefit to preserving mysteriously colored fruits in a metric ton of sugar before binding them all up into an impenetrable, flavorless batter. Better employed as entertaining projectiles than food stuffs, I would gladly get out there on the field with all the other unlucky fruitcake recipients as well. But, not with this new spin on the concept.

Rummaging through a pantry overstuffed with odd ingredients, I discovered an abundance of so-called “superfoods” that had no clear destination, and little use outside of random nibbles. Instead of simply frittering them away through impulse snacking, such special ingredients deserved a greater end. Baked up into a lighter cake than the traditional take, the crumb stays impossibly moist and does indeed only get better with age. Enhanced with the complex, caramel nuances of coconut sugar, volumes of flavor can shine through without the sticky veil of syrupy sweetness. Kombucha, with its very faintly alcoholic buzz, takes the place of harder liquor or rum here, so even teetotalers can indulge with abandon.

Of course, consider the exact superfruits and nuts listed here merely suggestions. As long as you throw in 1 1/2 – 2 cups of dried mix-ins in addition to the pomegranate arils, your cake will be golden… Literally, once baked.

Super-Fruitcake

1/2 Cup Fresh Pomegranate Arils
1/2 Cup Goji Berries
1/2 Cup Dried Mulberries
1/4 Cup Dried Goldenberries
1/4 Cup Chopped Walnuts
1/4 Cup Cacao Nibs
1 1/2 Cups Whole Wheat Pastry Flour
3/4 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cardamom
1/2 Teaspoon Orange Zest
1/2 Cup Kombucha, Divided
1/3 Cup Coconut Oil, Melted
2/3 Cup Coconut Sugar
2 Tablespoons Molasses
1 (3.5-Ounce) Packet Frozen Acai Puree, Thawed (or Applesauce, in a Pinch)

Confectioner’s Sugar, To Serve (Optional)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a 6-inch round, 3-inch high cake pan.

In a large bowl, mix together the pomegranate arils, all of the dried superfruits, walnuts and cacao nibs. Add in the flour, baking powder, salt, nutmeg, cardamom, and zest, tossing to coat all of the goodies.

Remove 2 tablespoons of the kombucha and set aside for later. Separately, whisk together the remaining kombucha, coconut oil, coconut sugar, molasses, and acai puree until fairly smooth. Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry, and stir with a wide spatula just until the batter comes together. A few lumps are fine, especially since it’s a fairly coarse mixture to begin with.

Transfer the batter to your prepared pan and smooth out the top. Bake for 40 – 50 minutes, until golden brown all over and a toothpick inserted into the center pulls out mostly clean, with just a few moist crumbs clinging to the sides. Immediately pour the reserved kombucha evenly over the hot cake so that it can soak in as it cools. After cooling completely, the cake sit covered at room temperature, for at least 24 hours for the best results.

If you’d like a little pinch of additional sweetness, top with a light dusting of confectioner’s sugar right before serving.

Makes 6 – 8 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Beyond Meat; Beyond Expectations

Decades of stigma and misunderstanding are finally giving way to a more tolerant, open-minded approach to the murky waters of “fake meat.” Even NPR has taken note that more omnivores are willingly eschewing meat in favor of vegan alternatives these days. Though I’d like to believe that this shift can be attributed to a better understanding of factory farms and generally being able to access greater compassion to our feathered, furry, and scaled friends, I know that it all boils down to one thing at the end of the day: Taste. Innovations in the field have brought forth tastier creations than ever before, and suddenly, meat alternatives have become a painless way to eat healthier, without sacrificing flavor. Whatever the reason, convincing those outside of the vegan and vegetarian community to eat more cruelty-free foods can only be a good thing for everyone involved. Since my own approach to cooking puts flavor first, I’ve benefited greatly from the latest and greatest plant-based proteins, too.

A real game-changer in the industry is Beyond Meat, a company that’s made headlines numerous times for winning over Bittman, garnering support from Twitter’s Biz Stone, and unnerving longtime vegetarians for their similarity to actual poultry products. Serving up only chicken-style alternatives, this stuff is the real deal, at least as far as “fake” meat goes.

Right from my first encounter, it was abundantly clear that Beyond Meat was in a category all its own, creating an entirely different protein experience than one would find in traditional meatless mains, such as tofu, tempeh, or seitan. For one, it smells crazily, disturbingly, genuinely like cooked chicken. Even though I haven’t eaten meat in years now, I’m still exposed to those preparing and consuming it, and that previously inimitable scent really threw me through a loop. Firm but easily yielding to the tooth, the texture is where it really shines. Far from the rubbery, chewy, or latex-y consistency of previous faux meat options, the strips shred in a very authentic way, mimicking the grain of cooked chicken. Though this may put off staunch vegans who don’t miss the experience of eating meat one bit, it’s a big selling point for everyone else.

Lightly Seasoned is like a blank canvas; borderline bland, like plain roasted or broiled chicken breast. Ideal for soaking up any sauce or marinade, there are no competing or off flavors that would giveaway the soy base. Lean, non-fatty (“skinless”), the pieces are reminiscent of a light, white meat sort of taste. This was perfect for fulfilling my longtime craving for a bowlful of soothing chicken soup with rice. Tenderizing in the hot broth and soaking in the deeply savory bouillon, it was so unbelievably meaty, I wouldn’t have trusted its vegan label if I hadn’t prepared it myself.

Grilled is very similar to the prior option, now sporting attractive black grill marks that only a practiced hand would be able to achieve at home. Subtly smoky, woodsy, and bearing a charred essence on a lightly peppered backdrop, the hassle of pulling out your own grill is taken out of the picture. Sturdy enough to stay firmly in place on skewers, I was delighted to turn my seared strips into yakitori, a savory delight that hasn’t passed my lips in nearly a decade now. Too simple to consider as a true recipe, all you need is a batch of sauce to dip the “chicken” into, which goes something like this:

1/4 Cup Mirin
1/4 Cup Reduced-Sodium Soy Sauce
2 Tablespoons Rice Vinegar
2 Tablespoons Grated Fresh Ginger
3 Cloves Garlic, Finely Minced
1 Teaspoon Arrowroot

Vigorously whisk all ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat, breaking up any clumps of starch should they form. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture comes up to a full boil. Remove from the heat and enjoy immediately.

Finally, Southwestern spices up Beyond Meat’s offerings with a chipotle and lime-spiked base. Defined by a gentle but discernible kick, the subtle burn grows with each successive bite. By the end of the meal, you may very well find your lips tingling, and not in an unpleasant way. Unfortunately, this heat doesn’t add much in the way of nuanced flavor, and overpowers the inherently chicken-like flavor that one might be craving from such a product. Though perfectly tasty, it strikes me as a waste to cover up the masterfully crafted taste of this unique protein base. I probably wouldn’t buy it again, simply because a sough a purer “chicken” experience, but it was undeniably delicious in a layered chicken taco salad. Composed of pico de gallo, shredded romaine, sliced olives, tortilla strips, and of course, Southwestern chicken-free strips chopped into cubes all packed into glass jars, this meal became an ideal impromptu picnic.

A radical departure from the crunchy-granola “hippy” foods of only a decade or two ago, Beyond Meat is making meatless living more possible for those who may not have even considered the option before. Anyone even moderately curious about trying another protein alternative would be doing themselves a disservice not to check these chicken-less strips out- I have yet to hear any negative feedback, from professional food reviewers and my own omnivorous dinner mates alike.


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Marvelous

Criteria: the marvelous is a mental spark created when two radically different realities make contact. For example, the sentence, “Beautiful as the chance meeting on a dissecting table of a sewing machine and an umbrella.” The marvelous is often accompanied by a disorienting feeling. Think of it as poetic dislocation.

Art School. What a joke, I scoffed internally, reading through yet another nonsensical assignment. Having carefully critiqued a few too many blurry photos of anonymous crowds and underexposed shots of twisted ribbons, all passed off as “art,” the concept has lost some of its original reverence in my mind. Is it “art” when something truly transcendent has been created, or merely when the perpetrator doesn’t know how to define it otherwise? Did the photographer miss the decisive moment, forcing them to slap this label of “art” on it and just keep on shooting for something better? This dismissal of all fine art will surely create a bit of dissent among the believers, but trust me: After more than four years of trying to dissect the intent of a photo containing nothing more than three blueberries lined up in a straight row on a white table, for example… You would get pretty burned out on the concept, too. (And that was one of the better ones.)

And yet, though absurd, something about the proposed definition of marvelous stuck with me, rattling around in my head. It was laughable, and yet it still resonated. Perhaps I’m guilty of my own artistic sins as well.

Dreaming of hanami as the cherry blossoms all across Japan explode in joyous whites and pinks, it’s the time of year that I miss the island nation most. Though always beautiful, the way that the delicate petals rain down through the early days of spring is unmatched in its charm. No one could sit beneath the sakura and not smile. Food is also a huge component of hanami, so it goes without saying that it’s an added attraction for me. Picnic lunches are simple, traditional, typically consisting of bento boxes or at least a few delicate triangles of onigiri.

That’s where the marvelous struck me, insidious thing that it is, and suddenly it made perfect sense of add some middle eastern flair to this beautiful mental image. Mujaddara, one of my favorite dishes of savory spiced rice, tender lentils, and sweet caramelized onions took root in my mind and could not be shaken. Why? The only common element to unite them was rice, and that connection was tenuous at best. Just to prove myself wrong and get back to more time-honored hanami dishes, I went ahead and committed this crazy culinary mash-up. Sticky rice swapped for the fluffier long grains, the rest simply fell in place.

And can I tell you something, honestly? The results were pretty damn marvelous.

Mujaddara Onigiri

1 1/2 Cups Sushi Rice
2 Cups Water

3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 1/2 Pounds Onions, Chopped (About 4 Cups Chopped)
3/4 – 1 Teaspoon Salt, Divided
1 Tablespoon Balsamic Vinegar
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1/3 Cup Chopped Fresh Parsley
2 Cups Cooked Brown Lentils

Bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan over moderate heat on the stove. Once at a lively bubble, stir in the sushi rice and immediately reduce the heat all the way to low. Cover and let cook gently for 15 – 20 minutes, until the water has been fully absorbed. Turn off the heat and let stand, covered, for an additional 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a medium skillet with high sides over moderate heat. When hot and shimmering, add the onions and turn the heat down to medium low. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until translucent. When they begin to brown around the edges, add 1/2 teaspoon salt and reduce the heat further. Continue to cook over low heat, stirring every now and then, for about an additional 30 minutes to caramelize the onions. Be sure to scrape the bottom of the pan thoroughly to prevent pieces from sticking and burning. The onions should take on a deep amber brown color at this point, and a be very aromatic. Remove the pan from the heat, mix in the balsamic vinegar and all the spices, and let cool.

When both the rice and onions are cool enough to handle, just above room temperature, mix both together in a large bowl along with the parsley and lentils. Stir well to thoroughly distribute all of the ingredients. Add remaining 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon of salt, to taste.

Scoop out approximately 1/3 – 1/2 cup of the mixture for each onigiri, gently pressing it into triangles in the palms of your hands. If the rice isn’t quite holding together properly, let it sit and continue to cool for a bit longer. Serve immediately, or wrap each individually in plastic to save for later. When properly stored in the fridge, the prepared onigiri can be reserved for up to three days.

Makes 1 1/2 – 2 Dozen Onigiri

Printable Recipe


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A Happy, Healthy Surprise

‘Tis the season… For a much warmer version of the holiday experience. Today marks the midway point in our frenzied trip through the calendar pages, as Christmas sits only five full months away. While most would rejoice that there’s still plenty of time to make plans, assemble gifts, and get into the proper spirit, that does leave a huge gap in festivities all through the remainder of summer. Truth be told, Christmas in July is more about the “presents” than the merriment, as sales attempt to draw shoppers back during this brief buying lull. For once though, I don’t mind the motives one bit, since they’re not disguised or covered with the shiny veneer of tradition. Nope, it’s all about the gifts, and there’s nothing wrong with taking the opportunity to simply spoil someone you love, or go ahead and treat yourself.

That’s where the Healthy Surprise Box comes in. Like a goodie bag for grownups, it bundles together a mystery package of delicious snacks, all vegan and always with a wholesome slant.

For anyone who has a terrible time deciding what to buy while standing in the snack aisle, or just wants to break out of their munching rut and try something new, this is the ideal way to branch out a bit. For serial snackers, there are subscription options as well, providing a steady stream of different edibles every month. Even in the smallest box available, you’ll never be left wanting mid-month, because they really pack in the good stuff.

The box that arrived on my doorstep appeared diminutive in size, but little did I know that the contents were carefully wedged within, like a complex game of real-life Tetris. The full contents of my delightful present are as follows…

Alive & Radiant Foods: Kale Krunch (The Original Quite Cheesy)
Myrna’s Skinny Crisps (Cinnamon Crisps)
(4) Living Intentions: Gone Nuts! (Thai Lemon Curry, Lemon Pepper Cajun, Spinach Pesto, Cacao Clusters)
(2) Mrs. May’s Freeze Dried Fruit Chips (Pear)
Home Free: Mini Crunchy Vanilla Cookies
Two Moms in the Raw: Gluten-Free Cranberry Nut Bar
Oskiri: Coconut Bar Cherry
Stretch Island: Fruit Strip (Apricot)
(2) Hail Merry Nuts (Vanilla Maple Almonds, Rosemary Orange Pecans)
Go Raw: Pizza Flax Snacks
Happy Hemp

Even the most serious snacker would have to pace themselves to work through all of these treats! The good news is that for an indulgent gift, there’s nothing to feel guilty about afterward. Many raw and whole foods are included, and you certainly won’t find any junk hidden in here.

Because I love giving treats even more than receiving them, I’m thrilled to share a $5 discount off of every Healthy Surprise purchase! Just enter the code “BITTERSWEET” when ordering. Whether it’s for yourself or someone else, these mystery packages do not disappoint. Best of all, they’re built for sharing, so you may just benefit from someone else’s boon as well. Merry Christmas!


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Play it Cool

One of life’s great ironies is that summer brings in the widest selection of the most tempting produce, but also oppressive heat that makes it a less than appealing proposition to turn on the stove or oven to cook with it. To get the most bang for your vegetative buck, chilled soups are the way to go. Little prep work yields lots of flavor and something that can be enjoyed even as the mercury pushes 100. Though easily the most recognizable cold starter on the block, there’s so much more to the category than the classic gazpacho.

That’s where my creamy cucumber concoction comes in. Featuring my favorite vegetable of all time, the saying “cool as a cucumber” has withstood the test of time, and truly makes this soup the best food for impossibly hot afternoons or evenings. Ideal for both parties or solo servings, it takes almost no effort to whip up, and will keep in the fridge for at least three days, gaining a more complex and harmoniously melded flavor in time. The balance between creamy, soothing yogurt and the sharp punch of horseradish makes each bowlful much more exciting than the pale appearance might let on. Taking inspiration form tzadziki, a generous handful of fresh dill lends a garden-fresh flavor that brightens the whole dish.

For a satisfying, no-cook summer soup, think beyond gazpacho- Save the tomatoes for garnish this time around.

Cucumber-Yogurt Soup

3 Pounds Cucumbers (About 4 Medium Cucumbers)
1/4 Cup Shelled Hemp Seeds
1 Clove Garlic
2 Cups Plain, Unsweetened Vegan Yogurt
1 Tablespoon Red Wine Vinegar
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1/2 – 1 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Prepared Horseradish
1/4 Teaspoon Ground White Pepper
1/2 Cup Chopped Fresh Chives
1/2 Cup Chopped Fresh Dill
1 Cup Vegetable Stock
2 Medium Tomatoes, Seeded and Diced

Peel and slice the cucumbers in half, removing watery seeds if necessary. Finely dice 1 cucumber, and set aside. Chop the remaining cukes into medium-sized chunks, and toss them into your blender, along with hemp, garlic, “yogurt,” vinegar, olive oil, salt (starting with the lesser amount), horseradish, and pepper. Thoroughly puree until completely smooth. If using a low-powered blender, be patient and give it plenty of time to break down the seeds, straining if necessary. Add in the chopped herbs, and slowly begin to blend again. Incorporate the stock slowly while the motor runs, until it reaches your desired consistency.* Give it a taste, adding more salt if needed.

Stir in the reserved diced cucumber by hand, in addition to the seeded and diced tomatoes. Serve immediately or chill for up to three days. For best flavor, chill for at least three hours before enjoying. Stir in additional stock after chilling if needed, as it does tend to thicken as it sits.

*You could also keep it very thick, omitting the stock, to serve it as a dip.

Makes 6 – 7 Cups Soup

Printable Recipe


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Wild About Greens

Mothers who once championed the old dictum of “eat your veggies” now have a new refrain to the familiar song: “Eat your greens.” Having risen from the periphery of American grocery stores, once literally lining the deli cases as nothing more than colorful, long-lasting garnishes, kale has paved the way right back into the kitchen for all manner of leafy edibles. Finally, after decades of neglect, those oft-forgotten flowerless bouquets are finally welcome house guests, and there’s more than just romaine and spinach going into summer salad bowls. Still, the trend is only in its infancy, and after so many voluminous raw hodgepodges of discordant ingredients, what can really be done with these overgrown lawn clippings? And moreover, how can we prevent them from tasting as such?

Riding the crest of this wave is Nava Atlas, who brings us Wild About Greens exactly in our hour of need. Introducing a whole palate of varied greens to even the most inexperienced of cooks with a gentle, warm, and inviting tone, Nava will take your hand and guide you from the grocery store to the dinner table, and all spaces in between. Doling out equal parts reassurance and enlightening information, this book is definitely geared towards the greenest of beginners, but provides inspiring flavors to get anyone out of a produce rut. Such a depth and breath of different edible plants are covered, there’s likely to be something new for anyone to try. You may claim to be a kale expert, but how often do you cook with beet greens? What about watercress? Have you ever tried mizuna in your green smoothie?

In a comfortingly familiar cloak of tomatoes and herbs, the Italian Vegetable Ragout with Chard (page 126) would make an excellent introduction for those less enthusiastic about incorporating more greenery into their diets. Adding in the optional chickpeas turns this hearty side into a perfectly satisfying one-pot meal. Enlivened with a pinch of red pepper, the interplay between tomatoes that are both roasted and sweetly sundried is so flawlessly balanced, it’s hard to believe the whole dish came together in mere minutes.

Curry, another common, endlessly accommodating staple in my diet, gets new life with the simple addition of pungent mustard greens and tender spinach. Coconut Cauliflower Curry with Mustard Greens and Spinach (page 186) blends mild spices and coconut milk to create a rich, golden elixir of a stew. Safely falling into a child-friendly heat level, it’s an excellent meal to make for a family, and ramp up the hotter spices on individual servings, to taste. Mustard greens are a newer ingredient to me, and while I would rather eat grass clippings than a couple of its raw leaves, this creamy yet still light sauce can excuse a whole host of flavor flaws- Proof positive that it only takes the right cooking method to make even the most maligned greens easy to swallow.

The salad section is of course abundant with suggestions, and now that the heat of summer has come to stay for the season, those are very enticing pages to explore. Breaking out of my own personal food taboos, I fearlessly took Nava’s lead and combined fruits with savory vegetables (gasp!) and ate watercress raw for the first time, emboldened by the Sumptuous Spring Greens Salad (page 156). It seems silly to rave about a salad, but this one deserves all the praise. Much more thoughtful than just odds and ends tossed together, the combination of sweet yet tart green apples softens the bitter bite of radicchio and peppery flair from the radishes. Creamy avocado brings texture contrast to the party, a welcome reprieve from the crisp and crunch all around. It’s a kick-starter that makes one wonder, “why didn’t I try this before?” Simple even for a side, yes, but every bit as noteworthy as an elaborate main.

Thrilled to have any excuse to pull out my oft forgotten juicer, the section on beverages provides the confidence I frequently lack when it comes to combining greens with sweeter fruits. The Spinach and Lettuce Refresher (page 206) is, as promised, very refreshing indeed! An excellent beginner’s green juice, it’s mild, not at all bitter, and lightly sweet thanks to the addition of apples; no need to add the optional agave at all. Slightly tangy thanks to lemon juice, this beverage may just become the new lemonade around here.

The beauty of the recipes showcased in Wild About Greens is that they’re built to take on whatever you throw at them. Want to swap collards for kale? Go for it! Nava provides plenty of substitution advice, but the versatility of each preparation goes beyond that. It would take a concerted effort to ruin any of these recipes; go ahead and change the veggies, add beans, take away herbs, do your worst! Wild About Greens succeeds in removing the fear of failure from cooking with new ingredients, and can plant the seed for entirely new recipe ideas. It truly has never been easier to eat green.

It would be a downright shame not to spread these delicious ideas further afield, so I’m thrilled that the publisher has so kindly offered to share an additional copy for one lucky reader to win! If you’re looking to get more greens into your diet, tell me about your current favorite leafy ingredient, and how you like to prepare it. Links and recipes are encouraged but not necessary! The basic requirements, as per usual, are names and valid email addresses in the appropriate boxes. Please, only one comment per person, and be sure to speak up before Midnight EST on June 27th. I’ll contact the winner shortly thereafter, so keep an eye to your inbox.

UPDATE: The winner, chosen by the fair and just random number generator is…

The lucky commenter behind entry #7, 3littlebrds! Get ready to load up on the leafy greens, because you’re gonna want to put them to use right away!


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Pickle-Licious

Not everyone grooves on desserts. It’s a tough reality to accept, but I get it: Some sweet teeth are never properly developed, for whatever reason, which allows certain people to drift through life without craving a single cupcake or brownie. Truly. Despite my penchant for the more sugary side of cooking, I can empathize with this small but largely misunderstood crowd. My own sweet tooth is so deeply rooted, so extreme, that I seem to have developed a salt tooth that’s just as persistent in making its desires known. As a wee tot, before I could even see above the kitchen counters, you might see a tiny hand pop up out of no where, searching blindly for the hors d’oeuvre platter than undoubtedly contained a small mountain of briny jumbo olives. Savoring those enormous salt bombs, I relished they way they fit perfectly over each small finger, capping my stubby paw with a very fetching olive manicure.

Should a plate of pickles be available to garnish sandwiches at a luncheon, others knew that any toppers should be selected right away, before the bulk of those gherkins curiously vanished over the course of the meal. Fresh, lightly soured dill pickles were always the best, still tasting more of cucumber than aged pickle, thoroughly infused with herbs and licked with salt. A good pickle is still hard to find, but that unique pickle flavor is surprisingly easy to replicate, even when there are no cucumbers to be found.

The roasted chickpea craze that swept the blogs has died down a bit, but it seemed to me that there was still a whole lot of unexplored territory to cover with these humble beans. Like any other versatile snack food, the flavor possibilities are endless, and so the serendipitous sighting of pickle-flavored potato chips got my wheels turning again…

To impart that characteristic vinegary bite, cooked chickpeas are soaked in a classic pickle brine overnight before being slowly roasted to crunchy perfection. A full battery of herbs and spices join the mix, creating a balanced flavor profile that’s far more satisfying than your average salty snack. Full of good stuff like fiber and protein, a handful will happily keep hunger at bay, and help you resist the urge to plunge into the pickle jar for a direct injection of sodium.

Even if sugar is not your racket, I still have your number… I’m secretly a salt fiend too, after all.

Dill Pickle Chickpea Crunchies

Basic Brine:

1/2 Cup Cold Water
1/2 Cup White Vinegar
1/4 Cup Apple Cider Vinegar
2 – 3 Teaspoons Light Agave Nectar

3 Cups Cooked Chickpeas

Seasonings:

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1/4 Cup Roughly Chopped Fresh Dill
3 Cloves Garlic, Finely Minced
1 Teaspoon Coarse Sea Salt or Kosher Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Mustard Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Coriander
1/4 Teaspoon Celery Seed
1/8 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
Pinch Red Pepper Flakes

Place all of the ingredients for the brine in a medium-sized jar, including the chickpeas, shake it up, and place it in the fridge. Allow the brine mixture to infuse into the beans for 12 – 24 hours. As one might presume, the longer the chickpeas soak, the more strongly they’ll be flavored with vinegar. It’s up to you whether that’s a good or bad thing. Bear in mind that the bite will mellow significantly after a trip to the oven, so don’t be afraid of having very vinegary beans at this stage.

Once the chickpeas have been “quick pickled,” drain them thoroughly but do not rinse. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees while you measure out and prep the seasonings. Toss the chickpeas into a bowl along with the oil and all of the aromatics, stirring so that every last bean is thoroughly coated. Transfer to a jellyroll pan or large baking dish (anything with sides- These edible marbles will want to roll right out otherwise) and spread them evenly in one layer.

Bake for 45 – 60 minutes, stirring every 15 or so, until the chickpeas have shrunken in size and are golden brown, with darker spots in some areas. It can be hard to tell when they’re done since the chickpeas will continue to crisp up as they cool, but listen closely and they should rattle when you shake the pan. Remove from heat and let cool completely before snacking and/or storing in an airtight container.

Makes 1 1/2 – 2 Cups Chickpea Crunchies

Printable Recipe


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Early Bird Special

Rumor has it that the May/June 2012 issue of VegNews has already been spotted in the wild, so I can’t wait a moment longer to share my photographic contributions. This particular volume has been dubbed the “media issue,” addressing the explosion of veganism in the public eye, but for me, as always, it was all about the food.

Beverly Lynn Bennett shares a fool-proof method for Chocolate Chia Pudding so delicious, you’ll renounce all things tapioca with one spoonful. Okay, so there’s room enough for both treats in a vegan’s life, but this healthy snack is a delightful (and healthier) change of pace. For everyone who became addicted to the stuff at Vegan Vida Con, here’s the magic formula to reinvent this wonder seed in a more chocolaty format.

Another simple yet sublime offering, Allison Rivers Samson pulls out another stunning replica of a typically non-vegan classic, this time being Caesar Salad. I’ll admit, I wasn’t exactly jumping up and down at the idea of another leafy green salad, but this one packs in the flavor like none other. For such a basic combination of romaine, croutons, and vinaigrette, this Caesar really knocks it out of the park. I’m not the least bit ashamed to admit that I chomped my way through the whole recipe’s worth after this shoot was done.

It seems as though those printing presses never stop rolling over there, which is a good thing! That means it’s almost time to embark yet again on the next set of tempting VegNews recipes, and I can’t wait to share another visual feast when they finally make it on paper, too.

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