BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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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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Don’t Pass Over Quinoa

The beauty (and exquisite torture) of many Jewish holidays like Passover is that they’re not just one-day affairs, but week-long “celebrations.” When those particular events carry dietary restrictions as well, it can add up to an extra load of work simply planning out a standard set of meals, beyond the mandated festive meal with family.

Serving dish provided by Steelite

While this offering of quinoa, a pseudo-grain that just barely escapes the label of kitniyot, may come a bit late for your seder, it will be a delicious respite from dry boards of matzo in the days to come. Gently caramelized and naturally sweet onions carry this dish of hearty cooked quinoa, roasted gold beets, and nutty toasted pistachios. Redolent of cumin and bright, fresh herbs, the flavors could be suitable for either a formal dinner or a spur of the moment picnic, easily enjoyed both hot and cold. Tender beets yield to a satisfying crunch of nuts, creating a textural harmony throughout. I used an attractive blend of white, black, and red quinoa from Trader Joe’s for added eye-appeal, but of course, any one color would taste just as good.

Pistachio-Quinoa Pilaf

2 Medium Gold Beets (About 2 Cups Diced)
1 Cup Uncooked Quinoa
2 Cups Water
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil, Divided
1 Medium Yellow Onion (About 1 1/4 Cups Chopped)
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Tablespoon Balsamic Vinegar
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
1/4 Teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper
Pinch Cayenne Pepper
1/4 Cup Packed Fresh Parsley, Chopped
1 Tablespoon Packed Fresh Mint, Finely Minced
1/2 Cup Shelled and Toasted Pistachios

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees, and wrap your beets in aluminum foil so that they’re completely covered. Place them in the oven, and allow them to bake, much like you would for a baked potato, for 60 – 75 minutes, depending on the size of the beets. When the beets are done, they should yield easily to a knife, if not be quite fork-tender. Let rest until cool enough to handle, and then peel and dice. Measure out 2 cups of diced beets, and set aside.

While the beets are roasting, you can save some time and get started on the quinoa. Bring the water to a boil in a medium sized saucepan, and then add in the dry quinoa. After the water returns to a boil, cover, reduce the heat to medium-low, and let simmer for about 15 minutes, until the liquid has been absorbed. Leave the quinoa covered and let rest for at least 15 additional minutes, so that it can steam a bit and fully hydrate. Transfer the quinoa to a large bowl and toss lightly with the chopped beets.

In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium heat, and add in the chopped onion. When it begins to sizzle lively, turn down the heat to medium-low or low, depending on how hot your stove runs. You want to cook the onions very gently so that they don’t brown around the edges and char, but slowly soften and caramelize. This process can take 30 – 40 minutes, so be patient, and continue to stir periodically. Add in the salt after the first 10 minutes, and be sure to scrape the bottom of the pan thoroughly to prevent pieces from sticking and burning. The onions should take on an amber brown color and a become highly aromatic. Incorporate the balsamic vinegar and add the onions into quinoa mixture, along with the remaining tablespoon of oil.

Finally, sprinkle in all of the spices, chopped herbs, and pistachios right before serving. Stir well to distribute evenly. Serve either warm, or refrigerated in an air-tight container for up to 5 days, and serve chilled.

Makes About 3 Main Dish Servings; 6 Side Dish Servings

Printable Recipe


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Pantry Purge

“Keeping a well stocked pantry” would be a very generous way of describing my penchant for collecting odd ingredients. A certifiable food-shopaholic, any interesting spices, unusual beans, new strains of rice that catch my eye are destined for the cart, no questions asked. Entirely new dishes could be unlocked with that one secret ingredient, and I’ll be damned if I let it slip through my fingers, just because I couldn’t see the final results right then and there. Vegan “skallops“? Sounds crazy, so I’ll take a can! Asafoetida? Translated roughly as “devil’s dug,” that simply sounds too enticing to walk away from. And thus, the pantry shelves at home groan beneath the weight of my bizarre, allegedly edible treasures, a collection of odds and ends that inspire, but fail to make it into the daily rotation.

Come spring, my inner neat freak pops back out of hibernation, and is horrified at the stock pile that’s been accumulating, slowly but steadily, for years. Living in the same home for nearly two decades allows one to hold on to many more possessions of dubious value than you’d think, as I’m now learning. Though the Skallops continue to mystify, horrify, and intrigue me, this latest round of pantry purging still failed to find a proper use for them. Instead, it seemed like a more worthwhile venture to tackle the easy stuff, the pantry staples that have simply overgrown their allotted space. Prepared for either an unannounced party of 30 or the coming apocalypses, whichever comes first, there are plenty of perfectly good foods buried beneath the oddities, and it’s a shame to let them gather dust.

Taking out numerous canned goods and both dried beans and pasta in one dish, my Moroccan-inspired chickpea creation turned out to be the best thing I ate all week. Rather than merely an easy way to “take out the trash,” so to speak, and clear out the pantry, this was a genuinely delicious surprise. Spicy, but more warmly flavored and highly aromatic than merely hot, this is the kind of recipe that a well stocked pantry and spice drawer was made for. A study in contrasting flavors, the salty, briny olives pair beautifully with the gently acidic tomatoes, all blanketed in a thermal blanket of paprika, cumin, and coriander. In such a simple dish, the star players matter immensely, so make sure you have excellent green olives that can pull their weight in this jovial riot of flavors.

Moroccan-Style Olives and Chickpeas

1/4 Cup Olive Oil or Coconut Oil
1 Large Yellow Onion, Diced
1 Tablespoon Finely Minced Ginger
1 Tablespoon Finely Minced Garlic
1 Tablespoon Ground Coriander
1 Tablespoon Ground Cumin
2 Teaspoons Smoked Paprika
1 Teaspoon Hot Paprika
1/2 Teaspoon Turmeric
1/4 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
1 14-Ounce Can Diced Tomatoes, with Juice
1 Cup Vegetable Stock
1 14-Ounce Can Whole, Pitted Green Olives, Drained and Rinsed
4 Cups Cooked Chickpeas
Salt and Black Pepper, to Taste

Zest of 1 Lemon
2 Tablespoons Chopped Fresh Parsley

Cooked Israeli Couscous, Regular Couscous, or Another Small Pasta or Grain, to Serve

Heat your oil of choice in a medium or large pot over moderate heat on the stove. Add the chopped onion, and saute gently for about 5 minutes to soften. Toss in the garlic and ginger next, and continue to cook, stirring periodically, until the onion begins to take on a light brown, somewhat caramelized color; around 10 minutes more. Next, incorporate all of the spices, from the coriander through cayenne, and stir well. Keep everything in the pot moving so that the spices don’t burn, and saute for an additional 5 minutes to toast and temper them.

Pour in the entire contents of the can of tomatoes, along with the vegetable stock, green olives, and chickpeas. Give it a good mix to distribute all of the ingredients throughout the stew. Turn down the heat to medium-low, and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, to allow the chickpeas to take on all that spicy liquid and for the flavors to further meld. Add in a splash of water or additional stock if the liquid seems to evaporate too quickly.

Add salt and pepper to taste, but be careful with the salt- Olives bring a lot of sodium to the party already, so you shouldn’t need more than a pinch.

Serve over a bed of cooked couscous, and top each serving with a pinch of lemon zest and chopped parsley.

Serves 4 – 6

Printable Recipe


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Edible Sunshine

For once, spring has sprung up a bit early, and the long, sunny days are simply glorious. Mid-60’s, clear skies, little humidity; If only the weather could stay this perfect all year round! The bright sunshine illuminates all corners of the house, lifts the darkest of moods, and is so pervasive, it’s even made its way into my baking. Though the loaf stops short of being cooked via solar power, it tastes for all the world like a little bit of sunshine baked right into the bread.

A soft, golden yellow crumb clings to scores of crunchy sunflower seeds, periodically interrupted by the savory taste of sun-dried tomatoes. It would be hard to not feel just a little bit happier after toasting a slice for breakfast, or sandwiching two pieces with cucumbers and vegan cream cheese, or perhaps your favorite “BLT” fixings.

Sunshine Bread

3 – 4 Cups All Purpose Flour
1 1/4-Ounce Package Active Dry Yeast
1 Teaspoon Turmeric
1 1/2 Teaspoons Salt
3 Tablespoons Light Agave Nectar
1 Cup Carrot Juice
1/4 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine or Coconut Oil, Melted
1 Cup Roasted and Unsalted Sunflower Seeds
1/2 Cup Roughly Chopped Sun-dried Tomatoes (Dry; Not Packed in Oil)

This dough is meant to sit and rise overnight (at least 8 hours) so that it can be baked in the morning. Plan your timing accordingly.

In the bowl of your stand mixer (or a large bowl) whisk together 3 cups of the flour, yeast, turmeric, and salt. Since the dough will sit for so long, there’s no need to proof it and jump-start the rising process. Just be sure that your yeast is very fresh, and indeed still active.

Separately, combine the agave, carrot juice, and melted margarine or coconut oil, and slowly pour the liquid mixture into the bowl of dry goods while stirring. Add in the sunflower seeds and chopped dried tomatoes, and mix to incorporate. Add more flour 1/4 cup at a time if needed, until the dough is cohesive and no longer sticky but still tacky. If using a stand mixer, switch over to the dough hook attachment, and let it kneed on low speed for 5 – 8 minutes, until smooth and elastic. This can also be done by hand on a lightly floured surface, but it will probably take closer to 10 – 12 minutes.

Lightly grease a large bowl, and plop your dough in, swirling it around gently to coat with the oil. Cover with plastic wrap, and stash it in your fridge for at least 8 hours- Overnight is best.

In the morning, lightly grease an 8 x 4 loaf pan. Set aside.

Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface, and knead for about 5 minutes to smooth it out and redistribute the bubbles created by the yeast. Flatten it out into a rectangle no longer than the loaf pan, and roll it up like you would one giant cinnamon roll. Place it into the pan with the seam side down, and with a very sharp knife, make a slash down center in a straight line. Let rise until just about doubled in volume; about 1 hour.

As the loaf nears the proper size, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. When ready, bake for for 45 – 50 minutes, until amber brown all over. If you’re unsure that it’s fully baked through, let it cool, and then tap the bottom of the loaf. It should sound hollow if properly done.

Let cool completely before slicing and savoring.

Makes 1 Loaf

Printable Recipe


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Proof of the Pudding

A sweet and simple snack, pudding instantly brings me back to my childhood with just one creamy spoonful. Though many different sorts of dishes can be called a pudding, including baked, savory ones, the pudding that first springs to my mind is the type cooked over the stove top, thickened with cornstarch, and enhanced with a touch of sugar. It’s also a treat that doesn’t appear often in my kitchen, for one reason or another. Perhaps it’s because the nostalgia remains in eating the pudding that magically would appear in the refrigerator, perfectly chilled and ready to savor. The idea of relentlessly whisking over a hot stove simply doesn’t share the same sort of happy memories.

Happily, WayFare Foods can allow all of us to remain kids at heart, no matter how far into adulthood we may have regrettably fallen, and still leave the work of pudding-making to the grown ups. Their new line of vegan puddings are remarkable for both what they’re made of, and what they’re not. Soy-free and gluten-free, they’re primarily composed of an innovative blend of millet, lima beans, rice, and oats. Better yet, you’d never guess your sweet pudding was ever made of such healthy ingredients! Not a hint of bean-like or cereal flavor gives away the secret, and I would feel perfectly confident offering these snacks to omnivores and picky children alike.

Offered in Vanilla, Chocolate, and Butterscotch flavors, each option was very straight-forward and uncomplicated in flavor, just like pudding aught to be. With a smooth, slightly sticky consistency, they were just rich enough to be satisfying, but still light on the palate. Well balanced between careful additions of sugar and salt, you could hardly go wrong with any of those flavors. Whereas the vanilla and chocolate are relatively mellow and easy to eat, be aware that the butterscotch is surprisingly strong in comparison, which may come as a positive or a negative aspect, depending on your preference.

The only real complaint I can come up with for these snack packs is that there’s no pudding skin for the old-fashioned pudding lover like myself. I suppose there are still some things that modern ready-made puddings can never replace.

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