BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Quirky, Crunchy Quinoa

Craving a thick slice of cake first thing in the morning isn’t such an unusual thing in this house; Typically, one would simply need to pick up a knife, and shave a hunk off of whatever was made the day prior to indulge that impulse. The breakfast of champions, we would joke to anyone who could hear it, and possibly question that breakfast choice. Lately though, the cake stand has remained clean and empty, tucked away with the other stacks of plates and props in the closet. Time is getting the best of me, with the demands of so many freelance assignments on top of a brand new school semester to juggle, and the pastries just aren’t flying out of the kitchen like they used to. Plus, working on an ice cream cookbook demands that the oven remain silent for the better part of the week, lest I end up contending with a very messy and sticky photo shoot mid-afternoon.

So, what’s a gal with a yen for something sweet supposed to do in the early morning, craving something reminiscent of cake? Given the time to think about it and prepare in advance, make something healthier.

Perhaps I’ve strayed too far off the pastry path for some of you, but believe it or not, this quinoa concoction fulfilled that breakfast craving. Think carrot cake with a crunchier outcome, this simple cereal is more like granola in texture, but still much lighter than the typical nut- and fruit-heavy options.

I like it best with the sweetness and gentle twang of vanilla coconut yogurt (that early in the morning, I can almost pretend it’s cream cheese frosting) plus fresh berries, but the beauty of this basic formula is how easy it is to dress it up or down. Go crazy with mix-ins, or just eat it out of hand, on the go. This was just the healthy remodel that my “cake for breakfast” habit was long overdue for anyway!

Carrot Cake Quinoa Cereal
Inspired by Oh She Glows

1 Cup Uncooked Quinoa
2 Cups Carrot Juice
1 Tablespoon Flax Seeds, Ground
1 Tablespoon Chia Seeds
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
3 – 4 Tablespoons Agave Nectar
1 1/4 Teaspoons Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
Pinch Ground Nutmeg
Pinch Salt

Begin by cooking your quinoa in the carrot juice. Simply bring the carrot juice to a boil in a small pot, and add in the dry quinoa. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and let cook gently for 15 – 20 minutes, until the liquid has all been absorbed. Let cool completely before proceeding. You can speed this up by transferring the cooked quinoa to a large bowl and stirring it around a bit, to let it air-dry more quickly.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees, and lightly grease a baking sheet with sides.

In a medium bowl, mix the cooled quinoa in with all of the remaining ingredients. Spread the mixture out on your prepared sheet, in as thin and even a layer as you can manage. This will help the cereal bake up nice and crispy, so take your time smoothing it out with either a spatula or lightly moistened hands.

Bake for 45 – 60 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes or so, until lightly browned and seemingly dry. It may still have a little bit of “bounce” to it, but don’t worry; it will continue to crisp up as it cools.

Let cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

Makes about 2 – 3 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Soup Kitchen

Left alone and given half a chance, my daily personal menu could easily be reduced to little more than soups and stews. Quite frankly, it’s incredibly that there’s any savory food that makes it onto this blog besides those more liquid edibles, for as much as I make and eat them! Perhaps its the fact that they often defy recipes, one of their most attractive features in the first place, that my love for soup isn’t properly documented. Experience has shown that whatever you’ve got lying around in the fridge, waiting to be used up, is what tastes best in soup. Truly! The more desperate it is to be used, the smaller the scraps that can find no other culinary destination, they are what you should put in you soup right this moment. Besides, how many people need to be told how to put a mirepoix, some beans, and a handful of spices into a big pot with plenty of water? Even the most inexperienced and reluctant cooks can figure that procedure out, no recipe required. It feels silly to spell it out, and yet, there are some creations that beg to be recorded and shared.

An unlikely combination even in my eyes, I didn’t expect that leftover can of coconut milk to embrace the green, vegetal flavor of asparagus nearly so harmoniously. Brightened with zippy bites of lemon, ginger, and pepper, it’s a departure from my standard soup spicing, and just the breath of fresh air I so deeply needed in my soup routine. Although it may still be fairly basic, I’ve conquered my resistance to sharing what seems simple; A recipe needn’t be complicated to be worth talking about.

Asparagus and Coconut Soup

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Medium Leeks, Sliced Lengthwise, Chopped, and Thoroughly Cleaned*
1 Inch Fresh Ginger, Peeled and Finely Minced
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
12 – 16 Ounces Trimmed Fresh Asparagus, Roughly Chopped (About 1 Bunch)
2 Cups Vegetable Stock
4 Ounces Spinach or Other Leafy Greens (Such as Kale, Collards, etc)
1 Cup Coconut Milk (Full Fat, Don’t Skimp!)
Zest of 1 Lemon
Freshly Ground Black Pepper, to Taste

1/4 Cup Finely Fresh Chives and Chive Blossoms, or Scallions
Avocado Oil or Extra-Virgin Olive Oil for Garnish (Optional)

*Typically, I slit my leeks down the center and then shake them out under cold water until clean, but these were particularly dirty. Thus, I fully sliced them and placed them in a colander with fairly large holes. Tossing them around in the colander under cold water, more of the inner leek was exposed, and I could wash away the excess dirt more easily. Whatever you do, be thorough! These unsuspecting alliums can hold on to a ton of grit, and that will not make for the most pleasant soup.

Pour the oil into the bottom of a medium soup pot and set it over moderate heat on the stove. Once the oil is hot, add in the leeks and ginger, and sauté for about 5 minutes, until the leeks are soft and the ginger is aromatic. Sprinkle in the salt, followed by the asparagus and stock. Bring the brothy soup to a boil, then reduce the heat so that it’s at a gentle simmer. Cover the pot and let cook until the asparagus is tender and bright green; about 8 – 10 minutes. Add the spinach or other greens, and continue to cook just until wilted, only 2 – 4 minutes more should do it.

Turn off the heat and finally incorporate the coconut milk, lemon zest, and pepper. Working in batches if necessary, transfer soup to your blender and thoroughly puree until smooth completely. Alternately, hit it with an immersion blender while still in the pot. You can either serve the soup right away while still hot, or chill it for at least two hours for a more refreshing blend. Top individual bowls with chives, chive blossoms, and a tiny drizzle of oil, if desired.

Serves 2 – 4

Printable Recipe


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Naturally Sweet and Savory Treats

Sharing a similar seasonable sensibility to my own style of baking, I was attracted to the Green Market Baking Book immediately. As soon as I caught wind of the release, I was entranced; that whimsical yet earthy illustrated cover, charming fabric ribbon, bookmark, and the comforting heft of a hard cover all had me sold. Though not a vegan cookbook, it is one of the few mainstream baking resources that actually provides clearly marked vegan options, a serious plus by me. Less positive was the fact that some recipes actually weren’t labeled as vegan, but in fact were, although such omissions are rather easy to figure out right away. Other options can be converted to use vegan ingredients in a snap, so don’t let those classifications prevent you from enjoying the full scope of this book.

Not only seasonally organized, but also devoid of refined white sugars and flours, those with healthy leanings are sure to appreciate the more wholesome bent to this collection. Rounded out by a guide to seasonal produce and tips for healthier baking, you won’t find outrageous, crazy flavors here, but very down-to-earth recipes. Classics that everyone can appreciate, and gentle twists on standard staples.

Jumping around a bit to get a better taste of its complete offerings, I will admit that I didn’t approach this book entirely in the correct order. Diving straight into the summer section at the lure of a yeasted Tomato Bread, it proved to be a very tasty decision indeed.

Brilliant orange and rust hues embolden this otherwise plain loaf, merely hinting at the flavor contained within. Subtle sweetness and acidity brightens the soft, even crumb, allowing the gentle but clear tomato essence to shine. Deviating slightly from the text and throwing in some chopped sun-dried tomatoes, those rich pieces of concentrated tomato goodness were the perfect addition. Smelling like a full pizza while baking away, all I could think about was grilling up two slices, filled with a handful of vegan cheese… And yet, I found the longest my patience would hold me was to simply slather it with a whisper-thin smear of buttery spread, and eat it straight. Possibly the most tender loaf I’ve made at home, this is absolutely one to revisit in the height of tomato harvest, and perhaps introduce some fresh basil or oregano next time.

Briefly stymied about where to turn next, it was simply a matter of having everything on hand to make the Peanut Butter and Jelly Power Muffins to spur another round of baking. Though I didn’t expect much of them, these simple treats blew me away. Intense peanut and maple flavor sets them apart from other PB+J baked goods, making them a bit sweeter than my average breakfast nosh, but perfect for an addictive after school snack. The combination of textures is what really lends such an addictive quality; That chewy top, fluffy crumb, crunchy nuts strewn throughout, and generous dollop of gooey jam all combine to create a sum greater than their parts. Finished with a good amount of salt for contrast, these simple muffins had a surprisingly mature and complex flavor profile.

Spying the simple formula for Thumbprint Cookies tucked away in the summer section, I easily veganized them by swapping out the butter for non-dairy margarine, and honey for agave. A small pet-peeve but worth noting is the fact that the ingredient list neglects to include any jam, and thus no measurements or even estimates at amounts are given. It turned out that I did not, in fact, have enough jam on hand, and thus had to resort to filling my cookies with chocolate ganache. Oh, what a terrible fate.

Happily, the cookies did not suffer in the least, and perhaps where improved by this chocolatey addition. A bit on the delicate, crumbly side, the texture is similar to a shortbread cookie. Without a filling to hold it all together, I might not go back for seconds, but as a complete assembly, these strike me as a lovely offering to serve with coffee or tea.

While they might not be the most inventive, exciting options on the market, so far each recipe I’ve tried has been a home run. If you’re seeking reliable recipes for sweets that you can feed to your kids (or family, or yourself!) without feeling guilty, the Green Market Baking Book is your new best friend.

Generously provided by the publishers, I have a second cookbook to give away to one lucky reader, too! If these recipes sound like your style, then leave me a comment before midnight on Friday, June 10th, telling me how you’ve made your baking healthier. Do you substitute whole wheat flour? Reduce the sugar? Replace excessive oil with apple sauce? Give me you secrets to wholesome desserts, and you’ll be in the running! Just one comment per person, please, and unfortunately this giveaway is open to residents of the continental US only.


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Au Naturel

I’ve got to hand it to them- The folks at Book Publishing Co. really know how to get serious blog coverage, as proven by the half-dozen reviews for The Natural Vegan Kitchen I’ve already spied floating about the blogosphere. Tempted by my very own copy for review, plus the opportunity for readers to win one or one of many other vegan cookbooks for themselves, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse, either.

Based on the cooking principals of macrobiotics, the emphasis on health and whole foods can be seen in every recipe, right down to the nutrition facts posted at the bottom of each page. A boon for anyone concerned about what they eat, the virtues of these methods are clear and proven in black and white. However, since most tasty nightshades are frowned upon, desserts are made without white flour or sugar, and fat is kept to a minimum, I had to wonder: At what price did these nutrition stats ring in?

Diving right in at my favorite section, desserts, the Lemon Kanten Parfaits sounded like wonderfully invigorating, citrus treats to brighten up these lingering wintery days. Skeptical of a dessert sweetened solely with apple juice, it wasn’t until I took my first spoonful that I really saw the potential in this assembly. Light, refreshing, and surprisingly satisfying, I might have preferred that the kanten set up a bit more firmly, and had a more intense lemon flavor, but I can definitely taste the makings of a winner here. Opting to laying on crushed oatmeal cookies to lend a more decadent quality and finishing off with a dollop of rich cashew creme, the dessert on a whole was wonderfully well-balanced. Call it the sleeper hit of the book, I was greatly impressed by this initial offering.

Unfortunately, the same can not be said about the Lentil-Walnut Pate. Thrilled to discover that I already had everything required on hand, I whipped it up in a flash and was chowing down in no time. What met my tongue, however, was a bland, mushy paste completely devoid of personality or interest. Perhaps with more aggressive seasoning or a creative blend of flavorful spices, it might be improved, but this one as written gets a big “thumbs down” from me.

Craving a hearty meal to warm up a chilly evening, the Moroccan Vegetable Stew Over Couscous immediately stood out as a “must make.” Substituting soy curls for the seitan and switching out the currants for green peas, (due to my well-documented distaste for dried fruits in savory dishes) the preparation was very straight-forward and dinner was on the table before I could even arrange place settings. Packed with tender butternut and the “meaty” duo of soy curls and chickpeas, all served over fluffy couscous, this was one seriously satisfying dish. Warmly spiced but not hot, even the most timid of palates could appreciate this flavor profile. Rounded out by the inherent sweetness of the squash, yet again, I found it an incredibly well thought out composition of complementary elements.

Should any of that sound appealing to you as well, don’t forget to enter the giveaway going on through April for a chance to score your own copy. Until then, the publisher has generously agreed to allow me to share the recipe for that enticing Moroccan Stew to whet your appetite.

Moroccan Vegetable Stew over Couscous
Adapted from The Natural Vegan Kitchen by Christine Waltermyer
With Permission from Book Publishing Co

2 Tablespoons Water
1 Teaspoon Neutral Oil
2 Medium Carrots, Sliced Thinly
2 Cups Peeled and Cubed Butternut Squash
1 Cup Diced Onion
2 Cloves Minced Garlic (2 Teaspoons)
1 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
2 Cups Cooked Chickpeas
2 Cups Thinly Sliced Seitan or Rehydrated Soy Curls
1 14-Ounce Can Diced Tomatoes
1 1/2 Cups Vegetable Broth
1/3 Cup Frozen Peas
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/8 Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes

1 Cup Dry Couscous
2 Tablespoons Chopped Fresh Parsley
2 Tablespoons Lemon Zest

Heat the water and oil in a stock pot over medium heat. Add the carrots, butternut, onion, garlic, and cumin. Cook and stir ocassionally for 5 – 10 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Add in the chickpeas, seitan or soy curls, tomatoes, broth, peas, and spices, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Decrease the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes so that the flavors can meld.

Cook the couscous according to the instructions (I typically boil twice as much water by volume to couscous, turn off the heat, add the dry couscous, cover, and let sit for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork before serving) and ladle the stew over the couscous. Top with parsley and lemon zest to garnish.

Makes 6 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Sprung a Leek

Quick to complain and always searching for those little imperfections, it figures that we couldn’t just throw our hands up and celebrate this sudden mid-February thaw. Finally, Isis can actually walk out into the yard without being swallowed up into that white quicksand, and mailboxes are finally extricating themselves from frozen tombs. “Spring” is the word on everyone’s lips, spoken in excited tones, and I can’t hide my enthusiasm either. The winter took a steep toll, the full extent of which is only beginning to reveal itself now, after the storm. Despite all of these encouraging signs outside, all is not well inside.

Walking into the kitchen one day, I noticed a conspicuous wet spot on the tiled floor. Jumping to conclusions I immediately turned to the poor pup, assuming she had an accident in protest of the windy, inhospitable outdoor bathroom that otherwise awaited… But within a few seconds I discovered the real culprit.

Bloop… bloop… bloop…

Turning skywards, it was plain to see that water was dripping at a steady pace from the ceiling. Straight through the beam, down the wall, all across the kitchen counter and floor. Brown, dirty water, melted from snow and ice on the roof, soaking through papers and warping the cabinets. A greater horror in that room, I have yet to see, including my most misguided baking experiments. We had a leak, our first ever in this house, in arguably our most important living space – Not to mention my “office”. Tormented and terrified by these new destructive developments, I could do nothing except strategically position pots and pans to collect the mucky water.

After a solid two weeks of feeling like I’m living in a poorly constructed submarine, it seems that the leak has dripped itself dry, at least for the time being. Fearful glances upward now reveal obscene water damage; peeling paint, multiple holes, and cracked wood, but at the very least, no more water. I’ll take what I can get now, no complaints here.

As an homage to my structurally unsound ceiling, I simply couldn’t resist a very leek-y dish, hoping that perhaps an offering of food would placate the leaky ceiling god. When put in the spotlight, leeks are best prepared very simply if you ask me, and so I kept them fairly plain in this quick appetizer. A little heat to melt them and soften their more pungent edges is all it takes. What elevates the dish to a memorable morsel is the bright red romesco sauce, which provides a slightly spicy pop of creamy roasted pepper to perch those lovely alliums atop.

While I know that this assembly was created with the leeks in mind, I couldn’t help but go back to the romesco sauce, unadorned, for seconds. Versatile to a fault, I’ve already whipped up second and third batches to smoother pasta with, use as a dip, drizzle over salads, thin out for soups… You name it! This is a condiment you’ll want to have on hand at all times- Hopefully you won’t need to be prompted by leaky ceilings to try it the first time.

Leek-y Romesco Crostini

Romesco Sauce or Dip:

1/2 Cup Slivered, Toasted Almonds
1/4 Cup Toasted Wheat Germ
1 Large Clove Garlic, Roasted
2 Medium Red Peppers, Roasted
1/2 Cup Strained Tomatoes / Tomato Puree
2 Tablespoons Red Wine Vinegar
2 Teaspoons Smoked Paprika
1/2 Teaspoon Salt, or to Taste

Sauteed Leeks:

1 Fat Leek, Cleaned and Dark Greens Removed (Save them for making vegetable stock!) (3 1/2 Cups Chopped)
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Teaspoon White Miso Paste (Optional)
Pinch Salt and Black Pepper

Assembly:

Fresh Baguette, Sliced Thinly (About 1/2 cm Thick) and Lightly Toasted
Crushed Red Pepper Flakes

Beginning with the romesco, throw all of the ingredients for the sauce into your food processor or blender. Traditionally, it’s a bit of a chunky spread, but I prefer mine perfectly smooth and creamy, so I use my Vita-Mix. Blend to your desired consistency, scraping down the sides of the work bowl periodically so that no large chunks are left behind, and set aside. I find it tastes better if you allow it to sit for at least 2 hours before serving, so that the flavors can meld, but it can be eaten right away too.

For the leek topping, slice your thick leek into quarters lengthwise, and then chop it into 1/2-inch pieces. I love the look of rings or half moons, but it’s not so graceful to take a bite of crostini and end up with a big loop of leek hanging out of your mouth, so resist the temptation to leave the pieces larger.

Heat up the oil in a sautee pan over medium heat, loosen up the miso paste in it if using, and toss in the chopped leek. Stir every 5 minutes or so for a total of 20 – 25 minutes, until the leek is soften but not completely mushy. Add salt and pepper to taste, and let cool for at least 15 minutes.

Both the sauce and leek topping can be made in advance as well. Just store both in air-tight containers in the fridge for 4 – 5 days, and assemble the crostini just prior to serving.

To put the crostini together, just smear a healthy dollop of the romesco on top of the toasted bread, and spoon about 1 – 2 tablespoons of the sauteed leek over that. Finish with a very light sprinkling of red pepper flakes.

Makes About 2 1/2 – 3 Cups Sauce; Servings Vary

Printable Recipe


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Good to Go

Pardon the cliche, but it’s true- When it rains, it pours. Though equally applicable to the unprecedented amounts of snow endlessly falling on the New England area, in this case I was thinking about deadlines, school work, and freelance jobs. To be utterly booked and maddeningly busy in the industry that I love is the best problem possible, but it does wear one quite thin. Never before have I had any sort of job that had me out of the house for 13 hours at a time, or – heaven forbid – force me to work through lunch. It was always difficult to understand how someone could lack the time to sit down for even a 15-minute meal, but now I get it. Sucked into the dizzying pace and fully absorbed in the task at hand, it can be difficult to break away.

I’m not the type of person who can painlessly forgo a meal though. Prepared for such situations, there’s always some sort of snack secreted away in my bag, mixed amongst the knitting needles and scratch paper. Larabars are standard fare, but like just so many other fans of this natural food bar, I felt compelled to take a crack at a homemade version. Having lamented that their main failing is a lack of protein, this was finally my opportunity to take matters into my own hand and pump up the nutritional stats.

With so much goodness crammed into such a small package, these svelte morsels positively glow with green energy! Instead of using just nuts and fruit as a base, I deviated from the traditional formula to include a generous helping of protein powder, infused with greens no less. Shockingly sweet and tasty for something that looks so grassy, it may not be particularly original, but this is what’s been keeping me going for the past couple of days.

Green Protein Bar

1/2 Cup Raw Cashews
1/2 Cup Vegan Protein Powder with Greens*
12 Medjool Dates, Pitted (About 1 cup, packed)
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
Pinch Salt
4 Tablespoons Finely Chopped Dark Chocolate or Mini Chocolate Chips, Divided

*I used Peaceful Planet’s Supreme Meal in these, but I also highly recommend Amazing Grass’s Amazing Meal

Start by placing just the cashews into your blender or food processor, and pulse until they’re pulverized into a coarse meal. Scrape down the sides of the bowl to make sure that there are no large pieces hiding in the corners, add in the protein powder, and pulse a few more times to combine. For the final addition, toss in the dates, vanilla, and salt, and let the machine run until the contents become a mostly smooth, slightly sticky dough. Depending on your equipment, this could take anywhere between 2 – 6 minutes.

Scrape out the dough onto a silpat, and knead in 3 tablespoons of the chocolate by hand. If it’s too sticky to handle, lightly oil your hands before proceeding. Once the chips or chunks are well-distributed throughout, shape the dough into a fairly flat rectangle, approximately 4 x 6 inches.  Take the remaining 1 tablespoon of chocolate, sprinkle it over the top of the block, and gently press it in so that it all sticks.

Stash it in the fridge to solidify a bit more, as it’s likely somewhat warm and soft at this point. After it has chilled for about 2 hours, slice it into 1-inch wide bars. Wrap each bar individually in plastic, and store in the fridge for up to a week.

Makes Approximately 6 Bars

Printable Recipe


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Deconstructed and Reconstructed

Die-hard devotees may cry foul, but I happen to love seeing new renditions of classic dishes. The originals may stand the test of time, and retain their allure despite their newer, trendier counterparts, but times change and food changes with it. For example, falafel is a Middle Eastern staple that almost everyone can claim some sort of fondness for, but no one would want to eat it every day. If the palate fatigue doesn’t get to you, the heavy, greasiness of it all will. Though lusciously rich and filling, those golden fried orbs tend to sit in my stomach like leaden golf balls, encouraging naps soon after rather than resumed productivity- Not exactly the thing to take in for lunch on a work day. After spending one too many afternoons in a falafel-induced daze, I knew that this was one tried-and-true meal in need of some reinvention.

Baked or raw falafel is certainly a worthy consideration, but for days when there’s barely enough time to get dressed and run out the door in the morning, let alone get something into the oven or dehydrator, I have just the alternative.

Still bearing all of the vibrant flavors and key components of your standard fried falafel, my falafel-inspired salad is considerably lighter on the stomach, and easier on an over-scheduled day. No cooking required, just mix and enjoy. Best of all, this assembly is just as tasty warm as it is cold, so it’s perfect packed lunch fodder.  Highly satisfying and re-energizing, I daresay this more modern take on falafel has the edge on the competition… Should you crave that hand-held eating experience, you can even stuff it snugly into a pita, and enjoy it in a more “tradition” fashion!

Deconstructed Falafel Salad

2 Cups Cooked Brown Rice
1 15-Ounce Can Chickpeas
1 Small Leek, Cleaned, Greens Removed and Thinly Sliced
2 Cloves Roasted Garlic, Minced
1/4 – 1/2 Cup Chopped Fresh Parsley
1/4 – 1/2 Teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes
2 Teaspoons Ground Cumin
2 Teaspoons Ground Coriander
3 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon Flax Oil
Salt and Pepper, to Taste
2 Tablespoons Sesame Seeds, Toasted

Additional Options: Chopped cucumber, tomato, or tahini sauce, if desired

Preparation for this one couldn’t be simpler- Just toss everything together in a large bowl until the ingredients are well distributed and evenly coated in spice, and either heat and serve, or cover and stash it in the fridge until chilled. It will last up to 5 days refrigerated, so you can make this at on Monday and enjoy it throughout the work week with ease.

Makes 4 – 5 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Starting Clean

Early January, the ground coated in a thin veneer of glistening white snow, it’s the calm after the storm. Lights and tinsel come down, discarded gift wrappings are cleared away, and the world returns to a weary, more subdued version of normalcy. Back to work, back to school, back to what ever it was we were ignoring or pretending didn’t have a deadline- It’s an abrupt, harsh transition, alright. Tempted as I am to turn tail and hibernate for the rest of winter, the show must go on, and the gears must continue to grind forward somehow.

Beginning in my own gentle way into 2011, there were no grand parties or late night revelries, and yet a soothing, cleansing sort of recipe for renewal still feels appropriate. Yes, there are still cakes and sweets galore to come (oh, if only you knew my plans…) but for now, a break from complicated fare is more than welcome. Borrowing from the Japanese tradition of nanakusagayu, a simple dish consisting of little more than rice and greens promises wealth, luck, and a healthy, clean start to the new year.

A porridge requiring seven different, distinct greens, this is a dish I shied away from for many years, lacking the creativity to replace the typical Japanese herbs with ones more easily obtainable in the US. Perhaps I cheated a bit, filing leeks, celery, and parsley under the category of full-fledged greens, but they certainly are green-colored, and oh so much more tasty than many other bitter grasses. My version also differs significantly in consistency; rather than a gooey, mushy rice porridge that’s cooked to a slow death, I throw in cooked rice almost at the last minute, keeping the grains whole and distinct, and creating more of a soup in the end. Warming, soothing, quick and brothy, it’s a perfect option for anyone feeling under the weather, too.

Though the greens do wilt down considerably, this recipe still makes a whole lot of food, so you may want to keep the rice one the side for future leftovers, instead of letting it sit and soften in the leftover soup.

Nanakusa-Shiru

1 Medium Leek, Thoroughly Cleaned and Sliced into Half-Moons
2 Stalks Celery, with Leaves, Chopped
2 Cloves Garlic, Finely Minced
1 Square Kombu
5 -6 Cups Water
3 – 4 Tablespoons Aka (Red) Miso
4 Cups Cooked Brown Rice
1/2 Pound Fresh Kale, Stemmed and Chopped or Torn
1/2 Pound Fresh Baby Spinach
1/2 Pound Fresh Romaine, Chopped
4 – 5 Scallions, Thinly Sliced
1/2 Cup Parsley, Roughly Chopped

Toasted Sesame Seeds
Red Pepper Flakes (Optional)

Set a large stock pot on the stove over moderate heat, and add in the leek, celery, garlic, kombu, and water. Bring it to a boil, and then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Cook for 15 – 20 minutes, until the garlic has mellowed and the veggies softened. Carefully remove the kombu, and slice it into bite-sized pieces before returning it to the pot.

In a small dish, place the miso paste, and add in a splash of water from the stock pot. Mix well so that the miso is completely dissolved and no lumps remain. Pour the miso liquid back into the pot, and stir to incorporate. Add in the cooked rice, along with all of the remaining greens and herbs. You may need to add the greens in batches, stirring each one in gently until wilted enough to make more room in the soup pot. Cook for just 2 more minutes, and turn off the heat.

Ladle out portions into bowls, including a good amount of broth for each one, and top each serving with a light sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds and red pepper flakes as desired.

Serves 8 – 12

Printable Recipe

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