BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Inspiration Vs. Desperation

What spurs you on to create new recipes? Inspiration comes in countless forms, lurking just beneath the surface everywhere you look. It could be a trip to the market that lights a spark, or a great meal at a new restaurant. Even something as innocuous as watching tv or chatting with a friend might start the wheels turning. Some recipes, however, have decidedly less grand beginnings. Born not in some great flash of genius, but by sheer necessity, the results are by no means any less spectacular. Sometimes it just comes down to what’s already in the fridge.

Adding a single box of phyllo to a recent coop order seemed like a reasonable impulse buy to complete the case- A least until it arrived, and needed somewhere to stay. Freezer stuffed to bursting, there was no choice but to let it thaw out in the fridge, with still no destination in mind. With time ticking and now fridge space dwindling, that phyllo had to go, and not straight into the trash! At times like this, the great interweb is a true godsend.

Still waffling between sweet and savory recipes, it was the idea of Susan‘s Spinach and Artichoke Pie that sealed the deal. Tweaking the seasonings and switching out spinach for kale, it was an impressive outcome for the phyllo that had no clear purpose. Instead of making one giant pie, it seemed more fitting to break the dish up into individual wraps; less messy to serve and easier to store. Shatteringly crisp and flaky, that phyllo is truly what makes the final bundle of gently spiced greens and goodies so compelling. Only when my parcels had finished baking did I realize the strange cultural mash-up at play. Indeed, what emerged from the oven turned out to be glorified Greek burritos.

Greek Burritos
Adapted from the Fat Free Vegan

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Medium Yellow Onion, Diced
2 Cloves Garlic, Finely Minced
12 Ounces Frozen Chopped Kale
1 Pound Extra-Firm Tofu, Thoroughly Drained
1/4 Cup Nutritional Yeast
1 Teaspoon Salt, or to Taste
1 1/2 Teaspoons Dried Dill
1 1/2 Teaspoons Dried Oregano
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
3 Tablespoons Finely Chopped Oil-Cured Olives
1/8 Teaspoon Dried Red Pepper Flakes
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Coriander
1 12-Ounce Bag Frozen Artichoke Hearts, Thawed and Quartered

1 Package Phyllo Dough, Thawed
Olive Oil in Spray Bottle

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and line two baking sheets with silpats or parchment paper; Set aside.

Begin heating the oil in a medium or large soup pot over moderate heat. You want a vessel with high sides that can accommodate a good amount of food, so don’t hesitate to spring for one size bigger than you think is appropriate. It’s not a bad thing if it ends up being too spacious either. Add in the onions and garlic, and saute for 10 – 12 minutes until fragrant, softened, and beginning to take on a golden hue. Toss in the frozen kale, stir well, and let it thaw as it mingles with the hot onions. Turn off the heat as soon as the leaves are no longer icy.

Meanwhile, crumble your tofu into a large bowl and toss with the nutritional yeast, salt, dill, oregano, lemon juice, olives, pepper, cumin, and coriander. Once evenly seasoned, stir the tofu mixture into the hot onions and kale until well incorporated. Finally, introduce the artichokes, and mix just to distribute evenly throughout the filling. The mixture should be warm to the touch but not hot at this point.

To assemble your burritos, first lay out one sheet of phyllo on an immaculate flat surface, and lightly spritz with olive oil. Carefully top that with another sheet, lining up the edges to the best of your ability, and spritz oil on top of that. Repeat twice more for a total of 4 stacked full rectangle sheets. Gently distribute about 1 cup of the filling vertically, about 1 inch in from the left edge, top, and bottom. Now, as if it were a tortilla, fold the top and bottom edges over the filling, and roll, starting from the left side, until you have one smooth cylinder resting on the open end of the dough. Gingerly lift the wrap and place it on one of the baking sheets, and finally spritz the top once more with oil. Repeat for the remaining dough and filling, placing no more than three burritos on each sheet.

Bake for 15 – 20 minutes, rotating the sheets about halfway through if necessary, until golden brown all over. Serve immediately while hot.

Makes About 5 Large Burritos; Feeds 10 with Dainty Appetites, or 5 Very Hungry Vegans

If you’re cooking for a smaller crowd, you can keep any leftover filling and phyllo separate, assembling and baking individual burritos when desired.

Printable Recipe


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The Kale Conundrum

Kale: The poster child for all things wholesome, healthy, and generally good. Once shunned as merely a frilly garnish for deli cases, no greater redemption story can be found in the produce aisle. Excellent both cooked and raw, agreeable with any flavors thrown at it, kale remains humble even after so much glowing praise has elevated it to super food status, willing to work with any supporting ingredients thrown at it. Joining the bandwagon like everyone else, I dutifully buy my kale, encouraged by those frilly, vibrant leaves, imagining a sea of recipes ideal for this fresh addition.

Out of the grocery bag back at home, it gingerly goes into the vegetable bin. A day later, heavier vegetables are moved around and get placed on top of the once firm stems, now quickly softening to imitate limp noodles. Another day passes, and surely I’ve forgotten I ever purchased such a thing; the tender green curls are crushed beneath a second load of re-sorted produce. Fast forward a week, and no doubt that same kale would still be there, beginning to yellow around the edges drooping like a neglected bouquet of flowers. Kale goes into the bin, and it’s time to go grocery shopping again. Oh, look at that kale, I should get some!

No more of this madness! I’ve had enough of throwing away perfectly good kale. My forgetfulness is inexplicable, but for some reason, kale just never seems to quite fit into what I’m making at the moment. Instead of repeating the same pattern yet again, I stopped the cycle halfway through, deciding that the only way out was to construct a new dish built around the greenery itself.

Typical kale pitfalls include: 1) Giant, uncut pieces that must be chewed for months to properly break down, 2) Overcooked, grey, and bitter leaves, and 3) Bland, boring and approaches simply too austere to genuinely enjoy. Shredding my raw kale finely and pairing it with bright, exciting flavors solved my last remaining scraps of hesitation with ease. Kelp noodles were sitting sadly at the bottom of the fridge, similarly forgotten, so I threw them in as well, but they turned out to be superfluous. With or without the noodles, I know this is one dish that will put the brakes on my poor kale-keeping habits.

A one-dish wonder that won’t weigh you down, this is a substantial salad that packs in edamame for protein, and plenty of good fats via avocado, pinenuts, and just a dab of olive oil. Above all else though, the invigorating lemon and ginger dressing makes it no chore to plow through a big bowlful of greens, no matter how remiss you’ve been on squeezing them into the daily diet before.

Crave-Worthy Kale Salad

Optional:
12 Ounce Package Kelp Noodles
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
Warm Water

1 Bunch Kale, Washed and Dried
3 Scallions
1 Cup Shelled Edamame
1 English Cucumber, Halved and Sliced
1 Ripe Avocado
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Mirin
1 Teaspoon Lemon Zest
1 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
Big Pinch Cayenne Pepper
Salt to Taste
1/4 Cup Toasted Pine Nuts or Sunflower Seeds

If using kelp noodles, place them in a small bowl and add warm water to cover. Mix in the lemon juice and stir to combine. Let sit and soften for at least 15 minutes while you prepare the rest of the salad. Rinse and drain thoroughly before using.

Remove the large, woody stems from the kale, and then stack up the leaves on top of each other for easier slicing. Chop them into thin ribbons, and add them to a large bowl. Thinly slice the scallions, and toss those in along with the edamame and cucumber.  Dice the avocado and toss it with the lemon juice before introducing it to into the same bowl, along with any leftover juice. Finally whisk together the oil, mirin, lemon zest, ginger, cayenne, and salt, and pour the dressing over the greens. Toss everything very well to combine, and as well as the kelp noodles if using. Top each serving with pine nuts or sunflower seeds before serving.

Serves 4 – 6

Printable Recipe


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Winter Warmer

Not yet winter, you say? I dare you to repeat that after this last week in stormy New England. Losing power for 2 1/2 days in the sub-freezing temperatures would have been bad enough, but the cherry on top of this snow sundae was sliding on the ice and crashing my car into a telephone pole. Minimal at worst, the air bags didn’t even deploy, and yet the damage somehow totals upwards of $4,000. Completely incomprehensible to this car-illiterate new driver.

The point is, it’s never too early for some comforting winter dishes that can warm you up from the inside, especially when it’s damn near apocalyptic outside. I may have lacked the resources to make this particular soup in my moment of greatest need, but the craving for a bubbling cauldron of savory stew reminded me of this previously unpublished recipe.


Please excuse the dark, mediocre photo… It’s almost a year old and I haven’t had a chance to shoot a new one!

Inspired by saag paneer, and Indian dish with gently stewed spinach and cubes of soft cheese, this vegan version utilizes kale, the leafy green of the moment, and achieves a silkier texture through the use of pureed potato. A stunning one-bowl meal, complete with greens and protein, not to mention a crave-worthy spicy flavor profile, my hesitation to share it stemmed from impatience. Factoring in the time it takes to press the tofu, bake the tofu, and simmer the soup, it’s not one to make on the fly.

However, thanks to the new tofu innovation from Nasoya, their latest vacuum-packed Sprouted Tofu cuts the prep time in half. Packaged and sold already pressed, the firm, dense texture is perfect for this application, as well as any other dish that calls for pressed tofu. Thanks to this simple improvement, I can see many repeat performances for my green monster of a soup coming up in these colder months!

Kale Saag Soup

Tofu Paneer:

1 16-Ounce Package Vacuum-Sealed Sprouted Tofu, or Extra-Firm Tofu, Pressed for 1 Hour
1/4 Cup Rice Vinegar
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
Zest and Juice of 1/2 Lemon
1/2 Teaspoon Salt

Kale Saag Soup:

2 Tablespoons Coconut Oil
2 Small Yellow Onions or 1 Large, Chopped (About 1 Cup)
1 1/2 Tablespoons Finely Minced Fresh Ginger
4 Cloves Garlic, Finely Minced
2 1/2 Teaspoons Ground Cumin
1 Teaspoon Garam Masala
1 Teaspoon Mustard Powder
3/4 Teaspoon Turmeric
1/4 – 1/2 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
3 Cups Water or Vegetable Stock
1 Medium Potato, Peeled and Chopped (About 1 Cup)
1 Bunch Kale, Stemmed and Chopped
1 Cup Coconut Milk
1/2 Teaspoon Salt, or to Taste

Fresh Parsley or Cilantro for Garnish

First things first, preheat your oven to 350 degrees so that you can get the tofu “paneer” going. Cut the tofu into 1/2-inch cubes, and toss them into an 8-inch baking dish along with the remaining ingredients. Mix well to coat the tofu, and then arrange the cubes in one even layer, so they’re not overlapping (touching is fine.) Bake for 45 minutes until just barely golden around the edges. I don’t recommend tasting them plain; on their own, the “paneer” Will taste fairly sour and salty, but can balance out the soup (or most other dishes you want to throw them into) beautifully.

Meanwhile, get the soup going by melting the coconut oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add in the chopped onions, and saute until softened and translucent; about 5 minutes. Stir in the ginger and garlic, continuing to cook until the onions take on a tinge of golden-brown color, which could be around 5 – 8 more minutes. Throw in all the spices next, and saute with the other aromatics for just a minute or two to bring out the flavors, but be careful not to burn anything.

Pour in the water or stock, and be sure to scrape the bottom of the pot thoroughly to loosen and incorporate anything sticking. Follow that with the potato, and cover the pot. Bring the liquid to a boil, and then reduce the heat to a lively simmer. Let bubble away for about 15 minutes, until the potato pieces are fork-tender. Mix in the chopped kale a little bit at a time so that it can wilt down and fit properly in the pot. Cover once more, and simmer for a final 15 minutes. Turn off the heat, and add in the coconut milk. Either transfer the soup to your blender in batches to puree, or hit it with an immersion blender, until very smooth. Add salt to taste.

Ladle your smooth kale saag soup into bowls, and top with cubes of tofu paneer and the chopped fresh herbs of choice. Serve piping hot.

Serves 4 – 6

Printable Recipe


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Edible Heirlooms

You know those weirdos who get all excited about the simplest foods? Those people you see in the produce section, lunging for the first and most perfect pumpkin of the season? The shoppers playing bumper carts as they race down aisles, desperate to get the freshest, greenest head of kale? Yeah, I’m outing myself here: I’m one of them. Though the term “foodie” holds little meaning to me, I would gladly take the title of “food lover.” Spying a deal on favorite produce can make my day, and I have been known to literally jump up and down in the middle of a store upon finding a much sought-after edible.

Such was the scene in the early summer, when a brand new Whole Foods opened up practically down the street from me. Combing through the expansive bulk bin section first thing on opening day, a fascinating new selection of dry goods were right at my finger tips. Things I had only read about, like kaniwa, suddenly were within my reach. Right at the end of the line, as if saving the best for last, it was there that I came upon the 10 heirloom bean mix. Such a riot of colors and shapes seemed impossible to come from merely beans, those much maligned legumes that typically only came in varying shades of brown. Positively enchanted, I loaded up a bag full of the otherworldly bean blend, the smooth, dry skins clattering together gently as they slid off the metal scoop.

And then, they sat. Not quite forgotten, but with no clear destination, my pound-plus of gorgeous flageolet, orca, canary beans, and so forth remained squirreled away in the pantry, out of sight and definitely out of mind. Who wants to spend half a day bent over a boiling pot of beans in the heat of summer anyway?

Not a paltry handful of months could dampen my enthusiasm; Finally the heat broke, and those lovely legumes sprung back into my sights and finally onto my menu.

An ideal meal for a chilly fall or winter day, any sort of stew is perfect to warm the belly and sustain a difficult day of work. Or, fuel the mind for a long day of writing. Or simply provide comfort and nourishment for the worn and tired soul. Though the cooking process did undeniable dampen my rainbow of heirlooms, I’d gladly take the trade off of delicious, earthy flavor and creamy textures instead. Any sort of beans will do in this simple mixture, so don’t feel compelled to go out in search of a rare bean blend- Unless that sounds like your idea of fun, too.

Garlicky Greens and Beans Stew

1/4 Cup Olive Oil
1 Medium Red Onion, Diced
1 Whole Bulb Garlic (12 – 15 Cloves), Peeled and Finely Minced
8 Ounces Mushrooms, Roughly Chopped
1 Bay Leaf
1 Teaspoon Dried Basil
1 Teaspoon Dried Rosemary
2 Teaspoons Smoked Paprika
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Corriander
1/4 Teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes
2 Tablespoons Tamari or Soy Sauce
1 Cup Mushroom or Vegetable Broth
1 28-Ounce Can Diced Tomatoes
1 Large Sweet Potato, Peeled and Diced
3 Cups Cooked Beans (Heirloom 10 Bean Mix)
1 Bunch Kale (About 1 Pound), Cleaned, De-stemmed, and Chopped
2 Tablespoons Balsamic Vinegar
Salt and Pepper to Taste

Set a large stock pot over medium heat, and start by sauteing the chopped onion in the oil. Once softened and somewhat translucent, add in the minced garlic, and cook for about 5 or 6 minutes, until the onion just begins to brown around the edges. Introduce the mushrooms at that point, and allow them 3 – 5 more minutes to cook down slightly and become aromatic.

Add in the spices and seasonings, along with your broth of choice, tomatoes, and sweet potato. Stir well, bring to a boil, and cover the pot. Turn the heat down so that the stew is at a lively simmer, and let cook for 15 minutes. After that time has elapsed, add in the cooked beans, and continue simmering, uncovered, for another 15 minutes. Test the potatoes to make sure that they’re fork tender, and if they are, turn off the heat. Mix in the kale a few handfuls at a time, using the residual heat to wilt it down. Mix in the balsamic vinegar and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot, with a chunk of crusty bread or over a bowlful of rice.

Serves 6 – 8

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