BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Plant-Based and Powerfully Written

After so much time has passed, it’s hard to know where to begin. In truth, it was just over a year ago that I began collaborating with Nava Atlas, but somehow it feels like a thousand years have elapsed since then. Although it was far from the first cookbook I had the opportunity to color with my photos, the notable balance between creative freedom and direction that Nava fostered created wildly successful results. I can take little credit for the resulting beauty of Plant Power; Nava was the mastermind that brought these recipes into being and made my work a breeze. All I had to do was paint by numbers and try to color within the lines.

Even so, it’s unreal to see the finished pages in all of their neatly arranged and carefully indexed glory. Still impatiently waiting for the early September release, I have yet to hold a printed copy of the book in my hands and hungrily flip through its crisp, clean pages, but a sneak peak at the digital version instantly brings back a flood of happy, delicious memories. A stunning collaboration put to pictures and words, it was an absolute dream job. A big part of that gratifying experience was ending up with so much delicious food at the end of each shoot; one of my favorite perks of a hard day’s work. I can say from experience that every last recipe packed into this carefully crafted text is worth making, not a single bit of fluff or page-filler to be found. One that stands out prominently in my memory is the deceptively simple Quick Quinoa Paella, an excellent example of Nava’s skill for presenting a sound foundation that can be adapted, reinterpreted, and recreated a hundred different ways with equal success.

Incredibly satisfying, easy enough for the most novice of cooks to complete with ease, and perfect for featuring any of the ripe summer produce now bursting forth from the markets, let this preparation form a helpful guideline, but not a boundary, as to the possibilities contained within a few simple vegetables.

Quick Quinoa Paella

Paella is a Spanish pilaf traditionally made with white rice and seafood. We’ll do away with the seafood here, of course, and since we’re dispensing with tradition, let’s do away with white rice as well. Using nutritious and quick-cooking quinoa instead, you can have a colorful meal in about thirty minutes. This goes well with Spinach, Orange, and Red Cabbage Salad. Recipe from Plant Power: Transform Your Kitchen, Plate, and Life with More Than 150 Fresh and Flavorful Vegan Recipes by Nava Atlas. ©2014, published by HarperOne, reprinted by permission. Photos by Hannah Kaminsky. 

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil or 3 tablespoons vegetable broth or water
3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
1 green bell pepper, cut into 2-inch strips
1 red bell pepper, cut into 2-inch strips
1 cup sliced baby bella (cremini) mushrooms (optional)
2 cups vegetable broth
1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric (see Note)
1 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed in a fine sieve
2 teaspoons fresh or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
One 14- to 15-ounce can artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
2 cups frozen green peas, thawed
2 cups diced ripe tomatoes
2 to 3 scallions, thinly sliced (white and green parts)
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Heat the oil, broth, or water in a large, deep skillet or stir-fry pan. Add the garlic, bell peppers, and mushrooms, if desired, and sauté over medium-low heat until softened, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Add the broth, turmeric, and quinoa. Bring to a simmer and cook, covered, for 15 minutes.

Stir in the thyme, artichoke hearts, peas, tomatoes, scallions, and half the parsley.

Check if the quinoa is completely done; if not, add 1/2 cup water. Cook, stirring frequently, just until everything is well heated through, about 5 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper, then transfer the mixture to a large shallow serving container, or serve straight from the pan. Sprinkle the remaining parsley over the top and serve at once.

Note: As another departure from tradition, I’ve suggested turmeric rather than the customary saffron. Saffron is harder to obtain and very expensive, but you’re welcome to try it if you have access to it. Use 1 to 11/2 teaspoons saffron threads dissolved in a small amount of hot water.

Makes 6 Servings

Nutrition information:
Calories: 222 with oil, 202 without oil; Total fat: 4g with oil, 2g without oil; Protein: 10g; Carbohydrates: 40g; Fiber: 9g; Sodium: 240mg

Printable Recipe


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Portraits and Paella

Cultivating an appreciation for portrait and people photography is one thing, and actually producing decent images on the subject is another entirely. It wouldn’t matter if not for the demands of various photography classes, most of which seem to be written with only one type of student in mind. Either everyone with a camera dreams of growing up to become a high school prom photographer, or some of these lessons are really missing the mark. Where is the passion for still life and commercial photography I find myself immersed in everywhere else? Sure, those basic lighting techniques taught with any sort of subject will prove handy once applied to other disciplines of the art form, but for now, courses entitled “People Photography” sound like one full semester of torture. Forced to face this glaringly weak point in my toolbox of skills, it’s turned out to be a learning experience in more ways than expected so far.

Just before winter break, the final project for a certain “Location Lighting” class demanded numerous shots of people and things in all different places, making for a mad dash around town with unwieldy light stands and giant reflectors in tow. Ultimately, I’m pretty sure it was one particular shot, taken within the comfort of my aunt and uncle’s home, that truly secured my grade.

The take-away lesson from this experience? Make the picture about food anyway! By adding this element of interest, and with the help of my very patient and tolerant Uncle Alberto, it was no longer the same frustrating process of trying to make a scene out of nothing. Now there was a story, and a subject I knew how to work with.

And let me tell you a bit about that subject: Paella. Vegan paella, packed full of fresh vegetables and vibrant yellow grains of rice, all infused with saffron. Redolent of onions and garlic, it’s a simple yet classic dish that must not be underestimated. Though there was a more traditional, seafood-filled version on the table alongside this one, I couldn’t help but notice that everyone seemed to have at least a scoop of the veggie version on their plates, too.

That would have been the end of this story, but then, for my birthday, a wonderful gift fell into my hands… My very own paella pan.

Thank goodness I already had a tried-and-true recipe to turn to, because I wanted to fire up that stove right away! My only alteration was to add a dash of smoked paprika, because I just can’t get enough of that stuff. The beauty of this dish is that it’s endlessly versatile, and pretty much any vegetables hanging out in the fridge will do just fine. Consider throwing in a drained and rinsed can of chickpeas for a bit more protein, too.

Uncle Alberto’s Vegan Paella

3 Tablespoons Olive Oil, Divided
4 Cups Brussels Sprouts, Halved
4 Cups Other Assorted Raw Vegetables, such as Asparagus, Red Peppers, Zucchini, Mushrooms, and/or Artichoke Hearts
1 Medium Yellow Onion, Diced
3 Cloves Garlic, Minced
2 Cups Medium Grain Rice
4 Cups Vegetable Broth
1 Teaspoons Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
1 Large Pinch Saffron
2 Cups Frozen Peas

Lemon Wedges, to Serve

Saute Brussels sprouts with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, a pinch of salt and pepper until cooked with hints of browning. Lightly saute the other vegetables for about 5 minutes and season to taste. Remove from pan and set aside.

In a paella pan or large skillet on the stove top, heat the remaining olive oil and cook the diced onion and garlic over low heat. Once translucent, add the paprika and saffron, and stir well. Add rice and saute for approximately 1 minute. Add Brussels sprouts, vegetables, and broth and bring mixture to a low boil. Season with 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper, stir and cover. Cook for approx 20 minutes over low-med heat until the liquid has mostly been absorbed. Add frozen peas, stir into the rice, cover and cook for an additional 10 minutes.

Serve in paella dish with lemon wedges.

Makes 6 – 8 Servings

Printable Recipe

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