BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Winning Friends with Salad

Salad? Who gets genuinely excited about a salad?

Fear not, my friends, for this is no sad iceberg affair I’m here to talk about today. Much more like a savory trail mix with lettuce than a typical leafy green side dish, Burmese tea leaf salad is truly in a class of its own. As with any good mixed vegetable composition, the mix-ins and goodies are the keys to success, and this particular mixture packs a whole world of flavors and textures into every last bite. Toppings can vary wildly by region and availability, but a few favorite common inclusions are crunchy dried lentils or split peas, fried garlic chips, salted peanuts, sunflower seeds, and/or toasted sesame seeds, which is to say nothing of the more vegetative base of cabbage, tomatoes, and thinly sliced jalapenos. Traditional offerings include dried shrimps or shrimp paste, but any restaurant worth patronizing will graciously omit the sea critters for a fully vegan experience. Arranged in pristine piles and garnished just so, each salad looks almost too pretty to eat. Wise servers must realize this, as their next move will be to deftly swipe the lemon wedges from the perimeter of the plate, squeeze them mercilessly until not an ounce of juice remains, and speedily mix and mash everything together until it’s one ugly, sloppy, and highly delicious mess.

That would be all well and good by itself, but let’s back up for a minute here because I’m purposely overlooking one critical ingredient. Fermented or pickled tea leaves are of course the star of the show. Treasured in Burma and as rare as unicorns anywhere else in the world, they give this salad its characteristic tangy, funky, an indescribably savory taste. Unfortunately, this essential component is a beast to find here in the US. Moreover, dozens of commercial brands have been banned for sale, as there’s the danger of picking up package that includes a chemical dye linked with liver and kidney damage. Although it’s a pretty amazing salad, I wouldn’t hazard the risk of a hospital stay for a few decadent bites!

Craving this incomparable salad outside of a restaurant setting, I must admit that I took a few liberties and considerable shortcuts, but my riff on the classic has a harmony all its own.

Inspired by the tea itself, I was lucky enough to have a particularly flavorful pomegranate green tea at my disposal thanks to a thoughtful sampler package from The Tea Company. Painting with my own unique palate of flavors from that unconventional foundation, it only made sense to include the crunchy, tart arils themselves as one of many flavorful mix-ins. One sample pack wasn’t quite enough to bulk up my leafy base, so a light, refreshing mint green tea joined that blend as well. I only marinated them lightly, rather than fermented them properly for the mandated 6 months (!) required for traditional lahpet. Call it a quick and dirty fix, but the results don’t lie. A quicker, easier, and fresher take on this rarefied delicacy is perhaps just what the doctor ordered. Now I have no fear of accidental food poisoning, nor do I need to suffer the lack of Burmese eateries in my hometown.

Pomegranate Tea Leaf Salad

Tea Leaves:

1/4 Cup Water
2 Tablespoons White Vinegar
1 Packet (1/4 Cup) Moroccan Mint Gunpowder Green Tea
1 Packet (1/4 Cup) Pomegranate Green Tea
2 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
2 Tablespoons Toasted Sesame Oil

Salad:

2 Cups Shredded Cabbage and/or Romaine Lettuce
1/2 Cup Cherry or Grape Tomatoes, Halved
1/3 Cup Roasted, Unsalted Peanuts
1/3 Cup Roughly Chopped Fried Garlic
1/3 Cup Dried Green Peas or Moong Dal
1/3 Cup Pomegranate Arils
1/4 Cup Toasted Black Sesame Seeds
1 Small Jalapeno, Halved, Seeded, and Thinly Sliced
1/2 Lemon, Sliced into Wedges

The tea leaves can be prepared well in advance, so it’s best to tackle that component first and have it ready to go when you are. Simply combine the water, vinegar, both teas, and soy sauce in a microwave-safe dish, and heat for about a minute. Let the tea stand, loosely covered, for 15 – 20 minutes, until the leaves have more or less absorbed all of the liquid. Mix in the sesame oil and let stand at room temperature for an additional 5 – 10 minutes to soak in. You can use the tea right away or chill it in the fridge, sealed in an air-tight container, for up to a week. I find that it tends to taste better once the flavors have had time to meld for at least a day or two.

To compose the rest of the salad, get out a large platter and put your artist’s hat on. Spread the cabbage and/or lettuce out in an even layer on the bottom, and begin heaping neat piles of all the goodies around in a circle. Mound the prepared tea leaves in the very center, and place the lemon wedges around the sides at regular intervals. Deliver the plate to the table like this with great fanfare- Presentation is a big part of this dish! To serve, squeeze the lemon wedges all over the salad and use a large serving spoon and fork to thoroughly mix the whole thing together. Divide the beautiful mess amongst your guests and eat immediately.

Makes 3 – 4 Side Servings

Printable Recipe


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Thai It, You’ll Like It

Despite growing up so close to the hustle and bustle of New York City, I spent the majority of my formative years in the safety of small towns. These modest, insular neighborhoods are the perfect place to foster a care-free childhood, complete with tight-knit communities, safe neighborhoods, and sleepy streets that go quiet at 9 PM, even on a Saturday. Many cherished memories were made around the babbling brook a short walk from my home, collecting the Queen Anne’s lace that grew in abundance on either side of the stream. Although I’d consider myself more of a city slicker these days, I wouldn’t change those early years for the world. There’s no better place to develop a sense of identity, since there are fewer distractions or outside forces telling you what to be. What small towns are not so great for is cultivating a finely tuned palate. For the first dozen years of my life, I can easily count the number of world cuisines that had passed my lips on just one hand. Oh, but wait, do hot dogs count as a particular national specialty of any sort? Shamefully, my final count could end up being far less.

Thai food was entirely foreign to me, in every sense, pretty much right up until the prior year. It’s not the most rare or exotic culinary find, as globalism has brought so many worldly edibles closer to home than ever, but solid examples of these flavors had eluded me in sleepy coastal Connecticut. Only when I went to Hawaii did I find the immersive experience that I was craving. The landscape is ripe with stellar, dare I say, authentic offerings from just about every part of the world, with particularly strong offerings from Asian countries. It was there that I found Opal Thai, and my hunger for the cuisine has never been greater.

Nothing that I could fabricate at home would reach anywhere near those gustatory heights, but hunger drives one to gamble a bit in the kitchen. Som Tum, otherwise known as green papaya salad, is easily my favorite way to begin a meal. Served chilled, the tender yet crisp strands of unripe papaya are cooling, yet still popping with bursts of heat from abundant flecks of chili peppers. Brightly acidic, tangy, and slightly salty, with just a touch of sweetness to take the edge off, every component must be in perfect balance to achieve a successful, harmonious dish. The most challenging part of the composition is preparing vegan fish sauce, but once you make up a single batch of the funky stuff, it will last in your fridge for ages, facilitating almost instant salad satisfaction.

Of course, the key ingredient, green papaya, eluded me in my limited hometown grocery stores, which is why I took a page from the ever-popular zucchini noodles that proliferate as summer brings an abundance of the green squashes. They don’t stay crisp as long as papaya, so just make sure you leave them undressed until the minute you’re ready to serve. It may not be the genuine article, but it transports me to a delicious new world of flavor with every single bite.

Thai-Style Zucchini Ribbon Salad (Based on Som Tum)

1/4 Cup Lime Juice
2 Tablespoons Coconut Sugar, or Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
2 Tablespoons Vegan Fish Sauce
1 Teaspoon Soy Sauce
1 Clove Garlic, Minced
3 – 4 Ounces (A Big Handful) Skinny Green Beans, Lightly Blanched
2 Medium Zucchini, Spiralized or Julienned
1/2 Cup Halved Grape or Cherry Tomatoes
1/2 – 1 Red Thai Chile, Thinly Sliced
Handful Skinny Chives or Scallions, Thinly Sliced
2 Tablespoons Roasted and Salted Peanuts, Coarsely Chopped

This dish comes together very quickly, so prep all of your vegetables first and you’ll zip right through the rest of the preparation. For the dressing, whisk together the lime juice, coconut sugar, vegan fish sauce, soy sauce, and garlic. It will seem like a lot of liquid, but don’t worry, that’s exactly what you want! This isn’t like a traditional salad dressing; it should soak into the noodles a bit, and you will have a bit of a pool at the bottom when it’s in proper proportion.

In a medium bowl, place the green beans, zucchini ribbons, and tomatoes. Pour the dressing on top and toss to coat. Add in the chili, just a little bit at a time, until it’s spicy enough for your personal tastes. Give it one more good toss to mix everything around and evenly distribute the ingredients before transferring everything to a serving dish. Top with a generous handful of sliced chives and chopped peanuts.

Don’t waste time chit-chatting; Eat immediately!

Makes 2 – 4 Servings

Printable Recipe


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The New Sea Food

Take the salmon out of lomi salmon and what do you have? No, this isn’t a riddle, but a valid culinary question. Such a simple dish, hardly one that even requires a recipe, is tough to mess around with too much without accidentally chopping out its soul. Many an intrepid explorer, set on a mission of kitchen conquest, has pushed a simple, fool-proof concept far beyond its reasonable constraints- Myself included. How do you change something so radically and still be able to connect it back to the original dish? Sure, it will be tasty and satisfying, but you can hardly call a sandwich without peanut butter or jelly a PB & J, can you?

No matter how solidly set in stone some recipes may seem, there is always room for fresh interpretation. While wintering in Hawaii, there were plenty of opportunities to experiment with local ingredients and draw inspiration from the native cuisine. Lomi lomi salmon is about as classic Hawaiian as it gets, a staple found at any Luau worth its coconuts. Little more than salted salmon massaged with chopped tomatoes and onions, it compliments the starchier sides with its bright, salty flavors. Though it would seem impossible to veganize at first blush, the islands provide a natural alternative to any fishy components: Sea Asparagus.

Also known as samphire or glasswort, this sea vegetable is a tender green stalk very similar in appearance to tiny land-grown asparagus- Thus the obvious name. Absorbing the sea salt like a sponge, they can be quite salty if not thoroughly rinsed, and should never be salted no matter what you add to them. Slightly crunchy when raw or par-cooked, they’re an exotic delight to someone accustomed to flat, gelatinous, or stringy sea vegetables like myself. They grow all over the world and can usually be found in gourmet markets, but naturally, they’re cultivated right in the heart of Hawaii, making them more accessible to the city dwellers of Honolulu than most.

This recipe isn’t my entirely own creation, but inspired by the serving suggestion printed on the very label for Olakai sea asparagus. The only farm on Oahu growing these spindly green stalks, they know better than anyone else on the island how to best honor this unique ingredient. I’ve only put a few small twists on their basic formula, making use of more local produce such as the adorable tiny currant tomatoes from Ho Farms and sweet Maui onions. The precise combination is one that I may not be able to repeat for quite some time, but as long as I can find sea asparagus, you can be sure that this salad will find its way to my table.

Lomi Sea Asparagus

4 Ounces Fresh Sea Asparagus
1 Ounce Sweet Onion, Diced
1 Tablespoon Avocado or Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
4 Ounces Currant Tomatoes (or Halved Cherry Tomatoes)

Snip off any brown ends on the sea asparagus before rinsing them thoroughly under hot water. Toss them in a bowl along with the diced onion, oil, and lemon juice. Massage the vegetables with your fingers for a minute or two, just to tenderize the stalks slightly. Add in the tomatoes, mix to distribute throughout the salad, and either chill for up to two days, or serve right away. Don’t be tempted to add any salt, since the sea asparagus are already packed full of sodium.

Makes 2 – 3 Side Dish Servings

Printable Recipe


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Pea-Brained

To say that I’ve been feeling a bit scattered lately would be putting it lightly. Silly little oversights have punctuated the last couple of days, spicing up the mundane routine with strange surprises sprinkled here and there. Dirty dishes some how find their way back into cupboards, unwashed; recipe components are completed, and then forgotten until the meal is fully devoured; days seep through my fingers like water, obliterating a once rigid posting schedule. Nothing to be alarmed about, but it’s clear that running on autopilot is not serving my needs particularly well lately. “Pea-brained” would describe the situation quite nicely, and not just because of my increasingly dimwitted mistakes. Spring is on my mind, driving me to the point of distraction. Longer, brighter days captivate me while simultaneously throwing off my finely tuned rhythm, and the influx of fresh, vibrant produce easily overwhelms my senses. What to eat first? Where to go, what to do? Every winter seems interminable, so when it finally relinquishes its icy grip, it feels like a brand new world out there.

The best cure for seasonal disorientation is immersion, so let’s jump right in and celebrate the other reason for my pea-brained state: Peas! In all their green glory, this simple salad combines snow peas, pea shoots, and English peas to showcase their myriad textures, flavors, and shapes. The rather silly, rhyming title doesn’t fully do this combination justice, but was unavoidable thanks to the matcha tea-infused dressing, lending equal parts bitterness and sweetness to the blend.

In case you’re suffering from an equally pea-brained daze, a heaping helping of this bright, fresh homage to the humble pea might just be the antidote.

Three Pea Tea Salad

6 Ounces Snow Peas, Thinly Sliced on the Diagonal
4 Ounces Pea Shoots
8 Ounces Raw English Peas

Green Tea Dressing:

2 Scallions, Thinly Sliced
1 Tablespoon Yellow Miso Paste
1 Tablespoon Fresh Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon Rice Vinegar
1 Tablespoon Mirin
1/2 Teaspoon Matcha Powder
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
Salt and Ground Black Pepper, to Taste

I think you can already see how this one should come together, but in case you need someone to hold your hand, here’s the rundown: Toss the sliced snow peas, pea shoots, and English peas together in a large bowl. Separately whisk together all of the ingredients for the green tea dressing, beating the mixture thoroughly until smooth. Pour it all over the vegetables, tossing to coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately!

Makes 3 – 4 Side Dish-Sized Servings

Printable Recipe


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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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Soup or Salad?

Dear California,

I understand you’ve been having unseasonably warm weather lately, despite the stark contrast of chilly days and near-freezing nights over on the opposite side of the country. I feel your pain, really I do, but not everyone else sees it this way. I write to you as a friend, not to criticize but to suggest toning down the complaints, at least until Halloween has passed. Some of New England is getting mighty jealous, and I hate to see such petty things come between you two.

Love, Hannah.

PS, did you ever find the cell phone charger I left at your place two years ago?

It’s a tricky time of year, when the stretch of land makes the distance between our country’s coasts all the more apparent. Jump on a plane and you’ll find yourself in an entirely different climate, one that can feel so vastly different that it may as well be a different planet. Suddenly I have to worry about our slow-ripening tomatoes getting hit with the first frost before they ever have a chance to mature, while friends hundreds of miles away bemoan the summer that just won’t quit.

Always seeking that elusive middle ground, some compromise that will make everyone happy, I offer you this odd-ball recipe. Soup that can be served just as satisfying hot or cold, the concept is nothing new, but the content might give unsuspecting eaters pause. With a good bit of leftover Caesar dressing but feeling too cold for straight-up salad, I decided to take a gamble and turn the classic combination into a more liquid format. A light starter, bright with sharp acidity, it’s an excellent way to kick off any meal. Chilled, the flavors have more time to meld and harmonize, but warm, it soothes the soul and takes the edge off a brisk day. Such an avant-garde serving suggestion may not suit everyone’s tastes, but it’s sure worth a try, no matter what coast you find yourself on.

Caesar Soup

1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
2 Small, Trimmed and Cleaned Leeks (White and Light Green Parts only) (6 Ounces)
2 Small Cloves Garlic, Finely Minced
1 Yukon Gold Potato (6 – 8 Ounces), Peeled and Diced
2 Teaspoons Lemon Juice
3 1/2 – 4 Cups Vegetable Stock
1 Pounds Romaine Lettuce (About 2 Hearts), Plus 4 – 5 Firm Inner Leaves for Garnish
1 Cup Baby Spinach
1/3 Cup Vegan Caesar Dressing, Plus 1 – 2 Tablespoons for Garnish
1/4 Teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper
Salt, to Taste

Garlic and Herb Croutons

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Garlic Cloves, Finely Minced
1 Teaspoon Fresh Thyme (or 1/2 Teaspoon Dried)
1/4 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
1/4 Teaspoon Coarse Salt
2 1/2 Cups 1/2-Inch Cubed Sourdough Bread (About 3 1.5-Ounce Slices)

To begin the soup, coat the bottom of a medium saucepan with olive oil and set it over medium heat. Add in the leeks and garlic, gently sauteing until softened and aromatic; about 3 – 4 minutes. Be careful not to brown the vegetables, but rather allow them to sweat. Add in the potato, lemon juice, and 3 1/2 cups vegetable stock, and bring the mixture up to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, and let bubble quietly for 10 – 15 minutes, until the potato is fork-tender.

Transfer the contents of the pot to your blender and thoroughly puree. Introduce a few handfuls of spinach and romaine at a time, blending until the bulk has been chopped down, and then adding the next bunch. Puree until completely smooth- The soup will not be nearly as enjoyable if it’s not perfectly silky in texture. Finally, add the dressing, pepper, and salt to taste, blending briefly to combine. Either chill for at least 3 hours for a cold version, or serve right away to enjoy it hot.

For the croutons, preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with a silpat or aluminum foil. (Note: I wanted to save some energy so I made mine in a little toaster oven. The pieces all fit, but barely, so be mindful of your space if you go that route.)

Place all of the ingredients in a large bowl, and toss to coat all of the bread cubes. Pour everything onto your prepared sheet, and spread out the cubes so that they’re all in one even layer. Bake for 15 – 20 minutes, stirring halfway through the cook time, until golden brown and crisp. Let cool completely before serving.

To serve, ladle out the soup into bowls and top with some of the reserved, chopped lettuce, a drizzle of extra dressing, and a handful of croutons.

Makes 4 – 5 Side Dish or Starter-Sized Servings

Printable Recipe


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Minty Fresh

Sparse vines reach weakly upward towards the sunlight filtering in between the thick blanket of leaves above, gently yellowing despite their youth. Choked out by the tall trees overhead that greedily suck down all the rich solar nutrition, our fragile, immature tomato plants never had a chance. Careful weeding and daily watering be damned- Not a drop of those efforts show. For reasons unknown, this will be our worst harvest ever, if you can even call it a “harvest.” It would be a joy to pull even a solitary ripe, red orb from those sagging knots of greenery, but I’m not so optimistic about even that kind of yield.

While I can only look on with envy as friends effortlessly produce vegetables of all colors and shapes from their own backyard gardens, I have but one tiny success to brag about: The mint. Known for being aggressively prolific, spreading like a weed and reseeding itself for years to come, ours finally broke the curse of our sad patch of dirt and actually followed suit. Sprouting and outgrowing the small patch originally allotted to them, the herbaceous leaves now cover nearly half of the paltry expanse, growing like a full, unruly mane of hair, much in need of a trim. And so, with no vegetables to temper my enthusiasm, trim I did.

After batches of mint chocolate sorbet, mint tea, and minted snow peas, the mint still kept coming with no end in sight. Fully confident that the supply would not run short, I went for the gusto and gathered as much as I could before the rainclouds above burst once again, snipping off every viable leaf to make up a fresh take on pesto. Before that quick spread could even finish whirling about the blades of the food processor, I already had a full recipe planned out to put it to work.

Borrowing from a Middle Eastern palate of flavors for inspiration, pomegranate proved to be a perfectly tangy match to this bright and herbaceous paste. Not only do the crunchy arils make an appearance to lend textural contrast, but the foundation of the salad itself, chewy pearls of Israeli couscous, are cooked in pure pomegranate juice as well. Cool, crisp cucumbers punctuate the mixture, lightening the whole dish considerably- And because, as we’ve established, I can’t go a single summer day without getting my cucumber fix.

Even if you don’t have ground cover of mint threatening to take over your entire yard, it’s well worth the effort to forage through the farmer’s market to make the pesto, if not the whole couscous salad. Consider tossing it into potato salad, spread it over crostini, or pack it into sandwiches. The recipe makes enough for leftovers, so you can easily spare enough explore all those delicious options, and then some.

Pomegranate Mint Couscous

Mint Pesto:

1/4 Cup Roasted, Unsalted Sunflower Seeds
1 – 2 Cloves Garlic
1 Teaspoon White Miso
Zest of 1/2 Lemon
2 Cups Loosely Packed Mint Leaves
1/2 Cup Loosely Packed Basil Leaves
1/4 Cup Flax or Hemp Seed Oil
Big Pinch Cayenne Pepper
Salt, to Taste

In a food processor, pulse the sunflower seeds and garlic lightly to break them down a bit, and add in the miso and lemon zest to combine. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula, and introduce the mint and basil. Pulse again to incorporate, and then with the machine running, stream in the oil. Puree until mostly smooth but still slightly coarse in texture, and season with cayenne and salt to taste. Use right away, or store in airtight container in the fridge. The mint pesto can be made ahead of time refrigerated for up to a week.

Makes About 3/4 Cup

Pomegranate Couscous Salad:

2 Cups 100% Pomegranate Juice
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup Dry Israeli Couscous
1/2 Cup Frozen or Fresh Green Garbanzo Beans, or Frozen Green Peas
1/3 Cup Mint Pesto (See Recipe Above)
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil, if Needed
1 Cup Diced Seedless Cucumber
1/2 Cup Pomegranate Arils
Pinch Ground Black Pepper

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring the pomegranate juice and salt to a boil. Add in the couscous, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook until the liquid has been absorbed. Stir in the green garbanzo beans or peas while the pasta is still hot, thawing or gently cooking the beans with the residual heat. Transfer to a large bowl, and thoroughly mix in the pesto. Add in the oil if needed to loosen up the pesto and more evenly distribute it throughout. Toss in the cucumber, arils, and season with pepper to taste. Stir well, and chill thoroughly before serving.

Makes 6 – 8 Side Servings

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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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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Red, White, and Purplish-Blue

An event that never registered much importance on my radar, the 4th of July is a welcome holiday nonetheless. Even if it means the smell of meaty cookouts wafting through the neighborhood all day and little more than an excuse to blow up some fireworks in the evening, it’s a welcome holiday in the long, occasionally monotonous stretch of summer months. Without the mandated gatherings of family and friends, spent largely lazing about outdoors, it’s questionable whether I would take the time to pause and enjoy the season at all. Honestly, for such a casual affair where the star of the show is usually the hotdog or hamburger (hopefully tofu dog and veggie burger!), it hardly seems worth fussing over creating a grand spread.

That’s not to say that I’ve completely written off the Fourth as day that good food forgot, but if you are going to put some effort into your edibles, it may as well be in one simple, small, and non-essential dish. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that some people can get very edgy when you threaten their Independence Day grilling ritual. This little thing I’ve whipped up here? Just consider it a bonus… Which may end up being a bigger hit than the star of the show itself.

Blue potatoes, skin left intact, are diced small and tossed in a dab of avocado or olive oil, finely minced garlic and fresh rosemary before hitting the oven. Roasted at 400 degrees, it only takes about 15 minutes for the little starchy morsels to reach a state of crisp on the outside and tender within. Cool before proceeding.

Pull out some nice glasses, or glass jars, or even clear plastic cups if you’re against doing dishes on this most laissez-faire of gatherings. Spoon a layer of chilled blue potatoes on the bottom, and press down lightly to keep the stripes even. Top your blue potatoes with an equal layer of tofu feta (made with white miso only, please)- Which, unlike actual feta, is not nearly so salty, fatty, or cloying, and thus edible in larger amounts in a single dish without throwing the balance out of whack.

Finally, chop two or three large, ripe tomatoes, remove the seeds, and toss with a handful of finely diced red onion, a touch of salt, and some very thin shreds of fresh basil. Drain if watery, and pile up high for the final stripe. Store in the fridge until you’re ready to serve.

Whatever you do, don’t call this a potato salad; Deliver it with the title of Patriotic Potato Verrine, and it’s sure to steal the spotlight.

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