Spring Things

Cherry blossoms. Butterflies. Misted, dewy mornings. Song bird serenades.

These are the things that spring is made of.

Fava beans. Asparagus. Rhubarb. Soft green herbs. Morel mushrooms.

These are the things that spring tastes like.

The promise of these things are what make winter worth enduring, no matter how brutal or seemingly interminable those frigid, forbidding days of darkness become. Slowly but surely, that veil of frost will be lifted to reveal to reveal tender green shoots emerging from quickly thawing earth, revitalized after such fitful slumber.

At long last, all signs point to spring here on the west coast, although that’s not quite the case nationwide. It’s hard to imagine blizzard conditions elsewhere while strapping on sandals to greet the day.

Should these early days of April fall short of expectations, don’t despair. One particular taste of spring is still easily accessible even if your local farmers market remains barren. Fresh peas are an exquisite treat, verdant and shockingly sweet straight out of the pod, but frozen are no terrible sacrifice in a pinch. Roughly mashed into a chunky spread with bright mint and lemon accents, the simple combination is enough to make any residual memories of winter melt away, even if the snow refuses to follow suit.

This combination of rich almond-based ricotta and bright pea puree on a slab of hearty, seeded bread is actually a limited-edition menu item on offer at Nourish Cafe right now. In case you can’t hustle in before the season comes to a close, it’s an easy recipe to make at home for a taste of spring that everyone can enjoy year-round, worldwide.

Spring Pea Toast

Minted Pea Pistou:

1/2 Cup Fresh Mint, Lightly Packed
1 Cup Fresh Spinach, Lightly Packed
3 Tablespoons Garlic Oil
2 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
1 Pound (3 Cups) Fresh, Blanched or Frozen, Thawed Green Peas
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper

For Assembly:

4 Thick Slices Toast
1 Cup Vegan Ricotta
1/2 Cup Fresh Peas
Pea Shoots or Sprouts (Optional)
Edible Flowers (Optional)

Place the mint, spinach, garlic oil, and lemon juice in your food processor and blend until the leaves are all broken down and the mixture is fairly smooth. Pause to scrape down the sides of the container as needed to make sure everything gets incorporated. Add in the peas, salt, and pepper, and pulse until spreadable but still slightly coarse.

The pea pistou can be prepared in advance and stored in an airtight container in the fridge for 3 – 4 days.

To assemble the toast, layer on a thick schmear of vegan ricotta on each slice of bread, followed by the pea pistou and topped with fresh peas, pea shoots, and edible flowers if desired. Savor a taste of spring, no matter the weather outside!

Makes 4 Servings

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Go Fish

More than half my life has been spent as a vegan, cleaving my personal story into two distinct pieces. Childhood, before any sort of food awareness or appreciation, and all the rest, a more conscious consumer and supporter of all things cruelty-free. The split was quick, concise, but not entirely as clean as it sounds on paper. Though it began with an exploratory affair with vegetarianism at first, there was one big issue that held me back from diving into the deep end: Fish.

Yes, I was a strange one indeed. No meats nor cheeses gave me particular pause, but fish, and only raw fish at that, beckoned me back to the dark side. Sushi topped my list of favorite foods, from simple buttery slices of ahi tuna sashimi to the slippery tangles of octopus salad, topped with slivers of bonito dancing in the breeze, no crudo could turn me off. Landing squarely at the top of that list was salmon nigiri, a mildly briny sensation that has yet to be matched in the plant-based sphere of alternatives.

That’s why I must admit that after 15 years, I’ve begun to indulge once again.

That briny, savory flavor, toothsome yet slippery, silky texture that simply can’t be imitated is a truly luxurious sensation. Those fatty coral-colored slabs that top tender mounds of rice instantly brought me right back to my pre-vegan days of indulgence. One bite and I was won back to the dark side.

You see, I went vegan because I opposed animal cruelty, not because I hated the taste of animal products. Why should I have to suffer too? Besides, it’s said that fish in particular lack a properly developed neocortex, which makes them incapable of feeling pain. Though it’s true, there’s no way to definitively confirm this since I don’t speak the language However, I can rest assured that my own oceanic feast didn’t suffer one iota…

Because it’s all made of melon!

April Fools to anyone who was tricked by these convincing slabs of sashimi, but there’s no fooling around with the truly impressive results from this recipe. Building upon my incredibly popular tuna poke, I sought out the powers of marinated melon once more, opting for unripe cantaloupe for subtle sweetness and a beautiful orange hue. Small tweaks to better suit the flavor nuances seal the deal for salmon lovers abstaining from eating seafood.

While retail solutions for ethical oceanic edibles still lag behind mainstream demand, this homemade formula will quickly and easily quell any residual cravings. As a reformed fish-fancier, take my word for it!

Sushi, sashimi, poke, and salads; all are enhanced by this new approach to fishless satisfaction. Add a touch of liquid smoke to fix up an effortless dupe for lox, or try enhancing the brine with dill and lemon for that essential gravlax experience.

There are plenty of other fish in the sea, so let’s keep it that way. There’s no need to cast a line out in hopes of a bite again!

Fish-Free Salmon Sashimi

1 Small, Unripe Cantaloupe
1 Cup Mushroom Broth
4 Tablespoons Braggs Liquid Aminos
2 Tablespoons Avocado Oil
2 Tablespoons Sauerkraut Brine
1 Tablespoon Rice Vinegar
1 Tablespoon White Miso Paste
1/2 Teaspoon Onion Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Garlic Powder
2 Sheets Toasted Nori, Roughly Torn

*To make lox or smoked “salmon,” add 1/2 – 1 teaspoon liquid smoke, to taste.
*To make gravlax, add 1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh dill and the zest of half a lemon.

Cut the cantaloupe in half, scoop and out discard the seeds. Slice those halves into four wedges each, carefully “filleting” the fruit to remove the peel. Place all 8 cleaned wedges into a large, shallow container.

Place the remaining ingredients into your blender and thoroughly puree, until completely smooth. Pour this marinade all over the melon, making sure that all pieces are fully submerged. You may need to move things around so that you have complete coverage.

Seal the container and place on a flat surface in your freezer. Allow the whole thing to fully freeze; at least 12 hours, but ideally 24 or longer. If you want to save the “salmon” for a later date, just leave it at this stage until you’re ready to serve it.

To continue preparing your fish-free feast, allow the tuna to fully thaw either in the fridge or at room temperature. Drain away the excess marinade. You can save this and reuse it if you like, since there’s no potential bacterial contamination like you would get if using raw meat. Thinly slice the edges as desired for sashimi, or cube for “salmon” poke!

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Spring Cleaning

Spring cleaning typically entails a purge of non-necessities, ousting not only the cobwebs but the excesses that support their tangled strands. Taking out the old and broken, the useless and the antiquated, the pieces that no longer serve their intended purposes, is just as important as any efforts made towards vacuuming and polishing hardwood floors. The rationale is that with fewer things to collect dust, there are fewer things that need dusting.

What that doesn’t mean, in most sane approaches to organization, is adding to that collections of odds and ends- but who ever said I took that conventional route for anything? Determined to lighten the load in my cramped quarters, I first set about letting go of the warped, beaten, and rusted pans that always gave me grief for even the simplest of recipes. One can’t simply go without proper cookware though, so immediately I set off on a new spring cleaning mission of renewal, rather than removal.

Admittedly, this kitchen equipment renovation began months ago, giving me time enough to torture test these new tools for all they’re worth. Now that this season of revival is upon us, it’s with great pleasure and confidence that I can trash the previous set of decrepit pans in favor of my gorgeous 10-Piece Circulon Baking Set, in a very fetching shade of chocolate brown, no less. What could be better for a dessert fiend?

Not all baking sheets are created equal; a critical element that’s sadly overlooked when it comes to most recipe disappointments. Having a reliably non-stick surface that cooks evenly, browns properly, and retains heat as expected is the single most important component of any edible creation that goes into the oven, sweet or savory. For baking dishes of any depth, having wide enough handles for easy removal is also key, lest you plan on feeding your latest creations directly to the floor below. From the loaves to squares to sheets, this new set has proven its worth through every trial by fire, coming clean with equal ease once its duty is done. The matching cooling rack and covered rectangular lid for easy transport are truly the icing AND cherries on the heavy-gauge steel cake.

Equally matched in beauty and functionality, my gleaming behemoth Anolon Vesta Cast Iron Umber 12-inch Skillet has the capacity to feed an army with a serious sweet tooth. This workhorse is truly a beast, with the weight and heft to withstand any amount of heat. Transitioning from stove top to oven like a champ, I’ve used it to make everything from glorious golden brown pancakes, crisp grilled cheese sandwiches, juicy fresh fruit cobblers, and far beyond. The porcelain enamel exterior adds flair to this kitchen essential, adding a touch of personality without compromising performance.

Is it time you considered an equipment refresh of your own? When was the last time you examined your arsenal of tools with a critical eye, taking stock of their true shortcomings? Pots and pans aren’t forever, and making one small upgrade can have a huge impact on all of your culinary exploits.

These pieces were provided for the sake of review, but there was no obligation nor expectation of a feature. All opinions and content are my own.

Munch Madness

Considering the fervor surrounding Superbowl festivities and all associated opportunities for eating and drinking, it’s surprising that little of that enthusiasm seems to carry over for March Madness. Speaking as an uninformed observer, it strikes me as an even more promising excuse to indulge, being spread out over a number of weeks with numerous chances to try new celebratory snacks. It’s hard to resist the classics, especially when you have limited time to pull out all the stops, but when you can dabble with different recipes for each match, even fair-weather sports fans can get into the spirit. That’s where I come in.

Top picks for any appetizer bracket will always include dips. Guacamole is the reigning champ these days, but hummus, queso, artichoke and spinach, and good old salsa are definitely contenders. That said, my bet is going to the underdog this round, the old-school favorite that doesn’t get its fair due these days. Sour cream and onion has proven its worth in all variety of savory bites, though its influence usually ends at the dusty bag of potato chip crumbs.

More substantial than those thin crisps and less messy than any dipping situation, sour cream and onion arancini elevate the proven allium medley into a self-contained appetizer worthy of a special occasion. Whether or not that happens to include hollering at the TV while baskets are made or missed is entire up to you.

Jasmine rice, tender and aromatic, is my unconventional selection in this particular baked rice ball. Mahatma Rice sources the very best grains from Thailand; a commitment to quality that’s evident in every bite. Naturally, it pairs brilliantly with Asian flavors, like the subtle nuances of lemongrass, cilantro, chilies, citrus, basil, and coconut milk, but is versatile enough to support any seasonings. Find Mahatma Jasmine Rice using their store locator, and your efforts will be paid off in spades of flavor.

Crisp on the outside, creamy and rich on the inside, you could be fooled into thinking that this was every bit as decadent as the original inspiration. Believe it or not, these arancini are actually baked, not fried, and pack a powerful punch of protein thanks to the addition of homemade tofu sour cream. Dehydrated onion flakes take the place of a breadcrumb coating, enhancing the allium aroma and lending a deeply toasted taste at the same time. You’ll even score some bonus points for having a naturally gluten-free option, too!

Whether or not you’re into basketball, you can’t lose with such delicious savory morsels on your team.

This post is sponsored by Mahatma Rice, but all content and opinions are entirely my own.

Sour Cream and Onion Arancini

1 1/4 Cups Mahatma Jasmine Rice
2 1/2 Cups Reduced Sodium Vegetable Stock
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Large Yellow Onion, Diced
3 Cloves Garlic, Minced
3/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Cup Nutritional Yeast
1 Tablespoon Onion Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1/2 Teaspoon Dijon Mustard
1/3 Cup Pureed Silken Tofu*
1/4 Cup Mochiko (Glutinous Rice Flour)
3 Scallions, Thinly Sliced
1/4 Cup Mochiko (Glutinous Rice Flour)
1/2 Cup Dehydrated Onion Flakes

*Depending on preference and availability, you could substitute Greek-style vegan yogurt instead.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with a silpat or parchment paper.

Combine the rice and vegetable stock in a medium saucepan over moderate heat. Cover and bring to a rapid boil. Reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer, and cook for 15 – 18 minutes, until all the liquid has absorbed and the rice is tender. Keep covered to finish steaming and set aside.

Meanwhile, place a medium skillet over moderate heat on the stove and begin the warm the olive oil. Once shimmering, add the onion and garlic, stirring periodically. Season with salt and continue to saute for another 10 – 15 minutes, until aromatic and lightly golden brown. Transfer to the pot of rice.

Mix in the nutritional yeast, onion powder, black pepper, lemon juice, mustard, silken tofu, and scallions next, stirring thoroughly to make sure that the seasonings are evenly distributed throughout. Add in the mochiko last.

When the rice is cool enough to handle, use an ice cream scoop and lightly moistened hands to roll out approximately 1/4 cup of the mixture for each arancini. Toss gently in the onion flakes, pressing lightly to adhere and completely coat the outsides. Place the finished arancini on the sheet pan and lightly spray all over with oil.

Bake for 20 – 25 minutes, until golden brown and crisp.

Makes 16 – 18 Arancini

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Irish Canons of Taste

What could be more Irish than potatoes and cabbage, when it comes to cuisine, at least? So beloved is the classic colcannon that it was historically greeted by song, praised for its simple, buttery charm. Although most frequently enjoyed during Halloween celebrations back in the olden days, today, this time-honored side dish has come to symbolize the culinary genius of the Emerald Isle whenever St. Patrick’s Day rolls around.

For a delicious twist on the Irish staple, mashed broccoli and cauliflower join forces with kale, cabbage, and horseradish in this harmonious family reunion. They’re all cruciferous vegetables, and all pitch-perfect when singing together as a modern ode to the old-fashioned spud. It will be hard to go back to plain old mashed potatoes once this fresh blend has graced your table.

Cruciferous Colcannon
From Real Food, Really Fast by Hannah Kaminsky

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Cups Stemmed and Chopped Kale*
2 Cups Shredded Savoy or Green Cabbage
3 Scallions, Thinly Sliced
1/2 Pound Frozen Cauliflower, Thawed
1/2 Pound Frozen Broccoli, Thawed
1/4 Cup Vegetable Stock
1 Tablespoon Nutritional Yeast
2 Teaspoons Freshly Grated Horseradish
3/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/8 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
Vegan Butter, to Serve (Optional)

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the kale and cabbage in handfuls, stirring until wilted down enough to comfortably accommodate all the green. Toss in the scallions and sauté for two more minutes to soften. Introduce the cauliflower and broccoli next, along with the vegetable stock. Cook for 4 – 5 minutes, until the vegetables are fork-tender.

Remove the vegetables from the heat and roughly mash with a potato masher. Add in the nutritional yeast, horseradish, salt, and nutmeg, stirring, folding, and mashing until the whole mixture is completely combined, creamy, and well-seasoned. Transfer to a serving dish and for an extra indulgent finishing touch, top with thick pat of vegan butter melting luxuriously over the whole mound.

Makes 3–4 Servings

*Quick Tip: You can even use frozen kale! Check your local grocery store’s freezer section, and you might be happily surprised about the abundance of prepared greens stashed away amidst the typical vegetable options. To keep things fresh and exciting, consider mixing up the greens; spinach is always a solid option.

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