In the Palm of My Hands

Glowing like a bold orange beacon in my kitchen, the allure was irresistible. Undeniably handsome, complex yet versatile, and as rich as Croesus, this new infatuation had all the makings of a wild, illicit love affair. Uninformed outsiders would find it shocking or downright offensive, but the truth is far less controversial than gossip may lead you to believe. Palm oil sourced from Malaysia has a lot to offer for the passionate cook, baker, and eater alike.

Mom’s Meet provided me with the opportunity to dig deeper on this topic, shining a light on an incredible ingredient often overlooked by the average American shopper. Malaysian palm oil is sustainably sourced, committed to orangutan conservation, wildlife biodiversity, renewable energy with zero waste, and deforestation avoidance.

Being a tropical oil that’s solid at room temperature, most comparisons are drawn to the latest superfood darling, coconut oil. Aside from the obvious differences in color and flavor, palm oil distinguishes itself in its versatility, with a smoke point of 450 degrees, far beyond that of coconut oil’s 350-degree limit. That makes it excellent for high-heat preparations like frying, grilling, or broiling. Melting at around 70 degrees, the fact that it remains solid at room temperature makes it an excellent substitute for harmful trans-fats in commercial products.

If you thought coconut oil had the movie theater popcorn game on lock, be prepared for a snacking revolution here. Brilliantly buttery yet still mild in flavor, all it needs is a pinch of salt to make bare kernels shine brighter than any rising star on the silver screen.

Once liquefied, Malaysian palm oil can even be emulsified into a golden vinaigrette. Inspired by the Sweet & Spicy Harissa Slaw in Real Food, Really Fast, I tossed my fiery blend with a dab of this orange elixir instead, which was received with positively glowing reviews. That glorious color comes from an abundance of carotenoids, by the way, bearing 15 times more vitamin A than the carrots themselves.

Lest you thought I was ignoring my sweet tooth this whole time, rest assured that rigorous testing proved it a highly qualified applicant for baking operations. Chocolate chip cookies came out of the oven soft, moist, tender, and quite beautiful, if I do say so myself. Sink your teeth into one of these behemoths for a healthier taste of a childhood classic, no dairy nor eggs in sight.

For my final trick, I must admit that my attempt at making a nut-free cheese went terribly awry, but in the wake of that failure came an even greater culinary coup…

Cultured butter, infused with both probiotics and luscious flavor, creamy and spreadable, meltable, and downright delectable. No dairy, no nuts, no gluten, no nonsense. I couldn’t keep it in the fridge long enough to test it on loftier goals like homemade croissants or puff pastry, because with just one smear on the average ear of corn or slice of toast, I was hooked. This recipe alone is enough reason to deviate from the typical shopping list and stock up on a new pantry staple.

Malaysian palm oil deserves a place in every kitchen across the globe, including yours. Undoubtedly, you’ve eaten it before in packaged foods or used it in cosmetics, but have you cooked or baked with it? With a sustainable source close at hand, unleash your adventurous side and try a splash in your next succulent creation.

Palm Oil Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 Cup + 2 Tablespoons All Purpose Flour
3/4 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Cup Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
1/4 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1/4 Cup Maple Syrup
1/3 Cup Red Palm Oil, Melted
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with either parchment paper or a silpat.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt so that all of the dry goods are evenly distributed throughout the mixture. Add in the chocolate chips and toss to coat.

Separately, combine the sugar, maple syrup, melted palm oil, and vanilla. Stir well, and then add the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry. Using a wide spatula, mix just enough to bring the batter together smoothly without over-beating it. Use a 3-ounce ice cream scoop to portion out cookies, and place them with at least 1 1/2 between each cookie on your prepared baking sheet. They spread out to become sizable cookies, so I usually bake about 9 per sheet.

Flatten them out slightly with lightly moistened hands, and bake for 10 – 12 minutes, until barely browned around the edges and no longer shiny on top. They may looks a bit underdone, but they will continue to bake once removed from the oven, and you want to keep them nice and chewy. Let the cookies rest on the sheets for 10 minutes before cooling completely on a wire rack.

Makes 6 – 8 Large Cookies

Printable Recipe

Cultured Butter

1/2 Cup Plain, Unsweetened Vegan Yogurt
1/4 Cup Aquafaba
1 Tablespoon White Miso Paste
1 Teaspoon Nutritional Yeast
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup Red Palm Oil, Melted

Place all of the ingredients into your blender except for the palm oil, and blend until thoroughly combined. While allowing the motor to run on high speed, slowly drizzle in the melted palm oil, allowing the mixture to emulsify smoothly.

Transfer the mixture to a glass container and cover. Let it solidify in the fridge for at least 6 hours, or the freezer for 1.

The butter will be soft and spreadable straight out of the fridge. It melts beautifully and you can cook with it, too! I haven’t yet tested it for baking, but if you do, let me know about it in the comment section.

Properly sealed and chilled, the butter should keep in the fridge for up to two weeks.

Printable Recipe

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Flavor Your Life

It’s one of the most common cooking staples across the globe, found in even the most sparsely populated pantries and in the hands of extraordinarily reluctant cooks. Olive oil’s ubiquity is owed in large part to its accessibility, as a vast number of brands have become available in recent years. Such a vast range of options should immediately suggest that not all oils are created equal, yet few shoppers pause to think about the origin of those original fruits before popping a sleek new bottle into their carts. For such a beloved, indispensable ingredient, there sure is still an overwhelming amount of misinformation out there.

Inspired by the Flavor Your Life campaign, supported by the European Union, Unaprol, and the Italian Ministry of Agriculture, the goal of debunking common misconceptions resonated with me in a powerful way. Moms Meet provided a bottle of Zucchi Extra Virgin Olive Oil to demonstrate the difference, but I’ve long been a devotee of quality European olive oils even without that delicious perk.

Let’s not beat around the olive tree, and get down to business. It’s time to talk about the top olive oil myths that need to be put to rest, once and for all:

You can’t fry with it.

Contrary to the single most frequently perpetuated false fact, olive oil has a 400-degree smoke point and can hold up beautifully (and tastefully) to the task of deep frying. Raising the heat beyond that temperature will only result in burnt food no matter the carrier, so keep a thermometer clipped to the pot, tend it carefully, and your taste buds will be rewarded.

Only extra-virgin will work in dressings.

Though there is a drop of truth in that statement, extra-virgin is merely a title bestowed to the very top grade of oil, cold pressed; extracted without heat or chemicals. That isn’t to say that other grades are of any lower quality. If anything, their flavor has a lower impact, which might actually be a welcome quality if your vinaigrette has bold seasonings that would otherwise obliterate the delicate nuances of a top grade oil. On the reverse side of the spectrum, this more neutral palate could be a benefit for baked goods where you don’t want such a savory note to shine though.

Kept in a dark, cool place, it should keep pretty much indefinitely.

Those volatile oils would beg to differ! Like any other fresh food, it should be refrigerated, and for no more than 6 – 8 months, ideally. It does go rancid at room temperature, although most people are so accustomed to using sub-par varieties, they may not realize the truly superlative, ephemeral nature of the genuine article.

Terroir is only for wine.

Extra-virgin is top shelf quality, but bottles bearing that designation manifest that grade through a wide spectrum of flavors. The greatest contributors to taste are the types of olive trees (cultivar), the region (which affects climate and soil) and time of harvest. Early in the harvest season, under-ripe fruits produce oils that are greener, more bitter and pungent. By contrast, olives harvested towards the end of season are over-ripe, resulting in a more mild, sweet, and buttery character. Other variables can yield oils that skew more nutty, peppery, grassy, floral, and beyond.

Considering the incredibly varied range of options being produced in all corners of the European continent, this is just the tip of the iceberg. A full education on this essential ingredient can be gleaned with just a dash of culinary curiosity, and a pinch of knowledge from the Flavor Your Life campaign. Eating better starts with cooking better, and there’s no substitute for quality components.

Powered By Plants

Meet the new “power lunch,” and breakfast and dinner, too. Before you reach for the takeout menus, reach to your bookshelf, pull out Gena Hamshaw‘s latest masterwork, Power Plates, and you’ll undoubtedly discover a meal that’s far tastier, healthier, and just as fast as delivery.

It’s not rocket science, which is exactly what good food is supposed to be. Gena works from her background as a certified nutritionist to compose balanced meals across the board, which means a solid serving of protein, carbs, and fats, of course, but steers away from complex meal plans or confusing macros.

Arguably more important from an eater’s standpoint, that same approach to crafting dishes with a complementary range of elements extends to the overall flavor; spicy, sweet, and savory tastes all meld together harmoniously for that perfect balance in every bite.

Pulling from everyday staples you probably already have in the kitchen, there are no obscure ingredients that will have you running all over creation to hunt down. Case in point, the moment this glossy new text landed on my doorstep, I flipped through those crisp pages and immediately set about preparing the first recipe that jumped out at me. Apple Ginger Muesli, a cold but bold counterpoint to the usual breakfast oatmeal, was both a hearty and invigorating morning meal. Emphasizing a diverse range of textures with crunchy almonds, tender apples, and creamy oats, there wasn’t a boring spoonful from start to finish. Some sort of strange alchemy occurs by letting the mixture sit overnight, transforming the blend into something elevated beyond the mere sum of its parts. This will no doubt become an indispensable breakfast especially as the weather grows warmer.

Speaking of warm weather, I can’t wait for picnic season when I can bust out this Zucchini Pesto Pasta Salad for al fresco dining. In all honesty though, you could just as easily serve this dish hot without detracting from its herbaceous charm. The pesto alone is a keeper, an ideal blend of fresh basil and walnuts, with a touch of nutritional yeast for that extra savory something. You could spread it on toast (or even cardboard for that matter) and be just as happy.

Soup is my go-to quick fix when I don’t have a plan for dinner or much to pull from the fridge, which is why the Lemony Lentil Soup was an easy win. Although originally written with an addition of kale, I made a quick substitution with frozen spinach with great success. No need to go grocery shopping and nearly instant gratification! Bright citrus perks up the standard stew, a small tweak on a familiar theme that yield a big flavor payoff. Thank goodness I always keep lentils on hand, since this is one that I want to eat on repeat, and I have a feeling that you will, too.

New cooks should find the instructions approachable, infused with Gena’s warmth and no-nonsense advice. Those with more experience should take inspiration in their unpretentious sensibility, with an eye to seasonal, fresh combinations. Nothing in here screams “VEGAN” from the rooftops; it’s just delicious, and just so happens to be plant-based.

Having had the pleasure of photographing her earlier cookbook, Choosing Raw, I expected delicious compositions with thoughtful, sage advice, but these results exceed my lofty expectations. Each beautifully illustrated page sparkles with potential, promising nothing short of a stellar experience in every meal. It would be a crime to keep such a treasure to myself, which is why I’m thrilled to share a copy of Power Plates with one lucky reader! To enter this giveaway, get the details below, and let me know in the comment section which recipe(s) jump out at you first. Do you have a game plan together to hit the ground cooking? You’ll want to be ready, since even a casual glance through this cookbook will make you hungry.

Power Plates Cookbook Giveaway

In case you’re already clamoring to get into the kitchen and start cooking, I don’t blame you. Gena has kindly stepped in to help soothe those hunger pains by providing her recipe for that stellar lentil soup I enjoyed so much. Bon appetite!

LEMONY LENTIL SOUP WITH MUSHROOMS AND KALE

I usually add more than the suggested amount of lemon juice to this highly nutritious soup, but that’s because I’m a lemon fiend. No matter how much lemon juice you add, this soup is packed with plant protein and wholesome ingredients and will do your body good.

MAKES 6 SERVINGS

1 1⁄2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large white or yellow onion, chopped
4 carrots, peeled and diced
2 stalks celery, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
8 ounces (225 g) white mushrooms, sliced
Salt
1 1⁄2 teaspoons dried thyme
1⁄2 teaspoon dried rosemary
1⁄4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1⁄2 cups (300 g) dried green, brown, or French green lentils
4 cups (950 ml) low-sodium vegetable broth
2 cups (475 ml) water
1 small bunch kale, stemmed and chopped
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots, and celery and
cook, stirring occasionally, for 8 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Stir in the garlic, mushrooms, and a generous pinch of salt. Cover and cook for 5 minutes, until the mushrooms are tender and have released their juices.

Stir in 1⁄2 teaspoon salt and the thyme, rosemary, pepper, and lentils, then pour in the broth and water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat, cover partially, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes, until the lentils are tender but not mushy. Stir in the kale, cover, and cook for 10 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice, then taste and adjust the seasonings if desired. Serve piping hot.

Reprinted with permission from Power Plates, copyright © 2018 by Gena Hamshaw. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

Not-So-Secret Supper Club

There’s no sign out front. No two menus are ever the same. Walk-ins are not accepted. One would be hard pressed to call this arrangement a “restaurant” by the traditional definition, and yet the chef plays to a rapt audience, selling out tickets for almost every dining session. Bay area natives will likely know this poorly kept “secret” supper club well, striking up the band with Sound & Savor for over 13 years now. My first experience in this elusive underground establishment left a lasting memory, filled with the warmth of community as well as good food, and I’ve been hooked ever since. Attending dinners and classes almost as often as they’re offered, Chef Philip Gelb and I became fast friends in the process.

Known as much for his confidence with spice as his finesse with more delicate flavors, Phil has a style that doesn’t fit well into any predefined category, unafraid to cook to his own beat. Now he’s sharing that same approach with voracious eaters abroad, with the release of Vegan Underground: Improvisations on World Cuisines.

The contents transcend superficial cultural boundaries, seamlessly merging the defining characteristics of multiple distinctive cuisines into a brand new culinary adventure. Venturing boldly into unexplored territory, these recipes remain approachable, familiar for their original roots, recalling all the best flavor notes from high to low.

From Trinidad doubles to fiery mapo tofu, crispy fried okra to pistachio-walnut ice cream, the diverse range of delicious options promises appetizing options for all palates. Ramen remains a particular favorite of mine, and it’s a true pleasure to finally see other perennial crowd-pleasers like the green gazpacho and polenta peach cake in print.

Capturing the photos for this fresh compilation, I was lucky enough to experience these meals in person, as cooked by the master, but I can vouch for this home cook’s translation as well. Since not everyone, locals included, are lucky enough to snag seats for these limited engagements, I’m absolutely thrilled to give away a copy of Vegan Underground to four readers! Enter through August 10th by commenting below: Have you ever been to an “underground” restaurant, or have you dreamed of starting your own? Tell me about your experiences and ideas! Log your submission on the official giveaway page, and find additional ways to improve your odds there, too.

For as many cookbooks flood the marketplace every year, there are none that can match the creativity and sheer passion found within these pages. You won’t find Vegan Underground in mainstream bookstores or on Amazon.com, so don’t miss your chance to own a copy today.

Flipping Over Pancakes

The greatest traditions of excess are born from their polar opposites, of fasts or famines, celebrating, repenting, or simply surviving. Shrove Tuesday carries that torch with unmatched enthusiasm, having evolved into an unrestrained eating and drinking bender, theoretically in preparation for the 40-day Lenten fast ahead. Pancakes are the star of the menu because historically, the fresh eggs and milk already on hand would spoil during that time of abstention, so the only reasonable thing to do would be to make massive amounts of flapjacks and throw a huge party, naturally. How this simple predisposition to thriftiness evolved into the revelry and debauchery of modern day Mardi Gras is a whole ‘nother story.

Those same concerns of preventing food waste certainly aren’t of primary concern for current festivities, but the universal love of pancakes has kept the practice alive. A simple sort of decadence, pancakes are as easy and uncomplicated as they come, making themselves right at home on the fanciest and unfussiest of tables alike. Regardless, it always feels like a special occasion when diving into a fluffy short stack, buttery and sticky with maple syrup. Despite their humble nature, countless cooks still find the prospect of flipping the perfect pancake rather daunting- Myself included. My own personal pancake disasters are too numerous to recount, but particularly infamous misadventures include scrambled pancakes, pancakes that are both raw and burnt at the same time, and pancakes flipped perfectly… Outside of the pan and literally into the fire.

For this Pancake Tuesday, I decided to seek advice from a master. Sitting myself down at Saturn Cafe with full view of the open kitchen, a few key elements for pancake perfection became clear.

1. Consistency matters. This means two things, actually: The viscosity of the batter is essential for the right texture. Too runny and you’ll get crepes. Too thick and you’ll get doorstops. Your best bet is a ratio of approximately equal parts liquid to flour by weight. The other component to this concept is that you should be consistent in your delivery. Use a ladle or measuring cup to dose out the same amount of batter every time, and space them an equal distance apart. Don’t forget to allow sufficient space to flip!

2. Take it slow. Pancakes already cook quickly so there’s no need to rush things. Keep the heat closer to medium-low to prevent them from burning on the outside before cooked all the way through. Look for the surface to be covered in ruptured bubbles before proceeding.

3. Add in, don’t mix in. Goodies like nuts, fruits, and chocolate chips are often the spotlight ingredients of truly decadent pancakes, but like any celebrities, they should arrive fashionably late to the party. Mix-ins stirred directly into the batter with sink to the bottom, creating some scantily clad pancakes. Wait until they’re about halfway done cooking before sprinkling your starlets on top, keeping them evenly distributed and at the center of attention.

4. Keep it on the down-low. When it comes time for the dreaded flip, don’t try anything fancy. Don’t expect to toss those little flapjacks in the air like pizza dough and don’t pretend that you can flick the pan forward to succeed without a spatula. Check to make sure that they’re ready by peeking underneath first. If the bottom is evenly golden brown, you’re good to go. Make sure the spatula is completely underneath and supporting the cake and keep it as close to the pan as possible when you turn it over. Be firm but gentle. Don’t slap it down forcefully, unless you’d like to redecorate your kitchen walls with raw batter.

If you have flour in the pantry, you could have pancakes for breakfast. The most basic formulas need little more than that to yield ambrosial breakfast treats, to dress up or down as your heart desires. There’s no reason to wait until Fat Tuesday rolls around to break out the skillet, but while we’re all throwing caution to the wind and pouring the syrup on thick, you might as well take advantage of the celebration to indulge.