BitterSweet

Sweet Musings with a Bitterly Sharp Wit


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Dip, Dip, Hooray

In the battle for snack supremacy, the competition is fierce, but a few front runners have emerged from the pack. Potential winners are obvious from any vantage point in the bleachers, if you just take a moment to look at the odds. Think back and try to remember the last time you attended a decent party that didn’t have a bottomless bowlful of hummus on display, for starters. And what would Taco Tuesday be without nacho cheese in ample supply- Maybe just Tortilla Tuesday? All bets are off when it comes to picking a winner between the two, but I think I have a solution that neither side would see as a compromise.

Nacho hummus, bearing all the cheesy, spicy decadence of a good queso dip with the more substantial heft of a chickpea spread. The two rivals complement and contrast one another with surprising ease, a natural union that has been long overdue.

Whether you smear it in a pita, thin it out to drizzle on corn chips, or just set it out with cut vegetable crudites and let the crowd go wild, it’s a fool-proof formula deserving of a gold medal.

Nacho Hummus

1 14-Ounce Can (or 1 1/2 Cups Cooked) Chickpeas, Drained and Rinsed
1/2 Red Pepper, Seeded and Roasted, Chopped
1/3 Cup Nutritional Yeast
1 Tablespoon Tomato Paste
1 Chipotle Pepper Packed in Adobo Sauce
1 Clove Garlic, Chopped
1/4 Cup Lemon Juice
3 Tablespoons Tahini
1 Teaspoon Dijon Mustard
1 Teaspoon Onion Powder
3/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
1/4 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
1/4 – 3/4 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
1/4 – 1/3 Cup Olive Oil
Thinly Sliced Scallions, to Garnish (Optional)

Like any other hummus variant, this dip couldn’t be easier or quicker to prepare. Toss the chickpeas, roasted red pepper, tomato paste, chipotle, and garlic, and lemon juice into your food processor. Pulse to being breaking down the ingredients and pause to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add in the tahini, mustard, and all the seasonings and spices, starting with just 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne.

Puree, and while the motor is running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil, until the mixture is silky-smooth and it reaches your desired consistency. If you’d like it to be more of a sauce than a spread, follow that with water or vegetable stock, as needed. Adjust the spice level to taste.

Top with sliced scallions and dip the day away!

Makes 6 – 10 Servings as an Appetizer

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Dig In

Unless referring to the planet itself, “earthy” is a descriptor of dubious praise. Much like the ambiguous label of “interesting,” such a word can be interpreted in many ways- Mostly negative. Mushrooms and beets can be earthy, and for as fervently as their fan clubs will tout the word as praise, their detractors just as quickly adopt it as evidence for their disdain. Telling someone to “eat dirt,” is a fairly clear insult, on the other hand, although I have no qualms recommending charcoal, ash, or lava for your next meal. Still, the mental imagery of picking up a handful of soil and chowing down inevitably leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth.

This was the war of words I battled when agonizing on this new recipe’s title. Designed as a celebration of spring, gardening, and new growth, the original title was simply “Dirt Dip.” The dirty truth of the matter is that each distinctive strata was inspired by nature; worms, dirt, pebbles, and grass. Appetizing, right? Perhaps honesty is not the best policy here. Let’s start over.

Bursting forth with vibrant flavors ideal for celebrating the vernal equinox, I present to you my layered garden party dip. A base of savory caramelized onions sets a deeply umami foundation upon which this dynamic quartet is built. Fresh lemon and mint mingle just above in a creamy yet chunky black bean mash. Briny black olive tapenade accentuates these bold flavors, adding an addictive salty note that makes it impossible to resist a double-dip. Sealing the deal is a fine shower of snipped chives, lending a mellow onion note to bring all the layers together. Make sure you really dig in deep to get a bite of each one!

4-Layer Garden Party Dip

Caramelized Onions:

1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Large Red Onion, Halved and Thinly Sliced
Salt and Pepper, to Taste

Lemon-Mint Black Bean Dip:

1 15-Ounce Can (or 1 1/2 Cups Cooked) Black Beans, Drained and Rinsed
3 Cloves Roasted Garlic
1 Tablespoon Lemon Zest
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
3 Tablespoon Fresh Mint, Finely Chopped
1/2 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper

Tapenade:

1 Cup Pitted Black Olives
1 Tablespoon Capers
1 Clove Garlic
1 Tablespoon Red Wine Vinegar
1 Tablespoon Fresh Parsley, Chopped

Garnish:

1/2 – 1 Ounce Fresh Chives, Finely Chopped

The caramelized onions will take the longest to prepare, so get them cooking first by setting a large skillet over medium heat. Add the oil and sliced onion, tossing to coat. Once the pan is hot and the onions become aromatic, turn down the heat to low and slowly cook, stirring occasionally, for 30 – 45 minutes until deeply amber brown. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Remove the pan from the heat and let cool.

Meanwhile, make the bean dip by either tossing everything into your food processor and pulsing until fairly creamy and well-combined, or mashing the ingredients together in a large bowl by hand. You want to leave the dip fairly coarse for a more interesting texture, so stop short of a smooth puree if using the machine.

The tapenade is made just as easily. Either pulse all of the components together in your food processor or chop them by hand, until broken down and thoroughly mixed.

Finally, to assemble the dip, select a glass container to enjoy the full effect of your work. Smooth the caramelized onions into the bottom in an even layer, followed by the bean dip and then the tapenade. Sprinkle chives evenly all over the top. Serve at room temperature or chilled, with cut vegetable crudites, crackers, or chips.

The dip can be prepared in advance if stored in an air-tight container in the fridge, for up to a week.

Makes 8 – 10 Servings

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Spread Hope

Once relatively unheard of in the US, the popularity of hummus has risen to astronomic new heights within the condiment hierarchy. Now rivaling longtime champions ketchup and salsa for top honors, it’s more noteworthy when you can’t find this beloved dip at any establishment selling food. No where is the craze made clearer than in the mainstream marketplace, where even corner store bodegas are likely to carry at least one or two brands. For that matter, there’s a good chance you can even scrounge up a package of the creamy chickpea puree at your local drug store, right alongside the emergency rations of plain saltine crackers and white bread. It’s impossible to escape, as if anyone would ever want to, but such an overwhelming abundance of options does make it challenging to weed out the winners and losers in the field.

Hope Hummus sets itself apart from the pack by blending up unique yet approachable flavors that offer a delicious departure from the average bean dip. Sure, there’s still the austere plain and garlic options for the traditionalist, providing a solid standby for the pickiest palates, but greater gustatory adventures await the more intrepid eater. Heat things up with Thai Coconut Curry or Sriracha hummus, or explore new territory entirely with sweet Dark Chocolate hummus.

Though I can’t claim to have experienced the full range of inventive combinations, it’s only a matter of time before I can hunt them down, since my initial experiences have proven so gratifying. Picking favorites is never easy, but I need to give a special shout out to the Kale Pesto hummus, which combines everyone’s favorite leafy green superfood with basil pesto, lending vibrant, fresh flavor to this coarse blend. Primed for any party platter, it also strikes me as a promising candidate for enlivening creamy pasta sauce or topping a bowlful of piping hot tomato soup. Speaking of hot, Spicy Avocado hummus lights a smoldering savory flavor with piquant jalapeno peppers, tempered by creamy avocado. Though not nearly a five-alarm fire, it certainly boasted a well-defined spice that would appease any heat seekers in the crowd.

In this booming category, surprisingly few variations can be found on the classic staple, despite increasing demands. Hope Hummus is one company clearly thinking outside the plastic tub while always emphasizing high quality, organic ingredients. For a quick fix snack, consider branching out and trying their fresh twists on hummus next time.


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Lox of Love

Old Man Winter sure doesn’t fight fair, unafraid to hit below the belt and then kick you when you’re down. Dirty tricks are just half of the relentless assault, adding in mind games that could soften anyone’s resolve to the consistency of over-boiled ramen noodles. Surely, one would think that by the last day of March, spring would have been able to fend off this attack, but the snow currently accumulating on top of the delicate, freshly sprouted crocuses would say otherwise. The month is going out like a lion, indeed.

Beaten and bruised, I officially accept defeat. Winter can continue its reign of terror as long as it doesn’t stop me from dreaming about spring. Let’s forget about the weather, planning instead for the garden parties and spring celebrations that are sure to come. Demanding lighter fare, fresher flavors, and easy offerings to share with any number of hungry guests, the classic brunch spread is where my thoughts wander first. Bagels, cream cheese, and lox are the anchor of this idyllic vision, a taste preference that could arguably have been genetically inherited from both of my Jewish parents. Despite the great advances in vegan food technology, fish have remained largely out of reach, residing only in fantasies… and sometimes a kelp-infused tofu patty that tastes of little more than soybeans and sadness.

Until now.

Sophie’s Kitchen, innovators of numerous frozen fishless delights, has the answer to every pescatarian’s dilemma. As soon as I caught wind of this unrivaled smoked salmon offering, I scoured the stores, only to turn up nothing for months on end. It still eludes me in the open marketplace, but I was lucky enough to score a few packages through my mother’s co-op. Despite being so pricy and difficult to find, the positives far outweigh the negatives, beginning with the high fiber content and soy-free ingredients.

What really matters though is the taste, and let me assure you that it doesn’t fall short. Incredibly, unbelievably, it could truly pass for fish, at least by my inexperienced palate. Woodsy, smoky overtones define these thin sheets, with subtle oceanic notes adding in a touch of realism. Lovely striations embellish the peachy rectangles, presenting beautifully to even the most discerning artistic eye. I’d like to believe that it could almost fool one into believing it came from a new breed of square fish. Satisfyingly rich, with a realistic oily sheen, this salmon substitute has the same bouncy, slippery texture as Sophie’s Kichen’s other konjac creations; not quite authentic, but more than passable, especially when eaten in other recipes or loaded onto a toasted bagel with the works.

Though I would have happily scarfed down my entire cache of smoky, savory slices in the aforementioned bagel assembly, such a rare treasure demanded further experimentation. Harkening back to the classic fish spreads of yore, a creamy base proves to be the perfect foil for these alternative smoky, salty strips as well. Load up a platter with chips and cut vegetables, and I promise that it will be the first thing to go, no matter how discerning the crowd. Beyond the party setting, it’s truly stellar in sandwiches, running circles around the tired old tuna salad.

On the other hand, this dip is a versatile ally, capable of dressing up with great aplomb should the situation demand. Pipe that salmon spread into neatly carved cucumber cups and top with vegan caviar, and no one will be able to contain their awe. Trust me: If you need a recipe to impress, it doesn’t get any better than this.

Fish-Free Smoked Salmon Dip

1 12-Ounce Package Extra-Firm Silken Tofu
3 Tablespoons Tahini
2 Tablespoons Rice Vinegar
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon White Miso Paste
1 Tablespoon Nutritional Yeast
1 4-Ounce Package Sophie’s Kitchen Vegan Smoked Salmon
2 Tablespoons Fresh Chopped Dill
1 – 2 Scallions, Thinly Sliced
1/2 Teaspoon Lemon Zest
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper

Thoroughly drain the tofu before tossing it into your food processor along with the tahini, vinegar, oil, miso, and nutritional yeast. Puree until completely smooth, pausing to scrape down the sides of the bowl with your spatula to ensure to all the ingredients get incorporated. Make sure that there are no chunks of tofu hiding below the blade before proceeding.

Separate the smoked salmon slices and add them to the mixture, pulsing the machine to break the pieces down but not entirely blend them. You want to leave some texture here, keeping the pieces about the same size as grains of rice. Finally, introduce the fresh herbs, zest, and pepper, stirring them in by hand. The salmon slices are fairly salty as it is, so you shouldn’t need to add extra salt.

Transfer the spread to an air-tight container and chill for at least 2 hours before serving. Refrigerated, it should keep for up to a week.

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Two Great Tastes That Taste Great Together

Now where did I put that recipe? My filing system is hardly fool-proof, and probably completely incomprehensible to anyone other than me, but rarely do I lose recipes entirely. All works in progress are always digital, at least, so there aren’t a hundred scraps of splattered and stained paper piled high on tables or shoved into desk drawers. Most are now carefully organized into the graciously all-inclusive cloud, always searchable and instantly backed up, putting my anxious mind at ease. That’s why it’s confounding when things still slip through the cracks, despite the care taken to prevent such disasters. Misplacing a recipe for something as stunningly delicious as this hummus recipe, for example, was nearly a snacking tragedy.

Dramatic words indeed, but this particular mash-up of both that beloved garbanzo bean spread and cool, creamy cucumber tzatziki exceeded even my own expectations from the very first batch. Lighter and fresher than the typical dip, crisp cucumbers added textural contrast so often missing from hummus. Zesty lemon and dill brightened the flavor profile considerably, imparting an unmistakably summery flavor, even if made in the heart of winter. I had made it numerous times before and thought for sure that such a winning savory delight must have surely made it on the blog already. Searching through the archives turned up precisely zero matches though, much to my growing fear, and the hunt was on. Nope, not in the aforementioned cloud. Not on the laptop. Not on the external hard drive. Not even published anywhere- Which it truly deserved to be. How could I let something as wonderful as that hummus go extinct?

Dejectedly accepting that it was gone for good, it was only then that the recipe found me. Hiding in the darkest corner of the desktop computer, in a long forgotten file, there it sat, waiting patiently to see the light of day. Introductions are long overdue, but thank goodness you can finally meet the one that almost got away. Snatch up the recipe and save it well! After trying it just once, you’d feel the sting of longing if you misplaced it, too.

Hummiki (Hummus-Tzatziki)

1 6-Ounce Container (3/4 Cup) Plain, Unsweetened Soy Yogurt
1 15-Ounce Can (1 3/4 Cup) Chickpeas, Drained and Rinsed
2 Large Cloves Roasted Garlic
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
Zest and Juice of 1/2 Lemon
1 Tablespoon Chopped Fresh Dill
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
Salt and Pepper
1 Cup Seeded and Finely Diced Cucumber

Toss all of the ingredients into your trusty food processor or blender, except for the cucumber, and puree thoroughly, until silky-smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed to get everything mixed in, and give the machine ample time to blend. For the best consistency, it may take as long as 5 – 10 minutes, so be patient. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Stir in the chopped cucumber by hand, and chill for at least 2 hours before serving for the best flavor. It will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week… If you can resist eating it all long before then.

Makes 3 1/2 – 4 Cups

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When Food Bites Back

Eggplant, my dear, you are one cruel mistress. I’ve professed my love to you time and again, but nothing will tame your harsh bite; the most delicate preparations or careful peeling does little to lessen the fire. I’ve come to realize that it’s honestly not you, eggplant darling, but me. The burning sensation that inflames my whole mouth, throat, and stomach, comparable to an intense and wide-spread heartburn, is the sign of an intolerance.

Given the prevalence of food allergies, and allergies in general, I’ve been incredibly lucky. I can eat my gluten with gusto, and relish my peanut butter-smeared apple slices, unlike many Americans these days. Complaining about something so mild as a slight discomfort when eating eggplant feels incredibly petty in comparison. It’s nothing life-threatening, does no permanent damage, but only removes a beloved vegetable from my diet. Admitting that though still stings a bit, too. Sometimes the pain will be worth it, and I’ll dive into that plate of spicy, garlicky, and meltingly tender Chinese eggplant anyway, but now that I’ve given it a name and told the internet about it, I may not be able to do so as easily anymore.

Not one to shy away from a challenge, once the brief mourning period passed I set to work devising ways to work around that purple nightshade. Closely linked in my mind, for their mild flesh and similar squash lineage, zucchini has now started vying for the title of “most popular vegetable” in my fridge these days.


Dishes provided by Steelite

Baba ganoush was my first introduction to eggplant, before I even knew what was in the mellow, smoky dip, and is still a top pick. Given that the squash would be mostly ground up, it seemed like a good test to see how my new zucchini friends would fare, replacing that original love. Anticipating from the get-go that nothing would ever replace those eggplant, or even come close, I was startled at my first taste. The simple addition of smoked salt helped to pick up the deeper, woodsier notes that the delicate flesh couldn’t replicate alone, and it made all the difference. With a flavor far closer that I could have hoped to come to the original inspiration, this mild but wonderfully savory, lightly roasted taste sensation gives me hope for life without eggplants.

I’ll admit to secretly holding out hope that the intolerance is just a passing phase, but until there’s actual evidence of that, I think I’ll get along just fine with my glorious, green zucchinis instead.

Zuke-anoush (Zucchini Baba Ganoush)

1 1/2 Pounds Zucchini (About 2 Large or 3 Medium)
6 – 8 Garlic Cloves, Separated From the Head but Not Peeled
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil, Plus Additional to Garnish
Pinch [Table] Salt and Black Pepper
3 Tablespoons Sesame Tahini
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
1/4 Teaspoon Applewood or Hickory Smoked Salt

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees, and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.

Slice the zucchini into 1/4-inch thick rounds, and toss them in the oil, salt and pepper until evenly coated. Lay them out in one even layer, with no pieces overlapping, on your prepared baking sheet. Place the whole cloves of garlic grouped in the center of the sheet so that they don’t burn. Roast for 30 minutes, until the zucchini are nicely browned. Let cool.

Once the vegetables have come to room temperature, peel the garlic cloves, and toss them into your food processor along with the roasted zucchini. Add in the tahini, lemon juice, cumin, and smoked salt. Pulse to combine, until you create a rough and chunky sort of paste. You don’t want it to be smooth, so err on the side of less processed if you’re not certain. It should only take about 5 – 10 one-second pulses, depending on your machine.

Transfer the finished dip into an air-tight container, and ideally let it cure in the fridge for at least 8 hours or overnight before serving. It’s delicious eaten immediately, but the flavors do meld and improve with a bit of time. Serve with an additional drizzle of olive oil over the top, if desired.

Makes 1 1/2 – 2 Cups

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Curry in a Hurry

Few fast-casual eateries can lay claim to formulating their own signature curry powder, creating a distinctive blend of both warming and sharp spices unique to the establishment. Naturally, Health in a Hurry is no typical grab-and-go place, despite having all the speed and ease of ordering there. Though far from the only spice blend that we utilize in the kitchen, it has captivated me with its subtle sweetness and mellow heat; an incredibly flavorful mixture without the harsh bite of more potent chilies. It’s what keeps our signature Lemon Curry Rice on the menu year round, and a perpetual best-seller, too. With so much spicy potential right within arm’s reach every time I came in to work, I couldn’t leave this one alone. Pinching off a small container of the powder with permission from the wonderful chef and owner, Sue Cadwell, I took to my own home kitchen and began to play.

Keeping it simple was the best course of action to allow the delicate balance of ingredients to really shine. Hummus, that perfect blank canvas and familiar friend, is an ideal way to showcase such an ingredient. Gentle enough to embrace the most timid of palates, a similarly sweet curry powder is key here. Though I can’t divulge the secret formula of spices ground and mixed in-house, there are plans in the works to make bottles of the finished blend available for purchase online. For the time being, go with your favorite homemade blend, or Madras curry powder.

PS, if you’re in the area, you can grab a half-off Groupon for another day and try out curry (and other seasonal dishes) first hand!

Curry in a Hurry Hummus

1 (15.5 Ounce) Can Chickpeas, Rinsed and Drained
1 Garlic Clove
1 Tablespoon Sweet Curry Powder, like Madras
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil, Divided
3 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon Tahini
1 – 2 Tablespoons Water
Salt, to taste
Fresh Parsley or Cilantro, Chopped

Measure out and reserve a tablespoon or two of the drained chickpeas for topping. Take the rest of the beans, along with the garlic, curry powder, and 2 tablespoons of the oil, and combine them in your food processor. Pulse until the beans are mostly broken down. Add in the lemon juice, tahini, 1 tablespoon of the water, and salt as needed. Puree thoroughly, pausing to scrape down the sides of the bowl occasionally to make sure everything is getting incorporated, until completely silky-smooth. To achieve the best texture, have patience; this could take 5 – 8 minutes. Add in the remaining tablespoon of water if the mixture seems too thick for your taste. Though best when allowed to sit and chill for at least 24 hours, the hummus is still quite delicious if served immediately.

Transfer the creamy puree to a serving bowl, and top with the reserved chickpeas, remaining tablespoon of oil, and chopped herbs. Finish with an additional light sprinkle of curry powder if desired.

Makes a Generous Pint (A Little Over 2 Cups)

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