Peace, Love, and Avocado for All

San Francisco is home to the original hippie, the flower child borne of the 1967 Summer of Love, though only faint traces of the counter culture movement remain today. Largely replaced by tech workers with smartphones in their pockets rather than floral ornaments in their hair, it disappoints me to no end that we don’t even have an outpost of Flower Child out in the bay area. Had it not been for a trip out to Austin, TX, I never would have even known of the peaceable chain.

During my whirlwind five-day visit, I managed to drop in not once, but twice; a real rarity for a food traveler with a bucket list of restaurants to eat at, not historical sights to see. Given more time, I might have simply taken up residence on those plush benches lining the walls instead of booking a proper hotel room. True to concept, the vibe is essential to the experience, setting it apart from other fast-casual dining experiences. Seeking harmony between all sorts of eaters, the menu is clearly labeled with abundant options for the vegetarians, vegans, gluten-free, and omnivorous among us.

Vegetable-forward dishes allow peak produce to shine, like the simple heirloom tomato salad spiked with balsamic vinegar and shreds of fresh basil strewn about like confetti. Crisp cubes of watermelon sweetly contrast and provide balance overall. A rotating list of seasonal sides offers other savory treats like roasted yuzu Brussels sprouts, blistered snap peas, or curried cauliflower, depending on the time of year.

Poke bowls are a rising food trend for good reason, especially evident when the concept is applied to a fishless main. Tender cubes of marinated beets join forces with lighted brined mushrooms, both salty and umami, with all the fatty decadence of avocado to drive the combination home. Crunchy wasabi peas are an unexpected touch of whimsy in this ode to whole foods. The spicy bites are a good reminder that healthy eating shouldn’t be boring, nor are those choices black and white.

If there was a signature dish at Flower Child, the Mother Earth Bowl would be the undisputed winner of that title. It’s the one that everyone talks about in newspapers, magazines, and blogs the world over, each source breathlessly extolling the virtues of its copious components. The appeal is obvious just from a glance at the bare ingredients; roasted sweet potato and portobello mushrooms, broccoli pesto, charred onions, avocado, and cucumber, all perched upon a bed of ancient grains and lavished with red pepper miso vinaigrette. It really is like having the whole world in a bowl before you.

While I can’t get those same chill vibes out in NorCal, the flower children in the kitchen were generous enough to spread the love with this harmonious secret formula.

Mother Earth Bowl
From Flower Child

6 ounces Super Grain Mix: red quinoa, farro, and barley, cooked and tossed.
2 ounces sweet potatoes, roasted
2 1/2 ounces Portobello Mushroom, roasted
½ ounces Arugula
1 teaspoon daikon sprouts
1 teaspoon rice wine vinaigrette
1 tablespoon broccoli pesto*
1 tablespoon red pepper miso marmalade*
2 tablespoons cucumber relish*
¼ avocado, fanned
1 teaspoon hemp seeds

Broccoli Pesto:
1 cup broccoli, blanched
4 ½ tablespoons black kale, blanched
2 ¼ tablespoons roasted salted pistachio
1 1/3 tablespoons spinach
1 teaspoon garlic
1 teaspoon mint leaves
1 ¼ teaspoons lemon zest
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
¼ tablespoon fresh ground black pepper
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons water

Red Pepper Miso Marmalade:
½ cup peppadew peppers, rough chopped
1 teaspoon garlic, rough chopped
2 teaspoons ginger, peeled & rough chopped
1 1/3 tablespoons miso paste
1 ½ tablespoons seasoned rice wine vinegar
3 teaspoons tamari
3 teaspoons grapeseed oil
1 ½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Cucumber Relish:
1 cup cucumbers, peeled, seeds removed, and ¼ dice
2 tablespoons. seasoned rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon evaporated cane sugar
2 teaspoon sesame chili oil
1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds
½ teaspoon mint leaves, minced
¼ teaspoon Kosher salt

Broccoli Pesto Directions
1. Combine all ingredients and blend until smooth and emulsified.

Red Pepper Miso Marmalade Directions
2. Combine all ingredients and blend until smooth and emulsified.

Cucumber Relish Directions
3. Combine all ingredients and mix until incorporated.

Mother Earth Bowl Directions
4. Roast sweet potatoes and Portobello mushrooms and set aside.
5. To prepare dish, toss arugula with sprouts and vinaigrette, then spoon Super Grain mix in
the center of the bowl.
6. Place sweet potatoes on top, next to Portobello.
7. Place arugula next to mushrooms and cucumber salad next to arugula.
8. Top with pesto, marmalade, and avocado across the center of the dish.
9. Finish with hemp seeds.

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Que Pasta?

Some foods are just better in concept than reality. Towering sandwiches built way beyond the capacity of an average mouth are sure to disgorge their fillings after even the most careful bites. Ice cream sundaes gleaming with a scoop of every flavor are guaranteed to melt into murky sludge, no matter how many spoons are digging in. Don’t even get me started on coleslaw so slick with mayonnaise that it could also pass for white cabbage soup.

All these disappointments are easily prevented, but 9 times out of 10, the basic construction is a recipe for failure. Seven layer dip is a top offender in my eyes, a frustration compounded by the potential of each flavorful new tier. Refried beans, salsa, cheese, guacamole, olives, lettuce, and herbs – What’s not to love? Well, let’s start with the physical impossibility of fitting all that goodness on top of one tortilla chip, defeating the whole purpose of that deliberate assembly. if you can manage dig down to the bottom without breaking said chip, you’ll be up to your knuckles in guacamole, which strikes me as a pretty serious party foul.

Perhaps we’ve just been thinking about this all wrong. Instead of serving as a starter, these flavorful layers are really meant for the main event. Trade that frilly shredded lettuce for more substantial fare like pasta, and we’ve got a game-changing entree on our hands.

Imagine if baked ziti went on a vacation to Mexico and came back with a fresh new lease on life. Emboldened with spicy enchilada sauce, this unconventional addition allows you full license to scoop out the entire stratified marvel in one satisfying serving.

Gluten-free Tresomega Nutrition noodles inspired this dinner time revelation thanks to their second annual blogger recipe contest. Made of organic quinoa, rice, and amaranth, these macaroni are one of the rare wheat-free varieties up to the task, remaining properly al dente when cooked with care. Snag a box or two online at Sam’s Club and find much more inspiration on the Tresomega Facebook page and Twitter feed

Complex in flavor but not in preparation, you can speed through assembly with some easy food hacks, pull out all the stops with homemade staples, or mix and match depending on your preference- and patience. Most critical here is the creamy cashew-based cheese sauce, which has a subtle tang thanks to unsweetened yogurt and the subtle smoky spice of chipotle canned in adobo, but in a pinch, good old pepper jack style vegan cheese shreds will certainly do the trick. There’s no shame in make it mostly homemade; a little shortcut is better than not cooking at all, every single time.

Lose the chips and dip into a new favorite main dish with those same luscious savory layers. This bold new interpretation was built on a stronger foundation than those earlier models and will never let you down.

Seven-Layer Pasta Bake

1 (15.4-Ounce) Can Refried Pinto Beans or 1 3/4 Cups Homemade (See Following Recipe)
1 (8-Ounce Box) Tresomega Quinoa Elbow or Penne Pasta
1 (10-Ounce) Can Red Enchilada Sauce or Homemade (See Following Recipe)
1 (14.5-Ounce) Can Diced Fire-Roasted Tomatoes, Drained
1 – 2 Cups Vegan Cheese Shreds or Homemade Cheese Sauce (See Following Recipe)
1 Cup Guacamole, Prepared or Homemade (See Following Recipe)
1/2 Cup Sliced Black Olives
2 – 3 Scallions, Thinly Sliced

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a 7 x 11-inch casserole pan. If possible, opt for glass to see all those lovely layers! Set aside.

Set a large pot over high heat on the stove and bring approximately 4 quarts of water to a rapid boil. Add the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, for only 6 minutes. It will be noticeably under-cooked, but that’s exactly what you want! If you cook it to al dente perfection now, it will get too soft after baking. Immediately drain and rinse with cold water.

Begin the assembly process by smearing the refried beans evenly across the bottom of the prepared casserole dish. In a separate bowl, toss the par-cooked pasta with enchilada sauce, stirring well to coat, before evenly distributing the spicy noodles on top. Add the drained fire-roasted tomatoes next, followed by the vegan cheese shreds or sauce.

Bake for 20 – 30 minutes, until hot all the way through and lightly browned on top. Let stand for at least 5 minutes before topping with dollops of guacamole, a sprinkle of black olives, and a final flurry of sliced scallions. Serve right away, while piping hot.

Makes 6 – 8 Servings

Unfried Refried Beans:

1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1/2 Yellow Onion, Minced
1 Clove Garlic, Finely Minced
1 (14-Ounce Can) or 1 1/2 Cups Cooked Pinto Beans, Thoroughly Drained
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 – 1/2 Cup Vegetable Stock

Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over moderate heat. Once shimmering, add the onion and garlic, sauteing until aromatic and lightly browned. This should only take about 8 – 10 minutes, so don’t wander off!

Add in the pinto beans, cumin, salt, and 1/4 cup of the vegetable stock next. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 5 minutes. Take a potato masher and smash the beans into creamy submission, adding more stock if needed to reach the right consistency. Enjoy hot or let cool before storing an an air-tight container in the fridge, for up to a week.

Instant Enchilada Sauce:

1 (6-Ounce) Can Tomato Paste
1/4 Cup Vegetable Stock or Water
1 Teaspoon Onion Powder
1 Teaspoon Garlic Powder
1 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
1 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
2 Tablespoons Chili Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Salt

This is really a no-recipe sort of recipe that you could probably figure out by simply looking at the list of ingredients. All you need to do is whisk everything together until smooth and you’re good to go!

Easy Chipotle Cheese Sauce:

1 Cup Raw Cashews, Soaked in Hot Water for 1 – 2 Hours
1/2 Cup Unsweetened Plain Vegan Yogurt
1 Chipotle Canned in Adobo Sauce
3 Tablespoons Nutritional yeast
1/2 Teaspoon Garlic Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 – 3/4 Cup Water

Thoroughly drain the soaked cashews before tossing them into your blender with the yogurt, chipotle, nutritional yeast, garlic powder, salt, and 1/2 cup water. Begin blending on low speed, slowly ramping it up to high as the nuts are broken down. Pause to scrape down the sides of the container as needed, making sure that all the pieces are incorporated. Puree until completely smooth, drizzling in up to 1/4 additional water while running the motor if needed, to reach a silky, pourable consistency, somewhat like pancake batter.

You can enjoy this all by itself as a simple queso dip or spicy cream sauce, but it can also be stored in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to 4 days if not using immediately.

Basic Guacamole:

2 Large, Ripe Avocados
1/4 Cup Finely Chopped Onion
1 Jalapeno, Finely Minced (Optional)
2 Tablespoons Lime Juice
1/4 Teaspoon Salt

In case you needed a refresher course on how to make guacamole… it’s okay. We all have days like that.

Pit and peel your avocados, placing them in a medium bowl along with the onion, jalapeno (if you like it hot,) lime juice, and salt. Roughly mash with a fork or potato masher until creamy but still slightly chunky. Use or eat right away; guacamole is always best fresh.

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Noodling Beyond Pho

Plumes of stream erupt in the dining room as waiters hurriedly scuttle oversized bowls from the kitchen to waiting eaters. Each one large enough for a small child to bathe in, filled to the brim with boiling hot broth and vermicelli noodles, each portion is like a self-contained bottomless buffet. No appetite can rise to the challenge, despite the compulsively slurpable soup, explosive with fresh chilies, redolent with bright lemongrass and fresh cilantro. You’d think this wildly popular order was something highly recognizable like pho, but you’d be wrong. Bún riêu, Vietnamese crab noodle soup, is the worst kept secret that the Western world is just catching onto.

Complicated to prepare, most recipes lay claim to over two dozen components for the soup base, let alone the additional garnishes that finish each bubbling cauldron. Given that difficulty and the expense of such luxurious ingredients, Bún riêu would typically be reserved for special occasions, but that distinction has faded with increased prosperity and accessibility. Still, if you’re hoping for a meatless facsimile when dining out, you’d be more likely to get struck by lighting on the way out to the restaurant. Few chefs see vegetarian alternatives for the distinctive texture and flavor of fresh crab… But they’ve clearly never experienced fresh yuba.

Since dreaming up this sweet-and-sour brew, I’ve come to realize how much more potential there is to play with substituting jackfruit, simmered until meltingly tender, should Hikiage Yuba remain out of reach. Standard tofu puffs, found in most Asian markets, can stand in for the more highly seasoned nuggets as well. Worst comes to worst, should all grocery stores fall short, you could simply saute some standard firm tofu until crisp on all sides and toss it into the broth. The only mistake here would be thinking that pho is the only spicy noodle soup to savor, without getting a taste of this hot rival.

Bún Riêu Chay (Vegetarian Vietnamese Crab Soup)

Soup Base:

2 Tablespoons Coconut Oil
2 Medium Shallots, Diced
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
3.5 Ounces Fresh Oyster Mushrooms, Roughly Chopped
1 (14-Ounce)Can Diced Tomatoes
1/4 Cup Pineapple Juice
2 Tablespoons Vegan Fish Sauce
1 Tablespoon Light Soy Sauce
1/2 Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
4 Cups Low-Sodium Vegetable Stock

Toppings:

8 Ounces Thin Rice Noodles, Cooked, Drained, and Rinsed with Cold Water
8 Ounces Hodo Hikiage Yuba
8 Ounces Hodo Soy Five-Spice Tofu Nuggets
1/4 Cup Crispy Fried Onions
1/2 Cup Fresh Mint and/or Basil
3 Scallions, Thinly Sliced
1 1/2 Cups Fresh Bean Sprouts

Set a large stock pot over medium heat on the stove and begin by melting the coconut oil. Once shimmering, add the shallots, garlic, and mushrooms, sauteing until aromatic and tender. When the vegetables begin to just barely take on color, introduce the tomatoes and pineapple juice, scraping the bottom of the pan to make sure nothing sticks. Simmer for about 10 minutes before adding in the vegan fish sauce, soy sauce, red pepper flakes, and vegetable stock. Cover and simmer for another 20 – 30 minutes for the flavors to mingle and meld. The soup base can be made up to 4 days in advance, when properly cooled and kept in an airtight container in the fridge.

To serve, simply divide the noodles, yuba, and tofu nuggets equally between 4 – 6 bowls, depending on how hungry you and your guests are. Top with a generous portion of broth, and pass around the crispy onions, mint and/or basil, scallions, and bean sprouts at the table, allowing each person to garnish their bowlful as desired. Slurp it up immediately, while steaming hot!

Makes 4 – 6 Servings

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Naan-Sense

Salads aren’t just wilted leafy greens and tired, limp carrot sticks. Stunningly diverse once you peel back that initial concept, it’s difficult to pin down one concise definition of the concept to encompass all of the culinary possibilities. Salads are most frequently thought of as chilled dishes, but they can also be served warm. Though generally the healthier option on the table, some salads can be real gut bombs. Heck, if you can call something with cookies in it a “salad,” then you, too, can be anything you set your mind to.

Today, while I have less lofty aspirations in mind, the results are no less impressive. Simultaneously inspired by the glorious fresh tomatoes and cucumbers at the farmers market and exhausted by the idea of the labor of real cooking, salads are given high priority in my daily diet on hot summer days. All I want is something fresh and satisfying I can cobble together out of the contents of my fridge with an absolute minimal commitment to genuine cooking. Toasting bread, sure, I can handle that, but all the rest feels like too much work after a full shift and long commute.

Unsurprisingly, this has led to some truly questionable salads. Nothing is off limits; cooked grains, nuts, fruit, vegetables are all fair game of course, but what about that loaf of bread sitting on the counter, growing more stale by the hour? Well, why not? There’s a long tradition of thrifty Italians inventing imaginative twists on panzanella, so that only stretches the imagination for the uninitiated. Expanding on that carb-based formula, consider the pita and all it does for fattoush over in the middle east. Thus, it stands to reason, naan should be a perfectly acceptable ingredient in this formula as well, right?

Garlic naan, a thing of beauty in and of itself, seems almost too good to sacrifice to the salad bowl. Chewy, tender slabs of gluten rich oil and pungent minced garlic, is a sadly rare treat to find in ready-made vegan form. Typically prepared with yogurt and or ghee (butter,) it’s one of the few Indian staples firmly off limits for the lactose intolerant among us. Now that California Lavash has expanded its range to include a completely dairy-free rendition, nothing is out of bounds. I’m tempted to bring a package with me even when eating out at top Indian restaurants, but resist the urge by doubling down on my naan consumption at home instead.

It was only a matter of time before I found a way to shovel this glorious flatbread into my mouth by the forkful. Lightly toasting it to a crisp exterior and bestowing it with a golden curry dressing, this is a combination I could eat on repeat all summer long, and well beyond. Feel free to expand upon the vegetable inclusions based on what you have available, or go crazy with your own creative add-ins. As we’ve established, a salad is anything you want it to be, if you just believe in it.

Curried Naan Panzanella

1/2 Pound (1 Pint) Cherry or Grape Tomatoes, Halved
1/2 English Cucumber, Quartered and Sliced
1/2 Teaspoon Salt, Divided
5 – 6 Ounces (1 Pieces) Garlic Naan Bread, Cut into 1-Inch Squares
2 1/2 Tablespoons Olive Oil, Divided
1 Tablespoon Lime Juice
1 Tablespoon Tahini
1 Teaspoon Madras Curry Powder
1/8 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1 Cup Cooked Chickpeas
1/4 Cup Fresh Cilantro, Roughly Chopped

Begin by tossing the sliced tomatoes and cucumbers with half of the salt. Set aside for about 15 minutes to draw out some of the excess liquid. Drain the extra water they’ve given off before proceeding.

Meanwhile, combine the sliced naan with 1/2 tablespoon of oil and spread the pieces out in an even layer on a baking sheet. Run under the broiler in your oven set to high for 10 – 15 minutes, until toasted golden brown and crisp.

Simply whisk together the remaining oil, lime juice, tahini, curry powder, black pepper, and remaining salt to create the dressing. Toss everything into a large bowl, including the drained vegetables, toasted bread, dressing, chickpeas, and cilantro, and mix well to combine. Serve immediately; this salad doesn’t keep well once dressed as the naan will begin to get soggy.

Makes 2 – 3 Entree Servings; 4 – 6 Side Servings

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The Meat of the Matter

Order a veggie burger at any restaurant and steel yourself for a surprise- Whether or not it’s a good one. What might arrive at your table could be anything from a verdant green mash of chickpeas and spinach, or a “bloody” meat-facsimile so authentic that some carnivores wouldn’t know the difference. The humble vegetarian staple has undergone a stunning evolution in a very short amount of time, thanks to the spread of veganism, but also increased health and environmental concerns. Not everyone wants to eat legume patties when they’re craving beef, which is what makes this latest round of plant-based innovations particularly encouraging. I’ve long said that you don’t need to be vegan to eat vegan, and these more accessible, familiar options make the concept considerably more feasible. I’ve already covered the Beyond Burger and Impossible Burger here, but they’re far from the only players in this game.

Tofurky, proud meatless proponents for over 2 decades, has managed to maintain their space in this competitive market while winning over new fans. Their copious and diverse offerings are a testament to that, providing something for everyone. Now, that includes the staunch meat-eaters among us, thanks to their newly launched line of Do-It-Yourself grinds, approximating the look, texture, and of course, flavor of traditional ground beef and/or pork, depending on your seasoned kit of choice. Today, with grilling season right around the corner, I’m talking burgers.

Molding easily into patties, no additional binders are necessary for sound, solid construction. They hold together beautifully through the entire cooking process, never once threatening to crumble under pressure. Before long, a distinctly meaty aroma will fill the air, but the scent also has a also wheaty aspect, like good old glutenous seitan.

Cooking quickly, it takes only 3 – 5 minutes per side to achieve a nice sear; a satisfying transformation that creates a crisp crust and seals in a juicy, tender interior. Hearty, satisfying, but not fatty nor greasy, this is the midway point between old school and new tech. Beefy without the overwhelming sensation of sinew, it’s an ideal savory, neutral foundation to build upon. You can truly make it your own with herbs and spices, or keep it simple for the classic backyard BBQ experience. It’s not a perfect dupe for the animal it was made to imitate, but I believe it comes close enough to quell a craving, without turning away those repulsed by the reminder of the flesh inspiration.

Best of all, the DIY format allows you to depart from the typical patty path and forge your own culinary adventure. Crumble the grind and cook it with a healthy dose of spice, load it into a crunchy corn tortilla, and taco night will never be the same again. That’s just the tip of the meatless iceberg, as they (might?) say. Think meatloaf, bolognese sauce, stuffed pasta and casseroles galore. Pick out any recipe your stomach desires and simply substitute this plant-based protein in a 1-to-1 ratio for ground beef. Anything meat can do, Tofurky can do better.

Cake of a Different Color

Sneaking vegetables into desserts has long been a practice of conniving parents, trying to feed their children a daily dose of greens by any means necessary. “Cauliflower cake” sounds like yet another attempt at disguising the trendy brassica as a sweet treat, smothered in chocolate or coated in sprinkles, perhaps, but it’s actually a delight for the dinner table.

Inspired by a recipe from Plenty More by Yotam Ottolenghi, what this mad genius calls a cake could really qualify as a highly vegetative frittata. Heavy on cheese and savory fresh herbs, such a universally appealing combination could make even the pickiest eaters open up and ask for seconds. My interpretation of the concept is a radical departure from the original, however, utilizing a green pea-based batter to replace the eggs, continuing the color scheme with green cauliflower, and punching up the flavor with a more spring-y punch of dill.

The tantalizing taste of this unconventional entree is matched only by its versatility. Need a make-ahead breakfast? Prepare it the day before and you can have it on the table first thing in the morning. Casual lunch, or fancy brunch for a crowd? Serve slices with a leafy green salad and plenty of mimosas on the side. Romantic dinner for two? Bake single servings in ramekins to really impress your date. Leftovers are just as satisfying if eaten cold- If you have any, that is.

Green Cauliflower Cake

5 Tablespoons Olive Oil, Divided
1 Medium Yellow Onion, Diced
2 Clove Garlic, Minced
1 Pound Green Cauliflower, Finely Chopped
1/2 Cup Fresh Dill, Chopped
1 3/4 Cup Green Pea Flour
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Kala Namak or Plain Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1 (7-Ounce) Package Follow Your Heart Garden Herb Cheese or Any Mozzarella-Style Vegan Block Cheese, Finely Diced
2 1/2 Cups Vegetable Broth
1 Tablespoon Wholegrain Mustard
Fresh Parsley, Minced (Optional)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease an 8-inch springform pan.

Place 2 tablespoons of the oil in a medium skillet and set over medium heat. Add in the onion and sauté until softened and aromatic. Add the garlic and cauliflower next, cooking until very lightly browned. Turn off the heat and let the vegetables cool for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the dill, green pea flour, baking powder, kala namak, and black pepper, stirring well to evenly distribute all of the ingredients. Toss in the cubes of cheese, ensuring that they’re thoroughly coated in the dry mixture to make sure that they stay suspended in the cake, rather than just sink to the bottom. Add in the cooked vegetables next, tossing in the same fashion. Whisk together the broth, mustard, and remaining olive oil before pouring the liquid mixture into the bowl, stirring well to incorporate.

Transfer to your prepared springform pan, smoothing out the top and tapping it lightly on the counter to release any air bubbles. Place the pan in the center of the oven and bake for 45 – 50 minutes, until lightly golden brown on top. Let rest for at least 20 minutes before serving; it’s best enjoyed warm or at room temperature, rather than hot.

Slice and garnish with fresh parsley, if desired.

Makes 8 – 10 Servings

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