Run Down Runaround

Walking into Philip Gelb‘s underground restaurant, you never know quite what to expect for dinner, no matter how carefully you study the menu in advance. It’s been many months now since I had the luxury of that fully immersive, in-person experience, but there are some moments indelibly imprinted in my memory.

It was a taste unlike any other I had encountered before, being shamefully uneducated on the entire Caribbean culinary canon in general. Leading with heady aromatics, simultaneously fiery hot yet creamy and soothing, it’s both familiar and entirely foreign. Tender vegetables enveloped in a voluptuous broth, almost thick enough to qualify as custard, smoldered quietly in deep earthen bowls. Dissecting the fundamental building blocks, the spices didn’t appear particularly exotic, nothing terribly esoteric; the combination of seemingly discordant elements, mixed with a generous pinch of technique, is where the true magic happens.

Run down stew is a staple of Jamaican cuisine, typically made with seafood, but no two cooks make it quite the same way. Coconut milk is the only constant, utterly irreplaceable component. Long simmered over low heat, the rich broth reduces to concentrate the flavor, thicken to a velvety consistency, and take on a subtly toasted, nutty aroma. Flavor like that doesn’t come out of a can; time and patience are really the most important ingredients here.

The genesis of the name is a bit murky, some attributing it to the way it’s cooked down and some of the more delicate vegetables fall apart. Personally, I’d like to believe that it comes from the ability to revive anyone who’s feeling a bit run down themselves. Forget about watery chicken soup; this stuff can truly soothe the soul.

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Achieving the Impossible

Nothing is impossible anymore, now that Impossible is more prevalent than ever.

When The New York Times published an article by J. Kenji López-Alt breaking down the best ways to cook Impossible meat in full scientific detail, I bookmarked it in about a hundred places.

My friends are just as crazy as I am, and one particularly special man sent me a package of this high-end meatless ground as a present. Perhaps in this current era, true love is receiving raw vegan beef in the mail. Distribution has increased exponentially recently, through Trader Joe’s and Walmart, in addition to online sales. Never has the meatless miracle been more accessible. Mere months ago, when it was scarce in local markets, I was mining every possible resource just to get one bite of the action.

I had been saving it for something really special, not sure how to make the most of its full potential. When it suddenly became one of the few fresh proteins I had on hand thanks to early COVID-19 shortages, that was its unexpected opportunity to shine.

The recipe for vegan Turkish kebabs with sumac onions and garlic-dill mayonnaise in that same piece turned out to be perfect. I had to make some modifications, using all dried herbs instead of fresh, and forgoing the cherry tomatoes in a moment of forgetfulness. I also cooked them in my air fryer at 370 degrees for 13 minutes instead of pan-frying, for the sake of simplicity, and less splatter.

Admittedly, my experience with animal-based protein is limited at best, but these skewers were unmistakably meaty; deeply savory, rich and fatty in the way that no basic vegetable substitute could achieve. Pulled off the skewers, I could easily see these nuggets happily tangled in a nest of spaghetti, treated as finger food for [small, socially distant] parties.

Would this recipe taste as good with any of the other comparable competitors? Quite frankly, it’s Impossible to say for sure.

Land of Plenty

Have you ever tasted arugula so crisp, so impeccably fresh, that it could only be described as “juicy”? Voracious salad eater that I am, I was sure I had exhausted every variant of leafy fodder available on the market, until I forked into the baby greens from Plenty.

Before this moment, brand name vegetables or plain packaged produce in general always seemed like a marketing gimmick to me. Wasn’t this the same stuff you could buy in bulk, now dressed up with designer graphics and enhanced pricing to match? Granted, that’s exactly what drew my attention when I first spotted these shapely clam shell boxes, but the quality far exceeds shallow aesthetics.

Vertically grown indoors, using 99% less land and 95% less water than conventional methods, without any pesticides, they’re as sustainable as they are genuinely flavorful. In short, Plenty is making the tastier choice the one that’s more affordable, accessible, and eco-friendly, too. It’s hard to explain how revolutionary this is without it coming off as a sales pitch, but trust me, these aren’t empty promises coming from a far removed PR mill! It’s rare to find a company that really lives up to such high standards without sacrificing in one department or another, which is why I’m proud to partner with them to spread the love of all things leafy, well beyond the salad bowl.

If you struggle to get your greens in, you’re not alone. Raw roughage may be difficult to digest, both literally and figuratively, for the pickiest eaters, but there’s more than one way to get your daily dose.

Believe it or not, even children will beg for a second helping of this verdant Matcha Milkshake, infused with velvety baby kale. Harmonizing with the natural, satisfying bitter edge of ceremonial matcha powder, the concentrated, zero glycemic sweetness of stevia balances out the blend without refined sugars. Cashews are the magical ingredient that makes everything rich and creamy, no milk nor cream needed. This recipe is based on my formula for cashew milkshakes in Real Food, Really Fast, infusing the decadent drink with a virtuous serving of vitamins A, C, and K. To fool a kale critic, you can easily explain the color with the green tea addition.

For those who like a bit of spice in their life, that bold baby arugula has just the right subtle peppery twist, further accentuated by the warm breath of fresh jalapenos in a steamy bowlful of Pozole Very Verde. Tangling amongst tender bites of hominy and pinto beans, this nontraditional broth comes together in mere minutes, bearing the rich flavors of a long-simmered stew. You could very well double up on the leafy quotient, since it melts down so effortlessly into the piquant brew.

When the heat is on and you’re trying to keep your cool, though, I’ve got the perfect all-purpose, all-day kind of meal for you. Avocado toast, the ubiquitous millennial favorite, but with a heartier bite than your basic bread. Meaty portobello slices turn into a shockingly convincing alternative to bacon, crisp and savory, redolent of the earthy, smoky notes you’d expect from cured pork, but made from plants. Refreshing crispy lettuce cradles thickly sliced heirloom tomatoes in a tender embrace typically reserved for starcrossed lovers. Part open-faced sandwich, part tartine, you get more of the good stuff with this BLT Avocado Toast and less carb-heavy filler.

Cheap, greasy Chinese takeout does tempt even the most disciplined healthy foodies, but you can beat those eateries at their own game. Skip the deep frying for this flash-in-the-pan Salt & Pepper Tofu Stir Fry, dazzling with whole peppercorns, including the mouth-numbing Sichuan variety. The more timid of tastes might want to pick around those powerful flavor grenades, though I think those intermittent fiery bites add to the overall experience. As if designed with exactly this dish in mind, the diverse mizuna mix can withstand the blaze, folded in at the very last minute to tenderize the baby bok choy without making any of the more delicate leaves go limp. Switch up the protein with seitan, soy curls, or even tempeh if you’d like to branch out beyond predictable bean curd.

For my final trick, watch as I turn three full boxes of leafy love into one glorious grand finale, wrapped up in flaky phyllo like an edible present. Inspired by layered spanakopita, spinach need not apply for the job in this Arugula Spanakopita Strudel. Baby arugula melts down to an almost buttery filling infused with fresh herbs and plenty of garlic. Downright buttery and stunningly cheesy, you’ve never had greens that taste quite so decadent before. Even the Greek Gods would bow down to this contemporary twist on the classic pie.

Getting hungry yet? Ready to go green? Find Plenty greens at a Bay Area store near you by checking the product locator, and start making space in your fridge. While those shapely boxes contain an incredible volume of green goodness, you’ll quickly find yourself craving more.

This post was made possible as a collaboration with Plenty. My opinions can not be bought and all content is original. This page may contain affiliate links; thank you for supporting my blog!

New School

For young scholars across the globe, going back to school undoubtedly looks a bit different this year. Having a sharp new haircut, the freshest pair of shoes, or the coolest backpack on the block may not mean as much when classes take place just a few feet from where you woke up. Packed lunches aren’t going anywhere outside the home when lessons take place over Zoom, within arm’s reach of the fridge. However, that doesn’t negate the importance of meal planning! In fact, even greater emphasis should be placed on advanced prep, when easily accessible snacks beckon at all times.

Even under stay-at-home orders or quarantine conditions, the show must go on. Weekdays are still busy as ever, and the last thing you want to do is waste precious time wondering what to eat. Don’t stress yourself out by try to cobble together a passable meal out of cold leftovers while the clock is ticking. Prep ahead, divide, and conquer your day.

From this point forward, barley will be your new best friend. Unlike plain white rice, pearl barley is an excellent source of fiber and protein, to keep you full and energized longer. Plus, it’s toothsome, chewy texture holds up to reheat much better than more fragile starchy grains, which makes it the perfect base for advance prep.

Traditional risotto is finicky, demanding constant attention while cooking and immediate service the minute it’s done. Let it cool, and the whole pot of silky, al dente rice will turn into a gooey, over-cooked mess. Perish the though of saving leftovers, unless you plan to deep fry them the next day.

Barley risotto, or barlotto as I like to call it, offers an endlessly adaptable foundation to build any seasonal meal around. Mix and match based on what’s in the fridge, what’s in the market, or what’s on your mind. My default approach is to riff off classic barley soup, complete with some hearty meatless beef and bold aromatics. I would argue that mushrooms are essential for their meaty texture and umami essence, but there are no hard and fast rules here. Let’s save those for the school teachers, shall we?

Designed to stay creamy yet toothsome over the coarse of subsequent re-heating opportunities, there’s no reason to get locked into the same eating experience, meal after meal. Get younger kids (or the young at heart) on board by transforming the leftovers into finger food! Think of hearty, baked arancini, and you wouldn’t be too far off. Anything you can pick up and dip has an added fun factor, making it a painless way to explore new whole grains. Plus, you can justify a bowlful (or a more measured cup) of marinara on the side, you know it’s going to be a good day.

Let’s spoon and dip our way into the next chapter of this strange true story. Stay at home or take it to go; stay safe, and always well-fed.

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Taste the Rainbow with Popit!

Chia pudding is a perennial staple around here, appearing on the menu as breakfasts, snacks, lunches, and desserts alike. For a quick fix full of fiber, protein, and brain-boosting omega-3’s, the tiny seed just can’t be beat. Of course, plain old vanilla does get dull after so many big bowlfuls. That’s where a bit of meal planning wisdom comes in, with a bit of help from our friends at Popit!

Big batch advanced prep is a big part of the appeal for chia pudding. Mix it up en masse, chill, and enjoy as desired for a full week. Cool and creamy, it’s an ideal healthy treat to eat on the fly, straight out of the fridge or on the go. By breaking it down into separate, single-serving containers, you get that same convenience with the flexibility to infuse each sweet spoonful with completely different flavors. While the effortless base starts the same, the end results are uniquely delicious.

The Popit! Baby Food Storage Set is ideal for making a full rainbow of bold chia puddings to suit every mood. Each BPA-free container holds 3 ounces with a patented lid and hollow silicone seal system to lock in freshness and prevent leakage. These are just the right size for a light snack or healthy treat, anywhere, anytime. The most difficult decision here will be deciding which one to eat first!

Starting with some bakery inspiration, Red Velvet gets its alluring hue from pureed beets, but tastes only of buttery cake with a touch of cocoa. Lightly sweetened yogurt swirls throughout to take the place of more sugary icing. Pitaya Princess Cake paints the Swedish pastry with a shock of bright pink pitaya puree. Nutty almond extract gives it a marzipan-like quality, paying homage to the traditional decor. Carrot Cake takes shape with naturally sweet carrot puree, warm spices, and chewy raisins mingling throughout the mix.

Moving on to more fruity flavors, Orange Zinger is guaranteed to wake you up with energetic, zesty orange zest, spicy crystallized ginger, and a dash of sunny yellow turmeric. Lemon Drop is another option made for citrus lovers, keeping it simple with fresh zest and a tangy, creamy vanilla yogurt. Banana-Nut will sooth any cravings for quick bread or muffins, with mashed banana and sticky peanut butter blended in, crowned by even more crunchy toasted nuts. Don’t forget the pinch of salt that really makes it sparkle.

Painted with the cool color spectrum and offering some cold comfort, my personal favorite, Mint Chip is like a spoonable milkshake without the sugar rush. Crunchy cacao nibs add textural contrast to this minty treat, although you could always go for chocolate chips or chunks instead. Blue Moon uses alluring butterfly pea tea for a naturally brilliant hue, with blueberries to add substance beyond mere style. Everyone’s favorite purple tuber, Ube makes an appearance alongside toasted coconut flakes, tasting like a little tropical getaway in a jar.

Taking a more decadent turn for the final three, I’ve got a whole Latte Love for the combination of instant coffee AND whole ground coffee for a serious midday perk. When I’m really craving dessert, this pudding-based Devil’s Food provides a sinless way to get my fix, with a serious dose of cocoa and rich chocolate curls on top. Finally, dark as night, with a mysterious allure, Black Sesame offers a uniquely nutty, lightly gingered flavor that’s sure to satisfy the more adventurous eater.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with taking comfort in consistency. If you fall in love with one flavor and want to make the whole batch to follow suit, simply multiply those ingredients by 12 and of course, omit the other optional additions.

What will be your top chia pudding pick?

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Shell Shock

Everyone in my family is a fidgeter, a picker, or a combination of the two. We simply can’t sit quietly, motionlessly, and we certainly can’t keep our hands still. As if possessed, they move with minds of their own, searching and groping into empty space for something to latch on to, work through, touch and feel.

If not for knitting, I would have long ago torn my nail beds to utter ruin, all without realizing precisely what those devious hands were doing. I’ve noticed that my mom often tries to redirect that energy into more positive channels as well, typically working knots out of yarn or twisted lengths of jewelry, impossibly tangled by yours truly. My sister’s gift, however came as a complete surprise. It turns out, she’s a gifted and endlessly enthusiastic sheller.

Failing to locate shelled pistachios for a recipe in need, I resigned myself to a frustrating night of cracking open about a million half-smiling green nuts, their tiny smirks mocking me from the safety of their hard cocoons. Somehow detecting the need for help, my sister was there in an instant, popping them out left and right, until only a pile of clean, perfect pistachios remained. Stunned, I could only stare at the heaping bowl of nuts, dumbstruck. This girl hates nuts, had never willingly or knowingly eaten a nut of any variety, and yet relished this horribly monotonous duty to free them from their shells.

Of course, this discovery came years ago, when we all lived together under one roof. Now separated by hundreds of miles, I can’t help but think of this moment wistfully as a new heap of nuts sits before me, cocooned in their impenetrable cloaks.

In the times of quarantine, though, it’s not the worst way to pass the endless hours. Any project that ends with a delicious result is a worthwhile investment in time.

Most cream of [fill-in-the-blank] soups are good only as ingredients, possessing little redeeming culinary value alone, but this pale green pottage was designed specifically to fly solo. Lush toasted pistachios are blended to both flavor and enrich the silken brew, dazzling with simplicity and subtlety. Glorious spring greens enhance the color, of course, while adding a light, peppery bite. Fennel, typically a bit player, is essential for this unique concert of seasonal flavors, not to be overpowered by the standard array of aromatics.

If you don’t start with shelled pistachios, it will definitely take a minute to prepare, to which I say: All the more better. Consider it an act of productive meditation. Don’t rush the process, but embrace it instead.

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