Sweet and Sour

Without sourness, there could be no sweetness, and vice versa. Experiencing one creates the perspective necessary to appreciate the other, to truly recognize the full spectrum of flavors between the extremes. Finding balance between such starkly contrasted tastes is rare, but highly sought after judging by the popularity of the sweet and sour sauces found splashed across every generic Chinese takeout menu in America. Something about that acidic twang and its sugary foil brings us back for bite after bite, no matter the vehicle, be it protein or vegetable. Asian cultures don’t have a monopoly on this culinary game, though, despite their domination in the field.

Italian agrodolce has a sharp yet sugared character all its own, typically created by a combination of a vinegar reduction and dried fruits. It’s great as a glaze for an entree, like pan-seared tofu or tempeh, or tossed with fresh pasta for a side, but today I’m using it to kick off a party with a wallop of bold flavor.

Everyone’s favorite vegetable du jour, cauliflower, comes in a full spectrum of colors far more brilliant than the average white floret would suggest. Roasted with just a touch of olive oil, salt, and pepper, the simplicity of that preparation is hard to beat, but you can easily step up your starter game with this stellar sauce. In this unconventional approach, briny capers join the fun to turn the dial to 11, but finely chopped green olives could make a fabulous, more mild understudy.

My favorite serving suggestion involves bread. Wide open planes of thick toasted bread or more dainty slices of baguette, first smeared with cashew ricotta for a rich, creamy base which elegantly cuts through these sharp contrasts.

If you’re not crazy about pairing fruit with savory vegetables, I hear you. I too would have given this combination the side eye not long ago. Suspend disbelief long enough take a chance; unlike the cloying and syrupy renditions of sweet and sour that turned me away in the past, this one, like life itself, is all about finding beauty in balance.


Roasted Rainbow Cauliflower Agrodolce

2 Pounds Purple, White, Green, and/or Orange Cauliflower Florets (About 3 – 4 Small Heads Total)
6 Cloves Garlic, Minced
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
3/4 Cup Jumbo Raisin Medley or Golden Raisins
1/4 Cup Sherry Vinegar
1/4 Cup Capers, Drained
1/2 Cup Fresh Parsley, Minced

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

In a large bowl, toss the cauliflower florets, garlic, oil, salt, and pepper together until thoroughly combined and evenly seasoned. Arrange in a single layer on a large baking sheet, or divide between two baking sheets if needed. Place in the center of the oven and roast until golden brown and fork tender; about 20 – 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan over medium heat, mix the vinegar, capers, and raisins and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer gently until all the liquid has absorbed into the fruit.

Toss the roasted cauliflower with the vinegared raisins, along with the minced parsley. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 6 – 8 Servings

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Sometimes, You Feel Like a Nut…

And sometimes, you feel like a peanut. A peanut butter cookie, to be more specific. Announcements of new national food “holidays” seem to be getting a bit out of control lately, but this one, National Peanut Butter Cookie Day, gets an easy thumbs up from me. Such a classic treat yet so terribly underappreciated, I’m glad this snack time staple is finally getting a moment in the spotlight. Chewy, crunchy, crispy, creamy, chocolatey, salty, spicy, or even savory, there’s no possible way to go wrong when concocting your own. As a peanut butter lover, I have a considerable cache of recipe options myself.

In a rare doubleheader recipe post, I’ve offered contrasting approaches to the same nutty morsel: a buttery, chocolate-flecked shortbread and thick, bakery-style crosshatched beauties

Way back in 2009, I devised a way to get the maximum peanut flavor out of a minimum of ingredients and effort. Thus, the easiest cookie ever was born! You probably have all of the components in your pantry right now, just waiting to join forces and create instant sweet tooth gratification. 1-2-3 Peanut Butter Cookies are a fool-proof option for both the baker and the eater.

If you’re in the mood for a dessert with a bit of bonus protein and fiber, look no further than these Gluten-Free Peanut Butter Cookies (but PLEASE do look beyond those dreadful old photos.) Red lentils add an unexpected nutrition boost without detracting from the peanut buttery goodness.

What’s your favorite type of peanut butter cookie? Do you have a secret formula, or trusted source? How are you celebrating today?

Out of the Blue

Sharp. Salty. Smelly. Moldy.
What, were you raised in a cave?

If you happened to be a wheel of blue cheese, the answer is most likely “Yes!”

These complex blue-veined curds have traditionally been aged in caves, and still are to acquire the distinctive ambrosial funk specific to the local bacterial population. Some speculate the the earliest batches of the stinky wheels were actually mistakes, unintentionally inoculated with the natural mold in these subterranean shelters. Praise of the highest order is due to the brave soul who first thought such a terrible case of spoilage might still be edible, let alone delicious.

Though caves are no longer required for production, such a unique flavor and aroma can only be reproduced with Penicillium roqueforti cultures to accurately bear the label. Such rigorous regulations put this funky delicacy firmly out of reach for the average food crafter, no matter how obsessive, especially if dairy is off the menu.

Authenticity be damned, irrepressible cravings for a bite of the blue stuff needn’t be denied for lack of access to this illusive ingredient. Lending its own singular sort of funk, fermented Chinese tofu is what gives my plant-based facsimile its unmistakable, irrepressible twang. Taking this shortcut to building instant bold flavors allows my particular cheesy delight to achieve depth without delay. No need to wait for any spores to work their magic; it’s instantly delicious, as soon as it’s set.

Swirls of blue-green algae lend it a convincing appearance, but this is purely for aesthetics. Feel free to skip straight to the finish line without detracting from the overall eating experience one bit.

Such a pungent fixing goes a long way in small doses, which makes it ideal for sprinkling on salads or mixing into dips, rather than serving it up solo. Finally achieving my platonic ideal of a wedge salad, this deceptively simple composition of crunchy lettuce, smoky bacon bits, and fresh cherry tomatoes is really just a vehicle for that deeply savory dressing. Go ahead and really slather it on thick; we all know you’re not eating a head of iceberg lettuce for any other reason.

Vegan Blue Cheese

5 Ounces Fermented Chinese Tofu
1/4 Cup Cooked White Beans
1/2 Ounce (About 1 1/2 – 2 Tablespoons) Chopped Scallions, White Parts Only
2 Tablespoons Barley Miso Paste
1 Tablespoon Rice Vinegar
1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
1 Teaspoon Lemon Juice
1 Teaspoon Nutritional Yeast
1/2 Teaspoon Onion Powder
1/3 Cup Refined Coconut Oil, Melted
1/4 Teaspoon Spirulina (Optional, for Color)

Before getting started, have a 1 1/2 – 2 cup glass, ceramic, or BPA-free plastic container at the ready. I like to use glass containers that come with lids, so they can function both as the mold for initial shaping and as a more long-term storage solution. Lightly grease and set aside.

Very thoroughly drain the fermented tofu before tossing it into your blender or food processor along with the beans and scallions. Puree until completely smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed to incorporate all of the ingredients. Add in the miso, both vinegars, lemon juice, nutritional yeast, and onion powder next, blending to combine.

With the motor running, slowly stream in the liquefied coconut oil, creating a creamy emulsion much like a salad dressing. Make sure the whole mixture is perfectly silken, without any remaining lumps, before proceeding.

Remove about 2 tablespoons of the base and place it in a small bowl. Stir in the spirulina and briefly set aside. Pour the rest of the concoction into your prepared storage vessel, tapping it on the counter to remove any air bubbles. Add the blue-tinted portion in small spoonfuls, swirling it throughout with a thin spatula or knife.

Cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours, or until fully solidified. The finished cheese will keep in the fridge for up to two weeks.

Makes About 1/2 Pound Blue Cheese

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Classic Wedge Salad

Blue Cheese Dressing:

1/2 Small Shallot, Finely Minced
2/3 Cup Vegan Mayonnaise
1/2 Cup Unsweetened Non-Dairy Milk
1 Tablespoon Fresh Parsley, Minced
1 Tablespoon Red Wine Vinegar
1/2 Cup Crumbled Dairy-Free Blue Cheese (See Recipe Above)

Wedge Salad Fixings:

1 Head Iceberg Lettuce
4 Ounces Vegan Bacon
2 Scallions, Thinly Sliced
1 Cup Cherry Tomatoes, Halved

Prepare the blue cheese dressing by simply combining the shallot, mayo, non-dairy milk, parsley, and vinegar in a medium bowl, stirring until smooth. Add the blue cheese chunks and mix in gently.

Assembly is just as easy. Quarter and core the lettuce, placing one wedge on each plate. Drizzle liberally with the blue cheese dressing and top with meatless bacon bits, scallions, and cherry tomatoes. Serve right away.

Makes 4 Servings

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Printed, Published, Imperfect

Every time a book is published, print set to dry and locked in place for all eternity, a certain number of errors and omissions are inevitably sealed in at the same time. Some are more egregious than others, but any blemish on a beloved manuscript is hard for any passionate author to accept. Luckily, it seems that nothing untoward was baked into the cake for Real Food, Really Fast, but what wasn’t included feels like a terrible personal failing that’s hard to accept.

Somehow, despite best scrupulous proofreading and tireless testing, my Samosa Gnocchi managed to miss the last call and got left behind on the digital cutting board. Though simple in their final format, those spicy potato dumplings went through the gantlet and back to achieve perfection, making it an even greater shame that they couldn’t join the party.

Luckily, it seems as though the book is on track for many more re-printings to come, and in the meantime, I’m happy to share these spicy morsels to celebrate such success. In fact, Real Food, Really Fast has been selected as a featured ebook until May 23rd on Amazon.com which means you can snap up a digital copy for the fire sale price of just $1.99. If you haven’t poured over these pages yet, now is your chance to do it on the cheap!

Samosa Gnocchi

Plain potato gnocchi are about as exciting as white bread, which is why they rarely showed up on my dinner plate before I considered that baseline as just a blank canvas to build upon. Fix them up with a pinch of curry powder, for example, and you could consider each starchy sphere as merely a naked samosa, stripped of its deep-fried pastry shell. Akin to dried pasta, packaged gnocchi make fast work of this preparation, lending a toothsome bite to each chewy orb. As a brilliantly spiced side dish that could complement a wide range of proteins or simple stews, you’ll never accuse this humble spud of being bland again.

1 (16 – 17 Ounce) Package Potato Gnocchi
1 Tablespoon Coconut Oil
1/3 Cup Full-Fat Coconut Milk
2 1/2 Teaspoons Madras Curry Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Garam Masala
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
1 Cup Frozen Peas, Thawed
Mango Chutney*, to Serve (Optional)

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil and pop in the gnocchi, using a spatula to gently break them apart. Cook just shy of al dente as the dumplings will continue to soften in the curry sauce. In some cases, this might amount to only 1 or 2 minutes in the water, so keep a close eye on the process and test frequently by poking the pieces with a fork. Drain and rinse with cold water to immediately stop the cooking process.

In a medium saucepan, melt the coconut oil over medium-high heat and add in the par-boiled gnocchi. Spread them out to cover the bottom of the pan as evenly as possible, and resist the urge to stir for about two minutes, allowing them to dry and very lightly toast. Separately, whisk together the coconut milk, both spice mixtures, and salt before pouring them into the pan. Turn down the heat to medium-low, mix thoroughly, and simmer for 1 – 2 minutes longer, until the sauce coats the gnocchi nicely. Toss in the thawed peas and serve with mango chutney on the side, if desired.

Makes 3 – 4 Servings

*There are more types of chutney on the market than there are days in the year, from creamy coconut to fiery habanero varieties, but one of my favorites is made from mango. You can pick up a jar of it at most grocery stores these days, but you can also throw together a quick version at home, if you have an extra couple of minutes to spare.

Quick Mango Chutney

1 1/2 Cups Diced, Frozen Mango
1/2 Cup Diced Tomato
1/4 Cup Diced Yellow Onion
1/4 Cup Golden Raisins
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Turmeric
1/8 Teaspoon Ground Cloves
1/8 Teaspoon Salt

Place the mango and all ingredients in a microwave safe dish, stir well, and heat on full power for 4 – 7 minutes. The fruit should be softened, syrupy, and well-seasoned. This chutney will keep well if stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.

Makes 2 Cups

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[Not Quite] Silent Sunday: Dal-icious

Dal Puri Roti with Tamarind Sauce

By Chef Philip Gelb of Sound & Savor

“I do not exaggerate when  I say this is one of my favorite breads in the world! It’s obviously of Indian origin, but this version is a Trinidad specialty. It works well on it’s own, but if you roll it out thin enough you can then stuff it with various curries and roll it up like a burrito for some Trini heaven.

Culantro is a related to cilantro and similar, yet different enough to seek out. If you have Latin markets in your area, you may be able to find it. It’s also called chado beni in Trinidad.

A tawa is a cast-iron or stainless steel griddle that fits on top of your stove burner (gas or electric.) These are inexpensive, usually made in India, and easily found at Indian or Caribbean markets or online.”

Tamarind Sauce:

1 Tablespoon Coconut Oil
4 Green Onions, Diced
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
2 Tablespoons Fresh Cilantro
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon African Bird Pepper or Cayenne Pepper
1/4 Cup Palm Sugar
1 Cup Water
1/3 Cup Tamarind Concentrate

In a skillet, add the coconut oil, green onion, and garlic. Sauté for three minutes, until aromatic. Transfer to a mortar and pestle and pulverize along with the cilantro. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired.

Dal Puri Roti

Filling:

1 14-Ounce Cans Garbanzo Beans
1 Habanero Pepper, Seeded and Minced
3 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
1 Bunch Fresh Cilantro
1 Bunch Fresh Culantro

Roti:

3 Cups All-Purpose Flour
2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Active Dry Yeast
1 Teaspoon Salt
About 1 1/2 Cups Water­­­
Coconut Oil, to Cook

Place all of the ingredients for the filling into a food processor and grind into a rough mash. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, yeast, and salt. Add water and mix together with a spoon until the dough becomes too thick to stir. Use your hands to finish combining the ingredients. Use just enough water to form a ball and knead gently for a few minutes, until smooth. Cover dough with a clean kitchen towel and let rest for at least 1 hour.

Divide the dough into 10 equal pieces. Form each piece into a ball and then roll into a small circle. Add about 1/10th of the garbanzo mixture and wrap the dough around it, much like you would for a dumpling. Pinch the dough closed, cover once more, and let rest for another hour.

Place a griddle or large skillet over medium heat and brush liberally with coconut oil. Roll each ball into a flat, thin circle. Place the dough on the skillet and brush the top with more coconut oil. Cook for 1 minute before flipping. Cook for another minute, flip again, and cook for 1 minute longer. Repeat with all the remaining dough.

Makes 10 Dal Puri Roti

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Yes, Peas

“Congratulations San Francisco, you’ve ruined pizza!”

Harsh words for an innocent little slice. The catalyst for this outburst was a pie topped with verdant green broccoli florets. A perfectly reasonable addition, in my opinion, but far from the kid-approved standard menu that one might expect. If you too find unconventional vegetables adorning the typical thin-crust construction wholly offensive, I’d suggest you shield your eyes. Click away, don’t scroll any further, and let’s pretend like this never happened.

Are you still with me? Good! I knew we were friends for a reason.

Pea-zza, a springy seasonal variant on the classic, is lavished with tender sweet peas, of course, as well as crisp raw snap peas. Delicately nuanced and herbaceous cashew spread joins the party, rather than a gooey mozzarella that might otherwise smother such subtle flavors. If we’re going to put peas on pizza, we might as well change the whole game, right? Elevated to the status of gourmet fare with that simple substitution, you could easily serve this to the most discerning gourmet without batting an eyelash.

That’s not the final twist, though. Creamy coconut yogurt, flecked with lemon zest, lends brightness, lightening the whole affair in ways that defy its underlying richness. All yogurt is not created equal, and I have to admit, the stuff that Cultured Kitchen makes was largely the inspiration for this whole culinary experiment. Thicker than sour cream, completely unsweetened, just a tiny dab will satisfy. I found myself using it more like a whipped topping to accompany fresh berries than anything else.

It tortures me that it has such a limited release! There’s not even information about it online, and it’s unlikely I’ll encounter such a treat in regular grocery stores. If you’re in the same boat, all is not lost. In the case of this fresh flatbread, simply opt for a non-dairy yogurt without any added sugar or flavor, and omit the lemon juice, doubling down on the zest instead to prevent the drizzle from becoming too watery.

Please, give peas a chance. If it helps you wrap your mind around this crazy combination, think of it more as a seasonal flatbread, piled high with the best that nature has to offer. Your average onions, mushrooms, and olives can wait; this limited edition novelty is one to savor right away, while those lush green peas are still perfectly plump.

Pea-zza

1 Pound Prepared Pizza Dough
All-Purpose Flour
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
3 Tablespoons Minced Garlic
1/4 Cup Nutritional Yeast (Optional)

1/2 Cup Cultured Kitchen Herbs & Chives Cashew Reserve
1 Cup Fresh Peas, Blanched or Frozen Peas, Thawed
1/2 Cup Sugar Snap Peas, Sliced into 1/2-Inch Lengths
2 Tablespoons Toasted Pistachios
2 Scallions, Thinly Sliced
Flaky Sea Salt
Ground Black Pepper

Lemon Yogurt Drizzle:

1/3 Cup Cultured Kitchen Live Coconut Yogurt (Unsweetened)
1 – 2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1 Teaspoon Lemon Zest

Preheat your oven to 500 degrees and lightly grease a large baking sheet or pizza stone.

Press the pizza dough out roughly into a flat round, lightly dusting both sides with flour. Pull and toss by hand or use a rolling pin to stretch it out to approximately 10 inches in diameter. Brush the entire surface with olive oil and sprinkle evenly with the garlic and nutritional yeast, if desired.

Bake for 5 to 7 minutes, until dough is thoroughly browned all over.

While it’s in the oven, prepare the yogurt drizzle by simply mixing up all the ingredients in a bowl. Set aside for the moment.

When you crust is hot and ready, slather it generously with the cashew spread and top with the peas, snap peas, pistachios, and scallions. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle with the yogurt sauce, slice, and serve immediately.

Makes 1 pizza; 3 – 4 Servings

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