Sunshine on a Cloudy Debate

The backlash was so swift and violent, it surprised me, even after years of studiously avoiding any and all comment sections. Immediately, cries of injustice came from the purists; lectures spouted from the health-fanatics; doubts, bordering on outright disgust, resounded among picky eaters the world over.

Risotto made from sunflower seeds? What sort of heresy was this? How could you even call it such a thing, lacking grains entirely, traditional or alternative, and smacking of trendy food revelry? Besides, think of the nutrition!

It wasn’t until I read these complaints, numerous and increasingly frenzied, did I stop to consider how controversial the concept may be. We’ve seen endless twists on classic dishes at this point, spinning some brittle concepts well beyond their breaking point and still happily eating the pieces afterwards. Was this recipe really so malicious?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I was simply enchanted. The point that these curmudgeonly commenters missed was that the motive was always to put flavor first. Sunflower seeds have been the backbone of many delicious concoctions, and it’s incredible to see their texture wholly transformed by merely cooking, soaking, or toasting them, to say nothing of the corresponding alchemy of taste. Slowly simmered with aromatics, they soften to a toothsome bite, not quite like rice, granted, but something else genuinely worthy of savoring.

Just the thought of featuring sunflower seeds, an often undervalued bit player, brightened my day, informing my inspiration for the completed meal to come. Naturally sweet, gently earthy carrot juice and turmeric lend a cheerful golden hue, blending with a small measure of the seeds to yield its own creamy base, no dairy need apply. Spring produce still holds sway over my mind and appetite right now, but with summer vegetables already on their way, I’m now plotting the next plate with crisp steamed green beans, halved cherry tomatoes, and perhaps grilled corn kernels instead. It really doesn’t take much to brighten anyone’s day with a comforting bowlful of this avant-garde risotto. Just don’t spoil it by listening to the haters.

Sunshine Risotto

1 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Small Shallots, Finely Diced
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
2 Cups Raw Sunflower Seeds
Zest and Juice of 1 Lemon
2 Cups 100% Carrot Juice
1/2 Cup Vegetable Stock
1/4 Cup Full-Fat Coconut Milk
2 Tablespoons Nutritional Yeast
2 Tablespoons White Miso Paste
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Turmeric
Salt, to Taste
1/2 Cup Fresh or Frozen Peas, Thawed
Finely Chopped Chives
1/2 Pound Asparagus, Trimmed, (Halved if Particularly Thick) and Blanched

Place the olive oil in a medium saucepan over moderate heat. When it begins to shimmer, add in the shallots and saute until translucent. Introduce the garlic next, stirring well and cooking until lightly golden and highly aromatic. Toss in the sunflower seeds, stir gently but consistently for about 5 minutes before following with the lemon zest and juice, carrot juice, and vegetable stock. Cover, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer for 35 – 45 minutes. The seeds should be tender but still toothsome; al dente, if you will.

Transfer 1/2 cup of the seed mixture to your blender along with the coconut milk, nutritional yeast, miso paste, pepper, and turmeric. Thoroughly puree to achieve a silky, golden custard. Fold this cream back into the main mixture, cook on low for just 2 – 4 minutes longer until piping hot and the puree has slightly thickened to luxuriously coat the whole seeds.

Add salt to taste, if needed. Ladle onto plates, top with peas and chives, and serve with asparagus alongside.

Makes 2 – 4 Servings (2 as an Entree, 4 as a Side)

Printable Recipe

Eau de Risotto

Perfume is one of the greatest public threats, especially when lavished with careless excess. Smelling good is an admirable desire, one to be encouraged for sure, but the chemical cocktails that some hapless souls feel compelled to bathe in are far more offensive than a little B.O.

Sensitivity to scents is on the rise, perhaps from overexposure, but the average cologne has simply never appealed to me, always too pungent and completely unfamiliar. If I ever wanted to smell like something other than myself, it wouldn’t be an indescribable aroma defined only by a brand name, but something edible. Anyone who knows me probably saw this one coming, but food scents are a completely different story, literally adding a welcome spice to the day.

For years, vanilla extract was my perfume of choice; a dab on the wrist and behind the ears set me in the right mood for a day at school. Floor cleaner is best in lemon, that bright citrus simply screaming out “I’m clean!” far clearer than any product touting itself as ocean wave, or the equally mysterious “fresh rain.” Likewise, my hand soap smells like tomato vines and body lotion has notes of cucumber.

Call me scent-sensitive, but these omnipresent aromas affect not only my mood, but also my cravings in a big way. That fact became abundantly clear as soon as a new grapefruit facial scrub was incorporated into the daily beauty routine. Within just a few washes, I found myself yearning for a taste of that bold, sour, sprightly flavor. Never mind that it had been years since I last sampled this blushing citrus fruit- I suddenly couldn’t get enough, eating them straight and incorporating the segments into just about everything.

That’s where this highly aromatic risotto came in. Perfumed with grapefruit, juicy chunks of the flesh are sprinkled throughout, bursting with bitterness that perfectly cuts the rich, creamy base. Accented by the spice of wasabi and a topping of peppery watercress, it’s a lively savory side that may very well steal the show at dinner time. Don’t fight those strong flavors, but pair it with a more mild protein, such as tamari-baked tofu or a simple chicken-style seitan cutlet. Otherwise, feel free to turn it into a one-pot meal by adding in a can of rinsed chickpeas, or 2 cups of shelled fava beans for a real seasonal treat.

No matter how many offensive scents you may encounter in your daily trials and tribulations, the aroma of this risotto bubbling away on the stove will surely set you right.

Yield: Serves 3 – 5 as a Side Dish

Grapefruit and Wasabi Risotto

Grapefruit and Wasabi Risotto

Perfumed with grapefruit, juicy chunks of the flesh are sprinkled throughout, bursting with bitterness that perfectly cuts the rich, creamy base. Accented by the spice of wasabi and a topping of peppery watercress, it's a lively savory side that may very well steal the show at dinner time.

Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Total Time 50 minutes



  • 2 Tablespoons Avocado Oil or Olive Oil
  • 1 Leek, Thoroughly Washed and Thinly Sliced (White and Light Green Parts Only)
  • 2 Cloves Garlic, Finely Minced
  • 1/4 – 3/4 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1 Cup Sushi Rice
  • 3 – 4 Cups Low-Sodium Vegetable Stock, Warmed
  • 1/4 Cup Mirin
  • 2 Tablespoons Nutritional Yeast
  • 1 Large Pink Grapefruit
  • 1/2 Cup Plain, Unsweetened Vegan Creamer or Coconut Milk
  • 1 1/2 – 3 Teaspoons Wasabi Paste*

To Finish:

  • 1 Medium Ripe Avocado
  • 1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
  • 2 – 4 Ounces Watercress
  • Avocado or Olive Oil (Optional)


  1. Set a large saucepan over medium heat and warm the oil before adding in the leek and garlic. Saute for 5 – 8 minutes, until softened and aromatic, before stirring in 1/4 teaspoon salt to draw out more of the
    vegetables’ moisture. Incorporate the rice, stirring to coat, and cook until translucent; about 3 – 4 minutes.
  2. Pour in the first cup of warm vegetable stock, mirin, and nutritional yeast, reducing the heat to medium-low, keeping the liquid at a gentle simmer. Stir periodically, scraping the bottom and sides of the pot with your spatula to prevent the mixture from sticking and burning. Once the liquid has mostly absorbed into the grains, add in another cup of vegetable stock.
  3. Meanwhile, zest the grapefruit and hold the zest off to the side. Supreme the fruit, lightly chopping the segments into bite-sized pieces.
  4. After about 25 minutes of cooking, the liquid should have absorbed into the rice, and the rice will be creamy but tender. Turn off the heat and add the creamer, grapefruit zest, and 1 1/2 teaspoons wasabi paste, stirring thoroughly. Gently fold in the chopped grapefruit pieces, being careful not to smash them or break them up further. Add more salt or wasabi paste to taste.
  5. To serve, thinly slice the avocado and toss it in the lemon juice. Spoon out the portions of risotto into bowls and top each one with a few slices of avocado and a generous handful of watercress. Drizzle with an additional drizzle of oil if desired. Enjoy immediately while piping hot!


*The amount of heat that wasabi paste packs varies greatly depending both on brand and age. Most are still mixtures of horseradish and vinegar, but what’s more concerning is the occasional inclusion of milk-based additives, so read labels carefully. The longer you keep a tube in the cupboard, the less spicy it will taste, so keep that in mind as you begin to incorporate it into your cooking and adjust the quantities accordingly.

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Nutrition Information:



Serving Size:


Amount Per Serving: Calories: 551Total Fat: 38gSaturated Fat: 16gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 20gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 1047mgCarbohydrates: 49gFiber: 9gSugar: 15gProtein: 8g

All nutritional information presented within this site are intended for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and any nutritional information on should only be used as a general guideline. This information is provided as a courtesy and there is no guarantee that the information will be completely accurate. Even though I try to provide accurate nutritional information to the best of my ability, these figures should still be considered estimates.

Hop Into the New Year

“Best of” lists and top-twelve countdowns litter the airwaves and blogosphere alike, rehashing the highlights of the passing year on an endless loop. 2012, for better or for worse, was a year of pivotal events that will continue to cast a long shadow over the future of many. Even for those living it, the true meanings of those days are hard to take in, to fully appreciate and turn over rationally in one’s mind. At least on a much smaller scale, it’s safe to say that the successes and celebrations far outnumbered the moments of despair on this little blog, and incredibly, BitterSweet survives to see another year. Still, I’d much rather move forward, onwards and upwards, rather than continue to look back. Shouldn’t we start making new memories to rejoice in right away?

New Year’s Eve is one of the few times I allow myself to be superstitious in the least. Adopting the practices of a dozen different cultures, the momentous occasion is typically observed by a day of cleaning, scrubbing the physical grime and digital disorder out of my life. Kagami mochi is prepared and erected in the kitchen, although never eaten. (Our tradition is to set it on fire a week into the new year, but that’s another story.) Most importantly, of course, are the first few foods, which must be just as full of symbolic luck as they are flavor. Greens are necessary no matter what the course, promising wealth in the form of monetary greens later. Peas and beans swell when cooked, suggesting prosperity. The combination of the two more directly represent health, because what could be more wholesome than greens and beans? I think you see where I’m going with this.

Hoppin’ John, the southern staple, featuring collard greens, black-eyed peas, and rice, has tons of unfulfilled potential. Typically weighed down with pork but light on spices, through my eyes as an outsider, there seemed to be room for improvement. Turning the dish into a creamy, well-balanced risotto, it can play the role of either a side or the star of the show on any dinner table. Incredibly savory and soothing, it’s the perfect heart-warming and rib-sticking dish for these chilly early January days. Whether it actually brings in luck or not for 2013, anyone should feel lucky enough just to steal a bite.

Hoppin’ John Risotto

1 Bunch (About 1 Pound) Fresh Collard Greens, Thoroughly Washed and Dried, Stemmed and Chopped
1 14-Ounce Can (1 3/4 Cup) Black-Eyed Peas, Rinsed and Drained
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine or Coconut Oil
4 1/2 – 5 Cups Vegetable Stock
1 Medium Yellow Onion, Diced
1/2 Medium Red, Orange, or Yellow Bell Pepper, Diced
2 Stalks Celery, Diced
3 – 4 Garlic Cloves, Finely Minced
1 1/2 Cups Sushi Rice*
1/2 Cup Dry White Wine or Water
1/2 Cup Full-Fat Coconut Milk
2 Tablespoons Braggs Liquid Aminos or Soy Sauce
1/4 Cup Nutritional Yeast
1 1/2 Teaspoons Dried Thyme
1/2 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
1 Dried Bay Leaf
1/4 Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
1/4 Teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1/2 Teaspoon Liquid Smoke
Salt and Pepper, to Taste

*Purists may cry afoul, but yes, sushi rice is my grain of choice for risotto. Arborio or carnaroli are the “correct” options, but I find sushi rice every bit as creamy, tender, and clean-tasting, not to mention far cheaper.

Begin by prepping all of the vegetables so that it’s a streamlined process to add them all in later. Starting heating the oil and margarine or coconut oil in a large stock pot or saucepan over medium heat. Pour the vegetable stock into a separate saucepan and heat over a second burner on medium heat. Keep this covered, just below a simmer at all times.

Add the chopped onion into the large pot, stirring to coat the the hot fat. Sweat and saute for 2 – 4 minutes, until semitransparent and aromatic, before tossing in the bell pepper, celery, and garlic as well. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for about 5 – 8 minutes to soften all the vegetables, just barely beginning to brown them around the edges. Add in the rice last, stirring well to coat with the oil and vegetable liquid, for about 2 minutes or until somewhat translucent in appearance.

Deglaze the pan by slowly pouring in the wine or water, carefully scraping up any bits that might be stuck to the bottom. Turn down the heat to medium-low. Add in the coconut milk, liquid aminos or soy sauce, nutritional yeast, and all of the remaining herbs and spices. Bring the liquid up to a simmer, and once it has mostly absorbed into the rice, add in 1 cup of the hot stock. Continue to cook gently, stirring every few minutes to check on the consistency, adding in another 1/2 – 1 cup of the stock as needed. The rice should cook for about 20 – 25 minutes, until tender but creamy. In the final 10 minutes of cooking, incorporate the beans and greens, adding the greens a few handfuls at a time so that they can wilt down and not overflow out of the pot.

Always keep the mixture looking somewhat liquid-y without being soupy; remember, this is not a pilaf where you want dry, distinct grains.  Add salt and pepper to taste, and remove the bay leaf before serving. Enjoy immediately, as the rice will continue to thicken as it cools.

Makes 4 – 6 Servings

Printable Recipe