BitterSweet

Sweet Musings with a Bitterly Sharp Wit


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Jack of All Trades

Anything meat can do, plants can do better.

This isn’t news, but affirmation of fact. Brilliant marvels of engineering, science, and nutrition are bringing greater alternatives to the market every day, but sometimes it seems like the best substitutes have been right under our noses all along, growing in plain sight. Jackfruit is that underdog; the geeky guy in high school that ends up getting the girl and beating the popular kids at their own game. All it takes is a new perspective, some small insight and self-discovery, to unlock its full potential.

Though I adore eating the fresh, sweet fruit, the young, canned jackfruit in brine is the meat of the matter here. Slowly simmered in an aromatic marinade inspired by sweet tea, an irreplaceable summertime brew designed for maximum refreshment, these immature arils tenderize to a texture almost indistinguishable from pulled pork. Spiked with fresh lemon, it has a tart, sweet-and-sour balance, pulling out all the savory stops.

Deceptively simple, the ginger-scallion slaw is not to be underestimated, nor overlooked. Crisp, cooling, yet bright and invigorating in flavor, I could honestly just eat this by the bowlful. It’s an ideal foil to the richly meaty main, and truly completes this deeply satisfying sandwich.

Thinking along the lines of complete culinary inclusion and offering a main dish to suit all diets, I was also inspired by the Steviva Blogger Challenge.

Sugar is neither stranger nor foe to me. As a baker with a serious sweet tooth, I consider myself very lucky that it’s one ingredient that I don’t need to worry about. Many are far more sensitive, and it always bums me out when I can’t share my latest creations with them. For this dish, while you could use plain granulated sugar in a pinch, plant-based Erysweet, made of erythritol, sweetens the deal. It’s not as sweet as table sugar, so it merely smooths out the harsh edges of the citrus and tea in this tangy marinade.

Life is sweeter when it can be shared. Meatless, sugarless, or otherwise, this is a dish that everyone can enjoy*.

*This is especially true if you use tamari instead of soy sauce and opt for gluten-free buns if wheat is an additional concern!

Sugar-Free Sweet Tea Pulled Jackfruit

1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1/2 Medium Red Onion, Thinly Sliced (About 1 Cup)
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1 Teaspoon Black Tea Leaves
1/4 Cup Erysweet (or 3 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar if Not Sugar-Free)
1/4 Cup Lemon Juice
1/4 Cup Vegetable Stock
2 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
14 Ounces Young Jackfruit, Drained and Rinsed
1/2 Teaspoon Dried Rosemary, Crushed
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper

Ginger-Scallion Slaw:

1 Cup Roughly Chopped Scallions
1 Inch Fresh Ginger, Peeled and Chopped
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
2 Tablespoons Rice Vinegar
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
1/2 Medium Head Green Cabbage, Shredded (about 6 Cups)
1 Cup Shredded Carrots

3 – 4 Sandwich Buns, for Serving

Place a medium saucepan over moderate heat. Add the oil and onion, stirring periodically until softened and aromatic. Introduce the garlic and tea leaves next, cooking until golden all over. Give it time, because this could take 10 – 15 minutes to properly brown. Stir in the Erysweet (or sugar, if you’re not worried about making this sugar-free) and then quickly deglaze by pouring in the lemon juice, vegetable stock, and soy sauce all at once. Thoroughly scrape the bottom of the pan to make sure that nothing is sticking and burning.

Add the jackfruit, rosemary, and pepper next, stirring gently to incorporate without splashing. Turn down the heat to medium-low and simmer until most of the liquid evaporates; about 20 – 30 minutes. Use the side of your spatula to roughly mash/shred the jackfruit once it’s fork-tender.

For the slaw, toss the scallions, ginger, lemon juice, vinegar, and salt into your blender. Pulse to break down the more fibrous aromatics, pausing to scrape down the sides of the container if needed. With the motor running, slowly stream in the olive oil to achieve a creamy emulsification. Pour the dressing over the cabbage and carrots in a large bowl, mixing to thoroughly coat all of the veggie shreds.

To serve, lightly toast the buns and top with generous spoonfuls of the stewed jackfruit and slaw. Devour immediately! These are unapologetically messy sandwiches, so don’t be afraid to dive right in trying to be dainty about it. The buns will only grow progressively more soggy once fully assembled.

Makes 3 – 4 Servings

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Be a Peach, Will You?

Peaches have been on my mind lately, and not just because they’re at the peak of perfection right now, flooding the markets across the country. Peach madness is actually coming to a close in the bay area, where unusually warm weather has facilitated early harvests and particularly exceptional yields. In its wake, I’m left with memories of almost a dozen peach-centric menus dreamed up by my good friend Philip Gelb, mastermind and chef behind Sound & Savor. Each dinner presented the humble fruit in an entirely new light, inspired by a diverse range of cuisines and almost no repetition between meals. It would be impossible to pick out just one favorite set of plates, let alone a single dish, but there is one in particular that inspired me to head straight for the kitchen as soon as the bold flavor combination touched my lips.

Wasabi and peaches may sound like odd bedfellows, but once you’ve tried them together, the suggestion doesn’t sound so crazy. Bright, assertive spice takes the lead, flaming out quickly to the round, soothing sweetness that only a truly superlative fresh peach can provide. A subtle floral quality can be found in the very best fruits, adding another dimension to this duo. Blended into a velvety vinaigrette and lavished over a simple summer salad, it shines with a clarity of flavor that’s difficult to beat, no matter how basic it may seem on paper.

The best thing you can do with superlative ingredients is just not mess them up. Seek out only the juiciest, sweetest peaches to prove that point with every invigorating bite.

Wasabi-Peach Dressing

1 Very Ripe, Large Peach
2 Tablespoons White Miso Paste
1/2 – 1 Tablespoon Wasabi Paste
3 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1/2 Cup Avocado Oil

Salad:

2 – 3 Persian Cucumbers, Thinly Sliced
1 (10-Ounce) Package Cruciferous Crunch Collection (Or About 6 – 7 Cups Shredded Slaw Mix; 1 Cup Shredded Broccoli Stems (Optional), 2 Cups Shredded Brussels Sprouts, 2 Cups Shredded Kale, 2 Cups Purple and/or Green Cabbage)
1 Large Peach, Thinly Sliced
1/2 Cup Chopped, Toasted Pecans

To make the dressing, pit the peach and chop it into rough chunks. Toss it into the blender along with the miso, wasabi, and lemon juice. Blend to combine, pausing to scrape down the sides of the canister if needed to incorporate everything. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in the oil, allowing it to emulsify into a silky-smooth and thick vinaigrette. Add more wasabi to taste if desired.

For the remainder of the salad, simply toss together all of the vegetables and fruit. Add enough dressing to coat but not drench the mixture (you’ll likely have extra leftover dressing, which keeps well in an airtight container for about a week in the fridge,) top with chopped pecans, and serve right away.

Makes About 4 Servings

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Great Grains

Farmers dutifully set up shop, week after week, hawking their fresh fare at the market no matter the conditions. A particularly stoic lot, they laugh in the face of adverse weather, forging ahead fearlessly where so many others would turn back. They find great bounty where most would see scarcity. Even during these lean, dark days of winter, life erupts from the soil in all rainbow hues, if only the rest of us would open our eyes wide enough to fully appreciate it.

While cravings for local berries are fierce at times, greater seasonal riches are available to quell that temptation. All it takes is a bit of care, pairing bright flavors with a range of textures, to satisfy while maximizing the available fresh produce.

Leaning more heavily on hearty cooked grains than frilly tender greens, this is a salad built to endure colder, less forgiving days. Toothsome, high-protein kamut, known in some circles as Khorasan wheat, is the backbone of this production here, another unsung hero that rarely garners the praise it truly deserves. Lest you write it off as just another one-dimensional side dish, consider the limitless possibilities it possesses for adaptation. Restorative and soothing when served warm, it’s just as satisfying prepared in advance and served chilled, for those unpredictable spikes in temperature as spring grows nearer. Transform it into a one-bowl main dish by tossing in cooked beans of any sort, and ramp up the rainbow of vegetables by adding thinly sliced radishes, shredded carrots, and/or diced avocado. Crowning the whole affair with a handful of crumbled vegan feta may be gilding the lily, but that small indulgence is the perfect foil to such a robust, no-nonsense foundation.

Having used this base as a starting point for countless culinary adventures already, I can vouch for all of these additions, but by no means are they your only options. Simply look to your local market with fresh eyes and see how many wonderful options still flourish and thrive, rather than the typical staples that may be absent. There’s still a wide world of flavor our there, ready to be discovered.

Kamut and Kale Salad

2 Cups Cooked Kamut*
6 Ounces Kale, Shredded
1/4 Red Onion, Thinly Sliced
1/4 Cup Fresh Mint Leaves, Minced
1 1/2 Cups Seedless Red Grapes, Halved
1 Pound Red Beets, Cooked, Peeled, and Sliced
Vegan Feta (Optional)

Vinaigrette:

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Red Wine Vinegar
1 Teaspoon Lemon Juice
1 Teaspoon Dijon Mustard
1/4 – 1/2 Teaspoon Salt

*To cook kamut, I typically use the pasta method, which means adding about a cup or so of grains to a generous measure of water; at least 4 or 5 cups. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for 45 – 60 minutes until the grains are tender but still toothsome, and drain off the excess water. This ensure the perfect texture every time without the threat of having anything stick and burn on the bottom of the pot. Measure out what you need for the recipe and store any extra in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.

If you’d like to serve this salad warm or hot, begin assembly as soon as the kamut is fully cooked. Otherwise, chill the cooked grains for at least two hours before proceeding.

Preparation is very straightforward, and I have a feeling you could probably figure it out just by looking at the list of ingredients. In any event, toss the cooked kamut, kale, onion, mint, grapes, and beets together in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together all oil, vinegar, lemon juice, and mustard, adding salt to taste. Pour the dressing over the vegetables and grains, mixing thoroughly to coat. Top with crumbled vegan feta, if desired. Enjoy!

Makes 4 – 6 Servings

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Flying High on Plants

No one looks forward to being locked in an airborne tin can, strapped down at an unnatural acute angle for hours on end, and that’s to say nothing of the hoops to jump through to qualify for such abuse in the first place. Yet we all accept these offenses as the necessary evils of air travel; small, cumulative personal injustices that must be suffered for the prize of a new adventure. On the bright side, this mild form of torture makes the joy of arrival all the greater, if only for the relief that comes from getting out of that maddening contraption.

Every small pleasure found in this unpleasant process is thus magnified, savored with aplomb, in hopes of turning down the volume on the rest of that logistical cacophony. for this reason alone, it’s worth the extra hassle whenever I book a flight out of SFO, because that means I can at least find a good meal while waiting at the gate.

It’s true: There’s fresh, healthy, and satisfying food to be found in an airport! The Plant Cafe Organic lays claim to many outposts across the bay area, but ironically, this inaccessible, highly guarded location is the one I stop by most often. Every time, the only thing I ever want is a pile of delicious produce, and every time, the understated yet dazzling grapefruit and avocado salad delivers.

Thankfully, there’s no need to subject yourself to such pain for such gustatory gratification, nor schlep out all the way to that isolated airport terminal, either. It turns out that while the sharply unpleasant contrasts surrounding this small morsel of pleasure do enhance the experience to a degree, it’s even more enjoyable when eaten at leisure, sprawled on the couch at home, preferably clad in completely unflattering sweatpants and slippers.

Something about the acidic, subtly sweet citrus, creamy avocado, and crunchy macadamia nuts make this salad utterly unforgettable. Don’t just take my word for it, because I’m afraid I can’t do it full justice in a few short sentences. It’s just too good to fully explain in words. This simple, invigorating combination will brighten the darkest of post-daylight savings time evenings.

Avocado Grapefruit Salad

Macadamia Nut Dressing:

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons White Wine Vinegar
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
2 Scallions, Sliced
1/4 Cup Raw Macadamia Nuts
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/8 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper

Salad:

8 Cups Arugula
2 Cups Thinly Sliced Fennel
1 Large Pink Grapefruit, Sliced into Segments
1 Large, Ripe Avocado, Sliced
1/3 Cup Toasted Macadamia Nuts, Roughly Chopped
Salt and Pepper, to Taste

The procedure is pretty much self explanatory once you glance through the ingredient list, but here goes. Toss all of the ingredients for the dressing into your blender or food processor and puree on high, until creamy and completely smooth. Toss the dressing with the arugula and fennel, and divide the greens between 2 or 3 bowls. Top with equal amounts of grapefruit, avocado, and macadamia nuts. Sprinkle with additional salt and pepper if needed, and enjoy.

Makes 2 – 3 Servings

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Oktuberfest

Who had the baffling idea to name the annual German beer and food extravaganza “Oktoberfest” when the majority of the celebration takes place in September? Perhaps it was a subtle method of throwing outsiders off the trail of free-flowing booze, because it certainly does succeed in disorienting me every year. No matter how carefully I plan, I can never seem to hit this moving target with an appropriately timed blog post- Despite the fact that it’s actually standing still. Maybe that clouded vision is just all the alcohol talking.

On this, the last day of the month, I’m here to say that at last, victory is mine! Best of all, the festivities are officially sanctioned to drag on for at least another week, so you have plenty of time to get into the kitchen and whip this one up. You’ll want to revisit the recipe well beyond the scope of drunken revelries though, so make sure you keep it on file well beyond these ambiguous dates.

Dreaming of all the most comforting foods to help soak up a pint or two and inspired by the German theme, potatoes were an obvious base for a suitably hearty accompaniment. Tender potatoes are served warm, tossed with meaty “sausage” crumbles simmered in a bit of the golden elixir itself, contrasted by the crisp bite of tart green apple and the satisfyingly sour foil of fresh sauerkraut. A far cry from your Aunt Betty’s mayonnaise-soaked picnic fare, I hesitate to ascribe it the title of “potato salad,” because this autumnal melange is truly a different beast altogether. Celebrate the humble spud, don’t hide it in that gelatinous white goop! A simple mustard vinaigrette brings everything together, without weighing the dish down.

Teetotalers are welcome to replace the beer with vegetable broth, to no ill effects. Even if you can’t ever place Oktoberfest in the correct month like me, you can still celebrate Oktuberfest any time of year.

Oktuberfest Warm Potato Salad

1 Pound Yukon Gold Potatoes, Diced
1 Pound Baby Red-Skinned Potatoes, Halved
1/2 Large Sweet Onion, Quartered and Thinly Sliced
2 Cups Vegan Sausage Crumbles
1/2 Cup Sauerkraut, Thoroughly Drained
3/4 – 1 1/4 Cup Beer
1 Tart Green Apple, Cored, Quartered, and Sliced
1 Tablespoon Whole Grain Mustard
1 Tablespoon Red Wine Vinegar
1/4 Cup Olive Oil, to Taste
Salt and Pepper

Bring a large pot of water to a boil before adding in the potatoes. Simmer gently to prevent them from breaking up, and cook until fork tender; about 10 minutes. Thoroughly drain but do not rinse.

Meanwhile, in a medium skillet, combine the sliced onion with the “sausage” crumbles, drained sauerkraut, and 3/4 cup of the beer. Simmer until the beer has been almost entirely absorbed, the onions are tender, and sausage crumbles are warmed through. Add more beer as needed if it cooks down too quickly, to prevent anything from sticking to the bottom of the pan and burning.

Toss the sliced apple into a large bowl with the cooked potatoes and sausage crumble mixture. Separately, whisk together the mustard, vinegar, and oil before pouring the dressing in as well. Stir thoroughly but gently so as not to mash the potato pieces. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

The potatoes will continue to absorb the dressing as the salad sits, so don’t be afraid to add an extra tablespoon or two of beer into the mix if preparing it in advance.

Serve warm or at room temperature, with a frosty mug of beer on the side for maximum enjoyment.

Makes 6 – 8 Servings

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Ravishing Radishes

Pungent, peppery little orbs hidden beneath crowns of unruly leafy greens, the humble radish is all too often overlooked both in the garden and on the plate. Offering so much more than just fodder for antiquated garnishing techniques, these root vegetables were once so prized by the ancient Greeks that gold replicas would be crafted in their form. Though considerably less valuable but far more delicious, the plain old red radish deserves just as much reverence today.

Best when picked small and eaten moments after brushing away the soil that they grew in, nothing is needed to dress up the bright, spicy flavor concealed within each tiny tuber. The average supermarket radish is sadly so far removed from it’s original glory that it’s no surprise few people share any amount of enthusiasm for this once prized vegetable. Decapitated in the field, denuded of their glorious greens, and shrink wrapped to preserve shelf life, I wouldn’t want to do much more than carve these tasteless marbles into silly sculptures either.

Even if you’ve turned up your nose at radishes in the past, I implore you to give them another chance- Fresh, full of flavor, and treated with respect.

Tossed simply with a bold dressing highlighting its not-so-distant relative, the horseradish, the complimentary flavors sparkle across this crisp salad. Utilizing the whole vegetable, greens and all, this raw preparation comes together very quickly, ready to start off any springtime meal on a high note.

Totally Rad Salad

1 Bunch (About 3/4 Pound) Red Radishes
2 – 3 Persian Cucumbers
1 – 2 Tablespoons Fresh Grated Horseradish
1 Tablespoons Red Wine Vinegar
1 1/2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Fresh Dill Leaves, Fronds, and/or Blossoms
1 Scallion, Thinly Sliced
Salt and Pepper, to Taste

Trim off the spindly tips of the radishes and remove the greens. Rinse and reserve the leaves. Thinly slice both the radishes and cucumbers and place them in a large bowl. Combine all of the remaining ingredients in a separate dish, making sure to break up all of the horseradish so that it’s not ultimately clumped into one bite. Adjust seasonings to taste.

Pour the dressing over the sliced cucumbers and radishes, tossing thoroughly to evenly coat the vegetables. Arrange the reserved leafy greens on salad plates and top with the dressed veggies. Serve immediately.

Makes 2 – 4 Servings

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Weather or Not

Don’t talk about the weather. No one wants to read another dissertation on the current atmospheric conditions in their own immediate locale, let alone those in some irrelevant corner of the world. Not a single person out there could care less about the recent rainfall, temperature swings, or the balance of sun and clouds, and yet you’d be hard pressed to find two consecutive posts here that don’t bear at least a passing mention of one. Keep this up and you’ll have to convert BitterSweet to a weather blog. Of all the topics to open a conversation with, discussing the weather is absolutely the most boring approach, guaranteed to stop any casual interaction in its tracks. Please, I’m begging you, do not start another article based around the weather.

It’s a conversational dead end, a social death sentence, a trap that I’m well aware of and yet fall into every time. Weather affects countless facets of my daily life, making it impossible to merely push aside as though it wasn’t such a dominating force. That’s especially true when it comes to culinary inspiration. No other single element affects the food I crave and create more than Mother Nature, each dish an edible manifestation of her mischievous climate deviance or meteorological phenomenon. Shopping more often at farmers markets and less at traditional supermarkets only intensifies this connection. Given this overwhelming influence, how am I to introduce a recipe inspired entirely by seasonal availability?

Let’s just talk about the food, shall we? The latest gems sparking my interest have come straight from the aforementioned farmers markets, thanks to the brilliant program CUESA has assembled, featuring local chefs and produce every weekend.

Presented by Chef Ben Paula of Sauce, this colorful composition has been a delicious reminder of the brilliance in simplicity for many ensuing meals. A Pickled Beet and Braised Beet Top Salad may not sound like much on paper, but the lightly briny taproot adds a new dimension of flavor to the leafy greens. Utilizing the whole vegetable, each plate presents a complete and thoughtful study of the much-maligned beet. I would wager that even naysayers would find something to love in such a fresh approach.

For a sweet accompaniment that won’t weigh you down, I would highly recommend the Blood Orange-Carrot-Almond Dreamsicle from Neka Pasquale of Urban Remedy fame. Truth be told, the name itself is far more complicated than the actual recipe. Simply mixing together prepared juices and almond milk provides a smart alternative to juicing from scratch, and creates an unexpectedly luscious drink. All you need is equal parts carrot juice, orange juice (blood or orange or standard work equally well, I’ve found), and almond milk. Add the almond milk last to prevent it from curdling, and enjoy chilled. I’ve taken to mixing up the formula with beet juice as well, since I just can’t get enough of the ruby red orbs.

Even if your immediate outlook isn’t nearly so sunny, go ahead and leave the forecast off the menu. I’d argue that these spring-time treats needn’t require optimal weather for your enjoyment.