Treasure Chestnuts

Inspired by the Japanese kuri gohan, the beauty of this side dish is its simplicity, highlighting the seasonal delight that is freshly roasted chestnuts. Harmonizing with the naturally nutty flavor of brown rice, those toothsome grains cling to each tender morsel for an incredibly satisfying bite. Though chestnuts are sadly hard to come by when winter ends, you’ll find yourself craving this combination all year long.

Chestnut Rice

2 Cups Short Grain Brown Rice
2 1/2 Cups Water
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup Roughly Chopped, Roasted and Shelled Chestnuts (About 20)
2 Tablespoons Vegan Butter or Coconut Oil
1 Tablespoon Toasted Black Sesame Seeds

My favorite way to prepare this dish is in an electric pressure cooker since it’s so crazy fast, but it can just as easily be made on the stove top. If working with a pressure cooker, simply toss in the rice, water, salt, chopped chestnuts, and butter or oil. Lock in the lid and set it to 20 minutes on high pressure. Once that time has elapsed, quick release by opening up the valve to immediately discharge the built up pressure. Stand back and cover with a dish towel to prevent any spray or steam burns. Let the rice stand for 5 more minutes before uncovering.

For stove top prep, combine the water, salt, and butter or oil in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Add the rice and chestnuts, cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer gently for 45 to 50 minutes, until the liquid has fully absorbed. Let stand for 5 more minutes.

Top with sesame seeds right before serving.

Makes 4 Servings as a Side Dish

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Poached Trade

At their bare essentials, all holidays are based around eating and drinking to some degree, but none more so than Thanksgiving. In fact, it’s the main event! Without the gluttonous, butter-soaked spread, it would be just another family meal. Our excuse is that we’re merely celebrating the great bounty we’re so fortunate to receive, but somewhere along the line, it becomes a battle between man and sweatpants, seeing which will give under the pressure first.

Today, I would like to offer you the antidote to that over-the-top indulgence, in the form of a persimmon. Elegant simplicity defines this plate; more of a procedure than a full recipe, the most essential step is one not written in the instructions. Start with only the very best fruit, or don’t bother starting at all.

I would never suggest that such a humble dessert, delicious as it may be, could ever replace the traditional slab of pumpkin or pecan pie. Rather, consider each one a sweet little snack that’s something extra special for the occasion. Serve these dainty orange orbs midday to stave off that familiar, gnawing hunger while dinner slowly roasts to prevent the inevitable frenzied binge. Alternatively, save them for the following day when those sticky, crumbly, half-eaten pies aren’t nearly so appealing.

Poached Persimmons

5 Fuyu Persimmons, Stemmed and Peeled
3 Cups Pineapple Juice
2 Tablespoons Dark Rum
2 Inches Fresh Ginger, Sliced
1 Vanilla Bean, Split
Zest of 1 Orange, Peeled Off in Strips
2 Tablespoons Cornstarch

Whipped Ginger Fluff:

1/4 Cup Aquafaba
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
3/4 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

5 Tablespoons Toasted Pistachios, for Garnish

Core out the persimmons, removing the calyxes, and peel. Place them in a medium saucepan along with the pineapple juice, rum, fresh ginger, vanilla bean, and orange zest. Bring the liquid up to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover, and gently cook for 20 – 30 minutes, until the fruits are fork-tender.

Remove the persimmons with a slotted spoon, leaving the excess poaching liquid behind in the pan. Remove and discard the ginger pieces, spent vanilla bean, and orange peel. Whisk in the cornstarch and return it to the heat. Bring the mixture back to a boil, whisking periodically, until thickened. Set aside.

When you’re ready to make the fluff, begin whipping the aquafaba in your stand mixer on low. Gradually increase the speed all the way to the highest setting and slowly begin adding the sugar and ginger together. Once incorporated, add in the vanilla. Continue whipping for about 10 minutes, until light and fluffy.

To serve, spoon a dollop of the ginger fluff on top of each persimmon and top with a tablespoon of the pistachios. Divide the sauce equally between the plates and enjoy warm.

Makes 5 Servings

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Snap Into Spring

Snow peas used to be the only podded legume for me. Thin, delicate green planks that erupted across the miles of twisting vines that proliferated in our otherwise sparse garden, its sheer abundance meant there was never any reason to venture beyond this glorious green bean. The snow peas were always the first vegetables to emerge, welcome each new spring season, heralding brighter days and more bountiful harvests to come.

Now that garden of my childhood is thousands of miles away, sounding like little more than a dream. Farmers markets have come to replace those homegrown goodies, shaking up the standard bill of fare with their comparatively endless, irresistible range of fresh temptations.

Graduating to the thicker, juicier, dare I say, meatier podded delights known as snap peas, I relish snacking on them raw or simply seared. Tossed in a blistering hot pan with a splash of oil and a pinch of salt, their inherent sweetness truly shines through after a scant minute on the fire.

Inspiration to turn this simple concept into a more coherent dish struck while idly browsing through my favorite discount grocery outlet. Fancy pastas, typically out of reach and far out of budget, beckoned from a top shelf, boasting shapes I’d never before seen in semolina format. Though formally dubbed Foglie d’Ulivo, translated as “olive leaves,” I immediately saw noodle incarnations of my beloved snap peas. The two simply had to meet; it would have been criminal to walk away from this particular impulse buy.

It doesn’t take a recipe to explain how simple but satisfying this quick dinner for one turned out. One glance at the photo is likely enough to discern the formula, but in case you need addition reassurance, here’s the full rundown: Seared snap peas tossed with pasta, chickpeas, orange zest, and a handful of cilantro. Garnish with nasturtium blossoms for an extra peppery bite, if you crave a bit more embellishment.

Snappy Snap Pea Pasta for One

3 Ounces Olive Leaf-Shaped Pasta (Foglie d’Ulivo) or Bowties
1 Teaspoon Olive Oil
2 Ounces Snap Peas
1/4 Cup Cooked Chickpeas
1/4 Teaspoon Orange Zest
Salt and Pepper, to Taste
1/4 Cup Fresh Fresh Cilantro Leaves

Cook the pasta to your desired state of al dente; drain and set aside.

Heat up the oil in a medium skillet over high heat. Toss in the snap peas, cooking quickly on all sides until the pods are bright green and lightly blistered. Immediately stir in the pasta, chickpeas, orange zest, and salt and pepper. Season to taste before turning off the heat. Toss with fresh cilantro right before serving.

Makes 1 Serving

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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.

Pumpkin Puree for Days

Mea Culpa; there’s been a terrible mistake. While every other year brings me closer to alternative squashes, embracing the less celebrated deep green kabochas and stout, pointed acorns, the overwhelming pumpkin mania has finally engulfed my kitchen as well. Beggars can’t be choosers, and when beggars accidentally order about eight times as much canned pumpkin as intended, well… One must learn to get on board with the pumpkin trend, for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Luckily, as much of America is already well aware, pumpkin puree is not such a difficult ingredient to love. Whether it plays a starring role or disappears quietly into the background, its just as much at home in any sweet or savory dish. After a few weeks of pumpkin oatmeal, pumpkin protein shakes, pumpkin risotto, pumpkin salad dressing, pumpkin soup, and pumpkin butter, there’s a strong possibility that I’m already seeing the world through orange-tinted glasses. There are far worse fates to befall a voracious vegan, and despite the complete dietary takeover, there is always still room for more pumpkin come dessert.

So nice I made it twice, this is what happens when my classic Self-Frosting Peanut Butter Cupcakes grow up and take on a seasonal affectation. No longer nutty but bolstered by another cult craze, speculoos spread, the concept morphed into a full sheet cake, ideal for serving up at potlucks or big family affairs. Sweet and warmly spiced, the soft crumb is positively irresistible, even to those who have sworn off the old orange gourd.

On the second go around, when I found the stash of puree still not dwindling as rapidly as desired, a more wholesome, breakfast-like cake emerged from the oven. Replacing the maple syrup from the topping with plain water for less intense sweetness, that more subtle swirl paired beautifully with a hearty touch of instant oatmeal thrown into the mix. Consider varying (or removing) the nut, adding in raisins or cranberries, or go totally wild and swap in chocolate chips instead. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no wrong approach with this rock-solid formula.

Perhaps it wasn’t such a terrible mistake to supersize my pumpkin puree after all. I’ll let you know when I finally finish the stash, possibly sometime next year.

Self-Frosting Speculoos Pumpkin Cake

Pumpkin Cake

2 1/2 Cups 100% Pumpkin Puree
2 Cups Granulated Sugar
1/2 Cup Olive Oil
1/2 Cup Aquafaba (Chickpea Brine)
3 Cups All-Purpose Flour
2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1 Tablespoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup Toasted Walnuts, Roughly Chopped

Speculoos Frosting:

1 Cup Creamy Speculoos Spread
1/4 Cup 100% Grade B Maple Syrup
1 – 2 Tablespoons Plain Non-Dairy Milk

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease either (2) 8×8-inch square pans or (1) 9×13-inch rectangular pan, and set aside.

In a large bowl, stir together the pumpkin puree, sugar, oil, and aquafaba, mixing until smooth. Separately, whisk together the the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Once all of the dry goods are well-distributed throughout the mixture, add in the walnuts, tossing to coat.

Slowly incorporate the dry ingredients into the bowl of wet ingredients. Mix with a wide spatula until relatively lump-free, but be careful not to mix more than necessary.

In a smaller, separate bowl, combine all of the ingredients for the frosting, and blend until completely smooth. Add the non-dairy milk until the consistency is similar to a thick icing.

Smooth the cake batter into your prepared pan(s). Drop dollops of frosting at random intervals across the top, swirling it in with a knife or thin spatula until it more or less covers the entire surface. It may seem like too much frosting at first, but trust me: You won’t regret the small excess once you take a bite.

Bake for 40 – 50 minutes if using (2) 8×8-inch pans or 45 – 60 minutes for (1) 9×13-inch pan. It should be golden brown all over and a toothpick inserted near the center will come out clean. Let cool completely before slicing and indulging.

Makes 24 – 36 Servings

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Market Fresh

Saturday mornings are the highlight of every week, bearing the promise of exciting adventures around this fine city, without arduous classes encumbering an already overloaded schedule. No matter where the day takes me, each new exploit always begins in the same place: The Ferry Building farmers market, arguably the most renowned year-round source for fresh produce in San Francisco proper, drawing locals and tourists alike. It would be easy to make a full meal of the generous samples, ranging from buttery avocados to sweet dark cherries, but there’s so much more than just fruits and vegetables on offer. Time your visit correctly and you’ll cross paths with some inspiring bay area chefs, freely divulging secret recipes thanks to CUESA‘s Market to Table program.

Featuring the season’s best and freshest offerings, it’s always a treat to see what the innovative food luminaries in the area bring to the plate, and even better when you can get a free taste. The Plant Cafe is a common stop on my market trips, since their Embarcadero outpost is a mere two piers away, so I was especially thrilled when reigning chef Sascha Weiss appeared on the demo schedule.

Presenting chickpea panisse in a whole new light, Mr. Weiss has elevated the concept from french fry-alternative to an elegant plated hors d’oeuvre. Piled high with tender asparagus and mushrooms singing with umami flavor, the whole composition is a shining example of why eating fresh and seasonal is always best. That said, if you make just one part of this dish, it must be the pistachio-pea purée. Somewhere between a pesto and a sauce, the richness of the nuts boosts the sweetness of the tender peas to create a creamy, sublime experience. Rather than reaching for the standard hummus, I think I’ll just call this a dip next time a snack craving hits.

Chickpea Panisse with Pistachio-Pea Purée, Asparagus, and Maitake Mushrooms
Adapted from Chef Sascha Weiss of The Plant Café Organic

Chickpea Panisse:
4 Cups Water
3/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
2 1/4 Cups Garbanzo Bean Flour
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon Lemon Zest
1 Teaspoon Whole Cumin Seed, Toasted and Ground
Salt and Pepper, to Taste
Neutral Vegetable Oil, for Frying

8 Ounces Maitake Mushrooms, Cleaned and Halved Through the Stems
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil

16 Stalks Asparagus, Trimmed and Bottom 1/3 of Stalks Peeled
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper, to Taste

Pistachio-Pea Purée:
2 Cups Sliced Leeks (Washed, Cut 1/4-Inch Thick)
1/2 Cup Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Minced Garlic
1/2 Cup Shelled Pistachios
1/2 Cup Shelled English Peas, Blanched
2 Teaspoons Lemon Juice
1 Teaspoon Lemon Zest
1 Teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes

1 Cup Arugula, Pea Tendrils, or Other Tender Greens
1 Radish, Sliced Very Thin
2 Teaspoons Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper, to Taste
1/4 Cup Vegan “Goat Cheese” (Optional)

For the panisse: Bring the water, salt, and olive oil to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Add the garbanzo flour, whisking so it doesn’t form lumps. Ass the lemon juice, lemon zest, cumin, and pepper. Cook over low heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture thickens and pulls away from the sides of the pan; about 10 minutes. Pour the batter into a greased pan and allow it to cool to room temperature. Slice into desired shapes and pan fry in oil until golden.

For the mushrooms: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Toss the sliced mushrooms, olive oil, salt, and pepper together in a bowl. Lay the mushrooms out on a parchment paper-lined sheet pan and roast for 15 minutes, or until they are lightly browned. Leave the oven on and set the mushrooms aside.

For the asparagus: Toss the asparagus together with the olive oil, salt, and pepper. Lay the spears on a sheet pan or baking pan and roast in the oven until soft but not mushy; about 5 minutes. Set aside.

For the purée: In a sauté pan over medium heat, cook the leeks in olive oil until softened; about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until golden. Remove from the heat and transfer to a blender. Add the remaining ingredients, thinning with water as needed to achieve a purée that is silky-smooth and can be spooned on a plate without turning into a soupy puddle.

To finish: Place 2 – 3 stalks of asparagus on each plate. Top each with a piece of chickpea panisse, spoon some of the purée on top, and add a piece or two of roasted mushroom. Toss the greens with olive oil, sliced radish, salt, and pepper. Add the dressed greens to the plate and crumble a small amount of the vegan cheese on top, if desired.

Makes 6 Servings

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