Schmear Campaign

Whoever first looked at a cashew and thought, “Hey, I think this could taste like cheese!” deserves some kind of gold medal, if not a Nobel Peace Prize. Though this tropical nut has quickly been adopted as the staple ingredient to many dairy-free delights, it truly shines brightest when blended to a creamy consistency and inoculated with savory cultures. Something about the fermentation process brings out all the best flavors, not to mention the probiotic benefits, locked away inside those unassuming beige kernels. Recipes have flooded cookbooks both print and digital within the span of just a few years, and you don’t have to look very far to find evidence on the grocery store shelves, too. Just take the new line of schmears from NuCulture for example.

Based in the Columbia River Gorge region of Oregon, I was lucky enough to stumble upon these fresh blends while visiting Seattle for the VegFest this past spring. Availability is still limited, but growing at a steady clip, as more savvy consumers catch on and get hooked. Very rich and buttery, each flavorful option is so much more than just plain pureed cashews.

Garden Herb is the best entry point for the uninitiated; think of it as an upgraded cream cheese, simply begging for a bagel. Scallions take the lead here, bringing onion flavor to the fore, while gentle notes of parsley, thyme, and oregano play backup in perfect harmony. For whatever reason, it’s the thickest of the three, making it less of a contender as a silky smooth dip, but still perfectly creamy and spreadable.

On the other hand, to all you nostalgic southerners out there, your pitch-perfect pimento cheese dip dupe has arrived. Paprika Pimento bears a mild kiss of red bell peppers, lending a gentle warmth without a bite. An irresistible savory spread with subtle, balanced sweetness, it was the first to disappear when the snacks hit the table.

If you like it hot, though, Bacony Chipotle has your number. Beware that it’s not a treat for the meek! This one is packing serious heat. It starts with a smoldering, smoky, meaty flavor but quickly progresses into a blazing finish. The fire definitely builds as you eat, which can catch up quickly if you’re a serial snacker, unprepared to face the flame.

For all you keeping score at home, mark this one down as yet another win for cashews. Though currently a regional specialty, I hope that the love of this nutty schmear will continue to spread through all 50 states soon, and beyond.

Mac Daddy

Passover has mercifully passed on by without incident, the week without leavened bread already a distant memory. Jumping right back into the typical glutenous routine as quickly as pizza crust can crisp and brown back to life, the cupboards miraculously refill with wheated treats, and boards of matzo just as suddenly disappear. Still, its influence lingers, the drive to create kosher eats still strong and the inspiration of past successes just as compelling.

One of my strongest food associations with the holiday, right after matzo ball soup, of course, is coconut macaroons. Sad to say, it’s a regrettable negative mental link, once correlated to the stale, mummified nuggets found at the bottom of an ancient tin can, likely the very same guest invited to a decade of celebrations. Sinewy, overly sweetened strings of processed coconut were woven throughout, like sugary balls of yarn, obliterating any genuine flavor, natural or otherwise.

It needn’t be this way. Coconut macaroons are effortless to make from scratch, suitable for all diets and palates, but many prepared options exist that can deftly carry the torch, too. Coco-Roons first hit the market years ago with a modest selection of standard flavors. Since then, the family has expanded to include more innovative offerings.

Chocolate and vanilla, the mandatory classics, are presented with a bit more flare as Brownie and Vanilla Maple. While such fanciful monikers may be a bit more hype than truth, there’s no arguing that these macaroons are far and away a huge upgrade over the sad leaden lumps that haunt my childhood memories. Vanilla Maple tastes surprisingly more of rum than maple; subtle, unexpected alcoholic notes play among the tropical coconut flavor, surprising but not unwelcome. Brownie offers adds a nicely rounded, robust cocoa taste to the mix, although I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it’s equivalent to a decadent fudgy square. For some slightly more avant-garde options, Salted Caramel is a standout, dazzling with warm, toasted notes, heightened by that extra bit of seasoning. Lemon Pie does indeed bear an impressively creamy, custard-like lemon flavor; bright but not tangy, it falls firmly into the sweet camp, rather than sour.

More importantly than the individual flavors though, each tiny morsel is moist, soft, and sweet. Very fresh, full coconut flavor, they employ short strands of flaked coconut to create a more pleasing texture, while still remaining relatively faithful to the original script. Traditionalists would undoubtedly enjoy the modern upgrade, and the fact that they happen to be gluten-free, vegan, and raw are just added bonuses.

Going Green

Green isn’t just good; green is great. Green is downright glorious. Green represents health, wealth, freshness, and rebirth. When it comes to food especially, every green in the visible gamut indicates a potent source of nourishment, and this is especially true as those tones grow increasingly saturated. Spirulina is a prime example, packing an unbelievable battery of vitamins, minerals, and proteins into every molecule. Potent even in the smallest doses, spirulina enjoys the rare ability to enhance average recipes, both visually and nutritionally.

Consider that scant pinch of spirulina powder nature’s food dye, with some added health benefits. With St. Patrick’s Day upon us and green eats popping up around every corner, there’s never been a better time to ditch the bottle of FD&C Green No. 3, titanium dioxide, modified corn starch, sodium benzoate, and potassium sorbate.

The funny thing is, the original St. Patrick himself was actually associated with a particular shade of royal blue, not green, contrary to popular belief. That particular hue came to represent the holiday thanks to the shamrock, which was picked to adorn one’s lapel as a vibrant, living symbol of the holy trinity. Curious what a bit of time and mythology can do to tradition.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s still perfectly fitting to pay homage to the “Emerald Isle” with another round of green goodies. If anything, it’s even more appropriate to employ the tinting powers of blue-green algae with this knowledge! It’s the best of all worlds, especially from a flavor standpoint.

Crisp, compact bites for munching solo or pairing with a light dip, you’d never know that these shamrock-shaped crackers are such healthy snacks. A gluten-free base of green pea flour contributes a distinctly nutty, roasted flavor which pairs perfectly with the subtle savoriness contributed by the spirulina. Bold additions of fresh mint, lemon, and black pepper sparkle brightly against the contrast of that dark green backdrop, yielding an invigorating combination well suited for spring festivities, and beyond.

Best of all, the basic formula is infinitely adjustable to your tastes. Green pea flour is still slightly esoteric, I’ll admit, so you can just as easily swap it for standard garbanzo bean flour instead. Herbs and seasonings are entirely flexible, too. Think fresh dill for another seasonal taste, or try cilantro with lime zest to pull the profile in an entirely new direction. As long as it’s green, it’s all good.

Gluten-Free Minted Pea Crackers

1 Cup Green Pea Flour
1 Tablespoon Spirulina Powder
1/4 Cup Packed Fresh Mint Leaves, Finely Minced
1 Scallion, Finely Minced
1 Teaspoon Lemon Zest
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/4 Cup Water
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper or a silpat.

In a large bowl, mix together the green pea flour and spirulina, stirring thoroughly to ensure that the spirulina is thoroughly distributed throughout. Add in the finely chopped herbs, zest, salt, pepper, and baking powder next, tossing to incorporate. Finally, pour in the oil and water together, and mix very well, until you create a smooth, cohesive dough. It will be very thick and you may need to use your hands bring everything together, so don’t be afraid to get in there and get messy! There’s no danger of overworking the mixture since there’s no gluten, so give it your all.

Shape the dough into an even rectangle and pat it out fairly thin by hand before moving on to the rolling pin.

Avoid using an excessive amount of additional flour, but use a tiny bit of extra flour on your work surface to prevent the dough from sticking. I had the best results when rolling it between two separate pieces of parchment paper. Roll out the dough as thinly as possible to yield the crispiest, crunchiest crackers; aim for about 1/8 of an inch. Use a small cookie cutter of your desired shape, approximately 1 inch or so in diameter, and punch out the individual crackers. Transfer the shapes carefully to your prepared baking sheet. No need to space them out too much, since they won’t spread. Just give them enough room to breath and bake evenly.

Bake 15 – 18 minutes, or until crisp and no longer shiny on top. It can be difficult to tell when they’re fully cooked due to the dark green color, but they should at least appear dry. It’s always better to err on the side of caution and pull the crackers earlier to prevent them from burning. They will continue to crisp as they cool, and if you’re not fully satisfied with the texture at that point, you can always return them to the oven for a few more minutes.

Let cool completely before snacking or stashing in an air-tight container for up to a week.

Printable Recipe

This post was is sponsored by Spiral Spring, but all content and opinions are entirely my own. To enjoy a 20% discount on all Spiral Spring products, enter “Sweet20” upon checkout.
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Da Vegan Kine Grindz

Hawaii is host to its fair share of truly outstanding vegan eateries, to say nothing of the countless veggie-friendly establishments that make room at the table for everyone. What you don’t hear about though are the vast offerings of plant-based delights just beyond the beaten path. Navigating through the immense dining scene in Honolulu has led me to many unexpected but delicious discoveries, in places that don’t necessarily cater to vegans. If you’re traveling with omnivores, in search of more “authentic” local eats, or just craving something different, here are just a few of the quick and easy accidentally vegan snacks I’ve stumbled across so far. These can be found throughout the entire island, but I’ve provided a few suggestions for my favorite haunts. No matter the place or time, the key to any happy culinary exploration is to always ask questions!

Shave Ice

The classic beach-going Hawaiian treat, perfect for a hot day- Which is pretty much every day here, even in the dead of winter. Every stand carries a literal rainbow of sugar-based syrups to douse mountains of crushed ice with, so sticking with the basics still leaves you with dozens of flavors to choose from. Waiola Shave Ice and Matsumoto’s Shave ice remain local favorites, but for my tastes, Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha is the one to beat. Where else will you find kale-spinach shave ice and house-made sweetened adzuki beans, no less?

(Cautions: Avoid “creamy” flavors and ice cream toppings.)

Snow Ice

A distinct and entirely different dessert than shave ice, snow ice is also a sweet frozen snack, but made of paper-thin ribbons of ice flakes already infused with flavor, no syrup required. This creates a sensational, light texture that’s incredibly easy to eat, even after a big meal. The technique actually comes from Taiwan but has taken root in Hawaii, particularly in downtown Honolulu. Frostcity is a small chain that always offers at least three or four vegan flavors on any given day.

(Cautions: Always seek out plain fruit flavors and ask about the base; it’s often made with dairy. If the proprietor can’t confirm or deny, assume the worst.)

Edamame & Soybean Poke

A popular pupu (appetizer) at dives and fine dining establishments alike, seasonings start at the most basic sprinkle of sea salt but these humble bean pods are rarely requested so plain. Garlic edamame, studded with plentiful chunks of coarsely minced garlic guarantee you the most powerful but worthwhile dragon breath you’ve ever experienced. Spicy (or sweet-and-spicy) edamame adds either crushed red pepper flakes or a drizzle of sriracha into the mix. It’s a real treat when you can find them dressed up poke-style, in sesame oil, soy sauce, scallions, and sliced sweet onions. The beans pictured above are a specialty from the newly opened Izakaya Torae Torae: Teriyaki truffle edamame.

(Cautions: Garlic edamame are sometimes sauteed in butter, and Asian variants can occasionally include a splash of fish sauce. Ask if you have any doubts.)

Boiled Peanuts

Hailing from China and not the Southern US, Hawaiian boiled peanuts are often enhanced with a hint of star anise around here, but are just as frequently prepared with nothing more than salt and water. Found in poke shops and the deli section of most supermarkets, these tender, toothsome goobers always satisfy and are absolutely dirt-cheap. I have yet to meet a boiled peanut that disagreed with me, but I hear that the best come from Alicia’s Market.

(Cautions: None! These are always a safe and tasty option.)

Crack Seed

Another Chinese import, crack seed is a category of snack that covers all sorts of preserved fruits, some dried and some wet, that typically have a pronounced sweet, sour, and salty taste. Crack seed stores also carry salty snacks like mochi balls and shoyu peanuts, in addition to regular dried fruits and fruity candies. Big glass apothecary jars line the floors and walls of these closet-sized spaces and everything is bought by the 1/4, 1/2, or full pound. If you ask very nicely, most store keepers will give you little tastes to try before you buy.

(Cautions: Just about all of the traditional crack seed options are coated with li hing mui powder, which contains aspartame. Proceed at your own risk.)

Musubi

Also known in some parts as onigiri, the core of these versatile snacks is made up of tightly packed sushi rice, wrapped up in toasted nori. These plain offerings are good lunchbox filler, albeit unexciting in the flavor department. Common veggie-friendly variants that are readily available in bento shops and even convenience stores include fillings made up of kombu, umeboshi, and takuan. These staples will pop up frequently at Shirokiya and yes, even select 7-Eleven stores. Spam musubi are hands-down the top sellers around here, and you may be happily surprised to find a number of vegan renditions scattered across Oahu. Blue Tree Cafe and Peace Cafe, for starters, both have their own tofu-based take on the classic.

(Cautions: 90% of the traditional fillings you’ll come across are fishy and/or meaty, so make sure you read labels and signs carefully.)

Acai Bowls

Imagine an acai-banana smoothie thick enough to eat with a spoon that’s topped with granola and sliced bananas, and you’d have yourself a genuine acai bowl. Ice is usually added into the blend for additional bulk and cooling power, and each shop switches up the fruit inclusions and toppings. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a whole salad of blueberries, strawberries, kiwis, and maybe even coconut flakes crowning your icy creation, but even the paired down renditions are worth trying. You really can’t go wrong with this blend, but I’m quite partial to Jewel or Juice‘s regular acai bowl, which is less sweet than many mainstream formulas.

(Cautions: Honey is one of the default toppings, so always ask for your bowl without.)

And to think, I’m just getting started here! Who knows how many other hidden edible treasures are still out there, just waiting to be discovered? The only way to find out is to start searching, so get out there, explore, and taste Oahu!