Lazy Days

Writing a cookbook all about 10-minute recipes has made me the laziest cook ever. I’ve often said that it’s spoiled me for regular dinnertime prep, reducing me to infantile tantrums if anything should threaten to spill over that arbitrary time limit. Though I’m ashamed to admit it, I’ve been known to throw down a spatula mid-stir and plunder the cupboard for a bowlful of cereal instead, too hungry or impatient to complete the absurdly simple task. Just like the increasing efficiency of technology has eradicated our tolerance for lag, knowing just how quick a meal can come together creates a terrible intolerance for long, drawn out steps towards food fabrication.

For anyone else who knows that struggle, I’d like to introduce your to my easiest, fastest recipe yet, possible to slap on the table in 3 minutes all told. No arduous chopping, sauteing, baking, grilling, poaching, or advanced techniques required. If you can open a can and operate a microwave, you can feed yourself very well indeed. Truly, it’s so simple that it’s barely even a recipe, to the point that I hesitate to share this quick fix as a formal preparation. Considering how many times it’s saved me from the daily dinner dilemma, however, it seemed like a worthwhile idea to share.

Beans. Salsa. Spices. Heat and eat. It’s not fancy fare, but it’s a healthy bowl-in-one and deeply satisfying. Even a bare-bones sort of pantry should be able to accommodate without advanced planning, especially when you look at the ingredients with a flexible perspective. Simple as it is, the beauty of this basic formula is that it’s infinitely adaptable to any type of beans or seasoning you can scrounge up. See the end notes for more inspiration, but don’t be afraid to depart from the beaten path; make it your own and embark on a new flavor adventure.

Instant Fiesta Soup

2 (15-Ounce) Cans No Salt Added Pinto Beans (Undrained)
1 1/2 Cups Salsa
1 1/2 Teaspoons Smoked Paprika
1 Teaspoon Ground Cumin

For Topping (Optional):

Diced Avocado
Thinly Sliced Chives or Scallions

Toss the beans, aquafaba and all, into your blender along with the salsa and spices. Blend until mostly smooth but with a bit of texture still remaining, as desired.

Transfer the mixture to a medium saucepan and heat over medium-high, until steaming hot all the way through; about 4 – 5 minutes. Alternatively, a single serving into the microwave for 2 minutes and store the rest in the fridge, sealed in an airtight container, for up to a week.

Ladle into bowls and top each with avocado and chives or scallions. Dig in!

Makes 3 – 4 Servings

Variations:

On less lazy days, cook your own beans from scratch! Simply use about 3 cups total and either 1/2 – 1 cup of the aquafaba or vegetable broth, to reach your desired consistency.

To simply switch things up a bit, consider using black beans instead of pinto.

Make it an Italian-inspired soup by using white beans and marinara sauce in place of the salsa, plus a generous handful of fresh or dried herbs (heavy on the basil and parsley, please!)

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No Sweat

What kind of crazy person would recommend diving into a steamy bowl of lava-hot spicy soup in the middle of a heat wave? As temperatures flirt with the 100-degree mark in much of the country, one’s natural impulse might be to crawl into the freezer and eat all the ice cream while waiting for the blaze to subside. Instead, consider the human response to capsaicin, the “hot” component of all chilies and peppers which is actually considered an irritant in large doses. To combat that culinary chemical attack, we naturally begin to sweat, which in turn, actually cools the skin.

Suspend disbelief just long enough to embrace the burn, and your pain will likely turn to pleasure. That’s especially true if the hellbroth in question happens to bear the hallmarks of my favorite Thai soup, tom yum. Sometimes it shows up on menus as a romanized “Tom Yam,” which inspired me to pursue that concept more literally. Dropping the more typical addition of rice noodles in favor of spiralized yams, the sweet, sour, and spicy combination gains greater depth, and preparation is coincidentally simplified. Everything goes into one pot, cooks just to a boil, and dinner is served in an instant.

If you can’t stand the heat, literally, feel free to take down the spice level a notch by incorporating a splash of creamy, cooling coconut milk. Although “Tom Kha Yam Noodle Soup” doesn’t quite have the same ring, it definitely has an appetizing allure all its own.

Tom Yam Noodle Soup

1 Medium Yam, Peeled and Spiralized
3 – 4 Cups Mushroom or Vegetable Stock
1 Medium Shallot, Diced
1 Stalk Fresh Lemongrass, Bruised and Roughly Chopped
6 Makrut Lime Leaves, Bruised
1 Inch Fresh Galangal or Ginger, Sliced
1 Medium Roma Tomato, Diced
6 Ounces Medium-Firm Tofu, Cubed
6 Ounces Mixed Mushrooms, (Cremini, Shiitake, Trumpet, Oyster, and/or Straw Mushrooms) Sliced
2 Tablespoons Sambal Oelek
2 Teaspoons Braggs Liquid Aminos
1 1/2 Tablespoons Lime Juice
1/4 Cup Fresh Cilantro, Minced (Optional)

Start by spiralizing your peeled yam and placing it in a large stock pot over medium heat on the stove. Add in 3 cups of the stock to generously cover the vegetable noodles, along with the diced shallot.

Bundle up the bruised/chopped lemongrass, lime leaves, and galangal or ginger in a large tea strainer and toss the whole thing into the pot. This allows for a powerful flavor infusion with easy removal later, since these items are too fibrous to comfortably consume.

Add in the tofu, mushrooms, sambal oelek, braggs, and lime juice. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 10 minutes, until the yam noodles are fork-tender but well before they start falling apart. Divide between two big bowls, top with cilantro if desired, and dig in immediately, while piping hot!

Makes 2 Servings

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Don’t Chicken Out

Back in the day, creamy chicken ramen was my jam. I grew up downing bowls of the stuff when I was too picky to accept the mere suggestion of a green vegetable on my plate. Heck, I even lost my first tooth while hastily slurping down those long strands of salty noodles! Now I realize that this style has a lot in common with tori paitan ramen, which has very rich and creamy broth, usually created from long-simmered chicken bones. Lowbrow instant noodles can’t compare to the depth and delicacy of the real thing, but poultry needn’t apply to forge an authentic flavor in a fraction of the time.

Be it mental malaise or a physical flu, this is the kind of soup that will cure what ails you, or at least provide a serious serving of comfort through it all. Such simple flavors are universally appealing; it’s the ramen that could very well unite a nation. The two keys to success are high quality stock options and superlative noodles, since there’s no where to hide these key players with such few ingredients in the mix. In a perfect world, you could make your own vegetable stock and reduce it down to a concentrate to replace the 1/2 cup of water, and go through the full process of making alkaline noodles from scratch… But for a quick fix, you really can’t beat this kind of instant ramen gratification.

Vegan Paitan Ramen

3 Ounces Dry Ramen Noodles (Straight or Curly)
1/2 Cup Unsweetened Non-Dairy Milk
1/2 Cup Water
2 Teaspoons Tapioca Starch
1 Teaspoon No-Chicken Broth Powder or Paste
1 Teaspoon Soy Sauce
1/2 Tablespoon Vegan Butter
Thinly Sliced Scallions (Optional)

Begin by setting a small pot of water on the stove to boil and cook your noodles to al dente, as directed by the instructions on the package. Drain thoroughly when ready.

Meanwhile, whisk together the non-dairy milk, water, starch, instant broth, and soy sauce, beating the mixture vigorous to ensure that there are no clumps of starch remaining. Pour everything into a small saucepan and place on the stove over medium-low, stirring frequently. Cook until thickened and bubbles break with regularity on the surface; about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat, add in the vegan butter, and stir until melted and smoothly incorporated.

Toss the noodles in the sauce, transfer to a bowl, and top with scallions if desired. Slurp away without delay! This dish does not keep well nor get better with age.

Makes 1 Serving

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Dancing in the Rain

Predictably unpredictable as always, springtime in San Francisco meaning blazing hot days of sunshine, followed immediately by the shock of hail, and endless vacillation between floods and droughts. Winter is usually the rainy season, but all bets are off as weather across the globe grows more extreme. Though fleeting, each sudden downpour puts a serious damper on business as usual. If you’re on foot, you’re liable to drown before reaching your destination, even if it’s just across the street. If you’re lucky enough to have a car, get cozy because traffic will be at a standstill as hapless motorists try to contend with the unmanageable conditions. A real rainy day like this calls for staying in by all means possible, for the sake of safety and sanity.

That means you had better stock your pantry and be prepared to make a meal of whatever you have on hand. Soups and stews are my go-to solutions for just such an occasion; anything in the fridge, freezer, and pantry can meld together in some sort of harmonious fusion, and with an ample spice rack, you’ll never risk flavor fatigue. Cook once, eat twice, thrice- or as many times as you can stand it.

Contending with another drenching rain one recent afternoon, sheer luck and serendipity yielded one of the most brilliant, prismatic brews I’ve had simmering on the stove in many months. Boldly magenta, or perhaps violently violet, purple potatoes, black quinoa, and red cabbage join forces to create a stew of a different hue. Delicious as it is visually stunning, I knew right away that this was no average stone soup, setting to work recording my recipe for future reference. Only in hindsight to I see the uncanny connection to Prince, whom we remember for his untimely passing exactly two years ago tomorrow.

I’d like to think that this simple bowl of comfort might be a small way to celebrate, rather than mourn such a vibrant life. It doesn’t need to be raining out to enjoy such a blend, but it certainly does make for a comforting complement to the weather. As Prince has said, “Honey I know, I know, I know times are changing.
It’s time we all reach out for something new,” so go ahead, shake up the usual routine and give it a try.

Purple Rainy Day Soup

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Medium Red Onion, Diced
4 Cloves Garlic, Minced
4 Cups Shredded Red Cabbage
1/3 Cup Black Quinoa
2 Medium Purple Potatoes, Peeled and Diced (About 1 Pound)
1 Bay Leaf
4 Cups Vegetable Stock
2 Tablespoons Red Miso Paste
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1/2 Teaspoon Dried Rosemary, Crushed
1 Tablespoon Sherry Vinegar
1/2 Cup Frozen Green Peas

Place the olive oil in a large stock pot and set it over medium heat on the stove. Saute for about 5 minutes, until translucent. Add in the garlic and continue cooking for another 5 – 10 minutes, until aromatic and lightly browned. Incorporate the shredded cabbage in handfuls, allowing it to wilt down slightly before adding more. Follow that with the dry quinoa, potatoes, and bay leaf.

Whisk the miso paste into the stock until smooth before pouring the mixture into the pot. Bring the mixture up to a boil, reduce the heat, and cover. Simmer for 25 – 30 minutes until the potatoes are fork-tender and the quinoa is fully cooked. Season with black pepper, rosemary, and vinegar, adjusting to taste if needed.

Toss in the frozen peas and simmer just until thawed and hot all the way through. Serve right away while piping hot!

Makes 4 – 6 Servings

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New Year, New Stew

Rubbing the sleep from our eyes as sunlight floods the room, still slightly subdued from last night’s festivities, we all wake to greet the new year: Welcome, 2018! Ripe with potential, the days ahead unfurl before us, bright and gleaming like gems, a treasure to discover along the way.

Encouraged to seize this opportunity for personal renewal, the temptation to reinvent oneself is strong. We’re encouraged to set lofty goals for a “new year, new you.” The hype has grown considerably quieter over the years, thankfully, but still it persists. I’m here right now to say that if you’re still feeling tempted by those invasive marketing tactics, you’re not alone, but you’re already good enough. Smart enough. Pretty enough. Fit enough. Kind enough. If you’re even considering what you’d like to improve about yourself, you’re thoughtful and motivated and intelligent enough to make it happen, if that’s what you really want. But you don’t need to, and you don’t need to pretend to, if you don’t. You’re exactly the same person you were before the sun set last night and the ball dropped at midnight, and that’s exactly who you need to be. You are already the best YOU out there. DON’T throw it all away in an attempt to start with a “new” you all over again.

Understand that in all honesty, I’m saying this as much for you as I am for me, because sometimes it’s easier to see the goodness in others than yourself. That doesn’t detract from my conviction in those words, but further strengthens the sentiment. If you can start to see positivity and have a more optimistic perspective of your world, you can manifest that same light, too.

Motivational pep talk out of the way, let’s move full steam ahead into the best year yet, shall we? Embark on this new journey forward with something hearty, soul-soothing, and utterly effortless in case holiday revelry is still ringing in your ears.

Murky gruel the color of swamp water is typically the defining characteristic of split pea soup, but beneath the surface lies true inner beauty. Mixing in frozen sweet peas at the very end brightens up the situation considerably, lending both fresh pops of pigmentation and flavor. Unlike most bean soups, no soaking is necessary to tenderize the legumes, cooking quickly into an instantly an creamy, thick stew.

Simple Split Pea Soup

1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Small Red Onion, Diced
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1 Medium Sweet Potato, Peeled and Diced
2 Tablespoons Reduced-Sodium Soy Sauce
1 Cup Split Green Peas
4 Cups Vegetable Stock
1/2 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
1 Tablespoon Fresh Rosemary, Minced
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1 Cup Frozen Green Peas
Salt, to Taste

Heat your pressure cooker on the sauté setting and add the oil. Add the onion and garlic, cooking until translucent and aromatic; about 6 or 7 minutes. Add in the sweet potato, soy sauce, split peas, vegetable stock, paprika, rosemary, and pepper, stir to incorporate, and lock in the lid.

Once sealed, cook on High Pressure for 18 minutes. Let stand for 3 minutes longer before opening the valve to release the remaining pressure.

Stir in the frozen peas (no need to thaw in advance) and season with salt to taste. Give the mixture a vigorous stir to further break up the split peas for a thicker, smoother texture, if desired.

To make this soup on the stove top, without a pressure cooker, simple cover and simmer on low heat for 35 – 45 minutes instead.

Makes 3 to 4 Servings

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Eat Real, Drink Real, Really Fast

That’s all, folks. The manuscript for Real Food, Really Fast is locked in, speeding out to the printer as we speak. It’s been a brief but intense journey to this point, but now one of the most difficult parts of the process lies ahead: The wait. January 16th, the tentative release date, feels like a lifetime away, especially as I’m bursting to spill the beans on all these fresh new recipes. Even the slightest provocation will send me scrambling to my phone to flaunt a sneak peek of the rough PDF to anyone I’m speaking with. Every subject seems to remind me of something going into the book, and like an over-caffeinated child at show-and-tell, I just can’t contain my enthusiasm.

Capitalizing on an abundance of fresh honeydew melon, a sudden heatwave, and a serendipitous opportunity to spread the word, this unconventional gazpacho took that impulse towards oversharing to the next level.

Cucumber-melon was a hand soap, a home fragrance, or a body lotion as I knew it growing up. Naively failing to connect the dots to obvious origins, it took an embarrassing number of years for me to realize that it could correlate to an actual food combination. Even then, the discovery did little to tempt my taste buds, the concept ranking right alongside the suggestion of biting into a scented candle. What works for cosmetics doesn’t necessarily merit culinary consideration, but this is one rare case where the two worlds collide with great success. Gazpacho is designed specifically to deliver the ultimate cooling palate cleanser on a hot summer’s day, which just so happens to define the essence of both cucumbers and honeydew melons as well. Mind you, this is no dessert soup, with the notable twang of garlic, onions, and vinegar swimming peacefully amidst the pale green puree, but a careful balance to bridge discordant components of a menu.

Flavor pairing is an important element well beyond the bowl to complete a harmonious meal. I’m no sommelier, but I do understand the importance of matching a complimentary drink to a delicate dish such as this one. Nothing too loud or brash to cover up its subtleties, and nothing too sweet to skew the overall impression towards the saccharine. Few options other than plain water fit the bill, until I discovered the effervescent delight that is Lavender Melon KeVita Master Brew Kombucha. Yes, a sparkling probiotic powerhouse infused with the essence of watermelon, a touch of ginger, and a gentle floral note! Invigorating black tea will power you through the heat of summer’s last hurrah, and won’t let you down with a terrible crash later on. Could there be anything more perfect or refreshing to enjoy with this soup?

Happily, I’m not the only one who seems to think so. KeVita and I will be joining forces to showcase this cool couple at the Eat Real Fest on September 23rd and 24th. Bay area natives and visitors, this is your chance to get an early taste of Real Food, Really Fast while enjoying Kevita’s carefully curated kombucha options! I’ll be there in person from noon to 4:00pm to share free samples of my Cucumber-Melon Gazpacho, complete with exclusive recipe cards as an early preview for the book. Join us for real food, real fun, really fast!