Sweet and Sour

Without sourness, there could be no sweetness, and vice versa. Experiencing one creates the perspective necessary to appreciate the other, to truly recognize the full spectrum of flavors between the extremes. Finding balance between such starkly contrasted tastes is rare, but highly sought after judging by the popularity of the sweet and sour sauces found splashed across every generic Chinese takeout menu in America. Something about that acidic twang and its sugary foil brings us back for bite after bite, no matter the vehicle, be it protein or vegetable. Asian cultures don’t have a monopoly on this culinary game, though, despite their domination in the field.

Italian agrodolce has a sharp yet sugared character all its own, typically created by a combination of a vinegar reduction and dried fruits. It’s great as a glaze for an entree, like pan-seared tofu or tempeh, or tossed with fresh pasta for a side, but today I’m using it to kick off a party with a wallop of bold flavor.

Everyone’s favorite vegetable du jour, cauliflower, comes in a full spectrum of colors far more brilliant than the average white floret would suggest. Roasted with just a touch of olive oil, salt, and pepper, the simplicity of that preparation is hard to beat, but you can easily step up your starter game with this stellar sauce. In this unconventional approach, briny capers join the fun to turn the dial to 11, but finely chopped green olives could make a fabulous, more mild understudy.

My favorite serving suggestion involves bread. Wide open planes of thick toasted bread or more dainty slices of baguette, first smeared with cashew ricotta for a rich, creamy base which elegantly cuts through these sharp contrasts.

If you’re not crazy about pairing fruit with savory vegetables, I hear you. I too would have given this combination the side eye not long ago. Suspend disbelief long enough take a chance; unlike the cloying and syrupy renditions of sweet and sour that turned me away in the past, this one, like life itself, is all about finding beauty in balance.


Roasted Rainbow Cauliflower Agrodolce

2 Pounds Purple, White, Green, and/or Orange Cauliflower Florets (About 3 – 4 Small Heads Total)
6 Cloves Garlic, Minced
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
3/4 Cup Jumbo Raisin Medley or Golden Raisins
1/4 Cup Sherry Vinegar
1/4 Cup Capers, Drained
1/2 Cup Fresh Parsley, Minced

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

In a large bowl, toss the cauliflower florets, garlic, oil, salt, and pepper together until thoroughly combined and evenly seasoned. Arrange in a single layer on a large baking sheet, or divide between two baking sheets if needed. Place in the center of the oven and roast until golden brown and fork tender; about 20 – 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan over medium heat, mix the vinegar, capers, and raisins and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer gently until all the liquid has absorbed into the fruit.

Toss the roasted cauliflower with the vinegared raisins, along with the minced parsley. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 6 – 8 Servings

Printable Recipe

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Spring Things

Cherry blossoms. Butterflies. Misted, dewy mornings. Song bird serenades.

These are the things that spring is made of.

Fava beans. Asparagus. Rhubarb. Soft green herbs. Morel mushrooms.

These are the things that spring tastes like.

The promise of these things are what make winter worth enduring, no matter how brutal or seemingly interminable those frigid, forbidding days of darkness become. Slowly but surely, that veil of frost will be lifted to reveal to reveal tender green shoots emerging from quickly thawing earth, revitalized after such fitful slumber.

At long last, all signs point to spring here on the west coast, although that’s not quite the case nationwide. It’s hard to imagine blizzard conditions elsewhere while strapping on sandals to greet the day.

Should these early days of April fall short of expectations, don’t despair. One particular taste of spring is still easily accessible even if your local farmers market remains barren. Fresh peas are an exquisite treat, verdant and shockingly sweet straight out of the pod, but frozen are no terrible sacrifice in a pinch. Roughly mashed into a chunky spread with bright mint and lemon accents, the simple combination is enough to make any residual memories of winter melt away, even if the snow refuses to follow suit.

This combination of rich almond-based ricotta and bright pea puree on a slab of hearty, seeded bread is actually a limited-edition menu item on offer at Nourish Cafe right now. In case you can’t hustle in before the season comes to a close, it’s an easy recipe to make at home for a taste of spring that everyone can enjoy year-round, worldwide.

Spring Pea Toast

Minted Pea Pistou:

1/2 Cup Fresh Mint, Lightly Packed
1 Cup Fresh Spinach, Lightly Packed
3 Tablespoons Garlic Oil
2 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
1 Pound (3 Cups) Fresh, Blanched or Frozen, Thawed Green Peas
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper

For Assembly:

4 Thick Slices Toast
1 Cup Vegan Ricotta
1/2 Cup Fresh Peas
Pea Shoots or Sprouts (Optional)
Edible Flowers (Optional)

Place the mint, spinach, garlic oil, and lemon juice in your food processor and blend until the leaves are all broken down and the mixture is fairly smooth. Pause to scrape down the sides of the container as needed to make sure everything gets incorporated. Add in the peas, salt, and pepper, and pulse until spreadable but still slightly coarse.

The pea pistou can be prepared in advance and stored in an airtight container in the fridge for 3 – 4 days.

To assemble the toast, layer on a thick schmear of vegan ricotta on each slice of bread, followed by the pea pistou and topped with fresh peas, pea shoots, and edible flowers if desired. Savor a taste of spring, no matter the weather outside!

Makes 4 Servings

Printable Recipe

All About That Hass

Morning, noon, or night, avocado toast always hits the spot. Something about the way a luscious, creamy slab of ripe avocado melts into a hot slice of burnished golden toast defies explanation, yielding a taste far greater than the sum of its parts. Dress it up with any variety of spices, seeds, fruits, or vegetables; there’s no way to go wrong with this universal foundation. That said, it’s hard to beat the original and I always crave even more avocado, piling it up as high as gravity will allow.

Seeking a new way to pack in even more of the rich green fruit, I turned to crafting a more perfect base. This bread gets its soft, tender crumb and vibrant hue from a buttery blend of both mashed avocado and avocado oil. It makes for brilliant sandwich bread as well, sliced thin and layered with sweet and savory fillings alike… But of course, I’d always opt to add more avocado whenever possible.

Avocado Bread

1/4 Cup Warm Water (About 100˚F)
1 Teaspoon Light Agave Nectar
1 Packet (2 1/4 Teaspoons) Red Star Active Dry Yeast
2 Large, Ripe Avocados (About 9 Ounces Total)
1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
1/4 Cup Aquafaba
2 Tablespoons Avocado Oil
1 Teaspoon Salt
3 – 3 1/2 Cups White Whole Wheat Flour

Combine the water and agave in a small bowl before sprinkling the yeast on top. Allow it to sit until the yeast is reactivated and bubbly; about 5 – 10 minutes.

Transfer the yeast picture to the bowl of your stand mixer and add in the flesh of the avocados and apple cider vinegar. Using the paddle attachment, begin to mix on medium-low speed, mashing the avocado until completely smooth. Once homogeneous, introduce the aquafaba, avocado oil, and salt, mixing to incorporate.

Add 3 cups of the flour and begin to mix slowly. Swap out the paddle attachment for the dough hook before adding in the remainder of the flour, if needed, to bring the dough together. Let the machine continue knead the dough for about 10 – 15 minutes on low speed, until the dough forms a smooth, elastic ball. It should be a rather soft dough, so don’t be tempted to add more flour.

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and leave at room temperature for about 1 hour or until doubled in volume.

When the dough has risen, preheat your oven to 350˚F. Transfer the dough into a greased 8 ½ x 4 ½-inch baking pan and gently smooth out the top with lightly moistened hands. Let rest once more at room temperature for another 30 minutes.

Bake 40 – 50 minutes, until golden brown all over and irresistibly aromatic. Let the finished loaf rest in the pan for 15 minutes before removing it to cool completely on a wire rack. Slice, savory, and enjoy!

Makes 1 Loaf

Printable Recipe

Toast of the Town

Living in the land of the original $4 toast, it’s easy to become jaded about the countless open-faced sandwiches now infiltrating menus across the country. In fact, looking back at this story now, $4 seems like a remarkable bargain. It’s not uncommon to see a single slice of crusty bread command $6, $7, or even as much as $12 dollars if topped with half an avocado and paired with a frilly salad. Strange but true, the toast trend appears to be here to stay, and is only inflating alongside the inscrutable local economy.

Friends, it’s time to take toast back. I don’t mean that we should all be making Instagram-worthy edible artworks on thickly sliced, grainy artisan loaves, but that we should be able to take some average sandwich bread, throw it in a toaster, and spread something delicious on it. Is that so much to ask? I think that a lot gets lost in translation when it comes to the endless array of topping options, at least when ordering toast at a restaurant. When it arrives at the table with over an inch of spreads, vegetables, fruits, and nuts, it’s a wholly delicious creation, but don’t call it toast; you’ve gone well beyond those boundaries and into the terrain of tartines.

Getting back to home toast, all that really matters is starting out with decent bread and slathering on a quality topping. Pick out a sweet option and you could be looking at breakfast, snack, or dessert; talk about getting a real bang for your buck. Nocciolata Dairy Free will instantly cure even the most severe chocolate craving. A flawless dupe for the beloved chocolate-hazelnut spread known as Nutella, it’s sticky yet silky smooth, and honestly sweet enough to pass for frosting. It feels outrageously indulgent to pass for a morning meal, and yet somehow easy enough to rationalize as a healthy choice, thanks to all those wholesome hazelnuts packed into each jar. Don’t question that logic; just slather it on thick, and if anything, top only with a pinch of coarse salt for maximum enjoyment.

Plain nut butters naturally make for a more neutral base, but that doesn’t mean they should lack flavor. Vivapura’s raw pecan butter is a shining example of a superlative spread, positively radiating nutty aroma upon opening the jar. It’s hard to believe that something so luscious could be just so simple, containing only nuts and salt. Almond butter may be having a moment, but pecans have all that richness, and then some.

Many have decried the toast trend, pointing out blatant price gouging as if that wasn’t the case for every other dish on offer, but that’s not my MO. I just think we should start taking toast back; back into our own kitchens, and back to its more humble roots.

Build a Better Bread

Passover week, of all times, is probably not the best time to share a few thoughts about bread, and yet I can’t stop my mind from drifting back to a few noteworthy loaves. Amid a sea of matzo, it makes perfect sense to find myself craving that yeast-risen crumb with a vengeance. Should anyone else find themselves struggling with similarly tempting thoughts, forgive me, for I am about to make that urge much harder to resist.

One Degree Organics talks a big game about sustainability, transparency, and of course, producing real food with real benefits. Unlike so many other companies where the words amount to merely talk, these principles are clearly visible in every step of the process. Their commitment to making a positive impact is admirable, but the most important contribution they make is one of good taste.

Offering a total of four varieties of bread, they each have incredible character completely unique to the unconventional grains and legumes employed. Legumes? Why yes, the Lentil Grain loaf is a prime example of just that, seamlessly blending red lentils into the soft yet sturdy slices. The resulting nutritional boost makes it incredibly satisfying, keeping me full much longer than the average bread. Better yet, the flavor is deep, complex, evocative of toasted wheat even when eaten cold. Delicious in its own right, it would be an easy way to slip lentils into the diet of a fussy eater; I would have never known if not for the label.

Utterly delicious!, the very first of my tasting notes so helpfully reads. Needless to say, the Sesame Sunflower bread made a positive impression immediately upon the initial bite. Toothsome, sprinkled with impeccably fresh sunflower seeds, nutty sesame flavor sings harmony all throughout the even crumb. A stronger yeast flavor compliments the more assertive additions. Every bite is just a little bit different, adding excitement to what might be otherwise unremarkable meals.

For those craving a more traditional wheat profile, the Ancient Whole Wheat loaf is the way to go. Bearing a subtle sweetness thanks to the invisible addition of raisins, it’s a remarkably well-balanced bread, wholesome and hearty but still soft, undeniably easy to eat. An excellent all-purpose loaf, it seems to play nicely with just about everything. The mellow wheat flavor pairs beautifully with all manner of sandwich fillings or toppings both sweet and savory.

As if it could really get any better, I saved my favorite for last. By my estimation, the Flax & Spelt would be the lovechild of hearty whole wheat and and wild seeded loaves, sharing only the best characteristics of each. A close cousin to the wheat we know today, spelt bears the same familiar flavor, but this particular yeasted permutation is dotted liberally with an abundance of flax seeds. Small but mighty, these square slices are denser than the rest, yielding a sturdy chew and springy texture all at once.

No matter which slice from One Degree Organics you choose, the only way you could go wrong is to serve it up during Passover. I know I’m counting the days, if not the hours, until the toaster can roar back to life…