Well beyond the distraction of holiday merriment, winter stretches out as far as the eye can see, like an interminable ocean that surpasses the horizon. We’re in it for the long haul, no safe havens to moor our ships for the night, completely at the mercy of a historically mercurial season. No longer are we reliant on stockpiles of homemade preserves and canned goods, but fresh produce is considerably less diverse, or at least, anything grown nearby and worth eating offers fewer inspiring options. Even in balmy California, farmers market tables once straining under the weight of plump tomatoes and juicy peaches look comparatively sparse, bearing dusty tubers and hearty greens instead.
It’s a rough transition, no doubt about that, but great abundance can still be found even in the depths of winter. A far cry from the scarcity faced by the average cook only a few decades back, the danger isn’t that one might go hungry, but that one might go with a boring dinner. Oh, such terrible sacrifices we must make!
Instead of seeing what the local markets lack, it’s just as easy to see what they have to offer. With an open mind and a pinch of creativity, cravings that once seemed impossible to fulfill now appear ripe with potential for innovation.
Tabbouleh is a staple dish when the weather turns warm, the simplest combination of fresh ingredients that absolutely screams “summer!” in every refreshing bite. Tomatoes and parsley make up the foundation, with a handful of cracked wheat acting as the mortar holding everything together. It’s the kind of combination that needs no formal recipe, depending entirely on the strength of those bare components to shine. I’d never dream of making tabbouleh in winter, when only mealy pink tomatoes shipped halfway across the globe can be found rotting on grocery store shelves. No, not traditional tabbouleh…
…But I would make tabbouleh built with some crafty seasonal substitutions in mind. Bear with me, because I know that it’s not a natural leap to replace tomatoes with persimmons, but it makes perfect sense the moment you taste them in this light, leafy salad. Their juicy, meaty texture and natural sweetness add volumes of complexity to the basic composition, elevating the final product to a truly noteworthy side. Pomegranate arils follow to lend tart, crunchy bursts of flavor, echoing the bright lemon juice and balancing the bitter greens. Parsley could be the sole herbaceous element if you so desire, but in an homage to the abundance of root vegetables and in protest of food waste, I felt compelled to toss in those unloved green carrot tops that are all too often discarded, rather than savored as they should be.
Even the longest winter can feel far more manageable with a good supply of fresh, simple recipes on hand. There’s definitely a time and a place for the heavy soups and stews typically associated with the season, but a bit of lightness and brightness goes a long way when there’s no sun, and little local produce, to make up the difference.
1/4 Cup Bulgur
1/4 Teaspoon Turmeric
1/2 Cup Vegetable Broth
1 Fuyu Persimmon, Peeled, Stemmed, and Chopped
1/3 Cup Pomegranate Arils (Optional)
1 1/2 Cups Carrot Tops, Minced
1 Cup Fresh Parsley, Minced
2 Tablespoons Red Onion, Finely Chopped
2 – 3 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
2 – 3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
Salt and Ground Black Pepper, to Taste
In a small saucepan, combine the bulgur wheat, turmeric, and vegetable broth, and place over low heat. Stir well and bring to a boil. Cover, turn off the heat, and let stand for 15 – 20 minutes, until all of the liquid has been absorbed.
Meanwhile, prepare the fruits and vegetables accordingly and toss together in a large bowl. Add the cooked bulgur when finished and slightly cooled, followed by the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper, adding more or less according to personal preference.
Cover and chill for at least 2 hours before serving to allow the flavors to marry.
Makes 4 – 6 Servings
Oh sure, easy for you to say.
In lieu of a television, the quiet hum of online weather reports has begun to serve as a neutral white noise at times, filling the void of late nights when no other voices are available to keep me company. Focused on the east coast’s snowy predicament more often than not, it seems that the whole country would be talking about my hometown even if the radio’s dial had been set on frequencies emanating from thousands of miles in any direction. Most of the information goes straight through my consciousness, filtered out as just comforting, human sounds, but every now and then particular words stick in my consciousness.
Blizzards… Black ice… Power failures…
So isn’t it easy for me to implore the folks suffering out there to just “shake it off,” offering up a tropical smoothie with an insensitive veneer of enthusiasm? How could I, the traitor who skipped bail and fled my sentencing for a winter in balmy California, have anything constructive to add to this seasonal tale of misery and woe?
And yet, I can’t keep my mouth shut, or more accurately, my fingers still as they glide across the beguiling keyboard. As much as the native New Englander in me would love to grouse about the terrible and relentless snow storms with the rest of my family, I’m much more grateful that those crushing winter phenomenon are no longer a part of my personal experience. Instead, I have sunshine, relative warmth, and yes, an incredible bounty of local produce that manages to grow even now in mid February; an unheard of miracle for someone who would expect two feet of sludge to line the garden beds right about now.
What a luxury it is to have a nearby farmers market boasting an ample selection of my very favorite food in the entire world: Cherimoya. Most people scratch their heads when the fruit is mentioned, and I hesitate to bring it more attention for fear of limiting my own selfish hoard of the fruits. A pricy treat to be sure, it’s hard to justify doing anything with the creamy, custard-like flesh other than dig in with a spoon once it’s ripe. Every now and then, however, one might venture into the land of overripe, at which point the only the one can do is blend it up and drink it down instead. That’s where the idea to create a tropical shake came from, playing off the classic umbrella drink, the lava flow.
Fiery red rivulets of strawberry “lava” flow throughout the classic coconut-pineapple rendition of this refreshing island staple, finished with a kiss of light rum. The sweet, creamy richness of cherimoya transforms the drink into an exotic new experience, which is just as luscious with or without the booze.
So this is how I’m shaking off winter. I’m well aware that not everyone is, or can, but for those with the ability to greet winter under brighter skies, I would implore you to relish every last sip of it.
Cherimoya Lava Flow
Strawberry Lava Sauce:
1 Cup Strawberries, Fresh or Frozen and Thawed
2 Tablespoons Coconut Sugar or Light Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
2 Tablespoons Lime Juice
Creamy Cherimoya Cocktail:
1 Medium Cherimoya*
1 Cup Diced Fresh Pineapple
1 Cup Full-Fat Coconut Milk
1/4 – 1/2 Cup Light Rum**
*In lieu of fresh cherimoya, substitute either 1 medium banana or approximately 2/3 cup of young coconut meat for a different yet still delicious taste.
**For a non-alcoholic version, substitute an equal amount of pineapple juice.
Prepare the strawberry sauce first by combining the strawberries, sugar, and lime juice in a small saucepan over low heat. Cook gently for about 10 minutes, just until the berries have softened and the sugar dissolved. Transfer to your blender and thoroughly puree so that no chunks of fruit remain. Strain out the seeds if desired and set aside.
Rinse and dry your blender before returning it to its base. Slice the cherimoya in half and use a spoon to scoop out the soft white flesh, discarding the black seeds as you encounter them. Pop the cherimoya fruit into your blender, along with the pineapple, coconut milk, and 1/4 cup of rum. Blend on high speed until completely smooth. Add more rum to taste, depending on your preference.
Divide the cocktail base between two glasses and drizzle the strawberry “lava” into each one, aiming for the sides of the glass to create the greatest visual impact. Serve with a tall straw and an additional wedge of fresh pineapple for extra flare.
Makes 2 Servings
Is it safe to come out yet? Have the relentless demands for all things pumpkin-spiced died down, at least to an intermittent, dull roar? I’ve been hanging onto one gem of a pumpkin recipe for months, but selfishly withheld it from the blog-reading public, fearing it would become lost in the sea of squash.
No, wait, don’t click away just yet! Rather than another sweet interpretation of the seasonal gourd, loosely modeled around the flavors of a pie rather than the actual vegetable, I’m much more fond of pumpkin when it actually tastes like, well, pumpkin. Crazy though it may be, I’d much prefer to see pumpkin turn up as a savory offering during the main meal instead of just the grand finale, capped off with an avalanche of sugar and seasonings so strong that they obscure the inherent flavor of the star ingredient. Food producers and well-meaning cooks alike seem to have forgotten the pumpkin’s potential outside of the dessert realm.
Even if you’re feeling burnt out on pumpkin, I would implore you to give it another shot when re-imagined in matzo ball format. Completely nontraditional and aligned with entirely the wrong Jewish holiday, these are definitely not your Bubbie’s matzo balls. Bound together with roasted pumpkin puree, I prefer to think of them more as matzo dumplings, since they bear a denser, more toothsome texture than the fluffy pillows of Passover lore. The goal of this wintery interpretation was not to perfect the vegan matzo ball, but to create something with the same sort of comforting flavors, revamped with a more seasonal spin.
Moreover, purists would be horrified at my cooking methods. A baked matzo ball, for crying out loud? That’s downright heresy in some kosher kitchens, I’m sure. The beauty of this approach is that rather than getting soggy dumplings, halfway dissolved into a puddle of lukewarm soup, they stay perfectly intact until the moment your spoon carves through the tender spheres. Allowing for effortless advanced preparation, just keep the dumplings safely out of the golden, vegetable-rich pool until the moment you’re ready to serve.
On a blustery, cold day when nothing but a heartwarming bowl of soup will do, this is my idea of comfort food. Owing nothing to the overblown pumpkin trend, it’s still worth keeping your pantry stocked with a can of the stuff, just in case a craving strikes.
Pumpkin Matzo Dumpling Soup
1 1/3 Cups Fine Matzo Meal
2 Teaspoons Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Garlic Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/4 Cup Very Finely Minced Yellow Onion
1 1/2 Cups Roasted Pumpkin Puree, or 1 (14-Ounce) Can 100% Solid Packed Pumpkin Puree
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
6 Cups Vegetable Broth
2 Small Carrots, Thinly Sliced
2 Stalks Celery, Thinly Sliced
1 Medium Yellow Onion, Diced
1/4 Cup Fresh Dill, Minced
1/4 Cup Fresh Parsley, Minced
Salt and Ground Black Pepper, to Taste
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a baking sheet.
In a large bowl, stir together the matzo meal, salt, garlic powder, baking powder, and soda. Yes, it may seem like a lot of salt, but it gets rationed into many little matzo dumplings. Don’t back down on the amount or else you’ll risk making bland balls! Make sure all the dry goods are evenly distributed throughout before adding in the minced onion, tossing to coat. Combine the pumpkin puree and olive oil in a separate container, whisking until smooth, and pour the wet mixture into the bowl. Mix with a wide spatula, stirring thoroughly to combine, until there are no remaining pockets of dry ingredients. Let the matzo batter sit in a cool spot for about 15 minutes to thicken before proceeding.
I like using a small cookie scoop for more consistent dumplings, but a good old fashioned tablespoon will do just fine as well. Scoop out about 2 teaspoons of the matzo mixture for each dumpling, rolling them very gently between lightly moistened hands to round them out. Place each one on your prepared baking sheet about 1/2-inch part. There’s no risk of them spreading, but giving them a bit of breathing room helps to ensure more even cooking. Repeat until all of the batter is used and you have a neat little army of raw matzo balls ready to be baked. Lightly spritz the tops with olive oil spray for better browning, if desired.
Bake for 45 – 50 minutes, rotating the sheet pan halfway through, until golden brown all over.
Meanwhile, prepare the soup itself by combining the broth, carrots, celery, and onion in a medium stock pot. Bring it to a boil and then reduce to a simmer, cooking until the carrots are fork-tender. Right before serving, add in the fresh herbs and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Ladle out some of the soup into each soup bowl and add in the baked matzo dumplings right before serving. Enjoy piping hot!
Makes 35 – 40 Dumplings; About 8 Servings
Change up the usual festive flavors and think blue this holiday season! Before you hit palate fatigue from pumpkin pie-spiced everything, reach to the freezer for inspiration and invite Wild Blueberries back to the party. Even as the days go by and winter tightens its grip, frozen Wild Blueberries are still not only available but convenient, since they’ll stay icily preserved until inspiration strikes, and of course, just as sweet and delicious as ever. I’m not alone in my Wild Blueberry holiday plans, as two other very talented bloggers have joined me in developing some festive, true blue treats to celebrate the season.
My contributions start with a sweet and simple drink. It may not look like much more than a standard mug of hot chocolate, but beneath that steamy surface hides a rich, blue secret. Wild Blueberries and chai tea spice things up together, contributing both a warming and fresh, fruity flavor unlike any other cocoa combination I’ve ever tried. Wild Blueberry Chai-Spiced Hot Chocolate is a snap to whip up after a rough day out in the freezing cold, and is sure to take the chill off instantly.
Heading over to the savory side of the street, a quick Wild Blueberry jam infused with fresh sage is sure to surprise and delight. Perfect to smear on crackers and enjoy unadorned, or pack into pretty glass jars to give away as gifts, this is an intense, flavorful spread that masterfully balances sweet, savory, sour, salty, and herbal tastes in every bite. Of course, you can also dress it up for your next big shindig by creating Wild Blueberry Crostini.
Lightly toasted slices of baguette are topped with creamy pistachio ricotta, serving as the perfect foil to the flavorful jam. Finish the whole thing off with a sprinkle of crunchy whole pistachios, and guests may not be able to save room for dinner itself.
Stock up on a bag or two of frozen Wild Blueberries and go check out the whole free e-book for these recipes and more. I don’t know about you, but now I’m dreaming of a blue Christmas…
This post was written for and is sponsored by Wild Blueberries, but all content and opinions are entirely my own.
Though I hate to quote such a loathsome pop reference, Oops, I did it again. While no one was looking, I slipped away out the backdoor, spent a long weekend overseas in Germany, and quietly let myself back in. Talk about a whirlwind trip; there wasn’t even enough time to adjust to the time difference, or get a full night of sleep for that matter. Swept up in the spirit of the winter carnival, none of that mattered for long. It’s impossible not to drink in that energy and share the excitement of the crowd. It’s an annual custom that needs no translation, or complete understanding either. The most inexplicable parts are the best, such as the odd mish-mash of costume themes, the throwing of not only candy off of parade floats but also mini bottles of alcohol, or the exact meaning of “helau!” All that matters is that you yell it at the top of your lungs, again and again, to loved ones and strangers alike. After an hour or two in the freezing cold, feet turned into unfeeling blocks of ice, it simply starts to sound a whole lot like “hurrah!”
I’m sure Mardi Gras in New Orleans was wild and wonderful, but the Germans sure do know how to party, too.
While I struggle to acclimate to daily life at home once more, I will continue uploading photos and anecdotes on Flickr. It wasn’t the same sort of food-focused trip that Hawaii was, but there were plenty of other fascinating subjects to train my lens on instead.
Typically, sharing about the latest and greatest issue of VegNews is a big waiting game. Rarely does my own copy arrive before I spill the beans, but I can usually resist the urge to post about it at least until the designated month on the cover. Needless to say, that’s not the case for the incoming November/December issue. As soon as I learned that at least one copy was out in the wild, that signaled that it was fair game. This collection of articles and recipes is so enticing, so irresistible, that hopefully my impatience is pardonable this time around.
Returning with another column of My Sweet Vegan, I’m thrilled to share what may very well become the holiday dessert that everyone talks about for years to come: Black Forest Parfaits. The classic Christmas cake has been broken down into its essential components to be reassembled in delicate layers of chocolate cake, vanilla creme, and a lightly boozy drunken Morello cherry sauce. Not only does this presentation allow each element to shine, visible through clear glass walls, but it means individual servings can be prepared in advance and served without any messy slicing or scooping. Easier on the cook and tastier on the palate; can you say, “win-win”?
After coming down from my cake-induced sugar high, I was thrilled to photograph a deeply satisfying, warming soup as well. Effortless to whip up, the depth of flavor that Jesse Miner managed to create in his Smoky Tomato and Kale Soup is astonishing. Spiked with chili and rounded out by hearty potatoes and quinoa, this is not your average pallid tomato water. More like a stew than a modest soup, it could easily pass as a main course, rather than merely a humble side.
Let’s not forget, this is also the issue where the annual Veggie Award winners are revealed, among many other exciting features. Who’s won favorite cookbook or blog author this year? Now, I wouldn’t spoil that surprise even if I knew!