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Some Days You Feel Like a Nut

Last week I flew to West Palm Beach for what amounted to a whirlwind tour of four planes, two airports, one vendor hall, and many many faces. From start to finish, my feet only left Nashville soil for 26 hours, but it felt like days. Travel can be hard on the soul.

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In my mind there are three categories of travelers. There are the “vacationers” whose primary purpose for making the trek to their local airport marks the start of a plannes and (hopefully) pleasurable getaway. Then there are the “regulars,” who travel heavily for work-related functions, typically on an almost weekly basis. For “regulars” traveling becomes part of the normal work routine – not a big deal, nothing to worry about. And then there are those, like me, who travel mainly for business, but do so just infrequently enough that the trip becomes an “event” (and occasionally an “ordeal.”)

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You see, for a “work trip,” there is always so much prepping that needs to be done. Presentations to write, arrangements to make, names to remember, org charts to put to memory, not to mention the doubt and uncertainty that sourrounds your attire – is it the right suit? Is this even a suit event? Are open toed shoes acceptable attire for an evening netowrking event? And so on, and so on… And this is to speak nothing of how and where you might find suitable meals on the road. Which is fine, because chances are, if your trips are as harried as mine, you won’t have time to eat.

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This recipe is a wonder for travelers of all sorts. The bites require little prep, few ingredients, and come together in a snap with the aid of a food processor or blender. They are full of healthy fats and protein from the nuts and seeds, antioxidants from the cacao, and are completely free from added sugar. They require no refrigeration, no special packaging, and are even delicious when recovered from the bottom of a weary travel bag – slightly melt-y and a bit smooshed.

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Almond Butter and Hemp Bites with Cacao Nibs – Adapted, Slightly, from Sprouted Kitchen

Recipe – Makes about 20 “Bites”
84g (3/4c) Almonds, Roughly Chopped
42g (¼ c) Raw Cacao Nibs
160g Pitted Dates (5-7 Dates, Depending on Size)
128g Almond Butter (Unsalted)
1 TSP Vanilla Extract
30g (2TBSP) Shelled Hemp Seeds
1/4 TSP Sea Salt
Place the almonds and cacao nibs in the bowl of a food processor or a blender with a pulse function and pulse them until they form a coarse meal. Add the remaining ingredients and continue to pulse until the mixture just comes together.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface. Using your hands, compact and roll the dough into 20 balls. (This process should feel, somewhat, like making meatballs – you want to roll – keeping the dough intact as you go – without being too forceful or using too much pressure.)

Once you have formed the balls, you can use a fork to stamp a crosshatch pattern on the tops, squishing the mounds as you go to form cookie shaped bites.

As soon as you are done shaping the bites they are ready to eat. The dough will firm up slightly if given time to cool in the refrigerator. Allowing them a bit of time to chill will help the bites hold their integrity when they are inevitably tossed into the bottom of a back-pack, hand bag or suitcase.

Running on Fuel – Quinoa, Fruit, and Nut Bars

In our home, eating nourishing and sustainable foods is just one part of our quest to maintain a healthy and balanced lifestyle. Dustin and I have shifted towards using minimally processed ingredients not only because of their rapport but because these foods help fuel our active lifestyle. We both typically engage in some sort of exercise every day. While our fitness obsessions have varied over time, from climbing, to yoga, to cycling, running, soccer and HIIT training, this vast cornucopia of exercises all have one thing in common. Each sport or hobby we take on requires that we power our bodies with clean burning fuel.

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Back in our climbing days Dustin and I munched on countless cliff bars and downed an endless flow of vitamin water. But these bars and sports drinks, while not exactly abysmal, are far from clean and healthy. Vitamin water in particular is packed with processed sugars, artificial dyes, and chemically engineered flavoring. Clif bars were fine, at the time, for providing an immediate source of fuel to push us through laps at the gym, but with most varieties clocking almost 25g of sugar mostly from the primary ingredient, brown rice syrup (which, as an ingredient, boasts virtually no nutritional merit) these aren’t exactly a healthy option for most athletes.

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There is a place for consuming quickly digestible sugars and other carbs in endurance heavy events, where you might be working out for multiple hours and might deplete your glycogen stores if you do not refuel. These bars could be used in this way – although, with about 7 grams of fiber in each bar you probably would not want to eat too many of them on a very long run. We’ve been using them as a pre-run fuel (taking advantage of the natural fruit sugars and complex grain carbs) or as a post-workout recovery snack (utilizing the 11 grams of protein from the nuts, seeds and protein powder).

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What initially caught my eye in this post’s featured recipe was the lack of added sugar. Typically, granola bars or power bars contain a boatload of honey, maple, or molasses to sweeten and bind. Not so here! Also exciting to me was the fact that you don’t need to bake them. You may have a moment of doubt as you peer into the food processor wondering how on earth these things are ever going to stick together. But persevere – once the juice is added at the end the mix should start to resemble a piecrust dough, crumbly but clumpy at the same time. Like with a piecrust, go easy on the juice, adding a little at a time until you sense that the mixture will just bind when pressed into the pan. As with pastry, finding the right balance may take a batch or two to master.

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I adapted the original recipe a bit to include some protein powder. I used an unflavored rice-based protein, which, I suspect, may have aided in the binding process. While I am fairly certain that any type of protein powder could be used here, it may alter the texture a bit. I am picky when it comes to buying dried fruit. I strongly prefer to buy organic as dried fruit are truly just shriveled versions of whole fruit and can carry with them the same residues from conventional growing practices, only in increased concentration. Trader Joe’s typically has an excellent selection of dried fruit and I find that their prices are far lower than large box stores.

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I really like the R.W. Knudsen Family line of juices. I used their black cherry juice in this recipe. It is a simple juice made from only one ingredient! I imagine that any of their single fruit juices would work well in its stead. The black cherry is the only one I have found in small, 8oz, servings. If you have never come across quinoa flakes before, they are quite similar to rolled oats. I am fairly certain that oats could be successfully substituted but if you can find the quinoa flakes they are worth a try as they are much higher in protein content than oats and are likely a bit easier/faster to digest.

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The amounts of the various dried fruits can be toyed with and adjusted to suit your specific preference. I used what I had on hand and I ended up really liking the balance of fruit in the end-product, but I imagine that there are many other dried fruits, from mangos, to figs, to dates, that would work well. Just as in other aspects of your diet, picking a variety of fruits from various different families (i.e. berries, stone fruit, pomes etc…) will provide, not only a well balanced flavor profile, but a broader nutritional profile as well.

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Quinoa Fruit and Nut Bars – Adapted from “He Needs Food”

Recipe – Makes about 12 Bars
84g (1c) Quinoa Flakes
112g (1c) Almonds, Roughly Chopped
15g (¼ c) Desiccated Coconut
120g Dried Apple Rings (About 30 Rings)
130g (1¼ c) Dried Cherries
130g Dried Apricots (About 20 Apricots)
30g (¼ c) Zante or Corinth Currants
40g (¼ c) Dried Blueberries
75g (5T) Vegan Rice Powder (other powder may be substituted, see note above)
120g (½ c) Cherry Juice
70g (½ c) cup Pepitas (divided)

Line a 7 × 11 inch baking pan with parchment paper (no need to grease or spray the pan.) Paper should hang over the sides; you will later use this overhang as “handles” to remove the bars from the pan. Set the pan aside.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place quinoa flakes, chopped almonds, and coconut on a large, rimmed baking tray and toast in the oven until just golden and fragrant. You may need to stir the mixture once or twice in order to ensure reasonably even toasting.

Roughly chop all of the dried fruit and then pulse once or twice in batches in the food processor until minced. Make sure you stop well short of turning it into a fruit paste!

Place the cooled quinoa flakes, almonds, and coconut in the processor and pulse briefly until it becomes a coarse meal. Add the protein powder to the bowl of minced fruit pieced and toss them together with your hands to distribute the powder and “unstick” some of the fruit clumps. Add this to the food processor along with half of the pepitas and pulse once or twice to combine with the nut/quinoa meal.

Drizzle over about half of the juice and pulse once or twice, continue adding the juice in TBSP increments, pulsing in-between until the mixture just starts to come together. When the mix is ready it should still contain discernable pieces of fruit and nuts and hold together if pinched between thumb and forefinger.

Dump the mixture into the lined baking pan and distribute evenly across its surface. Tear off a piece of parchment large enough to fit over the pan and place on top of the mixture. Using the bottom of a drinking glass, start at one corner and press down firmly on the mixture to compact the mix and even out the surface. Remove the parchment and sprinkle the remaining pepitas over the top. To adhere these to the surface, replace the parchment and press again, lighter this time (so as not to crush the pepitas.)

Cover the mixture tightly with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator overnight to allow the bars to solidify. The next morning, lift the sides of the parchment to remove the bars and place on a cutting board. Using a sharp knife and a smooth vertical cutting motion (no sawing!) cut the bars into 12 even pieces. These keep well for a week or two in a tightly sealed Tupperware container in the fridge.

Sweet Serendipity – Gluten-Free Ice Cream Sandwiches

Thanksgiving marks our first major holiday as a married couple. For the first time we will be holding court and hosting Thanksgiving dinner at our house in Tennessee. when it comes to cooking a Thanksgiving Feast, this ain’t my first rodeo. In fact, I would have to think long and hard to remember a time when I wasn’t involved in cooking the family’s holiday dinner. With only a single guest attending our holiday feast this year, this may just be the smallest crowd for whom I have prepared a Turkey day dinner. But, nonetheless, a softly humming worry has been creeping into my mind.

I fret that I have neglected some monumental detail in my meal plan, that the bird will never defrost, or that it will be done hours before the other dishes have come together. I worry that I will forget that the turkey needs to be brined, or that I will neglect to set a timer and my side dishes will burn to a crisp. I stress over thoughts that my cranberries will be impossibly tart, that the parsley will be acrid and bitter. The mind, when left to its own devices, has this amazing ability to wander off, beyond the edge of reason – instilling in us an irrational fear of the virtually impossible and entirely improbable events we are sure will befall us.

You see, ladies and gents, the Turkey wasn’t frozen to begin with. Cranberries are cranberries and will be sour when they want to be, it is part of their bitter-sweet charm. Like all dinner parties, the secret to success, lies, not in planning for the worst, or even for the best, but simply in the planning itself. Picking dishes, that can be made entirely or partially ahead takes the pressure off of the big event. This year we made a rosewater scented nougat the Monday before the event. Green vegetables can easily be blanched for casseroles a day or two before your scheduled feast. Vinaigrettes can likely be made a day in advance.

Know yourself and the way you work. Do you fret over a dry bird? Brining will give you some extra wiggle room between cooked and overcooked and will allow you to focus a bit of extra attention to the details of your side dishes. Do you wake up worrying over how you will get it all done on time? Print out all of your recipes and schedule the steps on an agenda. If any elements can be made in the days prior, note that and knock those out in advance. Check, double check, and triple check your ingredients list, physically crossing items off of your list as they make their way into your shopping cart so that nothing is overlooked or forgotten prior to check out. And if you are like me and feel short on air when you contemplate baking, have something stashed away in the event of an epic cake disaster. The recipe that follows for almond butter ice cream sandwiches may seem out of place in a thanksgiving post, but they are truly life savers in the event of a baking disaster. These little gems can be made a week or two in advance and are there to save the day if, in the heat of culinary battle, you accidentally mistake salt for sugar and your pie tastes like a salt lick. They also make a wonderful no worry dessert for impromptu guests, or for visitors with children.

The truth is, that aside from forgetting to post my pre-Thanksgiving post, the holiday went off without a hitch. Yes, the bird was done about an hour too early, and the sweet potato fries has not crisped in the oven quite the way I wanted them to. My cranberries were in fact a bit too tart, mais, C’est La Vie. I feel lucky that my my desserts turned out, period. I am sure that The French Laundry’s Thomas Keller could do better, but thankfully he wasn’t here to judge. And, just in case he happened to be in the neighborhood, I had an ace in the hole waiting on standby.

Almond Butter Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Sandwiches, Adapted from the Sprouted Kitchen Cookbook

Yield – 15 Sandwiches

113g (1/2 C) Unsalted Butter, At Room Temperature
62g (1/4 C) Turbinado Sugar
48g (1/4 C) Granulated Sugar
1 Large Egg, At Room Temperature
40g (2 TBSP) Light Corn Syrup
256g (1 C) Creamy Natural Almond Butter (Store Bought or Homemade)
160g (1 1/3 C) Oat Flour
1/2 TSP Baking Soda
1/2 TSP Sea Salt
127g Dark Chocolate Roughly Chopped
1 Pint of Your Favorite Vanilla Ice Cream


In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the oat flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside until needed.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugars on medium speed until the mixture turns light and fluffy. Reduce the speed to medium low and add the egg, mix until incorporated. Scrape down the side of the bowl, add honey and the nut butter and mix again until well combined. Once again scrape the bowl after this addition.

Lower the speed to the lowest setting, add the dry ingredients, mixing until barely combined (only a few seconds.) With a spatula, fold in the chocolate chunks. Turn the dough out onto a piece of plastic film and wrap tightly. Chill the dough for at least 1 hour (this can be done a day in advance.)

Once the dough has chilled, preheat the oven to 350°. Line two cookie sheets with silpat mats or parchment paper. With a spoon or small ice cream scoop roll the cookies into 1.5 inch balls and place on the prepared cookie sheets. These don’t flatten too much so after placing the ball on the tray use your palm to flatten them slightly. Space the cookie dough discs out with at least 1.5 inches between them. Bake the cookies in the preheated oven for 8 to 10 minutes, rotating the sheets half way through to ensure the cookies bake evenly.

Once the cookies have baked transfer the silpat or parchment sheets to a wire rack to cool. Cool the cookies completely. Once chilled to room temperature transfer the cookies to the freezer for 20 minutes so that the ice cream, when added, wont melt.

At the 20 minute mark, remove the ice cream from the freezer and allow to soften for about 5 minutes. Using a small ice cream scoop, place rounds of ice cream on a cookie and sandwich with a similarly sized cookie pair. Place the cookies on a plate in the freezer to firm them up before wrapping them in waxed paper. The cookie parcels look particularly cute when tied with kitchen twine. These will keep in the freezer for up to one month, if they even last that long.

Nutty Inspiration – Kale, Radish, and Bean Sautee with Nuts

In a world of so much variety it is still somehow easy to get stuck in a rut. Whether to save time or reduce the risk that comes from experimenting many of us have a certain leaning towards the familiar. To some extent, these likes and dislikes are what form the etchings of our identity. My certain love of vegetables, a penchant for puns and wordplay, my unending quest to develop and redevelop a methodology for composing the world’s most organized grocery list, a distinct urge to fill my closet with clothing in varying shades of grey and brown – these may be some of the things that come to mind when friends and family think of me.

These interests, likes, and dislikes piece together to form about a kindergarten level understanding of who we are. And its strange to think but we still so often rely on these identifiers to build bridges with new people. We may bond over a shared love of blues music, rock climbing, wood oven pizzas, vintage clothing, or old trucks and develop relationships with newcomers that largely revolve around these shared interests and activities. All of this is good and well, and really perfectly normal, but the problem is that as we change, and our likes and dislikes shift and morph and we evolve as individuals we experience a good deal of churn. There is often a turning over of acquaintances as we give up old hobbies and shed bits and bobs of our face value identity.

About 6 months ago Dustin and I stopped climbing. It was less of a conscious decision and more of a natural shift, we moved to a new house, took on new hobbies and found new athletic pursuits. And just like that our new identities formed adding new badges to our identities sort of “Brownie” style, an iron on patch for distance running, a sticker for gardening, pins for milestone achievements in weight lifting, a new sash for woodworking. These pursuits became our new topics of discussion, our new bonding points with passersby, something to talk about while standing in the grocery line or while waiting for a bench at the gym.

On the grand cosmic scheme of things, stopping climbing really changed nothing at all about Dustin and myself. We so quickly found new activities to fill our time, new ways to self identify, the old badges were put aside – maybe to be revisited, maybe not. But for larger, shape shifting changes these voids are not so easily filled. For all of my friends and family who have struggled to overcome addiction, to put the pieces back together after an illness, or job loss, who have suffered through depression – to pull through these crises of identity takes an enormous amount of soul searching. Pulling through each dreary day, each setback requires that you get real with yourself and search for that deeper kernel of identity that many never have the will or need to reach for.

This weeks dish is made up from some truly simple ingredients. The earthy radish, the humble bean, peasant greens and a scant smattering of nuts, cheese, and lemon pull together to create a nourishing meal. Lemon, Parmesan and garlic are flavors that I love, that can elevate even the humblest ingredient, and that bring me comfort. Like us, strong, basic ingredients need little embellishment to shine, at their core, simple, “whole” ingredients have the integrity to stand alone. This simple meal is a great staple to turn to for a rainy day. If you are willing to take on the time taking project of soaking, rinsing, cooking and rerinsing your own beans, I suggest you do yourself a favor and cook a double batch, the remaining beans can be frozen for a later use. Alternatively this dish can be made with cooked beans, I suggest buying the largest ones you can find, the giant limas are nice as they are about the same size as the halved radishes and make for a really attractive plate of food, but smaller white beans like navy, cannellini or even chickpeas would work well here.

Kale, Radish, and Giant Lima Sautee with Almonds

This dish was inspired by “Pan-Fried Corona Beans & Kale” from one of my all time favorite bloggers, Heidi Swenson, you can find the original here at 101cookbooks.com.
1 1/4 Cup Large Lima Beans (Dried) Soaked Overnight in Water
2 TBSP Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 Cloves of Garlic, Minced
2 Bunches of Kale, Washed Well (about 400g) Stems Separated and Chopped Finely (1/2″ Segments), Leaves Chopped (1″ Pieces, Strips are OK.)
1/2 lb (226g) Radishes, Washed (May Need to Be Gently Scrubbed If Very Dirty) and Halved
1/4 Cup (about 30g) Walnuts, Chopped and Toasted
1/4 Cup (about 28g) Parmesan Cheese, Grated
Zest of One Lemon, Minced
2 TBSP Lemon Juice
Salt and Pepper to Taste

Start the recipe the night before (actually, for all of the advance planners out there – this step can be done 2 or 3 days before, in fact, you can easily double the amount of beans you prepare here and do your future-self a favor by freezing one half of the beans for later use.) Place the beans in a medium sized bowl and cover with about 6 cups of water. Cover the bowl with a towel (I typically slip a rubber band around the rim of the bowl to secure the towel lest any of our insect friends get curious about the bowls contents.) Leave the beans overnight to soak. Drain the beans and rinse well. Place in a saucepan  and cover with water, the beans should be covered by about 1 – 1 1/2 inch of water. Put the pot over medium high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the water to a simmer and cook for about 40-45 minutes or until just tender. Be careful not to overcook the beans or they will disintegrate when they are pan fried later. Drain the beans, rinse again and set aside to dry.

Once the beans have dried place a large (preferably non-stick) pan over medium high heat. Add the oil and heat till shimmering. Add beans to the heated oil and sautee, tossing every 2 minutes for about 6 minutes or until lightly golden, add the radishes and sautee for another 4-5 minutes, tossing regularly. Add the garlic and sautee another minute. Add the kale and sautee until just wilted. Remove the pan from the heat and add the walnuts, parmesan, and lemon (zest and juice.) Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed and serve.

Coming Back to the Chopping Block – Soba Noodles with Mango and Eggplant

Another few weeks have breezed by without a post. Moving and traveling, and other general insanity have interfered with successful posting. But finally, we are moved in, mostly unpacked, and are getting back to the chopping block.

I was listening to a show in NPR last week – the host was holding a discussion on “Moms” in honor of the upcoming Mothers’ Day holiday. More specifically she was discussing how we remember our mothers – how so many of these memories are centered on family traditions and often take place in and around the kitchen. The host opined that kitchen memories are particularly strong as they are associated with sounds, tastes, textures, and scents, and put extra emphasis on how scent memories can be exceptionally stirring and long lasting.

I have always been enamored with tradition. Perhaps it is because, with a small family prone to constant change, we didn’t have many of our own. But the memories of the ones we had could not be stronger. I remember, like it was yesterday, watching my grandmother circling about the kitchen reading thanksgiving dinner. I have these vivid images of helping her cut apples into a baking pan for her family famous deep dish apple pie, which I can still whip up today simply by memory.

Today’s featured recipe is another from the pages of Ottolenghi’s “Plenty.” It has particular significance to me as it was prepared by my friend Julie and served at my bridal shower on the 5th of this month. The individual ingredients are so wild but it marries beautifully in this summery noodle salad. It is a flavor memory of a beautiful day that I am sure I will enjoy remembering for years to come.

Soba Noodles with Eggplant and Mango (adapted from Ottolenghi’s “Plenty”)

1/2 C Rice Vinegar
1/3 cup Brown Sugar
1/2 TSP Fine Grain Sea Salt
2 Garlic Cloves, Crushed
1 Fresh Red Chile, Minced
1 TSP Toasted Sesame Oil
Zest and Juice of One Lime

1/3 C Sunflower Oil
1 Large Eggplant Cut Into 1/2-Inch Cubes

8-9 Ounces Soba Noodles, Cooked According to Package Directions

1 Large Ripe Mango Cut into Small Chunks
1/2 Small Red Onion, Very Thinly Sliced
1/3 C Basil Leaves, Cut into a Chiffonade
1/2 C Cilantro, Chopped
1/3 C Roasted, Unsalted Peanuts, Chopped

To make the dressing place the vinegar, sugar, and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring, about 1 minute, or until the sugar has dissolved. Remove the pan from the heat, add garlic, chile, and sesame oil. Allow the mixture to cool, then add the lime zest and juice.

Line a colander with a sheet or two of paper towels and set over a large plate next to the stove. In a large cast iron skillet heat the oil over medium high heat. Toss one eggplant cube in as a test. It should come out golden and crisp, not too dark, not too soggy, repeat test if needed. Once the oil is at the right temperature toss in about a third off the eggplant and fry, flipping once, until golden. Remove with a large slotted spoon or wire skimmer and place into the prepared colander. Add a bit of salt to season after removing each batch and toss to coat. Repeat the process with the remaining thirds, leaving about a minute or so for the oil to come back up to temp before adding the next batch.

Place cooked Soba noodles in a large bowl along with the red onion, mango, herbs and eggplant. Add dressing, a bit at a time until seasoned to your liking, add salt and pepper to taste. Toss, top with peanuts, and enjoy.

Spring Clean Out – Bright and Herby Green Couscous

It’s a bit overwhelming to think we are moving again in less than two weeks. There are some ways in which I actually like moving. As a big proponent of the “use it or lose it” mantra, moving offers an opportunity to revamp, reorganize, and sift through any accumulated clutter. Having moved to Nashville within the last year, it was easy to determine which items we had not used since moving in and make judgements as to whether to donate them, recycle them, or hold out hope that we might find just the right use for that odd utensil, or the perfect occasion for a never worn dress.

The same clean out fervor carries over to the pantry. Spices that have not been used in the months that have eclipsed since the move in date should likely be tossed, especially if ground. And while I have a soft spot for “ancient grains,” the same does not apply to old stale ones. Nuts, too, begin to decline rapidly once they pass their peak. Dustin and I had a great wealth of couscous sitting in a Ball Jar on our grains shelf, and an old bag of shelled pistachios that were about to go over the proverbial hill. When I came across a recipe in Yotam Ottolenghi’s “Plenty” for green couscous, that incorporated the tiny grains with a vivacious herb sauce and toasted pistachios, I knew I found a winner.

In the spring, more than ever, I love making bright herbaceous dishes. Perhaps it’s just that many of my favorite herbs are just starting to peek through the ground, and maybe it’s because green is the unofficial color of springtime, but bright punch flavors draw me in after the heavy stews, soups, and braises that dominate winters comfort cuisine. This salad actually pairs very well alongside a heavier dish like a Tagine, and is great a day (or even two) later over a bed of bright greens with grilled chicken, shrimp, or tofu.

From a health perspective this couscous salad covers its bases. Couscous is made from semolina flour, traditionally the semolina was rolled into tiny pellets and then tossed in flour to keep the pellets from sticking together, before left to dry. While couscous is more akin to a pasta than a whole grain, a whole wheat variety may be substituted for the traditional white variety adding additional protein and fiber to this dish. If you want to go a step further and up the ante to a full on whole grain, cracked bulgur wheat, millet, or quinoa may be swapped in for the couscous. It will alter the flavor slightly but should be a delicious and nutritious dish nonetheless.

The pistachios in this dish provide a nice textural contrast to the chewy toothsome grains, leafy greens, and soft onion. From a nutritional perspective they add a great deal as a good source of healthy fat, B Vitamins, fiber, and pop of protein. I have upped the amount of parsley in this recipe from Yotam’s original 1/2 cup because, compared with cilantro, it packs a nutritional wallop. Not only is it high in dietary fiber, but is also a rich source of Vitamins K, C, and A. So go on and dig into this bright herbaceous dish, your body and your taste buds will thank you.

Green Couscous – from Yotam Ottolenghi’s “plenty”

For the Herb Paste
1/2 C Chopped Flat-leaf Parsley
1/2 C Chopped Cilantro
2 TBSP Chopped FreshTarragon
4 TBSP Chopped Fresh Mint
6 TBSP Olive Oil

For the Couscous
1 C Couscous
3/4 C Boiling Water or Stock
1 TBSP Olive Oil
1 Lg Onion, Thinly Sliced
1/2 TSP Fine Sea Salt
1/4 TSP Ground Cumin

To Finish
1/2 C Unsalted Pistachios, Toasted and Coarsely Chopped
3 Scallions, Finely Sliced
1 Fresh Chile, Such as a Jalapeño, Finely Sliced (I Like This Spicy So I Substituted a Serrano)
1 1/2 C Arugula Leaves, Chopped

To make the herb paste combine all ingredients, save the olive oil, in a food processor and pulse. Add olive oil in a steady stream until the mixture resembles a smooth paste. Taste and add a bit of salt and pepper as needed.

To make the couscous, place couscous in a large bowl and add boiling water or stock. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it stand for 10 minutes. Fluff gently with a fork to break up any big chunks and set aside.

In a sauté pan heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, cumin, and salt and sauté until the onion is golden and soft.

In a large bowl, combine couscous and half of the herb paste. taste and add more herb paste a bit at a time until you like the balance of flavor. You can serve the remaining sauce on the side so that diners can adjust for individual taste. Add pistachios, scallions, green chile, and arugula and toss gently.

Enjoy!

Roasted Baby Broccoli and Grain Salad with Broccoli – Almond Pesto

March 22, 2012 1 comment

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With just one episode of Good Eats, Alton Brown changed my views on broccoli forever. This life altering event occurred around the time that Dustin and I first moved in together. We were sitting on the couch one night studying for goodness only knows what classes and watching the Food Network when an episode of Good Eats came on that featured a better way to cook typically distained vegetables, like brussels sprouts and broccoli, which when steamed or boiled take on that distinctively stinky vegetable smell.

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In his typically zany way, Alton described the benefits of high-temp roasting and grilling, in digestible chunks of chemistry. Essentially, it all boils down to the Maillard Reaction. What, you might ask, is the Maillard Reaction? The Maillard Reaction is the reaction which caramelizes sugars in food to turn it brown. There are many examples of the Maillard Reaction in modern cooking, from the browning of butter solids to form a nutty and complex browned butter to the charring of vegetables over an open flame. But really, when any browning of a food takes place, the Maillard Reaction is present, from grilling steaks, to making toast, to roasting vegetables or chicken, browning changes the flavor profile of a food in a way that most of us find delicious.

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Why, you may ask, do we not get the same trans-formative qualities from steaming or boiling that we do from grilling and roasting? The answer lies in the presence of water (or lack thereof.) No matter how high you crank up your burners, water’s temperature will max out at around 212 degrees, after that it is transformed into steam. In order for the Maillard Reaction to occur you need to have amino acids (protein) a reducing sugar (like glucose) and temperatures over 250 degrees. Therefore, in the presence of lots of water, no browning will occur.

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I bought these baby broccoli on sale at Whole Foods, broccoli, regular broccoli, or even Brussels sprouts, would work well in this recipe. The broccoli is divided and cooked two ways, quickly blanked for the pesto, and roasted at high temps till lightly browned to form the bulk of the salad. The salad is filled out by cooked grains, you can use any whole grain, wild rice, red quinoa, wheat berries, and bulgur will all be nice here, from a visual perspective adding some varied color into the dish may add some sex appeal to this homely looking side dish. I saved the broccoli cooking liquid (from blanching) and used it to cook the grains, not only does this save on water, but it allows some preservation of vitamins and flavor that leeched into the water during the blanching process. This dish pairs well with a lean protein such as roasted chicken, tofu, or pork for a healthy dinner or can be served as a dish of its own on top of some arugula with additional nuts and some crumbled tempeh.

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Roasted Baby Broccoli and Grain Salad with Broccoli – Almond Pesto — slightly adapted from 101 Cookbooks

3 C Cooked Grains (I used a mixture of Bulghur, Quinoa, and Wheat Berries)
2 Large Heads Broccoli, Stems Chopped, and Tops Cut into Florets

3 Medium Cloved Garlic, Smashed
2/3 C Toasted Almonds
1/3 C Freshly Grated Parmesan
Pinch of Aleppo Pepper Flakes
2 T Freshly Squeezed Lemon Juice (optional – zest of 1 lemon)
1/4 C Olive Oil
1/4 C Heavy Cream

Heat oven to 455 degrees.

Bring a large pot of water to a low boil.

Divide broccoli in half, toss half in a very light covering of olive oil and lightly season with salt and pepper. Spread out on a sheet pan and roast until just browned, flipping half way through. Remove from the hot pan and place on a plate in a single layer to cool.

Place other half of the broccoli in the lightly boiling water for just a minute until just brightened, you don’t want these to be “cooked” we should just take the raw off of the veggies.

Cook grains in batches in the broccoli water according to cooking directions.

Place garlic and almonds in a food processor and pulse 3 or 4 times until “minced.”

Remove broccoli from the pot with a slotted spoon and drain fully in a colander. Add broccoli, Aleppo, lemon juice (and zest if using) several turns of freshly cracked pepper, and Parmesean in the processor and pulse again until small chunks appear (should not be a paste.) Add olive oil and heavy cream and process until it appears emulsified.

Place grains and roasted broccoli in a large bowl and toss. Add some of the pesto and toss until well incorporated. Add remaining pesto as desired and reserve any remainder for another use. Season with salt and pepper to taste and enjoy!

Lighten Up Already – Greens, Grains, and Pecan Salad

Recently, I have developed this obsession for the Food 52 project’s website. Not only is the content great but their new design overhaul has made the site into an elegant source of culinary eye candy. I have found countless great ideas for this year’s thanksgiving dinner on the site and I admit that I may have a bit of blog envy. One of the site’s recent galleries featured a selection of healthy dishes that can be mixed into the traditional collection of classics and I found this a bit inspiring.

For most people, myself included, the holiday season is a time for family, but when it comes to holiday cuisine, for many this means a month and a half of over-indulgence. So this year I am trying to make a break from the norm by mixing in a good handful of healthy recipes to counterbalance some of the traditional, heavy handed staples.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating you completely ditch your family’s favorites for hippy dippy health food. But it certainly cant hurt to cut down on butter here and there and add some delicious salads and whole grains into the traditional mix. One of the inspirational recipes I came across on Food 52 called for mixing together a healthy selection of whole grains, like farro, and black rice, with hearty winter greens, heaps of herbs, pecans, and dried cranberries – it was just what I was looking for a beautiful healthy dish that would delight and nourish my family this thanksgiving.

The nuts and cranberries allude to classic holiday flavors while the grains and greens bring new players to the party. One of my favorite parts of the recipe would have to be the herbs, which make the dish scream with bright and zesty flavors and the radishes, whose bright bitter crunch will brighten up any butter laden holiday plate. So this year, try something different, add new flavors to the mix, and show your family you love them by encouraging them to take care of their health throughout the traditionally gluttonous holiday season.

Greens, Grains, and Pecan Salad – Adapted from Food 52′s Radish and Pecan Grain Salad

2 C. Mixed Grains – I Used a Mix of Black Rice, Farro, and Wheat Berries
3 C. Hearty Greens, I Selected Some Baby Kale Greens But Treviso, Arugula, or Endive Would Work Well
1 C. Minced Parsley
1/2 Cup Minced Tarragon
1/2 C. Minced Fresh Mint
1 C. Pecans
1/4 C. Walnut Oil
1/4 C. Sherry Vinegar
1 C. Watermelon Radishes Sliced Thinly
1/4 C. Shallot, Halved and Sliced Thinly
1/4 C. Olive Oil
1/2 C. Dried Cranberries

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt the water, add the grains and cook until just tender, about 25 minutes.

Drain the grains into a colander, then set aside until almost cool.

Combine vinegar and oils in a small bowl. Add a pinch of salt and pepper and whisk to combine. Place all of the other ingredients in a large bowl and toss well. Pour dressing over the salad and toss again. Taste the salad and season with salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste.

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