A Mango, Some Chickpeas and a Red Pepper Walk Into a Bowl…

IMG_3563It was one of those days. Too much to do, too tired from weekend work and no motivation to walk the half block from my doorstep to the local Molly Stone’s to pick up something for Ben and I to enjoy for dinner. It was a “make do” kind of evening.

When I opened the fridge I saw one mango, one half of a red bell pepper, a snippet of jalapeño and a half box of tired arugula and greens. There was a lemon, too. Just enough for a salad I suppose, but not much of one. This ragtag collection of produce needed something to kick things up a notch and I found it in my pantry – a can of organic chickpeas.

I could have just drained the can of chickpeas and been happy with that, but the combination of cool, sweet mango and hot jalapeño demanded that they rise above what is usually a nutritious but – lets face it – a boring presentation of beige. (Note to the aquafaba curious – no, I didn’t save it. I’ll do that on a day when I have more time to play in the kitchen.)

IMG_3564Normally I would roast the chickpeas but expediency called for something a less healthy but definitely faster. I pulled out a pan, added enough oil to lightly coat the bottom. While that was heating I used a separate bowl to toss the chickpeas in cumin, a pinch of cayenne, a bit of turmeric, salt and pepper. Honestly, I may have thrown in a bit of curry powder, too. I suppose any combination of spice will do but I wanted a flavor profile with a bit of complex heat to balance the bitter arugula and chilled mango.

I stirred the chickpeas occasionally – I wanted them crunchy on the outside, not burnt. In between stirs I cut the mango into bite sized chunks, turned the jalapeño into a fine dice and chopped the red pepper. All of this was added to the arugula.

When the chickpeas were perfect I spooned them on to paper toweling to drain. I’ve never deglazed a pan in my life and since I was letting myself down on the aquafaba challenge I figured there’s not time like the present.

IMG_3565Can you even deglaze a pan with lemon juice? Apparently, yes. My efforts produced a concentrated and brightly flavored sauce that I decided to use as a warm dressing. I mixed it with a bit of olive oil and a smudge of mustard.

The end result? A surprisingly refreshing salad that took care of the ragtag ends of leftovers in the produce drawer of the fridge.

Gazpacho Season

You wouldn’t know it from the recent cool, breezy weather – but it’s almost gazpacho season here in the Bay Area.

IMG_3499I love gazpacho. It’s beautiful, bright, and easy to make. It has a refreshing bite that is perfect and cooling on a warm summer day. I’ll serve gazpacho in small cups as part of a weekend brunch or in bowls with a healthy sprinkle of spicy chickpeas and some flatbread for dinner.

A person might consider gazpacho as a soup so easy to make that no recipe is required. Chop a few vegetables, add some tomato juice and Bob’s your uncle. But I don’t believe that’s true. There’s a delicate, nuanced balance in the best gazpacho that isn’t easily achieved if you’re a gazpacho novice. For a hobbyist like me, it’s best to use a recipe – even if it is only as a guide.

This time I chose the gazpacho recipe from America’s Test Kitchen’s (ATK) new vegan cookbook. That’s right, ATK has a vegan cookbook. And it’s a good one. It’s called Vegan for Everybody and it promises “foolproof plant based recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner and in-between.” In addition the fantastic recipes, it explains to the reader why the recipe works and then, at the back of the book, includes the full nutritional content for those recipes. As I am currently obsessed with tracking every move and morsel, I find this extremely helpful.

It would be wrong of me to reproduce the entire recipe here – you’ll have to beg, buy orIMG_3503 borrow the book for all the details. I will tell you that it includes tomatoes (natch), red bell pepper, cucumber, sweet onion, sherry vinegar, garlic, tomato juice and ice cubes.

Under normal circumstances it doesn’t seem right to mess with any recipe from the hallowed halls of ATK – especially if it’s a new recipe. But I have enough familiarity with gazpacho that I thought I could go a little bit rouge. I added celery to my gazpacho because I like it’s natural saltiness. I added one little turnip for no particular reason other than it was begging to be used.

And although ATK serves us a chunky gazpacho, I used an immersion blender. Serving unblended gazpacho, as the ATK recipe calls for, is a little like pouring tomato juice over a salad, right?

IMG_3505Finally, after allowing the gazpacho to chill for several hours (and the ice cubes to melt), it was ready to serve. To be honest, it’s even better made the day before, when all the complex flavors of the vegetables have had a chance to snuggle up to one another.

I topped the gazpacho with spicy chickpeas and a squeeze of fresh lime juice.

Delicious.

Okra, anyone? Yeah. I didn’t think so.

img_2557Okra.

What can I say? I remember the slippery, overcooked, bitter and vile vegetable from my youth. It put me off anything green pretty much through my junior year in college.

But the pointy little lady fingers from the mallow family seem to be enjoying a resurgence and I wanted to find out why.

It turns out they’re high in soluble and insoluble fiber, several B vitamins and vitamin K. But okra is also known for producing mucilage that rivals the monster in Stranger Things. What can I do to create a great dish, minus the slime?

Ben and I hit the Madras Groceries in Sunnyvale over the weekend and on a whim I picked up about a pound of firm seedpods. Back home I looked at recipes but was uninspired by the thought of breading and frying. When I found a recipe in Zahav that called for roasting the okra I thought, “Now you’re talking.” And then I proceeded to take the best part of that recipe and make the rest up.

img_2564The thing is, my oven is pretty much used as a storage space for various cast iron pots and pans. I really didn’t feel like making the sacrifice of hauling everything out of the oven for a vegetable I was probably going to hate anyway. Instead, I used my griddle.  And did this:

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Pre-heat the griddle to 400 degrees
Wash and dry the okra
Top and tail
Massage a light coat of olive oil over each pod
Place on griddle in a single layer…turn occasionally until the sides are brown
Plate and sprinkle with a little sea salt and thyme

I cooked the okra with whole sweet red peppers (I loved the colors). They could be served hot right off the griddle – they tasted fantastic – but I think I’m going to serve them for dinner tonight, cold with a vegan garlic and lemon aioli. They’ll be part of a salad that includes torn kale and those beautiful heirloom tomatoes, sliced and drizzled with a little light dressing.

Okra.

img_2563What can I say? The entire dish took at most twenty minutes, and it is delicious. The texture had a bite – I could have kept them on the griddle even longer for a crunch – and there was no slime.The taste is simple and clean, earthy and mild.   When I serve the okra tonight the acid from the garlic lemon aioli will offer the perfect balance.

Full disclosure. I’m not a cook. I just like food. And every now and again I like to challenge myself with a new taste. This was just so simple to prepare I challenge you to take a leap of faith and see for yourself.

Imperfect Babaganoush

IMG_2490One of the most lovable qualities about my partner Ben is his genuine interest in people. He possesses an extraordinary talent for striking up a conversation with anyone, anywhere. That’s how we ended up with a membership to Imperfect Produce.

We found Imperfect Produce a few weeks ago at the Santa Clara Yoga Expo where I was helping to assemble the Team Dharma booth for Samyama Yoga Center. Imperfect delivers a box of produce to your doorstep that otherwise would have been thrown away – potatoes, apples and avocados that are too small, carrots that are misshapen, peppers with blemishes, watermelon…well…I actually can’t figure out what made the watermelon imperfect.

According to Imperfect’s website, at least 20% of produce is passed on by groceries each year. Where does that produce end up? Not on our tables, that’s for certain. And probably not at homeless shelters or soup kitchens. Produce that is nutritional sound but not pretty enough for your local Whole Foods is thrown away.

Until now.

Imperfect Produce asks us to consider where our food comes from. To think about the fertile earth, the working land, the men and woman who plow the soil, plant the seeds and collect the harvest. It asks us to participate by honoring the labor that goes into putting that apple in our hand.

That doesn’t mean I wasn’t skeptical at first. I was certain our produce boxes would be filled with ugly and obscure food past its prime. Food that I didn’t know how to cook or wouldn’t want to cook. I was certain Ben and I would be doing the very thing we were trying to avoid – wasting food.

I was wrong.

The produce is beautiful. Our last box was filled with peppers and pluots, plums and carrots, and the round and wonderful watermelon that I devoured. Oh. And an eggplant.

The humble aubergine eggplant.

Our eggplant was flawless. And it was destined to become babaganoush.

IMG_2486I don’t really like babaganoush. It’s too oily and sometimes too smoky. But it was calling me (something else I love about Imperfect Produce – I have to think…ahem…outside the box and create dishes I rarely consider). So I pulled out my Zahav cookbook and found a recipe for roasted eggplant salad.

I began by washing and halving the eggplant then heating it on my non-stick griddle. I didn’t have to add oil, which was great. I set the griddle to 275 and came back periodically to check on its progress. To avoid an overly smoky flavor, I let the skin turn black but didn’t let it char. Once it cooled, I spooned the IMG_2489flesh – which at this point was like pudding – into a bowl. For one cup of cooked eggplant flesh I added one clove of garlic, a large pinch of salt and a quick glug of olive oil – I’m guessing about two teaspoons. Of course it’s not babaganoush without tahini. I stirred in just under a tablespoon.

It went into the fridge to chill and to give time for the flavors to get to know one another.

That night it was served with a tomato salad.

Ben has another quality that never fails to put a smile on my face. Aside from an unfortunate run in with a plate of brussels sprouts two years ago he’s loved every dish I’ve brought to our table. Even not-so-smoky babaganoush.

ps…by the way, Imperfect has the option of delivering a box of produce to a family in need for $12. We like these people. We like them alot.

Goji Berry Sun Tea

IMG_2465Stacy and I were best friends and co-workers at Watercourse Way over twenty years ago. We were the kind of friends who could cry together and then laugh ourselves silly. On Thursday nights one of us would phone the other and we’d watch Seinfeld together. To this day the thought of Jerry at the beach staring at a naked woman and mumbling “boutros boutros golly” makes me think of Stacy and giggle.  When I left for Ireland Stacy was the one who sat with me at the gate until it was time to board the plane.  It was 1994 – long before we had to say goodbye at security.

I’ve not seen Stacy in almost ten years, not since I first returned from Ireland. She flew in from the mid-west yesterday and tonight she and her daughter are coming to visit.

It’s going to be a simple salad night but I want to have something cold and refreshing to drink. So today I’m making my version of Julie Morris’s goji tea from her book Superfood Kitchen. Goji berries are high in antioxidants and good sources of vitamins A and C, iron and fiber. It’s believed these pretty red berries boost the immune system and reduce our risk of heart disease and cancer. Whether they do or not is moot. I think they’re yummy.

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To make Goji Berry Sun Tea I’ve put slightly less than a quarter cup of berries into a clean glass container with eight cups of filtered water. I’ve also added a small handful of coarsely chopped mint from my container garden. That’s it. My work is done. Now it’s up to the sun. By the time Stacy and her daughter arrive I’ll have a slow brewed berry tea that is light and fruity. I’ll serve it over ice with a squeeze of lemon and a mint garnish.

As for those plump, rehydrated goji’s? I’ll be using them in my next smoothie.

The Vegan Ploughman

IMG_2458There’s nothing I love more than a simple summer supper. My favorite is a vegan version of a Ploughman’s Lunch that I make from whatever I can find in the fridge. Sunday’s included heirloom tomatoes picked fresh from the vines on our deck sprinkled with the basil I dried last week, a bit of sea salt, ground black pepper and drizzled with balsamic reduction. I added the last few yellow cherry tomatoes we’ll have this year, sliced raw pepperoncini and the refrigerator pickles I made with pepperoncini from the same plant a few weeks ago. But it wouldn’t be a Ploughman’s Lunch without cheese. If I don’t have the time to make my own cheesy vegan spread with cashews, nutritional yeast and garlic I’ll settle for Chao Pepper Jack. Instead of crusty bread I topped off the plate with a baby garnet yam (a baked a half dozen of them yesterday morning to have them on hand) and a spoonful of sauerkraut. This supper is, of course, served best with a frothy IPA poured into a chilled mug. Perfect.

The Wind that Shakes the Quinoa (or how I learned to clear a room fast)

IMG_1346I wanted to like quinoa. I really did.

It was the early 1989 – before the earthquake – and Whole Foods was the new kid on the block. It was a great place to grab a Martian Martini (orange juice with spirolina) between jobs. I was an artist’s model then, and an artist. Struggling but happy. And I wanted to be healthy.

So – in the same way that I believe a new haircut can be a life altering experience, I believed that if I purchased my food from Whole Foods my body would thank me by becoming healthy. Of course in 1989 my version of health had more to do with what I looked like on the outside and less to do with how I felt on the inside.

Still, I was on my way to a perfect life. If only I could handle quinoa.

It’s not that I didn’t like the taste. At the time Whole Foods sold a quinoa salad that was amazing.   When I tried to make the same salad at home, however, it had a disturbing influence on my bowels. To put it delicately, the salad made me windy. Gaseous. Flatulent. And I mean “Danger, danger clear the room Will Fartinson” bad.

But then I learned about saponins. Quinoa seeds have an outer coating of saponin. This gives the seed a bitter taste, making it unpalatable to birds. They also do my digestion no favors. In 1989 I did not know I was supposed to rinse my quinoa before cooking. Quarter of a century later and I am the Queen of the Quinoa Salad.

Of course, most commercial quinoa is pre-rinsed in the factory. But that doesn’t stop me. Twenty-five years ago I lost too many friends to a cloud of noxious fumes. I won’t let that happen again.

Here’s how I make my quinoa salad:

  • RINSE THE QUINOA (for the love of everything that is pure and merciful rinse those seeds!)
  • Cook one cup of quinoa in two cups water (this will make about 3 cups of cooked quinoa). Stir occasionally. You can add a splash of olive oil, a bit of bullion or a knob of butter to youIMG_1343r water, but to be honest I prefer just plain water. You’ll know your quinoa is cooked when you have a pot full of grains that look like tiny, tiny condoms.
  • Dice a red onion and sweat over low heat. Raw onion overpowers the delicate flavor of quinoa.
  • IMG_1344While the onion is cooking prep the remaining vegetables. I like a combination of carrot, celery, red radish, bell pepper and cucumber.

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  • Add herbs of your choice. I recommend basil or cilantro.
  • Dress with a light vinaigrette – olive oil, tons of fresh lemon, a splash of balsamic.
  • Salt and pepper to taste.
  • Chill for a few hours and then enjoy!