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.

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.

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!

Pulp Kitchen: What to do with Cashew Milk Pulp

Pulp from 2 cups of cashews blended into milk.
Pulp from 2 cups of cashews blended into milk.

It doesn’t make sense that making cashew milk is easier than making almond milk, but it is. At least for me. Don’t ask me to explain why, although I’m guessing it’s because cashews don’t have skins. The milk is easier to strain and the resulting pulp much more fine. I also find cashews sweeter than almonds and so I no longer add dates to the mix. I do still add a splash of vanilla extract.

 

 

A few days ago I made a double batch of milk:

  • Soak two cups of cashews over night
  • The following day, drain and rinse
  • Blend the cashews with six cups of water and ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract.  The vanilla is optional.  Depending on the size of your blender you may have to do this in batches.
  • Once blended pour the mixture through a nut bag, clean muslin or several layers of cheese cloth into a large bowl
  • Squeeze the bag get every drop of creamy milk from the cashews
  • Empty the pulp into a separate bowl
Candied ginger about to be diced into quarters
Candied ginger about to be diced into quarters

For the cookies: 

  • Add 2 tablespoons of unrefined coconut sugar, ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract, ½ teaspoon of almond extract and a pinch or sea salt to the pulp and mix
  • Stir in about ¼ cup of diced candied ginger pieces
  • At this point you can add anything else that sounds good:  chia seed, pumpkin seed, chopped cashew…maybe even cacao to make coco-cashew pulp cookies!
  • Mix well, either by hand or with a food processor
  • Form into small balls and flatten slightly
  • This should make about 2 dozen bite sized cookies
On the dehydrator sheet.
On the dehydrator sheet.

I’m certain you could bake these at a low temperature in the over, but I used my dehydrator:

  • Set dehydrator for 135 degrees
  • After two hours flip the cookies
  • Dehydrate an additional 2 to 4 hours depending on your preference.  I prefer these cookies on the soft and chewy side.

The mellow flavor of the cashew pulp is a perfect balance to the sweet and sharp ginger. Store in the refrigerator.

Enjoy!

Lucy, Ethel and the Omega Juicer

A basic sauce:  fresh tomatoes and basil.
A basic sauce: fresh tomatoes and basil.

If that familiar scene from I Love Lucy, the one where Lucy and Ethel struggle to keep up with a speeding conveyor belt while wrapping chocolates in a candy factory, is your idea of a great date night – then you’ll love making pasta with an Omega Juicer.

The Omega Juicer came into our lives about two months ago and ever since my beloved and I have had fresh juice almost every morning. Those in the know, however, will know that the Omega Juicer does more than squish fruit and vegetables. It promises to process nut butter, make hummus and with the help of a few attachments, extrude pasta.  Epicurious by nature, I had to find out for myself.

A little olive oil, some garlic and cubed mozzarella and viola!
A little olive oil, some garlic and cubed mozzarella and viola!

I began the sauce on a Saturday morning. I kept it simple: fresh picked sun ripe cherry tomatoes, garlic, fresh basil, olive oil, cubed mozzarella and a splash of balsamic vinegar. Chopped walnuts and chili flakes might have been a nice addition.  The mozzarella is optional.

My pasta dough was basic: An eggless semolina recipe I found on the Internet. When I use a recipe sourced online I look to the comments for real inspiration. Several suggested adding chopped herbs and a bit of olive oil to the dough for depth and flavor, which I did.  I don’t recall, however, anyone suggesting that I chill the dough before extrusion.  Big mistake.  I have no proof but my instincts tell me that chilled dough makes the extrusion process much easier but not nearly half the fun.  Our room temperature dough extruded too quickly and was too elastic for one poor soul to manage.

Chill the dough!
Chill the dough!Our room temperature dough extruded too quickly and was too elastic for one poor soul to manage.

Enter Lucy and Ethel.

How I managed to keep my fingers as Ethel Scissorhands snipped the flying pasta into manageable lengths while we both howled with laughter is beyond me.  The end result? Not the prettiest pasta, but certainly delicious.  More than that, it was fun.  Food always tastes better when it’s cooked with joy, laughter and fun.  And maybe a glass of wine.

Drape the extruded pasta over a bowl dusted with flour and let it dry a few minutes before adding to boiling water.  It only takes about 4 minutes to cook.
Drape the extruded pasta over a bowl dusted with flour and let it dry a few minutes before adding to boiling water. It only takes about 4 minutes to cook.
It won't win any awards for beauty but it sure tasted good!
It won’t win any awards for beauty but it sure tasted good!
The kitchen, post pasta making.  Thank goodness my beloved loves to wash dishes.  Seriously.
The kitchen, post pasta making. Thank goodness my beloved loves to wash dishes. Seriously.