“Trust,” as it pertains to the food system, has become an increasing concern for all of us. As part of the ongoing research and planning for the James Beard Foundation’s annual conference over the last few years, a series of regional salons were conducted around the country on the subject of Trust. A small group of diverse stakeholders in the local food system—including chefs, farmers, food producers, distributors, policy makers, urban planners, academics, and others—attended a salon at Color’s Restaurant in Detroit. It was exciting for me to be a part of this and inspired me to revisit some principles I hold near and dear.
-Healthy food is the primary source of nourishment and a primary nurturer–the ultimate in holistic health and the key to longevity and quality of life.
-Creating and presenting food is an art form which can inspire us and awaken all our senses in the creative process.
-Food is a language. Our personal tastes defining which dialect we speak. It is an important method of expression and reciprocal exchange between people.
-We feel better about ourselves when we’re cognizant of what we eat. Whenever possible, eat plant based whole foods which are organic, unadulterated and unprocessed.
-Food connects us with others and cultivates natural satisfaction.
-Know where your food comes from and support local farmers.
-Discover local sources and how the food we eat is a direct connection to the earth we walk on.
-Be honest with your food
Trust is an expansive subject and individually intimate at the same time. As a plant-based chef, every aspect of the ingredients I use are as important as the final dish. Each one is chosen for its culinary contribution as well as healthful properties. The following recipe is one you can trust!
For this recipe, I used fresh cranberry beans at Food Field Farm’s stall in Detroit’s Eastern Market. Similar to pintos, they cook to a tender creamy texture. This recipe is a simple medley of vegetables and beans. If you can’t find fresh beans, cooked from dry or canned may be substituted.
Cranberry Bean Ragout
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 cup red onions, diced
1/2 cup Jimmy Nardello sweet peppers, diced (or red bell peppers)
1 cup yellow squash, large dice
1 1/2 cups cooked fresh podded cranberry beans* (dry beans**)
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ancho chile powder
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
1/2 teaspoon mild chile powder
In a twelve inch skillet on medium-high heat, cook oil, garlic and crushed red pepper until it begins to sizzle. Add onions, sweet peppers and yellow squash. Cook until the edges of the vegetables are seared. Add cranberry beans and all remaining ingredients. Turn down, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Serve hot.
Serve with rice or quinoa.
*To cook 1 ½ cups fresh cranberry beans, simmer for 30 minutes in 4 cups of water in a covered saucepan.
**With dry beans, soak in 4 cups water for 4 to 6 hours. Rinse well. Simmer for 30 minutes in 4 cups of water in a covered saucepan.
For those of us who love sourdough, the starter lives and breathes as a fixture on our kitchen counters. Each day, it is fed and then expands and bubbles with lively energy. Like all naturally fermented foods, it becomes part of the household–like a guest to be cared for and appreciated.
Fermented foods are a common thread in all the great cuisines of the world. In addition to its nutritional attributes, fermentation was a form of food preservation and extended shelf-life long before refrigeration.
My first experiences with fermentation began as a child watching my Yia Yia (grandmother) make yogurt. She boiled milk in a stock pot, allowing it to cool to the point she could stick her finger into the milk for the count of ten (approximately 104 degrees). Then, a remnant of culture from the previous batch was folded in. She wrapped the entire pot in a blanket and placed it on top of her 1950’s refrigerator, which ran hot enough to keep the yogurt warm for four to five hours. I remember my lips puckering over the distinctly sour flavor of the fresh yogurt.
At the time, I didn’t realize this was one of the secrets of Yia Yia’s delicious food. In addition to Greek staples like strained yogurt with honey and garlicky cucumber tzatziki, tangy yogurt found its way into soups, stews, pies and sauces as a flavor enhancer. It was one of the nutritious superfood ingredients in her Cretan cuisine.
During my early years in India, I discovered that yogurt is used often in both savory and sweet applications. At a 100 year-old stall in the old Delhi market of Chandni Chowk, the Old Famous Jalebi Walla would craft eight inch wide translucent sweet pretzels (jalebis). These were made from yogurt and saffron sourdough batter, fried in ghee and dipped in a sugar syrup. The pretzels were warm, sticky and sweetly-sour. This is one of the many ways I learned to incorporate live cultures into foods during my time in India.
In my kitchen, the sourdough starter on the counter has a respected presence. This living food inspires many hours of hands-on preparation with excellent results. I use it to prepare the traditional European loaves of bread, savory and sweet Persian and Indian flat breads, pizza crusts, crepes and turnovers. They are fried on a skillet, baked on a baking stone in the oven or cooked outdoors in my birch-fired oven.
The following recipe, blini-style Sourdough Griddle Cakes, should be prepared on a griddle or skillet. When making this recipe, I’ll often add cooked whole grains to the batter for texture and flavor, such as: quinoa, fonio, finger millet, sorghum or farro. Below the Griddle Cakes recipe is an Easy Balkan Ajvar recipe to use as a condiment.
Sourdough Griddle Cakes with Ajvar
Makes sixteen 2 1/2 inch cakes
1 1/2 cups Einkorn wheat sourdough starter
2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley leaves
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Mix all ingredients and let rest for 15 minutes. Preheat a cast iron griddle at medium heat, lightly coat with oil. (use extra virgin olive oil, or organic sunflower oil). Dollop small spoonfuls of batter onto the griddle, spread out to size if needed. Brown on one side, then add 1 teaspoon ajvar and turn cake over, searing ajvar into the cake.
Serve hot with 1 teaspoon ajvar relish, a teaspoon of Vayo Mayo garnish and a sprig of cilantro.
Easy Balkan Ajvar
2 red bell peppers halved, stemmed and seeded
2 bulb spring onions, peeled, cut in quarters lengthwise and sliced
1 Fresno red pepper halved, stemmed and seeded (optional)
3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Place all ingredients in a baking dish or a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes, or until edges of onions and peppers start to brown.
Remove from oven, cool for 10 minutes and process all ingredients in a food processor to a coarse relish. Serve warm or cold.
Detroit Bread Camp happened! 2019 James Beard Award Winner Chef Greg Wade conducted a bread immersion locally grown organic grains and natural yeasts using a wood-fired oven.
The event is geared toward chefs, food influencers and anyone who is passionate about what they eat. The event is geared to all skill levels, ranging from beginners to professional baker.
Attendees saw our amazing Michigan grains, met the farmers who grow them, interact with fellow chefs, participated in one of the largest Detroit urban farms and experienced the delicious flavors, textures and aromas of whole grain, naturally leavened and wood-fire baked bread!
Detroit Regenerative Grain Weekend was made up of four events, two of them were to gear up in the weeks ahead and two were held Sunday thru Tuesday.
Hampshire Farms Earth Day Open House that is held every year at the farm in Kingston, Michigan every spring. It was a chance for the team to get together, look at Shirley’s wood fired baking operation and to see the milling operation for the regenerative grain grown right there.
Bread Camp Parlor Event was held in a private home in order to introduce the Hazon community to edible applications of Regeneratively grown ingredients and the people behind them.
Breaking Bread Together community day at Oakland Avenue Urban Farm was a Sunday open house-style event held the day before Bread Camp to introduce wholesome, regenerative and a delicious pancake brunch to the local residents around the farm.
Detroit Bread Camp was a two day event held, on a Monday and Tuesday, presented as an extension to the London Bread Camp and Regenerate Heritage Grain Weekend held every autumn by Paul Spence and Chef Greg at Growing Chefs in London, Ontario.
The event was limited to 20 people to ensure Chef Greg has one on one time with each participant.
Oakland Avenue Urban Farm hosted the event. Hampshire Farms helped to construct a new wood-fired oven on site with reclaimed bricks. Regenerative Bread Camp and Community Day are all part of Heritage Grain weekend when area restaurant chefs and caterers bake with, 2019 James Beard Outstanding Baker Award recipient, Greg Wade. The community weekend kicked off with Breaking Bread Together on Sunday, June 23rd 12:30pm-3:00pm with Chef Phil Jones, Chef George Vutetakis [thevegetarianguy.com] , Hampshire Farms of Kingston, Michigan, Spence Farm from Ontario, CA and Hirzel Farms of Luckey, Ohio at Oakland Avenue Urban Farm. This day was part of a partnership with Hazon Detroit [hazon.org] . The public enjoyed the taste of heritage grains, fresh bread from the brick oven and pancakes hot of the griddle all from Michigan flours.
For chefs, bakers, and those with interest in baking who want to gain more knowledge in the versatility of using grains, join us next year to bake with Chef Wade.
Bread camp is educating and connecting growers, millers, bakers, chefs and consumers who are creating a rise in demand for local grains. This program increases a baker’s capacity to procure and utilize regionally grown whole grains to help build and develop the regional food-shed.
How a region is building its specialty grain food-shed from farmer to baker to consumer.
Compare commodity grains and specialty grains in baking and pastry applications.
Utilizing whole and processed specialty grains in baking and pastry applications.
Utilizing honey in baking and pastry applications.
How a farmer and baker collaboration is created.
Work with a wood burning oven.
Define heritage grains and fermentation.
Videos of past Bread Camps:
My first experience with a pesto-style dish was in my Greek grandmother’s house. Yia Yia prepared every family member’s favorite dish and my father’s was skordalia, the traditional Greek garlic sauce. As a child in Crete, where almonds are plentiful and full of flavor, her mother taught her the art of the dish; she learned to prepare the skordalia by pounding garlic, almonds and olive oil with a mortar and pestle. We always knew when we walked into her home that she had prepared the skordalia because of the heavy garlic smell in the air. It seemed to stay in our mouths for days and even crept out of our pores as garlic-tinged sweat. Over the years, my dad was the only one adventurous enough to indulge, which he would do on a Friday so he could return to work on Monday with minimal effect.
The Italian word pesto is often used to describe a combination of ground garlic, basil and pine nuts, although the preparation method of grinding ingredients into a paste is universal and cross-cultural. Ever since man discovered how to grind and pound food products with stone and wood, this method has been employed in traditional cuisines around the world to create sauces, condiments, bases and pastes which enhance flavor profiles. Every culture put their stamp on the method with the common denominator being a mortar and pestle or grinding stone and it is a superb way to add a savory and flavorful edge to a dish without frying or grilling.
A Sicilian version is pesto rosso which substitutes almonds for pine nuts and adds tomatoes with less basil. In Mediterranean France, a cold sauce made from garlic, basil and olive oil is the base for the much-acclaimed pistou soup in Provence.
In India, I watched cooks deftly handle a flat grindstone with a rectangular pestle to create intensely flavored mint chutneys, robust masala pastes and pesto-like fillings for a variety of breads and savories. The grinding stones would absorb the right amount of moisture and unique flavors would be developed by the grinding action. I was so enamored by the amazing quality of these preparations that I carried two of these heavy stones home on a flight.
Central and South American cuisines have a long history of grinding spices, pastes and mole bases using a metate or mealing stone. Chimichurri sauce is one of the well known sauces to use this method. One can imagine my pesto recipe being made on a metate grindstone in an adobe kitchen a hundred years ago. Nutty toasted pepitas with crushed garlic, freshly squeezed lime juice, brightly flavored cilantro and smokey fire-roasted poblano chiles provocatively meld together to create an explosion of flavor in any dish that it is served with. I particularly like it as a foil to corn dishes and often pair it with Quinoa-Corn Arepas and Chocolate Cherry Salsa from my cookbook Vegetarian Traditions. The bright flavor of the pesto is the perfect companion to the natural sweetness of the corn and deep, dark anti-oxidant-rich salsa.
Today, I often make pesto with a food processor, which is a compromise for the sake of modern efficiency. However, if you have a metate, or mortar & pestle and a little extra time, I encourage you to use it–not just for the earthly connection and romance of hand-working one’s food, but also for the flavor.
This easy-to-prepare recipe works well in sandwiches, as a mezzes-style dip, a quesadilla filling or a layer in a tortilla casserole.
Pepita & Fire Roasted Poblano Pesto
1/2 cup pepitas, toasted
1 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 poblano chile, fire roasted, stemmed and seeded
In a food processor, grind pepitas to a meal, add all pesto ingredients and pulse to a coarse consistency. Store in an air-tight container and keep refrigerated.
After the winter freeze, one of the first signs of life in the Midwest Farmers Markets are spring onions which are full flavor, extra sweet young shoots that only vaguely resemble a mature onion. At this stage, even the sharpest tasting onion will easily compete with sweet varieties such as Vidalia, Maui and Walla Walla. At this time of year I use them generously, raw in salads and roasted, as in this recipe. This is an excellent easy to make side dish cum condiment that adds zest to a variety of dishes. Make it ahead and use it as an impromptu garnish or a sandwich ingredient as well. Enjoy!
6 spring onion shoots cut in half lengthwise and trimmed to four inches long
½ cup seedless raisins
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ cup diced Roma tomatoes
½ teaspoon coriander seeds
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
3 whole cloves
½ teaspoon whole peppercorns
½ teaspoon sea salt
Bake in a covered dish at 400 F for 1 hour. Serve as a side or garnish.
“Smell is a potent wizard that transports you across thousands of miles and all the years you have lived”
Aromas enchant us, molding images into the cerebral cortex which can be recalled at any moment with a familiar whiff. With food, an attractive scent can trigger the desire to eat and cause a singular drive to eat something right away.
The sense of smell is seventy percent of taste. While taste buds receive input from salty, sweet, bitter and pungent receptors, olfactory input can recognize up to 10,000 different aromas. This input is immediate and can bypass the normal processing to trigger memory in the cerebral cortex. Imagine having a barbecue without the intensely sensuous aroma not wafting by. A world without aroma is a sanitized and bland proposition. Studies have confirmed that the olfactory sense triggers memories more than the other senses. Mental imagery with the natural romanticized versions, adds immensely to the ‘theater of dining.’
Just as the chemical combination of food ingredients are medicine, food is also integral in aromatherapy. To exemplify this, think of the scents that floated out of the kitchen as a child, baking cookies or a cake, baking bread, or the almost acrid aroma of food cooking over an open fire. There is a sound reason for fast food restaurants to exhaust fumes onto the street. Over the years, it was very common for passersby to eat at Inn Season Café after walking by and smelling the great cooking scents outside our building.
It has been well documented that specific aromas encourage the body to function in different ways. There are scents which cleanse nasal passages, a few aid digestion and some inspire passion, while others work with the psyche. Scent is very much part of the ‘feng shui’ of food and old cultures have this built in to the cuisine.
Setting a stage with scents
Scent is also very subjective. What we like has direct correlation to our life experience and conditioning. For one person the scent of a wonderfully aged cheese is mouth watering, to another it is revolting. The audience is important when planning a meal. Sometimes, we need to help educate a palate, so scents are orchestrated to enhance each other, framing the so called offensive aroma with more accessible and universally appealing scents. When entertaining, it is good to plan an aromatic environment along with the rest of the menu. Many times the aromas around the food have a profound effect on the flavors inside the preparations.
Importance of smells in cooking
Without tasting, the scent of food becomes prominent as a tool for perfection. In Vedic cooking, enjoying the smells of the food for oneself while cooking is the same as tasting it. The cooking aroma can be enjoyed as part of the process of cooking for others and certainly may be used as a tool for creating culinary wonders.
Manipulation of aromas during eating
Timing the drifting scents emanating from food and organizing them in a almost symphonic way can be as important as combining spices. Complimentary aromas play off each other, dancing in the imagination, toying with our memories.
The after dinner scents
After a fulfilling dinner, scent plays an important role in comfort and good digestion. Some of the unpleasant things restaurants do which we can avoid in our personal lives are spraying tables with window cleaners to sanitize while customers are nearby; using heavy bleach solutions to sanitize equipment and counters; have strong smelling food being served with delicate flavors; and allowing smoking nearby, or even at all.
Fortunately in our own homes, we may create environments without these olfactory pitfalls. To focus on the positive, candles create warm, cozy scents that are nice when extinguished too. A flaming dessert or steamy hot fudge sauce can fill the air with deep sensual undertones. Also removing the food from the table is a must before dessert and after the entire dinner when conversation may be heightened.
Mainstream America does not emphasize food as a key to a quality life and source of longevity. Food is mostly used as a sensual sideshow and necessary evil. One the big challenges we face, especially in dire times, is to reconnect with the earth’s culinary heritage. Not only the exclusive diets of the privileged, but those of common people. These are diets that nourish body and soul, which utilize the senses instead of merely placating them. Such foods help define who we are and keep us in touch with the ever present organic cycles of the earth.
I first discovered the significance of food as a young child from my Greek grandmother, who tirelessly went out of her way to both nourish and nurture her family through the medium of lovingly prepared traditional dishes. Memories in my Yia Yia and Papou’s house invariably are associated the times when our family gathered around the dining table, situated just outside of Yia Yia’s kitchen. There I sampled exquisite hand made, tender dolamdakia, irresistible spanikopita, perfectly balanced moussaka and pastitsio to die for. The memories were augmented with intense and creamy skordalia, almost sinfully sweet baklava and the melt-in-the mouth amigdalota cookies made from almonds and orange blossom water. The food sparked conversation and familial bonding.
Eating this way, we knew what it was to be Greek. The food was historically intertwined with cultural identity. What, how and when it was (or is) consumed was a major portion of the Hellenic psyche. Greece is a land that has witnessed the ravages of changing civilizations, occupations and political turmoil. Often it was recognized as the center of the civilized world and the source of our modern political structures. The unique and flavorful cuisine has been a consistent reminder of the greatness that Greece was…and still is. Much of this glory was achieved over millennia at tables in homes and villages with foodstuffs foraged in the mountains, harvested from the land and caught in the sea. The plant based food was so significant that the famous Greek Key pattern, found over millennia as a theme on temples, homes, fabrics and ornaments, was derived from the field plowing pattern used by farmers. Ancient Greeks would also pour a small libation of wine on the earth before drinking, much in the way we toast today. The Greeks have learned to live with the earth in a respectful partnership, where harmonizing with the energies of the cosmos became a goal in life. Anyone who has spent time in Greece can still feel this incredible energy integrated into every aspect. Often this translates into the Greek spirit of life. Along with the Mediterranean sunshine, the sea breezes and the stark raw beauty of the land, it is unique and unlike any other place on earth. No wonder so many Greeks return to their mother land.
Outside of carrot cake and muffins, carrots are rarely used for desserts here in North America. Traditional Indian carrot halava is prepared using two different methods. The first is to cook the carrots in clarified butter (ghee) and sugar until only the sweetness of the carrot remains and the sugar slightly caramelizes. The second is to reduce the carrots with milk to a light burfi or fudge consistency. Our method combined the two because maple syrup starts as a liquid and becomes solid with cooking, giving a similar texture to the candied sugar in the first variation. This recipe also retains the richness that ghee or milk would add without the fats and is a very satisfying dessert. Brightened with cardamom, it can be made 3 to 4 days ahead of time if kept refrigerated. It also freezes well.
Maple Carrot Halava
Serves: 8 Preparation Time: 30 minutes
6 cups carrots, peeled and grated
1 teaspoon decorticated or ground cardamom
1 cup whole cashew nuts (optional)
2 cups maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons ground cardamom garnish
In a large skillet on medium low, while stirring frequently, slowly cook the oil, carrots, cardamom and cashews until the carrots start to break down. Add the maple syrup and vanilla, turn the heat up to medium and cook until the maple syrup is absorbed and starts to caramelize. Serve warm or cool in a fruit compote dish with a dusting of cardamom.