“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.
The art of making chutney is a passion in India. Cooks developed local reputations for their intense combinations of sweet, salty and hot. Over the years I have heard a number of people mention the East Indian saying “too sweet to resist and too hot to eat.” This recipe follows that model and is ideal for the end-of-summer plethora of ripe tomatoes. Not only is it an excellent condiment for an Indian meal, but it can work as a ketchup, as a dip for crudites or a base for sweet and sour dishes.
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
2 tablespoons finger hot green chiles, minced
1/4 cup sweet onion, minced
1/4 teaspoon garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon ginger root, minced
1 1/2 cups tomatoes, diced
1 tablespoon molasses
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup water
In a medium saucepan in medium-high heat, cook canola oil, mustard seeds and green chiles. When the mustard seeds pop, add onions, garlic, ginger, tomatoes, molasses, cane juice, sea salt and water. Turn down to a simmer and cook 10 minutes or until tomatoes are well cooked and thickened. Serve room temperature or hot.
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.
During the peak of summer in August, when the hot Sahara-born Sirocco winds blanketed the countryside, Aloni-sites were where families gathering for the cool breezes coming off the sea from Kalathas. Men would sip on cafes, while women would sometimes bring a bowl of fresh-picked almonds to crack and catch up on the seemingly endless tasks of the day.
During the extended late summers in Crete, often lasting into November, skordalia was a favorite afternoon condiment spread over crusty bread which was baked in the wood fired oven in the courtyard, or cistern-collected water-dipped crunchy barley rusk paximadia dipped in super green olive oil from the latest harvest. Skordalia was often served with a horiatiki salata of fresh-picked sweet cucumbers, tomatoes, pungent red onions, tiny salt-cured Cretan olives and local sheep’s milk cheese, when it was available.
Anthe adapted the recipe for her life in America, using a bit of cider vinegar to offset the different flavors of the local ingredients. Unlike Crete, the almonds in Canton, Ohio were not fresh from the trees, bread was not kissed by the lightly salted air and lemons were not from the trees in the fertile valley gardens (Kypo). Nevertheless, Anthe’s interpretation was a beautiful, delicious and an irresistible condiment designed for her American life. She would make the recipe as a special treat for my father, which he would not stop eating until the mason jar was wiped clean with bread.
My article from KPHTH magazine with the Skordalia recipe and family history from November 2018 is below
A recipe for Pumpkin Walnut Baklava
Baklava is one of the hallmark dishes of Cretan heritage.
Originating in Ionian kitchens, it was adopted in every region of Ottoman rule and incorporated into each culture’s national cuisine because of its heavenly flavors and flaky, yet juicy, textures.
I cannot recall any family gathering without Yia Yia’s, Anthe (Stratigakis) Vutetakis, deliciously sweet and delectable baklava. She crafted her recipe while growing up in the village of Plakoures in western Crete and passed it onto her children and grandchildren. My aunt Irene Laggeris inherited her mother’s culinary aptitude and, as most talented cooks will do, added her own memorable touches to the original recipe.
My recipe takes inspiration from the original while using local ingredients and seasonal tastes. The authenticity is rooted in Greek tradition while paying homage to how so much in America is built upon, or influenced by, Greek foundations.
This dessert was first introduced to the public in 1997 when I was chef and owner of Inn Season Cafe in Royal Oak, Michigan. It quickly became a favorite, especially in the Autumn when Michiganders share a collective passion for all desserts crafted with pumpkin, sweet spices and maple syrup.
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.
A different version of Sloppy Joe which uses easily aquired ingredients. Simple to create and ideal for making ahead, it is a good stand by when time is short.
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 cup yellow onion, diced
1 cup celery, diced
¾ cup red bell pepper, diced
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
¼ cup cider vinegar
1 ½ cups tomatoes, diced
1 cup tomato salsa
½ cup organic ketchup
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon basil
In a saute pan at medium heat, cook the oil, onion, celery and red pepper until the onion starts to become clear around the edges. Add remaining ingredients and simmer until tomatoes are cooked. Transfer and reserve.
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons fresh ground fennel seed
1 heaping teaspoon smoked paprika
½ teaspoon chipotle powder
¼ cup tamari
1 block firm tofu, mashed
½ teaspoon sea salt
Rinse the saute pan and reuse. Heat with olive oil at medium heat. Add the fennel seed, paprika, chipotle and tamari. Mix together and add the tofu right away. Let simmer until the liquid is gone, add 1 cup of the base with the sea salt and simmer for 5 minutes. Add remaining base and cook again for another 10 minutes on a low simmer. Serve over toasted buns, or bread.
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.