Cretan Horta

In one of his daily shows, Dr. Mehmet Oz talked about super foods and explained the benefits.   One of the super foods he mentioned was “Greek greens,” otherwise known as horta.  On the island of Crete, the tradition of foraging for wild greens can be traced back to Neolithic times.  It is one of the nutritional secrets of the Mediterranean diet.
The weed-like greens are hardy and have extra-potent sources of vitamins and minerals.  In San Diego, we have the benefit of having local seasonal Greek greens always available, such as spinach, Swiss chard, curly endive, lacinato kale, mustard greens and beet, turnip and radish tops.  Often some of the greens such as Lamb’s Quarters show up at farmer’s markets because they sprout like weeds amongst other crops and the farmers have learned there is a market for them.
According to Dr. Oz, Greek greens are a superfood and should be consumed as much as possible, if not daily.

Traditionally they are prepared by boiling in a small amount of water until they are tender, then dressed with a little extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice and sea salt.  In Crete, they serve horta with the nutrient-rich broth which then becomes “salsa” for dipping bread into.  It is a common lunch item or side dish for dinner and features whatever edible green item is available from the fields or gardens.
As a child visiting my Greek grandparent’s house in Ohio, I remember seeing the horta on the table at almost every meal.
In the Spring, they would frequently enlist the whole family to gather dandelion greens, sometimes walking miles to an undeveloped field with the coveted weeds jutting up from the nutrient-rich soil.
Their search for Greek greens served as a link to the old country and culture of Crete while providing their family a highly nutritious super food.

 

Vegan Chocolate Heaven

Fallbrook, a charming and historic town nestled among avocado orchards, is in the heart of North County San Diego. In a small storefront off the beaten path is Guanni Chocolates, a chocolate store full of confections which defy modern commercial definitions.
Mariella Balbi is not just a chocolatier, but a talented chef and visionary.  She gives us a tour, beginning with the story of Peruvian Criollo chocolate and the connections she has with the cooperative which produces what is considered the best chocolate in South America.  In addition to supplying pure high grade cacao and cacao butter to Guanni chocolates, the cooperative uses Mariella as a consultant to help bring Peruvian goods to the forefront of the world market.
Mariella has woven together her expertise with the native ingredients from her home country of Peru to create super-food infused confections which actually enhance one’s health. Her Wari bar has become my favorite chocolate snack, a rare gem to be savored.
Each bar is 100% vegan and free of any filler additives, such as soy lecithin.  She also makes a delicious raw food energy bar and sells Yacon Syrup and Maca, a root powder; both are reported to have rejuvenating qualities.
Mariella’s chocolates and her approach to business stand out in the urban bustle of San Diego.  She is adamant about maintaining the highest quality ingredients and does not cut corners as competitors so often do.  Her kind and generous persona shines through in everything she sets out to accomplish.  Like Vianne in the movie “Chocolat,” she inspires her clients with her chocolate creations, stopping just short of prescribing the chocolate for various afflictions as Vianne does.
The visit to the Guanni chocolate works was inspiring and rejuvenating.  In addition to the store in Fallbrook,  she sells her delectable confections at nine markets in Southern California including the Hillcrest Farmers Market every Sunday. Wari Bars are also available at Venissimo Cheese shops around San Diego County.  Guanni ships everywhere, to order online go to guannichocolates.com

 

A Recipe For Members Only

Every day I enter the kitchen, my temple of food, and prepare meals for the family.  I prepare dishes from scratch inspired by fresh produce from the local farmers market. It is a daily meditation which I find energizes me and stimulates my creativity. I am often reminded of the samsara wheel in Eastern philosophies, which signifies the endless cycles of life and death, birth and rebirth that are at the core of living on the planet. The small part I play at the farmers market, in my garden and at the helm of my stove are all part of an earthly process of regeneration which helps me experience vitality and growth.

While shopping at the farmers market, I frequently discuss my daily creations with farmers and market-goers.  We share methods of preparation and wax eloquently upon the magnificence of fresh fruits and vegetables harvested within the last twenty-four hours.
As a member of thevegetarianguy.com, you will periodically receive one of my current creations inspired by the weekly bounty brought home from the farmers market, in addition to the regular blog posts and recipes.  This month I am sharing a recipe for Asian Yam Tower, an easy to prepare  and energizing dish full of super-foods.
I look forward to receiving your comments and questions regarding your cooking experiences.  The best part is that it is free and without obligation.
Please become a member and join me in the quest for excellence in food. —For fun, for health and for the planet!

 

The Secrets Are Out

After an organic process encompassing eight years, my cookbook Vegetarian Traditions: Favorite Recipes From My Years at the Legendary Inn Season Cafe is at last available.  While writing the book, I realized the story is much larger than just the favorite recipes from the restaurant.  In addition to my own culinary journey, it is a tale of an entire community which ultimately honed their definition of good food by what we served.   The secret behind our success turned out to be the local organic farmers and artisan vendors who made the delicious, energizing food possible.  They are the life-blood of the ongoing food revolution in this country, of which we have been eager participants.
Every year as spring progresses toward summer, the Royal Oak Farmers Market starts to fill the stalls with the bounty of Michigan’s fertile land; has been a ritual shared by the residents of South Oakland County since 1929.  I started going to the market in 1981 when we first opened the doors of Inn Season Cafe.  Over the years, the farmers and I came to know each other; we shared family stories, cooking tips and arduous tales of the fickle Michigan weather. this
Frequently, if there was something special grown or found, they would save it for me knowing how much I appreciated the rare gems of the Michigan soil.  When George Uhlianuk discovered a giant puff ball mushroom in the woods behind his farm, he would bring it to the market for me.  Those mushrooms were not a commercial variety and could grow eight or nine inches in a day.  They had to be consumed right away while still white or they would begin to age and develop a yellow hue around the edges, no longer fit to eat.  When prepared at the peak of freshness, these mushrooms are a delicacy.  Sliced and sauteed in olive oil with a touch of tamari, balsamic vinegar and fresh ground white pepper, puff balls satisfy a vegetarian’s rogue cravings for rich and meaty flavors.
In addition to fresh produce, the market was my primary source for planting and gardening materials.  I would fill my earthen plots with perennials from farmers and growers who found new and unusual varieties every year.  One spring, a farmer dove into his pond to gather Michigan irises for me.  They still show their bright yellow blooms in the secret garden pond at my old house across the street from Inn Season Cafe.
Saturday mornings at the market were a weekly festival of shopping, talking, sharing and laughing.  I developed many friendships over the years with like-minded folks who shared my passion for fresh food and market-inspired cooking.
After selling the restaurant, I began shopping at various markets throughout North America and found many of the experiences I had in Royal Oak to be part of a common thread.  Aside from the tremendous difference in quality between produce purchased from local farmers and that purchased in a grocery or warehouse, we benefit on a societal and economic level by renewing the connection between farmers and communities. This is the magic of farmers markets.
I now live in San Diego enjoying the year-round harvest in the farmers markets. Yet, I still miss the excitement and anticipation of spring at the Royal Oak Farmers Market.  Memories of full sensual immersion–the spring garlic shoots at Cinzori Farms, Randy Hampshire’s freshly-ground corn meal, Jim Burda’s succulent raspberries, Jim VanDenBerg’s sweet carrots, Don Van Houtte’s candy-like sugar snap peas, Maple Creek Farm’s nutrient-rich kale and Kate & Al Weilnau’s organic, hand-snipped asparagus.  I think of those crisp and cool mornings at the market and I can feel the cooking inspiration swell inside of me.
My desire to share my feelings about the connection between the earth, farm and table was one of my motivations in writing Vegetarian Traditions: Favorite Recipes From My Years At The Legendary Inn Season Cafe.  The book identifies the real heroes behind every great chef’s cuisine–the farmers.
The book has over 150 vegan recipes.  Elegant entrees, soups, salads and melt-in-your-mouth desserts are in an easy-to-follow format accompanied by beautiful color photos.
Each dish is packed with “super-foods”–energizing, healthy and delicious.  Signed copies are now available for a limited time through my store.   Just click on the “order now” button on this site.

 

 

Market Inspirations

 

Each time I visit the farmers market, my creative energy is triggered by the spectacular produce and its infinite potential.  This week was no exception.  Sage Mountain Farm had fresh butter-like asparagus, elephant garlic shoots, spring onions and lucious red radishes which all came together as an asparagus and radish-green tart.

 

Barry Koral of Koral Tropical Fruit Farms had bright orange kumquats fresh from his trees which I turned into a sweet and colorful marmalade.

Kumquat Marmalade

Makes 3 cups
2 cups kumquats, sliced into slivers with the seeds removed
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups evaporated cane juice
Soak the sliced kumquats in water overnight.  In a 12 inch skillet on medium-high heat, cook all ingredients until the sugars start to candy (225 degrees on a candy thermometer).  Transfer and store in the refrigerator.

 

 

 


While purchasing my weekly supply of red walnuts, Nicolina Alves of Terrabella Ranch shared a recipe she created for Grapefruit Pops using the two kinds of grapefruit she was selling.  An option for the sugar is organic evaporated cane juice.  This is Nicolina’s recipe:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Salvadorian Pupusa

The pupusa is a flavorful savory, perfect as an appetizer or addition to a meal.   Similar to the stuffed corn arepas of Venezuela and Gorditas of Mexico, they are unique to El Salvador with a two thousand year history confirmed by excavations at the Pompeii of the New World.   So basic to Salvadorian cuisine that November 13th is celebrated as “National Pupusa Day.” There are many long-standing  traditions around the world which are vegetarian or easily adapted, a number of which can be found in Pre-Columbian dishes. Central and South American societies have provided us with some of the most versatile ingredients and super-foods known to man. Pupusas are made from a masa dough. The dough is flattened in the hand, then gently formed around a filling to make a ball. I fill my pupusas with a cilantro pesto made with pepitas, chiles and lime, and serve them with a zesty Pico de Gallo style salsa made from diced tomato, lime, onion, garlic, green chile, cilantro and sea salt. While making them, I reflect on where the dish came from and the cultural tradition behind it, giving the food a story and identity.  The background music in the video below is performed by Santiago Orozco and is a beautiful complement to preparing and serving pupusas.

Pupusas

Makes 10

Masa

2 1/2 cups masa harina

1 tsp dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 1/2 cups water

Mix ingredients together, cover and allow to rest for an hour.

Filling

1/2 cup pepitas

1 1/4 cup cilantro leaves, packed

1 jalapeno chile, seeded and chopped

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

2 1/2 tablespoons lime juice

Preheat oven to 375.  Place the pepitas evenly on a baking sheet and cook for 9 minutes.  Puree all ingredients in a food processor. Transfer and reserve.

1/2 cup water

Canola oil for cooking

Add water to masa dough, knead together and form into 10 balls.  Take one ball and use your hands to flatten into a 3 inch wide patty.  Place 1 tablespoon filling in the center and gently work the the dough around the filling to form a ball.  Flatten the ball back to 3 1/2 inches wide by 3/8 inch thick, rinse hands and repeat. Heat cast iron skillet on medium heat and add 1 tablespoon oil to skillet.  Cook 4 to 5 pupusas at a time until golden brown and turn over, cooking again until golden brown.  Serve warm with salsa.

Fresh Salsa

3/4 cup tomato, diced

1 Anaheim chile, seeded and minced

2 tablespoons lime juice

1/4 cup sweet onion, minced

1/2 teaspoon garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/3 cup cilantro leaves, chopped and packed

Mix together all ingredients.  Serve cold or room temperature.

Cooking Inspiration From Sage Mountain Farm

Last Sunday at the Hillcrest Farmer’s Market in San Diego, Phil Noble of Sage Mountain Farm was showing passersby a large shoot of elephant garlic. He was explaining the colossal versatility of the leek look-alike which is only available a few weeks in the Spring when the shoots are young and tender. The mature oversized bulb is usually found in stores labeled as a mild alternative to the traditional garlic bulb. Phil said that every part of the shoot can be used in cooking–from the tentacle-like roots to the top of the dark green shoots.

Back at home, I began lunch preparation, anxious to incorporate my latest find. Since it is mild, elephant garlic can be used in greater quantity without the fear of being the “stinking rose.” I thinly sliced the white portion of the elephant garlic and braised it with some baby beets (also from Sage Mountain Farm), a little extra virgin olive oil, a small amount of water and then I covered and simmered it for about 20 minutes. The tiny beets became tender morsels still attached to the buttery soft beet greens.

I also prepared elephant garlic-herb tofu by sautéing firm tofu with a little extra virgin olive oil. As the tofu turned golden brown, I added dried basil, elephant garlic roots and premium tamari (Nama Shoyu from Goldmine Natural Foods). To serve, I garnished it with slivers of the green top of the garlic shoot. The firm meatiness of the tofu was nicely complemented by the seared herb flavor and the slight pungency of the garlic. The tender roots retained a slight crunch, enhancing the texteral landscape of the dish.

As a third dish, I prepared sautéed red amaranth from La Milpa Organica with minced white elephant garlic, crushed red pepper and coarse sea salt. As the amaranth wilted, I added the Sage Mountain asparagus, covered the pan and turned the heat down to a simmer. Served with freshly baked bread, a Fuerte avocado from our tree and a beautiful salad of Sun Grown Organic sprouts, the meal was at once delightful and energizing.

Vegetarian traditions are as old as humanity and are the key to longevity in cultures where disease is diminished. Central to these traditions are local, fresh and organic foods. By supporting local markets, we bolster our health while sustaining the planet for future generations.

Sugar Snaps in the Spring

Spring is here in San Diego; the Winter rains have spawned a lush green on canyon hillsides and the mockingbirds are starting their mellifluous Spring rants.  Oranges, tangerines and kumquats are in abundance at the farmer’s markets, while the first sweet organic strawberries are beginning to show themselves in the fields like voluptuous damsels in red dresses.  At the Hillcrest Farmers Market, the Rodriguez Brothers organic booth offers the first sugar snap peas, reminding me of early Spring in Michigan where they were one of the first crops to show up after the thaw.

At my former restaurant, Inn Season Cafe, we would prep crate upon crate of the sweet pods and serve them steamed as a side vegetable, seared for use as an appetizer or added at the last second to a stir fry, so they stayed crisp on the plate.  Today, I am steaming them in a skillet with just enough water to completely steam out within a minute.  As I prepare the peas for steaming, I enjoy the melody of the crisp “snap” as I remove each end of the pods before pulling off the string.  After steaming, I quickly toss them with a few drops of ume plum vinegar just before serving.  Fresh, crisp and full of life, they are one of the Spring’s delights.

Barry Koral And His Avocados

Barry Koral, one of the farmers at the Hillcrest Farmers Market in San Diego, and I wax poetically every Sunday as shoppers clamor for his avocados, chermoyas, guavas, sapotes, passion fruit, Persian limes, kumquats, blood oranges, Meyer lemons and local macadamia nuts. Although he is not “certified” organic, he describes everything he does at the farm as “beyond organic.” He is a “fixture” at the market, proclaiming to all who pass by the value of his avocados, the life-giving properties of his figs or the “passion” in his passion fruits.

A few weeks ago, he invited my wife and me to an event at his home and orchard in Vista, a community within San Diego County. It was a live-food celebration with about fifty people in attendance. When we arrived, I immediately sensed that this was a “connected” domicile, reminding me of similar homes where the energy of the residents seem to be “one” with the living cycles of the planet. Barry seemed to take enormous pleasure entertaining his guests with his wit, creative spirit and love of life. It was a marvel to see him work the room and share quality moments with each person in attendance. After he delivered a spirited talk and shared poetry with all of us, the crowd took to the raw food buffet like wheat-grass to a juicer. The food was fresh and vitalizing, and everyone seemed re-energized by the association and community spirit.


Raw Ginger-Beet Salad

6 cups raw beets, peeled and grated

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

1 tablespoon lime juice

1 tablespoon fresh ginger juice

1/4 cup sweet onions, minced

Mix all ingredients in a bowl fifteen minutes before serving.