Black Pepper Tofu

black pepper tofu-14
For many people tofu is a bland experience, turning off the most adventurous of palates.  This recipe helps to counteract that falacy with the assistance of the treasured spice of Asia, black pepper.  It makes for a flavorful side dish with a simple meal as well as a provocative appetizer.  The key to good sautéed tofu is to cook it hot at first, then turn down the heat and finish it off slowly allowing the flavors to absorb.

Makes 12 pieces

1 teaspoon olive oil
1 (14 ounce) block firm tofu, drained and cut into twelve ¼ inch thick triangles
2 tablespoons tamari
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh ground black pepper

Heat a 10 to 12 inch saute pan on medium heat.  Add oil and tofu.  Cook one side until slightly browned and then carefully turn each piece.  Add tamari and turn heat down to a simmer, then grind half the fresh pepper onto the tofu.  After a minute, turn the tofu again and grind the rest of the pepper.  Continue to cook until the tofu is firm and the pepper is cooked in.  Serve hot or at room temperature.

Spring Risotto with Asparagus and Walnuts

asparagus-walnut-risotto

This is a simple, yet flavorful method of preparing risotto, more of a pilaf really. Good as a side dish or main course, this recipe is different from the traditional butter, wine and parmesan cheese approach, but every grain of rice maintains an inherent full and creamy flavor. I find asparagus at the local farmers market, thin or thick stalks are fine. The walnuts are from last year’s harvest.  Fresh nuts make a tremendous difference in flavor and texture.

Serves 6

Risotto:

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon garlic, minced

3/4 cup shallots, peeled and thinly sliced

1/4 cup red bell peppers, finely chopped

1/2 cup garnet yams, peeled and cubed

1/2 cup peas, freshly podded

1 bay leaf

1/4 cup fresh fennel weed, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon white pepper

1 cup organic Arborio rice

1 teaspoon sea salt

2 1/2 cups water

Separate pan:

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

2 cups asparagus, cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon balsamic reduction (or 1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar)

1 cup walnut halves and pieces

1/2 tablespoon tamari

In a wide, thick-bottomed saucepan on medium heat, cook the oil, garlic, shallots, red bell peppers and yams until the shallots start to turn clear. Stir in the remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer, turn down and cover. Stirring frequently, cook for 20 minutes until the rice is tender and most of the water is absorbed.

While cooking the rice, heat a sauté pan on medium high heat, add oil and asparagus.Cook, turning frequently, until the asparagus starts to brown on the edges, add the red pepper flakes, stir in and add the balsamic reduction or vinegar.When the vinegar cooks out, add the walnuts, stir them around letting them toast lightly.Add the tamari, stir to coat the nuts and asparagus.Take off the flame and set aside.When the risotto is cooked, fold in the asparagus and nut just before serving.Save a few pieces of asparagus tips and walnut halves for garnish.Serve immediately.Optionally, one may garnish each dish with shaved organic asiago or parmesan, but I prefer ground toasted tamari walnuts sprinkled over the top.

Socca and Poodla–Cross Continental Traditions

Ferndale, Michigan…

I stepped into my favorite coffee oasis Chazzano Coffee for an afternoon cappuccino.  Julie Marcos, barista extraordinaire, discussed the weather and specific attributes of the latest roasting of Brazilian Santos.  Because of my food “interests” she told me about a wonderful childhood memory. While living in Nice, France, her father made a dish called “Socca” and served it with fresh ground black pepper.

She seemed to disappear into her thoughts as she described the texture and flavor, reliving a moment in time that food can transport us to. I was intrigued because of my passion for a similar dish called Poodla, which some friends from Gujarat, India had shared with me many years ago.

The base of the Poodla is garbanzo flour–made from the versatile garbanzo bean or chick pea.  Archaeological evidence has shown cultivation originated in the Middle East at least 7500 years ago. Most of us know it from hummus, Mediterranean vegetable stews, salads and falafel–not so much as flour which can be used as a base for dessert or as a wheat substitute in gluten-free cooking.

As with most recipes, there are traditions–Socca and Poodla have long rustic ones. Whether they were created independently or were the result of cultural recipe sharing, we will never know for sure; however, the story of Biryani comes to mind. Gypsies who migrated from India, across most Mediterranean and European cities, ended up in Spain where they reinvented this venerable rice dish as Paella. Socca from Nice was originally considered Genoese and is a popular dish relished up and down the Tuscan coast. Up until 1860, and for most of its history, Nice was part of Italy. Founded by the Greeks in 350 BC and named after the goddess of victory, Nike, it was a busy maritime port, visited by travellers from around the world during the age of exploration.

The cross-continental connection may not be as random as one may imagine. It is easy to fantasize how dried garbanzo flour could have travelled the Silk Road, or even across the seas, as a non-perishable and nutritious staple ingredient for a number of easy-to-prepare dishes.

These two recipes are steeped in the traditional fabric of the cultures they came from, Socca from Nice and Poodla from Gujarat–recipes which take us deep into Mediterranean culture or immerse us in the fantastic flavors, colors and textures of India. Whichever method of preparation is used, it is fun to meditate on the origins and associated culturally rich stories while making and enjoying these wonderful dishes.

Socca Niçoise

Makes about three seven-inch soccas.

1 cup chickpea flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 ¼ cups lukewarm water
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
coconut oil for cooking

In a large bowl mix the chickpea flour, salt, and pepper. Whisk in warm water and olive oil. Cover and let sit 2 to 4 hours.

Place a cast iron skillet in oven and preheat to 450 F.

Remove skillet from oven. Add 2 tablespoons coconut oil to the hot skillet and pour batter in a steady stream until it reaches the edges of the pan. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until the pancake is firm and the edges are set.

Flip the socca or set it a few inches below your broiler for a couple minutes, just long enough for it to brown. Cut into wedges and serve hot with toppings of your choice.

-This recipe is gluten-free

Recipe adapted from WholeLiving .com, Posted by Sarah Britton

Gujarati Poodla 

1 cup besan chick pea flour
7 ounces of water
1/4  teaspoon turmeric powder
1 jalapeno chile, seeded and minced
1/2 teaspoon ajwain Seeds
1/2 cup sweet onion, minced
2 tablespoons fresh fenugreek leaves, minced
½ teaspoon fresh garlic, finely minced
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
coconut oil for cooking

Whisk flour and water together to make a smooth batter, then whisk in spices, onion, and garlic.  In a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet on medium-high heat,  add 2 tablespoons coconut oil.  Place several dollops of batter onto the hot skillet.  When golden brown on the bottom, flip and cook the second side until golden brown.  Repeat.

Notes:
-Besan flour is Indian black chick pea flour. Garbanzo flour can be substituted with less favorable results. Water may have to be adjusted.
-Ajwain, carom seed, has a similar flavor to Mexican oregano which can also be used.
-Fenugreek leaves, methi in Hindi, are one of the secret flavors of Gujarati cuisine. As a substitute, use an equal amount of chopped cilantro leaves and ¼ teaspoon of ground fenugreek seed.
-Besan, ajwain and fenugreek leaves are available at most Indian groceries.

-This recipe is gluten-free.

Recipe adapted from FoodieMomsCookbook.com, Recipes From a Gujarati Mom Who Loves Food

A Recipe For Red Orach

One of my favorite amaranth varieties is red orach,  also known as garden orach, French spinach and mountain spinach.  Red orach was first documented in the New World in 1714 and Thomas Jefferson grew a green variety in his Monticello gardens.  It was discovered as far back as Mesolithic times and was commonly grown in the Mediterranean before spinach became popular;  the  red and green varieties were used to color pastas in Italy due to natural color retention. A member of the salt-bush family, the tender leaves have a light salty flavor which combines nicely with sorrel’s lemony flavor.  The over-sized leaves and colorful presence make orach a favored annual in ornamental gardens.

In San Diego, I first began seeing Red orach in the La Milpa Organica booth at the Hillcrest Farmers Market a few years ago.  Farmer Barry Logan specialized in ancient greens and heirloom vegetable varieties which made his stall the organic anchor of the market.  While La Milpa is no longer operating, the influence lives on. Suzie’s Farm is growing many of the varieties Barry used to sell and I was pleasantly surprised to see red orach a couple of weeks ago and began using it in salads, greens, tarts, pastries and, of course, stuffed dishes. For those of you who have not had the pleasure of cooking red orach, have no fear–it’s easy to work with.  If you can’t find it at your local market, request it, talk your local farmer into growing it and/or plant it in your garden as a culinary ornamental.

Stuffed Red Orach with Pomegranate Molasses

10 large red orach leaves

Filling
1/2 cup garbanzo beans, cooked
1/2 cup artichoke hearts, cooked
1 tablespoon green onion, minced
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil

Mix garbanzos, artichoke, green onion, sea salt and oil in a food processor and process to a coarse paste. Place a generous tablespoon of filling on the wide end of a leaf and roll into a thick cigar shape.  Repeat until all leaves are used.

Cook
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons white spring onion, minced
1/2 teaspoon garlic, minced
2 tablespoons Meyer lemon juice

Place a ten-inch skillet on medium-high heat and cook the oil, crushed red pepper, onions and garlic until the onions are clear around the edges.  Placed the red orach rolls in the pan, cover and let sear for 1 minute.  Pour in the lemon juice, cover, turn down heat to low and cook for another 2 minutes.  Turn the burner off and leave covered until ready to serve.

Pomegranate Molasses

2 cups fresh pomegranate juice
2 tablespoons agave syrup
2 teaspoons Meyer lemon juice

Place a skillet on medium heat, add all ingredients and reduce to a syrup consistency.  Allow to cool before using.  May be prepared ahead of time to use as a condiment.

Serve
Drizzle Pomegranate Molasses onto plate and place a red orach roll on top.  Serve hot.

Notes:
To simplify the cooking process and make it a quick dish, use Eden Foods organic canned garbanzo beans and organic canned artichoke hearts.

I use fresh pressed organic pomegranate juice from Lone Oak Ranch but the recipe will be fine with bottled 100% pomegranate juice.






Cranberry Chocolate Salsa

Cranberries have been part of the American diet for a long time. Early immigrants learned about them from the native, indigenous tribes in New England where they became synonymous with late Autumn and, of course, Thanksgiving.  While various health benefits have been touted for years, such as the cranberry’s unique ability to prevent UTI’s, only recently has the true super-food quality of the berry become evident.  The anti-oxidant properties of the cranberry surpass even the heralded pomegranate.

Often, we are uninspired when working with cranberries.  Thanksgiving dinners have been adorned with the same cranberry-orange relish or the compulsory cranberry jello mold for a hundred years, usually made with large doses of refined sugar to counteract the tartness.

While cooking at my restaurant, I was inspired by the local organic cranberries at the Royal Oak Farmers Market and used them in savory dishes to counter balance the sweet flavors of squash or corn.  In my cookbook, Vegetarian Traditions, there is a recipe for Quinoa-Corn Arepas with a Chocolate-Cherry Salsa.  Recently, I adapted the salsa recipe by replacing the cherries with cranberries, making a new and exciting cranberry dish for the Thanksgiving table.


Cranberry Chocolate Salsa

Makes 2 1/2 cups

2 teaspoons vegetable oil

1/2 teaspoon garlic, finely minced

1/2 cup sweet onions, finely diced

2 1/2 cups fresh cranberries

1 1/2 teaspoons toasted and ground dried pasilla (ancho) chiles

2 tablespoons lime juice

1 1/2 ounces organic semi-sweet 70% chocolate

1/4 cup evaporated cane juice

1 1/4 teaspoons sea salt

1 cup water

In a 4 quart sauce pan on medium-high heat, cook the oil, garlic and onions until the onions become clear around the edges.  Add the cranberries and the rest of ingredients.  Turn the heat to low, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.  Uncover, mash the cranberries and simmer for another 4 minutes.  Serve warm.


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Raw Food – Living Markets

In 1981, I visited a 300 acre organic farm in Southern Michigan which housed the Creative Health Institute.  It was there that I was exposed to the early years of Live Foods as directed by the late matriarch of the movement, Ann Wigmore.  The farm grew the grains which became the sprouts in the food; full of life-enhancing enzymes, it was both energizing and healing.  The Creative Health Institute was, and continues to be, a remarkable healing center where life-giving practices are embraced.

Raw or live foods are rooted in traditions which date back to our human origins.  Before refrigeration, fermentation and enzymatic growth in food was widespread in the cuisines of world, including Roman garum sauce, Chinese soy products, Japanese pickles, Korean kimtchie, Indian dosas, Thai fish sauces and Indonesian tempeh. Sometimes cooked, sometimes raw, these foods contributed significantly to the diets of the cultures they came from. The modern raw food diet originally drew inspiration from the proto-Christian Essenes most commonly known as the sect of John the Baptist, a desert-dwelling Judaic group who used the sun to dry their sprouted manna bread.

Raw living foods help stimulate the immune system and facilitate the flow of chi energy throughout the body.  There are countless people who claim it clears the mind, balances the body and heals many illnesses.

The most common endorsement I hear is that the raw foods increases energy in daily living.  Whether one embraces the diet entirely or includes a percentage of raw food, the benefits are real.

There are probably more raw-foodies per capita in Southern California than any other part of the country.  No doubt the weather and year round availability of local fresh foods plays a significant roll.  The sensual pleasures of the palate are plentiful with thoughtfully prepared raw cuisine.  I have seen many raw food chefs to be very good with presentation and flavor.

The farmer’s markets in San Diego feature a number of live food vendors.

Here are some of them:

GreenFix Smoothie Company

Peace Pies

Koral’s Tropical Fruit Farm

Macadamia-Sunflower Hummus is a versatile recipe suitable to serve with any cuisine.  Serve it as a dip or use it as a spread in a sandwich or on a cracker.  The Basil Leaf Rolls are just one of many dishes I have used the hummus with.

Macadamia-Sunflower Hummus

1 cup raw macadamia nuts

1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds

2 cups water for soaking

1 teaspoon fresh garlic, minced

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon sea salt

3 tablespoons lemon juice

1/2 cup water

Place the nuts, seeds and soaking water in a container for 2 to 8 hours. Puree all ingredients in a food processor until smooth.  Serve cold or room temperature.

Basil Leaf Rolls

10 large lettuce-leaf basil leaves
5 tablespoons Macadamia-Sunflower Hummus
1 San Marzano Roma tomato sliced into thin 1/4 inch wide strips

Rinse basil leaves and spin-dry in a salad spinner or pat dry with a clean cloth.  Spread 1/2 tablespoon hummus evenly on each leaf.  Place a tomato slice on one end of the leaf and roll it “roulade-style.”  Repeat with each leaf. Slice into 1/2 inch wide rolls.  Serve right away.


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