Staying healthy sometimes can be a challenge. Aside from taking common sense precautions, there is a lot we can do to keep ourselves healthy with food–colorful foods, that is.
The darker and more colorful fruits and vegetables are healthier with more anti-oxidants and immune building micro-nutrients. For example: red and yellow beets, carrots, radishes and red peppers–which all happen to be in my Harvest Vegetable Salad recipe. Local farmers markets should have plenty of these vegetables in stock!
Harvest Vegetable Salad Recipe
1 ½ cups golden beets, peeled and grated
2 cups carrots, peeled and grated
2 cups parsnips, peeled and grated
½ cup red radishes, sliced into 1 inch long matchsticks
½ cup celery, finely diced
¼ cup sweet red pepper, finely diced
½ cup green onions, angle sliced thin
In a large bowl, mix all ingredients.
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
¼ cup dried currants
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ cup brown rice vinegar
1 teaspoon ume plum vinegar
¼ cup lemon juice
In a medium bowl, whisk together all dressing ingredients and fold into the vegetable mix at least 30 minutes before serving.
Tip: Use a food processor with a grating blade to grate beets, carrots and parsnips.
Stuffed Globe Zucchini
Lemon Almond Pesto
“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.
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.
“Iconic cuisine” could describe the food of Bengal. Among their many influential dishes, sweets are perhaps the most famous. Yet, there are many preparations which have come to shape Indian cuisine as a whole. Charchari is not merely a single dish, but a cooking style unique to Bengal. Essentially, vegetables are cooked in a pan and covered without stirring until a close-to-burnt caramelized crust forms on the bottom of the pan, which is stirred in to finish the dish. Unlike many vegetable dishes in India, spicing is simple, often only turmeric, chillies, salt and hing (onion-like asafetida powder). The result is a deliciously rich tasting subji (vegetable) which can be used as an appetizer with crackers and bread, or as a show-stopping part of a bigger Indian meal.
One of my favorite cookbooks is The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking by Jamuna devi. She is to Indian vegetarian cuisine what Julia Child was to French home-cooked cuisine. Her book is an easy-to-understand look at Indian kitchens. It was written a number of years ago and is a timeless must-have resource for those who wish to cook and enjoy Indian food as it is supposed to be. Jamuna presents a number of charcharis in the book and her description and recipe is excerpted as follows:
“Charcharis are Bengali vegetable dishes that combine three cooking procedures: boiling, steaming and frying. Though other cuisines of the world use the same procedures, and in a similar sequence, to my knowledge only charcharis are brought to the point of charring. During the entire procedure, the vegetable is never stirred—not even once! They are succulent vegetables, often rich and served as side dishes, but take little attention while cooking and are really delicious.
The dividing line between the cooking procedures is blurry. In the first stage, large pieces of vegetable are gently boiled in a seasoned liquid. Sometimes sugar, tomatoes or lemon juice is added to provide a glaze, flavor or zest in the finished dish. In the second stage, the vegetables are steamed by the concentrated liquids barely boiling in the bottom of the pan. Srila Prabhupad described the final stages of cooking: ‘When the liquid is absorbed, there will be a little noise, a hhhzzzz sound, and then, just as the bottom crust browns, turn off the heat and it is done.’ The pan is covered and allowed to sit off the heat for a few minutes, until the crust softens and can be easily folded into the moist vegetables.
Since this final stage of cooking delicately borders on burning, it is important to convey that it should not come to that. No one wants to serve or eat burned vegetables. It is essential to use a very heavy, thick bottom pan such as enamel on steel, stainless steel or, better still, non-stick Silverstone on heavy aluminum. With good non-stick cookware and attention to heat control, perfect charcharis are possible even the first time around.”
Here is a recipe I adapted from Jamuna’s cookbook by mixing it with my own experiences of charchari. Many years ago I was able to sample some of her cooking and the exquisite flavors of her beautifully crafted dishes have inspired me ever since. I dedicate this recipe to her and the amazing foods that roll out of her kitchen.
Baigan Aloo Charchari
2 tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 tablespoon fresh ginger root, peeled and minced
2 finger hot green chilies, minced
1/4 teaspoon hing (yellow asafoetida powder)
6-8 fresh neem leaves
5 medium Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into one inch cubes
1 medium sized eggplant, cut into one inch cubes
1 2/3 cups water
1 cup spinach leaves, stemmed and coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/4 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 inch piece of cinnamon stick
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds, freshly ground
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, fresh ground
1 1/4 teaspoons sea salt
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a heavy-bottomed 4 quart pan over moderate heat. When it is hot, but not smoking, add the black mustard seeds, ginger and chilies and fry until the mustard seeds sputter and turn gray. Sprinkle in the hing and neem leaves and within 5 seconds, stir in the potatoes, tossing with a wooden spoon for 2 to 3 minutes.
Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook about 30 minutes. From time to time, check to see if the vegetables are drying up, and adjust the heat or liquid accordingly. When the vegetables are fork-tender, all of the liquid should be absorbed and the vegetables left sizzling.
Raise the heat to moderately high and fry, without stirring, until a slightly charred crust forms on the bottom of the pan. Turn off the heat and keep covered for 5 minutes. Stir the crust into the soft vegetables before serving.
Toward the end of the harvest season chiles, tomatoes, onions, garlic and cilantro can be found in abundance. Inspired by the vibrant colors and pungent flavors of Mexico, I particularly like grilling the salsa vegetables to give them a rustic and earthy taste and feel. Easy to prepare and full of flavor, this is a salsa that stands out in a crowd.
3 hatch or Anaheim chiles, stemmed, seeded and halved lengthwise
2 torpeo or cipollini onions, peeled and trimmed
3 three inch diameter tomatoes, sliced in half
Cook the chiles, onions and tomatoes on a medium heat grill. When lightly blackened on one side, carefully turn the vegetables and use a flat spatula to turn the tomatoes. Blackened again and place in a bowl. Place ingredients on a cutting board and coarsley chop, then return them to the bowl.
1/2 cup cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup fresh lime juice 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic, minced
Mix cilantro, lime, sea salt and garlic together in a bowl. Add grilled vegetables. Serve after 1/2 hour to give time for the flavors to integrate. Serve at room temperature or hot.
We are in the midst of a great American food revolution. Farmers markets around the country are the front lines of this cultural awakening directly connecting urban dwellers with regional farm and food producers. Chefs have discovered farm-fresh produce as the secret to fine cuisine which has led to an increase in their patron’s culinary awareness and high expectations.
Community and markets go hand in hand. Farmers markets are places to learn about food, regions, farms and community events. One of the simple pleasures in my life is discussing local foods and agricultural trends with small farmers who have a direct connection to the earth.
The communities of the ancient world situated their markets in town squares and city centers since this was where people gathered–these markets tended to be the seat of government as well. Famously, democracy was created in the Agora (marketplace) of ancient Athens.
I shop two or three farmers markets weekly buying an exciting variety of seasonal produce. Nature provides the nutritive balance with different plants maturing each week during the growing season. Traditional cultures around the world synchronized their lives around the cycles of indigenous growth and harvests.
However, in today’s markets, farmers have a tendency to grow what sells. While this may make good business sense, the unfortunate result is that the educational aspects of the markets are lessened. So, when I see unusual offerings, such as green amaranth, bitter melon or, one of my favorite culinary treasures, purslane, my mind begins to conjure up different ways to prepare dishes with the fresh delicacies before me.
Purslane is a nutritional powerhouse savored by most of the great food cultures of the world. It is one of the highest plant sources in Omega 3 fatty acids and rich in vitamins A, C, Potassium and Alpha-Linoleic acid. It was well known to ancient cultures in the Mideast and Asia and used in traditional Chinese medicine for bee stings and snake bites. Pliny advised wearing the plant as an amulet to expel all evil.
Here in a America, purslane was relegated to the status of a weed. Crop rows and sidewalks across the country are sprayed with herbicides to eradicate this perceived nuisance. It thrives in harsh, dry climates and, as a companion plant, enables less hardy plants to survive by helping the root systems reach greater depths. It also helps create a beneficial microclimate and stabilize moisture levels–not to mention, it is delicious!
This recipe takes about 30 minutes. The sauteed purslane and lacinato kale rolls may be prepared individually, but I chose to combine them for complimentary flavor and drama of presentation.
Lacinato Kale Roll with Sautéed Purslane
Makes 8 rolls, serves 4 to 8
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 ½ teaspoons crushed red pepper
1 cup spring onions, sliced
2 bunches, or 6 cups, purslane, washed, thick stems removed and coarsely chopped
½ teaspoon sea salt
In a 12 inch skillet on medium-high heat, cook the olive oil, garlic and crushed red pepper for 5 to 10 seconds or until the garlic and chiles sizzle. Add the onion, purslane and sea salt. Cook for 30 seconds, cover and turn down to a simmer.
1/2 cup Vegenaise, vegan mayonnaise
2 1/2 tablespoons roasted red pepper
2 teaspoons organic tomato paste
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
In a separate bowl, whisk together all sauce ingredients.
Filling and assembly
1/2 cup chopped basil leaves
1/2 cup blanched almond flour
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons dijon mustard
In another thoroughly fold together all filling ingredients.
8 large lacinato kale leaves, stemmed
Place 1 heaping tablespoon at the top of the kale leaf and, while folding the
side edges in, roll the leaf into a stuffed grape leaf shape. Steam for 12 minutes on medium high heat. Place 1 cup purslane on plate, place one roll on top and top with 1 ½ tablespoons sauce.
Serve while hot.
A Lifestyle of Romance
This is the time of year to shake off the dust of distraction, polish our manners and look for creative ways to express ourselves romantically. Often the centerpieces of these endeavors are built around sensual foods and, when wooing our loved ones on Valentines Day, chocolate rules supreme.
The roots of St Valentines Day lay in Rome with February marking the beginning of Spring on the Roman Calendar. At that time, every household was swept out and sprinkled with salt and spelt berries. The fertility festival, Lupercalia, began on the Ides of February (15th) and was celebrated throughout Rome by pairing unmarried youths until the following February, often resulted in marriages.
Roman culture had a great appreciation for earth’s beauty and those who inhabited it. They celebrated the gifts of the land and the power of attraction which is intimately intertwined like a grape vine in an arbor. One could reason this had something to do with the word romance being derived from Roman.
In 485 A.D., the Catholic church sought to Christianize the Lupercalia festival by celebrating Saint Valentine, thought to be a martyred priest from two centuries prior. As a result, the romantic aspect of the celebration does not appear again until the Middle Ages. It was the mid 19th century when it began to resemble the phenomena it is today.
On Valentine’s Day, when the meal is emotionally charged, there is one ingredient that is a “must” on the menu–chocolate. Chocolate has long been known as an all around sensual ingredient. The Aztecs called it “Nourishment of the Gods.” Not only does it enchant us with its dark seductive flavor, but it contains compounds which have an immediate sensual effect as well as long lasting health benefits.
This dessert, Hazelnut Love Bites, is a combination of three luscious flavors and textures–hazelnut, raspberry and chocolate–all making for a passionate dessert experience.
Makes 24 Love Bites
1/3 cup ground hazelnuts
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon unbleached wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup evaporated cane juice (organic sugar)
1 1/2 teaspoons arrowroot powder
2/3 cups plain almond milk
1/4 block (3 ounces) firm silken-style tofu
1/8 cup raw cashew nuts, ground to a meal
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350º F. Using a 24 cup mini cupcake pan, line each cup with unbleached baking cups. Put hazelnuts, flour, baking powder, evaporated cane juice and arrowroot into a large bowl and whisk together with a French whip. In a blender, puree soy milk, tofu and cashews to a smooth consistency. Transfer to another large bowl and stir in canola oil and vanilla. Combine the two mixtures and stir vigorously for one minute to develop the gluten in the flour. Fill each cup to just below the rim and bake for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean(a little sticky is Ok). Allow to cool.
1 cup fresh or frozen raspberries
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon evaporated cane juice
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
Heat a saucepan on medium heat. Add all ingredients and simmer for 5 minutes. Then strain by pushing through a fine wire strainer with a rubber spatula until only the seeds are left–really work it. Discard seeds. Return strained raspberries to pan and simmer for another 5 minutes. Reserve.
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1/4 cup evaporated cane juice
1/2 cup plain almond milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
In a double boiler on medium heat, add all chocolate ganache ingredients. Stir periodically and cook for about 30 minutes until chocolate is melted and smooth. Test a drop on a cold plate, it should set up to a frosting consistency. Allow to cool and reserve.
When the cupcakes are cool, use a small pointed-tip knife to create a crater in the center of each cake, then pour in a small amount of raspberry sauce. To frost, either use a flat knife to frost each cupcake or put frosting into a pastry bag and pipe.
Ready to serve.
I only use organic and unadulterated ingredients
Through personal example, my father inspired me to respect beauty and romance on a daily basis–one never knows when they will be encountered, often by chance. He often expressed his inspirations through poetry.
With the kindness of its weather,
San Diego has developed multiple forms of beauty.
(My words of enthusiasm are difficult to restrain.)
The soil harbors and embraces plants which give birth
to hundreds of varieties of flowers.
Their creative method of procreation is:
they make their flowers so fragrant and colorful
that the bees and other pertinent species
are attracted to visit,
To collect their nectar, and thereby leave tracks
from gathering visits to neighboring flowers.
The plants then “eat”, and become happily pregnant.
This is the intelligence of beauty!
Now the plants we call ‘trees’ reach high for the sky
and its sunshine.
Each family has its own leaf formation, and height,
their arms lissome to the winds,
as their hair of leaves is tousled.
And we humans too enjoy our views of them.
Happy Valentines Day!
It all happens so quickly–rain, sun and warmth spawning explosions of green in the garden. Finnochio begins to form tender bulbs as the deep green fronds of fennel weed thicken-up. Swiss chard leaves seem to double in size after one good rain and young leeks become perfectly tender. A Midwestern garden in June can be a treasure trove of delicacies–one of the late spring joys which makes winter seem long ago.
This recipe is inspired by Michigan and San Diego gardens–not to mention my Cretan grandmother (Yia Yia). Kypo (kee-poh) is the Greek word for garden. I have fond memories of Yia Yia picking fennel and other herbs, which she used liberally. She made several dishes using phyllo, often rolled by hand and devoid of the buttery residue, commonly found with most phyllo recipes. My Kypo-pita follows this tradition–there is no butter and the phyllo is lightly oiled–the secret to our delicious phyllo dishes at Inn Season Cafe.
Recently, I was asked to demonstrate a Greek-style dish at the Opa Fest in Troy, Michigan. It was exciting for me to share my language of food with my fellow Greeks and discuss its history and my Cretan roots. Particularly gratifying was to reminisce about my father, Spyros, and his passion for our Greek heritage.
When making this recipe, keep in mind that other leafy vegetables from the garden, such as spinach, beet greens, purslane and sorrel, can be incorporated or substituted.
Once you try this technique with phyllo, you will say, as the Greeks do, “Bravo!”
Garden Roulades (Kypo-Pita)
Serves 8 to 10
1 1/2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup leeks, finely diced
1/2 teaspoon garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups fennel root (finocchio), thinly sliced
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup blanched almond flour
3/4 cup fresh fennel weed, stemmed and finely chopped
In a small saucepan on medium heat, cook the oil, leeks and garlic until the leeks begin to turn clear on the edges. Add the fennel root, lemon and water, cover and simmer until the fennel root is soft. Stir-in the sea salt, almond flour and fennel weed and turn off the heat. Reserve.
6 cups Swiss chard leaves, stemmed and chopped (2 cups cooked)
4 cups Lacinato kale, stemmed and chopped (1 cup cooked)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, preferably Cretan
Steam Swiss chard and kale for 2 to 3 minutes until well wilted. In a medium size bowl, mix together all ingredients. Reserve.
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
2 cups sweet onions (Vidalia-style), thinly sliced
1/2 cup water
Simmer all ingredients at low heat in a covered sauce pan until the onions caramelize in their own juices. Reserve.
1 cup organic expeller-pressed canola oil
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, preferably Cretan
3/4 cup maple syrup
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Mix together all ingredients, reserve.
1 package organic phyllo dough (preferably whole wheat)
1 cup roasted red bell peppers, sliced into thin strips
Create a clear workspace for working with the phyllo dough. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Set up a parchment lined baking sheet. Stir the oil mixture well and, using a pastry brush, lightly brush oil mixture on the parchment, add one sheet of phyllo and lightly brush the phyllo, continually stirring the oil mixture. Repeat until 6 layers have been laid out.
Place a string of red pepper strips along the edge of the long side of the phyllo. Place a ½ inch wide strip of caramelized onion next to the red peppers. Then, lay a 2 inch wide strip of the cooked greens evenly next to the caramelized onion. Lastly, spread a 3 inch wide strip of the fennel-almond mixture evenly next to the greens. Roll the phyllo roulade-style and, with a serrated knife, slice the top half of the roulade every inch or so. Repeat to make a second roulade. Arrange them both on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes until lightly browned on the edges. Remove from the oven, let cool for 10 minutes and slice into individual pieces. Serve warm. If refrigerated, they should be re-baked at 300 degrees for 15 minutes before serving to bring back the crispness of the phyllo.