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.
“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.
Featured in the Warrior Monk Conversations Podcast
Wheat and Grasses
Farro from Italy
Einkorn, Spelt, Emmer
Freekeh- green wheat
Other Whole Grass Grains
Barley- Staple grain of the ancient world and a precursor to wheat and rice.
Fonio- African grain native to Senegal with superfood characteristics
Sorghum, proso millet, finger millet, little millet, blue millet
Little millet and finger millets
Amaranth- seeds and greens-Vleeta in Greece or Batwa in India
Whole short grain brown rice
Black, red, basmati, jade, jasmine
Koda Farms – Traditional Japanese style growing- low in arsenic
Heirloom red corn- does not cross-pollinate with GMO corn
Job’s Tears- Hato Mugi
Resources from the Warrior Monk Conversations Podcast
Glenn Roberts https://ansonmills.com/products
Organic grains https://organicgrains.com/collections
Farafena Foods https://www.farafena.com
Grains and flours https://centralmilling.com/store/
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.
Chefs witness this on a daily basis, but most of us disconnect from the notion that food influences us far beyond the digestive tract. Eating is a multi-sensual experience and what we hear plays a significant role. With food, sound supports the other senses, placing us in a three dimensional experience. Even though it seems to play a background role, the influence of sound on our heart and mind is perhaps the most powerful sense. Feng Shui practitioners have long noted sound plays a significant role in environmental balance. What we hear inspires us to react and that is why the audible landscape is important in all stages of how we relate to a food experience.
According to Pythagorus, and confirmed by Plato, sound is the first, primordial, element. This is also embraced by the Vedic texts from India, which are some of the oldest books in the world. According to these beliefs, sound is an original element that creates vibration, thereby creating movement within the universe. If humans could hear across the entire aural spectrum, we would discover everything would have a sound, including what we currently perceive as silence. The Vedic texts imply physical environments can change through sound. It is also thought to affect our mind, body and spirit in a similar fashion.
Ancient Greeks often spoke melodically, still evident through Cretan spontaneous poetic traditions of Mantinades. Sanskrit is also poetic language, verbalized with meter and rhythm and with melodious incantations still heard in temples today. Called Deva Nagiri, Sanskrit is described as a heavenly language structured to affect change in the world when enunciated. Vedic Brahmins maintain chanting specific Sanskrit mantras can change physical environments, mundane elements and alter cycles of action and reaction, otherwise know as Karma.
We all experience in everyday life, how music can change moods, evoke passions and greatly effect perception. Constant noise and harsh noises, Cutting words, arguing, criticism and expressions of anger are vocal distractions can have opposite effects. Abrasive soundscapes often create stress, adding clutter and distraction to life. What we listen to affects our mindset, bodily movement and clarity of spirit. It is natural to see how an aural environment influences cooking. Cooking is an expression of the inner self and many chefs approach culinary endeavors as a conveying knowledge, caretaking traditions and expressing creativity. Not unlike a skilled orator, the eloquence of communicating through food preparation is a language full of beauty and grace.
Traveling to Crete with my father and son, we encountered simple tavernas where waves lapped in symphonic meter by our feet, while we savored a crisp cucumber salad glistening with the liquid gold of fresh pressed extra virgin olive oil. Local dialects would epitomize the Greek word onomatopoeia, with mellifluous chatter beautifully decorating the sounds around us. We entered a meditative state, mixed with the scents of the sea and the olive oil-basted grills, gentle lapping of the waves intertwined with colorful Greek language. A concentrated effort to extract ourselves from the hypnosis was necessary if we were to accomplish tasks of the day, much like Odysseus and the Sirens.
A visual landscape is dramatically enhanced by sound. The transition from silent film to ‘talkies’ is one example of the difference. Sound gives depth and definition to sight. In order to create a fulfilling dining experience, chefs and restaurateurs sculpt the sound experience to compliment and enhance the sensual immersion. Sound can be complementary to a meal, a background mood enhancer which soothes and excites. Anticipation and salivation are encouraged with the sight of food cooking with companion sounds like crackling, spurting, bubbling, puffing and sputtering. Sound intertwines with the other senses, such as taste, sight, touch and aroma for a true multimedia experience. Crunching, slurping, chewing and swallowing add depth and tonality. Some old-world cultures respect a good belch at the end of a meal signifying a successful dining experience. Listening plays an important role when we eat. too. A spice can change the nature of a preparation, similarly, what we hear when cooking and eating can effect outcomes and digestion.
Cold preparations seem to produce more sounds due to fresh brittleness. A mellifluous combination of crunches, snaps and juicy sound bites can be intriguing, fun and fresh.
The snack food industry is testimony to the human addiction to crunch. Take the sound away from crunching and the texture alone will not give the same satisfaction. The sounds of eating inside and outside of the jaw, are comforting and familiar. Crackers, chips, nuts, apples, corn, celery, carrots and many other foods are crunch worthy. In a dinner, a light, delicate crunch from a garnish, or integrated crispy pastry, provides a surprising and very pleasant addition to the sensual experience. A salad is an ideal course for exploring crunching with fresh, crispy greens, delicately cut vegetables, toasted nuts and the snap of fresh cherry tomatoes.
Dessert can turn into an extravaganza for all the senses when it has a crunch factor with sweet pastry or a candied nut.
Each day, 30 to 40 minutes is usually spent cooking. Fast traditional cooking is wonderful, but the traditional slow and carefully prepared dishes add depth, perspective and an understanding of the true meaning of the food. I like to use traditionally prepared condiments, such as tamari, ume plum vinegar, unpasteurized miso, cured olives, salted capers and well aged balsamic vinegar to compliment my quickly prepared meals. Often these dishes are rooted in the climate and politics of the era they originated from, adding romanticized imagery of the times of yore. Many well crafted preparations depend on fermentation, something we are rarely exposed to since refrigeration came into the kitchen. These dishes often define flavors of a cuisine with the unique flavors of enzymatic growth. Often they were used in winter to add flavor and vital nutrients when the fresh harvest was not available. Along with preserving and salt curing, fermentation was used to keep perishable ingredients edible.
Sauerkraut is one of those dishes. In Michigan, every Autumn during the abundant cabbage harvest, housewives and farmers would grate large amounts of the cruciferous vegetable on everything from hand graters to handyman crafted grating boxes which could shred an entire giant head at a time. The freshly shredded cabbage was placed with salt in crocks, barrels or bin, then pressed and covered to encapsulate the fermentation process. After a couple of weeks or so, the cabbage turned into sauerkraut and continued to ferment until canning. Today, a good amount of Michigan’s bountiful cabbage crop is turned into nutritious sauerkraut and donated to food banks.
In India, nation culinary treasures such as Idli, Dosa, Jallebi and Dahi (yogurt) all depend on fermentation for unique flavors and health giving enzymes. Dosa has very ancient roots in South Indian Tamil culture that are at least 6,000 years old. This original “crepe” has maintained popularity and is one of the most recognized and cherished dishes in greater Indian cuisine. Thirty years ago, Indian dahi-walla shops were frequently a stove, a pot and a cook (sometimes with a couple of cows out back) who worked among clay vessels of all shapes and sizes made to hold yogurt as it cultured. Down the street, one would usually find a potter sitting on the ground with a throwing wheel, a pile of clay vessels and a pit for firing. For yogurt, the clay would insulate as well as remove whey from the yogurt as it turned to curd over a four to five hour period. Turning milk into yogurt, butter and sweets were a method of preservation before refrigeration and was practiced wherever cows, sheep, goats and buffalo were kept. I remember my Yia Yia (Greek grandmother) making her own yogurt, keeping a string of cultures from one batch to the next. She would culture the yogurt on top of her refrigerator wrapped in towels where it would stay warm enough to transform the milk into a very tangy yogurt.
India also has a long history of pickle making, using sea salt, mustard, fenugreek, chillies and oils. I learned the craft from a Gujarati family and, over the years would make salty, hot, sour and often sweet pickles during the growing season. Pickles from eggplant, green beans, green mangos, lemons, limes and chillies accompanied the regional Indian cuisine we were preparing daily at the time.
Garum, a fermented fish sauce, was used throughout the ancient Roman Empire, much the same way fish sauces are used in Korean, Thai, Cambodian, Fillipino and Vietnamese cuisines. Soy sauce, shoyu and tamari in Chinese and Japanese cuisines are rooted in similar traditions. Asian cuisines are full of fermented products, like Tempeh, Natto and Kimchee.
Commonly acknowledged, products with long traditions of fermentation are beer and wine. The ancients became masters of wine and beer making, not just for the pleasing effects, but also because water could not be trusted. The armies of Alexander the Great marched to India using beer and wine instead of water. Bread baking as we have come to know it also started from the process of making beer and wine. The white coatings we sometimes see on grapes are a yeast that is also used for sourdough bread. Brewers yeast, the by-product of beer making, is also an old source of traditional bread yeast. Beer making is perhaps one of the oldest known fermenting traditions with archeological evidence from 9,000 years ago. Since it is made with grains, beer has kept a close relationship with bread. Ancient Egyptians had massive bakeries at the base of the Great Pyramid, capable of providing up to 30,000 loaves of bread a day and were conveniently located next to breweries. Up until the last 60 years, many people kept crocks with yeast starters in their kitchens to make bread with. With the exception of Prohibition, yeast was readily available from breweries throughout America. Packaged, and especially, active dry yeast are relatively new in the world of food.
With the arrival of dependable refrigeration, many of these foodstuffs were relegated to the realm of cultural identity as they were no longer were necessary. Commercial manufacturers took over more difficult tasks such as bread baking, wine and beer making, yogurt and butter as well as anything else they could sell back to the public in order for to time to be saved in the kitchen. 19th and 20th century kitchens evolved so fast that many of the time honored culinary traditions have become very rare or even lost.
Growing up with my Greek Yia Yia’s cooking helped me to appreciate the deep connections between food, culture and environment. For this reason when the current culinary revolution recognized these same connections, I found a natural kinship with those who embraced it. Over the years, I have also discovered the remarkable role vegetarianism has played in human history. Often, it is associated with the visionary brilliance, notably such souls as Gandhi and Einstein. Every cuisine has some form of plant based food in it and I promote that every culture has vegetarian traditions. Commonly, fermented dishes and condiments are prominent in such repertoires.
Beyond obvious refrigeration issues, both ancient and modern medicinal wisdom recognize the potent nutrition and life giving value in fermented foods. Modern science has also recognized the hazards of improperly fermenting, requiring sterile environments and standardized cultures. While this has undoubtedly increased food safety, we have also lost many organic hand-crafted traditions. Often, much of the health benefit is diminished as well. I include as many of these dishes as possible in my culinary stable and even find that once a cultured product is made, it facilitates quick and easy meals while, at the same time, adding the depth of slowly developed flavors.