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

Four Days, Seven Farmers Markets and Two Farms in San Diego

Imperial Beach Farmers Market

As I step through the sliding doors of the San Diego Airport, the intense heat of the fall sun reminds me that San Diego is indeed a desert despite the numerous efforts to turn the ecosystem into one that is temperate and green. This is readily visible in any patch of land left to fend for itself without the aid of water and it plays into the seasonal abundance, or sometimes lack thereof, at the local Farmers Markets. Wherever I travel, I practice the burgeoning art of farmers market tourism.  Each market reflects the pulse and flavor of the neighborhood it is in. Markets are places where people bond over food with spontaneous discussions and interactions without pretense.  I’ve arrived in San Diego at the peak of the late summer harvest.

Frog Skinned Honeydew Melon From JR Organics

Thursday

My first market is the North Park Farmers Market. It reflects a neighborhood which has become a trendy destination and boasts the most vegan restaurants per capita in San Diego. Goyo Rodriguez of JR Organics has a table teeming with produce. I purchase some tender wax beans, candy sweet strawberries and a provocative Frog Skin honeydew melon.

Goyo Rodriguez of JR Organics

Next stop is Moncai Vegan. Donald Moncai tells me about the new vegan restaurant they are about to open around the corner as he plies me with samples of his vegan donuts and a thirst-quenching hibiscus iced tea.

Moncai Vegan

Friday 

Mel Lions, Wild Willow Farm mastermind and fearless leader, told me last time I was in town that they were selling produce from the community farm at the Imperial Beach Farmers Market.  It was the only all vegetarian market I was aware of, abundant with plant-based vendors offering prepared foods.  Since then, market management has changed and the direction with it.  While the vendors who offered vegan foods are gone, there is now a significant organic produce presence anchored by the Wild Willow Farm.  I am immediately drawn to the bright reddish-purple bunches of amaranth.

Red amaranth leaves from Wild Willow Farm

The location of this market is magical.  It is on Imperial Beach right next to the pier.  Whenever I’m here, I walk to the end of it where I frequently see schools of dolphins swimming and playing nearby.

Imperial Beach Pier

Saturday

The Little Italy Mercato is a must-visit market–a treasure trove of culinary gems located in one of the liveliest districts in downtown San Diego. The first farmer I speak with is Jeff Alves of Terra Bella Ranch, the go-to stall for fresh organic almonds, walnuts and ever-enticing red walnuts.  It is easy to become spoiled by the quality of his nuts, I have never found anything that comes close. The news from Jeff is their new mail-order and Farm-to-Office service for their products.  I am thrilled!  This is a great way for me to get his extraordinary organic nuts and fruits in Michigan.  Terra Bella also grows and prepares delicious unsulphured organic apricots, tangy sun dried tomatoes, fresh figs, avocados and a number of other crops.

Jeff Alves of Terra Bella Ranch

I continue through the market keenly aware of  the shimmering San Diego bay, swaying palm trees and nothing but blue skies smiling at me, not to mention the many wagging and sniffing dogs who are always welcome here.  Mark of Happy Pantry: T.G.I.F. Thank God Its Fermented stops me to offer samples of raw krauts, pickles and kimchi.  I opt for the Power Krautage, a super-green-food infused kraut with subtle notes and great flavor.

Happy Pantry Sauer Kraut

Suzie’s Farm can be found in markets throughout San Diego–always presenting a cornucopia of what the season is offering.  Today’s stall is full of micro greens, peppers, beans, zucchini and an abundance of heirloom tomatoes.

Indigo Rose Tomatoes from Suzie's Farm

The star of the day is their Indigo Rose tomato with a spicy plum-like flavor and a provocative dark color.  To my delight, they also have Shishito peppers, a mild Japanese sauteing pepper with tender skin and the wonderful flavor of spicier chiles.

Shishito Chiles

With my remarkable bounty in tow, I head over to the Wild Willow Farm in the the heart of the Tijuana estuary between the Mexican border and Imperial Beach. I have been visiting the farm and participating in events since its 2009 inception (see video here).  I’ve enjoyed watching their progress over the years as the people of this community are dedicated and full of energy. I arrive just as a fundraising 5k fun run ends and the volunteers are making their way through the fields to attend to the farm’s needs.

Amaranth at Wild Willow Farm

It is a pastoral scene with goats being fed, roosters crowing and amaranth swaying with the cool ocean breeze. The Wild Willow Farm & Education Center works with five school systems throughout San Diego County to help children understand the connections between the land and the food they eat.  San Diego is very fortunate to have them.

Wheel barrows for volunteers at Wild Willow Farm

From here, I drive down the dusty lane to Suzie’s Farm on Sunset,  a single 140 acre parcel.  Suzie’s has been instrumental in bringing the culture of local organic food to the people of San Diego County.  Ideally situated near Wild Willow Farm, Suzie’s has a stand selling produce picked that day from their fields.  I stop by, chat and pick up some green beans, a small watermelon and a bottle of Jackie’s Cherry Bomb Jam created from the farm’s spicy cherry peppers–a delicious combination of sweet and hot!

Suzie's Organic Farm Stan

Sunday

This is the big farmer’s market day in San Diego County with lots of great ones to choose from. I decide on three of my favorites: Rancho Santa Fe Farmers Market, La Jolla Open Aire Farmers Market and Hillcrest Farmers Market.  The Rancho Santa Fe Farmers Market is sponsored by the Helen Woodward Animal Shelter.  Volunteers from the organization walk adorable and adoptable dogs through the market each week.  It is a mellow market with understated elegance.

San Diego 03 04 2012-9

Market master Raquel Pena has assembled a foodie’s paradise of vendors.  Akram Attie of Thyme of Essence makes fresh Manoushe sandwiches.  He deftly toasts flatbread on a Mongolian-style grill and fills each sandwich with slices of Persian cucumbers, vine-ripened local tomatoes, his personal brand of za’atar and a touch of his self-harvested California extra virgin olive oil.  I follow this culinary treat with Emilio’s Andalusian blended gazpacho.  It is bursting with a rich tomato flavor and has undertones of olive oil and spicy garlic–one or two spoonfuls will not do as it is deliciously addictive.

Akram Attie at the Rancho Santa Fe Farmers Market

I pick up a loaf of naturally fermented whole grain bread from the Prager Brothers Artisanal Bakery stall.  Handcrafted the way bread is supposed to be, this alone would be worth the drive to the market.

At Torrey Pines

From here, I drive down the coast past the vista of surf rolling against the bluffs of Torrey Pines to the La Jolla Open Aire Farmers Market.  This market has greatly expanded since my cooking-demo days here. Nicolina Alves has nurtured the market into a wonderful community center full of dedicated farmers and delicious food from a variety of vendors.  I find amazing Barhi dates from Futterman Farm which are dried right on the palm and taste like juicy caramel candy.  Dennis Stowell of Tom King Farms is selling large, succulent figs and giant bulbs of strong and spicy Georgian garlic which are begging to be sautéed.

Tom King Farm Stall at the La Jolla Open Aire Market

Next stop is the Hillcrest Farmers Market, which is the closest market to our home in Mission Hills and widely considered the go-to market in San Diego. People commonly  compare it to the Santa Monica market and those of San Francisco.  One of my favorite farmers, and certainly the liveliest, is Barry Koral of Koral’s Tropical Fruit Farm.  This week the sweet-incense of guavas and vibrant deep red pomegranates attract people to his small, but formidable, stall.

Pomegranates in San Diego

The market is open from 9 to 2 and he talks the entire time with passion about the health and vitality his fruits and raw foods provide.  I buy some Fallbrook macadamia nuts and set up a mail order shipment of his unparalleled Reed avocados.

Barry Koral's Reed Avocados

The farmer’s markets of San Diego are festive and full.  They are the new town centers, combining people and food into social sustenance.  The market energy is transferred home because market day meals are the best and most inspired meal of the week.

Soba noodles with amaranth, indigo rose tomatoes and

Wild Yam Soba Noodles with Indigo Rose Tomatoes, Amaranth and Walnuts

Serves 2

1 cup yellow wax beans, cut in 1/2 inch pieces

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1/2 pimiento pepper, finely diced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper

2 cups red amaranth leaves, coarsely chopped

4 cups Indigo Rose tomatoes, cut in half

1 teaspoon sea salt

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 package (4 ounces) Eden Foods Wild Yam Soba noodles, cooked per instructions and drained

In a medium-sized sauce pan, bring 2 cups of water to a boil.  Add wax beans and cook for approximately 30 seconds.  Drain in strainer then rinse beans with cold water.  Reserve. Heat large skillet on medium-high heat, add olive oil, garlic and crushed red pepper.  When sizzling, add the wax beans, amaranth, tomatoes and sea salt.  Saute until the tomatoes are tender and beginning to break down, then balsamic vinegar and oregano.

Place the noodles into a large serving bowl and gently stir in the tomato mixture.  Serve immediately.

Sauteed Shishito Chiles

Shishito Peppers

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

4 cups Shishito chiles, wash but don’t remove stems

1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt

Heat a 6 to 9 inch skillet on medium high heat (a cast iron skillet works well).  Add the oil, chiles and salt.  Saute and turn the chiles until blistered.  Serve immediately

Japanese Cucumber and Fresh Fig Salad

Japanese Cucumber Salad

1 cup Japanese cucumber, sliced into thin half moons

1/2 cup tomatoes, diced

1/2 cup fresh figs, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

2 teaspoons red onion, finely minced

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Mix all ingredients in a bowl.  Allow to rest for 15 minutes before serving.

 

Market to Table

As my readers know, I love to frequent farmers markets to shop for vegetables, talk to the farmers and participate in the age-old traditions of  community marketplaces.

Jacob Bach, Nature's Pace Organics

Here in Michigan, the heavy June rains have delayed the summer harvest.  So, in a recent visit to one of my favorite markets, the Royal Oak Farmers Market, I was delighted to see the abundance of produce.  Jacob Bach, of Nature’s Pace Organics, had young lacinato kale, hearty green kale, a variety of radishes with beautiful green tops and purslane–rich with omega-3s.  Don Cinzori of Cinzori Certified Organic Farms had a profuse selection of arugula, young collard greens, kale, young zucchini, english peas and the first broccoli shoots.

Farmer Don Cinzori and George Vutetakis

I made my way around the market juggling the heavy bags bursting with the treasures of the earth and musing over what to prepare with this wonderful bounty.   It came to me when a elderly woman brushed past me with her arms full of produce.  She reminded me of my Greek relatives, bringing back wonderful memories of eating traditionally prepared greens with them on the island of Crete.

Kefala village, Crete

Aunts and cousins would harvest their kitchen gardens to prepare Horta –freshly picked greens simply cooked.  Some nights it seemed as though they invited the entire village to join us for dinner; for those large events, they journeyed into town to the agora in Chania, an early 20th century structure built to resemble the ancient Greek marketplaces.  They filled their baskets with dandelion greens, lambs quarters, spinach, escarole–just to mention a few.  Back in the busy kitchen, they dressed the greens with sea salts harvested from coastal deposits, homemade olive oil and lemons from their own trees.

Great Aunt Georgia Serving Horta

Horta (also Horta Vrasta) can pertain to any green vegetable which is boiled in its own juices and dressed with olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice. The Cretan tradition of eating wild greens may be one of the longevity secrets in the Mediterranean diet.  In Greece, picking the greens is almost a national pastime which my grandparents brought with them when they came to America.  They often took me along to pick dandelion greens in their favorite spots around Canton, Ohio.  (I recently read about a Greek who was arrested in Chicago for picking them on someone’s property!)

Purslane

The key to making good horta is to use just enough water to cook the greens while ensuring a small amount for bread dipping.  This way, all the nutrients in the vegetables are consumed.

Italian red sorrel

Also, do not feel restricted by one or two greens, it’s fine to mix and match a number of them, but, keep in mind the various cooking times.  Collard greens take much longer than most greens and arugula cooks almost instantly.

Collard Leaf

The right choice of olive oil can make a significant difference to the taste of the horta.  I prefer extra virgin oils made with Greek Koroneiki olives.  One organic brand which stands out is from Theo Rallis’ family farm,  Rallis Olive Oil.  Theo has developed a method for ice pressing the oil which preserves the nutritional integrity, often degraded by the naturally hot environments of traditional olive pressing

 

Horta Vrasta

This recipe is from my book, Vegetarian Traditions.  Feel free to adapt it to other greens.

Swiss Chard Horta

Serves 4

6 cups, or 1 bunch red, multi-colored or white chard, stemmed, washed and coarsely chopped

1/2 cup water

In a large saucepan on medium-low heat, cover and simmer chard until stems are soft.

Dressing

1/3 cup fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

In a serving bowl, mix together all dressing ingredients.  Add cooked greens and broth.  Gently mix the greens into the dressing and serve.

Serve warm, room temperature or cold.

Cretan Horta Video:

Cretan Horta Video

 

Asparagus En Papillote

Superfoods for better living!

I prepare food based on culinary traditions from around the world. The dishes are healthy, full of flavor and enriched with the vitality of the freshest local ingredients. This is an encore post celebrating this year’s wonderful asparagus harvest.


Springtime is an ideal time to jump start your health by adding the wonders of the early Spring “super foods” to your diet. At local markets across the country, the farmers are bringing in their bounties–a reflection of the powerful, regenerative energy of the earth. Every Sunday I marvel at the variety of freshly harvested produce at my local farmer’s market in San Diego–the Hillcrest Farmer’s Market. One of my spring favorites, organic asparagus, disappears early, so I try to arrive before the large crowds and am always thrilled to find I haven’t missed them.

Asparagus, one of the healthiest vegetables, acts as a diuretic and is full of vitamin K and folates. It helps to lower blood pressure, reduces arthritic inflamation, promotes cellular rejuvenation and has anti-cancer properties. The perfect resume for a vegetable.

Otherwise known as “baked-in-parchment,” en papillote is a wonderful method for cooking vegetables quickly while infusing flavor and retaining nutrients. I thought we would cook my treasured asparagus en papillote for a quick lunch. The entire process took 30 minutes and that included preheating my Wolf oven to 400 degrees convection. If you do not have a convection oven, preheat it to 425 degrees.

Brussels Sprouts in January

Snow flurries dance in the cold, crisp air and the settled snow squeaks under my feet as I climb the porch stairs with bags from the market.  Even during the cold months, the brave and hearty Michigan farmers make the long trek to the Royal Oak Farmers Market every Saturday.  During a recent visit I purchased sweet red onions from Nature’s Pace Organics,

Siberian hardneck garlic from Green Organic Garlic  and Jim Burda of Burda’s Berry Farm brought huge, organic Brussels sprouts from his western Michigan neighbor Cinzori Farms.  Once inside my cozy kitchen, I began to prepare a simple dish which was sure to warm the body and the heart.

To prepare this dish, I used one of my favorite new kitchen tools–a twelve inch Scan Pan Pro , which is a teflon-free, non-stick saute pan which accommodates metallic instruments without scratching.  It also allows me to sear without looking, sauté without burning and cook slowly in order to achieve perfection–practically cooks itself.  Slightly caramelized brussels sprouts infused with the spicy warmth of black pepper, onions, garlic and olive oil…doesn’t get much better than that!

Black Pepper Brussels Sprouts and Red Onions

Serves 4

1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil

½ teaspoon garlic, thinly sliced

2 ½ cups red onions, sliced thin

4 cups Brussels sprouts, stem trimmed and cut in half lengthwise

1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

½ teaspoon sea salt

Place all the ingredients in a twelve inch skillet on medium-low heat, cover and cook for 20 minutes or until the Brussels sprouts are tender.

Peak of the Harvest San Diego Market Tour

When summer begins to wane and the autumn leaves begin their transition, the tables at the farmers markets explode with color. Whether it is San Diego or Detroit, the September harvest is a magnificent time to be in our local farmers markets which have become our community centers, weekend playgrounds and the instigators of culinary foreplay for foodies across the country.

While visiting San Diego recently, I went to five farmers markets and a community farm.  One of my favorites, the Little Italy Mercato, is the jewel of the San Diego urban markets.  Overlooking the breathtaking harbor, the five blocks of booths offer local crafts, delicious prepared foods, stunning colorful fruits & vegetables and some of the best street music in the area.  One of my favorite vendors, Sage Mountain Farm, told me the Armenian cucumbers were a big hit the day I was there while the Rose apples and prickly pear fruit were selling fast at Rancho Lindo Mexico’s booth.  As always, a parade of canine friends, sniffing for samples, create a friendly atmosphere unlike any of the other markets.

I was pleased to see that the North Park Farmers Market is finally starting to blossom, thanks in part to the addition of food trucks and certified organic farms such as Suzie’s Farm and JR Organics.  Moncai Foods, a wholesale vegan dessert company, is now there selling deliciously crafted vegan entrees and desserts.

I headed toward the Mexican border to visit the Wild Willow Community Farm near Imperial Beach.  Over the last three years this farm has grown into an amazing educational center and gathering place for the local community. Director Mel Lions told me the farm is thriving and finally able to distribute produce to the local markets.  They have a potluck and open house every third Saturday of the month–providing volunteers and the greater community an opportunity to reflect, celebrate and appreciate the gifts of the soil. It is a wonderful event which I highly recommend.

Little Italy Mercato’s Market Maestra, Catt White, gave me a tour of the new San Diego Public Market on National Avenue.  It is a two acre site where an old machine factory once stood.  Soon it will serve as an indoor/outdoor year-round marketplace.  The plan includes incubator kitchens, permanent food stalls and a home base for food trucks.  It is very ambitious, but I have no doubt Catt can achieve her goal after seeing firsthand what she has done with markets around San Diego. Wednesday and Sunday markets have already begun in this location, which I look forward to visiting the next time I’m in San Diego.

Even though it is a smaller boutique market, Rancho Santa Fe Farmers Market is also one of my favorites.  Each week, market master Raquel Pena transforms a shopping center parking lot into a magical place filled with beautiful music, delicious food, fruits, vegetables and artisans. I find these intimate and cozy markets a refreshing change from the crush of the crowds at some of the more popular ones. My good friend Akram Attie is front and center here in his Thyme of Essence booth.  He not only sells the freshest harvest of California olive oil and custom Zaatar spice blends, but sumptuous, out-of-this-world Manoushe & Falafel sandwiches toasted on a Mongolian-style grill.

Nicolina Alves of Terra Bella Ranch took over the vibrant La Jolla Open Aire Market last year. The word is out and it has become a destination place for anyone in or near La Jolla on any given Sunday.  There are a large variety of food stalls, a plethora of vegetable & fruit farmers and a dizzying array of crafts and artists.

The market is on the verge of adding thirty percent more space and it is only going to get better.  Of course, Terra Bella Ranch is an anchor vendor and has always been one of my favorite organic farms.  They specialize in walnuts, almonds, avocados and dried fruits.

I enjoyed visiting with Dennis Stowell of Tom King Farms and tasting his giant football-shaped Uzbeki melons–sweet and succulent! Some of the best melons I’ve ever had.

The Grande Dame of San Diego markets is the Hillcrest Farmers Market, where most chefs and foodies shop.  I could not resist buying the giant figs, perfectly ripe passion fruit and the voluptuous Reed avocados from Ryan at Creekside Tropicals.

I sampled fresh harvested, dried on the palm Morocco Gold Medjool dates.  They taste like a melt-in-the-mouth caramel, addictive and delicious. I ordered a variety of heirloom beans to be shipped by Michelle Larson Sadler’s Conscious Cookery–Colorado River, Anasazi, Mortgage Lifter and Borlotti beans.

Market days are not just days to stock up on fresh and exciting ingredients.  They are a rejuvenating experience, an opportunity to reconnect with friends and awaken culinary creativity.  I used the passion fruits from Creekside Tropicals to create this recipe.

Passion-Almond Creme Brulee

Serves 4

Passion fruit

4 passion fruits

1/4 cup evaporated cane juice

Slice the passion fruits in half and scoop the fruit into a fine strainer placed over a bowl. Use a rubber spatula push the fruit against the strainer, working the juice from the seeds. Place the juice into a small sauce pan on medium-low heat.  Stir in the sugar. Simmer for 20 to 30 minutes until it becomes a syrup-like consistency. Reserve.

Almond Creme

1 cup plain almond or soy milk

1 vanilla bean, scraped or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/3 cup evaporated cane juice

1/2 cup blanched almond flour

1 tablespoon unbleached wheat flour or 1-1/2 teaspoons arrowroot powder

Whisk all ingredients together in a double boiler on medium heat. Cook for 40 minutes, whisking occasionally, until thick.

Transfer evenly into 4 shallow ramekins (small souffle dishes).

Assembly

4 tablespoons evaporated cane juice

Sprinkle 1 tablespoon evaporated cane juice on top of each ramekin. Using a cooking torch, carefully caramelize the sugar until golden brown. Dress each ramekin with a swirl of passion fruit syrup. Serve immediately.

Note: Many of the highlighted links above will ship!

 

The First Farmers Market

The hallmark of summer in Birmingham, Michigan is the opening of its farmers market. Since its beginnings, ten years ago, the market has become one of the most festive in the Detroit area with special events, fresh food, organic produce, flowers and live music. As I entered the market last Sunday, the welcoming notes of blues singer Paul Miles filled the air. Excited patrons, families with their children and canine friends crowded around the stalls.
My first stop was Nature’s Pace Organics represented by Jacob and Katie Mullane-Bach with their children Forest and Freeda. We caught up on our winter adventures and shared plans for the new season ahead.They were proud to tell me about the hoop houses installed on their farm and of plans to provide their carefully tended organic produce at some of the year round markets. Beautiful butterhead and romaine lettuces, leeks, young Swiss chard, black radishes and arugula flowers filled their stall. I bought a little of everything and then moved on.
In addition to the tender spring produce, the warm weather brings a social season. Frequently, in the mid-west, neighbors only see each other when tending their yards or at the market. It is a happy time and every year people act as if they are experiencing spring for the first time.

Arriving home, it was already lunchtime and I was excited to start cooking with the fresh harvest in my bags. The big leeks, procured from Nature’s Pace Organics only an hour before, inspired me to create a recipe which features the robust flavor of this freshly harvested vegetable of the allium family.

White Pepper Leek Tart

Filling
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
4 cups leeks, sliced thin
1 cup water
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1 cup blanched almond flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons dill weed, minced
1/2 teaspoon white pepper, fresh ground

Using a sauce pan on medium heat, cook the olive oil, garlic and leeks until the leeks begin to stick.  Add water, cover and turn down to a simmer then cook for 5 minutes until tender. Stir in remaining ingredients, cook another 2 minutes and reserve.
Crust
1/2 cup almond flour
1/2 cup garbanzo flour
1/2 cup potato flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/3 cup water

Place all ingredients in a food processor, make a dough and press into a parchment lined 10 inch springform pan. Add leek mixture and top with thin tomato slices. Pre heat oven to 375 degrees F and bake for 25 minutes . Take out of oven, let rest for 10 minutes before cutting and serving.

Whether at the market, in the garden, cooking in the kitchen or savoring at the table, I am often charmed by the unique experience each meal brings to daily life.  In the great food cultures of the world, life is measured by the succession of meals and food is the glue that links together family, friends and community.

Cooking At VegFest Michigan

Spring is here and that means one of my favorite Michigan events–VegFest–a wonderful opportunity to discover a world of plant-based food and associated lifestyles.  There will be cooking demonstrations by chefs from all over the country, free food samples, lectures and lots more.

So, join me on Sunday, April 29, 11am to 5pm, at the Suburban Showplace in Novi. I will be there demonstrating a recipe from my private collection, Pistachio Quinoa & Kale Croquettes–simple, delicious and served with Garden Fresh Black Bean and Corn Salsa–one of my favorites.  See you there!

 

A new recipe by Chef George Vutetakis, author of:

Vegetarian Traditions: Favorite Recipes From My Years At The Legendary Inn Season Cafe

Pistachio Quinoa & Kale Croquettes

 

1 ½  cups shelled pistachios, toasted
2 cups lacinato kale, stemmed and blanched
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons water
1 cup quinoa, cooked
coconut oil

Place pistachios in a food processor and grind until a meal consistency.  Add kale, olive oil, salt, garlic, lemon juice and water.  

Puree.  Transfer to a medium sized bowl and add quinoa.  Mix well.  In a griddle or saute pan on medium-high heat, add a small amount of coconut oil.

Form batter into silver-dollar sized disks (approximately 1 ounce) and place onto griddle.  Turn when brown and cook until other side is brown.

Serve hot with Jack’s Special Black Bean and Corn Salsa by Garden Fresh Gourmet.

Option:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Place patties on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes or until lightly browned.

Article and recipe in the Oakland Press
Article in the Detroit Free Press and Quesadilla Recipe

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Super Mac N Cheese at the Motown Macdown


Garden Fresh Gourmet founder and CEO, Jack Aronson, recently invited me to participate in the first annual Motown Macdown in Ferndale, Michigan.  This macaroni ‘n cheese competition is a benefit for Justin’s Vision, a non-profit organization which sends children with severe illnesses and their families to the Give Kids The World Village in Kissemee, Florida.  The Macdown was to be a fierce battle of accomplished and well known chefs in Southeast Michigan:  Brian Polcyn of Forest Grill & Cinco Lagos, Brian Perrone of Slows BarBQ, Chris Franz of The Rattlesnake Club, Matt Baldridge of Cliff Bell’s, The Hungry Dudes bloggers and me–The Vegetarian Guy.

I got to work creating what I do best, delicious plant-based dishes, with a goal of showing vegans and non-vegans alike that a dairy free mac ‘n cheese can be as satisfying as its counterpart.  My entry was not only 100% plant-based, but also gluten-free–emulating the classic American macaroni and cheese many of us grew up on.  I drew inspiration from  my grandmother’s Greek pastitsio, a noodle and cheese dish, which I frequently enjoyed during childhood visits to her home.

Super Mac ‘N Cheese: MyFoxDETROIT.com

The recipe includes some ancient whole grains (quinoa, teff and amaranth), cashews, almonds and extra virgin olive oil–all healthy and energizing ingredients. This dish feels and tastes like the traditional mac ‘n cheese, without the simple carbohydrates or cholesterol laden fats.  It thrives on the synergy between flavor, texture, healthy ingredients and comfort. The coup d’etat is my chive and extra virgin olive oil puree, which adds a zesty “zing”–mostly appreciated by us grown up kids.

 

Although my entry did not win the competition, it was the surprise of the event.  After the blind tasting, many were asked if they knew one of the dishes was vegan and gluten-free.  Most tasters had no idea and were pleasantly surprised!  Proving that this dish can stand on its own in flavor and texture no matter what one’s dietary preference is.

The Macdown was a huge success.  Not only was it a great time with music and song–but it sold-out!  Justin’s Vision not only gained a lot of recognition and press through this fundraiser, but it raised enough funds to send a family to the Give Kids The World Village and helped to pave the way for the next exciting fundraiser!

Super Mac N Cheese

Super-food, Vegan and Gluten Free

Serves 6

10 cups water

½ teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil

8 ounces Ancient Harvest quinoa macaroni

½ teaspoon sea salt

2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 F.  In a large saucepan, bring water, ½ teaspoon sea salt and 1 teaspoon olive oil to a boil.  Add macaroni and stir to remove clumping.  Cook until the pasta is tender around the edges, but firmer than Al Dente.  Strain, rinse with cool water, drain well and place in a bowl with ½ teaspoon salt and 2 teaspoons olive oil.   Mix well and reserve.

 

Blend A

½ cup raw cashews

1 tablespoon dijon mustard

1 ½ cups soy milk or other non-dairy milk

Puree all ingredients in a blender until very smooth and transfer to a bowl.  Reserve.

 

Blend B

3 tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes

25% of Blend A

¾ cup soy milk

1 cup Daiya cheddar style shreds

Puree all ingredients in a blender until very smooth. Reserve.

 

Bechamel

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

¼ cup yellow onions, minced

1 teaspoon garlic powder

2 tablespoons teff flour

2 tablespoons amaranth flour

2 tablespoons almond flour

1 teaspoon black pepper

½ teaspoon smoked paprika

1 ½ teaspoons sea salt

¼ teaspoon turmeric powder

½ cup soy milk

75% (the rest of) of Blend A

½ cup water

1 ½ teaspoons lemon juice

½ cup grated Daiya cheddar style shreds

Lightly oil a 6×9 baking dish, set aside.  In a medium saucepan on medium-low heat, slowly cook the onions until clear around the edges, then add the garlic, teff and amaranth.  After 1 minute, add the almond flour, black pepper, smoked paprika, sea salt and turmeric.  After another minute, stir in soy milk and the remaining Blend A.  Simmer and stir until a thick gravy consistency, about 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in water, lemon juice and Blend B.  Transfer to baking dish and fold in the noodles and ½ cup Daiya.  Spread out evenly.

 

Topping

½ cup Daiya cheddar style shreds

¼ cup almond flour

2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil

½ teaspoon mild paprika

Evenly sprinkle Daiya on top, then almond flour, oil and paprika evenly.  Bake for 30 minutes.  Allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Note:  All ingredients were found at my local Whole Foods Market.  Many groceries now carry most of the ingredients.

Maple Pecan Pie for the Holidays!

Some years after George Washington chopped down the cherry tree, Thomas Jefferson gave him a gift of pecan trees to plant at his Mount Vernon estate.  First grafted commercially in 1846, pecans became integral to Southern hospitality and lifestyle.  Most of the world’s production is still grown in the Southern states.  Pecan pie was created in the 17th century by French settlers who were introduced to pecans by the native tribes in the area around New Orleans. The familiar version made with corn syrup does not show up until the beginning of the 20th century.

Thanksgiving 2008, our family held the first vegan versus traditional pecan pie throw-down.  My dairy-free, maple syrup-sweetened recipe has won the contest every year.  It is not full of fat, like most pecan pies, so you can help yourself to a second or third guilt-free piece.

Of course, the key to a good recipe is the freshness and quality of ingredients.  Pecans are harvested from September through December; there is nothing quite like the taste of a fresh pecan, toasted and dressed with maple syrup.  This is Americana at its best.

On our most recent journey from Detroit to San Diego, Sara and I took the southern route down to Nashville and then west through Tennessee, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.  While we found the plant-based culinary options to be limited, we discovered a few treasures –one of them being freshly harvested pecans.

We first started seeing pecans in New Orleans and then found the organic and unshelled ones at Whole Foods in Austin.  Our surprise discovery was just outside of Bowie, Arizona, between the New Mexico border and Tucson, where the climate is very dry.  Local olives, honey, pistachios and pecans were being sold at a reinvented Stuckeys, just off the highway, with the unlikely name of Dwayne’s Fresh Jerky. Dwayne is a colorful character who described the local bounty with humor and warmth.  He agreed with me that the freshness of pecans is paramount and can make the difference between a hum-drum recipe and a culinary all-star.  It is even better when you have a direct connection with the farmer, adding an unspoken magic to the dish.

Maple Pecan Pie

Pecans
2 ½ cups pecan halves
Preheat oven to 350 F.  Spread pecans evenly on a baking sheet and toast for 11 minutes.  Remove and reserve.

Crust
1 cup unbleached wheat flour
½ cup whole wheat pastry flour
½ cup blanched almond flour
3 tablespoons canola oil
3 tablespoons maple syrup
¼ teaspoon sea salt
¼ plain soy milk or almond milk

In a food processor, pulse all crust ingredients until a dough-like consistency is formed, do not over mix.  Hand form dough into a patty and place into a lightly oiled 9 inch glass pie dish.  Gently press the dough evenly onto the bottom and sides of the dish.  Crimp the edges for a decorative look, if desired.

Filling
1 ¼ cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon unsulphured molasses
¼ teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons arrowroot flour
3 tablespoons almond meal/flour
1 vanilla bean scraped or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier

Using a food processor, grind 1 cup of the toasted pecans into a fine meal.  In a large mixing bowl, whisk together all filling ingredients and the pecan flour.  Pour into pie shell and evenly place the remaining 1 ½ cups of toasted pecans on top.  Bake for 20 minutes.  Remove and cover with aluminum foil, shiny side up.  Bake for 30 minutes.  Remove foil and allow to air cool before refrigerating for 8 hours.  Serve cold or at room temperature.

Notes
-For this recipe, I use Bob’s Red Mill flours and almond meal.
-For a gluten-free recipe, use Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free baking flour instead of the wheat flours in the crust.