Sounds

Pimiento peppers

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.In Feng Shui and Vedic Vastu, sound is recognized as having the ability to create motion through vibration.What we hear inspires us to react and that is why the aural environment is important in all stages of the food experience.

According to Pythagorus, and confirmed by Plato, sound is the primordial element.This is also embraced by the Vedas from India, which are considered by many to be the oldest books in the world.According to these beliefs, sound is the original element that creates vibration, thus causing movement in the universe.If we could hear across the entire aural spectrum, everything would have a sound, including the silence we currently perceive.According to the Vedas, physical environments can change through sound and it is also an important tool for spiritual connections.Sound is a key part of our environment affecting our mind, body and spirit.Often, ancient Greeks spoke in song.This is still evident through Cretan spontaneous poetry known as Mantinades.Sanskrit is a poetic language, verbalized with meter and rhythm, often with melodious incantations.Sanskrit is called Deva Nagiri, because it is believed to be a heavenly language and is structured in a way that creates change and movement when enunciated.Vedic Brahmins maintain chanting specific Sanskrit mantras can change physical environments, mundane elements and alter the cycles of action and reaction they call Karma.

crunchy salad

More accessible to everyday thoughts, music can change moods, evoke passions and greatly effect perception.  White noise and harsh noises can also make a difference.Cutting words, arguing, criticism and expressions of anger are vocal distractions which can  affect us in both subtle and gross ways.Abrasive soundscapes often create stress, adding clutter and distraction to thoughts and actions.  Sound affects our mindset, bodily movement and clarity of spirit.It is natural to see how an aural environment influences cooking.For me, cooking is an expression of what lies within, most often I see culinary actions as a conveyance, of knowledge, tradition and creative expression.As some people are eloquent speakers, the eloquence I rely on the most is in the language of food and all that goes with it.

Marathi

Choosing sounds

Often, traveling to Crete with my father and son, we found simple tavernas where waves lapped in symphonic meter by our feet while feasting on a crisp cucumber salad glistening with the liquid gold of fresh pressed extra virgin olive oil. Local dialects epitomized the Greek word onomatopoeia, with mellifluous chatter beautifully decorating the aural landscape. Mixed with the scents of the sea and the olive oil basted grills we entered a meditative state, much like Odysseus and the Sirens, where a concentrated effort to extract ourselves from the hypnosis was necessary to accomplish tasks of the day.

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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.To create a fulfilling dining experience, chefs and restaurateurs sculpt the aural experience to compliment and enhance the sensual experience.In dining, sound is a compliment to the meal, a background enhancement that soothes and excites indirectly. Anticipation and salivation are encouraged with the sight of food cooking uttering companion sounds like crackling, spurting, bubbling, puffing and sputteringSound also plays a direct part as an accompaniment to taste, touch and aroma as food is consumed and we sense such things as crunching, slurping, chewing and swallowing.In some old cultures, a good belch at the end of a meal signifies a cook’s success.Listening, and becoming sensitive, to the sounds of cooking and eating is a very important part of the world of cooking.Just as a spice can change the nature of a preparation, so what we hear when cooking and eating alters the food and how we digest it.

Cold preparations in particular seem to produce more sounds due to brittleness enhanced by the temperature.  While eating, these dishes produce a mellifluous combination of crunches, snaps and juicy sound bites that are intriguing, fun and fresh.

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The snack food industry is testimony to the human addiction to crunch. Thinking about it, if we take the sound away from crunching, the feel alone is not enough to satisfy. It is the sound, inside and outside the jaw, which pleases our senses and creates the moment of satisfaction until the next bite. 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.

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Dessert can turn into an extravaganza for all the senses by adding the crunch factor with a sweet pastry or candied nut.

Artisanal Fermentation

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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

The Yoga of Small Bites

Across the country, top chefs have adopted serving a series of small bites to their discerning customers in order to present food at its purest and freshest state.  In those culinary emporiums of the celebrity chef, the goal is to immerse the senses in the wonders of gastronomy.  Through visual presentation, tactile sensation, aromatic teases and tasting stimulating flavors chefs are wowing their guests with magnificent plates and anticipatory service.

stuffed okra

While the specific experience may be new, there is a long history for this kind of eating.  While the great cuisines of Europe are directly rooted to the indulgence of monks in abbeys of the middle ages (and indirectly in Roman high-society excesses), there are also culinary traditions from areas of the world less exposed to the American palate, such as China, Thailand, Vietnam and India.  One of these is the cuisine of Yogic India.  Entwined with the ancient medical science of Ayurveda, as well as religious philosophies which espouse spiritual cooking and distribution of food, the yoga of cooking has been refined over fifty centuries of recorded history.

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Many years ago, my personal culinary journey placed me in Vrindavan, one of the yoga epicenters of India.  This was Krishna’s hometown and continues to thrive as a philosophical retreat with over 5000 temples and numerous spiritual schools, particularly inclined toward bhakti-yoga.  I became enamored by the attention to detail placed on the food, not only in temples, but in households and street food as well.  With a different approach than Western chefs, the food not only had to look good and taste perfect, but it had to be cooked “a-la-minute” and more significantly, also digest well.

Govardhana Puja 2007

The Ayurvedic philosophy of balance was present everywhere, but especially noticeable in the traditional main lunch meal, called a thali.  This is where small bites came into play.  Originally served on banana leaves with clay cups or stainless steel trays for the common man, it was also served pure silver trays for the aristocrats.  Rice is placed in the center and small bowls of vegetables, savories, dahls, pickles, chutneys and raita surround it. In addition, freshly made pillow shaped chapatis are served with steam still spouting through a crack in the top.

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The meal balances the five tastes and five mellows of Ayurveda to create an ideal healthy meal with abundant complete proteins, phyto-nutrients and anti-oxidants.  Like the fine dining cooking in America, it is a complete sensual immersion, but unlike the West, one feels nourished and vitalized in body, mind and spirit with both sensual stimulation and dietary engagement.  The senses are wowed, but they are also brought on board as partners in health.  All ingredients were local and, without refrigeration, we shopped the market daily.  In my mind, this is the gold standard for us to strive for.  There were no leftovers and extras were shared with local sadhus and animals.

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While my explanations cannot do them justice, it can be said some of these meals were instances that created rare tears of joy as I ate.  The food was that good!  The cooks who prepared those meals are still my culinary heroes and inspire similar attention to detail in every meal I prepare.

Spring Risotto with Asparagus and Walnuts

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

Serves 6

Risotto:

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon garlic, minced

3/4 cup shallots, peeled and thinly sliced

1/4 cup red bell peppers, finely chopped

1/2 cup garnet yams, peeled and cubed

1/2 cup peas, freshly podded

1 bay leaf

1/4 cup fresh fennel weed, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon white pepper

1 cup organic Arborio rice

1 teaspoon sea salt

2 1/2 cups water

Separate pan:

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

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

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

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

1 cup walnut halves and pieces

1/2 tablespoon tamari

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

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

Harvest Vegetable Salad

 

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

Serves 6

Vegetables

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.

Dressing

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.

Santa Fe to Boulder

State of the Veg Union Part 3

with Anasazi Bean Enchilada Recipe


Day three of our veg restaurant tour from San Diego to Detroit began in beautiful Santa Fe, New Mexico, the oldest capital in the United States. It was Memorial Day and this unique city of all adobe-style buildings was full of tourists, musicians and artists enjoying the cloudless day.  Not far from the festive atmosphere of the old town center, was our destination, Body–a one-stop-shop with an organic restaurant, spa, yoga studio and clothing boutique.

Body’s calming atmosphere and enchanting decor set our expectations high. After exploring the various rooms, the popular yoga studio and the spa, we took our seats in the large, yet surprising empty, dining room.  Although there are numerous items for omnivores, there is a substantial vegan and raw offering. We ordered all raw and the food began to arrive shortly thereafter.

The coconut lemongrass soup, fresh and beautiful in color, was light and flavorful; unfortunately, the rest of our meal was not as exciting.  The wrap lacked flavor and was mushy, the pizza was too salty and had far too much tomato sauce and the dessert was simply passionless.  We were a bit surprised, considering the care the owners had taken to provide such a comprehensive facility to the residents of Santa Fe.

To be fair, our visit was a snapshot, only a glimpse at what was obviously a well-thought-out concept. It may be that they over-extended themselves to the point of having gaps in the details of the food.  It certainly deserves another try the next time I’m driving through Santa Fe.

We continued north to Taos, another remarkable old Spanish town and artist colony.  Entering this city made us feel as though we had stepped back in time.  It is located in a tributary valley off the Rio Grande and on its north side is the famous Taos Pueblo, said to have been built between 1000 and 1450 A.D..  Nearly 1900 people occupy the pueblo community today.

Surprisingly, as far as vegetarian offerings, Taos is a one horse town and that horse is called El Gamal--a very casual and artistic vegetarian cafe serving traditional Middle Eastern fare.  We ordered babaganoush, tabouli, falafels, salad and hummus–unfortunately, they had run out of chick peas and couldn’t prepare the hummus.  The food was fresh and flavorful and we were grateful for their effort.

Our meals in Santa Fe and Taos did not come close to our amazing experiences in Sedona and Scottsdale, but still were a marked improvement from our last trip a few years ago and good enough to get us through the Cimarron pass and north to Colorado.

Our next destination was in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in one of the most liberal cities in Colorado–Boulder.  Known for its stunning setting and “hippie” appeal, it constantly acquires top rankings in health and quality of life. Leaf Vegetarian Restaurant is a small, upscale, jewel of a place located in the charming downtown area.  As we walked in, we were immediately taken with its beautiful decor, cleanliness and organization.

We began with a raw beet ravioli–a really stunning presentation, but, rather flavorless, relying entirely on the taste of the raw beets. Sara chose a delicious looking Mizuna salad with sea vegetables and I ordered Jamaican Jerk, tempeh over black rice with plantain chips, which was truly a work of art.

Although we appreciated the freshness and quality of the ingredients, the salad lacked pizazz. The Jamaican Jerk was heavy on tempeh, but was nicely balanced with black rice and good flavors.  We finished the meal with a peanut butter and chocolate vegan cheesecake, presented with impressive artistic flair, but it didn’t knock our socks off.

Leaf deserves another shot. They have worked hard to earn their wonderful reputation and are extremely conscientious about presentation, as well as providing a positive restaurant experience.  It would require several more visits for a proper review. Still, when a restaurant strives to achieve levels of gastronomic perfection, any misstep is unfortunate. Consistent culinary home-runs are a difficult thing to achieve, but a chef or owner’s personal attention increases the odds tremendously.

It was becoming apparent that veg restaurants in this country become great through vision and passion. With the heartland of the Midwest ahead of us, we continued to search for restaurants which define culinary perceptions in their local communities with dedication to quality of food and life through good ingredients, working with local farmers and using high quality organic products. This is especially true for plant-based restaurants where customers expect healing and life-enhancing characteristics on their plates. This attention-to-detail enables an everyday dining experience to be life changing.

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Next time, we visit the heartland of America in Nebraska and Iowa to continue the discovery of the State of the Veg Union!

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Inspired by our journey through the ancient desert lands of cliff-dwellers, pueblos and conquistadors, I created this Anasazi Bean Enchilada recipe to honor the rich traditions and sun-drenched history of the American Southwest.

 

May Markets Shine

The celebrated markets of the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles County often overshadow the incredible, yet unsung, farmers markets of San Diego.  There are fifty markets in San Diego supported by more certified organic farmers than any other county in America, over 320.
At least one market is open every day of the week, supporting most of the communities in the area. This type of shopping enables us to follow in the footsteps of the great food cultures where purchasing the freshest ingredients is a daily ritual.  The choices are remarkable–a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and nuts grown in micro-climates ranging from sub-tropical to temperate.

Most weeks, I visit three or four markets, buying enough for a couple of days and keeping me connected with the farmers and vendors.  Some of my favorites are  Archi’s Acres, JR Organics, Sage Mountain Farm, Suzies Farm, JR Organics, Tom King Farms, Conscious Cookery and Koral’s Tropical Fruit Farm.  Each market reflects the feel of its community, becoming de facto social centers.

A few years ago, shortly after I created www.thevegetarianguy.com, I began filming my culinary finds, the farmers and community members.  Over time, my blog has expanded into sharing new discoveries, tastes and recipes while applauding the efforts of local food heroes wherever I go.

My short videos provide introductions to the farmers, products and the unique atmosphere of the markets. This portal into the San Diego markets gives a taste of what is possible and shows the path to connecting the dots between food, farms and life. The following is a sampling of my recent videos.

Spring at the Little Italy Mercato

Imperial Beach, A Vegetarian Farmers Market

San Diego County Macadamia Nuts

A Recipe For Red Orach

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

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

Stuffed Red Orach with Pomegranate Molasses

10 large red orach leaves

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

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

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

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

Pomegranate Molasses

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

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

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

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

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






Summer Surfing at the Markets

 

Friday at the Mission Hills Market
My home is in Mission Hills, a gorgeous area of San Diego founded by early 20th Century visionaries in the Arts and Crafts tradition with charming historic homes, parks full of spectacular foliage and a strong community presence.  I was thrilled when a farmers market sprang up in the middle of the tiny downtown several Fridays ago.  There are a number of good vendors in the one city block which comprises the market.  This Friday market kicks off my weekends with fresh, organic ingredients.
I have been buying sweet and plump blueberries at Smit Orchards stall for the last few weeks.   Their radiant blues and purples have been a colorful addition to morning oatmeal, smoothies, cobblers and pies.
Pepper season heated up in the last month.  The Padron Peppers from Suzie’s Farm have been an exciting side dish when I saute them a skillet with a little olive oil and coarse sea salt.  Robin, the owner, described how the peppers start off mild and become hotter as the vines get older.  He plants them at intervals to make sure he’s able to harvest the sweet young peppers at their prime.
When Suzies Farm has the historic Italian Jimmy Nardello peppers, buy them! I prepared them the same way as the Padrones.  They have a sweet flavor and melt-in-your-mouth texture.
Tender baby-beet greens from Maggie’s Farm went into my summer squash with coconut curry dish.  They also had a variety of heirloom potatoes which I used for a roasted potato chole and baby romaine heads which I cut in half, browned in a skillet and served as an antipasti plate garnish.
Saturday at the Little Italy Mercato
Saturday mornings are in full swing at the Mercato in the heart of Little Italy.  Each market is defined by the neighborhood it is in and this three block market has an Old World Italian flavor with modern urban chic.
Justin Noble of Sage Mountain Farm grows starship zucchini, a type of patti pan squash which I steamed and served with a lemon-dijon sauce.  He also grows Armenian cucumbers which are not really cucumbers, but a member of the melon family. They are a refreshing and crunchy addition to salads along with heirloom tomatoes, which are starting to flood the markets.
The founder of La Milpa Organica, Oasis Benson,  moved north and entered the organic olive business.  Good Faith Farm sells two kinds of raw, organic olives– Sevillanos and Kalamata–along with their delicious olive oil, which is so fresh it must be refrigerated.  These delicious olives are cured with first quality ingredients (brown rice vinegar) and are probably the healthiest olives one will ever encounter.
There are several musicians throughout the market.  Santiago Orozco and his band Todo Mundo often play in the amphitheater at the top, east end of the market.  The upbeat Latin rhythms and positive message of his music enhance the festive atmosphere.

Sunday at Hillcrest Farmers Market
Mariella Balbi of Guanni Chocolates is located in the center of the Hillcrest Market and always greets me with her beautiful smile.  Her vegan Wari Bars made from 100% Peruvian Criollo cacao are a chocolate lover’s delight.
La Milpa Organica is the gold standard of market stalls in San Diego.  This week I purchased amaranth, Swiss chard and magenta spreen lamb’s quarters to make tarts, pies, tortes and simple seared greens with garlic, hot red pepper and coarse sea salt.
Karen at Archis Acres picked out a giant head of red leaf lettuce for me.  I made lettuce wraps filled with Haas avocados, Cherokee red tomatoes and pepita, cilantro and lime pesto.
At Michelle Larson-Sadler’s booth, the Conscious Cookery, I found organic Anasazi beans grown in the Four-Corners area and smoked New Mexican chipotle and pasilla chiles.  These ingredients will become a mole.
Phil of Sage Mountain Farm had Italian torpedo onions, cherry tomatoes, hard-neck garlic and fresh basil with the root–the perfect ingredients for a fresh heirloom tomato, basil, red onion and rubbed garlic crostini.
Matt of Lone Oak Ranch supplied me with some of his very best white and yellow nectarines, white and yellow peaches and candy-like pluots which I am using for grilled fruit salsas this week.
If you have been keeping up with my blog, you will have noticed me waxing poetic about red walnuts from Terra Bella Ranch.  The season is over, but Jeff and Nicolina’s excellent Chandler walnuts are still available, as well as their beautiful dried apricots, raw almonds and sun-dried tomatoes, all of which I use regularly.  I toast the walnuts and almonds for approximately 12 minutes at 325 F degrees and keep them available for snacks, salads and garnish.  Because of the healthy volatile oils in nuts, they can become rancid.  I store untoasted nuts in the freezer.
The small Poblano chiles from Sage Mountain Farm are delightful.  I cut off the tops, scoop out the seeds and fill them with a corn tamal-style filling or a thick and creamy walnut filling, reminiscent of an Oaxacan walnut sauce which Frida Kahlo used to make at her Blue House.  Next I put them onto a chili roasting rack which goes directly on the grill.  I can never make enough of these!
I found Palestinian sweet limes, sweet cocktail grapefruit and Reed avocados at the Rancho Mexico Lindo Farm booth.  She also had red, pink and green prickley pear fruit, which are considered a health tonic.
San Diego farmer’s markets are a treasure trove of exciting, fresh and organic ingredients.   Markets like this can be found across the country in every community.

 

Cooking Inspiration From Sage Mountain Farm

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

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

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

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

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