Comfort Food – Rice and Beans

Serves 4-6

Click on photo for credit.

Click on photo for credit.

Expat life is not for the faint-hearted.  It is constantly filled with goodbyes, endless packing and unpacking, adjusting and re-adjusting, and some degree of culture shock and its even friendlier cousin, reverse culture shock.  In each transcontinental trek you are faced with those questions and doubts that only expats can relate to. And, in the face of all these challenges, you often find that the reasons you chose to move; to be an expat in a foreign land, to raise your kids in that foreign land, are still the same.  Only a fellow expat can relate.

On the upside, you get really good at navigating airports and knowing which flights are the best to take.  You get so good at packing, and you learn the value of what is truly essential to you and what isn’t.  You find that adjusting gets easier (it’s just a matter of time, right?) and culture shock is amusing.  Those questions and doubts…those still come and go, but you learn to live with them. They’re part of the package, so to speak.

But when it all seems like too much, like when you’re utterly exhausted and still jet lagged and your very aware toddler is beckoning to you because she doesn’t quite understand why she hasn’t seen the sun in 3 days, those are the moments to turn to comfort food.

One of the most important things for me to do to feel at home is to get in the kitchen and start cooking.  That simple but ancestral act keeps me grounded.  The smell of food wafting through my home is a sure sign that we’ve arrived, and soon our bellies will be full and our hearts and minds will be calm.

Comfort food can simply be a piece of good cheese and a hearty piece of bread.  Sometimes it’s something sweet.  Sometimes it’s a bit more complicated, but every bit worth it.  Whatever it is, it’s the same for everyone; it’s usually a favorite childhood meal.

For me that will always be rice and beans.

When I visited Colombia, particularly the Antioquia and Caldas regions, I suddenly felt at home.  I was born and raised in the States and had only visited Colombia once before as a child.  Yet, when I ate the traditional rice and beans, I may as well have been in the kitchen of my childhood home.

It turns out that being a first-generation American is a lot like being an expat.  You find home in more places than one and you find that parts of you belong in places you’d never dream of and some parts just don’t belong where you think they should.  No matter how hard you try.

Food has a way of taking you home.  For me, that’s just what this dish; cargamanto beans and rice, sweet plantains, an over-easy egg, some chicharron (pork belly), and an arepa, does.  Of course, times and places have changed, and I’ve had to make adjustments.  While white rice used to be a comfort food, it no longer is and long grain brown rice in no way takes away from the beauty and comfort of this meal.  Neither does grass-fed pork, mind you!  (No pork here though, grass-fed or otherwise!)  Another ingredient that’s had to go is the Sazón Goya.  Once I found out that the main ingredients were cumin, coriander, garlic and onion powder and yellows #5 and #6 I figured it was time to make my own, minus the chemicals.  So, this may not exactly be the exact, traditional way of preparing this dish, but it comes so close not even my mom can tell the difference.  Except for the rice!

This is what I do and what I love to do.  I love to take those meals, the favorite ones and make them better by making them more whole, more nutritious and yes, more delicious.  You never know when you’re going to need to get a dose of home or for how long so comfort food should be good for you on all levels…as much as possible anyway!

Thankfully, this dish did the trick.  Feeling more at home already!

What are your favorite comfort foods?

For the beans:

You’ll need:

  • 1 C cargamanto beans (cranberry beans), soaked in water overnight
  • 1 1″ piece of kombu
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 8 C bone broth or water
  • 2-3 T Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium red onion, diced
  • 2 vine tomatoes, diced
  • 1 T ground cumin
  • 1 t ground coriander
  • 1 t ground paprika
  • 1/2 t garlic powder
  • Several good pinches of Himalayan Pink Salt (my salt of choice, but sea salt is great, too)

To make:

  1. Drain and rinse the beans then add beans to a soup pot with the broth/water, kombu and bay leaves.  Cook on high heat for 10 minutes then reduce heat to medium/low and partially cover.  Make sure to skim any residue that has formed in the first high heat cooking.
  2. Heat oil in a saute pan over medium heat and add onions.  Add a pinch of salt and saute until translucent.  Add tomatoes and all spices and cook until it becomes ultra fragrant and is a bit thick, almost like a paste.  (If you need a little help getting to this stage, 1 T of tomato paste does the trick!)
  3. Add onion/tomato mixture to beans and keep cooking on medium/low heat, partially covered until beans are tender.  It usually takes about an hour.

For the rice:

You’ll need:

  • 1 C long grain brown rice, thoroughly washed and soaked overnight in 2 C water and 1 T lemon juice or vinegar
  • 1 T extra virgin olive oil
  • Pinch of Himalayan Pink Salt (or sea salt)

To make:

  1. Place rice in its soaking water, in a small sauce pan with oil and salt.  Cook over high heat until it reaches a boil.
  2. Once it reaches a boil, lower heat to low and cover.  Cook this way for about 40 minutes.
  3. Whatever you do, DO NOT STIR the rice!  Leave it alone and it will do its job.  You’ll know the rice is done when small holes appear and the water has disappeared.  Once you’ve reached this point, quickly replace the lid and remove from heat.  The rice will finish off nicely sitting in its steam for a bit.

ENJOY!

Grilled Lemony Kale

Makes as much as you make

grilled kale

I’ve been talking about missing kale since I left the States back in January.  Now that we’re back in the Hudson Valley for the summer, I’ve stopped talking and writing about it because I’m far too busy cooking and eating it!  What sweet joy it is to be reunited with kale…Tuscan Kale, Curly Kale, Red Russian Kale…keep it coming!

I had been eager to get Claire to try kale chips since, I have to admit, she isn’t very keen on her dark leafy greens just yet.  (Especially raw greens 😦 ) I wasn’t very eager however, to turn the oven on.  In addition to being reunited with the diverse bounty of the region, we were reunited with humidity.  Kind of makes me wish for the dry, desert heat.

So, when it’s too hot to bake or roast, it’s a perfect time to grill.  Just as I would do for kale chips, I lightly dressed these leaves, still attached to their stems, in olive oil, a bit of lemon juice and salt and pepper. That’s it.  But really, that’s all you need.  This kale is from Blooming Hill Farm, located 20 minutes from where I’m staying.  You could still taste the sweet Earth in every bite and the nourishment is the bonus.

Kale is a super food.  It’s not a trendy super food that will die out to the next trend.  Kale sets the bar for other trends, plain and simple.

Let’s start at the beginning.  Kale is a member of the Brassica family, cousins with Brussels sprouts, cabbage and broccoli.  This is a special family of vegetables, responsible for a whole host of health benefits such as promoting detoxification, protecting against cardiovascular disease, and kicking several cancers’ a**!  Excuse my French, but kale really does perform when it comes to prevention and even treatment of various cancers.  The antioxidants, especially lutein and beta carotene, are responsible for this special power.  Kale also has what are called glucosinolates which are specifically “anti-cancer nutrients”¹.  Throw in the potent anti-inflammatory properties that kale possesses and you’ve got a winning recipe to combat oxidative stress and chronic inflammation, 2 main causes that lead to most diseases, including cancer.

Kale is also a super detox food.  The goodie nutrients help protect you from the toxins floating around whether you’re actually doing a detox or not.  Then there’s the fiber and specific sulfur compounds that actually aid in the detox process.  It would be wise to eat steamed kale or throw it into a smoothie before, during or after your detox/fast.

I would be remiss for not mentioning the abundant stores of Vitamins A and C (also antioxidants) and Vitamin K, calcium and iron. That’s a lot of muscle for a dark leafy green.

Ready for the cherry on top?  Claire loved these kale “chips”!  (Hint, hint to you moms trying to get some dark leafy greens into your kids’ tummies!)

You’ll need:

  • 1-2 bunches of kale (depending on how much you want to end up with)
  • 3 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 T fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 healthy pinch of sea salt or my new staple Himalayan pink salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper, optional
  • 1 t lemon zest (from an organic lemon), for garnish

To make:

  1. Turn the grill on and keep setting to low.
  2. Wash and dry the kale leaving the leaves and stems intact. Then drizzle with olive oil and turn to coat the leaves.  You don’t want to use too much oil or the leaves will simply get limp.
  3. Add lemon juice, salt and pepper if using.
  4. Arrange the leaves to line up next to each other on the grill.  After about 2-3 minutes, turn leaves over.  You may need to do this a couple of times until you reach your desired level of crunchy to wilted ratio.
  5. When done (5-6 minutes, really), remove and place in a bowl.  Garnish with lemon zest.
  6. Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy all summer long!

¹http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=38

Black Bean and Quinoa…Burger?

For picky, I mean, moody eaters, especially!

Makes 4 adult burgers and 3 baby burgers:)  (or 6 adult burgers)

blackbean and quinoa burger

It finally happened.  What parents everywhere told me would happen. My baby girl who ate EVERYTHING suddenly only wanted bread. Oh, what a slippery slope that bread, pasta, pita, naan route is.  It happened a few days before we left the USA and it got worse when we arrived.  My daughter’s addiction also involved copious amounts of olives (all kinds), feta once in a while, and raisins.  Still, getting her to eat variety (bye, bye balanced meals) was impossible.  And like any new mom, I enabled her.

Worried sick that she isn’t eating well, or enough, (what’s that about percentiles?) results in me enabling her “pickiness”.  Please, just eat something, anything!  As if all calories are equal.  I’m a health-supportive chef, I know this!  But, I’m also a new mom and reason isn’t always the first thing that comes to the rescue when worry sets in.

Yet, logic did follow.  She wouldn’t starve.  She kept eating those (usually refined) foods because I had made them available to her.  And she knew that!  And so the experimenting began…again.

First- eliminate those bread-y foods she’s addicted to.  She’ll get hungry and she’ll eat, (eventually), what IS available.

Second- go back to basics.  For us this meant going back to foods she used to love and again, because she’s older now, tweaking seasoning, textures, cuts, and believe it or not, presentation.

Third- be persistent and consistent.  If she doesn’t want to eat something, try again another time, try another form (in soup, as finger food, puree???), but keep trying.

I’ve been surprised with the outcome.  Claire IS an adventurous eater and she will try most things.  She eats well on most days.  On others she can’t be bothered as much.  It’s led me to wonder about these terms we’re so quick to label our kids with; picky, fussy eaters.  I’m reluctant to call Claire picky yet.  I think she’s still working on developing her tastebuds and like all people, sometimes she’s in the mood for (fill in the blank) and sometimes she isn’t.  Can’t blame her for that!  But I know that if I want her to develop healthy eating habits and become an adult who eats vegetables as well as a varied diet, then I have to give her those foods now.  If I want her to grow up loving and enjoying food, from sourcing it to cooking to eating, then we have to do those things now, together, as a family.

The experiment continues!

Now, let’s get to this burger.  It has quickly become a household favorite.  As an ex-vegetarian, I find I’m always trying to find the next amazing veggie burger because so many fall flat.  (Boca Burgers are gravely insulting to vegetarians!)  They also work great for Claire because she can pick up each delicious, nutrient dense bite with her little fingers.  I opted for quinoa, in an effort to avoid using wheat products (flour, breadcrumbs) where I don’t really have to, because she’ll inevitably end up eating it elsewhere, so minimizing her exposure (and increasing diversity) is in our best interest.  If black beans and quinoa have not made a home in your pantry yet, what are you waiting for?

Happy cooking!  Happy Eating!

You’ll need:

1 C dried black beans, soaked

1 1″ piece of kombu

1 bay leaf

1 t ground cumin

1/2 t ground coriander

1/2 C cooked quinoa

1/2 C walnuts, finely chopped

1/2 C finely shredded carrots (1 medium sized carrot should suffice)

1 small red onion, chopped

1/4 C parsley, finely chopped

3 T extra-virgin olive oil

Sea salt

Freshly ground pepper, to taste

To make:

1.  Cook off the beans.  Drain and rinse and add beans to a soup pot with enough water to cover.  Add kombu and bay leaf and let boil on high heat for 10 minutes.  Skim the foam off as often as needed.  After 10 minutes, reduce heat to medium, add cumin, coriander and a nice, solid pinch of sea salt.  Partially cover and cook for 50 minutes or until beans are very tender.  When done, drain (reserve some liquid, just in case) and mash with a potato masher.

2.  Add the rest of the ingredients to the beans and mix well.  (Optional:  You could refrigerate the mixture at this point to let is set and get firm before making patties, but it’s not necessary.)  Form 6 even patties.

3.  Heat 1/2T of oil in a saute pan over medium-high heat.  Cook burger about 5 minutes on first side or until golden brown, then flip burger and cook for another 4-5 minutes.

4.  Serve on a roll or pita (when in Rome, right!) and top with your favorite burger toppings.  I also like to serve it over an arugula salad with avocado.  YUM!

5.  Enjoy!

Winter Kale and Kamut Salad

winter kale and kamut salad

I miss kale.  It’s only been about a week since I’ve had any, but I am definitely suffering withdrawals.  And, though I do not miss winter at all, I could use a huge helping of this salad.

What makes this salad particularly special is the way the flavors and textures play with each other.  Not to mention the way they deliver a wholly satisfying meal.  Yes, a vegetarian salad can be wholly satisfying for EVERYONE.  I promise.

This goody was a huge hit each and every time I made it in the past 3 months.  And, I made it A LOT!  The original recipe comes from one of my favorite sources of inspiration, Bon Appetit.  Anytime I see anything with kale, I try it.  Kale is versatile and quite easy going, going from sautés to soups, smoothies to salads and every time you eat it, you are racking up credit, giving yourself a huge dose of nutrients.  Consider it delicious, preventive medicine.

I’ve talked about kale once already, but here’s a quick reminder.  There are 3 main “anti-s” to remember about kale; antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic.  Seriously.  This is key about kale because oxidative stress (taken care of by antioxidants) and inflammation gone out of control (why we need anti-inflammatory nutrients) are 2 conditions that lead to serious health problems and diseases such as cancer.  Not to mention that kale can also reduce cholesterol and it is superb at helping the body detox.  Kale is also one of those foods that makes you happy!

This incarnation of the salad (there have been many versions) came about mostly because I needed to use up ingredients in my fridge and pantry.*  The original salad is delicious, but after many adaptations and experimentations, this is my favorite.  The pecans add much needed crunch and kamut is a yummy, nuttier, sturdier alternative to barley.

Let me know what you think!

You’ll need:

1/2 C extra-virgin olive oil (approximately)

2 T apple cider vinegar

2 T champagne vinegar

2 T freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 T coconut sugar (I usually replace brown sugar with coconut sugar.)

1 bunch Tuscan kale, stemmed and cut into 1/2-1″ pieces

1 shallot, minced (roughly 1/4 C)

2-3 golden beets, roasted and cut into 1/4″ dice

1 C kamut, soaked, rinsed and cooked off

1 avocado, diced

1/2 C pecans, roughly chopped

1/2 C Bulgarian feta, crumbled or cut into small dice (regular feta is delicious, too but this is what I had left…for a vegan option, omit the cheese and you’re still left with a pretty stellar salad:)

To make:

1. Whisk together 1/4 C olive oil, the vinegars and lemon juice and season with sea salt and pepper.

2. Add kale and shallots and mix thoroughly to make sure the kale is evenly coated.  Cover and chill for at least 3 hours before assembling salad.  This will wilt the kale making it tender for every bite.

3. Once cooled, add the beets and the kamut and mix to coat evenly.  You may need to drizzle some of the remaining oil in.

4. When ready to serve, add the avocado and feta (if using), drizzle with more olive oil and a splash of champagne vinegar to brighten it up.  Taste and adjust salt and pepper.  Stir gently and serve topped with chopped pecans.

5. The other genius of this salad (kale is first) is that it’s sturdy enough to be made 2-3 days in advance.  Just cover and chill and add avocados, feta and nuts when ready to serve.  Thanks, Bon Appetit!

6.  Enjoy!

*Since I was moving, I had to use up everything I could in the kitchen.  It’s incredibly inspiring to cook when you have to constantly substitute and re-invent things with new ingredients.

 

Guinness Stew

Serves 4

guinness stew

Slow cooking does wonders for 2 things:  1. tougher cuts of meat* and 2. slowing YOU down.  December is certainly a merry and jolly month, but hidden in the merriment there can be found the stress of keeping it all together.  You know, the grab-bags, the after-work parties, the planning, the traveling, and, and, and.  We all forget to slow down and breathe until January rolls around and our resolutions are staring us in the face.  I’m convinced there are better ways to end the year…and to start another one.

Tough cuts of meat are also easily forgotten, if not completely ignored.  It takes too much time to turn them into the tender, tasty bites that is their inherent potential.  We’ve also gotten spoiled with more tender cuts.  Filet mignon, anyone?  Rib-eyes, NY Strip Steak…nope, I won’t say no to those, but to ignore eye-rounds, chuck roasts, short ribs, to name a few, would be a BIG mistake.  Good things take time and even in this day and age when everything goes so much faster than even yesterday, it still holds true.  Once in a while you’ve got to stop to smell the roses, or in our case, to stew a classic Guinness stew.

Braising is a combination of cooking techniques.  First, the meat (veggies can also be braised:) is seared on all sides.  It’s then cooked in liquid, about 1/2 way up the meat, usually covered, either stovetop or finished in the oven.  It’s an old school way of cooking and anytime my husband cooks a stew (or other braise) he always talks of a connection he feels to a long line of cooks before him, parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, all partaking in this careful but loving way to prepare a meal for your family.  It’s wonderful to feel connected and it’s wonderful to get that feeling from cooking, from preparing a meal and then sharing and eating it together.  It’s nourishing on every level.

By the way, the only thing classic about this Guinness Stew is that it’s become a classic in our home.  With these chilly days that have found us, I hope that you find this dish as warming and satisfying as we do.

*Most of you know this already, but just in case:  Whenever I cook or eat animal protein, I do so because it’s sourced from local farms that treat their animals with respect and kindness.  Cows graze on grasses and roam the fields, chickens hang out by the cows eating all kinds of things we’d rather not think about.  Still, it’s their native diet and what’s better for them is better for us.  No antibiotics or growth hormones, no chemicals or funky diets made out of whatever is cheapest and most readily available.  Happy, healthy animals that come from farms where the farmers love what they do…that’s where I get my meat from.  

You’ll need:

1 lb. eye round, cut in 1″ cubes, all fat trimmed and seasoned in sea salt and pepper (don’t be shy with the salt and pepper)

1 T organic canola oil

1 T extra-virgin olive oil

1 (largish) yellow onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 celery stalks, diced

6 sprigs fresh thyme

1 T spelt flour

1 T tomato paste (optional)

1 can Guinness

1 C vegetable stock (+ more depending on how things go!)

3-4 red potatoes, 1/2″ dice

2 carrots, 1/4″ rondelles (fancy way to say sliced ;))

1/2 C frozen peas

1 T red wine vinegar

2 T fresh parsley, finely chopped

Sea salt, to taste

To make:

(Preheat oven to 325°)

1. Heat canola oil in a heavy bottom sauce pan (Le Creuset dutch oven is amazing for this) over high heat and sear meat on all sides till nice and brown.  You may need to do this in batches and it will take 7-10 minutes per batch.  Resist the urge to move the meat around TOO much or too soon.  You’ll know when it’s time to roll them over!

2. Reserve the meat and juices in a bowl and set aside.

3. Add olive oil to pan over medium heat and then add onions, garlic, celery and thyme and a pinch of sea salt.  Cook for 4 minutes, stirring often.

4. Add tomato paste (if using) and flour and cook for 2-3 more minutes until it becomes like a fragrant paste.  Then add Guinness and stir.  Add 1 C of vegetable stock and let it come to a simmer.

5. Add meat and juices (can’t let all that flavor go to waste) and bay leaves and let it come to a simmer again.  Cover and place in the oven for 1 hour.  (You can either clean up a bit here or go and relax…you deserve it…and you’ll be back!)

6. After an hour has passed, add the potatoes and carrots and cook for another hour to hour and a half.  Check that the liquid is about 1/2 way up the meat and vegetables.  At this point it should start looking stew-y.

7. Place sauce pan/dutch oven on the stove and remove the bay leaves.  Add the frozen peas and red wine vinegar, cover and let sit for 10 minutes.

8. Top with fresh parsley when ready to serve.

9. Enjoy with sourdough bread, over noodles or rice or just on its own!

Healing Potage with Parsley and Basil

Serves 4 as a meal or 6 as appetizer=)

Parsley-Basil Drizzle and Coconut Milk drizzled on potage.

As the title suggests, this potage is trés healing and last week, it was just what I needed to help me kick a cold that caught me by surprise.  With all the festivities; the cooking and eating, the drinking, snacking, socializing, the shopping, decorating and wrapping, we forget that it’s a common time to come down with colds and other unwanted ills.  There’s a lot going on and our bodies and our minds get run down eventually needing a break from all the fun.

When I’m feeling under the weather, the first thing I think of is soup to help get me on the path to better health.  Soup is love in a bowl, so it’s a good place to start.

I first encountered this (adapted) recipe in a Vegetarian Times issue some years ago.  Apparently, potage, a thick, creamy soup traditionally consisting of leeks, carrots and potato, is often served at meals in French hospitals.  That’s a far cry from what we see in most hospitals here.  It’s a very simple soup and quite unassuming considering its power in the healing department.  But, it’s often in simplicity that we find the greatest gifts.  There are several gifts that make this soup so healing.

In a nutshell:

Leek– Excellent source of carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin which provide the body with anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant protection.  Leeks also support movement, meaning if you are feeling stuck, physically, emotionally or mentally, you’d be wise to add these to your diet.  “They subtly tonify and support energy movement.”¹ I love Traditional Chinese Medicine interpretations of food.

Garlic– A member of the allium family that is anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and anti-viral.  Need I say more?  Ok, ok, one more thing-it helps eliminate toxins from the body.

Carrot– Beta-carotene is the most researched carotenoid and for good reason.  It’s an antioxidant that kicks a**!  It’s also anti-carcinogenic, anti-aging, and enhances immunity.  Yes, you should be eating more carrots.

Potato– Eaten in moderation, potatoes reduce inflammation and neutralize body acids.  They also boast a good amount of Vitamin C and the B-complex vitamins.

Thyme– Thyme enjoys a long history of being used naturally in medicine to treat problems with cough, congestion, bronchitis, etc.²  The volatile oils of thyme contain enough anti-oxidants and anti-microbial properties to round out an already super-hero potage!

I thought I’d sneak this recipe in just before the fun December recipes appear, just in case.  And, you might want to re-visit Trick for Treat, too.  It’s never too late to build some credit for your body!  In case you found yourself in the red however, keep coming back to this soup.  It will always clear the way for you to start feeling better, fast!

*Note – I borrowed Rebecca Katz’s, Parsley Basil Drizzle to jazz it up a bit and boy did it ever!

You’ll need:

2-3 T extra-virgin olive oil

1 large leek, white and pale green parts, sliced (about 3 heaping cups)

1/4 C dry white wine

3-4 cloves garlic, minced

1 small fennel bulb, diced

5 medium-large carrots, sliced

1-2 small yukon potatoes, diced

5 sprigs of fresh thyme

2 small bay leaves

6-7 C water or vegetable stock (or water with a vegetable bouillon would do fine, too)

Sea salt, to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 T freshly squeezed lemon juice

To make:

1.  Heat the oil in a medium sauce pan over medium heat.  Add the leek and a healthy pinch of salt and cook for about 8 minutes until the leeks are tender.  When tender, add the garlic and fennel and cook for 3-4 more minutes before adding the wine.  Cook everything together until most of the wine has evaporated.

2.  Add the carrots, potato, thyme and bay leaves and about 1/2 C of the water/stock.  Cook together until it’s mostly evaporated.  Add the rest of the water/stock and bring to a boil then reduce heat to medium and cook for 30 minutes, partially covered, or until the vegetables are tender but not mushy.

3.  Turn off the heat, cover completely and let sit for about 10-15 minutes.  Something magical happens in this time of waiting.

4.  Using a 1C ladle, ladle the soup into a blender keeping liquid and veggies about equal.  Blend until smooth (being sure to hold down the lid with a hand towel).  Pour creamy soup into another sauce pan.  Repeat the process until done.

5.  Bring the creamy potage to a simmer over low heat, if necessary.  Stir in the lemon juice and adjust for salt and pepper.

6.  Serve just as is or with Parsley-Basil Drizzle (see below)

7.  Enjoy and feel better!

Parsley-Basil Drizzle (as deliciously written per Rebecca Katz)

1/4 C tightly packed fresh basil leaves

1/2 C tightly packed fresh flat-leat parsley leaves

2 T freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 T water

1/4 t sea salt

1/4 C extra-virgin olive oil

Combine all ingredients except oil in a blender or food processor and process until finely chopped.  Slowly pour in the olive oil (with motor running, if possible) and process until smooth.  Adjust for salt or olive oil or lemon.  Drizzle over soup and Enjoy!

¹Rebecca Wood, The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia

² http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=77

Creamy Parsnip Soup and Homemade Croutons

Serves 6

Parsnips are one of those intimidating root vegetables.  They’re not exactly in the same category as celery root or kohlrabi, for example, but they do carry a hint of intimidation in them. They look like carrots, in fact, they’re cousins. Parsnips are much sweeter, however and even nutty in flavor. And they often sit in heaps at farmers’ markets, waiting to be picked up, cooked up, eaten!

In lieu of getting our CSA delivered, the past several weeks, my husband, Claire and I have made the 1 hour trip to Blooming Hill Farm. They have a heavenly farm stand.  Let me reiterate: HEAVENLY!  It’s a beautiful farm with beautiful and abundant produce.  They also have eggs, non-homogenized milk, cheese, freshly baked breads, the list goes on.  On top of that, they have a little cafe area where a chef prepares simple fare (frittatas, pizza) with the bounty from the farm.  It was on one of these trips that I picked up everything that went into this soup.  I can’t deny that I get a sense of utter joy knowing that my entire dinner (or breakfast or lunch) came from an organic farm 1 hour away from where I live.  We’re very lucky.

So, while parsnips are busy intimidating some cooks, they’re also intimidating to inflammation and cancer thanks to the anti-oxidants they have.  They are good sources of Vitamin C (another more famous anti-oxidant and water soluble vitamin), rich sources of the B-complex vitamins, especially folic acid (pregnant mamas, take note!) as well as a number of minerals.  According to Rebecca Katz, “ounce for ounce, boiled parsnips have about 31% as much calcium as milk”.¹ (Great for vegans and vegetarians and any lactose-intolerant peeps to know.  There are MANY non-animal sources of calcium!)  Lastly, parsnips are another wonderful source of dietary fiber which is necessary for a healthy gut and colon.

A quick note before we get to the recipe.  Parsnips are quite bold in flavor and can easily take over any dish.  I used fingerling potatoes and the herbs as a way to balance the parsnips out.  I think you’ll love it!

You’ll need:

2-3 T extra virgin olive oil

1 red onion, diced

2 celery stalks, diced

2 carrots, diced

1 1/2 lbs. parsnips, roughly chopped (I had 3 large ones that came to about that.)

3-4 medium fingerling potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped (about 1 C)

a Bouquet Garni of 3 sprigs parsley, 3-4 sage leaves and 1 bay leaf, tied between 2, 3″ pcs of celery

8 C water or vegetable stock (I used water and a low-sodium vegetarian bouillon this time.)

1/4 C rolled oats

Sea salt, to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 T freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 T lemon zest, for garnish (optional)

For the croutons:

6 small slices of your favorite bread, large dice

2 T extra virgin olive oil

Dried herb of choice (basil or oregano or thyme are delish:)

Sea salt, to taste

To make:

1.  In a medium or large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add onions and cook for 5 minutes before adding celery and carrots.  Season with sea salt.

2. When mire poix (remember that’s the onion, celery and carrots in a 50/25/25 ratio) is tender, add parsnips and potatoes and season again with a little salt.  Deglaze with a 1/4 C of the water or stock and continue cooking for a few more minutes.

3.  When all those veg are sufficiently mixed together, add the water/stock and the bouquet garni.  Bring to a boil over high heat and then reduce to medium-low, add rolled oats and partially cover.

4.  Cook for about 30 minutes or until the parsnips and potatoes are very tender.  Remove the bouquet garni and take saucepan off the heat to settle for 10 minutes.  In the meantime, set up your blender and have a kitchen towel handy.

(While the soup is cooking, you can get the croutons going.  Place the croutons on a sheet pan, drizzle olive oil evenly on bread, then add herbs and salt.  Toss to coat evenly.  Place sheet pan in the oven at 325° for 10-15 minutes, checking often to make sure croutons don’t burn.  Toss when necessary.  Alternatively, you could toast them stovetop but placing the croutons in a sauté pan and cooking over low-medium heat for about 10 minutes.)

5.  One ladleful at a time, carefully place hot soup in an even amount of veg and liquid into the blender.  Blend on high until ultra creamy.  Repeat this process until the soup is done.  Be sure to use the hand towel to hold the lid of the blender because the steam will lift the lid.

6.  Return the soup to the saucepan and place over low heat.  Add the lemon juice and let warm for a couple of minutes.  Do a last minute check on flavor and add salt and/or pepper as needed.

7.  Ladle soup into individual bowls and top with fresh, warm, crunchy croutons!

8.  Enjoy!

¹ Rebecca Katz, The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia

Pasta, Kale and Squash

Serves 4

 

Once upon a time, I would get home from work and begin the process of making homemade pasta.  It’s a simple process involving only eggs, flour and maybe a touch of water or even olive oil.  Homemade pasta is always worth it…if you have the time to invest in the wonderful tradition.  Ah, time!  Time is a luxury that comes in spurts these days.  Claire Berlin is on the verge of walking which means a whole lot is going on in our home and time in the kitchen is more limited than usual.  Instead of seeing it as an obstacle, I see it as an opportunity to think quick and cook quicker!  Delicious meals, nutritious meals need not take hours of preparation and deliberation.  Some do and that’s fine, (I look forward to those, too), but when you don’t have it, you can still eat well and feel good.

This dish was inspired by my love of homemade ravioli and around this time of year, that ravioli is usually filled with some sort of squash.  This is something like a deconstructed version.  There’s something special about the flavor of squash, the right amount of parmigiano and the sweet but bold flavor of good pasta.  I’d been reluctant to post a pasta dish because of the now ubiquitous demand for gluten-free products.  The rise of celiac disease and gluten intolerance has brought to light the many delicious alternatives to wheat based products.  And I make an effort to balance my gluten consumption with all those delicious alternatives.  Still, it’s pretty tough to beat a yummy bowl of semolina pasta!  And it doesn’t have to be all bad, either!

Durum semolina wheat is prized for its high protein and high gluten.  This helps keep the dough elastic yet maintaining its shape.  Semolina wheat is also high in beta-carotene which is an important anti-oxidant.  Whole durum will give you many of the benefits of whole grains such as fiber, iron, magnesium and B vitamins.  However, because it is ground into a flour, you lose the “intactness” of the whole grain, i.e. the germ, bran and endosperm, though they are still present because the flour isn’t further refined (as is the case with white flour).

So, having some pasta isn’t a bad thing, especially if it’s organic and as whole as possible…or as unrefined as possible.  It’s also ideal to have it once in a while as opposed to everyday.  (I know many people who get stuck on this pasta-cycle.)

Incidentally, my new favorite store-bought pasta is Montebello, an artisan and organic pasta.

Buon Appetito!

You’ll need:

4T extra-virgin olive oil,

4-5 fresh large sage leaves, whole

1 1/2 C butternut squash, diced (roughly)

1 large clove of garlic, minced

1/2 red chili pepper, thinly sliced* (Use of seeds is entirely up to you…I chose to forgo the little buggers for this recipe.)

1 bunch Lacinato Kale, stemmed and sliced

1/2 lb organic, semolina durum wheat pasta

Freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

To make:

1.  Place 2 T of olive oil in a sauce pan over medium heat.  Add sage leaves and squash and cook until just tender, about 12-15 minutes.  Set aside.

2. In the same pan, add remaining olive oil, garlic, and chili and saute for 2-3 minutes before adding kale.  Saute until kale is just wilted and a beautiful, vibrant green color.

3.  In the meantime, get the pasta cooking according to the instructions on the box.  You’re aiming for al dente pasta, cooked but firm.  (Overcooked pasta is not pleasant at all!)  Drain and drizzle with another T of olive oil.

4.  When everything is done, toss together in a bowl and serve immediately, topped with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano.

5.  Enjoy!

*The chili is divine in this dish.  The heat plays so well with the sweetness of the butternut squash.  I know a few former classmates who will love my new found love for chili peppers!

Autumn’s Chili

Serves 6

The chilly breeze of autumn has brought with it many cravings for fall’s foods.  The oven’s been on baking and roasting a few times already and soups and stews have already made appearances at the dinner table.  This particular dish is a favorite.  And, it’s not just because it’s delicious and wholly satisfying (it’s both to the nth degree), but because it is unassuming, too.  It seems time consuming, but it isn’t.  It seems spicy, but that part is up to you.  It seems hearty and meaty; it is and it isn’t.  This is one dish that even my most ardent carnivore friends would forgive for not having ANY animal protein in it, as they ask for seconds.  They’ve even confessed that meat would “ruin” THIS chili.  I’m not going to argue with that. We like this one just the way it is.

It should be noted that I have no problem with meat.  Check out my Grass-fed Burger recipe if you don’t believe me.  I just don’t think that meat needs to be part of EVERY meal and we have so many options when it comes to animal protein that it’s nice to have an alternative if you choose to forgo meat once in a while.  I’m not espousing vegetarianism, I am afterall a recovering vegetarian, but there are several health merits to reducing your meat consumption while increasing vegetables, whole grains, beans, etc.  Enter, Chili!

What’s most special about this particular version is the use of real red chili peppers.  (When I’m in a pinch, I often add a pinch of cayenne or use red pepper flakes.)  Despite the fact that peppers are a notorious nightshade, (see Late Summer Ratatouille for more on that), this little pepper has several health benefits, too.  Peppers are famous for their capsaicin, that wonderful little quality that gives peppers its pungence and heat.   It’s also responsible for the anti-inflammatory effects it has on the body.  “Red chili peppers, such as cayenne, have been shown to reduce blood cholesterol, triglyceride levels, and platelet aggregation, while increasing the body’s ability to dissolve fibrin, a substance integral to the formation of blood clots.”¹  Those are few good pluses for our cardiovascular system!  Peppers are also loaded with beta carotene which helps boost immunity.  Remember that goody, “eat the rainbow”, well red is a good place to start!  Eating these spicy gems will clear your congestion and benefit your gut by killing bacteria that may be hanging around.

Remember that peppers and tomatoes are nightshades and should be balanced with a bit of dairy (not to mention it’s a bit cooling and is a nice contrast to the heat) so be sure to add that dollop of sour cream or some shredded cheddar.  Your taste buds won’t argue with either!

You’ll need:

3/4 C kidney beans, soaked overnight then drained and rinsed

2 T extra virgin olive oil

1 red onion, diced

1-2 cloves garlic, minced

1 red chili pepper, thinly sliced (Use of seeds is entirely at your discretion, but be cautious because the heat sneaks up on you!)

1 largish carrot, diced

1 stalk celery, diced

1/2 t paprika

2 T tomato paste

3 large heirloom tomatoes, diced

1 bay leaf

1 C butternut squash, medium dice (You’ll have plenty leftover!)

8 C water or vegetable stock

2-3 T fresh herb of choice, rough chop (Cilantro is my default herb here, but parsley, sage or basil all work wonderfully here, too!)

Sea salt, to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Creme fraiche or sour cream for garnish

To make:

1. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, add onion and a pinch of salt.  Cook onions for about 5 minutes until softened and then add garlic.  Cook for 3 more minutes.

2. Add chili pepper, carrots, celery and paprika and cook for another 3-4 minutes and then add tomato paste.  The tomato paste will serve to deglaze the goodies that have been cooking.

3. Add tomatoes, stir and cook for another few minutes.  Finally, add kidney beans, bay leaf and water or stock.  Cook the chili over medium heat for about 45 minutes.  Half way through the cooking, add the butternut squash.

4. The chili is done when the beans are soft.  Add the herb of your choice and adjust seasoning to taste.  Serve with a dollop of creme fraiche or sour cream.  (I didn’t have either so I topped with an avocado creme and shredded cheddar.  Yum, yum!)

5. Enjoy!  With a thick piece of sour dough bread or a baguette and you’ll enjoy 2 times as much!

¹http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=29

Late Summer Ratatouille

Serves 6

When I opened my CSA box last week, I was giddy with all the late summer produce that greeted me.  I pulled out eggplant, squash, tomatoes, peppers, jalapeños, kale, green beans, yellow ones, the visual feast went on and on and immediately ideas began brewing. The first 4 vegetables I pulled out seemed to scream ratatouille to me. Anyone would have heard it and so I had no choice but to comply.

Ratatouille is a typical French dish with many variations.  I prefer cooking the vegetables separately so that they have the opportunity to showcase themselves as individuals before joining the party and participating in the synergy that a good ratatouille demands.  (I’m glad to have just read that so did Julia Child.)  It all comes down to appreciating unique flavors that contribute to a dish.

As a health-supportive chef, an interesting fact about this dish stands out:  most of the vegetables in this dish are nightshades. The nightshade family, or Solanaceae, are a mysterious bunch.  This family has over 2,000 species of medical, ornamental and poisonous plants including tobacco, belladonna (this is a deadly one), potatoes, goji berries and not to mention the veg (eggplant, tomatoes, peppers) in this ratatouille.

The members of this family are highly suspect when it comes to our joint health.  Nightshades are unique in that they are high in alkaloids. Like protein, they contain a significant amount of nitrogen, however unlike protein which builds and repairs tissue, alkaloids are stimulants, hallucinogens, poisonous, and have been known to disrupt the calcium balance in our bodies.  If we look at traditional cultures who consume these veg often, we see that they are often accompanied by some form of dairy; cheese, yogurt, cream, etc. Without the excess calcium in dairy, nightshades will absorb the calcium from our bones and deposit it where it doesn’t belong, in our soft tissue ,our joints and in other unwanted places like our arteries.  This aggravates inflammation and could make for creaking, cracking, painful joints.

It gets worse.  In Food and Healing, Annemarie Colbin mentions “calciphylactic syndrome”, a term coined by Austrian endocrinologist, Hans Selye.  This is the “calcification” or deposits of calcium in our soft tissue and “it is involved in arthritis, arteriosclerosis, coronary disease, cerebral sclerosis, kidney stones, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, even some forms of cancer”.  Unfortunately it seems that this condition “is possibly the most prevalent physical symptom in modern industrial cultures”.

So, why would you make and eat this delicious and seemingly dangerous dish?  For starters, you’re not eating it everyday!  Or you shouldn’t be anyway.  Secondly, it is paired with Parmigiano Reggiano so you are eating this dish in balance for your body.  Lastly, it is a traditional dish and there are many health benefits to all the veg involved.  Everything needs to be in moderation and in balance.  The key is to always listen to your own body.

We enjoyed this dish 3 ways.  The first was over couscous, then over pasta and finally, and this is my all time favorite, over a chunky piece of sourdough toast with a fried egg on top.  Trust me on that last one.  It is pure gourmet brunch bliss material!

P.S. If you do experience joint pain or suffer from arthritis, you may want to forgo eating any nightshades for a few weeks to see if your condition improves.  It’s worth the experiment.  (Macrobiotic diet could help here, too.)

You’ll need:

1 large eggplant, peeled and cut in 1” dice

1 zucchini, ½” dice

1 yellow squash, ½” dice

1 green bell pepper, ½” dice

1 Spanish onion, diced

3 large cloves garlic, separated and minced

1 28oz. can whole tomatoes or 4 large-ish ripe tomatoes (heirloom would be great), ½”dice and reserve juices

2 T tomato paste

1 t herbs de provence

2 sprigs fresh thyme

Splash of red wine

Sea salt to taste

Fresh ground black pepper

¼ cup grated parmesan cheese

2T fresh parsley, finely chopped

To make:

*Pre-heat oven to 350°

  1. Place egglplant in a colander and season generously with salt.  Let sit for 20min while moisture is withdrawn from eggplant.  Rinse and set aside to dry.
  2. In a sauté pan, heat 3T olive oil and add onion, a pinch of sea salt and herbs de Provence.  Saute for 5 minutes until just tender and then add 2 cloves of minced garlic and sauté for 3 more minutes.  Then add tomato paste and mix well.
  3. Once mixture is blended well and very fragrant, deglaze with a splash of red wine and cook out for 2 minutes.  Then, add tomatoes and reserved juices.  Let simmer for 15-20min.
  4. Meanwhile, in another sauté pan, heat 3T olive oil and add remaining garlic, eggplant and season with thyme.  Stir often and cook until just tender.  Remove from pan.
  5. Add zucchini, squash and pepper and another T of olive oil to pan.  Season with salt and pepper and sauté for 5-7 minutes, making sure vegetables stay al dente.  Remove from pan and add to eggplant.
  6. In a shallow baking dish, add half of tomato sauce and then top with cooked vegetables.  Top off with remaining sauce and bake for 20 minutes.  This is just enough time to let the flavors blend and to finish off cooking the veg without overcooking them!
  7. Serve over couscous, pasta or enjoy alone with some thick sourdough bread!