Spiced Date Syrup

Yields 1-1 1/2C (about)spiced date syrup

Happy Anniversary Guaya Gourmet!

Somehow we are at our first year anniversary!  Last year when I began blogging here, Claire was 5 months old and spent most of her time in the kitchen with me in her carrier.  Now, she spends her time climbing on and off the footstool, opening drawers and cabinets and subsequently hiding my measuring cups and spoons, and helping me by mixing or adding ingredients.  Oh, and we also live in a foreign country.  A lot has changed.

Other surprises over the past year include; gathering quite a following (THANK YOU for reading and following!), developing relationships with other bloggers via social media networks, learning a ton about social media and how useful it is, learning and working with the developing taste buds and moods of a baby foodie, and being consistently amazed about the people I meet as a result of the food that inspires and delights me.

It has been a fruitful and eventful year.  And with every meal that has made it to these pages and all the meals that haven’t, we have been grateful.

That was my toast.  Now on to the real reason you’re here.

For our anniversary blog post, Claire and I thought it would be most logical to write about a local ingredient.  We miss maple syrup (along with kale) and while it is available here, it is prohibitively expensive and well, not very local.  Enter dates!

Dates are incredibly nutritious and the best part about this syrup is that it is a whole food.  You are getting the sweetener without any of the fiber removed so it is much easier assimilated and processed by the body and your body doesn’t get a shock from the sugar.

What makes dates special?  FIBER, POTASSIUM, B-COMPLEX VITAMINS, and ANTIOXIDANTS do!  Let’s do a quick recap on why we should care about these characteristics.

Fiber:  Soluble fiber (remember the peas?) dissolves and becomes gel-like traveling slowly through your digestive tract, makes you feel fuller and longer and it binds to cholesterol lingering around your body and escorts it out.

Potassium:  A mineral that is critical for muscle contraction.  So, dates are especially good if you’ve got an exercise regime you adhere to.  But, even if you don’t, you know what else is a muscle…your heart!  “A critical electrolyte, potassium allows our muscles to move, our nerves to fire, and our kidneys to filter blood. The right balance of potassium literally allows the heart to beat.”¹

B-Complex Vitamins:  This is a team of vitamins that are essential for many bodily functions such as making blood cells, maintaining blood glucose levels and they are also key for mind-related health such as mood, memory and stress.  Click here for more detailed and fascinating info.

Antioxidants:  I love these.  Dates have polyphenols which are particularly effective at protecting the body, destroying free radicals roaming around.  We’re all vulnerable to oxidative stress so you can’t ever really get too many antioxidants!

You can use this syrup in your baking, as a topping on pancakes, waffles, granola, oatmeal, yogurt, in your smoothies or even as a sweetener for your morning coffee.  However you use it, enjoy every delicious minute of it!

You’ll need:

12-15 pitted dates, Medjool or Halawii

1-1 1/2 C water- I had some coconut water so I added that, too.

3-4 (slightly crushed) cardamom pods

To make:

1.  Place pitted dates and cardamom in a bowl or jar and add just enough water to cover dates.  Let sit for at least 4 hours or as in my case, overnight.

2.  Remove cardamom pods and blend water and dates until syrup forms.  If you want, you could run it through a sieve or cheesecloth for a finer consistency.

3.  That’s it!  It will keep refrigerated for 2-3 weeks.

4.  Enjoy!

¹http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/potassium-and-your-heart

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!

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

Red Quinoa, Corn and Peaches?

Makes 8 C

Yes, most of the food that will make its way onto these pages will be optimal runners’ food…at least until the marathon in November.  However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t optimal food for everyone.  The more I cook for specific needs, whether it be to maintain wellness, to enhance a physical regimen, to curb an illness or to prevent one, I find that a lot of the same principles apply.  Not all and not for everyone, but there are similarities.

I use both the red and white varieties of quinoa most often.  There are some differences between the two, but nutritionally speaking they are both superstars.  I often prefer the nuttier and slightly more bitter taste in the red quinoa.  It somehow feels more special.  You may remember that I made and posted a different quinoa salad here before.  So, why another?  Because quinoa is that special.  It’s a complete protein, containing all 9 essential amino acids.  It’s gluten-free and it’s versatile and delicious!  They are high in magnesium (necessary for muscle contraction, runners…remember?), iron (production of hemoglobin and oxygenating blood and therefore fighting fatigue), the anti-oxidant Vitamin E and the B Vitamins.  They’re low in fat and what fat there is, it’s unsaturated.  (Remember, we NEED FAT in our bodies!  Good fats…not trans fats!)  They are also fiber powerhouses.  This little seed goes a long way without taxing the digestive system and is one of the best fuels for fitness and endurance.  (Incan warriors ate quinoa before going to battle!)  It’s also a great food to introduce to babies when they’re ready for “grains”.  (Claire will be ready soon:)

Why peaches?  Honestly, because I didn’t have mango.  And thank goodness I didn’t!  I had beautiful peaches from our new CSA (I’ll be talking about this CSA a lot) and figured why not try it.  The sweet almost tart taste of the peaches plays so well up against the hearty quinoa, black beans and grilled corn.  The texture combines beautifully, too.  I surprised myself with the flavor of this salad.  I love when that happens!

You’ll need:

1 C red quinoa

3/4 cup black beans, soaked overnight (or 1 15oz. can)

1 C sweet corn, grilled (leave husks on 1-2 ears of corn) OR 1 C frozen corn, thawed

1/2 C red onion, diced (1 small red onion is about right)

1/2 C cilantro, roughly chopped

1 peach, diced

For the dressing:

1/4 C extra virgin olive oil

1/4 C freshly squeezed lime juice

1 T apple cider vinegar

1 T dijon mustard

1 T maple syrup

1 t sea salt (or more to taste)

freshly ground black pepper, to taste

To make:

1. Rinse and soak the quinoa in a saucepan for 15 minutes.  Drain and rinse again.  Add 2 C water to quinoa and cook over high heat until it reaches a boil.  Then, reduce heat to low, cover and let cook for 20 minutes or until the water has evaporated.  Let cool.

2. Get the beans going!  Drain, rinse and add beans to a saucepan with enough water to cover.  Cook on high heat for 10 minutes while removing any foam that accumulates.  Reduce heat to medium, add kombu and partially cover, cooking for 40 minutes or until just tender.  (You don’t want them too soft, but these are dense little beans so make sure they’re all cooked through:)  Drain and let cool.

3. If using, grill the corn.  I leave the husks on when grilling (or you could roast like this too) for added depth in flavor.  About 10 minutes on high is usually good.  Make sure you rotate for even cooking.  Remove husks and cut kernels off.  Should yield about a cup.

4. Mix all dressing ingredients and whisk until thoroughly incorporated.

5. Mix quinoa and beans in a large bowl.  Add corn, red onion, peach, cilantro and toss with dressing.

6. Let sit for about an hour in the refrigerator to let the flavors settle and to let the quinoa absorb the dressing.  This salad is worth the wait!

7. Enjoy!  (I enjoyed it with avocado on the side and some extra peaches just for fun!)

Golden Beet Slaw with Tahini Dressing

Makes 3 C

Variations on classics are never ending in the kitchen.  It’s one of the reasons I so enjoy cooking and sharing what I cook.  We don’t usually think of beets in the midst of the summer heat.  Especially not when there are berries and lovely greens all over the place.  It seems like we should just leave these root veggies alone, till fall.  Seems!  Beets are actually harvested through summer.  Golden beets are a delightful sunny color (or sometimes they conceal a beautiful orangey fuchsia in their center) and have a crisp refreshing crunch especially when eaten raw as in this recipe.  (They’re also delicious pickled!)  The main reason I got these beets?  Claire.  It just felt like a good time to introduce her to what Tom Robbins calls “the most intense of vegetables”.  He also said, “beets are deadly serious”*.  Let’s find out why.

They belong to the chenopod family, along with chard, spinach and quinoa.  (The beet greens are not only edible, they’re delicious, too! Sauté or eat raw in salads.)  Beets are special in that their overall phytonutrient content has a special, beneficial relationship with our nervous system.  Their pigmentation is a result of betalain antioxidant pigments (as opposed to beta-carotene for golden beets or anthocyanins for red ones) which makes them very unique.  They are also high in Vitamin C and manganese (also antioxidants) which further enhances their potency.¹  To refresh our memories, antioxidants protect our cells from free radicals roaming around. Free radicals occur as a result of the food we eat, the air we breathe, the stress we manifest, etc.  Thank goodness beets are deadly serious!  They are also serious about being anti-inflammatory which wards off everything from heart disease to type 2 diabetes to cancer.  Additionally, they’re incredible detoxifiers and therefore essential to any detox program. Beet juice anyone?  And finally there’s our buddy fiber keeping things in check.  It seems that the fiber in beets is pretty special, too.  Extra good news for our digestive and cardiovascular systems.¹

Put simply:  Super unique antioxidant power + incredible anti-inflammatory power + special fiber = serious anti-cancer!  (“Betanin pigments from beets have been shown to lessen tumor cell growth through a number of mechanisms, including inhibition of pro-inflammatory enzymes.”¹)  We should throw beets a party!

Given all this, I figured these beets should be treated with a certain amount of respect.  The dressing was my way of doing just that.  Another influence from my family’s sojourn in the Middle East, tahini is likewise special and this dressing is sure to wow your palate.  Trust me on this one!  (More on tahini for another post.  I use it often.)

In the meantime, get serious about making this slaw.  Happy tastebuds, happy body, happy spirit!

You’ll need:

3 C beets, julienned or shredded (about 3-4 medium beets)

1/4 C golden raisins (optional)

2 T parsley, finely chopped

1 T sesame seeds, toasted

For the dressing:

2 T tahini

1 T brown rice vinegar (I’ve also used champagne vinegar and apple cider vinegar with equal success.)

1 T maple syrup

1/4 C fresh squeezed lemon juice

1/4 t ground cumin

Sea salt, to taste

To make:

1. Trim ends of beets and peel with a vegetable peeler.  I chose to julienne the beets instead of shredding them this time.  I used a mandolin to get even planks and then cut 1/8″ rods using a chef’s knife.  I think it looks a bit nicer and I love the extra cutting practice.  (I have many times shredded the beets in a food processor however, and it’s just as delicious!)

2. Combine julienned/shredded beets with raisins and set aside.

3. Mix all dressing ingredients together and whisk thoroughly until well combined.

4. Add dressing to beets and raisins.

5. When serving, top with sesame seeds.

6. Enjoy!

*Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume

¹ http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=49  (There’s some great detailed info on this site about the phytonutrients and overall health benefits of beets.  Enjoy!)

Cannellini Bean Dip

Makes 3 C

So, remember I said something about minimal cooking?  Well, doing what I can to minimize turning on the stove or oven?  This is another example.  Dip!  Bean dips are such a great way to get a good snack (or sometimes meal…let’s be real about this!) in the middle of the day.  They are also a wonderful appetizer.  I took the opportunity and cooked twice as many beans as I needed because it had been a while since we’d had these and a summer white bean salad had already made an appearance in my dreams.  Of course I dream about food!

Beans and I…we’re good friends.  I’m Colombian and like anyone of Latin origin will attest, beans are part of our everyday and sometimes several parts of our day!  As a vegetarian, I was more than grateful for this.  I relied heavily on various beans for protein, which much like animal protein, builds and repairs body tissue.  They are super blood sugar regulators and thus an excellent choice for anyone with insulin issues.  They’re low in fat and high in vitamins and minerals including calcium, potassium, iron, zinc, folate and other B vitamins.  They are also a wonderful source of dietary fiber.  There are 2 types, insoluble and soluble, and both are critical for our health.  Insoluble fiber does not dissolve so it acts as a sponge, literally “cleaning” up by ushering toxins out.  (That’s why our gut and colon stay healthy!)  Soluble fiber dissolves and becomes gel-like in our gut making us feel full, longer. Overeating, while tempting, is never good.  Quantity destroys quality in anything!  (I might have said that before.)  Anyway, thank you fiber and thank you beans!

For the record, Latinos aren’t the only ones with a bean habit.  Beans and legumes, “one of the earliest and most important cultivated crop, are grown everywhere that people farm”.¹  Indeed, most places I’ve traveled, I’ve run into some kind of bean along the way.  Honestly, I can’t wait to encounter more!

You’ll need:

1 C dried cannellini beans, soaked overnight

1 sprig thyme

1 sprig rosemary

1 1″ piece of kombu

1 bay leaf

2-3 cloves garlic confit*

3 T olive oil (from garlic confit)

1/4 C fresh squeezed lemon juice

To make:

1. Get the beans cooking!  Drain and rinse the beans, then add to a saucepan with water to cover.  Boil over medium-high heat for 10 minutes, skimming the foam that forms.  Reduce heat to medium-low, dd thyme, rosemary, kombu and bay leaf, a pinch of sea salt and partially cover.  Cook for about 45 minutes or until beans are tender.

2. Remove the herbs and kombu from beans, drain and let cool.

3. When cooled, add remaining ingredients to a food processor and process until smooth and creamy.  You may want to adjust the garlic, oil, lemon and salt so play with it until you get it to your liking.  These measurements worked great for me:)

4. Serve with crudite (my go-to choice for a super healthy snack that sometimes turns into lunch) crispy country bread, pita bread or flat bread.  Gluten-free crackers are also delish with this dip!

5. Enjoy!

*The Garlic Confit adds depth to the garlicky flavor.  It’s umami-ish which translates into deliciousness.  However, this dip comes out lovely using fresh, raw garlic as well.  Start with 1-2 cloves and adjust from there;)

¹ Rebecca Wood, The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia

Fig Spread

Makes 1 C

Figs are one of those fruits that evoke a sense of mystery.  Its very shape, the thread like center surrounded by hundreds of seeds in the cavity, is unlike anything else.  They’re chewy (flesh), crunchy (seeds), and smooth (skin) making them a culinary delight to play with.  They are also succulent, juicy and delightfully sweet.  Figs are known to be delicacies in their own right.

Figs have been found in myths throughout the world.  There are images of the fig tree in the Garden of Eden and it has associations with Dionysus (Bacchus for the Romans), and Priapus, a satyr associated with sexual desire.  But my favorite comes from India.  According to Buddhist legend, Siddhartha Gautama (or the Buddha!) achieved enlightenment while sitting under the bodhi (bo is a type of fig) tree.¹  I can just picture it.  That was back in 528 B.C.

What can figs do for us today?  Dried figs (what’s used in this recipe) have more dietary fiber than prunes.  Remember that fiber benefits our gut (improves digestion) and our colon.  It also makes us feel fuller so we are less likely to overeat.  According to Rebecca Wood, dried figs are higher in calcium, “ounce for ounce” than cow’s milk.²  They are also high in protein, iron (for red blood cell formation), copper (necessary for production of red blood cells), potassium (vital component of cell and body fluids that help control heart rate and blood pressure) and phosphorous (works closely with calcium for strong bone development).*  And apparently, they are also helpful to those on that inward journey.  Would anyone like some enlightenment with their figs?

What to do with this jar of bliss?  Spread it on a piece of millet toast with some cultured butter, put a dollop on your granola or in your yogurt and top with nuts or get creative and let me know what you come up with!

Namaste fellow gourmands.

You’ll need:

1 C dried figs, chopped (I used about 9 Turkish figs)

1 C water

1 T fresh squeezed lemon juice

Pinch of sea salt

To make:

1. Place figs and water in a saucepan and heat over medium heat until they reach a simmer (light bubbling), then reduce heat to low and cook until water is almost completely evaporated.  (You still want a tiny bit of liquid…it will be thick like a reduction.)

2. Once the figs have cooled, place them and the lemon juice and salt in a food processor and process until smooth.

3. Store in an airtight container and refrigerate.  It will keep for 7-10 days.  (Though I’ve used it after 2 weeks with no problem;)

4. Enjoy!

¹ http://www.mythencyclopedia.com/Fi-Go/Fruit-in-Mythology.html#b

² Rebecca Wood, The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia

* http://www.nutrition-and-you.com/fig-fruit.html