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!

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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!

How to Cook When You Don’t Have Time to Cook

Let’s face it.  The best meals you eat are the ones you cook yourself, or someone cooks for you, if you’re lucky!  Nothing beats home cooking.  You know exactly what you’re eating, how it’s prepared and YOU can control portion size.  Portions have gotten pretty ridiculous and most of us get through our plates because we paid for them.  Then we feel terrible afterwards and we think that this is normal.  It isn’t.  (Neither are “all  you can eat” buffets!)  Additionally, home cooking is usually made with LOVE, an ingredient that elevates most dishes and nourishes body and soul.

When I give workshops on Food and Health or am otherwise chatting about food and cooking, I oftentimes hear from people that they would cook and eat better if they only had the time to.  They tell me how lucky I am that I’m a health-supportive chef, that I must have a Rolodex of ‘healthy’ recipes and menu ideas in my head so no wonder I can cook and eat well.

I am lucky.  Culinary school was invaluable for me, not just in the professional kitchen, but in my own kitchen as well.  It isn’t however, what makes dinner possible for me on most nights.  My mom is not a chef, neither was my grandmother, yet they cooked everyday. (And trust me, I draw blanks for dinner all the time, too.)  What makes dinner possible is a bit of strategizing and planning.  It’s very much like teaching.  All the work gets done before you even walk into the classroom.  So much so that if you’ve lesson planned properly, the class can basically teach itself.  It’s the same with cooking.

Here’s what you need to know and what you need to do:

1. Organize Your Fridge and Pantry

Of course this would come first and it’s usually what trips everyone up.  Few people like to organize; with the exception of chefs and teachers maybe!  But, you have to.  You must organize the fridge and the pantry.  What do you have?  What can you use?  What needs to be re-stocked?  What gets thrown in the trash?  Take inventory and start your list.  You can think beyond the week for staples such as long grain brown rice, black beans, coconut milk, etc.  (Those are some of my staples.)

(Note:  Part of the organizing will entail you have containers to organize in.  Glass jars, ziploc bags, tupperware, it all works to get you organized.  A roll of masking tape and a sharpie really help, too!)

2. Organize Your Thoughts

OK, so you now know what’s going on in your fridge and pantry and you’ve gotten it together.  Your mind is either racing with ideas or completely blank.  Don’t worry.  Both are normal and either will happen every week!  To keep you focused, take a look at your inventory and decide what you want to use/eat/cook that week.  Rice?  Quinoa?  Lentils?  Chicken?  Want to finish that cabbage that is still good but doesn’t have much time left?

This is how you start to build an idea of the meals that will come together.  What can you do with what you have and most importantly, what are you in the mood for?

3. Menu Plan

Now comes the fun part.  Don’t be intimidated by the looming blankness of your canvas, the menu plan.  Planning is messy and it takes many revisions and what you end up cooking may be slightly different from what you planned anyway.  Be flexible and take pleasure in knowing you’re making careful decisions for your and your family’s enjoyment and health.

When thinking about the menu plan, keep these things in mind:

  • Try to eat seasonally.  Strawberries in January (on the East Coast) don’t taste good anyway.  Eating seasonally keeps you in tune with the rhythm of the Earth and that connection is another form of nourishment.  Not to mention, seasonal (and local) food tastes infinitely better!
  • Organic, Grass-fed, Pastured, Non-GMO; these are all terms that ensure that you are buying and eating the highest quality food, the most nutrient dense and also the most delicious.
  • Balance!  If you’re having pasta on Monday, try not to do cous cous on Tuesday, sandwiches on Wednesday, pasta on Thursday again, etc.  Mix it up.  Also, you want to “eat the rainbow”.  Nothing is more boring than eating and looking at a plate that is one color, nor will it do you much good nutritionally either.  Eating a variety of colors guarantees a good mix of macro and micro nutrients, anti-oxidants, phytonutrients, etc.
  • Keep it simple!  You don’t have to reinvent the wheel every night.  Try to use similar ingredients throughout the week so your prep time is kept to a minimum and you’re sure to eat what you bought instead of throwing anything away.
  • Plan a leftover day.  For example:  Soups and grain and bean salads make great leftovers, roast a chicken and use the legs for dinner tonight and the breasts for dinner on Friday.  (Save the carcass for a stock;)
  • Example of a weekly menu plan:
    Lunch Dinner
    Monday coconut lentil soup
    Tuesday lentil soup chicken, black bean, rice, apple salsa
    Wednesday leftovers mushroom omelettes w/ salad
    Thursday veggie burgers w/ green salad
    Friday grain salad lamb chops, swiss chard, grain salad
    Saturday chard and mushroom risotto, green salad
    Sunday roasted asparagus soup/grilled cheese

Notice the blank spaces for lunch.  Nothing can be so perfectly planned and it’s good to leave a few blanks for spontaneity and bursts of inspiration.

4. List and Shop

Throughout the above steps, you already started your list, at least mentally.  Now finish it.  Fill in the holes.  The biggest holes will probably be fresh produce, eggs, bread and other perishables.

Shop!  The next most fun part!  Do you your best to stick to the list so you don’t get sidetracked and start re-doing your entire menu-plan in the produce section!  Remember to be flexible.  If you’re looking for chard but all they have is kale, kale will likely work, too.

5. Mise en Place

Mise en place literally means, “everything in its place”.  You’ll do some version of this every time you cook (usually).  It just means having everything ready; spices measured, veggies cut, protein marinated, etc.  I take this a step further.  For the week ahead, I’ll wash, dry and store any greens, such as kale, chard, collard greens, some lettuces, etc.  I’ll dice onions, celery and carrots and keep them in tupperware.  (These make up the mirepoix which is a basic flavor profile for many foods.)  If I’m making rice or beans, I wash and soak them for the next day.  If I’m making veggie burgers for dinner, I’ll make extra, store, label and freeze them for another dinner.

In order to be successful in your menu plan, you have to keep thinking at least a day ahead.  Cooking most things from scratch takes time (this isn’t bad!), but if you do things in parts, it won’t seem like so much time.  I usually reserve a weekend to do all this pre-work while my husband is home and I can have a couple dedicated hours in the kitchen.  Trust me, this saves a world of time and it makes dinner possible even when unexpected things pop up in your day.

6. Ready to Cook

With your fridge and pantry organized, your menu plan written out, your fridge stocked for the week and your mise en place ready to go, you’re ready to cook!  With all these steps, all the pre-work, you’ll be able to tackle most dinners in about 30 minutes.  And when you need to compromise, then do so.  A can of beans (Eden Organic are BPA free) won’t kill you if you forgot to soak beans the night before. Neither will take-out.  Just don’t let these become habit.  You’ll notice that once you start to cook and eat your own food from scratch (most of the time) most other prepared foods just don’t taste as good.  You’ll also start to feel the difference after you eat.  Pretty soon you’ll be addicted to this cycle, you’ll feel better in body and you’ll be happier, too.

These steps will get much easier with practice.  They seem involved and daunting now but before you  know it, you’ll be a skilled cook in your own kitchen doling out advice to friends and family!

So, what’s for dinner?

Pickle Me Pink

Makes 1 pint + 1 C*

Why pickles?  First, because I’ve got to do something with the extra produce I have.  (The beets and radishes made my pickles pink.) Second, it seems the universe wants me to make pickles. Since the idea crossed my mind about a week ago, I’ve seen 3 articles on pickles and fermentation and listened to a segment on NPR with Ellix Sandor Katz, author of Wild Fermentation.  (If this subject interests you at all, start with this book, aka the Fermenting Bible.)

So I made these easy, no canning necessary pickles.  Additionally, I’ve got some sauerkraut fermenting a la old school.  The difference is that these {beet and radish} pickles are sitting in vinegar, that was hot when added to the veg, and then they are refrigerated.  The vegetables get sterilized in this “acetic acid environment”¹.  Lacto-fermented cucumbers (sour pickles) for example, get brined in water and salt only and sit at room temperature for extended periods of time.  The “pickling” occurs as a result of the lactic-acid bacteria present on the veg.  Therefore, the latter encourages bacterial growth; lactobacilli, the good, happy, friendly bacteria that will do wonders for your health.

Those colonies of bacteria not only benefit good digestion, but they also enhance the nutrient density and enzyme content of foods. They promote a favorable pH in your gut that can prevent the proliferation of unfriendly bacteria while encouraging the absorption of protein and minerals.  Some have anti-bacterial, anti-viral and cancer fighting elements. These strains are pretty potent in fighting bacterial infections such as Strep, Staph, Salmonella, and E. coli.² “Some have even shown impressive effects against viral infections including polio, HIV, and herpes, and can also produce hydrogen peroxide which has the potential to kill undesirable Candida yeast and prevent it’s overgrowth.”²  These are your probiotics!

There’s a lot of mystery surrounding fermentation.   Consequently, there’s also a lot of fear involved.  I have to admit, I too had my reservations.  We are actually talking about creating an environment for our food to GROW and MULTIPLY bacteria.  Anyone reaching for the Purell yet?

In Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon poses this question, “Could it be that in abandoning the ancient practice of lacto-fermentation and in our insistence on a diet in which everything has been pasteurized, we have compromised the health of our intestinal flora and made ourselves vulnerable to legions of pathogenic microorganisms?”³  It is a valid question and it deserves some more investigation.

This is what I learned.

  • Not all ferments are created equal.  There are a ton of different organisms involved depending on what you’re fermenting.  Mostly we’re talking about bacteria but there are ferments that also include fungi.  Also, usually fermenting is an anaerobic metabolic process, energy produced in the absence of air, but not always.
  • What gets fermented?  Everything!  Most cultures have some form of fermentation.  Coffee, wine, fruit, vegetables, dairy, meat, grains, it all gets fermented both to preserve the food and for safety.
  • Wild fermentation describes ferments that are based on organisms that are present on the foods you’re fermenting.  All veggies contain lactic-acid bacteria that acidifies the environment and it’s these good bacteria that get to work when fermenting vegetables.
  • Cultured foods involve the introduction of organisms or a colony of organisms to the food such as in the production of yogurt.  (You’ll also see cultured butter and kefir which are similarly produced.)
  • Pasteurization kills all the beneficial bacteria of fermentation.  This means if you want the real thing, you either have to make it yourself or get if from someone who does because you can’t buy it raw in the supermarket.  (At least not in NY.)
  • Enough cultures around the world have traditionally used this method to preserve their food and their health which to me is good enough reason to keep up with that tradition.

Does any of this tickle your fancy?

To help you get started, here’s another great resource.  Your first step is waiting for you below!

Good luck and happy pickling!  And please report back with your experiments!

You’ll need:

1 C small radishes, rinsed and trimmed

2 C beets, roasted and sliced (I had 4 medium-ish beets that came to about 2 C)

1 C water

1/2 C red wine vinegar

1/2 C apple cider vinegar

1 T maple syrup or honey (I actually used date sugar once and was not disappointed.  Any good sugar will do here though.)

2 t sea salt

2 bay leaves

1/2 t peppercorns

1/4 t cumin seeds

1-2 cloves garlic, smashed

To make:

1. In a small saucepan, bring the water, vinegars, maple syrup and salt to a simmer until salt (and sugar if using) has dissolved.

2. Chop the vegetables into the sizes you wish.  Add them to clean and dry mason jars and divide the bay leaves, peppercorns, cumin seeds and garlic among them.  (I only added the garlic and cumin seeds to the radishes to taste the difference.)

3. Pour the vinegar mixture into the mason jars, let cool then cover and refrigerate.  Give the pickles about 24 hours to settle before digging in.  They will be tasty on their own or added to salads or as a condiment to a rich, meaty dish.

4. Enjoy!

*Please note that this is what I had on hand so these are the yields that were produced.  This recipe can easily be altered if you should find yourself with more or less produce to pickle.

¹ The Art of Fermentation, WNYC New York Public Radio, The Leonard Lopate Show

² http://naturalbias.com/a-great-source-of-natural-probiotics/

³  http://www.westonaprice.org/food-features/lacto-fermentation

P.S. I like the suggestions that I found in Nourishing Traditions because Sally Fallon deals with much more reasonable sizes than Sandor Katz does in Wild Fermentation.  Since I’m new to this, I’m sticking with small batches.

Summer Squash Fritters

Makes A LOT (I think I got 3 dozen out of this batch.)

That saying, “don’t plant zucchini unless you have a lot of friends” couldn’t be more true!  They have a way of taking over a garden. Around this time, I am usually inundated with all kinds of squash from friends trying to unload.  So when that happens, it forces you to get creative.  Let’s be honest:  How many stir-frys or pasta with sauteed squash can you possibly have?  Baking muffins or a quick bread is an effective way of using some of your squash.  Pickling them is also a great choice.  (More on pickles in the coming weeks.)  Shredding and adding to salads or sandwiches works, but so does converting them into fritters.

In our last CSA box, we got a boat load of squash and after said stir-frys and pasta dishes were done, I just threw what was left into the food processor and started adding goodies to create a fritter bursting with flavor but that was light as opposed to heavy and oily, despite being pan-fried.  Seems impossible, but you’d be wonderfully surprised.

Thinking about what to write about squash, I found that there’s not a lot of research done on the health benefits of squash, especially summer squash.  They’re not dark leafy greens after all.  Yet, they shouldn’t be ignored…how can they be ignored when they’re all over your garden or taking over your fridge?!  And, that’s a good thing because  they’re fiber rich which is good for gut and colon, and also means they’re protective against colon cancer.  Fiber aids in digestion which helps move things, especially toxins, out of the body. They also help lower cholesterol and are anti-inflammatory, thanks to Vitamins C and A.  As for minerals, magnesium and potassium make an appearance but the star of the mineral show happens to be manganese.

Manganese helps the body metabolize protein and carbohydrates, participates in the production of sex hormones, and catalyzes the synthesis of fatty acids and cholesterol.  The manganese in zucchini also increases the levels of superoxide dismutase (SOD), the enzyme responsible for protecting mitochondria against oxidative stress. Finally, manganese is essential for the production of proline, an amino acid that allows collagen to form, thus allowing for healthy skin and proper wound-healing.“¹

Suddenly it seems like a good thing that these squash are taking over our gardens and refrigerators!

You’ll need:

3/4 C farmer’s cheese or ricotta

1/2 C scallions, chopped (about 3 scallions)

1/4 C basil, chiffonade* (I had some Thai Basil from the CSA so I used 2 T basil and 2 T Thai Basil to mix it up.  Super yum combo!)

1/4 C flat leaf parsley, chopped

1 C spelt flour

1/2 C Parmigiano Reggiano

3 eggs, lightly beaten

4 C squash, shredded

2 t lemon zest + more for garnish

1 t sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

3-4 T extra-virgin olive oil + more as needed

To make:

1. In a bowl, add the cheese, scallions, herbs, salt and pepper and combine well.  Add the flour in steps, slowly incorporating it into the mixture and follow with the Parmigiano.

2. Add squash and eggs and stir well until thoroughly combined.

3. Heat 2 T of oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Using a tablespoon to measure, drop batter into skillet and pan fry for 4-5 minutes before turning over and cooking for another couple of minutes until golden brown.  Remove fritters and place on a wire rack over a sheet pan (alternatively, you could line a plate with paper towels, but they may get soggy this way) to cool slightly.  Repeat and add oil as needed.

4. Enjoy!

*Chiffonade means to cut/slice into strips or ribbons as opposed to chopping which is more random.  Basil lends itself to this cut.  I haven’t gotten that far on the knife skills page, but I’ll get there!

¹http://www.healthdiaries.com/eatthis/8-health-benefits-of-zucchini.html

Cranberry Hazelnut Guaya Bars

Makes 16 squares

This is another variation of the original Energy Bars I posted ages ago…well, it seems like ages ago anyway.  It’s adapted from Rebecca Katz whose recipes are just delicious.  As head cook (most of the week anyway) in our home, I’ve taken charge of my hubby’s diet as he trains for the NYC Marathon.  Snacks are often the downfall of any program so it’s important to make those snacks work for you despite what regimen you’re on.  (Pregnant and nursing moms, these are great for you too.)  And, snacks are another opportunity to capitalize on serious nutrition and real energy.  We should never underestimate the power of a snack.  They get us through to the next meal and if done right, your body will be thankful all day long.

Hazelnuts, sometimes referred to as Filberts even though they’re actually different nuts, are native to Turkey.  (Most of our hazelnuts now hail from Oregon.)  These nuts are high energy nuts! They’re rich in mono-unsaturated fatty acids including the essential fatty acid linoleic acid.  These fats are key to our health because they lower LDL cholesterol and raise HDL cholesterol which is what we want.  Hazelnuts also pack dietary fiber along with several vitamins and minerals into itself.  Most notably are folate (unique for nuts) which is why these are super for expectant mommies to snack on.  They also pack in other B-complex vitamins making it a pretty awesome little nut. They are high in Vitamin E, that lovely fat soluble anti-oxidant that does wonders for cell integrity and is great for the skin!  It’s an important vitamin for runners because as they increase their training, the oxidative stress also increases.²  Vitamin E keeps that in check.

They are second only to almonds in their calcium levels.¹  Some minerals include magnesium which plays a critical role in endurance performance such as long distance running.  “Magnesium mainly exists in muscles and bones, where it assists with muscle contractions and energy metabolism.”³  Other biggies are iron and zinc.  Iron is a necessary mineral for the production of hemoglobin, which “carries oxygen from the lungs to the working muscles”.²  Without enough iron, which is lost through sweat, fatigue starts to get the better of you.  Zinc is key for a healthy immune system.  Excessive exercise depletes zinc and thus can reduce immunity.  (The body is busy repairing itself.)  A little goes a long way…so take these squares on your next long run!

I’ve mentioned moms-to-be and runners in this post because I made these for my runner husband and a pregnant friend, but really these are super for everyone.  There are even suggestions to make these beauties both gluten-free and vegan!

On your marks, get set…bake!

You’ll need:

1/4 C spelt flour (For a GF version, use 1/4 C oat flour.)

2 T flax seeds, ground (or chia seeds)

1/2 t baking powder

1/4 t baking soda

1/2 t cinnamon

1/2 C rolled oats

1 C hazelnuts

1 C walnuts

2 T quinoa puffs (optional-I got these from Nuts.com which is a great site with great products.  Shredded coconut works beautifully here, too!)

2 C whole dried cranberries (alternatively, you could do 1 C of cranberries and 1 C of your choice of dried fruit)

1/4 C semi-sweet chocolate chips (optional-if you want to keep your sugar consumption in check, omit these)

1 egg (For a vegan version, add 3 T water to 1 T flax meal (in this order) and then refrigerate for minimum of 15 minutes…up to an hour is ok, too.)

1/4 C maple syrup

2 T coconut oil

To make:

1. Preheat oven to 350°.  Place nuts on a sheet pan and toast for about 7 minutes or until fragrant.  Let cool.  (This toasting step can be skipped and you’ll still get super yummy Guaya Bars, but the toasting adds a nice depth of flavor.)

2. In the meantime, add first 6 ingredients to a food processor and process for 5 seconds, until well combined.  Transfer to a large bowl.

3. Add cooled nuts to food processor and process for about 5 seconds to roughly chop the nuts.  Add quinoa puffs and dried fruit and process for another 10 seconds or until a coarse dough is formed.  Add chocolate chips and process for another 5-10 seconds.  Add to flour mixture.

4. In a separate bowl, combine egg, maple syrup and coconut oil and whisk well.  Add to flour and nut mixture.

5. Using your hands, squeeze the dough so that all ingredients get fully incorporated and sticky.

6. In a baking pan (I used 2, 9X9 pans) lined with parchment paper, add 3 or 4 generous handfuls (I have small hands so play with the right amount for you.) and flatten evenly.  (I prefer them thicker but cut smaller, but this part is entirely up to you.)

7. Bake in the oven at 350° for about 20 minutes.  You’ll want to check on it to make sure it doesn’t get too browned or dry.  Transfer to a wire rack and let cool for 15 minutes.

8. Remove the entire block using the parchment paper and cut into desired shapes/sizes on a cutting board.  Let cool completely before serving.

9. Enjoy…again and again!

*The bars will keep for 4-5 days in a ziploc bag, but they freeze really well…I’ve kept extra batches for over a month and they’re still chewy and yummy and ridiculous!

¹ Rebecca Wood, The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia

² http://www.runnersworld.com/article/0,7120,s6-242-300–12314-2-1-2,00.html

³ http://www.runnersworld.com/article/0,7120,s6-242-300–670-0,00.html