With all the recent sweets, it was probably no shock that I’d jump on the chance to try a sweetener-free challenge. Early in the summer I tried to reduce my fruit consumption, to no avail, as local berries arrived and continued to excite me throughout the summer. In the fall, came the figs and apples. Now we have pomegranates, too.
This time, I tried caramelizing it like I do with onions. A long slow braise to express all the natural sugars while taming the boldness of the anise. Silky and sweet, I really enjoyed fennel this way. I sprinkled it with cumin and lemon juice for a second level of flavour. Then, it is tossed with quinoa in a punchy salad spiked with cilantro and dill with chunks of lemon. The Aleppo chiles added a nice wave of heat contrasting the sweet fennel. While caramelizing the massive amount of fennel, you may wonder how everything will fit into the salad, but trust me. It wilts a bit and I loved that this was a fennel heavy quinoa salad, instead of a quinoa heavy salad. Tossed overtop baby spinach, it was delicious . Two guesses as to where I got this recipe. With such focus on each ingredient, you might guess Denis Cotter, but no, it was from another great, Ottolenghi. It was reminiscent, but better, than his barley and pomegranate salad I made last year.
The original salad also calls for pomegranate arils, which I added for one serving, just as I started my sweetener-free challenge. It elevated the salad to a whole other dimension. I wonder if it was because I knew it was the last fruit I’d be having until the new year.
Have you ever tried a sweetener-free challenge? Do you think I am nuts for trying it?
This is the story of a picnic that didn’t happen, twice.
We had full intentions of getting together with friends, having a picnic together on the island. However, after a weather forecast of 100% rain, the plans were abandoned. Rob and I stayed at home and relished in a relaxing afternoon together.
Together, we still continued with our picnic menu: Quinoa Salad with Sweet Potatoes and Dried Iranian Limes. I figured a grain salad would travel well but may not be too picnic-friendly (who was going to bring plates?) so I thought it would be neat to stuff it into a wrap. Rice paper rolls for company and kale wraps for me! I figured a tahini dipping sauce would bring this over the edge, so we plunged forward with our ornate plans.
Ottolenghi called this a quinoa salad, but really it is a quinoa-basmati-wild rice salad. The mix of grains tickles the tongue with the contrasting textures. They are paired with roasted sweet potatoes in a savoury dressing with sauteed sage and oregano and fresh mint. Oh, and dried Iranian lime. A hard to find ingredient that I picked up while in NYC at Kalustyan’s (although it is available locally). You can stop right here and have yourself a delicious salad. Perfectly balanced, it was a nice salad. Definitely Thanksgiving friendly, I might add.
However, I took the next step: tofu feta. Tofu marinaded in lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, garlic and miso, coupled with a creamy cashew sauce. I will admit that this does not taste at all like feta. It did, however, have a nice burst of lemony tartness and miso greatness. The cashew sauce added to the silkiness that was wonderful once we wrapped them up. I am definitely no stranger to wrapping up salads, having everything hit your palate at the same time.
So after the wrap, we took it one step further. A sweet tahini dipping sauce with garlic.
We had hit it: Gastronomic bliss.
By this time, though, it had started raining and we couldn’t do our own picnic, either. So we went upstairs and picnicked on the windowsill, watching it rain in all its glory. We do a little cheer every time it rains since it means we don’t have to water the garden.
We also found out that these were very messy rolls… and best to eat with a plate underneath.
I was all ready to share with you some tasty zucchini-centric meals this week.
However, my zucchinis were side-lined in the fridge once I went on a mission to find tomatoes. It is easy to find red imposters. You know, the things that look like tomatoes but don’t taste like tomatoes… but I wanted summer fresh tomatoes. My quest brought me to my closest farmer’s market where I quickly scurried from stall to stall, sniffing their tomatoes. Sniffing out the imposters.
All of a sudden, it hit me. Tomato. I smelled it. I found my winning tomatoes. Bright red smallish heirloom tomatoes that looked lumpy and stout. The flavour did not disappoint. I brought home 2 pints to make this risotto I had bookmarked last year, waiting for this summer’s tomato bounty.
Super simple to make, I can’t believe it has been so long since I’ve made a risotto. Dump all the ingredients into a pot, let it simmer until the barley is tender. Towards the end, I kept adding more and more stock until a creamy, yet chewy barley risotto was attained. Positively drenched in silky tomatoes, speckled with chunks of garlic, with a hint of lemon and thyme and a depthness from smoked paprika, this made a delicious end-of-summer meal.
Sadly, now that I have re-discovered barley risottos, I have very little barley left. I don’t plan on replenishing it, either. I suppose I will have to try out spelt berries risottos, instead!
Of course the real quandary is whether to buy a HUGE bushel crate of San Marzano tomatoes. A Portuguese grocer near my home is selling them for $19. I bet they would be wonderful all roasted and I could try my hand at canning. But could I eat my way through all of the tomatoes?
Here are some other whole grain risottos I have my eye on:
Rustic Rebel Risotto from Radiance 4 Life
Red Beet Risotto with Walnuts from Big Vegan
Easy Creamy Tomato Barley Risotto from Vegan Yum Yum
Creamy Barley Risotto with Thyme and Star Anise from Let Them Eat Vegan
Tempeh Orzilla from Post Punk Kitchen
Pesto Risotto with Roasted Zucchini from Post Punk Kitchen
Saffron Speltotto with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes from River Cottage
I used to want a mango tree in my backyard. Scrap that.
Now I want a mamey tree.
I ate a lot while I was in Colombia. A lot of fruit, I mean frutas. Fruit au naturel and lots of fruit as juice. Not bottled juice. Jugos naturales: fruit + water in blender and strained. Pure bliss.
I had a few foodie missions while in Colombia. I definitely succeeded in exploring the different fruits. I even tried familiar fruits in case they tasted different, fresh from the South.
I think I lost track of everything I tried.
From the more obscure, I tried: curuba, feijoa, lulo, guanabana (soursop), anon (sugar apple), pitaya (dragon fruit), zapote, mamey and mamoncillo. Passion fruit: maracuja, as well as the purple gulupa and the smaller sweet granadilla. Oh, and açai, too, in a smoothie. Apparently we missed cherimoya (custard apple) and pomarrosa. We obviously need to go back (although I think I spotted both of them at my nearby grocer for $5/lb).
Then there are ones I already knew… and was won over by the sweetness of fresh fruit. Papaya has never been so lovely. Tons of bananas. Smaller bananas, too, bananitas (or banana bocadillo). Mangoes (mainly Tommy Atkins but they had smaller ones, too). Pineapple (did you know there are red pineapples? They had pits! Yes, pineapples have pits!!). Avocados. Starfruit. Young green coconut opened for us with a machete. Strawberries, blackberries (mora), watermelons, oranges and even apples.
I remember ordering a drink at a restaurant with a new-to-me fruit: sandia. The waiter described it as a fruit with a green skin, a pink inside with black seeds. I was excited to try something new! Only to find out it was in fact… watermelon. But still, it was a tasty watermelon and the watermelon jugos naturales really hit the spot.
My favourite? Well, it is a toss up between guanabana, anon, mamey and zapote. And lulo… and granadilla. OK, I can’t pick only one. Each one different than any fruit I’d had before. I’d love to plant a tree of each one in my backyard. Sadly, I don’t live in Colombia. Who thinks I can find a mamey tree in Texas for next year? I’d rent the place in a heart beat!
In any case, as much as I’d like to think it was back to normal upon my return, I really had to wean myself off the fruits. While I mostly ate them plain and in juice form in Colombia, here I’ve opted for a more filling main course salad courtesy of Ottolenghi.
Thai-inspired, the star of this dish is the creamy coconut-based dressing infused with lemongrass, Keffir lime leaves, ginger and shallots, balanced with a touch of tamarind, fresh lime juice, toasted sesame oil and soy sauce. All of the flavours are enhanced through the reduction of the coconut milk. It is probably one of the more elaborate and lengthy dressings to make, but easy none-the-less, and can be made in advance. The original recipe calls for canned coconut milk, but I opted for the coconut milk beverage (great idea from my spicy coconut-braised collards) instead which still produced a lighter dressing after the reduction.
Here, the dressing is used to bathe a kelp noodle salad with chopped mango, cucumber, lima beans (I used smaller Jackson Wonder lima beans) along with mint, cilantro and cashews. Add the dressing just prior to serving. The flavourful dressing worked well with the contrasting sweet mango, creamy beans and crunchy cucumber. Enjoy!
This is my submission to this month’s No Croutons Required featuring leafless salads, to this week’s Healthy Vegan Friday, to this week’s Potluck Party, to Ricki’s Weekend Wellness, this week’s Presto Pasta Nights, hosted by Simona, to this week’s Summer Salad Sundays and to Deb for this week’s Souper Sundays.
If you thought roasted celeriac, lentils, hazelnuts and mint were an odd combination for a salad… a delicious salad, at that… what about this one?
With a such crazy combination of ingredients in this barley salad – pomegranate, dill, allspice – I’ll give you one guess as to where this recipe came from. Not to throw you off, I added the snap peas.
Your one guess….. Ottolenghi? You’d be right!
Ottolenghi has this way of mixing flavours in the most unusual combinations. I often wonder what kind of mania is happening in his head. Flight of ideas? At least the recipes are tested before they hit the press, though. Right? Right?
This is an unusual salad, which Ottolenghi wrote in Plenty (recipe posted here). It is a nice wholesome salad, with an extra dimension from the allspice and dill. Ottolenghi advises to cook the barley in plenty of water, but I find this creates a more mushy consistency. Instead I prefer to boil it with a 2:1 ratio of vegetable broth. I also prefer to toast my barley to accentuate its nuttiness. My other adaptations were to decrease the dressing and scrap the parsley altogether. The salad is overflowing with pomegranate arils which offers a sweet crunch, countered by the nutty barley, and accentuated by the earthy allspice and bright dill. The sugar snap peas also add a nice sweet crunch and we can always use more veggies.
While I like to rotate my grains, I am particularly fond of quinoa and eager to try my hand at Kate’s version of this recipe with quinoa and balsamic vinegar.
My allegiance had originally been for the Indian Alphonso mango, but a ripe Mexican Ataulfo was a more economical standby that had a longer season.
While travelling in Morocco, I met a cute British couple that originally hailed from Pakistan. They urged me to try Pakistani mangoes, as they were even better than those from India (is there always such fierce rivalry between India and Pakistan?). To be honest, I had never even seen Pakistani mangoes, but I knew that Bestwin routinely carried an assortment of mangoes, many of which I hadn’t yet tried.
Last week, my co-worker, again, urged me to try Pakistani mangoes. They are nearing the end of the season and she assured me I wouldn’t be disappointed.
As it turned out, when I did my weekly trip to Sunny’s, they had small cases of honey mangoes (chok anon) from Pakistan. Just like Alphonso mangoes, they are definitely a splurge purchase.
Let me assure you, though, that these are some nice mangoes. Creamy and sweet, yet with a subtle tanginess, that mellows the sweetness. They didn’t seem to have as much stringiness near the pit, either.
Personally, I am content with any ripe mango, but I may concede that Pakistani mangoes reign in my kitchen. It is that tanginess that I appreciated the most, adding that extra level of complexity. I may no longer have that sweet tooth I used to, it seems, although these are still uber sweet mangoes. Enjoy them unadorned, or use them in a salad such as this (any ripe, sweet mango will do, though).
The original salad with eggplant, mango and soba noodles is compliments of Ottolenghi, but I took it in my own direction. Instead of pan-frying the eggplant in gobs of oil,
I Rob offered to grill it on the barbecue (alongside his perogies, at that!). This allowed me to use much less oil, with the addition of a soft smokiness to the dish. Some grilled asparagus was thrown in as well, for good measure. To make this a more substantial dish, I took Ottolenghi’s advice to add fried tofu, which I had marinated briefly in ponzu sauce and sesame oil. I also opted to use half of the sweet-chili dressing, since it seemed like a lot. And finally, while soba noodles would be lovely, I chose to spiralize two zucchinis as my noodle base. Don’t worry, I left the mango in there, and even used 2 honey mangos for the dish.
The result was a wonderful merriment of flavours. You have the grilled, creamy, smoky eggplant pairing beautifully with the sweet, tangy mango with a slightly spicy sauce, all overtop zucchini noodles. The tofu added a nice, satisfying crunch.
This is my submission to Deb for this week’s Souper Sundays, to this week’s Presto Pasta Nights, hosted by Honeybee of The Life & Loves of Grumpy’s Honeybee, to this month’s Healing Foods featuring zucchini, and to Ricki’s Summer Wellness Weekends and to this month’s Simple and in Season.
It is getting close to the actual barbecue, and I am still trying out new recipes.
I honestly thought I had a winning recipe here.
You have your typical coleslaw with a vinaigrette, and then you have this coleslaw on a Middle/Eastern/European kick. First, slivered green cabbage, much loved by the Poles, is lovingly infiltrated by kohlrabi. I really enjoyed the crisp, slightly sweet julienned kohlrabi which was a perfect match to the cabbage. If you don’t have any kohlrabi, just increase the cabbage. If you have kohlrabi, make it into a slaw, as you won’t be disappointed.
Next, we have a lemony vinaigrette, which I much prefer to a creamy dressing any day. Spiced with dill, we have the Eastern European flavour palate going again. Sprouts are added for more mouth feel.
But then Ottolenghi adds the wonderful finale, his Middle Eastern flair, the best twist to the mix: dried tart cherries.
Since it is cherry season in Ontario, I tried the salad with both fresh and dried cherries, and the latter are definitely the winner. Which means everyone wins, because then this becomes a year-round salad. I also decreased the amount of dressing while adding in more vinegar, increased the sprouts and substituted some dill seeds since I didn’t have enough fresh dill.
However, despite how much I loved this salad, and figured it played with the perfect palate for feeding Rob’s Polish family (cabbage, lemon, DILL), he vetoed the salad. Poof! Just like that, it disappeared from the menu.
Their loss is my gain, because I have been eating this salad all week and pretty content that I don’t have to share it with anyone.
The sad part is that I am still wondering what kind of salad to make for the Poles…
I will admit that I was a bit sick of Moroccan cuisine after being profoundly immersed into it for 2 weeks straight. For every meal, I would seek out a new dish that I hadn’t yet tried. As we meandered from Casablanca, to Marrakesh, through the Berber inland towards the Sahara desert, up to Fes and Meknes, there was always something new to try. However, it was mostly meat. I remember asking if I could get a couscous dish without meat, and the waiter told me I could have it with chicken instead. That’s not what I had wanted, either, actually.
My friend and I scoped out some vegetarian restaurants (Clock Cafe in Fes, and Earth Cafe in Marrakech), but vegetarians options (nevermind vegan options) were hard to come by. So, I plunged myself into Moroccan culture, and ate like the Moroccans. And ate my meat quota for the year.
However, perusing the web, there are bountiful recipes with exotic Moroccan-spiced vegetarians dishes. I just didn’t find them in abundance while in Morocco!
While I still have yet to recreate the traditional flavourful and spicy chickpea and lentil Moroccan soup (harira), I busted out nearly everything in my spice cabinet to create this ultimate winter couscous (christened as such by Yotam Ottolenghi). I adapted the recipe I found in Plenty, but a similar recipe was originally posted in his column at the Guardian.
At the same time both savoury and sweet, it embodies my favourite aspects of Moroccan cuisine. The base of the vegetable tagine is made of butternut squash, carrots, parsnips and chickpeas and it is pleasantly spiced with cinnamon, ginger, sweet paprika, bay leaves, turmeric and chili flakes. It could be made even hotter with harissa, but I opted to keep it more tame. The sweetness comes from the dried apricots which are simmered in the broth with the spiced vegetables. Feel free to sprinkle with fresh lemon juice, or use the suggested preserved lemon.
Couscous is prepared separately, but once combined, you have a good textural contrast. Chopped cilantro adds the fresh, finishing touch.
Sometimes cooking in your own kitchen brings you places you never thought. And in this case, my kitchen is a better place to experiment with vegetarian Moroccan cuisine. And trust me, there will be plenty more.
I’ll take it one word at a time.
Ottolenghi: Yotam Ottolenghi is a British chef that writes The New Vegetarian column in The Guardian. He pushes the concept of traditional cooking, incorporating his Middle Eastern background to today’s best dishes. He has two popular cookbooks: Ottolenghi and Plenty.
Socca: A thick, heavier French chickpea flour crepe. A rustic dish that is supposed to be eaten with your hands.
Pissaladière: A French pizza-like appetizer without tomato sauce or cheese. Instead your dough is typically topped with sautéed onions, garlic, olives and anchovies.
Putting this all together, with Ottolenghi’s twist on the two traditional recipes, we have a light meal with a thick chickpea pancake as the base for lovely caramelized onions and oven-roasted tomatoes. I first spotted this recipe in his cookbook, Plenty, but a slight variation is also posted through The Guardian. In the cookbook, there is more chickpea flour and 2 whipped egg whites are added to the batter. I didn’t feel like fiddling with extra egg whites, so I stuck to the recipe online. David Lebovitz also has a socca recipe and a key point he makes is to rest the batter over 2 hours before you start to bake it. I have added that to the recipe as well.
The result of this is a thick, hearty yet still kind of light, nutty pancake that is smothered with silky caramelized onions with a hint of thyme and topped with oven-roasted cherry tomatoes. I liked how the flavours complemented each other so well. My gripe, though, now that I am making all my weekday meals on the weekend is that the leftovers are subprime. Definitely not bring to work kind of leftovers. I can manage some semblance of the original deliciousness if I pop it back in my oven for a few minutes to perk up. But that only works at home.
As well, I had a bit of difficulties making the pancakes. I usually use a non-stick frypan but this recipe calls for a smaller pancake, made in a smaller frypan. My smallest frypan isn’t nonstick, so my socca stuck a few times. Still tasted great, though. Next time, I may default back to my non-stick frypan even if that means the pancakes/crepes will be bigger.