Rob and I have been trading stories. He has been back in Canada for the last two weeks. He is hitting up all our old haunts, new joints (I knew he wouldn’t be able to resist the vegan boston creme donuts and other treats at Through Being Cool; he’s already tried the Toronto’s crookie (cookie-croissant hybrid) and scouting out Toronto’s cronut, too) and getting ready to spend time with his family for Thanksgiving. I am willing to bet most of my readers know Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving almost a month before the Americans, but if not, let there be no confusion. Canada’s Thanksgiving is on Monday.
This is a dish Rob made before he left. He is much better at tackling his recipe hit-list than I am. Possibly because it is shorter. While in Bend, Oregon, we discovered a restaurant with delicious food. For me, I adored their tempeh reuben salad (recreating it is still on my hitlist!) and Rob was adamant about recreating the sloppy joe sandwich.
While I have made Sloppy Joes with TVP, which I served overtop roasted sweet potatoes, I shared Isa’s recipe with Rob. With the extra spices, I knew he would really like it. Rob really liked their sandwich because it was served with a brioche bun. He looked around a bit but wasn’t able to find something in Houston. That did not deter him.
I no longer remember what protein this resto used for their sloppy joe, but Isa’s called for seitan which we didn’t have. Instead, Rob experimented with another Portland find: soy curls. Soy curls totally deserve their high praise. Similar to TVP in that they are a dry soy product, they not as highly processed. Soy curls are made by cooking, then drying soybeans, whereas TVP has been processed to become defatted. Their fun shapes are akin to pulled meat. I bought a bunch in bulk while in Portland and wish there was a local supplier because I know we will use them up quickly.
In any case, Isa’s recipe did not disappoint. She called it jerk-spiced sloppy joes, but the flavours were more muted. When I think of jerk, I think of bold flavours. Instead, this was tame. Nicely flavoured and palatable for the masses. The Caribbean flavours of allspice, cinnamon, and paprika were present and made for a lovely tomato sauce. Rob amped the sweet sauciness by adding red pepper paste. Lime juice balanced it nicely.
The second component to the dish was coconut creamed spinach and kale. Spiced with star anise, the Caribbean flair persisted. Instead of the brioche bun, Rob used a paratha to eat this. Mainly because that’s what we had in the freezer. This is a fusion household. Indian-Caribbean-American in one wrap. Use whatever vehicle you’d like. :)
While this recipe seems almost as elaborate as Rob’s epic Jackfruit & Kimchi and Sweet Potato Poutine with Tofu, this one didn’t take nearly as long to cook. Start to end was around an hour, which is a good thing since Rob has proclaimed this as a Rob’s Repeater Recipe.
Have you ever tried soy curls? What did you think?
Can oats taste like rice?
The folks who sell Cavena Nuda seem to think so.
Cavena Nuda is a Canadian innovation: a new hull-less form of oats. The oat grows with the hull, but it falls off much more easily than standard oats. Regular oats need to be heated and milled until they can be de-hulled. As such, they are more environmentally sound and nutritionally superior to regular oats. After Angela tried them, it took me a while to find them but I eventually located it at Ambrosia and later at Bulk Barn.
They don’t taste like oats, though. Cavena nuda is the complete oat kernel, so while they are in the shape of rice, they remind me more of farro or oblong wheat berries than rice per se.
That didn’t stop me from trying to cook it into a risotto-style dish, though. Lacking rice and cheese, I am hard pressed to call this a risotto but it is a nice meal. Since it has a few components, this is a dish that will dirty up a few pots but it is delicious and worth the effort. To simplify the recipe, you could skip the tempeh as it was good even without it, although it adds a flavourful protein component.
Here, you cook up the cavena nuda (or farro, or rice, or even orzo as Isa suggests), which is added to some cooked onions, garlic and sun-dried tomatoes. Spinach is wilted at the end. The topping is a crumbled tempeh spiced with fennel and coriander. It is a nice addition but certainly not necessary if you are short on time, or short on tempeh.
Other dishes with farro I’ve spotted:
Scarlet Rosemary Chickpea Farrotto from Keepin It Kind
Farrotto with Tomato and Artichokes from Eating Well
Farrotto with Shiitake Mushrooms and Beets from TasteFood
Spiced sprouting broccoli with roast parsnip farrotto and citrus-rosemary butter from For the Love of Food
Purple sprouting broccoli with leek and shallot farrotto from Denis Cotter at BBC
Risotto-Style Farro with Caramelized Onions, Squash, and Kale from Cate’s World Kitchen
Baked Coconut Kale Salad with Farro from Super Natural Every Day
Farro and Millet Risotto from 101 Cookbooks
I am a sucker for beans.
While I have a pantry filled with heirloom specialty beans from Rancho Gordo and Kalustyan’s, I still keep finding new-to-me beans. During a cycling trip last year, a few friends and I cycled up to Woodbridge, and wound up at an Italian grocer for lunch. I perused the aisles for my lunch. Even though it was Italian, I had a brown rice veggie avocado sushi roll and an apple but I also discovered a new bean: Tondini beans (also known as burrini beans or pea beans). A small white bean in a glass jar. Perfect for a traveller: no need for a can opener and the cap could be screwed back on if on the go. I brought it back home and a few months later, I decided to bust them out for a salad.
However, when I opened the jar, they were sitting in a funny gooey jelly. A lot of the beans had split open, likely releasing their starch and gelling the liquid. I didn’t think the road that THAT bumpy on our ride. I typically cook my own beans so I don’t normally run into this problem… so how to use mushy beans?
Scramble! A breakfast scramble… although more of a brunch or breakfast-for-dinner sort of meal. Perfect anytime, if you ask me. Definitely one of my favourite meals lately. The Tondini beans were nice and small, similar to flageolet beans, but more fragile, lending well to a scramble. The beans are simmered with onions and garlic, along with tomatoes and spinach as familiar breakfast omelette toppings. Similar to my chickpea and tofu-tahini scramble, but lighter and more cheezy from the nutritional yeast. Black salt added the eggy flavour.
Beans for breakfast, I could get used to this.
Have you ever had a problem with mushy beans?
I think my pantry-purge has been going the wrong way. I am no longer accumulating new esoteric ingredients but I struggled with whether or not to replenish my staples. Could I live without chickpeas for a few months? Absolutely not. Miso? I replenished that, too. What about olives? I think I could manage olive-free for 6 months. Artichokes? Well, the best artichokes come from the freezer case at Trader Joe’s so I am excited to wait for those. The plan for now: use up the less-loved ingredients. The ones I can part with for a bit of time.
Now I can strike these from my pantry: artichokes and olives. What could have been a boring vegetable stew was helped with said pantry items. Olives add the salty punch to this spring-like tomato stew with red pepper, mushrooms, artichokes and spinach.
Sometimes I have limited enthusiasm for ingredients that have been stashed at the back of my pantry. Or I only have a limited repertoire for said ingredient. Olives and artichokes are not that wacky, but I am looking for ways to use fun things like kelp noodles, capers, jackfruit, assorted flours (chickpea flour is our staple but I still have some coconut flour, tapioca flour, rice flours and vital wheat gluten), puffed quinoa, dried fruits and nuts. And let’s not forget the things in my freezer: herbs, chopped veggies and fruits, tempeh, and frozen meals ready to go.
Do you have a big pantry or have a select collection of favourite ingredients in your pantry? I personally believe that a well-stocked kitchen makes for a well-prepared cook. It makes cooking easier and fun.
This is my submission to Deb for this week’s Souper Sundays, Little Thumbs Up event, hosted by Joyce, kitchen flavours, organized by Zoe from Bake For Happy Kids and Doreen for my little favourite D.I.Y..
Most people probably roll their eyes when they hear you have dietary restrictions. I know my food choices can be a pain in the butt for some people but imagine combining it with other allergies and restrictions? I have a friend with a severe allergy to sulphites, another friend who won’t eat nightshades and beans and I recently met someone with some crazy diet for interstitial cystitis and I could only remember her telling me she eats no spices. I love trying to find meals we can enjoy together, though. I think the worse was when I was trying to find common meals I could share with my grandfather who needed a low potassium, low salt, and low cholesterol diet. The low potassium part made it the most challenging since he couldn’t eat any whole grains, beans, nuts or seeds which are my protein sources. Meal planning is like a fun puzzle for me although others probably find it a headache.
Recently I was asked to suggest meals fit for entertaining. Not usually a problem, because I keep a list for myself in case I forget. However, there was a caveat: no garlic, no onions, no leeks, no shallots, no green onions (no alliums). I know there are multiple reasons to avoid them (including those who are doing the FODMAPS thing), but they continue to be a staple in my diet. More than just aromatics, they have a lot of health benefits, too.
Never daunted by a special diet request, I mustered up a few suggestions (Raw Zucchini Alfredo, Raw Tacos skipping the onion in the salsa, Thai Tempeh Wraps with a Mango Ginger Sauce, Sushi Salad Bowl with Avocado and Asparagus, among others with minor modifications). In the end, Ellen made my
Vanilla Sweet Potato and Kale Curry and it received high praises from her and her guests (YA!).
The request planted a seed in my head, though. What kinds of meals are naturally free from alliums? I know some people just don’t like chopping garlic and onion, and some Indian recipes call for asafoetida as a substitute. Thus, I looked through my Indian bible, 660 Curries, and while I didn’t pick a recipe with asafoetida, I picked one without onions and garlic.
Cooking without the typical aromatics meant we needed flavour from elsewhere: loads of savoury spices. Cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, coriander, all the good spices Indian curries are made from. The special spice, this time, was amchur/amchoor (mango powder).
I’ve used amchoor before in chaat masala used with Malai kofta and a warm chickpea and mango salad. It is made from dried green mangoes, conferring a sour tangy flavour, not unlike vinegar or lemon juice. Since I substituted tomato passata for fresh tomatoes, this is a very pantry-friendly recipe when you run out of even the most basic perishables (onions, garlic and lemons) and don’t feel like going grocery shopping when it is snowing in April (!). The cilantro does perk it up, but not necessary.
Anyways, in essence, you are making chickpeas cooked in a nicely flavoured tomato sauce. No fuss, you simply simmer then away for a while as you tend to something else. Like most curries, they make fabulous leftovers and I ended up enjoying them overtop fresh green spinach as a quasi salad.
Do you feel overwhelmed or welcome the challenge of dietary restrictions?
Last night, we celebrated my brother’s 30th birthday. Just as when I tipped into my thirties, my Mom was adamant about hosting a party for close family. Like last time, she transported everything from Ottawa and did last-minute prepping and baking in my brother’s kitchen. Moving before we hit 30 seems to be a theme in our family, as she navigated a new kitchen.
I offered to bring something. I was flat-out refused. I even asked if she had reconsidered a few days earlier. No. Although she leaked the menu to me: lentil salad and portobello mushrooms for me. (YES!) While I initially agreed that simple fruit would an ample dessert, she asked if I would like the Almost Guiltless Chocolate Mousse Pie instead. Obviously, I thought it was a fantastic idea. All of my favourite recipes!
Of course my Mom went all out. Roasted red pepper hummus and raw veggies as early nibblers along with spanakopita from my brother’s in-laws. Three salads: a leafy green with a balsamic dressing, my favourite 11-Spice Lentil Salad with apples and arugula (aka the Best Lentil Salad Ever) and a bacon-broccoli salad. Roasted balsamic portobello mushrooms were baked, instead of grilled, along with the salmon. A magnificent zuccotto dome cake and my Almost Guiltless cake for dessert. I loved how my healthy eats were interspersed among the options and enjoyed by everyone, including my brother’s in-laws who were still inquiring as to what vegan means. It was fun to see them guess what exactly was in the dessert that had no flour, no grains, no eggs, no cream, no dairy, and no sugar and still taste delicious. We forgot to tell them the filling was no-bake, too (my Mom experimented with baking the almond-date crust this time).
While I am hesitant to call vegetables “steaks”, the baked mushrooms were compared to steaks last night. Since I used to enjoy my steak on the blue side (when I ate meat), I can see some parallels (moreso than if you like your steak well done), but these mushrooms are a pale comparison for anyone expecting steak. However, they are still one of my favourite meals.
Rob and I have been without a barbecue for a while now, but I have been experimenting with a different way to enjoy roasted balsamic mushrooms. Now I know baking works, too, but in the days of the hot summer, I know I can also make them on the stovetop as well. Not as good as the barbecue, but I am not complaining.
Balsamic mushrooms are marinaded in an herbed sherry-balsamic broth and then braised in the same sauce. The sauce is then reduced, used to wilt spinach and lastly drizzled overtop quinoa. I normally don’t make separate sides, but this was simple despite its multiple components.
Do you eat more one-pot dishes or tend to make lots of simple sides instead?
When I photographed this, I was worried it may look eerily similar to the Red Lentil and Spinach Curry (Vegan Tikka Masala). Red lentils + tomato + spinach… This one has carrots, isn’t as red and is more soup-like than the curry, though. I think they look reasonably different, so trust me I am not recycling photos! No lost photos for this dish…
In truth, it was the success of the tikka masala that had me throwing bountiful fists of spinach into yet another red lentil dish.
I have made the traditional Turkish red lentil and bulgur soup before, having learned it while travelling in Turkey. A humble, yet decidedly filling and nutritious soup, it was one of our favourite meals on our trip, especially when we learned how to cook it ourselves. This version, courtesy of Turquoise, is billed as a humble peasant soup. The lentils must make it peasant-like because there is nothing bland about this. I love the addition of two different kinds of smoked paprika and cumin (I did not stifle the full amount of smoked paprika and it was ok!). I added in the spinach, because, well, I had tons of it and it is easy to incorporate into thick soups. However, the best part of this soup, is the finishing spiced oil. I am used to this in Indian dishes, which is called a tarka, when spices like cumin, coriander, garlic and ginger can infuse oil that is added at the end of the cooking. This isn’t an Indian dish, so dried mint and smoked sweet paprika are fried at the end to permeate the oil. It was actually very pretty when drizzled over the soup. Sorry, you guys got photos of leftovers! Have no fear, the leftovers tasted as good with the tarka already stirred into the soup.
Do you use the tarka method for your cooking? Outside Indian foods?
Rob is gone this week.
To a work conference.
His dilemma yesterday was whether to go a talk from Al Gore, Tim Berners-Lee (he invented the web browser), or Neil Gaiman (a fantastic author according to Rob). All 3 happening at the same time. Rob had to clue me in on the last two since I have only heard of Al Gore. (In the end, he chose Al Gore’s talk about The Future). Today he is going to try to track down Grumpy Cat. In the flesh. She is here, too.
As I’ve shared before, Rob is the king of hot meals on the weekend. His specialties are tofu scramble, arepas and besan chilla. But this weekend, alone with some tofu and veggies, I pulled them all out for a hot lunch and made myself some scramble.
While it seems like the majority of recipes (even Isa’s) call specifically for extra-firm tofu, this time I opted for Chinese-style soft tofu. Turns out this specific tofu is made so close to where we live, too. I wonder if I can get a walk-in discount?
I’ve used soft tofu in a scramble before and now I prefer it to the extra-firm. Who wants a dry scramble? Who wants to wait for their tofu to be pressed? Not me! I want mine fluffy, flavourful and filled with veggies. This scramble certainly fit the bill: spiced with cumin and curry powder, the assorted vegetables played a roll in the colourful plate. Since Rob was not here to make arepas as a side, I just ate the whole thing. Delicious!
Rob likes to update me on his foodie finds while away: yesterday’s lunch was jicama slaw with captain-crunch-encrusted chicken strips in a bacon waffle cone and a trip to the flagship Whole Foods store. After he sees this, I think he’ll want some of this curried tofu scramble when he returns, though.
Long-term vegans are probably well-versed in their tofu scramble preferences. Do you like firm or soft tofu in your scramble?
Did you catch the news about the Mediterranean diet preventing heart disease? I won’t rehash the study, but it compared a Mediterranean diet (either with supplemental olive oil or nuts) with a supposedly “low-fat” diet (which was not low-fat due to poor adherence) in over 7000 people at high risk for heart disease. In short, the study intervention (in addition to medication) was to eat high levels of vegetables, fruits, nuts (almonds, hazelnuts and walnuts), legumes, fish, and olive oil.
The full dietary recommendations are listed in their appendix here: a) lots of olive oil (at least 4 tbsp if in the olive oil arm of the study), b) at least 2 daily servings of vegetables, c) at least 2 daily servings of fruits, d) at least 3 weekly servings of legumes, e) at least 3 weekly servings of fish, f) at least 1 weekly servings of nuts or seeds (at least an oz of nuts a day if in the nuts arm of the study), g) white meat only, h) olive oil-simmered tomato-onion-garlic sauce at least 2 times a week. Raw and unsalted nuts, eggs, fish, seafood, low-fat cheese, dark chocolate (with at least 50% cocoa) and whole grain cereals were encouraged. A switch to red wine as a primary source of alcohol was encouraged in people who normally consumed alcohol. Other sweets, pastries, red meat, fatty cheese, cream, butter, potato chips, and French fries were discouraged. Their suggested recipes are posted online, however in Spanish.
Turns out there was a benefit in reduced myocardial infarctions, strokes and deaths in both arms of the study group compared to the controls. So much so (a whopping 30% reduction) that they stopped the study earlier than anticipated due to a reduction in heart disease. It would be unethical to allow people to continue with the control diet when the intervention was so much better. Not that all heart disease was eliminated entirely, it was reduced. Most remarkably, the dietary changes improved outcomes in addition to their medications.
Sounds like a radical diet? Cut out the crap and eat the good food?
Sometimes I feel like most of the benefits from so-called diets, whether it be plant-based vegan, Paleo or the Mediterranean diet, are mostly from removing the processed foods and replacing them with wholesome whole foods. Start cooking your food at home. As both the oil and nut arms of the study improved outcomes, it is difficult to pinpoint the important parts of the diet. That’s the hard part of nutrition research. Do you need fish (unlikely) or the omega 3 fatty acids? Do you need to drink red wine? Which fats are important? Interestingly enough, despite improved heart health, no one lost weight on this diet.
Following a plant-based whole foods approach is what makes most sense to me. As mentioned in the New York Times article, others support a no-oil vegan diet for reducing heart disease. Instead of oil, fat comes from nuts and avocados. I don’t plan on changing my focus (BEANS and GREENS!) but for some reason I seem to have a hankering for more Mediterranean-inspired meals recently. I may go find myself some olives, too.
Ever since I really enjoyed my Spanish Chickpeas and Spinach with Roasted Garlic, and munching on my very freezer-friendly Greek Stewed Swiss Chard with Tomatoes, Mint and Lima Beans, I have been on the look-out for more ways to cook down my greens in a skillet.
Enter this super easy Greek chickpea and spinach skillet with lemon and dill. It looks deceivingly simple. It does not deceive you: it is simple. It deceives you because it tastes a lot better than you might think. You can taste each component of the meal and the lemony-dill aspect complements the nutty chickpeas and silky spinach. The chickpeas ended up creamy, too, with the brief cooking in the pan…. and the spinach, well, its wilts away, allowing you to eat a lot more greens than you may have thought possible.
Any thoughts on the diet du jour? Any recommended Mediterranean recipes?
Need more Mediterranean inspiration?
I have definitely noticed an improvement in my salads.
There are salads and then there are salads. And by the latter kind of salads, I mean meal-sized salads. Size alone does not make them appropriate for meals.
Leafy green salads used to have me perplexed. Growing up, a simple salad was usually always served before a meal, with lettuce, tomato and cucumber and a light vinaigrette. My penchant for one-pot meal-in-a-bowl dishes had me rethinking my views on traditional salad.
So let’s just say I made lots of dressings last year and this is definitely one of my favourites: carrot miso. Using vegetables themselves in the dressing adds a body typically derived from oil. Since you puree the carrot, it is a thicker dressing than I am used to… more akin to a sauce.
Sadly, this salad didn’t really travel as well in my salad jar. Most likely because it didn’t have the vinegar heaviness found in most of my dressings. The vinegar essentially pickles the bottom layer of vegetables when packed in advance. In this case, I wound up adding the dressing right before serving.
A few years ago I made a different avocado salad with a carrot-ginger dressing. It was an appetizer, a starter to a potluck with friends. This time, I made this as my meal. I added lots of veggies like cucumber, tomatoes and grated carrots along with chickpeas for protein and avocado and pumpkin seeds for fat (and crunch!). The sweet tangy dressing brought it all together. In fact, I think this dressing was even better than the heavier carrot-ginger version I made earlier. I guess my taste buds are a changin’….
Everyone’s taste buds change over time.
Even before I started the sweetener-free challenge, I wondered how my tastes have changed. I can’t do deep-fried foods or other meals doused in oil. It isn’t the fat that bothers me because I easily down more than a handful of nuts in a sitting.
Last week, I started to re-introduce sweets. Fruits: mostly apples and berries. I have replenished my morning grapefruit stash. Dark chocolate, too: I made my Almost Guiltless Chocolate Mousse Pie. After this challenge, my tolerance for highly sweetened foods decreased.
My tolerance for spice has increased, albeit still slowly.
Then I discovered Aleppo chile flakes, more flavourful than hot. Slowly I added more and more to my dishes. I began experimenting with Ancho chili powder and paprika as well.
I was drawn to this recipe for Spanish Chickpeas since it looked like a flavourful warm chickpea salad. Spiced with smoked paprika, chile powder and roasted garlic, it really called my name. It has been awhile since I’ve pan-cooked chickpeas, and as I made it, I added spinach. When I sat down to eat it, I was smitten. Perfectly balanced with smoky undertones, sweetness from the red peppers and lightness from the lemon juice. It reminded me of my Spanish Chickpea Salad with Capers and Roasted Red Peppers (without the salty capers) and the addition of the spinach reminded me of Andalusian Chickpeas and Spinach. Two years ago, I made a hybrid from Deb’s recipe and the recipe in The New Spanish Table. All I remember was that it too spicy. I remember kicking myself for using so much paprika.
Two years later, I compare both recipes. I assumed I had used a tablespoon of paprika or something crazy the first time. No, it was only one teaspoon. Just like in this recipe. This version was definitely not spicy even with the addition of Ancho chile powder.
Any takers? Have my taste buds improved or has my paprika decreased in potency?
(My paprika is not two years old, in case you were thinking it! I used sweet paprika from Penzey’s before and smoked paprika from Whole Foods for this recipe (the brand escapes me at this time) I am tempted to believe that smoked paprika isn’t as spicy as its non-smoked counterpart).
Here are some other great Spanish recipes:
I have not yet read the book The 5 Love Languages, but I like the concept of different ways to communicate your affection. How do you express your love? Through words of affirmation, acts of service, giving/receiving gifts, quality time or physical touch? Knowing how you express and perceive love, along with your partner, helps you communicate with the same language.
This also holds true for family and friends, especially around holidays. Everyone is scurrying from party to party, thinking of ideal gifts and making travel plans to spend with loved ones. What is most important to you and others?
I will be sharing my time this weekend with Rob’s family and next weekend with my parents. I definitely subscribe to my presence is my present – HA! Can you tell giving/receiving gifts is so low on my priority list? But truthfully, gift giving continually becomes harder and harder. There are cute and practical gift giving guides, but on my wishlist this year: A textbook. I know, not even a cookbook. I am also eagerly awaiting my grandmother’s old juicer and pressure cooker. I don’t really need much else. The most important thing is the company. I really am all set. (I am also UBER stoked for Rob’s early Christmas present: a raw “cooking” class with Doug McNish on Sunday! I have no idea how we will tackle all the recipes!)
While some of my most well-used kitchen tools were gifts that I never thought I needed (see last year’s gift guide), random foodie purchases have entertained me as of late. I know I am supposed to be culling my pantry, but when I see something like baby quinoa (kaniwa), I have a hard time not wanting to try it out. A new, healthy food.. let’s see what it is like!
PS. Spotted at Essence of Life and Lady York.
First off, it looks like little kernels of quinoa. While it isn’t quinoa in its young state, it is in the same family as quinoa. It has a higher protein content and possesses less of the bitter saponins that plague quinoa. I still rinsed it though I may try toasting it next time. It cooks up nearly exactly like quinoa with a scanty 2:1 ratio of liquid. Due to its small nature, the texture is quite different. It reminded me of the pebbly nature of amaranth without its gluey consistency. I ended up tossing it in a festive bowl with a simple cranberry jicama salsa and a chili-spiked butternut squash gravy/sauce. The seemingly odd combination of ingredients worked really well… and awfully pretty, too, I may add.
So, the moral of the story… for the hard to shop foodies, perhaps all you need to do is head to a grocery store? Or only for practical foodies like me. Only I would swoon over a new bean to try… or appreciate radish sprouts. Need other ideas for foodie gifting? Check out my favourite wacky ingredients including pomegranate molasses, red pepper paste and miso, along with recipes to woo you over.
While I planted basil this summer, I didn’t use very much of it. It bolted before I knew what I wanted to do with it. My Pesto Perpetuo basil, a non-bolting basil, from two years ago was a basil warehouse. I had access to basil year-round as it survived the trip back into the house during winter. However, it died when I put it back outside this year. I suppose annuals have to die at some point. Given my lack of basil this summer, I feel that it is worth scoping it out next year.
Of course, it makes sense that once the summer is mere a distant memory, the days are cold and the rides back home in the night even colder, all I want is pesto. One of my proliferative herbs this summer was sage (if only the thyme and rosemary could have taken some advice). It may be synonymous with Thanksgiving stuffing, but one can definitely look beyond that.
You actually don’t need cups of sage to make this pesto. Instead sage is buffered with mild baby spinach to create a garlicky spread. Instead of pine nuts, I used toasted hazelnuts and hazelnut oil to flavour this winter pesto. The nutritional yeast adds the traditional cheesy taste but feel free to omit it. I chose to serve it with hazelnut-roasted delicata squash rings. Served on more greens, you have a very flavourful salad. Add white beans to make this a main meal. I didn’t use too much oil so my pesto was more thick than oily. Loaded with flavour. Later in the week, I liked it smeared inside a green wrap (with a nod to my simple hazelnut-roasted squash, avocado and cucumber wrap).
Do you like pesto in the winter?
Winter has arrived. Or least poked its head up. It was frigid as I biked to work on Friday. Cold and windy, a terrible combination. No snow at that time, but -11C with the windshield (12F for my American readers). Snow came later.
It is supposed to warm up again this week, although the city already dropped down the salt. Snow and more importantly, the salt, is what causes me to pack up my bike for the season. I was hoping to break 13,000km on my bicycle odometer this year. My goal used to be 12,000km but I surpassed that last month. I am 300km short of my goal. With a 20km daily commute, that would only take me 3 more weeks, basically right before Christmas holidays. The odometer has been ticking since I bought my commuter bike in October 2009. It followed me as I cycled to Cornwall, Niagara Falls and Kingston. Averaging over 4000km each year, it seems more impressive than it entails. This year, Rob and I did very little recreational cycling. My distance is purely based on a longer commute. It is amazing how quickly the extra distance can add up.
I will have to see how much rain we get before I decide how to get to work on Monday. Bike or transit?
In addition to the cold, one of the things I do not like about the winter is the limited amount of fresh vegetables. In the summer, everything is at my fingertips. Cheap local produce at its peak. Now I am not as excited by the grocery flyers… veggies rarely make it to the sales page. I try to capitalize on anything veggie-like on sale. Mushrooms, greens, broccoli, carrots, anything.
This week spinach and red lentils were on sale. 4lbs of red lentils for $1.27. 3 bunches of spinach for $2 (last week it was 2 bunches of spinach for $1). What amused me most was seeing how many people were buying the spinach. So many people! The grocers kept wheeling in more spinach. Big bunches, too. Spinach for the win!
When Ella posted her Red Lentils and Spinach in a Masala Sauce, I knew it was destiny. Destined to be my dinner. Turns out it was also my parents’ lunch when they came to visit last weekend. A last minute change of plans had them staying for lunch. Thankfully I had something that everyone could enjoy.
I made my own curry paste with toasted cumin and coriander seeds and combined it with ginger, cilantro, smoked paprika and garam masala. Tomato paste and pureed tomatoes made this a bit more complex and the cashew butter a more luscious body. Red lentils cook down into a mush and the spinach added a healthy bulk. A nice, solid curry. Tikka masala without the tikka? Probably not… this isn’t a super creamy sauce. Cashew butter can only accomplish so much! Next time, I might add in tempeh, like Rob did with his Tempeh Tikka Masala.
What are your favourite vegetables in the winter?
PS. Is tomato paste always so sweet? I licked some from the can and it was so sweet! My can is definitely no sweetener added, so I wonder if it is a side effect from my sweetener-free challenge.
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?