The genius of the Mediterranean

I love the food of the Mediterranean. I lived in France for a year – in the Loire Valley, but I prefer the food of Provence. I’ve never been to Italy or Greece, except in my fantasies, but I have been to Spain and Portugal and Israel and Argentina…cultures that emphasize fresh, delicious, in-season produce in their cooking. Cultures that melt tomatoes in olive oil, that brilliantly combine garlic and lemon parts to make miraculous, simple un-sauces, where perfect olives of infinite variety are tapas…

In all of these places, veganism would seem preposterous to most people. Why would you willingly cut out whole categories of food? No matter. I’m grateful for the inspiration. Grateful for the history and tradition and invention.

And so, voila, my homage to the Mediterranean.

I should note that when my 5-year-old tasted this, she said, unsolicited, “You should definitely serve this to your clients. Definitely.” I also think this would make a super yummy pizza topping. And a little secret: the broccoli and tomatoes were left over from a crudite tray. Ew – refrigerated tomatoes. But in this dish, delicious!!

Mediterranean pasta

  • 1 tbsp + 1/4 cup olive oil, divided
  • 2 shallots, finely chopped
  • 2 cups broccoli florets, broken into small pieces
  • 2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 15-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 4-5 fat garlic-stuffed olives (or Greek-cured or kalamata), sliced
  • Juice and zest of half of a lemon (I used a Meyer)
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • 1 lb whole wheat penne
  • 1/2 cup almond meal

Put a large covered saucepan of water to boil over high heat. Once boiling, cook the pasta (add salt!) until al dente, and then drain. Meanwhile, heat a large cast iron pan over a bit over medium heat and add the tbsp of oil, and then, one it’s shimmering, add the shallots and broccoli. Saute for 3 or 4 minutes, then add the tomatoes, garlic, and oregano. Coax the tomatoes into melting by poking them with a sharp knife. Add the rest of the oil, the chickpeas, olives, lemon zest and juice, and salt to taste. Let simmer and melt while the pasta cooks.

Heat a small cast iron pan over medium heat, and add the almond meal. Toast, stirring often, for about ten minutes until well toasted but not burned.

Toss the pasta with the sauce, adding a drizzle of olive oil if you like. Sprinkle each serving with almond meal, and serve.

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How I learned to stop worrying and buy asparagus

I’m from California’s San Joaquin Valley. Growing seasons, orchards, farms as far as the eye can see…this is my homeland. I generally know when different crops are in season, and as much as I might have a taste for grapes in January, I won’t buy them on principle. I’m heartily committed to buying local whenever I can, and I can’t bring myself to reward grocers for selling out-of-season produce that had to travel thousands of miles to get to me. Corn, figs, grapes, TOMATOES: summer. Apples, persimmons, pomegranates: fall. Oranges: winter.

My problem is that the produce I always thought came in the springtime, the vegetables that ARE spring to me – artichokes and asparagus – have been showing up in the fall. I don’t get it. And they’re cheap. And they’re gorgeous. And they’re from the places they’re supposed to be from in California. Well, I’ve given in, and have bought asparagus the last couple of weeks. Today, I turned it into a creamy soup that warmed me on a particularly blustery fall day, but also reminded me of the blossoms and puffy white clouds of spring. (And it’s low fat. No oil added!)

Cream of asparagus soup

  • 1 lb asparagus, trimmed and chopped into 2″ pieces
  • 4 shallots, peeled and sliced
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 red-skinned potatoes, shredded
  • 1 1/2 tsp freshly grated turmeric
  • 4 cups veg stock
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
  • Juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 tbsp chopped parsley

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray, then add the asparagus and the shallots, spray with cooking spray, and sprinkle with kosher salt. Roast for about ten minutes.

Heat a Dutch oven over medium heat, and add the potatoes, garlic, and turmeric (1/2 tsp dried turmeric if you can’t get fresh). Stir regularly, and saute for about 3 minutes. Add the veg stock, cover, increase the heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium-low, and let simmer for 5 minutes. Add the sunflower seeds and the roasted vegetables, and let simmer for another 5 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Place half the soup into a blender and puree until very smooth. Remove to a bowl, and puree the other half. Stir the soup to combine, and then add the lemon juice and zest. Heat if necessary, and add parsley.

Middle Eastern tomato stew with creamy tofu

I had one small ball of pizza dough in the fridge that needed to get used. I have a family of five to feed, and one small vegan pizza wouldn’t cut it. Didn’t want to make pasta (with pizza?). And I’ve been craving shakshouka, the delicious Israeli stew of tomatoes and red bell peppers, rich with olive oil, served with a poached egg on top.

And so this simple stew was born.

Middle Eastern tomato stew with creamy tofu

  • 1/2 cup olive oil, divided
  • 8 oz green beans, chopped into 1″ pieces
  • 1/4 red onion, sliced
  • 1 lb firm tofu, sliced into 1″ squares/1/4″ thick
  • 1/3 cup red wine
  • 1 28-oz can San Marzano tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1 roasted red bell pepper, chopped
  • Salt to taste

Heat a large cast iron pan over medium-high heat. Add 1/4 cup oil, and when hot, add the green beans. Let fry, stirring often, for about three minutes, then add the red onion. Fry until the green beans are blistered and the onion is browned, about three more minutes. Remove the green beans and onion to a bowl and set aside. Add the rest of the oil and the tofu to the pan. Be patient. Don’t touch the tofu until it comes up easily from the pan. Then flip it with a thin metal spatula and brown it on the other side. Once it’s good and brown, turn the heat down to medium, and add the wine to deglaze the pan. Add the rest of the ingredients and the green beans and onion. Stir well to coat everything in the tomatoes. Bring to a simmer and turn the heat to medium-low. Let simmer for about ten to fifteen minutes, until the sauce is reduced and thick.

Enjoy with focaccia, roasted potatoes, rice or another grain, or just a spoon. Delicious!

If I had a hammer

Coconut tools

It happens frequently that I make a meal for a client of which I’m particularly proud. I enjoy creating dishes, but what I really love is pulling recipes together – whether they be my own or someone else’s – to make a meal that turns into something magical. This week, that meal was inspired by the works of Madhur Jaffrey. Close to 2 decades ago, a friend gave me his used copy of World of the East Vegetarian Cooking. I’ve used it some. Not as much as I’d like. For various reasons. Since I started my work as a personal chef, I’ve used it a few times, because my first client has an adventurous palate and likes lots of vegetables. Still, I find that I often don’t end up using the cookbook, even when I’ve pulled it out.

My newest client has some particular dietary requirements necessitating meals low in carbohydrates and kid-friendly. And the family has requested a rotation of various cuisines, including Indian. And so, enter Madhur Jaffrey.

My favorite Indian dish – and the one I’ve been pining for for two years since going vegan – is saag paneer. I don’t know why it took me so damn long to veganize it. I made it three times in two days for three different clients, all with different needs. This is the Platonic ideal of vegan saag paneer. But don’t miss the sides of this meal. The salad – in which the above coconut makes its appearance – is OUTSTANDING and well worth the tools and manual labor (just for the coconut; the rest of the salad is SUPER easy and fast).

Saag paneer, turmeric-scented quinoa, sesame green beans, and Gujarati cucumber and peanut salad

Saag paneer

  • 1 14-oz tub firm tofu
  • 3 tbsp peanut oil
  • 1/4 tsp garam masala
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tbsp freshly grated ginger
  • 1/4 cup sliced pickled jalapenos, minced
  • 2 lbs baby spinach, well washed (not dried) and pureed in a food processor
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • 1/4 cup coconut milk

Press the tofu between layers of paper towels and place something heavy – like a cast iron pan – on top.  Let it sit for about 20 minutes, and then cut it into about 1/2″ cubes.  Heat the oil in a large cast iron pan over medium heat, and add the tofu.  BE PATIENT.  Don’t touch the tofu until it’s good and golden, otherwise you’ll lose the best part to the pan.  Turn it with a thin metal spatula.  Let it get golden on a couple sides, then remove to a plate in a single layer, and sprinkle with the garam masala, cayenne, and salt.  Set aside.

Turn the heat on the pan to medium-high or slightly lower, add a little oil, if necessary, and add the garlic, ginger, and jalapenos.  Saute for about 30 seconds until fragrant.  Add the spinach and kosher salt, and toss and saute for about 2 minutes.  Turn the heat to medium, and let the liquid evaporate for about 10 minutes.  Add the tofu back to the pan, scraping the plate into the pan to get all the yummy bits of oil and spices.  Add the coconut milk, and let simmer until creamy.

Turmeric-scented quinoa

  • 4 cups water
  • 2 cups quinoa
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • 2 tsp freshly grated turmeric root

Boil the water in a medium saucepan.  Rinse the quinoa in a sieve and add it to the boiling water, along with the salt and turmeric.  Reduce the heat to medium-low, and let simmer until all of the water has been absorbed, about 20 minutes.

Sesame green beans

  • 2 lbs fresh green beans, cut into 1″ pieces
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • 6 tbsp coconut oil
  • 2 tsp brown mustard seeds
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tbsp freshly grated ginger
  • 1 tsp freshly grated turmeric
  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds, toasted
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • Zest of half of a lemon
  • Juice of 1 lemon

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and add the green beans and a healthy handful of kosher salt to the pot.  Let the beans boil for about 4 minutes, then drain and rinse under cold water.  Set aside.

Heat the coconut oil over medium-high heat, and add the mustard seeds.  After about 30 seconds, add the garlic, ginger, and turmeric, sauteeing until the garlic is golden, then add the green beans, sesame seeds, cilantro, and the zest and juice of the lemon.  Toss until heated through.

Gujarati cucumber and peanut salad

  • 1 cup roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped
  • 3/4 lb Persian cucumbers, diced into small pieces
  • 2 tbsp sesame seeds, toasted
  • 1/2 cup freshly minced coconut meat
  • 1 fresh jalapeno, minced (I omitted this for my clients, but I think it would only make it more awesome)
  • 2 tbsp chopped cilantro
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 2 tsp brown mustard seeds
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • Juice of half a lemon

Put the peanuts, cucumbers, sesame seeds, coconut, jalapeno, and cilantro in a bowl.  Place the coconut oil in a small cast iron pan over medium-high heat.  Add the mustard seeds, and fry for about 30 seconds, then add them to the bowl, along with the salt and lemon juice.  Try to not eat it all before serving it to your guests.

Pain perdu tropical, No Knead Whole Wheat Sourdough, Brown Sugar

Whatever.  I’m not really so fancy-pants as all that.  I did make French toast for dinner tonight that tasted of somewhere I’ve never been.  And it was GOOD.

I will say this.  You could make this *more* tropical.  I used rice milk as the main liquid in my batter, because I thought it was already going to be on the thicker side, but next time, I think I would use coconut milk and thin it with some pineapple juice.  You could also add shredded coconut to the batter.  They tasted so good, though, that I would say those would enhance, but this French toast is already yummy.

Pain perdu tropical

  • 7 slices whole wheat sourdough (recipe follows)
  • 1 very ripe banana
  • 3 tbsp brown sugar (recipe follows)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 1 cup rice milk
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 cup white whole wheat flour

Preheat a large cast iron pan over medium heat.  Mash the banana with a fork in a large bowl.  Add the brown sugar to macerate and make the banana break down a little easier.  Add the extracts, rice milk, olive oil, and nutmeg, and stir and mash until pureed.  Add the flour and stir with a wooden spoon.  Dunk your slices of bread in the batter until well coated.

Spray the skillet with cooking spray, and place the battered bread into the pan.  Let brown on each side, then set aside.  Serve with maple syrup.  Duh.

 

No-Knead Whole wheat sourdough

I make this bread at least once a week, sometimes twice.  It is so good and SO FREAKING EASY.  You need the simple ingredients, a bowl, and a wooden spoon.  That’s IT.

  • 1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 cups bread flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp table salt
  • 1/2 tsp instant yeast
  • 1 2/3 cups cool water
  • Extra flour for preventing sticking

Place the flours, salt, and yeast in a large bowl and whisk to combine.  Add the cool water, and stir with a wooden spoon. When the dough is moist and well mixed, place in a large oiled bowl, cover, and place in a warm place for 12 to 18 hours.  Remove the towel, Generously flour a board and dump the dough on top of it.  Generously dust the top of the bread with more flour, then fold over several times.  Cover and let rise another 2 hours.  Preheat the oven and a Dutch oven with a lid to 450 degrees for a half hour.  Dump dough into the preheated Dutch oven, cover, and bake for 30 minutes.  Remove lid and bake for another 10 to 15, until crust in golden brown.  Let cool completely before slicing or monkeys will fly out of your behind.

 

Brown Sugar

Okay, it’s super lame that I’m posting this recipe, but most people have never made their own brown sugar, and I’m telling you.  IT IS HIGHLY SUPERIOR to the store bought stuff.

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp blackstrap molasses

Put ingredients into a large bowl and stir for about 5 minutes or so until the molasses is completely integrated into the sugar.  Store in an airtight container.  Enjoy.

 

I made purple challah

My challah is usually yellow. Many years ago, when I first started making challah, I used a pinch of saffron threads soaked in hot water to lend a delicate yellow hue to my challah, along with the eggs.  As a vegan, I use some kind of fruit puree to sub in for the egg, generally either persimmon, mango, or peach. YOLK-colored fruit.  Well, yesterday, I didn’t have any of those yolk-colored fruits, but I did have some left-over gorgeous black plums I’d mostly used up canning plum jam. So I threw some plums in the blender with some agave and canola, leaving the skins ON, and voila, purple challah. But you better believe, it was delicious!

Challah – Purple or Not

  • 2 1/2 cups bread flour
  • 2 1/2 – 3 cups white whole wheat flour
  • 1 tbsp instant yeast
  • 2 tsp table salt
  • 3 lrg plums*
  • 1/3 cup agave
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1 cup warm water
  • Olive oil and flour for rolling

Place the bread flour, 2 1/2 cups of the white whole wheat flour, yeast, and salt in the bowl of a standing mixer with the dough hook, and mix.  Pit and quarter the plums, and put them in a blender with the agave and canola oil.  Add the plum mixture to the mixer, and add the water.  Add more white whole wheat flour to get to a very thick pancake batter consistency.  Don’t add so much flour that the dough gets tough; it’s okay if it’s not pulling away from the bowl all the way.  Sticky challah dough makes soft bread.

Place a teaspoon of olive oil in a large bowl,  OIL YOUR HANDS, and scrape the dough into your bowl.  Roll the dough around as best you can to get it fully oiled.  Cover with a dish towel and let it rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray.  Generously flour a board.  Uncover your dough, gently punch it down, divide it into two balls, and put one back in the bowl.  Place the second ball on the board, sprinkle some flour on top of your dough, and oil your hands (keep your hands oiled through this process).  Knead a few times to integrate the flour.  Cut the ball into 2 parts, 1/3 and 2/3 pieces.  Divide the 2/3 hunk into thirds, and roll each 1/3 into a snake.  Braid the three snakes together, and tuck the ends under to make a pretty bottom layer.  Place the bottom layer on 1 side of the cookie sheet.  Repeat process with the 1/3 hunk.  Place the top layer on top of the bottom layer.  Repeat the process with the second ball of dough.  Cover the cookie sheet with a towel for about 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  After the challahs have rested for 20 to 30 minutes, remove the towel, and place in the oven.  Bake for 30 minutes, and check for color.  It should be golden or darker.  Bake for an additional 5 or 10 minutes to achieve good color.  Remove from oven and let cool before slicing.  Or not.  We never slice, and we generally don’t wait for it to cool.  But that’s us.

*If you want actual yellow challah, as opposed to purple, you can puree persimmons (the custardy kind work best for this), mango, or peaches in the blender.  You want the equivalent of about 4 eggs.  Sorry I can’t give you an approximate weight, but you probably know what an egg looks like, you can guess about how much fruit would be its equivalent.