Something from Nothing: Ramiro’s Beef Stew

As a long time fan of both a) learning and b) free things, the relatively recent surge in available MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) has me enraptured. Thanks to Coursera and EdX, as well as the many institutions they partner with, I’m on my eighth free, online course. While many study at their own pace, I tend towards the deadline-driven approach, keeping up with course material as it’s posted each week and trying my best to complete the occasionally rigorous, occasionally token assignments. The courses, while not worth any so-called credit, are my way of preventing a lapse in productivity and abundance of unallocated free time, which my anal retentive nature prefers to avoid at all costs (read: my sanity).

Whether or not the unnecessary rigidity is healthy or not, I’m certainly learning a lot of really fascinating things. I’m currently deep in focus on international development, exploring topics in subsistence marketplaces, forest livelihoods, and sustainable agriculture. One class has been providing a particularly rich experience through short videos of and interviews with people living in both rural and urban subsistence, with a focus on India.

As a relatively rich westerner with little exposure to poverty in day to day life, it can be hard to grasp what a simple, average life would look like isolated from the abundant, unappreciated wealth of the first world. Movies, television, and your average travel experience may offer glimpses of this reality, but generally fail to depict the mundane aspects of life that inform the human experience. Call me an anthropologist (which actually, I am), but to me the mundane holds the most meaning, value, and insight. Which is why I’m so excited that these straightforward videos answer simple questions like, “Where do you sleep?,” “Do you buy soap?,” “How do your children get to school?,” “When do you eat dinner,” and so on, providing an incredibly rich window into the daily life of billions.

 

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Why do I mention it?

Well, it just keeps making me think back to this past spring and the magical month I spent working on a small, off-the-grid ranch in Mexico, Rancho La Venta. The ranch was staffed by a small crew: the owners (a hard-working, dedicated ex-pat couple), one or two temporary helpers, and Ramiro, a Baja native and long-time ranch hand.

 

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And that’s why I mention it.

Largely isolated on the ranch, Ramiro was my window into life in La Sierra de la Laguna. His English was limited to a handful of words. My Spanish, a cruel amalgamation of Italian and Spanish unintelligible to either speaker, was a mess. But we worked with each other every day, and soon enough we were bantering – albeit disjointedly – comfortably enough that I became translator between him and my hopelessly Spanish-less (but expertly Australian) roommate.

Over the course of the month I got to know, piece by piece, a bit of his story. But the funny thing is that the most powerful exchange we had was not with words or pictures or even a shared wheelbarrow full of horse manure. It was a meal.

 

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Ramiro was – by his own reckoning – the best cook in his family. He was the requested chef for family events of all sizes, and never failed to bring a homemade lunch – albeit always the same one – to work. He had long promised to demonstrate his culinary prowess and one day finally showed up with a package of beef, a stack of handmade tortillas, and a fixin’ on makin’ good.

I watched him in action. Stern as a soap opera surgeon he requested: “Tomate.” “Patata.” “Poblano.” When what we had didn’t align with expectations, he made it work. To offers of assistance he merely raised a hand in silent dismissal. Taking a break only to march into the garden for a handful of scallions, Ramiro put on a nonstop show worthy of the finest in culinary entertainment. Finally, he turned and declared, “Finito.”

 

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Somehow that handful of incredibly simple – yes even boring – ingredients came together to make something not necessarily grander, but a whole lot more flavorful, than the sum of its parts. Hearty, yet somehow perfect even after a 95 degree day, this water-based stew had taken on new life in the 10 minutes it simmered together. Perhaps it was the beef, which likely came from a cow down the road, or the lovingly flowered cherry tomatoes, or the brave scallions just picked from our desert garden. I don’t know. However it happened, it did, and it will forever serve in my memory as a reminder that just because you have more shit doesn’t mean it smells any better. Not sure why it had to be a poop related adage, but there it is.

So if you use Ramiro’s lovely, simple, rustic, ranch stew as inspiration for your next meal, I hope you remember to keep it simple, and perhaps give a nod to others in the world making amazing things with what some might see as nothing.

 

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Ramiro's Beef Stew

  • Servings: Oh, plenty
  • Time: A little while, but not too long
  • Difficulty: fácil
  • Print

Ramiro used what we happened to have in our sparse pantry for this spur of the moment stew. I have listed those ingredients as best I can here, but in no way mean for them to be rigid instructions. You can adapt this very forgiving, incredibly simple recipe to your pantry as well, using whatever you happen to have, in almost whatever quantity.

Ingredients

  • Oil
  • Garlic, a few cloves, minced
  • Poblano, one or two, large diced
  • Scallion, two or three, chopped
  • Potato, a handful of small white potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
  • Cherry tomatoes, a handful, with two incisions made in the shape of a cross on one end so each tomato sort of opens up like a flower (this was Ramiro’s real showstopper move)
  • 7 oz. can of Herdez salsa casera
  • A few thin slices of beef, cut into bite-sizes pieces
  • Oregano
  • Black pepper
  • Handmade corn tortillas

Directions

  1. Add a swirl of cooking oil to a large pot over medium/high heat (we couldn’t really control the burner anyways). Then add the garlic, poblano, scallions, and chopped potatoes. Stir.
  2. Add the cherry tomatoes and can of salsa. Stir.
  3. Add the beef, and a generous pinch of oregano and black pepper. Cook until the beef is no longer pink.
  4. Add water. Maybe 1-2 quarts. Basically until it looks on the slightly watery side of “stewy.”
  5. Cook until the potatoes are tender.
  6. Eat with handmade corn tortillas.

Plug: If you’re ever in Baja Sur make sure to check out my friends at Rancho La Venta for a horseback ride through the beautiful mountains and a glass of mango wine! Maybe if you’re lucky you’ll get a handshake from Ramiro too!

 

The Best Ever Super Simple No Bake Cherry Chia Almond Granola Bars

Yet again, it’s been a while since I’ve gotten a post together. The months since I returned from my summer working/traveling in Mexico and California have been confusing, to say the least. It’s been tough to translate the otherworldly-ness of the experience to so called “reality.” There have been many big, life-related, distinctly millennial challenges. Decisions beg for the making. Time flies. Clocks tick. Cars go by. God damn analysis paralysis.

 

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The kitchen has been my solace during this mentally crippling phase in life. So much so that sharing my personal and intimate escapades with new ingredients, old favorites, and casual canning here has seemed imprudent. Despite that, I’ve received more requests than ever for recipes, links, and opinions. Perhaps this emotionally-charged silence has laced my menus with a hint of seduction. Who knows.

 

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In an effort to return from my blogging hiatus with a bang, I’d like to share the recipe I have been asked for most since going underground. The best ever super simple no bake granola bars.

 

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I’ve been sending my boyfriend to work with these bad boys for breakfast on and off for a few months now, and word’s gotten around: they’re GOOD. In addition to being perfectly portable and disarmingly tasty, these bars are super simple to make and contain only seven ingredients – all of which are seriously wholesome. No refined sugar to speak of in these bars. Only *cue buzzwords* whole grains, healthy fats, real fruit, and a touch of honey.

I know Clif bars are cheap at Whole Foods, but these are worth the extra effort, I promise. They pack a lasting energy punch thanks to the dates and oats, but don’t flood your body with a barrage of readily-accessible sugar like most store bought granola bars do. They’re the best of both worlds: road ready and cubicle friendly.

And maybe they’ll get you through some tough times too.

 

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Super Simple No Bake Cherry Chia Almond Granola Bars

  • Servings: 14-18 bars
  • Time: 1hr
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Adapted from Minimalist Baker

Ingredients

  • 2 cups pitted dates (loose – not packed tight)
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 3 cups rolled oats
  • 1 heaping cup almonds, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup dried cherries
  • 2 tbs. chia seeds

Directions

  1. Optional (technically interferes with the bars’ no-bake status, as pointed out by discerning reader Rose Winter): Toast the oats at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes until just beginning to change color. Place in a large mixing bowl.
  2. Using a food processor (or blender on low to medium speed), blend the dates until they form a sticky ball of “dough.” There will be chunks, but ensure the paste is at least somewhat uniform.
  3. Add the date “dough” to the oats, along with the chopped almonds, dried cherries and chia seeds. Mix until combined.
  4. In a small sauce pan, combine honey and peanut butter. Heat on low until the mixture begins to loosen.
  5. Add the honey/pb mixture to the oat mixture and stir until combined.
  6. Line a 9×13 inch baking dish with parchment paper. Pour the mixture into the lining and spread until evenly distributed in the pan. Cover the mixture with another layer of parchment paper, and using another smaller flat-bottomed dish, a hardback book, or some other solid, flat surface, press the mixture down into the pan. I am small, so I will actually stand on it!
  7. Put the pan into the freezer to “set” for 15-30 minutes.
  8. Remove, cut into bars, wrap in foil, parchment paper, or wax paper (if desired), and re-freeze in a freezer bag or otherwise freezer-proof container until the morning you plan on eating them. They can also be refrigerated, but keep better in the freezer.

These bars keep as good as new for up to one, maybe even two or three, months in the freezer.

Zucchini INXS: Summertime Fun “Lasagna”

When the final surge of summer’s bounty bestows upon you big fat enormous zucchinis so mindbogglingly huge it’s almost mentally insurmountable, what do you do?

Think of things to do with zucchini.

This is one of the things I thought of.  My Aunt, whose garden is now overrun with the soon-to-be pumpkin harvest of the century, basically forced us to take on a haul of some of the gigantic zucchini hiding under the tangle of melon and squash vines.  So with squash out the wazoo, it seemed clear that zucchini needed to take a much more prominent role in the kitchen.  How about temporarily taking over where pasta once was?

Boom: summertime “lasagna.”  This beautifully simple concoction is simply summertime treat layered over summertime treat layered over even more summertime treats.  The garden offered me zucchini, tomato and basil, so that’s what I cooked.

While there are definitely some kinks in my zucchini noodle technique, which is currently quite primitive (any gluten-free/raw foodists out there with advice?!), this messy bake was actually delightfully delicious anyway.  So I’m going to share the recipe with you with the addendum that this is not a recipe box recipe.  This is a jumping off point for some summertime kitchen fun by no means meant to be followed.  I mean, have you seen it?  Sloppy, Emily:

Summertime Fun “Lasagna”

vegan, gluten-free, healthy healthy!

serves 2 if you’re starving, but really more like 3 or 4

  • 1/4 yellow or white onion, half mooned — Fountain Farmers’ Market
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced into rounds — Green Aisle Grocery
  • large zucchini, very very thinly sliced (lucky you if you have a nice enough mandolin to handle the challenge of an enormous zucchini) — Aunt’s garden!
  • a few nice tomatoes, sliced — Aunt’s garden!
  • 1/2 cup chopped olives (you could use capers too!) — Whole Foods
  • around a cup oil-free basil “pesto”the recipe from Oh She Glows here is awesome…so tasty!
  • nutritional yeast — Whole Foods
  • extra basil leaves — my garden!
  1. Preheat: how about 375 degrees?
  2. Take care of topping: saute onions with nonstick spray until soft, add garlic until fragrant and then let sit
  3. Prep pan: coat 9×5 baking pan (note you can double recipe and use a normal size baking pan!) with nonstick spray, just in case
  4. Layer: tomato, zucchini, pesto, olives, optionally a little of the onion, tomato, zucchini, pesto, olives, optionally a little more of the onion, tomato, zucchini, remaining pesto
  5. Top: with remaining onions and basil leaves
  6. Bake: cover with foil and bake 20-25 minutes, uncover and then cook 10 minutes more
  7. Serve: with crusty bread and a fresh ground pepper

IMPORTANT NOTE: See how runny the above soup-agna turned out?  Next time I’m going to, and I suggest you might as well, salt the zucchini first.  Sprinkle kosher salt over your zucchini slices, let sit draining for 10 minutes, then dry off with towels.  Lessen the moisture!  You could seed some of the tomatoes, but tomato “jelly” is filled with delicious umami and wonderful nutrition, so I’d advice against it.  But whatever you do, have fun. THAT is a rule.

Slimy Superfoods: West African Okra & Fish Stew

I love okra a lot.  I almost constantly crave the seductively silky slime that oozes between the bright bubble-like seeds of the tender pod.  There’s really nothing else like the texture of good, young, fresh, homegrown okra.  So when I saw it for $3.50 a pound at Greensgrow’s Saturday market (try $8 at some other farm standsI was all over it.  Nice combo of pretty green and purple varietals with dainty pods, which is good when you’re talking okra.  The longer the pod, the more likely it has grown woody.  These, though, looked perfect.

If my description of okra’s many fine qualities has you grimacing with disgust, keep in mind that it also happens to be a nutritional powerhouse, especially when it comes to healthy digestion.  The mucilaginous fiber contained in the pods is like compost for your poop.  It bulks, greases, detoxes, feeds your healthy probiotic gut bacteria…intestine heaven.  Look out for a blast of vitamin C, folate (a B vitamin that your red blood cells love), calcium and potassium too.  And with almost no accompanying calories, fat or cholesterol, this superfood is a golden ticket to health, weight loss, happiness, and, at $3.50 a pound, a fatter wallet too.

What better way to enjoy a superfood than with roots.  And those aren’t hard to come by for this little “finger” food.  Okra is a dietary staple from West Africa through the Sahara and across Asia to Japan.  It’s been part of local cultures for centuries…defining textural tastes (neba neba!)…thickening traditional dishes (gumbo’s got roots too)…supposedly even keeping Cleopatra’s skin free and clear of any unsightly acne.  Cool.

When it came time to turn my okra into dinner, I was so exhausted from lugging 40 lb bags of mushroom poop up three flights of stairs to my third story garden that all I could possibly take on was something relatively fast and super simple.  West Africa fit that bill.  Across this largely tropical coast, history and ecology have produced rich and entirely unique cuisines that also happen to rely on very few available resources and ingredients.  Simple food.  And sometimes fast.

Born was this uncomplicated and somehow deeply flavorful stew roughly based on the many varieties of ancestral gumbo cooked throughout West Africa, especially Senegal and Nigeria.  It was claimed that this may have been the best thing I have cooked in the past six months.  And not by me.  A great home for a great fruit.

NOTE: I would seriously encourage you to orchestrate some homemade stock into this dish.  As with all simple cooking, it’s the quality of the ingredients that truly matters.

West African Okra & Fish Stew

so easy, very healthy

serves 2 as a meal, 4 as not really a meal

  • shrimp stock (or any other stock) — homemade
  • pint or so okra, sliced into rounds — Greensgrow
  • kale (or any hearty green), roughly chopped — Fountain Farmers’ Market
  • white or yellow onion. roughly diced — Fountain Farmers’ Market
  • white stock fish (I used tilapia cause it’s what they had, but red snapper or mackerel might be better), rinsed and cubed — Whole Foods
  • peanut butter — Trader Joes
  • bay leaf — Whole Foods
  • cayenne (or red pepper flakes) — homeground
  • lime — El Zarape Grocery Store
  • large yam — Whole Foods
  1. Get started: in large soup/stock pot bring 4 cups stock, onion, bay leaf and okra to boil and let simmer for 10 minutes or until okra is softened but not mushy
  2. Meanwhile: boil yam until soft and then mash, with skin on
  3. Add other stuff: add 2ish tbs of peanut butter, a light dash of cayenne or red pepper and chopped greens
  4. Add fish: once greens are wilted and soft after about 5 minutes add fish cubes and continue to cook until just opaque, about 3 minutes
  5. Serve: squeeze lime over soup, serve with mash yam

Time & Place: Summer in Acadia with Maple Salmon, Sweet Corn, Pickled Blueberries, Crispy Corn Cake

After an epic trip from Philadelphia to Prince Edward Island earlier this month (which I shall chronicle in brief, perhaps, later on), I found myself inundated with an unabashedly excessive quantity of wild Maine blueberries.  How can one resist those quiet green baskets so reminiscent of a season?  Especially in the throes of ones last moments in a place so blessed with gifts of wild fleshy ovaries?  Every vacation season needs a coattail…

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Facing excess and reminiscing on summertime in Maine and the maritime stretching north, I decided to give these wild blueberries an end fitting of their birth.  They would have a dish in homage to their season and their home.  And as I happened to have a rapidly-freezer-burning Atlantic salmon filet and some freshly arrived sweet corn from here in our own uniquely endowed region on hand, an Acadian theme came together quite naturally.

Acadia was a seventeenth century French colony that stretched from Prince Edward Island down through the maritime provinces of Canada and into Maine.  Nowadays, we’re talking culture.  Acadia isn’t so much a region as a way of life that was borne of a place and a time.  Unfortunate victims of European political conflict grappling with the combination of French blood and illiteracy while they struggled to learn as much as possible from the local native populations, Acadians were a pridefully self-sufficient people living simply from their land and no one else’s.  Begrudgingly happy, I’d like to believe.

So I had some fun thinking about what might have made it to the table on a balmy mid-summer night in coastal Acadia.  I already had the blueberries.  And salmon.  And summer sweet corn (a secondary crop for most Acadian farmers).  Why not add a little maple?  And for some French flair, why not pickle those blueberries (side note: I don’t actually think pickling blueberries is French, it’s just always something I’ve wanted to do)?

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Out of nowhere, a delicious and almost wholly locally purchased meal emerged.  From the “French” tang of the pickled blueberry to the “three sisters” grit of a good corn meal cake to the richly traditional sweetness of the maple and the historical significance of the salmon, this hearty meal was reminiscent of a time and place I’d like to know better.

A note: I’ve decided that I want to feature WHERE all this tasty looking food comes from – because that’s just as if not more important than where it ends up.  I’ll be as honest as I can, integrity as a local food enthusiast to the wind.  So check out the ingredient list, and I’ll think you’ll find that it’s easier than it seems to live at least mostly off of your own land…or at least land that’s being respected elsewhere.

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Maple Salmon, Sweet Corn, Pickled Blueberries, Crispy Corn Cake

Can be gluten free.

Serves 2

  • salmon filet (skin-on) — Whole Foods
  • real dark maple syrup — purchased in Vermont
  • balsamic vinegar — my mother’s pantry…
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced — Savoie Organic Farm at Headhouse Farmers’ Market
  • an orange — Acme
  • mayonnaise (or vegan sub) — Whole Foods
  • 2 ears of corn — Fountain Farmers’ Market
  • 1 egg, separated — Fair Food Farmstand
  • milk (of any variety) — Whole Foods
  • yellow corn meal (can be gluten free) — Whole Foods
  • a few chives, finely chopped — my roof!
  • pickled blueberries *see below — purchased in Maine
  • baby arugula — Whole Foods (but soon will come from my roof!)
  • fresh goat cheese — Di Bruno Bros.
  1. Preheat oven: 400 degrees
  2. Whisk glaze: 1/4 cup maple syrup, 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, 1/2 the minced garlic, and zest from 1/2 an orange or so
  3. Prep salmon: place skin-side down in baking-safe dish, coat with layer of glaze, squeeze juice from 1/2 orange over
  4. Reduce glaze: begin heating the remaining glaze over low heat until thickened slightly and caramelized (you can pull from here to baste salmon while baking)
  5. Strip corn: standing the ears on end in bowls, scrape the goodness off the sides with a sharp knife, retaining the juices/pulp (set aside 1/2 cup pretty kernels)
  6. Bake salmon: place in oven and cook 10-15 minutes, basting two or three times
  7. Assemble batter: place 1/2 cup corn kernels in large mixing bowl (for texture), chop remaining kernels either by hand or in food processor until well macerated then add to bowl as well. add remaining garlic, 3 tbs corn meal, a few pinches good salt, 1 tbs milk and egg yolk. mix. beat egg white until fluffy (a stiff foam will form and your hand will hurt), then fold into mixture
  8. Cook cakes: in greased skillet (using non-stick spray or a small amount of vegetable/canola oil) form “pancakes” about 3-4 inches in diameter and cook until crisp on the outside but still soft on the inside and drain on towel
  9. Pull salmon: when salmon is cooked through, but not dry, and rested for a moment or two, use a fork to flake the filet. add mayonnaise and more glaze as needed to keep quite juicy and moist.
  10. Plate: lay corn cakes on or next to arugula, top with pulled salmon, sprinkle reserved corn kernels, pickled blueberries* and goat cheese (crumbled), top with snipped chives and drizzled reduced glaze.

*Pickled Blueberries

  • white vinegar — Acme
  • brown sugar — Whole Foods
  • honey — Green Aisle
  • kosher salt — Acme
  • blueberries — purchased in Maine
  • red onion — Culton Organics at Headhouse Farmers’ Market
  1. Whisk 2 tbs vinegar, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp brown sugar, few swizzles of honey…pour over 1 cup blueberries and how ever much thinly sliced red onion you’d like…let refrigerate overnight.

Okinawa-nt! I love Bitter Melon and Goya Chanpuru

As I head off for a long weekend of uber-indulgence in Colorado (think Freshcraft to Strange Brewing to Great Divide to Falling Rock to Oskar Blues to Lefthand to New Belgium to Odell’s to Funkwerks to…liver failure and a broken home?) I wanted to leave you with the recipe for my last supper before the storm.

In an attempt to set my body so straight that it can only get so out of whack, I “traveled” to Okinawa, Japan’s island prefecture famous for its inhabitants’ long lives and excellent health. I figured taking some cues from their kitchens might just lend me some of their resilience.

And this means I get to use one of my favorite funny looking produce items: bitter melon!  This bumpy fruit is prized among Okinawans and is often credited with, well, just about everything. Seriously this thing had been used by populations all over the world for centuries to treat ailments ranging from stomach pains to nema toads to measles to diabetes to dysentery to scabies to cancer to malaria to — get this — HIV. And there’s actually science behind it. Like whoa.

The one catch is, well, it’s bitter. Certainly an acquired taste. There are things you can do to reduce the astringency, but its got a bite no matter what. Me? I love it. My boyfriend? Not so much. But considering that its basically a miracle in a melon, don’t you think you should like it no matter what?

To really get at the heart of this amazing community of folks, I sprung for a foundational Okinawan dish: Goya Chanpuru. It’s basically the Okinawan version of bi bim bap or donburi — a meal in a bowl — but features traditional Okinawan ingredients. To go the extra mile, I served mine with boiled satsuma-imo, the purple-skinned Japanese sweet potato cultivar. It is often said that Okinawans love this yammy bugger so much that it is often eaten boiled and cubed in the place of rice — perhaps contributing to their overall health and well being. Doesn’t much matter though, because they’re delicious anyway!

To sum up how I feel about this dish, I was absolutely unable to follow the traditional Okinawan rule hara hachi bu. Putting down the chop sticks at 80% full? There was no way. I stuffed my face. Addictive.

Goya Chanpuru with Boiled Satsuma-Imo

Serves 2-3 (can be vegetarian, vegan, and/or gluten free)

  • 1 small bitter melon (select firm, yellow-green melons, about 5-6″ long)
  • 1/2 small yellow or white onion
  • 1/2 block of extra firm tofu
  • 1/2 can of tuna (for vegans use 1/2 cup cubed ham substitute or seitan)
  • 1 egg (for vegans use your favorite vegan egg scrambler substitute)
  • 1 large or 2 small Japanese sweet potatoes
Condiment Sauce
  • 2 tbs white miso (rice, buckwheat, or millet based if gluten free)
  • 2 tbs sake
  • 1/2 tbs sugar
  • 1 tsp tamari

Boil scrubbed potatoes in water until easily pierce-able with a fork (and then once cooled slightly have someone else cut them into cubes while you cook the chanpuru 🙂).

Meanwhile, whisk condiment ingredients together and set aside.

Also, crack the egg into a bowl, beat well and set aside.

Then, slice the bitter melon down the middle. Scoop out the seeds and most of the white innards. Slice into half moons about 1/8-1/4″ thick. Place the slices in a colander and sprinkle with salt. Let sit for 10 minutes (this will remove some of the bitterness).

Meanwhile, wrap tofu in a paper towel and press the water out. Wrap in a new sheet and place in microwave for 20-30 seconds. Press more water out. Wrap in new sheet and press one more time. Then cube!  About 1/2″ square.

Cut the onion into half moons.

Once 10 minutes has passed, pat the bitter melon dry with a paper towel.

Then start cookin’!

Coat the bottom of your saute pan or wok with non-stick spray, heat over medium and add egg. Let spread and cook until just firm, but still runny, and then set remove from pan and set aside – like a loose-y goose-y omelet.

Add 1-2 tsp of sesame oil to the same pan, let heat up and then add the bitter melon. Saute for a minute or two, then add onion. Saute for another minute or two, until just lightly softened and starting to brown. Add tofu cubes, continuing to move the whole mixture around your pan. Let saute for a few minutes, then add tuna (or vegan meat), incorporating well. Mix the egg back in, not being afraid to jostle tofu cubes. You don’t have to be gentle with this!

Lastly, slowly pour the condiment sauce around the rim of the pan and mix in.

Serve with the steamed satsuma-imo cubes your friend so nicely cut up for you.

Then, LIVE LONG AND PROSPER.

In Colorado.

The Scandinavian Cobb

This fun, made-up salad pretty quickly established itself as one of my favorite weeknight go-tos.  Super easy.  Super quick.  Super adaptable.  Delicious.  Refreshing.  Perfect for spring.

While I usually like to use slivered raw chard or beet greens and endive as the base for this lighthearted salad, this time around it features the first crop of mesclun from my rooftop garden.

Yay May!

Scandinavian Cobb Salad with Horseradish Vinaigrette

Serves 2

  • Greens of choice (slivered chard or beet greens, or a baby lettuce mix with a backbone)
  • Smoked salmon (I use TJs smoked salmon pieces, which are super cheap and do the job)
  • 1/2 a red onion
  • 1/4 of a grapefruit (could also be orange or any other citrus fruit)
  • An avocado
  • One egg per salad
  • Dill springs
  • Horseradish vinaigrette (see below)

Prepare your toppings: chop the salmon into bite size pieces, very thinly slice the red onion, segment the grapefruit (please watch this amazing video on how if you don’t know), and cube or slice the avocado.

Poach the eggs (I’m still not very good at this, but the general idea is that you break your room temperature eggs into separate small bowls, gently boil 1-2 inches of water in a nonstick skillet, add 1 tbs vinegar, drop each egg into the water very gently, use a spoon to fold the white in on itself if necessary, turn off the heat, cover, let sit for 4-5 minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon) and while you wait for the eggs to be finished dress the lettuce with your vinaigrette.

Plate your dressed lettuce, add prepared toppings and finish with a poached egg, dill sprig and nice crusty bread.

Horseradish Vinaigrette

  • 1-2 tbs minced shallot
  • 1 tsp honey
  • a pinch of sugar
  • 1-2 tbs white wine or champagne vinegar
  • 1-2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1-2 tsp dijon mustard
  • 1-3 tbs horseradish
  • 1-3 tbs plain yogurt or mayo
  • 1 tsp truffle oil (and optionally another 2-3 tsp of walnut oil or extra virgin olive oil)
  • salt & pepper

Combine the ingredients, blend or whisk well together, taste, adjust, use 🙂

Grow Your Own Sprouts, Dummy

I want to dedicate this post to a one-time co-worker from back in my Whole Foods days. Through his willingness to overstep boundaries, call me names and tell me like it was I learned never to buy those wickedly overpriced prepackaged sprouts again.

Because growing your own sprouts is as easy as (if not actually easier than) 1-2-3.

Not to mention it’s cheaper than a crocus in March.

All you’ll need is:

  • Seeds — Alfalfa or bean (such as mung and garbanzo) are perfect for first-timers. The latter choice will yield “crunchy” sprouts and the former those delightful long strands you may know so well. Your best bet is to pick these up from bulk bins at your local natural foods store. For alfalfa you’ll only need about 1/4 cup for 1 batch. For the others, about 1/2 cup. It’ll likely set you back about $2.
  • Mason jar or comparable container
  • Cheesecloth or mesh
  • Rubber band

This time around I kept it at alfalfa.

The first step is to soak your seeds. Place 2-4 tbs of the alfalfa seeds (1/2 cup for beans) in the bottom of your jar and cover with cool water. Soak for roughly 6 hours (beans can sit for 8-10):

The second step is to drain your seeds. Place two layers of cheesecloth over the jar and secure with a rubber band (you’ll only need one layer for larger seeds). Find a place where you can keep the jars upside-down to allow the seeds to drain. If they’re on a solid surface, be sure to remember to lift them to remove excess drippage when you can:

The third step is to rinse your sprouts twice a day. Just fill the jar with water, drain and replace.

The final step is to watch them grow. Seriously. That’s it.

DAY 1:

DAY 2:

DAY 3:

There is one optional step — place your sprout-packed jar by a window for a few hours and BAM:

Chlorophyll is a wondrous thing. This is a great way not only to beautify your sprouts, but also to enliven them. Exposure to sunlight increases their level of chlorophyll, and while claims are contested, many agree that this life-giving molecule may offer fauna some of the same power it lends to basically 99% of the floral world. So why not. Use your window.

As if this whole process wasn’t already the simplest and most amazing thing ever, just wait until you unload your jar. With just $1-2 in the game, you’ll come out with about $25 worth of prepackaged alfalfa sprouts:

They don’t last too long in the fridge, so definitely plan on a few days of sprout-related meals in a row, but really – who’s complaining?

So next time I see you at the Whole Foods checkout line trying to hide your $10 plastic container of sprouts in shame, I’ll be the one calling you out. GROW YOUR OWN SPROUTS, DUMMY!

Go Cephalo with Squid Adobo

I love squid.  If you think you don’t like squid, I hope you’ll try it again.  I love cooking squid.  If you’re afraid to cook (or eat) squid, I hope you’ll do it anyway.

Because it is super easy.  And super delicious.  And (high cholesterol aside) super healthy.  Think low calorie; high protein; and copper, riboflavin (which can ease migraine headaches) and selenium (a powerful anti-inflammatory mineral that provides immune support and may reduce the risk of cancer) rich.

My favorite quick and easy squid preparation comes from the Philippines, a place where squid is abundant and home cooks rule.  It’s a style known as Adobong (or Adobo), which involves cooking your protein in a wonderfully tangy mix of vinegar and soy sauce, seasoned with peppercorn and bay leaves.  While it’s often used for preparing pork or chicken, I prefer to use Pusit (or squid).  Hence: Adobong Pusit, or Squid Adobo.

Boasting 30 minutes max from start to table, there’s no reason not to go-cephalo tonight!

Adobong Pusit (Squid Adobo)

Serves 2

  • About 1/2 lb. baby squid (buying pre-cleaned is easier, but if you want an adventure and something much cheaper, go for the whole baby squid — there’s a wonderful video on how to clean and break them down here)
  • 1 mid-size tomato
  • 1 small yellow or sweet onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 peppercorns
  • 1/2 tsp brown sugar
  • 1 dried hot pepper and/or 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
  1. Prep your squid — IF PRE-CLEANED: rinse the squid well under cold water and cut the bodies into rings about 1/4-1/2 inch wide — IF WHOLE: watch the video, clean your squid, and cut your bodies into rings.
  2. Chop your tomato and onion into half-moons about 1/4 inch thick, and dice your garlic.
  3. Heat a dutch oven or wide pot at least a few inches deep and coat with non-stick spray.
  4. Add onion and saute until soft and brown (5-10 minutes).
  5. Add garlic and saute until fragrant (about 1 minute).
  6. Add tomato and saute until tomato is broken down (5-10 minutes).
  7. Add vinegar, soy sauce, water, sugar, peppercorns, bay leaf and pepper (if using).
  8. Let simmer for about 10 minutes until slightly thickened (as you like it).
  9. Incorporate squid and cook for 3-5 minutes ONLY until just cooked through (feel free to pick one up and poke it — it’s done when opaque and just firm).
  10. CLICK THE PHOTO TO SEE ADOBO IN ACTION:
  11. Serve on brown rice!

PS – I served my Adobo with a variation on Ginisang Ampalaya, or sauteed bitter melon, another quick and easy traditional Filipino dish made with onion, bitter melon and scrambled egg!  And just because my boyfriend accidentally bought them instead of normal chives I also added garlic chives (aka chinese chives or nira grass), which ended up serving as a delicious — and green — addition to the dish!  Recipe forthcoming.

Vegetables Make a Great Breakfast Too

The key to a great day is a great breakfast.  Seriously, what better time to make sure you’re well on your way to a satisfied daily quota of fruits, vegetables and fiber than first thing in the morning?

Here’s how I get an easy, vegan and (almost) raw start that makes me feel great no matter what the rest of the day brings:

Grab a pint-sized ball jar (or comparable reused jar). Best way to transport food hands down.

Assemble the mixable components:

  • Something green (e.g. kale, collards, spinach, beet greens, etc)
  • Something sweet (e.g. 1/2 an apple, pear, or orange, etc)
  • Something smooth (e.g. 1/2 a banana, a scoop of nonfat yogurt, etc)
  • Something spicy (e.g. cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, cardamom, a pitted date, etc)
  • Something serous (e.g. a heavy splash of almond or soy milk, orange juice, water, etc)
  • Something berry unexpected (I always try to throw something of color into the mix, be it 1/2 a carrot, a handful of frozen blueberries, and/or a couple grapes — whatever is on hand!)
  • Optionally, something strapping (basically protein powder, if you so wish)

Next, summon the high-power blender gods by lighting incense and chanting “Vitaman” while spinning three times in front of your refrigerator.

Keep that going for a minute or two, and assemble the dry:

  • 1 tbs psyllium husks (an amazing supplement that packs a huge insoluble fiber punch, lowers bad cholesterol levels and sops up liquid, making your smoothie into a yummy porridge :))
  • 1/2 tbs oat bran
  • sprinkle of flax seed
  • 1/2 cup high-fiber, low-sugar dry cereal (I prefer a combo of puffed kamut and Kashi Go Lean)

Add the psyllium husks, oat bran and flax seed to the bottom of your jar.  Package the dry cereal in a separate small container or baggie to maintain the crunch-factor for assembly time.

Pour the veggie mixture over the psyllium in your jar and make sure to give ‘er a good shake to get those psyllium husks mixed in and absorbin’!

Pour that sucker out into a bowl, top with the crunchy dry cereal and damn will you be power-packed to take on the rest of your day.  Guaranteed to keep you greened and regular – just the way I like it.

Not to mention, it turns out to be a different color very time!  Make it a game and have your co-workers guess what each day will bring: Green?!  Red?!  Putrid brown?!  What fun!