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.

 

espiritusanto

 

loveapplefarm

 

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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.

 

pressingnobakebars

 

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
  • 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.

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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.

Alien Fetus or Vegetable: Jerusalem Artichoke Soup

Ah the sunchoke. What an adorable little thing. Well, when you get one that happens to look like this:

Otherwise, they mostly just look like crippled alien fetuses.

Questionable looks aside, though, the sunchoke — or Jerusalem artichoke — is a wonderfully useful tuber that comes from the bottom of a lovely sunflower-like plant.  In fact, the use of the word Jerusalem in their name likely came from the english corruption of the italian word for the root: girasole, meaning sunflower.

These ugly little buggers are somewhat like a lightly-sweetened cross between a potato, a parsnip, and a rutabaga…all tinged with an earthy hint of artichoke and mushroom. The texture is a little bit like a potato, and a little bit like kohlrabi.  Mysterious.

Often recommended for diabetics, the sunchoke plant doesn’t produce starch like most root vegetables.  Instead, it produces inulin, a polysaccaride undigestible by humans, meaning the root doesn’t produce a spike in blood sugar levels like potatoes or other starchy plants.  This is great and good and the like – but do beware that this characteristic also means it can produce some heavy, unexpected and uncontrollable flatulence in some folks.  Too bad for them!

Further substantiating the resounding approval of the “science of the glycemic index,” the sunchoke contains high levels of potassium, iron, magnesium, fiber and a host of other useful nutrients.  And it’s a great food for the wonderful little microorganisms in your intestine that help you digest things, if not the tubor itself.

AND to reiterate from the beginning — they’re damn tasty!

Inspired by a magical soup concocted by the wonderful crew over at one of my favorite neighborhood haunts, Stateside, I decided to cook some Jerusalem artichokes up for myself.  And my boyfriend.  And boy did it turn out good.  And also boy was it easy.  Sunchokes are coming to a farmer’s market near you…so next time you notice an alien fetus lying next to the mizuna greens, pick up a pound or two.  And make some soup.  Or more specifically, make Jerusalem Artichoke Soup with Sage, Bay Scallops, Crispy Spring Parsnip & Mixed Mushrooms, Chili Oil (and a side of chili toasts).

Jerusalem Artichoke Soup

Sage, Bay Scallops, Crispy Spring Parsnip & Mixed Mushroom, Chili Oil

gluten free, optionally vegan/vegetarian

Serves 2

  • 1 lb sunchokes
  • 1 parsnip
  • handful of small wild mushrooms (shiitake, oyster, maitake, etc.)
  • 1 stalk celery
  • 1 shallot
  • 1 clove garlic
  • a lemon
  • 1/4 cup white wine (preferably dry)
  • 2 1/2 cups vegetable broth or stock
  • 1/4-1/3 cup grass fed milk or organic soymilk
  • sage (fresh or dried)
  • salt & pepper
  • bay scallops (as many as you want)*
  • liquid smoke (optional – but delicious)
  • chili oil (optional – but delicious)
*(to make this recipe vegetarian/vegan try the tofallops from this recipe!)
  1. ROAST PARSNIP: Chop 1/2 of the parsnip into small chunks.  Toss with non-stick spray and a few drops of liquid smoke, if you have it.  Roast in the oven at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until they’re toasty brown.
  2. PREPARE VEGGIES: Meanwhile, chop the celery and shallot, and crush the garlic clove. Rinse the sunchokes under cold water, scrubbing well with a brush. Chop into small chunks (don’t peel them) and toss with the juice from 1/2 the lemon (they oxidize quickly so don’t wait!).
  3. COOK THE VEGGIES: Heat a non-stick spray coated soup pot and add your celery and shallot. Saute until browned.  Add garlic and saute a minute more.  Add sage – about 1-2 tsp crushed up dried or 1-2 tbs chopped fresh.  Allow sage to become fragrant and then add chopped sunchoke and saute for another minute or two.  Add white wine, salt & pepper and allow to cook down for a few minutes, scraping any brown bits off the bottom of the pan.  Add 2 cups of the broth/stock and bring to a boil.  Reduce to simmer for 20-30 minutes or until sunchokes are tender.
  4. CRISP YOUR CHIPS: Meanwhile, slice the remaining parsnip into very thin rounds and slice your mushrooms into very thin slices (unless they are very small in which case you can just leave them whole).  Arrange on a non-stick-spray-coated baking sheet and top with a little bit of dried sage, salt & pepper.  Bake at 400 degrees until crisp (watch them closely and flip if necessary!).  When crisp, let them sit on a paper towel to “dry.”
  5. BLEND YOUR SOUP: Once sunchokes are tender, add in the roasted parsnips from above and blend your soup with a high-powered blender if possible and a hand blender if not.  Finish the soup with the soymilk and a squeeze of lemon juice (but feel free to add more broth/stock if the soup needs thinning).
  6. STEAM YOUR SCALLOPS: Place bay scallops in a steaming basket (or a strainer stuffed into a sauce pan, like I use), and steam over boiling water for about 3-5 minutes or until just firm.
  7. PLATE: Place scallops in the center of your bowl, pour the soup around, top with crisps, and drizzle with chili oil.
  8. SERVE WITH: chili toasts (aka drizzle some chili oil on nice bread and toast under the broiler until crisp!).

When March Gets Confusing: Raw Winter Salad with Maple-Thyme Vinaigrette

The flu is not fun.

After spending literally an entire week incapacitated on the couch with no actual mental activity occuring, the journey drifting back down to lucidity has been long and slow.  Now, two weeks later, I am just beginning to feel normal again.  I can communicate with others, get myself from place to place — I’m even starting to find pleasure in things again!

With the return of consciousness has come a desperate need to delicately rehabilitate my ravaged body.  That nasty bug certainly took a toll on my energy levels and mood.  The answer: an easy to prepare, nutrition-packed power meal to fuel the body without weighing it down.  A foggy trip to the farmer’s market over the weekend meant it was in the cards – but also that it would have to be TOTALLY inappropriate for the coming spring, as my half-conscious self decided to pick up the dregs of winter’s bounty.

So next time you’re so disoriented from a passing illness that you don’t know what season it is, but you’re desperately tired of chicken broth and applesauce, try this on for size: Raw Winter Salad with Maple-Thyme Vinaigrette.

Raw Winter Salad with Maple-Thyme Vinaigrette

gluten free, vegetarian, optionally raw

Serves 2

  • 1 bunch kale (lacinato or red russian are great choices)
  • 1 parsnip
  • 1/2 a sweet potato
  • 1/2 pint of mixed mushrooms (oysters are especially great)
  • 1/2 package of tempeh*
  • currants
  • walnuts
  • raw aged cheese (I used a local PA gem, Hillacre’s Arcadia)
  • Maple-Thyme Vinaigrette (see below)
  1. Gather your kale into a bunch and roll long-ways as tightly as you can into a sort of cigar shape. Slice VERY thinly down the cigar so you get very slim slivers.
  2. Using a mandolin (preferably) or a very sharp knife, slice the parsnip into extremely thin rounds.  Cut the sweet potato in half lengthwise, and then use the mandolin to slice into very thin half-moons.  Cut the tempeh into similarly thin strips.
  3. Using a very sharp knife, slice mushrooms very thinly.
  4. Mix all of the above with your vinaigrette, top with currants, roughly chopped walnuts and shaved cheese.
  5. Easy peasy no cook yum!
Maple-Thyme Vinaigrette
  • 2 tbs minced shallot
  • 2 tbs white wine vinegar
  • 2-4 tsp maple syrup (the real kind)
  • 1-2 tsp lemon juice
  • Handful of soaked cashews (if you don’t have a high powered blender, sub yogurt or mayo)
  • dried thyme to taste
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • water or broth as necessary to reach desired texture
  1. Blend or whisk thoroughly together, taste, adjust, use 🙂
*Tempeh’s status as a raw food is contested. It is made of fermented soy beans, and some raw diets include fermented foods, while others do not. Up to you what you want to do!

Yes, Your Grandmother’s Mole

Remember those times when you were a kid and you thought you knew better than your grandmother so you did something your own way and then it turned out you were wrong and she was right and you felt like a huge idiot and a real jerk?

Basically, that’s what happened to me when I tried to make a mole last Tuesday night.

Mole is a family of traditional Mexican sauces famous for their breadth of ingredients, length of preparation and complexity of flavor. They are the kind of thing you could spend days putting together. And I decided to try for one on a week night. And not just any normal mole. In the typical “emily” fashion, I was determined to make this mole lard-less, carb-less and very low in fat.

Even though I pursued a relatively simple varient of the sauce, Mole Colorado–one of Oaxaca’s seven traditional moles–it still proved to be an endeavor I will never take on after a full day of work again. That being said, I will be making it again after a restful night’s sleep and a strong coffee. Because MAN was this good. Like, really good. Like, maybe one best things I’ve ever made good. Warming, satisfying, rich and complex, you really can’t beat this sauce.

Make a day of it. You won’t regret it.

Thyme-Roasted Kabocha and Tofu with Mole Colorado and Poached Oyster Mushrooms

vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free

Serves 3-4

Mole Components
  • 3-4 dried ancho chilis
  • 1 peppercorn
  • 1 clove
  • 1/2 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 cloves chopped garlic
  • 2 tbs chopped onion
  • 1/2 tomato, in chunks
  • 1/4 tsp Mexican oregano (or marjoram)
  • dash dried thyme
  • 6 raisins
  • 1 tbs sliced almonds
  • 1/4 large banana, sliced
  • 1/2 tbs sesame seeds
  • 2 tbs chopped Guajillo-spiced Mexican dark chocolate (OR 1-2 dried guajillo chilis for use in combo with anchos, 2 tbs bitter chocolate, and 1/2 tsp darn brown sugar)
  • Nut or sunflower oil
  • Stock
Not Mole Components
  • Mid-size kabocha squash
  • 1/2 block firm or extra firm tofu
  • 4 nice looking chunks of oyster mushroom

FIRST PREP CHILIS

  1. Boil a pot of water.
  2. Halve dried ancho chilis (and guajillo chilis if you have them), remove seeds and stem.
  3. Toast chili in a dry skillet moving constantly until lightly browned.
  4. Blanch toasted chili in the boiling water for 10 minutes.
  5. Remove from water and let cool slightly.
  6. Place in food processor or blender with about 1/8 to 1/4 cup water and blend, adding water as necessary to make a smooth, but still thick, paste.
  7. Set aside.

THEN PREP OTHER INGREDIENTS

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Halve squash, remove seeds (reserve for roasting, if you have it in you) and cut into wedges (you can and should leave the skin on and eat it – it’s good!).
  3. Place squash wedges on non-stick sprayed baking sheets and dust with ground allspice, dried thyme and ground pepper.
  4. Cut tofu into 4 rectangular strips about 3/4 inch thick.
  5. Combine peppercorn, clove, allspice, and cinnamon in a small bowl.
  6. Combine garlic and onion in another small bowl.
  7. Combine tomato, Mexican oregano and thyme in a third small bowl.
  8. In ANOTHER small bowl, combine raisins, almonds, and sesame seeds.

GET MOVING

  1. Put the squash in the oven to roast for about 30 minutes while you work.
  2. Dry toast the peppercorn bowl ingredients in your cleaned skillet until fragrant, about 3 minutes or so, moving constantly. Place back in small bowl.
  3. Add garlic and onion, and dry toast until they begin to brown, blacken or char. Remove, and cool slightly.
  4. Combine peppercorn bowl ingredients, garlic and onion in food processor and blend, using as much stock as necessary to make into a paste. Set paste aside.
  5. In same skillet, cook tomato and spices until the tomato begins to lose its juices and dry out, about 5-10 minutes.
  6. Place tomato in food processor and blend that. Set that aside too.
  7. Clean your skillet and heat 1/8 tsp of nut or sunflower oil.
  8. Add banana and let brown.
  9. Add almonds bowl ingredients and continue to cook all until brown and toasted (adding non-stick spray if things get sticky).
  10. Combine all that jazz in the food processor with about 3/4 cup stock and combine that too. Yet again, set aside.
  11. Before you start on finally making the actual sauce, throw the tofu slices onto the baking sheets with the squash to roast as well.
  12. In the deepest, heaviest dutch oven or soup pot you have heat 1/8 tsp oil.
  13. Slowly add the chili paste, stirring constantly to prevent splatter. Cook over med-high heat for about 10 minutes.
  14. Add tomato mixture, and simmer for about 5-10 minutes.
  15. Add onion & spice mixture, and simmer for about 5-10 more minutes.
  16. Add banana nut mixture, and simmer for ANOTHER 5-10 minutes.
  17. Add stock to reach a slightly loose consistency, about 3/4 to 1 cup, and the chopped chocolate, stir and let simmer, cooking down, for about 20-30 more minutes. Stir regularly!
  18. While the sauce simmers, keep an eye on your squash, which will probably take about 30 minutes to roast. The tofu will take less time, and is done when toasty and brown. If anything is done early, just remove it and reheat at 400 degrees before serving.
  19. Put enough stock in a small soup pot to cover the bottom by 1/2 inch. Add a bay leaf and some celery seeds and boil. Add the oyster mushrooms and let simmer with the lid slightly open for 3-4 minutes or so.

TO SERVE

  1. Put the tofu down on your plate and encircle or top with kabocha wedges. Generously ladle your sauce over the squash and top with a poached oyster mushroom bunch. And potentially more sauce. It’s that good.
  2. If you were REALLY industrious, like I attempted to be, you may have also saved some of the kabocha seeds and roasted them as well. If so, top with those (or some pumpkin seeds you may have lying around) for a nice touch.
  3. HOPHEADS ONLY: consider serving with this deliciously juicy beer, a relative newcomer to the Philadelphia scene: The Gauntlet, an Imperial IPA from San Diego’s Iron Fist.

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!

Choose Your Own Adventure: Baked Apples with Leeks, Chestnuts and [Vegan or Not Vegan] Sausage

In a fit of domestic rage induced by two large chicken carcasses taking up the majority of my refrigerator, I decided to (in one weekday night) a) make homemade chicken stock, b) roast two pounds of fresh chestnuts and c) create two versions of a restaurant-quality dinner for my boyfriend and I — one vegan, one not vegan — from thin air.  Don’t ask me why.

Luckily, chicken stock is generally content to entertain itself.  Only a few simple chops and a toss in my brand new 12-quart stockpot and she was ready to go until just before bedtime.  The chestnuts, on the other hand, force you to put some skin in the game.  I saw my fingertips pass before my eyes quite a few times as I attempted to score the sides of these stubbornly encased little beauties.  But all-in-all the prep work was simple:

After thoroughly singeing both thumbs, I finally had enough chestnuts to embark on this ill-conceived culinary adventure: Baked Apples with Leeks, Chestnuts, and Sausage (half vegan half not vegan).

With no clear plan in sight but a vision in place, I assembled the ingredients that either a) I wanted to use up (for instance the leftover vegan “meatballs” from my Ash-e Anar experiment several days before) or b) I thought were necessary components (whiskey for deglazing and milk for moisture):

From there it was on the fly.  I prepared the two different fillings at once side by side — one non-vegan for my boyfriend with rice and no sultanas (lovely plump golden raisins that he hates and I adore), and one vegan with no rice and sultanas for me.

An hour of chaotic improvisation later, I was lucky enough to have these surprisingly gorgeous suckers emerge from the oven.  Hers:

And his:

To top it all off, two hours after dinner I had an enormous vat of delicious homemade chicken stock ready for a quick strain and a night cooling outside on the deck.  Despite a few moments of uncertainty and chaos, it was most definitely a successful Monday night.

Baked Apples with Leeks, Chestnuts, and Sausage

(with your choice of vegan or non-vegan filling)

HER VEGAN FILLING

  1. Heat nonstick spray and saute 1/4 of an onion diced until translucent.  Add 1-2 clove garlic minced.
  2. Add 1 small leek (white and light green parts only), washed thoroughly and chopped. Continue to saute until soft (adding more nonstick spray as necessary).
  3. Push leeks to the side of your pan and add about 1/3 cup worth of vegan sausage substitute, breaking into small pieces as it browns.
  4. Once sausage is thoroughly browned and you have a nice fond (the layer of bits that get crusted to the bottom of the pan when you saute things) going, add a dash of whiskey to deglaze the pan, making sure to scrape off all those good bits.
  5. Throw in a handful of sultanas, a handful of roughly chopped chestnuts, and a tbs or two of chopped flesh from your hollowed apples, and 1/4 cup soy milk.
  6. Continue to heat as you season with thyme, parsley, salt and pepper.  Remove from heat when sauce begins to thicken.

HIS NON-VEGAN FILLING

  1. Melt 1 tbs butter in a saute pan.  Add 1/4 of an onion diced and saute until translucent.  Add 1-2 clove garlic minced.
  2. Add 1 small leek (white and light green parts only), washed thoroughly and chopped. Continue to saute until soft.
  3. Push leeks to the side of your pan and add about 1/3 cup worth of sausage (pork, lamb, chicken, maple — or the vegan substitute if your non-vegan counterpart is up for it — whatever you’ve got), breaking into small pieces as it browns.
  4. Once sausage is thoroughly browned and you have a nice fond (the layer of bits that get crusted to the bottom of the pan when you saute things) going, add a dash of whiskey to deglaze the pan, making sure to scrape off all those good bits.
  5. Throw in a handful of roughly chopped chestnuts and a tbs or two of chopped flesh from your hollowed apples (and sultanas if you like :)), a handful of cooked rice, and 1/4 cup whole milk or cream.
  6. Continue to heat as you season with thyme, parsley, salt and pepper.  Remove from heat when sauce begins to thicken.

ASSEMBLE THE APPLES

  1. Preheat stove to 350 degrees.
  2. Slice off top of each apple (I used gala, because that’s what the corner store had) and scrape out the center with a small spoon or melon baller, leaving about 1/2 to 3/4 inch of flesh.
  3. Fill each apple with stuffing, and place in a baking dish.  Add a small amount of water or apple juice/cider (I had no apple juice so I placed the remaining bits of core from the hollowed apples in the bottom of the dish with enough water to cover the bottom).
  4. Bake for 20-30 minutes until apple is slightly tender to the touch.
  5. Serve with chopped parsley and some grated cheese for the non-vegan (I used a beautiful special-release cow’s milk cheese from Switzerland, Maxx 365 – the aged older brother of Scharfe Maxx, a classic creamy, meaty, and tangy treat — but any non-salty cheese will do, such as gruyere or comte).

Enjoy!

Improvising with Inspiration: Ash-e Anar or Persian Pomegranate Soup

Sometimes when your largely raw diet catches up with you right in the middle of the worst week ever, you just need to do something crazy in the kitchen.

So that’s what I did last week.

I’ve long been intrigued by the cuisine of the Middle East.  It’s one of the most foreign styles of cuisine to me personally and incorporates some unique flavor profiles that I could never cook up on my own.  One particularly alluring dish had long been calling my name, and it features the one ingredient, pomegranate seeds, that I intended to use up in my stress-busting kitchen rampage.  That is, Ash-e Anar, or Pomegranate (anar) Soup (ash), a traditional Persian dish featuring sweet and sour flavors mingling amidst a rich depth of complex aromatics.

I had read up on the history and tradition of the dish, primarily via the wonderful ethnic food blogs Habeas Brulee and Tigers & Strawberries (which I would highly recommend reading before trying to understand my botch of the dish below), and unfortunately while the soup did promised to highlight the intended star of the night, it also called for several ingredients that I never have around the house.  But that was part of the fun.  Improvising with inspiration, I’ll call it.

With inspiration in heart, I set off to improvise with what I had on hand.  Of course meaning it would be a health-conscious vegan version of the dish, but, you know.  Funny enough, though, the soup turned out absolutely delicious, if not “accurate,” and it was certainly unlike anything else I’ve ever prepared at home.  So read on for a chronicle of this stress-busting, not to mention heart-healing (ever read about the health benefits of pomegranate and/or turmeric?!), Persian culinary adventure:

The Ash-e Anar Experiment

Serves 2

SOUP

  • Non-stick spray
  • 1/2 onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1/2 cup red lentils
  • 1 medium beet, small cubes
  • Lotsa (1 tbs?) turmeric
  • Some paprika (2 tsp) and a dash of cayenne (in an attempt to replicate the flavor/color of Aleppo Pepper)
  • Contents of 1 cardamom pod
  • Several dashes of fennel seed
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 3-4 cups stock (I used beef – shh don’t tell the real vegans) or water
  • Squeeze of agave nectar
  • About 1/2 cup pomegranate juice (made from pulverizing about 3/4 cup seeds in food processor and straining)
  • Large handful of chopped red chard
  • Chopped cilantro and parsley to taste
  • Cooked white rice (optional)

“MEAT” BALLS

  • 3/4 tube of sausage-flavored Gimme Lean
  • Chopped fresh cilantro, parsley, scallions and chives (the last living scallions and chives from my garden) to taste
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced

TO SERVE

  • Clove of crushed garlic sauteed with turmeric until golden
  • Pomegranate seeds
  1. Saute onion in large soup pot until soft and golden brown.  Add garlic cloves and saute until fragrant.  Add lentils and continue to saute until they take on some color (a few minutes max).
  2. Add 2-3 cups stock or water (NOTE: you may have to add water/stock later as the soup thickens.  Do as looks right to you at the time).  As you bring to a boil, add turmeric, paprika, cayenne, cardamom, fennel seeds, S&P, and cinnamon stick.  As you reduce from boil to nice simmer, add beet.  Let simmer.
  3. Prepare “meat” balls!  With whatever meat or meat substitute you have on hand, prepare balls by mushing together with chopped herbs and garlic.  Make them about the size of a chestnut or walnut.
  4. NOTE: When finished with “meat” balls, I popped them right into the simmering soup.  In retrospect I should have browned them first, then popped into soup, as the vegan sausage does not cook through properly when simmered like lamb (which is traditionally used).
  5. Once “meat” balls are added to soup (whether browned first or not, your choice!), continue to simmer for another 20 minutes or so.  Most important thing here is that the lentils and the “meat” balls cook through, so play it by ear/taste/touch!
  6. When you’re getting close and your lentils are soft, add a nice squeeze of agave nectar (or honey or sugar or whatever), the pomegranate juice, the chopped chard (or kale or spinach or whatever), and the chopped herbs (really almost any herbs will do).
  7. Simmer until chard wilts and fish out cinnamon stick.  If you would like to have rice in your soup, you can add at this time.  I had no rice, but mixed about 3/4 cup into my boyfriend’s portion.
  8. Serve with a golden-yellow garlic clove and pomegranate seeds.  Voila!  Vegan “Fauxash-e Anar!”  Yum!!

When Cleaning the Fridge Turns into the Greatest Vegetarian Chili Ever Made

Last Monday I found myself in one of those occasional “food prep frenzies.”  With a fridge (too) full of beautiful produce from Headhouse Farmers’ Market, a huge pile of eggplants from my garden to dispose of, and a daunting week of work ahead, I made the decision to get cooking.

First up for an early dinner was an old favorite: Eggplant Tahini Burgers.  This time served with a raw Rainbow Chard Salad:

Aside from the poor year-old freezer burnt -> toaster burnt potato bun, they were DELICIOUS, as usual.  Maybe I’ll get into the details of these recipes later, although at this point they’re a major “winger.”

After slicing and dicing everything that my shitty refrigerator could have possibly ruined by freezing and thawing several times over (as it tends to do) to make a week’s lunches worth of raw salads, I went to work on turning what was left into a made-ahead dinner that could go for at least two nights. Those were the criteria I was shooting for, at least.  And while I know it’s still summer, I saw a can of beans sitting next to a pile of beat-up hole-ridden beet greens and some of my roof-top eggplants, and I couldn’t resist the thought of a nice chunky chili.  But with a serious lack of ground meat in the house (not that there ever is any ground meat in the house), I had to improvise: home-made ground tofu – whatttt.

After a serious dive into the deep dark world of internet chili-flavor forums and a frightening look into into the depths of my pantry, THIS is the beauty that emerged:

Attempting to recreate the hocus pocus that went into this is going to be a challenge,  so I ask that you bear with me, and take this recipe with a grain of salt.  But here it is:

The Best Vegetarian Chili Ever

Serves 4 or something

  • 3/4 block firm or extra firm tofu
  • 1 small eggplant, diced
  • 1 bunch white beet greens, finely chopped
  • 1 small tomato, diced (juice retained)
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 3-6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can black beans, drained (save liquid!)
  • 1 can green olives, drained and halved
  • 26-ounce can fire-roasted crushed tomatoes
  • tiny bar unsweetened very dark chocolate
  • tamari or soy sauce
  • clam juice
  • ground espresso beans
  • dark brown sugar
  • tomato paste
  • cumin
  • cayenne
  • ancho chili powder
  • oregano
  • star anise
  • clove
  • lemon juice
  • salt and pepper
Prepare Tofu-Crumbles
  1. Cut tofu into strips like playing card decks and stack each strip in between as many layers of towels as you can.  Place something heavy on top and leave this way for anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour or two (the longer the better).  Pressing the liquid out of the tofu will help it maintain its form and texture as you crumble and cook.
  2. When the tofu is relatively dry to the touch, take each piece and crumble it with your fingers into bits – whatever size you imagine you would like in a chili.  Maybe some big, some small!
  3. Heat a frying pan and then add either non-stick spray or a bit of canola oil.  When hot, add **approximately** (aka go with your gut) 2 tbs ancho chili powder, 1 tbs cumin, 1/2-1 tbs cayenne pepper, and 1/2 the minced garlic you prepared.  Keep moving for a minute or two, until fragrant.
  4. Add the crumbled tofu (adding a bit more non-stick spray or oil if needed), and mix with toasted spices.  Let sit for 5-10 minutes before moving to allow the tofu to brown.  Then begin to stir regularly until your crumbles are looking crumbly.  Note that they won’t and shouldn’t be crispy or dark brown.  Retaining some of the mush factor is pleasant in the finished product.
  5. Set aside.
Make Chili
  1. Heat a large pot, then add either non-stick spray or a bit of canola oil.  When hot, add diced red onion.  Allow to soften for a few minutes.  Push the onion to one side of your pot, clearing room to toast up **approximately** the same amounts of the same spices you used in your tofu crumble.  This time, also add 1 tbs of ground espresso beans.  Bring up to fragrant levels, and then incorporate with onion.
  2. Add remaining garlic, and cook for another minute or two.
  3. Add eggplant, and cook for another 5 minutes.
  4. Add fresh tomato, and cook for another minute.
  5. Add can of roasted tomatoes, can of halved green olives, small piece (like 1 cm x 1 cm) of unsweetened dark chocolate, 1 tbs tamari, 2 tsp clam juice, 1 tsp dark brown sugar, 1/2 tsp tomato paste, 1/4 cup liquid from canned beans, 2 tsp dried oregano, 2 star anise, and 1 clove.
  6. Bring to boil, and then reduce to simmer.  Cover, and let simmer for an hour.
  7. Add approximately 2 cups finely chopped white beet greens, drained black beans, prepared tofu-crumbles, and salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Heat for another 10-15 minutes.
  9. Squeeze the juice of about half a lemon into the chili, stir, spoon, top with a dollop of sour cream,* and SERVE.
*can be served with any number of delicious chili toppings: sour cream shredded mexican blend cheese, feta cheese, fresh cilantro, avocado, chopped fresh corn, jalapeño, etc. etc. etc.
Note: I made this two days ahead, and then ate it over the course of two days, and it only got better.