June 20, 2013

Blueberry, Kale & Fennel Salad with Lemon-Ginger Dressing

Summer officially starts tomorrow, but my annual raw kick has been up and running for a while now. For the next couple of months my meals will revolve around the water-packed, cooling foods growing in abundance this season.

Leafy greens, crunchy vegetables like bell peppers, cucumbers, and fennel, and juicy summer fruits...they're soothing to the body and soul this time of year, plus they are also rich sources of the nutrients we need to stay energized in this season of movement and expansion. These summertime treats also provide ample amounts of water to rehydrate our bodies after a day spent outdoors in the heat -- or indoors under air conditioning, which also can have a drying effect on the body.

My go-to salad this year features heaps of raw, leafy greens paired with seasonal fruits for satisfying sweetness and nuts for texture and protein. A new favorite rendition incorporates nutrient-packed kale, antioxidant-rich blueberries, cooling fennel, and crispy toasted almonds, all tied together with a light and bright lemon-ginger-honey vinaigrette that complements the salad’s main stars rather than covering them up.
Kale is a good source of bone-strengthening calcium and vitamin K, immune-boosting vitamin C, blood-building iron, and a variety of phytonutrients that may reduce the risk of certain cancers. This dark leafy green is also rich in flavonoids, compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits, and is one of the best plant sources of lutein and zeaxanthin, nutrients that help protect against macular degeneration, a leading cause of vision loss.

A couple of tips for salads based on raw kale. First, it's important to start with good greens. At the market, select kale with smaller-sized leaves, which will be milder, sweeter, and more tender than older, larger leaves. Massaging kale with dressing is a great no-cook method that tenderizes the leaves and brings out their sweetness, while also aiding digestibility and preserving heat-sensitive nutrients, such as vitamin C.

An added benefit of adding a raw kale salad to your meal is that, unlike delicate salad greens, already-dressed kale keeps beautifully overnight in the fridge. I like to eat the leftovers alongside scrambled eggs for breakfast (add some ripe avocado and I'm in heaven!) or stirred into a bowl of steamed rice or quinoa for a quick and light lunch or dinner.

One thing I especially love about this salad is that it's so versatile throughout the year. Mix it up through the seasons by including seasonal fresh or dried fruits in place of the blueberries: stone fruits such as peaches or plums, melon, apples or pears, dried currants, cherries, or apricots. Top with crumbled feta or goat cheese (or another protein of your choice) for a heartier salad that can be served as a main course.

Kale Salad with Blueberries, Almonds & Lemon-Ginger Vinaigrette 
Serves 4
Prep time: 15 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes

1 bunch kale (curly kale or Lacinato/Tuscan kale are my favorites)
juice of 1 lemon (about 3 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon honey (preferably raw; use maple syrup if you prefer)
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ fennel bulb, stalks and tough outer layer removed
½ cup fresh blueberries
½ cup almonds, toasted and roughly chopped (I used Marcona almonds)
sea salt and black pepper, to taste

1. Wash kale thoroughly. Remove stems and chop leaves into bite-sized pieces.

2. Whisk together lemon juice, honey, ginger, and olive oil in a large bowl. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.

3. Add kale to bowl with vinaigrette. Massage kale with clean hands until the leaves begin to soften, 2 to 3 minutes. Set aside for 15 minutes.

4. Grate fennel using the rough side of a cheese grater. Add to bowl with kale and toss gently to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, if needed.

5. Garnish with blueberries and almonds before serving.

April 29, 2013

Shiitake Mushroom and Green Pea Ragout with Chickpea Miso


Despite the calendar's proclamation of spring, my winter coat has remained in frequent rotation for most of this chilly Northeast April, and I've been craving hearty comfort foods on the regular: Mr Yogi's Hatch green chili stew has saved us several times, along with brothy soups, pots of spicy lentil dal, and lots of roasted roots.

I always find the between-season flux particularly challenging, especially from the immunity perspective. So along with my must-have morning lemon-ginger elixir and a few targeted supplements (I've noticed big improvements the last few months with zinc, D3, and B complex), I've been relying on immune-boosting mushrooms and miso to get me through in one piece. Rich in nutrients, these foods also help cleanse the body’s systems and support healthy digestion and immune function.

During a recent recipe testing session I came up with one of my favorite mushroom dishes to date: a creamy shiitake + crimini ragout that's savory and satisfying, punctuated with the verdant sweetness of green peas and herbal fragrance of fresh thyme. Finishing the ragout with a touch of butter lends an extra luxurious quality to the rich, miso-based sauce, but the dish can also be made completely dairy-free by leaving it out.

Serve the ragout alone as a side dish or as a main course with polenta, pasta, or a whole grain such as brown rice or quinoa. I think it would also make a satisfying gravy over a plant-based protein such as seared tempeh or grilled tofu.

Shiitake Mushroom and Green Pea Ragout with Chickpea Miso
Adapted from Saveur Magazine’s Wild Mushroom Ragout
Serves 4

Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 25 minutes

1/2 pound fresh shiitake mushrooms
1/2 pound fresh crimini mushrooms
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
3/4 cup water or vegetable stock
2 tablespoons chickpea miso paste
1/2 cup shelled green peas (thawed, if frozen)
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
Freshly ground black pepper

1.       Trim mushrooms and remove stems, reserving for another use (to make stock, etc). Slice caps into ½-inch strips.

2.       Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add shallots and garlic and cook until tender, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3.       Whisk together water (or stock) and miso paste in a bowl until miso is completely dissolved.

4.       Add mushrooms to skillet and cook until they release their liquid, about 5 minutes. Add miso mixture, peas, and thyme to skillet. Simmer for 5 minutes, allowing the liquid to thicken. Stir in butter and parsley.

5.       Season with black pepper, to taste.

March 26, 2013

Chocolate Chia Pudding Inspired by Hu Kitchen

A couple of weeks ago I had lunch with a friend (Hi, Amy!) at Hu Kitchen. The two of us started working together a few months ago, only to discover that we are both Jersey girls who now live just a few blocks from each other in Manhattan, are getting married within a week of one another in May, practice yoga, and love talking about (and eating) food. Oh, and to top things off, I'm obsessed with Portlandia, and Fred Armisen lives IN. HER. BUILDING! She just needs to start a food blog (c'mon, everybody has one...), and our doppelgangerism will be complete.

Anyway, one fine March Friday Amy and I hopped the subway from midtown to Union Square to check out this new(ish) food spot called Hu. I love the mission of this place: to be a resource for real, high-quality, unprocessed food that's actually good for humans to eat (they're somewhat Paleo-minded in that they eschew refined sugars and grains). We ordered some entrees and sides, and all were pretty good (especially the miso kale salad), but I'll get right to the highlight of our meal, which was dessert: a rich, creamy and super-chocolatey chia pudding.

I usually label anything featuring chia seeds as health food, but this stuff was downright decadent. At first taste we both exclaimed in unison that it tasted just like chocolate frosting, so that's definitely saying something. Before we left, I scanned the pudding's ingredients label (it was in a grab-and-go container, thus bearing an ingredient lists -- so helpful for those tinkerers and re-creators among us). Lo and behold this delicious concoction contained simply coconut milk, coconut sugar, chia seeds, Valrhona cocoa powder, vanilla, and sea salt.

The keys to the richness of this pudding are using thick, creamy coconut milk and top-quality roasted cocoa powder, such as Valrhona or Scharffen Berger (I would avoid raw cacao powder here, as it is lighter and fruitier and can give off notes of alcohol). In my version I added ground cinnamon to help boost the chocolate flavor and subbed maple syrup for the coconut sugar (so I wouldn't need to blend the mixture to dissolve sugar granules).

Chia seeds are a polarizing topic; they seem to be one of those ingredients you either love or hate. There is indeed a 'slime factor' involved when working with chia, and that's not often a characteristic we appreciate in our food. But I admire the chia's thickening power, as well as its wealth of nutritional offerings (good source of omega 3 fatty acids, fiber, protein), and as I've worked with these little seeds in various recipes I've developed a fondness for them.

One thing I've found is that the longer chia seeds soak, the more pleasant (read: less slimy) the pudding's mouthfeel becomes. If the pudding sits for a short time (15 to 30 minutes) the slime factor is more pronounced; but once you get to the 12 + hour mark (I think 24 hours is ideal), the seeds become more fully hydrated and the pudding is not slimy at all, but rather thick, rich, and frosting-like. This is a great recipe to make in the evening to enjoy the next day; I tried it as breakfast, snack, and dessert (it's a tough job, but somebody's gotta do it), and can attest that it fits the bill for each.

Chocolate Chia Pudding
Inspired by Hu Kitchen

Serves 4
Prep time: 15 minutes
Total time: 12 to 24 hours (depending on your desired chia-soaking time)

1 can coconut milk (13.5 ounces)
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup high-quality cocoa powder (such as Valrhona or Scharffen Berger)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
pinch of sea salt
1/2 cup chia seeds
Fresh berries, toasted shredded coconut, chopped dark chocolate, and/or chopped toasted nuts (hazelnuts are particularly good), for garnish

1. Whisk the coconut milk, maple syrup, cocoa powder, cinnamon, vanilla, and a pinch of salt in a medium bowl until smooth. Taste and add more maple syrup and/or cocoa powder until the levels of chocolatey-ness and sweetness are to your liking.

2. Whisk in chia seeds.

3. Let mixture sit for 15 minutes, then whisk again to break up any lumps (this will help ensure that the chia seeds are evenly distributed throughout the mixture). Cover and refrigerate for at least 12 hours and up to 24 hours before serving.

4. When ready to serve, stir pudding until smooth and transfer to small bowls or ramekins. Garnish with berries, toasted coconut, dark chocolate shavings, and/or chopped nuts.