May 30, 2010

grain-free banana almond butter bread

Taking a departure from my usual Sunday morning whole-grain muffin baking, today I felt the urge to try a grain-free, refined-sugar-free, nut-butter-based quick bread. Hmm, no flour, no sugar. Sounds like fun, eh? Stay with me, the results are actually delicious!

Plugging "almond butter bread" into google, I came upon a basic recipe on the blog Grain-Free Foodies. Their bread is based on almond butter, eggs, and honey, with baking soda (activated with vinegar or lemon juice) for leavening. Intrigued, and also somewhat skeptical -- I've never tried baking without some sort of grain product, since even our gluten-free classes in culinary school involved corn flour, oat flour, rolled oats, or the like -- I decided to give it a try.

I made a number of changes to the original recipe: used a couple of mashed ripe bananas in place of the honey (I'm a banana bread fanatic), reduced the number of eggs from 3 to 2, added a couple of tablespoons of freshly ground flax seeds, vanilla, cinnamon, and shards of dark chocolate (roughly chopped from a bar of Endangered Species 72% dark I had in the cupboard). A light sprinkling of date sugar gives a little extra sweetness and crunch on top (date sugar is simply dried dates that are finely ground into a powder. It's a great unrefined sweetener for baking.)

And I was astonished with the results -- the loaf rose beautifully in the oven, emerging tall and golden brown, slid easily out of the pan after cooling for about 15 minutes, and held together perfectly when sliced. The flavor is very banana-y and subtly sweet, with nice hints of complex bitterness from the dark chocolate shards. It has a moist, tender, and light texture and a fine crumb. I've got to admit, I don't exactly understand how this came out so well without any flour. But I'm going with it.

The chocolate is the only source of refined sugar in this recipe; since we're using a small amount of a high-cacao dark chocolate, I don't consider it a big deal. But feel free to leave it out if you prefer -- an equal amount of chopped walnuts, pecans, or unsweeteened coconut flakes would be good in its place.

grain-free banana almond butter bread
Adapted from Grain-Free Foodies

butter or oil for greasing loaf pan
2 ripe bananas, mashed
2 large eggs
1 cup unsalted almond butter (I used chunky)
2 Tbsp freshly ground flax seeds
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of fine grained sea salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp apple cider vinegar (or lemon juice)
1/3 cup roughly chopped dark chocolate, or semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 tsp date sugar (to sprinkle on top)

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. Combine bananas, eggs, almond butter, flax seeds, cinnamon, vanilla, and salt in a large bowl. Blend for a few minutes (I used my electric mixer) until mixture is smooth. 
  3. Add baking soda and vinegar and mix for about 15 seconds more. Stir in chocolate pieces.
  4. Pour batter into a greased loaf pan, and sprinkle date sugar evenly over top. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool on a rack for at least 15 minutes before slicing. 

May 29, 2010

paprika potatoes and asparagus with spring garlic

Have you overdosed on asparagus yet this spring? I certainly have, and yet I can't resist picking up a fat bunch every time I make a trip to the farmers market. It's like the asparagus is stalking me or something (so corny, I couldn't resist.) But really, they're just so perfect right now -- the spears long and lean, with hardly any woodiness at their bases, the purplish tips firm and fresh and tightly closed. Every batch has been incredibly tender and sweet, I can't get enough. A couple of nights ago, my dinner was an entire (and we're not talking diminutive!) bunch of asparagus, sauteed and then tossed with arugula, radicchio, endive, a drizzle of olive oil, and shavings of pecorino. Quite delicious, and yet also quite frightening that I was capable of consuming an entire bunch of asparagus, by myself, in one sitting.

Then we arrive at this lovely Saturday morning, a mere 36 hours after the asparagus overdose dinner. Considering what to make for breakfast with an orphan potato and a single egg, the newest bunch (yes, I've managed to acquire more -- some especially beautiful specimens from a farm in Riverhead, Long Island) began calling to me from the crisper, suggesting a sizzling cast-iron dalliance with cubes of potato, smoky and Hungarian hot paprikas, and a fried egg. Since apparently my resistance is futile when it comes to asparagus, I went along for the delicious ride, even throwing in a couple of bulbs of spring garlic, thinly sliced to reveal the little embryonic cloves forming inside, for a hit of fresh, green garlicky flavor. A fantastic combination.

paprika potatoes and asparagus with spring garlic
and a fried egg, if you like
Cook this in a cast iron skillet, if possible -- something magical happens to potatoes in cast iron. Green beans would also be great in places of the asparagus.

extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 thin-skinned potato, such as Yukon gold, cut into small cubes (about 3/4 cup)
1/4 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 tsp hot Hungarian paprika
1/4 lb of asparagus (10 spears or so), sliced into short lengths (about 3/4 cup)
2 bulbs spring garlic (green stalk discarded), thinly sliced (or scallions)
1 to 2 eggs (optional)
sea salt
black pepper

  1. Heat 1 tbsp oil and butter in a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. When butter stops foaming, add potato cubes, a pinch of salt, and the paprika. Cook until the potatoes are golden brown on all sides, 5 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to low, cover pan, and cook for another 3 minutes or so, until easily pierced with a fork.
  2. Add asparagus and stir to combine. Add a very small amount of water (1 to 2 tsp), cover pan, and cook for about 3 minutes, until asparagus are tender. If any liquid remains in pan, cook uncovered for a few minutes to let it evaporate. Transfer to a plate and sprinkle spring garlic on top.
  3. If making the fried eggs: heat 2 tsp olive oil in skillet over medium heat, add eggs, and cook for about 5 minutes or to desired doneness (I like the whites firm and yolks still a little runny). 
  4. Arrange the fried eggs on top of the potatoes and asparagus, drizzle with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Eat right away!

May 18, 2010

quick skillet-toasted nori

Update 2/22/11: Also see my recipe for spicy, oven-toasted nori chips with wasabi and hot sesame oil - light-years better than the packaged variety!


Nori is one of my favorite sea vegetables. Ubiquitous in sushi rolls, it's also delicious on its own, lightly toasted.

I arrived home from work one evening ravenous and craving a quick snack before going out for a run. Remembering the sheets of nori in the pantry, I cut a few sheets into strips with kitchen shears, heated a little extra-virgin olive oil (could also use sesame oil) in a cast iron pan over medium-high heat, and toasted the pieces of nori on both sides until crispy, about 1 minute per side.

Set the nori strips on paper towel to remove any excess oil, sprinkle with sesame seeds, and there you have it - a quick and easy, natural snack.

May 16, 2010

ginger-garlic greens and arame

I'm always looking for ways to get more sea vegetables into my everyday meals.  They're a rich source of iodine (especially important for people who do not eat fish or seafood), calcium, magnesium, and other minerals, as well as vitamin K, protein, fiber, and healthy fatty acids. Regular consumption of seaweed nourishes the thyroid, cardiovascular, immune, lymphatic, and digestive systems. And as an added benefit, leftover sea vegetable soaking liquid is great for watering plants.

I always throw a piece of dried kombu (kelp) into the pot when making soups and cooking dried beans (helps tenderize them and neutralize some of the complex carbohydrates that encourage gas production in the gut). And I often add dried wakame and arame to vegetable soups during the last 15 minutes of simmering (no need to pre-soak) for a flavor and nutrition boost. Dried dulse flakes can be sprinkled on whole grain dishes; it's especially tasty stirred into kasha with a little butter.

Another favorite method is to saute arame, hiziki, or wakame with dark leafy greens for a dish that is chlorophyll-rich and full of green goodness. Arame is one of my favorite sea veggies -- sweet, with a pleasant flavor that's oceany but not overwhelming. Robust seasoning with tamari, garlic, ginger, and lemon further tames the seaweed flavor, making this dish an effective strategy for introducing people to sea vegetables (or reintroducing those who might not be fans). For interesting variations, try using hiziki (aka hijiki), wakame, dulse, or a combination, and kale, mustard greens, bok choy, or other leafy greens.

ginger-garlic greens and arame
An excellent side dish, this would also make a nutritious vegetarian main course along with a whole grain or soba noodles. To add protein, top with beans or lentils, cubes of baked tofu, or seared tempeh slices.

1/4 cup dried arame
1 Tbsp oil (sesame or extra virgin olive oil would be good)
1 carrot, shredded (about 1/2 cup)
1 bunch collard greens, washed and chopped into bite-sized pieces (5 to 6 cups)
1 clove of garlic, minced
2 Tbsp tamari
1-inch length of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 tsp lemon juice

  1. Soak arame in 1 cup of cool water until rehydrated and pliable, about 15 minutes. Drain, squeezing to remove excess liquid.
  2. Heat oil over medium heat in a deep saute pan, add carrot, and saute until beginning to soften, about 2 minutes.
  3. Add collards and stir until wilted, about 2 minutes more. Stir in arame and cook for another minute. Then add tamari and garlic and a splash (1 to 2 Tbsp) of water, cover pan, and cook until collards are tender and still bright green, about 5 minutes. 
  4. Turn off heat, and add ginger and lemon juice. Delicious hot or cold.