Here Comes That Grain Again: Vegan Kamut® Bowl With Peppers, Greens, and Toum

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The bride’s keen on grain bowls lately, and I’m about 47.8% less enthusiastic about quinoa than she is, so I have been poking around for alternatives. While at the store, ostensibly to pick up some farro, I saw this thing in the grain section that looked like a sibling (of farro’s, not of mine): Kamut®. I had no idea what Kamut® was, but that didn’t stop me from bringing it home like a stray culinary puppy. Long story short, it’s a variety of wheat, whose journey out of Egypt was perhaps less tortuous than, but nearly as interesting as, the Jews’.

Allow me to quote from the trademark owner’s website:

    The story of KAMUT® Brand khorasan wheat began in 1949, when Earl Dedman, a US Airman stationed in Portugal, received some unusual looking grain from a friend who claimed to have taken it from a tomb in Egypt. More likely, the friend had purchased it from a street vendor in Cairo, Egypt with the story that it had come from an ancient Egyptian tomb. Earl sent thirty-six kernels of the wheat to his father, R. E. Dedman, a farmer near Fort Benton, Montana. Within six years, the elder Dedman had grown the small number of seeds into 1,500 bushels, calling it “King Tut’s Wheat.”

In 1977, it fell into the hands of Robert Quinn, who tried unsuccessfully to get the people who make Corn Nuts to manufacture a wheat version of the snack with this grain. But Quinn and his dad continued to grow it on his family farm, which went completely organic in 1989. The following year, the USDA recognized the grain as a protected variety officially named “QK-77,” and the Quinns registered Kamut® as a trademark to guarantee that the original grain would remain unmodified and always be grown organically. From there, it got licenced to dozens of producers and is used in products from cereal to pizza… to this grain bowl.

This recipe follows a general formula I’ve developed for grain bowls: grain, some roasted/pan-fried vegetables, an element to add at least a bit of crunch to the texture, wilted greens for a little bitterness, some salt, and an acid (tomatoes, lemon juice, vinegar, or, in this case, toum) as a brightening agent. Please don’t shackle yourself to this recipe! It was created and modified on the fly, riffing on literally dozens of other options I sifted through from Pinterest pages and Google searches.

Instant veggie stock enhances the water.

A NOTE ON COOKING KAMUT®: A little searching on the Internets yielded some insight on how to cook it in an Instant Pot. Much like dried beans, the typical method for preparing Kamut® is to soak it overnight in water (or, in my case, vegetarian bouillon), but I didn’t have the time for that, and I — quite fortuituously — did have an Instant Pot. Much thanks to cookbook author Kathy Hester, whose The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook for Your Instant Pot: 80 Easy and Delicious Plant-Based Recipes That You Can Make in Half the Time yielded the info that if you press the “Adjust” button once after having set the Instant Pot up on the “Multigrain” cycle, “it will look like it’s going to cook for a normal 60 minutes. But on this setting — only on the multigrain 60-minute cycle — the grain first gets a 45-minute warm water soaking before the 60 minutes pressure cooking time. It’s great for Kamut® and other long-cooking grains.” If you don’t have one of these marvelous devices, you can just soak the grain overnight and prepare it according to the directions on the package. That method works just fine, even if it’s a little (well, a lot) longer. [Reminder from Russ Parsons, former LA Times food editor: “Rinse thoroughly. I mean thoroughly. In a strainer under running water.”]

One cup of dry Kamut® looks like this when cooked.

A NOTE ABOUT TOUM: Toum is a garlic-based Lebanese dipping sauce not far removed from aioli or the Ligurian agliata. The best recipe for it that I’ve found is at the Tori’s Kitchen website (she even thoughtfully includes step-by-step photography). If I deviate from her recipe at all, it’s usually to add more garlic, the cowbell of the pantry. There’s just never enough. When you’re making it, be sure your water and lemon juice are really cold, or the sauce might break up. But it’s super tasty, simple to make, and you will discover a million applications for it, from grilled veggie sandwiches to tater tots to pasta.

A Cuisinart full of toum.

Vegan Kamut® Bowl With Peppers, Greens, and Toum

INGREDIENTS:

For the grain:
1 cup / 225g dried Kamut® khorasam wheat
3 cups / 700ml water
1 tbsp. / 15ml Better Than Bouillon Seasoned Vegetable Base (or other vegan bouillon cube)

For the bowl:
2 cups / 325gm cooked Kamut® khorasam wheat
12 baby bell peppers or 2 medium sized regular bell peppers (red/orange/yellow, chopped)
1/2 onion, finely diced
5 oz. / 1 cup / 150g cashews, preferably roasted and salted
sea salt to taste
5 oz. / 140g coarsely chopped greens (this time it was kale, baby spinach, and arugula)
2 tbsp. / 30ml olive oil

For the toum:
3 1/2 – 4 cups / 700ml sunflower or canola oil, chilled
1/2 cup / 70g / about 1 head peeled garlic cloves
1/2 cup / 120ml lemon juice, divided
1/2 cup / 120ml ice cold water, divided
1 3/4 / 10g tsp salt (preferably Kosher salt, fleur de sel, or sea salt)

I was generous with the toum.

INSTRUCTIONS:

Cook Kamut® according to instructions (see A NOTE ON COOKING KAMUT®, above). Set aside.

Make toum according to instructions (see link in A NOTE ABOUT TOUM, above). Set aside.

Chop onion and bell peppers, place in bowl, and set aside. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in large pan on high heat until just about smoking. Add cooked Kamut® and toast, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes or until slightly browned. Lower heat to medium and stir in onion and peppers. Cook for about 8-10 minutes, or until veggies have softened, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, wash and chop greens. When vegetables have softened, add chopped greens and stir until wilted. Add cashews, stir, and salt to taste. Top with toum and serve. Serves 2-3 as main or 4-6 as side dish.

Praying for Grain: Vegan Fried Rice, Mushroom, and Super Greens Bowl

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Asked the bride last night if she had any ideas for tonight’s dinner, and she responded with, “I pinned some grain bowls on my Pinterest page.” Some people find Pinterest really useful and convenient. I am not one of those. So after I looked through all 266 pins in the “No Animals Were Harmed” folder, I wound up (as I often do) perusing Food & Wine’s website. On it, I found this recipe, for Kale-and-Shiitake Fried Rice. It was pretty close to where I wanted to go, but it had eggs, and I was in a vegan mood, so I made a few simple mods for tonight’s meal.

This is super easy to whip together if you already have some cooked rice lying around, so I made a bunch in the Instant Pot last night before going to bed. Obvs, you can use any type of rice, but I find that brown Basmati rice is a good middle path between an insipid white and a cloying brown. The author of the Food & Wine recipe (David Lebovitz) recommended day-old rice, which he says works better to absorb the flavourings. Makes sense, since it will dry out a bit in the fridge overnight. As far as the greens go, I used a mix from the local market, but you could easily add or substitute arugula, collard greens, turnip greens, watercress, or even the leafy part (not the stem) of bok choy. Mustard greens, on the other hand, might overpower the dish, so have a care if you are thinking of adding them.

[NOTE: I love my Instant Pot; I made a whole slew of rice all at once with nary a care. Typically, the recipe for rice in the Instant Pot calls for a 1-to-1 ratio between liquid and dried rice; for brown rice, however, I’ve found that a 1.25-to-1 ratio of liquid to rice works better. Also, the “Rice” button on the front of the cooker is calibrated for white rice. If you are making brown rice, you’ll want to cook it at high pressure for 22-24 minutes, then let the cooker depressurize naturally, which takes about 10 minutes.]

INGREDIENTS

1/4 cup / 60ml olive oil
One 1-inch / 2.5cm chunk of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
2 oz. / 57g sliced or slivered almonds
6 scallions, thinly sliced
12 oz. / 350g mushrooms, thinly sliced
5 oz. / 141g coarsely chopped “super greens” (kale, chard, mizuna, and baby spinach or whatever greens you prefer)
4 cups day-old cooked brown Basmati (or other) rice
3 tablespoons / 45ml lemon juice (juice of one medium lemon) or equivalent rice wine vinegar
Sea salt

DIRECTIONS

In a wok or large skillet, heat the oil. Add the ginger, almonds, scallions, and a pinch of salt. Cook over moderately high heat, stirring constantly, until the ginger and scallions are tender, about 2 minutes. Add the sliced mushrooms and a generous pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the greens, season with salt and stir-fry until wilted, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the cooked rice and stir-fry until heated through, about 3-5 minutes. Serve immediately.
 Serves 2 as a main course (see bowl in picture), or 4-6 as a starter or side.

Pear and Bourbon Croustade

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That plate will mean something to readers of a certain age…

Working with phyllo dough is like working with horses, musicians, or people of whichever gender(s) you find sexually attractive; it’s kind of a pain in the ass, but if you are patient and let them (mostly) have their way, you can achieve magnificent results.

Full disclosure: This recipe is derived from “Apple and Calvados Croustade” by Leslie Brenner, originally published in the Los Angeles Times on 12 December 2007. Fuller disclosure: it, in turn, was inspired by a recipe for Apple and Armagnac Croustade in the Cafe Boulud Cookbook by Daniel Boulud and Dorie Greenspan. “Okay, enough with the disclosures already” even fuller disclosure: I have interviewed Boulud and Greenspan on multiple occasions, and their recipes and aesthetic are beyond reproach. So why didn’t I just make their croustade? I’m glad I asked me that. Basically, I wasn’t feeling like apples the night I decided to make it, and pears were in season (and cheaper). It seems that the basic croustade shell could be a happy edifice for all sorts of fruit compotes (peaches, mangoes, and papayas would all likely perform well, so long as they weren’t overripe). I might even have a go at carambolastar fruit — some day, so feel free to play.

Feelin’ hot hot hot.

A note on alcohol, fire safety, and children. When I was a kid, helping out one or another of my grandmothers in the kitchen, I would have just adored being part of a flambé. Well, perhaps not the flambé itself, but part of the process. You are the best judge as to whether your children should be permitted in the kitchen — or the county — when you do this. So long as they stand back at least three feet, everything should be hunky dory, and perhaps even better if you say “Don’t tell [other parent or siblings] I let you help me, okay?” That’s the kind of secret kids love to keep, although they may not be successful in so doing. When it comes to fire safety, I had a sheet pan sitting out that I could employ to cover the flambé pan post-haste, breaking the “oxygen” side of the “oxygen-heat-fuel” fire triangle. Lastly, if alcohol is an issue for you, feel free to leave it out. After all, we’re basically putting a fruit compote into a phyllo dough crust, and there are no fewer than 17,583 ways to do that.

Save some for the baker.

Making your own phyllo dough: Don’t. Life is too short.

The apple version of this croustade seems to have originated in the southwest of France (the name derives from the Occitan crostada, literally “crusted”), and this style of dessert is mainly found in Midi-Pyrénées, now part of Occitanie. It may be known also by pastis (which it is called in the Quercy and the Perigord) or tourtière (in the Tarn and the Landes). In the Gers, the croustade is called Pastis Gascon (not to be confused with the aperitif!).

A bowl of Bartletts.

GEAR

Small fine mesh strainer or sifter for applying powdered sugar
Pastry brush
Silicone mat or parchment paper
Baking sheet
9″ / 225mm tart ring (size may vary some; see below)
Canola oil spray for lubricating tart ring and parchment paper (optional)
Thin, lint-free towel (approx. 18″ x 24″ / 455mm x 600mm)

Mise en place after pears are cooked.

INGREDIENTS

1 stick plus 2 tablespoons (113g + 30g) butter, divided
6-8 Bartlett (or other, except Asian) pears, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/3″ / 8.5mm slices
1 moist, plump vanilla bean
1/4 cup / 50g light brown sugar (you can substitute white sugar; i preferred the brown for an extra “bass note”)
1/3 cup / 75ml vanilla-infused bourbon or pear brandy or pear eau de vie or rum (should be 70 proof / 35% alcohol or higher)
1/2 package of frozen phyllo dough (.5 lb. / 225g, containing about 20 sheets or so), thawed
[NOTE: The phyllo take 2 hours to thaw at room temp or overnight in the fridge]
1/2 cup / 60g powdered sugar (or more, as needed)
1/3 cup / 35g sliced almonds, divided

DIRECTIONS

Peel and cut pears into 1/3″ / 8.5mm slices. Set in bowl and set aside. [Normally, I would have the bowl filled with acidulated water to prevent the pears from going brown, but since you’re going to caramelize them, that’s not an issue.] Cut the vanilla bean lengthwise in half and, using the tip of a small knife, scrape the seeds over the pears and drop the pod on top. Add the 1/4 cup / 50g brown sugar to the pears in the bowl and stir gently.

Melt 4 tablespoons / 55g / one-half stick of butter in a large skillet over medium heat. When the butter is foamy, add the pears with the vanilla and the sugar and cook, stirring occasionally and gently, until the pears are lightly caramelized and soft, about 20 to 25 minutes. Add your alcohol of choice and, standing well back while using a long match or grill-style lighter, set it aflame. When the flames subside, turn the pears over in the sauce; when the the alcohol has reduced to a glaze, transfer the pears to a bowl and allow them to cool to room temperature. Remove vanilla bean. [If you started late at night and want to finish up the next morning, as I did, or need to take a break, you can do so here. Just cover the lot with cling film, pop it all in the fridge, and come back when you’re ready to pick up again.]

Center a rack in the oven and heat it to 350°F / 175°C. Grease a 9″ / 225mm tart ring (I used the side of a springform pan) and place it on a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat or parchment. Melt the remaining butter and set it aside. Unfold the phyllo dough on your work surface and cover it with a damp towel.

Working quickly, remove the top sheet of phyllo (re-covering the remaining sheets), brush it lightly with butter, and dust it with powdered sugar. Gently and loosely crumple the dough into a circle and lay it into the pastry ring. Sprinkle it with a few of the almonds. Repeat this procedure five more times, until you have six buttered, sugared, and almond-sprinkled sheets of phyllo layered in the ring. Do not press them together — let them keep some height.

Spoon the pears into the center of the croustade, leaving a 1-inch / 25mm border bare. Working as you did before, butter, sugar, and crumple two sheets of phyllo, fitting them loosely over the pears. Sprinkle this layer with the remaining almonds, and cover this with another pair of crumpled, buttered, and sugared sheets of phyllo. Drape the phyllo artfully, so it looks good. Don’t feel bad if a phyllo sheet tears; just pick up the remaining part and arrange it adjacent to its sibling. And if it goes completely sideways, as, say, cling film sometimes will, you can make a command decision to ditch the dough or just tuck its shards someplace toward the middle for “texture.”

Slide the croustade into the oven and bake for about 10 to 12 minutes, watching the top of the tart carefully to make certain it doesn’t brown too much (depending on your oven, you may want to rotate it at the halfway mark). When the top is just lightly browned, remove the croustade from the oven.

Increase the oven temperature to 400°F / 200°C. Butter and sugar another pair of phyllo sheets, loosely crumple them and place them side by side on the previous layer to make a light, airy crown. Bake for 5 to 10 minutes, or until lightly browned, then remove it from the oven again.

Butter the last sheets of phyllo and, once again, crumple them to make a crown. Place them on top of the croustade and dust it heavily with some of the remaining powdered sugar. Return it to the oven and bake until the top layer caramelizes evenly, about 5 to 10 minutes. Check the progress of the sugar frequently, because — like toast — it can go from brown to burned in a flash. Pull the croustade from the oven as soon as the top is a golden caramel color and allow it to cool for 5 to 10 minutes. Dust it one last time with a little powdered sugar.

To serve, lift off the tart ring and, using two wide spatulas, transfer the croustade to a serving plate. Serve warm or at room temperature the day it is made, with crème fraîche, very lightly sweetened whipped cream, or vanilla ice cream.

[CODA: I used a silicone basting brush for the butter, and while it was okay, it wasn’t brilliant. A paintbrush-style brush would have worked better. It is apparently customary in France to cut these with a pair of long, sharp scissors. However you decide to do it, the croustade is going to shed some of its golden phyllo. If you’re cutting it up in the kitchen, you can gather the crumbs and arrange them as artfully as possible, or just hide them under the whipped cream. Finally, this is plenty sweet without any help, so feel free to serve it plain.]

Back to the Present — A Birthday Carrot Cake

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A million years ago, when I was in high school, I used to make carrot cakes and zucchini bread all the time. It was the Seventies, and one simple way to gain hippie cred as a baker (not to mention impress the opposite sex) was to reproduce these down-to-earth desserts whose defining ingredients are, somewhat counterintuitively, vegetables. Most of the carrot cakes I’ve ever consumed have been pretty decent, so I’ve long inferred that it’s not exactly rocket surgery to make one. It seems, though, that the cake can veer off a fairly forgiving path at one of two main forks: 1) it can be too dry; and 2) the frosting can be too sweet.

Overcoming the dry part is easy. Make sure you have enough liquid, and don’t overbake the cake. Duh. The frosting is a bit trickier, but not much, really. Have a care when adding sugar, and taste it along the way. A little lemon juice can ameliorate a heavy hand with the sweetener, but it’s better to get it right on the first go.

This past weekend, one of my high school pals was celebrating her 60th birthday, and I volunteered to make her a pair of birthday desserts. One was the internationally famous Tarta de Santiago (although I chose not to adorn it with the St. James cross stencil). The other was the old standby carrot cake, the likes of which I had pumped out with some regularity when I was far more hirsute and far less corpulent. Back in the Internets-free day, I relied upon a recipe from Joy of Cooking, or maybe the Betty Crocker cookbook that my mom gave me when I moved out. While Betty Crocker’s tome has long since disappeared, some edition of Joy of Cooking is usually close to hand, and I suppose I could have gone back to that, but I wondered if, in the last 40-ish years, there might have been another, more captivating recipe turned loose on the public.

Dorie Greenspan is a brilliant writer, an excellent cook, and a lovely person, so when I saw her recipe, I knew I had a foundation from which I could work. To be sure, the muscle memory of having made dozens and dozens of carrot cakes had not been entirely lost, but I wanted a starting point. The roadmap I ultimately followed deviated from hers but slightly; I used gluten-free flour because one of the dinner guests expressed a preference. To my delight, the flour didn’t diminish the cake’s moist finish. And while Dorie’s recipe (and, in fact, many other recipes) called for 1.5 cups of oil, I used a combination of olive oil and buttermilk to give the finished product a bit more tang. Olea Farm’s Lemon Blush olive oil is a house favourite; it’s a blend of EVOO and oil from lemon zest. [You should check out all their infused oils.]

Also, Dorie’s cake is a multi-tiered affair, but I opted for the simpler single-layer cake of my youth. You have to cook it a fair amount longer, but it’s pretty forgiving. Don’t stress.

Because my friend is a big fan of peacock feathers, I topped the cake with a sheet of printed icing in addition to the cream cheese frosting. It seemed to be a hit, and it didn’t detract from the flavour of the cream cheese frosting, so rock on. It’s a bit on the pricey side, so you can feel free to omit this step, but it looked really cool.

INGREDIENTS

Cake:
2 cups/240g Bob’s Gluten-Free 1-to-1 Baking Flour
2 teaspoons/10g baking powder
2 teaspoons/14g baking soda
2 teaspoons/12g ground cinnamon
¾ teaspoon/4.25g salt
3 cups/150g grated carrots (you can grate the carrots with a box grater, in a food processor fitted with a shredding blade, or just be lazy and buy them pre-shredded, as I did this time)
1 cup/125g coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans
½ cup/75g moist, plump golden raisins (or dark)
12 oz./340g/1.5 cups sugar (I used turbinado)
1 cup/250ml Olea Farm Lemon Blush olive oil
½ cup/125ml buttermilk
4 large eggs

Frosting:
8 oz./225g cream cheese, at room temperature
1 stick/8 tablespoons/113g unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ pound/350g (2¾ cups) confectioners sugar
1 tablespoon/15ml lemon juice
1½ tablespoon/25ml vanilla extract
1 or 2 peacock feather frosting sheets, optional

PREPARATION

For the cake: Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Grease a 10-inch by 14-inch by 2-inch cake pan; flour the insides and tap out the excess if you plan on serving the cake on a platter rather than from the pan.

Whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and set aside. In another bowl, stir together the carrots, chopped nuts, and raisins.

In a third bowl, combine and beat the sugar and oil until smooth. Add the eggs one by one and continue to beat until the batter is even smoother. If you are working with a mixer, reduce the speed to low; if you’re working by hand, switch to a large rubber spatula, and gently stir in the flour mixture — mix only until the dry ingredients are moistened. Then gently mix in the carrots, chopped nuts, and raisins.

Slide the pan into the oven. Bake the cake for 60 to 75 minutes, rotating the pan front to back at the midway point. The cake is ready when a knife inserted into the center comes out clean; the cake should just have started to pull away from the edges of the pan. Transfer the pan to a cooling rack, cool for 10-15 minutes. If serving on a platter, turn out onto rack to cool to room temperature. (At this point, the cake can be wrapped airtight and kept at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to 2 months; thaw before frosting.)

For the frosting: Working with an electric hand mixer, beat the room-temperature cream cheese and butter together until smooth and creamy. Beat in the lemon juice and vanilla extract. Gradually add sugar and continue to beat until the frosting is velvety smooth.

Frost the cake. Should you decide to use the peacock frosting sheets, follow the instructions in their packaging. [Basically, you lift the printed frosting sheet(s) off a non-stick page and place it/them on the cake.] Pop it all into the refrigerator for 20 minutes or so to give the icing a chance to set.

Serve to your delighted guests. Or hog it all to yourself, no matter to me. But be aware: due to the oil, buttermilk, cream cheese, butter, sugar, et al, it’s got a fairly robust caloric count, so this should be an occasional treat, not a standby for the weekly dinner menu.

Enter The Octagon. Salad, that is.

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This is going to be a little frustrating for those of you who need precise measurements or who aren’t comfortable grilling a steak. I’m just warning you up front, so you won’t be disappointed and won’t waste your time. That said, if you are agreeable to a bit of improv, you’ll be rewarded with a tasty, carnivore-pleasing meal. It’s called the Octagon Salad, not in homage to the ridiculous 1980 film starring the ridiculous Chuck Norris, but because it has eight elements, to wit:

    INGREDIENTS
    Mixed Greens
    Grilled Steak, cut in strips [Chicken or Pork may be substituted if desired]
    Corn (fresh, canned, or frozen)
    Tomatoes (cherry or grape; chopped sun-dried tomatoes can be substituted)
    Marinated Bell Peppers (1 jar usually does it for me)
    Cashews (preferably roasted and salted)
    Tortilla Strips*
    Cilantro-Pepita Caesar Dressing
    Finishing salt

The beauty part of this salad is that, apart from the steak and the tortilla strips, it can all be assembled from pre-packaged ingredients; cherry or grape tomatoes work particularly well in that regard (you can slice them in half if you feel the need). It’s also a terrific way to use up leftover grilled meats, should you have some. While I’ve tried making this with store-bought rotisserie chicken, the texture just doesn’t work, so I advise against it. I haven’t yet tried it with grilled sausage, but I’m sceptical as to whether it would work… maybe an herbed chicken sausage could be acceptable. Or maybe not. [If you find one that fits, please let me know!]

As for the cilantro-pepita dressing, if you happen to live in California (as I do), it’s a pretty good bet that one of your local supermercados carries the El Torito brand, which is right tasty, if somewhat expensive. If you are feeling more adventurous, or are just plain thriftier, copycat recipes for a DIY version can be found here and here.

The steak, corn, tomatoes, and marinated bell peppers can be combined with the dressing ahead of time, and if you have more than one evening’s worth of those ingredients, they may be kept in an airtight container in the fridge for a few days. Don’t add the cashews or the tortilla strips until the very end, or they’ll lose their crunch (part of this salad’s attraction is its variety of textures). It is best served al fresco with a white wine (Sancerre, Albariño, and Moschofilero all work well) or a rosé (even sparkling!), but if you are watching calories, some lemon and cucumber spa water is an excellent substitute.

Be sure to sprinkle a tiny bit of coarse finishing salt over each individual plate immediately before serving. This is a place where a little Pink Himalayan salt or black “lava” salt (which is just salt mixed with charcoal, incidentally) can add some visual interest. I have a bunch of different salts from all over the world for just this purpose. Trust me, your guests will feel special when you tell them that you had your grey sea salt shipped in from the Guerande Salt Ponds on the Breton coast. Or they may just consider you a dimwitted gasbag easily fished in by the latest culinary fad. But either way, it will be entertaining for them, and that’s the point.

And yes, I realize that the finishing salt brings the ingredient total up to nine. But who would want to eat a nonagon salad?

*The way to get the tortilla strips done as in the photo is to purchase a package of taco-sized corn or flour tortillas (spinach- or tomato-enhanced tortillas add an extra colourful dimension), cut them into quarters, stack the quarter-rounds and slice off 1/4″ (6mm) strips. Heat up about 1/2″ (13mm) of canola or other high-smoke-point oil in a frying pan, and dump in the strips, stirring until browned. Remove strips from frying pan with slotted spatula and cool on paper towels. If you have extra, pop them in a Ziploc bag and save for later; they should be fine for at least a week, but they never seem to last that long.

Soupe de la Semaine: Sweet Corn Gazpacho [Vegan]

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Gazpacho atop the Eiffel Tower. That’s what I call culture clash.


Summertime, and the livin’ is… well, pretty darn warm if you’re in the southwestern quadrant of the United States, which I am. Any excuse not to turn on the stovetop or the oven is quite welcome right around now, so I went casting about the Internets for some cold soup options.

I’m no stranger to the concept of gazpacho; my longtime go-to gazpacho recipes (both red and white) came from José Andrés, though the latter was recently challenged by a white gazpacho recipe from Michael Chiarello, who most graciously forwarded it to me personally when I was working a benefit for Paula Wolfert. He made me promise that I would not share it in print or electronically. [If you want to taste it, you should go to his restaurant in San Francisco, Coqueta. In fact, you should go there anyway, just because.]

Several recipes for this dish caught my eye, including ones from Vegetarian ‘Ventures, The Endless Meal, and Spoon Fork Bacon. There are not ginormous differences among the three of them (or mine, for that matter), so by all means go where your taste buds lead you. I wanted a dairy-free version, because I’m always on the hunt for recipes I can prepare for some lactose-averse friends who are also excellent dinner guests. And with the exception of a tiny drizzle of olive oil and a few grains of salt, there’s nary an ingredient with which even the fussiest of health Nazis could quibble.

I will insert one caveat here. Because there are relatively few ingredients, and because they are all raw (save for the beans), spend the extra time (and, if you have it, money) to procure the very freshest and best. Te juro que, the difference between a great olive oil and a decent one is like the difference between making out with Hugh Jackman and Seth Rogen. Or Eva Green and Amy Schumer. Maybe, to be more PC, it’s the difference between driving a Honda Civic and a McLaren 570GT. Now I drive a Honda Civic, and it’s a damn fine car, but it’s not transcendent. And since the monetary difference between bulk olive juice and an EVOO that’s got both a pedigree and a point of view is probably something in the nature of a sawbuck (or a sawbuck and a fin), I’m giving you permission — actually, I’m practically begging you — to indulge.

Ain’t they gorgeous?

That’s where I come to point number two. Speed and convenience would dictate the use of canned white beans. I get it. I have used them often, and will in the future, should I be pressed for time. But I invested a whopping $5.95 for a pound of Rancho Gordo dried Alubia Blanca beans, and I took the 30 seconds of prep, the 35-ish minutes of pressure cooking in my Instant Pot, and the overnight stay in the chill chest to give this gazpacho an extra touch of class. The Alubia Blancas have excellent texture, a skin that virtually disappears, and a subtle but lovely taste that’s worth the effort. This is more like the difference between driving a Camaro and a McLaren, but again, a very affordable luxury. And you’ll have a bunch of beans left over for another recipe.

Did I mention no cooking? I happen to have a fairly ancient Vita-Mixer I got off Craigslist, and I heartily recommend going a bit retro in this case. More metal, less plastic, fully functional, and a whale of a lot cheaper. If you don’t have one, this recipe can be easily replicated in any food processor with a decent size bowl, although you may have to do it in multiple passes.

Sweet Corn Gazpacho
Makes 6 to 7 cups (about 1.5 liters)

Ingredients:
5 ears of sweet corn (reserve one ear for garnish), with kernels stripped off the cob (save milk if there is any)
12 ounces (about 2 heaping cups/350 gm) yellow cherry or grape tomatoes
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and roughly chopped
1/2 medium shallot or 1/4 small sweet onion, chopped
2 to 5 garlic cloves (how worried are you about vampires?)
8 oz./225 gm cooked Rancho Gordo Alubia Blanca (or half of a 15 oz./425 gm can white beans, drained)
.75 to 1.25 cup/175-300 ml vegetable stock
30 ml lime juice/1 fresh lime, squeezed
1/2 teaspoon/1 gm cayenne pepper
garnish:
pinch Saltverk Black Lava Salt
3/4 teaspoon/4 ml Olea Farm Arbequina extra virgin olive oil
raw sweet corn kernels
cilantro leaves

There’s a reason you strain. Fiber has its purposes, but taste is rarely one of them. You’ll probably end up with 1/3 to 1/2 cup of solids that will serve better as compost than dinner.

Directions:
1. Slice fresh kernels off the cob (and reserve one ear’s worth of kernels for garnish).
2. Place the corn and remaining ingredients (including the corn “milk,” if there is any) into a food processor or Vita-Mix and thoroughly blend until smooth, 3 to 4 minutes. Refrigerate mixture for at least an hour.
3. Strain mixture through a sieve or China cap. Return strained gazpacho to refrigerator.
4. When ready to serve, adjust seasonings.
5. Ladle gazpacho into coupes or bowls and garnish with raw corn, cilantro, olive oil, and salt. Serve.

Garnishes are usually mere fripperies, but here they make a huge difference. The corn kernels punch up the sweetness, the cilantro gives the soup some leafy, chlorophyll-y interest (you could use basil or thyme if you were of a mind), and the olive oil provides a certain elegance. The salt (which is black thanks to the addition of carbon) brings some visual interest and some depth. I’m hooked on finishing salts, and this one was sent to me by a friend who lives in Denmark, so it makes me smile when I use it. It’s okay to use an ingredient just because it makes the dish pretty or because it stirs a fond memory.

I may wind up substituting pimentón de la Vera for the cayenne pepper in a future batch. I guarantee there will be many future batches.

Soupe de la Semaine: Vegan Hot and Sour Soup

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M-m-m-m-m m-m-m-m-m good.

M-m-m-m-m m-m-m-m-m good.

It all started with a bag marked Dried Black Fungus (Whole).

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Okay, I’m a geek. I admit it. Some people go to the beach, others go to art museums. I go to ethnic and foreign grocery stores. I’m happy to wax poetic about my experience at Carrefour in Galicia, but this one was much closer to home. It’s a market called LAX-C, and while it’s nowhere near LAX (a/k/a Los Angeles International Airport), it (like the airport) encompasses several of Los Angeles’ communities quite vibrantly. While strolling the aisles, I saw this bag of dried black fungus and just had to have it. Somebody out there clearly used this stuff, so it wouldn’t kill me, I figured. Into the shopping cart it went. I could figure out later what it really was and how it might be used.

When I got home, I discovered that it was nothing more exotic than dried wood ear mushrooms. I felt like kind of a naïf, but as luck would have it, I knew exactly how they might be deployed in a recipe.

I’ve been eating hot and sour soup for as long as I’ve been dining at Chinese restaurants, which is more than half a century. And yet, I never tried to make it myself until last night. Idiot me. Wow, this is simple. If you can operate a spoon, a knife, a pot, and a flame, you can do this. And if you have a cold, as I did when I made it, this soup beats the living tar out of chicken soup in terms of restorative powers.

NOTE: It’s easy to convert this soup to the trad non-vegan version, too. First, substitute chicken stock for vegetable stock. Then, add some shredded cooked chicken (or shredded cooked pork) at the same time you add the mushrooms, and right at the very end, beat a couple of eggs in a small bowl, and drizzle them into the soup as you stir it (that keeps them from lumping up).

If you want to keep this gluten-free, use tamari sauce rather than soy, and have a care if you are buying commercial vegetable broth that it doesn’t contain any grains that have gluten. Chances are, if it’s gluten-free, it will say so somewhere on the package.

INGREDIENTS

    2.5 oz. / 70 g package dried Chinese fungi, such as wood ears or cloud ears
    6 oz. / 170 g sliced fresh shiitake mushrooms
    8 oz. / 225 g canned bamboo shoots, sliced
    1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
    1 tablespoon / 20 g red chile paste, such as sambal oelek
    1/4 cup / 60 ml soy sauce (or tamari sauce if you want to keep it gluten free)
    1/4 cup / 60 ml rice vinegar
    1 teaspoon / 6 g salt
    1.5 teaspoons / 3 g ground white pepper
    1/2 teaspoon / 2.5 ml sesame oil
    8 cups / 1.89 liters vegetable stock
    8 oz. / 225 g firm tofu, drained and sliced in 1/2-inch cubes
    2 tablespoons / 16 g potato starch mixed with 1/4 cup / 60 ml water (you may also use cornstarch)
    4-6 green onions, chopped, for garnish
Soaking your fungi.

Soaking your fungi.

DIRECTIONS

Place the dried fungus into a bowl and cover with 4 cups / 1 liter boiling water. They should soften in about 20 minutes to half an hour. Squeeze them out into the bowl and place them on a chopping board. Reserve the liquid (it goes in the pot later).

Toss out the nasty tough bits.

Toss out the nasty tough bits.

Slice up the fungus into spoon-size bits. You will find that the “stem” (pictured above) is particularly tough, so cut it out and discard it. It may be white, or it may not, but you will be able to tell with your fingers that it’s not been rehydrated. (It was only the very center of those two mushrooms that I tossed; there was still a fair amount of useable fungus.)

Strain the remaining juice into a heavy soup pot or dutch oven (don’t want any mushroom grit). I had 3 cups / 700 ml mushroom water, so the remaining 5 cups / 1.1 liters of liquid came from vegetable stock, and I put that on a fairly high heat to bring it to a boil. You can add the mushrooms (both kinds) at this time.

Drain the sliced bamboo shoots and slice to matchstick width (I cut mine in thirds lengthwise), and add to broth. Grate the ginger into the pot (a microplane works well for this if you have one), or grate over cutting board with box grater and add to pot.

Add chili paste, soy/tamari sauce, sesame oil, salt, and rice vinegar to soup. Stir. Add white pepper 1/2 tsp. / 1 g at a time, and taste; I like it hot, but you may want to stop at 1 tsp. 2 g if you are not a heat freak. If soup is boiling, back it off to a simmer. At the 15 minute mark of so, add the drained and cubed tofu.

In a separate bowl, whisk 2 tablespoons / 16 g potato starch with 1/4 cup / 60 ml cold water to make a slurry. Transfer slurry to pot, stirring soup with whisk as you do to prevent clumps from forming. Cook a further 10 minutes and allow to thicken. Add chopped green onions and serve. Serves 4-6.

NOTE: The process can be speeded up dramatically if you do your mise en place ahead of time. Basically, you need to have the mushrooms and the bamboo shoots in the hot broth for about 10 minutes to sofeten them up, and you need a further few minutes to allow the potato starch slurry to thicken the soup. If you use a cornstarch slurry to thicken the broth, it needs a little time to cook off the pasty taste. That’s why I like potato starch.

Also, the “hot” is coming from the white pepper and the “sour” is coming from the vinegar, so those are the two variables you’ll want to control most carefully to achieve the balance you want. You may want to add each of those a bit at a time, tasting as you go.

Soupe de la Semaine: Turkish Roasted Red Pepper & Tomato Soup -or- Közlenmiş Kırmızı Biberli ve Domatesli Çorba [Gluten-Free and Vegan]

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I was tempted to call it the "Istanbowl." Shame on me.

I was tempted to call it the “Istanbowl.” Shame on me.

Yeah, the title is a mouthful. Happily, though, so is the soup.

I didn’t sample this when I visited Istanbul back in the ’80s, but I think I have some general sense of the Turkish flavour palate, and since this dish is reputed to be much like chicken soup is in America (which is to say that there are a quadzillion variations), this should be on pretty safe ground. I consulted with my Turkish pal Nil ex post facto (sending her the picture you see above), and she confirmed that I was in the ball park, and that I had nailed the spelling. HI’d hte to give y’all a recipe for Turkish Roasted Red Bat Turd Soup thanks to a typo.

Many recipes call for bulgur wheat as the thickening agent and starchy backbone, but I opted for quinoa, since it’s gluten-free and generally considered safe for celiac patients, depending on whose article you read. If that’s not an issue for you, help yourself to bulgur wheat, rice, or even Israeli couscous (which is actually a pasta) in its stead. The smokiness comes not only from the roasted peppers, but also from the fire-roasted tomatoes and the pimentón de la Vera (or smoked paprika). You may add a pinch of smoked salt to finish before serving if you wish. Lots of bass notes to be had here. You can always add the zest of 1/2 lemon or a teaspoon (5 ml) of vinegar if you feel it needs to be brightened up, but I don’t think you’ll need it, as the acid in the tomatoes should balance it nicely. Some recipes also call for cornstarch as a thickening agent; I would deploy a tablespoon / 10 g of potato starch in a slurry if I thought it needed it. You be the judge.

The biggest downside of this soup is that it requires some time to bring together, unless you happen already to have roasted red peppers (not the marinated kind) and cooked quinoa in your fridge. In that case, it’s a snap. But it will take somewhere between 30-40 minutes-ish to cook the quinoa, and maybe 35 minutes to groom your peppers to soup-readiness. Your patience and dedication will be rewarded!

INGREDIENTS

    3 red bell peppers, halved, de-seeded, and roasted, with skins removed
    3/4 cup / 135 g dry quinoa, cooked (use package instructions) [will yield 2 1/4 cups / 415 g]
    2 tablespoons / 30 ml olive oil
    1 onion, diced
    3-4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
    2 tablespoons / 5 g sun-dried tomatoes, chopped (or red pepper paste or tomato paste)
    1 teaspoon / 2.5 g smoked paprika (I prefer Spanish pimentón de la Vera, and I used picante/hot rather than dulce/sweet)
    1/2 teaspoon / 1.5 g red pepper flakes, to taste
    1 teaspoon / 2.5 g dried mint (maybe double that if using fresh)
    28 oz. / 793 g can fire-roasted tomatoes (or 10-12 fresh tomatoes, roasted and chopped)
    8 oz. / 227 g tomato sauce
    4 cups / 950 ml vegetable broth
    Salt & coarsely ground black pepper
    OPTIONAL: 1 tablespoon / 10 g potato starch for thickening
    OPTIONAL: Fresh mint for garnish
    OPTIONAL: Sour cream (or vegan alternative) as garnish
Simmerin' away.

Simmerin’ away.

DIRECTIONS

Roast the peppers: Turn on broiler. Spread peppers on an aluminum foil lined cookie sheet, skin side up, in a single layer (you may need to repeat this step to roast all your peppers). Place cookie sheet about 3″ / 8 cm below broiler element. Roast until peppers are blackened across the top, around 10-15 minutes.

Transfer roasted peppers to a medium-sized bowl and cover with plastic wrap, allowing them to steam for 15 minutes minimum. Using your fingers, peel off the charred top layer of skin and discard. Give peeled pepper slices a rough chop, small enough to fit easily on a soup spoon, because they will not be puréed. Return to steaming bowl and reserve, along with any juices they shed, for later.

Cook the quinoa according to instructions on the label. I find that the stove-top method, while longer, produces superior results to the microwave method. YMMV. Set aside cooked quinoa for later use.

Cook the soup: In a 3½ quart or larger Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot, warm olive oil and onion on fairly low heat. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until softened and turning translucent, about 5 to 8 minutes. Add the roasted peppers (with any liquid they’ve thrown off), sun-dried tomatoes (or tomato or pepper paste), and garlic; cook a further 3-4 minutes until garlic is slightly less aggressive. Add smoked paprika/pimentón de la Vera, pepper flakes, amd mint; cook for about 30 seconds to release aromas. Add the can of tomatoes, the tomato sauce, vegetable broth, and cooked quinoa. Cook over medium heat for 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally. After the first 5 minutes or so, add salt and pepper to taste, but not too heavily; you will adjust the seasonings just before serving. Taste periodically along the way (clean spoons each time!). If you think the consistency is too thin, whisk in 1 tablespoon / 10 g of potato starch with a little of the soup broth in a bowl, and add to the pot. Soup should thicken noticeably within five minutes. Taste at 30 minute mark, adjust seasonings (and thickness, if necessary), and allow to thicken if need be. Remove from heat and ladle into bowls. Garnish with mint sprigs and/or sour cream (or vegan alternative) if so desired. Serves 6 to 8 as an opening course, 4 as a main.

Soupe de la Semaine: Celeriac, Fennel, & Apple Chowder (Gluten-Free and Vegan)

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Chowdah!

Chowdah!

It would seem that the most likely derivation of the word chowder comes from the French chaudière, meaning “boiler” (and is also an archaic French word for cauldron or kettle, from the Latin calderia). The Brits, though, not wanting to be left out of the linguistic fun, claim that the word springs from their jowter, or fishmonger. To be sure, many of the best known chowders do contain fish, but this one is a vegetable and fruit chowder that’ll stick to your ribs on a chilly night.

The original recipe was published in the excellent Cook’s Illustrated All Time Best Soups volume, and this variation was also influenced by a post on the terrific Big Girls, Small Kitchen blog and Ina Garten’s recipe for Celery Root and Apple Purée (which is very much like this soup without the vegetable broth).

I took two significant detours: I omitted the heavy cream (thus keeping the soup vegan), and substituted potato starch for wheat flour (which makes it gluten-free). Trust me, you won’t miss the cream a bit; if you process in a Vita-Mix, it will be plenty creamy, but even if you just use an immersion blender the soup will emerge a tiny bit more rustic, while still maintaining that silky mouthfeel.

When it comes to the wine, you don’t really need to use a $38 bottle of Roche 2014 Carneros Chardonnay French Oak Reserve, but damn, it was good (and you only need half a cup (or 120ml).

Special note for celiac patients: Be extra-sure that your vegetable broth is free of wheat or barley or malt products. These often show up in commercial vegetable broths and broth bases.

INGREDIENTS

    2 tablespoons / 30g Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks (or unsalted butter, for non-Vegan version)
    1 onion, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
    1 fennel bulb, halved, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces, plus 1 tablespoon minced fronds
    Salt and pepper
    6 garlic cloves, minced
    2 teaspoons / 1.6g minced fresh thyme (or 3/4 teaspoon / .75g dried)
    2 tablespoons / 20g potato starch
    1/2 cup / 120ml dry white wine
    5 1/2 cups / 1.3 liters vegetable broth
    1 celeriac (also known as celery root) (14 ounces / 400g), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
    12 ounces / 350g red potatoes, scrubbed but unpeeled, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
    2 Golden Delicious or Granny Smith apples, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
    zest of 1 lemon or orange
    1 bay leaf
Soup on the boil.

Soup on the boil.

DIRECTIONS

Put butter, onion, fennel, and a couple of pinches of salt in a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, cook over medium heat until translucent, about 5-8 minutes. Add garlic and thyme, cook for 30 seconds to a minute until fragrant. Raise heat to high and add potato starch, stirring continuously, and cook for another 2 minutes or so. Add the wine to deglaze the pot, making sure to scrape up all the bits on the bottom; let most of the wine boil off.

Stir in the vegetable broth, celeriac, potatoes, and apples. Add bay leaf and zest your citrus over the pot. Bring to a boil and then back the heat off to a high simmer. Cover pot and cook for 35-40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are all tender.

Remove from heat. Discard the bay leaf. Process 2/3 soup in batches; if you are using a blender or Vita-Mix, making sure to cover feed tube loosely with tea towel (do not plug it up, because steam needs to escape). Return processed soup to pot. [Alternatively, use an immersion blender to process soup, making sure to leave at least 1/3 chunky.] Season with salt and pepper to taste, and ladle into bowls. Garnish with fennel fronds and serve. Makes 6 servings.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pecan Bread

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p1050143

Blame it on Costco.

I make refrigerator oatmeal with chopped fruit for the bride’s breakfast during the week; she takes it to work, where it becomes the mid-morning snack that tides her over until lunch. I like to change up the fruit from time to time to avoid monotony (more for her benefit than mine). So I was at Costco, loading up on fruit, when I saw this 2 lb. flat of fresh strawberries at a ridiculously low price. Some of them will certainly wind up in the oatmeal, but many won’t, so I had to figure what to do with the rest. One great option is the roast-and-freeze (roasting strawberries really brings out the flavour), but since the freezer was already fairly full, I decided I would make either a galette or a bread instead. While checking the freezer for space, I discovered that I also had some frozen rhubarb. I reasoned that if strawberry-rhubarb pie works, and strawberry-rhubarb jam works, strawberry-rhubarb bread ought to as well.

My general issue with strawberry sweets is that they are too, um, sweet. So not only did I employ rhubarb as an acidic foil, I also enlisted buttermilk and lemon-infused olive oil. The trio did the trick. If you have more of a sweet tooth than I, you can use a neutral oil, sub out heavy cream for the buttermilk, and even omit the rhubarb, but I think you’ll appreciate the balance in this loaf if you give it a chance. All measurements are approximate and frangible.

This loaf goes nicely with a little goat cheese or aged sharp cheddar, and a glass of rosé is always a welcome companion. Alternatively, a Riesling or Gewürztraminer would mesh nicely. Thinking Alsace here for the most part, but if it were served after dinner, a sticky (Sauternes or Port or Icewine) could work as well.

INGREDIENTS

Unsalted butter, for greasing pans
3 1/4 cups / 400g flour, plus more for dusting
1 tsp. / 5g baking powder
1/2 tsp. / 2.5g baking soda
2 tsp. / 10g ground cinnamon
1⁄2 tsp. / 3g kosher salt
3/4 / 175ml cup buttermilk
1/2 cup / 120ml olive oil (I used lemon-infused olive oil)
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups / 300g sugar
1 tbsp. / 15ml vanilla extract
3 cups / 1 lb. / .5kg roughly chopped strawberries
1 cup / 100g roughly chopped rhubarb
1 cup / 125g finely chopped pecans (or walnuts, if you prefer)

Macerating the strawberries and rhubarb with sugar and vanilla.

Macerating the strawberries and rhubarb.

DIRECTIONS

Heat oven to 350°F / 175°C. Grease and flour two 9″ x 5″ loaf pans.

Chop strawberries, rhubarb, and pecans; mix them in a bowl with sugar and vanilla extract. [This allows the fruit to give up some of its juice, and takes the edge off the rhubarb.]

In a large bowl, whisk together dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.

In a separate (third) bowl, whisk together eggs, buttermilk, and olive oil.

Mix wet ingredients with dry ones sufficiently to moisten flour, then add contents of bowl with strawberries, rhubarb, and pecans.

Mix and divide batter evenly into loaf pans. Bake for approximately 60-75 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out cleanly. Remove from loaf pan to cooling rack and let cool 30 minutes before serving.