Some things just never change. As a result, there are certain aspects of our lives upon which we all tend to rely.
For instance, you expect that Wile E. Coyote will tumble down the mountainside (an anvil in hot pursuit), only to re-emerge the following week without so much as a scratch–and start all over again. You can reliably presume that if you wear a white shirt on a first date, you will likely spill red wine on it. You depend on David Letterman to deliver a Top Ten list (and for there to be ten items on it). When you look in the mirror, you assume you will see your own reflection staring back at you (and not your mother’s, as I have been seeing lately). And if you’re Elsie and Chaser, you count on Mum to feed you at precisely 5:00 PM, or else feel justified executing the “border collie stare” and butting her thigh with your cold, wet nose. ["Yeah, so, and what of it, Mum? A gal's gotta eat."]. You just rely on certain things to always be. . . well, reliable.
One of the most reliable aspects of winter is that I will hate itmy whingeing against the cold and sleetRicki dreaming of the tropics comfort food. And one of the most common forms of comfort food in winter is shepherd’s pie.
[Almost makes it worthwhile to endure another winter. . . . almost.]
Interestingly enough, while my mom wasn’t a great cook, she did, on occasion, tackle this multi-layered dinner casserole. When it came to ground beef in general, her usual plated meal was grey hamburgers with a side of insipid mashed potatoes (eat up, everyone!). The burgers were always the color of lead, with a thick, tough crust on the exterior and dry, nubby bits inside; eating one felt like taking a big bite of a thick packing box filled with styrofoam chips.
But then, perhaps once a year, she’d go wild and make the shepherd’s pie. Her version involved cooking half a bag of frozen peas and carrots along with the meat, then plopping the mixture in the bottom of a square pan and topping the whole mess with homemade mashed potatoes (which were reliable as well: always full of lumps). As you can imagine, I wasn’t a fan of shepherd’s pie.
Of course, I wouldn’t have been a fan of the dish even if my mother had been a fabulous cook. Authentic shepherd’s pie, I learned with great dismay, contained ground lamb (because, well, they were what the shepherds were shepherding). Personally, I’d much rather see shepherds train their sheep to do this:
["Oh, sure, Mum, those sheep may look impressive, but don't forget that it's actually the dogs who did all the real work. I think they deserve some food for that."]
Once I left home for university, I completely forgot about shepherd’s pie. It wasn’t until my 30s here in Toronto that I encountered a stellar vegan version of the dish at a restaurant called le Commensal that I fell in love. Their shepherd’s pie featured buckwheat (one of my favorite “grains”) and a topping made with fluffy sweet potato mash. (These days, it seems, the place is no longer a vegan establishment and has added some “flexitarian” options to their menus. . . so who knows? Maybe they’re serving lamb-based sheperd’s pie after all now.)
When I began to crave comfort food, I decided to create my own riff on that buckwheat pie and soup it up a bit with lentils for additional protein. Having tried both sweet potato and regular potato, I decided to go with the regular mash as a more traditional topping. The result is a sturdy, full-flavored–dare I say, meaty--pie that will fill your belly with flavor and comfort. Because after all, when you eat shepherd’s pie, you want to be able to count on it to be just what you expect, right? Some things never change. . . .
Although it takes a bit of advance preparation, this pie comes together very easily. It also makes a large casserole, so you’ll have leftovers to freeze for another day. If you’re not a fan of buckwheat, simply double the amount of lentils.
Preheat oven to 375F (190C). Spray a 9-inch (22.5 cm) square pan or casserole dish with non-stick spray, or grease with coconut oil.
Make the filling: Bring the 2 cups/480ml vegetable broth to a boil in a large pot over high heat. Add the lentils. Cover, lower heat to simmer, and cook for 20 minutes. Uncover the pot and add the buckwheat, then replace the cover and simmer for another 20-25 minutes, until all the liquid is absorbed and both the lentils and buckwheat are soft. (If necessary, add a bit more liquid and continue to cook until done).
Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large non-stick frypan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until onion is translucent, 7-10 minutes. Add the walnuts, celery, carrots and garlic, and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the walnuts are fragrant and the onions are browned, another 10-12 minutes. Sprinkle with the flour and stir to coat the vegetables. Add the remaining ingredients including the lentil-buckwheat mixture and stir well to combine.
Turn the filling into the pan and smooth the top. Set aside until the potatoes are ready.
While the filling cooks, prepare the potatoes: Place the potatoes and water in a large pot and bring to boil over high heat. Boil until the potatoes are quite tender, 20-25 minutes. Drain and mash with the 1/2 cup (120 ml) broth and coconut oil; add salt to taste.
Spread the mashed potatoes over the filling in the pan. You can simply smooth the top, or run the tines of a fork through it in swirls in a decorative manner. Sprinkle with more paprika, if desired.
Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes to an hour, until the potatoes are beginning to brown and the filling is bubbly. Allow to cool 10 minutes before cutting into squares. Makes 4-6 servings. May be frozen.
Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? When she was a puppy, I would have sworn that Elsie had no vocal chords. She never made a peep until she was about six months old. No barking, no whining, no howling, no growling–nothing. (In retrospect, I’m guessing that her inauspicious beginnings, raised as a stray in a shelter cage with at least 20 other bigger and more aggressive pups, taught her to be quiet in the same way that babies become silent if they’re never picked up or soothed when they cry. I know: heartbreaking. Excuse me for a sec, I just need to grab this tissue. . . .).
Even once she learned to bark, Elsie remained an exceptionally quiet dog–that is, until Chaser entered the picture. The complete antithesis of Elsie in every way, Chaser came into the world wailing, and pretty much hasn’t stopped since.
Chaser barks at car headlights as they flit by on the street outside our house; she bays at other dogs being walked by their owners, even if we happen to be driving in the car when she spies them; she howls when she wants me to throw her ball; she yaps when she’s hungry; she growls at the fly that’s buzzing in the windowpane. Whining comes in a close second: she whines when she needs to go “do her business” outside; she whimpers when I don’t respond to the request to throw her ball; she shrieks when she sees a squirrel at the end of the street. And in recent months, Elsie has begun to imitate her vociferous sister.
These days, it’s a fairly noisy trek to the local trail where The Girls enjoy their best romps. I’m treated to Canine Cacophony–in stereo–as we make our way to the parking lot just beside the field. And while I’m glad to see my Girls so excited, I think I’d rather preserve my hearing into old age, thank you very much. So here’s what I do: just as my friends are wont to do with their young children, I distract the Girls into silence with a question. As soon as Chaser launches into her trademark keening, I glance to my left and remark, “Oh, Chaser, is that a bird I see over there?” [silence.]. Then I just keep talking, pointing out various landmarks, until we arrive at our destination. Works every time!
This little sleight-of-focus came in quite handy last weekend with the HH (because, let’s face it, underneath it all, he’s really just a big kid). I was jonesing for pancakes, but didn’t want to repeat any of the recipes I’d already made before (I’m a food blogger, after all). In recent weeks, I’ve also decided to reduce the amount of grains I eat in a day in an attempt to stave off even more unwanted poundage that seems to be mysteriously accumulating on my belly and hips. (Please note: I am not among the crowd who believes that white potatoes are the edible spawn of Satan, even though I do eat grain-free a good deal of the time. Potatoes don’t seem to elicit the same frenetic, “gotta-have-it-now” reaction from me that other white stuff does–to wit, white flour, white sugar, white rice, white wedding dresses during my twenties. . . so glad I’ve put all of those behind me now).
After being so enamored of Ashley’s Carob and Buckwheat Breakfast Bake recently, I decided to combine those two flavors once more, this time in a pancake recipe of my own. Once the cakes were ready, I noticed the HH eyeing the platter with some suspicion.
“So, what are those made of?” he asked.
Should I tell him, and have him refuse to even try them? Should I lie? Ultimately, I decided to go for the same “redirection-of-attention” technique that worked so well with the dogs:
Ricki: Um, they’ve got carob. And almonds. Oh, and carob chips.
HH: That’s it? But what kind of flour do they have?
Ricki [stalling]: Um. . . . I’d rather not tell you.
The HH grimaces, staring wryly with eyebrows raised.
Ricki: I told you, I’m not happy with my weight these days. So I have to eat grain-free.
HH: Which part is grain-free?
Ricki: [almost inaudible] Buckwheat. . .
HH:But I hate buckwheat!!! [pause]. You mean buckwheat’s not a grain?
Ricki [seizing the opportunity]: No, it’s a seed. [Glancing toward the stovetop]: Oh, sweetheart, are those potatoes getting too browned? Would would you mind giving them a stir?
HH[stirring]: No, they seem fine. They look good. Mmmmm, I love homefries. . .
See how easy?
These pancakes combine the beauty of buckwheat flour (ie, technically not a grain) with unsweetened carob chips and optional chopped almonds for textural interest. They offer up a light, moist (but not wet) and subtly flavored result with an alluring, yet somehow mysterious, blend of buckwheat and carob, the latter neutralizing the brashness of the former. I loved these with some of my recent plumberry jam dolloped on top. For those of you who can tolerate it, maple syrup would produce a spectacular flavor combination here, and I can attest (having watched the HH wolf down 3 of these ‘cakes), they won’t become saturated and then disintegrate the way many gluten free baked goods do when moistened. And no xanthan!
In the end, the HH loved these. At first, he guessed that they contained chocolate, then decided they didn’t. At the end of our brunch, he pronounced this recipe ”at the top of the list” and remarked, “It’s not often that you find a new flavor that works this well.” Just exactly what “that flavor” was, however, he’d forgotten by the time we sat down to eat our meal. And that, my friends, is the beauty of distraction.
Although the ingredient list appears long, these pancakes actually come together very quickly. The only real “work” aside from measuring is to chop up the almonds if you toast them yourself (and slivered would work well, too). If the batter seems too thin at first, don’t worry; just cook the cakes thoroughly and they’ll rise high and won’t remain wet in the middle.
enough unsweetened plain or vanilla almond, soy, hemp or coconut milk (the kind in a carton) to equal 1-2/3 cups (400 ml) with the vinegar (see directions)
2 Tbsp (30 ml) sunflower or other mildly-flavored oil, preferably organic (I used macadamia)
2 tsp (10 ml) pure vanilla extract
10-20 drops plain or vanilla liquid stevia, to your taste
In a medium bowl, sift together the buckwheat flour, coconut flour, carob powder, baking powder, soda and salt. Add the ground flax, ground chia, almonds and carob chips and whisk to combine.
Place the apple cider vinegar in a glass measuring cup and add milk to reach 1-2/3 cups (400 ml). Add the oil, vanilla and stevia to the cup and whisk briefly to combine. Begin to heat a nonstick frypan over medium heat.
Pour the wet ingredients over the dry and mix just to blend; do not overmix.
Using a large ice cream scoop or 1/3 cup measuring cup, scoop batter and pour it in the pan; spread out slightly if necessary to create a circle shape. Allow to cook until the pancakes are totally dry on the edges and begin to puff in the middle, 4-6 minutes. Flip and cook the other side another 3-4 minutes, until light golden. Keep pancakes warm as you continue to use all the batter in this manner. Makes 9-10 medium pancakes. May be frozen.
*Note: I also tried these with light buckwheat flour for a milder flavor, but I know that it can be difficult to find light buckwheat in some areas. They’re still great with regular buckwheat as well, though the buckwheat flavor is a bit more prominent. If you use light buckwheat, reduce the flour to just one cup (150 g).
“Hey, Elsie, is that a bird I see over there? Better drop that ball. . . “
“Good try, kid. Unless you can get me one of those pancakes Mum made, this ball is mine.”
* Or, “Nutroast, Nutroast, Wherefore Art Thou, Nutroast?”
They say that everyone remembers their first time, and I am no exception. As I’ve mentioned before, I was a late bloomer, so the event is indelibly etched in my memory.
N.R was rich, deeply tan, warm and beckoning. One glance, and I couldn’t resist–I leapt right in, with gusto. Afterward, I asked myself, “Where have you been all my life?” I couldn’t get enough. I made sure that we encountered each other again–and again–every day for a week. In short, I was in love.
In love. With Nut Roast.
(What? You mean you weren’t thinking, ”N.R. = Nut Roast“?)
I hadn’t even heard of nut roast before I began this blog. Then, when I tasted my first nut roast back in 2008 (told you I was a late bloomer), I was immediately besotted, consuming it for pretty much every special occasion and holiday meal after that. And while I did manage a really yummy variation for my first ebook, Anti-Candida Feast, it seems I’ve since been unable to reproduce my initial good fortune to come up with a new take on the old inamorato.
Last December, I decided I’d create a new nutroast that would become our contemporary favorite here in the DDD household. Seeking inspiration, I turned to the Queen of Nutroast (she even held a blog event in its honor), Johanna of Green Gourmet Giraffe.
I always enjoy using buckwheat in savory dishes for its earthy, slightly nutty flavor that tends to confer a “meaty” vibe to a dish, so I included some in this. I tossed in several other favorite savory ingredients, smoothed it in the pan, set it in the preheated oven, and waited.
When it was done, it looked perfect: lightly browned crust on top, a heady aroma of fragrant herbs wafting toward me. I let it cool slightly, then tasted a nibble.
And it was delicious!
Just one small problem: the texture, unfortunately. . . was all wrong for nutroast. Too soft, too moist, too smooth. And yet. . . I couldn’t stop “tasting” it, couldn’t stop “evening out” the slice. Somehow, the flavor was incredibly familiar. . . something I’d eaten–and loved– in my younger days.
Eventually, it came to me: the taste and consistency were almost identical to that of a veggie pâté I used to buy when visiting relatives in Montreal. My old love–resurfaced! Although the original wasn’t gluten free, I knew that the flavor was remarkably similar to that of my flubbed nutroast.
Well, you know what they say about the ones you love: it’s best not to try to change them. So I decided to set aside my quest for the Consummate Nutroast (for now) and revel in the fetching qualities of my newfound Romeo, Country-Style Pâté.
I re-baked the raw mixture in a square pan and cut it into quarters, just like the Quebec-based version, so it could feel comfortable in its own crust. I spread it on crackers, where it was its true self the most; cut it into strips and stuffed it into collard leaves when it was feeling like a change of pace; and used it as a sandwich base for the HH when it asked to meet my friends.
Make no mistake: I will always have a soft spot in my heart for my first love, Nut Roast, and that will never change. But I’m older now, and my heart (and stomach) have room for different types of love. Ah, Country-Style Pâté, you bring a more mature love to my life, one that’s deeply seasoned and more nuanced, and I happily accept the uniqueness that is you.
In fact, I loved this pâté so much, I want to spread the love around. So here’s my serendipitous recipe–hope you end up feeling the love, too.
Meetup News! Maggie of She Let Them Eat Cake and I are organizing a blogger lunch meetup in downtown Toronto! Please join us for a vegan, gluten-free lunch on Saturday, March 5th at 1:00 PM. We’re leaning toward Fressen downtown. Would love to see you there! To RSVP, please email me (at dietdessertdogs AT gmail DOT com) or Maggie.
Pâté Campagne (Country Pâté): ACD Stage 1 and beyond
A perfect combination of savory, nutty, rustic flavors with just a hint sweetness from the sweet potatoes. This makes a perfect snack or meal on the go—spread it on bread or crackers, or stuff a slice in a wrap with favorite veggies.
1/2 cup (120 ml) dry buckwheat groats (kasha)
1-1/4 cups (300 ml) vegetable broth or stock
1 Tbsp (15 ml) extra virgin olive oil, preferably organic
2 medium onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1-1/4 (300 ml) cups peeled and cubed roasted sweet potato
1 medium zucchini, trimmed and grated (you can leave the skin on)
1 tsp (5 ml) dried rosemary
1 tsp (5 ml) dried parsley
1 tsp (5 ml) dried tarragon
3/4 cup (180 ml) lightly toasted sunflower seeds
2 Tbsp (30 ml) finely ground flax seeds
3 Tbsp (45 ml) soy or chickpea flour
salt and pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 350F (180C). Line an 8-inch (20 cm) square pan with parchment, or spray with nonstick spray.
Bring the broth to a boil in a small pot. Add the buckwheat, lower heat to simmer, and cover. Simmer for 15-18 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed; removed from heat and set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a frypan and add the onion and garlic. Sauté until the onion is golden and the garlic has begun to brown. Add the sweet potato and zucchini along with the rosemary, parsley, tarragon and nutmeg and continue to cook until the zucchini releases most of its liquid. Turn off heat.
In the bowl of a food processor, grind the sunflower seeds, flax seeds and soy flour until it reaches the consistency of a fine meal. Add the onion-vegetable mixture and process until almost smooth. Add the cooked buckwheat to the processor; process until desired consistency is reached (I like it perfectly smooth, more like a conventional pate; you can leave it a bit grainy if you prefer). Season with salt and pepper.
Turn the mixture into the prepared pan and bake 1 hour to 70 minutes, until the outside is crisp and browned. Allow to cool for 10-15 minutes before slicing. Makes 6-8 servings. May be frozen.
[Thanks to everyone who left such sweet comments and encouragement for the hellish week of marking! (And I know I still owe some of you emails. . . coming soon!) Some of you who are students noted that you'd be doing as much work on the other side of the red pen. Whether students, parents, teachers or the lucky few whose only connection to academia is reading about it in the newspapers--hope you all survived the past crunch week or so of midterms, study week, or finals. Now get ready, 'cause there's a lengthy return post ahead--on to the food!]
[Base of rice and buckwheat; sautéed rapini and chard with onions and garlic; tahini-miso sauce; sprinkled with hemp seeds.]
I’m sure we’ve all met her (or perhaps we are her?): that woman who’s incredibly competent at dispensing affection, comfort, nurturing or support–yet seems to ignore her own emotional needs and physical well-being.
Well, I admit it, I’m as guilty as the next gal. Ten days away from the DDD home base had me reflecting often on this whole notion of self-love. Actually, that was only one among a plethora of topics on which I mused during the hiatus, which included (but was not limited to) the following:
how much I miss blogging when I’m away. I was struck by a true sense of void during this time, and it astounded me. Honestly, who are “they” who post studies about the Internet and prophecies of doom regarding how it diminishes social skills or limits interactions with other people? Seriously. In some cases, I’m in contact with blog buddies more often than my “in-person” friends (some of whom live only five minutes away). Don’t let anyone tell you that the society of bloggers isn’t a bona fide community of lively, vibrant, and very much interactive people–all of you!
how to create a tasty, grain-free breakfast pancake. I wanted something that didn’t require refined, or even whole-grain, flour–and I found it! (more on that anon).
how this &%$!!?* winter refuses to retreat, even though it’s March already and why are you still hanging around, Mr. Jack Frost, can’t you tell you’re not welcome anymore and nobody wants you here, so just go away and don’t come back, ya big bully!
how, with the economy as bad as it is, I’m hoping the HH and I might still save for our dream home (okay, I’d be willing to cut some of the frills and just be happy with a daydream home). And while we’re both incredibly lucky to still be gainfully employed, on the topic of saving money and stretching a dollar, I’ve been mightily inspired by the frugal and fantastic Melody over at MeloMeals.
why, once again, I have been willing to risk my health, well-being and future for the evil (and truly, ephemeral) charms of that sepia seductress, chocolate.
[Oat groats and amaranth base; grilled eggplant and grilled marinated tofu; broccoli, avocado and green onion; orange-fig sauce.]
Yes, folks, it’s time to focus on the “diet” portion of this blog yet again.
When I first began to ponder how I’d spend my break from the college, I considered traveling to a new locale, attending a retreat, picking up old hobbies like sewing or knitting–but it never occurred to me I’d get sick instead. Then, at my annual checkup last week, I discovered that my old candida afflction has reared its yeasty head yet again, and this time, with a potency that could rival the combined superpowers of the X-Men.
I’ve decided that in order to rid myself of this recurring problem once and for all, I’ll need to return to the anti-candida diet (ACD). I’ll be facing a highly restrictive diet and a few detoxes or cleanses along the way (no wonder I’ve been avoiding it). But I’ve had it with the persistent cycle of diet, dessert and destruction (you thought I was going to say “dogs,” didn’t you? heh heh!). To paraphrase that seminal queen of weight loss, Susan Powter, “the insanity must stop!” (And what the heck ever happened to her, anyway?).
I’m going on an anti-candida diet so I can be healthy. So I can move more easily, and feel comfortable in my own body. So I can express a little more self-love and self-care through my diet and lifestyle. (Anyone familiar with Sally’s fabulous blog already knows what I mean by this: treating my body, mind and spirit with the kindness, reverence, and care it deserves.) So I can enjoy a social life without being fixated on food. Oh, and so I can lose 40 pounds by my highschool reunion this May. **
My last “true” candida cleanse occurred nine years ago, and in the interim, my eating habits have slowly reverted to those that got me in trouble in the first place (chocolate too often; sweets too often; wine too often). After reading the diet on this site (which is slightly less ascetic than the regimen I followed before), I think it’s doable (the only recommendation with which I disagree is to use aspartame or aseulfame, so I’ll just omit those).
To those of you who’ve been reading for a while, I understand if you’re skeptical, and I apologize. After all, I’ve tried more than a few times to cut chocolate and sugar from my life. Well, I’ve learned it’s never a great idea to publicly declare such a complete lifestyle overhaul on the blog, because later on, if you don’t meet your lofty goal, your initial vow is indelibly there for all the internet to see. With that in mind, I’ll restrict my candida commentary to the Progress Tracker page (may as well give it a new use, as I long ago stopped recording my weight over there).
And since I’ve already done a bit of baking over the past couple of weeks, I can intersperse the spartan dishes with more interesting fare. If I play my screens right, you folks will barely notice a difference.
[Rice and brown lentil base; spinach leaves and steamed sweet potato wedges with chopped green onions; topped with almond-curry sauce.]
The first step is to prepare the system with a week or two of clean, whole-foods eating that doesn’t worry about yeast or fermentation (yeast and fermented foods will be cleared out next). Rice or noodle bowls are a great place to start.
[Barley and amaranth base; grilled red pepper strips and onions; steamed broccoli; sprinkling of cashews and sunflower seeds; topped with tahini-miso sauce.]
Meals-in-a-bowl like these have become very popular at health-food restaurants and stores around North America. There’s a local haunt that serves an amazing bowl called, appropriately, “The Mish-Mash Bowl.” Every meal contains either brown rice or quinoa, topped with your choice of four toppings from three categories (protein, veggies, or good fats), then drizzled with your choice of one or two dressings.
My own variation on the Mish Mash is a quartet of at least one healthy grain plus a protein, healthy fat, and complex carbohydrate (ie, veggies). I was amazed at how satisfying–and how filling–a clean, healthy bowl can be. The marriage of fresh, colorful veggies with chewy grains and the crunch of nuts or seeds is entirely enchanting (almost as enchanting as that vixen, chocolate–though in a different way, of course).
In putting these together, what I discovered rather quickly is that “the sauce makes the bowl.” A grain bowl sans effective topping is sort of like a perfect outfit without the right shoes or accessories–it may be good quality, it may be tailored , it may even sport a designer label, but without the proper accoutrements, it’s just a length of beige, beige, beige.
With a winning sauce, however, these bowls are stellar; they’re delectable; they evoke impatient yearning; they’re Zagat-worthy. And, much like those lines of toddlers’ clothing that allow the kids to dress themselves by choosing one top and one pre-coordinated bottom, they’re fun to mix and match, just to see what comes up.
The combinations here are simply starting points to get you going; play around with different grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, veggies, and sauces. Use these sauces with any combination you please, or go with my mixes–either way, you’ll be treating yourself with love.
**I asked this question entirely tongue in cheek–so please, no need to send me emails detailing how unhealthy a 40-pound weight loss in 8 weeks would be! I have no intention of actually losing that much. Besides, at the rate I’ve been going this past year, a FOUR pound loss by May would be nothing short of miraculous.
Light and tangy, this sauce would also be perfect with raw veggies or in a sandwich.
2 tsp (10 ml) freshly grated ginger root
1 Tbsp (15 ml) tamari or soy sauce
2 tsp (10 ml) pure maple syrup
2 Tbsp (30 ml) fresh lemon juice
2 Tbsp (30 ml) tahini (sesame paste)
1 Tbsp 915 ml) light miso
2 Tbsp (30 ml) water
Combine all ingredients in a blender and whir until smooth. Makes enough for 3-4 bowls.
Almond and Curry Sauce
Slightly sweet, slightly spicy, this substantial sauce goes well with cooked root vegetables and adds a protein punch to your bowl. I used a food processor for this batch, which was chunky; I think I’d use a blender next time (or even use almond butter instead of fresh almonds).
6-10 dried dates, roughly chopped, to taste
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp (90 ml) boiling water
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp (90 ml) natural almonds, with skin
1 tsp (5 ml) freshly grated ginger root
1/2 tsp (5 ml) mild curry powder
1 Tbsp (15 ml) tamari or soy sauce
1 small clove garlic, minced
pinch chili flakes
Place dates in a blender and cover with boiling water. Allow to sit for 5 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and blend until you have a smooth sauce. Makes enough for 3-4 bowls.
Orange Fig Sauce
Delicious over bowls when a higher protein content is provided by the ingredients in the bowl. This also works beautifully on a tofu omelet.
1/2 cup (120 ml) freshly squeezed orange juice
one 2″ (5 cm) piece of ginger, peeled and minced
1 tsp (5 ml) light miso
2 tsp (10 ml) tamari or soy sauce
1 tsp (5 ml) agave nectar
2 large dried figs, stems removed, chopped
Whir all ingredients in a blender until perfectly smooth. Drizzle over your bowl as desired. Makes enough for 3-4 bowls.
Years ago, I had the pleasure of teaching for three semesters at Toronto’s renowned Ontario College of Art and Design (affectionately known as OCAD–or, when I taught there back in the Paleolithic, pre-”Design” era, simply “OCA”). I loved teaching at a place so much the antithesis of the college I’m now at, with its focus on technology, science and computers (not, as Jerry might say, that there’s anything wrong with that).
But as someone who’s drawn to art in all its iterations–and cake decorating, as we’ve seen in recent years, is also a bona fide art–and considering I find creativity in any form pretty much irresistible (at times to my detriment–to wit, three months with Rocker Guy*), I had a blast at OCA.
The students I taught at OCA were often just as embellished as their canvases, some with tatoos adorning every exposed patch of flesh, others with rainbow-striped hair in asymetrical spikes; some with handcrafted jewelry dangling from neck, waist, or ankles, and others bedecked in outfits so bohemian they practically carried their own passports. The students were also eccentric in the way only artists can be eccentric, asking questions and writing essays that, precisely because they were “out there,” elicited my utmost affection.
During those years, I had the great fortune to meet Morris, a faculty member who took me under his wing and later became a dear friend. Sweet, erudite, and the very embodiment of integrity, Morris helped me navigate the otherworldy campus politics and academic wranglings that were about as intelligible to me as a Cubist landscape. And because he was also a vegetarian, Morris introduced me to one of my favorite vegetarian restaurants in the city–and one I haven’t been to since I left OCA.
In the heart of Toronto’s downtown shopping strip, Le Commensal peeks unassumingly from the ground floor entrance of a towering office building. Inside, this Montreal import offers a huge, buffet-style, culinary Disneyland for vegans. Glass cases overflow with platters of every conceivable delectation from colorful, glistening salads to grain pilafs to an ever-shifting assortment of seitan stews, skewers, casseroles, or steaks. And it attracts customers with all dietary preferences, not just the crunchy-granola set.
I can clearly remember one of the first lunches Morris and I shared there. While he attempted to explain the concept of “artist’s statement” to me, I chowed on a plate of roasted eggplant, marinated mushrooms, salad, and a sizeable slice of something I’d never had before, Sweet Potato and Buckwheat Shepherd’s pie. The combination of meaty, nutty toasted buckwheat set against the smooth, sweet and creamy potato was a heavenly match. And while I promptly forgot what an artist’s statement was (if I ever really knew it), that Shepherd’s pie, with its magical pattern of ochre potato and sepia buckwheat, was etched permanently in my memory.
Imagine my surprise when, a couple of weeks ago, I came across a recipe for Sweet Potato and Kasha Burgers while flipping through one of my favorite cookbooks, one of the first I bought when I started experimenting with vegetarian cuisine: Nettie’s Vegetarian Kitchen by Nettie Cronish. The book contains one of my all-time favorite recipes, Almond-Curry Tofu Stir-Fry . In fact, I was so taken with that recipe once I discovered it that I proceeded to cook variations of the dish at least twice a week for the following six months or so (at which point the HH tersely informed me that he would never eat a single MORSEL of tofu EVER AGAIN, as long as he LIVED. Odd, since I’m fairly certain he wouldn’t have had the same reaction to, say, steak a couple of times a week for six months. . . but I digress.)
“Steak? Did someone say ‘steak’? Ooooh, we haven’t had steak in ages. . . years, maybe. . . ”
“Elsie, what’s steak?”
I couldn’t believe my luck: the recipe featured that elusive duo of sweet potato and buckwheat! I knew I had to try it. And just what made this particular pattie so special, you ask? Well, it seems to me that in any duel between veggie burgers, you have your tofu-based on the North American side, and you have your nut-based on the UK/Antipodean side. But Nettie’s burger–while still a realistic, objective representation of “burger”–featured neither of these. The patties are based on the combination of grain and tuber, with a dash of almond butter as a binder. I have to admit, I was initially doubtful and wondered if they’d hold together, but they worked beautifully. Even the HH, with his skepticism for any non-meat proteins, enjoyed them immensely.
“Mum, I’m quite sure I heard you say ’burger”! You know we’re always happy to help out with meat of any kind. . . Oh, Chaser, you’ll love burgers! They’re sort of like steak.”
I served this hearty dish (substantial enough to eat sans buns) alongside a favorite recipe for spring salad. The interplay of colors on the plate struck me as so artistic, in fact, it made me immediately nostalgic for those artsy days back at OCA.
Surprisingly hearty and filling, these burgers are quite easy to throw together and offer a savory, almost smoky flavor. Leftovers stored in the fridge will firm up even more overnight. I halved the recipe with no problems.
1-1/2 cups (375 ml.) dry buckwheat (kasha)
3 cups (750 ml.) water or vegetable broth [I used veg broth]
1 tsp. (5 ml.) sea salt, or 1/4 tsp. (1.5 ml.) if using vegetable broth above
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 Tbsp. (60 ml.) toasted sesame oil or extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 large carrot, grated
2 large sweet potatoes, cubed, steamed or boiled until tender [I actually baked mine] and mashed
1/4 cup (60 ml.) almond butter or tahini (sesame paste)
1/4 cup (60 ml.) chopped fresh basil
2 green onions, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. (30 ml.) tamari or soy sauce (for ACD, use Braggs)
Dry-roast the kasha in a heavy skillet over medum heat for 5 minutes, stirring often with a wooden spoon. Add 3 cups (750 ml.) water and salt; bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat; cover and cook over low heat until water is absorbed and kasha is tender, about 15 minutes.
Cook onion in 1 Tbsp. (15 ml.) oil over medium heat until softened. Add celery and carrot; cook for another 5 minutes until softened.
Stir together kasha, vegetables (including sweet potato), almond butter, basil, greeen onions and soy sauce until combined. Keeping hands moist, form into 8 large or 16 small patties. Heat remaining 3 Tbsp. (45 ml.) oil in large frying pan over medium-high heat. Cook burgers 5 minutes, turning once, until golden brown and crisp on the outside. [Note: I baked half and fried half of these, just to see how they'd hold up in the oven. They worked just fine with both cooking methods, though the baked burgers never acquired that crispy blackened exterior that the fried ones had. Still yummy, though!]
[I thought it would be fun to run a little series over here at DDD: I'll profile one one of my favorite foods, or a food that I've recently discovered and enjoyed, over several days. For this second entry, I'm focusing on Quinoa. The series is presented on an occasional (and entirely arbitrary) basis, before I move on to the next lucky comestible. ]
I remember very clearly the first time I tasted quinoa (pronounced keen-wah): there was I, barely having reached the other side of twenty, at an English Department party at the University of Windsor. As a Teaching Assistant studying toward my MA degree, I had leaped at the chance to attend, not only because this was my very first opportunity to enter the Inner Sanctum of the faculty club, but also because I’d been harboring a raging crush on my Modern American Drama professor and I knew he’d be there.
As it turns out, no, my sophomoric infatuation never made it beyond the fantasy stage; luckily for me, as John later became my beloved mentor, who (along with the wife he adored–drat!) welcomed me into his home, and spent countless hours in serious discussion with me at the local university pub, where I’d regularly spill my dreams, aspirations, academic anxieties and beer; and he’d regularly dispense sage advice, sympathy, pedagogic pointers and beer–for the next two decades or so.
One of the other TAs, a placid, floaty woman (in the way that 1950s housewives on Valium were placid and floaty) brought two dishes to the party buffet table that day: carob brownies (though lacking any gratuitious “hippie” ingredients as you might have found in chocolate brownies of that era, if you get my drift); and a quinoa-veggie salad. I loved both dishes as soon as I tasted them, and resolved immediately to reproduce both in the shoebox kitchen of my bachelor apartment.
The carob brownies were fairly easy to replicate (even though Ms. Floaty refused to give out the exact recipe); it was the quinoa that turned out to be the greater challenge. Most of the ingredients were fairly obvious to the naked eye–celery, green onion, cucumber, tomato. And I could easily approximate a similar oil and vinegar dressing. But what had me stumped was the grain itself, the star of the salad–the quinoa.
Feeling confident that I could maneuver my way around pretty much any grain, I boiled the little cream-colored beads exactly as I would pasta, in an overabundance of fresh water. I should have known there’d be trouble when I attempted to drain the stuff in a colander, only to discover that half or more of the quinoa pearls had fallen through the holes and down the drain. Adding insult to incompetence, when I finally scraped together the remaining 2 tablespoons of the mixture and sampled it for doneness, it unveiled a taste so powerfully bitter that I might have been chewing on a peach pit or a grapefruit peel, with a generous sprinkling of paint chip over top. Not the most auspicious beginning.
From that unpropitious start, however, has developed an ongoing and consistent love of quinoa that persists to this day (much deeper than an undergraduate crush on a literature professor would have been). Quinoa is, by far, my favorite grain, for a plethora of reasons: I love its distinctly mild, slightly nutty flavor; its chewy, almost crunchy texture; its visual impudence–that color-contrasted spiral tail slowly unfurling as the grain cooks, like a loose stitch on your favorite sweater.
Quinoa, like most complex carbohydrates, is a nutritional powerhouse. Besides offering the highest protein content of any grain, this gluten-free gem also provides a nearly complete protein, as it is, unlike other grains, high in the amino acid lysine. (One reason why vegetarians are advised to combine grains with legumes, or grains with nuts/seeds, is to achieve a “complete” combination of all nine essential amino acids.) With lysine in its lineup, quinoa doesn’t require combination with other foods to achieve complete protein status.
A little higher in calories than other grains, quinoa is worth it. According to the World’s Healthiest Foods website (maintained by the venerable George Mateljan Foundation), quinoa also provides important minerals, heart-healthy fiber, and the anti-cancer protection of antioxidants, among other health benefits. It ’s also fairly neutral on the acid-alkaline spectrum, important because most grains lean towards the acidic side, while our blood requires a more alkaline status. In other words, quinoa won’t mess with your body’s acid-alkaline balance the way some other foods (especially those that are processed or high in sugar) might.
If you’ve never tried this versatile and delicious ingredient, you’re in for a treat. Quinoa can be used like oats or rice as the basis of a breakfast cereal, or in side dishes like rice or millet. It can be baked into casseroles, sprinkled into soups, stuffed into peppers or cabbage leaves, or even blended into muffins or breads. And it’s equally delicious hot or cold. My HH was skeptical, at first, but he’s since become a fellow fan of this wonderful food. (“Mum, we’re keen on quinoa, too! We’ll share in it any time. . . . “)
To prepare quinoa, employ the standard ratio of water to grain that you would for rice: two parts water to one part grain. Most instructions will warn that the grain’s exterior houses a naturally bitter resin, which needs to be rinsed carefully to remove before cooking (hence my bitter first encounter; I had no idea I was supposed to rinse it first). However, in today’s marketplace, quinoa is so ubiquitous that manufacturers have begun to pre-rinse it for us. These days, I almost never pre-rinse my quinoa (more because of laziness or forgetfulness than any determination to buck tradition), and it always turns out fine. The stuff I buy in the bulk bins is just as reliable this way as the higher-end products, too.
To achieve a fluffy result (with grains that are clearly separated and well-cooked), I’ve found the best way to cook the quinoa is to first bring the water to a rolling boil before adding the grain; then, lower the heat, cover, and simmer for about 20 minutes before checking the pot (resist the temptation to uncover the pot or to stir the mixture!). If you’re new to quinoa, you might want to combine it with something else the first time; a mix of half quinoa and half rice is always a good option. For a soupier, more porridge-like texture, pour the quinoa directly into the water before you begin to heat it; allow the water to come to the boil with the quinoa already in it, then proceed as above.
I decided to offer this salad recipe first, as it’s always a huge hit at the cooking classes I teach, even with people who’ve never tasted quinoa before. I’ve paired it with buckwheat here; the mild mannered quinoa is a perfect partner to the more robust buckwheat.
This salad makes a perfect offering to a buffet table, or a nice light supper. The chewy, solid texture of the grains here works well with the slightly spicy, sweet dressing; the salad’s flavors develop even more and the cranberries plump a little by the second day (if it lasts that long). When I first created the recipe I conducted a nutritional analysis and discovered that one serving (about a cup) of this salad offers 12 grams of protein–enough for a substantial main course in anyone’s books.
1 cup dry quinoa (rinse if you remember)
1/2 c. dry buckwheat groats (kasha)
3 c. water
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, lightly toasted
1/2 cup dried cranberries or cherries
2 medium stalks celery, chopped
1/4 cup sunflower seeds (toasted or raw)
1/4 cup chopped green onions
1/4 cup chopped parsley or cilantro
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp. flax or hemp oil
3-4 Tbsp. agave nectar
juice of 1/2-1 lemon (to taste)
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
Pour water into a pot and bring to the boil over high heat.Rinse quinoa well and add to pot with the buckwheat.Reduce heat to low, then cover and simmer without disturbing for 20 minutes.Uncover (all the water should be absorbed) and let sit until cool.Fluff with a fork and turn the quinoa into a large bowl. (Note: for a “cleaner” look, you can boil the grains separately from each other, then combine in a bowl to make the salad).
Add walnuts, dried cranberries, celery, sunflower seeds, scallion, and cilantro and toss to mix.
In a separate bowl, mix together all the dressing ingredients with a whisk.Pour over salad and toss to coat evenly.May be served immediately or covered and refrigerated overnight.