Three Sister’s Succotash with Crispy Sage (Vegan!)

The other day I did one of those double glances — the kind you do when a super hot guy walks past you and you reflexively jerk your head back twice to confirm he was really that good-looking. Except I did it with beans.

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I walked past these little babies in Berkeley Bowl and after my double glance confirmed they really were that beautiful, I put myself in reverse, grabbed a bag, and filled it up with crimson-streaked cranberry beans without stopping to consider that my fridge was already way too full and I already had more than enough produce that was barely holding on for its life before I could prepare it.

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But I didn’t care. When it’s love at first sight, you act before you think. I was acting on such an impulse that I got home with my beans and realized I hadn’t even thought about what I’d need to go with them.

The scrounging session in my fridge revealed an ear of fresh corn and some leftover summer squash from a curry I made last week. There was my answer: the Three Sisters.

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For those of you who don’t know, my day job is as a nutritionist for the Native American population (some find it surprising to learn that he Bay Area has a significant urban Indian population — almost 50,000). I have the pleasure of doing cooking demonstrations for our patients and one of my favorite demos I’ve ever done paid homage to the Three Sisters: corn, beans, and squash. These three crops have been planted together in the same mound by native people for centuries in a perfect example of permaculture/companion planting. The corn provides a pole for the beans to grow up, the beans put nitrogren into the soil that the corn needs to grow, and the squash grows around them both, shading the soil to keep it moist and keeping critters out. The three crops also compliment each other nutritionally, providing all the essential amino acids when eaten together. This beautiful relationship between these three crops is reflected in a touching Iroquois legend about the three sisters.

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For my dish, I decided that a simple succotash would be a nice way to honor the Three Sisters. The cranberry beans, which are an heirloom bean native to Colombia, turn a beautiful lavender color when cooked and have a super creamy texture that compliments the crisp summer corn. To finish it off with another ingredient native to this area, I fried up some sage leaves for a crispy, earthy finish.

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Three Sisters Succotash with Crispy Sage

  • Servings: 3-4
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

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  • 1 lb cranberry beans, shelled
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 8 sage leaves
  • 1 bunch green onion, white and green parts diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1 ear fresh corn, kernels sliced off
  • 1 yellow summer squash, diced
  • 1 zucchini squash, diced
  • 1 cup vegetable stock
  • salt and fresh black pepper

Bring a small pot of water to boil and add the shelled beans and salt. Simmer for 15 minutes or until beans are fully cooked and tender. Drain.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large skillet. When oil is hot, tip the pan so the oil pools on one side of the pan and add the sage leaves. Let the leaves fry in the oil for about 1 minute or until they darken in color but do not burn. Remove them from the oil and place on a paper towel for later.

Using the same oil in the skillet, saute the green onion and bell pepper for 1-2 minutes. Add the corn and summer squash and saute for 1 more minute. Add the cooked beans, vegetable stock, black pepper and salt to taste and let simmer for about 5 minutes or until everything is tender, the stock is partly evaporated, and the flavors are melded. Serve hot with two crispy sage leaves as garnish.

Cardoon Moroccan Stew (Vegan!)

Cardoon Moroccan Stew.jpgCardoons, or Cardoni, are one of those things that you’ve probably passed by in someone’s garden or a city park, not realizing that a delectable treat was just at your fingertips (if you’re willing to brave the prickly leaves, peel away the fibrous strings, chop them, and boil them for thirty minutes before you even get close to eating them). But bare with me, because they’re worth the work.Cardoons.jpg

If you don’t believe me, trust the millions of Mediterraneans who have enjoyed this vegetable for thousands of years, Imagine a meaty, juicy stem that tastes like artichoke. See? I told you they’re worth it.Cardoon Moroccan Stewjpg

I first discovered cardoons two years ago while working on a small family farm in a remote village of Spain. The farmer’s mother, who lived down the road, marched over at least every other day in her black shawl and wool skirt at a pace that was shocking for her 80+ hard-lived years. I usually found her collecting eggs to take back home to make a tortilla de patata for her husband. But one day I spotted her cutting away giant stalks from a large prickly plant that I had assumed was some sort of annoying weed or a lazy artichoke plant that didn’t produce artichokes (they are, in fact, a type of thistle related to the artichoke). I walked over and asked her what it was. “Cardo, niña,” she said. And then she started to explain how she cooks it, all whilst hacking away at the plant and tossing the stalks in a pile on the earth with more energy than I had felt all morning at my easy task of collecting asparagus. “No te preocupes, yo te lo traigo. Ya veras.” Not surprisingly, she promised to bring me some later to try. Typical hospitable Spaniard.

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Dusk on the farm in Spain

Later that day she delivered on her promise and brought me my first pot of cardoons. Those giant, intimidating stalks with their prickles and fibers were transformed into tender morsels that had soaked up the flavor of the olive oil and garlic she sauteed them with. I reacted with such love and appreciation for her dish that she invited me over for lunch the following Sunday, where I got to enjoy more of her good cooking. When my time at the farm came to a close a few weeks later, I spent my last evening chatting with her in her kitchen.

Leaving the farm

Leaving the farm

Once I knew that cardoons existed, I started seeing them around town, in stores and in the ground. Berkeley Bowl has cardoons in Spring, and the workers in the produce department have lots of great tips on how to prepare them. It was chatting with one of them that gave me the idea to introduce more of of the Moroccan spices that so remind me of Spain, and to serve it on couscous, as I do in this recipe. But if you don’t want to bother with all that, you can try the cardoons “Esperanza style” with a drizzle of good Spanish olive oil and sauteed garlic. Either way, I think it’s impossible not to love them.Cardoon Moroccan Stew.jpg

Cardoon Moroccan Stew (Vegan!)

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  • 1 lemon
  • 1 bunch cardoons
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon saffron threads
  • 2 Tablespoons minced ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Tablespoons brown sugar
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Fresh cracked pepper
  • 1 pound red potatoes cut into bite-sized cubes
  • 1 pound tomatoes, chopped
  • ⅔ cup assorted olives, pitted
  • ⅔ cup chopped cilantro
  • ⅔ cup chopped parsley

Fill a pot with cold water and squeeze the lemon juice into it. Bring to a boil while you prepare the cardoons. Cut the base off the bunch of cardoons and discard. Cut the tops containing any large leaves off each stalk and discard. Now working with each stalk one-by-one, use a paring knife to peel away the long edges of the stalk to remove any remaining small leaves or prickles. Then peel away the strings and thin silvery skin along the length of the stalk (similar to de-stringing celery) using a paring knife, or scrape them off using a sharp flat-edged knife on its side. Once the entire stalk has been cleaned, chop it into 2-inch pieces and place them in the pot of lemon water so they don’t discolor. Boil for thirty minutes and drain.

Heat the olive oil in a large dutch oven or flat-bottomed skillet over medium-low heat. Add the sliced onion and saute for 5-10 minutes until the onion is softened and begins to caramelize. Meanwhile, pound the saffron, ginger, turmeric, garlic, and brown sugar in a mortar and pestle until it forms a paste. Add to the onions and saute for an additional 2 minutes to release the flavors. Add the drained cardoon pieces, water, wine, salt and pepper, potatoes, tomatoes and olives and simmer for 20-30 minutes or until the potatoes and cardoons are tender.

Serve garnished with cilantro and parsley over a bed of couscous.

Cheddar Cauliflower Mac & Cheese (Vegan!)

I feel like Kraft Mac & Cheese defines every millennial’s childhood. Who doesn’t remember throwing down their Jansport backpack, grabbing their Skip-It and working up an appetite until mom served you a pile of that gooey mac & cheese for dinner.

Vegan Mac & Cheese.jpgThe truth is my mom almost exclusively served us healthy, homemade, unprocessed food, to the point where my sister and I went crazy any chance we could get our hands on some of that classic American stuff with its high fructose corn syrup topped with trans fat that kids find irresistible. Our friends’ moms always knew when we were around, with the fill-line on the candy jar noticeably waning and all the marshmallows missing from the Lucky Charms box. We had to get our fix before returning home where our mom who, having grown up in Spain, thought kids should be thrilled with a plate of sauteed zucchini and eggplant for dinner.

Orange Cheddar Cauliflower.jpgBut every blue moon, on a special occasion like a sleepover or a birthday party, my mom would blow us all away and make us Kraft Mac & Cheese (with the requisite side of cucumber tomato salad to maintain the Mediterranean flare, of course). I don’t know if it’s because the circumstances were so rare or because she really is just that good of a cook, but her Mac & Cheese always came out better than anyone else’s I’ve ever had. My friend Gina used to beg my mom to show her mom how to “make it right,” to which my mom would laugh and say she just followed the directions on the box.  Still to this day, Gina talks about my mom’s legendary Mac & Cheese.

Mom serving us Mac & Cheese for our formal dress-up dinner, complete with real wine glasses... so fancy! (Friend Sicily, left; sister Catherine, middle; me, right).

Mom serving us Mac & Cheese for our formal dress-up dinner, complete with real wine glasses… so fancy! (sister Catherine, middle; me, right).

Several years later, enjoying carrot cigarettes and bell pepper lipstick at our Mac & Cheese garden party.

Enjoying carrot cigarettes and bell pepper lipstick at our Mac & Cheese garden party.

Now that I’m all grown up and practicing as a registered dietitian, I’m grateful for all those home-cooked, unprocessed meals I grew up with even if I was jealous of my friends’ cool Lunchables at the time. And now I get to try to share that with my patients so that their kids can also grow up with wholesome foods that will help them grow into healthy adults.

This recipe was inspired by a pediatric obesity group I’m currently running at our clinic, in which the moms requested help with their 3-year-old kids who refused to touch vegetables of any kind. I asked what they do like to eat and, of course, Mac & Cheese was at the top of the list. So I set out to create a healthy, veggie-rich version of this kid classic, resulting in what I like to call “Sneaky Mac.” I prepared it with the moms in the pediatric obesity group the following week (without the garlicky breadcrumbs on top) and every single one of those picky kids ate it all up, unsuspecting that they were getting a whole sneaky serving of vegetables. The end result was a creamy, gooey, vegan Mac & Cheese that gets it color not from artificial food dyes or chemicals, but rather from the Cheddar Cauliflower!

Orange Cheddar Cauliflower.jpgCheddar cauliflower is basically an orange cauliflower that gets its color from a mutation that allows it to hold onto extra beta carotene, a form of Vitamin A. It was discovered in Canada in the 1970’s but it wasn’t until recently that I started to spot it in grocery stores. Like regular cauliflower, cheddar cauliflower is packed with fiber and Vitamin C, and is a good source of calcium, folate, selenium and potassium. It is delicious prepared any way that you would prepare white cauliflower.Orange Cheddar Cauliflower.jpgIf you can’t find orange cauliflower you could totally prepare this recipe with white cauliflower and it would just have the look of a white cheddar mac & cheese. But make sure you don’t ommit the other ingredients. The macadamia nuts give it a little bit of healthy fats and flavor for that creamy mouthfeel, and the nutritional yeast — every vegan’s best friend — imparts a cheesy taste to cheeseless foods (as well as providing B vitamins).

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So throw on your dress-up clothes, light up your carrot cigarette, set out the formal china, and enjoy this guiltless, gooey, all natural, diary-free mac & cheese.

Cheddar Cauliflower Mac & Cheese (Vegan!)

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Time: 20 active, 30 cook
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

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  • 1 pound macaroni noodles (can use whole wheat or whatever kind you like)
  • 2 shallots (or 1 onion), chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 orange cauliflower (or substitute white), florets only
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 1/2 cup unsalted macadamia nuts (if using salted, decrease salt to 1/2 teaspoon)
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast flakes
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat bread crumbs
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

Cook macaroni noodles according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet with a lid over medium heat. Add the shallots and garlic and sauté for 7 minutes until the onion is soft and translucent. Add the cauliflower florets, vegetable stock, salt, and pepper. Cover and simmer on low for 20 minutes.

Place contents of skillet into a blender and add the macadamia nuts, nutritional yeast, and lemon juice. Blend until you have a very smooth and creamy sauce, the consistency of cake batter. You can thin with more vegetable stock if needed.

Stir the sauce into the cooked macaroni and place in an oven-proof pan or skillet. Top with the bread crumbs mixed with 1 clove of crushed garlic, a pinch of salt, the remaining teaspoon of olive oil, and the parsley and sage. Place the pan under the broiler for 5-10 minutes or until the bread crumbs are golden brown and the macaroni and cheese is heated through.

 

Kohlrabi Ramen

We’re in the midst of a big rain storm in the Bay Area, which happens about as often as a lunar eclipse. We’ve been trudging along for three years in a drought-induced haze, giving the stink eye to the neighbor who’s washing his car with the hose running, turning off the shower water between shampooing and rinsing, convincing ourselves that our brown lawns are eco-cool, wondering whether giving up H20-sucking beef was enough or if now we even need to give up almonds… all these stupid inconveniences distracting us from the fact that we really just miss hearing the sound of good, old-fashioned, life-filled rain.

Rain is such a rare sound now that when it starts, I turn everything off. No more NPR on my car radio, no more music while I cook, just the cadence of five thousand drops per second hitting my windowpane, quickening with the swells of wind. That’s the sound I’m hearing now as I write. And it’s the sound that put me in the mood earlier today — for ramen.kohlrabiramen.jpeg

Ramen is the perfect food for cold, wet weather (well, I can’t exactly claim that this 59-degree storm counts as “cold weather,” but it’s at least safe to call it wet). If you’re like me and don’t have a fireplace, you may agree that the only consolation prize capable of filling you with the same coziness of a crackling fire is a steaming bowl-full of ramen.

I created this recipe on a rainy day back in December for an article I wrote for the San Jose Mercury about livening up the winter doldrums with some fun, not-so-common produce. Kohlrabi is one of my favorite winter vegetables, delicious cooked or raw, and perfect for this vegetarian version of ramen. The key to this meat-free broth is adding back some of the strained stock bits to the liquid and then pureeing it to give the broth that thick, meatiness that makes it stick to the noodles. SLURP. YUM.kohlrabi.jpeg

If you would like to read more about kohlrabi including its health benefits, check out this earlier post for kohlrabi lettuce wraps. Otherwise, just get to work on the ramen so you can sit back and slurp it up to the sound of the rain before it passes us by.

Kohlrabi Ramen

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Time: 2hr 30mins
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print
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  • 2 tablespoons peanut oil
  • 1 yellow onion, peeled and chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 1 quart vegetable stock
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon yellow or white miso paste
  • 8 ounces ramen or Japanese noodles
  • 2 kohlrabi, greens and stems chopped, and bulbs peeled and cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1 red chile
  • 2 tablespoons minced ginger
  • 2 cups fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and sliced in half
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 soft-boiled eggs
  • 3 green onions, chopped

Heat 1 tablespoon peanut oil in a large saucepan set over medium heat. Add onion and garlic; saute for 8 to 10 minutes or until the onion begins to caramelize. Add stock, water, dried mushrooms and soy sauce. Cover, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30 to 60 minutes. Strain the broth, reserving 1/2 cup of the solids. Add these back to the stock, along with the miso paste, and run it through a blender until smooth.

Cook the ramen according to package directions.

In a large wok or skillet set over high heat, heat 1 tablespoon peanut oil. Add the kohlrabi, chile, ginger and fresh mushrooms; stir-fry for 5 to 6 minutes, until the kohlrabi is tender but slightly crisp. Stir in the sesame oil and soy sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning.

To serve, fill four deep bowls with the noodles, top with the kohlrabi mixture, and ladle hot broth over the top. Garnish with half of a soft-boiled egg and chopped green onion.

Nopales con Huevos

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Anyone living in California has seen nopales before, even if they don’t realize it. Those cactus with the big oval paddles topped with spiky red fruit you see on the side of the road or invading your neighbor’s yard? Yup, that’s a nopal, also known as a prickly pear cactus. But unless you are from a Mexican family or are a Mexican-food aficionado, you may be shocked to hear that these spine-riddled cactus go down the throats of eager eaters every day. Sans spines, of course.myberkeleybowl_nopales con huevos.jpgmyberkeleybowl_nopales con huevos.jpg

Nopal has earned its popularity not only because it’s delicious (more on that in a second), but also because it’s an incredibly healthy, medicinal plant. Long used in traditional herbal medicine, modern “western” medicine is even getting with the program. Research has shown that nopal may be effective at decreasing glucose, cholesterol, inflammation, and even hangover symptoms. And even if you don’t suffer from these afflictions, there is no doubt that its high fiber, vitamin C and antioxidant content make it a healthy part of any diet.

These are some nopales I found (and "foraged"!) yesterday on the Lafayette Rim Trail. I've been picking spines out of my fingers all day... but so worth it.

These are some nopales I found (and “foraged”!) yesterday on the Lafayette Rim Trail. I’ve been picking spines out of my fingers all day… but so worth it.

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If I had it my way, the nopal cactus would be a regular headliner in every kitchen, as go-to a veggie as broccoli or lettuce. I’ve already posted a ROCKIN’ recipe (if I may say so myself) for prickly pear sorbet using the magenta-colored fruit on top of the nopal cactus. But the cactus leaves… oh the cactus leaves… how delicious they are! Once you get the spines off, each cactus leaf is amazingly juicy, tangy, and exquisite in so many different preparations — raw, boiled, blended or, my favorite, broiled. If you let it snuggle up close to a broiler and char a bit like you would bell peppers, you end up with a complex, caramelized flavor that really compliments the tangy undertone of the nopal.myberkeleybowl_nopales con huevos.jpg

I do nutrition counseling at a clinic in a Latino neighborhood of Oakland, so nopales come up in conversation at least five times a day. Many of my patients prepare nopal for breakfast — either blended/juiced with other veggies for a quick shot of vitality, or cooked with eggs for heartier fare. While the nopales are traditionally boiled before combining them with the eggs, my version of nopales con huevos brings the nopales even more into the limelight with a bit of smokiness and texture.myberkeleybowl_nopales con huevos.jpg

I hope you’re already running out of the house donned with gloves and a garden saw to steal some from your neighbor’s yard. Or if you are lucky enough to live close to a market like Berkeley Bowl or a Latino market, the small price you pay for store-bought, de-spined nopales more than makes up for itself.

Nopales con Huevos

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 25 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

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3-4 nopal cactus leaves
1 Tablespoon + 1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
6-8 eggs
2 Tbsp milk
1.5 cups crushed tortilla chips (preferably homemade from corn tortillas fried in a little oil)
Radish and avocado for garnish
Salsa or hot sauce of choice

Use a large, flat-bladed knife to scrape off any spines or rough spots remaining on the nopales. Rub both sides of the nopales with a teaspoon of oil. Mix the paprika with the salt and sprinkle over the nopales. Place on a pan under the broiler very close to the flame, about 8 minutes each side, until slightly bubbled and browned in places and tender inside. Chop into bite-sized pieces.

Heat 1 Tablespoon oil in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Whisk the eggs with the milk and a pinch of salt and add to the pan. Reduce the heat to low and scramble gently for 1-2 minutes until almost no liquid egg remains but eggs are still moist.

Fold in the chopped nopales and tortilla pieces and serve immediately on a warm plate garnished with shaved radish, avocado slices and your favorite hot sauce or salsa.


 

Blue Hokkaido Spiced Rice

As fleeting and wonderful as Shark Week, another much-anticipated period hits my household each year: Squash Week (Dun dun dun!). But unlike Shark Week, Squash Week is free of junk science and sensationalism. Well, fine, here’s a little sensationalism for you Shark Week fans:MyBerkeleyBowl_Blue Hokkaido_Squash WeekSquash Week airs in the McLively household mid-November, when Berkeley finally gets a mid-60’s “crisp” in the air that piques those fall flavor cravings. The farmers’ markets fill up with squash options of all shapes and sizes. Sure, you have your typical butternut squash and sugarpie pumpkins, but the real treat is picking out those more exotic varieties that you may have missed last fall. And since this is a blog about exotic produce, that’s exactly what I did.

I picked these three out at Berkeley Bowl for my blog, plus a spaghetti squash and delicata squash to whip up some quick work-week lunches. As a result, there has been squash roasting in my oven all week long, as is stipulated in the Squash Week terms of agreement. I’ll roll out the recipes one at a time so I don’t spoil you…MyBerkeleyBowl_Blue Hokkaido_Squash WeekFor this first recipe, I’m starting with the most unique: the Blue Hokkaido. I think this must have been the inspiration for Walt Disney’s pumpkin carriage in Cinderella, which has this same smoky blue color and is equally enchanting. Inside this beauty is a deep orange flesh that is probably the sweetest squash you’ll ever taste. It has a nice firm texture that is great for roasting, and because it’s a kabocha-type squash, you can eat the skin.MyBerkeleyBowl_Blue HokkaidoThis squash, like kabocha, is a Japanese variety, named for the island of Hokkkaido. Like all winter squash, it is a great source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, potassium and iron, with some calcium as well. In fact, winter squash is considered one of the healthiest foods out there, with blow-your-socks off levels of carotenoids (a potent antioxidant). Its high fiber content is also a huge plus.MyBerkeleyBowl_Blue HokkaidoThe recipe I created for the Blue Hokkaido was inspired by my brother-in-law, Mike Byrne, who dropped an entire flat of pomegranates by my house this week (his work as a professional photographer has many perks, like taking home the edible set props). I couldn’t think of a better way to highlight the bright hues of the pomegranates and the squash than a colorful rice dish.MyBerkeleyBowl_Blue Hokkaido_Pomegranate Rice
I even had some preserved lemon still left over from this summer that gave this dish even more bursts of zestiness to compliment the rich spices like cardamom, cinnamon, and saffron.
MyBerkeleyBowl_Preserved LemonMyBerkeleyBowl_Blue Hokkaido_Pomegranate RiceI had bought some hazelnuts to toast and sprinkle on top but, in the race against the sun, I forgot to put them on before photographing it. I tried them later and they are a delicious way to add some protein to the dish. Try it with nuts, or don’t — either way, you’ll love it.MyBerkeleyBowl_Blue Hokkaido_Pomegranate Rice
MyBerkeleyBowl_Blue Hokkaido_Pomegranate Rice

Spiced Rice with Blue Hokkaido Squash

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Time: 1 hour
  • Difficulty: medium
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  • 1/2 cup wild rice
  • 1 Blue Hokkaido Squash, sliced in half, seeded, and cut into 1″ cubes (leave skin on)
  • 5 Tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and fresh cracked pepper
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Spices: 1 cinnamon stick, 1 star anise pod, 1 teaspoon coriander seeds, 5 cardamom pods, 1/2 teaspoon turmeric, 1 pinch saffron
  • 1 1/2 cup basmati rice
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  • 2/3 cup fresh chopped parsley
  • Seeds from one pomegranate
  • 2/3 cup chopped roasted hazelnuts
  • optional: preserved lemon

Put the wild rice in a small saucepan with a lid and cover with water until the water covers the rice by 2 inches. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and bring to a boil. Cover and let rice simmer on low for about 50-60 minutes or until rice is tender but not mushy. Drain and rinse under cold water to stop cooking and set aside for later.

While wild rice is cooking, place cubed Hokkaido squash on a baking pan and drizzle with 2 Tablespoons olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and fresh black pepper and toss to coat. Roast in a preheated oven at 400 degrees for 20-30 minutes, or until squash is tender.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining 3 Tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet with a lid over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and sauteé for 5-10 minutes or until the onion is soft and beginning to caramelize. Add the garlic and spices and sauteé for 1-2 minutes to release the flavors in the spices. Add the rice and stir to coat the rice in the oil and spices. Add the water and 1 teaspoon sea salt and bring to a boil. Cover the pan and turn heat to low to simmer rice for 15 minutes. Turn off heat and keep the lid on to let the rice steam for an additional 10 minutes.

When ready to assemble, place the wild rice, basmati rice, lemon juice and parsley in a large bowl and toss to coat. Taste for salt and pepper and adjust seasoning. Top with the pomegranate seeds and roasted squash and toss lightly to mix through. Garnish with preserved lemon and chopped hazelnuts if desired. Serve slightly warm or room temperature.

Poached Quince and Beets, a.k.a. Quincy Jones Salad

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There’s a satisfying logic to why I named this salad after the legendary music producer, Quincy Jones. (Well, it’s satisfying if you love puns and music trivia as much as my family does.) Here’s the logic:

  1.  The exotic fruit I feature in this recipe is quince, Mr. Jones’ fruit namesake. I’ll talk more about quince in a minute.
  2. Like quince, beets also remind me of Quincy Jones. For those who love their music trivia, you know that he produced Michael Jackson’s Beat It (along with Thriller and so many other hit songs). Who doesn’t love a beet/beat pun?
  3. In an interview about Beat It, Quincy Jones said that to make a hit “…you have to go for the throat in four, five or six different areas.” This salad follows his recipe for success by going for the throat with five distinct flavors: quince, beets, fennel, mustard, and clove.
  4. Quincy Jones is a complete badass and deserves to have a salad named after him. If I were to list all the credentials and accomplishments that mark one of the most prolific musical careers of all time, I’d take up at least 45 minutes of your time. I would know, because my mom once spent an entire car ride from Sonoma to San Francisco reading all of Quincy Jones’ accomplishments off her iphone to my sister and me (she often gets wrapped up in her enthusiasm to learn about a new subject and falls into the rabbit hole of wikipedia). We eventually had to stop her because we’d reached our saturation point, and now “Quincy Jones” has become the code word we use to clue in my mom that she has been going on too long about a subject. E.g. “Wow mom, all that stuff about banana slugs is really interesting. I bet Quincy Jones loves banana slugs…”  (By the way, banana slugs actually ARE insanely interesting, especially what they do with that hole on the side of their head. You should wikipedia them.)

wpid-2015-11-08_15.00.02.jpgNow that I’ve explained the meaning behind the Quincy Jones Salad, let’s move on to why you’re really here: quince.wpid-img_20151108_145337.jpgQuince is a fruit that looks like a pear or yellow apple, but is sour and as hard as a rock (have I sold you on it yet?). But with some poaching, stewing, or roasting, quince transforms under heat to a soft, peach-colored, sweet fruit that has a wonderful floral aroma. Quince has a very high pectin content so it has long been used to make jams and conserves, such as the Spanish delicacy, membrillo, which is quince cooked down to a jelly-like paste and traditionally served with Manchego cheese (here it is on the menu of a Spanish restaurant right down the street, Venga Paella).wpid-img_20151108_145007.jpg

In this recipe I lightly poach the quince with some clove and star anise until it has a tender yet firm texture similar to cooked apples. The end result goes really well with crisp fennel and earthy roasted beets, and the mustard vinaigrette brightens it all up a bit. To stay true to my Spanish roots, I crumbled some aged Manchego over the top of my salad, but you can leave it off if you’d prefer.wpid-img_20151108_145427.jpg

I’ll give it a rest before you all start commenting, “I wonder if Quincy Jones likes quince…”

Quincy Jones Salad

  • Servings: 6
  • Time: 35 minutes plus 1 hour roasting time
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print
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  • 2 large beets or 4 smaller beets, washed but with skins still on
  • 2 quince (substitution: you can try green apples or Bosc pears, but poach for half the time)
  • 6 cloves
  • 6 peppercorns
  • 1 star anise pod
  • 2-3 strips lemon or orange zest
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/4 cup white balsamic or apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 fennel bulb, halved and sliced thinly
  • 4 Tablespoons good olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 Tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt and fresh cracked pepper
  • 1 oz aged manchego, crumbled with your fingers

Wrap each beet in foil and roast in the oven on a roasting pan for 45-60 minutes at 375 degrees F, or until the beets are tender. Once cool, rub the peel off (they should be easy to remove) and slice into wedges.

Meanwhile, peel the quince, cut them in half and remove the core/seeds. Slice each half into 8 slices and put them into a saucepan with the clove, peppercorns, anise, lemon zest, water, vinegar, sugar and salt. Bring to a boil and let simmer uncovered for 20 minutes or until the quince slices are tender yet hold their shape, like cooked apples.

Make the vinaigrette by whisking the olive oil with the mustard, lemon juice, balsamic, salt and pepper. When ready to assemble the salad, layer the beets, quince and sliced fennel in a bowl and drizzle with the vinaigrette. Top with crumbled manchego cheese or serve as is.

 

Splendiferous Salsify Soup

You probably think I’m crazy. Salsify is a food photographer’s worst nightmare. Why would I ever choose something so ugly for my blog? I have to throw out my usual hashtags of #foodporn and #veggieofthegods in place of #eatmuddysticks.wpid-img_20151025_105951272_hdr.jpgIf you’ve ever seen salsify at the farmers market or a specialty produce store, you probably walked right by thinking they were literally the sticks they used to dig up the real root vegetables like carrots and beets. Or perhaps you thought they were parsnips that they found at the bottom of a compost heap. So why, you ask, do I bring you a recipe for these muddy sticks instead of all the glorious fall veggies at our fingertips?

Well, reason one is because this blog is about creating yummy recipes for exotic produce, not your run-of-the-mill butternut squash. But reason two — the far better reason — is because salsify is delicious! If you get over the fact that they look like decomposed witch fingers, they are actually pearly white inside and oh so yummy. They have an earthy taste a bit like artichokes crossed with parsnip, and can be used any way you would eat other root veggies — mashed, scalloped, fried, or in soups (my favorite fall treat).wpid-img_20151025_120805331_hdr.jpgIf you need more convincing, here are its nutritional highlights: it beats bananas in potassium, beats almost everything in inulin (a super-special fiber that acts as a prebiotic to keep your gut healthy), is a good source of protein, iron and copper, and has some C and B vitamins to boot.wpid-img_20151025_123938871_hdr.jpgI served this to my family on a beautiful fall day in Sonoma County and we sat around all conjuring up theories on salsify’s origins and relatives (my research now indicates we were waaaaay off). Turns out that salsify is in the dandelion family (if you’ve ever pulled up a giant dandelion with a big, onerous taproot from your garden, it’s not hard to see the relation). Black salsify, like the one I use in this soup, was first cultivated in Spain which is why this variety is also called Spanish Salsify and was apparently popular in the 1500’s because it was thought to ward off the plague (about as kooky a theory as not bathing to ward of the plague). Salsify Soup from MyBerkeleyBowl.comWhether this will protect you from the plague next time you go to Yosemite or not, this is a wonderful, mild soup for a fall day. I hope you enjoy the balance of flavors the ingredients afford: the green apple gives it a hint of sweetness,  the splash of vermouth brightens up the earthy flavor of the salsify, and the crispy salsify chips give it the bit of crunch that takes any pureed soup to the gourmet level.

BTW, if you can’t find salsify, go aheaed and give the recipe a try using parsnip — I’m sure it would be delicious!

Splendiferous Salsify Soup with Salsify Chips

  • Servings: 6
  • Time: 50 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy-medium
  • Print

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  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil or butter
  • 1 large white onion, peeled and diced
  • 3 celery stalks, chopped
  • 4 salsifies, peeled and chopped, plus 1 salsify with the peel on for the chips
  • 1 potato, peeled and chopped
  • 1 green apple, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • 40 oz vegetable stock
  • 1 splash of dry vermouth (or dry sherry)
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • Salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté for 5-10 minutes until onion softens but does not brown. Add the celery and sauté another 2-3 minutes. Add the chopped salsify, potato, apple and sauté for 5 minutes until vegetables begin to soften. Pour in the vegetable stock and vermouth and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer on low for 30 minutes.

While the soup simmers you can make the salsify chips. Wash and scrub the salsify and dry with a towel. Slice very finely into thin chips. Heat some cooking oil in a small pan over medium-high heat. Drop in the salsify chips and deep fry until they begin to get a bit wavy and toasted. Remove with a slotted spoon and lay them out on a paper towel to cool slightly and harden.

Next, pureé the soup until very smooth. Stir in the cream/half & half. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and freshly cracked pepper. If you prefer your soup thinner you can add more stock. Serve hot and topped with salsify chips.

Taming of the Squash: Chayote and Tomato Tart

Okay, I have two apologies to get out of the way:

#1 – I’m sorry I have been MIA . The craziness of summer caught up with me and I’ve fallen behind. Roaming the aisles of Berkeley Bowl looking for exotic produce inspiration takes quite a bit of time, which I haven’t had any extra of as of late. But I’m back now, and just in time for my favorite time of the year: tomato season. Which brings me to my second apology…

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#2 – I’m sorry that I’m shamelessly using chayote as an excuse to make a tomato tart. The truth is chayote is a stand-out veggie that deserves to star in its own dish. But on this freakishly hot September day in Berkeley — my first free Saturday in weeks and thus my one chance to cook up something exotic for my blog — all I was craving was an heirloom tomato tart. But how could a tomato tart be exotic enough for My Berkeley Bowl? After featuring cherimoya, barlauch, and milpero, I couldn’t just plop some tomatoes on a pie crust and call it exotic. So I had to use that chayote squash sitting in my fruit bowl to get to what I really had my eye on — luscious, juicy, heirloom tomatoes.

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I can’t help but feel like I’m acting out the plot of 10 Things I Hate About You (the teen movie version of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew) in my kitchen: Cameron (me) is smitten with the beautiful Bianca (tomatoes) but in order to get around her father’s strict rules around dating (my blog’s strict rules around only posting recipes with exotic produce) he has to set up a date for Bianca’s shrewd, less popular sister, Kat (chayote squash).

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But just as Kat ultimately finds love (I would say “spoiler alert,” but you’ve had 15 years to see the movie and 425 years to read the Shakespear play…), so too did the chayote squash find love in this stunning, scrumptious, Summer tart. In fact, it turns out that the chayote didn’t just act as a neutral bystander, but actually improved the dish. The chayote doesn’t have much flavor on its own (as Specialty Produce puts it, it’s a “carrier sponge of other accompanying ingredient’s flavors”), but its crisp, firmer texture helped save the tart from being overly wet and mushy from the supple, ripe tomatoes.

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If you’re still wondering what chayote is, let me shed some light. Also known as a “vegetable pear,” it’s a type of gourd with thin skin (no peeling necessary!), lime green color, and a pear shape. It comes in both smooth and spiny varieties, but all have a crisp white flesh with a mildly sweet flavor. It can be eaten raw or cooked, taking on whatever flavors you combine it with. It’s delicious grated on salads or sliced thinly in a Mexican-inspired Carpaccio, roasted with other veggies, or cooked in stews, curries and soups. It has a very high water content, very low sodium content, and lots of vitamins and minerals, so it’s definitely on the list for people looking to manage heart health, weight, diabetes, blood pressure, etc.

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Back to the tart, if you have time to make your crust from scratch, I highly recommend this wonderful “How to Make a Pie Crust” tutorial by Melissa Clark from NYT. But if you’re like me with very limited time and an intense desire to stuff your face with tart within the hour, keep some frozen pie dough on hand (I like Trader Joe’s).

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Even more important than choosing or making a perfect crust is choosing the perfect tomatoes. This tart will taste like crap if you use mealy run-of-the-mill tomatoes from your blah grocery store. Don’t bother making this unless you go carefully select the perfect heirloom tomatoes from your local farmers’ market or organic grocery store or, better yet, your garden. Promise me!

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Last but not least, I topped my tart with a fresh, gooey burrata. There are thousands of food bloggers declaring their deep, passionate love affair with this cheese– even writing an occasional ode to burrata — so I’ll spare you from one more. But just know that, albeit trendy and “so San Francisco” to put burrata on something these days, it went exquisitely well with this tart. If you are avoiding trends or avoiding spending $10 on a ball of oozing, cream filled mozarella, then you could grate a bit of good old-fashioned Parmesan cheese and call it a day.

Chayote Tomato Tart

  • Servings: 6
  • Time: 50 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

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  • 1 pie crust (frozen or homemade) rolled out 1/8″ thick to cover tart pan
  • 1 Tablespoon very good olive oil
  • 1 chayote squash, seed removed and sliced thinly
  • 3-4 perfect heirloom tomatoes, sliced into 1/3″ slices
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary plus a sprig to garnish
  • Sea salt and fresh cracked pepper
  • 1 ball of burrata cheese (or may use mozzarella or cheese of your choosing)

Press pie crust into 10 or 12″ tart pan and trim off any excess hanging over the sides. Refrigerate for 10 minutes while you pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees and slice the vegetables.

Brush the crust with half the olive oil and line the bottom with one layer of thinly sliced chayote. Arrange the sliced tomatoes and the rest of the chayote on top and sprinkle with the freshly chopped rosemary. Sprinkle with sea salt and freshly cracked pepper. Bake at 450 degrees for 15 minutes, then lower the temperature to 350 and bake 25-35 minutes more or until the tops of the tomatoes are slightly browned and shriveled.

Remove the tart from the oven and let cool to room temperature. When ready to serve, top with slices of burrata, drizzle with the remaining olive oil, and garnish with a sprig of fresh rosemary.

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Fried Plantains with Roasted Milpero Salsa

For some, the plantain might be the exotic part of this dish. But to me, the milpero were the little nuggets of exotic, tangy perfection that inspired this concoction. If you’re debating whether to read on, let me just say that my trusty taste-tester Mike threw his hat on the floor and cried out “this might be the best one yet!” So I suggest you hop on board his enthusiasm train ’cause it’s headed for Yumsville.

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First, a bit about the milpero, which is a baby brother variety of the tomatillo. About a third of the size of a tomatillo, it is quite a bit sweeter and more flavorful, but still with a delightful tartness that makes it perfect for salsa verde, green mole, and other tangy green salsas. It’s native to Central America and Mexico, and was an important part of Aztec and Mayan cuisine.

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The fruit can be green or purple-hued and, like tomatillos, they are covered in a papery thin husk. I love peeling the husk away because it reminds me of peeling away the tissue paper to reveal the gorgeous green pears my aunt used to order from Harry & David every Christmas.

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For those of you who have fooled around with milpero or tomatillos before, you know that they’re covered in a sticky film that you have to rinse off. This sap contains withanolide, a phytochemical that bugs find disgusting but that has anti-bacterial and anti-cancer properties for us, so these bug-free antioxidant balls are a win-win! Plus, they’re low-calorie and a good source of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, niacin, potassium and manganese. Boom.

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So, onto this delicious dish, inspired by milpero salsa verde…

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What could possibly could go better with tangy milpero than the sweet richness of fried plantains and earthy black bean purée, topped with a bit of cotija cheese? Nothing, I tell you. And best of all, making all of this is quick and easy. The hardest part is not eating up all the salsa verde while you fry up the plantains. And then the hard part becomes not eating all the fried plantains before you plate them with the salsa and black bean purée. Make sure you save some to enjoy all together in the trifecta of flavors, because it’s worth it.

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Fortunately, I made extra, and it makes GREAT leftovers. I felt a little guilty eating my fried plantains and black bean purée with milpero salsa for lunch next to my co-worker who was eating Subway. So, get outta here and go make your co-workers jealous!

Fried Plantains with Roasted Milpero Salsa

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 40 minutes
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

milpero_tomatillo_salsa_verde_plantain.jpgFor the salsa verde:

  • 1 pound milpero, husks removed and washed well
  • 3-4 small cloves garlic, skin still on
  • 6-8 scallions, ends trimmed
  • 2 jalapeño peppers, halved and seeded
  • 1 green pepper, halved and seeded
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 lime

For the black bean purée:

  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 red pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 cups cooked black beans
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable stock
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

For the plantains

  • Oil for frying
  • 2 large ripe plantains (peels should be almost completely brown)

For the salsa, place all the ingredients (except the lime) on a parchment-lined roasting pan, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Place under the broiler and broil for 5-8 minutes or until the vegetables begin to lightly char in places. Flip vegetables over with a spatula and broil for another 5-8 minutes on the other side. When done, remove from oven and let cool. Then, place all the contents from the roasting pan (including any liquid that has oozed out) into a food processor (removing the peels from the garlic), add the juice from 1 lime, and pulse until you have a chunky salsa verde. Taste for salt and lime and adjust seasoning.

For the black bean purée, sauté the onion and garlic on medium heat for 7-8 minutes or until the onion is nice and soft. Then add the pepper and sauté for another 3 minutes. Add the cumin and cayenne and let toast in the pan for a minute to release the flavors. Next, add the tomato paste, black beans, and vegetable stock and let simmer for 2-3 minutes to meld all the flavors. Purée with a hand blender or in a food processor until you have a smooth black bean purée. Adjust the seasoning and thickness to your liking.

For the plantains, pour oil into a skillet until it is about 3/4″ inch deep. Heat the oil over medium heat. Peel and slice the plantains at a diagonal angle into 1/2″ thick slices. Add the plantain slices to the pan and fry for about 2 minutes until golden brown. Turn the slices over and fry an additional 1-2 minutes until golden on both sides. Remove plantains from the oil and place on a paper towel to drain excess oil.

When ready to serve, place some black bean purée on a plate and top with the fried plantains and the salsa verde. Garnish with some crumbled cotija cheese and cilantro, if desired.