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.

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.

 

Romanesco Two Ways: Pickles and Slaw

MyBerkeleyBowl_Romanesco.jpgLast week I got to do the equivalent of hanging out back stage at a Rolling Stones concert — I got to go to a “managers’ breakfast” with the rock stars of Berkeley Bowl. Diane and Glenn Yasuda opened up Berkeley Bowl in the 1970’s and have built a dedicated team of produce buyers and managers that all gather for breakfast once a month. One of the highlights for me was when one of the managers and photographer extraordinaire, Javier, showed us some of the close-ups he took of Berkeley Bowl produce and we all played “name that exotic vegetable.” Even after blogging about exotic produce for months, the produce buyers Glenn and Nick were hard to beat. It was also fun chatting with Diane, a fellow dietitian and foodie.MyBerkeleyBowl_Romanesco.jpg

I knew this was a family business, but what struck me is how much their staff is an extension of this family, sticking together throughout the years. Some of them started hanging out at the store as kids and twenty years later are still working there. I think that is a testament to the heart and soul behind this iconic establishment.MyBerkeleyBowl_Pickled Romanesco.jpg

After breakfast we all walked over to Berkeley Bowl and parted ways to get to work. As I ran around the store looking for inspiration for my next recipe, it felt different. This place that I’ve been shopping at for fourteen years and blogging about for months felt a little more like home now that I knew some of the faces and stories of the people making it possible.

Maybe that was what made me finally pick up the romanesco. Like Berkeley Bowl as a whole, romanesco is immediately impressive to anyone who walks in off the street. But when you look a bit closer and understand the intricacies behind what you’re looking at, it becomes even more impressive. Aside from its electrifying chartreuse color that draws curious shoppers like a moth to a flame, the close-up is what is truly jaw-dropping about this vegetable.MyBerkeleyBowl_Romanesco.jpg

Remember “fractals” from geometry? No? Fractals are infinitely complex patterns that are self-similar across different scales, formed from chaotic equations — in other words, beautiful natural patterns that break into smaller sections that are similar to the original. Well, romanesco is a perfect, natural example of a fractal. In fact, if you want to get really nerdy, it’s actually an approximation of the golden spiral, in which every quarter turn is farther from the origin by a factor of phi. It’s as if God let his nerdy mad scientist friend, Marv, take a stab at improving the cauliflower. As the Fractal Foundation nicely puts it, fractals are SMART: Science, Math, and Art! What could be better?MyBerkeleyBowl_Romanesco Slaw.jpg

With a similar taste and texture to it’s relative, the cauliflower, romanesco is delicious prepared in any method that compliments cauliflower: roasting whole, cutting into crunchy florets for crudités, steaming for a quick and healthy side, or sautéing to throw on pasta or with stir-fry. This vegetable is just too much fun to look at and to eat, so I decided to prepare it two ways for my blog.MyBerkeleyBowl_Romanesco Slaw.jpg

As someone who loves to snack on pickles as a tasty and light after-work snack, I decided to throw some romanesco florettes into a jar for some quick pickles and boy oh boy, were they crunchy and delicious. I also wanted to keep one raw to preserve its bright green color and crunch, so I combined it with purple cabbage in a super-healthy slaw that is as chromatically attractive as it is delicious.MyBerkeleyBowl_Romanesco Slaw.jpg

Whatever preparation method you choose, don’t forget to take a minute to stare at the intricate spirals and marvel at the exquisite beauty contained in our universe. And then maybe bust out your old AP calculus graphing calculator and calculate the logarithm of your fractal veggie. Or not…

Pickled Romanesco

  • Servings: one 24-oz jar
  • Time: 5 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 2 cups waterMyBerkeleyBowl_Pickled Romanesco.jpg
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seed
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 inch nub of fresh ginger, chopped
  • 1 red chili, sliced
  • 2 sprigs of fresh dill
  • 1 romanesco, cut into florets

Heat water, vinegar, salt and sugar in a small saucepan until just simmering and the salt and sugar are dissolved. Meanwhile, place all remaining ingredients in a 24-oz jar with a lid. Pour the hot vinegar solution over the top. Let cool before covering with a lid and storing in the refrigerator. Pickles will be ready to eat after a couple hours but will be more flavorful if you let them sit at least a day or two. 

 

Romanesco Slaw with Apples and Walnuts

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Time: 15 mins
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print
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  • 3 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 3 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1/2 head of purple cabbage, shaved
  • 3 green onions, white and green parts sliced
  • 1 romanesco
  • 1 green apple, seeded and sliced thinly
  • 2/3 cup chopped walnuts

Combine the first four ingredients to make a dressing.  Pour over the shaved cabbage and green onions in a large salad bowl and allow to marinate in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, or overnight.

When ready to serve, prepare the romanesco by separating into florets. Set aside the smallest, bite-sized florets, and chop the larger florets into 1/2-inch pieces. Add the chopped florets and apple slices to the cabbage slaw and mix well. Top with the walnuts and decorate with the small romanesco florets before serving.

Roasted Leeks with Blood Oranges

MyBerkeleyBowl_Roasted Leeks Blood Oranges.jpegThis week’s recipe is one that I developed for an article I wrote for Bay Area News Group, just released this morning. Given the Roasted Leeks Blood Oranges.jpeg“mainstreamedness” of the readership, I had to keep things a bit more tame to be accessible to a wider audience, while still giving the recipes an “exotic” spin to stay true to the My Berkeley Bowl theme. This recipe must be my favorite of the four new ones I developed for the article, because I’ve made it five times in the past month.

While neither leeks nor blood oranges are blow-you-out-of-the-water exotic, I figure that since blood oranges are not readily available at most “normal” grocery stores, they fall on the exotic side of the line. And leeks — well, most people that have used leeks have only sliced them up as a muted ingredient playing a minor role in the background of soups or casseroles, like an extra in a movie. So in that sense, I think this recipe is super exotic because leeks are the star of the show for once.MyBerkeleyBowl_Roasted Leeks Blood Oranges.jpeg
 I remember the first time I took a bite of protagonistic leeks like a girl remembers her first kiss. It was a cold, rainy day of February in Northern Spain and my mom, husband and I were on a road trip. We ordered a roasted leek salad in a nondescript bar filled with old spanish men sipping beer and escaping the rain. (Spoiler alert: when you order whatever dish is carelessly scrawled across the chalkboard hanging over a dingy locals’ bar on a quiet street in a Spanish town, Spain always delivers.) This salad came out topped with caramelized leeks as thick as rolling pins, and when I bit into them, I was blown away by how velvety, delicate, and exquisitely flavorful they were when prepared that way. My mom immediately shouted “otra!” to the waiter, knowing that we’d need at least one more salad if she actually wanted to get any (she couldn’t out-fork Mike and I when it was that good).MyBerkeleyBowl_Roasted Leeks Blood Oranges.jpeg
 That salad we had in Northern Spain was the inspiration for this dish, in which I braise leeks with wine and thyme until they are just as velvety and rich as the ones I had that rainy day in February. The sections of blood oranges add the brightness and color that make this dish all the more memorable. It makes a beautiful and unique side dish for a dinner party, or if you love leeks as much as I do, you can enjoy it on its own as a light dinner like Mike and I have been doing.MyBerkeleyBowl_Roasted Leeks Blood Oranges.jpeg
 As a side note, I discovered in my research that blood oranges are actually a result of a natural mutation! How splendidly wonderful is nature?!? Apparently, the Italian dude that first peeled one of his oranges thinking it was just a regular old orange-colored orange was so shocked to see the deep red color that he shouted “tarocco!” meaning “fake” or “phoney” in Italian, and is now the name of one of the three main varieties of blood oranges (along with Moro and Sanguinella). How rare is it now in day to find that something so beautiful and unique is made that way naturally, not by some gimmick or trick? MyBerkeleyBowl_Roasted Leeks Blood Oranges.jpegFortunately, this whole dish is free of gimmicks — just 100% natural, delicious, beautiful goodness. I hope you enjoy this first recipe of 2016.

Roasted Leeks with Blood Oranges

  • Servings: 4 as starter or side dish
  • Time: 1 hour
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print
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  • 6 leeks, roots and dark green tops removed
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1/2 cup vegetable stock
  • 6 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 blood oranges

Dressing:

  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon Sherry vinegar
  • Black pepper and a pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Remove the tougher, outermost layers of the leeks and discard. Slice them in half lengthwise and run under cold water to remove all the grit, ensuring to rinse between the layers. Place the leeks in a single layer in a 9×13″ roasting pan, cut side down. Drizzle with the olive oil, wine, and vegetable stock (the liquid should come about halfway up the leeks), and snip the thyme sprigs over the top. Roast for 35-45 minutes, flipping the leeks over halfway through, until they are tender and lightly browned. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Arrange the leeks on a serving platter. Cut the rind off the blood oranges, slice into sections, and arrange over the top of the leeks. Place all the ingredients for the dressing in a small jar and shake to combine. Drizzle over the top of the leeks and oranges. Serve 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
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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.

Kohlrabi Lettuce Wraps

Hippies and foodies seem to rave about kohlrabi but, outside of this circle, this veggie still seems to be quite exotic. Maybe even unheard of. Unless you’re a Fraggle Rock aficionado and remember that in episode 506, one of the fraggles uses kohlrabi juice to poison the knobblies. Don’t let kohlrabi’s five minutes of TV infamy make you think that it’s poisonous, though. It is anything but (more on its health benefits later).

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I was kohlrabi-ignorant until only last month. I mean, I had this vague idea of what I thought it was, sort of like how I think I know what the capital of Australia is, but then when I try to grasp at my notion it eludes me (Sydney? Melbourne? No, it must be Perth…).  Fortunately, my friend My put an end to my ignorance when she came to stay with Mike and I for a week. She’s a permaculture student at Merritt College and planted two dozen of these unidentifiable leafy objects in our garden that looked like some sort of kale. But then some developed a big white bulb and others a big purple bulb that continued to swell and swell until our neighbor Ms. Green came out and said, “Why did you plant that kale in those plastic balls?” I had to call My and ask what on earth it was and she said “kohlrabi, of course.”

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Since then, there has been a kohlrabaissance at our house. Mike, who doesn’t even really cook, has been yanking these things out of the ground and whipping up kohlrabicentric meals left and right. This is one friggin’ amazing vegetable and I can’t believe it’s not on more menus. It’s a brassica (in the cabbage family) and has a taste similar to turnip and broccoli stem. The bulb is deliciously crisp and flavorful when eaten raw (just peel it first), and also cooks to a perfectly tender and juicy morsel. Throw it in soups, shred it on salads, stir-fry it, or roast it in the oven. Plus, if I haven’t sold you already, the bulb is topped with delicious, healthy greens that can also be eaten raw or cooked like any leafy green. Ta-da!

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Kohlrabi comes in two styles: whitish green bulbs and purple bulbs. They are grown all year round but are best from July to November. Everyone from paleo people to diabetics should flock to it because it’s a nutrient-dense superfood but also low in calories and carbohydrates, with only 27 calories per half cup serving. Kohlrabi is packed with antioxidants and phytochemicals like isothiocyanate, sulforaphane, and indole-3-carbinol that protect against cancers and inflammatory diseases. It’s also full of B-complex vitamins which aid in metabolism. The leaves are as healthy as any other dark leafy green, with lots of carotenes, vitamin-A, vitamin K, minerals, and B vitamins.

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The flavor of kohlrabi makes it delicious even on its own, but I think its delicate broccoli-like flavor pairs especially nicely with asian flavors. That’s what inspired these kohlrabi lettuce wraps. These are a vegan version of the ever-so-popular PF Chang’s lettuce wraps, but I daresay they are even better. So even if you are a meat-eater, please give these a try on a Meatless Monday and bask in the perfection of this wonderful vegetable.

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By the way, the capital of Australia is Canberra.

Kohlrabi Lettuce Wraps

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 2 tablespoons oil (olive, peanut, or whatever you prefer)
  • 2 kohlrabi, bulb diced into cubes, leaves sliced.
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1″ nub of ginger, minced
  • 4 scallions/green onions, sliced
  • 1/2 pound shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and diced
  • 2 tablespoons dry sherry wine (or white wine)
  • 2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
  • 3 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce (if gluten free substitute gluten-free soy sauce)
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons chili garlic sauce (like Huy Fong)
  • Fresh lettuce leaves for serving as wraps (such as iceberg or butter lettuce)
  • Fresh chopped cilantro and scallions for garnish

To prepare the kohlrabi, first trim the leaves from the bulb at the base of each stem. Then peel the bulb with a vegetable peeler to remove the tough outer layer. Dice the kohlrabi into small cubes. Then take the leaves and separate them from the stems. Slice the stems and set aside with the kohlrabi cubes. Slice the leaves and set aside.

In a large wok or skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the kohlrabi stems and three quarters of the kohlrabi cubes (not the leaves) and stir-fry for 3-5 minutes or until the kohlrabi begins to brown slightly. Next add the minced garlic, ginger, and scallions to the wok and stir-fry 1 more minute. Then add the mushrooms, kohlrabi leaves (if you have them) and sherry wine and stir. Let simmer on medium-low heat for a few minutes while you make the sauce, stirring occasionally.

For the sauce, combine the hoisin sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar and chili garlic sauce. Set aside 1/3 of it to use as a dipping sauce. Pour the rest in the wok and stir to coat the kohlrabi mixture and cook until the vegetables are nice and tender. Turn the heat off and add the remaining raw kohlrabi cubes you set aside earlier for added crunch.

When ready to serve, have each person make a lettuce wrap: top a lettuce leaf with the kohlrabi mixture, garnish with fresh cilantro and scallions, and serve with the dipping sauce you set aside earlier.

Falafel Waffles with Armenian Cucumber Slaw

A few years ago, my sister Catherine surprised me with her invention of an amazing culinary treat: “fawafel.” No, that’s not a typo or a speech impediment. It’s falafel waffle. She wanted the delectable taste of falafel without the extra mess and calories from frying, so she threw some falafel mix into waffle batter and voila — fawafel!

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How has this not caught on? Dippin’ Dots were a food craze and they’re not even good. Falafel waffle is not only delicious, but it’s also fun to say. I have a hard time calling them “fawafel” though — it reminds me of the troubles I faced as a kid named Laura who couldn’t say my “L’s” and “R’s” (“Hewow, I’m Wohwa…”).

My sister’s invention inspired this recipe, which combines the already unique falafel waffle with a unique veggie I found in Berkeley Bowl, the Armenian cucumber. These puppies are the Cadillac of cucumbers: extra big, extra crispy, not too seedy, thin skinned, no bitterness, and beautifully decorated with scalloped edges. If you could design the perfect cucumber, this would be it (but Ancient Armenians already beat you to it).

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But funnily enough, the Armenian cucumber is not even a cucumber. It’s a muskmelon, in the same family as honeydew and Crenshaw. (By the way, in case you’re nitpicking, I realize it’s a fruit and not a veggie, but my lawyer says that the same 1893 Supreme Court decision that ruled that tomatoes are a vegetable also applies here). Another interesting fact is that although they originated from — you guessed it — Armenia, there are now actually more growing in California than in their namesaken country.

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The Armenian cucumber is perfect for this slaw. It holds up very well sliced thinly because it’s not all seedy like the traditional cucumber. And I can’t get over how beautiful they look with their fluted edges, like little edible doilies. I couldn’t resist the fancy rainbow carrots that were on sale at Berkeley Bowl, but you could make your slaw with any old carrot and that would be fine and dandy.

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The metaphorical cherry on the top of this dish is the harissa yogurt sauce. Don’t forego the sauce.

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Happy falafel waffling everyone and thanks, Armenia, for the perfect cucumber.

Falafel Waffles with Armenian Cucumber Slaw

  • Servings: 6
  • Time: 20 mins
  • Difficulty: easy
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For the Waffles:

  • 2 cups cooked chickpeas (canned is fine)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 3 green onions, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1/2 cup chopped parlsey
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 cup flour

For the Slaw:

  • 1 Armenian cucumber, sliced thinly
  • 1 white onion, sliced thinly
  • 4 colorful carrots, sliced thinly
  • 1/2 cup fresh chopped parsley
  • Juice from 1 large lemon
  • 2 Tablespoons red or white wine vinegar
  • 3 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

For the Harissa Yogurt Sauce:

  • 1 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1 Tablespoon Harissa paste (or more to taste)
  • Juice from 1/2 lemon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat the waffle iron to the highest setting and preheat the oven to 200 degrees F. Place the chickpeas in a large bowl filled with water. Rub the chickpeas between your hands for about 30 seconds to loosen the skins, which will float to the top. Skim off the skins before draining the chickpeas.

Place the chickpeas in a blender along with eggs, milk, canola oil, green onion, garlic, salt, lemon, cilantro, parsley, cumin, coriander, and cayenne. Blend until you have a fairly smooth batter. Add the baking powder and flour and blend on low for a few seconds until combined.

Brush the hot waffle iron with grease or cooking spray and pour in the batter. Cook the waffles for 7-10 minutes, depending on the strength of your waffle iron, until they are golden brown. Transfer directly to the wire rack in the preheated oven to stay warm while you cook the rest of the waffles.

While the waffles are cooking, combine all the slaw ingredients and set aside. Combine the harissa yogurt sauce ingredients and set aside.

When ready to serve, top each waffle with the slaw and drizzle with the yogurt sauce and serve immediately.