Buddha’s Hand Scones and Marmalade

My Berkeley Bowl_Buddha's Hand Scones.jpgJanuary is a great time for citrus, but the My Berkeley Bowl challenge means you won’t find any navel oranges on this blog. Nope, this blog necessitates something extraordinary. And I assure you, you won’t find a citrus fruit more extraordinary than Buddha’s Hand.My Berkeley Bowl_Buddha's Hand Scones.jpgIt’s not hard to guess how this fruit got its name. The long, delicate “fingers” evoke images of a young buddha with his hands in prayer like a blooming lotus. While this is the common interpretation, I think it looks like a radioactive squid, but “squid citrus” doesn’t sound quite as poetic.My Berkeley Bowl_Buddha's Hand Scones.jpgIn addition to it’s weirdly animate shape, Buddha’s Hand has another unique feature: an intoxicating floral aroma. It really doesn’t have any juice or flesh inside —  all its value is in its aromatic rind. For this reason, Buddha’s Hand is commonly displayed in homes and temples in Japan and China as a natural air freshener, and because it symbolizes happiness and good fortune. It reminds me of the perfumy scent of azahar (orange-blossom water), which the spanish love to add to baked treats like muffins, breads, and french toast. I guess that’s what got my wheels turning and taste-buds buzzing for this recipe: Buddha’s Hand Scones.My Berkeley Bowl_Buddha's Hand Scones.jpgNow, I don’t want to get roped into a philosophical debate about scones. There are already plenty of people engaging in passionate arguments about all aspects of scones, including how to pronounce it, if they should be round or triangular, if they should use butter or not, and even if the cream or the jam should be put on first (FYI, 57% say jam first). If you are one of those people and have your stronger-than-oak opinion about how a scone should be, I encourage you to just add the Buddha’s Hand to your recipe so that you’re sure to have the type of scone you like — buttery or dry, fluffy or dense, flaky or crumbly. My recipe is for a slightly crispy scone that is moist on the inside. (I don’t even know where my basic scone recipe came from, as figuring that out would be like figuring out where my chocolate chip cookie recipe came from.)My Berkeley Bowl_Buddha's Hand Scones.jpgBecause one Buddha’s Hand has so much rind, it was really more than I needed for scones. I decided to use the rest of it to make some marmalade, which went quite nicely with the scones. Marmalade is not for everyone, as it does have that slightly bitter “kick.” But I find marmalade to be the perfect way to dress up things like scones, cheese, or other treats that you don’t want to overpower with sweetness.My Berkeley Bowl_Buddha's Hand Scones.jpgOn this atypically rainy afternoon, I pretended like I was in the Cotswolds with my scone, jam, and hot tea. The Buddha’s Hand bits give the scone a hint of floral citrus without being overly sweet (if you do like sweet scones, I imagine you could candy the citrus bits first, but then it wouldn’t be a throw-it-together recipe like this one). Scones aren’t exactly a health food, so I made sure I enjoyed every last crumb to the sound of the rain pattering on my skylight.My Berkeley Bowl_Buddha's Hand Scone.jpg

Buddha's Hand Scones

  • Servings: 10
  • Time: 25 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, frozen
  • 3/4 cup + 2 Tablespoons cold buttermilk
  • 3/4 cup finely chopped Buddha’s Hand
  • 1 Tablespoon demerara sugar

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Mix the flour, salt, baking powder and sugar in a large bowl. Grate the frozen butter into the dry ingredients using the large holes of a cheese grater and lightly work the butter into the dry ingredients with a fork or pastry cutter until it resembles a coarse meal.

Add 3/4 cup buttermilk and the chopped Buddha’s Hand to the flour mixture and stir until it is just moistened and can be formed into a ball. Place the dough ball on a lightly floured surface and form it into an 8″ circle using your hands. Use a sharp knife dipped in flour to cut the circle into 10 wedges.

Place the wedges at least 1″ apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush each wedge with the remaining buttermilk and sprinkle with the demerara sugar. Bake for about 15 minutes or until the scones are golden. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly on a wire rack before serving.

Buddha's Hand Marmalade

  • Servings: Two 8-oz jars
  • Time: 1 hour 30 mins
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 1 Buddha’s Hand, finely chopped
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 cups water
  • Juice from 1 lemon

My Berkeley Bowl_Buddha's Hand Marmalade.jpg*For instructions on how to sterilize jars and preserve your marmalade for shelf-stable storage, see this recipe by Alton Brown. Otherwise, marmalade will keep covered in the fridge for about a month.

Place all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer on low for about 1 hour or until the volume has been reduced by half. Then increase heat and bring to a bubbling boil until the temperature on a candy thermometer reaches 220 degrees fahrenheit. Pour into jars and let cool 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
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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.

Carnival Cake (Vegan!)

IMG_20151115_223114As I already explained in Part I of Squash Week, this is a big freakin’ deal in our household. It’s like when the fair comes to town, except that instead of feeling all gross inside after gorging on funnel cake and corn dogs, we feel all warm and gooey inside after gorging on one of the world’s healthiest foods.

IMG_MyBerkeleyBowl_carnivalcakeFor Part II of Squash Week, and in honor of the fair, I chose this fun, bespeckled squash with the apt name: Carnival Squash. I realize that it’s kind of a cop-out to pretend that I created a recipe for an exotic produce item like Carnival Cake when, really, you could substitute any winter squash. But…well actually, I don’t have a but. I just have some delicious cake in front of me. So there.IMG_MyBerkeleyBowl_carnivalcakeDid I mention this cake is vegan? And whole wheat? I have served this at many gatherings to unknowing carnivores and lacto-ovo vegetarians, and always leave with a tube pan full of crumbs.IMG_MyBerkeleyBowl_carnivalcakeI’ll keep this cozy and sweet, since that’s how this cake tastes. If you’d like more background on winter squash or on Squash Week, see the previous post.IMG_MyBerkeleyBowl_carnivalcake

Carnival Cake

  • Servings: 12
  • Time: 30 minutes active time, 100 minutes bake time
  • Difficulty: medium
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  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1.5 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 Tablespoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups Carnival Squash puree* (or substitute any winter squash puree)
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 cup unsweetened apple sauce
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1 cup chopped fresh cranberries
  • Toppings: 1/2 cup roasted pumpkin seeds and 2 Tablespoons demerara sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine the flours, baking powder, baking soda, pumpkin pie spice, and salt in a bowl. In a separate, large mixing bowl, combine the remaining ingredients (except for the toppings) and whisk until smooth. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until combined. Pour into a greased and floured tube pan and top with the pumpkin seeds and demerara sugar. Bake for 60 minutes. Allow to cool before removing the outer part of the tube cake pan and serving.

* To make the Carnival squash puree: slice the squash in half and scoop out the seeds, place cut-side down in a baking dish and add about 1/2 inch of water. Cover the pan with foil and bake at 375 degrees for 30-50 minutes or until the squash is very soft when you pierce it with a fork. Scoop out the cooked squash with a spoon and mash with a fork or blend in a food processor until you have a smooth puree.

Berkeleyside NOSH

Blogger inspired by unique, exotic at Berkeley Bowl

I had the immense pleasure of being interviewed by Alix Wall, a writer for Berkeleyside Nosh and fellow Berkeley Bowl fan. She really captured the inspiration behind this project and what drove me to this insane challenge of designing a recipe for each and every unusual fruit and vegetable at Berkeley Bowl.


Please check out MBB’s media debut on Berkeleyside Nosh. The cover photo is by the incredibly talented Mike Byrne.

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.

 

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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.

Green Papaya Gazpacho

Gazpacho is my absolute favorite summertime food. But because the cornerstone of the dish is ripe, juicy tomatoes, I only get to make it a few months out of the year. When it’s that time, I go buy tomatoes by the flat at the farmers market (negotiating like a crazy pirate woman) and keep a couple gallons in my fridge at all times so I can guzzle a glass for breakfast, have a bowl for lunch, drink a cup-full as a snack when I get home and — you guess it — slurp up a big bowl-full for dinner.

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Well, unfortunately, tomatoes are not “exotic” enough for this blog (no offense, tomatoes of the world). And they’re not in season yet anyways. But where there’s a will there’s a way, and boy do I have a will for gazpacho.

When I saw this green papaya at Berkeley Bowl I thought, “hmmmm…” and then I thought “heeeeeey!!!!” when the idea struck that I could make gazpacho out of it. Cucumbers, green pepper, garlic, and tanginess are what goes into gazpacho, and I have also enjoyed all of those paired with green papaya in East Asian dishes.

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The key to a good gazpacho is blending the olive oil, garlic, salt, and vinegar first in a good blender so that the olive oil emulsifies into a creamy elixir of the gods that will permeate the whole dish. Once you’ve blended those ingredients, you can start heaving the rest of the ingredients in the blender in no specific order. Because I like to make big batches all at once, this usually requires a couple blender-fulls, which would mean you’d need to save some of the liquid to distribute in each batch. I pour each batch into one “master mixing pot” that I stir, taste, adjust the seasoning, and then blend the whole thing all over again to get it really smooth and creamy.

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This exotic version of gazpacho happens to be even more healthy than the original. That’s because papaya is a super food, not to mention the mother of all super foods — avocados — which, along with the olive oil, pack this gazpacho full of omega fatty acids. Green papaya is just a papaya in its unripened state, most commonly used for cooking because it is very hard and not at all sweet. But the green papaya is even healthier than the ripened papaya because a) it has much less sugar, and b) it is much higher in papain, a powerful enzyme that helps us digest protein and keep the gut healthy. It’s also a great source of so many vitamins and minerals like copper, magnesium, folate, potassium, and vitamins A and C. And with 5 grams of fiber per serving, it fills you up, protects you from cancer and heart disease, and keeps things moving!

So blend up a big batch of this gazpacho and enjoy as much as you want of it, guilt-free, on a hot summer day. I served mine with a drizzle of crème fraîche with fresh mint, but that’s just being fancy. It’s just as good straight out of the ladle.

Green Papaya Gazpacho

  • Servings: 6
  • Time: 20 minutes + chill time
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

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  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1.5 teaspoons sea salt
  • 1/3 cup lime juice (about 3 limes)
  • 1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
  • 1/3 cup good olive oil
  • 1 medium to large cucumber, peeled and sliced
  • 1 green bell pepper, seeded and sliced
  • 1/2 green papaya, peeled, seeds removed, and cubed (about ~3 cups cubed)
  • 1 small avocado, flesh only
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and sliced

Put the garlic, olive oil, vinegar, lime juice, cumin, and salt in a good blender and blend until frothy and emulsified. Then, add the sliced vegetables in batches, using some of the water with each batch, and blend each batch until smooth. Pour the contents of each batch into a large pot, bowl or pitcher to serve as a mixing container. Once all the ingredients have been blended and poured into the mixing container, stir it and taste. Adjust the seasoning by adding more salt, more acid (lime juice or vinegar) or more water depending on your preference. Once the seasoning is to your liking, put the mixture back into the blender to blend through one more time to obtain a smooth and creamy texture. Chill in the fridge before serving.

Optional: you can serve this with a drizzle of crème fraîche into which you stir fresh chopped mint.

Prickly Pear Sorbet

Nothing screams summer like frozen treats. So in honor of the first week of summer, I am introducing you to my life-changing sorbet. Yeah, that’s right, LIFE-CHANGING.

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This sorbet is so lusciously and luxuriously magenta, you won’t be able to stop staring at it. And when you take your first bite, you won’t be able to stop eating it. And when it’s all gone, you won’t be able to stop talking about it. It is just that good.

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Who would have thought that the source of all this goodness could be the little prickly fruits that sit on top of the prickly pear cactus? This unsuspecting fruit is a nutritional powerhouse, as are the pads of the cactus plant itself (also called nopales). Both the fruit and the cactus pads have been shown to have many health benefits, including lowering blood sugar, cholesterol, and even preventing hangovers. And the fruit is packed with fiber (over 5 grams per cup!) and impressive amounts of copper and magnesium, two harder-to-come-by minerals that are important in immunity and enzyme function. And of course, a fruit so richly colored is super high in antioxidants like betalains and Vitamin C.

Prickly pear cactus: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/df/Prickly_Pear_Closeup.jpg/640px-Prickly_Pear_Closeup.jpg

But obviously, the prickly pear doesn’t make this sorbet all on its own. What’s the secret? A good ice cream maker, ripe prickly pears, tangy lime juice, and… drum-roll please… just the tiniest hint of serrano chili that will have your friends thinking, “I think it’s there… no, maybe not…but it sort of tastes like… hell, give me another scoop because this is damn good.”

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I can’t stress enough the importance of making this in a real ice cream maker. Do NOT make this “granita style” by freezing it solid and scraping it or blending it later — the ice crystals that form will be way to big and clunky and you’ll miss out on the velvety, luxurious texture of this sorbet. I can’t think of a better way to spend money this summer than on an ice cream maker…

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Prickly Pear Sorbet

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 20 minutes plus chilling and freezing time
  • Difficulty: medium
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  • 7-8 ripe prickly pears (should make 1 2/3 – 2 cups puree)
  • 1 cup water
  • Juice from one juicy lemon
  • Juice from one juicy lime
  • 1/2 – 2/3 cup sugar (depending on desired sweetness)
  • 1 serrano chili

To make the puree, slice the prickly pears in half lengthwise and scoop out the flesh into a blender, getting as close to the skin as possible. (Caution: prickly pears can have invisible spines/fibers that are really annoying little buggers, so I recommend wearing gloves when you do this). Pulse the prickly pear pulp in the blender for a few seconds to make a puree and separate the flesh from the seeds. Strain out the seeds with a sieve and set aside the puree for later (you should have about 1 2/3 to 1 3/4 cup of puree).

In a small saucepan, heat the water and sugar until the sugar completely dissolves. Remove from heat and stir in the lemon and lime juice. Stir in the prickly pear puree. Next, use a fine grater or microplane to grate the sides of the serrano chili all the way around, avoiding the seeds in the middle. Taste the mixture when you are partway through grating the chili to see if you want to add more or stop there. Once the mixture is to your liking, put it in the fridge to chill completely.

Once the mixture is chilled, set up your ice cream maker and pour in the mixture, following your factory settings. Mine took about 20 minutes to set to a perfectly frozen yet velvety consistency. Serve immediately or put in the freezer for later. If you put it in the freezer, take it out of the freezer before serving to let it soften enough to be able to stir it with  spatula and bring back the smooth, velvety consistency.

Santiago Under The Stars

I’m a complete sucker for anything almond. Almond croissants, almond-scented lotion, marzipan, almond paste straight from the tube… yeah, I have been that desperate before.  The word “almond” on a dessert menu can magically create a vacancy in my stomach that just a second earlier seemed stuffed to the brim. If you are like me, then you would LOVE Tarta de Santiago.

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The template used to make the cross on the Tarta de Santiago

Originally from the province of Galicia but now enjoyed all over Spain, a traditional Tarta De Santiago is a beautifully simple torte made with ground almonds, eggs, sugar, and a touch of lemon zest. It’s typically dusted with powdered sugar in the shape of the cross of Santiago (Saint James).  Pilgrims who walk the famous 500-mile camino that ends in Santiago de Compostela (where the remains of the apostle St.James are entombed– or so it is said) earn themselves a huge slice of this cake. Lucky for them, this torte can be found in almost every shop window of this medieval city, enticing almond lovers like me to taste and compare as many as possible.

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The scallop shell, marking the path of the “Camino de Santiago” through a typical town of Glaicia

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Typical rainy day in Galicia

Tarta de Santiago has always been my favorite Spanish dessert, so I was a little weary to mess with a classic. But when I saw the starfruit at Berkeley Bowl, I felt inspired to incorporate this beautifully shaped delicacy into the torte. I wanted to capture an image I have of the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela under a starry night sky.

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I decided to slice the stars and lay them in the bottom of the torte pan dusted with a little sugar before pouring the batter on top, so that the fruit would caramelize during baking. The result after flipping the torte over is as beautiful as it is delicious.

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A little background on the fruit, which is also known as Carambola in Southeast Asia where it originated. Its flavor and texture are like a combination of apple, pear and grape. Starfruit is very low in sugar for a fruit (only 4% sugar content) so it has a slight sour taste that makes it great for poaching or cooking, just like green apples. You’ll get lots of antioxidants, potassium and vitamin C along the way.

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It’s important to warn that people with kidney problems should avoid starfruit completely– it’s high oxalic acid content is thought to make star fruit dangerous, or even deadly, for people with poorly functioning kidneys. Also, people on cholesterol lowering statin drugs or other prescription meds should avoid starfruit because it has the same potential to interact with medications as grapefruit (potent cytochrome P450 inhibitor).

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Santiago Under The Stars

  • Servings: 10-12
  • Time: 1 hour
  • Difficulty: moderate
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  • 1 starfruit
  • 1 tablespoon brown or demerara sugar
  • 8 ounces blanched almonds (can be whole or slivered)
  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 1 1/3 cup sugar
  • zest from 1 lemon
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Slice off the very ends of the starfruit. If it has any browning on its five ridges, trim them carefully and then slice into 1/4″ thick slices. Grease the bottom and sides of a 10″ or 11″ springform cake pan with some butter and sprinkle the brown/demerara sugar over the bottom before laying the starfruit slices across the bottom. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the almonds in a food processor and grind until you have a fine meal.  Set aside.  With an electric mixer, beat the egg yolks and sugar until it they are smooth and creamy. Add the lemon zest, almond extract, salt, and ground almonds and mix well.

With clean beaters, beat the egg whites in a large bowl until stiff peaks form. Carefully fold them into the egg and almond mixture until it is well incorporated. Pour the batter over the starfruit slices in the cake pan and bake for about 45 minutes or until the middle feels firm when touched lightly.  Remove from the oven and let cool.

Run a knife around the outside of the tart to ensure it is not stuck to the sides before releasing the springform pan and inverting the cake onto a serving plate. Carefully lift off the bottom of the springform pan to reveal the starfruit-topped cake below. Serve small slices, as this is a dense, flavorful cake.

Kiwano Cooler, a.k.a. The Horny Melon

Blast some Ladysmith Black Mambazo on the stereo, grab your cocktail shaker, and get ready for a party— in your mouth. This is one crazy fruit.

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As if the florescent orange color weren’t enough, the spikes shooting off of it really make it look like a tropical puffer fish or some sort of martian weapon from the ’70’s. You look at it and think, “Damn, that’s just the craziest fruit I’ve ever seen.” But then if you’re crazy enough to buy it, you get a second wave of shock when you cut into it. A trove of little seeds suspended in a bright green jelly-slime confirm that this fruit could only be from outer space (in fact, it was featured in a Star Trek Deep Space Nine episode, “Time’s Orphan.”)

But the truth is that kiwano originated from southern and central Africa, where it is a rare source of water in the summer months. Well, to be more exact, the fruit originated from there, but the name Kiwano came about in the 1980’s when some Kiwis got a hold of it and started growing and exporting it from New Zealand under their trademarked name, Kiwano. It’s also known by other “let’s just describe the obvious” names, like jelly fruit, blowfish fruit, and horned cucumber. Being in the cucumber family, this fruit is really low in calories and sugars, but is gushing with water and antioxidants A, C, and E as well as iron and calcium. So don’t hold back! (If you’re intimidated by the spiky armor or slimy seeds, click here for a great explanation of how to eat it).

imageThe flavor of kiwano is acidic and cucumber-like with hints of banana and lime. That, coupled with the fact that it seemed like separating the seeds from their jelly-slime pods would require the patience of a Tibetan sand painter, convinced me that a muddled cocktail was the way to go with this one.

Everyone in my family is partial to gin (we all specify gin in our dirty martinis and get weird looks from the vodka fans) so I went with a gin cooler flavored with fresh mint and lime. If you want to experiment with other liquors like vodka or rum, go ahead and have fun!

Note: If you have any leftover kiwano, I recommend sitting on your front stoop and digging in with a spoon, spitting out the seeds as you go.

The Kiwano Cooler, a.k.a. The Horny Melon

  • Servings: 1
  • Time: 5 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 1/2 kiwano melon
  • 5 mint leaves
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • Juice from 1/2 a lime
  • 1.5 oz. gin
  • Ice
  • 3 oz. club soda
INSTRUCTIONS
Scoop the seeds and jelly out of half a kiwano melon into a blender and pulse on low to burst the juices from the seeds. Strain the juice into a cocktail shaker. Add the sugar and mint and muddle a few times to release the flavor of the mint. Add the lime juice, gin and some ice cubes and shake vigorously for twenty seconds. Pour the mixture through the cocktail strainer over a glass packed with ice and top it with the club soda. Stir and garnish with a kiwano slice.