Cardoon Moroccan Stew (Vegan!)

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

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

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

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Dusk on the farm in Spain

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

Leaving the farm

Leaving the farm

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

Cardoon Moroccan Stew (Vegan!)

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

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

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

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

Kohlrabi Ramen

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

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

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

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

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

Kohlrabi Ramen

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

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

Cook the ramen according to package directions.

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

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

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
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  • 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
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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.

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.

Lemongrass Coconut Ice Cream (Vegan!)

You might want to sit down. Or maybe even lay down. Yes, this gelato should be eaten laying down to avoid injury when you literally pass out because it is so damn delicious.

And yet…wpid-img_20150930_222339.jpg…so simple!

It is so simple in taste and in process that I’m not going to subject you to a prolix post. Here are the only facts you need to know:

  1. Lemongrass is one of the most enchanting ingredients, with an aroma and flavor so synchronously citrusy and herbal that it keeps you wondering — and you don’t even know what you’re wondering at. It’s a member of the sugarcane family, common in Asian (especially Thai) cooking, and is perfect for infusing into liquids like….wpid-img_20150929_134959524_hdr.jpg
  2. …Coconut Milk, a.k.a. vegan panacea for former ice cream addicts. Don’t you dare buy the Lite stuff. The fat in the Good Stuff is not only healthy for you, but it also gives this concoction such a velvety, rich, creamy mouth-feel that vegan bullies might dangle you over a ledge and demand that you admit you put cream or eggs in your ice cream. wpid-img_20150930_222812.jpg
  3. Do yourself a favor and get an ice cream maker. Like I said in the prickly pear sorbet post, I have had wonderful results from this one.

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Short and sweet, as promised. I don’t want to waste your time that you could be spending making this recipe.

Lemongrass Coconut Ice Cream (Vegan!)

  • Servings: 6
  • Time: 30 mins plus chilling time
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

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  • 2 stalks lemongrass, sliced thinly
  • 2 cans coconut milk (regular, not lite)
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2-3 slices of fresh ginger

To prepare the lemongrass, remove the outermost layer of the stalk and then trim the ends and the base off the stalk so you are left with about 5″ of the thickest part. Give the stalk a couple of whacks with a heavy object to loosen the layers a bit and then slice them thinly.

Combine all the ingredients in a small saucepan and stir gently over medium heat until it just begins to simmer. Remove from the heat and let stand for 15 minutes to let the lemongrass infuse. Pour into a container and chill in the fridge for 4-8 hours.

When ready to make your ice cream, strain the mixture and throw out the contents of the strainer. Turn on your ice cream maker and pour in the strained coconut milk. Allow the ice cream maker to do its magic until you have a perfectly creamy ice cream. Serve right away or, if you like your ice cream to be more set, you can put it in a container in the freezer for an hour or two.

Seared Pepino Melon With Glass Noodle Salad

Earlier this year I had the pleasure of attending a Thai cooking class with my aunt at Hipcooks during a visit to Portland. As someone who has been on the demonstrator side of the cooking demo cart countless times at work, it was really fun being on the other side of the cart for the first time — all the tasting and none of the prep.

1-IMG_20150417_161533I definitely got my money’s worth of Thai food to the face. One of my favorite dishes was a glass noodle salad, so today I set out to recreate a vegan version using a beautiful, exotic fruit: pepino melon.

wpid-img_20150417_161850.jpgWhat on earth is pepino melon, you ask? Well, it’s a fruit that tastes like honeydew with a hint of cucumber, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s either one of those. It’s actually a sister of tomatoes and eggplant, in the nightshade family. I think it also tastes a bit like pear, which is probably why it’s also called a “melon pear.” Whatever you want to call it, it’s really tasty, and a great high-fiber, low-sugar source of vitamins A, B and C.

Pepino melon is another fruit of Andean origin (like cherimoya), and is most commonly eaten raw. Just scoop out the seeds and eat it with a spoon or slice onto salad.  But MyBerkeleyBowl is about experimentation, so I decided to see how it holds up in a pan. (Spoiler alert: quite well!)

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I hope you enjoy this refreshing glass noodle salad on a warm spring night like we did. If you are fresh out of pepino melon in your produce drawer, go ahead and sear up a favorite fruit of yours, like pineapple, mango, or papaya.

Seared Pepino Melon with Glass Noodle Salad

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Time: 20 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

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  • 4 bundles Glass Noodles (also called mung bean or cellophane noodles)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 red Thai chiles, minced
  • 1-inch nub of ginger, minced
  • 2 Tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 Tablespoons rice vinegar
  • Juice from 2 limes
  • 1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1 bunch cilantro, chopped (about 1 cup packed)
  • 1 bunch mint, chopped (about 1 cup packed)
  • 1 bunch Thai basil, chopped (about 1 cup packed)
  • 2 Tablespoon canola oil or other mild vegetable oil
  • 2 pepino melonswpid-img_20150413_190753.jpg
  • A pinch of salt and sugar

Pour boiling water over glass noodles in a bowl and soak for about 3-6 minutes or until soft but al dente. Drain and rinse with
cold water. Drain well and set aside.

wpid-img_20150413_181432283_hdr.jpgCombine garlic, Thai chiles, ginger, sugar, and salt in a mortar and grind/pound with a pestle until you have a fairly smooth paste.  Add the vinegar and lime to the mortar and stir to combine everything together into a dressing. Pour the dressing over the noodles, scallions, cilantro, mint, and basil in a large serving bowl and toss until coated.

wpid-img_20150413_183559114_hdr.jpgPeel the pepino melons and cut them in half to scoop out the seeds.  Slice each half into 1/4″ slices. Heat the oil in a large skillet over high heat. Place the pepino melon slices in the pan in a single layer and sprinkle with a dash of sugar and salt.  Sear without disturbing for 2 minutes or until they are slightly golden on the bottom. Flip and cook another 1-2 minutes on the other side.  Scatter the pepino melon slices over the noodle salad and serve (the salad should be at room temperature).