Sunday, May 30, 2010

carrot-oat cake

I have only recently noticed that Whole Foods provides a large selection of recipes on its website. The first one I saw was for this vegan carrot-oat cake, and I immediately wanted to try it. I have already made it a few times, and am quite pleased with this healthful treat.

I love classic carrot cake, and one of my favorite recipes back in the day was the version in the Moosewood Cookbook, which calls for 3 sticks of butter and 4 eggs. Then, of course I wanted homemade cream cheese frosting, which I believe had equal parts butter and cream cheese, and a load of confectioners sugar.

Needless to say, a recipe like that is really best for special occasions, ideally for a large group of people so that there isn't any leftover in the fridge tormenting you. This recipe though, is the perfect alternative dessert, satisfying yet wholesome. I am thinking about how to convert Molly Katzen's inspired but rich banana bread recipe in this same way.

I like the recipe as it is. I love to toast the coconut a bit on medium low heat before baking to enhance the flavor, just until the color changes slightly from white to a creamy light tan. Also, I used golden raisins instead of currants. (I actually made these myself out of green grapes, but that is totally unnecessary. I am just in love with my dehydrator.) Lastly, I used a larger pan than the recommended 9" square, which makes for thinner bars, so I decreased the cooking time 15 minutes. I think mine is around 8"x 12"


1 cup rolled or quick cooking oats
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups grated carrots
1 cup pure maple syrup
1 cup dried currants
1/2 cup unsweetened finely shredded coconut
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract


Preheat oven to 325°F. Lightly oil a (9-inch) square baking pan and set it aside.

Pulse oats and walnuts in a food processor until coarsely ground. Transfer to a large bowl. Add flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger and salt and mix well. In a second large bowl, combine carrots, maple syrup, currants, coconut and vanilla. Add carrot mixture to flour mixture and stir until completely incorporated. Transfer to prepared pan and bake until cooked through and deep golden brown, about 1 hour. Set aside to let cool before cutting into squares.

Friday, May 28, 2010

curried cauliflower

One of my favorite cooking blogs is The author, Heidi Swanson, maintains a fabulous collection of healthy recipes that have been a source of inspiration for me since I first discovered her blog a little over a year ago. She's also a talented photographer and accompanies each blog entry with one or more beautiful photos of her culinary work, artfully presented. Consequently, being a photography enthusiast myself, the inspiration I take from her extends beyond the kitchen. Many of the recipes she has posted have become part of my regular cooking repertoire, but the one I am sharing today is truly among my favorites. She calls the recipe Feisty Green Beans, and she found it in a book called Easy Green Organic by Anna Getty. I prefer to make this dish with cauliflower instead of green beans, which Heidi suggests as a variation. I've tried both and prefer the texture of the cauliflower here. I've also made it vegan, but it's just as easy to add the dairy products right back in if that's your preference (see original).

1 small head of cauliflower, cut into florets1/2 t. paprika2 T. Earth Balance vegan buttery spread
1/2 c. golden raisins1 t. ground cumin1/3 c. coconut milk
1 T. olive oil1 t. ground coriander1/4 c. sliced almonds
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced1/2 t. curry powder1 handful finely chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 medium yellow onion, finely diced1/2 t. sea saltsalt and pepper to taste
3 bay leaves1/4 t. cayenne pepper
1/3 c. white wine6 oz. extra-firm tofu cut into half-inch cubes
Remove the block of tofu from the packaging, drain the water, cut it in half (save half for later - you can store it in the fridge in a container with a lid, covered with water), wrap the half you're using with a clean towel, place it under a heavy object, and let it sit for a while to squeeze out the extra water. Wash your fresh cilantro, pick off the leaves and chop them up until you have about a large handful. Slice your garlic and dice your onion. Start a pot of boiling water on the stove and salt it well. While it's heating, chop up your head of cauliflower into small florets and then wash them. If you found a large head, only use 3/4 of it and save the rest for later. Once the water is boiling, toss your cauliflower in, but only let it boil for a minute, just enough for it to lose its raw edge. Drain and plunge the cauliflower into ice water so it stops cooking. Alternatively, you can just rinse it thoroughly with cold water. Set aside.
Heat about a cup of water in a tea kettle or whatever you have handy, until it boils. Place the raisins in a small bowl and cover them with the hot water; let sit for five minutes, drain and then set aside.
Heat your largest skillet over medium heat. I use a saute pan. This is a lot of food and you need to be able to stir it around. When the pan is hot, add the oil, garlic, onion and bay leaves. Cook for 5 minutes, or until the onions and garlic start to brown a little bit. Add the wine and cook until it has mostly evaporated.
While it's cooking, unwrap your halved block of tofu and chop it into small cubes.
Remove the bay leaves from the pot - but be careful not to burn yourself. Stir in the paprika, cumin, coriander, curry powder, salt and cayenne pepper. Stir in the tofu cubes and the raisins and cook until heated through, about a minute or two. Add the cauliflower and then the vegan butter. Stir until the butter has melted. Remove from the heat source and stir in the coconut milk, then most of the almonds and most of the fresh cilantro. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Spoon the mixture into bowls and top with the remaining almonds and cilantro.
This will serve about three or four people as a main dish. To stretch it further, you could serve it with rice.

Side note: If you've never heard of Earth Balance Natural Buttery Spread, you might be a little put off, like I was at first, by the name. "Buttery Spread" sounds like an empty promise, like some frightening chem lab concoction reminiscent of the way Cheez Whiz isn't really "cheese"... Well, if that's the case, then you should know that Earth Balance is made with natural vegetable oils, is not hydrogenated and has no trans-fats or anything gross like that. I recommend it if you're trying to cut dairy out of your diet, because it's pretty tasty. On the other hand, if you're okay with dairy, then you can just use regular butter (preferably organic, unless you like antibiotics and synthetic hormones in your food), or you could also try ghee, which is "clarified" butter, meaning that the milk solids have been removed.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

multigrain rolls

"Hide Bread" from the Big Sur Bakery

This recipe originally came from The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook, a visually stunning cookbook that also tells the story of the restaurant’s proprietors and life on California’s central coast. The recipe came from one of the friends of the Bakery, Terry “Hide” Prince; however, take warning from the name, as you’ll probably need to hide some of these away from the rest of your family if you want to have any left for yourself.

These rolls, densely brimming with grains and seeds, are akin to English muffins, in that you have to toast them before you eat them. That being said, Thomas’ pale in comparison – both literally and figuratively. No yeast is required; this is soda bread at its finest. Choose a dark beer that you would like to drink, but if you have an aversion to using alcohol I believe water is an acceptable substitute, although I have not tried this myself. Try not to be daunted by the long list of ingredients. Almost all of them can be found at any decent supermarket, and those you can't find - particularly the grains and seeds - can be substituted with any others. The actual process is surprisingly simple and when you consider how amazing these taste, you'll see that they are entirely worth the effort.

Katherine and I have made these together a handful of times, and have come to take great liberties with the recipe. For one, we’ve veganized it, substituting coconut milk for the buttermilk recommended in the original. If you are concerned, don’t be. No coconut taste remains. Otherwise, we’ve altered (read: significantly increased) the amount of grains and seeds, such that the rolls just barely hold together after they're baked, but what this version lacks in structural integrity, it more than makes up for in flavor. The following is our own version of these delicious rolls:

4 cups all-purpose flour1/2 cup sunflower seeds2 tablespoons dulse flakes
1 cup (sprouted) whole wheat flour1/2 cup quinoa1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup flax seed (meal)1/3 cup millet1/2 cup dark beer
1/2 cup sesame seeds1/4 cup amaranth2 cups coconut milk
1/2 cup oat bran1 teaspoon sea salt

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a frying pan, toast the flax seeds until just warm. Grind them into a meal using a small blender or spice/coffee grinder. (We recommend using the Magic Bullet with the flat blade.) Use the same pan to toast the sesame seeds, oat bran, sunflower seeds, quinoa, millet and amaranth.
Combine all the dry ingredients in a large bowl, stir them together and make a well in the center. Add the beer and coconut milk and mix with a wooden spoon and eventually your hands, until a thick dough forms. Sprinkle the dough with flour and turn out onto a floured surface, then roll into a log about 2 inches in diameter. Of course, you can work with half the dough at a time, if that's more manageable for you. Cut the roll(s) into 1.5-inch slices, then form them into patties with your hands. Place the patties on a baking sheet and bake for 45 minutes.

A few other notes: Most recently, I used sprouted whole wheat flour for the wheat flour in the recipe. While this almost certainly added nutritional value to the rolls, it did not alter the taste much, as compared to using regular whole wheat flour, so the regular stuff works just fine. The original recipe called for whole flax seeds, but unless they're ground, those tend to pass right through the digestive system without imparting their myriad benefits. Toasting the seeds and grains beforehand is optional but recommended (this was Katherine's idea and it's brilliant), as doing so brings out a toasty, nutty flavor that is just wonderful. Finally, the dulse (seaweed) can be found at a health food store (see photo so you know what you're looking for - you may have to crumble it into pieces by hand in order to measure it in tablespoons, or you can buy it already in flake form).

To serve these, you'll need to toast them first. Then, they taste amazing smeared with ghee (clarified butter) and some raw honey, but you should feel free to experiment with the toppings.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

spring kicharee

Kicharee is a special Indian dish that is highly lauded for its therapeutic benefit. It is a very simple preparation of cooked mung beans and rice sauteed with ghee or oil and spices. According to herbalist Michael Tierra, "Kicharee is well balanced and high in easily assimilated protein. It also has blood purifying properties." He says that it "can be eaten everyday as a healing food, for fasting, establishing pH balance, for a mono-food cleansing diet, or for those recovering from a serious illness or surgery."

I have been regularly following the blogs of Michael and Lesley Tierra as part of my herbalist training, and recently, in a post called Diet and Herb Tips for Spring Health, they offered a unique Spring Kicharee recipe that expands the basic recipe to include several vegetables: "Burdock to cleanse the Liver and Blood, carrots to support digestion and fluid metabolism, shiitake mushrooms to strengthen Blood and immunity and support Liver function and kelp and dark leafy greens to detoxify the Liver and provide important minerals."

Here is their recipe:
  • 3 cups water or chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup rice
  • 1/2 cup mung beans
  • 1 small strip kelp, washed
  • 1/3 tsp. turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp. coriander powder
  • 1 tsp. cumin seeds or powder
  • 2 Tblsp. ghee (clarified butter) or sesame oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 4 shiitake mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 burdock root, scrubbed and thinly sliced
  • 1 carrot, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup chopped dark leafy greens (dale, collards, dandelion, mustard)
  • Seasonings: salt, lemon juice
"Cook rice, beans and kelp in water or stock for 45 minutes. Brown spices in oil. Stir fry onion, mushrooms, burdock and carrot in spiced oil. Boil greens in an inch of water for five minutes and strain. Combine all ingredients together. More water or stock may be added to make soupier, if wanted. Add any desired seasonings."

Stefanie and I worked on this recipe last week. I started the night before by pre-soaking the mung beans and rice separately since I have read often that this step unlocks the dormant energy in these foods by beginning the germination process, and also makes them more digestible. Then when we got started we cooked these in some homemade vegetable broth with the strip of kelp (kombu). I have been adding kelp to my beans for a while now, since I read Paul Pitchford's comment, in Healing with Whole Foods, that kelp is "excellent added to beans, as the minerals help to balance the protein and oils in them and increase digestibility."

I was curious and intrigued about cooking with the fresh burdock root. Over the years, I had tried the dried burdock in different tea blends, and wondered if the fresh vegetable would have the same strong bitter flavor I remembered. I also didn't know where to find it. I figured Whole Foods was my best bet, but I looked over the whole produce area a couple times and couldn't see it. I asked an employee, and she said that yes, they had it but she would have to get it from the back, and a few minutes later she returned with two long pieces, each over two feet long. I asked her why it wasn't out on the shelves and she said that they didn't think it fit in right with everything else.

I think she was referring to the truth that burdock is a very humble looking vegetable, but when we prepared the kicharee we found that it is impressive in its own earthy way. It has an appealing pungent aroma and taste similar to artichoke. And in the dish its crispy texture contrasted well with the chewy yet equally earthy shiitake mushrooms. In the background the ghee and spices elevated all the ingredients to something satisfying and soulful.

We were happy with our results. In fact, during the research for this post I found another variation by Michael Tierra from a long time ago, and I would love to try that one soon.

Stefanie's note: It might be worth noting that we sprinkled the dish with bit of sea salt, which really brought out the flavor. This is a delicious meal. It is easy to understand why kicharee makes a good single-food diet when detoxifying or healing. My body clearly felt so happy and comfortable digesting this food and it felt very nourishing to eat it. Additionally, on a more intangible level, I believe the mushrooms, burdock root and carrots, which of course grow in the earth, are all very grounding and stabilizing for one's spiritual and emotional well-being.