December 10, 2009

Sweet Potato Soup

We're in full soup mode here at Evolution Kitchen, as Old Man Winter has wrapped his icy fingers around our home. We like a lot of different kinds of soup, depending on our mood. Sometimes we only want a thin, brothy soup. And sometimes we want a thicker, heartier soup. 

The following soup is more in the hearty category. It is quite creamy and has an excellent flavor.

Creamy Sweet Potato Soup


2 T oil
1 onion, chopped

2 small celery stalks, chopped
1 medium leek, sliced (white and pale green parts only)
1 large garlic clove, chopped
1 ½ lbs red-skinned sweet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1-inch pieces (about 5 cups)
4 c chicken stock
1 cinnamon stick
¼ t ground nutmeg
1½ c  coconut milk


1. Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion, saute about 5 minutes. Add celery and leek, saute about 5 minutes. Add garlic, saute about 2 minutes.

2. Add sweet potatoes, chicken stock, cinnamon stick, and nutmeg; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered until potatoes are tender (about 20 minutes).

3. Remove cinnamon stick and discard. Working in batches, puree soup in blender until smooth. Return to pot.

4. Add coconut milk and stir over medium-low heat until heated through. Season soup to taste with salt and pepper.

December 6, 2009


This delicious dish from Kenya may have a funny name, but it is a seriously scrumptious meal. It originally called for chicken, but I have vegetarianized it with those Smart Chicken strips you buy at the store. You can get away with using just one package, but I find that my family picks out all the strips to nibble on, leaving little left for the actual dish, so adding 2 packages may work better.



½ c dried mung beans
1 (or 2) pkgs Smart Chicken Strips
½ t ground ginger
salt and pepper
2 T olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 medium tomatoes, or 1 can diced tomatoes, drained
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeño, seeded and finely chopped
1 t lemon juice
1 c coconut milk


1. Either boil the mung bean for 35 minutes, or pressure cook. Drain.

2. While the mung beans are cooking, season the "chicken" strips with the ground ginger and a little salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large pan over medium heat and brown the chicken strips. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

3. In the same pan, fry the onions and garlic for 5 minutes, then add the chopped tomatoes and chili and cook another 2 minutes, stirring often. Add the mung beans and lemon juice.

4. Pour the coconut milk into the pan. Simmer for 5 minutes, then add the chicken strips. Simmer for 10 minutes.

November 28, 2009

Kenyan Maharagwe

This is winter comfort food at its best. Maharagwe simply means "beans", and this dish is loaded with them. If you used beans cooked from dried and use fresh tomatoes instead of canned, the fresh flavor really shines through, since this stew is not cooked too long. It's wonderful served over rice.



2 T olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2 c cooked red kidney beans
1 15-ounce can coconut milk
2 tomatoes, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced
¼ t ground cumin
¼ t ground cardamom
1 t curry powder
¼ t turmeric
½ c chopped fresh cilantro or parsley
2 t honey
¼ t white pepper


1. In a large soup pot, heat olive oil and sauté onion and bell pepper until just tender.

2. Stir in kidney beans, coconut milk, tomatoes, garlic, chile pepper, cumin, cardamom, curry, and turmeric. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer, stirring frequently, for 10-15 minutes, until flavors blend.

3. Stir in cilantro/parsley and honey, and season with salt and white pepper. Serve hot.

November 22, 2009

Chewy Chocolate-Cherry Cookies

These cookies are fairly decadent and rich with chocolate, cherries, and sugar. This recipe has been adapted from a Cooking Light recipe from years ago. I have made in gluten-free, removed the egg, and cut back on the butter.

One thing I have noticed a lot of recently is the addition of baking soda in recipes that have no acid in them, like these cookies. To my knowledge, baking soda needs an acid to react. Since my wife's taste buds are sensitive to baking soda, I try to leave it out, especially when there's no acid to make it worthwhile.

Chewy Chocolate-Cherry Cookies


1 c gluten-free flour blend (rice based blend is best)
⅓ c unsweetened cocoa
¾ t baking powder
¼ t salt
1 c sugar
¼ c butter, softened
1 t vanilla extract
1 flax seed "egg"
⅔ c dried cherries
3 T semisweet chocolate chips


1. Preheat oven to 350°.

2. Combine flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt, stirring with a whisk. Place sugar and butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer on high speed until well blended. Add vanilla and "egg"; beat well. With mixer on low speed, gradually add flour mixture. Beat until just combined. Fold in the cherries and chocolate chips.

3. Drop by tablespoonfuls 2 inches apart on a cookie sheet coated with cooking spray. Bake for 12 minutes or until set. Remove from oven; cool on pan 5 minutes. Remove from pans; cool completely on wire racks.

November 18, 2009

Gluten Free Muffins

Quick breads are great because they're, well, quick, and they're bread. I find yeasted gluten-free breads are quite finicky, but quick breads made with baking soda/powder have a much higher success rate.

Lately, I have abused my family with batch after batch of muffins while I tried to perfect my muffin recipe. I started with a basic mix from Bette Hagman's book The Gluten-Free Gourmet Bakes Bread: More Than 200 Wheat-Free Recipes, but one thing I noticed about her recipes is that she relies a lot on tapioca and cornstarch/arrowroot. I have not been able to find much information on these flours, but I doubt that these simple starches have any more nutrition that plain old white flour.

So I have been trying to modify her recipes somewhat with healthier flours. For her muffin recipe, I use oat flour as the base, and the touch of potato flour (*flour*, not starch) is crucial for getting a good texture.

Consider this recipe a starting point for other additions like nuts, dried fruits, or whatever.

Gluten Free Muffins

Makes 12 muffins


1 c oat flour
⅓ c coconut flour
1 T potato flour
½ c tapioca flour
1 T baking powder
½ t salt
⅓ c sugar

3 T ground flaxseed meal
6 T warm water
4 T oil
1 c milk


1. Preheat oven to 375°. Grease 12 muffin tins.

2. Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl.

3. Combine the wet ingredients in a medium bowl.

4. Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture. Stir until just moistened, no more.

5. Evenly fill muffin cups.

6. Bake for 22-25 minutes. Insert a toothpick to make sure insides are done.

November 12, 2009

Apple Oven Pancake

Sometimes I get tired of plain old pancakes. The recipe presented here is a nice twist. It adds a lot of apple and more egg than usual, so it's almost like a pancake fritatta. Make this some weekend morning when you have some extra time. I usually make this for myself with normal flour, but you can easily substitute gluten-free flour.

One hungry person could eat this, or it could be a light breakfast for two.

Apple Oven Pancake


2 T butter
2 T brown sugar
¼ t cinnamon
1 small apple, peeled and sliced thin
2 eggs
½ c flour
½ c milk
¼ t salt


1. Heat oven to 400˚. Melt butter in pie plate in oven. Brush butter on side of pie plate.

2. Sprinkle brown sugar and cinnamon evenly over melted butter. Arrange sliced apple over sugar.

3. Beat eggs slightly in medium bowl. Add rest of the ingredients and beat until just mixed (do not overbeat).

4. Pour batter over apples.

5. Bake 30 minutes. Immediately loosen edge of pancake and turn upside down over serving plate. Sprinkle lightly with powdered sugar.

November 5, 2009

Dressing Up Veggies

(November will be a light month for postings from Evolution Kitchen. I have entered the National Novel Writing Month "contest" of writing a 50,000 word novel in a month. So, that has been keeping my fingers busy, but I'll try to squeak out a recipe here and there. Such as this one...)

I didn't like vegetables much as a kid, probably because it was mostly the frozen or canned variety heated up and dumped in a serving bowl. Add a little salt and pepper, and that was basically it.

Nowadays I eat fresh vegetables as much as possible. And although some vegetables can be satisfying just by themselves, most will benefit with a sauce.

This sauce is a intense blend of salty and tart, with a hint of sweet and the unique flavor of dark sesame oil. This sauce is wonderful warm and served on just about any vegetable, but we like it on steamed broccoli. "Drizzle" is the key word with this sauce, not "douse", "dump", or "drown" as most restaurants seem to do.

Warm Soy Dressing and Broccoli


1 - 2 lbs fresh broccoli

¼ c soy sauce
¼ c lemon juice
2 T rice wine vinegar
2½ T rice wine, or sake
2 T water
1 T sugar
2 t sesame oil
1 garlic clove, sliced


1. Heat all the sauce ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir to dissolve the sugar and simmer 5 minutes. Serve over steamed broccoli.

October 31, 2009

Beans and Rice

Beans and rice are a great combination, both nutritionally and for taste. There is a world of flavors you can have with these two ingredients. Sometimes we make slightly sweetened beans to have for breakfast. This dish, however, may not make the best early morning dish. It calls for the sultry and rich black beans, plus a tangy twist provided by balsamic vinegar. Add a little avocado to calm everything down and you end up with a dish that we eat as a meal in itself. It doesn't last long in our house.

Cuban Beans and Rice


2 T lemon juice
2 T olive oil
1 T balsamic vinegar
1 t ground cumin
1 t salt
¼ t pepper
3 c cooked rice
1 15-oz can of black beans, drained and rinsed, or 1 c dried black beans cooked
2 medium tomatoes, cored, seeded, and chopped
2 T fresh parsley, chopped
1 firm-ripe avocado


1. In a large bowl, mix lemon juice, olive oil, vinegar, cumin, salt, and pepper. Stir in the rice, beans, tomatoes, and parsley.

2. Cut the avocado in half, pop out the pit, and carefully scoop out the insides. Cut into dice and gently stir into the bean and rice mixture.

3. Serve chilled, room temperature, or heated up.

October 30, 2009

Lentil Burgers

I love veggies burgers, anything to play host to yummy condiments like pickles, ketchup, and mustard. The trick of a good veggie burger is to get the right flavor and texture to make you want to eat them again. This recipe is great of flavor, and ok on texture. They are a little soft inside, but the outside gets nice and crispy on the grill. Be sure to use a soft bun; otherwise the innards will squish out when chomping down on a hard bun.

In order to handle the rigors of grill cooking, these patties need to firm up in the freezer for a while, so plan your time accordingly.

Lentil Burgers


½ c dried lentils
2 T olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 small red bell pepper, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 15-oz can chickpeas, rinsed and drained, or 1 c dried chickpeas cooked
½ dried parsley, or 1 c fresh
2 eggs, or flax seed "eggs"
2 t ground cumin
1 t ground coriander
1 t salt
½ t ground black pepper
1 c oat bran
1 T potato flour
1 large carrot, grated


1. Cook lentils according to package directions. Drain.

2. Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Saute onion and bell pepper until soft, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook another minute.

3. In a food processor, combine the chickpeas, parsley, eggs, cumin, coriander, salt, pepper, and the onion mixture. Blend for 2 minutes, or until very smooth.

4. Dump blended mixture into a large bowl, add the carrots and lentils, and mix well. Shape into 8 patties and lay on wax paper on a large cookie sheet. Place the sheet in the freezer for at least 4 hours.

5. When ready to cook, preheat grill and take patties out of the freezer. Don't defrost first, place frozen patties on the grill and cook 6-10 minutes on each side. Serve on buns or pitas.

October 26, 2009

Mushrooms in a Mustard-Wine Sauce

We eat a lot of mushrooms, much to my daughter's chagrin. If you really think about it, mushrooms are gross. I've seen enough wild mushrooms in the forest to start me thinking, "Do I really eat stuff related to this?"

But mushrooms do have nutritional value: They have a high selenium content, reported to help prevent prostate cancer, and they contain a fair amount of B-vitamins. Mushrooms also taste great if done right. So it's best to forget where mushrooms come from and what some of their uglier cousins look like.

The nice thing about mushrooms is that can readily adapt to just about any flavor. We typically mushrooms in an oriental setting, but this recipe is somewhat different. The mushrooms are cooked in a mustard and wine sauce, which gives it a tangy but rich flavor.

Mushrooms in a Mustard-Wine Sauce



1 T Dijon mustard
2 T Worcestershire sauce
2 T brown sugar
¾ c dry red wine
1 T soy sauce
ground pepper


1 oz dried shiitake mushrooms
½ c boiling water
1 lb mushrooms
1½ T oil
1 onion, diced
salt to taste
1 large red bell pepper, diced
½ block of firm tofu, cubed


1. Cover the dried shiitake mushrooms with the boiling water and set aside until they soften, about 10 minutes. Reserve the soaking liquid and cut the hard stems out. Cut the mushrooms into strips.

2. Clean the fresh mushrooms and cut into halves (or quarters if they are big).

3. Heat oil in a large skillet, add the onions and a pinch of salt, and saute over medium heat until translucent, about 3-4 minutes.

4. Add both fresh and dried mushrooms and the peppers and cook a little bit more, stirring often, until the mushrooms begin to darken.

5. Add the sauce and the soaking liquid from the shiitakes. Add the tofu and simmer slowly until the sauce has reduced and thickened, about 40 minutes.

6. Serve in bowls on top of rice or noodles.

October 24, 2009

Rosemary Sweet Potatoes

Recently, we published a recipe for Roasted Spiced Sweet Potatoes, but here's a slightly different twist on the same theme. That recipe proves that the sweetness goes well with spiciness. This recipe will show how well that sweetness also compliments savory herbs like rosemary.

This is a perfect wintertime dish, mainly because it requires lengthy cooking in a hot oven. Nothing like warming up the house with the mouth-watering fragrance of roasted sweet potatoes!

Rosemary Sweet Potatoes


2 T unsalted butter
2 T olive oil
1 T fresh rosemary, or 2 t dried
3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled
1 t salt
¼ t black pepper


1. Preheat the oven to 450º. Melt the butter with the olive oil in a small skillet, then add the rosemary. Set aside.

2. Cut the sweet potatoes lengthwise in ½-inch thick wedges and place in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper, and drizzle on the butter mixture. Toss gently.

3. Arrange wedges in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake in the upper part of the over for 10 minutes. Turn over and continue baking another 10 minutes or until the potatoes are slightly browned. Serve hot.

October 23, 2009

Radishes - Underperformer in the Kitchen

The Western diet doesn't quite know what to do with radishes. Mostly you see them sliced raw in salads. But did you know they can be in a cooked dish with good effect? Although they have that unique "heat", they blend well with other flavors quite well. This dish combines the lowly radish, sugar snap peas, and edamame (young, green soybeans) with a buttery lemon sauce. It's light and refreshing.

Peas, Beans, and Radishes with Lemon Butter


1 lb sugar snap peas, trimmed
1 c shelled frozen edamame
1 T olive oil
2 T shallots, minced
1 bunch radishes, trimmed and thinly sliced
2 t lemon zest
1 T unsalted butter
salt and pepper to taste


1. Cook peas and edamame in boiling salted water for 5 minutes. Drain and rinse in cold water.

2. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add shallots and saute for 2-3 minutes. Add radishes and continue cooking until just tender, another 2-3 minutes.

3. Add peas and edamame, and saute until hot. Add zest and butter. Season with salt and pepper. Cook while stirring until butter is melted.

October 19, 2009

Cauliflower-Potato Curry

Nothing livens up boring cauliflower and potatoes like a flavorful curry sauce. This dish is best made in a pressure cooker, which quickly breaks the potato and cauliflower down. But it can be cooked in a large pot or dutch oven; just increase the cooking time.

Cauliflower-Potato Curry


1 large head of cauliflower
2 t oil
2 t whole cumin seeds
1½ c coconut milk
2 T ketchup
1 t ground coriander
2 T curry
¼ t ground cinnamon
¾ t salt
pinch of cayenne
1½ lbs thin-skin potatoes, like Yukon Gold
1 small red bell pepper, diced


1. Cut the cauliflower into florets no larger than 2 inches wide.

2. Heat oil in a pressure cooker. Sizzle the cumin seeds until they begin to pop, about 5-10 seconds. Carefully add the coconut milk and ketchup. While stirring, sprinkle in the curry powder, coriander, cinnamon, salt, and cayenne.

3. Bring to a boil. Set the potatoes and red bell pepper down into the liquid, then place the cauliflower on top.

4. Lock the lid in place and bring to high pressure. Maintain pressure for 3-6 minutes. Do a quick release of pressure.

5. Carefully open and stir the contents so that the cauliflower breaks up and incorporates into the sauce. Garnish with parsley or cilantro.

October 17, 2009

Pucker Up With Pomegranate Molasses

Today's exotic ingredient is pomegranate molasses. This is a popular ingredient in the Middle East and it highlights several well-known dishes, such as fesenjan and muhammarah. It is an intensely flavored reduction of pomegranate juice. I don't like to eat pomegranate fruit because of all those dang seeds, but the juice and molasses are delicious: tart and tangy, with a hint of sweetness.

The following dish is really about the sauce. At the core of it is pomegranate molasses, mellowed slightly with nuts. We purchase our molasses at the local Middle Eastern grocery, but you can also get it from Amazon: Pomegranate Molasses - 14 oz.

Since my daughter is allergic to walnuts, I used pecans instead. It still tasted great, so feel free to experiment with the nuts.

This sauce could go over roasted vegetables, or perhaps even over a pasta. In this recipe, I pair it with bland stir-fried tofu pieces.

Tofu with Pomegranate-Walnut Sauce


2 T olive oil
1 package firm tofu, drained and pressed in a towel
½ T olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
½ c walnuts or pecans, finely chopped
1/8 t cinanamon
½ c water
2 t honey
¼ t salt


1. Make the tofu: cut tofu block into 5 or 6 thick slabs. Pan fry this in the 2 T olive oil.

2. Make the sauce: Heat the ½ T olive oil in a small skillet. When hot, saute onion and garlic until soft and transparent. Remove from heat.

3. Place nuts, cinnamon, and cooked onions into a blender. Pulse briefly, then add the remaining ingredients and blend for two minutes. Add water to get mixture to desired consistency (it should be thinner than mayonnaise.

4. Serve sauce over tofu, and optionally over rice.

October 15, 2009

Zen Stew

When the cold weather comes, the amount of soup that flows through the Evolution Kitchen can be enormous. As the first snow hits us here in the high plains, I wanted a hearty soup that soothes the stomach and the soul. This simple Asian-influenced soup fit the bill.

Zen Stew


2 oz of dried or fresh shiitake mushrooms
1 c water
1 c vegetable broth
½ c red onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, thinly sliced
1 c brown rice, cooked
4 oz tofu, sliced into ½-inch cubes
1 scallion, thinly sliced
3 bunches of spinach, trimmed and coarsely chopped
1/3 c miso paste
½ c warm water


1. If using dried mushrooms, soak them in boiling water for 30 minutes. For both dried and fresh, remove hard stems and slice the caps in thin strips.

2. In a large saucepan, heat 1 cup of water and broth, and the mushrooms, onion, carrot, cooked rice, and tofu. Bring to a low boil and cook for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from heat, add the scallion and stir in the spinach. Cover the saucepan for a few minutes until the spinach wilts.

3. Mix the miso with the ½ cup of warm water and stir until all lumps are gone. Stir this into the soup. Serve hot.

October 14, 2009

Spicy "Beef" Noodles

This recipe began life without the quotes around the word Beef, but I have since adapted it to a vegetarian version. You can use most any kind of meat substitute, such as tofu, tempeh, seiten, or just leave it out altogether. In this rendition, I used those Smart Strips, fake chicken pieces that are quite tasty and versatile in many recipes.

I also used a gluten-free fusilli pasta. These pastas have come a long way from when they first came out. I can hardly tell the difference sometimes, and the rice flour-based pasta we get from OrgraN and Tinkyada are wonderful.

But the star of this dish is the chili oil. A good chili oil will go a long way to improving any dish. Chili oil readily available in most Asian markets or any well-stocked super market; just go to the international aisle. The one we get I cannot read because it is in Chinese, but it has a picture of a grumpy looking Oriental woman. I encourage all to stock their fridge with some chili oil. You can jazz up most anything with a little dab of this tasty fire: rice, tofu, vegetables, even meat.

Spicy "Beef" Noodles


½ lb fusilli pasta
3 T olive oil, separate
1 package Smart Strips
1 onion, halved lengthwise and cut into thin wedges
3 c broccoli florets
3 T soy sauce
1 T chili oil
ground pepper
3 medium tomatoes, cut into 1-inch wedges


1. Cook the pasta according to the directions until just tender (not much more, as it will cook more later).

2. Meanwhile, heat 2 T oil in a large skillet and brown the chicken strips, about 5 minutes. Remove strips to a plate, add the remaining 1 T of oil and heat. When hot, add the onions and cook until it just turns brown, about 4 minutes.

3. Add the broccoli and cook until it is bright green, about 2 minutes. Add soy sauce, chili oil, and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, about 3 more minutes.

4. Add reserved chicken strips and tomatoes. Stir well and heat about another minute to heat through. Serve hot with a sprinkling of parsley or cilantro.

October 13, 2009

Garlic Lemon Potatoes

We're not huge consumers of potatoes, but every once in a while, I stumble across a potato recipe that is darn good. This one originally came from a recipe card from Whole Foods. I modified it slightly to cut back on the oil and salt.

This calls for jalapeño slices. Some people like to leave the seeds in, but I prefer to have more flavor than heat, so I carefully remove the seeds and ribs after slicing. Also, if you like strong garlic flavor, put them in raw, but I prefer to saute my garlic slightly before adding.

Garlic Lemon Potatoes


2 T oil
4 medium Yukon Gold potatoes (2 lbs) cut lengthwise into 8 wedges each
1 jalapeño, cut into ¼-inch slices
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 T olive oil
2 T lemon juice
1 t dried lemon peel
1 T dried oregano
1 t salt
ground black pepper


1. Heat 2 T oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet large enough to hold all potatoes in a single layer. Over medium-high heat, add potatoes and cook until golden brown, about 6 minutes. Flip over and brown the other side, about 5 more minutes.

2. Reduce heat to medium-low, add jalapeño, cover, and cook until potatoes are tender, about 5 minutes.

3. While potatoes cook, combine garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, lemon peel, and oregano in a small bowl. When the potatoes are tender, add the garlic lemon dressing, salt, and pepper. Combine carefully and cook another minute uncovered.

4. Garnish with some parsley and serve immediately.

October 12, 2009

Cabbage and Curried Tofu

This is vegetarian comfort food: cabbage and tofu. Neither of which has much flavor on its own, but the Indian-influenced spices liven this up to make a tasty, simple, and healthy dish.

Cabbage and Curried Tofu


1 T olive oil
½ green or red cabbage head, shredded
½ c frozen peas
2 medium onions chopped
1 block of firm tofu, crumbled
½ t turmeric
1 t chilli powder
½ t garam masala
½ t salt
black pepper
1 poblano, chopped (optional)


1. Heat oil and fry onions until soft. Add tofu, tumeric & chilli powder, garam masala, green chillies, salt, parsley and fry for 6-8 minutes.

2. Add cabbage and peas, cover slightly, and cook until cabbage is wilted, about 10 minutes.

October 10, 2009

Moroccan Shish Kabob

We will finish up our foray into Moroccan cuisine with a vegetarian shish kabob. Almost everyone has heard of shish kabobs. This is a common street food in Morocco, and I bet the aroma of the grilled meat and spices wafting about the streets is wonderful. But I wanted to try a vegetarian version, and I think I'm pretty close.

This recipe makes use of those lovely soya wadi chunks which I introduced in this article. Because the wadi is a bit small, I thought it would be futile to thread them on skewers, so I fried them in a skillet. The result was pretty darn good. I served these over rice, but they can also be tucked into a pita, or you can stick toothpicks in them and treat them like an appetizer.

Wadi Shish Kabobs


1 small onion, grated
½ t salt
1 c soya wadi
1 c beef broth
juice of 1 lemon
2 t ground cumin
2 t paprika
2 T dried parsley
black pepper

2 T olive oil


1. Place all the ingredients except olive oil into a pressure cooker, lock the lid in place, and bring to high pressure. Maintain high pressure for 10 minutes. Release pressure naturally.

2. Heat the olive oil in a skillet. When hot, transfer the contents of the pressure cooker and cook until the wadi starts to brown. Serve over rice or on flatbreads.

October 6, 2009

Moroccan Spinach

I continue the Moroccan theme here with an unusual but delicious spinach dish. It's called saute d' epinards and is a blend of nuts, spinach, and citrus. I like how Moroccan cuisine works lemon and oranges into their cooking. Westerners tend to just eat their citrus as is and don't cook with them much. But when they are introduced into cooking, they offer a different twist that is pleasant and refreshing.

Sauteed Spinach with Orange and Almonds


1 lb. fresh spinach, rinsed and drained
2 T olive oil
½ onion, choped
2 garlic cloves, minced
juice from one orange
zest from one orange
2 T slivered almonds, toasted
salt and pepper


1. In a dutch oven, place about 1 inch of water in and bring to boil. Place the spinach in the pot, cover, and simmer for about 10 minutes, or until the spinach is soft. Remove spinach to a cutting board and chop finely.

2. Dump the cooking liquid from the pot and heat the oil over medium high heat. Stir in the onion and garlic and cook until they begin to color. Return the spinach back to the pot and mix. Add the orange juice and zest and season with salt and pepper. Cook only a minute to heat the spinach through.

3. Place in a serving dish and top with the slivered almonds.

October 5, 2009

Moroccan Feast

This past week I focused on Moroccan food. The cuisine from Morocco and North Africa is one of my favorites because the flavors and ingredients are fresh and lively and colorful. And it's no wonder, since Morocco is a blend of various cultures, each offering their own style and ingredients. The indigenous Berbers have their tangines and couscous; the nomadic Bedouins brought in dates, milk, and grains; the Moors from Spain brought olives, paprika, and herbs. Add some French influence to tidy it all up and you have a grand landscape of flavors that is not heavy on meat but showcases vegetables and fruits.

For my first recipe, I present a simple dip similar to hummus, but instead of chickpeas it uses fava beans. It is called bissara.

Garlic Fava Bean Dip


12 oz dried fava beans, soaked in water overnight
4 garlic cloves
2 t cumin seeds
4 T olive oil
pinch of paprika and thyme


1. Drain the beans, remove the outer brown skins, and drop them into a pressure cooker or pot. Add the garlic and the cumin seeds. Add enough water to cover. If using a pressure cooker, cook on high pressure for about 15 minutes. If using a pot, bring to a boil, then lower the heat, cover, and simmer for 1 hour.

2. Drain the beans and place in a food processor. Puree the beans and drizzle in the olive oil. Season to taste with salt, then sprinkle with paprika and thyme. Serve warm or at room temperature with bread.

October 3, 2009

Roasted Spiced Sweet Potatoes

We eat sweet potatoes year around, but consumption tends to go up in the fall because it is the quintessential fall vegetable. As I mentioned in this article back in February, we tend to avoid those recipes that add more sweetness to sweet potatoes. They are sweet enough as they are, and this sweetness lends itself well to other spices. In this dish, we add a little heat, some herbs, and fennel seeds. Quite an odd combination, but the flavor works well, and is subtle yet deep.

Roasted Spiced Sweet Potatoes


1 t coriander seeds
1/2 t fennel seeds
1/2 t dried oregano
1/2 t dried hot red pepper flakes
1 t kosher salt
2 lb medium sweet potatoes
3 T vegetable oil


1. Preheat oven to 425°F.

2. Coarsely grind coriander, fennel, oregano, and red pepper flakes in an electric coffee/spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle. Stir together spices and salt.

3. Cut potatoes into ½-inch chunks.

4. Toss chunks with oil and spices in a large roasting pan and roast in middle of oven 20 minutes. Turn chunks over with a spatula and roast until tender and slightly golden, 15 to 20 minutes more.

October 1, 2009

Chard and Carrots

Harvest time tends to inspire dishes simply because the food is there and waiting for you to cook it. In this case, I had some chard and some carrots that were getting impatient. Having a left-over tomato on hand helped round out this simple yet surprisingly tasty dish. I added the tomato at the very end so it warmed up but did not cook much. This provided textural variety. One could go wild with the seasonings, but I kept it simple to let the vegetables speak for themselves.

Chard and Carrots


1 T olive oil
2 medium carrots, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ t ginger, grated
1 bunch of chard, stems removed and chopped coarsely
2 scallions, sliced
1 tomato, chopped
dash of tamari sauce
pinch of dried basil
black pepper


1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the garlic, ginger, and carrots. Saute for 3 minutes.

2. Add the chard and scallions, cover, turn heat down to medium-low, and cook until chard is tender, about 5 minutes.

3. Add the tomato, tamari, basil, and black pepper to taste. Stir to mix.

September 25, 2009

Fried Rice with Mushrooms

We love fried rice, and there are about a million things you could do to it. This is number 34,227: rice with a heavy dose of mushrooms. Originally, this recipe began life as rice pancakes, but when the pancakes refused to maintain their shape, tada! Fried rice! (This same phenomena is how my omelets mysteriously turn into scrambled eggs.) But despite the culinary catastrophe, the rice turned out darn good, and in the end much easier to make than fussy pancakes.

Fried Rice with Mushrooms


5 t olive oil, divided
5 c mushrooms, thinly sliced
½ c onion, finely chopped
½ c red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 garlic, minced
1 T fresh thyme, or 1 t dried thyme
¾ t salt
¼ t pepper
1 c vegetable broth
1 t arrowroot or cornstarch
3 c cooked brown rice


1. Heat 2 teaspoons of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add mushrooms, onions, and bell pepper. Cook for 15 minutes or until most of the liquid has cooked off, stirring occasionally.

2. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the thyme, salt, and pepper. Remove 1 cup of the mixture and set aside.

3. Increase the heat to medium-high. Add the broth and arrowroot. Bring to a boil and cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Set aside but keep warm.

4. In another pan, add the remaining tablespoon of oil and heat over medium-high heat. Dump in the rice and reserved mushroom mixture. Stir fry until desired doneness. Serve hot with mushroom sauce.

September 24, 2009

Exotic Ingredient: Mango Powder

Because I love Indian so much, I often find myself wandering over to Lisa's Kitchen to try some of her delicious recipes. There you will find lots of Indian-inspired vegetarian dishes, many of them spicy, and most of them wonderful. I found the following recipe there and it immediately caught my eye because (a) it has chickpeas in it (yummy), and (b) it calls for mango powder, AKA amchur powder.

Long ago, while walking down the Indian aisle of the Oriental market we often shop, I found a bottle of this mysterious blonde-colored powder. Intrigued by the thought of powdered mango, I bought some. It is made from unripe mangoes, dried and powdered. It has a unique flavor. I have used it once or twice sparingly, but this dish really piles it on. This dish is especially refreshing to me because many Indian dishes start to taste the same after awhile, and I've been in a "curry and chili with some kind of bean" rut lately. Yes, this is still technically a curry with some kind of bean, but hey, no chili!

If you are having trouble finding amchur (sometimes amchoor) powder, you can always get it from that great global marketplace called Amchur (Dry Mango) Powder 3.5oz

I only recreate Lisa's dish, not to steal her thunder, but because it was so delicious. I also made a few teensy changes. The original recipe is found here.

The part I changed was the addition of cardamom pods and a whole cinnamon stick. I'm not one to snub my nose at tradition, but I don't like putting things like this into dishes. You have to take them out, otherwise a mouthful of cinnamon bark or cardamom pod is not very pleasant. But it is also quite difficult to fish these things out of a sauce such as in this recipe. So I prefer to simply add a small amount of powdered cardamom and cinnamon instead. I also removed the onion garnish, as I can't eat raw onions and feel the flavor is perfect without it.

So here is Lisa's Chickpeas with Mango Powder, with tiny edits by yours truly.

Chickpeas with Mango Powder


1¼ c dried chickpeas
2 T olive oil
1 t cumin seeds
pinch of ground cardamom
pinch of ground cinnamon
1 t ground cumin
2 T mango powder (amchur)
1 T ground coriander
½ t of cayenne pepper
½ t turmeric
1 t salt
1 14-oz can of diced tomatoes, drained or 2 medium ripe tomatoes, finely chopped
generous handful of fresh parsley


1. Soak the chickpeas in enough water to cover overnight. Drain, and cook in a pressure cooker according to directions (about 15 minutes), or simmer in a pot of water for 1-2 hours until soft. Reserve 1 cup of the cooking liquid, drain and set the beans aside.

2. Heat the oil over medium heat in a large skillet. When hot, add the cumin seeds. Stir and fry for roughly 1 minute. Now add the ground spices, stir and pour in the tomatoes, and add the salt. Cook, uncovered, stirring often, until the tomatoes begin to thicken up (roughly 5 - 10 minutes.

3. Now add the chickpeas, the reserved cooking liquid and half of the chopped parsley. Cover the skillet partially and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thickened (roughly 20 minutes).

4. Serve, garnished with some of the remaining parsley.

September 22, 2009

The World of Pizza

It's difficult to put an exact definition on pizza. It seems every culture has some form of food that resembles pizza. Basically, it is a flat bread crust with stuff on top. Or sometimes the stuff is inside. The ancestor of the American pizza originated in Naples.

The Neapolitan pizza is characterized by a bread crust which by itself has little flavor; it is the vehicle to get the toppings to your mouth without it falling into your lap. On top of that is a flavorful tomato sauce. This provides the bulk of the taste and moistens the entire thing so it goes down easy. A thin layer of mozzarella cheese covers the top that holds the whole thing together. And finally, sprinkled on the top is a little fresh basil. This simple recipe spread throughout Italy, each applying their own local variations. Then it spread all through Europe and East and West.

But something awful happened to the recipe on the way over to the U.S. Apparently the recipe blew overboard, and when the crew finally dredged it out of the sea, it was water-logged and practically illegible. This must be the case because the American pizza has evolved into something quite grotesque. The crust keeps getting thicker and denser. The tomato sauce is thin and lifeless. There are no herbs to speak of. Taking center stage is the thick carpet of cheese on top. Cheese is even infused into the crust. What was once a savory, tangy delight has become a thick, heavy glob of cheese and dough. This evolution has placed American pizza into the "junk food" category, which is a real shame because pure pizza is darn good food.

Over the years, I have been interested in pizzas from around the world. One pizza I really enjoy is a Moroccan pizza, also known as Marrakesh Pizza. This pizza is not easy to make, though, as the toppings are really a filling. The dough is folded with the filling inside, rolled out, folded again, and rolled out again. While this does create an interesting pizza, it's time consuming and messy. However, I love the taste of the filling.

In the following recipe, I recreate the Marrakesh filling but use it as a topping on the traditional Italian style pizza. I have been searching for a good gluten-free pizza crust, but so far the best is the one in Bette Hagman's book The Gluten Free Gourmet Bakes Bread. I present a slightly modified version of Bette's pizza crust below.

What I like in this particular pizza is the absence of a sauce. Pizza does not have to have a sauce, and many non-American pizzas I've tried do not. Here I used tomatoes fresh my garden and some rice-based cheese. As you can tell, cheese plays a very small role in this dish.

Marrakesh Pizza


pizza crust:

7/8 c brown rice flour
5/8 c tapioca flour
1½ t xanthan or guar gum
1 T sugar
3 T almond meal
½ t salt
2½ t yeast
2 egg whites, or 2 T ground flax seed + 4 T warm water
1½ T olive oil
½ t vinegar
¾ c warm water, more or less


½ onion, chopped fine
2 large tomatoes, or 4 romas
3 T parsley
½ t ground coriander
1 t paprika
1 t cumin
½ c shredded cheese
2 T olive oil


To make the pizza crust:

1. Lightly grease a cookie sheet or round pizza pan (not one with holes, the dough is too wet).

2. Blend the dry ingredients (rice flour through yeast) in a medium bowl.

3. Place wet ingredients in the bowl of your mixer and blend (reserve some of the water). With the mixer on low, add the flour mix. Add more water if needed to get a firm but spreadable dough. Beat on high for 3½ minutes.

4. Spread dough on the prepared sheet or pan, spreading in circles until 12 inches in diameter. Raise the edges slightly.

5. Let rise for about 10 minutes. Preheat oven to 400°F.

6. Bake crust for about 10 minutes. While baking, prepare the topping.

To make the topping:

1. Mix all the topping ingredients into a bowl.

2. Spread topping on top of crust and bake for an additional 20-25 minutes.

September 20, 2009

Kale with Pine Nuts

This is the end of the pine nut binge. I promise. I find that pine nuts have a somewhat strong flavor, but the earthy flavor combines quite well here with the bitter, sour, and sweet notes of the kale and cranberries.

To toast pine nuts, I have tried dry roasting in a hot pan, and sauteing in olive oil. Each method provides satisfactory results, but both must be watched carefully. There is a certain point when pine nuts brown very rapidly and then start burning. This is one task I find it hard to multitask; if I'm toasting pine nuts, everything else has to wait. I learned this the hard way after dumping numerous pans of burned up nuts.

Kale with Pine Nuts


1 bunch of kale (1½ - 2 lbs)
1 T olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
¼ c water
¼ c dried cranberries
pinch ground cinnamon
¼ c toasted pine nuts
¼ t salt


1. Rinse the kale and cut off stems and thick veins. Coarsely chop the leaves.

2. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and saute for 30 seconds.

3. Add the kale, water, cranberries, cinnamon, and salt. Cover and cook over medium-high heat until the kale is tender, about 7 minutes. Add more water if the mixture gets too dry.

4. Stir in pine nuts just before serving.

September 17, 2009

Summer Rolls

I don't eat much raw food, but these little summer rolls are to die for. These were extra sweet by using home-grown carrots, freshly harvested. These are the kind of carrots that are so good and organic that you don't even have to peel them. And the fresh mint in this dish really brings it to life. This was my first experience with rice paper wrappers. Don't be intimated by them; once you get the hang of it, it is really quite easy and fun to do.

Summer Rolls


Miso Sauce:
¼ c white miso paste
2 scallions, chopped
2 T lemon juice
1 T lime juice
1 T rice wine vinegar
1 T dark sesame oil
1 T brown sugar
1/8 t chili powder
¼ c olive oil

Summer Rolls:
4 medium carrots, shredded
1 small zucchini, peeled and julienned
½ c parsley leaves
¼ c fresh mint
2 scallions, chopped
15 rice paper wrappers


1. Miso Sauce: puree all the ingredients in a food processor and chill.

2. Summer rolls: Combine carrots, zucchini, parsley, mint, and scallions in a bowl.

3. Dip 1 rice paper in warm water for 30 seconds, or until soft. Place the paper on a towel. Spoon about 2 tablespoons of the vegetables onto the bottom third of the rice paper. Roll up part way, then fold in the sides, and continue rolling. Repeat this for all rice papers. Cover and chill the rolls.

4. Serve rolls cold or room temperature with miso sauce.

September 16, 2009

How Cooking Made us Human

I have just finished reading Richard Wrangham's 2009 book Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human. This book contains aspects of anthropology and gastronomy, two of my favorite hobby subjects.

The book's premise is that cooking food has made us what we are today, and without fire, we may be still swinging around in trees. Wrangham sets in right away and discredits the popular movement of eating only raw food. Demi Moore does it, David Bowie does it, and countless others. The biggest claim from the raw-foodists is that there are enzymes in raw food that are critical for digestion, enzymes which are destroyed by heating.

Not only have these "critical enzymes" thus far eluded scientific research, but Wrangham points out numerous studies and revealing examples throughout history that the exact opposite is true: Humans cannot properly digest raw food enough to maintain good health.

The raw-foodists like to point out that a raw food diet is "natural", but they fail to understand that it is natural for apes and monkeys, but it is not natural for humans. They fail to understand that the human body has evolved and adapted to a cooked food diet. Everything about our eating system-- our small mouth and lips, small teeth, small jaw muscles, small stomach, short digestion cycles, and short intestines -are all at a huge disadvantage for processing raw food, but which handles cooked food very well.

Another interesting point that Wrangham makes is that the human body supplies at least 20% of its energy to fuel our brains. This is far more than any other animal. Like a supercomputer, it takes a lot of juice to keep all that intelligence going. This energy demand calls for a well-tuned and sophisticated digestion system and diet.

Which brings us to the Expensive Tissue Theory. This theory states that either the digestive system or the brain are the big consumers of energy, but not both. Animals with larger digestive systems (which require more energy to operate) tend to have smaller brains. When looking at all the primates, the size of the brain is inversely proportional to the size the digestive system. For primates like gorillas, they have a lengthy and energy-consuming digestive system. For humans, we have a power-hungry brain, but a small digestive system. This system is adapted to eating cooked foods where nutrients are readily available with considerably less effort to digest.

Wrangham points to two periods in human evolution when our brains increased dramatically in size and theorizes, based on the Expensive Tissue idea, that a change in diet caused each increase. The first time was a transition from Australopithecines to Homo erectus 2 million years ago. This brain size increase is attributed to an increase of meat in the diet. The second large increase in brain size was from Homo erectus to Homo heidelbergensis roughly 500,000 years ago. This has been attributed to cooking food.

Wrangham also discusses hunter-gatherer societies and some of the earliest "human" behaviors exhibited by our ancestors. While gorillas and chimpanzees spend nearly half their waking day chewing raw food, eating cooked food allowed men to spend more time hunting, which brought more meat into their diet. Fire and cooking made this type of society work and developed what we now call family units. Cooking is, in essence, the cornerstone of humanity.

So next time you are in the kitchen cooking, realize that you are participating in one of the earliest human industries, one that advanced our species beyond our raw-food chewing cousins, and it is a very human thing to do.

September 15, 2009

America's Sugar Addiction

Jonny Bowden has an interesting article on, The Healthiest Foods On Earth, which has this great quote:

All these healthy diets have in common the fact that they are absent foods with bar codes. They are also extremely low in sugar. In fact, the number of modern or ancient societies known for health and longevity that have consumed a diet high in sugar would be ... let's see ... zero.

Just recently the American Heart Association is now advising that Americans eat way too much sugar and we need to cut back. We eat 22 teaspoons a day. Fructose is unhealthy in many ways; it damages your liver and kidneys, puts on lots of unwanted weight, causes acne and tooth decay, etc.

From an evolutionary point of view, Dr. Miller in the Jungle Effect says that humans have a natural affinity towards sweet things as a way to encourage us to eat more fruits. Back before the wide availability of sugar, fruit and honey was our only source of sweetness. And fruit and honey can offer so much more to our bodies, whereas pure sugar offers nothing nutritionally.

One thing I have noticed in my label reading of various packaged foods is that sugar is in most everything, even things that you wouldn't expect: items like soy sauce and salad dressings. The fact of the matter is that America is addicted to sugar. Food manufacturers have to put it in the food they create, otherwise people won't eat it. It is just like the tobacco companies lacing their cigarettes with nicotine to get smokers hooked on their brand.

Ever since I cut back on sugar and eliminated High Fructose Corn Syrup completely, my taste buds have reawakened. I notice more subtle flavors in my food that before were hidden from my deadened taste buds. And now when I happen to taste some super-sweet food, I find it disgusting.

When I follow recipes, I am as much aware of the sugar content as I am when reading food labels. I present a recipe below from Living Without, a magazine that caters to those with various food allergies such as gluten. While this is a great service to people who cannot eat "normal" food, I notice that this magazine also caves in to the American addiction to sugar. Its recipes are heavily laden with sugar, especially its desserts. 

The modified recipe below originally called for 1 2/3 cups of brown sugar. One and two-thirds cups!! And, there was 4 tablespoons of maple syrup, a sneaky way to disguise an additional ¼ cup of sugar. And there were raisins in it, one of the most sweet fruits you can get naturally.

This is simply way too much sweetness. Nobody should eat food this sweet. We are not hummingbirds! So I cut the sugar nearly in half. The amount of oil was also a bit high: 2/3 cup, so I cut this in half as well. The result? I still find it a bit too sweet, but it has promise. This snack bar also suffers from what most gluten-free items suffer: it is crumbly. Using real eggs might help this, but I tend to use flax seed "eggs". I welcome any suggestions on how to make gluten-free breads more cohesive.

In future versions, I will try cutting back the sugar even more, adding nuts and/or seeds, and try to make less crumbly.

Gluten-Free Snack Bars


1⅓ c rolled oats
1 c sorghum flour
¾ c rice flour
½ c tapioca flour
1½ t xanthan gum
½ t salt
1½ t baking powder
1½ t cinnamon
1 c brown sugar, not packed

⅓ c canola oil or other vegetable oil
2 eggs, or flax seed "eggs"
2 T maple syrup
2 t vanilla extract

⅔ c dried cranberries, soaked in warm water
dried coconut flakes


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9x13-inch baking pan.

2. In large bowl, combine dry ingredients.

3. In medium bowl, combine vegetable oil, eggs, maple syrup and vanilla.

4. Add wet ingredients to dry mixture and mix with a fork or wooden spoon until blended.

5. Drain cranberries, reserving ¼ cup liquid. Fold cranberries into batter. Add reserved liquid, a little at a time until batter is smooth. Batter will be thick.

6. Spread batter into prepared baking pan. Sprinkle coconut flakes on top. Bake in preheated oven 20 to 25 minutes until golden.

7. Cool on wire rack. Cut into bars or squares. Store in the refrigerator.

September 10, 2009

Brown Rice Porridge

Lately I have been trying to avoid processed cereals. For years I have eschewed the super-sugar bombs put out by General Mills, Kelloggs, and the like, but now I am also staying away from the "healthier" cereals simply because they are still a processed food and cost a lot of money. This leaves a gaping hole in my breakfast routine that I am filling with more hot, whole grains. Oatmeal is a good example, but I also enjoy grits and buckwheat. Rice is a very common breakfast food in the Orient (it is a common food in every meal!), so it is slowly working its way into my regimen.

This recipe shows one way you could enjoy rice for breakfast. It needs to be prepared the night before, but it is super easy. By the time you get to the kitchen the next morning, you will be greeted by a hot pot of yummy rice porridge. You could literally put anything in this you want; this is just a starter recipe to get you going.

Brown Rice Porridge


1 c brown rice
3 T honey, maple syrup, or brown sugar
1 T unsalted butter
1/2 t salt
1/2 t cinnamon
1 apple, unpeeled and finely chopped
1/2 c dried cranberries
1/2 c walnuts or almonds, chopped
4 c water


1. Spray a crock pot with oil. Place all ingredients in cooker and mix well.

2. Cover and cook on low 8 hours. Stir before serving.

September 7, 2009

Bulgur and Pine Nut Pilaf

I've been on a pine nut kick this past week (even made cookies out of them), and here is another use for pine nuts. This is a take on rice pilaf and is popular in Syria, Jordan, and Turkey. Wheat bulgur is a form of whole wheat that has been cleaned, parboiled, dried, ground into particles and sifted into distinct sizes. It cooks fairly quickly and does not call for a pressure cooker. It is one of many grains I like to keep on hand, but it is NOT gluten-free.

Bulgur and Pine Nut Pilaf


2 T olive oil
1 onion, choped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 t turmeric
½ t cinnamon
1 gren chili, seeded and finely chopped
2 c vegetable broth
2/3 c white wine
1 1/3 c bulgur wheat, rinsed and drained
1 T olive oil
3 T pine nuts
2 T parsley


1. Heat the oil in a large skillet and fry the onion until soft. Add the garlic, turmeric, cinnamon, and chili. Fry for another minute.

2. Add the broth and wine, bring to a boil, and simmer for 8 minutes.

3. Add the bulgur, cover, and simmer gently for 15 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, heat the 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a small skillet and add the pine nuts. Fry until the nuts are golden, about a minute. Add the pine nuts and parsley to the bulgur and stir.

September 6, 2009

Pine Nut Rosemary Cookies

You may never think pine nuts and rosemary ever belong in a cookie, nor olive oil. But this recipe has all three and the cookies are delicious. Unlike the typical "sugar-flavored" cookie, these are savory and go well with a hot cup of tea. I have adapted it to be egg-free and gluten-free. You can use your favorite gluten free flour blend, but I find the rice flour-based blends do better for this recipe. If you don't have your own blend on hand, you can use the mix described below.

Pine Nut Rosemary Cookies


3 t dried rosemary
¼ c pine nuts, toasted
2¼ c gluten-free flour (see below)
1 t baking powder
½ t ground ginger
¼ t salt
8 T unsalted butter (one stick), softened
1 c sugar
2 T olive oil
2 T heavy cream (or coconut milk)
1 egg, or flax seed "egg"

Gluten-free flour blend:

1¼ c brown rice flour
1 c tapioca flour
2 t sugar
2 t xanthan gum


1. Preheat oven to 325º. Spray two cookie sheets with oil.

2. Grind the pine nuts in a small food processor or coffee grinder. Add the rosemary and finely chop. Transfer to a large bowl.

3. Stir in the flour, baking powder, ginger, and salt. Set aside.

4. Put butter and sugar into the bowl of an electric mixer. Mix on high speed until pale and fluffy. Mix in oil. Reduce speed to low and mix in flour mixture. Add cream (or coconut milk) and mix until well combined. Add "egg".

5. Shape dough into ¾-inch balls and place 2 inches apart on cookie sheets. Flatten each cookie slightly with your fingers.

6. Bake for about 13-15 minutes, until cookies are lightly golden. They will not get very dark. Turn the sheets halfway to ensure even cooking. Let cool 10 minutes on the cookie sheets before removing to cooling racks.

September 2, 2009

Curried Chickpea Dumplings

I almost hesitate to post this recipe. I found the original on the site while looking for kala chana recipes. This one popped up with the title "Kala Chana Ghoomni", despite having no kala chana in it. (Kala chana is a black chickpea.) I fear the title of the recipe was a copy-n-paste error. Unfortunately, this wrong-titled recipe has been replicated across the web at other sites. Not only the title is wrong, but the recipe is in a bit of a mess. The amounts of some ingredients are very vague, some ingredients just plain missing, and the order was completely random. So I fixed all that up.

Although I don't know what the real title of this dish is, it is quite yummy and different. The highlight are the little "dumplings" made out of chickpea flour. According to the original recipe, these are called "gatte".

You mix the dough and roll it into a large cigar and it will look something like this: (Try not to giggle as you roll this out!)

Then you boil the whole thing in water. When it is done, you cut it up into bite-size pieces. I don't know what you're supposed to do, I cut them into thick coins . The original recipe is not too clear. I ended up with dumplings like this:

I think next time I will also stir fry them a little after boiling, just to give them better texture. Otherwise, they are quite soft and almost gummy.

The sauce is pretty basic but full of flavor. This dish then can be served with rice or flat bread.

Curried Chickpea Dumplings



7/8 c besan (chickpea flour)
2 green chilis, finely chopped
1 T oil
2 T water
½ T carom (ajwain) seed
1/2 t red chili powder


1 T oil
A pinch asafoetida
1 T cumin seed
2 green chilis, finely chopped
1 T ginger, grated
1 T garlic, minced
½ T prepared mustard
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 medium size tomatoes, finely chopped
½ T turmeric powder
½ t red chili powder
1 t coriander powder
½ t salt
1 t garam masala
1 c water


For the dumplings:

1. In a medium bowl, mix the besan, 2 green chillies, carom, red chili powder and 1 T oil. Add just enough water to make a dough, about 2 tablespoons.

2. Roll the dough into a 1/2-inch thick cylinder, about 5-6 inches long.

3. Put the cylinder into boiling water and boil for 10 minutes. Take out the water and cut the cylinder into 1/4-inch thick coins and keep aside.

For the sauce:

1. Heat oil, add asafoetida, cumin seeds, 2 green chilies, and stir-fry till well browned.

2. Add the ginger and garlic and mustard. Heat for 1 minute. Add onion and heat for 3 minutes. Add chopped tomatoes and heat for 2 minutes. Add turmeric powder, red chili powder, coriander powder, salt, garam masala and water and boil for 7 minutes.

3. Put dumplings into the sauce and boil for 3 minutes (Heat until gravy is thick).

4. Serve hot with steamed rice or flat bread.

September 1, 2009

Garlic Tofu with Tomato and Basil

The beginnings of this dish came from an issue of Cooking Light. But it's main ingredient was pork and I have made significant changes to the recipe. The end result has a bit more depth than a lot of the simple dishes I create, but it still tastes delicious.

Garlic Tofu with Tomato and Basil


1 pkg firm tofu, drained and pressed in a towel
1 T olive oil
3 T cold water
2 T Worcestershire sauce
1 t sugar
1 t chili oil
1 t arrowroot
1 T garlic, minced
2 c plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped
¾ c fresh basil, chopped
¼ c green onions, chopped


1. Cut the tofu into cubes. Stir fry tofu in hot olive oil in a large skillet until browned.

2. In a small bowl, combine water, Worcestershire sauce, sugar, chili oil, and arrowroot.

3. When the tofu is done, add the garlic and saute another minute. Add tomatoes and saute 1 minute. Add the arrowroot mixture and cook until thickened and bubbly.

4. Add basil and stir to combine. Remove from heat and sprinkle with green onions. Serve over rice.

August 25, 2009

Fat Tax

Here is an interesting article about a so-called "fat tax": If you don't wish to read it, it is a proposal floating around the various political circles to place a tax on unhealthy food. This is not a new idea. The UK published a study on this, and if you simply google "fat tax" you will find scads of information.

To me, this idea has merit. Currently our political system is embroiled in a heated discussion on revamping the health care system. Whether it fails or passes, either way Americans will spend billions a year on health care. I strongly believe that a great deal of our country's ills are caused by the Standard American Diet (SAD), and we would not be in this mess if we stuck with wholesome and healthy foods, got a little exercise, and curbed our drinking and smoking. There are plenty of studies that back up these thoughts (two books recently reviewed, for instance: In Defense of Food & The Jungle Effect).

Back in the 50's and 60's smoking was as common as breathing. Not only was it a satisfying habit, it was deemed "cool". You can't watch an old movie and not be amazed at the amount of smoking that went on. But now, smoking has been condemned by society in large, and the government has a tax on tobacco products to help pay for the health problems associated with smoking.

The same has been proposed for "junk food". I think in order for this idea to fly, junk food must attain the same social condemnation as tobacco has, and I believe this trend is slowly gaining ground. There is a huge amount of evidence piling up against high fructose corn syrup, unhealthy fats, refined and over-processed foods, preservatives, and GMO farming.

One complaint cited against this idea is the burden it will place on the poor, who are the biggest consumers of cheap, unhealthy food. To me, this argument makes no sense. If the goal is to provide an incentive to dissuade people from eating this food, don't you have to, uh, provide an incentive? Just telling people they are killing themselves doesn't work. Money is a much more powerful incentive, because as a nation we are both greedy and cheap. If sodas and packaged foods are more expensive, maybe people will start looking at cheaper drinks like tea and cheaper foods like whole foods.

Personally, I believe this measure will fail. The corn lobby (creators of HFCS and those idiotic commercials) is too powerful. Plus, there are still too many ignorant people with loud voices in this country. They view the tax as a punishment. But taxes are not a punishment; they pay for government services, like health care.

Perhaps a better approach to a fat tax is a "reverse tax" on healthy food. For instance, government can subsidize healthy fruit and vegetables and other organics. Perhaps also the government can stop subsidizing the huge corn and soy industries, which are the main producers of our junk food.

Fail or not, it is heartening to see a fat tax proposal even come to light. There is still hope that someday Americans will stop poisoning themselves and their environment. I just hope it happens in my lifetime.

August 24, 2009

Monster Chips

If I have one junk food vice, it's chips. Yeah, potato chips are okay, but I get sick of them real quick. My obsession is with tortilla chips. I can eat them with guacamole, salsa, or just plain. I love the simple corn flavor with a hint of salt.

Most store bought brands are way too salty, and the salt-free versions are too boring. And all of them are too expensive. So I make my own. For $0.80 I can get a bag of 12 corn tortillas. I oil these, season them to my liking, grill them to perfection, and snack on them all week.

I leave them whole because they are easier to prepare and cook (less flipping), and it is easier to stick a couple of these into my lunch bag. Due to their size, I call them "Monster Tortilla Chips". You can break them into bite size pieces, or put a topping on them, like salsa, beans, etc to make a little crispy pizza.

Monster Tortilla Chips


bag of corn tortillas
2-3 T olive oil
seasonings to taste


1. Get your grill going. Pour olive oil into a small bowl.

2. On a plate, lightly brush each tortilla with oil on both sides. On the second side, sprinkle with salt, pepper, chili powder, sesame seeds, whatever you like. Stack them up as you go.

3. Place tortillas on the grill in a single layer. Cover and cook a few minutes. Flip several times while cooking and keep a close eye on them. They will burn quickly. Just as they begin to brown, remove them back to the plate. Repeat for all chips. Allow to cool before storing. They will crisp up more as they cool.

August 17, 2009

Bean Sprout and Vinegar Salad

On my sister blog, High Plains Harvest, I have an article on growing sprouts. I've been making sprouts off an on for about a year. The most popular sprouts I make are mung bean and alfalfa sprouts. Not that I know much what to do with them, though.

While reading Dr. Miller's Jungle Effect (previously reviewed), I found a sprout recipe that I recently tried. This dish is excellent and I reproduce it here (without permission, but I am plugging her book). Be sure to use the sesame oil, even though it is such a small amount; that little bit goes a long way and it really makes the dish delicious. You can eat this dish cold, hot, or room temperature.

Bean Sprout and Vinegar Salad

Optionally, you can add 2 cups of shredded carrot or daikon radish.


5 c mung bean sprouts
¼ c rice vinegar
3 T soy sauce
1 T dark sesame oil
1 t sugar


1. Boil a pot of water. Add the bean sprouts and boil for 1 minute.

2. Drain and add vinegar, soy sauce, oil, and sugar. Stir well.

August 13, 2009

Quinoa with Green Beans

Here is yet another quinoa recipe. This is paired with green beans, which typically overpower any dish they are in. But with the tomato and herbs, the green beans are muted into submission to make a well-balanced and flavorful dish. This is another pressure cooker dish, so adjust directions and cook times accordingly if you want to cook this in a regular pot.

Quinoa With Green Beans


1 c water
1 c quinoa, well washed and drained
¾ lb fresh green beans, trimmed and cut into ½-inch pieces
1 c roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
2 cloves garlice, minced
¾ t salt
1 T olive oil
½ c fresh basil, minced
1 T lemon juice


1. Bring the water to a boil in the pressure cooker. Add the quinoa, green beans, tomatoes, garlic, and salt.

2. Lock the lid in place and bring to high pressure. Maintain for 1 minute. Allow the pressure to come down naturally for 10 minutes and quick release any remaining pressure.

3. Stir in the olive oil and basil. Add the lemon juice and fluff before serving.

August 10, 2009

Banana Poppy Seed Bread

Quick breads are not my favorite. They are usually crumbly and have that distinctive baking powder taste. However, this is by far the best banana bread I've ever had. It is a great way to use up old bananas that are past their prime. Although this recipe could be gluten free, I don't bother because my wife is allergic to bananas anyway, so there is no need to make it gluten free.

Banana Poppy Seed Bread


1 c mashed ripe banana (about 2 medium)
1/2 c sugar
1/2 c milk
3 T vegetable oil
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 c all-purpose flour
1 c whole wheat flour
2 1/2 t baking powder
2 T poppy seeds
1/2 t ground cinnamon
vegetable cooking spray


1. Combine the bananas and sugar in a bowl; stir well. Let stand 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in milk, oil, and egg; set the mixture aside. 

2. Combine all-purpose flour and next 6 ingredients in a large bowl and stir well. Make a well in center of mixture; add banana mixture to dry ingredients, stirring until dry ingredients are moistened. 

3. Spoon batter into 8 1/2"x 4 1/2"x 3" loaf pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 1 hour or until a pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes. Remove from pan, and cool on a rack. 

August 3, 2009

The Jungle Effect

The Jungle Effect: Healthiest Diets from Around the World is a wonderfully written book that echoes much of the same sentiment and thoughts that have pervaded the health circles for several years now. Michael Pollan, a journalist, wrote a similar book called In Defense of Food (previously reviewed here). Pollan did what journalists do best: he researched and interviewed and did more research to come to his conclusions. Then he threw in some of his own thoughts and theories for good measure.

But the author of The Jungle Effect, Dr. Daphne Miller, gathers her materials not only from research and interviews, but also from direct experience and working with her patients. Her approach is unique because she visited "cold spots" all over the world and observed their diets. Cold spots are pockets of people that are virtually free of the many debilitating diseases that plague America today: Diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, cancer, depression, etc.

The cold spots, incidentally, are fairly remote or at least far-removed from modern society. The upshot of this is that the reach of the McDonalds and Coca Cola empires have not quite reached them. Areas include an Amazonian village in Peru, Crete, Iceland, Cameroon, Okinawa, Iceland, and a Indian village in Mexico.

You can probably see this coming, since I harp on it constantly, but Dr Miller's conclusions are that those cultures that eat local, whole foods, and who avoid the incursion of American "junk" food, have little to no cases of the so-called Western Illnesses. I'll repeat that in case you missed it: they have little to no Western illnesses.

Makes you stop and think.

Gosh, could it be that those Twinkies and Colas and hormone-injected cows are what's making us all sick? Is it possible that all those chemicals in my Sugar-Frosted Coco Bombs cereal are not good for us? Is it conceivable that plants doused in pesticides and petroleum-based fertilizers are having a negative effect on our health?

The theories posited years ago certainly made sense, and now the evidence is mounting up. Americans need to wake up and smell the fake food for what it really is: poison. The human body cannot withstand a steady stream of unnatural food. It's, uh, unnatural. The cultures Dr. Miller visited all eat different foods, but they shared one thing in common: their diets were completely devoid of tons of sugar and salt, drugged up meat, processed food, and preservatives. All these things are hallmarks of the American diet, and all these things are absent in the cold spots' diets.

Dr. Miller writes almost apologetically as she recommends that people cook more food from scratch. I'm not as tactful as she, so I'll put it this way: People need to switch off their reality TV shows, get off their arses, amble into the kitchen and cook some real food!

Dr. Miller does readers an immense favor by providing numerous recipes from her travels in the back of the book. These recipes are simple and healthy; meaning they will likely taste awful to most Americans. But once you wean your palate off sugar and salt, things start to have some flavor and they actually taste good.

I found Dr. Miller's writing style quite easy to read and clear. For a doctor, she has a knack for explaining medical concepts in layman's terms. But most of all, I can really sense the care and attention she gives to her patients and this book. She's not out to make a quick buck touting the latest and greatest diet fad. She is genuinely trying to help cure this country and reverse 50+ years of damage done by the various non-caring food industries.

This book deserves a place on your bookshelf because it reads like three different books: It's a book about nutrition, a recipe book, and a travel book. Most would not dream of traveling to Iceland or Peru, but it fascinating to read about someone else doing it.