Saturday, December 29, 2012

Baked Sweet Potato in a West African Peanut Sauce

With our new winter wonder landscape, I find myself craving hot meals more than ever. Comforting, sweeter flavors- most often involving root and storage crops of some sort. My kitchen has been graced with steamy soups and stews, roasting beets, and crispy carrots over the past few weeks.

This recipe is one of my favorites because it meets all the criteria while adding some interesting flavor spins- mainly in the west African direction. Hints of toasted spices, salty peanut butter, spicy ginger and fresh herbs combine with sweet and fluffy roasted sweet potatoes to produce winter nirvana.

And of course, as we edge towards the new year, it is always nice to start eating a bit lighter. I enjoy this as a main dish with a fresh green salad on the side and call it a meal. Satisfying, deeply comforting and still quite light. Sweet potatoes offer a grounding force, connecting back to the soil during the time of year where we forget what worm-ridden earth feels like in between our fingers. High in magnesium, potassium and fiber, sweet potatoes have proven to promote heart health by relaxing artery walls.

West African Peanut Sauce
Serves 6

    3 large sweet potatoes (I like garnet yams)
      1  tablespoon coconut oil
      1/3  cup  red onion, finely chopped
      1  tablespoon  fresh ginger, grated
      2  garlic cloves, minced
      1 1/2  teaspoons  ground cumin
      1 1/2  teaspoons  ground coriander
      1/8  teaspoon  ground red pepper
      3/4  cup  water
      3/4  cup  tomato sauce
      1/4  cup  peanut butter
      1  teaspoon  raw cane sugar
      1/4  teaspoon  salt
    2 tbs. chopped fresh cilantro


Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Scrub potatoes well and poke each with a fork several times. Place potatoes on a baking sheet (they will ooze!) Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until soft all the way through.

To prepare the sauce, heat oil in a medium skillet over medium-low heat. Add onion, ginger, and garlic and cook 3 minutes. Add cumin, coriander, and pepper; cook 1 minute. Add ¾-cup water and next 4 ingredients (through salt), stirring until smooth; bring to a simmer. Cook 2 minutes or until thick. If desired, place sauce in a blender and blend to preferred consistency.  Sprinkle with chopped cilantro and serve.

Relax. Eat Well.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Pumpkin Pie in a Nut Crust

I can hardly believe it is THAT season again, but (gulp) I guess it has fallen upon us. The good news is, this usually involves loads of time spent in pajamas, enjoying tasty meals, family traditions and comforting company. I guess I can deal.

And, oh those traditions. Typically packed with sugar, white flour and decadence of all sorts, the dishes surrounding the holidays do not tend to support a very balanced lifestyle. But I have noticed a subtle shift lately. A trend towards updating traditions, an interest in indulging in flavor while still promoting health. Now that is an idea I can truly celebrate.

So I have a few offers of inspiration. Chocolate Cashew TrufflesCocoa Avocado Mousse. No-bake Chocolate Torte. Notice the chocolate theme here- this one is for those who might have always chosen strawberry over chocolate ice cream as a child, or maybe even vanilla (that was me). A bit less chocolate- but just as sweet. Ok, lets go.

Big on pungent spices, roasty toasty squash, decadent nuts and natural sweeteners, you will not miss your sweetened condensed milk or canned puree. As a vegan pie, it finds it's texture through agar agar powder, a sea vegetables that offers a gelatin effect to vegan goods. Pretty cool, right?

Pumpkin Pie in a Nut Crust

Serves 8

1 1/2 cup raw pecans (or almonds)
3 medjool dates, pitted
2-4 tbs. maple syrup
1/4 tsp salt

2 cups roasted pumpkin (or other winter squash, I used Buttercup's as pictured above)
½ cup raw cashews
¾ tsp agar powder (for my VT folk, this can be found in the bulk spice section at City Market)
¼ tsp. salt
2/3 cup boiling water
2 tbs. maple syrup
1 tbs. vanilla extract
2 tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp. ground cloves
zest of half a lemon

If you have not done so already, cut pumpkin or squash into half, rub with a bit of coconut oil and place cut side down on a parchment lined baking sheet. Roast at 400 degrees until tender when pierced with a knife and beginning to brown, about 30-40 minutes.

Pulse nuts in a food processor until you reach the texture of coarse sand. Add dates and pulse until well combined. Add salt and maple syrup, one tablespoon at a time, until mixture starts to come together and ball up. Press into a lightly greased 9 inch tart pan.

To make the filling, puree roasted pumpkin in a food processor until smooth.

In a blender, process cashews, agar powder and salt to a fine powder. Add boiling water and process on high speed until well blended. Add pumpkin puree, and remaining ingredients, blending until well incorporated. Pour filling into prepared crust and refrigerate until set, about 30 minutes. For a thicker texture, refrigerate overnight. 

Relax. Eat Well.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Raw Ranch Kale Salad with Roasted Pumpkin Croutons

This raw ranch salad dressing is a classic in my kitchen. Sometimes we all crave a little comfort on our plate- a little throw back to childhood- an itch only ranch dressing can scratch. This is for those days. 

I am not sure about you, but my eating habits have morphed quite a bit since my Amy's Cowgirl Ranch days, and frankly, my taste buds along with them. So some adaptations are often necessary. This vegan ranch dressing gets its creaminess from soaked and pureed cashews, its kick from fresh herbs (particularly dill) with a hint of garlic and sea salt. Simple, satisfying and completely comforting- minus the buttermilk stored at room temperature and weird preservatives.

Most of the time I toss it with crispy lettuce leaves, shredded carrots, slivered radishes and some smoky shitake strips (more on that another day). But, alas, it is now fall creeping on winter and this week's version helped make that transition with hearty kale and roasted pumpkin croutons. A version I will definitely be repeating.

A hearty green in the cruciferous family, kale is packed with vitamin K, which promotes bone health and protects against heart disease. Loaded with fiber, vitamins A and C, its nutrition definitely trumps summer lettuce. Toss on some magnesium rich pumpkin, and protein packed dressing, and you have yourself a nice start to a meal. To round it out, think about serving this alongside a nice fall chili or smoky black bean soup.

Raw Ranch Kale Salad with Roasted Pumpkin Croutons
Serves 6


1 bunch kale (about 10 stalks)

4 cups pumpkin or winter squash, 1/2 inch cubes (I leave the skin on)
1 Tbs. coconut oil, melted 
1/2 tsp. sea salt

1/2 cup cashews, soaked at least 4 hours  
6 Tbs. water
1 1/2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1 small garlic clove
1/4 cup fresh dill
2 Tbs. chopped parsley


Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

In a medium bowl, toss together the pumpkin with the oil, and salt.  Place in one layer on a parchment lined baking sheet and roast, tossing once, until browned and crisp, about 15-20 minutes.  Set aside.

Remove stalks from kale, wash and dry leaves. Tear or chop into bite size pieces and place in a large bowl. 

Blend the dressing ingredients (cashews through parsley) in a blender until smooth and creamy.  Adjust seasoning to taste.

To serve, dress the salad to coat the kale and toss in the pumpkin croutons. Taste and adjust with salt to taste.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Slow-roasted Sungold Tomatoes

I love tomato season. Absolutely love it. In fact, it may be the only time of the year when I truly enjoy tomatoes. Juicy, sweet and dense with the slightest tang, August is truly the month of tomato splendor.

Last year I had a terrible tomato year. I started all of my plants from seed, nurtured them, trained them and was delighted when the green globes began to form. That is, until late blight hit. Two weeks and loads of white fuzz and black blemishes later and it was game over, with hardly a harvest to speak of. This year was different. I chose to only plant blight-resistant cherry tomatoes and made sure to prune heavily to increase air flow. Perfection- at the height of the season I was getting at least a pint a day of golden tomatoes.

Sweet and juicy with a delicate pop, this tomato burst onto the scene with gusto.  I used them in salads, salsas, sandwiches and sauces. Golden enchilada sauce? Why not. Sungold, Peach and Avocado Salsa? Yes please. But my favorite might be the simplest preparation: Slow-roasted Sungold Tomatoes.

With a low heat and long sauna, tomatoes release their juices and their natural sugars, resulting in a dense, dank, caramelized mess. Perfect topping for a Zucchini Pizza with Caramelized Onions and Garlicky White Beans and Kale. Or sitting atop a summer corn polenta drizzled with balsamic reduction. Even better aside a nice glass of red wine.

You could be a purist and stick with straight up tomato. I like to add in some sweet onions, leeks or fennel if available, for a nice twist. To finish it off, try a squeeze of fresh lemon and handful of herbs- cilantro, basil or rosemary all sound nice.

Slow Roasted Tomatoes
Serves 6


5 lbs. tomatoes- heirloom, cherry or whatever you have
5 garlic cloves, sliced
2 large onions or leeks, large dice
1 head fennel, large dice (optional)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp salt, plus more to taste
generous pinch of black pepper
juice of half a lemon
Chopped herbs (basil, cilantro, rosemary etc.- optional)


Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Slice larger tomatoes into quarters or eighths, and cherry tomatoes in half. Toss with garlic, onions, fennel (if using), oil, salt and pepper. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and transfer mixture. The best you can, arrange tomatoes cut side up.  
Place in preheated oven and turn on convection fan, if you have one. Bake for one hour, remove and stir. Repeat process every hour until tomatoes are broken down, liquid has evaporated and flesh is sticky but moist, about 2-4 hours. Remove from oven, toss with lemon juice and herbs and season to taste with additional salt and pepper. 

Enjoy immediately, store in the fridge for up to one week or freeze for a welcome winter treat. 

Relax. Eat Well.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Basil Fettuccine in Sweet and Smoky Corn Cream

I can't seem to get enough of corn this season. I am not sure if it's due to the 10 month of deprivation or pure enthusiasm, but this harvest seems particularly sweet, plump and delish. 
When I came across the idea of a vegan corn cream sauce, it seemed too perfect not to try. I love the play of the sweet corn kernels against a slightly smoky chipotle kick, balanced out with hearty kale and zesty basil. I served this with maple roasted delicata squash on the side, which I chopped up and threw right in when I reheated it the next night. Very nice either way.

I am not a huge pasta-monger, but will enjoy some whole-wheat ribbons every once in awhile- as a comforting treat. I tried this out with gluten-free quinoa pagoda pasta as well and enjoyed it just as much, for those of you avoiding gluten. 
A warning about corn- just like soy and wheat, corn is a commodity crop in the US, so it is important to be careful about your sources. It is extremely common for corn to be grown from GMO'd seeds, so when shopping at your local farmers market or farm stand this summer, make sure to ask the grower if their corn is GMO-free. The organic label will guarantee this practice, but I have found there are many farmers out there without the certification that make a point to avoid GMO seeds, so it is more a matter of having that conversation. Not to get preachy, just wanted to share that information, for the health of our soil, seeds, bodies and agricultural future. 

Soaking the almonds overnight will neutralize their phytic acid, rendering their precious nutrients more digestible, as well as make it a breeze to pop off the skins. They will bloat and absorb quite a bit of the water while soaking, which results in a nice creamy texture when pureed. 

Basil Fettuccine in Sweet and Smoky Corn Cream
Serves 8
1.5 c almonds, soaked overnight, skins removed

1.5 cups corn kernels, blanched (can use frozen if out of season)

1 cup water
 or vegetable stock
1-2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large garlic clove, minced

1/2 a small onion

juice and zest of 1/2 a lemon

1 tablespoon honey
1/4 -1/2 tsp. 
salt, to taste
½ tsp chipotle powder

8 oz. whole wheat fettuccine or gluten-free pasta
2 cups corn kernels, blanched (can use frozen if out of season)

1 bunch kale, stems removed and sliced into strips
½ cup basil, sliced into strips
Salt to taste

Place almonds through chipotle powder in a blender and blend until smooth, scraping down the sides as necessary. Taste and adjust with honey for sweetness, lemon juice for tartness, oil for richness and chipotle powder for smoky heat. And, of course, salt to taste. 
Cook pasta according to directions. In the last minute of cooking time, add the kale ribbons, and stir. Drain and rinse. Return to pot and add whole corn kernels and basil. Toss with corn cream and additional liquid to reach your desired texture and flavor. I like mine with a nice coating of thicker sauce and dose of salt, with an extra pinch of red pepper flakes. If reheating, additional liquid may be necessary, as it tends to thicken up.
Relax. Eat Well.