Ah, collards, how I do love thee! Ditto for bacon grease rendered from real bacon, by which I mean bacon from pastured hogs. No sense in wasting that! Especially not when collard greens taste so darned tasty when cooked in it. Throw in some onion slices and a generous sprinkling of spices, and all you need to add to make a satisfying meal is a poached egg. And did I mention that all of this comes together in 15 minutes? Assuming, of course, that you already have the rendered bacon grease. If you don’t, you can pop your bacon into the oven to cook it; you’ll have a nice pot of bacon grease and some tasty strips in 20 non-messy minutes!
If you don’t have Ethiopian berbere on hand — although I recommend taking a few minutes to make your own blend– you can use chili powder instead. Its main ingredient is also sweet paprika, and it also tastes fabulous with these ultra-savory collards and creamy poached eggs. So simple, but so delicious!
Spiced Collard Greens with Poached Egg
Serves 2. You can double or triple the recipe as you’d like, although I wouldn’t recommend poaching more than 3 eggs in one pot. (And that had better be a large pot!)
Generous spoon of bacon grease rendered from pastured bacon
1 small yellow onion, sliced
5 cloves garlic, chopped
1 bunch collard greens, rinsed well, patted dry, and roughly chopped
At least 2 tsp. berbere OR chili powder
2 eggs, preferably from free-range hens
Heat the bacon grease in a large skillet over medium-low heat until it melts. Add onion and cook for 5 minutes or until onion is fragrant and translucent. Stir in garlic, collards, and berbere. Cover. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until collards are soft and their ribs give slightly when pressed.
As the collards are cooking for their final 5 minutes (or you can wait until they’ve cooked to your preferred texture before beginning the eggs, in which case turn off the heat under the collards but leave them on the warm burner to keep warm), fill a medium pot halfway with water and bring to a boil. Crack in eggs and reduce heat to medium-low. With a heat-proof slotted spoon, gently swirl the water to make sure the eggs aren’t sticking to the pan.
Let the egg cook for 3 minutes, now and then skimming off and discarding any foam that rises to the surface. If you’d like to add a splash of red wine vinegar to the water when bringing it to a boil, do so — the logic here is that the acidic vinegar will cause the egg whites to denature and coagulate more quickly, thus cooking more quickly and not turning into as much wasted foam.
Divide the collards into two portions and plate them. When the eggs are ready, lift each one out of the water with the slotted spoon (hold it up for several seconds to let it thoroughly drain) and nestle each onto a portion of collards. Serve immediately.
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This dish came about for two reasons: I had a hankering for a whole-grain, gluten-free crouton alternative, and I couldn’t find grape tomatoes at the produce market. (Sadly, it’s too early in the season for them to be plentiful in my garden. But I’m looking forward to those little flavor bombs growing a few feet from my door!) Those two seemingly unrelated motivations inspired me to swap out the tomatoes for pomegranate seeds — which also have a signature tart-sweetness to them — and to break up my favorite whole-grain, gluten-free pretzel sticks to use as croutons.
The oddest thing about making this dish was finding pomegranate seeds in May but not finding grape tomatoes. Granted, neither one is at the peak of its season right now, but I thought hothouse tomatoes would be more of a May thing than pomegranate seeds would be. The latter, of course, hits peak season during the winter months. But if you can’t find fresh pomegranates, you might be able to find frozen or refrigerated pomegranate seeds at your local store. (Trader Joe’s generally carries them — look for them tucked away with other delicate fruits in the cool case.) Or you could go with my original gut instinct and opt for grape tomatoes.
Green Bean, Feta & Pomegranate Salad with Dijon Dressing
Serves 2. Recipe can be doubled or tripled as you like.
For the dressing:
1 T. balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. dried basil
2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
For the salad:
1/2 lb. green beans, trimmed
Half an English cucumber OR 1 small cucumber, cut into thin slices
3 green onions, green parts only, minced
Handful pomegranate seeds*
Chopped feta for garnish
Mary’s Gone Crackers pretzel sticks OR any whole-grain, gluten-free pretzel sticks (I don’t know of any others that are truly 100% whole-grain and gluten-free, so I stick with my tried-and-true Mary’s)
To make the dressing, place the first three ingredients into a small bowl. Slowly pour in the oil, whisking as you pour. That way, you’ll emulsify the oil and vinegar into a thick, smooth dressing. Add a trickle of water if it seems too thick.
To make the salad, fill a medium pot halfway with water and bring to a boil. Add beans and reduce to low. Simmer for 3 minutes, then drain promptly. I like to refill the pot with cold water and place the beans back in the pot in the sink — that way, they’ll cool much more quickly. As soon as the beans are cool enough to touch, drain and roughly chop. Toss with remaining salad ingredients except for the pretzel sticks. Toss again with dressing.
Plate each salad and then snap the pretzel sticks into small pieces. Top each salad with your “croutons” and serve promptly. Leftover undressed salad can be refrigerated for 3 days.
* The easiest way to get the seeds out of a pomegranate is to cut one in half on a non-stain-able cutting board (don’t use wood!) and then plunge one of the pomegranate halves into a large bowl of cool water. Use your fingertips to rip out the seeds as you turn the half inside-out. Doing this underwater accomplishes two things: you won’t stain anything but the water, and the membrane surrounding the seeds will float to the surface, making it easy to scoop away and discard. Drain the seeds in a colander and repeat with the second half of the pomegranate. Drained seeds can be refrigerated for up to a week…and they make great snacks!
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The next time you make bacon, save that grease!! It’s great for making fried eggs, slow-cooked collard greens, sauteed chicken … just about anything, really. And rendered bacon grease is essential for making your own tortilla chips. Fresh-off-the-stove chips are worlds away from the pre-bagged varieties you find at the supermarket (which are usually made with low-grade, highly refined oils like canola and soy). These homemade, perfectly crisp chips with their bacon-infused savoriness are even tastier than traditional chips made with lard.
Quick aside: lest you start to get upset over reading the words “lard” and “bacon grease,” know that contrary to popular (misinformed) belief, lard and bacon grease are actually monounsaturated fats. And if you opt for lard and bacon from pastured hogs, your delicious chips will have high levels of anti-inflammatory omega-3s, too. Making your own tortilla chips is as easy as cutting a tortilla into triangles and then letting the bacon grease do its magic!
Homemade Tortilla Chips with Cilantro Salsa
Makes about 1/2 cup salsa.
For the salsa:
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 bunch cilantro, damaged leaves removed, bottom stems cut off and discarded
Handful sliced almonds
For the chips:
Whole-grain corn tortillas (I love Food for Life’s sprouted 100% corn tortillas)
Rendered bacon grease
To make the salsa, saute the garlic in a generous drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil in a small skillet over medium-low heat for 3 minutes or just until the garlic is turning light brown. Immediately transfer to a food processor. Add remaining salsa ingredients and blend well, drizzling in a little more oil if the salsa is too clumpy. (Although you do want to create a thick dip texture.)
Cut the tortillas into bite-sized triangles. Heat the bacon grease in a medium skillet over medium heat until melted. Add the chips and cook for about 3 minutes or until the chips are light brown around the edges. Use tongs to flip over. Cook until second side is also crisp and turning a light brown. You’ll notice that the chips undergo a texture transformation: first they fray around the edges and look like they’re going to come apart, and then all of a sudden they harden and turn light brown around the edges.
Drain cooked chips on a wire rack. Serve with the salsa. Fun variation: the salsa can easily be turned into a pasta sauce by blending with more extra-virgin olive oil.
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It’s hard to say whether the current status quo is due to an onslaught of commercials featuring kids eating carrots while playing in valleys or whether Americans have a group-mind when it comes to dressings, but one thing is clear: Ranch is just about everybody’s favorite dressing. I love the concept, too — you can’t go wrong with creamy, tangy buttermilk blended with summery herbs — but unfortunately commercially bottled Ranch strays far from that fresh, herbaceous concept. Here are a few of the ingredients you’ll find in Hidden Valley’s Original Ranch Dressing (taken directly from their website): phosphoric acid, xanthan gum, modified food starch, MSG, artificial flavors, disodium phosphate, disodium guanylate. And the main ingredient is cheap soy oil. No, thanks.
So in the spirit of reclaiming our national dressing, how about making our own Ranch to grace our summer salads? I’ve opted for whole-milk Greek yogurt rather than buttermilk since yogurt is naturally thicker and also because it’s easier to buy a small container of whole-milk Greek yogurt than a quart of buttermilk (and frankly, the yogurt is more useful to have around). But of course you can opt for whole-milk buttermilk if you’d prefer.
DIY Ranch Dressing
Makes just over 1/4 cup dressing.
For the dressing:
1/4 cup plain whole-milk Greek yogurt
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
2 tsp. dried or fresh minced chives
1 tsp. dried or fresh minced dill
2 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and pepper to taste
For the salad:
Green beans, trimmed and cut into halves or thirds
Canned tuna, preferably from BPA-free cans
Radishes, trimmed and thinly sliced
Cucumber, thinly sliced
To make the dressing, whisk together ingredients in a small bowl. If the dressing is too thick to pour, add 1 tsp. of water and whisk again.
To make the salad, fill a medium pot halfway with water and bring to a boil. Add green beans and simmer for 3 minutes. Drain promptly. Toss beans with remaining salad ingredients and top with dressing. So simple! Of course, you can use the dressing as a dip or a marinade, too. Just omit the water if your goal is to wind up with a thick dip.
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Few culinary traditions labor under as great a misconception as sushi does. Yes, most sushi is served with raw ingredients. Sushi, however, does not mean raw fish. (Although I think sushi made with raw fish is utterly lovely.) Sushi simply refers to a mode of preparation, namely to serve raw or cooked seafood or veggies with vinegared short-grain rice. Most sushi is also served wrapped in seaweed. Again, that’s not a requirement. Sushi can be raw salmon served on an oblong bed of vinegared rice, or sushi can be julienned veggies rolled up in a neat nori roll. Or sushi can be cooked crab and some avocado slices stuffed into a nori cone. In short, sushi can be almost anything you like.
By the same token, the raw fish commonly used for sushi can also be sliced thinly and very briefly sauteed. Don’t think that the top-grade fish sold for use in sushi can only be used in sushi! Japanese grocery stores that sell sashimi-grade fish — that’s fish suitable for eating raw — are treasure troves for seafood lovers. The amount of fish sold is usually less than a quarter-pound per package, so shopping at a sushi store is the perfect way to try new seafood without spending a fortune.
Or, as I’ve done here, try fish that you thought you knew but didn’t — i.e., fresh albacore tuna, not the canned variety. Fresh albacore will blow your taste buds! I didn’t even know what it was the first time I tried it. All I thought was, “Wow, whatever fish this is should be called The Butter of the Seas.” It’s that velvety-smooth and rich. If you’ve never had sushi made with white tuna and you’re a fan of raw-fish sushi, make sure your next roll has shiro maguro in it. If you’re not a fan of raw fish, buy a filet of white tuna to take home and cook. If you’re like me, white tuna will be your new favorite fresh fish!
White Tuna Atop Simple Zucchini Salad
To make the salad, simply toss shredded zucchini with equal parts extra-virgin olive oil and apple cider vinegar, using about 1 tablespoon each for every cup of zucchini. (Or 1 1/2 teaspoons each for 1/2 cup zucchini.) Set aside.
Thinly slice the white tuna into 1/4″-thick medallions, cutting across the grain of the fish as opposed to length-wise. Heat a drizzle of unrefined sesame oil in a skillet over medium-low heat. Add white tuna medallions and cook for 3 minutes or until the bottoms have turned opaque but aren’t showing any signs of browning. Flip over each medallion and continue to cook for another 2 minutes or until both sides are opaque but not brown. Immediately remove tuna from the skillet to prevent it from overcooking.
Serve atop the zucchini salad and then trickle on just a suggestion of tamari (be sure to use wheat-free tamari if you’re making a gluten-free dish). The tuna is best when eaten fresh off the stove. And remember, fish does not store well — especially when it’s raw! — so be sure to prepare your tuna within 24 hours of having bought it. I purchase my sashimi-grade fish at Noble Fish in Clawson. Not only do they serve great sushi on the premises, they have a well-stocked seafood display with very high turnover. (You definitely want to do your seafood shopping at a place that constantly refreshes its stock.)
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If ambrosia is the nectar of the gods, then chocolate is the main course. Specifically, dark chocolate in all its incarnations, from foil-wrapped bars to warming winter beverages. Or, as I made recently, chocolate crepes stuffed with mascarpone cheese and fresh mango slices. Talk about a delicious way to get your morning started! And it’s nearly instant, too — seeing as a batch of crepes can reside happily in the refrigerator for a week, you can whip some up on the weekend and then enjoy them all week long. And since cut mango doesn’t turn brown, you can prepare your mango slices the night before and also have them ready and waiting.
The secret to making these crepes ultimately delicious, though, is the mascarpone. It’s called mascarpone “cheese,” but it’s more of a rich spread made from thickened cream. (Britain’s clotted cream is a close equivalent.) Mascarpone is also the main ingredient of tiramisu … and who isn’t a tiramisu fan?
Think of your tub of mascarpone — usually found in the cheese section of grocery stores — as a qualitarian version of instant whipped cream. Sure, it’s a little less airy than that stuff in the can, but it’s also a whole lot less chemical. Spooning a dab of mascarpone into your crepe will make it taste just as creamy as it would if you took the time to whip some fresh cream. (Although that’s a great idea, too.)
Lest anyone fret about the (endearingly) high fat content of the mascarpone, bear in mind that vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble. That means all that lovely vitamin A represented by the orange flesh of the mango won’t be of much use without an accompanying source of fat. And if you opt for a high-quality mascarpone made with cream from pastured cows, you’ll be getting wonderful omega-3-rich fat along with all of that vitamin A. Who needs sugared-out pre-fab expensive breakfast cereal when you can have whole-grain chocolate crepes stuffed with mango and mascarpone for breakfast?
Chocolate Crepes with Mango & Mascarpone
For the crepes:
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably non-Dutched
3/4 cup buckwheat flour*
1 1/2 cups whole milk, preferably from grass-fed cows
2 eggs, preferably from pastured hens
2 T. maple syrup
Butter or ghee for cooking the crepes, preferably from grass-fed cows
For the filling:
Mascarpone (my favorite brand of mascarpone by far is Vermont Creamery)
Fresh mango slices (I prefer champagne mangoes — the ones that are smaller and shaped like a teardrop — over the standard larger mangoes since the smaller variety has a higher flesh-to-pit ratio and is also easier to peel and slice)
To make the crepes, whisk all of the ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. Get out a 7″ nonstick crepe pan and place a dab of butter in the pan. Heat over medium heat — I go with mark 4 out of 10 on my electric burners — until butter has melted and is sizzling. Pour in 1/4 cup of the crepe batter and cook for 2-3 minutes or until crepe is set on top and browned on the bottom. Use a heatproof spatula to flip over the crepe and cook the second side for another minute or two or until equally browned. If you’re adventurous, by all means go ahead and flip that sucker up into the air to turn it over. Just don’t do that directly over the burner! It’s much easier to rescue a misdirected crepe from a cool element than a hot burner. And also remember to stir/whisk the crepe batter once in a while to keep it from clumping.
Place the cooked crepe on a wire rack. (If you put it on a plate, it’ll collect condensation and get soggy.) Make a second crepe in the same pan using the same technique. I find that I have to put a fresh dab of butter into my crepe pan every third crepe to keep them from sticking.
Just before serving, spoon a hearty dab of mascarpone onto each crepe, then top with some mango slices and gently fold over. Leftover cooled crepes can be stacked in a sealed container and refrigerated for a week.
* This is a gluten-free flour. If you’d rather make a wheat-based version, substitute an equal amount of kamut, spelt, or whole-wheat flour for the buckwheat flour.
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Eat, don’t spray! No need to buy fancy spring specials at the market when your lawn is full of free, fresh greens and herbs. I’m talking dandelion greens, purslane, and wood sorrel; wild alliums like chives, ramps, and scapes. Instead of spraying Roundup and contaminating our water supply — when it rains, all those herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides wash down our lawns and into our sewer systems — let’s eat from the free greenmarkets that are our lawns! So much healthier and less costly than purchasing chemical “weed”-killers. (I put “weeds” in parentheses because most “weeds” are actually valuable edibles.)
For this simple bean-and-broccoli salad, I snipped some chives that have started sprouting up in unexpected places. I don’t have dill growing in my garden yet, but if you do, by all means snip off some fresh dill to include, too. Or perhaps you have some radishes already coming up. They add a pleasing crunchy texture and slightly spicy flavor to this made-in-minutes dish.
Herbed Broccoli & White Bean Salad with Capers
Serves 4 as a side salad or 2 as a main course.
For the dressing:
4 anchovies (I know, I know, people say they don’t like anchovies, but guess what’s the signature flavor of Worchestershire sauce and Caesar salad?)
2 T. apple cider vinegar
2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of 1/2 lemon (if it’s an extra-juicy lemon, you might want to start out with juice from 1/4 of it and then do a taste test)
For the salad:
2 heads broccoli, florets and trimmed stems only
2 cups cooked white beans (or one 15 ounce can, drained)
4 radishes, chopped
2 T. drained capers
2 T. chopped fresh chives
1 tsp. dried dill or 2 tsp. minced fresh dill
To make the dressing, place all four ingredients in a small food processor and blend well. Set aside.
To make the salad, fill a medium pot halfway with water and bring to a boil. Add prepped broccoli, cover, and reduce heat to medium. Simmer for 5 minutes and then promptly drain. While broccoli simmers, place all remaining salad ingredients in a large bowl. Add cooked broccoli and dressing and toss well.
Serve immediately, perhaps with a wedge of aged cheese and/or some whole-grain crackers. You could also toss some cooked chopped chicken or canned tuna into the salad if you’d like to include meat or seafood. Leftover salad can be refrigerated for up to 4 days.
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It warms the cockels of my qualitarian heart to see more and more farmers selling real meat at farmers’ markets. Produce is a wonderful thing, but real meat — that would be meat from animals that actually graze, mill around outside enjoying themselves, and generally live the way they’ve evolved to live — is much more difficult to come by than good produce. So imagine my happiness when I stumbled upon Corridor Sausage Co. at the Royal Oak Farmers’ Market. What delicious offerings they have! The charcuterie wizards behind Corridor create gorgeously flavored sausages out of locally sourced real meat. So far I’ve had the lamb merguez, chorizo, and an intriguing turkey sausage made with cocoa nibs and sesame seeds. Yum to all!
No matter where you find it or how it’s seasoned, real meat has a much richer flavor than conventional meat. That means it doesn’t take much to make real meat taste fabulous — it already does. Real meat made into sausages is even better since it already includes spices, herbs, and often garlic. Cured meats, too, offer incredible ready-made flavors. All you need to do to make them into a complete meal is add some veggies and perhaps a whole grain or two.
For this dish, I added celery, bell pepper, and green onion to the chorizo, then served it all atop a whole-grain tortilla and underneath a sauce made of blending fresh cilantro with some sauteed garlic and fresh lemon juice. It doesn’t get much simpler than this!
P.S.: As an added bonus, since real meat is so flavorful, it’s easy to extend your servings by including cooked whole grains with the meat. That way, you can easily serve four people with just a half a pound of meat. Why pay more for a full pound of flavorless conventional meat when you can pay less for a half-pound of sublime sausage? Contrary to popular belief, good food costs less, not more. I offer proof in the form of mixing cooked red rice into the chorizo and veggies. Give it a try!
Chorizo with Red Rice, Sauteed Veggies & Cilantro Sauce
1/2 cup raw red rice (makes about 1 1/2 cups cooked rice) OR brown OR black rice
3 ribs celery, chopped (since celery is one of the top-sprayed crops, it’s worth buying organic)
5 green onions, trimmed, chopped
1 small yellow pepper, stems and seeds removed, flesh chopped
1/2 pound chorizo, casings removed
1 bunch fresh cilantro
5 cloves garlic, chopped
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Whole-grain corn tortillas for serving (note that 100% corn tortillas are gluten-free)
Place rice and 1 cup water in a medium pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook about 30 minutes or until rice has absorbed all of the water. Remove from heat when done.
While the rice cooks, make the rest of the meal. Heat a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat for 1 minute, then add the celery, green onions, and pepper. Saute for 10 minutes. If they start to brown too quickly or you’d simply rather not have to keep a vigilant eye on the veggies, reduce the heat to medium-low.
Use this 10 minutes to make the sauce. First, discard any browned or otherwise non-fresh-looking cilantro stems and leaves from the bunch. Cut off the bottom third and discard. Rinse the remaining leaves and stems under cool water and shake a few times to dry them. Place in a food processor.
Heat a hefty drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil in a small pan over medium-low heat for 1 minute before adding garlic. Saute for 3 to 4 minutes or until the garlic is fragrant and turning golden brown. Promptly remove to the cilantro-laden food processor, oil and all. Add lemon juice to the cilantro along with a pinch of sea salt. Blend until mostly smooth, adding another drizzle of oil if the mixture seems too dry and clumpy. Scoop the sauce out into a small serving bowl and set aside.
Back to the veggies! By now, 10 minutes have probably gone by. Add the chorizo to the veggies, stirring often, and cook for another 5 minutes or until chorizo is cooked through. Remove from heat and stir in cooked rice. Place a lid on the skillet to keep everything warm while you heat the tortillas.
Heat the tortillas by placing each one in its own small pan (I find that 6″ crepe pans work beautifully for this) and then dry-toasting them over medium heat for about 2 minutes on each side. If they’re coming straight out of the freezer, they might need more heating time. Just keep an eye on them — you want your tortillas to be nicely toasted and slightly brown on each side, not blackened and burnt. You can stack the warmed tortillas into clean cotton towels as you go to keep them warm — simply fold each one into the towel as they come out of the pans.
Serve the chorizo atop the toasted tortillas. Top with cilantro sauce or pass the sauce around the table to give everyone the chance to top their own. Leftover chorizo and sauce can be refrigerated — separately or together — for up to 4 days.
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While I’m looking forward to the spring flowers that our April showers will bring, I’m still in full-on winter mode in terms of wanting hot beverages. How can your mind not edge towards hot chocolate when it’s gray, cold, and wet outside? Twenty degrees Fahrenheit and sunny seems warmer than 45F and raining. So in the spirit of warding off chill, I decided to see if I could make a Spanish-style hot chocolate.
If you’ve had the pleasure of sitting outside a Valor chocolate shop in Spain and sipping their famous hot chocolate, you know what I mean by “Spanish-style”: incredibly thick and creamy. You can nearly stand up a spoon in the stuff. This is the opposite of a frothy latte, the antithesis of the (sometimes) overwrought and overwhipped creations you find at European-inspired coffee shops Stateside. Spanish hot chocolate is not trying to be delicate or ethereal — it’s making a strong chocolate statement.
While I’m not exactly sure what magical ingredient makes the Valor hot chocolate so insanely thick (although I think cornstarch may play a role), I thought I’d try to create my own ultra-velvety hot chocolate by whisking in something that’s silky and smooth in its own right, something that probably already inhabits your pantry: canned pumpkin. Yup. It thickens without having an overly distinct flavor of its own. If anything, it imparts a slightly sweet creaminess, which is most welcome in a mug of hot chocolate. And the pumpkin-and-chocolate combo already exists in the form of muffins, cakes, and ice cream. Why not pumpkin-infused hot chocolate, too?
Pumpkin-Laced Hot Chocolate
To make a mug of creamy and thick hot chocolate, simply place 2 tablespoons unsweetened (and preferably non-Dutched) cocoa powder in a mug. Add 2 tablespoons canned pumpkin and 1 tablespoon maple syrup. Fill halfway with boiling water and whisk with a fork until all the clumps have dissolved. Pour in a tiny dash of vanilla (no more than 1/4 teaspoon) and top off with whole milk (preferably from grass-fed cows). Stir again until well-blended. If you’d like it to be a little sweeter, add a little more maple syrup.
Note that you’ll have to occasionally swirl the hot chocolate as you drink it — much like Spanish-style hot chocolate, yours will have lots of body, and it will taste better if it doesn’t sit and settle for too long.
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Finally! Spring is here! Once more, ’tis the season of colorful veggies. And fresh-cooked whole grains to complement those lovely vegetables. Millet, amaranth, quinoa, even steel-cut oats are great candidates for savory suppers. Or how about a member of the rice family? Brown, black, red, and purple are all as delicious as they are visually appealing. (Bonus tip: if you want to dye something black or dark purple, cook black or purple rice with some extra water, drain the rice when it’s cooked through, and use the reserved cooking water as a natural dye.)
For this batch of eggplant-infused “dirty”-style rice, I opted for my favorite whole grain: wild rice. In this case, true wild rice from Minnesota. Both cultivated wild rice and true wild rice are equally tasty, but I prefer the true wild rice for its earthy/smoky flavor and the fact that it cooks more quickly than cultivated wild rice — more like 35 minutes instead of the 50 minutes the latter requires. And if you let the grains soak in water overnight or for about six hours, you’ll cut the cooking time by two-thirds. That’s true for any whole grain. That means true wild rice is done in about 15 minutes; cultivated wild rice is ready in about 20.
If you do go hunting for true wild rice, look for the longest-grained rice you’ve ever seen. Cultivated wild rice is medium-grained and glossy brown/black, but true wild rice is at least twice as long and is tan with long dark streaks. (I think of it as “painted rice.”) You’re more likely to find true wild rice in stores that carry a wide variety of grains and imported goods. I usually scoot by Zingerman’s to pick up a bag whenever I’m in Ann Arbor. Be sure to store your wild rice — and any other whole grain! — in the fridge to extend its freshness. No point in letting any of those delicious grains go to waste!
Eggplant Sauté with Celery, Peppers & Wild Rice
Serves 4 people for lunch or 2 for a hearty dinner. Feel free to add cooked chicken or lamb to the finished dish.
1/2 cup raw wild rice
1 small onion, chopped (or half of a standard-sized yellow onion)
4 celery ribs, chopped (I suggest opting for organic celery since celery is one of our top-sprayed crops)
1 small red bell pepper, seeds and stem removed, chopped
1 medium eggplant, ends removed but skin left on, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 T. thyme
Drizzle of tamari (be sure to use wheat-free tamari/soy sauce if you’re making a gluten-free dish)
Drizzle of pomegranate molasses (optional, but adds a subtle sweetness to contrast against the savory tamari)
Place wild rice in a pot and add 1 1/2 cups water or chicken broth. You can do this several hours ahead of making the dish so that the rice is pre-soaked and will cook in fewer than 15 minutes. Otherwise, simmer rice covered over medium-low heat for about 30 minutes for true wild rice and 50 for cultivated wild rice. (Pre-soaked cultivated wild rice will need about 20 minutes to cook.) When the rice has reached its desired tenderness, drain well. Note that since wild rice doesn’t absorb liquid as readily as non-wild rice does, you’ll almost certainly need to drain away the remaining water.
While rice cooks, heat a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil over medium heat for a minute. Add onion, celery, and pepper and cook for 10 minutes or until onions are soft. Stir in eggplant and cover. Let cook undisturbed for 10 minutes more. Stir in remaining ingredients and recover. Cook for 5 minutes. Assuming that your eggplant was fresh, you’ll be well on your way to having gorgeously textured eggplant that nearly melts in your mouth.
Stir in cooked and drained wild and cook, still covered, for a final 5 minutes. Serve immediately, perhaps with a goat’s- or sheep’s-milk cheese to emphasize the Middle Eastern aspects of the dish. Leftovers can be refrigerated for up to 5 days. (Try topping with a poached egg when you reheat your leftovers.)
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