Heirloom Tomato, Apricot & Cucumber Salad with Yogurt & Za'atar

OH HEY, IT'S SUMMER! This basically means you don't have to cook at all if you don't want to, because everything is luscious and ripe and can be sunk into off the vine with your teeth (no silverware necessary).

This salad is a celebration of the ease of summer eating and the inherent vibrant flavors that make the produce this time of year shine. It is a cooling salad with some Middle Eastern vibes because they're my favorite (full disclosure of cuisine bias here). The one ingredient with which you may be unfamiliar is za'atar, which is a Middle Eastern spice blend made of thyme, oregano, sesame seeds, sumac and salt. It's delicious! You can make your own or buy a jar at specialty spice shops or Middle Eastern markets.

I've also used unusual varieties of cucumbers and tomatoes here because they're fun and you can only get them during the summer! If you can't find them, don't sweat it; a normal, ripe, preferably relatively local cucumber or tomato will do the trick just as well. Enjoy!

Heirloom Tomato, Apricot & Cucumber Salad with Yogurt & Za'atar
Serves four as a starter or two as a main

Ingredients
3 medium heirloom tomatoes, cut into large wedges
4 apricots, pit removed and cut into quarters
1 avocado, cut into 1/2" cubes
2 lemon cucumbers or 1 painted serpent cucumber (or 2 Persian cucumbers, failing those), cut into 1" chunks
6 Tbsp. plain whole milk Greek yogurt
1 Tbsp. good quality cold-pressed olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 Tbsp. mint, roughly chopped
2 Tbsp. dill fronds
1 lemon
1 Tbsp. za'atar
salt + pepper

Directions
1. In a small bowl, mix together the Greek yogurt, 1 Tbsp. olive oil and a pinch of salt.
2. Spread the yogurt mixture on the bottom of your serving platter.
3. Arrange the slices of tomato, avocado, apricot and cucumber together on top of the yogurt. Scatter herbs and za'atar on top.
4. Finish off with a generous drizzle of olive oil, the juice of half a lemon, salt and pepper. Adjust to taste.

Lemony Fava Bean Tartine

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This is a super simple celebration of spring. As the bounties of the season begin to pour in, we are blessed with vibrant and delicious produce that often requires little to no cooking. I also love the revelations that come with tasting fresh foods straight from the pod or the cob that you might eat from frozen at other times during the year; there is no comparison! Fava beans are less common in the standard American diet than, say, peas, which is a shame because they are suuuuper delicious. They also happen to be crazy nutrient dense, containing an array of vitamins (folate, thiamine, vitamin K, vitamin B6) and minerals (iron, manganese, potassium, copper, zinc, magnesium) in addition to fiber and protein! 

I used dill and tarragon in this recipe because I seem to perpetually have leftovers of those herbs in my fridge as of late. This would also be delicious with mint, basil, chives, chervil, parsley, or some combination thereof. You can have it on toast or off; with an egg or without. The basic equation here is fava beans + herbs + lemon = yum. It's pretty much that simple.

Lemony Fava Bean Tartine
Makes two toasts

Ingredients
1 1/2 cup fava beans (from about 1 lb. favas-in-the-pod)
1 unwaxed, organic lemon, zested
1 1/2 Tbsp. fresh squeezed lemon juice
3 Tbsp. cold-pressed, good quality olive oil
1/8 tsp. pink or sea salt
2 handfuls pea shoots
1 Tbsp. dill fronds, fresh
1 Tbsp. tarragon leaves, fresh
Two slices whole grain or country sourdough
Soft boiled egg (or cooked to preference)
Fresh ground pepper, to finish

Directions
1. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Fill a medium bowl with ice water and set aside. Cook fava beans in the boiling water for 1 minute, then strain and transfer to the ice water. Peel the waxy outer coating from the fava beans.
2. In a medium sized jar with a lid, shake together the lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil and salt. Add the fava beans to the jar and gently shake to coat.
3. Toast your bread — a toaster is great but a grill pan with some olive oil would be extra delicious.
4. Place one big handful of pea shoots on each toast slice. Pour the favas and their oil on top of the greens (you may have a bit of oil leftover; it makes great salad dressing!). Sprinkle 1/2 Tbsp. of each herb onto each slice. Top with an egg if desired and a few twists of freshly cracked black pepper. Enjoy!

Sarah B.'s Coconut-Quinoa Coleslaw with Minty Tahini Dressing | On 'Naturally Nourished'

Sarah Britton is one of the most infectious people I've ever met: infectious in her absolute love and lust for making nourishing foods taste delicious; in her unparalleled capacity to geek out about the properties of whole foods that foster vibrant physical health; and in her unflinching wonder at and gratitude for the bounties that the earth provides. I think you'd be hard pressed to find any writing about Sarah B. that doesn't completely gush about her, both as a person and as a holistic nutritionist/educator/plant based chef. Clearly, I am not immune to this particular condition.

Before I knew Sarah as a person and had the pleasure of calling her a friend, I knew her through her writing on her stunning blog My New Roots and via cooking up an endless number of the recipes she shared. Back in 2012, when I was first getting into food and teaching myself how to cook, I devoured food blogs like it was going out of style (rather than just coming into it). Yet, not caring about this person's kitchen remodel or that person's trip to Hawaii, I would routinely skip directly to the recipes at the bottom of each post...until I found My New Roots. A blog that was as engaging and educational as it was absolutely fucking gorgeous. For a week straight, every moment not spent in class at my grad school program or in the kitchen actually cooking, I spent reading My New Roots, cover to cover.

Without ever having spoken to her, Sarah taught me about the difference between refined and whole grains; the nutritional and digestive benefits of soaking pulses, nuts and seeds; why refined sugar is so damaging to our bodies and what we can replace it with; why dairy is so hard to digest; and how to make healthy food taste delicious, among countless other things. Her writing was passionate, totally goofy, incredibly informative and inspiring beyond measure. My personal whole foods revolution had begun and Sarah was instrumental in setting it in motion.

I had the pleasure of meeting Sarah at a workshop she led in January of 2013. Like a total nutcase, I impulsively offered my editorial services to her after she shared with the group that she had just secured her first cookbook deal. Luckily for me, Sarah didn't think I was as batshit as I felt; shortly thereafter, she asked me to copyedit her self-published eBook, Stocking the Pantry. We became friends. In July of 2015, I spent five days in Copenhagen assisting her as she created and shot recipes for her second cookbook, Naturally Nourished. And now the book is finally here!

The clarity and enthusiasm of Sarah's writing and recipes (not to mention stunning photography), which permeate My New Roots and amplified my own excitement around learning to cook and eat well, are present on every page of Naturally Nourished. It is the perfect book for anyone and everyone, but particularly for those of you who are less confident in the kitchen and/or have limited access to fancy/intimidating ingredients that often pop up in plant based recipes. Constructing every recipe exclusively from foods that you can find at your run-of-the-mill supermarket, Sarah focuses on simple cooking techniques and flavor combinations that you can use to transform everyday whole foods (vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds, fruits, herbs) into divine tasting and super satisfying meals. 

Broken into chapters based on course—Soups, Salads, Mains, Sides and Small Plates, and Savory and Sweet Snacks—Sarah helpfully includes an introductory section in which she discusses the building blocks of composing a meal, why your freezer should be your new best friend, and how to boost flavor in any dish. With this, you'll easily develop an understanding of the why behind the recipes tasting delicious when you make them, in addition to skills to help you easily integrate healthy, from-scratch cooking into your everyday routine.

I chose to share Sarah B.'s Coconut-Quinoa Coleslaw with Minty Tahini Dressing for a number of reasons. #1: Tahini. I am totally obsessed. (Sarah is too, incidentally.) #2: Mint. My absolute favorite herb, enhancing everything from salads to shakshuka to smoothies. #3: Seasonality. We're just now starting to see produce turn from winter to spring, but not enough that I felt comfortable taking on any of her spring-focused recipes. Cabbage is not only abundant in winter, but all year long! This means you can make this dish now as well as a few months from now. Which is great, because...#4: Picnics. Everyone's favorite summer pastime, whether at a park, a creek or the beach. This recipe is great for a crowd, super easy to transport and totally satiating (which will come in handy when you need something to absorb all that picnic beer).

A mayo-free, much more flavorful (in my humble opinion) riff on coleslaw, this dish is like a crunchy, vibrant party in your mouth. Filled with protein from the quinoa, antioxidants and fiber (nearly 1 gram for every 10 calories!) from the raw cabbage, natural sweetness from the toasted coconut and healthy fats and calcium from the tahini sauce, coleslaw never made your body so happy. Seriously.

So hey, go make this slaw. Then go get yourself a copy of Naturally Nourished and dig in to initiate the whole foods revolution that will, slowly but surely, change your life. 

Sarah B.'s Coconut-Quinoa Coleslaw with Minty Tahini Dressing
From Naturally Nourished, by Sarah Britton
Serves 6 as a main, 8 as a side

Ingredients
Quinoa
1/2 cup (85 g) quinoa, soaked if possible
Scant 1 cup (250 ml) water
1/4 tsp. fine sea salt

Minty Tahini Dressing
1/2 cup (125 ml) tahini
1/4 cup (60 ml) freshly squeezed lime juice
2 Tbsp. cold-pressed olive oil
1 Tbsp. pure maple syrup
3/4 cup (185 ml) water
pinch of sea salt, plus more as needed
1 packed cup (25 g) fresh mint leaves

Vegetables
2 packed cups (130 g) shredded red cabbage
2 packed cups (130 g) shredded green cabbage
3 medium carrots, julienned
1 red bell pepper (stem, seeds and ribs removed), julienned
1/4 cup (60 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 Tbsp. cold-pressed olive oil
1/4 tsp. fine sea salt
1 cup unsweetened desiccated coconut

Directions
1. Make the quinoa: Rinse the quinoa well. In a small saucepan, combine the quinoa, water, and salt. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and cook, covered, until all the water has been absorbed and the quinoa grains are tender, about 20 minutes. Fluff with a fork.
2. Meanwhile, make the dressing: In a blender, combine the tahini, lime juice, olive oil, maple syrup, water, salt, and mint leaves; blend on high until smooth and creamy. Season with more salt as needed. Set aside.
3. In a large bowl, combine the cabbages, kale, carrots and bell pepper.
4. In a small bowl, whisk the lemon juice, olive oil, and salt together and pour over the vegetables. Toss well and lightly massage the liquid into the kale and cabbage, then let marinate for 5 to 10 minutes.
5. Preheat a dry skillet over medium heat. When hot, toast the coconut, stirring often, until golden brown and fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes. Immediately remove the pan from the heat and set it aside.
6. Finish the salad: Add the quinoa and coconut to the vegetable bowl. Toss well to combine. When ready to serve, dish out portions and allow guests to pour the dressing on their salads.

Rye Berry, Blood Orange, Pistachio & Herb Salad | On Being Political & Showing Up for Yourself

I think it's fair to say that America is pretty unrecognizable right now. We see the reality of this moment mirrored in history books, familiar to us through stories we’ve learned about America’s less than commendable past. But this is not—surely cannot be—our America. 2017 America. Except each day we wake to find that it is. And that the America that many of us embraced in the past eight years, celebrated even, we now know that we’ve also taken for granted.

As the baffling, fear and hate based edicts continue to pour in, we are being mobilized into action because we must be. This is not a time for complacency.

I often feel conflicted about how much I should or even want to talk about politics here, because this is not a space designated for political analysis or commentary. Rather, it is a space that is dedicated to the vulnerable, courageous discussion and generation of personal wellness, in myself and hopefully those of you reading. But here's the thing: valuing wellness in a culture that predominantly values consumerism and professional success is, in fact, political. 

This blog is implicitly political because it is personal. And yes—the personal is political. As a woman who refuses to be a doormat, I am inherently political (even in 2017). As a person with a uterus, I am inherently political. As people who fundamentally believe in equality, we are inherently political. It is time that we all acknowledge the magnitude of this fact and, like thousands of Americans are doing each day, start to show up. We must begin to show up for our country, for our inhabitants who are being put in positions that resemble those that many of our ancestors were horrifically subjected to, and we must begin to show up for ourselves. Believing in and valuing equality is not enough today. We must put our money, our phone calls, our bodies, our emails, our art and our writings where our mouths are.

I’m interested in this act of Showing Up on a deep level, far beyond its relation to politics. I'm interested in what it means and looks like for each of us to show up for ourselves in the smallest and most profound ways, every day.

Showing Up is an act that becomes a mode of being. In America, we are often taught to show up for other people: to be generous, kind, caring, reliable, and honest in our relationships, whether they are personal or professional. But rarely, if ever, are we taught to show up for ourselves. When was the last time you got home, sat on your bed, took a deep breath and said yourself, “Hey self, whom I love so deeply, how was your day?” How frequently do you take a deliberate moment to tune into the communication from your muscles and organs to see how they’re doing and what they need; to notice the state of your mind and see if it's yearning for some some meditation, poetry or journaling to help it relax and reset; to check in with your heart and receive the information it has ready for you as soon as you’re willing to listen?

This, my friends, is self-care. This is Showing Up. Placing deliberate attention onto your mind, body and emotional states to ask, with curiosity and tenderness and without judgment, how you are doing and what you need. Showing Up means slowing down enough to make choices that align with your best interests and your truest expression of self rather than choices that align with the ways you have historically operated. It means asking yourself if you're doing something out of habit or conscious awareness; out of fear or trust. 

I will be the first to admit that pausing to take a deliberate breath and directly addressing yourself can feel anywhere from mildly awkward to downright ridiculous, especially if you've never done it before. But you know what? Its impact is huge. Saying a wholehearted "Good morning!" to yourself upon waking makes you feel acknowledged as a being and sets a distinct tone for your day. Taking a deep breath and a moment to tune into your levels of hunger before you nose dive into a bag of chips or cookies at the end of a stressful day at work, only to realize what you really need is a warm bath or some serious sleep, is a giant expression of self-love and care. Placing a hand over your heart and gently saying, "I love you, it's okay" after a perceived failure or argument can make all the difference in the world. We are conditioned to seek care and support from others, but this is the most incredible, most resourceful thing: What we need is ultimately ours to give ourselves.

There's a poet named nayyirah waheed whose writings routinely stop me in my tracks. She has an unbelievable way of expressing the deepest truths of life in the most raw yet gentile ways. In one of my favorite poems, she writes:

there is you and you.
this is a relationship.
this is the most important relationship.

— home

If America is ever going to change—which I believe it will—it is imperative that we start with ourselves. We cannot authentically teach trust, love, kindness and acceptance if we are not actively trusting, loving, kind and accepting of ourselves. Our energies vibrate, our opinions of self are palpable, we teach by example. The road ahead is long. It is going to be trying and surely disheartening. But we are resourceful and we are many. If we begin to truly value and tend to ourselves, we will be so much better equipped to show up in this world as beings to be reckoned with.

Notes about the Recipe: As I became an increasingly adept cook and found myself eating a disproportionate amount of meals out of bowls, I began to develop an expanded definition of the word 'salad'. To me growing up, and to many still, a salad was a plate of greens that maybe had some other vegetables thrown in. To me now, a salad can be made of greens, grains, fruits, vegetables, protein, herbs, nuts and seeds. Basically, as long as whatever you're eating is mixed together, it's a salad. This is one such dish—reliant more on grains than greens and completely satisfying as a meal in and of itself.

The kernels of whole grains, for some reason, are called 'berries'. Wheat berries, rye berries, spelt berries...these are not bizarre gain-fruit hybrids, but the complete edible kernel of the unprocessed grain. You cook whole grains just as you would rice, but they won't absorb the water as much. Soaking your grains overnight in water with a splash of apple cider vinegar or lemon will help unlock their nutritional benefits and make them easier for you to digest after they are cooked. Whole grains are a fantastic source of fiber, often have significant amounts of protein and are quite chewy and satisfying to eat. Rye is particularly high in magnesium, a mineral that helps regulate the body's use of glucose (blood sugar) and insulin production. In helping control blood sugar, rye has been shown to help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. I chose rye berries for this recipe because that is what I had on hand, but feel free to sub them for wheat berries, spelt berries, or whatever whole grain you're curious to try out!

Drawing from winter citrus and aromatic Middle Eastern flavors, this is a bright salad for cold months. If you particularly like tart or biting flavors, feel free to throw in some olives, preserved lemon or thinly sliced red onion, too.

Rye Berry, Blood Orange, Pistachio & Herb Salad
Serves four

Ingredients
Salad
1/2 cup rye berries, preferably soaked overnight
1/2 cup pistachios, de-shelled, lightly roasted if they're raw, and roughly chopped
3 blood oranges
1/2 bunch mint, roughly chopped
1/2 bunch chives, minced
1/4 cup sheep's feta, crumbled

Dressing
1/4 cup cold-pressed olive oil
2 Tbsp. lemon juice, fresh squeezed
1 tsp. coriander, ground
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
zest of 1 blood orange

Directions
1. Rinse the rye berries. If you soaked them, strain and rinse them. Put in a pot with fresh water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until tender, 25-35 minutes.
2. Zest one orange and place zest in a jar with the remainder of the dressing ingredients. Shake vigorously to emulsify and set aside.
3. Peel and segment the oranges. Cut each segment into thirds and set aside.
4. When the rye berries are cooked, strain, pour into a large bowl and then immediately toss with half of the dressing. (Grains and legumes soak up flavors much better when they're warm.)
5. Add the herbs, half of the pistachios and oranges to the rye berries and gently mix. Sprinkle the remaining pistachios and feta on the top of the salad (or on top of the salad on each individual plate). 

Salad can be enjoyed warm or cooled. Keeps for 4-5 days, but I would keep the feta separate if you're able.

"The Sprouty Pod": Mung bean sprouts, crunchy buckwheat, and roasted delicata squash with pomegranate, labneh, and cilantro pistou | On The Sqirl Cookbook: 'Everything I Want to Eat'

I have a habit (perhaps personality trait?) of becoming vehemently promotional of the things I love. If I find out that you have never seen My So-Called LIfe, I will likely exclaim, "WHAT?!?", take a deep breath, detail all of the reasons why it is the best television show ever created and then generously force the DVD box set upon you. I can talk for hours about the depths of my love for Sufjan Stevens, complete with commentary about why The Age of Adz is his most underrated album. If you live in or travel to Los Angeles, I will implore you to eat at Sqirl; if you aren't in its vicinity, I will direct you to their menu online—attempting to connect you with a sliver of the experience of being there.

Sqirl fills up an unreasonably large portion of my heart. Chances are, if you're appraised to current food/restaurant trends, live in LA, or know me personally, you've heard of it. If you haven't, here's a snapshot: Sqirl is a tiny, bright and booming breakfast and lunch joint on the east side of Los Angeles, which serves up some of the most playful, innovative, fresh and flavorful food I've ever had the pleasure of eating—and possibly being made in America today.

I first heard about Jessica Koslow in 2012, a year after she had started an unusual little jam company called Sqirl (as in, "squirrel away"). As a burgeoning foodie and lifetime creative who was spending my free time making things like rosemary cashew butter from scratch, I was instantaneously compelled by Jessica's seasonal and atypical jams, like blueberry tarragon and strawberry rose geranium. Not long after Sqirl got its legs, Jessica expanded it into a simple breakfast spot for people to gather and enjoy her beguiling jam in the best way possible: on toast. But not just any toast. A cartoonish-ly thick slice of locally made brioche, with the jam sometimes nestled amongst heaps of house made ricotta or hazelnut almond butter to boot. Something magical was happening here. People were starting to talk.

When I moved back to LA from London in the summer of 2013, Sqirl was on my shortlist of new restaurants to check out and possibly approach about kitchen work. Scoping it out and grabbing a bite as soon as I was able, I became instantaneously smitten. From the painstakingly handwritten chalkboard menu to my bright and flavorful spiced carrot socca pancake topped with zippy fresh greens to the barista who gave me a complimentary house made almond milk latte after I had inquired about their almond milk ingredients and process, everything about Sqirl glimmered with vibrancy, intention, generosity and love. Sqirl is generous in its portions. It is generous in its commitment to local and ethical sourcing and the farmers with whom it works. It is generous to the earth through its seasonally changing menu. It is generous in its exuberance for its community. When I met Jessica that summer and found out they weren't hiring, she generously offered to connect me to some friends who own a locally revered bakery instead. She is becoming food world famous and she still stops to say hi when we cross paths, still remembers me every time.

While I have a lot of love for the heart of Sqirl, I have just as much love for the food that Jessica and her amazing team create. Almost every element of every dish is made in house. They pander to the indulgent and the health conscious in equal measure, with equal exuberance. They draw from culinary palates and traditions spanning from Asia to California to the Middle East. They make vegetarian dishes hearty and vegetables taste amazing (not to mention their baked goods). I could not have been more excited when I heard they were releasing a cookbook. When I found out that it would be titled Everything I Want To Eat, I thought, "Yes! Duh." That statement literally epitomizes how I—and from the looks of it, many other people—feel about Sqirl. Good move, Jessica.

Everything I Want to Eat: Sqirl and the New California Cooking is a strange and beautiful book. It includes recipes for every type of diet and level of culinary experience, from the complete novice to the person who literally cannot wait to beet cure her own salmon. Its images are more closely related to pop art than on-trend food photos; as the review in the New York Times notes, "The book itself looks less like a cookbook than an exhibition catalogue". 

The dish I'm sharing with you here is disarmingly delicious. You figure it'll be tasty because it's composed of a lot of individual tasty things thrown together on one plate, but then you take a bite and your brain is like, WHAT IS THIS?!? Because the way the flavors play together in your mouth, the zippy punch of the cilantro pistou clashing against the caramelized sweetness of the squash and the earthy toastiness of the buckwheat and the thick, creamy tang of the labneh is something your mouth has never experienced before. The other thing that I love about this recipe is that it can be either quick and easy or moderately involved, depending on what you feel up to. Jessica explains how to turn yogurt into labneh and dried mung beans into sprouts, but if you don't have the time, energy or curiosity for those processes yet, then just go ahead and buy some thick greek yogurt and mung bean sprouts. It comes together much more quickly than its long title would have it seem.

If you live in or are ever visiting Los Angeles, I implore you: eat at Sqirl. And wherever you are, get yourself a copy of Everything I Want to Eat from your library, local bookstore or the Internet. Take it into your kitchen and let its strange wonders into your life. And if you're pressed for time, you can always start with this recipe, right here.

The Sprouty Pod —
Mung bean sprouts, crunchy buckwheat, and roasted delicata squash with pomegranate, labneh, and cilantro pistou

from Everything I Want to Eat: Sqirl and the New California Cooking by Jessica Koslow
Serves 6 as a light lunch or a first course

Ingredients
Crunchy Buckwheat
1/2 cup hulled buckwheat groats

Roasted Delicata Squash
2 large or 3 small delicata squash (3 lbs total)
3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cilantro Pistou
1 clove garlic
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp. fine sea salt
1/2 bunch cilantro
1/3 cup (80 ml) extra-virgin olive oil

To Serve
1 clamshell mung bean sprouts (see the book for how to sprout your own)
1 cup labneh or plain whole milk Greek yogurt (I love and used Straus) (see the book for how to make your own)
1 cup pomegranate arils
1/2 bunch cilantro
Really good olive oil
2 limes, halved
Fleur de sel

Directions
Crunchy Buckwheat
1. Preheat the oven to 350F/175C.
2. Spread the buckwheat out on a dry, rimmed baking sheet. Toast in the oven until golden brown and crunchy, about 10 minutes.

Roasted Delicata Squash
1. Adjust the oven temperature to 425F/220C.
2. Cut the squash in half lengthwise. Scoop out and discard the seeds, but do not peel the skin—it's tender and delicious.
3. Cut the squash into 2- to 3- inch chunks (I botched this direction; don't follow my photos) and set on a rimmed baking sheet. Toss with just enough oil to barely coat, about 3 Tbsp. Sprinkle the coriander evenly over the squash pieces. Season lightly with salt and a few grinds of pepper.
4. Bake until tender all the way through and a little caramelized on the bottom, 30 to 40 minutes. Let cool.

Cilantro Pistou
1. In a blender, combine the garlic, lemon juice, and salt. Blend on low speed until the garlic is finely chopped and mostly incorporated into the lemon juice.
2. Cut the sprigs of cilantro right at the point where the leaves start branching from the stems. Take the leafy top part and drop it into the blender. Blend on the lowest speed until the cilantro is coarsely chopped and there are still big pieces of leaves, about 10 seconds.
3. Gradually increase the speed while you slowly pour in the oil. Once you've added all the oil, blend on high speed for 20 seconds. The pistou will be emulsified and flecked with green cilantro leaves.
*(You can also make it by hand, first chopping the garlic and herbs, then whisking the lemon juice and oil together.)

To Serve
1. Schmear 1 to 2 Tbsp. of the labneh in the bottom of each bowl. Scatter a small handful of sprouts and pomegranate seeds over the labneh, then drizzle with 1 to 2 Tbsp. of the pistou.
2. Top with a few pieces of squash, more sprouts and pomegranate seeds, and a spoonful of crunchy buckwheat.
3. Sprinkle some cilantro leaves over everything. 
4. Finish with a drizzle of oil, a final spoonful of pistou, a strong squeeze of lime juice and a pinch of fleur de sel.

Roasted Sweet Potato, Black Bean & Pickled Persimmon Tacos | On Becoming 'A Mindful Nation'

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I've been pretty quiet since Tuesday. Not quiet with friends or in my physical, "real life" interactions, but in the digital space. I've been doing a lot of listening. Reading. Absorbing. Questioning and contemplating. Empathizing. Picking up the pieces of a heart that feels so, so broken.

Late Tuesday night, my body tense and nauseous as the final four "too close to call" states slowly turned to red, I felt overcome by disbelief, confusion and anger. How could this even be? How is this the reality of 2016 America?

Wednesday morning, the sun came up, just as we all knew it would. The sky shone blue in Northern California. People got out of bed, got dressed, got in their cars, got themselves to work. On the outside, our world looked just the same as it had 24 hours before.

Wednesday morning, I woke up early. Showered before the sun fully showed itself in the sky. Got dressed, ate and headed out earlier than usual for my Mindful Health class at the California Institute of Integral Studies. It wasn't until I was firmly planted on the subway for my 30 minute ride into San Francisco that I checked social media and the news. And the fact of what half of America had done to our entire country began to actually feel real.

My Facebook feed had transformed into a space of vulnerability and power. So many beautiful and brilliant friends expressing their deep sadness, their entirely substantiated fears, their anger at the system, their unwavering love for and commitment to the diversity of all the inhabitants of our country. My brother, who lives in Germany, turned his profile picture to a block of solid black. I struggled to fight back tears. Standing on the crowded BART train, I became keenly aware of the dichotomy between physical and digital space. All around me people sat and stood, glances cast towards phones and books and the vibrating walls, faces blank or calm as any other day. But in the digital world, it was anything but any other day. People were angry. Dumbfounded. Distraught. Fearful. Hopeful. Having trouble feeling hopeful. Vocal. Reaching out. For the first time, maybe ever, I felt grateful for that digital space. Felt like it was a facilitator for vital expression, for support, for coalition and for action. 

I eventually got off the train, emerged with the hurried masses from the depths of the city's underground passageways back into the light of the sun. Traffic lights changed, fathers pushed strollers, crumpled bills were exchanged for cups of caffeine. The world looked just has it had the day before, but inside I felt so sharply like it was crumbling.

The past three days, I have been more attentively tuned into the digital space—both in news articles and on Facebook—than ever before. It has been comforting, humbling and activating to see millions of people from across America voicing their concerns and their strength. Lifting each other up. Beginning to build a movement. And it was equally heartening on Wednesday to witness so many people, friends of mine and complete strangers, articulating the need to allow ourselves to grieve. Not to wallow, not to concede, but to create space to truly feel the shattering disappointment, fear, sadness and anger that pierced our hearts and coursed through our veins, penetrating to the bone. That in the gift of space for these feelings to be and to breathe, they would ultimately be better processed and transformed into energy for action.

I have read many words over the past three days and a handful have struck a deep chord, dug into the philosophies and approaches in which I believe wholeheartedly and do my best to embody every day. Compassion. Mindfulness. Hope. These things can feel small and personal, can feel vague and inconsequential, but they must be pillars for all of us moving forward.

As 15 distraught and powerful women sat in a circle in my Mindful Health class on Wednesday morning, our wise and grounded teacher Megan shared with us an excerpt from congressman Tim Ryan's book A Mindful Nation. It felt like a gift on that dark morning; I now wish to extend that to you. Ryan writes:

In a mindful nation, we will still misplace our keys. We still still forget people's names. We will still say and do things that may hurt others, including those we love. We will say the exact wrong thing at exactly the wrong time. But in each of these instances, with mindfulness we may do it just a bit less. We may see the humor in our mistakes and be able to laugh at ourselves more. We may be just a little less critical of others, and of ourselves. We may deal with our mistakes more quickly and with a more sincere and kind heart. We may more easily forgive the people who have hurt us. We may sit down and have civil political conversations with those who strongly disagree with us. My goal is not that America will become a perfect nation. My goal is that America will be a kinder, more compassionate nation, because I know down deep in my heart that we are a kinder, more compassionate country than is evident today. Reviving our compassionate spirit will allow us to listen carefully to each other, find points of agreement, and recapture the unity of purpose that made America great.

A mindful nation is about recognizing that we are all connected: we are in this together. At present, we feel divided and scared, and have been made to believe that independence means we are totally on our own. But our experiences—as individuals and as a country— tell a different story. We know that when we join together, work together, and care about each other, our freedom actually increases. Real independence emerges when we know how to support each other. The Declaration of Independence was a communal act.

...One of my favorite lines from the Art of War by Sun Tzu, an ancient manual for dealing effectively with conflict in war, business, and throughout life, is "Attain both hard and soft." To me, this means that in any given moment we need the ability to be firm and simultaneously the ability to be gentle. This can be challenging, but Martin Luther King, Jr., offered us an example of holding hard and soft together. He pointed out that love without power is ineffectual, and power without love is destructive.

When human beings combine these qualities, they're drawing on their innate mindfulness, awareness, and kindness. And neuroscience is starting to prove that all of these can be cultivated in grater measure, giving us an increased capability to approach our problems and challenges with nuance and awareness of the whole picture, the perspectives of other people, and the unfolding patterns that allow us to be insightful about dangers and opportunities that lie ahead—what the innovative thinker Thomas Homer-Dixon calls "prospective mind." In this way, we can hep re-establish our collective mindfulness and regain our sense of balance, which is what it means to be resilient. We can't determine exactly what the future will be, what tomorrow will bring, what the next moment will bring, but we can determine how we will be in our body and mind, whatever may come.

It feels a little ridiculous to post photos of food on Instagram right now, to share recipes, to have conversations that are about anything other than the political, social, economic and emotional state of America. But we need to eat. And we need to create. As people mobilize and artists of all kinds use their uniquely magical expressions to make sense of and shape our world, I am continuing to do what I do. Because the world keeps spinning and every act of generosity, thoughtfulness and nourishment counts. So here are some seasonal, mildly wacky, California style tacos. Beans from scratch that are infused with flavor by boiling them with spices and plant based aromatics. Sweet winter persimmons turned into tart pickled bursts of flavor. Food transformed through ingenuity, patience, care, attention, time. We will get there, America. There are too many of us with abundant love, compassion and power for it not to be so.

Roasted Sweet Potato, Black Bean & Pickled Persimmon Tacos
Serves 4
*Note: The black beans need to be soaked in water the night before and the pickled persimmon, while a quick pickle, takes 2 hours of soaking time in the brine before it's ready. Plan accordingly! :)

Ingredients
Pickled Persimmon
1 large or 2 small persimmons, diced into 1/4" cubes
1 cup unfiltered apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp pure maple syrup or honey
1 Tbsp. sea salt
1 tsp. mustard seeds
a few peppercorns
1" knob ginger root, peeled and sliced thin

Black Beans
1 cup dried black beans, soaked overnight
1 large carrot, chopped in a few big chunks
1 large garlic clove, smashed
1/2 yellow onion, peeled
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 tsp. whole coriander
1/2 tsp. whole cumin

Roasted Sweet Potato
1 large sweet potato, diced into 1/4" cubes
1/2 Tbsp. coconut oil or ghee
salt & pepper

To Serve
8 corn tortillas (make sure the only ingredients are corn, water and lime, if possible)
avocado (I made an avocado creme by blending guacamole ingredients in a blender)
cilantro
lime

Directions
For the Pickled Persimmon
1. Combine all ingredients except the persimmon in a small saucepan and set over high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.
2. Once it's boiling, reduce to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. While the brine is cooking, put the diced persimmon in a clean glass jar with a lid.
4. After 10 minutes, pour the brine into the jar with the persimmon. Let cool.
5. Once cool, put on the lid and refrigerate. It will be ready in 2 hours.

For the Black Beans
1. Rinse the beans (which you have soaked overnight) and discard any split or broken ones.
2. In a small skillet over medium heat, toast the cumin and coriander, swishing in the pan frequently, for 3-5 minutes (you'll know they're ready when they darken a bit in color and become quite fragrant).
3. Put the spices in a loose tea holder or make a sachet for them out of a small bit of cheesecloth. You can also put them directly in the water, you just may have to fish them out later (or get a big bite of spice in your taco).
4. Combine all of the bean ingredients in a large pot and submerge in water, about 2" above the beans. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until tender, about 45 minutes. If foam collects on the surface of the water, skim it off.
5. When the beans taste almost soft, add a very generous few pinches of salt to the water.
6. Once the beans are cooked to the consistency you like, turn off the heat and let them cool in the water. 
7. When ready to eat, drain the water and discard the aromatics. Taste and add salt if needed.

For the Sweet Potato
1. Preheat oven to 400F.
2. Line a baking tray or roasting dish with parchment or aluminum foil. 
3. Toss sweet potato cubes in oil (melt it first if it is solid) and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Spread them on the baking sheet in an even layer, so every cube has a surface touching the metal.
4. Roast for 15 minutes. Carefully toss. Roast for 10 minutes more and check for doneness. Sweet potato should be soft with some browning on its outer edges.

Assembly
1. I like charring my tortillas over an open flame on the stove. Do this carefully if you choose to try it, please! 
2. Pile beans, sweet potato and persimmon onto tortillas. Avocado/guacamole, cilantro and a generous squeeze of lime are all nice finishing touches.

Summer Stone Fruit, Cherry Tomato & Chickpea Tabbouleh | On Mindful Eating

Ten years, one feature film, and thousands of rave reviews later, I finally conceded last week and sat down to read Eat Pray Love. Okay, fine, conceded isn't actually the word. I asked my oldest friend if I could borrow her copy, interested not in seeing what all the fuss was about but in diving with an open heart and mind into the wisdom that Elizabeth Gilbert might actually have to offer. My friend—whom I had rolled my eyes at the first time she gushed about the book all those years ago (you see, I was a terribly pragmatic-bordering-on-cynical creature in my youth)—squealed with delight at my request, hearing words that she (and I) never would have dreamed I would utter.

My interest was piqued sometime last year when a dear and inspiring friend recommended Gilbert's latest publication, Big Magic. Many months later, I happened to catch a snippet of Gilbert's conversation with Krista Tippett on On Being and was surprised by the thoughtful and intelligent ideas she offered. (Apologies if my surprise about this fact offends any of you.) Not quite ready to commit to actually reading her books, I watched her first TED talk on the idea of creative genius, in which I found her to be not only sharp and insightful, but also charismatic and damn funny. 

So here I am, a mere few weeks later, sitting in bed with a copy of Eat Pray Love by my side. If you hate this book or don't care about this book or are absolutely exhausted by the ten years of hearing about this book, please stay with me for a moment; this post is not actually about Eat Pray Love

...Barring this note: In one segment, Gilbert recounts an experience she had in a busy office building in New York. Upon rushing into an elevator, she caught a glimpse of herself in the security mirror and registered her reflection as a friend of hers, reacting for a fleeting moment with surprise and joy. Gilbert quickly realized her mistake and laughed it off in embarrassment. She shares this story with us readers in the midst of a night in Rome, where she has been living most vivaciously, when she finds herself suddenly overcome with depression and loneliness. Turning to her own self for support, Gilbert thinks back to this incident in the elevator. She scrawls in her journal: "Never forget that once upon a time, in an unguarded moment, you recognized yourself as a friend."

That is what I am interested in. This idea—no, this necessity—that we treat ourselves as our best, most unconditional, most unwavering friend.

But what does that even look like? There are countless ways in which we can be better friends to ourselves. I've already written about some of them. The way things are going around here, I could conceivably re-title this blog "Meredith's Writings on How to Be More Self-Compassionate and Eat Delicious Food While Doing So (A.K.A. the Story of Her Life)." In all seriousness though, this is a real thing. It's a Big Deal. It is arguably one of the most important things we can do in our entire lives: learn to love, value and care for our own selves.

So where does that process begin? I could easily write about combating negative self-talk or expressing gratitude or giving ourselves credit for our achievements or operating from a place of trust and truth rather than fear, which are all super important practices. But that's not what we're going to talk about today. Today, we're going to talk about the practice that sparked the journey of self-care, in truth, for me. We're going to talk about food. 

Or, rather, the way we eat our food.

Mindful Eating, or The Gateway Art of Attentiveness

I first encountered the concept of mindful eating in Michael Pollan's book In Defense of Food (which I highly recommend if you have not read it). He espouses this simple yet somehow radical—in today's overly connected and multitasking world—belief that when you eat you should just eat. Don't eat and scroll through any media or communications on your phone. Don't eat and watch TV. Don't eat and read the newspaper or Bon Appetit magazine. Don't eat while driving. Don't eat straight out of the fridge while making your ritual boredom lap through the kitchen. Don't eat standing up, rushing out the door. Don't eat at your desk, working through your lunch break. Eat and give your full attention to your meal (and your present company, if you are sharing the meal with others). Eat and relish the colors, textures, scents and tastes of your food. Take your time. Put your utensil down between bites. Chew thoroughly. Savor the flavors. Take deep breaths and feel the reactions of your body to your meal. Appreciate the care that you put into preparing your meal, or that someone else put into preparing it. Acknowledge and appreciate the hands that nurtured and harvested the raw ingredients and the wonders of our earth that enabled them to grow. And, while we're at it, also be sure to eat off of proper dish ware, treating yourself like the deserving human that you are. You wouldn't serve your guest breakfast straight out of a blender, a wrapper or a tupperware, would you?

I can hear you thinking, "That seems like a lot of effort." Or, "I don't have time for that." Or, "I won't get to read the paper if I don't do it over breakfast!" Or, "I would feel super awkward eating at a table by myself with no distractions." 

These are all valid concerns, but hear me out. Mindful eating has incredible physiological, psychological and emotional effects. For starters, when we take the time to slow our eating and chew more fully, our bodies actually have greater access to the nutritional benefits of our food. Believe it or not, chewing is the first step in the digestive process. When we chew completely, our teeth essentially liquidize our food, which enables our bodies to digest it more easily and frees up internal resources to focus on absorption. Our saliva also contains digestive enzymes that are necessary to break down the food for optimum conversion into energy. Slowing down and chewing fully means we physically gain more benefit from the food we eat!

When we savor the process of eating, we are also able to tune in to our levels of hunger and satiety, more easily avoiding overeating and feelings of post-meal discomfort (as well as unwanted weight gain and chronic stress on our digestive system). Additionally, as our minds and bodies are constantly in relationship, eating with attentiveness helps us remember the experience of having eaten, which actually keeps us feeling fuller longer. 

And then there's the joy bit. The benefit of pure pleasure that comes from truly noticing and appreciating how delicious your food is, how curious of a sound it makes, how many hands it took to get from the field onto your plate, or how wonderful that even amongst your hectic/frustrating/disappointing/exhausting day, you took time to create something for yourself. By making an effort to eat away from your desk, or off of real dish ware at the dining room table—even if you're by yourself—you are actively showing yourself that you're worth caring for. That, in itself, is something to be practiced, savored and celebrated.

Words really cannot express how radically the practice of mindful eating has changed my life. It has so many benefits and an incredible ripple effect. You start paying more attention to your food and your eating and suddenly everything in your life seems deserving of increased attention, care and even reverence. Trust me. You'll see.

While I encourage you to harness your mindfulness the very next time you eat, this salad is a particularly great dish to practice mindful eating with because it is a total party in a bowl of bright, sweet, juicy, and fresh flavors and textures. This is a very unorthodox take on tabbouleh, which is a Middle Eastern salad composed of mostly parsley, speckled with bulgur, tomatoes, onion and a hefty zing of lemon. In less traditional versions, you may see mint and cucumber thrown in too. But here, as a celebration of the waning summer, I got really crazy. I threw peaches into the mix because they're fragrant and delicious, black chickpeas in the mix because, hello, BLACK CHICKPEAS!?! and because I'm a fan of fiber and plant protein, and swapped the bulgur for quinoa because it's gluten free, so more bellies can enjoy it. There is so much winning in this salad, I can't even.

Summer Stone Fruit, Cherry Tomato & Chickpea Tabbouleh
Serves 4

Ingredients
1/2 cup quinoa
1/2 cup dried chickpeas, black or white (or a can of chickpeas if you don't want to cook your own)
2 ripe peaches or nectaries
2 Persian cucumbers
1 cup cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup minced mint
1/2 cup minced parsley
1/2 bunch chives, minced
1 lemon
high quality cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil

Directions
If you are cooking the chickpeas from dried:
1. The night before, put dried chickpeas in a very large jar and fill it with water and a splash of apple cider vinegar.
2. Once the chickpeas have soaked for 12 hours, drain and rinse them.
3. Place chickpeas in a large pot and cover 2" above with fresh water. You're welcome to throw in some smashed garlic, half an onion, a carrot or celery, a bay leaf, a cinnamon stick, or a sachet with any spices you like to enhance the flavor.
4. Bring the water to a boil, reduce to a simmer and let chickpeas cook until tender, 40-60 minutes. If the water level sinks to the surface of the chickpeas, add more water. If white foam collects on the surface of the water, skim it off with a spoon.
5. When the chickpeas are tender, strain and rinse them and remove any aromatics you added to the pot.
6. Congratulate yourself for cooking chickpeas from dried and marvel in how much better they taste than the canned ones! 

To assemble the salad:
1. Rinse quinoa and place in a small pot with 3/4 cup + 2 Tbsp water. Bring water to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook, covered, for 15 minutes. When the time is up, turn off the heat and let the quinoa sit, covered, for 10 minutes.
2. While the quinoa is cooking, prep your produce. Chop your peaches or nectarines and cucumbers into 1/4" cubes. Quarter your cherry tomatoes, making an X with your knife from the top down. Mince your herbs, if you haven't already.
3.  When your quinoa and chickpeas are ready, add a generous drizzle of olive oil, squeeze of lemon and hefty pinch of salt to each. Toss to coat.
4. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Taste and add more olive oil, lemon and salt as needed.

Marinated Asparagus, Red Onion & Goat Cheese Salad

"To create one's own world takes courage"
                                         -Georgia O'Keeffe

I've been thinking a lot about balance lately. Not so much the typical idea of work/life balance, but balance of a more internal and personal kind. That sweet spot between constantly striving for better and knowing that what you do, make or share—even in its imperfections—is worthy. That space between brash confidence and utter lack of faith in your capabilities or qualifications. That tenderness, compassion and flexibility that yearns to be breathed into your choices when you tell yourself you're "slacking off" on whatever aspirations or regulations you have set for yourself, be it exercise goals or eating goals or personal project goals. That delicate and somehow elusive courage to keep doing, making and sharing even though you know there is still so much space for you to perfect and to learn.

It is both incredible and entirely unsurprising how many beautiful food blogs exist today. And now, with the ubiquity of Instagram as a tool for people to compulsively and publicly share their lives, we can stare at gorgeously prepared and styled photographs of food literally ALL DAY LONG. In ways, this is massively exciting. It is also terribly overwhelming and can spark a dark vortex of self-doubt. The "I'm not ______ enough"s are endless, if you let them be. I speak from experience. Even if you aren't a food blogger or aspiring Instagram superstar, the avenues through which people are now able to carefully curate and share a particular image of their lives are many; with innumerable opportunities for comparison today, it is often hard to trust that what we have to offer is enough. Maybe you can relate.

I am so appreciative of the bloggers who keep their entire history of posts up to view even after achieving massive success, book deals, etc. It's easy to forget (or not realize in the first place) that many of them have been producing work online for YEARS, as far back as 2008 or 2009. If you look at those first posts, they never look like they do now. The lighting, the props, the composition, the image quality—all of these things are skills and resources that take time to acquire. And these bloggers acquired them through their passion, their tenacity, their belief that what they had to share was exciting and worthy even when they had five readers and their posts included sentences like, "Hi, Mom!". They had the courage to create their own worlds, to pursue the activities that made them feel alive, and to share their offerings with the world not because they wanted fame or notoriety but because it was something they felt deeply compelled to do. Everyone, at any given time, is at a different point in the process, the journey, of their life. In this world of excessive sharing and digital connectivity, we should take inspiration from those further along in their journeys than we are and, even amidst comparison and kernels of frustration or doubt, find the courage to keep walking our own.

I've been sitting on this post for awhile. I was excited to have a free morning to shoot it and thought that the early afternoon light would be perfect. As it turned out, the light was harsh, blew out the colors in most of the images and cast drastic shadows from the windowpanes onto every shot I composed. I didn't have the "right" plate ware for the dish (wherever I get my ideas about plate ware from), and the salad took up way too little space on the plate. Some of the images were salvageable, but needless to say, I was bummed. Weeks passed and the images sat idly on my computer. And as I continued to flutter between engagement and disengagement with the other projects and things in my life, I began to think about balance. And worthiness. And the courage to do, make and share things with this world even when I don't think it's my best. To trust that in being gentile with myself, in being authentic, and in continuing to actively show up in this process that is life—in all of its messy imperfections—everything will, in time, fall into place.

______________________________


If you read my first-of-the-season asparagus recipe post, you'll already know that this oft-coveted springtime vegetable was a reeeeeally hard sell for me. Like, 27 years of life hard sell. But eventually, as my taste buds and my psychological aversion to vegetables both evolved, I began to willingly eat these green stalks of goodness. The recipe that was the asparagus turning point for me is actually the one I'm sharing with you here. It was created by one of the chefs at my former place of employment (hey, Mike!), who made this for staff lunch one day. It blew me away, not only because it was delicious, but because it was RAW. Raw asparagus?! Who would ever think to eat such a thing?! As it turned out, I actually like the taste of raw asparagus better than cooked because I find its flavor to be more mild. It also retains more of its vitamins and minerals when consumed raw. Letting it marinate in some acid, like we do here, also helps break down its starches which makes it softer and easier to digest. Win-win!

Asparagus: All the Best Anti-'s

I'm sure it comes as no surprise that asparagus is crazy good for you. While it is not in the cruciferous vegetable family (think cauliflower and cabbage), it contains comparable levels of anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients as these powerhouse vegetables. Its antioxidant profile includes beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, manganese and selenium. Eating a diet rich with anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant foods is essential to ward off some of today's most prominent diseases—type 2 diabetes and heart disease—which develop out of chronic inflammation and oxidative stress in our bodies. Vegetables like asparagus help keep our bodies in balance and these diseases at bay. Food is medicine, y'all! 

Another health-supportive property of asparagus is its incredible B-vitamin content. One of the main responsibilities of B-vitamins is to convert the food we eat (carbohydrates, fats and proteins) into into fuel (glucose), which then gives us energy. Because they play a key role in this metabolization process, they are essential in maintaining healthy levels of blood sugar. Asparagus contains high levels of vitamins B1 B2 and B6, folic acid (B9), niacin (B3), choline and pantothenic acid.*

*Nutritional information from WHFoods and University of Maryland Medical Center.

Marinated Asparagus, Red Onion & Goat Cheese Salad
Serves two
Recipe adapted from Mike de la Torre

Ingredients
1 bunch asparagus
1/2 medium red onion
1 large Meyer lemon (regular is okay too if you can't find a Meyer), zest and juice
3 Tbsp. good quality cold-pressed olive oil
generous pinch of salt
1/4 cup raw almonds
goat cheese, to finish
soft boiled egg (optional)

Directions
1. Slice the onion into very thin half-moons. 
2. In a medium bowl, zest the lemon and then squeeze 1/4 cup's worth of juice into the bowl.
3. Add the onion slices, toss with the lemon juice, add a generous pinch of salt and set aside.
4. Cut off the woody bottom third of the asparagus stalks. Slice the remaining tender part of the stalks on a diagonal into 1/4" thick coins.
5. Add the asparagus to onions and toss to coat.
6. Heat toaster oven to 325°F. Toast the almonds until fragrant, about 10-12 minutes, tossing halfway through. Roughly chop.
7. Add the olive oil to the marinated asparagus and onions, gently mix, and transfer to your serving bowl. Add chopped almonds and your desired amount of goat cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Finish with a soft boiled egg, if desired.

Roasted Cauliflower, Dates & Almonds with Herbed Moroccan Saffron Sauce

It all started with kale: the little leafy green that could. The everyday superfood, the requisite plant that turned your smoothies green, the first (and maybe still only?) vegetable to proudly be printed on t-shirts and tote bags with slogans ("Oh kale yeah!", anyone?). Slowly and then suddenly, it was happening: vegetables were en vogue.

This onslaught of attention towards vegetables has been incredible and inspiring. It seems like one by one, they are each having their moment in the spotlight, being experimented with and touted by restaurants, culinary magazines, and food blogs alike. One of the recent recipients of this star treatment is also one of the least flashy vegetables around and, incidentally, one of my favorites: the humble cauliflower.

Did any of you pick up on the cauliflower 'rice' craze a year or so ago? That was a thing. You finely mince or grate the flowerets until they become suuuuper tiny and then give them a quick sauté for flavor and voilà! It looks and feels like couscous but is actually still cauliflower! Amazing. Seriously. Then there was that moment when everyone seemed to be making cauliflower pizza crust, which I must admit I have not attempted, but can appreciate the ingenuity of. While I love that cauliflower is being transformed and eaten in such creative ways, it first wormed its way into my heart through a much more classic preparation: the simple act of roasting. Tossed with oil and exposed to a shock of high heat, its sugars intensely concentrate and edges crisp. Wholly delectable and wholly itself. 

While roasted cauliflower is indeed delicious on its own, its mild sweet flavor provides an excellent palette for bold spices and sauces. Enter: Herbed Moroccan Saffron Sauce. Oh man. This sauce. Created by my dear friend Briana Ryan, who is a stunning chef and holistic wellness practitioner over at Food By Bri, this sauce literally blew me away the first time I tasted it. Its robust and punchy base, composed of saffron and an insane amount of garlic, is given depth by the addition of warm and smoky spices and tons of fresh herbs. Paired here with toasted almonds for crunch and dates for sweetness, this dish is simple and complex, straightforward enough for a weeknight meal and vibrant enough for a special occasion (truth: it has made an appearance on my Roash Hashanah dinner table for two years and counting). 

Cauliflower: The Little Cruciferous that Could

Cauliflower is a vegetable, so it seems safe to assume that it is at least a little bit good for you. But how good is it, as far as vegetables go?

We often use the color of a food to assess its nutritional value. While white does not typically rank highly on the nutri-o-meter (thanks, potatoes, pasta and cheese!), cauliflower is a stealthily powerful contributor to vibrant health. A member of the cruciferous family (in the good company of broccoli, cabbage, kale, bok choy and brussels sprouts), cauliflower boasts a shocking amount of Vitamin C—73% of our recommended daily value per cup!—and provides a generous amount of fiber. But what is perhaps most exciting about cauliflower is its simultaneous support of three bodily systems that are essential in maintaining baseline health: our detox system; antioxidant system; and inflammatory/anti-inflammatory system.

When any one of these systems is out of balance (which can result from a variety of factors including insufficient nutrition, lack of sleep, stress, exposure to external toxins, etc.), our bodies become susceptible to illness and disease. The chronic and synchronized imbalance of these three systems creates the perfect storm for cancer development. Lucky for us, we can regularly influence their health through the simple and joyful act of eating good food! As cauliflower contributes to the optimal functioning of all of these systems, current research has identified it as a vegetable that directly supports cancer prevention.

Without getting overly technical, let's break this down to develop a little deeper understanding of how this all works. Our detox system is composed of two phases: Phase One, in which the liver uses oxygen and enzymes to burn toxins and render them water soluble; and Phase Two, in which the oxidized toxins are combined with sulfur and amino acids and eliminated from our bodies. Cauliflower contains antioxidants that assist in the Phase One detoxification process as well as sulfur-containing nutrients that boost Phase Two detoxification. Our bodies' antioxidant system, which combats free radicals, is supported by cauliflower's generous amounts of vitamin C and manganese in addition to its wealth of phytonutrients. In the final piece of this triad, cauliflower battles inflammation in the body through its many anti-inflammatory nutrients, including vitamin K, which directly regulates our inflammatory response.* 

I don't know about you, but I was sure surprised to learn that such an unassuming vegetable packs this healthful of a punch. In treating our bodies with loving kindness, it is important to nourish them with these kinds of foods; equally important is preparing these foods in ways that  stimulate our taste buds and generate a joyful eating experience. This dish has brought me all kinds of joy, made and shared over the past couple years with many different people I love. May it do the same for you!

 

*Nutritional information gathered from World's Healthiest Foods; The Leaf Lady; Mercola

Roasted Cauliflower, Dates & Almonds with Herbed Moroccan Saffron Sauce
Serves four as a side

Ingredients

1 cauliflower (large)
1 Tbsp. coconut oil, melted
1/2 cup raw almonds
6 Medjool dates (pits in & relatively firm)

Herbed Moroccan Saffron Sauce* from Food By Bri
6 cloves garlic
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
2 pinches saffron
2 lemons, juice & zest (preferably Meyer, but regular are A-OK too)
2 tsp. smoked paprika
2 tsp. sweet paprika
2 tsp. coriander
1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, minced
1/4 cup cilantro, minced
1/2 cup good quality, cold pressed olive oil

Method
1. Pre-heat oven to 325°F. Spread almonds on a baking sheet and toast until fragrant, 10-12 minutes, tossing halfway through.
2. While the almonds are roasting, break down the cauliflower into medium sized flowerets, leaving the stems intact. Toss with coconut oil and season with salt and pepper.
3. Once the almonds are toasted, remove them from the oven and turn the oven up to 400°F. Roughly chop the almonds and set aside.
4. Spread the cauliflower out on the baking tray, making sure none of the pieces overlap. When the oven has reached 400°F, roast the cauliflower until nicely browned, about 30 minutes, tossing a couple times in between.
5. While the cauliflower is roasting, take the pits out of the dates and chop the dates into 1/4" pieces. Set aside (with almonds is fine).
6. Assemble the sauce: Mince garlic, kosher salt and saffron together until it forms a paste. (Be persistent and patient, this can take awhile.) Combine the paste in a jar with the rest of the prepared sauce ingredients and shake vigorously until emulsified.
7.  Once the cauliflower is ready, gently toss it with the dates and almonds. If you're serving a crowd, pour about 1/3 of the sauce onto the dish and toss it all together, tasting it and adding more if you'd like. If you're plating the dish, drizzle the sauce over the cauliflower on each individual plate (it looks nicer this way).

 

*These quantities make way more sauce than you need for this dish, but I find it's great to have on hand to use throughout the week. I recommend tossing the leftover sauce with grains; spreading it on toast topped with a fried egg; and/or using it as a base for homemade pizza with roasted red pepper, olives and feta. Just some suggestions of things I've tested out that are pretty damn delicious—but get creative!

Spiced Delicata Squash, Lentil & Pomegranate Salad

 

To be playful is not to be trivial or frivolous, or to act as though nothing of consequence will happen. On the contrary, when we are playful with each other we relate as free persons, and the relationship is open to surprise; everything that happens is of consequence. It is, in fact, seriousness that closes itself to consequence, for seriousness is a dread of the unpredictable outcome of open possibility. To be serious is to press for a specified conclusion. To be playful is to allow for possibility. - James Carse


Three and a half years ago, I started playing with food. I didn't see it as play at the time; I simply needed to feed myself and was growing tired of my daily rotation of eggs, fried rice and frozen fake meat (I know, I know. What can I say?). One day, compelled by a force I cannot identify even now, I found myself scrolling through the recipe index of Smitten Kitchen. Skimming past countless dishes that sounded complicated or completely off-putting to my ridiculously picky palate, I eventually came across one that lit my brain neurons ablaze: a salad of spiced squash with lentils and goat cheese. A vegetarian dish with cheese, plant protein and nary a green vegetable in sight?! This I could get on board with.

The following day, I gathered the ingredients and laid them out on the kitchen counter. Had the trusty recipe by my side. Grabbed a knife, centered the butternut squash on the cutting board and…totally froze. How the hell was I supposed to open this thing!? After passing through a brief yet incapacitating moment of bewilderment, I did what any resourceful person who grew up in the digital age would do: ran upstairs to my room, grabbed my computer and typed, "How to cut a butternut squash" into YouTube. Needless to say, this turned out to be a successful research tactic.

While certainly clunky at times, the rest of the process was manageable. I didn't chop my finger off, didn't scorch the squash. I assembled the finished elements together and sat down at the table for the moment of truth. Took my first bite and…OH MAN, WHAT?! It was SO DELICIOUS. I was flabbergasted. Not only that the recipe was supremely tasty, but that I had made it. With real, whole foods and spices. With a knife and an oven and boiling water. Completely from scratch. I couldn't recall a time when I had felt simultaneously so accomplished, surprised, and simply satisfied.

Suffice to say that that was the beginning of it all. The obsession, the learning, and ultimately the play. I buried myself in recipes, spent all my free time in the kitchen, became acquainted with seemingly endless ingredients and techniques. I learned an entirely new language and eventually gained the confidence to experiment freely with those tools myself. 

And so, here we are. Food on the counter, fingers on the keyboard, camera in hand. Just a few more ingredients for possibility and for play.

LET'S TALK LENTILS!
Alright, enough with the story telling. Let's get our knowledge on.

In spite of their compact constitution, lentils are a nutritional powerhouse and help keep balanced many of our bodies' essential functions. Their small size makes them a great legume to cook from scratch because they don't require the overnight soak that many more hefty pulses do (although if it crosses your mind in time, soaking any grain/legume/nut/seed overnight is always great to aid in easier digestion and increased absorption of nutrients). 

Like most legumes, lentils are an excellent source of protein, constituting a whopping 26% of their calories! One cooked cup provides our bodies with 18 grams of protein, less than 1 gram of fat and zero cholesterol—a claim I've never heard any protein-rich animal able to make. Choosing protein sources with these drastically lower amounts of fat and cholesterol mean great things for our heart health and help prevent major diseases, including cancer.

Most of us learn at some point in our young lives that fiber is that thing we should include in our diet to help our bodies eliminate waste regularly. But why is that the case? Structurally, fiber is a complex carbohydrate that our bodies cannot digest. It is divided into two distinct types: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber, which is absorbent, soaks up water and other bodily fluids to create a gel-like substance that grabs bile (which is filled with cholesterol) and shuttles it through our digestive system. Insoluble fiber helps bulk up the waste and keep us regular. The exciting news about lentils is that they contain significant amounts of both! 

While keeping our digestion and elimination flowing smoothly, the soluble fiber in lentils is also significant in that it helps stabilize our blood sugar levels and provides long lasting, slow-burning energy. This energy boost is also aided by lentils' hefty dose of iron, which is a key player in transporting oxygen to all of our bodies' tissues. This consistent flow of oxygen is a huge part of what keeps us alive!*

Suffice to say that while this delicata squash and lentil salad is crazy good for you, you should mostly make it because it's super delicious. Chock full of seasonal produce, fresh herbs and warming spices, it will surely bring a playful twist to your winter table.

 

*Nutritional information culled from The World's Healthiest Foods; SF Gate; and Web MD.

Spiced Delicata Squash, Lentil & Pomegranate Salad
Serves 4-6

Ingredients
Salad
1 cup de puy lentils
1 pomegranate, seeded
1 delicata squash, large
1 Tbsp. coconut oil, melted
1 cup arugula
1/3 cup fresh mint, roughly chopped
sea salt & ground pepper

Dressing
3 Tbsp. cold-pressed olive oil
2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1/2 Tbsp. pure maple syrup
1 tsp. coriander
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/4 tsp. cinnamon

Method
1. Preheat oven to 425°F / 218°C. 
2. Cut the ends off the delicata squash, slice in half length-wise, and scoop out and discard the seeds. Slice the two halves width-wise into 1/4" half moons.
3. In a roasting tray or on a baking sheet, toss the squash with coconut oil and season with sea salt and pepper. Spread the squash out so that each piece is laying flat on the tray and none are overlapping.
4. Place squash in the oven and roast for 15-20 minutes, until the bottom sides are nicely browned. Flip each piece over and cook until the other sides are equally golden, 10-15 minutes.
5. While the squash is roasting, rinse lentils and pick out any stones. Place in a pot and fill with water 2" above the lentils. Bring water to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook until lentils are soft but still toothsome; mushy lentils make for a very sad salad! Taste them after 12 minutes and gauge the remaining cooking time from there.
6.  Once the lentils are cooked, strain out the water and season with salt to taste.
7. Combine all dressing ingredients in a jar and shake vigorously.
8. In a large bowl, combine arugula, pomegranate seeds, mint, and lentils. Toss with the dressing. Gently fold in squash and serve warm.