Rosemary Honey Cashew Butter | An Ode to Homemade, Edible Gifts

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For a brief yet impressing moment in time, I thought about starting a nut butter company. That was certainly one of the biggest curve balls of my life to date: coming out of a year devoted to completing my Masters in Contemporary Art Theory with a desire to become a fancy flavored nut butter entrepreneur.

It made as much sense to me – in context of my life at the time – as it was absolutely crazy. The part that made sense was this: Making nut butter from scratch was one of the most magical endeavors I undertook that year, during which I not only achieved my MA but also taught myself how to cook. Witnessing the nuts transform from solid to liquid astounded me, their natural oils releasing and completely altering their physical composition due to nothing more than an aggressively spinning blade. (Clearly I had no idea how much oil nuts contain.) What's more, it felt empowering. This food product that I had understood comes from a jar at the supermarket much the way an apple comes from the branch of an apple tree, I could make at home?! This meant I could not only control the quality of the nut butter but also the additional ingredients that defined it. The opportunities for creative deliciousness were endless! Maple cinnamon almond butter! Chai spice pecan butter! Or even something sweet and herbal, like...rosemary honey cashew butter.  

The part that was absolutely crazy about my nut butter entrepreneur pipe dream was, well, everything else.

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All of the holiday gifts I gave that year were food related. Educational. Homemade. I wrote out instructions for my parents (on graph paper with a wealth of colored pens) on how to make my favorite Oilve Oil and Maple Granola – customizable and refined sugar-free! – along with a "voucher" for a lesson where we would make it together. I made variety after variety of nut butter, some based on my preferences and some based on theirs. The gifts may have taken a bit more time than purchasing things online, but I could tell that they were deeply appreciated and meaningful. Unique. Imbued with creativity and care. 

The other great thing about gifting nut butter is that, if you are looking to give small gifts to many people, you can make a big batch with no more effort than making a small batch! Just saying.

While my dream of bringing inspired nut butters to foodies everywhere eventually fell by the wayside, I would be remiss to not mention that when I gave my former housemate a taste of this Rosemary Honey Cashew Butter the first time I made it, she literally freaked out and insisted that I start selling it at farmers markets immediately.  Even if you're skeptical and rosemary is not typically your thing, I encourage you to approach this one with an open mind. You may just find yourself surprised.

I hope everyone has a joyful and delicious holiday season – one that is nourishing in every sense of the word. Take time for yourself when you need it. Relish the sweets and listen to your body so you know when you should maybe ease up a little (that's, erm, some advice to myself that I thought maybe some of you may also relate to). Stretch in the mornings. Return to your breath in stressful times. Sink into the beauty of the season, in actions, words and things. Take good care. 

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Rosemary-Honey Cashew Butter
Makes about 1 cup.  Scale up for a larger batch.
Originally published on my 2012 blog, which I am not linking to because looking at it is like looking at your old yearbook photos, but which I am mentioning because, citations. 

Ingredients
2 cups raw cashews
2 tsp. fresh rosemary
2 tsp. raw honey
1/2 tsp. fine sea salt or pink Himalayan salt
1 tsp. cold-pressed sunflower oil, optional (for more runny cashew butter; it is quite thick otherwise)

Directions
1.  Preheat oven to 300°F.
2.  Spread cashews on a baking sheet and roast for 15-20 minutes, until fragrant. Stir a few times during roasting.
3.  Let cool for 5 minutes.
4.  Place cashews in food processor fitted with an S-blade and blend until the nuts turn into a smooth 'butter'. This could take anywhere from 5-15 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
5.  Add rosemary and salt and process for another minute or two.
6.  In a small saucepan, melt honey over low heat until it is completely liquefied – much thinner than its syrupy state. Add to nut butter and process for another minute until fully combined. The nut butter will clump up again; keep the blade running until it returns to its smooth state.
7.  If you prefer your cashew butter even creamier, add the 1 tsp. of a sunflower oil.
8.  Carefully remove blade from food processor. Transfer nut butter to a glass jar with a lid and store in the fridge.

Black Sesame Tahini Banana Bread

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Banana bread is an American staple. A big time comfort food. Un-fussy, un-pretentious and utterly delicious. But also, it’s basically cake.

This banana bread is not basically cake. It’s whole grain, higher in protein than usual (thanks almond flour! thanks tahini!), and has an incredible crumb and depth of flavor from the tahini…which I’m beginning to be convinced should be added to every baked good ever.

I feel very passionately about tahini. Don’t love it? It’s probably because you’re buying tahini that is mechanically ground, which most tahini is these days. This results in a bitter taste—which is not tahini’s inevitable fate! I encourage you to seek out stone ground tahini, which is the traditional processing method. This results in a suuuuper delicious, not at all bitter, eat it straight from the jar tahini. You’ll also want to make sure to get whole sesame (dark) tahini rather than hulled (light) tahini. This is also harder to find, but well worth the search, as it contains much higher nutrient values than tahini made from sesame seeds that have had the hull—the outer shell—removed. THIS IS MY FAVORITE BRAND. (Sorry, emphatic.) If you’re curious to learn more about tahini processing and nutritional values, check out my post here.

I made and photographed this tahini banana bread over Labor Day and took it to two potlucks that weekend…where multiple people from each gathering asked me for the recipe. Just saying. In case you needed any more convincing. :D

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Black Sesame Tahini Banana Bread
Makes one 9"x5" loaf or two mini loaves
Adapted from A Cozy Kitchen

Ingredients
1 cup white whole wheat flour (or spelt or regular whole wheat if you can't find the white varietal)
1/4 cup almond meal
1/4 cup buckwheat flour
2 Tbsp. black sesame seeds (or brown), plus more for sprinkling
3/4 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1/3 cup coconut oil, melted
1/4 cup muscovado sugar (unrefined brown sugar)
1/4 cup raw cane sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 Tbsp. tahini
4 ripe bananas, 3 mashed & 1 sliced lengthwise

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and line a loaf pan with parchment. Set aside.
2. Mix flours, sesame seeds, salt and baking soda in a bowl. Set aside.
3. In a separate medium bowl, mix coconut oil and sugars together until the sugar begins to dissolve. Whisk in egg and vanilla extract until mixture is smooth and thickened.
4. Add tahini and the mashed bananas to the wet ingredients. Stir until thoroughly incorporated.
5. Pour the dry ingredients into the wet. Gently stir together until just combined (it's okay if the batter is a bit lumpy).
6. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan. Sprinkle additional sesame seeds on top, then place the two long slices of banana on top, cut side face up. Push them down into the batter so they settle a bit.
7. Set pan on baking sheet (it's easier to pull out of the oven this way). Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about an hour.

SQIRL's "The Sprouty Pod"

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.

Kabocha Squash & Miso Hummus | On Overhauling Thanksgiving

Maybe it's just me, but I wouldn't bat an eyelash at seeing some roasted squash hummus on a Thanksgiving table (yes, even if it had miso in it). Growing up, my family always made pretty traditional items for Thanksgiving: smashed sweet potato rounds hidden beneath a thick blanket of singed marshmallows; overly soft green beans tossed with store bought, oven refreshed bread crumbs. It was as All-American as All-American gets. The first Thanksgiving I shared with my family after living abroad for two years and falling in love with food, I made this amazing, bold, and very Middle Eastern dish of roasted butternut squash and red onions with tahini, parsley and za'atar for the Thanksgiving table. Some members of our party were skeptics, but the undeniable deliciousness of the dish won them over. (I also, after quite a contentious argument, persuaded my parents to make the stuffing with whole wheat instead of traditional white bread. They may remember differently, but I'm pretty sure no one noticed.)

It's a hard time to be an American, for many people, right now. It's a hard time to celebrate what this country stands for. A hard time to even know what this country stands for anymore. (Though truthfully, we've always been a divided nation, although not always one so blatantly shameful.) It's also, for many, a hard time to feel grateful. The weight of a Trump administration is a frightening and heavy weight to bear.

When I first brought distinctively un-American flavors to the Thanksgiving table it was because, quite frankly, I thought they tasted better. But now that choice is striking me as a subtle political act, too. Not that it needs to be, by any means. I'm just curious about the metaphor that could rest within such a gesture of cultural diversity and inclusivity at a gathering in which we express thanks for our nation, our abundance and independence.

Instagram, food blogs and official food publications have been awash with Thanksgiving related recipes for days, if not weeks. I'm a little late to the game—but hopefully not too late for you to consider including this Kabocha Squash & Miso Hummus as part of your feast (or as a starter before the main event). I made this hummus for the Rosh Hashanah dinner I hosted at the beginning of September—the Jewish new year, another celebratory gathering of family and friends—and literally at least three of the ten people who attended asked me for the recipe. If it doesn't end up making the final cut for this Thanksgiving, that's totally chill. It's hummus, so you are literally justified in making it whenever you want (or whenever winter squash is available).

The cool thing about making things from scratch that you often buy at the store—like beans, salad dressings, or hummus—is that once you know the formula and process, you can get really wild with your flavors and mix-ins. Winter squash, chickpeas and tahini are a no-brainer together; the secret, wow-factor ingredient here is definitely the miso.

Miso: Your New (Probiotic) Secret Weapon Flavor Bomb

Miso, probably most familiar to Westerners in the form of miso soup, is a traditional Japanese paste made when soybeans, barley and/or rice are fermented with a fungus called Aspergillus oryzae. After hanging out with the fungus in a very dark spot for some months or years, miso is born and we get to reap its many benefits. If you hate kimchi (like I do), miso is a great fermented ingredient to incorporate into your diet. (I also encourage you to incorporate it into your diet even if you like kimchi, because it is far more delicious [subjective opinion] and far more versatile [objective fact]). As a probiotic, it helps support digestion and maintain (or enhance) the health of the bacterial flora in your gut—which is super important in our overall health! Additionally, miso has a unique blend of salty, sweet and umami (savory) flavors, which makes it an awesome staple ingredient to add depth of flavor to vegetarian cooking.

Because miso is a probiotic food, it should be stored in the refrigerator and never boiled or heated in the oven—else the live, active cultures, enzymes and nutrients will be decimated. For this same reason, be sure to buy organic, unpasturized miso paste when you shop for it. Miso comes in a variety of flavors or colors depending on its ingredients and the length of its fermentation process. Varieties range from "white" to "dark brown," with the lighter colors leaning towards a more mild, sweet flavor and the darker colors being more salty and pungent (you can get a complete guide here). Because of its lighter flavor, I find the sweet white or yellow miso to be best in recipes where no heat is involved, like dressings and dips.

Kabocha Squash: Butternut's Cooler Cousin

I had never heard of Kabocha squash until I worked at a farm-to-table online grocer two years ago. Once I first learned how to say "kabocha," my mouth could no longer articulate the word "kombucha". (I've since been cured of that particular affliction.) Once I first baked it, my taste buds refused to let me cook butternut anymore. It is somehow just a bit richer, a bit denser, a bit sweeter, and a bit more flavorful, cumulatively creating the most amazing winter squash experience I've ever had. To be fair, it is a pain in the ass to peel and cube. But if you are puréeing a squash for any reason, kabocha is the way to go. (And if for some reason you are unable to find kabocha at the market, you may sub Butternut in this recipe.)

Of Japanese origin, kabocha squash finds common ground with its winter squash kin as one of the most substantial sources of alpha-carotene and beta-carotene in our entire diet. These carotenoids are primary antioxidants, which help fight free-radicals in our bodies and have anti-inflammatory and immune supporting properties.  

Suffice to say that between the protein packed chickpeas, calcium and omega rich tahini, chock-full-of-probiotic miso and carotenoid crazy squash, this is one health supportive dip. I don't know whether it's a good or bad thing that no one will be thinking about how healthy it is when they taste how delicious it is. But hey, both nutritional health and real food flavor are small yet mighty things to be grateful for this Thanksgiving...even when our world feels like it's falling apart.

 

*Sources: SF Gate, My New Roots & WH Foods.

Kabocha Squash & Miso Hummus
Makes enough for a small crowd

Ingredients
Hummus
1 cups cooked chickpeas (from about 1/2 cup dried chickpeas, cooked following this method) (If you don't have time to cook your own, canned are fine. Just rinse them off first!)
2 cups kabocha squash purée, from one large squash
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup tahini, preferably unhulled
1/4 cup sweet white or mellow yellow miso, organic & unpasturized
1/4 cup lemon juice, fresh squeezed (from about 1 large lemon)
1/4 tsp. sea salt
6 Tbsp. ice water
oilve oil, to finish

Maple Sesame & Pepita Sprinkle
2 Tbsp. raw, unhulled sesame seeds (brown or black)
1 Tbsp. raw pepitas
1 tsp. olive oil
2 tsp. pure maple syrup
pinch salt

Directions
Hummus
1. Pre-heat oven to 400F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Carefully cut the kabocha squash in half horizontally. Scoop out and discard the seeds. Smear a dab of coconut oil or ghee along the rim of each side.
3. Place both halves of the squash face down on the baking sheet and bake until tender, about 40-55 minutes. You will know it's ready when the top of the squash has deflated/collapsed in on itself. Once done, remove from the oven and carefully flip upside down to cool.
4. Place cooked chickpeas in a food processor and blitz until they have formed a stiff paste. You may need to stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl a few times.
5. Once the squash is cool, scoop out the flesh and measure out two cups. (If you have any left over, it's great to add to porridge or waffle mix!) Add the two cups of squash to the food processor and blend with the chickpeas until thoroughly combined.
6. Add garlic, tahini, miso, lemon, and salt. Blend until thoroughly combined.
7. With the motor running, slowly stream in the ice water, 1 Tbsp. at a time, stopping after 4 Tbsp. Let the food processor run for about 5 minutes, until the hummus is super smooth and creamy. Taste and assess the consistency and flavor. If you'd like it thinner, add more ice water. Add more salt, lemon and garlic to your taste preference and blend until smooth.
8. To serve, spread in a bowl or on a plate and garnish with quality olive oil and maple, sesame and pepita sprinkle.

Maple, Sesame & Pepita Sprinkle
1. Pre-heat toaster oven or big oven to 350F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Mix together all ingredients.
3. Spread mix in an even layer onto parchment paper. Bake until fragrant and slightly browned, 15-20 minutes.
4. Let cool completely before handling or tasting. It will be very hot straight out of the oven and not completely hardened yet!

Roasted Sweet Potato, Black Bean & Pickled Persimmon Tacos

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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.

Full essay here.

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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.

Bright Beet Hummus with Bee Pollen, Hemp Seeds and Fleur de Sel

I made some hummus. And I put beets in it because who doesn't want to eat food that is beautifully and naturally bright pink?! Also, some may argue that it makes the hummus extra delicious (and undeniably extra nutritious). I originally assembled this hummus for its glamour shots in a bowl with some minced parsley, swirls of olive oil, and the company of crackers and crudités, while snacking on some leftover brioche that I had in the freezer from an earlier project (because photographing food whilst hungry is dangerous business and I do not recommend it to anyone). The styling and shots were mediocre at best. As I glanced over at the leftover toast, the synapses in my brain fused together its playful shape and pallid palette with the fuchsia hue of the hummus, imagining the eye candy taken even further by the addition of bright yellow pellets of bee pollen and greenish white hemp seeds. Suddenly my party appetizer dip turned into a breakfast toast that was visually suggestive of white cake with pink frosting and sprinkles! 

Sometimes it's good to shake things up a bit. Trust your intuition. Sneak vegetables into your breakfast. Make your food look like a party because it engages your creativity, it's a simple pleasure, it makes life more fun. If you don't have bee pollen or hemp seeds, don't sweat it. Sprinkle some other things that you do have onto this toast and see how they taste. Or stick with the classics and eat the hummus with crackers, cucumber sticks, pita, whatever. Either way, you'll still be eating a food that is delicious, super nutritious and bright freakin' pink, so at the very least you can marvel at that!

Bright Beet Hummus with Bee Pollen, Hemp Seeds & Fleur de Sel
Serves 6-8 as a starter, or enough for many mornings of toast

Ingredients
Hummus
1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas (from about 3/4 cups dried chickpeas, cooked following this method)
2 medium beets
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup tahini, preferably unhulled
1/4 cup lemon juice, fresh squeezed (from about 1 large lemon)
1/2 tsp. sea salt
6 Tbsp. ice water

Toppings (get creative!)
Bee pollen
Hemp seeds
Fleur de sel, Maldon or other finishing salt
Parsley
Mint
Toasted walnuts

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Chop stems off beets, scrub thoroughly and wrap beets in tin foil. Place on a baking sheet and roast until they are tender and can easily be pierced with a fork, 45-60 minutes. Carefully flip beet parcel over halfway through the roasting to make sure the bottoms don't burn. Once they're tender, remove from oven, unwrap foil and set aside to cool. (You can do this step a couple days in advance.)
2. Place cooked chickpeas in a food processor (if you're using canned ones, make sure you rinse them off first!) and blitz until they become a stiff paste. You may need to start and stop it a few times to scrape down the sides with a spatula until the desired consistency is reached.
3. Once the beets are cool enough to handle, use your thumbs to push/slide off the skins. Chop them into medium sized cubes.
4. Add beets to food processor and blend until thoroughly combined with the chickpeas.
5. Add tahini, lemon, garlic and salt and blend until combined, stopping to scrape down the sides when necessary.
6. With the motor running, slowly stream in the ice water, 1 Tbsp. at a time, stopping after 4 Tbsp. Let the food processor run for about 5 minutes, until the hummus is super smooth and creamy. Taste and assess the consistency and flavor. If you'd like it thinner, add more ice water. Add more salt, lemon and garlic to your taste preference and blend until smooth.
7. Garnish with whatever fits your fancy and enjoy!

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!

Roasted Pear & Ginger Skillet Crumble

I have a confession to make: I have a massive sweet tooth. I stare, aghast and confused, at people who say they don't like chocolate; will happily drive from the East Bay to SF just to get a Tartine morning bun; and eat potentially dangerous amounts of cookie dough straight from the bowl. Ironically, I am also a mild health nut. I vigilantly read the ingredients on every packaged item I buy; love seeing a spectrum of radiant hues on my plate; and am well educated on the horrors that refined sugar inflicts on our bodies. As you may imagine, it is oftentimes difficult to reconcile these two things. 

I began slowly. When baking, I swapped out portions white flour for whole wheat or spelt in recipes. Used molasses-rich, unrefined muscovado instead of brown sugar; a bit of apple sauce instead of oil. And then I discovered dates: nature's carmel. The one incredible whole food, chock full of fiber and nutrients, that could conceivably pass as candy, could serve as the binder in raw truffles and sweeten oatmeal so well that sugar or maple syrup became superfluous. My palate and cravings shifted and I began to savor the creativity in experimenting with making decadent treats that would also make my body feel good. Full disclosure: this crumble is one of those treats.

Arguably the best thing about this dessert is that it is free of refined sugar, gluten and dairy, yet no one who eats it would ever know. It is a wonderful dessert for these chilly winter months when you're still craving something sweet, warm and comforting while trying to take a break from the indulgence that the holidays inevitably bring. Plus it's perfect for your vegan and gluten-free friends! Everybody wins.

While traditional crumbles build their topping from butter, white flour and refined sugar, this version uses a variety of nuts, spices, and muscovado sugar to create its crunchy, crumbly crust. The nuts provide our bodies with protein, vitamins, minerals and heart-healthy mono-unsaturated fats, which help lower LDL (the "bad") cholesterol levels and increase HDL (the "good") cholesterol in our blood. Muscovado, while certainly still sugar, is an unrefined variety that retains much of the nutritional value of the molasses (which is super high in iron!) that gives it its distinct, rich flavor. I was surprised when I first learned that brown sugar is subjected to the same refinement process and chemical treatment as conventional white sugar—it just has the molasses is added back in after—but c'est vrai

Truth be told, pears were never a fruit that particularly wowed me until I was subjected to the bleak yield of winter produce while living in the UK. In those dark months, they were a most welcome respite from the unending root vegetables and hardy winter greens that filled my local farmers' market stalls. Maybe it was the desperation, but I swear those pears were more succulent than any I had ever tasted. They completely won me over and created the spark for this roasted winter crumble. It's adapted from a recipe by the ever-inspiring Sarah B. of My New Roots, who created hers in the summertime using raw peaches. That's part of what I love about it though: the formula. Swap the peaches for pears in the winter, or figs in the summertime, apples in the fall, apricots in the spring. You really can't go wrong.

Roasted Pear & Ginger Skillet Crumble
Adapted from My New Roots' Peachy Keen Raw Cobbler

Ingredients
Filling
10 pears (I used D'Anjou, but Bartlett, Bosc and Comice would work well too)
1 Tbsp. coconut oil, melted
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 lemon, juice & zest
2" piece ginger root, grated
5 Medjool dates, pitted
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Topping
1/2 cup raw brazil nuts
1/2 cup raw walnuts
1 cup raw pecans
1/4 cup muscovado sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. sea salt

Method
1. Preheat oven to 350°F/177°C. Cut pears into 1/2" cubes.
2. In a roasting pan, toss pears with coconut oil and cinnamon. Roast until soft, about 30 minutes, mixing halfway though.
3. Meanwhile, pulse all topping ingredients in a food processor until roughly crumbly (not nearly as fine as sand). Pour out and set aside.
4. Once pears have roasted, put 1 cup of of the pears in the food processor along with the lemon juice and zest, grated ginger root, dates and vanilla extract. Blend until it is completely puréed. 
5. Place the remaining roasted pears In a well oiled cast iron skillet (or a pie or cake pan if you don't have one). Pour the filling purée over the pears and gently mix them together. Smooth the filling flat and sprinkle the nut crumble evenly on top.
6. Return to oven and cook until nuts are toasty, 10-12 minutes.
7. Enjoy warm. Top off with ice cream if desired!

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.