Spring Green Veggie & Herb Lettuce Cups

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Super simple and fresh, this is essentially a handheld salad that celebrates the early bounties of spring.

I opted to stick with lemon and olive oil for the dressing to let the brightness of the vegetables shine through; if you’re keen to douse the lettuce cups in tahini or have a green goddess or other dressing that you like, definitely do!

Great as a side dish, these lettuce cups can easily become a full meal by mixing in some flaked salmon, chickpeas or other protein of choice. Happy spring!

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Spring Green Veggie & Herb Lettuce Cups
Makes 4 lettuce cups

Ingredients
1/2 bunch asparagus
1/2 lb English peas (in their pod)
1 Meyer lemon
2 Tbsp. pine nuts
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/4 cup mixed herbs (mint, dill, chives, parsley, chervil are some nice options), roughly chopped
1 avocado, sliced
a few handfuls alfalfa sprouts
4 large butter lettuce leaves
salt & pepper

Directions
1. Cut off the bottom woody ends off the asparagus (1”-2” up from the bottom) and discard. Cut each asparagus stalk into 1/4” slivers at an angle and put into a medium sized bowl.
2. Zest the lemon and set zest aside. Squeeze the juice from the entire lemon over the asparagus. Add a couple pinches of salt, toss and set aside.
3. De-pod the English peas, adding the peas to the bowl with the asparagus as you go. Mix the two together.
4. In a small pan, toast the pine nuts over medium-low heat until golden brown, 5-7 minutes, stirring or tossing frequently. Once they’re golden, transfer immediately to a cutting board so they don’t burn. Roughly chop.
5. Add the olive oil, lemon zest, 3 Tbsp. of the chopped herbs and a few grinds of black pepper to the asparagus and peas. Stir to combine. Taste and adjust salt and pepper as needed.
6. Assemble the lettuce cups: In each butter lettuce leaf, place a layer of alfalfa sprouts, slices from 1/4 the avocado, and a couple spoonfuls of the asparagus and pea mixture (and its lemon-oil-herb dressing). Finish off with a few pinches of chopped pine nuts and the remaining fresh herbs.

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!

Rye Berry, Blood Orange, Pistachio & Herb Salad

Over time, 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.

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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.

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.

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.

Summer Stone Fruit, Cherry Tomato & Chickpea Tabbouleh

Tabbouleh 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. I put a very unorthodox spin on this tabbouleh, harnessing on the bounties of summer and tossing in some California flair. Peaches because they're fragrant and delicious; black chickpeas because, hello, BLACK CHICKPEAS!?! and because I'm a fan of fiber and plant protein; and quinoa instead of bulgur because it's gluten-free, so more bellies can enjoy it. It’s a total party in a bowl of bright, sweet, juicy, and fresh flavors and textures. Summer incarnate. Enjoy!

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

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.

Asparagus, Caper & Toasted Almond Tartine

Living in California, the seasonal transitions are almost marked more by the rotations of produce that adorn farmers' market stalls than by drastic shifts in weather. Each season has its show stoppers, the fruits or vegetables that define a particular time of year. For springtime, it's asparagus. (Okay, and green garlic and probably a few other things, but asparagus is definitely high up on that list.) Some people probably wait all winter long to see those lean, green stalks appear at the market. No offense, but these people seem absolutely nuts to me.

Let's be real: asparagus is a challenging vegetable. It is potent (some may argue pungent) in flavor and scent. I hated it until, um, last year. I still don't love it. But! I have been introduced to methods of preparing asparagus that compliment or mellow its taste in ways that make it palatable if not even, dare I say it, delicious. The most recent method—which was so good that it is now the subject of this post—came by way of my boyfriend, who (conveniently for me) is a pretty spectacular cook. I was decidedly disinterested the evening he excitedly proclaimed he had bought a bunch of asparagus and I remained so when he later departed to the kitchen to turn it into a "snack". Twenty minutes later, drawn to the kitchen by the sweet smell of toasty almonds and browning butter, I found my anti-asparagus resolve melting away. I leaned towards his plate to examine its contents, was offered a bite, and succumbed. I was immediately dumbfounded. Staring at T in disbelief, I demanded to know what he put in that thing to make the asparagus taste so delicious. And then I ate half the food on his plate.

I knew immediately that I needed to share his divine and startlingly simple concoction with you. At the start of spring, so you can make it for yourself and then for your friends and then for your family and then for yourself again, all before the season ends. So, what are we waiting for?

Springtime Asparagus Tartine
Makes four generous tartines

Ingredients
1 bunch asparagus (preferably skinny stalks)
1 Tbsp. ghee or butter (sub cold-pressed olive oil if you're vegan)
1/2 Tbsp. dry white wine (or juice from half a lemon)
1/4 cup raw almonds
2 Tbsp. capers (preferably salt preserved), rinsed
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, minced
2 large slices of fresh, crusty Boule (whole grain blend & sourdough are great), cut in half
salt & pepper, to taste

Method
1. Heat oven or toaster 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, prep asparagus. Cut the woody bottom third off all the stalks and discard. Cut the remaining stalks into 1 1/2" segments.
3. When the almonds are toasted, remove from the oven and roughly chop. Set aside.
4. Heat the butter or ghee in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. When hot, toss in asparagus, reduce heat to medium low, and sauté, gently stirring, until the spears start to become tender and acquire a bit of color, about 5 minutes.
5. While the asparagus is cooking, brush your bread slices with a bit of olive oil and toast them (or char them on a grill if that's accessible!).
5. Add a generous pinch of salt and some fresh ground pepper to the asparagus and stir.
6. Add your glug of white wine or squeeze of lemon juice to deglaze the pan. When stirred, it should emulsify with the oil and create a sauce-like glaze over the asparagus. Taste for doneness; you want the asparagus to be cooked but still have a bit of crunch to it.
7. Remove the pan from the heat. Toss in the capers, minced parsley and chopped almonds. Toss to combine.
8. Pile the asparagus mixture high onto each slice of toast. Enjoy immediately.

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.