Roasted Broccolini with Browned Butter Tahini Sauce & Za'atar | On Self-Care in Trying Times

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Goodness, what a week. What weeks. What a lot we have to process. Fires raging throughout California. Evacuations. Homes, community centers, businesses burnt to the ground. Lives taken. Thousands of acres of natural landscape scorched. And the fucking relentless, hate-fueled shootings. The mass shooting at a dance hall in Thousand Oaks, CA. The mass shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. The mass shooting at a yoga studio in Tallahassee. The mass shooting at a supermarket in Jeffersontown, KY. And the continuing chaos in our country’s capitol (in spite of some groundbreaking, historical wins in the House and gaining back the Democratic majority, neither of which should we lose sight of).

So much loss to process. To hold each other in. To hold while figuring out how to continue to find hope of creating a different world.

On top of grappling with the seeming homeostasis of tragedy and tumult that typifies our current reality, we have…the holidays. Not at all to be compared in likeness to the aforementioned traumas; solely acknowledged in this context as a time, in spite of its best intentions, of additional stress. A time rife with social expectations and obligations; extra financial spending; potentially activated triggers around food; potentially activated triggers around family or lack thereof; and on and on.

It’s a lot.

It’s a lot in and of itself. And. It’s especially overwhelming during this time of year when our natural inclination is not actually to be hyper-social, but to turn inwards. With the shorter days, the extension of darkness, winter’s slower, more contemplative energy emerging as we draw nearer to her dawn, the fibers of our being that are energetically tied to the earth are asking us to slow down, too. To rest. To get ready for our winter hibernation, as metaphoric as that may be. I wrote about this energetic shift and what it asks of us around this time last year. The trouble is, what the earth is asking of us now and what society is asking of us now are in rather direct conflict with one another.

Which is why it is paramount—especially at this time—that you give yourself permission to take care of yourself.

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We all process things differently. Some of us recharge and recalibrate by being around and in conversation with other people. Some of us need solitude and quiet spaces to regroup. The array of ways that ‘taking care of myself’ can look are vast and are all entirely valid.

Let yourself have what you need to take care of yourself.

If you don’t already know what the spaces or activities are that help you process, reset and recharge, I invite you to sit in stillness for a handful of minutes, focus your attention on your breath, and see what arises. What ideas, what longings, what images in your mind’s eye. Stillness is essential, for it is in stillness that the intuitive wisdom of our bodies has space to emerge and where our attention has the opportunity to listen.

Maybe taking care of yourself looks like spending half an hour out in nature, by yourself or with someone dear to you. Maybe it looks like a hot bath with Epsom salts and essential oils. Maybe it looks like going to a dance class or a restorative yoga class—engaging in some form of cathartic movement. Maybe it looks like meditating. Maybe it looks like journaling. Whatever you need to slow down and reconnect with yourself is of utmost importance in these trying and demanding times.

And while we’re getting comfortable with the practice of giving ourselves what we need to take care of ourselves, here’s another gentle reminder: You have the right to say no. To invitations. To cooking requests. To eating any food item. To demands of your attention, your presence, your time. Acting in alignment with your bandwidth, your desires and your needs is a huge part of showing up as your authentic self. We so often agree to things out of a desire to please others (or, in the inverse, out of a fear of displeasing others or “falling short”); yet this only breeds resentment and exhaustion within ourselves. Boundaries are an essential aspect of self-care. You can say “no,” still be kind about how you articulate it, and maintain your positive relationships all the while.

As we practice this prioritization of self-care, we will be better equipped to empower others to take care of themselves, too. Better equipped to honor each other’s individual needs—even within these next couple months of heightened obligations and expectations—and especially within these trying times.

Take good care, dear ones. <3.

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Notes about the recipe: For such a simple recipe, this roasted broccolini packs a flavor punch. It makes for a great side dish at holiday meals and can just as well be eaten for lunch on any given weekday. Use whole sesame tahini if you’re able (this is my favorite brand). If you’re unfamiliar with tahini or that there are different types out there, you can read up on the amazing ingredient here! Za’atar is a Middle Eastern spice blend made out of sumac, sesame seeds, thyme and salt. You can totally make your own, or purchase it from a Middle Eastern market or specialty spice shop. I get mine from this local cafe in Berkeley called Bartavelle because it’s the best za’atar I’ve ever had in my life, so. Thanks, Bartavelle! Lastly, this recipe is also absolutely delicious with roasted Brussels sprouts instead of broccolini. I make both on a regular basis. Enjoy!

Roasted Broccolini with Browned Butter Tahini Sauce & Za’atar
Serves two hungry people or four as a side

Ingredients
1 bunch broccolini
1 Tbsp. avocado oil, coconut oil or ghee
2 Tbsp. butter (organic & pastured/grass-fed, if possible)
1/4 cup tahini
1/2 Tbsp. lemon juice, fresh squeezed
small clove of garlic, grated on a microplane
1/2 Tbsp. za’atar
sea salt & pepper

Directions
1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Trim the bottom 1/4” of the stems off the broccolini. Toss in oil (you can rub it with your hands if it’s not melted) and season generously with salt and pepper. Lay on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, spreading out the broccolini so that they aren’t overlapping.
2. Roast broccolini for 6-8 minutes, until browning on the bottom. Flip the stalks over on the tray and roast for another 4-6 minutes, until tender.
3. Meanwhile, make the sauce. Melt the butter in a small saucepan on medium-low heat. Swirl the pot consistently as the butter begins to bubble to prevent it from burning. As soon as the butter turns an amber color and brown flecks begin to develop on the bottom of the pot, remove it from the heat. Pour the butter into a heat-proof jar with a lid, using a spatula to scrape all the browned bits into it too.
4. Add the tahini, lemon juice, grated garlic and a hefty pinch of salt to the jar. Shake vigorously. Taste and adjust lemon and salt as needed.
5. Place roasted broccolini on a serving plate. Pour sauce over the broccolini in whatever way your heart desires. Sprinkle evenly with za’atar. Serve immediately.*

*Note: Because butter is solid when cold, this sauce will become very thick once it cools. If you have any sauce leftover, reheat it before using. Alternatively, add water (1 Tbsp. at a time, so as to not compromise the consistency) and shake vigorously until the sauce reaches the consistency of runny honey.

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!