Thursday, February 28, 2013

Raw Superfood and Seed Energy Bars

I have a treat for you today, dear readers. These raw superfood energy bars are sure to make your body sing with happiness. They are packed with some pretty darn healthy ingredients and I'm here to highlight some of those right now. Ready for it?
Pumpkin Seeds- Pumpkin seeds are an incredible source of iron and are an excellent source of  essential fatty acids that promote good prostaglandin production. They are also super high in zinc and are used as a popular nutritional treatment for prostate problems.

Sesame Seeds- Sesame seeds are one of the highest plant-based sources of calcium and iron. They contain both essential and non-essential amino acids.

Chia Seeds- Chia seeds were once used by Aztec warriors as an energy booster and are an incredible source of plant-based omega 3 fatty acids and protein. The are also a great source of soluble fiber, which makes them promote a clean digestive tract and regular bowel movements. Awesome!

Bee Pollen- A true superfood, bee pollen contains all of the essential components of life and is a complete protein. It is considered an energy and nutritive tonic in Chinese medicine. Cultures throughout the world use it in a number of applications, including extending longevity, improving endurance and vitality, aiding recovery from chronic illness, and antibiotic treatments.
Raw Cacao Powder-Unlike processed dark chocolate, the antioxidants in raw chocolate are completely preserved. Out of all the foods that contain antioxidants, raw cacao is the highest in the world. It dwarfs the popular foods and beverages commonly touted as being antioxidant-rich, such as red wine, green tea, and blueberries by a factor of 10x or more! It is also the highest food source of magnesium.

Unrefined Coconut Oil- Unrefined raw coconut oil is one of the best fats you can consume. It's a saturated fat that is so nourishing to every cell in your body and even has powerful anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal properties.

Medjool Dates- These delicious fruits are beyond perfect in every way. They're an incredible source of potassium and are loaded with dietary fiber. Dates are natural energy boosters and they can be used in many treats to replace refined sugar. Might I add that they taste like caramel. I love dates!
Isn't it amazing that food can be so powerful and healing? It's like medicine with superpowers! Next time I make these, I'm going to add even more superfoods to the mix...maybe some goji berries, hemp seeds, and maca powder to make these bars out of this world.
Raw Superfood and Seed Energy Bars (adapted from this great recipe at Green Kitchen Stories)
Makes around 16 bars 

Dry ingredients
1 cup  pumpkin seeds
1 cup dried shredded coconut
1/2 cup  sesame seeds
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
4 tbs chia seeds
2 tbsp bee pollen (optional)

Wet ingredients
20 fresh medjool dates, pitted
6 tbsp coconut oil, room temperature
4 tbsp raw cacao powder
1 whole vanilla bean, cut into pieces (including the pod) or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Add after blending
6 tbsp rolled oats
2 tbsp poppy seeds

1. In a food processor or high speed blender, pulse the dry ingredients quickly. Do not over-process, you want it a little crunchy. Place the mixture in a bowl and set aside. Add half of the dates and the rest of the wet ingredients to the food processor. Run the processor for 30 seconds, then add the rest of the dates one at a time while the machine is running until the mixture is smooth. You might have to help out by stirring around a few times with a fork or add a dash of water.

2. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients, add oats and poppy seeds and stir until well combined (I used my hands to really get the mixture well combined!). Press the mixture evenly into a 11 x 7-inch  baking dish, make sure it becomes quite compact. Place in the fridge for about 30 minutes. Cut into bars. Wrap them in paper and store in an air-tight container. Will keep around a week in the fridge.

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Monday, February 25, 2013

Vegetarian French Onion Soup with Dijon Gruyere Croutons

Sometimes, you just need some comfort food. Anyone with me on this one? It has been one of those weeks. Remember that strange feeling of "not belonging" that I wrote about not too long ago? Yeah, I'm still feeling it. So I realized that I needed something that would warm my insides and make me happier. And there's nothing happier than some French onion soup with some cheesy goodness on top.

I decided to spend my precious day off from work today in the kitchen making this here soup. So surprising, right? Let's just say I spent the afternoon crying. Ok, I'm not that depressed people, it's just that when you have to peel and slice practically a whole bag of onions to make this soup, you just can't avoid shedding some tears. But all that crying was worth it.

You'll notice in the recipe below that I use a homemade vegetable stock. I haven't bought a box of packaged vegetable broth in years. I have practically eliminated all packaged items from my kitchen, and that includes those boxes of vegetable broth. I've been playing around recently with making different variations of vegetable stocks using everything from mushrooms to winter squash and the results have been great. The all-purpose stock recipe that I used in this soup is extremely simple and straightforward. I bet you probably have all of the ingredients in your kitchen right now. If you are going to use packaged broth, be sure it's organic and doesn't have any questionable ingredients in it.
I understand that a bowl of soup of the French Onion variety typically has lots of ooey gooey melted cheese bubbling over the sides of the bowl. And when times are tough, there's nothing wrong with that. But these croutons I tell ya, they're good. You see, my husband is not a fan of ooey gooey cheesy things, so I had to compromise on this one and skimp on the cheese. And honestly, the croutons were awesome, so I wasn't disappointed in the slightest.

Vegetarian French Onion Soup with Dijon Gruyere Croutons (serves two generously)

For the Soup:
8 yellow onions, thinly sliced
5 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons butter (or olive oil if you want the soup to be vegan)
3 bay leaves
5 sprigs of fresh thyme
1/2 tsp sea salt
3/4 cup dry sherry wine
2 tablespoons dijon mustard
3 cups vegetable broth (preferably homemade, see recipe below)

1. In a large pot over medium heat, add butter (or olive oil), onions, garlic, bay leaves, thyme, and sea salt. Stir to combine and when onions start to soften, lower the heat. Let the onions slowly cook, stirring occasionally, about one hour until they are caramelized and brown and melt-in-your-mouth delicious. Remove the thyme sprigs and the bay leaves.

2. Add the sherry to the pot and cook another 10 minutes. Then add the dijon mustard and vegetable broth. Stir and let simmer another 10 minutes. Taste and add salt if you think it needs it. Ladle into bowls and top with croutons.

For the Croutons:
2-3 large slices rustic whole grain bread, cut into 1" cubes
2 tablespoons olive oil
2-3 tablespoons dijon mustard
pinch of sea salt
1/4 cup finely grated Gruyere or Swiss cheese (optional if you want to keep the soup vegan)

1. Preheat oven to 350. In a bowl, combine all of the ingredients and toss to coat the bread cubes. Lay the bread cubes on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes until the croutons are golden brown and sizzling. Remove from the oven and top the bowls of soup with croutons and an extra sprinkling of cheese.

Quick and Easy Homemade Vegetable Stock (makes 4-5 cups of stock)
3 large carrots, cut into 1" pieces
1 large onion, cubed
3 stalks celery, cut into 1" pieces
6 cloves garlic, each peeled and cut in half
2 bay leaves
fresh or dried herbs of your choice (I like parsley, rosemary, and thyme)

In a pot, add all of the ingredients and cover with 6 cups water. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Let simmer uncovered for one hour or more. Strain through a fine mesh strainer before using.

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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Super Delicious Homemade Kimchi

I am a self-proclaimed kimchi addict. The first time I ever tried it was at my favorite sushi restaurant in New York rolled up into a nori roll. The kimchi was made by the restaurant owner's wife, who was the sweetest Korean lady. The moment I tried her kimchi, it was love at first bite. I would have weekly cravings for her kimchi rolls and every time I ate one, I was totally blissed out. And to be honest, I've tried lots of kimchi since then, and none even come close to the flavor of hers. But put some kimchi, any kimchi, in front of me, and I'll still eat it all up in no time.
So what is a kimchi addict supposed to do when they end up spending seven dollars a jar on the stuff, only to have it disappear within a few short days? Make lots of homemade kimchi, of course! It's actually incredibly easy to make and is so much cheaper than buying it. And you get to have total control when it comes to ingredients.

I understand that some of you have no clue what kimchi is. Or maybe you do, and I'm just underestimating your intelligence. But it was a fairly new condiment to me up until 2 years ago when I tried those beloved kimchi rolls at the sushi restaurant. Anyway, kimchi is a traditional Korean condiment made with little more than Napa cabbage, some vegetables (even fruit!) of your choice, ginger and garlic, and spicy red pepper. These ingredients are all mixed together with some sea salt and fish sauce (or you can omit the fish to make vegan kimchi, which is still delicious) and packed into jars to ferment. Yes people, I said ferment. Yup, you leave the jars out on your countertop for about a week and the salty vegetables soon turn into a tangy, spicy, irresistable condiment teaming with beneficial bacteria.
Why are fermented foods, like kimchi, so freaking good for you? Well, like I said above, they're filled with beneficial bacteria that do miracles for your digestive health, and overall health, really. Probiotics (good bacteria found in fermented foods) are responsible for promoting regular bowel movements, strengthening the immune system, normalizing skin conditions, reducing cholesterol, maintaining bone health, and managing blood sugar levels. Also, the vitamin content of the raw fermented vegetables is actually increased the longer they ferment. By eating fermented foods, you're basically getting what you would get in a probiotic supplement, but in a food form, which is always better, in my opinion. Some other whole food sources of probiotics include lacto-fermented sourkraut and pickles, miso, yogurt, kombucha, kefir, and lots more!

Be sure to check out two great books all about fermentation, 'Wild Fermentation' and 'The Art of Fermentation', both by Sandor Ellix Katz. And, there are lots of fabulous food blogs and articles out there with incredible fermented food recipes, so just do some googling and you're on your way!

1 large head Napa cabbage, cut into bite sized pieces
2 baby bok choy, cut into bite sized pieces
3 large carrots, grated
1 daikon radish, julienned
1/2 of an onion, thinly sliced
1 apple, grated
5 scallions, cut into 1" pieces
7 cloves garlic, peeled
3" piece of ginger, peeled and cut into pieces
1/4 to 1/3 cup crushed red chili flakes, depending on how much heat you like
1/4 cup fish sauce (optional if you want to make it vegan)
1/4 cup unrefined sea salt

1. In a very large bowl, add the Napa cabbage, bok choy, carrots, daikon radish, apple, scallions, and onion.

2. Add the garlic, ginger, and red chili  to a food processor. Process until it forms a paste. Add this paste to your big bowl of vegetables.

3. Add salt and fish sauce to the bowl and massage everything with your (clean!) hands for 4-5 minutes until the vegetables start to break down and there is liquid forming at the bottom of the bowl.

4. Transfer the kimchee to one very large clean jar (or a couple of clean smaller jars), making sure to pack the vegetables in firmly, submerging them in brine. Make sure to leave at least 1 inch of free space at the top of the jars before securing the lids.

5. Leave the jars out on your countertop or in your pantry for a few days, periodically unscrewing the lids slightly to let out carbon dioxide. Also, I made sure to push the vegetables down under the brine with a clean fork every other day. After 3 days, you may begin to taste your kimchi. I liked the way mine tasted after 7 days, but feel free to let it go longer to get it really sour. When it is good and tangy to your liking, transfer the jars to the refrigerator where the kimchi can keep for months.

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Monday, February 4, 2013

Za'atar Spiced Kale and Squash Salad

You know you've created something special when you've eaten the same thing for dinner three nights in a row and still haven't gotten tired of it. Yeah, that's this kale salad alright. It's that delicious, my friends. It's pretty, too.
It's no secret that I'm a huge winter squash and sweet potato fan. If you take a look at many of the recipes on the blog, you're bound to find those vegetables in one way or another. So you can imagine my delight when I discovered these adorable little squashes at the local farmers market. They're called Golden Nugget Squashes and they're just perfect because they're so sweet and you don't even have to peel them. And they're tiny, meaning that I don't have to wrestle with a four pound squash trying to cut it open without chopping a finger off.
But you want to know the real kicker in this recipe that gives it mega flavor? It's called za'atar and it is your new best friend, even if you've never tried it before. Trust me. Za'atar is a Middle Eastern spice blend commonly made up of sumac, thyme, sesame seeds, oregano, and salt. The sumac in the blend gives it this tangy, citrusy flavor that's just incredible. You can buy za'atar spice blend in stores that have  a good spice and herb section, or you can make the blend yourself. Sarah and Heidi have recipes on their blogs that are a good starting point. I bought my particular blend and I'm very pleased, but when it runs out, (which will no doubt will be in a couple days because I'm putting it on everything) I'm going to try to make it myself.
Sprinkle za'atar on a halved avocado as a killer snack, or on a poached egg, or on a freshly made batch of hummus. Add it to a fresh tabbouli salad. I've even seen it stirred into plain yogurt. Seriously, it's probably good in or on everything.
 I'll stop ranting about this salad soon, I promise. But one more thing. If you look below at the recipe, you'll see that I tell you to massage the raw kale to tenderize it. And I mean just that. Take both your  (clean!) hands into that bowl of kale, lemon juice, olive oil, and salt, and show it some love! You'll be amazed at how the kale just wilts and tenderizes as if it was cooked. So I recommend if you want to incorporate raw kale into you diet (which you most definitely should!), but aren't a fan of its fibrous texture, just give it a massage.

Za'atar Spiced Kale and Squash Salad

3 small golden nugget squashes or 3 small sweet potatoes (I've used both with great success),  unpeeled and cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes
1 onion, peeled, halved, and very thinly sliced
3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
olive oil
sea salt
1 bunch kale, de-stemmed and cut into thin ribbons
juice of half a lemon (about 2-3 tablespoons juice)
1/2 bunch of cilantro, roughly chopped
1/3 cup pumpkin seeds, lightly toasted in a hot skillet until they start to pop
2 1/2 tablespoons za'atar spice blend, or more to taste

1. Preheat oven to 375. In a mixing bowl, combine the cubed squash, sliced onion, chopped garlic, a large pinch of salt, and 3 tablespoons olive oil. Toss well to coat the vegetables with olive oil. Pour them onto a large parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes, toss, and bake for another 20 minutes, or until the squash is tender and the onions have started to caramelize.

2. While the squash is baking in the oven, combine the kale, lemon juice, a pinch of salt, and a tablespoon of olive oil in the same mixing bowl you used for the squash. Massage the kale with clean hands, until it starts to wilt and tenderize, about 1-2 minutes. Add the chopped cilantro and pumpkin seeds. Set aside

3. After removing the squash from the oven, add zatar to the still hot squash cubes and toss gently to coat them in spice. Let cool for 5 minutes, then add everything to the bowl of kale. Toss gently to combine everything. Taste to see if it needs more salt or more za'atar and serve.

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Sunday, February 3, 2013

Vegan Pho Noodle Bowl

People weren’t kidding when they told me that Seattle is a rainy city. In the winter, the skies are gray and misty almost everyday. It’s damp and cold and pretty miserable. I find myself drinking lots of tea to get by.  Aside from its rainy reputation, Seattle is also known for its amazing Asian food, especially Vietnamese. One really popular Vietnamese meal is a noodle dish called ‘pho’, pronounced as if you’re starting to say the bad f-word and leave off the “ck”. There are Vietnamese restaurants  advertising pho all over the place here, literally on every street! Traditionally pho is made with beef broth, but I’ve seen a lot of vegetarian versions here (Seattle is really veg-friendly). On a cloudy, cold day a few weeks ago, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try a steaming bowl of vegetable pho. And holy crap, it was delicious. It is the perfect thing to eat on a rainy day.
I was super excited to make my own version of pho, and it did not disappoint. The smell of the simmering broth on the stove filled my entire apartment with its warm, inviting smell.  I used a bunch of warming spices that release a subtle flavor to make a delicious, savory broth. The star anise and ginger are classic additions to pho broth and all the others are an integral part in making this broth fantastic. You don’t need the beef to get that savory taste. Nope, not at all.
The vegetables are vibrant and the garnishes! Oh the garnishes! Let’s just say that Thai basil is freaking delicious.  Don’t skimp on the basil or cilantro. In addition to adding tons of nutrients, they also add so much flavor a make the soup taste so fresh.

Vegetable Pho (makes 2 very large bowls or 4 smaller bowls)

2 large onions, peeled and roughly chopped
5 crimini, shiitake, or button mushrooms, sliced
7 cloves of garlic, each clove sliced in half
1 3” piece of ginger, sliced
1 ½ tablespoons fennel seeds
4 cardamom pods
4 star anise
7 whole cloves
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 cinnamon stick
2 tsp coriander seeds
1 Tbs sea salt
7 cups water

1.  Put all of the broth ingredients (spices, onions, mushrooms, ginger, garlic and water ) in a pot. Bring to a boil and let simmer one hour or more with the lid on.
2. Strain broth through a mesh strainer into another pot and set aside. Discard the solids.

Noodle Bowl Add-Ins:
Rice noodles
Broccoli, cut into tiny florets
Carrots, thinly sliced
Baby bok choy (or baby spinach), roughly chopped
Snow peas, sliced

Thai basil, cilantro, mung bean sprouts, lime, scallions, tamari, sriracha

1. Cook rice noodles according to package directions. Strain them and divide them between the bowls you will be eating from.
2. Add your vegetable add-ins to the hot pot of broth.  Heat very gently on the stove just until the the broccoli turns bright green and the bok choy (or spinach) wilts.
3. Ladle the broth and vegetables into the bowls of cooked rice noodles. Garnish with lots of Thai basil, cilantro, mung bean sprouts, scallions, lime juice, tamari, and sriracha. Enjoy.

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