Sassafras Eats

Healthy food, happy life.

Feeling Creative + Quinoa, Mixed Greens, Candied Pecans, Rhubarb and Pear

Despite having been involved in the arts since age 5, when my (then) piano teacher mother made me one of her students, I can’t say that I’ve ever felt like an inherently creative person. And by that, I suppose I mean that I have never excelled at creative endeavors in the physical sense. If it requires me to physically interact with it, to make my hands and brain work as one to produce something tangible… I am likely to lose patience, resulting in a final outcome that is discarded, or passable at best. Please note the DIY projects left languishing in closets, the many lop-sided scarves I’ve tried to crochet and my position as the 11th chair trumpet (of 12) in 5th grade band as examples.

I think that’s the thing that has surprised me so much about falling in love with cooking. No matter what kind of mood I’m in when I get home, no matter how exhausting the idea of preparing a meal may be, I cannot think of a time in the past year where getting to work in the kitchen and taking the time to make something hasn’t made me feel so much better than before I started. While I love cooking with people, cooking is also the first time I’ve ever embraced a physical, creative activity and truly enjoyed it as a solo endeavor. Nights like tonight, where previously, I might have felt a bit anxious about going home when the sun was still up, with a pile of work to do when I’d much rather just be out and social with people, come alive when I get into the kitchen and begin crafting dinner. I believe everyone should treat themselves often, whatever that means to you individually. And I, personally, feel treated every day. At my own hand, no less. Which is pretty great.

Yesterday I knew exactly what I was going to make tonight for dinner. Until midway through today when that didn’t sound good at all any more. So I took those ingredients and came up with something completely different. And while it may not seem very creative, I’ve never candied pecans before, and this is only the second time I’ve cooked with rhubarb. Simplicity used to freak me out. I equated it with boring, lacking. But now, I think simplicity is where I really thrive.

We’re in the middle of a heat wave here in New York, so this is a perfect summer dinner, yet still packed with enough protein and rich superfood nutrients to keep you satisfied and happy. It also goes exceedingly well with a glass of prosecco.

Recipe: Quinoa and Mixed Greens Salad with Rhubarb, Candied Pecans and Pear

Serves: 2

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

2 stalks rhubarb, chopped

3/4 cup pecans

1 cup dry quinoa

1/2 of a pear, sliced or diced

1 tbsp Sucranat (raw maple syrup or agave would also work well here)

1 tbsp + 1 tsp coconut oil, divided

8 big handfuls of mixed greens, chopped

salt and pepper to taste

Fig-infused white balsamic vinegar for drizzing (or your favorite dressing. I still have yet to find a favorite recipe for a creamy, vegan dressing, but it did strike me while eating that a creamy dressing would be delicious with this salad.)

Directions

Cook the quinoa according to the package directions. Always 2 parts water to 1 part quinoa. This will take about 20-25 minutes to cook.

Wash your lettuce thoroughly, towel off, and chop. Plate and set aside.

Toast your pecans in a heated frying pan to roast them up a bit. Add in 1 tbsp coconut oil and the Sucranat. Stir, stir, stir and keep stirring so it doesn’t burn. 3-5 minutes after adding the oil and Sucranat, turn off the heat, and places the pecans on parchment or a paper towel to cool off.

Yes, that's a Dr. Who salt shaker in the background.

Yes, that’s a Dr. Who salt shaker in the background.

Toss the chopped rhubarb in another frying pan (or the same, if you feel like caramelizing it a bit) with the tsp of coconut oil and saute for about 3 minutes. Rhubarb cooks really, really quickly, so if you don’t want it to get mushy, keep an eye on it and take it off the heat as soon as it’s cooked through. I overcooked mine a bit. While it’s still good, I am looking forward to the day when I don’t murder it dead with too much heat.

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Slice or dice the pear, however suits your fancy. Once the quinoa is cooked, layer as much as you’d like over the lettuce, top with the rhubarb and pecans and garnish with the pear. Drizzle fig-infused balsamic over the top, and enjoy!

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Also, I stopped by the garden tonight to check in on our veggies, and caught this little ladybug next to our cherry tomatoes. How sweet!

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Pineapple Ginger Stir-fry with Snow Peas, Cabbage and Zucchini

I love ginger. It is one of my favorite healing foods, and between juicing and ginger tea, I get a healthy dose of this spicy root every day. This week hadn’t been a huge cooking week for me – I was headed out of town to Chicago (where I am writing this now) to visit friends and family, so it was more about cleaning up shop and eating things I didn’t want left behind in my fridge.

We got an awesome CSA haul this week (I’m trying to get better about photo-documenting everything, but as you can see from a steady stream of iPhone photos, photography is not my strongest suit. One step at a time, though.) and I was excited to create something inspired by all my new produce: snap peas, zucchini, swiss chard, two huge heads of lettuce, cilantro, strawberries, rhubarb, mixed greens, 1/2 dozen eggs and lavender (which was put in a vase and not in the fridge – another thing I should have photographed.) So I decided to make a stir-fry with a tamari (gluten-free soy sauce) and ginger sauce. The pineapple adds a delicious sweetness to this dish, which cuts wonderfully against the acidity of the tamari and the spiciness of the ginger. Because the vegetables are all quite crunchy, the soft, slightly meaty pineapple provides a nice textural contrast as well. If a dish is too one-sided it throws off the equilibrium, and you may finish something divine only to end up trying to satiate a textural craving in another way (like when I eat a meal that doesn’t have enough crunch, and I wind up craving a handful of chips. How elegant.) I ended up serving mine over quinoa, rather than brown rice, because I wanted the extra nutritional boost. That’s the beauty of a stir-fry though – like chili – it can really be adapted to suit whatever taste you’re in the mood for. This would be delicious over quinoa pasta, farro, spelt, groats, lentils – pick your nutritional poison and go to town.

Recipe: Pineapple Ginger Stir-fry with Snow Peas, Cabbage and Zucchini

Serves: 1-2

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 15 minutes

Ingredients

3 inch hunk of ginger, peeled and diced (I am a ginger freak though. This is a lot of ginger, feel free to start with 1 or 2 inches and increase to suit your taste.)

3 cloves garlic, diced

1/4 cup tamari

1/4 cup water

1/4 cup vegetable stock (Pacific’s veggie pho soup base would be amazing here – it’s my new favorite veggie stock, although I got really inspired to start making my own after reading this post about freezing all your veggie clippings for to save for stock-making.)

1/2 cup pineapple, cut into 1/2 inch hunks

1 cup snow peas

1 huge hunk of cabbage, loosely chopped

1 zucchini, chopped

1 cup cooked quinoa

For the sauce:

I really want to start making miso-based sauces for Asian-inspired dishes, but here I was aiming to utilize items I already had in my cabinet. This makes quite a bit of sauce, but I put some aside so I can make this again later on in the week. Put the diced ginger and garlic in a bowl with the tamari, water and veggie stock. Mix well. Make the sauce first so the ginger flavor has adequate time to develop.

For the stir-fry:

First, make the quinoa according to the package directions. 2 cups water per 1 cup quinoa, always. This takes about 15-20 minutes depending on how much you’re making. I was waiting for a very handsome delivery man to bring the CSA veggies home, so I made mine about 45 minutes before I started cooking and just kept it on the stove in the pan. The veggies will heat it back up, so don’t worry about trying to keep the quinoa hot. I also used spoonfuls of it to continually test the sauce…you know, just to make sure it was still good.

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I’m trying to find ways to use a little less oil in my cooking, which is why this recipe is oil-free. Put a bit of the sauce in a pan with all the veggies (and pineapple) to start them frying. Spoon out the ginger and garlic that’s sunk to the bottom of the bowl and toss that into the pan so that it gets fried up with the vegetables. I removed about half of the ginger and garlic from the original mixture. After 5 minutes or so, start adding a bit more sauce in to the pan. I like things very saucy, so that there’s extra juice to soak into the grain. Once there is enough sauce in the pan so the vegetables won’t burn, turn the heat down a bit and let them marinate in all the gingery goodness. I prefer my veggies cooked well, but still a bit crispy. Once they’re cooked through, take them off the heat. Put however much quinoa you’d like in a bowl, and layer on the veggies. I topped my bowl off with a bit more sauce for good measure. For an extra boost of ginger, I paired this with a ginger, cabbage, fennel, pineapple juice (in a wine glass, of course). It’s my new favorite cocktail for digestion support. Enjoy!

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Please ignore the heinous flash-attack of this photo. I was starving, and patience was waning.

Vegan Chili, For the Win

Growing up, one of my very favorite meals of my mother’s was her chili. So hearty and rich and perfectly seasoned, I would always have seconds, topped with mountains of saltines (then, a childhood staple.) Over the years I’ve asked her to send me her recipe hundreds of times, until I finally got comfortable enough with my own version to make it as effortlessly as she always has.

Today I had a kind of nagging hunger all day without any sense of what I was actually hungry for. Nothing sounded good, I still could not stomach the idea of anything green after my misadventures with dirt. It’s a gross, rainy day in New York and I really just wanted something warm, comforting and delicious. Also, I’m a big fan of making a large pot of something on Mondays, because I take my lunch to work everyday, so this allows me to always have something on standby for when the week inevitably gets busier than planned.

Chili it was.

The best thing about chili is that you can literally throw anything into it. Any veggie, any bean, any random lentils or legumes you have laying around, they all work beautifully and it’s difficult to disappoint. Tonight, I opted for my typical vegetarian chili standby, filled with lots of comforting and colorful veggies, lots of beans and excess amounts of seasoning (I’ve been known to dump half a bottle of chili powder into one pot.) This is an adapted version of my mother’s, but in our house, no chili is left behind. 

Vegan Chili with Zuccinni, Carrot, Onion, Red Pepper, Black and Kidney Beans

Serves: 6-8

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 30 minutes – an hour, depending on how patient and/or hungry you are

Ingredients – again, this is based on what I happened to have in my refrigerator. It could literally be adapted with any vegetable you choose.

1 zuccinni, chopped

2 carrots, peeled and chopped

1 red onion, chopped

1 red pepper, chopped

4 cloves garlic, diced

2 cans black beans, rinsed

1 can kidney beans, rinsed

1 28oz can crushed tomatoes (or jarred, if you can find them. Canned tomatoes are actually the most toxic canned foods, because they are the most susceptible to the BPA in the can’s lining. Eden Organics is the only brand that has BPA-free linings, so if you can’t find jarred, which I could not tonight, they are your safest bet. You could also chop up two fresh tomatoes and forego the prepared version entirely.)

3 tablespoons chili powder

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or to taste, I like everything spicy)

salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon coconut oil

1/4 cup water, to thin it all out

Directions

Once you’ve chopped the onion and garlic, toss it into the pan with the coconut oil and let them cook first on medium-high heat. This is important, because this is how you really get the flavor going. One time I just put everything in together at the same time and couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t as flavorful as it usually is. Upon finding out that I didn’t cook the garlic and onion first, my sister quite literally schooled me (while also saving my chili), and I have never done it since. There is definitely something to letting the flavors build.

Isn't that little tasting spoon the cutest? I usually find a way to taste a lot while I'm cooking.

Isn’t that little tasting spoon the cutest? Also, you are looking at the whole of my kitchen’s counter space.

Let those cook while you’re chopping up all the other vegetables. After 5-10 minutes, put the rest of the vegetables in with your tomatoes. Add your rinsed beans, top with all the seasoning and then mix together. When it comes to seasoning chili, I don’t think there’s just one way to go. Like with everything, I continue seasoning the entire time it’s cooking. And enjoy a bit of experimentation! Cumin, paprika, basil, garlic salt, chili garlic powder – the best thing about chili is that it embraces every herb, spice and flavor equally. It’s pretty hard to mess up chili – it’s a very forgiving dish. So go with your instinct and play around.

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After about 15 minutes, turn the heat down to low and set simmer for 30, or until the vegetables are cooked through. I prefer a bit of crispness to my vegetables still, especially as I’ll continue heating it up throughout the week. Chili is one of those foods that is always better the next day.

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Serve alone, or garnish with tofu sour cream, avocado, vegan or organic cheese. Randomly, I was craving it over pasta (that’s never happened to me before?), so I bought some quinoa pasta to toss it over later on in the week. Enjoy, and let me know your favorite chili variations in the comments!

Adventures in Brooklyn, and a Vegan Mushroom Melt

I love Saturdays. And I especially love Saturdays with no formal plans during the day, like today. I went for a run, met up with Matt at our community garden, where we had to trim our mutant cherry tomato plants that have grown as tall as me and are literally eating the garden alive, and then we headed over to Smorgasburg for lunch, Brooklyn’s flea food market in Williamsburg. Which also happens to be rife with amazing vegan vendors. I had been saying for the past 24 hours that at some point this weekend I needed to have a veggie burger and fries, so I was on the prowl for some sort of decadent sandwich.

cherry tomatoes

Guess which plot is ours?

I ended up at Chickpea & Olive, a booth that serves vegan, organic, locally sourced fare. Their big-seller was a “Phatty Beet Slider,” which was a slider made with beets, mushrooms, lentils and brown rice. But I went to town on a Chipotle Cheddar Mushroom Melt and a side of potato salad. It was decadent and awesome and Matt had to publicly wipe lots of cheese off my face because my hands were full, and I couldn’t help but to start eating before we’d found a spot to sit. The biggest criticism of vegan cheese is that it doesn’t melt the way normal cheese does. But the way they were able to make the Daiya melt was perfect. It was so rich and gooey – precisely what you want when you’re looking for a sandwich that oozes everything when you take a bite. The tang of the pickled ramps and mustard with the potato salad brought a unique kick with a delicious, vinegary spiciness.

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Mmmm. So good.

Mmmm. So good.

I grabbed a couple of their blood orange and hibiscus iced teas and then we headed over to the Queen Majesty booth, where we picked up a bottle of Scotch Bonnet & Ginger hot sauce. I love hot sauce, but have gotten rid of a few of my favorites because they’re just all chemicals. This sauce is so hot (seriously, really hot) and has such a different flavor profile than the traditional hot sauce. It’s completely vegan, gluten and preservative free, and it’s locally made, so it’s become a new household staple. We use it every time we want whatever we’re eating to kick us in the face.

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We stopped by Jungle, my very favorite garden store, which also moonlights as my dream home. Every time we go I always joke (it’s not a joke) that being there overwhelms me because it’s so filled with beautiful things that I just want to move in and make it my home. That I cannot actually do that causes me great distress.

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Then we went to the Kent Street Ale House for a couple of cocktails, and then came home so I could make a batch of cookie dough freezer fudge (another new household staple) from Oh She Glows for a garden dinner we’re going to tonight.

*Update on the dinner (as I’ve not gotten around to posting this until Sunday evening): it was awesome. A good friend of ours and her husband are vegan and gluten-free, and are always cooking up something amazing for us to eat. Last night it was a delicious salad with red peppers, avocado and garbanzo beans and a homemade cilantro dressing, and then Jamaican style rice and beans with a pineapple chutney. So good. And all from the Forks Over Knives cookbook! Which I bought this afternoon and going to furiously bookmark this evening.

A perfect, food-filled Saturday.

Chocolate Cherry Peanut Butter Dream Smoothie

I’m going to be completely honest. I had never made a smoothie until tonight. (And I don’t know why! Because it was so easy!) But I ended my work day with an overwhelming craving for a peanut butter smoothie, and I was a bit crabby and just wanted to go home, make some chili (recipe coming soon) and feast on something really delicious and decadent and sweet.

I mean. I hit the jackpot with this one.

I knew I wanted peanut butter (which I had at home), almond milk, some cacao and some sort of fruit. So at the store I picked up: a bunch of bananas, a bag of frozen dark cherries, a bag of frozen blueberries (frozen fruit helps to give it that smoothie-like consistency), cacao chips and almond milk (Whole Foods brand – trying to find almond milk without carrageenan is a nearly impossible task. It’s also very easy to make your own, which I am going to start doing.). What happened next was so good I had to literally will every bone in my body to not down it in .5 seconds.

Chocolate Cherry Peanut Butter Dream Smoothie

So much color! This ended up being my dinner during chili prep, refilled twice.

Chocolate Cherry Peanut Butter Dream Smoothie

Serves: 1 big smoothie

Cook time: 2 minutes

Ingredients:

1 cup almond milk

2 tablespoons of your favorite natural nut or seed butter (I used peanut butter, but am looking forward to trying almond butter and sunflower seed butter)

1 whole banana (ideally frozen, but mine was not and it was fine)

3/4 cup frozen cherries

1/4 cacao chips

1-2 tablespoons hemp hearts (optional. You could also use chia seeds; I’m trying to get as much of the superfood as possible into my diet.)

1 cup ice

Directions:

Put everything into a blender and blend until creamy. Enjoy. Pour into a wine glass, because everything’s better than way. Feel totally overwhelmed by how good it is.