Long Live Grilled Cheese!

A panini, a quesadilla, a tosti, a croque-monsieur, a Welsh rarebit…. it has been thoroughly tested the world over, and has been unequivocally determined: a grilled cheese is a good thing.  In conjunction with Wilson Farm’s Grilled Cheese Weekend (my childhood neighborhood farm and farm stand hosting their First-Ever Grilled Cheese Weekend, March 1 & 2, 2014), I’m having what has become my favorite way to enjoy a grilled cheese sandwich.

kimchi grilled cheese

Thanks to a thematic overhaul and a particularly lively addition, the grilled cheese recently jumped up in the ranks of my favorite sandwiches. The new theme is probiotics - those BFF bacteria we can’t live without and live much better with. Filling my sandwich with as much life as possible, I’ve been opting for a true sour dough bread (which is naturally fermented), layered with sliced raw milk hard cheese (naturally cultured Cheddar being the favorite choice in my area), topped with a generous scoop of sauerkraut or kimchi (lacto-fermented cabbage teaming with probiotics), all melted together to the point of perfection.

kimchi

kimchi grilled cheese

Add even more life to your meal, by washing it down with a tall glass of kombucha (a naturally fermented tea), ginger bug, kefir or a lassi and you are in good bacterial hands!

Valentine’s Fruit & Veg Pizzas

Happy Valentine’s Day!

V-day special tray

Anyone else showing love and making Valentine’s Day treats with fruits and vegetables? I know it’s a holiday celebrated with candy and chocolate (according to CNN, people dropped $1.6 billion for candy on this day last year!), but aren’t they all?  And if you really love someone, don’t you want to give them something that is good for them?

With a heart-shaped cookie-cutter (or a good knife and a steady hand), almost anything can take on a heart shape, and with some strategic cutting several fruits and vegetables have built-in hearts ready to shine!

We selected red bell peppers with a particularly hearty shape, sliced them and made personalized heart pizzas.

Single heart pizza

Tray of heart pizzas

We also made strawberry heart toasts, by cutting toast into heart shapes, spreading them with cream cheese or another soft cheese, and placing heart-shaped slices of strawberry on top. Sprinkle with shaved chocolate, coconut flakes, freshly ground nutmeg or cinnamon, and it’s a Happy Valentine’s Day!

Strawberry heart toast

Tray of heart toast

Other posts related to Valentine’s Day you might like:

Kids Cook Monday: Fried Bananas Supreme

fried bananas

Just about all children like bananas, most likely as a breakfast or snack food, eaten raw. Let’s give them their familiar banana but fry it up, which both softens the fruit and heightens the flavor, then offer a selection of toppings from chocolate to nutmeg to nuts and seeds for personalization fun. This makes an easy and special dessert, and the third recipe in our “Kids Cook Monday” series.

bananas

Fried Bananas with Chocolate and Coconut

  • ½ -1 banana per person
  • butter or coconut oil for frying
  • chunk of chocolate (dark, milk or white)
  • grated coconut

bananas

Method:

  1. With peel on, cut bananas into quarters, then peel (makes process a little neater).
  2. Heat skillet and melt butter or coconut oil.
  3. Place banana pieces side by side in pan and fry until starting to brown. Turn and fry other side.
  4. Serve with shaved chocolate and/or grated coconut sprinkled on top.

Shaving chocolate

Additional serving ideas:

  • top with cinnamon, nutmeg and/or cardamom
  • serve with ice cream or vanilla yogurt
  • drizzle with maple syrup and/or honey
  • top with nuts
  • top with berries
  • slide inside a peanut butter sandwich
  • sprinkle with black sesame seeds for a beautiful visual contrast
  • for a savory, more Latin American version, use plantains instead of bananas and serve with salt or refried beans and sour cream.

A few fun banana facts:

  1. A banana is technically a berry (and so are watermelons, coffee, pumpkins and avocados) which grows on the world’s largest herb, not a tree.
  2. There are more than a 1,000 types of bananas worldwide.  In the US, you’re probably familiar with just one: the Cavendish.
  3. In addition to edible fruit, a banana plant also offers an edible flower.  We’ve never tried a banana flower - they are hard to find in Vermont - but would love to hear what they taste like, if you have.
banana with flower

Photo thanks to pics4learning

Kids Cook Monday: Rice Noodles with Tofu & Veg

Pad Thai top view

The second recipe in the series from our “Kids Cook Monday” cooking classes, in which we invite child-parent cooking teams to join us (ten-year old daughter and her mother) to create a healthy, whole foods dinner full of color, flavor and fun is an Asian-style noodles and vegetable dish.

As my cooking partner, my daughter is as involved in the menu planning as in the preparation. Her pick for the main dish was a home-cooked version of a restaurant favorite, Pad Thai.  We added more vegetables and tofu than your typical take-out, and skipped the shrimp (for Meatless Monday and sustainability reasons).

Pad Thai vegetables

Pad Thai-Inspired Rice Noodle Stir-Fry with Tofu and Vegetables

      • 2 tablespoons grape seed oilcoconut oil or peanut oil
      • 1 package of tofu (use pressed tofu, if you can find it, or press yourself for best results)
      • 1 teaspoon tamarind paste
      • 1 ½ tablespoons brown sugar
      • 3 tablespoons warm water
      • juice of 1 lime
      • ¼ cup tamari soy sauce
      • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
      • several grinds of black pepper
      • 1 onion, finely chopped
      • 2 carrots, cut into small pieces
      • 1/2 head of broccoli, cut into small pieces
      • 1 bell pepper, cut into pieces
      • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
      • 4 eggs
      • 8 oz rice stick noodles (can substitute with spaghetti if hard to find)

Nice additions and garnishes include (all optional):

      • 1 bunch scallions, cut into small rounds
      • 8 oz bean sprouts, rinsed
      • 1/3 cup peanuts, roughly chopped, if you like
      • 1/3 cup cilantro, roughly cut and some leaves reserved for garnish
      • 1 lime, cut into wedges
      • sriracha sauce

Frying Tofu:

      1. Dry and/or press tofu – either place tofu between two plates in the sink, with something heavy on top (such as a large can) and let sit for several hours, or cut into slices, lay them on a kitchen towel, place another towel on top and gentle press to pull the moisture out of the tofu. If you like gadgets, here’s a tofu press made just for this job. Cut into cubes. 
      2. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add oil and let warm.
      3. Once first piece of tofu sizzles in the pan, place all cubes in a single layer making sure not to overcrowd them.
      4. Shake pan gently to make sure tofu isn’t sticking, and allow to cook for 5-8 minutes or until a golden crust starts to creep up the sides.  Turn tofu and give the other side a few minutes to brown.
      5. Remove from heat, and place tofu on paper towels to drain.

Making the Sauce:

      1. In a small bowl, dissolve tamarind paste and sugar in warm water (take the time to fully dissolve them).
      2. Add lime juice, soy sauce, chili flakes and pepper and mix.

Softening the Noodles:

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and cook noodles for 5-6 minutes, removing from heat and draining just before being fully cooked.

Preparing Vegetables & Assembly:

    1. Chop vegetables into small pieces and mince or press garlic. There is plenty of room for flexibility in this recipe.  For flavor and appearance, it is nice to use three vegetables of different colors, but they don’t need to be carrots, a red pepper and broccoli.
    2. Heat oil in large skillet or wok on medium heat, and sauté onions, carrots and broccoli, add garlic and peppers a few minutes later and sauté another minute or two.
    3. Beat eggs in a small bowl, pour into vegetables, cook for a moment, then stir.
    4. Add tofu, cook for another 1-2 minutes.
    5. Add noodles and pour in the sauce.  Gently combine all.
    6. Add half the scallions, bean sprouts and peanuts (if using).
    7. Place remaining scallions, bean sprouts, peanuts in bowls along with cilantro and lime wedges as garnishes for personalizing plates.

Pad Thai noodles

A “Painted Rooster” for Meatless Monday?

If you’ve been to Costa Rica, you’ve likely been welcomed with the typical tico (Costa Ricans’ pet name for themselves) dish, Gallo Pinto, meaning “painted rooster.”  A delicious and easy-to-make version of the classic vegetarian rice and beans (despite its name, there is absolutely no poultry involved), it is traditionally served for breakfast with an egg on top, but can, of course, be enjoyed any time of day.

Gallo Pinto

I had the life-enhancing opportunity to live in Costa Rica for a semester while in college.  I stayed with a host family, with a host mom who cooked and fed us well. Very well. One of the things I loved about her cooking is how one meal gracefully became the next.  I don’t know that she ever started from zero, because she always seemed to have something already prepared which she would elegantly refashion into something new. This seemed to happen intentionally and artfully, and not, as we in the US would call it, “having left-overs.”

Gallo Pinto is a perfect example. Rice (often cooked with a chopped red pepper) is a dinner staple, as are black beans (prepared with onions and garlic), commonly served along side meat or fish with vegetables and tortillas.  When you cook more rice and more beans than you will need for dinner, you are just minutes away from a delicious breakfast (or lunch, or dinner) the following day.

Gallo Pinto: Costa Rican Style Rice & Beans

It is often made in its simplest form: cooked rice, cooked black beans, onions and cilantro, served with Lizano sauce. I liked that my host mother generally added color, flavor and texture with a few additional vegetables. So, this is how I make it too.  Gracias, Doña Isabella, for all the wonderful meals while I lived in your home and for the lasting inspiration to recreate them.

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups cooked rice*
  • 2 cups cooked black beans*
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil or grape seed oil**
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 red pepper, finely chopped
  • 2/3 cup corn kernels (fresh or frozen)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 tablespoon vegetarian Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Costa Rican Lizano sauce/salsa
  • several grinds salt and pepper to taste

serve with:

  • fresh cilantro
  • 1 egg per person, sunny-side up
  • more Lizano sauce

Method:

  1. Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until softened and translucent.
  2. Add pepper, sauté 1-2 minutes.
  3. Add corn and garlic.
  4. Add spices and sauces and mix thoroughly.
  5. Stir in rice and beans until mixture is heated through and well combined.
  6. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  7. In a separate skillet, fry one egg per person.
  8. Serve warm topped with an egg, and garnished with plenty of cilantro and additional sauces to taste.

P1030079

* Ideally, starting with dried bulk ingredients, soaked overnight or for several hours, and cooked separately.

** Two good oils to use for hot applications. Less stable oils mix with oxygen when heated. Oxidated oils can be very damaging to your health. The praised extra virgin olive oil is best used for dressings and other cold uses.

Cooking Dried Beans

beans-handful

  1. Select dried, locally grown and organic if possible.
  2. Soak under 2-3 inches of water overnight. Alternatively, bring pot of beans and water to a boil for 1-2 minutes, remove from heat and allow to soak for “quick soak” method.
  3. Drain soaking water, and rinse beans.
  4. Cover with fresh water in ratio of 1 cup beans to 3 cups water.
  5. Add small piece of kombu seaweed (2-3 inch piece) to cooking water to increase mineral content and digestibility (reduce potential gassiness). 
  6. Cook until soft, 45-60 minutes, scooping off foam if/when necessary.
  7. Add salt and pepper to taste near the end of cooking time.
  8. Use in any bean recipe or freeze or refrigerate for later use.

Cooking Rice

  1. Select organic and locally grown if possible. Brown rice offers more nutrition than white.
  2. To increase nutritional availability and digestibility, soak grains overnight or at least for 2 hours before cooking.
  3. Drain soaking water, rinse until water runs clear, and cook rice in clean water in a ratio of 2 cups brown rice to 3 cups water and a good pinch of salt.
  4. Bring water to a boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer. Keep pot covered while cooking. Brown rice will take about 45 minutes to cook.

Meatless Monday: Fresh Corn Chowder

corn chowder - diagonal bowl

This is the kind of soup, which, ideally you start making a day (or two) before you plan to eat it (true, actually, for most soups, but if you’re curious enough to confirm the theory, this would be a good one to do that with).  For the richest corn flavor, shuck and de-kernel the cobs to make a stock on day one, then make and eat the soup on day two. On day three, you will be happy if you made a large pot full.

Day one, you will need:

  • 6-8 ears (or more) of just picked sweet corn (organic if possible, GM sweet corn is genetically engineered to be herbicide resistant (“roundup ready”) and to produce its own insecticide. Like all GMOs, genetically modified sweet corn has not been thoroughly tested to ensure that it is safe to eat, and is also not labeled, so the best way to avoid it is to purchase organic corn or buy directly from a local grower who can confirm the use of natural seeds.
  • 6-8 cups of water
  • 2 bay leaves
  • fresh thyme
  • several large pinches of salt
  1. In a large soup pot, heat the same number of cups of water as number of cobs.
  2. Shuck corn, then remove all the kernels from the cobs. Stand cobs upright on a cutting board, and cut down the length of the cobs, or lay them down and cut off enough to make a flat surface. Then roll the cob so that it lies on the flat side and cut off kernels (this method tends to result in fewer kernels skipping over the cutting board and landing elsewhere). Save kernels in a covered bowl in the refrigerator for tomorrow.
  3. Submerge de-kerneled cobs in heating water, add bay leaves, thyme and salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and allow to simmer for 1-2 hours. Remove from heat, and let sit until tomorrow.

Day two, you’ll want to have:

  • 1-2 tablespoons butter
  • 1-2 onions, minced
  • 2-4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2-3 potatoes, cut into small cubes (again, ideally organically grown, which allows you to skip peeling them and include the peel which is full of fiber and nutrients otherwise lost)
  • small handful of fresh herbs: oregano, basil, thyme (or substitute with smaller amounts of dried, if fresh is not available)
  • 1 cup half & half
  • salt and pepper
  • fresh parsley
  1. Heat butter in large skillet and sauté onions. Add garlic when onions are soft, translucent and thoroughly limp, and cook for another 2-3 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, remove cobs and bay leaves from the corn stock.  Add contents of skillet, potatoes and herbs to stock.  Bring to a boil, turn down heat and allow to simmer for 15-20 minutes.
  3. Remove from heat, add half & half, and fresh corn kernels. Adjust flavor with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Serve with a garnish of snipped parsley.

corn chowder - top view

Corn is ubiquitous in our modern world with all the corn oil, cornmeal, corn starch, and high fructose corn syrup in processed foods, and the vast quantities we grow for animal feed and ethanol, and yet the very satisfying, sweet-savory, juice-spraying, floss-requiring, face-and-hands eating experience of gnawing the kernels off the cob is, for most, only a special short season treat.  This is when we get to savor zea mays at its best, and as a vegetable.  Corn is a food which wears many hats (grass, grain, flour, oil, sweetener, gasoline, even compostable forms of plastic) but it is the plant’s vegetable hat (making up less than one percent of all the corn grown in the US) that is saluted in this chowder.

Nutritionally, corn is a good source of antioxidants, fiber, folic acid, vitamin C, vitamin B3, vitamin B5, magnesium, iron and plant protein. Organically grown corn will generally offer more nutrients than non-organic.

Once you locate a good source for fresh, sweet and juicy corn, and get in the rhythm of shucking and cutting off the kernels, you may want to earmark a full day to do only this, make large pots of corn stock and freeze corn kernels. Corn can be frozen either on or off the cob. Amount of available time in late summer/early fall, and/or amount of available freezer space may make the decision easier.  The Pick Your Own website gives clear directions (with pictures) for both methods. With your own frozen corn in the freezer, you can recreate this soup throughout the year and bring back one of the quintessential flavors of summer whenever you need to be warmed by it.

Lettuce Have Soup

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade, the saying advises, but what if life gives you (too much) lettuce?  A problem of the “embarrassment of riches” variety for sure, with an elegant solution to remedy it: cream of lettuce soup.

Lettuce Soup (July 4th)

Starting with the lettuce, whether raw or cooked, there’s quite a range of nutritional value. Here’s a comparison chart from the World’s Healthiest Foods website, which may help direct your next purchase.

Nutrition Comparison of Salad Greens - Based on a 1 cup serving

Salad Greens Calories Vitamin A (IU) Vitamin C (mg) Calcium (mg) Potassium (mg)
Romaine 8 1456 13 20 65
Leaf Lettuce 10 1064 10 38 148
Butterhead (Bibb and Boston 7 534 4 18 141
Arugula 5 480 3 32 74
*Iceberg 7 182 2 10 87

Nutritionally speaking, it’s unfortunate that iceberg remains the top seller in the US, however romaine and other darker greens are seeing a comparative rise in consumption rates.  And, with the popularity of salad bars and the introduction of packaged salads, all lettuce types are enjoying increased sales.

Lettuce has also gained ground with the growing interest in gardening and local foods. It’s a great choice for home growing (even does well in a container), where you can make sure it is grown organically.  Lettuce ranks 11th out of 53 on the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Shoppers’ Guide to Pesticides in Produce, placing it in the “buy organic whenever possible” category due to the high pesticide use in conventional growing practices. Food poisoning is an additional concern with mass market lettuce, after several recent cases of Salmonella, E. Coli and Listeria are alleged to have come from “bagged lettuces” from large scale producers.  Selecting organically grown dark leaf varieties from small scale and/or trusted local growers offers the highest quality produce.

In the US, we tend to think of lettuce only as a raw food. However, in China, where far more of it is grown, cooking varieties are favored.  Last summer during the height of lettuce overload season, I cooked some up in a soup, but didn’t write it down. This year, with thanks to Emeril Lagasse and Local Kitchen Blog for publishing confidence-boosting recipes, I made this version.

Cream of Lettuce Soup

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1-2 onions, chopped
  • 6 garlic scapes (or 2-3 garlic cloves, if scapes are not available), chopped
  • 2 medium-sized potatoes, washed, unpeeled and diced
  • 2 tablespoon chives, chopped, plus more cut into several inch long “stripes”
  • large pinch of fresh or dried thyme
  • large pinch of fresh or dried oregano
  • 4 cups water or vegetable stock
  • 2 heads green lettuce (any variety), washed and roughly cut
  • 3/4 cup half ‘n’ half or cream (possibly more to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (or more to taste)
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper (or more to taste)
  • several grinds of nutmeg
  • pasta stars (optional)

Method:

  1. Warm Dutch oven or large soup pot over medium high heat, and melt butter. Add chopped onions and garlic scapes, reduce heat and allow to caramelize.
  2. Add potatoes, chives, herbs and cover with water or stock. Simmer until potatoes are soft.
  3. Add lettuce and give the soup another few minutes to simmer until lettuce wilts.
  4. Turn heat off and add half ‘n’ half, salt, pepper and nutmeg. In the soup pot using an immersion blender or in batches in a counter-top blender or Vitamix, blend the soup until smooth.  Adjust consistency with additional water or stock if needed.
  5. Reheat, if necessary, and serve with garnishes such as fresh herbs, croutons, toasted bread with melted cheese, grated Parmesan, pine nuts and/or a drizzle of additional cream (if your soup tastes too bitter, additional cream will help).

On the occasion of Independence Day weekend, I served this soup with pasta stars and chive stripes. For a second serving, I went with chive fireworks.

Lettuce celebrate the stars and stripes!

P1020433 P1020434 P1020436

Nominating Cauliflower: An Educated Cabbage

cauliflower 3

What will be the trendiest vegetable in 2013 was a recent question in a focus group.   I sat up straighter in my chair. “Trendy vegetables,” I love it already!  That makes vegetables sound as revered as high fashion and haute cuisine.  Cauliflower was declared the projected winner.  It is certainly deserving: not only does it assemble itself like a bouquet of flowers, offer a mild yet complete and comforting flavor, pack an impressive dose of vitamin C, as well as fiber and potassium, and exemplify fractal design, but Mark Twain referred to it as a “cabbage with a college education.”

Generally thought of as a white vegetable, this member of the brassica family also comes in a yellowish-orange, a deep purple and the fabulous knobby green Romanesco variety. This phenomenal mini moonscape vegetable provides the added excitement of a special spiraling pattern.  Who doesn’t want a Fibonacci masterpiece on their plate?

Not sure about the spirals and the Fibonacci sequence?  Vi Hart explains it more precisely and certainly more playfully than I could in the following video. You’ll be counting spirals on pinecones, pineapples, artichokes, sunflowers, cauliflower, etc in no time.

 

With so many ways to enjoy cauliflower, let’s start with one of the simplest, yet very delicious and beautifully presented ways:  Roasted Cauliflower

roasted cauliflower- before

Place sliced cauliflower in a single layer on a baking sheet drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt into a pre-heated 400˚ oven.

roasted cauliflower-after

Ten or so minutes later, remove the beautifully browned, slightly softened, still crunchy, with a decidedly sweeter and smoother flavor (than when it was raw) roasted cauliflower. Add additional salt or pepper to taste, and enjoy.

Cauliflower also does well as a potato stand-in. Whether you’re cutting down on spuds, avoiding the nightshade family, or just ready to try something new: Cauli-Millet Mashed Potatoes

Cauliflower mash

From The Hip Chick’s Guide to MacrobioticsMillet Mashed “Potatoes” with Mushroom Gravy

  • 1 cup millet, washed
  • 5 cups water, divided
  • 2 cups cauliflower, in small florets or chunks
  • sea salt
  • toasted sesame oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 12 button or 8 fresh shiitake mushrooms
  • 1/4 cup tamari soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons mirin
  • 1 drop brown rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons kuzu, diluted in 1/2 cup water
  • scallions or parsley for garnish

Method:

  1. Place the washed millet in a heavy 2-quart pot.  Over medium heat, stir the millet continuously until it dries and then becomes aromatic and ever-so-slightly golden in color.  This can take 5-8 minutes.
  2. And water and cauliflower.  Bring to a boil.  And salt.  Cover and simmer over a low flame for 30 minutes.
  3. Remove from heat.  Put millet through a food mill or blend in a food processor.  Blend to desired creamy consistency.
  4. To make the gravy: heat toasted sesame oil over medium heat in a skillet.  Add onion, salt and sauté until translucent.  Add mushrooms and sauté until soft. Add water and bring to a boil.  Season with tamari, mirin and brown rice vinegar. Simmer for 5 minutes. Adjust seasonings to your taste, and simmer for 5 more minutes.
  5. Add diluted kuzu to simmering mixture and stir constantly as the kuzu thickens.

I made a double batch of the “Mashed Potatoes” part of the recipe above, reserving half to use as the topping in a vegan Shepard’s Pie a couple of days later.  My children ate this up so fast….

Cauliflower Shepards Pie 2

A sampling of other excellent cauliflower recipes:

And there are many, many more recipes. What are your favorite ways to prepare cauliflower?

Have a Beet in Your Roots?

Beets- farmers marketTo eat locally and seasonally, it is often assumed that making it through the winter is challenging.  True, fresh tomatoes, lettuce and cucumbers are missing, but they are easily replaced by pantry shelves full of canned tomatoes, sauces, ketchup, chutneys and pickles while the freezer holds, among many things, frozen whole tomatoes, and all produce which stores well is comfortably tucked away.  It is spring that is sparse. Yesterday I used my last two pie pumpkins and butternut squash from last summer and made a note to grow more this season in an effort to make it through not just the cold seasons, but all the way to the following harvest.

Fortunately, my root drawers are not yet empty.  So beets, turnips, carrots, kohlrabi, celeriac, rutabaga, etc, often associated with fall cuisine, are actually common ingredients in our spring and early summer meals, increasingly paired with fresh new greenery.

Growing beet

Today, we’re having beets.  According to The Secret Life of Food, the name “beet” comes from the French bête, meaning beast.  Apparently, early cooks, alarmed at the bright red color beets turn their cooking water, were reminded of bleeding animals, and labeled these roots “beasts”.

Beets, which come in shades from the common deep red to golden yellow and even white, are full of valuable nutrition.  They are often used for blood cleansing, liver and kidney support (commonly included in juice fasts).  They are great sources of vitamins A, C and B-complex, folate (particularly in raw beets), manganese, iron, potassium and antioxidants polyphenol and betalain (a powerful, recently recognized nutrient, prevalent in red beets).  Additionally, they exhibit an enviable combination of low calorie, high sweet and very low glycemic index.

With all of this going for them, it’s hard to believe that beets used to be relegated to animal feed. Originally they grew wild in North Africa and in coastal areas in Europe and Asia. People first became interested in their nutritious greens. Early Romans started cultivating the full plant and prepared the roots by cooking them in honey and wine (which I had to try, recipe below) and today cooks worldwide prepare them in many different ways.

roasted beets

roasted beets 2

Roasted Beets: my favorite way to prepare beets. With very little prep work, you fill your 400˚ oven, and let the beets cook themselves until done (45 minutes or so).  The flavor is rich using this cooking method and nutrients are better preserved than when cooking beets in water.  Once roasted, they peel easily, and quickly become salads, soups and stew additions, can be puréed and even incorporated into baked goods.

Drinkable Beets. Beet juice is often used in cleanses for its ability to nourish the blood.  You can add digestive and immune support by fermenting the juice into beet kvass.  Or enjoy a quick smoothie by adding milk to a puréed beet soup, such as Red Velvet Borscht.

Red Velvet Soup

Baked Beets, either as a purée of roasted beets or grated raw ones, they can easily be included in baked goods. This is not an original idea, but deserves as much publicity as it can get.  They combine particularly well with chocolate, and add a bit of natural sweetness, rich color and antioxidants to your treats, such as in Choco-Beet Muffins. Or whirl a beet into hot chocolate (mix puréed beet into your warming mixture on the stove or if making Mexican-style cocoa, toss a roasted beet into the jar of the blender or vitamix).

Roman beetsRoman beets 4

Ancient Roman Recipe. Absolutely delicious!

  • 1 bunch red beets
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 2 tablespoons butter

Cook unpeeled beets in a sauce pan with enough water to cover them, bring to a boil and cook until soft. Allow to cool and peel. Cut into small pieces.

Melt butter in the sauce pan, add wine and honey and allow to warm while mixing.  Add beets and keep on a low simmer until about half the liquid has evaporated.  Beets in this sauce are simply heavenly.

Color it red:  The deep pigments of beets are related to their antioxidant health benefits, and they generously share their beautiful hue with just about anything in their vicinity such as pasta, mashed potatoes, pancakes, smoothies, etc… and your hands.

If you have fresh beets with the greens attached, you have the makings of a complete package. The colors and nutrients of the greens compliment those of the roots, so whenever possible use both ends in a the same recipe (in salads, pasta dishes, a vegetable side dish) or in the same meal.

Speaking of both ends, should beet’s red color pass through your system and out the other side, don’t be alarmed - remember that you recently ate beets, and that you have a common condition called “beeturia.”

Meatless Monday: Maple-Squash Soup

maple-squash soup side

Early spring is when the harvest seasons meet. The cycle of the year is tangible when last summer’s hardy keepers extend through to this year’s sugaring season, and the two years are combined in the kitchen.  Winter squash and pumpkins store well, (as do the onions needed for this recipe) and they are so compatible with maple syrup, it seems almost unimaginable that they would be harvested at opposite ends of the year.

maple-squash soup top

Maple-Squash Soup

  • 1 winter squash such as butternut, red kuri, acorn or buttercup
  • 1 pie pumpkin
  • whole spices such as cinnamon stick, star anise, cloves
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1-2 onions, chopped
  • 1/4 inch slice fresh ginger root, minced
  • 6 cups water, stock or sap (should you be tapping maples and have sap to spare)
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup (if not cooking in sap)
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • milk, cream or coconut milk
  • any combination of ground spices you like such as cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, curry, allspice, etc.
  • salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • a drizzle of hot sauce or a sprinkling of chili flakes (if you like a little spice)
  • garnish with creme fraîche or yogurt and freshly ground nutmeg (optional)

Method:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 400˚.
  2. Half the squash and pumpkin, remove the seeds (save for roasting or planting), and place cut side down in a shallow baking dish.  Fill dish with about 1 inch of water and add whole spices to the water. Roast in oven until soft (about 40-50 minutes, depending on size). Remove from oven and allow to cool.
  3. Melt butter in a skillet, and sauté onions until translucent.  Add minced ginger, cover and lower heat to caramelize for another 20 minutes.
  4. Scoop the cooked pumpkin and squash out of the skin (should come out easily) into a large soup pot, add the onion-ginger mixture, and stock, water or sap. Bring to a soft boil for 5-10 minutes.
  5. Turn off heat, add maple syrup, vinegar, milk and ground spices to taste.
  6. In a blender or food processor, puree all until smooth.  Adjust consistency with additional milk, stock or water as needed, and adjust flavor with salt, pepper and/or additional spices. Serve immediately, or return to soup pot and reheat. Serve with creme fraîche or yogurt, hot sauce, ground nutmeg and/or roasted pumpkin seeds.