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Shutdown Survival Foods

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Just in time for Halloween, reports of disease-infested meats are starting to come in. Goody! Unfortunately this is no trick-or-treat – USDA food inspections have been suspended due to the Congressionally-induced government shutdown. (I saw a poll today that showed that Americans prefer dog poop, head lice and colonoscopies to Congress – seems about right!) If you’d like to avoid salmonella and survive the impending zombie apocalypse (have I been watching too much cable news?), it’s a great time to go vegan! Since salmonella is most commonly found in food products that come from animals, it’s easy to steer clear of it: just don’t eat meat or animal products. Simple as that!

Here are two super quick, extremely tasty animal-free snacks that will put a smile back on your face: tomato-basil hummus and pan-roasted shishito peppers. Both take just minutes to prepare, and extra bonus, one of them has a built-in handle for easy hurling at your TV, a member of Congress, or whatever…

Oh, and if you have any old, potentially E. coli-laden meats in your fridge, no need to let them go to waste – just send them to Congress as a special “gift” for their excellent service.  Trick or treat! 😉

Tomato basil hummus

Tomato-Basil Hummus
Serves: 4
From fridge to table: 5 minutes

2 cloves garlic, minced
½ tsp salt
1 can chickpeas/garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
3 tbsp fresh basil leaves
½ cup sundried tomatoes, soaked in hot water for a few minutes to soften
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (if you’ve got basil-infused olive oil, now is the time to use it! My favorite is from 11Olives.com – deeelish!)
A little water, 1 tbsp at a time, to taste

Toss everything except oil and water into a food processor and grind until smooth. Drizzle in the oil, then drizzle in water – one tablespoon at a time – until you reach desired consistency. Personally, I like this hummus a little thinner than a typical hummus, but it’s totally up to you!

Pan-roasted shishito peppers - yum!

Pan-Roasted Shishito Peppers
Serves: 4
From fridge to table: 10 minutes

Grab a basket of these beautiful little peppers from your local farmer’s market, then heat up your wok to super-hot. Pour in a little high-temperature oil (like grape seed oil), then slide in the peppers. I like to slide them down the sides of the pan to avoid oil-splatter. Stir vigorously until they’re a little deflated and thoroughly charred. Turn off heat and toss in some smoked sea salt and freshly ground pepper, then serve (or huck at the TV – your choice).

Enjoy!

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Sing Summer’s Song with Plum Granita

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It was close, but I’m happy to report that we survived Plumageddon! During a 3-week period every summer, our beautiful old plum tree dumps enough fruit to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool. A few years ago, in a desperate attempt to put all the fruit to good use, I tried 14 plum recipes, and this one – elegant, vibrant Plum Granita – emerged as the Big Hit. It just sings summer! It’s my taste buds’ favorite summer song, and our friends request it more often than a 12 year-old asks to hear One Direction.

It’s no wonder why this granita so popular –  every spoonful of this icy delight bursts with the bright, sun-ripened taste of fresh plums. It’s got much more true-fruit flavor (and a lot less sugar) than sorbet, and its hint of fresh vanilla bean, allspice and cinnamon create a memorable melody of luscious flavor that will make you hum with joy. And bonus – it’s a healthy, fruit-filled alternative to fat-laden, dairy-based desserts. Plum Granita is a snap to make, and since it keeps well in the freezer, you can make a big batch and keep playing this hit throughout the year.

Enjoy!

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Plum Granita

3 pounds red plums, pitted and chopped
1.5 cups water
1 cup sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
5 whole allspice berries
1 fresh vanilla bean

In a small pot stir together water, sugar, cinnamon stick, and allspice berries. Slice the vanilla bean lengthwise, scrape the seeds and stir into the mix. Add the sliced vanilla bean as well, then bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly to dissolve the sugar. Once boiling, reduce heat to a simmer and cook, stirring frequently, until the liquid is reduced to about 1.5 cups. Cool the syrup.

While the syrup cools, puree the plums in a food processor or blender. Place a sieve over a big bowl and press the pureed plums through it.

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This will fill your bowl with a thick liquid that looks kind of like a plum smoothy. Throw away the plum solids. Mix the cooled syrup into plum ‘smoothy’ and stir until well blended. Put the mixture into a Tupperware bowl and freeze for 1 hour. Then stir the mixture thoroughly with a fork, and repeat ever 45 minutes until you create a lovely, fluffy, light icy granita. Yum!

Can you see the tiny black specks? Those are vanilla seeds, which add a heavenly, aromatic dimension to this elegant dessert.

Can you see the tiny black specks? Those are vanilla seeds, which add a heavenly, aromatic dimension to this elegant dessert.

Answering the Protein Question with Curried Mango Quinoa Salad

Curried Mango Quinoa Salad Deliciousness

When cow-gobblers hear about Operation Carnivore Conversion, they always ask me (and always in shock): “Oh, but where do you get your protein?!” Apparently they assume that twigs and rocks aren’t very protein-rich. 😉  Below, I’m going to give you a super tasty, protein-packed 15-minute vegan meal – Curried Mango Quinoa Salad – that I often feed to meat-eaters to help turn their doubt into interest. In fact, I served this just last weekend to 25 carnivores at a friend’s baby shower and it was the surprise hit dish of the whole luncheon!

Most times, carnivores tell me: “I just couldn’t get enough protein without meat!”

“Really?” I ask, innocently as I narrow my eyes and go in for the kill. “Is that because you require so much more protein to maintain your epic typing-related muscles than the vegan NBA and NFL players, body builders, triathletes and Olympians like Carl Lewis?” (This usually earns me a punch in the arm). “Plus,” I tell them, “when you turn vegan, you won’t have cadaver-breath anymore, which is a bonus!” (That usually earns me a second punch).

Here’s the answer to the protein question, which is challenging for the T-Rexs to digest: It’s easy to get all the protein you need on a vegan diet. Maybe it’s difficult for people to accept because they have no idea how much protein they actually need. According to the CDC, most women need about 46 grams of protein per day, men about 56. It varies person to person, so to find your exact needs, try this handy protein calculator: http://www.globalrph.com/protein-calculator.cgi

Most carnivores (especially American ones) don’t realize they’re likely consuming exponentially more protein than needed. For example, here’s how much meat- and dairy-based protein my husband used to eat on a typical day before Operation Carnivore Conversion:

Large latte = 15 grams
Grilled chicken sandwich = 45 grams
Turkey tacos = 46 grams
Total = 106 grams of protein

That’s nearly twice what he needs!  Now let’s look at some easy vegan alternatives:

Large latte with soy milk = 14 grams
Tofurkey sandwich (which, much to his surprise, he loves) = 15 grams
Handful of almonds = 21 grams
1 big helping of curried mango quinoa salad = 20 grams
Total = 70  grams of protein

See how easy it is to get all the protein you need with a vegan diet? If you’re new to the vegetarian or vegan thing and you’re worried about getting enough, here are a few protein-rich foods to add to your meals and snacks:

Tempeh, 1 cup = 31 grams
Edamame, 1 cup = 22 grams
Almonds (a big handful) = 21 grams
Lentils, 1 cup = 18 grams
Baked beans, 1 cup = 18 grams
Pumpkin seeds, ½ cup = 16 grams
Quinoa, 1 cup = 8 grams
Peanut butter, 2 tbsp = 8 grams
Hummus, 1 serving = 7 grams
Oatmeal, 1 serving = 7 grams
2 tbsp chia seeds= 4 grams

Okay, now onto our protein star: quinoa. This recipe is great for converting carnivores since it’s got lots of protein, it’s bursting with big, yummy flavors and it gives you that satisfying full-belly feeling. Mango chutney gives it a zesty kick, cucumbers add a lovely crunch, fresh mangos provide a hint of earthy sweetness, while the quinoa and spinach round out the dish to make it a delicious meal. I think you’ll enjoy it!

Curried Mango Quinoa Salad

Curried Mango Quinoa Salad

Serves: 2 as a main course, 4 as a side dish
From fridge to table: 15 minutes

Ingredients:

1 cup quinoa
1 cup peeled fresh mango, finely chopped
1 cup Persian, Japanese, English or pickling cucumber, finely chopped (skin on)
5 tbsp green onion, chopped
3 cups fresh baby spinach

Dressing:
½ cup olive oil
½ cup white balsamic vinegar
¼ cup mango chutney, minced
2 tbsp curry powder
1 tsp dry mustard
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp smoked sea salt
½ tsp freshly ground pepper

In a medium pot, add 2 cups water, the quinoa and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer until all the water is absorbed – about 12-15 minutes. Once the quinoa is done, fluff it to cool off the grains.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, mix together all the dressing ingredients and set aside. Then chop the cucumber, green onion and mango. By the way, the easiest way to chop a mango is to slice the flat-sides lengthwise as close to the seed as possible. Then into each half of fruit, carve a grid pattern into the flesh. Use your fingers to invert the pad of fruit, like this, then slice off the squares of mango flesh:

How to chop mango

(All this talk of mango “flesh” is getting the carnivores excited, isn’t it?)

Once the quinoa is ready, add the cucumber, mango, green onion and about ¼ of the dressing, then stir well. Add more dressing to taste. Arrange a bed of spinach on plates, and if you want to add an extra pop of color, then maybe a few red lettuce leaves as well. Heap big scoops of the mango quinoa concoction on top. Drizzle dressing on the spinach and a little more on the quinoa, then serve and enjoy!

* Giving credit where credit is due, the inspiration for this recipe came from one I found on Epicurious.com and modified.

Go MSG-free: Tasty Thai Yellow Curry with Sweet Potato and Chickpeas

Thai yellow curry with chickpeas and sweet potato over millet - YUM!

“Stop goldfishing*,” I tell my husband as he plows through a bag of Doritos that’s roughly the size of a bathtub. “I can’t. They’re addictive!” he pleads as I pry them from his bright orange hands.

(*Goldfishing – [gohld-fish-ing]. Noun. 1. The act of a person who eats non-stop with blatant disregard for the physical limitations of his/her stomach. 2. Stuffing oneself to the point of spontaneous gastric explosion, like a goldfish.)

Really, he can’t stop? C’mon, like an invisible hand is shoving Doritos in his face. Well, after some research, I’ve found that actually, that’s pretty much what’s happening. The makers of the florescent nacho-flavored triangles of doom use a secret ingredient to turn consumers into goldfish: MSG.

MSG-fed lab rat

No, this rat has not swallowed a beach ball. Poor little guy has been fed MSG to make him obese.

Did you know that scientists actually use MSG to induce obesity in lab rats and mice (ironically, so they can test products to ‘cure’ obesity in humans)? In fact, scientists found that when they give MSG to mice, it increases their appetite as much as 40%. When people eat it, it turns us into mindless eating machines. But that’s not its only harmful side effect. There are all kinds of other nasty ailments associated with MSG, including asthma attacks, mood swings, fuzzy thinking, diarrhea, chest pains and headaches. Some scientists are even speculating that it may cause – and exacerbate – autism.

MSG is used as a flavor enhancer and it’s in lots of packaged foods, from chips to salad dressings, sauces to microwave meals. If you spotted MSG on a label, you probably wouldn’t buy the product, right? So those sneaky manufacturers hide MSG behind different names like “autolyzed yeast,” “soy protein isolate,” and “hydrolyzed protein.” For example, Annie Chun’s Soup Bowls contain maltodextrin and yeast extract – both of which are forms of manufactured glutamic acid, the ingredient in MSG (and yet they have the balls to advertise that they’re MSG-free. Campbells does the same. Bastards!) As for Doritos? They don’t even bother hiding it on the label, and the chips are basking in MSG – no wonder John can’t put down the bag! It’s not just in packaged foods, either. Tests found that most chicken, sausage and even parmesan served in restaurants is flavored with MSG. (Yet another great reason for carnivores to convert into vegetarians or vegans!)

The good news is that the antidote is simple: cook healthy foods from scratch to eliminate MSG from your diet (and from that of those you love, especially those who sometimes have goldfish-like tendencies). There are lots of other ways to add flavor than with MSG. One of my favorites is by making meals in the pressure cooker. Cooking under pressure retains the nutrition of food while also amplifying the flavor naturally. And bonus –  you can cook an entire meal from scratch in 15 minutes using the ultra fast pressure cookers, even soups and stews that normally take hours!

Today’s recipe is my take on an incredibly flavor-packed and super healthy Thai-style yellow curry with chickpeas and sweet potatoes. (Special thanks to Lorna Sass and her fabulous “Vegetarian Cooking Under Pressure” cookbook – I’ve altered one of her recipes to give it my own twist). If using a pressure cooker, the gorgeous sweet potato flavor enhanced with yellow curry will be utterly infused into every molecule of coconut milk. It is divine! This has become one of our favorite meals, and it’s quite nutritious. So I don’t really mind if John goldfishes on it. 🙂

I’ve also created a non-pressure cooker version of this recipe for those who don’t have one (but I highly recommend you get a pressure cooker – they are phenomenal and it will become your go-to kitchen tool). Here’s the one I use, which I adore (click on the text and it will take you to Amazon where you can buy it): Fagor Splendid 4-quart Pressure Cooker.

Yummy Thai yellow curry with sweet potato and chickpeas over rice

Yummy Thai yellow curry with sweet potato and chickpeas

Serves: 6
From fridge to table: 20 minutes (if using pressure cooker)

1.5 cups dried chickpeas, soaked overnight (if using pressure cooker. For non-pressure cooker method, see notes below)
2 cans coconut milk
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1” cubes (if using pressure cooker. For non-pressure cooker method, see notes below)
1.5 cup tomatoes, chopped
1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1 tbsp yellow curry paste* (it’s hard to find in stores, so click here to buy a really yummy one)
½ cup cilantro, minced
½ cup fresh basil, minced
2 tbsp MSG-free tamari soy sauce
a handful of roasted unsalted peanuts, chopped
Cooked rice or millet

For the pressure cooker method:

Drain and rinse chickpeas. In your pressure cooker pan, combine all the ingredients except the basil, tamari, peanuts and rice/millet. Lock lid, then bring to high pressure over high heat. Lower the heat just enough to maintain high pressure and cook for 18 minutes. Use the quick-release method (by running cold water over the locked pressure cooker until the pressure comes down all the way). Remove lid, tilting it away from your face to let steam escape. Add the basil and tamari and mix well. Serve atop rice or millet and sprinkle with chopped peanuts.

For the non-pressure cooker method:

Take the unpeeled sweet potato, prick with a fork and microwave until it’s slightly soft, about 5 minutes. Cool a bit, then peel and chop into 1” cubes.

Also, you’ll need to used cooked chickpeas – 3 cups (or roughly 2 cans) will work perfectly well.

In a large, deep sauté pan, sauté garlic and ginger in 1 tbsp of oil over medium heat. Cook until the garlic starts to turn golden, about 3 minutes. Add curry paste, tomatoes, cilantro, coconut milk and chickpeas. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Once boiling, add potatoes, then return to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, cover and cook at a low-boil for 12 minutes. To thicken the sauce and infuse more of the sweet potato flavor, break up some of the sweet potato chunks with the back of a fork. Then blend in the basil and tamari, serve over rice or millet and sprinkle with chopped peanuts. Enjoy!

Tasty Thai Tacos in Ten Minutes

Yummy - Thai Soft Tacos!

Have you ever had one of those days (or months) when you’re so flipping busy that you wonder when the heck you’re going to have time to eat, and you can’t even think about cooking? That’s what life has been like ever since we got back from a long trip to Maui and Oahu (and speaking of that, sorry for my delay in posting!) Rather than eating a bowl of popcorn for dinner (as one of my cooking-impaired friends suggested, and for whom I’m now watching for signs of scurvy), or ordering take-out (as my converting carnivore has offered – he usually manages to slip in an order of something meat-based which he always thinks will go undetected, but never does), I developed a super tasty vegan dish that takes only 10 minutes to make: Thai Soft Tacos.

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The rich flavor of peanut satay sauce, the crunch of the fake chicken tenders and the lovely tang of Thai sweet chili sauce pair beautifully together. And the secret ingredient – finely chopped fresh lime, including little bits of the peel – adds just the right amount of sharpness, acidity and a hint of bitterness to make the flavors burst to life on your tongue. Every bite offers an intriguingly complex mix of textures and tastes. When I have time, I prefer to make meals from scratch, but when that can’t happen, this is my go-to dish.

John likes these Thai Tacos so much that now he asks for them a couple times per week, and he gives it his highest veg praise ever: “Oh my God, this is so good that it doesn’t even need meat!” (And cue Cimeron’s eyes lighting up with glee.) That testimonial, coupled with the incredibly low “f*$&ck with it factor” has earned this dish a permanent place on our rotation. Give it a try! After your first crunchy, flavor-packed bite, you’ll probably want to make these tacos every night this week, even if you have time to cook something more elaborate. Enjoy!

And while we’re taking the trip to VeganVille, you’ve got to check out this hysterical Saturday Night Live skit with Justin Timberlake extolling the virtues of the vegan diet to a sausage-waving carnivore – priceless! www.youtube.com/watch?v=4YDA9OI56y4

Cimeron’s 10-Minute Thai Soft Tacos

Serves: 4
From fridge to table: 10 minutes
“f*$&ck with it factor” (on a scale of 1-10): 2

8 soft taco tortillas
1 package Gardein Crisp Tenders (found in the veggie frozen food section of most grocery stores)
2 cups thinly sliced lettuce (I prefer butter lettuce in this dish since it has such a velvety texture with a bit of crunch)
4-6 tbsp peanut satay sauce
4-6 tbsp Thai sweet chili sauce
1/2 chopped cilantro
1/2 lime, (butt-end discarded) and super finely chopped (including the peel)
1/2 cup fresh tomatoes, chopped

Heat oven to 450. Microwave the Gardein Crisp Tenders for 45 seconds. Then place them on a baking dish, spray with olive oil and bake for 10 minutes. (Or if you’re super tight on time, nuke them for 1.5 minutes, spray them with oil and broil them for a couple minutes per side until crispy.) When ready, slice them lengthwise into 3 pieces.

Meanwhile, chop up all the fixins and prepare the assembly line. Spread a spoonful of the peanut satay sauce down the middle of the tortilla. Lay down 2-3 of the sliced pieces of Crisp Tenders, then top with some lettuce, tomato and cilantro. Evenly sprinkle with bits of the lime. Then drizzle on some Thai sweet chili sauce to taste. Then prepare your taste buds to be very happy!

Thai Soft Tacos

“Cleansing” Chipotle Black Bean Chili

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One single day. That’s how long I had to wait after New Year’s before I heard a friend declare: “Oh man, I need to do a cleanse!” That’s a new record – last year it took three whole days to hear that proclamation. “Cleansing” has become an annual tradition among guilty gorgers who’ve spent the past month consuming their body’s weight in butter, chocolate cake and grandma’s rum-balls. Yeah, as if drinking cayenne pepper-laced hot water and eating tree bark for a week is actually going to roto-rooter their arteries, scrape down their intestines and magically make the 952 brownies they ate disappear.  (Well, perhaps if the last one they ate was a special “Dr. Chocopotomus’ cosmic brownie,” something like that might seem downright feasible, just like tap-dancing neon salamanders wearing Viking hats. But I digress…)

I don’t mock my friends too mercilessly for wanting to do these bizarre cleanses. Because at the root of it all is the desire to be healthier, and that’s awesome! For those who have had one too many cookies, I like to suggest a solution that’s much tastier and less likely to singe your eyeballs or leave twigs in your teeth: try eating delicious vegan meals for a week.

In honor of my friends who, like clockwork, are about to ask me for some quick, easy, appetizing and “cleansing” vegan dishes, here’s one of my favorites: chipotle black bean chili. This recipe takes all of 15 minutes to make, it’s filling, and it’s scrumptious in all of its smoky, hearty glory.

Research has shown that cleanses – like the cayenne lemon-water fad or the popular juice ‘detox’ – don’t actually do our bodies any favors. In fact, in addition to making people exceedingly cranky (which dramatically increases the risk of being smacked upside the head), they can also be very damaging due to the inherent nutritional imbalances of the cleanses. But nutritious high fiber foods – like black beans – are like a pipe cleaner for your intestines. (Sorry – that was a rather unpleasant visual). The key is to eat beans year-round, not just until the holiday guilt has worn off. And lucky for all of us, this yummy chili will make you want to eat beans every day of the week. Especially when it’s followed by magic brownies. (Kidding!)

Happy New Year!

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Cleansing Chipotle Black Bean Chili
Serves: 4
From fridge to table: 15 minutes

Olive oil for sautéing
1 onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
3 14.5 oz cans organic black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can (14.5 oz) organic crushed tomatoes (preferably fire-roasted)
1 ½ tsp ground cumin
a handful of fresh tomatoes, chopped
½ cup water
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 tbsp canned *chipotle puree *
1 tbsp rice vinegar (seasoned or unseasoned)
Smoked sea salt
Tortilla chips (for those who aren’t ‘cleansing’)

*Note – to make the chipotle puree: buy a can of “chipotle chilies in adobo sauce,” which you will find in the Hispanic food section of the grocery store. Put the entire contents of the can, including sauce, in a blender and whirl until smooth. Scrape into an ice cube tray and freeze it. Take out a cube whenever you need it.

To make chili:

Heat a soup pot over medium-high heat, add some olive oil and cook the onions and garlic until the onion is translucent and starting to brown. Add beans, tomatoes and their juices, cumin and ½ cup water; bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, to blend flavors, about 10 minutes. Stir in cilantro, chipotle puree and rice vinegar. Add smoked sea salt to taste. Serve in big bowls and crumble some tortilla chips on top if you’re feeling frisky. Enjoy!

(By the way, credit for this recipe goes to a magazine I read in my dentist’s office about 10 years ago. Unfortunately I can’t remember the magazine, nor can I remember how much of the original recipe I used, but I’d still like to say thanks to that magazine for combining black beans and chipotle, which is a brilliant combo!)

Pomegranate-Mango Guacamole Pleases Everyone, Even Avocado-Hating Carnivores

Throughout my childhood, my sister used to pin me down and squish guacamole through her lips and let it drool down to my nose before sucking it back up. Ughahhhkkk! That memory still makes my whole body quiver with disgust. So now you understand the basis for my lifelong hatred of avocados. But they’re so dang good for you! They’re packed with fiber, b-vitamins and 20 essential nutrients. I really, really want to like the Mighty Avocado, and since it’s such a filling and healthy food, I also want my carnivore husband to love it too. Unfortunately John doesn’t like the texture and thinks it’s just too cliche: “Is there some kind of requirement that every Californian has to love that snot?!” (Judging by the avocado consumption habits of our friends, it must be a California state law or something).  I knew this would be one of my biggest culinary mountains to climb.

After many tries with numerous recipes (and a couple of times that John rinsed his tongue under the kitchen sink) I hit on one that has *finally* turned us into avocado fans – Pomegranate-Mango Guacamole. Every time I serve it, there’s a tortilla chip traffic-jam at the guacamole bowl. It’s got such lovely and unique layers of flavor! The gorgeous ruby-colored pomegranate seeds add a beautiful brightness on your palate with a sharp little pop of unexpected flavor, while the tropical mango provides a velvety hint of sweetness. This dish is so good that it’s conquered the lifelong emotional scars left by my sister’s avocado-torture technique, and has even inspired my avocado-hating carnivore to enjoy it. So just think how much you’ll love this dish if you already like regular old guacamole! Trust me – this recipe will knock your socks off. And now is the perfect time to make it since pomegranates are in season, and grocery stores are also full of ripe mangoes.

Just whatever you do, please do not pin down your loved ones and squish guacamole through your lips to torture them…unless they really deserve it. (For the record, I never deserved it because I’ve always been a perfect angel.) 🙂

Pomegranae-Mango Guacamole

Serves: 6-8
From fridge to table: 15 minutes

4 ripe Haas avocados, pitted
1/4-1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1 cup onion, finely chopped (I prefer white onion in this recipe, but it can work with yellow if that’s all you have in the pantry)
1 jalapeno, finely chopped
1 tsp smoked sea salt (or to taste)
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped
The seeds from one pomegranate (which will yield about 3/4 cup). Be sure to save a few seeds for a pretty garnish
3/4 cup finely chopped mango
Tortilla chips

In a large bowl, mash the avocados and immediately mix in 1/4 cup lime juice to prevent the avocados from browning (because brown guacamole is just gross). Add the chopped onion, jalepeno, smoked sea salt (to taste) and mix well. Taste and add additional lime juice and salt as desired. Gently stir in the mango, pomegranate seeds and cilantro. Garnish with a few pomegranate seeds, serve with tortilla chips, then watch it your guacamole disappear!

Delicious Balsamic Peach-Blueberry Compote with Crispy, Sweet Tortillas Tricks the Carnivore

Have you ever seen the TV show “Chopped?” The host gives the chefs a mystery basket filled with a random assortment of oddities and they compete to see who can make the most delicious and creative dish. “Chefs, your mystery basket contains leftover pizza, pickle juice, bitter melon and an old shoe – you must use all these ingredients to create a stunning dessert.” I’m still not sure if I love the show because it’s hysterical to see the look of absolute horror on the chefs’ faces, or because they inspire me with their insane creativity. Either way, that show motivated me to create a pretty awesome “make it work” moment last night, which helped me trick my converting-carnivore husband into eating (and enjoying!) a non-dairy ice cream and a few servings of fruit – that’s a huge feat!

So my mystery basket (otherwise known as my fridge) contained: extremely stale low-fat tortillas, blueberries, pomegranate balsamic vinegar, peaches and Coconut Bliss non-dairy ice cream. The challenge: get John to eat fruit and fool him into thinking he was eating real ice cream (so he wouldn’t give me “the face.”)  Not an easy challenge! But I’m happy to report that the resulting concoction was spectacularly delicious and had a nice little surprise that kept my carnivore (and me) coming back for more.

In typical Cimeron fashion, this dish is super quick and easy to make. (John and I have several “I’m so hungry I’m going to start gnawing on the couch” moments each week, so I often have to cook fast and simple dishes or else risk having teeth marks on my arm).  And this dessert packs a nice punch of flavors and has some really beautiful texture combinations. There are two ‘wow’ elements in this dessert: one is the luscious balsamic peach-blueberry compote with blueberry syrup – the fruit is enhanced by a touch of balsamic vinegar, which adds just the right amount of acidity to balance out the sweetness of the dessert, and the flavor is simply addictive. The other is the crispy, cinnamon-and-sugar baked tortilla triangles, which miraculously stay super crunchy even when soaking in the blueberry sauce! That was a lucky surprise. John loved breaking up the triangles and using the pieces to scoop up the “ice cream” and fruit compote, and I just couldn’t get enough of the lovely crunchiness of it. While we were licking our plates, John turned to me and said: “You have not been Chopped! Oh, and can I have more please?”  High praise indeed.

Balsamic Peach-Blueberry Surprise
(with blueberry syrup and crispy cinnamon-and-sugar tortilla triangles)

Serves: 4
Active prep time: 6 minutes
From fridge to table: 30 minutes

3 tortillas, cut into triangles
2 large peaches, sliced
2 1/2 cups blueberries
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar (note: I used a divine pomegranate balsamic from 11Olives.com and it was fantastic in this dish. But plain balsamic will work well too)
2 tbsp sugar
Cinnamon and sugar for sprinkling on the tortillas
Olive oil

Non-dairy ice cream (optional)

Heat oven to 350. Lay out the tortilla triangles on a baking dish. Spray with olive oil, or if you don’t have spray, lightly brush it on. Sprinkle each triangle with a little cinnamon and sugar. Bake until they are crispy and starting to brown, about 15 minutes. (Note: some may puff up while baking, which I think makes for an even prettier dessert!)

Meanwhile, slice up the peaches. Place them in a large bowl along with 1.5 cups of blueberries.

In a saucepan, combine the remaining 1 cup of blueberries with the 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar and 2 tbsp sugar. While stirring constantly, bring to a boil. Cook until a nice syrup starts to form and about half of the fruit has broken down,  about 1-3 minutes or so. Pour the hot syrup mixture over the fresh peaches and blueberries and stir well. Let sit for 20-30 minutes, stirring once or twice while it’s sitting.

Arrange a couple baked tortilla triangles on a plate and put a generous scoop of non-dairy ice cream in the middle. Top with big spoonfuls of the peach-blueberry compote and syrup. For a pretty presentation, take a baked tortilla triangle and plant it like a flag on top of the ice cream. Then watch it all disappear in an insant!

The Bonk-Preventer: Quinoa Tabbouleh

John and I have been mountain biking a ton lately, so I’ve been on the hunt for “power foods” to keep us from bonking on the trails. I’ve experimented with a bunch of different ingredients and the one I keep coming back to again and again is the magical, mighty quinoa. Packed with protein – the most of any grain on the planet – I find that it digests easily and provides us with plenty of energy to sustain us through long, grinding climbs through the spectacular redwood forests near our home.

Quinoa is out of this world, and it sort of looks like it, too. When cooked, each grain has a little ring around it and resembles a tiny Saturn. So cute! But since John thinks quinoa is only eaten by stoned, dreadlocked white guys named “OneLove YogiMoonglow,” I have to disguise the cosmic grain to get him to eat it. Lucky for me, the ever-versatile quinoa has no problem being a caped crusader.

One of my new favorite ways of preparing it is in a yummy tabbouleh. The focal point of this tabbouleh isn’t the quinoa, it’s the crunch of cucumbers, the zesty tasty of tomatoes, the cool breath of fresh mint and the tang of lemon juice. In this recipe, the quinoa easily takes the place of bulgar (which is what Middle Easterners traditionally use as the base of tabbouleh) and provides a slightly crunchy platform for the rest of the ingredients to take center stage and shine. John eats this all the time, but he has yet to discover that he’s eating quinoa. When our friends joke with him about Operation Carnivore Conversion and tease him about becoming “a quinoa-eater,” he bursts out laughing and emphatically declares: “I don’t eat it! That stuff is gross!” That always makes me snicker inside…or maybe it’s more like a devious Vincent Price-like evil laugh…but I digress…

Talk about versatile – we can eat this dish for breakfast, lunch, as a side-dish and as a snack. When we’re preparing for a long day on the trails, I break out the big spoons and we shovel down our quinoa tabbouleh. I’m happy to report that it prevents the dreaded bonk while we’re on long rides!  If you don’t know what bonking is, here is a visual representation for your amusement (John would die if he knew I was posting this, so this is our little secret. 🙂

I hope you enjoy this dish as much as we do!

Quinoa Tabbouleh

Serves: 6 as a side dish, or 2-3 for a main meal
From fridge to table: 15 minutes

1 ¾ cup water
1 cup quinoa
¼ tsp salt (plus some for finishing)
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/4 -1/2 cup olive oil (preferably meyer lemon infused olive oil for a divine flavor – I get mine from http://www.11Olives.com and it is delicious!)
1 cup fresh tomatoes, chopped
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
Two Persian cucumbers or pickling cucumbers, skin on, diced
4 scallions/green onions, chopped
1/2-3/4 cup fresh flat parsley, finely chopped (really depends on your taste)
1/2 cup fresh mint, finely chopped
salt, to taste

In a medium sauce pan, bring the quinoa, water and ¼ tsp salt to a boil. Reduce to simmer, cover and cook until water is fully absorbed by quinoa, about 10 minutes. Let stand for a few minutes then fluff with a fork.

While quinoa is cooking, chop all the other ingredients and squeeze the lemon juice. Once quinoa is done, transfer to a big bowl and toss with all the other ingredients. Start with 1/4 cup olive oil and add more to taste. Finish with a little bit of salt. Then go out and burn some energy!

Pomegranate-Lime Granita: a Refreshing, Easy Dessert

Ah, pomegranates: the fruit of my people! Whenever I see them, I think of my sweet Persian mother and how we used to sit together and seed pomegranates for hours while laughing about the fact that we always put more pomegranate seeds in our mouths than in the bowl. The tiny ruby fruit-gems burst with juicy flavor and are simply luscious and divine! And it’s incredibly good for you, too – several scientific studies have found a surprising array of the health benefits of pomegranate juice, including its ability to: lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, fight breast cancer, prevent cartilage deterioration (aka osteoarthritis), prevent lung cancer, slow prostate cancer, and even prevent Alzheimer’s Disease. No wonder it’s consider a super-food!

I can’t wait for the fall harvest of my favorite fruit, so I decided to create a super easy and truly delicious dessert that pays homage to my Persian mum…and also to my taste buds: Pomegranate-Lime Granita. The lime perfectly pairs with the pomegranate to give it a slightly citrus hint to tantalize your palate. This recipe also has a secret mission: to get my husband to consume more pomegranate juice. John loves this granita so much that he eats tons of it, which makes me happy since he’s getting plenty of pomegranate power in his dessert.

If you’ve never had a granita, it’s a light and refreshing frozen dessert. The texture is kind of between Italian ice and sorbet. I make mine fluffy since I like the crunch of fruity, icy crystals, but it’s just as easy – okay, it’s actually easier – to make it smoother. And bonus: this dessert is crazy-easy to make. Active time is less than 3 minutes. Who knew that creating a tasty and super healthy dessert could be so simple and quick? Try it let me know what you think!

Pomegranate-Lime Granita

Serves: 8
Active time: 2 minutes
Freezing time: depends on the temp of your freezer. For me, I like to give it at least 7 hours, but I prefer to let it set overnight

3 cups pomegranate juice
1/3 cup sugar
The juice of one lime (I like to use Persian limes, aka Bears limes, since they’re super juicy. And well, they’re also the fruit of my people!)

In a Tupperware bowl, combine all ingredients and stir until the sugar dissolves. Cover and freeze. If you want your granita fluffy and more crystallized (like I have in the photo), mix it with a fork every hour or so while it’s setting, breaking up the frozen chunks. If you want it more firm or you’re just lazy (warning, you’d better have a sharp fork and a strong arm – it’s going to be quite hard), just let it set in the freezer and when it’s done, scrape it with a fork. On hot summer nights, I like to freeze my serving bowls so it keeps the granita nice and cold while we’re eating it.

As my mum used to say, nush-y-jan (which I think is either Persian for ‘bon appetite’ or possibly ‘gimme more pomegranates.’) 🙂