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The Boomerang: Honey Garlic Chipotle Corn on the Cob

Oh man, last week John experienced Operation Carnivore Reversion! The Big Green Egg (which is a crazy grill fad) and the overwhelming draw of his favorite childhood dishes cooked by his mother was just too much for him to resist. He OD’d on meat so badly that he actually boomeranged and requested a full slate of vegan meals this week. “I feel like my intestines need a scrub down. Bring on the vegetables,” he said. Since this is the first time he’s actually requested a vegan meal plan, I’m torn between being bummed about his drunk-on-meat stupor from last week, and being stoked about his newfound zeal for vegan food. Hmm, let’s focus on being stoked and plan some super tasty veggie dishes, shall we?
John usually isn’t inspired to eat many veggies, so that’s left me no choice but to develop a secret weapon: Honey Garlic Chipotle Spread. I put this slightly sweet, slightly savory, slightly smoky taste of heaven on fresh white corn on the cob. It is to die for. And it’s a total crowd pleaser, too! I’m telling you, it’s the only thing on earth that can possibly make corn on the cob taste better than it is on its own. And as John readily admits: “This spread makes people eat a lot more corn.”
So whether you’re looking for a super tasty way to dress up corn on the cob, trying to get someone to eat more veggies, or providing a vegan boomerang for someone who had a momentary meat orgy, this is the recipe for you. Enjoy!
Honey Garlic Chipotle Corn on the Cob
Serves: 8
From fridge to table: 11 minutes
8 ears fresh corn on the cob, shucked
1 tbsp chipotle sauce *
1/2 cup melted vegan butter spread (I like using Earth Balance)
(If your vegan butter spread is unsalted, add ½ tsp salt to the recipe)
1/3 cup honey
3 cloves garlic
* To make chipotle sauce, buy a can of “canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce,” which you’ll find in the Hispanic food aisle in grocery stores, and puree it in a food processor or blender. Freeze in ice cube trays for future use.
Bring a big huge pot of water to a boil. Toss in your husked ears of corn, cover and turn off the heat. Let it steep for 11 minutes for perfectly cooked corn that’s both crisp and tender.
Meanwhile, dump all the other ingredients in a food processor and puree. Once the corn is done, drain it and pat each ear dry, then brush the spread onto each ear. By the way, you can also make the spread several days in advance and refrigerate it. It firms up a bit in the fridge, but I think it makes it easier to get a thick coat of it onto the corn. When you’re ready to serve the corn, pass the extra spread around the table so people can put on extra as they’re eating – trust me, they’ll love it so much that they’ll want more.
By the way, if you want to make the flavors really pop and you’re willing to go to a little extra work, grill the corn in the husk, and rub the spread onto the corn kernels before you put the corn on the grill – it deepens the flavor a lot and it’s simply deeeelish!

I had to include this. Our cat, Mango, loves loves loves corn. When I’m not looking, he steals the entire cob off my plate. Now he gets his own corn, sans chipotle spread of course. Are we the only ones with cats who eat strange foods?

Smoky Grilled Veggies With Romesco Sauce

My friend Julia, who has been getting over the vegan hump for a couple of weeks, asked what she should do about a recent dinner invitation to a French restaurant. She’s worried that there may not be any food choices sans animal products. She’s smart to be thinking ahead. Let’s face it: if it were legal for a French chef to marry a wheel of brie, a brick of butter or a slab of fillet mignon, they’d be racing to the Hall of Justice and beating each other with baguettes to be the first to wed their beloved foods.

Generally, I find that most restaurants are very accommodating about requests for vegan meals, but for restaurants with multi-course meals and price-fixed menus,  it helps to call a day in advance to notify them of your dietary needs. This gives the chef time to come up with an interesting dish for you. On rare occasions, I’ve had chefs get ornery and try to convert me into being a carnivore – yeah, like the arguments of an guy who has goose fat oozing out of his sweaty pours and is seconds away from having a heart attack could convince me to eat meat!  I’ve also seen some chefs totally cop out and basically serve me an entree-sized portion of a lame side dish, which recently happened to me – but with surprising results – at a super cool farmhouse dinner with Outstanding in the Field.

We had really high expectations at the dinner since we’d had a great Outstanding in the Field experience last year, and when we saw the table for this event set up along the banks of a peaceful stream running through the organic farm, and we heard that the chef of Michelin-starred Chez TJ was cooking for us at the farm, my mouth watered while thinking of the cool concoctions he’d surely come up with.

That’s me and my converting carnivore, John, at the Outstanding in the Field dinner

And yes, I gave ample notice that I wanted a vegan meal. Much to my dismay, my entree consisted of a large plate of grilled veggies with romesco sauce, which was the side dish to the carnivore’s entree. Seriously, that’s just phoning it in! Or so I thought… until I took my first bite. Oh my goodness, I could have eaten three plates of these divinely smoky farm-fresh vegetables and that savory, smoky, deeply flavored sauce of joy! (He also served it with a carrot-top pesto that didn’t do anything for me, so let’s just focus on the romesco, shall we?) The chef was kind enough to share some of his ingenious secrets with me, which I’ll now share with you below. This makes a surprisingly tasty and filling entree, but it’s also a great side-dish, and you could also make it into a yummy sandwich, so I hope you like it!

By the way, the funniest part about that Outstanding in the Field meal is that all the carnivores were totally jealous of my meal. The chef served them an epic fail of a main course: a super fatty cut of pork belly that was utterly devoid of flavor, that jiggled ominously when the plate moved, and that no one could eat. That helped convert several carnivores at our table into vegans! 🙂

Seriously, who could eat meat after seeing this horrifying mess of pork fat?!

Smoky Grilled Vegetables with Romesco Sauce

Serves: 8 as a side dish, 4 as a main dish

From fridge to table: 15 minutes

– A large handful of redwood tips (that is, the new growth at the end of redwood tree branches. If redwoods don’t grow near you, try using hickory or alderwood chips, which you can find in any store that sells grills)
– 3 zucchini, cut lengthwise into 1/2 inch slabs
– 2 red peppers, seeded and cut into large flat slabs
– 3 spring onions, cut into 1/2 inch slabs
– A large handful of flavorful mushrooms (like shitake or crimini), stemmed
– Three large carrots, chopped diagonally to create long, 1/2 inch thick coins
– Two large tomatoes, halved
– A handful of asparagus tips
– Any other vegetables that you like to grill (cauliflower, fingerling potatoes, you name it!)

For the Romesco Sauce:

– 1/3 cup skinned almond slivers
– 1/2 tsp hot red pepper flakes
– 1 slice of sourdough sandwich bread, crust removed (any firm white bread will work, but c’mon, we all know that sourdough is tastiest!)
– 2 cloves garlic, chopped
– 1/2 cup roasted red peppers, skinned and finely chopped (you can save time by using roasted red peppers from a jar)
– 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
– 1/4 tsp smoked sea salt
– 1/4 cup olive oil (preferably extra virgin)

Heat up your grill and spray (or brush) your veggies with olive oil. When the grill gets really hot, place your veggies on the grate and just before you close the lid, toss the redwood tips on the hot coals. Close the lid and allow the smoke to infuse the vegetables with insanely awesome flavor. Check your veggies after about 4 minutes and flip when they’ve got nice char marks. Note: some will cook faster than others. Continue cooking until the vegetables are cooked through.

Meanwhile, prepare your romesco sauce. In a food processor, blend together the almonds, red pepper flakes, chunks of torn bread and garlic. When it’s done, it should resemble a fine meal, like thick breadcrumbs. Then add the balsamic vinegar, roasted red peppers and salt then puree. Add the olive oil slowly while the processor is running. It will create a luscious, thick sauce.

Serve the veggies with romesco sauce spread on top, and be sure to pass around the extra sauce since you and your guests will want to use your veggies like a zamboni to get every bit of that delicious romesco. Enjoy!

Secret Popcorn

Hello and sorry for my absence! I’m in Portugal on assignment at the Kite Surf Pro World Championship Tour event in gorgeous Cascais. Not-so-reliable internet connections and long days of work have made it challenging to post. But I’ve been dying to dig in to this one, so let’s get to it!

I’m about to teach you a secret to making popcorn in the microwave WITHOUT having to buy those disgusting chemical-laden microwavable popcorns. It’s so simple that you’re going to say “no way – seriously?!” and will save you time and money, and may even make you live longer (I mean seriously – those polymers that they call ‘flavoring’ in the microwave bags cannot be good for you).  The evil makers of microwavable popcorn are going to hate me for this, but this is well-deserved payback for their assault on my pallet and their utter mistreatment of my favorite snack: the almighty popcorn.

It’s no secret that popcorn is one of the greatest snacks on the planet. Ever since childhood when my mum would make it in a huge pot on the stove, I have been an addict. It’s my go-to food when I – or my potato-chip loving husband –  have the munchies. It’s light, crunchy, good for you and not fattening, and the perfect alternative to greasy chips. The only imperfect thing about it is that it’s a pain to make. Oh how I rejoiced when microwavable popcorn came out.. And then oh how I frantically scraped my tongue when those chemically coated cardboard popcorn pieces passed my lips. That was emotionally scarring! So those evil makers of microwave popcorn deserve what’s coming to them now…

Here’s the secret: you can pop loose popcorn in any paper bag in the microwave. Seriously.

I like using small paper lunch bags, or better yet, get the free little paper freezer bags from the grocery store, which are slightly thicker than lunch bags – you know, the ones that they use for small tubs of ice cream. Just ask the checkout person and they’ll give a handful of bags for free. This will save you a lot of money – one bag of loose popcorn (with about 15 cents worth of kernels) makes about as much as $30-40 worth of those microwavable popcorn bags. And it’ll also save your taste buds from being assaulted by chemicals.

Here’s how you do it: Load up the bag with 1/4-1/2 cup of loose popcorn kernels (try white popcorn – it’s the lightest and has the best flavor in my opinion), fold the top of the bag  tightly with three folds, put in the microwave (flat side down) and pop it on your microwave’s popcorn setting. Listen for the pops to settle – you may need to add 30-60 seconds to your microwave’s popcorn setting to get all the kernels popped.

One more secret to awesome popcorn: sprinkle it with truffle salt. Yep, truffle salt. It is TO DIE FOR on popcorn! Once I tried it, it was over – it’s the only way I can eat popcorn now. You can purchase truffle salt online at lots of place. I like the one I found at San Francisco’s Ferry Plaza building at the mushroom guy’s shop, and also the black truffle salt at SpiceHound.com – both of theirs have a big truffle flavor and lots of black truffle bits. At $20-25 per jar, it’s expensive but it’ll last you a couple of years – it’s totally worth it. Happy snacking!

Hi from Portugal!

Nutty Indonesian Sweet Noodles


Knowing how much I adore Bali (who wouldn’t love that tropical paradise where you can get $4 massages?!), and probably remembering how much I talk about my favorite noodle and nut dish that I eat whenever I’m there (if allowed, I would bathe in this dish), my neighbor Martha and her daughter Jamie shared this fabulous and quick-to-prepare recipe with me. It’s from The Accidental Vegan cookbook and is an elegant vegetarian adaptation of a traditional Indonesian dish that is simply divine. Unlike my other favorite dishes that pretty much explode with flavor, this meal lightly dances on your taste buds with a slightly sweet flavor and a lovely nuttiness. It’s got loads of protein to fill your belly with joy. Plus, it’s quick, simple and delicious! Whether you’re trying to please a carnivore’s tummy, a vegan’s palate or a picky kid’s appetite, this dish delivers.

This is the sweet little Indonesian great-grandmother who taught me how to make this dish. See, I wasn't joking when I said her kitchen was blackened!

I learned how to make the traditional version of this dish in the blackened kitchen of an ancient Balinese great-grandmother who used Indonesian candlenuts to make this dish. It can be challenging to find candlenuts outside of Asia, but don’t worry – the other nuts listed below make fantastic substitutes. I’m also happy to report that you can use an actual range to cook this meal instead of the little cooking fire that the ancient great-grandma used. Although I’ll admit it was fun to cook with her, even though she didn’t speak a word of English and my mastery of the Indonesian language is restricted to massage- and surfing-related terms.  Unfortunately I didn’t remember almost anything she taught me since she bestowed on me the gift of an aromatic leaf that she indicated I should chew on while cooking. It made my lips numb. Being unable to feel my tongue, I accidentally swallowed the masticated leaf, which made the old lady’s eyes bulge in alarm – apparently you’re just supposed to chew it and spit it out. Who knows what it was – all I know is that I didn’t remember anything else that followed, except that I had monkeys sitting on my shoulder and that the flames in her cooking fire magically transformed into technicolor aliens that waved forks at me. So thank goodness for the Accidental Vegan cookbook for recreating this recipe!

I made a few changes to get the flavor to be a closer approximation to the dish I love eating in Indonesia, and I think the end result is divine. By the way, if you have sweet soy sauce, which is what is typically used in this dish, you can use that instead of the soy/molasses combo. You can find it in most Asian food stores. But I doubt your local Asian food store stocks that weird Indonesian chewing leaf with numbing and hallucinogenic properties. You never know though!
Nutty Indonesian Sweet Noodles

From fridge to table: about 10 minutes

Serves: 4

1 pound dry Asian noodles (such as udon or soba)
1/2 cup roasted cashews
1/2 cup roasted peanuts
1/2 cup roasted hazelnuts (aka “filberts”) with the skins rubbed off
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, pushed through a press
1.5 tbsp grated ginger
1 cup bean sprouts (kale is also a great substitute)
3 tbsp soy sauce
1tbsp molasses
1 tbsp toasted sesame oil

Bring a pot of water to a boil and add the noodles; cook until al dente. Drain noodles well then run under cold water so they don’t get gummy.

Meanwhile, put the nuts in a food processor and pulse a few times to coarsely chop. Heat the olive oil in a wok over medium low heat, add the onions, garlic and ginger and saute for 3-5 minutes, until onion starts to soften. Stir in the nuts, sprouts, soy sauce, molasses and sesame oil and cook for another few minutes until everything is heated through. Add noodles and toss everything with tongs until the noodles absorb the liquid. Serve hot.

Hmm, maybe I wasn't hallucinating?!

Strawberries with Reduced Balsamic Syrup – Crazy-Easy, Tasty, Healthy Dessert

Wow, have you tried the spring strawberries yet? They’re positively bursting with juicy, sweet flavor! If you want to try an insanely simple and super quick dessert recipe that’s elegant, unique, healthy and moan-worthy delicious, you’ve got to try this dish: Strawberries with Reduced Balsamic Vinegar Syrup. I know it sounds like an odd combo, but trust me, the flavors create a harmonious symphony that’s both luscious and vibrant. It may even remind you of the deep, rich flavor of a berrylicious zinfandel.

I came up with this recipe while trying to figure out a quick and tasty sugar-free dessert that John and our friends might like.  I decided that it was pretty necessary to develop a sugar-free recipe after I had the wits scared out of me when I read a bunch of recent scientific studies about sugar and how bad it is for our bodies. The studies go so far as to call sugar “toxic” and “poison” since it’s been proven to fuel the growth of cancer, cause high blood pressure, prematurely age skin, create man-eating mutant sharks with laser beams on their heads, hasten the apocalypse, etc. But all of the studies said that the naturally occurring sugars in fruits are totally fine when you eat them in the whole fruit (as opposed to juicing fruits or separating the sugar from the flesh of the fruit and concentrating it).

This recipe features the naturally sweet, delicious flavor of ripe strawberries and the deep, dark, silky-smooth, tangy and slightly tannic flavor of reduced/concentrated balsamic vinegar to create a remarkable dessert. When you reduce the balsamic, it really deepens the flavor and takes away its sharp bite while creating a thick syrup, which is divine. So if you choose to banish sugar from your diet, you won’t feel the least bit deprived when you eat this dessert. You won’t even miss the sugar…but watch out for those mutant sharks with laser beams on their heads.

Strawberries with Reduced Balsamic Syrup

Serves: 6
From fridge to table: 5-10 minutes

– 1 pint fresh, ripe organic strawberries *
– 1/2 cup aged balsamic vinegar **

* Choose organic strawberries if you can afford it. Strawberries absorb chemicals through their skin and right into the flesh of the fruit, so if you buy a conventionally grown strawberry, even if you wash off a berry, you may still be eating pesticides. Plus, organic berries just taste better!

** Flavored balsamics, like fig or strawberry balsamic, work even better in this recipe

Pour balsamic vinegar into a small saucepan and bring to a slow boil. Boil it down until it’s reduced by a little more than half, occasionally swirling the vinegar in your saucepan. Once it’s reduced, remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature, which will thicken it into a syrup consistency. Arrange berries in a single layer on a plate, drizzle balsamic over them and serve immediately. Enjoy!

Once reduced and cooled, the reduced balsamic vinegar takes on a syrupy consistence. If you tip your finger in it, it should stick to your finger and slowly slide off.

Quicky Thai-Style Noodles in Yummy Peanut Sauce

Every time John and I eat Thai food, we say the same thing: “Oh man, I could eat this every day!” The sauces are simply divine! One of the most versatile is peanut sauce. Thai peanut sauces are so good that they can be used for just about everything: as a dip for summer rolls, drizzled on steamed veggies, as the sauce for a thai-style pizza. It’s also a great projectile when you want to fling a spoonful of something at your spouse when he really deserves it, like when he polishes off the bottle of wine while you’re in the hot tub staring forlornly at your empty glass.

This is a very tasty Thai-inspired noodle dish that’s super quick to make. I’ve included a really delicious peanut sauce recipe at the end of this post, but if you are pressed for time or you’re just feelin’ lazy (no shame in that!), you can also use peanut satay sauce from a jar. For dinner, I serve this hot and for lunch I serve it cold – try it both ways and see what you prefer!

Quicky Thai-Style Noodles in Yummy Peanut Sauce

From fridge to table: 15 minutes
Serves: 4

3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup asparagus tips
1/2 cup sugar snap peas, sliced
8 mushrooms, stemmed and sliced (shitake or baby portabella work great since they’re so flavorful)
1/2 cube extra firm tofu, sliced into 1/2 inch cubes (if you want extra flavor, marinate the tofu in teriyaki sauce overnight)
1/4 cup green onions, sliced thin
1/4 cup cilantro, finely chopped
1/4 cup roasted, unsalted peanuts
1/4-1/2 cup peanut satay sauce from a jar, or homemade peanut sauce (recipe below) *
6 oz dry udon noodles, such as Japanese yokogiri

Cook noodles by following the directions on the package. Rinse with cold water and set aside. If using yokogiri udon noodles, bring a pot of water to boil, stir in noodles. When the pot begins to boil again, add 1 cup cold water. When it comes back to a boil, drain the noodles and rinse with cold water. Set aside.

Over high heat, warm a couple tablespoons of oil in a wok or large fry pan with high sides. To avoid oil splatter, I recommend sliding the ingredients down the sides of the pan. When the oil is good and hot, slide in the tofu and let it brown before stirring. Allow to brown on a couple of sides (I like mine nearly blackened – it adds character!), and then slide in the red bell pepper. Once it starts to turn orange, kind of like the color of a tragic spray-tan victim, slide in the sugar snap peas, mushrooms, asparagus and garlic. Saute until the asparagus is crisp-tender. Turn down heat to medium and add the peanut sauce, green onions, cilantro, peanuts and noodles – toss very well to fully coat the noodles. Add more peanut sauce to taste. (But be sure to save some just in case you need to fling it at your spouse if he drinks all the wine!)

* If you want to make homemade peanut sauce, here’s my recipe, which tastes way better than the store-bought stuff in a jar (if I do say so myself…):

Homemade peanut sauce

1/4 cup organic chunky peanut butter
3 tsp chili garlic sauce (you can find this in the Asian section of the market)
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp hoisin sauce (also found in the Asian section of the market)
3 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
1/2 cup water

Whirl all ingredients together in a food processor and voila, you’ve got peanut sauce!

Mmmm, Minted Peas!

Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God! English peas are finally back at the farmer’s market and in grocery stores! (You’re doing a happy dance right now, aren’t you? You know I am!) To celebrate, we’re making Minted Peas, a super fast, easy and drool-inducing side dish. Of all the dishes I make, this one is the most requested by friends and my husband – people can’t get enough of this, and neither can I. It’s so good that my carnivore husband actually *requests* it – that’s a pretty big deal for a guy who sees the ‘wisdom’ in congress declaring that pizza is a vegetable. I put a California-twist on this English dish to blend the slightly sweet flavor and crisp texture of peas straight from the pod with a refreshing splash of mint, and round it out with a buttery, smokey seasoning. This is a fantastic dish.

If the thought of peas doesn’t inspire you to break into an impromptu River Dance, it’s probably because you’ve never had freshly shelled English peas. These are not the squishy, mealy, weird smelling pellets borne from a can or a frozen bag that your parents force-fed you as a child. Ug, it gives me chills when I recall my mum saying: “Cimeron, please just eat one spoonful of peas or you’ll get scurvy.” I would dissolve into tears and beg my mum not to make me eat the “spongy aliens.” A couple of decades later when I discovered English peas in the pod and shelled them myself, I fell head over heals in love with these crisp yet tender heavenly orbs of joy. Fear not – these fresh peas bear no resemblance to those “spongy aliens” found in cans (and in my childhood nightmares). Freshly shelled English peas are better than candy – seriously! When John craves something sweet, he munches on peas, which are a healthy and tasty high-fiber snack.

We’re going to flash-cook (aka blanch) the peas to keep the centers crisp and delicious while giving the exteriors a wonderfully smooth texture. So prepare yourself to have a new favorite side dish!

Mmmm, Minted Peas

Serves: 2-3
From fridge to table: 5 minutes

1.5 cups freshly shelled English peas (you’ll need to buy a couple pounds of pods)
2 tbsp fresh mint, finely minced
1/2 tsp parsley, finely minced
1/4 tsp smoked sea salt*
a pinch of ground sage
1 tbsp Earth Balance (or any other butter substitute)

* If you haven’t yet tried smoked sea salt, now’s the time! It imparts such a lovely smokey flavor that makes ordinary dishes extraordinary and it’s just divine with the minted peas. Trust me – once you try it, you’ll be using it in everything: in soups, on veggies, in potato dishes. I get mine from SpiceHound.com; you can also find it at gourmet grocery stores, cooking shops and even on Amazon.com. A little goes a long way, so it lasts forever.

In a medium saucepan, bring 5 cups of water to a rapid boil. Toss in the shelled peas and cook for 30 seconds. Drain immediately and put the peas in a serving bowl. Toss in the herbs, seasonings and butter substitute and mix thoroughly. Serve hot and enjoy! Mmmm!

Dancing Taste Buds: Indian-Inspired Tofu Curry

Mmm, street food! Wherever you go in Asia, you’re sure to find some of the best food from the hawkers on the street…if you’re bold enough to try it. You’ll find these vendors on busy street corners, on boats in crowded canals, and in bustling night markets with their steamy carts lit by luminaries. The crowds around the most popular vendors might just convince you to overlook the guy at the next cart selling deep fried crickets – blehk!

This fragrant coconut milk-based Indian-style tofu curry makes me think of warm Bombay nights and a exuberant Bollywood movies bursting with vibrant tropical colors, smiles and dancing. It’s a delicious, thick, filling curry that’s oh so satisfying! And the tofu packs this dish with protein. It’s so rich that meat-eaters love it, as do vegans! And the chef in your family will like it too since it’s so easy and quick to make. I like to make this on my Bollywood dancing night – yes, I take a Bollywood dance class and I flipping love it! (You don’t believe me, do you? Well this is a photo of our last performance – that’s me on the bottom left.) The music is so happy and the choreography is so fun that I can’t help but laugh through the whole class. I have yet to get John to do a little Bollywood dance with me, but I’m persistent. One day, I swear I’ll get him to gyrate to a tabla beat!

I’ve adapted this from a recipe by the wonderful cookbook author, Andrea Nguyen. You can use regular curry powder, but if you have Madras curry, this dish really comes alive and adds a spicy kick that’s sure to make your taste buds dance!

Indian-Inspired Tofu Curry

Serves: 4
From fridge to table: about 15-20 minutes

2-3 tbsp canola or grapeseed oil
1 can (14 oz) coconut milk
14-16 oz. firm tofu cut into thin domino-sized/shaped pieces
1/2 tsp salt (I like using smoked sea salt – it adds so much depth, it’s delicious)
1/2 cup thinly sliced shallots
2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 cup sliced bamboo shoots (drained and rinsed)
1.5 tsp curry powder, preferably Madras curry
2 tsp light brown sugar
2-3 small heads baby bok choy, cut into 1″ pieces
1/2 cup asparagus tips, sliced
1/2 cup chopped fresh Asian-style herbs. Any of the following works great with this dish: mint, cilantro or basil. (Confession: I used all three and it was fabulous!)

Cooked rice, or cooked noodles (soba or udon are great with this)

If you have time, do this step with the tofu since it creates an interesting texture, but if you don’t have time, you can skip it: put tofu in a wide, shallow bowl. Mix in 1 tsp salt with 2 cups very hot water and pour over tofu. Let sit for 15 minutes, then drain and let sit on paper towels for 15 minutes.

Heat oil in large non-stick saucepan over medium heat. Fry shallots until lightly golden, about 8 minutes. Add garlic and saute 2-3 minutes until light and crisp. Add curry powder. Remove solid ingredients from pan and set aside, but don’t clean the pan. Add a little more oil and then saute the tofu, turning once, until golden – about 4-5 minutes. It won’t get crispy, but it’ll get golden around the edges.

Add the shallot mixture to the pan again, and add coconut milk, salt, bamboo shoots and brown sugar. Bring to simmer and cook 2-3 minutes. Add bok choy and asparagus and cook until tender, about 3-4 minutes. Transfer to a serving bowl and top with chopped herbs.  Serve with either rice or atop noodles. Then rejoice as your taste buds dance!

Celebrating Spring with Asparagus

Happy Norooz! The first day of spring is Persian New Year, or Norzooz, which is a great excuse to celebrate the profusion of beautiful flowers and tasty spring produce arriving at the market. Seeing all the fresh strawberries and asparagus making their first appearance of the season at the farmer’s market, I get all hyper and usually buy so much that I could easily feed a family of 12. Today’s recipe is for a super quick and easy, wonderfully tasty asparagus side-dish, which I will be making every night for the next week since I went a little nuts at the asparagus stand. It’s such an energizing season of renewal – I can’t help myself!

Speaking of renewal, my friend Joanne Marquez recently told me about an interesting “sustainability challenge” at the bank where she works: New Resource Bank in San Francisco. For the year-long challenge, Joanne chose to convert to vegetarianism. Some people looked at her a little funny, probably because most people don’t realize that going meat-free helps the environment. A 2005 University of Chicago study concluded: “Plant-based diets are healthier for people as well as for the planet.” Researchers compared the impact that vegetarian and meat-based American diets have on the environment and found that “…the average American diet – including all food processing steps – results in the annual production of an extra 1.5 tons of CO2-equivalent [in the form of all greenhouse gases] compared to a no-meat diet.” Adopting a vegetarian diet can make as much of a difference on the environment as switching from a standard sedan to a hybrid vehicle. That’s pretty substantial! So go Joanne!

But the benefits don’t stop there. Joanne admits that her new vegetarian diet is getting her to eat things that she would have never before tried! Same holds true for my converting carnivore husband who is being such a great sport about trying new dishes.

When I first met John, he’d never tried asparagus. It took him a while to get used to it, and for me to figure out how to make it most appetizing for him, but now he looks forward to the first tender shoots of spring asparagus as I do. Well, maybe I’m a little crazier for it than he is, seeing as how I just bought 5 pounds of it for the two of us.

I hope you enjoy the recipe!

Roasted Asparagus

From fridge to table: 15 minutes

Serves: 4-6

1 pound fresh asparagus, woody ends trimmed off
1-2 tbsp olive oil (just enough to fully coat each asparagus spear)
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Smoked sea salt to taste
A dash of ground coriander
A dash of ground sage

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

In a bowl, mix together smoked sea salt, pepper, coriander and sage. Add the asparagus and oil and toss together to fully coat the asparagus. Arrange asparagus in a single layer in a baking dish and bake for 10 minutes (or 8 for the pencil-thin asparagus) until tender but still a little bit crisp. Serve hot.

 

Carnivore Blinded by Science: Harvard Study Links Red Meat Consumption with Increased Risk of Death

(For those who just want today’s recipe – Fake Beef Fajitas – feel free to skip bottom of the post…but for those who want to hear about a groundbreaking study about red meat and savor the wonderful taste of a satisfying victory over a carnivore, read on!)

Oh, the sweet satisfaction of defeating an opponent! I’m talking about our friend Drew – a brilliant world renowned scientist (and red meat fanatic) – who evilly launched Operation Enduring Meat in response to my efforts to help my husband convert to a meat-free diet. Harvard School of Public Health totally helped me out here. Their research scientists recently released the results of an extensive two-decades-long study about red meat consumption. Their findings: “Red meat consumption is associated with an increased risk of total, cardiovascular, and cancer mortality,” and added that there is “clear evidence that regular consumption of red meat, especially processed meat, contributes substantially to premature death.” The lead author, An Pan,  a research fellow at HSPH, says: “Our study adds more evidence to the health risks of eating high amounts of red meat, which has been associated with type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, and certain cancers in other studies.” The best part about this: Drew found this study on his own – I didn’t even have to rub it in his face since Harvard did that work for me. (Thank you Harvard!)

The study is pretty fascinating. Researchers followed participants for up to 28 years and found that eating the equivalent of one hot dog or two slices of bacon per day was associated with a whopping 20% increase in death. But what about unprocessed red meat, like say a small slab of grass-fed organic beef? Eating a very small serving (about the size of a deck of cards) of unprocessed meat was associated with a 13% increased risk of mortality. That’s quite significant!

The study estimated that 9.3% of the deaths of the men they studied and 7.6% of women could have been prevented had those participants adopted a red meat-free diet. It went on to say that replacing meat with healthy protein sources lowers your mortality risk. There’s a 19% reduction if you replace meat with nuts, 10% for legumes and 14% for whole grains. (It’s also 14% for poultry, but let’s not rain on my epic vegan parade, okay?) For the record, I’ve never tried to convert Drew into being a vegan, but once he launched his meat assault, the war was on. And I’m so happy to have won this latest battle!

Do you hear that sound? That faint sound of a brainiac meat-loving scientist screaming “nooooooooo!!!” in the distance is coming from our good friend Drew… being blinded by science! Ha ha! Sweet, sweet victory.

Funny, while Drew was telling us about this study and lamenting that “red meat is pretty much horrible on all levels – Oh God NO!” he was eagerly devouring an enormous bowl of my vegan African Curried Coconut Soup with Chickpeas. Something tells me Drew will be over at our house more often now, but probably not to secretly slip John steak anymore. Woohoo! Score another point for Team Veg and Operation Carnivore Conversion.

In honor of this study and to help Drew overcome his attachment to meat, I’m going to make him Beefless Beef Fajitas using a soy-based beef substitute from Trader Joe’s. Since my carnivore didn’t notice the difference, neither will Drew, and neither will you!

 

Fake Beef Fajitas

From fridge to table: about 15 minutes

Serves: 6

Ingredients:

1 tbsp oil (if you can, use an oil that’s suited to high heat cooking, like grapeseed oil)
1 package fake beef (I used Trader Joe’s Beef-less Beef. My carnivore husband gave it a thumbs up and said “Ooo, that’s very edible! You can’t tell it’s fake in these fajitas.”)
1 large yellow onion, sliced into thin strips
1 large red bell pepper, sliced into thin strips
1/2 cup zucchini, chopped
1/2 cup mushrooms, chopped
1 package fajita seasoning (personally, I like to make homemade fajita sauce, but John likes the packaged version since he says it coats the fake meat better and helps fool his taste buds)
6-8 tortillas
In a large saute pan or wok, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Slide in the onion and stir for 2 minutes, then slide in the bell pepper and saute until the onion is translucent. Add the zucchini and saute for a couple minutes to soften the zucchini. Add the mushrooms and fake beef strips, then add the package of fajita seasoning and 1/4-1/3 cup water (depending on your desired thickness of the sauce). Turn down heat to medium-low and continue cooking until the fake beef is heated through. Just before you’re ready to serve, drape a tortilla over the hot fajita mix to soften the tortilla, then spoon the fajita mix into the tortilla and serve. Enjoy!