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Take Me Away, Chipotle-Sage Sweet Potato Fries!

On rare occasions, I run across a really incredible ingredient that transports me to a land far, far away where my troubles, stress and worries cease to exist.  Thanks to my assortment of truly inspired infused olive oils and boldly flavored vinegars from 11 Olives that arrived today – and the subsequent tasting orgy that unfolded in my kitchen – I joyfully floated to a magical fantasy kingdom where rivers flowed with a heavenly mango balsamic, dragonflies rested on puffy sherbet-colored clouds of blood orange olive oil, and lacy yellow flowers glistened with oh-so-delicate and fragrant white lemon balsamic vinegar. Heaven on earth! It was so divine that I had to invite my neighbor friends to come over and share the joy of this amazing tasting. They laughed at my giddy excitement over the phone, but when Martha and her daughter Kelsey arrived, they were soon exclaiming “OH MY GOD!!” and “you have to try this one – it’s insane and I’ve never tasted anything like it!” while their eyes bulged and their mouths filled with the divine flavors of these amazing oils and vinegars. I had 14 in all to taste. I know, I know, I have absolutely no self control. But after talking with the owner and maker of the artisinal barrel-aged balsamics and infused olive oils, and hearing his passion for food and the beautiful flavors he’s concocted, I couldn’t help myself. My only regret is that I didn’t buy more flavors! (Check out their menu at http://www.11Olives.com. To purchase, contact the owner, Rick – he’s super cool and a very nice uber-foody – at info@11olives.com or call 206-290-4856.)

I can’t decide my favorite combos yet – California lime olive oil with pomegranate vinegar, or mango vinegar with chipotle oil are the current frontrunners – so I’m sure you’ll be seeing lots of cool recipes from me in the weeks to come! Kelsey came up with the first killer recipe, which I cheffed up tonight. It is delectable: sweet potato fries dressed with chipotle olive oil and fresh sage. The smoky chipotle flavor pairs beautifully with the rich, creamy tasty of sweet potatoes, the sage adds a unique and interesting depth and then there’s the slight kick of heat to finish it off. Oh my…when you try this, it may just sweep you away to that magical land of wondrous flavors and pure happiness. So don’t be surprised if you hear yourself saying: Take me away, chipotle-sage sweet potato fries!

Chipotle-Sage Sweet Potato Fries

Serves: 6
From fridge to table: 22 minutes

1 – 15 oz bag of frozen julienne cut sweet potato fries
15 large, fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
3 tbsp chipotle olive oil from 11 Olives

Heat oven to 425. Place fries in a large bowl and toss well with sage and oil. Spread in a single layer on a cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes (or until crispy and golden), tossing a couple of times while baking to ensure even browning and crisping. Serve plain – the flavor is so insanely good that you don’t need any dipping sauce at all. Enjoy!

Thanks for the inspiration, Kelsey, and also 11 Olives!

Off-The-Vine Tomato Soup

Hello. My name is Cimeron and I’m a tomato addict. I ignored all the warning signs, like when I planted 18 tomatoes in my garden last spring. I convinced myself that it was normal and declared it would be a fun challenge to make use of all the tomatoes once harvest time rolled around. Little did I know that I’d have pounds and pounds and POUNDS of tasty, delectable tomatoes. John and I are utterly drunk on tomatoes! Perhaps it’s wrong to be addicted to garden-fresh tomatoes, but it tastes so right!

Even if it’s not raining tomatoes in your yard, you can still head to the farmer’s market and pick up some delicious tomatoes that are bursting with summer-fresh flavor. While my favorite way to eat them is raw so we can taste all their tangy, sweet, juicy goodness, this vibrant soup also highlights the bright, fresh flavor of ripe tomatoes. It’s so good that John always asks for seconds, and our friends request it frequently. There are some interesting secret ingredients that help the tomato flavor pop even more: ginger, orange zest and a hint of clove. Trust me on this: this is a mouth-wateringly good soup.

So get out to your garden and pick some fresh tomatoes, or pick up some vine-ripened flavor-bombs at your farmer’s market and prepare to feel your taste buds dance for joy!

Cimeron’s Off-the-Vine Tomato Soup

Serves: 4-6 as a meal, or 8 as a starter
From vine to table: about 30 minutes

3 tbsp olive oil
2 yellow onions, diced
18 mid-sized tomatoes (between golf ball and baseball size) or 13 big suckers, chopped up
2 tbsp grated ginger (fresh ginger, peeled)
3.5 tbsp grated orange peel
A pinch of ground cloves
A big handful of fresh basil, chopped very finely
A handful of croutons

In a big pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Sauté the onions until they’re see-through, which takes about 8 minutes or so. Add the orange peel, ginger and cloves, stirring/cooking for 2 minutes to release the fragrance and flavor of the additions. Then reduce heat to medium, toss in the tomatoes and cook – uncovered – until the tomatoes have broken down, which can take about 15-20 minutes. Be sure to stir them every now and then so they don’t stick to the bottom and burn. Turn off the heat and then with a stick blender, puree the soup. You could also use a blender or food processor, but since I hate to clean, I like to just put the stick blender right in the pot and go to town on it.  Season the soup with salt (preferably smoked sea salt if you have it) and pepper.  Serve the soup hot with some fresh basil on top and a couple of croutons. Enjoy!

 

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!

World Famous Bruschetta

Oh thank God, summer-fresh tomatoes are ripe on the vine on my tomato plants, and they’re all over the farmer’s market! There’s no better way to celebrate the flavor of fresh tomatoes than with this delicious bruschetta, which is the perfect marriage of flavors. It’s bright, slightly sweet, a little savory, earthy, tangy and delicious. Plus it’s got the fabulous crunch of crostini with the sink-your-teeth-into-it texture of fresh tomatoes. Yum! This is one of my secret weapons to help convert my carnivore husband into a vegan. It’s all about creating ultra flavorful, incredibly delicious dishes and this is definitely one of them. And it doesn’t hurt that this helps me put my tomatoes to good use. Since I planted 18 heirloom tomatoes this year (does anyone need that many tomatoes?!), I have realized two things: 1. it’s time that I face the fact that I have a tomato plant addiction, and 2. I’d better find a lot of awesome uses for tomatoes.

The only reason why I call this my “world famous” bruschetta is because wherever John and I travel in the world, I always make this appetizer for the new friends we make along the way. And it always inspires moans of joy…in every accent! Most bruschetta recipes call for you to make the crostini and put the tomato mixture on top, but since people pretty much inhale it, I’ve taken to serving the topping in a separate bowl to force people to make their own (which slows them down a tiny bit). Yes, there have been nights when this is all that John and I eat – we start with every intention to eat a complete dinner but we just can’t stop ourselves since it’s so tasty. The best part is that when I make this, it satisfies my carnivore husband so much that he stops fantasizing about having meat for the night. That’s an impressive feat for a dish! Hmm, I think I should rename this “Magic Bruschetta.”

Cimeron’s Magic Bruschetta

Serves: 6-8

From fridge to table: a little over an hour

2 cups chopped cherry tomatoes, tossed in a strainer to drain off extra juice

4 tbsp fresh basil, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

2/3 – 3/4 cup yellow onion, finely chopped

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

2 tsp lemon juice, freshly squeezed

1 tsp dried oregano

freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 baguette, sliced into thin coins

Heat oven to 350. Arrange baguette slices in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Spray with olive oil and sprinkle with a little bit of garlic powder, or rub each one down with a half-sliced clove of garlic. Bake the bread coins until they’re golden and crispy, which can take anywhere from 5-10 minutes depending on your oven. Then voila – you have crostini! Celebrate your awesomeness, then remove crostini from oven and put it in a serving bowl.

In a large mixing bowl, mix the bruschetta ingredients well and refrigerate for one hour, stirring every 15 minutes or so if you can. Do not cheat and skip the refrigeration step – the flavors only come alive and set after an hour of refrigeration. Trust me on this one!

Serve the crostini in a bowl and the bruschetta in a separate bowl, then watch your friends and family vacuum it up! Or screw your friends and save it all for yourself… because it’s THAT good. 🙂

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!

Cimeron’s Not-So-Suffering Succotash

Hurray – the sparkling sunny days are here! And so are fabulous veggies bursting with flavor. If you love the warm seasons as much as I do, you’re going to want to try this dish: it tastes like summer! The creamy smoothness of butter beans provides a most luxurious base for the layers of luscious summer flavors in this dish: sweet, crispy white corn, tangy vine-ripened tomatoes, and the distinctively fabulous taste of sun-kissed basil. Every time I make this, it disappears instantly. Friends eat multiple helpings and John vacuums it up. (Shhh, I’m going to tell you a secret: this dish is so good that sometimes I hide it in the fridge so that I can have it all to myself.) And the best part is that it’s as good for you as it is tasty.

This is not your mother’s succotash (I still have nightmares about that frozen bag stuff my mother tried to force-feed me when I was a kid that had mealy beans and mushy corn – blehk!) This bright, sunshiny dish is truly remarkable and is hearty enough to make a meal, although it also makes a perfect side dish, especially if you’re barbequing. And it’s got lots of protein, which is a nice bonus for vegetarians and vegans. So celebrate the season and bite into summer with my Not-So-Sufferin’ Succotash!

Cimeron’s Not-So-Sufferin’ Succotash

Serves: 8 as a side-dish
From fridge to table: about 30 minutes if using canned beans (a longer if using dried beans, but it’s worth it!)

Olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 ½ cups white corn (if using fresh corn, it’ll take about 2-3 ears of corn to get 2.5 cups of kernels)
3 cups vine-ripened tomatoes, chopped (that’s about 2 pounds of tomatoes)
2 ½ cups cooked butter beans* (I prefer making my own from dried beans, but if you want quick and easy, use canned baby butter beans. Or canelli beans if you can’t find butter beans)
½ cup fresh basil, finely chopped
smoked sea salt to taste
fresh ground pepper, to taste

* If using dried beans, see below for soaking and cooking instructions

Heat a big old high-sided pan over medium-high. Sautee the onions in some olive oil (1-2 tbsp) and sprinkle with some smoked sea salt. Once the onions become translucent, add the garlic and stir constantly for 1 minute. Toss in the corn, beans and tomatoes and stir well. Turn the heat down to medium-low and cover. Cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat, add the basil, and season to taste with additional smoked sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Serve warm (and bonus – the beans retain heat very well, so it stays warm on your plate for a long time!) When you take your first bite, close your eyes and taste summer come to life on your tongue. 🙂

* If using dried beans, cover the beans with lots of fresh water and soak for at least 5 hours, changing the water as often as possible (at least 5 times) to de-gas the beans. It also helps to soak them with a piece of “kombu,” a kind of seaweed that helps to de-gas beans. After they’ve been fully soaked, discard the water and the kombu. Put the beans in a big pot and cover fresh water so there’s at least a couple inches of water above the beans. Bring to a boil, then turn down heat to simmer, cover the pot and simmer for 30 minutes. Then uncover the pot and simmer for about 2 more hours until tender, stirring occasionally. Test to see if the beans are done – they will be cooked through and creamy when they’re ready. Drain and rinse with cold water. The extra beans freeze well, by the way!

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!

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.

 

Warming the Soul: African Curried Coconut Soup with Chickpeas

This divine, filling, utterly delicious creamy curried soup takes me back to Kenya when we arrived fresh off the plane at the stately ivy-covered English-style Giraffe Manor, which sits on the grounds of a preserve they created for endangered Rothschild giraffes. Expecting Africa to be hot, John and I were stunned to be shivering in our shorts and t-shirts. No matter how cold I was, I was not going inside until I fulfilled my dream of having a giraffe wrap his two-foot-long tongue around my head. But the kind chef noticed my goosebumps, urged me to come inside and made me a soul-warming, exotically spiced vegan coconut soup with chickpeas to thaw me from the inside out.  That soup was a miracle – it was like being wrapped in a velvet-lined fluffy jacket and was just what both John and I needed. While hungrily devouring it, an elegant mama giraffe stuck her head through a large open window, put her face next to my cheek and while locking my gaze with her medallion-sized eye,  she gracefully stretched her enormously long black tongue past my face to slyly scoop up some sliced fruit on a plate beside me. (When I saw her snake-sized tongue up close, I was rather glad that my tongue-wrapped-head dream didn’t come true.)  As awed as I was by her presence and her comfort with me, I found myself instinctively protecting my bowl of soup – yep, that’s how good it was!

I was so happy to find a very similar tasting soup in this recipe from the The Tropical Vegan Kitchen cookbook. I’ve modified it just a tiny bit to more closely approximate that divine soup that I had at the Giraffe Manor. It’s thick and filling enough to be a main dish, but can also be a great starter for seriously hungry people.

I am IN LOVE with this soup – its mellow curry flavor, the perfect way that the rice and tomatoes compliment the coconut milk, and the interesting flavors that warm my memories and my soul with each bite. Every time I have this soup, I half expect to feel giraffe breath on my neck, and I can’t help but protect my bowl…but this time it’s from John who likes this soup as much as I do. I hope you like it as well!

African Curried Coconut Soup with Chickpeas

From fridge to table: about 25 minutes
Serves: 4

2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 jalepeno pepper, seeded and chopped
4 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
1 15oz can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1.5 cups chopped tomatoes (fresh or canned)
3 tsp curry powder
1 tsp smoked sea salt
freshly ground pepper to taste
1 14oz can coconut milk
3/4 cup cooked basmati rice
2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro

In a stockpot, heat the oil over medium to medium-high heat. Add the onion, bell pepper and japeleno; cook, stirring, until softened – about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and stir constantly for 1 minute. Add the broth, chickpeas, tomatoes, curry powder, salt and black pepper. Bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer gently, uncovered, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and cook until heated through, about 4 minutes. Serve hot. Close eyes and imagine eating your soup with a giraffe standing next to you, possibly about to lick you and/or your bowl. 🙂