Crappy cat. Yo! Let’s pretend this never happened.
I had previously written this totally gorgeous paragraph about how I had this brilliant epiphany while lying in Savasana about why I loved both cooking and yoga so much, expounding on the ways a fancy arm-balance yoga practice can be seen as the yoga equivalent of a tryst into the mostly unfamiliar world (at least on this blog thus far) of fancy, gourmet raw food cuisine, blah, blah, blah. But I digress.
You see, for the gazillionth time in the last three weeks, my new, crazy cat woke me up at 2 AM in the morning yowling at the top of his lungs for attention. Did I give in to his demands? No, instead I tossed and turned in bed unable to sleep, composing this crazy blog post, which is completely influenced by the two forms of entertainment I’ve been exposing myself to for the last few weeks, a binge repeat-marathon of the first four seasons of Breaking Bad and a daily audio CD listening of “Let’s Pretend This Never Happened” by Jenny something-or-other (which I solely attribute to for the many parentheticals in this blog post, which is how I picture her writing would be like if I actually saw it written in a book, and, which is super hilarious… Go borrow it from your library and listen to it on your way to work every morning and your day will be brighter, or at least your perspective on life will shift a little, so that you can (maniacally) laugh a little bit more when you notice that “Wow, yes, the world is jam packed with a bunch of freakin crazy, stupid, idiot folks,” but that’s ok because they’re doing their best and probably think the same of you).
So, back to this cat. He’s a little psychotic, and appropriately named Badger. He wandered onto our front steps a little over a month ago, and despite our valiant attempts to ignore him for 4 days, continued to show up every morning and evening, until we broke down and started feeding him after seeing that he was noticeably starting to turn into skin and bones (he’s apparently not a very good hunter). After making sure no one else was pining away because their cute, ridiculously fluffy-bellied cat was missing from their domicile, we decided to adopt him (or he adopted us is probably more accurate). And I have to say, that despite my original resistance towards becoming a cat mom, this cat has managed to completely envelope and take over the deepest, darkest corners of my heart (yes, this is still the case even as I write this post at, what is now, 2:30 in the morning, clearly suffering from what has become a progressively bad case of sleep deprivation).
Yes, I have turned into one of those pathetic idiots so overwhelmed by her cat’s cuteness that she forces photos upon strangers of what she thinks is the most adorable cat in the world. So, HERE:
But I digress. If you’ve never tried making a fancy raw cuisine recipe (or in this case, almost raw), this is the recipe to start with. It’s similar enough to classic lasagna that it will soothe your need for comfort and familiarity, but will still push you beyond your previously perceived culinary boundaries (much like how a challenging arm-balance yoga practice will push you beyond your previously perceived physical and mental boundaries… see how I did that? Brilliant, right?… No? Oh well, it’s my blog, so get over it). Oh, and btw, this dish? It’s delish.
Almost Raw Heirloom Tomato and Zucchini Lasagna
Adapted from Raw Food/Real Worldby Matthew Kenney and Sarma Melngailis
Serves 6 as a main
I converted the tomato sauce in this recipe to a not-quite-so-raw version because I had a box of chopped tomatoes on hand. If you want to make this recipe entirely raw, instead of the box of Pomi tomatoes, add an additional 1 3/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes (soak for 2 hours) plus one fresh, medium tomato (diced). If you can’t find Pomi brand tomatoes, substitute with one 28-ounce can + one 14-ounce can of chopped tomatoes (well drained) in order to get an equivalent amount of tomatoes.
Nutritional yeast is deactivated yeast and is a great source of protein and vitamins. It is a favorite ingredient among vegans because it adds a nutty and cheesy flavor to dishes and contains vitamin B12, a vitamin often missing from the standard vegan diet. You can find it in the bulk foods section of health food stores, including Whole Foods. Please don’t substitute active yeast (the stuff used to leaven bread); active yeast and nutritional yeast are two entirely different products.
Also, if you can produce super thin, uniform zucchini slices using just a sharp knife and your own mad-good knife skills, more power to you, but, using a mandolinewould simplify your life ten-fold (I promise, as long as you use the the safety guard and don’t slice off the tip of your finger).
For the pignoli ricotta:
2 cups raw pignoli (pine) nuts, soaked for 1 hour or more then drained
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes(see headnote)
1 teaspoon sea salt
6 tablespoons water
Place the drained pine nuts, lemon juice, nutritional yeast and salt in a food processor. Pulse a few times to thoroughly combine. Slowly add the water while pulsing a few more times, until the texture becomes fluffy, similar to ricotta.
For the tomato sauce
1 26-ounce box Pomi chopped tomatoes, well drained (see headnote for substitution ideas)
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, soaked for 2 hours or more
1/4 small red onion, chopped
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup good quality extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon agave nectar
2 teaspoons sea salt
Pinch of hot pepper flakes
Thoroughly squeeze and drain as much of the water out of the soaked sun-dried tomatoes as possible. Place all the tomato sauce ingredients in a food processor (or high-speed blender) and blend until smooth.
For the basil-pistachio pesto:
2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup shelled pistachios
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons good quality extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
Place all pesto ingredients in a food processor and pulse a few times until thoroughly combined but still slightly chunky.
For the lasagna assembly:
3 medium zucchini, ends trimmed
2 tablespoons good quality extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoon finely chopped fresh oregano
Pinch of sea salt
Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
3.5 pounds heirloom tomatoes, cut in half and then sliced
Whole fresh basil leaves for garnish
- Cut the zucchini crosswise into 3-inch long segments. Using a mandoline, cut the zucchini lengthwise into very thin slices. Toss the zucchini with the olive oil, oregano, salt and pepper in a medium bowl.
- Grab a 9 x 13-inch baking dish and cover the bottom of the dish with a layer of slightly overlapping zucchini slices. Spread approximately 1/3 of the tomato sauce over the zucchini, then add dollops of pine nut ricotta and pesto (use about 1/3 of each). Add a layer of tomato slices.
- Repeat twice, starting with the zucchini, then sauce, then the ricotta and pesto, and ending with a layer of fresh tomatoes.
- Serve immediately, or cover and allow to sit at room temperature for a few hours. Garnish with basil leaves.
- Leftover lasagna can be refrigerated for 1-2 days. It won’t look as good as when you first made it, but it will still taste great.
For the first time in my life I feel balanced. Not the ephemeral balance and serenity you feel after a good yoga class that disappears as soon as the rest of life slaps you in the face, but a more steady, sustained sense of ease and peace. It’s a sense that everything is all right, and that even if life throws me a curve ball, I’ll have the strength to face it with flexibility and courage. It’s letting go of the need to control everything and everyone around me. It’s an opening up to new adventures and smiling at all the possibilities before me. Don’t get me wrong. This doesn’t mean that I’m now able to keep up with my personal to-do list. The difference is that now I’m able to allow myself to slack off if that’s what my heart is telling me to do, and not feel guilty about it. I’m able to approach my to-do list with a sense of excitement rather than heavy dread.
It’s taken a long time and a lot of hard work for me to get to this point. What has helped? A daily meditation practice. A daily, but flexible (pun intended) yoga practice. Quality time with those I love. Knowing, in the true center of my soul, that I’m deeply loved. Lots of sleep. Drinking lots of water. Spending time in nature. A job I really enjoy that aligns with my values. Making time to play and nurture my creativity. Being thankful. And eating healthily (and deliciously) most of the time.
One of my most favorite ways to eat deliciously and healthily is a big bowl of this awesome tabouli. It’s packed with anti-oxidant-rich beets and fresh herbs and vitamin-and-mineral-heavy quinoa. If we were to crunch the numbers, I suspect that this dish does not qualify as low-fat. But most of the fats found in pine nuts and olive oil are the good, heart-healthy ones. And if you’re looking for a yummy, detoxifying meal, this is it, just leave out the cheese.
A few notes about olive oil. I regularly keep two types of olive oil in my pantry, one for cooking and the other for dressings and finishing. I use an inexpensive extra virgin olive oil from Whole Foods for pan sauteing and other low-to-moderate-heat cooking. I use a pricier olive oil when I make salad dressings or need a dash of extra flavor just before serving to make a pasta dish smile. This tabouli recipe calls for the latter. I’ve conducted several lengthy (oh so arduous) taste tests in search of the best, most flavorful olive oil, and I tend to always return to the ones from Spain. My favorite is exclusively purveyed through Feast and comes in refillable glass bottles. It’s smooth and fruity and a little grassy. Conduct your own taste tests – I’d love to hear about your personal favorites!
Beet and Quinoa Tabouli
Adapted from La Tartine Gourmandeby Beatrice Peltre
Serves 4-6 as a side, 2-3 as a main
The lenghthiest portion of this recipe is cooking the beets. I often cook the beets a day or two prior to preparing the tabouli and store the cooked beets, unpeeled in the refrigerator until ready to use.
2 medium-large beets, unpeeled
6 tablespoons pine nuts
1 cup uncooked white quinoa (rubbed between fingers and rinsed well)
2 cups vegetable broth
1 cup mixed cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
3 oz feta cheese, finely crumbled
For the vinaigrette:
Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
Juice of 1 lemon or lime
6 tablespoons good-quality olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon chopped chives
1 tablespoon chopped mint
- Add unpeeled beets to a large pot of water. Bring water to a boil and cook until a knife inserted in the middle of each beet inserts easily, approximately 50-60 minutes. Periodically check during cooking and add more water if necessary to keep beets fully immersed.
- Meanwhile, heat a dry frying pan over medium heat. Add pine nuts and toast, tossing periodically until moderately browned. Set aside in a small bowl to cool.
- Place rinsed quinoa and broth in medium pot, add a pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat, cover and simmer until all the broth is absorbed, approximately 12-14 minutes. Remove pot from the heat and leave covered for an additional 5 minutes. Transfer quinoa to a bowl and let cool.
- Peel the cooked beets and chop into quarter-inch dice. Add to the quinoa and gently toss until the quinoa turns a bright pink color.
- Add tomatoes, onions, cheese and pine nuts and toss again.
- To prepare the vinaigrette, combine a pinch of salt, sprinkling of pepper, lemon/lime juice and olive oil in a small bowl. Using a whisk, mix until emulsified. Add the herbs and stir to combine. Add dressing to quinoa mixture and toss. Adjust seasonings and serve.
Spring means asparagus has finally come into season. If you try to plan your meals around ingredients that can only be obtained locally, you probably already know that the actual harvest season for asparagus is very short, about eight weeks. Sure, in today’s big agribusiness world we can find asparagus all year round in chain supermarkets, but nothing beats the sweet, honest, tender stalks of a locally picked, in-season asparagus.
This is a spring-celebration stir-fry. As with all stir-fries, the secret to flawless execution is to chop, slice and prepare all the ingredients prior to turning on the burner. Start by compiling the sauce, then cut all the vegetables and tofu to spec. You can throw the chopped green onions, garlic, asparagus, ginger and red pepper flakes into a single bowl because they will be added to the hot pan at the same time. Start cooking by first pan-frying the tofu. Once you’ve finished the tofu, the actual stir-fry will literally take five minutes to cook.
Asparagus Stir-Fry with Tofu and Almonds
a Ginger and Berries creation, but originally inspired by a recipe in Cook 1.0 by Heidi Swanson
Serves 2-3 (with steamed brown rice)
5 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons peanut butter
1 tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 teaspoons sriracha (or other similar hot sauce)
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
dash white pepper
2 tablespoons peanut or canola oil
1 pound extra-firm tofu, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 pound thin asparagus, bias cut into 1-inch pieces
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons ginger, peeled and minced
4 green onions, sliced thin
1/2 teaspoon red chili pepper flakes (use half for less heat)
3/4 cup toasted almonds, roughly chopped
Grated zest and juice of 1 lime
6 tablespoons of the stir-fry sauce above
1 handful fresh basil (about 25 medium leaves), slivered
1 handful fresh mint (about 40 medium leaves), slivered
- Combine all the sauce ingredients in a deep bowl and stir using a wire whisk until all the ingredients have been thoroughly combined into a smooth mixture. Taste and adjust the flavors. You’re looking for a balance between slightly sweet, spicy and salty.
- Heat the oil in a large (10-12” diameter) non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat. When the oil just begins to shimmer, add half the tofu. Be careful. Excess water in the tofu will spatter upon contact with the oil. Season with a sprinkling of salt. Cook without stirring for 3 minutes, until the tofu is golden brown on the bottom. Stir to flip the tofu pieces and allow to cook an additional 2 minutes. Remove the tofu from the pan and place on a paper-towel lined plate. Cook the remaining tofu in the same manner as the first batch then transfer to the paper-towel lined plate to drain.
- Add an additional splash of oil to the still hot pan if necessary. Turn up the heat to high. When the oil is shimmering, add the asparagus, garlic, ginger, green onions and chili pepper flakes. Stir constantly for 1-2 minutes. Err on the low end of the time spectrum and keep stirring to avoid burning the garlic and overcooking the asparagus.
- Add the almonds to the pan and continue to stir for another minute.
- Add the pan-fried tofu, lime zest and juice, and 6 tablespoons of the stir-fry sauce. Cook and stir for an additional 1-2 minutes. Aim for a tender but slightly crunchy asparagus.
- Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the basil and mint. Adjust the flavors by adding salt and/or more stir-fry sauce.
- Serve over steamed brown or jasmine rice. Pass the leftover sauce around the table for an additional flavor boost.
Spring is just around the corner. Can you feel it? If you look carefully you’ll certainly catch glimpses of it popping up through the ground and budding on the trees. I’m particularly eager and observant this year because this is my first full spring here in Charlottesville. I’m constantly comparing the weather here with the one in my former hometown, Providence, reveling in the sunny above-50-degree days we’ve accumulated thus far, and enjoying meals on our back deck whenever possible.
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, however, there’s no harm in embracing the warming, comfort foods of winter. This mushroom barley risotto comes to mind. Mushroom and barley are a classic combination, but I decided to notch up the flavor profile by balancing their sweetness with the lemony bite of sorrel. Never tried sorrel? It happens to be in season right now, at least here in Virginia. If you’re lucky enough to find a local source, I encourage you to give it a try. You may be pleasantly surprised, as I was, when you take your first bite. It is tangy and refreshing. In addition to being the perfect foil for the mushrooms and barley in this dish, it would be a great addition to a mixed greens salad.
Mushroom Barley Risotto with Sorrel
a Ginger and Berries creation
Serves 2-3 as a main
4 1/2 cups vegetable stock
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 large red onion, diced
4 ounces sorrel, stems removed (about 3 cups)
1 cup pearled barley
1 tablespoon olive oil
12 ounces cremini mushrooms, cleaned with a paper towel and sliced
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
1/3 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
1 – 2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano, cut into shards using a sharp vegetable peeler
- Bring the vegetable stock to a boil in a medium saucepan. Lower the heat to a simmer.
- Melt the butter in a large stockpot over medium heat. Saute the onions until translucent and softened, about 5 minutes. Add the sorrel and cook an additional minute until the sorrel begins to wilt. Add the barley and toast for 1-2 minutes while stirring constantly.
- Lower the heat to medium-low. Add a 1/2 cup of the warmed vegetable stock and stir into the barley until absorbed. Continue in this manner, adding one cup of stock at a time. Allow the barley to fully absorb the stock before adding the next cup. Lower the heat to low if the stock is absorbed too quickly. You don’t need to stir constantly, but stir often (every three minutes or so). Use a wooden spoon so that you can scrape up the brown bits from the bottom of the pot every time you stir. The sorrel will transform into an olive green paste.
- While the barley is cooking, heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms to the pan. Cook, stirring 2-3 times, until the mushrooms have softened and are slightly browned, approximately 8-10 minutes. Turn off the heat and season with salt and pepper.
- After the last cup of stock has been added and absorbed into the barley, add the parsley to the barley and season generously with black pepper. Stir, taste, and add salt if necessary.
- Scoop into bowls and top each bowl with sauteed mushrooms and cheese.