More mint, GF tabouleh, and a review

When I bought my giant bunch of mint at the farmer’s market to use for my milkshake experiments, I bought a giant bunch of parsley at the same time. There’s something about huge gorgeous bunches of fresh herbs that are almost impossible for me to pass up. Maybe it’s because I’ve always hated that $2 at the supermarket will only get you a teeny bunch with a few stalks of mint, so when I see a veritable bouquet of herbs for the same price, I have to take it home with me.

This of course leads to entire shelves in my fridge being devoted to herb storage, and then there’s the anxiety and pressure that comes from worrying that I won’t use them up in time and they’ll wilt and I’ll feel wasteful. (Yes, I know, I’m a high strung person these days…) The answer to the question of what to do with huge bunches of herbs is, of course, to make herb salads. One of my favorites, tabouleh, is something I haven’t had in years. Tabouleh is made with bulgur; people often ask me if bulgur is among the gluten-free grain options, but it’s not, sadly bulgur is actually the name for wheat that has been parboiled and dried. Another food that people ask me if I can eat is couscous. Most don’t realize that couscous isn’t a grain at all – it is made from semolina (wheat) flour, just like pasta. Couscous is teeny tiny pasta!

Staring at my mint and my parsley, I could just taste the lemony, herby deliciousness of tabouleh on the palate of my mind. (Is that a weird thing to say? You know what I mean, right?) I even had a bunch of cherry tomatoes leftover from making raw kale salad the night before. (I never buy tomatoes out of season except the few times a year I need a total health and yumminess infusion from raw kale salad, and then I’ll sneak a box of cherry tomatoes, which are the only decent-tasting tomatoes I can find in the off-season.)

So the big question that remained was what to use in place of the bulgur. I could use quinoa, which is a great go-to substitute, and which people use in place of bulgur and couscous and wheat berries, etc., all the time. But quinoa lacks a sort of soft quality that bulgur has. Because bulgur has been parboiled, when you cook it you are essentially rehydrating it, rather than really cooking it, and so it has a soft, chewy texture that is quite wonderful. I had recently picked up a new (to me, at least) product at Rainbow made by Lundberg Farms, a local rice farm. It’s called Roasted Brown Rice Couscous, and I assume it has been processed in some way and parcooked, because, like regular couscous, it cooks very quickly.

The rice couscous was perfect for tabouleh. The texture was a bit soft, fluffy, a bit chewy, and altogether delightful. I loved how quickly and easily it cooked up, and the “grains” of couscous absorbed the dressing well, which meant the tabouleh got more and more delicious the longer it sat. It’s been a few years since I’ve eaten regular semolina couscous, so I can’t compare the two closely. But I do remember that my favorite part about couscous was how fast it was, and that part definitely carries over here in the rice version.

To make my tabouleh, I used a wonderful recipe I found on the blog Whole Grain Gourmet. The author there talks about how she (he?) made tabouleh many times, and it was good, but never as good as what she had in restaurants. Then she made this version, which involves a tiny bit of cinnamon, and suddenly all the flavors came together in a way that was exactly “right.” I tried this recipe and had the same experience! The cinnamon makes all the difference. I loved this so much (and had so much parsley and mint) that I made several batches, and so ended up creating my own, slightly tweaked version of the recipe. The flavors are so clean and bright and fresh. The rice couscous feels light, not doughy or heavy. I could eat a mountain of this stuff (and I did!).

Gluten-Free Tabouleh Salad
Adapted from a recipe found at Whole Grain Gourmet

1 package Lundberg Brown Rice Couscous
1 1/2 cups minced parsley
1/4 – 1/2 cup minced mint leaves
1/3 cup minced green onion
2 tomatoes or a large handful of cherry tomatoes, diced
1/2 – 1 cucumber, diced

Dressing
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup lemon juice (you may want to start with less)
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
Fresh ground black pepper to taste

Prepare rice couscous as directed on package. (It will take about 15 minutes plus time to bring the water to a boil.)

While couscous is cooking, whisk together dressing ingredients in a small bowl: olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and cinnamon. Don’t put all the lemon juice in at once – I like my dressings to have a lot of acid, but I know not everyone feels the same way. Start with about half the amount and keep adding to taste.

Fluff couscous and put in a large bowl. Toss with the parsley, green onion, mint, tomatoes, and cucumber.

Pour the dressing over the couscous and toss until well coated. Refrigerate for about an hour before serving. The flavors will get even better if it sits overnight!

Snap Pea and Asparagus Into Battle!

Bhutanese Red Rice Salad with Asparagus, Cabbage, Peas, and Cashews

The lovely blog Mele Cotte is hosting a blog event called Cooking to Combat Cancer, asking food bloggers to “utilize recipes that include ingredients that help the body fight cancer.” Cancer is something I had never really given much of a thought to until my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer ten years ago. Then everything shifted into high gear in terms of education and research as we sought to put together the best resources for her, both allopathic and “complementary.” A lot of my knowledge and interest in alternative medicine and health in general stems from this time.

The year my mom was undergoing treatment was probably the single most formative year of my cooking life, as well. Her integrative (as in integrating “traditional” and “alternative” cancer treatments) oncologist had a whole program that was heavily based in diet and supplementation, so when we were presented with the huge twin lists of “food to eat more of” (mountains of cruciferous vegetables, seaweed, miso, some weird thing called quinoa) and “food to avoid” (all meat, all dairy, all sugar, wheat, refined grains, tofu, basically anything easy to make, it seemed) it was clear the learning curve was going to be steep. My mom was so exhausted from her treatment, and the new diet was so labor-intensive, and I already loved to cook, so I basically became a macrobiotic chef for a year for the two of us. I didn’t have my driver’s license yet, so my mom would drive us to the health food store and then sleep with her head on the steering wheel while I combed the aisles for kombu and buckwheat and some kind of treats that wouldn’t be harmful but would make life still feel worth eating.

So when I saw the Cooking to Combat Cancer event, I was immediately flooded with all these memories of the time when cooking to combat cancer – and to boost the immune system – was nearly my full-time job. Many of the bright points in my memories of that time are the dear friends who really came through for my family when my mom was sick, and one of the dearest new friends we made during that year was the amazing Rebecca Katz. Rebecca is a professional chef for whom cooking delicious, nourishing food for people with cancer actually is a full time job! She has such tenderness, such creativity, such sensitivity to the balance of nutrition and taste – she takes the twin lists of terror I wrote about above and turns them into yummy, yummy recipes. All her recipes are based on her genius principles of FASS (balancing the fat, acid, salty, and sweet).

Since we can’t all have Rebecca cooking for us all the time, luckily she’s written a wonderful book called One Bite at a Time. More than a cookbook, the book includes alongside its delicious cancer-treatment-accomodating, immune boosting recipes chapters on how friends and family can help and how to sustain the effort of cooking nourishing meals over the long haul. It’s a real resource for the whole food-related world of living with cancer, one which is sorely needed since food is one of the largest parts of our physical and emotional lives but it’s often one of the lowest priorities for the doctors who are trying to keep us alive.

When my mom was first diagnosed, we picked up a little brochure at the hospital called something like “What to eat during cancer treatment.” I guess the focus of the pamphlet was to replace protein lost during chemotheraphy – all the recipes were for things like eggs benedict with canadian bacon and hollandaise sauce. It was insane! Not only do I find it highly unlikely that someone on chemo could tolerate a mountain of creamy fat on a plate, this is the opposite of the veggies and fruits and whole grains and sea vegetables we now know fight cancer and support immune strength. It is really important to make sure you get enough protein during chemotherapy, though, as we discovered to my mom’s detriment (you may notice that nearly every heavy-hitting source of protein is on the “avoid” list up there…), so don’t just eat veggies and fruits and grains.

For this event I decided to make a recipe from One Bite at a Time that I’d been eying – a kind of warm-weather variation on my adored rice bowl. The recipe in the book is Asian Japonica Salad with Edamame, but I made my own variation (using Rebecca’s delicious and perfectly FASS-balanced dressing) with what I had left in my box. Continue reading

A bowl of gratitude

I Am DIY Rice Bowl

A few times a year I’ll become obsessed with a particular dish from a particular restaurant. My appetite tends to be a tumultuous and fickle thing, and some days I’ll parade every food I can think of before my mental stomach and only to have each one met by nausea. It is then that my thoughts turn to the magic dish, whatever concoction it is that has become, not just an obsession, but somehow the only thing my body finds acceptable. Right now that panacea-on-a-plate is the absurdly named I Am Accepting Sushi Rice Bowl from a restaurant called Cafe Gratitude.

Cafe Gratitude is a kind of pricey, mostly raw, entirely vegan restaurant with three locations around the Bay Area. The general response around town to CG’s very particular aesthetic seems to be a mixture of disdain, confusion, and either worshipful or grudging appreciation of the food. Be that as it may, that singular rice bowl has become, for me, an addiction.

I crave this dish to the point that I really can’t be running off to spout affirmations and spend $10 every time I want a warm spoonful of nutty red rice with kale and avocado that feels in my mouth like the superpowered pinnacle of all that is healthy and nourishing. I even tried sneaking a look at the recipe given in the I Am Grateful cookbook, for sale at all CG retail outlets, but the recipe was quite clearly not the one used by the restaurant. Today I happened to come across a gorgeous post on 101 Cookbooks with a recipe for Poached Eggs Over Rice, and since this was almost what I wanted, but still not quite the thing, I was inspired to call the cafe and just ask them what’s in that bowl of Acceptance.

This turned out to lead to one of those magical, karmic CSA-box experiences. Rory over at CG very nicely looked up for me the components in the dressing, which was the heretofore missing piece. And so I realized I was going to have to make my reproduction without scallions, cucumber, avocado, and orange juice – and that’s a lot of flavor elements to lose. The avocado I was already planning to substitute with poached egg, but the orange juice was especially sad, since my palate immediately recognized OJ as vital to the brightness of the dish.

But when I headed off to see if I had any greens in my as-yet unpacked box, I found that not only did I have a lovely bunch of collards, but that this week’s box also brought two unexpected ingredients: a bunch of fat scallions and three navel oranges!

In short, this dish turned out amazing, easily equal to if not tastier than the original, and well able to satisfy those cravings with very little effort. And so from now on I think you’ll find that, if I’m going to be declaring aloud my general state of acceptance, I’m going to be doing it in my pajamas.

The recipe for the I Am DIY Rice Bowl (modified from the 101 Cookbooks recipe) can be found below the more… tag. Continue reading