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!

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Gratitude and cool

I’ve written before about my tendency to fall in love with a particular dish from a particular restaurant and then dream of it constantly until I can have it again. If only I didn’t have such expensive taste, though… the obsession I developed with Cafe Gratitude’s $9 (formerly $12!) raw mint milkshakes (the “I Am Cool” – everything there is named with an affirmation) meant I had to make a choice between satisfying my gluttony or avoiding bankruptcy. (I chose avoiding bankruptcy – I’m headed there well enough on my own right now, thank you very much, without any ten-dollar milkshakes helping me a long.) But these milkshakes are really, really good; I hadn’t had one in a many months but I fantasized about them still.

So when my sainted mother gave me the Best Present Ever, aka my Vitamix blender, I knew I had to take my shot at recreating this particular fantasy food. All the vegans have been abuzz over Luna & Larry’s Coconut Bliss “ice cream,” so I decided to try using that as my base. Cafe Gratitude uses their house-made nut-based ice cream, and they’ve just come out with a retail version made from nuts and coconut milk, so hopefully I’ll be able to try that soon as well. I got a huge bunch of mint from the farmer’s market and I started experimenting. This was a good experiment. I was very happy to contribute to the advancement of scientific knowledge in the arena of mint chocolate milkshakes.

Some recipes (including CG’s) add a handful of spinach or some spirulina to give the milkshakes that classic green tint. I don’t really care what color my shake is, though, and it’s another ingredient to have to buy. The idea here was to see if I could create a high-quality, low-cost milkshake; I think the shake is visually appealing on its own. A lovely pale green, flecked with the brown speckles that announce, “Chocolate inside.”

A short sidebar before I give you my entirely bootlegged recipe for this mint milkshake: I give Cafe Gratitude a hard time for being so darn expensive. And also for seeming like a crazy cult where to order food you have to say things like, “I’d like an I Am Alert with a side of I Am Accepting” and where everyone does Landmark Forums and there are superhippydreamy paintings on the walls. But they’re actually pretty awesome. They have some cool behind-the-scenes business practices that aren’t obvious from just going there as a customer. They offer the Grateful Bowl, a delicious raw kale and grain bowl whose cost is “pay what you can,” and they serve 37,000 of them a year. They’re entirely vegan, which is a huge contribution to the wellbeing of the world as far as I’m concerned. They work hard to source food locally, and even have their own farm where a lot of the CG produce is grown.

What I’m trying to say is that I don’t think the milkshakes are $9 because CG are elitist, bourgeois jerks. I think that’s probably a price that reflects the cost of having good business practices, buying local food, making your own raw vegan ice cream from nuts, and subsidizing projects like the Grateful Bowl. And right now what I’m grateful for is the inspiration, because for $9 I can make eight milkshakes at home (or four, rather, because I tend to guzzle the whole 16 oz. on my own…), and nothing inspires gratitude in me like being able to indulge my longing for a super refreshing vegan mint chocolate milkshake without breaking the bank.

I Am Inspired Vegan Mint Chocolate Milkshake
With gratitude for inspiration from Cafe Gratitude and Raw Food Recipes

1/2 cup vanilla high-quality vegan ice cream (I like Luna & Larry’s Coconut Bliss)
3/4 cup “milk” (I use almond, CG uses hazelnut)
24 mint leaves
2 pitted dates
1/2 – 3/4 cup ice cubes
1 T. cocoa nibs

Stick two glasses in the freezer to chill. Place all ingredients except cocoa nibs into the Vitamix container in the order listed. (If you don’t have a Vitamix you need to have a blender that can really handle ice in order for this recipe to work.)

If your Vitamix has a Frozen Desserts setting, just set it and let it run. Be sure to use the tamper throughout the cycle to keep incorporating the ingredients, or you’ll end up with little bits of date and mint leaf. If you don’t have the FD setting, use the variable speed and turn it quickly to high, using the tamper to incorporate, until four soft mounds form in the container. Check the consistency at this point. If it is too thin, add more ice and process again at high speed. (You can also add more ice cream, of course, but that’s not the most budget-conscious way to thicken the milkshake, and adding ice really does do the trick.) If it’s too thick, I’d just scoop it out and eat it with a spoon, but you can thin it out with a little more milk if you prefer.

Add cocoa nibs and process on high for a few seconds. Pour into chilled glasses and serve!

Makes 2 8-oz. servings.

Spinach for breakfast, the sequel

I’m totally enjoying the feature on wordpress that lets me see what google search phrases have led people here, to my box. I get a lot of visitors on “aphid” related searches, and surprisingly few on “community supported agriculture” related ones. (Although I get a lot of CSA-specific visitors clicking over from the Eatwell list of member blogs and from the post on Chowhound about choosing a CSA.)

Frittata with spinach and Humboldt Fog cheese with salad

Super Easy Pan-Cooked Spinach Fritatta with Humboldt Fog cheese, green garlic, spring onion, and thyme (medium-pan sized, cut in half) with a salad of lettuce, red cabbage, cauliflower, carrot, and sugar snap peas

One surprising search phrase that shows up almost every day, sometimes in multiple versions, is some variation of “spinach for breakfast.” Which is, of course, the title of a post I made back in February extolling the pleasures of spinach as a breakfast food. My first thought of course is, “Wow, there sure are a lot of people who want to know about eating spinach for breakfast. Huh.” My next thought every time I see that someone’s search for breakfast-spinach information led them here is a bit of guilt. Because my first Spinach for Breakfast post is more about my personal, heartwarming journey to spinach acceptance than it is a helpful guide on how to use spinach in one’s morning meal. Which I assume is what all these googlers are googling for.

So I decided to revisit the topic of spinach for breakfast. It gives me an excuse to share a recipe I’ve been wanting to share. The other morning I was cooking breakfast (it involved spinach, of course) and thinking about how much this one recipe, which isn’t even a recipe but more of a technique, completely changed my breakfast life. I used to think I was “not a breakfast person” and “not an egg cooker” because fried eggs bored me, scrambled eggs eluded me, and frittatas were special occasion food involving all kinds of fancy cooking and flipping using plates or pans with heat-proof handles so you could finish them in the oven.

Frittata with thyme and Carmody cheese, tempeh bacon, pomelo fruit salad

Super Easy Pan-Cooked Frittata with Carmody cheese and thyme (small-pan sized, whole), tempeh bacon, and fruit salad with pomelo, kiwi, apple, and mint

This technique is usually how spinach ends up in my breakfast, but it’s also a great, simple way to incorporate most any kind of leftover into a hot, pleasing morning meal. It’s so obvious that I feel a little silly even writing it down, but I so distinctly remember the change in breakfast, from before I practiced this to after, that it seems worth taking the time to share it.

Recipe below… Continue reading

On the Pulse and a Cheese Dilemma: Lentil Salad with Feta, Mint and Orange

Lentil Salad with Mint, Feta, and Oranges

So this lovely little bunch of mint arrived in my box, two boxes ago. And then sat in my fridge for over a week because I didn’t know what I wanted to do with it. Well, I did know what I wanted to do with it, but it was impossible. I wanted to make a yummy lentil salad with feta and mint, only the lentils and the feta are so heavy that they need a light, moist addition like tomato or cucumber. But it is not the season for tomatoes and cucumbers, and I get so much produce in my box that I’m really trying not to buy extra, save for onions, garlic, and lemons. So I pondered, and the mint sat in my crisper (which apparently has remarkable powers of crisping, lucky for indecisive me). Finally I decided to improvise and see what happened, and walked over to my local cheese shop for some feta.

“Do you carry local feta?,” I asked my neighborhood cheesemonger, hoping he might even carry feta from one of the local cheese companies I’ve been researching that seem to treat their animals humanely.

“Why would I do that?,” he almost sneered back to me. Seriously. I am not exaggerating for dramatic effect here. “The best feta is made from sheep’s milk, or a mixture of sheep and goat.”

I nodded back at him. I’m not cheese-illiterate, I know this. Impatiently he continued. “No sheep around here.”

“What about goat’s milk feta?,” I asked, politely, though perhaps through slightly gritted teeth.

“There is no feta from around here that is of the quality we would carry in this shop,” was basically the patronizing response. (I’m paraphrasing a little because by now I had that kind of shame-induced adrenaline rush that makes it hard to remember things later.) A lengthy discourse on French cheese, how I should not be worried because all French farmers treat their animals well, and an underlying total disregard for any reason why I want might to favor local products followed.

The whole time he was talking I was saying to myself, “I can’t wait to get out of here!” but somehow, towards the end of my lesson, I found myself buying a small piece of French feta. It was either that or forgo the feta and head back to square one with the mint, or get in the car and drive to another store, and I was exhausted.

This was my first foray into a local/sustainable/humane commitment in my cheese buying. Cheese is, at this point in my life, a real staple food for me, both as an anchor in my cooking and as a source of comfort and satiety. But I’m also basically at the point where I don’t feel right buying cheese anymore unless I am putting some serious consideration into the conditions it comes from.

It was helpful to get a taste of what I may be up against – it kind of blows my mind that there’s anyone left in San Francisco who is both into food and at the same time doesn’t give a crap about sourcing locally. My cheesemonger’s rant about how he refuses to eat anything that doesn’t taste good (with the implication that any kinds of limits, like trying to eat local or humane food, will interfere with his RIGHT to tasty food) reminded me so much of Anthony Bourdain’s vitriolic attack on vegetarians in his book, Kitchen Confidential. When I first read Kitchen Confidential I felt the same kind of shame and confusion I felt in the cheese shop today, like it was somehow contradictory and even absurd for me to love food, to adore it so passionately, while at the same time having principles that might put any kind of limits on my eating.

Happily for me, the folks over at Hezbollah Tofu, my new favoritest project in the world EVER (check out their site if you’ve never seen it) have come up with a funny, “foodie,” not-bitter-but-grounded response to Bourdain (or “Tony” as they call him), which in turn inspires me to try to stay a little more grounded in interactions like the one I had today.

ANYWAYS, in case you’re really just here for the lentils, I come at last to the very happy conclusion to my confusing day. I reviewed what I had in my box to find an acceptable tomato substitute and decided to try oranges. Which turn out to be delicious in a lentil-mint-feta salad. The recipe is below.

And this post got to participate in a fun food-blog event, Waiter, There’s Something in My… Pulses, a round-up of recipes featuring pulses (legumes) hosted over at Cook Sister!

Recipe follows… Continue reading