Curried quinoa pilaf

I’ve been sitting on this simple, comforting dish for weeks. Problem is, the only time I’ve had lately to log it has been when experiencing end-of-day brain burnout. So now I’m trying early morning power posting–quick, efficient, and just the basics. Which is actually really appropriate for this hearty, easy meal.

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There’s lots to love about this ‘pilaf’. For one thing, it’s delightfully versatile, in that it can be tailored to taste; it can just as easily make for a filling meal or an accompaniment. I added baked cubed tofu to bulk into a main meal, but other proteins would complement just as well if you’re not into soy. Switching things up as a side is easy, too–almonds for cashews, cranberries for raisins, addition of apples…there’s an awful lot of leeway for play considering how little active time it actually takes to make.

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I’m veering off the promise of bare bones only–just quickly–but when
I first made this I almost made myself laugh out loud. Because on first bite, a warm swell inside was accompanied by my brain randomly reacting with this thought: mmmmm…yummy like Rice-a-Roni. And you know I can’t have had Rice-a-Roni more than a handful of times in my life. Not that I have a particular problem with the product. But–you know, right? What I mean?

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The more I read, observe, listen, learn, reflect, the more reasons I discover to deplore corporatization of our food system. The ugliness is endless, from the strategic profit at the expense of human health to the intent marketing directed at children. I’m rather obsessed. And yet I’ve still somehow attached sentimentality to boxed foods I hardly have any actual experience with. Whether testament to marketing genius or fickle-minded weakness I have no idea and don’t expect to solve in a hurried post about curried quinoa. But on the upside, the simple, soothing spice blend of this quick and easy makes for really good grounding when those convenience box cravings set in. Satisfying them is about saving time on little effort, and yielding something flavourful. Bonus, we can ditch the boxes and make said yields healthy too. Maybe you need to budget up to 30 minutes to make it, but the actual effort you put in hardly exceeds opening a box of spices within a box of grains to simmer in a pot. 🙂

Curried quinoa pilaf
Serves 4
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Ingredients
  1. 1 1/2 cup uncooked quinoa
  2. 3 cups water or vegetable broth (or 1.5 cups each)
  3. 1 tablespoon curry powder, divided
  4. 1 tsp. ground ginger
  5. 1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
  6. Salt and pepper to taste
  7. 1 14-ounce pack organic firm tofu, cut into cubes
  8. 2 cups broccoli florets
  9. 2 cups cauliflower florets
  10. 1/2 c. raisins
  11. 1/3 c. roasted cashews
  12. Cooking spray
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Place tofu (if using), broccoli and cauliflower florets on a baking sheet in one layer. Lightly coat with cooking spray and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon curry powder, salt and pepper to taste. Bake 20-25 minutes, or until vegetables are tender and browning at edges.
  2. Meanwhile, bring water or broth to a boil. Add quinoa, ginger, turmeric, 2 teaspoons curry powder, salt and pepper to taste. Simmer, covered, until quinoa is soft and fluffy (approx. 12-15 minutes). Stir in raisins and set aside, covered, until vegetables are cooked.
  3. In a large salad bowl, combine all ingredients. Enjoy!
Happy Apple Natural Kitchen http://www.happyapplekitchen.com/

Sweet potato and chickpea forbidden rice bowls with oil-free coconut lime dressing

Doesn’t the “forbidden” elevate the idea of rice? Not that simply saying black rice would be any less appealing. But “forbidden” adds a haunting mysticism that’s kind of irresistible.

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It seems forbidden rice owes its name to ancient Chinese dynasties when, thought to promote longevity and good health, it was exclusively reserved for emperors. Personally, I think it could as easily come down to the way the sticky black grains tend to create a comically unsavory toothless look when they lodge in your teeth. But it’s so good. Just be sure to have a toothbrush handy when you eat it, or at the very least plan on a vigorous but discreet swish with water immediately after eating and before talking if with company.

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Call it a dragon bowl, buddha bowl, hippie bowl, just a bowl; forbidden rice or black rice, whatever the names, this may be my new most favorite dish ever (for now). Power packed with good nutrition, easy to make, easier to vary, and awfully beautiful to boot. Best of all, it’s sooo satisfyingly yummy. I made it originally solely for an excuse to write down and share the dressing, adapted somewhat from a coleslaw recipe my sister made when we were visiting CT earlier this summer. It came from an issue of Milk Street Magazine, and I was so taken with that coleslaw I wanted to record it here to come back to but felt uncomfortable doing so. It just seemed like tweaking and creating something new would be more fair somehow.

Given that this meal was built expressly around a sauce, I guess the “all about the dressing” streak continues. On the other hand, this particular combination of subtly spicy chickpeas, roast sweet potatoes, caramelized red onion and greens is an absolute perfect fit. As for the dressing, it’s awfully adaptable too. I thought about including a little sesame oil, only because I doubted  there was none in the original. I’m so glad I trusted memory and left it out. It would have been a foolishly gratuitous inclusion. I did make some changes (more coconut milk, soy sauce for fish sauce, chili garlic sauce for serrano chiles), and the result was so tasty I couldn’t help licking the lid of the jar I made it in.

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Speaking of mysticism (back to the whole forbidden thing), lately little F has been getting into The Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne. I LOVE these chapter books. Reading them to students to conclude the day is among my very dearest memories of teaching Kindergarten and something that keeps me thinking I’ll come back to it. We’d dim the lights and I’d play soft background tracks from an Enya CD to match the mood of the story. (Her album, Without Rain is the perfect pairing.) I loved that time so much that one summer, pre-parenting, I tried reading them to the same music all by myself. It wasn’t the same.

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Anyway, it took me by surprise how drawn to them little F became at not quite four, but I love this shared time together so much. Recently, we’ve been reading a set of “Merlin Missions” wherein the characters Jack and Annie are tasked with finding secrets of happiness to help a sorrowful Merlin. And here I’m going to start stretching for connections in such a way that borders on unbearable, depending who you are. As I do. 

Fun morning (3 of 6)I do a lot of daydreaming while cooking. A lot of thinking and musing. Getting cheesily philosophical about “recipes for happiness” is a staple theme. It’s funny how contented we can be in our now while yet so anxious and fearful of what tomorrow might be. Since Little F was born I’ve known radiant happiness while continually quietly mourning the necessary drift. Always fervently hoping that as each new level of letting go arrives, I’ll find myself capable of whatever it is I need to be ready for. So far, it’s been alright. The other morning for instance, our keen “marching to four”-year old woke up early, and for the first time ever, he chose not to wake us up. Instead, all by himself he pulled his curtains, made his bed, got dressed (T-shirt adorably backwards), and busily set about “delivering” his stuffed animals to various locations throughout the house. I awoke hearing him bustling about and you could sense the joy in the movement. It was a milestone of independence. While my heart definitely felt  a pang, it also bloomed with pride and joy for him, as has been the case so far with all these dreaded yet special steps into his own.

That night while while cooking, my mind was wandering…there was the usual noting of worry regarding said drift, and time passing, and also Jack and Annie, happiness in general, that coleslaw from Milk Street I’d been too hesitant to write down even for myself as is. And suddenly, all these fluttering thoughts collided and I felt somehow closer to an important truth. Not there, but closer.  The Buddhist ideal of non-attachment began to make a little more sense. It seemed less cold and distant, more graceful and accepting than I’d interpreted before. 

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Sometimes the most stirring epiphanies are those representing the things that seem like they should be the most obvious. Maybe an important key to happiness is letting go of ownership. The less we own, the less preoccupied we are with boundaries. I don’t own recipe combinations. Neither does Milk Street, for that matter (well, actually depending on copyright maybe they do, but you know what I mean). My marching-t0-four year old son is my world. I grew him from a tiny seed and his father and I love him to pieces, nourish him, revel in the weightiness of responsibility that is caring for him. Yet he is not ours. Recognizing this does not dull my love for him in the slightest, or lay the foundation for walls around my heart. If anything it makes me love him even more, if that’s possible. But remembering he is his own gives a little more peace. At least in this moment. 

The dressing for this dish is to me amazing. I’m not sure what makes it so. So simple, but everything works together (and who can scoff at coconut and lime, really?). There is no secret ingredient. You’ll take it and make it yours, and therefore better. Here’s the big corn, friends. Ultimately, the secret ingredient, always, is you.

Sweet potato and chickpea forbidden rice bowls
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Ingredients
  1. 2 cups black rice
  2. 1 teaspoon chili powder
  3. 1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  4. 2 large sweet potatoes
  5. 1 small red onion, peeled and cut in wedges
  6. cooking spray
  7. salt and pepper to taste
  8. 3 tablespoons lime juice
  9. 1 tablespoon honey (optional)
  10. 1 tablespoon plus one teaspoon low sodium soy sauce
  11. 2 teaspoons chili garlic sauce
  12. 1/2 cup coconut milk
  13. 4 cups baby kale or mixed greens
Instructions
  1. Prepare the rice: Cook 2 cups in 3 ½ cups water. Rinse under cold water. Bring water and a pinch of salt to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to low, cook until rice is tender and most of the liquid is absorbed, about 35 minutes.
  2. Coat chickpeas with chili powder and set aside.
  3. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Arrange sweet potatoes and onions on a baking sheet and coat generously with cooking spray. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven to turn with a spatula and add chickpeas. Bake for a further 15 -20 minutes, turning once.
  4. Prepare the dressing: in a small bowl, whisk remaining ingredients through coconut milk to combine.
  5. Add half the dressing to rice, stirring to coat. Divide rice into serving bowls, then top with equal amounts of kale/greens mix, sweet potatoes, onions and chickpeas. Drizzle remaining dressing evenly on top. Enjoy!
Happy Apple Natural Kitchen http://www.happyapplekitchen.com/

Sweet and sour date sauce

Isn’t it lovely when you’re looking for an elusive something, and a voice or gem from the past pops up unexpectedly and simply hands it to you? It’s especially gratifying when that out-of-the blue bestower of wisdom is you. Whether that thing that you’re offered is significant or trivial, it brings a sense of restored trust, a quiet inner knowledge that even though time keeps stubbornly melting away, you can still count on you.

In general, making the shift to being so completely plant-based has meant more variety, not less. More colors, more textures, more venturing out into new realms. But sometimes a sigh sneaks in for an old staple that found itself subjected to little scorn when we stopped to think. A good go-to sweet and sour sauce was one of those.

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I never really went for the clear, bright neon Asian takeaway style sauce, but I did have two homemade versions that relied heavily on sugar. Ditching them, try as I might I couldn’t find an alternative I really wanted to come back to. Then one day on a long solo run I found myself ticking the miles away by brainstorming possibilities worth trying that would be free from refined sugar and store-bought ketchup. I started thinking about dates and tomato paste, and bam! Fun flashback to grilling homemade pizzas with friends about ten (yikes???) years ago using a sauce that led to this pathetic, sad little blog post I am choosing to see as proof that I have improved as a sometimes blogger over the years (Mary, remember how awesome those Thai grilled pizzas were?). My pace must have picked up then, fueled by eagerness to try that forgotten sauce again, and especially to see if it might fit the bill for a healthy sweet and sour, adding rice vinegar and pineapple juice and adjusting quantities. It did.

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It’s funny how the past lives with us–mostly with tenderness, at times unsettling. This year I’ve received birthday notifications for a handful of Facebook friends who are no longer with us.  I don’t have the heart to delete them, and of course they aren’t here to make their own graceful exit. I suppose that over time that number will continue to grow. I shared this with a friend who came to dinner, unable to shake a vague preoccupation with this strange new world of ghosts kept in limbo via social media. For a split second she looked stunned, then warmly snapped me out of my moroseness by laughingly exclaiming, “Way to be a buzzkill, Wendy!”
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I wasn’t trying to be morbid. I may just be a complete oddball, but at times there is something bordering on uplifting to be gleaned from what seems otherwise depressing. A bit of a reality check, maybe. Gratitude, mostly. The reminder life is short and we’re still here.

Of course, none of this is related to this recipe, really…just a little sweet and sour.

 

Sweet and Sour Date Sauce
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Ingredients
  1. ¾ cup dates, pitted and soaked in hot water to soften ten minutes
  2. ¼ cup tomato paste
  3. ½ cup rice vinegar
  4. ½ cup pineapple
  5. ⅓ cup low-sodium soy sauce
  6. Vegetable broth or stock
Instructions
  1. Combine all ingredients except for broth in a food processor or high speed blender. Process until smooth. Add broth as needed to reach desired consistency. Add to your favorite stir-fried vegetables.
Happy Apple Natural Kitchen http://www.happyapplekitchen.com/
 

Carrot ginger (dressing) potato salad

This sort-of theme of “it’s all about the dressing” is getting a little tired. Maybe that’s why I’ve been so reluctant to put up this short post. Or maybe I’ve just been waiting for a lightning bolt of whimsy to supply me with something inspired to say. 

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The truth is, I just wanted to share this “dressing” that’s not really dressing exactly and which was in itself rather inspiring. I discovered it recently when I had the happy chance to test some recipes for a local magazine, including a heaping bowl of fresh, crunchy deliciousness. Just 3 ingredients (carrot, not too much sesame oil and pickled ginger) plus water. I was awed by the power of its simplicity, delivering a punch of flavor that is at once sharp and cleansing. One bite and the taste bud nerve connection impishly sent my mind into overdrive trying to come up with a variety of ways to incorporate this exciting new “dressing” into meals just so I could post it on this blog to come back to in case I ever suffer mild amnesia and forget how easy it is.

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OK, so “overdrive” was a little exaggerated. The brainstorming lasted about 5 minutes. But, five minutes fairly well spent, because Easy Carrot Ginger “Dressing” works very well with a light, fresh variation on traditional potato salad; it also fares well in veggie wraps, and is a nice tangy palate cleanser scraped from the bottom of the food processor, too. As long as you like pickled ginger–I do, so added more.

For no particular reason I’m hopeful that this dressing  motif will be phasing itself out soon, though probably not for at least another week. There’s a saucy experiment I have in mind that I’m hoping will work out delectably this week. If you don’t see it within another two weeks, you’ll know it crashed in our kitchen (pssst…it’s sweet and sour). More soon. 🙂

 

Carrot ginger dressed potato salad
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Ingredients
  1. 1 ½ pounds small new potatoes
  2. 1 large carrot cut into chunks
  3. 1/4 cup pickled ginger
  4. 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  5. 1 cucumber, seeded and cut into chunks
  6. 1 cup snap peas, sliced thinly on the diagonal
  7. 3 spring onions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
Instructions
  1. In a steamer set over boiling water steam the potatoes, covered, for 10 to 12 minutes, or until they are just tender, transfer them to a bowl, and let them cool to room temperature, then halve lengthwise (or quarter depending on size).
  2. In a food processor, pulse carrot, pickled ginger, oil, and ¼ cup water to create a chunky dressing.
  3. Combine potatoes, dressing, and vegetables in a large salad bowl. Serve room temperature or cold.
Happy Apple Natural Kitchen http://www.happyapplekitchen.com/

Breakfast with Bhakti part 1: Sweet and spicy vegan chai chip muffins

This week, this post almost didn’t happen. It would have eventually, but there would have been an inner letdown, a sense of dragging of feet. I am being melodramatic in saying so, albeit in a muted way…meaning, feeling a little let down is hardly the churning emotions of despair, and besides it’s only a blog post. But I wanted to relay some of the energetic buzz I came away with following an inspirational blogger event this week hosted by Sprouts Farmers Market at the Bhakti Chai brewing headquarters. Not only did we lucky attendees get to tour a pristine facility and home to some truly superb products, we got to meet the incredibly talented and driven founder, Brook Eddy, and came away with delicious samples I felt primed and eager to experiment with.

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The problem was the usual–finding time. Lately the trend of  squeezing more productivity into increasingly less time has built to a sort of tipping point where I find myself weighing options (e.g. sleep vs X) in terms of number of potential gray hairs that might be encouraged or spared. This week I’ve been especially focused in an attempt to stay on top of tasks and get ahead of work priorities where possible because in days Little F and I are visiting our precious new baby cousin/niece. Struggling to fit everything in, an obvious cut to the to-do list would be a verbose addition to personal blog, particularly as I wouldn’t feel right posting without having a recipe or two to share incorporating awesome Bhakti product.

For a change, the rational me almost won out in scrapping blog post focus for the week.

But.

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Bhakti Chai founder Brook Eddy was a single mother of baby TWINS, going through a divorce, when she founded her company, which happens to be zero-waste, vegan, socially responsible, compassionate and health conscious. Eddy began brewing her own recipes for the beloved spicy tea after a trip to Mumbai, India. When she hit upon a recipe that was undeniably striking and delicious, she decided to start a company.

Ms. Eddy is a vibrant, charismatic entrepreneur. But even the most energized individuals need sleep here and there. How she grew her grassroots business into the successful, innovative company it is today, working full-time by day, brewing at night, raising twins… is simply astounding. Bhakti Chai merges its founder’s background in social policy with her passion for good food and flavor. A B-Corps, the company has made social action a part of its mission. Early on, it began donating to nonprofits, primarily those serving women and girls, and continues to do so. Just thinking about the origins and evolution of this company is pretty breathtaking… certainly enough of a dose of perspective to stir up a kitchen frenzy in small pockets of time over a couple of days. Besides all that, what is more simultaneously soothing and the fragrant aromas and complex spice notes of chai?

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The first round of experiments was too hasty. I had a vision for a healty, vegan coconut pistachio chai tea (er, coffee but actually tea) cake. I turned out something almost yummy, which is to say in fact yucky. Lovely looking, except for the sloppy way I drizzled cashew cream glaze. I tried to convince myself it was blog-worthy, and came close to succeeding, but inside I knew. This secret knowledge was confirmed when at breakfast the next day I presented little F with a wedge of pretty breakfast “cake”. His eyes went wide with delight. “Ooooh, CAKE!” he exclaimed. Upon taking one bite, he pushed the plate away and chose to chomp down on an apple instead. Not to say the idea is dead, however. I’ll keep you posted.

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Second try, though, went soooo much better, and successfully good-for-you too (OK, there is some chopped up crystallized ginger and the decidedly important inclusion of dark chocolate chips). I was hesitant about it at first. Because, muffins. Too easy? Too obvious? It doesn’t matter. I love them. They’re sweetened with mashed banana, but the banana isn’t overpowering. In fact, it blends so beautifully with the chai flavor that the result doesn’t actually taste banana and thus, the exclusion of that yellow goodness out of the recipe name. The chocolate chips are a must-have, but I think that tablespoon chopped crystallized ginger is really what gives this easy recipe the edge.

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These muffins won’t last long (if they’re not already gone), and will definitely be filling our house with their heady but healthy, tempting aroma again very soon, along with some other treats and repeats. The next day, with dear friend Melissa, Little F and I we made some scrummy and deceptively light oatmeal chai blender pancakes and that famous whipped frozen banana ice cream all of us health foodies know and love elevated with a blissful Bhakti kick. Those recipes will have to wait, though. The second, probably forever (because you already know it really), and the former just for now. Not because of fretfulness over time constraints and fatigue. Just because there’s a limit to how long even an openly rambling post should be, and here I am. Happy weekend! 🙂

Sweet and spicy vegan chai chip muffins
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Ingredients
  1. 1 cup sprouted wheat flour (I used One Degree Organics Khorasan) or gluten-free blend
  2. 1/2 tablespoon baking powder
  3. 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  4. 1 teaspoon orange zest
  5. 1 tablespoon crystallized ginger, finely chopped
  6. 2 very ripe bananas, mashed
  7. 1/2 cup Bhakti original chai concentrate
  8. 1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk
  9. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  10. 1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
  11. 2 flax eggs (2 tablespoons ground flax meal whisked in 5 T water and allowed to sit a minute)
  12. 1/2 cup dark chocolate/vegan chocolate chips
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Mix first five ingredients, flour through ginger, in a medium mixing bowl and whisk to combine.
  3. Add remaining ingredients, stirring to combine.
  4. Pour batter two-thirds of the way up each muffin cup in prepared tin. Bake 10-15 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
Happy Apple Natural Kitchen http://www.happyapplekitchen.com/

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