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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 2 cups black rice
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 2 large sweet potatoes
- 1 small red onion, peeled and cut in wedges
- cooking spray
- salt and pepper to taste
- 3 tablespoons lime juice
- 1 tablespoon honey (optional)
- 1 tablespoon plus one teaspoon low sodium soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons chili garlic sauce
- 1/2 cup coconut milk
- 4 cups baby kale or mixed greens
- 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.
- Coat chickpeas with chili powder and set aside.
- 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.
- Prepare the dressing: in a small bowl, whisk remaining ingredients through coconut milk to combine.
- 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!
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.
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.
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!”
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.
- ¾ cup dates, pitted and soaked in hot water to soften ten minutes
- ¼ cup tomato paste
- ½ cup rice vinegar
- ½ cup pineapple
- ⅓ cup low-sodium soy sauce
- Vegetable broth or stock
- 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.
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.
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.
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. 🙂
- 1 ½ pounds small new potatoes
- 1 large carrot cut into chunks
- 1/4 cup pickled ginger
- 2 tablespoons sesame oil
- 1 cucumber, seeded and cut into chunks
- 1 cup snap peas, sliced thinly on the diagonal
- 3 spring onions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
- 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).
- In a food processor, pulse carrot, pickled ginger, oil, and ¼ cup water to create a chunky dressing.
- Combine potatoes, dressing, and vegetables in a large salad bowl. Serve room temperature or cold.
You may not think these combined ingredients earn the title of “burger”, with good reason. You may say they’re more fittingly called ‘patties’, as they probably are. The difference is often subtle but we all recognize it intuitively. And actually, the original source of this recipe refers to them as ‘cakes’. But never mind. They may be little more than zesty, healthy homemade refried beans held together with a light, almost crispy coating, but what respectable fan of refried beans wouldn’t devour that in burger form?
Sometimes I feel twinges of guilt that little F has not experienced meat in his three years and three quarters life. Despite the fact that I am wholeheartedly behind our family’s reasons for our plant-based kitchen, there are moments I feel like I’m somehow misleading him. Food is as full of nostalgia as it is fuel.
The other week, while grocery shopping, I heard a startled gasp as little F suddenly pointed at a package of red meat. “Red worms, ewwww!” he cried. Later that same day, we had a new sitter come to the house while I worked upstairs, and I got to listen in on the giddy fun of their engaging conversations. Little F had taken to her immediately, resulting in the sort of giddy, wild “showing off” that is funny, silly, and borderline overly rambunctious. They were playing kitchen, and I heard the sitter (who happens to be vegan) ask, “Do you like burgers?” as she picked up the plastic replica. “Sometimes,” little F answered. “Sometimes they’re good, sometimes they’re yucky, like poo poo yucky.”
It was fun eavesdropping just a bit, and a little thought-provoking, too. I wondered, why didn’t little F treat Ms. Andrea to the same lecture-style response he has given both his grandmothers (e.g., “we don’t eat cow’s milk, Ammy”, or “maybe butter is kind of gross, Nanny”)? And then I thought, oh yeah…he doesn’t know. He doesn’t know what a typical burger, hot dog, or even pizza is. He even makes a point of clarifying during imaginative play that his misbehaving animal friends are eating “tofu poo poo” when they indulge in excrement.
I don’t want our sweet boy growing up feeling like he is missing out, or developing issues around diet, forbidden foods, and power of choice. Hopefully we will keep on figuring out ways that feel right for sharing different ideas and options, showing respect for his evolving choices and keeping the conversation going. It does ease those creeping anxious moments when I can remind myself how satisfying and yummy the burgers we do make are.
This recipe came from the amazing Dr. Neal Barnard’s Get Healthy, Go Vegan Cookbook; the only changes I made were to add some walnuts and swap out some of the bread crumbs (which I’m assuming could easily be gluten-free) with quinoa flakes for the coating. As shared in the cookbook, these pair beautifully with a simple mango salsa (even better, with mango and pineapple salsa that combines a little finely chopped red pepper and scallions with a splash of lime juice, honey, and a pinch of cayenne). They’re also a superb match for most of your favorite traditional burger toppings. Almost as easy to prepare as a portobello mushroom burger too, and completely free of tofu, poo poo, red words, or anything sometimes yucky or maybe kind of gross. 😉
- ½ cup mild salsa
- 2 tsp ground cumin
- 2 15-ounce cans black beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 cup bread crumbs
- ¼ cup ground walnuts, optional
- 3 scallions, thinly sliced
- ¾ cup quinoa flakes
- Preheat oven to 200 F. COmbine the salsa, cumin, black beans and walnuts in a food processor and pulse until smooth. Transfer to a mixing bowl and add bread crumbs, scallions, salt and pepper.
- Divide mixture into small patties, roughly ¼ cup each. Dredge patties in quinoa flakes and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes (alternatively, you can chill mixture in bowl and form into patties later.
- Heat a nonstick large skillet over medium heat. Using cooking spray saute approximately 3 minutes per side, gently turning. Place on a baking sheet and keep warm in the oven until all patties are prepared. Great served with mango and pineapple salsa or your favorite burger fixings.
It’s Earth Day week, and I had this idea of concocting some kind of richly earthy sort of stew I hadn’t made before. Just thinking of it, I couldn’t quell the word umami from resonating in my head with deep, ringing tones. Something about umami; if Yoda was a taste, umami would he be.
Featured in this stew, there would have to be brown lentils, mushrooms, burdock root…that last one mainly because I only just discovered its existence last fall when I tested out a recipe that included it for Yoga Journal, and it seems to epitomize earthiness with a sort of mysticism attached. So, there was an ingredients list. Then, not even halfway through the week I decided to chuck it, for now.
Actually, so fat I don’t like burdock root. This may well change, easily, depending on what I learn about amazing benefits like blood purification and lymphatic system strengthening that I can’t possibly get anywhere else. But for now, I’m just not a huge fan of the sinewy woodiness, or the fact that the earthiness is really actual earth. And the brown, knobby lumpiness of my ingredients seemed more suitable for a witch’s bubbling cauldron than my envisioned rustic family dinner honoring Earth Day.
Instead we’re relishing something light and bright and fresh that sings spring that I originally made for Ancient Harvest. You can vary the vegetables, the amounts, the herbs. You can load up the veggies and still savor a light yet satisfying meal. I love the way the pesto makes the flavors pop.
I may have mentioned before, lately I’ve been driving myself a little more batty than usual in my personal quest to expand knowledge. Instead of really challenging myself and poring over, say, financial journals or exploring other areas outside of my comfort zone, I’ve been diving headlong into more of what am already interested in, was already reading/watching/listening to. Foremost, that’s food and nutrition. Lately, lagging just a hair behind, toxins in our environment. It’s not the healthiest thing, going further and further into the abyss that is all the ugly, greedy, and despicable in the world and repeatedly reinforcing how little we can do about it.
But at least there is always a little we can do. And if there is anything worth taking little, or any size, steps for, it’s our planet. We only have one.
Different people need different diets, and few things are as off-putting as people assuming they’re due some kind of applause for theirs. But no one argues with the power of produce, and the significant impact such a delicious choice can make on personal health and the health of the whole planet. This week, of all weeks, it feels especially good to love seasonal vegetables. Happy Earth Day!
- 1 cup quinoa, any variety
- 1/4 cup olive oil, divided
- 1 leeks halved lengthwise and thinly sliced (white and light green portions)
- 2 medium carrots, diced
- 3 cups low sodium vegetable broth
- 3 cups water
- 8 asparagus spears, trimmed and cut diagonally in approximately 1-inch pieces
- 1 1/2 cups kale leaves, ribs removed and chopped
- 1 cup cooked navy or white cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 cup fresh or frozen corn
- 1 cup torn basil leaves
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 cup walnuts
- 3 cloves garlic
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Cook quinoa according to package directions and set aside.
- Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add leek and carrots sweat 3-4 minutes.
- Add vegetable broth and water and bring to a low boil. Add asparagus, peas, kale, beans and corn. Cook 5-7 minutes, until asparagus is tender.
- Prepare the pesto: place basil, lemon juice, pine nuts, garlic, and remaining olive oil in a food processor and pulse until smooth.
- Stir in quinoa and half of the pesto. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook, stirring, 5 minutes. Thin to desired consistency with extra water as needed. Salt and pepper to taste.
- Ladle into bowls and serve with remaining pesto spooned on top.