Monday, April 16, 2012

Two Spring Green Recipes and Some Thoughts

A lot has changed in my life since my last update-- But, I'd rather focus on the change of the season. Spring has never been my favorite time of year, I'm just not a fan of rain! But, being back in Southern California makes springtime seem like a time of year worth reveling in... 75 degree days, sunshine, Sunday hikes, the Hollywood Farmer's Market, long walks in the magic, radiant green of my neighborhood, buds on all my plants... I cannot get enough! What's more, my first Fall in LA left me in need of that freshly scrubbed with sunshine feeling that only dry California spring days can bring. After having a long winter of heartbreak and struggle with the eating disorder that has defined so much of my adulthood, spring also finds me hungry for healthy, fresh, savory meals that meet my nutritional needs without making me feel weighty or anxious over the proposition of three square meals a day.

One of the reasons I started this blog in the first place is that throughout grad school being vegan became this joyful home that I could occupy, a way to manifest my positive outlook and share my heart with people, a source of confidence in my ability to think critically about the world, and respond in a positive active manner to change the things I can. It also allowed me to place compassion for myself, others, and the animals at the fore of my thoughts and encouraged a safe space for creative action. Working mindfully to lead with compassion, patience and recognition of things that I can and cannot change has allowed me to emerge into this Spring stronger, wiser, and happier. For that I am very thankful.

The one thing I have always loved about the Spring time is that it is GREENS TIME! Particularly bitter greens, like my perennial favorite, dandelion! Nothing is better on a hot sunny day with a chilly breeze than a big bowl of salad, a cup of soup, and a hunk of bread and that pretty much sums up how I've been eating lately.

The thing about a bitter green is that it's best tempered with a little sweetness- The balance of bitter and sweet that comes from combining Spring greens with berries and fruit is one of my favorite flavor combos, and I think the balance is a nice reminder of the balance I am always trying to build in my life.

With that said, my favorite salad lately has been a toss of romaine, arugula, and dandelion with sweet 100's, cucumber, bell peppers, raw zucchini, shredded apples and carrots, avocado and toasted pepitas tossed with a fresh strawberry dressing. This dressing is a little savory, a little sweet, and a lot creamy. Try it on your favorite mix of bitter greens and fresh Spring veggies!

Creamy Strawberry and Spring Green Herb Salad Dressing (Makes about 1.5 cups)

1/2 pint very ripe strawberries
1/2 c fresh dill
1/3 c fresh morrocan mint
2 cloves garlic
3 T raw tahini (I like this one!)
1.5 T local raw honey (try an equivalent amount of agave or date syrup if you refrain from honey for ethical reasons)
2 oz fresh lime juice
1- 2 T warm water
sea salt to taste

In a food processor or blender finely chop the garlic and herbs. Add the strawberries and purée until liquefied. At this point add the tahini, sweetener of your choice, lime juice and 1 T of warm water. Blend for about three minutes until the dressing is totally emulsified. It should be thick and creamy, but definitively a dressing and not a spread, so depending on how juicy your berries were, you may need to add another T of warm water. Season with sea salt to taste and drizzle heartily over your salad! If you find that it needs a little something because your berries aren't quite red all the way through, try adding a little extra lime and a shake of mirin!

It hasn't been all warm sunny days this Spring so far, so I've also been making a far amount of soup. A recent favorite adds a beautiful yolk-y yellow (Vegans don't need eggs to enjoy a sunny ochre!) to the color palette of berry pink and Spring green that has dominated this post. I've been trying to pack in the winter squash as long as I can and the recent acquisition of a perfect, nasturtium orange red kuri squash coupled with several cold rainy days conjured images of fresh coconut and savory curry so I decided to make a higher protein, more savory version of my standard squash soup that would sustain me through long, long days of waiting tables. The result is a rich and complex creamy soup that satisfies at all times of day... Believe me, I've been having it for breakfast with a slice of avocado or banana toast!

Curried Red Kuri with Fresh Young Coconut

1 T raw coconut oil, divided
3 cups red kuri squash flesh, cubed (About 1 med squash)
1 sweet onion
1 large shallot, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 c red lentils
4 c vegetable stock (I use Imagine Organics No-Chicken Broth)
1 Thai coconut or 1 can light or regular coconut milk
1.5- 2 T Curry Powder (I used Muchi Curry from Whole Foods)
1/2 t cinnamon
1/8 t cayenne
1/2 t red pepper flakes
1/4 t ground cardamom
1+ t Nama Shoyu
1+ t mirin

Chopped cilantro, lime, and dried unsweetened coconut to garnish

Preheat the oven to 375. Peel and chop the squash and yellow onion into 1" chunks. Melt the coconut oil in your soup pot and brush the squash and onions lightly and then arrange the chunks in a roasting pan with a small glug of your vegetable stock. There should be enough melted coconut oil left in your pot to caramelize the shallot. Roast the squash for 45 minutes.

While the squash is roasting, open the coconut and blend the coconut water and flesh in your blender until smooth to make a fresh coconut milk. You can also use canned with great results (lite, to my mind is as good as the full fat.) You will need about 2 cups of coconut milk.

In the soup pan, caramelize the shallot over low heat in the remaining coconut oil. When the squash is done, add the garlicand red pepper flakes and cook until fragrant. Add the squash and lentils to the pot and cover with all of the vegetable stock. Simmer with the lid on until the lentils are cooked, about 30- 45 minutes. When the lentils are done, add the coconut milk and remove the pot from the heat.

In a cast iron skillet, gently toast the curry and other spices until fragrant. Shake the pan gently to avoid sticking and burning. Add the toasted curry to the soup pot and blend until silky smooth with an immersion blender, or in batches in your traditional blender. Season with shoyu and mirin to balance the flavors. Serve with a lime wedge, a sprinkle of coconut and a generous garnish of cilantro.

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