Celeriac, Kohlrabi, Carrot Slaw with Buttermilk Dressing

root slaw

Pull out your food processor, and this is a healthy, crunchy, refreshing fall slaw you can have ready in no time.  Don’t have a food processor, then a good box grater and some youthful help, make this a fun salad to make together.

It features two fall favorites, both of which may prove easier to grow than to find in your typical supermarket.  If your market doesn’t stock them, they are worth requesting. They are: kohlrabi (which comes in a pale green and this brilliant purple color),

purple kohlrabi

and the shy yet robust celeriac (or celery root). Here, looking down on its leaves, and

Celeriac leaveshere, underneath, where the delicious root ball is forming.

Top of celeriac knob

Kohlrabi, whose name means “cabbage turnip” in German can be enjoyed both cooked and raw, for an impressive amount of vitamin C, fiber, folic acid and potassium. Although the ball-like portion is easily mistaken for a root vegetable, it is actually a swollen, above-ground part of the stem. The entire plant is edible, so even though this recipe only calls for the bulb, you can use the leaves as you would kale, collards or cabbage.

Celeriac is often cooked and combined with potatoes in a mash, puree, soup or stew.  It goes well in just about anything in which you use root vegetables, and anywhere you want a celery flavor. It can also be eaten raw, when it is surprisingly crunchy and refreshing and offers an even higher dose of vitamin C. Though it has yet to win any popularity contests in the US, it as been featured on dining room tables in Europe as far back as Homer’s time.

The Fall Slaw:

  • 1/2 celeriac, peeled and grated
  • 1-2 kohlrabi, peeled and grated
  • 4 carrots, scrubbed and grated
  • 1 apple, peeled and grated
  • ½ cup dried cranberries
  • ½ cup nuts or seeds, such as walnuts, pecans, or pumpkin seeds (optional)

Buttermilk Dressing:

  • 9 tablespoons buttermilk (or substitute 4 tablespoons with mayonnaise)
  • 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • finely chopped fresh herbs (such as parsley or chives)

Method:

  1. Using a food processor (making it very quick and easy) or a box grater, coarsely grate celeriac, kohlrabi, carrots and apple.
  2. Measure dressing ingredients into a jar with a tightly fitting lid. Close lid and shake to combine.
  3. Combine grated vegetables and dressing in a bowl, add dried cranberries and stir. Cover and allow to stand for flavors to combine.  Add nuts and/or seeds.
  4. Serve garnished with fresh herbs.  This keeps nicely for several days and is an easy lunch to pack and take along.  What it features is all fall, but its bright color and refreshing crunch may remind you of summer.

root slaw 2

Kids Cook Monday: Rice Noodles with Tofu & Veg

Pad Thai top view

The second recipe in the series from our “Kids Cook Monday” cooking classes, in which we invite child-parent cooking teams to join us (ten-year old daughter and her mother) to create a healthy, whole foods dinner full of color, flavor and fun is an Asian-style noodles and vegetable dish.

As my cooking partner, my daughter is as involved in the menu planning as in the preparation. Her pick for the main dish was a home-cooked version of a restaurant favorite, Pad Thai.  We added more vegetables and tofu than your typical take-out, and skipped the shrimp (for Meatless Monday and sustainability reasons).

Pad Thai vegetables

Pad Thai-Inspired Rice Noodle Stir-Fry with Tofu and Vegetables

      • 2 tablespoons grape seed oilcoconut oil or peanut oil
      • 1 package of tofu (use pressed tofu, if you can find it, or press yourself for best results)
      • 1 teaspoon tamarind paste
      • 1 ½ tablespoons brown sugar
      • 3 tablespoons warm water
      • juice of 1 lime
      • ¼ cup tamari soy sauce
      • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
      • several grinds of black pepper
      • 1 onion, finely chopped
      • 2 carrots, cut into small pieces
      • 1/2 head of broccoli, cut into small pieces
      • 1 bell pepper, cut into pieces
      • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
      • 4 eggs
      • 8 oz rice stick noodles (can substitute with spaghetti if hard to find)

Nice additions and garnishes include (all optional):

      • 1 bunch scallions, cut into small rounds
      • 8 oz bean sprouts, rinsed
      • 1/3 cup peanuts, roughly chopped, if you like
      • 1/3 cup cilantro, roughly cut and some leaves reserved for garnish
      • 1 lime, cut into wedges
      • sriracha sauce

Frying Tofu:

      1. Dry and/or press tofu – either place tofu between two plates in the sink, with something heavy on top (such as a large can) and let sit for several hours, or cut into slices, lay them on a kitchen towel, place another towel on top and gentle press to pull the moisture out of the tofu. If you like gadgets, here’s a tofu press made just for this job. Cut into cubes. 
      2. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add oil and let warm.
      3. Once first piece of tofu sizzles in the pan, place all cubes in a single layer making sure not to overcrowd them.
      4. Shake pan gently to make sure tofu isn’t sticking, and allow to cook for 5-8 minutes or until a golden crust starts to creep up the sides.  Turn tofu and give the other side a few minutes to brown.
      5. Remove from heat, and place tofu on paper towels to drain.

Making the Sauce:

      1. In a small bowl, dissolve tamarind paste and sugar in warm water (take the time to fully dissolve them).
      2. Add lime juice, soy sauce, chili flakes and pepper and mix.

Softening the Noodles:

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and cook noodles for 5-6 minutes, removing from heat and draining just before being fully cooked.

Preparing Vegetables & Assembly:

    1. Chop vegetables into small pieces and mince or press garlic. There is plenty of room for flexibility in this recipe.  For flavor and appearance, it is nice to use three vegetables of different colors, but they don’t need to be carrots, a red pepper and broccoli.
    2. Heat oil in large skillet or wok on medium heat, and sauté onions, carrots and broccoli, add garlic and peppers a few minutes later and sauté another minute or two.
    3. Beat eggs in a small bowl, pour into vegetables, cook for a moment, then stir.
    4. Add tofu, cook for another 1-2 minutes.
    5. Add noodles and pour in the sauce.  Gently combine all.
    6. Add half the scallions, bean sprouts and peanuts (if using).
    7. Place remaining scallions, bean sprouts, peanuts in bowls along with cilantro and lime wedges as garnishes for personalizing plates.

Pad Thai noodles

Have You Tried Acai? (Sambazon Review & Giveaway)

Sambazon

Have you tried the much touted acai berry? It has been raved about for its impressive nutritional profile and for its ability to encourage weight loss.  Despite the abundant positive press, I had yet to give it a try.  The Sambazon company offers a full line of acai juice drinks, smoothies and frozen fruit products all with non-GMO, USDA organic, vegan and gluten-free labels. From their website, I learned their drinks come in ten different flavors and blends.  I was only able to find the original flavor in my local health food store, but I imagine larger markets will carry a wider selection.

Although I enjoyed the drink, I found it too thick and too sweet for regular drinking, but when I used it as the base of a slushie, I loved it!  Beyond the product, what really impressed me, is the vision, mission and practices of the company. Sambazon, whose name comes from the Sustainable Management of the Brazilian AmAZON, is thoroughly dedicated to socially and ecologically sustainable development in the Brazilian rainforest while bringing acai nutrition to the rest of the world.  According to their literature, they support two million acres of Amazon Rainforest and over 10,000 family farmers with their berry harvesting and juice making operation.  Their products are certified Organic as well as Fair-Trade.

Sambazon juice (which is not exactly pure acai juice, but a juice drink consisting of acai puree, water, agave, lime juice, natural flavors, soy lecithin, citric acid, and fruit and vegetables juice for color) straight from the bottle was thicker than I would have liked.  I would love to see the juices packaged in glass, as I picked up on the plastic aroma when drinking out of the bottle, and would prefer to move away from plastic packaging whenever possible.  The Acai Original was much sweeter than I think is necessary (or enjoyable). I poured my next bottle over ice, to test it chilled and to see how it reacted to a little watering down. I liked it better. Still finding it thicker than I would like, I realized it was ideal smoothie/slushie/sorbet material. A chilled nutrient-dense tropical berry refresher can be the perfect companion on a hot and humid afternoon, of which, I imagine, there are many in Brazil.

Acai Slushie

Pineapple-Acai Slushie:

In a blender, such as a Vitamix, blend 1 banana, 1 bottle of Sambazon Acai Original, 1/2 teaspoon bee pollen, 5 tablespoons pineapple juice concentrate, 1 single package (or 2 tablespoons) of chia seeds and about 15 ice cubes. Add vitamin supplements, if you wish (I added 2,000 IU of vitamin D and 2 probiotic capsules).  Run the blender until all the ingredients are mixed and the ice cubes have turned to slush.  An incredibly nutrient-filled, tasty and refreshing beverage awaits you.

Acai is celebrated for its high concentration of antioxidants (particularly anthocyanin, which the deep purple color would suggest), fiber and essential fatty acids. The Tropical Plant Database finds acai to be nutritious, but not quite the standout we have been led to believe.  Acai contains up to 4% protein, 25% sugar and trace amounts of calcium, phosphorous, iron, sulphur, vitamins B1, A and E.
A bottle of Sambazon juice contains 10.5 fluid ounces. The serving size and corresponding nutrition facts, however, are for a serving size of 8 ounces.  Something to be aware of if you are checking the label for calorie or sugar counts.  Make sure to add roughly a third more to the numbers if you consume a bottle.

To visit Sambazon online, there’s the company website and their facebook page (including a $1.50 off coupon) and in California, there are now two Sambazon Cafes along the Pacific Coast Highway.  Built according to strict ecological design guidelines, the company’s commitment to doing business sustainably continues. Pull up a chair to a long table (made from reclaimed wood and metal), slide your spoon into a typical Amazonian “acai bowl” of fruit and granola, and allow the rush of nutrients and tropical flavors to sink in.

Or, bring the taste of Brazil to you!  Post a comment below, and one lucky winner (US residents only) will receive three free product vouchers (coupons) plus one of these beautiful wooden bowl and spoon sets (a $45 value). A random drawing will be held on June 30, 2013.

Have you tried acai?  Did you like it?  Any particular products or recipes you would recommend?

Sambazon bowl

Disclaimer: I received this product for free from the sponsor of the Moms Meet program, May Media Group LLC, who received it directly from the manufacturer.  As a Moms Meet Blogger, I agreed to use this product and post my opinion on my blog. My opinions do not necessarily reflect the opinions of May Media Group LLC or the manufacturer of the product.  For more information about Moms Meet, go to http://www.greenmomsmeet.com or join the social media conversation using #momsmeet.

Have a Beet in Your Roots?

Beets- farmers marketTo eat locally and seasonally, it is often assumed that making it through the winter is challenging.  True, fresh tomatoes, lettuce and cucumbers are missing, but they are easily replaced by pantry shelves full of canned tomatoes, sauces, ketchup, chutneys and pickles while the freezer holds, among many things, frozen whole tomatoes, and all produce which stores well is comfortably tucked away.  It is spring that is sparse. Yesterday I used my last two pie pumpkins and butternut squash from last summer and made a note to grow more this season in an effort to make it through not just the cold seasons, but all the way to the following harvest.

Fortunately, my root drawers are not yet empty.  So beets, turnips, carrots, kohlrabi, celeriac, rutabaga, etc, often associated with fall cuisine, are actually common ingredients in our spring and early summer meals, increasingly paired with fresh new greenery.

Growing beet

Today, we’re having beets.  According to The Secret Life of Food, the name “beet” comes from the French bête, meaning beast.  Apparently, early cooks, alarmed at the bright red color beets turn their cooking water, were reminded of bleeding animals, and labeled these roots “beasts”.

Beets, which come in shades from the common deep red to golden yellow and even white, are full of valuable nutrition.  They are often used for blood cleansing, liver and kidney support (commonly included in juice fasts).  They are great sources of vitamins A, C and B-complex, folate (particularly in raw beets), manganese, iron, potassium and antioxidants polyphenol and betalain (a powerful, recently recognized nutrient, prevalent in red beets).  Additionally, they exhibit an enviable combination of low calorie, high sweet and very low glycemic index.

With all of this going for them, it’s hard to believe that beets used to be relegated to animal feed. Originally they grew wild in North Africa and in coastal areas in Europe and Asia. People first became interested in their nutritious greens. Early Romans started cultivating the full plant and prepared the roots by cooking them in honey and wine (which I had to try, recipe below) and today cooks worldwide prepare them in many different ways.

roasted beets

roasted beets 2

Roasted Beets: my favorite way to prepare beets. With very little prep work, you fill your 400˚ oven, and let the beets cook themselves until done (45 minutes or so).  The flavor is rich using this cooking method and nutrients are better preserved than when cooking beets in water.  Once roasted, they peel easily, and quickly become salads, soups and stew additions, can be puréed and even incorporated into baked goods.

Drinkable Beets. Beet juice is often used in cleanses for its ability to nourish the blood.  You can add digestive and immune support by fermenting the juice into beet kvass.  Or enjoy a quick smoothie by adding milk to a puréed beet soup, such as Red Velvet Borscht.

Red Velvet Soup

Baked Beets, either as a purée of roasted beets or grated raw ones, they can easily be included in baked goods. This is not an original idea, but deserves as much publicity as it can get.  They combine particularly well with chocolate, and add a bit of natural sweetness, rich color and antioxidants to your treats, such as in Choco-Beet Muffins. Or whirl a beet into hot chocolate (mix puréed beet into your warming mixture on the stove or if making Mexican-style cocoa, toss a roasted beet into the jar of the blender or vitamix).

Roman beetsRoman beets 4

Ancient Roman Recipe. Absolutely delicious!

  • 1 bunch red beets
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 2 tablespoons butter

Cook unpeeled beets in a sauce pan with enough water to cover them, bring to a boil and cook until soft. Allow to cool and peel. Cut into small pieces.

Melt butter in the sauce pan, add wine and honey and allow to warm while mixing.  Add beets and keep on a low simmer until about half the liquid has evaporated.  Beets in this sauce are simply heavenly.

Color it red:  The deep pigments of beets are related to their antioxidant health benefits, and they generously share their beautiful hue with just about anything in their vicinity such as pasta, mashed potatoes, pancakes, smoothies, etc… and your hands.

If you have fresh beets with the greens attached, you have the makings of a complete package. The colors and nutrients of the greens compliment those of the roots, so whenever possible use both ends in a the same recipe (in salads, pasta dishes, a vegetable side dish) or in the same meal.

Speaking of both ends, should beet’s red color pass through your system and out the other side, don’t be alarmed – remember that you recently ate beets, and that you have a common condition called “beeturia.”

Making Room for Sunchokes

Sunchokes

Often called Jerusalem artichokes, Sunchokes are unusually nutritious tubers which have nothing to do with either Jerusalem or artichokes.  They grow vigorously to over ten feet tall and burst into abundant sunflower-like blooms in the fall. That would be reason enough to grow them, but after the plant has gone, and the first frost has touched the ground, the tubers multiplying under the ground become sweet, delicious and extraordinarily nutritious. Resembling a ginger-potato merger in appearance and a water chestnut-jicama-potato (maybe with a hint of artichoke heart?) blend in flavor, they make a fresh addition to fall and winter cooking.

A North American native plant, these edible tubers were a common food for several Native American tribes. They are still eaten both raw and cooked, and are increasingly appreciated for their high inulin content, a sweet fiber used medicinally to balance blood sugar and support healthy gut bacteria. With a flavor similar to cooked potatoes, they make a good substitute for those wanting to reduce their starch consumption, increase their fiber intake and eat a low glycemic diet. They are also an excellent source of iron and a good one of thiamine, niacin, potassium, magnesium and calcium.

I planted several last fall and did close to nothing to care for them besides eagerly await harvest time.  Last weekend, I dug up one plant. Did I happen to pick the plant sitting on the mother load or are all of these blooming beauties harboring bucket loads of sunchokes?!  I dug up another to find…. more bounty!  I had to stop since I didn’t have the storage space worked out for quantities at this scale.  Fortunately, until the ground freezes, they store well right where they are.

P1010367-002

P1010372-001

A few Sunchoke recipe ideas:

Sunchoke Slices on a Salad:  scrub and thinly slice several sunchokes and add them to your favorite green salad.  They offer a nice crunch with an earthy flavor making a fresh salad a more grounding food in fall and winter.  Dress with a light vinaigrette.

Sunchoke & Cheddar Soup (from The Victory Garden Cookbook):

  • 1 pound sunchokes
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 celeriac bulb or 2 stalks celery
  • 1 medium onion
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 2 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 1/2 cups cheddar cheese
  • 2 teaspoons dry mustard
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • salt & cayenne pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Wash, peel (optional) and roughly chop sunchokes and keep in water to which lemon juice has been added until ready to use. Chop celery and onion and cook in 2 tablespoons butter until slightly wilted, approximately 10 minutes. Add sunchokes and 1 1/2 cups of broth, cover, and cook for 10-15 minutes or until vegetables are cooked through. Purée in a blender or food processor.

In a medium saucepan, melt 4 tablespoons butter, add flour, and cook for 2 minutes without browning. Remove from heat and whisk in 1 cup of broth and cook 5 minutes. Add cheese and mustard, and stir until blended. Stir in sunchoke mixture and cream, and cook until soup is heated through. Season with salt, cayenne pepper and Worcestershire sauce.

Sunchoke Mash: Cook or roast cubes of root vegetables and tubers, such as potatoes, turnips, rutabaga, carrots, celeriac, etc with a couple of cloves of garlic. Add cubed sunchokes and cook until tender. Mash with a bit of butter or olive oil and some milk or cream, depending on desired consistency.

Vegetable Sauté with Sunchokes: Prepare and sauté any vegetables (such as red onion, garlic and celery stalks) in a skillet, and add scrubbed and sliced sunchokes toward the end of the cooking time.  Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with parsley.

Sunchokes Sauteed

 

Looking for more recipes? Thankfully, there is a blog devoted entirely to the sunchoke and its recipes.

Meatless Monday: Japchae – Vermont Garden Edition

Thank you Korean inventor of sweet potato vermicelli noodles.  I don’t know who you are or how these came to be, but I am grateful for your creative mind and for the well-stocked Asian grocery stores who carry your fine product (including, I just discovered, Amazon.com).  Grain-free, wheat-free and gluten-free, easy to work with, and fun to eat, these noodles landed in my kitchen after a successful shopping trip in Montreal’s Chinatown yesterday.

The Vermont garden version of the Korean Japchae noodle dish I made, may not fully qualify for the name, but it was easy to make with vegetables I had, and the noodles and the Asian flavored sauce made the meal stand out as something special.

Vermont Garden Japchae

  • 1 bag sweet potato vermicelli noodles
  • 1 package of tofu, ideally drained and pressed for several hours before cooking
  • 3 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1 yellow onion, cut into inch long pieces
  • 1 red onion, cut into inch long pieces
  • 1/2 inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced
  • 1 cup red, yellow, orange and/or green bell pepper slices
  • 1 bunch bok choy, chopped
  • good handful of green beans
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 carrots, shredded
  • small handful of fresh basil leaves, cut finely
  • 1/3 cup tamari soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon chili sauce (such as Sriracha) or to taste
  • sesame seeds
  • additional soy sauce, hot sauce, sesame seeds, lime wedges (optional, for serving)

Method:

  1. If your package of sweet potato vermicelli comes with preparation instructions you understand, please follow them. Mine did not, so I guessed: I soaked the noodles for about 20 minutes and when they weren’t soft enough yet, I cooked them in boiling water for another 5-10. Drain softened noodles and set aside.
  2. Cut tofu into small 1/2 inch pieces and fry them in 2 tablespoons coconut oil until they develop a light brown crust. Slide them onto a plate and set aside.
  3. Warm the remaining coconut oil in a skillet, and sauté onions until just starting to brown.  Add ginger, garlic and other vegetables and sauté for another few minutes.  I added the carrot and basil at the very end to keep them raw, bright and crunchy.
  4. Meanwhile, whisk together the sauce ingredients.
  5. In a large pot, such as a Dutch oven, combine softened noodles, vegetables, tofu and sauce. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve (tongs make for easiest serving)
  6. Serve with additional soy sauce, hot sauce, lime wedges, and sesame seeds; and either chop sticks, a fork, or maybe a pair of scissors (those are some long noodles).

It was a “Can I have seconds?”, “Can I have thirds?” kind of dinner.  My favorite kind.

Sliding Gently into Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut, one of the better known members of the probiotics food group, is a very cost effective medicinal food.  It gives most any dish a tasty zing and keeps your digestion and immunity humming along.

Cabbage is already a good source of vitamin C, folate, fiber, manganese, beta carotene and other antioxidants. A member of the cruciferous family, it is credited for fighting cancer, high cholesterol and inflammation. Now lacto-ferment it (and start calling it “sauerkraut”), and the nutrient profile gets even better. Developed centuries ago, the natural pickling process of vegetables allows for long term storage, and increases the vitamin content, adds digestive enzymes and probiotics and makes many nutrients easier to absorb.

Early civilizations from China to Europe relied on it for its health benefits.  Many long ocean voyages packed barrels of sauerkraut to keep their sailors healthy. It is said that Captain Cook protected his crew from scurvy death with sixty barrels of kraut.

Unfortunately, its foreign name and the suggestion of something sour has not done wonders for its modern day reputation. If you’ve found sauerkraut reluctance is keeping you from optimal health, here’s a recipe, based on a popular Dutch dish, zuurkool stamppot met worst, which smooths out kraut’s rougher edges, and offers a gentle entry into the healthful world of fermented vegetables.

Kraut-Potatoes with Sausage

  • 4-6 potatoes (ideally organic)
  • 1 cup sauerkraut
  • 3 medium cloves garlic, pressed
  • 1/2 -1 cup milk or dairy-free milk 
  • sea salt and pepper to taste
  • cheddar cheese, cut into small blocks (optional)
  • vegetarian or meat sausage (optional)
  • parsley, chives or other green herbs

Method:

  1. Scrub and cut potatoes into medium-sized pieces (keep peel on for greatest nutrition).
  2. Put potato pieces in pot and fill with water to cover.
  3. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer and allow to cook for 8-10 minutes.  Add sauerkraut and continue cooking for another 2-3 minutes or until potatoes are soft.  Pour off and save excess water.
  4. Place pot back on a low flame, add garlic through a garlic press and milk, and mash. Add more milk or excess water to reach preferred consistency. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Meanwhile cook vegetarian or meat sausages in a skillet.
  6. Assemble dish by adding cheese cubes, sausages, fresh green herbs and/or edible flowers.  Serve warm and enjoy the perfect blend of medicinal food and comfort food.

How Rhubarb Shines Sans Strawberries

Rhubarb, with its edible stalks starting in May, perfecting bridges the locally harvestable dessert gap between maple syrup in April and strawberries in June.

The rhubarb plant is a persistent perennial, growing back with gusto year after year. Sometimes to the point of overload for some home gardeners.  This year I was on the lucky receiving end of such overload. I happily created garden space for a separated rhubarb plant, and immediately picked a beautiful late May bouquet.

With strawberries in the backyard and now rhubarb in the front, I thought my yard was ready to provide the tried and true late spring combo, but with most of the berries still unripe, I had to let the rhubarb fly solo for now.  It did very well on its own.

Rhubarb Yogurt Cups

  • 1 ball jar full of rhubarb stalks, washed and cut into 1″ pieces
  • 1 tablespoon of butter
  • 1 tablespoon orange juice concentrate
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 tablespoon beet powder
  • 1 cup of whole milk yogurt (ideally from organic, grass-fed cows)
  • generous sprinkling of cacao nibs

Method:

  1. Warm skillet and melt butter.
  2. Add rhubarb pieces, orange juice, half the maple syrup and beet powder and allow to cook down to a sauce (a downside of cooking rhubarb is that it loses its color and turns grey. The beet powder, which does not affect the taste, tints the sauce a deep shade of pink).
  3. Mix the remaining maple syrup with yogurt, and divide among serving bowls or cups. Top with rhubarb sauce and sprinkle with cacao nibs (which on their own can be rather bitter, however combine them with fat such as in whole milk yogurt and they taste like pure chocolate without any added sugar. Cocoa nibs are full of fiber and a good source of potassium, chromium, copper, calcium, zinc, vitamin C and a rich source of magnesium).
  4. Jar up any remaining rhubarb sauce for on biscuits, pancakes, oatmeal or toast instead of jam.
This will help pass the time while I wait for the strawberries to ripen….. and the many recipes featuring the classic pair.

Kombucha: My New Bubbly

On Mothers Day, I was blessed with another “daughter”: a perfectly slimy, thoroughly unappealing looking, squishy, whitish patty. She won’t be winning any beauty contests, but she is teaming with life, and healthy energy!  Earlier than I had expected, the “mother” kombucha “SCOBY” (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) from which I brewed my first batch, had already grown a mini version of herself.  I was delighted!

As a follow-up to a recent post about probiotics, here’s more about what has become one of my favorite food forms (well drink, actually) of naturally occurring probiotic bacteria: Kombucha.

When first introduced to the supposed elixir, it was described to me as an effervescent fermented tea made from a mushroom.  Though I am (for the most part) open-minded and eager to try new foods (particularly ones surrounded by information about their numerous health benefits), fermented mushroom tea was a stretch.  As it turns out, it is not made from a mushroom, but a “SCOBY” which resembles a mushroom (or rather a pancake, I think) in appearance.

Kombucha traces its history back to Russian as well as ancient Japan and China, often in a context of profound health and healing.  Although conclusive scientific studies have yet to be completed in the US, centuries of anecdotal evidence have convinced many to add this beverage to their diet, and some have used it as a successful healing therapy.

The drink’s naturally occurring bacteria serve to replenish our internal gut flora, which improves our digestion and boosts immunity. It contains glucuronic acid, which is effective in cleansing the body of toxins.  In addition, the tea provides a worthwhile amount of vitamin B complex, antioxidants and minerals.  It appeals to health-seekers, do-it-yourselfers, low-carb dieters and foodies in numbers large enough to have caught the attention of beverage makers such as Red Bull, Coca-Cola, and Celestial Seasonings (all of whom have leapt on board the kombucha train).  Being more of the DIY persuasion, I gave it a try.

How to make kombucha home-brew:

When the much anticipated SCOBY (which can be ordered online) arrives in the mail:

Brew strong black tea (ideally organic) with organic sugar:

Remove tea bags or leaves, add SCOBY and fill jar with additional cool water.  Allow to sit, covered with a cloth, in a warm place:

After one-two weeks, start to taste your brew.  It will continue to ferment (as the bacteria will continue to eat the sugar), making the flavor stronger and less sweet the longer you wait.

Save the SCOBY (which may already be growing a “daughter” so that you can start making twice as much) and serve your refreshing home brew.

Curious to know more? Various websites, such as kombucha camp, and these books can help.

Cheers!

Fiddleheads: Springtime Goods from the Woods

In New England, West Virginia, and as it turns out, many temperate woodsy places around the world, people have long welcomed spring with a short season specialty: fiddleheads. Named for their physical resemblance to the top of a violin, these emerging fern leaves are fun and easy to harvest and offer a very welcome bright green burst of freshness after a long winter. Highly nutritious, they are an outstanding source of vitamin A and fiber, and a good one of vitamin C, potassium, niacin and iron.

They were eaten by Native Americans and native people in modern day Japan, Nepal, Australia and New Zealand all recognized fiddleheads for their early season fresh taste and nutrition.  This time of year, I look forward to a walk in the woods, with a bag tucked into my pocket, in search of new ferns not yet fully extended. I pick just two or three furled fronds from each fern plant and dream up what I will cook with them.

Despite differing opinions about what to do next, my experience has taught me to clean them well, and cook them quickly (as opposed to eating them raw).  Not too long or you will lose the bright color, crisp crunch and many valuable nutrients.  If you are buying them at the market, you’ll see they are not the cheapest thing to eat in April, but for a food which is only available for a few weeks, has been eaten this time of year for ages and puts gorgeous spirals of natural art on your plate, isn’t it worth it?

Last night I made a simple fiddlehead fried rice.  I washed the fiddleheads while I was heating up a pot of salted water.  Once it was boiling I cooked the fiddleheads for several minutes, then rinsed them under cool water. I sautéed scallions and minced garlic in butter for a few minutes. I added the fiddleheads, cooked them for another minute and then stirred in cooked rice I had left over from the night before. I seasoned lightly with salt and pepper and allowed all to cook together for another minute or two. I served it on small plates with a good dusting of grated parmesan cheese. Delicious. The leftovers were enjoyed for breakfast, refried, with an egg (which turned out to be a double-yoker) on top.

As soon as I gather some more, I look forward to trying these great looking recipes:

From my friend, Cheryl Willoughby, previously the Classical Music Director of Vermont Public Radio and now in Boston at WGBH, this recipe for Cream of Fiddlehead Soup.  And, this Vermont family recipe for Fiddlehead Cheddar Cheese Pie.

If you don’t mark it with a fiddlehead dish, is there another food with which you welcome spring each year?