Great Grains: Wheat Berries Shine In This Vibrant Orange-Dressed Salad

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Most of us who grew up in Western countries have a love affair with wheat. We eat it without thinking, disguised as it is in bread, pasta and myriad other tasty but not always nutritious treats. We forget that wheat, like brown rice, can be eaten as a whole grain. And we know that keeping grains more intact slows oxidation and preserves their fiber and nutritional profile. For culinary purposes, we call the unbroken, hulled whole wheat kernels “wheat berries.” My friend Adele devised this salad some years ago when she cooked at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, and she’s been making it to rave reviews ever since. One secret of this salad’s success is its vibrant orange flavor–use orange juice concentrate straight from the pack. You should be able to find wheat berries, hopefully in bulk, wherever natural foods are sold. To cook, rinse the wheat berries, place in a roomy pot, cover with about two inches of water, bring just to a boil and simmer 45 minutes. Taste, and cook only until al dente–they should be tender, but still retain a subtle crunch. Drain thoroughly, and dress this salad while the wheat berries are still warm. Cool an hour or more, giving the berries time to absorb the dressing. Adele’s super easy recipe is after the jump.

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Produce Superstars: If You Want to Eat More Kale, Here’s a Refreshing Way to Do It.

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I know you’ve heard what a nutritional powerhouse kale is, and if you’re like me, you’ve probably vowed to eat more of this highly-regarded cruciferous vegetable.  Although I happily eat most veggies, up until now kale has not been one of my favorites. Boiled, it seemed rather stodgy and boring, and while it’s good stir fried with garlic, that gets tiresome too. Lately, to my surprise, I’ve become an enthusiastic convert to eating kale raw. I’ve discovered that the secret to making an appetizing kale salad is to take it off the stem, cut it fine (think coleslaw), and marinate it for an hour or more in a tasty dressing. Another secret, of course, is to use only tender, young kale, either grow your own, or be a very selective shopper. If kale isn’t available, cabbage or collard greens would be happy to receive similar treatment. I think you’ll agree that when the weather heats up, this Citrusy Red Kale and Arugula Salad is a refreshing alternative to the usual mixed greens (recipe after the jump).

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Summer’s Harvest: Cook Up a Lovely Pot of “Sufferin’ Succotash”

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“Succotash” is one of those words that’s just a whole lot of fun to say. To my mind, the best way to get a chance to say it is to cook up a batch of this homey American dish. Succotash has deep roots in American culinary history, as first citing for use of the word dates to 1751. I’d imagined it was of Southern origin, but it turns out to be from New England, it’s name derived from the Narragansett Indian word for “boiled corn kernels.” Although lima beans and corn are the defining ingredients, quite honestly, you could substitute fava beans or edamame and still have a respectable succotash. Since we’re in midsummer, I give you my warm weather version, using fresh ingredients. When the weather turns cool, I’ll share my alternate recipe which makes use of dried corn and lima beans, along with winter squash. Eat this as a vegetable side dish, or do as I did for dinner tonight: stuff it into warm corn tortillas and top with salsa. It was a wonderful light meal. And if you can’t recall who popularized the phrase “sufferin’ succotash,” it was Sylvester the cat in classic Warner Brothers cartoons from the forties and fifties (which I must confess, I’m old enough to remember). See my recipe after the jump.

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For a Taste of Morocco, Try This Bold Chickpea and Lentil Soup

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Much to my regret, I’ve yet to visit Morocco and experience it’s legendary cuisine in country. The closest I’ve come was to spend a couple of weeks in Tunisia which has a similar, all be it distinct, culinary tradition. Morocco, because of  it’s location and history, is fertile ground for a rich mix of influences: Berber, Arab, Spanish, and French, among them. That my exposure to Moroccan food comes from cookbooks and an occasional restaurant meal, hasn’t stopped me from attempting some evocative Moroccan dishes. On Monday, May 20th, James Holloway and I will be cooking a Mediterranean-Moroccan-themed meal in Palo Alto, starting with chickpea and lentil soup. While similar soups can be found in countries as diverse as India and Mexico, the distinct combination of spices in this recipe marks it as Moroccan. If you’re willing to be just a little bit bold with the seasonings, you’ll be rewarded with an addictive, lively and nourishing soup. Full recipe after the jump.

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A year ago I posted this recipe for a Moroccan tagine of saffron potatoes, roasted cherry tomatoes, artichoke hearts and sugar snap peas.

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Produce Superstars: Celebrate Cinco de Mayo With These Nopales Cactus Enchiladas

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Enchiladas, in all their glorious variety, are so well known and well liked here in California, we scarcely think of them as Mexican anymore. They’ve become, like pizza,  part of our native cuisine. In this recipe, I deconstruct the enchilada, and put it back together a little differently. Fundamentally, an enchilada is a tortilla which has been “chili-ied,” which is to say, flavored in some way with chiles. In this version, rather than stuffing, rolling and baking the tortillas, we simply warm the tortillas, spoon on a layer of filling, and sauce them, eliminating the baking, which often leads to everything being overcooked.

As for the ingredients, am I asking you to eat cactus? Yes indeed, and quite tasty it is. The part you’re going to eat is the leaf pad of the nopale (prickly pear cactus), a widely-grown commercial crop in Mexico. If your supermarket doesn’t stock nopales, shop where your Mexican-American neighbors shop. You will find them whole (as in the photo below), or prepped (diced, with the little thorns already removed). If you find only the whole cactus leaves, don’t fret. They can be easily prepped: using a kitchen towel, hold the nopale with one hand, and with the other hand scrape away the thorns with a paring knife or vegetable peeler. High in vitamins and minerals, nopales do best with light cooking, a quick sauté or brief time on a grill (overcooking can lead to sliminess). After the jump, I offer you my introduction to cactus cuisine: nopale-mushroom-tempeh enchiladas with salsa ranchera.


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Produce Superstars: Does Belgian Endive Really Come From Belgium?

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For a long time I’ve wondered why in the world Belgian endive is called that. Did it originate in Belgium and does it still come from there? It turns out that the process for growing the blanched, mild endive we’ve come to know as Belgian endive did originate in Belgium in the 19th century. Part of the large chicory family which includes radicchio, frisée (curly endive) and escarole, Belgian endive is high in folate, Vitamins A and K and fiber. All members of the chicory family can be eaten raw in salads, and can be braised. The roots are dried, roasted, ground and added to coffee in New Orleans and elsewhere, and sometimes used as a coffee substitute. I love the bitterness of the endives, but I do like to contrast that bitterness with sweet and salty flavors. As you might guess, most of the Belgian endive available in the U.S. is grown on an industrial scale in California, much of it by California Vegetable Specialities in the Sacramento River Delta area. The glorious endive in the planter box below was grown by Henri de Fontanges in his cave in the Loire Valley, France. Henri is a former administrator of the National Institute for Agricultural Research in France who now grows endive as a hobby. After the jump, he explains how it’s grown, and I give you my recipe for endive salad with apples, glazed walnuts and a creamy apple vinaigrette.

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