Spring Cleanse

I’ve been feeling it coming on gradually and now it appears it is here, the spontaneous spring cleanse. I have been eating a pretty steady diet of gluten-free bread toasted cheese and avocado sandwiches at home and fully glutenized mini pizzas after snowboarding at the mountain for awhile now, as I have been so busy and they are freaking delicious, and balancing it out with a pretty heavy dose of caffeine to get me through seasonal lethargy. The tide is turning (weather is shifting, lift service is done at the mountain) and I’m ready to trade my warm winter weight for the sensitivity of the internal spring cleanse.

I don’t tend to start out strict, for me a cleanse is not about adapting a regime and sticking to it, but answering the awakening call of springtime. It is intuitive rather than forced. Deep listening. And I adapt as I go. Who knows, I could make another toasted cheese tonight 🙂

Currently I’m making carrot beet juice and putting the grounds on a mixed green salad with avocado and lemon, after eating a bunch of steamed broccoli and drinking hot water with a splash of apple cider vinegar, while a cauliflower roasts in the oven. Often I like a pureed food cleanse. I’m feeling drawn to warm soups.

Share your favorite spring cleaning rituals! Let’s inspire each other.

Ooo and I’m going to add some fresh chives to the salad…

Golden Cauliflower Soup

Perfect for soaking up the warmth and sustenance of the sun on this crisp and golden autumn morning, as we shift from the final night, last night, and following day, today, of Laksmi, into the first night, tonight, of Sarasvati, in the Indian festival of Navaratri.  The goddess of good fortune and abundance in the Hindu pantheon, Laksmi is symbolized by the harvest and the light of the sun that nourishes us, and the color yellow.  Sarasvati, associated with purity and the color white, is the river of wisdom and inspiration that moves through us when we have cleared the path and built the channel strong enough to hold her.  This soup, both raw and pureed, is very cleansing and sustaining, as it moves easily and quickly through your digestive system and provides lots of food and nourishment in each bite without as much bulk in your stomach.  The fiber in cauliflower acts like a scrubbing brush that pushes other food through your system, the lemon juice an astringent that draws out impurities and leaves you feeling clean.  The tahini provides calcium and protein, the miso and soy sauce friendly enzymes, the avocado potassium, vitamin E and healthy monounsaturated fats that soothe your stomach and keep your skin supple and moist in this drying time of year.  Cumin and coriander both stimulate appetite and improve digestion, and make everything more delicious!  They also balance each other as cumin is slightly warming and coriander cooling in nature.  Turmeric is also warming, and is an anti-inflammatory that relives joint pain and stimulates healing in the body.  And it imparts the golden tint to this cauliflower soup that causes even its aesthetic to reflect the blending of the golden light of Laksmi and the clear white purity of Sarasvati symbolically occurring on this day.


(This recipe and some of the nutritional information is adapted from the recipe for Curried Cauliflower Soup in Brigette Mars’ amazing cookbook, “Rawsome”, which is, um, rawsome, truly…I am not raw or vegan and yet including these types of recipes in your diet can increase your nutrition and add another way of experiencing food to your repertoire of food preparation.)

Golden Cauliflower Soup

½ head cauliflower

1 avocado

Juice of ½ to 1 lemon

5 Tablespoons tahini

½ teaspoon turmeric

teaspoon each ground cumin and coriander

2 Tablespoons soy sauce

2 ½ Tablespoons sweet white miso

2 or more cups water

Cut cauliflower into pieces that will fit into your food processor.  Peel and pit avocado.  Squeeze lemon juice through a strainer to remove seeds.  I use whole cumin and coriander and pulse them to a powder in a coffee grinder that I only use for spices, never coffee – coffee is too strong and will overpower the taste of all your spices.  Put everything into a food processor and blend until smooth.  Adjust water and all seasonings to desired taste and consistency.

Heirloom Tomato Bruschetta/Fresh Pizza

Hopefully this is not too late, for my garden this its just in time…you can use any tomato, yet the tastier the tomato the better, as this really highlights the tomato flavor, and the heartier the tomato the more it will hold up to the toasting.  This is my favorite way to eat fresh tomatoes in the summertime…

Cut tomato into chunks and place in a bowl.  Add diced garlic (1 clove?), balsamic vinegar, a slight squeeze of lemon, olive oil, salt, and if you like, pepper, to taste.  A great way to cut basil is to stack a few leaves on top of each other and roll into a little tube, then slice across to make lots of small, pretty strips of basil.  Add to mixture and adjust all this to taste.  Cube fresh mozzarella and toss.  Put on any kind of bread and toast in the oven until the bread is toasty and if you are using the cheese it is just the slightest bit melted, to your liking.  I just made it in 5 minutes and was so good I had to share…yum!

Muy Rapido Chili Con Col (Kale)

I always get excited when I wonder, “What am I going to feed myself?” and I remember that I have all the ingredients for this recipe waiting in my kitchen – which I usually do.  With so little effort I can set this chili in motion while I take care of everything else, and with only an occasional stir, it is suddenly ready to feed me.  Love.  Kind of like baking sweet potatoes, which are, by the way, delicious alongside this dish too,

Pretty much everything is optional here, except the chili powder and the tomatoes, although arguably you could get along without them too and just add other spice.  Although then it technically may not be chili…

This is my favorite combo, although garbanzo beans fit in nicely as well.  I tend to serve it over yellow corn grits/polenta, although you could have it alone, with cornbread, or over rice.  Toppings as far as your imagination will take you.

You may want to go easy on the chili powder and jalapeno at first, as every pepper and powder ends up being a little different.  You can always add more spice at the end, but you cannot take it away.  Yet you can balance it with grated cheese or sour cream if that’s your fancy.

Play with it!  Let me know if you come up with something good.


1 Tablespoon butter or oil

1 Tablespoon cumin seeds or powder

1-2 cloves garlic, minced

½ – 1 fresh jalapeno, diced

1 15-oz can diced tomatoes

1 15-oz can corn

1 15-oz can black beans

1 15-oz can pinto beans

1 15-oz can kidney beans

2 teaspoons – 1 ½ Tablespoons chili powder

2 bay leaves

1 Tablespoon oregano

1 Tablespoon red or white wine or apple cider vinegar

3-4 cups kale chopped into bite sized pieces

1 bunch fresh cilantro

Salt to taste


1 1/2 cups yellow corn grits/polenta (I buy Bob’s Red Mill rand in a bag in the gluten free section)

1 1/2 tablespoons butter or oil

1 teaspoon salt


Heat on medium high a pot large enough to fit all of the ingredients.  Add butter or oil, once runny add cumin seeds if using.  Wait if using cumin powder.  Once seeds are fragrant, add garlic and jalapeno.  Once softened, add tomatoes in their juice.  Let come to an almost boil and then add corn and beans in their juices, cumin powder if using, chili powder, bay leaves, oregano and vinegar.  Let cook for about 15 – 20 minutes, until the gravy is as thick as you like it.

If the pot is large enough, you can add the rinsed kale after about 5 minutes to let it cook right in the pot.  If the pot is too small, rinse the kale and put it in a skillet with a little water and cook it down.  Then add it to the chili.

I like to cook one cup of polenta at a time, as I usually eat the chili over a number of sittings.  1 cup will serve me alone 3-4 times.  Depending on how many people you are serving, decide whether to make it all at once or it batches.  When it is fresh it is softer and more like a corn pudding or porridge, when it has set it slices.  The slices are delicious fried in a little butter, although you can also reheat the slices with a little water in a skillet or in the oven.

For each cup of polenta, boil 3 cups of water with ½ teaspoon of salt.  Once boiling add polenta and 1 tablespoon butter or oil.  Butter is really good here.  Stir and cook for about a minute longer on medium high and then let sit for a few minutes.

Adjust the seasoning of the chili to taste.  I also like to mash some of the beans against the side of the pot with a spoon to thicken the gravy.  A quick wizz with a stick blender can work too.

Serve a portion of polenta topped with chili and garnish with a few tablespoons of minced or torn cilantro.

Enjoy as is or add grated cheese, sour cream, black olives, pickled jalapenos (a personal favorite), a squeeze of lime, guacamole…

4-5 servings as a meal with polenta

Red Lentil and Kale Stew – Masoor Dal

In cooking, as in life, all innovation is adaptation.  We take in what has already been done and, working with whatever we’ve got, tweak it with the spice and flavor that makes it uniquely our own.  And then others take the baton from us and it just keeps going.  It’s how we evolve.

I have been making a variation of this recipe since my son was a baby and I was fortunate enough to discover Cynthia Lair’s book, Feeding the Whole Family.  I’m pretty sure I was introduced to this book from Amanda Soule, aka Soulemama of Soulemama.com, when we were new mamas trying figure out how to feed our new families.  In Lair’s book she gives credit for the recipe to an Indian restaurant in Seattle called Silent-Heart-Nest, who calls the soup Masoor Dal (the Indian name for red lentils).  From inspiration to innovation, we just keep going.

One of my favorite variations adds kale – shocking, I know.  And asafetida – which I discuss in an earlier post as well, and is optional in this recipe. I also add nigella, or kalonji, delicious little black seeds that give a pungent and authentically Indian flavor to the stew, also optional.  They are purported to have numerous medicinal properties, including relieving gas…hee hee…which helps with any lentil or bean product.  The cumin seeds help in this way too.  I have found nigella seeds at Concord Mart in Concord, NH, and they are available online.

You could use curry powder again, although starting to build your toolbox of individual spices will allow you to customize the flavor more to your unique taste.  Like ready-made clothes in India, curry powder will do, but when you get a garment custom tailored to your shape, it really fits you.

I often cut out the onions and garlic that are in Lair’s recipe.  While they taste delicious, through time I use them less and less in my own food because they are so strong.  Unless i want them as medicine to ward off a cold.  Asafetida and nigella seeds add some of the pungency that the onions and garlic would impart, and feels easier to digest.  I also add in ginger juice and jalapeno, which also add a peppery-ness, and help promote digestion too.

You can use olive oil in this recipe to make it vegan, although the butter or ghee (clarified butter) gives a delicious creaminess and also makes the lentils softer and easier to digest.  To make your own ghee, try this recipe from Vasant Lad at the Ayurveda Institute in New Mexico. http://www.ayurveda.com/online_resource/ghee_recipe.htm

A trick I learned to know if the ghee is done is to take a clean strip of paper and dip it into the butter.  Ghee is used in oil lamps, so if the paper burns clean without sputtering when lit, it is now free of milk solids and is ready to be taken off the heat.  I like to do this over the sink and then douse the paper with the faucet.

Playing with my food is one of my favorite things to do, and I encourage you to do the same.  If you are a beginning cook, follow recipes to a T to start to get an understanding of how foods work together.  Yet realize that your lentils may be slightly bigger than mine or your ginger juicier or your kale more tough.  We have to adapt to what we have to work with.  And as you start to get a hang of it, experiment, a lot.  Sometimes I take a little bowl of soup out and try adding a certain spice or vegetable or condiment to taste it before adding it to the whole pot.  Once it’s in, there’s no taking it out…

Once of my teachers, Parvathi Nanda Nath Sarasvati (Kirin Mishra) says that it is our responsibility to allow what we learn to distill through us and transform into the unique interpretation that we are able to offer to the world.  Of course, this is my interpretation…

So make the best food your mouth can imagine!  From our own experience is where we find what we have to share.

Red Lentil and Kale Stew – Masoor Dal

2 teaspoons oil, butter or ghee


1 Tablespoon cumin seed

1 Tablespoon nigella (optional)

2 teaspoons turmeric powder

Large pinch asafetida (optional)

¼ teaspoon cayenne


3 Tablespoons curry powder


½ -1 whole jalapeno (optional, depending on taste)

1-14.5 oz can diced tomatoes

2 cups red lentils

8 cups water

4 cups kale, stemmed and chopped into bite sized pieces

1 teaspoon sea salt

Optional, if using individual spices:

2 teaspoons oil, butter or ghee

2 teaspoons cumin seed

2 teaspoons mustard seeds

1 inch ginger root

1/3 cup cilantro (optional – leave out if you are feeling cold)

Sesame oil to taste (optional)

Cooked rice or quinoa if desired

Heat on medium high a pot large enough to hold all of the ingredients.  Add oil, butter or ghee.  Add one cumin seed, when it pops add the rest along with the nigella.  When aromatic add the rest of the spices Or add curry powder.  Stir.  Add jalapeno if using.  Stir again.

Add diced tomatoes, stir.  Cook together for a few minutes, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile wash the red lentils.  Add them to the pot, stir to coat.  Add 8 cups of water.  Stir to blend.  Bring to a boil and then let simmer about 40 minutes.  Stir often to keep from sticking to the bottom.

Prepare kale by stemming – holding the bottom stem in one hand and stripping the leaf from the stem from bottom to top with the other hand.  Chop into bite sized pieces.  Wash and add to stew.  Cook until both kale and lentils are soft.  This time will vary.  Add more water if necessary – bringing the heat up until the water boils then returning it to a simmer.

WAIT until the lentils are completely soft before you add the salt.  Or they will never completely soften.  This is true with beans too.  Learn it now and save yourself some trouble.

Heat oil, butter or ghee and melt, then roast cumin and mustard seeds if using.  Add to stew.

Grate ginger on the small holes of a cheese grater and then squeeze juice into stew.  Taste.  Add some of the gratings – I do about ½ of what is there – if you want more gingery spice.

Chop cilantro, if using, and add to stew.  Blend well.

Serve alone in a bowl or atop rice or quinoa.  Top with more cilantro and a drizzle of sesame oil if desired.

Serves 4 with some leftovers.  Maybe.  I always make a large pot like this so I don’t have to cook again right away.

Aloo Gobi Boats – or Curry Stuffed Potato Skins

As I core tiny orbs of potato from their skins with a melon-baller to make these curry stuffed potato skins, I am transported back to the kitchen at Caffé Museo in San Francisco, the avant guard café for the San Francisco Museum of Modern art where I briefly attempted my hand at being a professional cook. We used to make tiny steamed potato cups filled with chicken salad that we would serve as passed hors d’oeurves at fancy galas across the bay area through the café’s offshoot, Modern Catering.
Oh, how raw and painful my hands would be after making those little cups that everyone raved about at the parties! That was the most physically demanding job I have had yet. And as much as I love food and cooking – and feeding people – I just didn’t have the, um, sense of urgency necessary to make it in the fast paced San Francisco culinary scene. I am deeply grateful my talented chefs Gordon Drysdale and Douglas Monsalud who put up with me, learning from them has forever affected the way I eat and cook.
I imagined this dish while eating with my brother-in-law Kevin Zeigler, a natural chef himself who left empty potato skins for us to fill as we liked when he made mashed potatoes for dinner over the winter holidays. I immediately knew I wanted them as a vehicle for aloo gobi, one of my favorite Indian dishes – although you could use this technique to make twice baked potatoes or skins of any kind.
Over time I have experimented with many a recipe for aloo gobi, and so far my favorite is from Manjula of Manjulaskitchen.com, whose online recipe is the basis for this dish. On her site Manjula includes videos of herself preparing each authentic Indian specialty so we can watch her technique and emulate it in our own homes. It is a wealth of information.
You could skip the individual spices and use curry powder, although making your own has some serious taste advantages. Some harder to find items are the asafetida, which I have discussed in an earlier post/recipe, and amchoor, or mango powder. Amchoor powder is ground, dried, unripe green mango and adds a tart, citrusy flavor to foods. Here it pairs well with the fresh cilantro to brighten up this meal. I found it at Concord Mart on North Main Street here in Concord, our local Nepalese-owned Asian market. It would also be available online. Or you are welcome to substitute lemon and/or umeboshi vinegar (also addresses in an earlier post) – I use ume AND amchoor. The flavor is worth the hassle.
You don’t have to make the potato skins either – although your hands will be fine, those little potato cups we made were in the hundreds at a time. When I generally make aloo gobi, I drizzle a bed of fresh baby spinach with sesame oil and lemon or lime juice and salt, or umeboshi vinegar, and top it with hot aloo gobi to wilt the spinach. Yet these potato boats can be eaten by hand! You don’t even need a plate! They are great for travel, and reheat nicely, although they are equally delicious room temp. You could serve them with a spinach salad, or a lentil dal, or sautéed greens (see kale sautéed with umeboshi post).
Aloo Gobi Boats – or Curry Stuffed Potato Skins
1 cauliflower
3 medium/large red skinned potatoes
¾ inch fresh ginger
I Tablespoon plus 1 ½ teaspoons curry powder
1 Tablespoon coriander powder
1/3 teaspoon turmeric
1/3 teaspoon cayenne
Pinch asafetida
1 teaspoon cumin seeds

4 Tablespsoons water
3 Tablespoons oil
2 serrano green chilies or ½ jalapeno (or less, and optional)
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons amchoor powder OR juice of ½ a lime or lemon
1 teaspoon umeboshi vinegar, or to taste (optional)
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
Water as needed
Salt to taste
Sesame oil – not toasted (optional)
Preheat oven to 350. Cut potatoes in half lengthwise. Scoop out centers with small side of a melon-baller. Place empty skins cut side up on a cookie sheet and place in oven. They will take about an hour to bake.
Core the stem from the cauliflower, and separate the crown into small florets with your hand or a knife. Slice the stems into small bite sized pieces. Cut chilies or jalapeno lengthwise into slices if you want to remove them from the food when eating, or dice them if you want to leave them in. Leaving them in is spicier.
Grate ginger root on the small holes of a cheese grater, retaining the juice. Put the grated ginger and either curry powder or coriander, turmeric and cayenne in a small cup or bowl with 4 T water and blend into a paste. This is key, it will keep the spices from burning (Thanks Manjula!)
Heat on medium high a skillet large enough to hold all of the potato and cauliflower. Add 3 T oil. When the oil becomes thin and runny (if you are using cumin seeds, add one, when it pops the oil is ready) add the cumin seed and asafetida if using, and bay leaf. Swirl the oil for a moment, and when the seeds become aromatic, add the green chilies or jalapeno. Stir for a moment, then add the ginger and/or spice paste and cook until it dries slightly and the oil begins to separate from the paste.
Add the cauliflower, potato, a large pinch of salt and ½ cup of water to the pan. Stir well to coat. Cover and cook about 20 minutes on medium, or until desired tenderness, stirring every 3 – 4 minutes. I like it pretty soft, and need to add extra water several times during the cooking to keep the vegetables from sticking to the pan. I let it dry out at the end.
Add cilantro and amchoor or citrus, blend well. Add salt or umeboshi vinegar and cayenne to taste. It’s ok if it gets a little mashed potato-y. Remove bay leaves and chilies if desired.
Once skins are baked to desired softness, fill with aloo gobi mixture. You may have some mixture left over.  Serve or let cool and store.  Reheat in an oven for 10 -15 minutes. Garnish with fresh cilantro and the optional sesame oil when serving.

Makes 6 boats, serving 2 – 3 people.

Kale with Beans and Polenta, with an introduction to hominy/pozole and asafetida

I just picked the last kale from my garden today, a little lacinato and some rainbow kale – a hybrid of red winterbor and lacinato that I grew last season for the first time with seedlings from Good Earth Farm in Weare, NH. Whose pre-order seedling catalog conveniently came in the mail a few days ago, too. This final kale looked a little weird, like it had freezer burn, yet it tasted great. Good old hardy kale.
A few times over the course of the summer I asked myself, why did I grow so much kale? It was a little ridiculous, especially considering I was basically the only dedicated eater. I made a lot of my interpretation of Zach Brown’s chud – a raw kale salad that I made mostly with red Russian kale and avocado, apples, radishes and red onions. In fact I grew radishes and red onions for this very purpose. (The recipe will follow at a more seasonable time…) I ate so much chud that I haven’t eaten avocados since, although everything else is still going strong.
I froze a lot of kale, which I am pretty happy about right about now. Definitely not too much kale. Although next year I will grow it more in waves… I will have some all along – you can harvest kale all season. And then as certain other plants finish their cycle I will plant more kale in their empty spots. And keep harvesting and freezing – that frozen kale is so good right now, and convenient. And much cheaper than what costs at the store. And so clean – I know exactly where it’s been. Although I did just buy a fresh bunch from the Co-op today too, just cause. I love kale.
I also froze a somewhat ridiculous amount of jalapenos, chopped fine first, and pickled slices, and roasted them whole, and put them in soup, and ate them a lot raw sprinkled over everything, and even made some cheese filled poppers that nearly killed me. A bit much for my tender mouth, even with the cheese. My son Philip sure laughed at that…until he tried one…
And, I put jalapenos and kale in this dish, my all time favorite this summer, which I also just made today. It satiates my hunger, gives me energy, is quick, and one of the tastiest dishes I make.
Since I don’t eat gluten, which is another story, I am a connoisseur of gluten-free grains. Hence the polenta, or really, grits. I am a southern girl, my family is from New Orleans and North Carolina, and I love grits. I use Bob’s Red Mill brand, which is sold in little bags and are often in the gluten free section of regular grocery stores. If you aren’t sure where to find it, ask.
The optional hominy in here is also a southern thing, my grandfather Preston Porter loved him some hominy. Maybe it was his Cherokee heritage. Hominy is corn with the germ removed so it won’t sprout in storage. Cherokees used hardwood ash and water as an alkali solution to cure the corn into hominy. It can also be made using a weak lye solution or by mechanincally removing the germ. The alkalizing process also helps to make the nutrients in the corn more digestible. In Spanish, whole kernel hominy is sometimes called pozole, and is used in many dishes, including grinding it into the masa that makes tamales and corn tortillas.
Hominy is scarce around here, I found it by chance in a little Bi-Wise grocery store in Suncook, NH, and promptly added it to this recipe. I haven’t found hominy or pozole anywhere else so far. I shared some of this dish with my neighbor, and have since gone back to the store and bought all the cans of hominy from Bi-Wise and split them with her, she liked it so much. Yet don’t stress over this ingredient, even if you find it, it tends to have preservatives. But if you get the chance, maybe try it sometime.
Any kind of beans will work, I’m partial to black for digestive and taste reasons. I have also enjoyed it with kidney.
And the asafetida, or hing – another tough find. A-Market has it in Manch and I’m not sure about anywhere else. It is a very pungent Indian spice that is stinky at first, and a little goes a long way. And it is goooood, I highly recommend having some around, especially if you want to cook my recipes, but you don’t need it. It helps digestion and in Ayurvedic terms, balances vata, the air element. So it is a good companion with beans, which tend to give you, um, wind. Make sure it’s not cut with wheat flour. Mine is Frontier brand and it has rice flour.
Don’t be intimidated by the unusual ingredients, this dish can be made without them. All you really need is the kale and the beans and a little salt. The rest, quite literally, is gravy.
Kale and Beans with Polenta
1 cup Bob’s Red Mill Yellow Corn Grits/Polenta
3 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
½ Tablespoon butter or oil
Bunch kale, any kind, chopped into bite sized pieces. At least 5 cups raw.
1-2 tablespoons oil to coat pan
2 teaspoons cumin seed (optional, or you could add 1 teaspoon ground cumin with the asafetida)
2 cloves garlic, minced (optional)
½ jalapeno, minced, according to taste (optional)
Umeboshi plum vinegar (see earlier post) or salt
2-3 tablespoons water, or more if needed
Pinch asafetida (optional)
1 can black or kidney beans, rinsed for a drier dish, in their liquid for more gravy
1 can hominy or pozole, rinsed (optional)
Sesame oil (optional)
Boil 3 cups water with 1 teaspoon salt.
Cut kale into bite sized pieces, rinse in a colander. (see previous umeboshi post about kale prep if you like).
Heat on medium high a large skillet or pot that will hold all the kale and beans. Remember the kale will shrink while cooking. Add oil to coat. When starts to run add whole cumin seed if using, when aromatic, a few seconds really, add garlic and jalapeno, if using. When garlic is soft, add a few sprinkles of umeboshi vinegar, if using. Stir. Add kale. Stir. Add water if desired to soften. When kale starts to soften add the asafetida and ground cumin, if using.
When the 3 cups of water boil, add 1 cup of yellow corn grits/polenta. Turn heat down to medium and stir. Add butter or oil. Cover and take off heat, stirring a few times as you finish the kale mixture.
When kale is mostly cooked to your desired softness, or about 5- 7 minutes, add beans, with the bean liquid if you like it moist. Add hominy, if using, without its liquid. Cook the bean liquid to let it thicken a bit, about 3 – 5 minutes. Cook until heated through and the kale is softened to taste.
Plate grits in a bowl and smother with kale mixture. Add about 2 teaspoons sesame oil to moisten if desired. Season with salt or umeboshi to taste, if necessary.
Serves 2 as a main dish, 4 as a side. Or 1 person several delicious meals.
To reheat the polenta, cut it in slices and fry in a little butter or oil, only enough to coat the pan. Or to be softer, cook in a little water (few tablespoons) with a touch of butter or oil.
(thanks to wikipedia and wisegeek for fact support…)

Ode to Umeboshi

If I’m going to share recipes here, it’s only fair that I start by introducing you to my beloved umezu, my secret ingredient, my ace in the hole, my last minute back-up plan that can save any bland dish and make it taste magnificent.

Umezu, or Umeboshi plum vinegar, is the pickling liquid from dried Japanese plums, or technically, apricots.Ume plums are picked when ripe and, traditionally at least, dried on rooftop mats, then packed with salt into barrels with weighted lids that squeeze out the liquid as the ume cures.The fruits are eaten as pickles or blended into a tangy paste somewhat reminiscent of tamarind, usually with rice.The tart pickling liquid, although not a traditional vinegar, imparts some of the tangy acidity you might get from citrus or vinegar, and is amazing in salad dressing, beans, soups, and in anything you might otherwise add vinegar, and in absolutely anything really.It especially perks up green vegetables like kale and broccoli.Just a little sprinkle and even those who pooh-pooh such strong vegetable fare often find themselves actually enjoying and asking for more, including my 11 year old son Philip.Sometimes.I don’t want to overstate it.

Umeboshi (ume-plum, boshi-dried) aids digestion and calms uneasy stomachs – rice congee (see my last recipe) with umeboshi plums or vinegar helps fight nausea and is a traditional cold remedy.Ume increases appetite and energy, perhaps because of its digestive properties, and was traditionally eaten by the Samurai in battle to increase stamina. It clears systemic toxicity, and so has interestingly been used as a cure for hangovers as well as to soothe addictive cravings, especially when blended with kuzu – a japanese thickening starch that deserves its own ode…more to come… (Facts from memory and my other ace in the hole, Wikipedia!)

You can find umezu at health food stores, if not at your regular grocery in the natural or Asian food section.It is usually near the soy sauce.Some modern ume pickling techniques use less salt, yet make up for it with preservatives; so read the label.And although I usually buy umezu in gallon sized bulk through a food buying coop, and keep it for years, and send bottles of it home with friends who have never heard of it before…you don’t need a lot.A very little goes a long way.As with any salt, try just a drop or so and taste, gradually adding to the point of your preference.Maybe even less.Cause once it’s in there, you can’t take it back.And too much salt is a strain on your body.It can be a dangerous passion, this umeboshi love affair, one in which we must keep our wits about us.As with any passion.Too much of even what heals us can make us sick.

Here is a simple umezu recipe with kale that I use as a base for many other dishes.If you think you don’t like kale, try it.You may change your mind.Just make sure you cook it soft enough, and chew.The recipe is adapted from a recipe in Cynthia Lair’s excellent cook book Feeding the Whole Family, I think.I lent the book out, so I can’t check… Yet even if it’s not from that book, and even if you’re not feeding a whole family, check out her book, it’s a great resource for learning delicious natural food cooking.

And the garlic is optional.It’s tasty, and it will help ward off colds for sure.And I find that eating less garlic decreases my, um, scent.For what that’s worth.And the resonance of the food is a little softer without it – garlic is a strong medicine really, and probably more potent when used that way.It’s up to you.

May you enjoy this even close to as much as I do…

Oh umezu, how the hue of whole world brightens with the flavor of your touch…

Sauteed Kale with Umezu

Bunch kale, any kind

2 cloves garlic, minced, optional

Olive oil

Umeboshi plum vinegar, umezu

Prepare the kale.I say cook the whole bunch, if you don’t eat it all now then you have some left to munch on when you get hungry and start looking for snacks – better kale than potato chips.But you know yourself.It doesn’t take that long to cook if you want to make some now and some later.Sometimes I stem it and sometimes I don’t – not stemming yields a lot more food and the stems are delicious too.Although it is more tender without the stems. I hold the stem with one hand and strip away the leaf from bottom to top with the other hand. At least cook 4 – 5 cups of raw kale, chopped into bite sized pieces.Recognize that the kale will shrink considerably when you cook it.Rinse it after its cut.

Heat large skillet on medium high.Add enough olive oil to coat the pan, about 1 -2 tablespoons.

Add garlic, sauté lightly until soft.Sprinkle about a ½ teaspoon of umezu in the pan – it will splatter a little so stand back.Let it soak it in about 15 seconds, stirring so it doesn’t burn.

Add the rinsed kale, stirring.You may or may not want to add a little water now, a lot depends on the size of the pan and how wet the kale is from rinsing.For starters add about 2-3 tablespoons, you will learn each time you cook it.The trick is you want the kale to tenderize but not get overcooked and mushy.Stir occasionally so it doesn’t burn.Taste it often to see when it is done to your liking, about 5 – 10 minutes.Add a little more umezu to taste if necessary.

Serve as a side dish or as an ingredient in stir fries or pasta or any dish where you would like to add a green vegetable.It would taste nice topped with a little extra virgin olive oil and grated romano or parmesan cheese, if you need a little more flavor.(More recipes to follow!)

I could eat all of this, yet it could feed up to 4.

Savory Rice Soup to Soothe Winter’s Dryness

One way I have been balancing the cold dryness this winter is by eating congee – basically rice cooked with lots of water on low heat for a long time to make a moist soupy base for many different dishes. I was reminded of congee by Sarah Adams of Yuki Herbs here in Concord, NH (www.yuktiherbs.com), who made an amazing congee soup with shitake mushrooms and leeks in a broth laced with a myriad of healing herbs like astragalus and mallow, flavored with adzuki bean miso and red pepper flakes. If you don’t know what some of those ingredients are, don’t worry. Congee can be made much more simply and still be delicious and healthful – although if you want to try and emulate her recipe, as I have, go for it. It is very satisfying.

I started playing with congees, sometimes making them really soupy, sometimes more thick like a porridge. Zach Brown of Burlington, VT, another creative chef, said he was taught to make congee with leftover rice, and suggested using rice milk to soften the rice into congee. He inspired me with his use of black beans and beets in the various congees he has made.

One of my current favorites it to add the beets and carrot grounds from my juicer to cooked congee along with black beans and brown rice vinegar and some sort of salt, soy sauce or miso paste – a salty fermented soy-or-other-bean-and-sometimes-rice paste that melts into a flavorful soup base. You can find miso in health food stores, if not in your regular grocery.

I have made this congee really thick and dry by cooking it down till the rice grains break wide open, then added the carrots, beets, rinsed canned black beans, brown rice vinegar and salt, and bulked it up with toasted sesame seeds. Instead of juicer grounds, you could substitute grated vegetables of any kind, cooking them for a little while in the congee to soften if desired. It tastes great as is, although I really like it rolled or scooped into romaine lettuce leaves and drizzled with lemon juice and sesame or olive oil. I haven’t tried it yet, but I think this thick congee would make a great veggie burger. Maybe with a little chickpea or rice flour to hold it together, although with the sesame seeds it may not need it. And with Nel Norwesh of Manchester, NH’s delicious za’atar – a tangy middle eastern spice combination of sesame seeds, dried sumac, salt, and I think thyme? It would be delicious.

This morning for breakfast I ate a soupy forbidden black rice, brown rice and sweet rice congee with the beet, carrot and black bean mixture and chickpea miso, with some sweet potatoes on the side. Perhaps not your typical breakfast fare, and yet Paul Pitchford, in his iconic tome Healing with Whole Foods, states that congee, or hsi-fan – rice water – is commonly eaten as breakfast food in China. It is easily digested and so helps the body assimilate the nutrients from other foods added to the congee. So helps break the fast…

Pitchford describes congee as a handful of rice simmered in five to six times the amount of water in a covered pot for four to six hours on warm or on the lowest flame possible, or in a crockpot. And that it is better to use too much water than too little, and that the longer the congee cooks the more powerful it gets. From that general recipe you can experiment as you like. And while it seems daunting to cook something for four to six hours, just put it on the stove when you get home and let it cook – not for the meal you are eating now but the ones you will eat later. Then you’ve always got some rice ready, just add vegetables and flavoring.

I’ve included a sample and very general recipe here to inspire you, eat it any time of day. Try it as is, and use it as a springboard for your own creations. Share them here if you like, we all inspire each other.


Kale, Carrot and Shitake Congee

1 cup short grain brown rice
5 cups water
2-3 carrots, sliced into rounds
2 cloves garlic (optional)
4-6 dried porcini or other mushrooms (optional)
1 cup sliced fresh shitake mushrooms
2 cups kale chopped into bite sized pieces
Miso – any kind – I like brown rice, barley, adzuki bean and chickpea, in that order for this soup…
Chopped scallions
1-2 lemons
Fresh ginger root (optional)

Bring rice, water, and carrots to almost boiling, turn heat to warm and let cook for at least four hours, adding water if necessary. If desired, add garlic cloves and ½ inch of sliced ginger now. Leave the ginger in large rounds so you can decide to eat it with the soup or take it out if that is too spicy. Alternately you could add the ginger at the end, see the last instructions in the recipe.

Add water and cook until desired consistency, I’m imagining a soupy porridge for this congee.

Let dried mushrooms soak in cold water for at least ½ hour.

Add fresh shitake to congee during last 20 minutes of cooking
Add kale during last 15 minutes of cooking.
Add porcini and soaking liquid during last 5 minutes.

Place one tablespoon miso per serving in deep bowls right before eating. You don’t want to cook the miso in the soup, as it is a living food and overheating will kill it. Serve it to order. Mash the miso with a spoon into a small amount of congee in each bowl before adding the rest of the serving, to blend the miso into the whole soup rather than leaving it in a little clump in some of the soup. Ladle congee into each bowl, stir well, and top with scallions. Squeeze lemon juice to taste. Optionally, grate ginger root on the smallest holes or your cheese grater and squeeze the juice, and some of the grounds, onto the congee. Adjust seasonings to taste.