Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Kitchari: eating for winter health

As we head deeper into the winter months and the days get shorter and the nights get longer and colder there is less energy in the world. There is less energy from the sun, less energy and movement from and by people and animals. It is a time of quiet, rest and introspection. It is a season to hibernate and gestate on ambitions, hopes and dreams for the year to come. Our internal metabolic processes mirror the quiet, slower, cooler energy permeating the world around us. So just as we (hopefully) put on a few extra layers when we get up in the morning and head to bed a bit earlier as the sun begins to show its self less and less, we also want to be changing and thinking about the kinds of foods we are eating. Winter is a time when we have less digestive fire, or to put it another way less energy to spend digesting our food. However, it is also a time when we need deep nourishment, we need to nourish our bodies in the same way we are nourishing our internal desires and ambitions. It is time to focus on cooking and eating simple, nourishing and warming foods that are easy to digest and assimilate.

Kitchari is a traditional lentil and rice dish from Indian that has a culinary tradition of over 1,500 years. There are many different variations of the dish and every great cook and healer has their own yummy recipe for it. Regardless of the specific recipe, kitchari generally combines nourishing foods such as rice beans and ghee with spices that stimulate digestion and circulation. Kitchari is a nourishing and delicious addition to the diet at any point in the year, but particularly in winter when we are thinking about how we can get the most nutrition possible while using the least amount of digestive effort.

This is my own kitchari recipe, the spices are simple and yet it is very flavorful and delicious, every bite feels like a treat. I usually use mung beans or split yellow lentils, you may experiment with other beans as well, be sure and soak them overnight. The traditional preparation of this dish calls for ghee, butter that has been cooked until the milk solids have separated out, leaving behind only pure butterfat. Ghee is very important Indian medicine considered to be highly nourishing to all body tissues including nervous system tissues. You may buy ghee in many natural health food stores or Indian markets or you can make it yourself. If you don’t have access to ghee right away you can use butter in the recipe instead.

In a Heavy bottom saucepan melt:
2 Tbs. Ghee (clarified butter)
Once the ghee is hot, add:
1 Tbs. ground Fenugreek seeds (preferably freshly ground)
1 Tbs. ground Cumin seeds (preferably freshly ground)
1 tsp. turmeric powder
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. fresh ground pepper
1 tsp. salt
Allow the spices to simmer until the aroma is released, then add:
1 cup white basmati rice
2 cups mung beans or yellow split lentils (soaked overnight)
4 cups of water
Bring to a boil and simmer over medium heat until water has reduced to the level of the rice and beans. Then turn the heat down as low as it will go, cover and steam until all the water is gone and the rice and beans are done. Remove the bay leaf before serving.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Lentils with Salsa Verde

Parsley is one of my favorite herbs. It is loaded with vitamins E, A and C (1/2 a cup of parsley has more vitamin C than an orange) as well as calcium, magnesium, potassium and iron. It is literally a nutritional powerhouse. Throw out your supplements and start eating parsley! Parsley helps the body process waste, having a detoxifying action on the entire system, it is also a diuretic and anti tumor. Did I mention it is a great digestive aid and helps the body absorb nutrients?

As you can probably imagine from my gloating love I am always trying to find ways to eat more parsley and encouraging others to do the same. I love the way it tastes and sometimes I find myself really craving the refreshing, salty flavor of those dark green leaves. While I hate to choose, I would say that I prefer the flat leaved Italian parsley over the curly, although I think both have a time and a place. When someone tells me that they don’t like parsley I always recommend they give the flat leaved parsley a try before they give up, many times they change their tune. It is often a little less strong and more reminiscent of a familiar leafy green.

Although I love a good parsley salad, with …. Lets just say apple, red onion, walnut with a light vinaigrette, nothings steals my heart like a good parsley sauce. One of my all time favorites is a traditional Italian “salsa verde.” I learned how to make salsa verde from Alice Water’s The Art of Simple Food, a beautiful book celebrating the beauty and taste of food’s own unique flavor. This is my recipe that I indulge in liberally and have been on a particular binge with lately (what can I say, there is just so much parsley in the garden). Parsley doesn’t discolor after chopping as basil and other herbs do, so this sauce keeps well and is an amazing and flavorful addition to any summer meal. Lately I make big batches and keep a jar in the fridge.


Soak overnight 2 cups of French lentils. In the morning strain the soaking water and cover the lentils with fresh water. Add 1 bay leaf, ¼ of a cinnamon stick and 5 whole cloves. Bring to a boil and simmer uncovered on low until just soft. Don’t overcook them or the will fall apart when you serve. Once done you can fish out the cloves, bay and cinnamon if you have the patience. Don’t strain the lentils when they are hot, if you serve immediately use a slotted spoon.

Parsley/ Caper Sauce:

Finely chop two generous cups of flat leaved Italian parsley (large stems removed).
Combine in a small bowl with:
½ cups capers, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
the zest of one lemon
fresh ground black pepper

Toss ingredients together and cover with a nice Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Mix together and enjoy. This time of year in New England it can be hard to find an unwaxed organic lemon, so I have not been adding lemon zest lately and it is still very good. I do recommend you try it with the lemon zest at some point! You can add in other herbs too, experiment and be creative.

This recipe serves about 4 as a side dish and is great if you serve the lentils either hot or cold. You can put them over brown rice if you want to beef up the meal a bit. Spoon the sauce over the lentils and enjoy. It's yummy with a few slices of fresh tomato and a hard boiled egg.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Potato Crust

When I was a kid my mom used to make a cauliflower cheese pie from the moosewood cookbook. It had a crust made out of grated potato and it was always one of my favorites. Years later when I was in college I recreated it and have been making my own variation of it ever since. Not only is it really delicious, it is hearty, easy to make and gluten free!

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Wash and grate with the large side of a cheese grater, two medium sized potatoes. As you grate the potatoes set the grated pieces in a colander over the sink to let any excess liquid drain out. When you are finished squeeze the excess liquid out of the potato one handful at a time, placing the dry potato into a medium sized mixing bowl. To the grated potato add one egg, fresh ground black pepper, 1 teaspoon of salt and a hearty handful of chopped parsley (any herbs can be happily added here). Mix all ingredients well.

Grease a 9 inch pie pan with olive oil or butter and evenly pat the potato mixture into the pie pan and up the sides. Bake the crust at 375 degrees until the top edges of the crust are golden and the potato is cooked, this takes about 25 to 30 minutes depending on the oven. Allow the crust to cool for a few minutes before adding your filling. You can also make the crust up to a day in advance and add the filling just before baking. This crust is great as the base for any savory pie!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Sun Dried Tomato Dressing

I never used to like sun-dried tomatoes because they always seemed too sweet. So, I was surprised when one day this spring I had a real craving for them. It was the season for fresh baby romaine and I dreamed up a dressing that tickled the fancy of my salt loving palate while fulfilling my craving for a sweet and acidic bite. I kept the left over sauce in the fridge and finished it off on a quinoa salad with radish, beets and peas. I served the dish to my apprentices last Monday and they encouraged me to share it with the rest of you. If you just can’t wait for tomato season, give this a shot! Enjoy and happy summer!

Soak ¼ cup of dried tomatoes in ½ cup of organic extra virgin olive oil for 8 hours or overnight. Once the tomatoes have softened somewhat add 2 cloves of fresh, juicy garlic, a few twists of fresh ground black pepper, fresh basil leaves (or oregano if you don’t have basil) and 1 Tbs. of naturally fermented tamari sauce. You can also add a few shavings of lemon zest if you wish. Blend it all together in the blander until most of the tomato chunks are gone.

You can use this sauce fresh on salads, with steamed or grilled veggies, bread and cheese, over hard-boiled eggs or tossed with grains. It will also keep well in the refrigerator for later use (the oil will solidify at colder temperatures, but it will become liquid again once removed from the fridge).

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Nasturtium Vinegar

I have always loved nasturtiums, starting with the fact that I could eat them as a young child and moving into their delightful, peppery taste as an accent in salads as an adult. And now, as an herbalist, I love nasturtium vinegar!

Not only are good quality, raw, unfiltered, fermented vinegars very good for you, helping to restore proper body alkalinity and supporting digestion, they are also great extractors of vitamins and minerals. Vinegars are a great base for nourishing herbal tonics designed to be taken over long periods, almost like a multi vitamin. Nasturtiums are bountiful this time of the year, depending on where you live you may be able to find them growing wild, or find a friend with some growing, I am sure they will have enough to share. Every color of nasturtium is edible and delicious…the red ones will make your vinegar a great pink color.
Fill a jar ¾ full with freshly picked nasturtium flowers and pour a good quality raw, unfiltered vinegar (I recommend apple cider for its quality and taste) over the flowers until all are covered. Put the lid on, label your jar with the contents and date and set it aside in the refrigerator or a cool, dark place. The vinegar will begin to take on the coloring and medicine of the nasturtiums after about a week and continue to get stronger as time goes on. Allow it to steep for 2 to 4 weeks before straining out the flowers, then keep it in the fridge to use when you need it. You can also keep the flowers in the vinegar once you begin to use it, gently pouring the vinegar from the jar. This allows it to continue steeping for a longer period. I don’t normally strain out my vinegars, so I slowly add more nasturtiums and vinegar to the same jar as I use the stuff in the old jar. Have fun with it and feel free to add other yummy herbs and spices too. Use your nasturtium vinegar in salad dressings, as a sauce or dip for steamed veggies or in other summertime sauces.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Eat More Kale!

Kale is a delicious and nutritious dark leafy green, high in Vitamin C, calcium and potassium, as well as countless trace minerals. Greens are the number one food group missing from the average American diet and the funny thing about it is they are by far one of the most delicious tasting and well-liked vegetables by children and adults…when cooked well. Here are some basic technical cooking instructions to help you enjoy your greens in many ways.

Start with 1 bunch kale, you can use curly green, red russian or elephant ear kale. All are delicious it is mostly a matter of preference and availability. Wash the kale and shake excess water from the leaves before cutting into strips, horizontally about 1/2 to 1 inch thick depending on how big you want the pieces. Use the entire stem, discarding any brown or spoiled parts.

In a skillet heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. When the pan is hot add kale, generously sprinkle with salt and pepper (and other spices, optional). Leave the kale in the pan as is until it steams slightly, about thirty to sixty seconds, then begin to stir and flip as needed. Once the kale has wilted down but is still bright green add 3 - 4 cloves of minced garlic, I like to chop it but sometimes I use a press. Stir in the garlic, sauté for another minute, taste for flavor and enjoy. I prefer my kale still be bright green, cooked until soft but not soggy, if you prefer it more or less cooked plan accordingly.

Have you ever heard of Kale Chips? They are a tasty snack and a healthy treat. Preheat oven to 425 degrees, and prep kale as above. Heat kale onto two cookie sheets and sprinkle with olive oil, salt and pepper and other spices if desired. Put into 425 degree oven until crispy. It is important that the oven be hot and that the kale not have an excess of water on the leaves, either will cause the kale to steam rather than crisp into chips. But don’t fear, steamed kale is delicious too and a great way to prepare the stove top recipe. To steam kale in the oven cook at 300 and stir often, waiting to add garlic at the end as in the pan cooked method above. Making kale in the oven is a great way to prepare kale for a large gathering!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Lemon Verbena and Rose Ice Tea

Since my last post, which was far too long ago, I have moved from the hustle and bustle of my Oakland neighborhood to an old farmhouse in Amherst Massachusetts. Here in New England the summer months bring heat and humidity and I have found hot tea to be low on my agenda. I have however been enjoying cooling and calming herbs as the centerpiece of iced tea. To be honest I never actually drink my tea “iced,” sometimes I chill it in the refrigerator, but even at room temperature a Verbena and Rose herbal infusion is the perfect summer treat. It is both relaxing and refreshing…for me, summer couldn’t get any better.

When using roses in tea the best are those that are aromatic and homegrown or grown organically (available dried at your local herb store or health food store). Never use commercially grown roses for anything other than aesthetic purposes. Roses and other flowers are grown with harsh and dangerous chemicals that should not be used internally or externally for medicine. That being said, if you do have access to home grown roses feel free to use them in your tea, the fresher the better! I have two beautiful rose bushes in front of my new house that are in full bloom right now, I have been using them in my tea and drying them to keep for later use.

2 parts lemon verbena
½ part rose petals

Mix the herbs together in a bowl and store in an airtight jar. To brew, use 1 Tbs. of your herbal tea mixture for every 8 oz. of boiling water. Place the herbs in a jar, pitcher or teapot; pour boiling water over the herbs and cover with a lid. Allow the herbs to steep until the liquid comes to room temperature, 6 to 8 hours. Then strain the herbs out and store in the refrigerator; tea should last 2 to 3 days. If you would like to sweeten your tea, add a bit of honey while still hot.