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Cooking for Comfort

Ken Morris, Cooking for Comfort: A New Year, a new look at plants

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Buddha bowl

The start of a New Year always triggers an avalanche of diet articles, introductory offers to gyms, and relentless suggestions that you need to work out more and immediately change your food intake. And, even though we are in wine country, there are Facebook posts about celebrating Dry January (meaning not drinking alcohol that month; everyone still seems to welcome rain.)

I say, you’re perfect the way you are; don’t change a thing. Although, I do find that I am plant-forward curious. Plant-forward is the new marketing term for vegetarianism, so it sounds like you are taking a moral stand in favor of plants, instead of only eating brown rice and overcooked vegetables at the family’s Thanksgiving dinner.

Of course, people who deliberately did not eat animal flesh date back to the ancient Greeks, at least. Pythagoras, from the 6th century BC, and whom you might remember from your high school geometry class for the Phythagoram Theorem, is famous as a vegetarian. And for centuries the Asian world has widely embraced vegetarianism as part of practicing Hinduism and Buddhism.

So, even though I’m not looking for a lifestyle change, I do like vegetables so as we start a new year why not occasionally move them to the center of the plate, and not as sides to a piece of meat? In that vein, I picked three plant-based dishes to offer just a taste of what is available in the big world of vegetables.

Best Buddha Bowl

Serves 4

Adapted from Love & Lemons website, created by Jeanine Donofrio

If you’ve seen vegan grain bowls on a restaurant menu, food blog or Pinterest, sooner or later you’ll be offered a Buddha Bowl. But does this mean the Dalai Lama is getting a kickback on every bowl sold? No, it turns out, according to an April 25, 2017, Epicurious article by Katherine Sacks, the name came from how Buddha collected alms, using a large bowl to gather small bits of food that the residents of whatever village he was staying in could afford to share.

One reason grain bowls are so popular is they are very flexible to compose, so you should feel free to add or subtract from the list of ingredients.

1 large sweet potato, cubed

Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling

1 watermelon radish or 2 red radishes

2 medium carrots

1 cup shredded red cabbage

Squeeze of lemon

8 kale leaves, chopped

2 cups cooked brown rice or quinoa

1 cup cooked chickpeas or cooked lentils

¾ cup sauerkraut or other fermented veggie

2 tablespoons sesame seeds or hemp seeds

Turmeric Tahini Sauce, for serving

Microgreens, optional

Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400°F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Toss the sweet potatoes with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and spread them onto the baking sheet. Roast for 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Thinly slice the radish into rounds (this is best done on a mandoline), and use a vegetable peeler to peel the carrots into ribbons. Toss the radish slices, carrots, and shredded cabbage with a squeeze of lemon. Set aside.

Place the kale leaves into a large bowl and toss with a squeeze of lemon and a few pinches of salt. Use your hands to massage the leaves until they become soft and wilted and reduce in the bowl by about half.

Assemble individual bowls with brown rice, chickpeas, kale, carrots, radishes, cabbage, sweet potatoes, sauerkraut, sesame seeds, and microgreens, if using. Season with salt and pepper and serve with the Turmeric Tahini Sauce.

Basic Tahini Sauce:

½ cup tahini (some favorite brands are Cedar’s, Soom, and Seed + Mill, all of which have a nice runny texture and nutty taste.)

¼ cup fresh lemon juice

6 tablespoons water, plus more as needed

1 small garlic clove, grated or pressed

½ teaspoon sea salt

Turmeric Tahini Sauce:

1 recipe Basic Tahini Sauce

½ to 1 teaspoon dried turmeric

1 teaspoon maple syrup or honey

1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil

Basic Sauce: In a small bowl, whisk together the tahini, lemon juice, water, garlic, and sea salt. Continue whisking for a minute or so, and the ingredients will combine to form a smooth, creamy sauce. If your tahini is dry, or if you prefer a thinner sauce, add more water, as needed, to reach your desired consistency. Then add the ingredients to the Turmeric Tahini and whisk again if you want to go that route.

Farfalle with Almond-Arugula Pesto

Serves 4 to 6

Adapted from "Flavors of the Sun" by Christine Sahadi Wheland

This is not a plant-based cookbook but spice-driven, written by a descendent of the famed Sahadi’s Fine Foods, a New York City importer of mostly Middle Eastern specialty foods. The chapters are broken into food descriptions (Bright, Savory, Spiced…) defined by a list of ingredients. For example, Bright (tart, tangy, citrusy) is produced by using hibiscus, pomegranate molasses, preserved lemons, sumac, and pickled vegetables. It really was designed so people would find ways to use the Sahadi products (and, of course, buy more) but also makes it fun for the cook to see what is already in the spice rack and use it, or look for the part of a meal (Salads and Sides, Entrees and of course they have Sweets) and cook something new. Most of the entrees feature an animal protein, but the Middle East culture seems to always feature salads and vegetable side dishes.

4 cups baby arugula

½ cup almond oil (olive oil works equally as well; the almond oil simply amplifies the almonds in the sauce)

3 garlic cloves, crushed

¾ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ cup roasted unsalted almonds

¼ cup grated Pecorino-Romano cheese (of course, this is only what the recipe calls for. Yes, I may have added more)

1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (if you don’t have Aleppo pepper available, my old favorite smoked pimento pepper from Spain also would work)

1 pound farfalle pasta (usually that’s one package from the supermarket)

Bring a large pot of water to boil for the pasta. While the water heats, combine the arugula, ¼ cup of the oil, garlic, and salt in a food processor. Pulse just until finely chopped. Add the almonds, cheese, Aleppo pepper, and remaining ¼ of oil and pulse until well combined. When the pasta water has come to a boil, salt it generously and add the pasta. Cook according to the package directions. Set aside 1 cup of the pasta cooking water, then drain the pasta well and return to the pot. Add the pesto to the pot with the pasta and add 1 to 2 splashes of the cooking water to loosen it. The starch in the water will help form the sauce. Toss the pasta with the pesto until well coated, adding a bit more pasta water if needed to make it a creamy, thick sauce. Serve warm.

Smokin’ Hot Vegan Vaquero Chili

Serves 4 to 6

Adapted from "Spicebox Kitchen" by Linda Shiue, MD, Chef

Unlike a lot of people who tell you how to eat, Dr. Shiue is a medical doctor. As a physician in San Francisco, she had struggled with helping her patients lose weight, and control their cholesterol and blood pressure or blood sugar. They continued to be tired, anxious and depressed, despite taking the drugs she prescribed. Luckily, she attended “Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives” a conference co-sponsored by the Harvard School of Public Health and the Culinary Institute of America. The focus on nutritional science and also learning to cook delicious food that followed that science changed how she practiced medicine and she quickly began offering cooking classes for her patients and writing prescriptions for kale salads.

She eventually earned a certificate in plant-based nutrition and now also teaches medical students about nutrition, since only a quarter of medical schools offer a course, despite the fact that diet is a top cause of disability and death. The first quarter of the book provides everything someone just becoming interested in changing their diet might need, ranging from descriptions of spices and their health benefits, to cooking techniques to meal planning and prep. This is followed by recipes grouped by California, Asia, Mediterranean, and the Middle East, and Trinidad (her husband’s family is from there.)

8 ounces dried Vaquero beans, soaked overnight (may substitute dried pinto beans)

1 14.5 oz can diced fire-roasted tomatoes

1-2 chipotles in adobo, sliced

1/2 medium onion, finely diced

1/2 bell pepper, finely diced

1 carrot, finely diced

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (yes, I did replace it with Spanish smoked pimento)

5 cups water

Salt to taste

1 ounce dark chocolate, broken up into pieces

Optional garnishes: chopped fresh cilantro, shredded cheese

It’s almost required to serve this with cornbread.

After beans have been soaked, drain from soaking liquid and set aside. If you didn’t plan ahead, you can still cook the beans, it will just take a bit longer for them to become soft.

Prepare all vegetables and fry in a heavy pot with a tablespoon of canola oil. Stir and fry for about 5 minutes until vegetables have softened. Add cumin and cayenne and fry for another minute. Add beans, tomatoes, water, and oregano, and bring to a boil. Then lower heat and simmer for 1 to 2 hours (depending on how fresh your beans are), or until beans are to your desired level of softness. Depending on your beans, you may need to add additional water to keep them covered. Salt to taste. Just before serving, stir the chocolate into the chili until melted, then mix well.

As always when making soup, you have to taste and make adjustments and I thought the soup needed a bit of acid so I swirled in a few drops of sherry vinegar at the end to make the flavors pop a little more. As always, that’s a personal decision between you and your soup.

Getting a plant to spruce up your home is a good thing to do. Keri Lumm shares tips from experts on how to make a good choice.

Ken Morris has been cooking for comfort for more than 30 years and learning in kitchens from Alaska to Thailand to Italy. He now cooks and writes from his kitchen in Napa. Email macmor@sbcglobal.net.

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