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Saturday, June 30, 2012

Hibiscus Green Iced Tea


This herbal iced tea is the perfect summer drink: delicious and refreshing. It has a fruity flavor and packs a punch of antioxidants, which are a good idea when you're spending time outside in the sun, especially in the summer when the sun's rays are strongest. (UV radiation from the sun causes oxidative damage in the skin and antioxidants can help neutralize this damage.)

Green tea and hibiscus are antioxidant superstars. A recent study from Portugal tested 19 different drinks and found that hibiscus and green had more antioxidants than any other beverage.

In addition to hibiscus flowers and green tea, I added mint to this infusion to make it even more refreshing. I used peppermint but spearmint would also work well. (In New York City, buy fragrant dried mint in bulk at Fairway.) If you have gastroesophageal reflux, skip the mint.

You can drink this tea hot if you want, but this summer I'm serving it cold. Drink it unsweetened, with a squeeze of lemon if you wish.

1 part dried peppermint or 1/4 cup (or 2 parts fresh peppermint or 1/2 cup packed)
2 parts dried green tea leaves or 1/2 cup
3 parts dried hibiscus flowers or 3/4 cup
Fresh lemon to garnish

Put on 4 cups of filtered water to boil.

To a glass French press, add 1/4 cup peppermint, 1/2 cup green tea leaves, and 3/4 cup peppermint leaves.

Once the water comes to a boil, pour it into the French press, covering the leaves and flowers. Place the lid on the carafe but do not strain it. Allow the tea to steep for 30 minutes or more.

Press the solids down to the bottom of the glass carafe. Add 4 cups of cold filtered water to a glass pitcher. (If you're in a hurry, use 4 cups of ice cubes and water combined.) Pour the steeped tea into the pitcher. If necessary, cool to room temperature. Transfer the tea to the fridge to chill for several hours, preferably overnight.

To serve, pour the tea slowly over ice cubes to fill each glass. Garnish with fresh lemon if you wish.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Zucchini Salad With Tempeh


This summer salad makes good use of seasonal vegetables. Pick up some fresh zucchini and tomatoes at the farmer's market and serve them up with tempeh, a fermented form of soy and a good source of plant-based protein. (Personally, I also love tempeh's chewy texture.)

If you don't have or don't like zucchini, roast some bell peppers in their place. I used goat cheese but feta would be an equally tasty alternative. For a dairy-free version of this recipe, substitute raw pine nuts or walnuts for the cheese.

Extra virgin olive oil, first cold pressing
1 medium zucchini, cut into 1 cm slices
Sea salt
4 ounces tempeh (1/2 block), thinly sliced (1/2 cm to 3/4 cm thick)
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 small tomato, about 1 cup chopped
2 tbsp crumbled goat cheese, feta cheese, or pine nuts

Warm 1 to 2 tbsp of olive oil in a large stainless steel or cast iron skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add the zucchini and saute until browned, about 5 minutes on each side. Flip once, after the first side has browned. Sprinkle with sea salt and brown the other side. Transfer the zucchini slices to a serving plate and set it aside.

Add more olive oil if need be and sauté the tempeh strips until they are browned on both sides. While the tempeh cooks, in a medium mixing bowl, stir together two tablespoons of olive oil, the balsamic vinegar, and a little bit of sea salt.

As soon as the tempeh is browned and crispy, toss it with the oil and vinegar mixture. Allow it to soak up the sauce but don't let it linger long enough to get soggy. Lift out the tempeh strips, leaving excess sauce in the bottom of the bowl and arrange them on top of the zucchini.

Toss the chopped tomato with the remaining sauce, then pour the mixture over the tempeh. Garnish with goat cheese, feta, or pine nuts.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

A Very Versatile Rhubarb Sauce


Think of this sauce as a starting point.

It's a simple yet stunning combination of flavors: rhubarb, lemon, cinnamon, and honey. It's delicious like this but you could also add strawberries, raspberries, and/or blackberries if you want a mixed fruit sauce. (Frozen berries would work great.)

Then what?
  • You can eat it just the way it is, possibly with a piece of good cheese or dark chocolate.
Tailor this very versatile rhubarb sauce to meet your needs by adjusting the sweetness and acidity.

If it's a dessert sauce, you may want to add a little more honey, especially if you're combining it with unsweetened yogurt or unsweetened whipped cream. The lemon zest already inside gives it a light citrus note, and because you probably don't need more acidity, you may choose to skip adding lemon juice.

If you're serving it as a savory sauce with meat or fish, the lemon juice would be a nice complement, to counter the fat in the dish. You'll want some honey to balance the tartness of the rhubarb but you won't want as much as you would if you were making a dessert. You may also want to stir in some fresh, finely chopped herbs like basil, tarragon, mint, or rosemary.

I used my food processor to slice the rhubarb, but it could also be chopped by hand. You don't necessarily have to cut thin slices. One-inch pieces are also fine, although they take a little longer to cook.

6 medium stalks fresh rhubarb, about 5 cups chopped
Pinch sea salt
Dash ground cinnamon
Splash water
1 organic lemon
3 to 4 tbsp honey

Add the rhubarb to a Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot on the stove top, along with a pinch of sea salt, a dash of cinnamon, and a splash of water. Drizzle 3 tbsp honey over the rhubarb and cover.

Cook over low heat until some liquid begins to collect at the bottom of the pan, about 5 minutes. Stir and continue to cook, uncovered, until the rhubarb breaks down and melts into a sauce, about 10 more minutes depending on the size of your rhubarb pieces.

Zest the lemon over the pot and stir to incorporate it thoroughly into the sauce. Remove the pot from the heat, cover it, and set it aside for 5 minutes. Stir again and taste. Adjust the seasoning if desired, adding more sea salt, honey, or lemon zest as necessary. Add some of the juice from the lemon if you want a sharper sauce.

Once you've perfected the seasoning, serve it immediately or cool it to room temperature, transfer it to an airtight container, and store it in the fridge until you're ready to eat it.

This recipe makes about 3 cups of sauce. It can be made several days ahead. It can also be frozen for several months.

To freeze:

Pour the sauce it into glass jars, leaving an inch of room at the top. Chill them in the fridge overnight, to reduce the risk of the glass cracking. Transfer them to the freezer and leave the lids loosened. Freeze them overnight, then tighten the lids.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Spanakopita-Style Eggs


This dish is incredibly versatile.  It can be a quick breakfast, an elegant brunch, a colorful lunch, or even a simple starter at dinner time.

Spinach is the star ingredient here and it's a nutritional powerhouse, full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, and disease-fighting compounds like carotenoids and flavonoids. Eaten regularly, spinach can help protect you from cardiovascular disease, cancer, and eye problems including age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.

Unfortunately, spinach is #5 on the Shoppers' Guide to Pesticides Dirty Dozen list, which means that it's one of most contaminated produce items (also among the top five are apples, celery, strawberries, and peaches, in descending order). So choose organic spinach whenever you can. If you can't find organic spinach, substitute another organic leafy green vegetable like chard, kale, or beet greens.

I was inspired to make this meal while watching someone prepare filling for Spanakopita, the Greek dish layered with phyllo dough.
I wanted to use the same flavors - spinach, feta, pine nuts, and lemon - in a gluten-free and grain-free dish. So here is my whole foods version, served with eggs instead of pastry.

Unintentionally, the feta never made it to the finished dish (I forgot to add it), so this recipe is dairy-free. If you have feta cheese, crumble it into the hot spinach just before you serve it.

I poached my eggs but you can cook them any way you like: fried, soft-boiled, or even scrambled. (If you're in a rush to get breakfast on the table, take a short-cut by cracking your eggs into the skillet with the spinach when it's almost finished cooking.) Serve 1 egg per person as a starter and two eggs per person for main courses.

4 eggs
1 tbsp cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil 
1 tbsp grass-fed or organic butter or substitute another tablespoon of olive oil
2 pounds of fresh organic spinach
Sea salt 
Freshly ground peppercorn
1/2 cup raw pine nuts (not toasted)
1 organic lemon

To poach the eggs:

Fill a large, shallow pan with 2 or 3 inches of filtered water and bring it to a slow simmer. Some people add a splash of vinegar (white wine vinegar or other) to the water to prevent the egg whites from spreading too far and too thin but I find it doesn't make a difference. Use it if you like.

Once small bubbles start to rise to the surface, add a pinch of sea salt and crack an egg into a tea cup. Hold the cup as close to the surface of the water as possible and gently slide the egg into the water. Repeat with the other eggs.

If you use egg-poaching cups, choose ones that are non-reactive and heat-safe. Ceramic or stainless steel cups would be ideal but they are hard to find. Silicone cups may be the best an alternative. Do NOT use plastic egg-poaching cups.

Once the whites start to set, slide a slotted spoon underneath them to make sure they don't stick to the pan. Cook the eggs until the whites solidify and turn white, 3 or 4 minutes if you like your yolks runny, 6 or more if you like them cooked through.

Use the slotted spoon to gently lift them out to check their doneness and once they're perfectly cooked, transfer them to a clean kitchen towel to drain. Sprinkle a few grains of sea salt on each one if desired.

To finish the dish:

Warm the olive oil and butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the spinach and cook until wilted, just a few minutes, stirring occasionally.

Season the spinach with sea salt and ground peppercorn. Zest the lemon into the skillet and reserve some for garnish. Add the pine nuts and crumble in the feta if you're using it. Toss everything together, then taste for seasoning and make any necessary adjustments. Cover the spinach to keep it warm if the eggs haven't finished cooking yet.

To serve, transfer the spinach mixture to a serving dish and squeeze some fresh lemon juice over the top. Gently place the eggs on top and garnish with fresh lemon zest.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Coconut Nut Clusters


Co-co-nut-nut clusters are a quick and healthy snack, full of antioxidants, healthy fats, and protein. They're even detox-friendly.

Use a chocolate as dark as you dare, if not 85 percent then at least 72 percent. I added raw coconut flakes and walnuts, but you can use any raw nuts you like.

8 ounces dark chocolate, 72% or darker
1 cup raw unsweetened coconut flakes
1 cup raw walnut pieces

Warm the dark chocolate in a large glass or stainless steel mixing bowl over a pan of gently simmering water until just melted. Do not over-cook the chocolate.

Stir in the coconut and walnuts and mix until thoroughly combined.

Portion the mixture into 24 two-bite clusters and chill until firm.

Transfer them to a covered glass dish and store in the fridge until 30 minutes before you serve them.