Nature’s PowerBars


I learned how to make these when I was writing a story about raw food diets. They’re sort of like an energy bar that actually tastes good. The closest thing I could compare them to is a Larabar. They’re basically just nuts, dried fruit and coconut blended up in the food processor.

If you want them to be truly raw, buy all raw nuts and unsweetened coconut (I bought a real coconut for the first time to make this recipe, by the way, but you don’t have to). This time, I just tried to use up what I had left in my cabinets.

Raw fruit/nut balls

1/2 cup finely grated coconut
1 handful macadamia nuts
2 handfuls almonds
1 handful dates
1 handful raisins

Toss all of the ingredients into your food processor and process until the nuts have turned into fine pieces and the mixture is starting to clump together. The smoother the better, in my opinion.

Roll into 1-inch balls and then roll those in a little more coconut. I keep mine in the freezer – I think they taste better cold.

Inside-out egg rolls

This recipe started out with Orangette’s cabbage with hot sauce recipe and evolved from there. I’d been thinking for a while that since I liked cabbage so much I should find a recipe that went beyond cole slaw so I could eat it more. And along came this super simple preparation that sounded salty and spicy and delish. So I made it last week, and though it was tasty, it seemed to be missing something. It reminded me of the inside of an egg roll, so I thought it might be good with some carrot strips and maybe some tofu and other veggies.

So I bought some more groceries and tried it again. I don’t have a wok, so I crammed it all into the biggest skillet I had, which still wasn’t really big enough. But I know myself well enough to realize that if I left half a head of cabbage in the fridge, I’d be tossing half a head of cabbage into the compost a week later.

All in all, I really like this recipe. It’s not quite filling enough to last you through the day when you have it for lunch, so I’d suggest eating it with a little brown rice, or as Mike suggested, maybe a few pieces of fried wonton.

Inside-out egg rolls

1 head cabbage, cut into fourths and sliced into strips
1 block firm tofu, cut into slices
4 large carrots, peeled and cut into thin strips
2 onions, sliced
3 or 4 cloves of garlic, minced
A few tablespoons of vegetable oil
3 Tablespoons of soy sauce
A few squirts of Sriracha hot sauce
Salt and pepper

Before you cook, press some of the water out of the tofu. Just put a towel over the slices and set something heavy on it for 10 or 15 minutes. I bought firm tofu, but apparently by firm they meant falls apart the instant you touch it. I’ll try a different brand next time.

Coat the bottom of your skillet or walk with vegetable oil and heat it to medium. Add the tofu slices and brown them on both sides. Set them aside to drain on paper towels.

Add a little more oil and toss in the onions and garlic to saute a few minutes. Mix in the carrots and give it a few more minutes. Now crank the heat just a little higher and start adding handfuls of cabbage. As it cooks down (sort of like spinach), you should be able to add more until it all fits in there.

When the cabbage turns translucent, season it with salt and pepper and add the broccoli. Put a lid on it to steam a little bit.

Add your soy sauce and as many squirts of hot sauce as you like.

This looks like a lot, but it was perfect for the amount of veggies. Slice the tofu into strips and mix it into the cabbage.

This makes a LOT, but after a few days in the fridge it tastes even better.

Tortilla Soup

Here’s part-two of our fiesta.

This is another recipe I adapted from a childhood fave. I believe it came from my best friend’s mother, Trish, the awesome cook who grew fresh veggies in her garden and made salsa and this wonderfully soothing soup with a kick. I always thought it was weird, the idea of tortillas in soup, until I realized you could toss in a handful of bottom-of-the-bag tortilla chips and call it good.

Or, for a healthier version, you could cut corn tortillas into strips and toast them for about 10 minutes at 400 degrees.

The original recipe also called for roasted chicken pieces and chicken broth. If you want to make it meaty, just bake some boneless chicken breasts with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and cut them into 1-inch pieces. You can toss them into the soup at the same time as the beans and corn, or even leave out the beans altogether.

That’s the great thing about this soup – it is awesomely versatile. If you like it mild, skip the jalapeno. If you want it to burn your face off, throw in that jalapeno seeds and all.

But here’s how I like it. This recipe is super healthy and vegan. I ruin that by adding a few shreds of cheddar cheese. But, like I said, up to you.

Tortilla Soup

1 large onion, chopped
2 T. olive oil
1 green pepper, seeded and chopped
1 red pepper, seeded and chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 T. spice blend of cumin, chili powder and salt (a taco mix would do)
1 32-oz container no-chicken broth
1 28-oz. can diced tomatoes
1 14 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup corn

Add-ons: Tortilla chips, cheddar cheese, sour cream, avocado slices

Heat a soup pot to medium, add the oil and saute the onions and garlic. Toss in the bell peppers and jalapeno and cook a few minutes until the onions are translucent and the peppers are soft.

Mix in the spice blend. Then add the no-chicken broth, tomatoes, beans and corn. Simmer for 15 minutes. Then turn off the heat and serve.

There’s no way it could be that easy, right? Well, it is that easy, and that’s why you should make it, and then crunch up the chips in your hands and lick off the salt. Or don’t – it’s your soup.

Holy Guacamole

Because Mike and I felt like having a little fiesta in this 30-below weather, and because avocados were so surprisingly ripe at Hy-Vee today, I give you the only recipe for guacamole you’ll ever need.

But first! I give you my most frequently used spice blend, which you’ll need for this recipe, and it goes like this:

3 T. ground cumin
3 T. ground chili powder
1 T. Celtic sea salt

Why so little salt? That particular kind goes a looong way because it’s in a very natural form, and that’s a good thing, right? I buy my spices from Penzeys, or at Mexican or Indian grocery stores where they usually have a wide array of affordable bulk spices.

Guacamole

3 ripe avocados
2 cloves garlic, minced
About 1/8 of an onion, diced
As much fresh jalapeno as you can handle, diced (I use maybe 1/4 of one, seeded)
The juice of half a lemon
2 T. of your spice blend
10 grape tomatoes, halved, or half a seeded tomato, diced

As you can see, this is a very imprecise recipe, so if you have more avocado, add a little more of each ingredient. The important thing is to use fresh ingredients. If you get a little too much garlic, so what?

Scoop out your avocados and dice them up. Squeeze in the lemon juice so your avocados don’t turn brown.

Add the garlic and mash it all together with a fork.

Add the onions and jalapenos, then the tomatoes.

Mix in the spice blend. Taste it. If it needs a little more seasoning, adjust it here.

And for God sakes don’t feel guilty about eating guacamole. Avocados are full of good fats. This recipe is vegan, raw even. If you’re not going to eat it with other veggies just go easy on the chips. Lots of guacamole on a little chip. Cerveza. Tortilla soup (recipe coming). Perfect dinner for a ridiculously cold night.

Wild rice stuffed acorn squash

This would be a great recipe for a Thanksgiving table. It has all the flavors of a turkey stuffing, but it’s vegan — with protein coming from wild rice and ground pecans. The consistency is like mashed potatoes.

I can’t say I was a big squash fan (other than grilled zucchini and yellow squash in the summer) before this recipe. The only time I’ve really cooked with it was when I spent 3 hours making Ina Garten’s from-scratch pot pies. It had pieces of butternut squash inside, but I don’t think they got cooked enough to melt in your mouth. They were just sort of stringy and odd. But in this recipe the squash is basically obliterated by heat and caramelized with a sweet crust – yum.

Wild rice stuffed acorn squash

Adapted from Epicurean

2 small acorn squash
1/2 cup wild rice
1 1/2 cups water
3 tablespoons fresh sage (or 1 dried)
1 teaspoon thyme
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 onion finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
1 teaspoon black pepper
pinch of ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup pecans plus pecan pieces for topping

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Oil a baking sheet (I suggest one with a Silpat on top). Cut each squash in half as shown. Scoop out the guts and place cut-side down on the baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes or until the flesh is soft. Reduce heat to 375.

In a saucepan, cook the wild rice in the water, simmering until it is tender and starting to split. You may have to add a little more water or drain some off. Depends on your rice.

Finely chop the sage. In a saute pan, heat the olive oil and saute the carrot, onion and sage over medium heat until softened. Stir in the thyme, marjoram, pepper, nutmeg and salt and remove pan from heat.

When the squash halves are cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh with a big spoon, leaving a bit behind so the skins stay in tact. (I tore two of them, but they still held well enough together). In a large bowl, mash the flesh with a potato masher. Use a food processor to grind the pecans finely. Add the ground pecans, sauteed vegetables and wild rice to the squash bowl and mix thoroughly. Stuff the mixture into the shells and sprinkle with pecan pieces. Place in a casserole dish big enough for them all to fit snugly. Bake for 30 minutes.

Feel good about a really healthy dinner.

Almost-all local ratatouille

Ratatouille is one of those dishes that is so incredibly simple it doesn’t seem possible for it to be good, but it’s that simplicity that makes it even better than most dishes. And what I think makes it even better is using ingredients that have been pulled from the ground just hours before.

We bought quite a bit at the farmers market this week: green beans, red potatoes, blueberries, peppers, eggplant, carrots… So it just seemed like together with the tomatoes from our garden we had the makings of a fresh all-vegetable dish. In fact, the only vegetable ingredient that was not local was the garlic. I mixed red and orange tomatoes from our garden and got to use two of my favorite kitchen items: the cutting board with a drain and the soft peeler. Nice!

I used this recipe for “Simple Ratatouille” that I cut out of a newspaper. It says it’s adapted from Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” I’ve used it before, and I think it’s just about perfect.

You need:

1/2 pound zucchini, sliced into 1/8-inch slices
1/2 pound eggplant, sliced into 3/8-inch slices
3 T. olive oil
1/2 pound thinly sliced yellow onions
1 sliced green bell pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and juiced
3 T. fresh parsley or basil
Salt and pepper to taste

1. First of all, salt your eggplant slices, let them sit for an hour and then rinse them off. It really helps with the bitterness.
2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray and lay out the eggplant and zucchini slices (you may need 2 but I squished ’em all on one). Brush lightly with olive oil and bake until slightly brown on each side.
3. In a skillet, cook onions and peppers in 2 T. olive oil for about 10 minutes. Stir in garlic and season to taste.

Slice tomato pulp into 3/8-inch strips. Place tomato slices over onions and peppers.

4. Cover the skillet and cook over low for 5 minutes. Uncover, baste with the tomato juices, raise the heat and boil for several minutes, until most of the juice has evaporated.
5. Put 1/3 of tomato mixture in bottom of a small casserole dish. Sprinkle with 1 T. herbs. Arrange half of the eggplant and zucchini on top, more tomatoes and herbs, then the rest of the zucchini/eggplant and finally the rest of the tomatoes. Cover and simmer for 25 minutes.

We ate it with a brown rice mixture and thought it was delicious and incredibly healthy. And local, of course.

3-Bean Chipotle Chili

You’d never believe a dish this hearty was vegan. Well, until you put the crackers and cheese in it, but who’s counting?

I think we planned to have this last week because it was so damn cold. Again. We just needed as much comfort food as we could get. But then we ran out of time to cook it and had to make it today when it was sunny and beautiful.

The secret, I think, is to use crushed tomatoes instead of whole or cut tomatoes. And then mix in a few chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, as many as you can handle, for extra flavor.

3-Bean Chipotle Chili

2 T. olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 zucchini, chopped (peeled, if you like)
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1 15 oz. can dark kidney beans, drained
1 15 oz. can black beans, drained
1 15 oz. can chili beans
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 7 oz. can chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
1 T. cumin
1 T. chili powder
1 t. oregano
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste

While the oil is heating in a big saucepan over medium, chop up all the vegetables.

I usually throw the garlic and onions in first, followed by the peppers, then the other veggies. After they’ve cooked about five minutes, mix in the spices, salt and pepper and bay leaf. Once everything is combined, add the tomatoes and beans and put a lid on the pot.

While that simmers, take out as many chipotle peppers as you want. If you don’t like spicy foods, I would take one or even one without the seeds. Those suckers are hot! I use three, but I had to work up to that. Put the rest in a container in the fridge until you need them again. Chop the chiles super fine and add them to the pot.

Simmer over medium-low heat for 30 minutes, remove the bay leaf and serve with cheddar and saltines.

Vegetarian Cassoulet

I’ve tried a number of so-so vegetarian bean soups, hoping they’d turn out to be regulars in my arsenal, but this one finally hit the spot.

I’ll just let you go there for the recipe (complete with gorgeous photos), plus some tips on how to cook beans from scratch. I really think that might have made all the difference somehow.

Instead of making the breadcrumbs, we just dropped or dipped chunks of baguette into the soup and were plenty satisfied with that. I made some other adjustments (a little more tomatoes, dried herbs instead of fresh…), but overall the recipe is solid.