Tuesday, 11 June 2013


Basics.  Fundamentals.  Boiling things down to their essential elements and building them up again.  

One of the most exciting aspects of my journey with food, nutrition and cooking in the past year has been home-making the basics: pantry staples that are so simple (and so much healthier) to create at home, but which I--like most others--had never considered could come from anywhere but the grocery store shelves.  I previously wrote about the overwhelming excitement and empowerment I felt the very first time I made nut butter from scratch.  The same is true of granola, salad dressings, sauces, and my latest love, homemade almond milk.  Choosing to tackle these gastronomic fundamentals in the kitchen rather than reaching for the (arguably more convenient) ready-made jar offers so many benefits, most exciting of which are heightened nutrition, direct agency, and boundless possibilities for creativity!

One of the most important aspects for me of homemaking pantry staples is that it grants me complete control over the freshness, type and quality of the ingredients I put into my body--not to mention eliminates my consumption of bizarro additives, unnecessary quantities of sugar, and unnatural preservatives.  Granola made with 'sugar', 'glucose syrup' and 'vegetable oil' immediately following 'oats'?  No thanks, I'll make my own with cold-pressed olive oil and 100% pure maple syrup.  Salsa that has been sitting in a container in a factory/on a plane/in a truck/on a shop shelf for who knows how long?  Nah, I'll whip some up that's truly salsa fresca.  By operating in this way, I am also voting with my dollars to support the foods that are real and whole rather than the processed food-like-substances (and the companies that produce them) which have overtaken our grocery baskets, our mainstream contemporary food culture, and our bodies.  It is truly so refreshing and empowering; I cannot encourage you enough to start the same process, if you haven't already.

In addition to the invaluable benefits of treating our bodies well and developing closer and more meaningful relationships with our food, homemaking pantry staples provides countless opportunities for creativity!  Food in its most whole and individual forms is like an artist's palate, offering so many flavors, textures and colors with which to play.  Oils and vinegars, nuts and seeds, fruit and veg, herbs and spices...oh the joy!  The experimentation!  The possibility! 

Ultimately, this ode to making the basics brings us to a very important place: Mexican food.  When a good friend and I decided to host an enchilada dinner party a few weeks ago, using store bought enchilada sauce simply wasn't an option.  We found an intriguing recipe, set out to the market (with our admittedly lengthy ingredients list), and tackled the enchiladas head on.  The sauce?  Silence-inducing.  For the first few bites, we spoke only through full mouths and shocked stares.  It was that good.

This recipe for huevos rancheros could be 'lunch in 15 minutes', but it's not.  I could easily list the ingredients as 'salsa', 'refried beans' and 'enchilada sauce', all of which you could effortlessly find readymade for you in jars at the market, but I don't.  Because, in addition to all the reasons I discussed above, the bold, fresh and incredible flavors that this recipe delivers are the product of making each of these elements from scratch.*  Yes, these huevos rancheros are a bit of a labor of love.  But let me tell you, they taste amazing for it!  Also, the most labor-intensive element of this process--the ranchero sauce--freezes incredibly well.  Make a big batch and you'll have it on hand for your next Mexican craving, whether that's summertime enchiladas to feed a crowd or a quick weeknight burrito bowl for one. 

*After all this proselytizing, I feel it is important to acknowledge that I did use store bought tortillas, canned black beans for the refried beans, and canned tomatoes for the ranchero sauce.  I definitely intend to give homemade tortillas a try next time, and I encourage you to do so if you have time!  Ditto for cooking the beans from dried.  But let's be real, the rest of this takes ample time.  Do what you can.  Any percentage of homemade goods is better than none at all!

Huevos Rancheros
Serves two, with leftover sauce

2 corn tortillas (look for proper no-additives tortillas, made with masa, water and salt)
2 eggs
olive oil or coconut oil for frying

Ranchero Sauce, minimally adapted from The Faux Martha
(I came across this sauce when making these undeniably delicious enchiladas from Sprouted Kitchen.  The sauce is flawless; a total keeper!)
25 oz. chopped tomatoes, canned
1 yellow onion, sliced
1 garlic clove
1/2 - 1 jalapeno, deseeded and sliced
3/4 tsp. chili powder
3/4 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. oregano
1/4 tsp. thyme
2 Tbsp. fresh cilantro
2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
3/4 cup vegetable broth
1/4 cup sour cream or plain greek yogurt
sea salt and ground pepper, to taste
pinch muscovado sugar

Refried Beans
1 15-oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
2/3 red onion
1 garlic clove, minced
1 Tbsp. coconut oil (or preferred cooking oil)
1 1/2 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. cumin
chili flakes (optional, to taste)
pinch sea salt (if beans were not in salted water)

Salsa Fresca (Pico de Gallo)
3 tomatoes, medium sized and ripe but firm
1/3 red onion
2 Tbsp. cilantro, chopped (leaves + stems!)
1 lime
pinch sea salt

1/2 avocado, sliced
crumbly cheese (preferably cotija or queso fresco; goat cheese is a good substitute if Mexican cheeses are inaccessible)
sea salt + freshly cracked black pepper

Ranchero Sauce
(If easier, this can be made a few days in advance and refrigerated or defrosted from frozen.)  
1.  Mix all ingredients in a blender until smooth.
2.  Transfer to a saucepan and simmer until warm and thickened, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Salsa Fresca (Pico de Gallo)
1.  Chop tomatoes into 1/2" (1cm) cubes, discarding the seeds and juices.
2.  Dice red onion into small cubes.  Set aside 2/3 for the refried beans.
2.  Mix tomatoes in a bowl with the leftover 1/3 diced onion and chopped cilantro.
3.  Squeeze in juice of 1/2 a lime.  Add a pinch of salt.  Stir.
4.  Adjust flavors to taste.  Set aside.

Refried Beans
2.  In a medium saucepan, heat 1 Tbsp. coconut oil.  Add the remaining 2/3 chopped onion and sauté until beginning to turn translucent, about 3 minutes.  Add minced garlic and cook for another minute.
3.  Stir in paprika, cumin and chili flakes, if using.  Cook for a minute.  Add a splash of water to deglaze the pot if the spices are sticking.
4.  Add the black beans and stir until covered by onions, garlic and spices.  Let cook for a few minutes to heat up and absorb the flavors.
5.  Occasionally stir and mash up the beans, turning them into a bit of a paste with larger chunky bits.  Add splashes of water in small increments if the beans begin to get dry.
6.  Adjust seasoning to taste.  Turn off heat when happy with taste and texture. 

Eggs and Tortillas
1.  If your tortillas are burrito-sized, cut them down to taco size using a small plate as a guide.
2-A.  If you have a gas stove, turn heat on low and place tortillas directly over the flame to heat.  Keep an eye on them so they don't burn, moving them around and flipping over for an even char.  Don't let them get crispy!  Put on plate.
2-B.  If you have an electric stove, heat tortillas in a dry skillet on the stove until warm and slightly browned but still soft.  Put on plate.
3.  In a small frying pan over a medium heat, heat a splash of oil (or butter, if you prefer).  Crack one egg directly into the pan.  Let cook uninterrupted until the white has turned opaque and the edges get a bit crispy.  Repeat with second egg.

Assembling the Huevos Rancheros
1.  While the eggs are cooking, pile hot refried beans on top of the tortillas.
2.  Place fried eggs on top of refried beans.  Spoon salsa onto each plate next to the egg.  Add slices of avocado and a generous sprinkle of crumbly cheese.  Drizzle desired amount of ranchero sauce over everything.
3.  Top off with sea salt, freshly cracked black pepper, and cilantro leaves.

Friday, 24 May 2013


I am craving the bounties of spring.  I am yearning for the freshness, the juiciness, the flavors of summer.  I am looking at my calendar and going to the farmers market and wondering why beetroot and butternut squash continue to adorn the stalls.  I am trying to reconcile the realities of the British climate and the particular bounties which it produces with my friends' Instagram photos of the markets in Los Angeles, brimming with nectarines, avocados and berries.  I am jealous.

But why?  Really, all I have to do is head to my nearest supermarket and all of these goods will be right at my fingertips.  Yes, but at what cost?  Imported from how far?  How nutritionally depleted?  Eating seasonally and locally is so gratifying.  Nothing beats the taste of impeccably ripe produce, the feeling of chatting face-to-face with one of the farmers who helped cultivate it, the knowledge that you're directly supporting your local economy.  And eating seasonally and locally can be incredibly challenging as well.  We love, we crave, we have histories with certain foods.  Every single week, my shopping basket contains bananas.  I mix them into my oatmeal, use them as a base for smoothies, freeze them to make healthy ice cream, mash them up with nut butter.  I don't know if a single banana has ever been grown in the UK.  The bananas I bought this week were imported from the Dominican Republic.  And yet, tinged with guilt, I continue to buy them.  And every Saturday that I am able, I go to my local famers' market.  I am conscious and I am a work in progress.  

I recently discovered another cafe that I have fallen head-over-heels in love with.  Called L'Atelier, its menu is simple yet elegant.  While perusing the chalkboard-displayed eats during my first visit this past April, I was immediately drawn to the fig, ricotta and honey salad.  But wait -- fresh figs?  Really?  They were definitely not in season.  Would they be ripe, luscious, tasty?  How far had they travelled to get here?  Despite my guilt-tripping food consciousness, I wanted this salad.  I ordered this salad.  And I promptly devoured this salad, relishing every second of it.

Crisp and peppery from heaps of mixed greens and a hefty sprinkling of fresh cracked black pepper.  Sweet and creamy from dollops of ricotta and generous thick drizzles of honey.  Crunchy and nutty from toasted pine nuts and pumpkin seeds.  Colorful and decadent from slices of soft and fragrant fresh figs.  This salad hit all the right notes.  It wasn't particularly seasonal.  It probably wasn't local.  But it was nutritious.  And delicious.  And one of the best decisions I made that day.

Developing and expanding my education about the myriad reasons why it is so important to eat seasonally and locally has been invaluable.  It regularly influences my food-related choices--of where I shop, what I choose to purchase and put into my body, and when.  But we are not 100% consistent beings.  We are works in progress.  Sometimes, we want bananas in the UK and figs in April.  And that's okay too.

Fig, Ricotta + Honey Salad with Pine Nuts + Pepitas
Inspired by L'Atelier, Dalston UK
Serves one

3-4 heaping handfuls mixed greens (arugula, baby chard, spinach, watercress)
1 fig (fresh & ripe!)
2 1/2 Tbsp. ricotta
1/2 lemon, zested
1 Tbsp. pine nuts
1/2 Tbsp. pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (cold pressed)
1/2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 garlic clove
fresh cracked black pepper
2 tsp. runny honey

1.  Place greens in a large bowl.
2.  In a small skillet, toast pine nuts and pepitas over a low heat until fragrant and slightly browned, 5 or so minutes, shaking the pan often so they don't burn.
3.  Slice the fig into quarters (all vertical cuts), and then halve each quarter vertically. 
4.  Mix the lemon zest with the ricotta.
5.  In a small jar with a lid, combine the olive oil, balsamic, and a few grates of the garlic clove (not even half; it's pungent!).  Shake well.
6.  Add figs, pine nuts, pepitas, and dollops of the ricotta to the greens.  Sprinkle with a few generous twists of freshly cracked black pepper.  Toss with the oil & vinegar dressing.  Drizzle honey over everything.

Monday, 6 May 2013


Blogging is a funny thing.  When I decided to start Chocolate + Chard last November, I knew that I wanted it to be a space for more than simply the sharing of recipes.  I wanted (and want) it to be a platform for sharing information about health and nutrition, about why the ingredients that I feature in my posts are not only delicious but also incredibly enriching for our bodies.  I aimed for it to be personal and personable, compelling and inspiring--like so many blogs have been for me.  I wanted to be a producer within and member of the foodie community of which I had, until that point, only been a passive receptor.

As it turns out, blogging in that vein is difficult.  While I love it and am so surprised and thrilled every time one of you leaves a comment, writing continuously is also a challenge sometimes.  I realize that this space has been quiet for the past few weeks.  To be completely honest, I have been struggling to find the energy and focus to write this post.  This is surely related to a number of factors, one of which is that there are too many narratives in my head circling this totally divine olive oil cake.

I want to talk about the genius baker who devised the recipe, Kim Boyce, and her book Good to the Grain from which it came.  I want to talk about how light and moist it is, fragrant with rosemary and decadent with chunks of rich dark chocolate.  I want to tell you that it very well may be my new favorite quick bread/cake, ever.  I want to describe the delightful and inspired event where I brought this cake, shared it and photographed it: a casual gathering at a friend's cafe, where diverse people worked on independent projects in a communal space--reading, sketching, making origami cranes--that was augmented by a live string quartet and impromptu conversation.  And I want to extol the virtues of spelt flour, which it is fair to say I am properly obsessed with.  Figuring out how to address and weave together all of these discrepant narratives sent me into a bit of an incapacitated state, as I want to do this post justice but have had such trouble figuring out where to begin.

I suppose this writing so far is my explanation and apology for being absent for three weeks.  And maybe a bit of it is me attempting to justify and understand the absence for myself.  At any rate, this cake is absolutely stunning.  It made its rounds in the blogosphere three years ago, when Good to the Grain was first published, so you may have already encountered it.  But if you haven't--boy are you in for a treat.

Kim Boyce's Good to the Grain
Published back in 2010, this cookbook champions baking with whole grains not so much for their nutritional value as for their flavors and textures.  Divided into sections by flour (ranging from whole wheat to spelt to teff), Boyce highlights the ways in which these atypical ingredients (which also happen to be much better for you than white flour) can enhance all kinds of baked goods.  Her version of this heavenly olive oil cake uses a combination of whole spelt and all-purpose flour, but I have substituted the all-purpose for white spelt in my version.  I find that it acts basically the same as all-purpose--barring the fact that it is less glutenous so may not rise quite as much--but it is far more nutrient-rich!

The Power of Spelt Flour
Spelt flour is an ancient grain--so ancient, in fact, that it is mentioned in the Bible--that was originally cultivated in Iran around 7000 B.C. and has expanded its growth to Europe in the past 300 years.  A cousin of wheat, spelt contains less gluten and more protein than its most common relative, making it easier to digest (even possible for some people with gluten intolerance) and a great grain option for vegetarians (or, everyone, because we all need protein!).  Whole grain spelt flour is an excellent source of fiber and contains a wider array of nutrients than many grains in the extended wheat family, including significant levels of manganese, copper, vitamin B3 and zinc.  As it is a whole grain that hasn't been processed to the point of nutritional obliteration, spelt flour is best stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator (if you have space) or in a cool, dark place (if you don't).  

Spelt has a mild nutty flavor that isn't as overpowering as whole wheat flour and adds a lovely dimension to baked goods.  I have baked items that necessitate lightness--like scones--substituting up to half of the requested all-purpose flour with whole spelt to great success.  In addition to whole spelt, two other varieties of the flour are available: light spelt, which has had some of the bran sifted out, and white spelt, which has had the bran and germ entirely removed.  While the lighter white spelt isn't a whole grain flour, it still contains more nutrients and is less refined than all-purpose flour, making it an ideal replacement.*

*Nutrition information from World's Healthiest Foods and What's Cooking America.

(An Important Note) 
...about this wholesome, flavorful, light and delectable cake. I have made it twice so far, the first time in a round cake pan, as directed.  While I loved the flavor, it was so light and tea-cake-y that I thought it would be even more appropriate baked as a loaf.  Enter baking, round two (photographed here).  Yet this time around, I missed the previously more pronounced presence of the delightful top crust that the larger surface area of the cake pan produced.  Consequently, I would recommend baking this in a round cake tin, as Kim Boyce instructs in her book.  I guess she knew what she was talking about.

Kim Boyce's Rosemary + Dark Chocolate Olive Oil Cake (with spelt flour)

3/4 cup (85 grams) whole spelt flour
1 1/2 cups (153 grams) white spelt flour  [if using all-purpose, 187 grams]
3/4 cup (170 grams) white sugar [or a less-refined substitute, like fine demerara]
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
3 eggs
1 cup (235 ml) olive oil [good quality, cold-pressed]
3/4 cup milk [Boyce calls for whole; I used almond]
2 Tbsp. fresh rosemary, finely chopped
5 oz. dark chocolate (70% cacao), from a thick bar chopped into 1/2" (1cm) chunks

1. Pre-heat oven to 350F / 180C / Gas 4.  Rub a 9 1/2" (23cm) removable bottom cake or tart pan with olive oil and cover bottom with a round of parchment paper.
2.  Sift the dry ingredients (the first five) into a large bowl, pouring any remaining bran into the bowl after sifting.  Set aside.
3.  In another large bowl, whisk the eggs.  Add the oilve oil, milk, and rosemary and whisk until thoroughly combined.
4.  Pour the wet mix into the dry mix and gently fold together with a spatula, until just combined.
5.  Gently fold in the chocolate.
6.  Pour batter into prepared cake/tart pan, spreading the top out evenly.
7.  Bake for 40 minutes, or until the top is golden and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

This cake is delicious warm or cooled and will keep best wrapped tightly in plastic for 2-3 days.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013


While it seems to be the modus operandi of the universe, I am continually surprised by the way one thing leads to another in life -- how seemingly unrelated or tangential passions, experiences or discoveries can actually be so intertwined.  Mindfulness (in my relationship with myself and with others) is not something I had thought much about until I began seriously dipping into the world of food.  My burgeoning passion for cooking led me to food blogs written from a holistic perspective, which impelled me to consider nutrition, the idea of mindful eating, and other manners of expressing mindfulness for the first time in my life.  While this is important in myriad situations day in and day out, there is a particular time and circumstance in which I have particularly considered what it means, looks and feels like to be mindful: the moment of waking.  The first sixty minutes of my day.  How I treat my mind and my body before I leave the comfort of my home and begin to encounter and engage with the outside world.  This consideration has led me to a number of rituals or acts (stretching, breathing, always making time for breakfast), one of which is so subtly powerful that I truly believe everyone should adopt it: drinking a mug full of warm lemon water.

The benefits of drinking a warm glass of water with the freshly squeezed juice of half a lemon first thing in the morning--before consuming anything else--were completely unknown to me a year ago.  Ever the skeptic (or maybe just someone who has been conditioned to do her research), I didn't immediately adopt this ritual after first reading about it on the incredibly inspiring My New Roots--primarily because I've always hated lemon in my water.  Yet after investigating a bit, I found that a number of health and wellness websites recommended integrating this simple but powerful act into one's life.  While I can't say I've vigilantly consumed my warm lemon water every single morning since the fateful day I first read about it, I can say with confidence that I have been converted.  I do it with regularity.  And you should too.  It will bring health and vitality to your body in a surprising number of ways.  

Drink up!  The Benefits of Warm Lemon Water (first thing in the morning)*

1.  Balances pH levels in the body.  The human body's susceptibility to disease and illness is highly contingent upon its pH level.  Standing for 'potential hydrogen', pH is measured on a scale from 0-14, where 0-6 is acidic (oxygen deprived), 7 is neutral, and 8-14 is alkaline (oxygen rich).  It is ideal for our bodies' pH level to be slightly alkaline, hovering between 7.30-7.45; cancer and other diseases and illnesses are born and thrive in an acidic state.  Every food we eat has its own impact on our pH balance, depending on the way in which it is metabolized in the body.  While lemons taste quite acidic, they are actually highly alkalizing.  Drinking warm lemon water first thing in the morning is like a daily detox, re-booting our system and supporting its alkalinity.

2.  Strengthens the immune system.  In addition to lemons' highly alkaline state supporting immunity in our bodies, they also contain high levels of vitamin C and potassium.  

3.  Kickstarts the digestive system.  The vitamins and minerals in lemons help loosen toxins in the body's digestive tract, while warm water activates the gastrointestinal tract; together, these function to keep our digestive system happy and moving at the start of the day.

4.  Helps eliminate toxins.  While lemons act to loosen toxins in our bodies, they also stimulate urination in the body.  This means that toxins are released more efficiently and readily.

5.  Supports weight regulation / loss.  Lemons are high in pectin fiber, which helps us feel full or satiated for extended periods of time and prevents spikes in blood sugar levels.  Additionally, research has shown that an alkaline diet is linked to weight loss (which makes sense, as the highly alkaline foods are primarily vegetables, fruits, and healthy fats).

6.  Promotes clear & radiant skin.  The vitamin C in lemons helps prevent blemishes and wrinkles.  Additionally, lemons' cleansing properties, releasing toxins from the blood, supports clear skin.

While I can't say that I feel the intricacies of my body being detoxified with each sip of lemon water I consume during my mindful morning ritual, I can say these two things with complete certainty: since I began drinking daily warm lemon water almost a year ago, I have not been sick a single day and my skin has been (pretty) consistently clear.  These present benefits alone--not even considering the long-term health benefits--make this practice worth it.

As spring settles upon us and we begin to be surrounded by bountiful foods, gorgeous flowers in bloom and natural renewal, we often get the itch to spring clean our lives and the spaces around us.  Let this be the beginning for you: a spring cleaning of your body.  A simple morning ritual, to start now and see through this spring and beyond.

*Information from MindBodyGreen, 'Why You Should Drink Warm Water & Lemon'; Altered States, 'Monitoring Your Body's pH Levels', and MindBodyGreen, 'How to Balance Your pH to Heal Your Body'.

Warm Water with Fresh Squeezed Lemon
Serves one

1/2 lemon
mug of water

1.  (Before consuming any other food or drink in the morning.) In a saucepan, warm water on low heat. (It is essential not to boil the water, as this will kill all the good stuff in the lemon juice.)
2.  Squeeze the juice from half a lemon into your mug.  Remove seeds.
3.  Add warm water and enjoy!
4.  Wait 15-20 minutes before consuming any other food or drink to allow the lemon's goodness to do its thing.

Saturday, 6 April 2013


I am a bit of a cafe junkie.  Is this something you can relate to?  I find myself seeking out quality cafes more than any other type of establishment.  This is largely because I prefer to read, research, write and work at cafes rather than at the library or from home.  Somewhat counter-intuitively, the ambient bustle and buzz helps me focus.  I sit, headphones cradling my ears and cappuccino by my side, at once a part of and separate from the surrounding environment.  But I am particular; there are many conditions which must be met, disparate elements that need to align in order for a cafe to repeatedly lure me back.  I am magnetically drawn to natural light, excellent coffee, comfortable seating, and a considered spatial and aesthetic design.  We artsy folk can be a bit...finicky.  We can be total suckers for aesthetics.  Or maybe that's just me.  At any rate, I love cafes and am constantly in search of new ones to fall for, to adopt, to casually and productively sit in for hours, to make my unofficial home.  

I was lucky to have found out about The Orchard less than two weeks after I first moved to London.  It's a short 10 minute walk from my house, but as it is not situated directly on the main road or within my typical walking route, it could have easily been ages before I discovered its wonders.  For me, The Orchard ticks all the boxes: unbelievable food (at relatively affordable prices), comfortable couches and tables, a simultaneously chic and cozy design (part of the space is divided by a large fish tank encased in an dark chocolate hued bookshelf, overflowing with well-aged publications ranging from works by Ralph Waldo Emerson to a 1960s edition of the Guiness Book of World Records--WHAT! Amazing), and a friendly, laid back atmosphere that is conducive to delving into work (or a divine meal or conversation with friends) for hours.  It's probably the first place in my life where I've ever truly been 'a regular'.

Casual café by day, buzzing restaurant and bar by night, The Orchard serves some of the best food I've had the pleasure of eating in London.  The simplest way to describe their cuisine is by using of some terribly vague pseudo catch-phrase, like "modern pan-continental bistro", but that's ultimately because the type of food they create is difficult to pin down--which is part of its appeal.  With a seasonally-influenced and regularly changing menu, one will find culinary influences spanning Britain, Asia and the Middle East, all with a contemporary twist.  Whether it's in the form of lightly battered and crispy calamari topped with teriyaki sauce, toasted sesame seeds and impressively thin strips of fried leeks or a saffron pudding cake laced with pureed figs and served with homemade butterscotch sauce and pistachio ice cream, the flavors are always surprising and always abound. 

One of the best dishes on offer at The Orchard in the past few months has been these incredibly aromatic and hearty chickpea cakes served with sautéed greens, homemade hummus, and a broad bean (fava beans, to us American + Canadians) and mint dressing.  The flavor of the cakes bursts with fresh herbs and Middle Eastern spices, turning the modest chickpea into an exciting feast for the taste buds, blissfully satiating.  And what's more, the dish is totally vegan! (Props to The Orchard as well for always having interesting vegetarian/vegan offerings.)  Through an incredibly fortuitous turn of events, I have gotten my foodie hands on the recipe.  Being able to recreate dishes from The Orchard at home is one of the best things to happen to me as of late.  I am so excited to now extend that gift to you!  (And a big thanks to The Orchard for letting me write about and share one of your secrets.)

Chickpea Cakes with Kale and Minted Broad (Fava) Bean Dressing
Serves 3-4


For the Chickpea Cakes
2 15oz. cans of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup (60 g homemade; 110 g dry) breadcrumbs
1 lemon, juice + zest
2 large shallots, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 1/2 Tbsp. cilantro, minced
4 Tbsp. flat leaf parsley, minced
1 1/2 Tbsp. mint, minced
1 1/3 Tbsp. dried coriander
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. turmeric
1/4 tsp. ground cardamom
1 tsp. salt

For the Kale
2 big bunches kale, leaves removed from stems
1 garlic clove, minced
knob coconut oil (or preferred cooking oil)
sea salt
squeeze of fresh lemon

For the Minted Broad (Fava) Bean Dressing

1 cup (150 g) broad beans, removed from pod (fresh or frozen is fine)
6 Tbsp. (1/4 cup + 2T) cold-pressed olive oil
3 Tbsp. mint, minced
1/2 tsp. runny honey
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 lemon, juice + zest


For the Chickpea Cakes
1. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mash together with a potato masher, a large fork, or your hands.  Alternatively, if you have a Kitchen Aid/stand mixer, use that to mix with the paddle attachment (start on a low speed to avoid flying chickpeas). The mix should ultimately stick together quite well but still have bits of whole/partial chickpeas in it.
2.  Using your hands, form mix into six patties, each about 2"/5cm wide by .4"/1cm thick.
3-A.  If you have an oven-proof skillet, Pre-heat oven to 350°F/180°C/Gas 4.  On the stove/hob, heat a thin layer of oil in skillet over medium heat.  Place as many patties as will fit in the pan and cook until their bottoms are browned, 3-4 minutes.  Flip patties and place skillet in the oven for 3-4 minutes, until the other side is browned as well.
3-B.  If you do NOT have an oven-proof skillet, On the stove/hob, heat a thin layer of oil in skillet over low heat.   Place as many patties as will fit in the pan and cook until their bottoms are browned, 5-6 minutes. Flip patties and repeat until browned and warmed throughout.

For the Kale

1.  Thoroughly rinse kale and set aside, leaving some bits of water on the leaves (this will help it cook).
2.  Heat oil in a large pan on medium-low heat. 
3.  Add garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute.
4.  Add kale to pan (it may be overflowing but will significantly cook down), sprinkle with sea salt, and carefully stir to coat leaves in the oil.
5.  Cook until the volume of the leaves has reduced by almost half and leaves are tender, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. 
6.  Once cooked, turn off heat and squeeze a bit of fresh lemon over the kale.

For the Minted Broad (Fava) Bean Dressing

1-A.  If using fresh beans, remove from pods and cook in boiling water until tender, 3-5 minutes.  Drain water and immediately transfer beans to a bowl of ice water to stop cooking.
1-B.  If using frozen pre-cooked beans, place beans in a bowl of warm water to thaw.
2.  In a medium sized bowl, thoroughly mix together olive oil, lemon juice + zest, salt, mint and honey.
3.  Working with each bean individually, remove the outer skin and then put the bean directly into the bowl with the dressing.
4.  Stir to combine.

To assemble

1.  Place kale on plates.
2.  Top with 2 chickpea patties (hot from the stove/oven!), or however many you desire.
3.  Generously spoon dressing over the cakes and kale.  

Wednesday, 27 March 2013


Have you ever had a moment when you've actually stopped to look at the precise number of emails sitting in your inbox, only to find yourself gasping at the sheer volume of it?  This happened to me the other day.  So many emails.  Just...sitting there.  Some messages held with the best intentions of eliciting a response; some kept as a reminder of where (and who) I've been in the past; some saved for their articles I intended to read or lists of bands I meant to check out.  But time passes, life happens, and they just sit, their number indefinitely increasing.  

Curious about what elements of my past were languishing in the far reaches of my inbox, I clicked through the pages, browsing through the email blasts and personal correspondence that I had collected in the past year-and-then-some.  Much to my amusement, I found an email dated 15 April 2012, bearing the subject: "Quinoa?!?!".  In it, I had written to a friend, declaring: "Tomorrow, I am going to make quinoa for the first time," and inquiring whether she thought I should cook the quinoa in vegetable stock or just plain water.  That email exchange--written with such enthusiastic naïveté--really made me laugh.  It reminded me how short of a time I've actually been cooking and how recently it was, in the grand scheme of things, that I became so passionate about food.  Making and eating quinoa is so routine to me now, but not so long ago those amazing little seeds were an entirely foreign substance to me.  Maybe you eat quinoa all the time.  Maybe you've never heard of it.  Less than one year ago, I had never eaten it in my life; now it is a serious staple of my whole-foods based diet.  I recently realized that I have yet to post a recipe featuring quinoa.  It is high time that I rectify that situation.

Grains: Whole vs. Refined
When I began to properly cook, expand my palate, and read about food and nutrition around this time last year, refined grains were among the first foods that I replaced in my diet.  While I will always eat a good chocolate chip cookie and, if no whole grain bread is available, I won't scornfully dismiss a sandwich on a freshly baked baguette, you won't find me buying or cooking with white rice or white flour if I can avoid it.  Here's why:

The whole kernel of any grain is composed of three parts: the bran (the protective outer layer); the germ (the internal embryo, which has the ability to sprout into a new plant); and the endosperm (the kernel's inner core, which contains starchy carbohydrates and supplies food for the germ).  The bran of a whole kernel is high in antioxidants, B vitamins and fiber, while the germ contains protein, minerals and essential healthy fats.  In the process of refining (which is how we get white flour, white rice, etc.), the kernel is stripped of both its bran and germ, leaving behind nothing but its endosperm; the grain thus becomes a nutritionally barren shadow of a previously rich whole food.  Once refined, grains lose about 25% of their protein and over 15 nutrients.  This includes grains' B vitamins, which are necessary for the successful breakdown of carbohydrates in the body and, consequently, proper metabolization.  Refined grains also lack the majority of the fiber that is present in their whole form.  This is a big loss for our bodies, as fiber is essential to the healthy maintenance of our digestive system, keeps us feeling satiated for longer periods of time, and helps regulate our blood sugar levels.* 

When I first learned about the immense nutritional value of whole grains compared to the nutritionally devoid composition of refined grains (even when 'enriched'), making the switch to a whole-grain diet was, for me, a no-brainer.  What has been even more exciting than knowing I'm being kind to my body (which, yes, is great) has been the world of grain varieties that I have since delved into.  Brown rice, wheat berries, spelt berries, quinoa, millet, wild rice...so many interesting grains, each with unique tastes and textures, each great for our bodies in different ways.  Really, what's not to love?

Okay, I know. I've spent ages extolling the virtues of whole grains and I'm sure at least a portion of you are sitting there thinking, 'Uh, yes, but quinoa isn't technically a grain, it's a seed'.  This is true.  However, it is essentially grain-like and very quick-cooking, much like couscous; this convenience (and its versatility--it pairs well with almost anything!) is in large part why I eat it so often.  So as to not belabor this post too much, here are the quinoa highlights:

  • While this 'superfood' has only relatively recently become integrated into Western cooking and cuisine, quinoa was one of the primary staples in the Incan diet over 5,000 years ago.
  • It is still primarily grown and distributed from the Andes region of South America.
  • While it cooks and tastes like a grain, quinoa is actually the seed of a plant that is related to beets, spinach and chard.
  • Quinoa is one of the few foods that--all on its own--contains the nine essential amino acids that make up a complete protein.
  • It is gluten-free, high in fibre and low in fat.
  • Quinoa contains significant amounts of manganese, magnesium and iron and has anti-inflammatory properties.**
And now, finally...to the food!

*Whole grain nutrition information from Alive, 'What's in a Grain Kernel?', and Whole Grains Council, 'What is a Whole Grain?'
**Quinoa information from World's Healthiest Foods and My New Roots.

Ginger Quinoa, Broccoli + Bok Choi with Miso-Tahini Dressing
Serves two


1/2 cup (110 g) quinoa (any color is great)
2 tsp. ginger root, grated
1 garlic clove, finely minced
1 spring onion, sliced on a slight diagonal
1 tsp. coconut oil (or preferred cooking oil)
8-10 stems (100 g) tenderstem broccoli
1 medium head bok choy, bottom cut off and leaves/stalks separated
sesame seeds, dry toasted (optional, for garnish)

Miso-Tahini Dressing

1/2 Tbsp. miso paste (organic, non-GMO; light or dark is fine)
1/2 tsp. tahini (preferably dark, unhulled)
1 lemon, juice + zest
1/2 tsp. honey
1/4 tsp. ginger root, grated
1 Tbsp. water


1.  Rinse quinoa well, rubbing the seeds together, and strain.  Do this a few times until the rinsing water remains clear. (Without rinsing, the quinoa will taste quite bitter.)  Set aside.
2.  In a small pot, heat oil over a low heat and sauté garlic, ginger and spring onion until fragrant, 1-2 minutes, stirring frequently so the ginger doesn't stick and burn.  Add quinoa and toast for an additional minute.
3.  Add 3/4 cup water to the pot and bring to a boil.  Once boiling, reduce to a simmer, cover, and let cook (without opening the lid) for 15 minutes.  Once 15 minutes has passed, remove from heat and let sit (lid still on!) for 10 minutes.
4.  In the meantime, line a grill tray (for UK-style grill) or baking tray (for US-style broiler, which is like a UK grill) with foil.  Spread broccoli and bok choi on tray (some overlap is fine).  Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt.
5.  Place tray under grill/broiler on medium-high heat.  Cook until beginning to brown, 10-15 minutes, tossing occasionally.  Turn down heat if your tray is quite close to the flame and the veggies are burning without cooking through.
6.  To make the dressing, combine all ingredients in a jar with a lid and shake vigorously.
7.  Once quinoa has cooked and sat for 10 minutes, remove lid and fluff.  Add salt to taste.
8.  Pile quinoa on plates, top with grilled broccoli and bok choi, and drizzle with dressing.  Garnish with toasted sesame seeds and fresh spring onion, if desired.

Thursday, 14 March 2013


I have a confession to make: I am mildly obsessed with homemade nut butter.

Of all the ways in which my palette and food choices have changed in the past year, this love affair with nut butter is among the most mind-boggling.  When my nine year-old self marched home to my parents one afternoon in the mid-1990s and defiantly declared that I was becoming a vegetarian (a decision that I had made as a fool-proof solution to being forced to eat so many of the foods I detested, like pre-packaged, thinly sliced sandwich meats and microwave-ready fish sticks), my father's response was: "That's fine, but you have to eat fish because you won't eat nuts and you need your protein."  I uncompromisingly hated nuts for most of my life; I wouldn't touch anything that they touched.  The sole exception was peanut butter (the horribly processed variety, of course); but even then, I wouldn't go near the chunky kind.  And natural peanut butter?  No way.  If it wasn't impeccably smooth and so artificially sweetened that it no longer resembled anything remotely peanut-like, I wasn't having it.  

It wasn't until I moved to the UK 18 months ago that I realized alternative, non-peanut nut butters even existed.  It wasn't until I discovered Edible Perspective's recipe for Maple Cinnamon Almond Butter Cups that I wanted to try to make it at home.  And it wasn't until I finally got a food processor that I was able to.  (Yeah, for those of you who don't have one, I'm truly sorry about that.  Mine is seriously well-loved and one of the best object-based investments I have made in a very long time.)

Nut Butter: DIY Empowerment

The first time I homemade nut butter, I was utterly transfixed by the transformation that the nuts naturally underwent, with the aid of nothing but a quickly spinning blade: from whole nut to finely-ground-powder to congealed-gloop-nut-ball to--SPLAT!--butter.  The way the nuts decompose, their natural oils releasing and completely altering their physical composition, is truly astounding.  Homemaking nut butter is so easy and so genuinely exciting.  There is something uniquely gratifying about producing a foodstuff yourself that you have only ever conceived of as coming jarred from the shelf of a market.  It is bizarrely empowering.  I cannot even tell you how accomplished I felt after that very first batch.  Not only had I made nut butter--from scratch!--but it tasted seriously unbelievable.  And now?  I'm addicted.

The amazing thing about homemaking nut butter, aside from the feeling of accomplishment and the knowledge/control of the exact quality and quantity of your ingredients, is that you can experiment with mix-ins.  I have made most of my batches following the ideas and recipes of other bloggers: Coconut Almond Butter, Chai Spice, Maple Cinnamon.  But this Rosemary-Honey Cashew Butter?  This one is all mine.  My very first nut butter recipe.  And I couldn't be more proud or more excited to share it with you.  Because, if I may gloat for just a minute, it is astonishingly delicious.

I do realize that cashews are not cheap.  They are a bit of a luxury item.  But puréed into a silky smooth spread, laced with aromatic rosemary, sweet honey and a touch of sea salt, this cashew butter is beyond luxurious.  Seriously.  When I gave a spoonful to my housemate to taste, she stared at me in silence and then told me that I 'had to' start selling it commercially.  Who knows, maybe that endeavor will happen a bit down the line.  But for now? I'm happy just to share the recipe with you.  And maybe--hopefully--you'll be inspired to make it on your own.

P.S.  It goes without saying that cashews are great for your body.  One of the lowest-fat nuts, cashews contain a significant amount of monounsaturated fats (75% of which is oleic acid, the same as in olive oil), making them an excellent supporter of cardiovascular health.  Cashews are also extremely high in copper, which helps prevent such issues as anemia and osteoporosis, and magnesium, which works alongside calcium to maintain healthy bones.*

*Information from World's Healthiest Foods.

Rosemary-Honey Cashew Butter

Makes about 3/8 cup.  If you have a 7 cup food processor or larger, I encourage you to double the recipe. 

1 cup (170 grams) raw cashews
1 tsp. dried rosemary
1 tsp. honey
1/4 tsp. good quality salt (sea salt or otherwise; I used pink Himalayan salt, which is totally amazing if you can get your hands on it)
1/2 tsp. cold-pressed neutral oil (sunflower or otherwise)


1.  Preheat oven to 300°F / 150°C / Gas 2.
2.  Spread cashews on a baking tray and roast for 15-20 minutes, until fragrant.  Stir a few times during roasting.
3.  Let cool for 5 minutes.
4.  Place cashews in food processor and blend until the nuts turn into a smooth 'butter'.  This could take anywhere from 5-15 minutes.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
5.  Add rosemary and salt and process for another minute or two.
6.  Microwave honey until it is completely liquefied--much thinner than its syrupy state.  Add to nut butter and process for another minute until fully combined.
7.  If you want your cashew butter even creamier, add the 1/2 tsp. of a neutral oil.
8.  Remove blade from food processor, transfer to a glass jar and store in the fridge.