Falling Back in Love with Whole Grains.

Kitchari

Passover has ended and now I’m liberated from eating matzoh! Welcome back whole grains, breads, legumes and flour, where have you been all my life?! It just so happens that today’s back-to-regular-diet-after-passover-day coincides with an exciting initiative launched by the Whole Grain Council, a not-for-profit consumer advocacy group that works to increase consumption of whole grains.Today, April 3rd, is whole grain sampling day!

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In honor of whole grain sampling day, I am sharing a simple traditional Indian whole grain and legume dish called kichari. Similar to jook, which I wrote about a few weeks ago, kichari is a one pot porridge traditionally featuring white rice and lentils. When I make kichari, since I’m a whole grain junkie, I substitute brown basmati rice for the white rice, and of course add tons of fun spices and flavorings. Like jook, kichari is often made without spices and in it’s bland form is used as a cleansing and nourishing food given to people recovering from illness. But in today’s version, I went super-bold with the flavors, adding mustard seed, cumin seed, coriander seed, turmeric, black cardamom, cinnamon, fresh ginger, fresh curry leaves and dried dates. Since I’ve been subsisting on drying and stagnating foods (hello, matzoh!) over the past week for passover, I added these activating spices to ramp up my digestion, and restore the my central burner to it’s happy, pre-passover state. Also, from a Chinese medicine perspective, this cold/windy/hot-cold spring weather can create a kind of stifling energy flow, which can be counteracted with these aromatic spices.

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The process to make kichari is very straight forward, it’s the epitome of a one-pot wonder. The beans and lentils are washed at least 3 times in cold running water, and then soaked for up to 30 minutes. I used 1 cup brown rice and 1/2 cup both green yellow moong dal for a colorful melange. After the beans and lentils have been soaking about 20 minutes, toast the seeds over medium/low heat in ghee (stay tuned for a ghee post tomorrow; you can also use coconut oil or extra virgin olive oil to make this vegan) until fragrant and beginning to pop, then add in the turmeric, grated ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, curry leaves and the soaked beans/lentils. The amounts of the spices can be varied according to taste – I used about one tablespoon of each. Cover with boiling water to about an inch over the contents of the pot, cover, and cook over low for 40 minutes or until everything is softened and cooked. Keep an eye on the pot, I often add more water during the cooking time, as you want to keep the grain/beans covered with water at all times. When cooked, season with sea salt and garnish with cilantro, ghee, lime pickle and/or yogurt.

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One of the great aspects of whole grains is how filling they are. This dish is packed with fiber and protein and just a small portion keeps me satiated for a few hours. I’ve seen kichari made with other whole grains, but I wanted to make this version with brown rice, as it’s the grain which corresponds to the center burner (digestion) and the changing of the seasons in Chinese medicine. People often ask me about doing juice fasts and various liquid cleanses as a way to lose weight or jumpstart a clean eating program. I much prefer a mono-diet of cooked food like kichari, jook, or plain whole grain and steamed vegetables rather than a juice fast. From a Chinese medicine perspective, eating too much cold and raw food (like juices) taxes the body and digestion, resulting in weakened digestion and energy. I find that taking anywhere from one to five days to eat simply grain, bean and vegetables, is a great way to reduce cravings for sugar, dairy and white flour. The changing of seasons is a wonderful time to embark on a few-day whole grain, legume and vegetable cleanse to support the body as the weather changes. Here are some other recipes from Sustainable Pantry which feature whole grains… We do eat a lot of them around here! What’s your favorite way to use whole grains?

Tempeh

 

 

Warm Tempeh, Farro and Roasted Carrot Salad

 

 

 

multigrain

 

 

Invest a Little Time, Make a Lot of Dough

Whole Grain Bread

 

 

power-up

 

 

Whole Grains – They’re not just for dinner!

Rye Berries For Breakfast

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pantry Staple from Scratch:

Quinoa-Stuffed Grape Leaves

Black Bean Oat Groat Burger 13

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oat Groat and Black Bean Burger

The Eggs of Affliction: Beet-Pickled Deviled Eggs

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Yesterday I made the prettiest thing I’ve ever made ever. No contest! Can you pick it out in the picture above?! Those beautiful ruby-red beet-pickled deviled eggs were the perfect addition to our pre-meal nosh. I had been meaning to make these eggs for a while, since I first came across them at brunch at Northern Spy Food Co. over a year ago. I loved the color, the concept, the pickling-ness and most of all the taste, and knew immediately I wanted to make them at some point in the near future. Well, near future it wasn’t, as I kept putting it off and off until finally I decided that time was yesterday. I used the Passover flavor profile as a jumping off point, deviling the yolks with horseradish, and voila… The eggs of affliction!

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Pickled eggs have been having quite a resurgence in general, and on the social media-picture-sharing app instagram specifically, probably because they’re THE most photogenic food item in the history of the world. Take a picture of a beet-picked egg, crop it in a square and add a hip filter, and you make high art – instantaneously! So I kept being reminded of those fuchsia pickled eggs as the 430-something people I follow would periodically post pictures of their versions, and I finally decided that our cousin and sibling passover meal Sunday night would be the perfect time to try try my hand at the pickled-egg trend. I swung by the Union Square Greenmarket on Friday to get a few dozen eggs, knowing I would need them for this dish and also the frittata I was planning on making, and set to work. It was also a bit of a kill-two-birds-with-one-stone-thing since I was already planning on pickling beets for my grandmother’s famous herring salad, something that MUST be served whenever us Meyers cousins get together.

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To pickle the eggs and beets, I boiled together a quick pickling liquid of red wine vinegar, water, salt, and sugar then poured it over a jar with sliced, peeled roasted beets and peeled hardboiled eggs. Once it cooled, I stored it in the fridge over night.

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I could hardly wait to slice them open the next day, and when I did, I was amazed to see the hot pink ombre effect on each egg. I added the yolks to the bowl of my stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachement, and mixed up greek yogurt, salt, pepper, chopped chives, lemon juice, and a hefty amount of prepared horseradish. I piped the filling back into the egg whites… err, pinks, with a large star tip. Unfortunately, the filling wasn’t as stiff as I would have liked, and it didn’t keep the piped shape, instead kinda flattening out. But it don’t worry none…They STILL looked incredible!

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Pipe, pipe, pipe!

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The eggs were served along with a beautiful pre-meal spread of mushroom-walnut spread, olives, grandma’s herring salad, warm chèvre, ikra (a carp roe spread similar to taramosalata) and skhug (a hot pepper condiment) from Carmel, our local Russian grocery store.

Herring Salad

As for the pickled beets that kept the eggs company and imparted their gorgeous hue, they were diced up and tossed with toasted walnuts, sweet gherkins, chopped apple, and drained pickled herring. My cousins and I grew up on this salad, and a family gathering wouldn’t be the same without it. Sometimes grandma would throw in a chopped egg or cooked potatoes, sometimes I throw in fresh dill, and no matter what, it’s always delicious.

Mushroom Walnut Spread

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Even more than chametz, the leavened bread and wheat products that are avoided during passover, I lament the other category of forbidden foods, kitniyot, even more. What is categorized as kitniyot varies from community to community, but generally corn, rice, lentils, dried beans and legumes are included. Avoiding kitniyot during passover is an Ashkenazic tradition dating back to a time when beans and seeds were stored in such close proximity to wheat that olden-days Rabbis added this extra precaution, banning the eating of these innocent legumes and seeds during the 8 days of passover, just in case an itty bitty morsel of forbidden chametz was somehow mixed into a bag of, say, lentils. So no hummus, no white bean spread, no peanut butter. So what does a girl do when she wants a schmear of something other than charoset on her matzoh?! Make nut spread!

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Nuts have a high good-for-you-oil composition which lends themselves well to blending up into a nice, smooth paté-like spread. Today’s version used dried mushrooms for extra earthiness, as well as thyme, garlic and lemon zest, but use whatever you have around.  One of my favorite variations is cashews, garlic and basil for a vegan take on pesto.

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The process is simple – cover the nuts (and in this case, mushrooms, garlic and lemon zest) with some boiling water and cover with a plate. Allow to sit for 10-15 minutes so the mushrooms and nuts soften, and the garlic mellows a bit. Pour some water off and reserve in a small bowl in case you need it to thin down the spread. Transfer the remaining nuts, etc into a food processor and blend. The spread will seem thin at first, but as the nuts break down, it will thicken up. Add a good pinch of salt, freshly ground pepper, thyme, and extra virgin olive oil to taste. Serve with matzoh or crudité during passover, but it’s just as good with regular bread during the other 51 weeks of the year.

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Superfruit and Superaromatic Charoset

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This article was originally posted on The Jew and the Carrot (3/21/13), the food blog associated with the Jewish Daily Forward

Let’s face it: even without the charoset, we honor mortar on Passover. The food of this holiday isn’t—how can I say this nicely?—easy on digestion. Matzoh, potatoes, eggs, various proteins, cheese, it seems that most of what we eat is pretty heavy, and we often pay the price, feeling sluggish and fatigued, especially after the Seders. Yes, we are commanded to relax and to relish in our liberation, and the food of Passover makes this quite easy. When thinking about lightening up some traditional Passover dishes to avoid this eventual fate, we don’t often think of charoset as something that can be modified, especially since it’s already so delicious. And how and why would we lighten up the food that symbolizes cement, right?! Well, by integrating a few key culinary concepts from traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), it’s easy to make charoset a bit more activating and invigorating, so it can do more for your body than just sit there in your belly, mortar-like.

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The Chinese rely on a framework that, on its most basic level, categorizes ingredients by flavors, characteristics and temperatures which reflect how the ingredients interact with the body. For example, some foods are warm and provide the body and digestion with heat, some are bitter which in TCM theory drains and dries out the body, and so on. When looking at traditional charoset recipes, especially the Ashkenazic version, most of the ingredients, like apples, wine and dates, are sweet. This is a good thing, since sweet foods, in TCM theory, are said to nourish the body. Therapeutically, sweet foods would be relied upon when one feels weak, is recuperating from an illness, or is has no appetite. However, when sweet foods are over-consumed by people who are not in need of their therapeutic effects, the abundance of sweet foods tends to overwhelm the digestion, resulting in sluggish digestion and heaviness. So, what can we do to modify the traditionally sweet charoset? For one, add spices.

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Sephardic versions of charoset tend to incorporate more spices than Ashkenasic versions, which is definitely a step in the right direction. Many spices in TCM theory are aromatic and therefore activate the digestion, which is super-helpful when eating something symbolic of concrete. Most spices are said to be warm and somewhat drying, which is helpful during large meals, as in TCM theory the body’s digestion operates optimally under warm and dry conditions. Check PLUS for spices! In this version I’ve used a healthy dose of three different spices which have been used therapeutically in Chinese medicine to stimulate digestion, dry dampness and restore movement in the center of the body. Adding an ample amount of these three activating spices helps to counteract the cloying nature of the other sweet ingredients, balancing the dish – the yin/yang of charoset indeed!

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Another way to pump up the therapeutic benefits of traditional charoset is to add the dried “superfruit”, goji berries. Goji berries have been used for thousands of years in Chinese cooking, the mild-tasting fruit being prized for its ability to nourish the most fundamental aspects of the body in addition to supporting vision and the energetic aspects of the liver and kidneys. Modern research on goji berries have demonstrated that goji contains many phytonutrients which act as antioxidants. Incorporating goji berries is a seamless addition, as charoset often uses other dried fruits like dates, figs and raisins. TCM categorized Goji berries as “sweet”, but they exhibit a unique ability to both nourish and activate, so they tend to be less harsh on digestion as other sweet fruits. In this recipe, I’ve softened the berries in dry red wine. Stewing in red wine is a classic TCM technique used to highlight the invigorating traits of certain herbs and spices; as we all know after a fun night out, wine invigorates!

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Finally, adding citrus zest is another way to liven up charoset. Citrus zest, and the zest of oranges and tangerines in particular, helps keep digestion moving, and is in traditional herbal formulas to treat bloating and abdominal distention. The peel of citrus tends to be slightly bitter, though, so adding it to the wine as it’s stewing the dates helps moderate this. When using the peel of citrus, always try to purchase organic fruit since you’ll be ingesting any chemicals sprayed on the outside of the peel.

Traditional Passover foods have been eaten around the seder table for generations and generations. Incorporating a few key ancient Chinese culinary concepts can help make charoset more than just symbolic. The nutritional content can be increased, and we can use the dish as an opportunity to balance the heaviness of the rest of the meal by activating digestion and supplementing the body. Although I’ve included a recipe below, I encourage you to explore the amounts of the spices, orange zest and goji berries and see what you like, and how you feel afterwards. The dish comes together with very little effort, so you can make a few batches, varying the spice profiles, throughout the week-long holiday. Enjoy and have a liberating holiday!

For the recipe, please visit the original post on the Jew and the Carrot HERE.  

A New Kind of Kugel

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Confession: I’m not the biggest lover of kugel. I find most kugels heavy, filling, and bland. So when I came across this inspired reinterpretation in Martha Stewart Living’s April issue that she called a “potato kugel gratin”, I knew I wanted my passover kugel to go in this novel direction. In her version, potatoes are wedged on their edge into a baking dish, topped with an egg/matzoh meal mixture and then baked to a beautiful golden brown. I basically followed her lead, but removed the chicken broth, added carrots and rutabaga with the potato (all from our last Winter CSA share a few weeks ago), used tons of fresh garlic, and since I didn’t have shallots, I used a regular onion. But before Tuesday’s version for the second night of seder, I made a test batch for a Saturday night dinner party at a friends’ house, and went more-gratin/less-kugel by using cream and grated parmigiano reggiano. It was a big hit in both incarnations, and has definitely changed my kugel tune… Two kosher-for-passover thumbs up!

Potato Kugel – On Edge!

Adapted from Martha Stewart

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  • Root vegetables – use any combination of potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, rutabaga, turnip, parsnip, all cut to the same thickness
  • Eggs
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion
  • 5-6 cloves of garlic
  • 1 lemon
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Fresh thyme
  • Chives (optional, for garlic)
  • Matzoh meal, about 1/2 cup

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Preheat oven to 350F. Mix up a good amount of olive oil with the zest and juice of a lemon, garlic, fresh thyme and salt and freshly ground pepper. I didn’t chop the thyme leaves, I just took them off the stem and added them to the marinade.

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Cut the potatoes, carrots and rutabaga into even 1/4-inch slices, and toss immediately with the marinade, taking care to break up stuck-together pieces and coat evenly with olive oil mixture.

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Place a thinly-sliced onion on the bottom of a casserole dish, and sprinkle with salt, pepper and thyme.

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This is the fun part – squeeze in the vegetable slices as tightly as you can on their edge, using the small end pieces to fill in all the gaps, until the dish is completely filled up. Whisk the eggs (I think I used 5 for this dish), mix in the matzoh meal, and pour over the vegetables, gently tapping the dish on the counter to release any air bubbles. Cover with parchment paper then foil (thank you Martha for your thoroughness!), and bake for about 40 minutes, until the egg sets. Then uncover and bake for another 15-20 minutes until golden brown. Garnish with chives.

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For the more-gratin-than-kugel version, I mixed a bit of heavy cream and grated parmigiano reggiano into the egg mixture, then topped with more freshly grated cheese when I uncovered and browned the topping. I mean… Can you ever go wrong when adding cream and parm?!