ancient grains

warm summer soba salad (gf, v) + buckwheat by Annie Jefferson

The word 'soba' means both 'buckwheat' and 'noodle' in Japanese. In traditional Japanese diet, soba noodles are led only by rice as a go-to grain of choice. Buckwheat is a seed, not a grass or a grain. It got it's name in part because of how the seed was utilized - as wheat. It's history is long, with first evidence around 6000 BCE in China, and incredibly, it's the world's highest elevation crop, cultivated in the Yunnan province on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau, which - 14,800 feet in elevation - is called 'the roof of the world'.

Their ability to grow up in the sky adds to my existing sense that there's something special about buckwheat. To me, buckwheat noodles feel like the earth. Unlike regular white wheat pasta, their dark speckled grey hue is the color of something found in nature, like sand or the branch of a tree. Their flavor is nutty and earthy. Their texture firm, but yielding. I love the delicacy of their flat edges, the lightness of each noodle. They are grounding to all senses. Actual buckwheat flour has a consistency that makes me want to swim in it, and a color that I want to decorate my whole house in. The seeds are shaped like perfect little triangles and often used for porridge.

The hand production of soba noodles is a labor of patience and repetition, a lesson in mindfulness and following instincts. Masters of the trade are trained in precision and take great care to 'adjust their dough according to the humidity in the air, according to the variety of buckwheat, according to the grind of the flour.'

In "The Art of Homemade Soba Noodles" (Saveur, Francis Lam, February 2016), artisan soba maker Sonoko Sakai describes her house as a 'buckwheat monastery'. At her Los Angeles residence, Sakai 'teaches the meditation of noodle making... work(ing) in elegant, nearly ritualistic movements...and committ(ing) herself to the intimacy, the humanness, the smallness of a simple craft that you make, serve, and watch disappear over and over again.' Making soba noodles by hand involves many steps of kneading, forming, rolling, flattening, all requiring great attention to detail and extensive practice, eventually establishing a somewhat meditative state, where the mind is at rest and the body performs the ritualistic work without prompt.

'Soba saved me', Sakai says of the passion she found after leaving behind a career as a producer and buyer in the film world.

This salad is light and refreshing, a lovely choice for a summer day. The noodles are tossed in a combination of coconut oil, miso, sesame oil, maple syrup, and tamari, and then folded together with spring onions, sweet peas, arugula and fresh herbs, topped with lime juice and sesame seeds. It's easy to make and will leave you feeling fresh and maybe even zen.

A note on soba noodles:

Most soba noodles that you'll find at the supermarket are made of both wheat and buckwheat. I find my 100% buckwheat flour noodles at my local Asian grocery. Sometimes farmer's markets carry them. You can also make your own. All buckwheat noodles tend to be darker in color and stronger in flavor. Do be aware of the ingredients when you buy, especially if you're following a gluten-free diet. When you get the full buckwheat experience, you are getting loads of protein, fiber, B vitamins and minerals, such as magnesium 

INGREDIENTS
1 pack soba noodles
3 tablespoons coconut oil
1 tablespoon miso paste
1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
4 green onions, sliced
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon red chili pepper flakes
2 tablespoons tamari
1/2 cup sweet peas
1 large handful arugula
2 tablespoons fresh basil, chiffonade cut
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
juice of half a lime
optional: avocado

METHOD

Heat a large pot of water for the noodles. In the meantime, add the coconut oil to a saucepan and once hot, stir in the garlic. Cook for 1-2 minutes until softened. Whisk in the miso paste. Add the green onions and cook for another minute. Remove from the heat. Stir in the sesame oil, maple syrup, red chili pepper flakes, and tamari.

Once boiling, add the soba noodles to the water. They should only take 4 minutes to cook. With 1 minute remaining in cooking time, add your sweet peas (if frozen). Drain and rinse under cool water to prevent the noodles from sticking. Transfer the noodles and peas to the warm saucepan and toss with the miso sesame mixture. Fold in arugula, basil and cilantro. Transfer to a serving bowl and top with sesame seeds and lime juice.

Serve with sliced avocado and fresh basil leaves.

coconut 'mac-ao' ice pops + superfoods by Annie Jefferson

'Superfood' is a term used for foods that contain relatively high quantities of nutrients or minerals...to take it one step further, foods that, in theory, have health benefits with the potential to help protect from or heal disease. 

Scientifically, there's zero certainty around superfoods when it comes to their ability to visibly boost health or protect from disease. Dictionary definitions of the word include noncommittal language like 'may help' or 'considered to be'. Nutritionists and medical practitioners are wary of the word, and in the EU it's actually illegal to market products as 'superfoods' unless a scientific research-backed medical claim is provided. Blueberries, one of the original 'superfoods' - praised for its high antioxidant content - were actually disproven as such because of how the body processes the antioxidant properties, which are rendered inactive after digestion. 

None of this sounds very good, so what's the fuss about? There's inarguably a great seduction in the concept of superfoods - that there's a list out there of food items, many sourced from exotic places across the globe (where anything must be possible), and that you can buy at your local Whole Foods with the promise not only of glowing skin and increased energy, but longevity and disease prevention too. At a time when more than ever before we feel disconnected from our bodies - with the answers to our health held only by the few in white lab coats - buying into superfoods is an appealing opportunity to take control of our bodies back. Especially when the solution doesn't come in the form of a pill in a bottle, but a product straight from the earth (!).

The concept becomes less appealing when you look for the supportive evidence, and some express concern that the inclusion of 'super' encourages the over-consumption of one food, when we know that the key to health is variety and balance. For sure, classifying foods this way and then tossing the word around is, although perhaps not dangerous, certainly an example of oversimplification. 

I argue that whatever the controversy, the concept of superfoods can be helpful to us simply by urging the connection between sustenance and body, food and medicine.

To the popsicles. No they won't solve all your problems, but they're a great step toward awareness of how food can be used as medicine, and to cooling down if where you are is nearly as hot as it's been in LA!

MACA ROOT

Maca powder comes from the maca root plant. The plant originated in the Andes and has been used for centuries as a source of nutrition and enhanced fertility in humans and animals. Maca is rich in sterols, which are similar to steroids in their promotion of muscle tissue regeneration and stress alleviation, as well as adaptogens, which helps your body achieve hormonal balance. Consistent consumption of Maca therefore has the potential to manage tension and stress, support hormonal health and fertility, and encourage overall energy, vitality and positive mood. Maca has also been reported to increase libido, though supporting studies are hard to come by.

Maca's taste is malty, earthy and nutty, with hints of caramel and butterscotch. It's important to either buy Maca whole and cook it, or buy the gelatinized powder version, which has gone through a heating process that removes any anti-nutrients found in raw cruciferous vegetables. 

RAW CACAO

Cacao in its purest form is made from raw (not heated over 115 degrees) cocoa beans, which have not been processed or refined. In this natural state, cacao's nutrients are more easily absorbed by the body. Cacao is known for its high levels of antioxidants - which protect cells against disease -, theobromine - a stimulant that encourages positive mood and energy -, and as one of the highest food sources of magnesium - a mineral in which many adults are deficient, and which plays an important role in healthy sleep and overall calming of the nervous system.

Raw cacao has a bitter, chocolatey flavor, and when paired with nutty Maca, the two synergize together perfectly. In popsicle form, this essentially achieves a healthier, subtler fudgsicle. 

For variety and aesthetic factor, I added a top layer of coconut milk and chia seed. These too are lauded as one of the life-saving superfood. Aside from looking like perfect miniature beach stones, these teensy chia seeds are a big source of Omega-3, fiber, protein and antioxidants. They are a go-to for those of us looking to add protein to a plant-based diet.

In the end, these foods are absolutely super! But so are spinach and lemons and black beans and apples, and plenty of other ordinary foods that fail to make it onto top 10 lists. Leave the labels aside, but take with us the reminder to connect our foods to our bodies, and look to food as a source of medicine (and also disease). I hope at the very least you find these popsicles are a cool summer treat that makes you feel healthy and connected to your body, and of course that you all experience better energy, fertility, libido, sleep quality and cure of ailments from head to toe!

COCONUT 'MAC-AO' ICE POPS
Makes 8 popsicles

INGREDIENTS
20.4oz or 1 1/2 cans coconut milk
1 1/2 tablespoons chia seed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons raw honey
2 teaspoons raw cacao powder
1 tablespoon gelatinized maca root powder
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
dash of ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon himalayan pink sea salt, divided
2 tablespoons coconut sugar
2 medjool dates

Optional: 2 tablespoons each hemp seeds and sesame seeds, 1 tablespoon maple syrup or honey

METHOD
First make the top layer. Measure out 1/2 can or 6.8oz coconut milk. If your coconut milk has separated, you may need to warm it over low heat to help it come together. Stir in the chia seed, vanilla extract and raw honey until incorporated. Allow to sit in the refrigerator for 10 minutes to allow the chia seed to expand.

Meanwhile, make the maca and cacao layer. Warm the remaining 13.6oz/1 can of coconut milk in a saucepan over low heat. Add the maca powder, raw cacao, cinnamon, cloves, sea salt and coconut sugar. Stir until dissolved. Transfer mixture to blender and add medjool dates. Blend on high until no more date pieces remain.

Pour the chia seed coconut mixture into the bottom third of each popsicle mold. Place tray in the freezer. Wait 1 hour, or until completely hardened. Remove from freezer and pour the maca and cacao mixture into the remaining two thirds of each mold. Place popsicle sticks into each and return to freezer to harden. 

At this point, you can either let your pops continue to freeze for several hours or over night, or you can remove them from the freezer 2 hours into the hardening time and add the hemp and sesame seed mixture to the bottom of the pops (if you do this, be sure to leave half an inch or so of space at the top of each mold). Mix together hemp and sesame seeds, and maple syrup and using a small spoon, evenly place the seed mixture at the top of each mold. Press down firmly to make sure it is packed together. Return to freezer. 

*The chia seed layer adds variety and texture to the pop, but to make things even easier, if you prefer, you can always skip the chia seed layer, and go all maca and cacao! Just increase the ingredients by about one third each.

olive oil zucchini bread + ancient grains by Annie Jefferson

The notion of choice in flour as a central determinant in the flavor and texture of a dish is a relatively new one when it comes to everyday home baking. We talk often about white wheat versus all-purpose white flour, bleached versus unbleached, enriched, self-rising, sifted or not. We talk about the protein content of different types of flour - bread, pastry, cake - and how it affects the composition of a pound cake or a croissant or a country loaf. But that a particular flour has the potential to actually play the role of manipulator of flavor - such as a spice like cinnamon - and texture - like poppy seeds - isn't an idea that's played with as much outside of professional kitchens.

This week I've started working with feedfeed as the editor of their Ancient Grains feed. From the more commonly recognized barley, spelt and farro, to the lesser known Kamut, teff and sorghum, ancient grains are a grouping of grains and cereals that date back to prehistoric times and have managed to remain relatively whole and untouched by the modern food industry, especially in comparison to certain other wheat and corn varieties. Ancient grains have been making the rounds in recent years - showing up in supermarkets, recipe books and pantries - and for good reason. Not only are they less processed than their modern counterparts, they’re also naturally free of or low in gluten, which appeals to a rapidly expanding gluten-sensitive cohort. Even more enchanting are some of the stories that accompany these grains, like the idea that you can work Kamut, a grain found in King Tutankhamen’s tomb, into your next lunchtime salad.

This recipe takes advantage of the generous zucchini, which comes hot into the summer months, producing more of itself than we know what to do with. Recipes for zucchini quick breads tend to be similar - flour, sugar, egg, oil, and of course zucchini. This one uses extra-virgin olive oil in place of standard vegetable oil for its peppery fruitiness, ground ginger and nutmeg for their warm spiciness, lemon zest for brightness, walnuts for crunch, and finally einkorn and spelt flours because I promised ancient grains, and these are great and forgiving ones to start out with when it comes to baking.

While incorporating ancient grains into everyday cooking presents loads of new and exciting options for salads, soups, risottos (even popcorn!), the options multiply when you consider the possibilities of the grains in their milled state. In order to get the most out of it, flour needs to be understood in a much broader way than just one of the obligatory building blocks of baked goods or pasta or pizza. If we think of flour as its own special ingredient deserving as much thought and experimentation in a recipe as a spice, and each type of flour with its own unique and characterful personality, baking becomes much more interesting. Ancient grains have lots to offer in this department: wheat flour varieties include einkorn, Kamut, spelt and emmer. Teff, sorghum and amaranth are examples of non-wheat ancient grains - grasses or pseudocereals - which can be ground into flours and used in baking.

So far, I've discussed Einkorn here as it relates to gluten/modern flour intolerance, and I've used spelt flour in this millet and sea salt banana bread and this meyer lemon poppyseed cake. Both flours are great in place of white or wheat flour in baking - and can be substituted 1:1 in most cases - whereas other alternative flours, especially the non-wheat varieties, will require recipes specifically developed around their unique compositions. Spelt flour generally has a nutty, slightly sweet flavor and is very light and tender as opposed to regular wheat flour. If all-purpose white flour is tasteless and lacking when it comes to flavor, Einkorn instead has a unique and robust richness, as well as a light nuttiness. As a result, this zucchini bread is light, tender and moist in texture, and rich, sweet and nutty in flavor. 

I will be incorporating ancient grains more and more in the coming months, so check back and please share your own experiences baking with alternative flours below! 

OLIVE OIL ZUCCHINI BREAD
Recipe adapted from A Boat, a Whale & a Walrus: Menus and Stories

makes two 6-by-3.5-inch or one 9-by-5-inch loaf pan

note: this recipe yields a quick bread that's slightly less sweet than you may be used to; feel free to up the sugar content by 1/3-2/3 if you prefer sweeter

INGREDIENTS
3 cups grated zucchini (from 1 pound zucchini)
1 inch piece ginger, grated
1 1/3 cups natural cane sugar, divided
1 cup (about 153 grams) einkorn flour
1 cup (about 153 grams) spelt flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon finely grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3 large eggs, at room temperature
Grated zest from 2 lemons
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar

METHOD
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter and flour your pan(s).

In a mixing bowl, mix the grated zucchini with 1/3 cup of sugar. Pour the mixture into a fine-mesh strainer and place the strainer over a mixing bowl. Fill another smaller bowl halfway with water and carefully set the water bowl directly on top of the zucchini to help press the water out of the zucchini.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flours, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg. In another bowl, whisk together the remaining cup of sugar, eggs, lemon zest, grated ginger and vanilla until well blended. Slowly beat in the olive oil in three stages, whisking after each to ensure it is thoroughly combined.

Gently fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until no white clumps remain. Working in handfuls, squeeze the remaining water out of the zucchini. Add to the batter and stir gently until evenly distributed. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and sprinkle the turbinado sugar over the top of the loaves. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 40 to 45 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.

Cool the bread in the pan for about 20 minutes, then turn it out onto a cooling rack and let it cool completely.