vegan

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.

mixed berry tart with lemon coconut curd by Annie Jefferson

Spring is here and this tart wants to make sure you don’t forget it and accidentally make another apple pie. It’s bright and nutty and subtly sweet (and vegan and gluten-free) and really lovely to look at, with that particular brand of crust that’s flaked with the textures and shades of brown that you only get when you force seeds, nuts and grains to behave like flour and butter.

The shell is made of oats, flax seed and almonds, the lemon curd of coconut milk and maple syrup, the berries are berries and there are four beautiful varieties of them. They feel extra precious at the beginning of these warmer spring months.

It’s hard to ignore, however, that berries aren’t cheap. And when you’re making a tart like this, you need a lot of berries and they need to look fresh and lively (a.k.a. not frozen). Learning what’s behind a carton of berries made me much more accepting of their price tag and, along the way, much more respecting of these delicate little flavor bombs.

The life of a berry is touch and go from seed to mouth. Berries are one of the most perishable crops, largely due to their comparatively high water content (between 85% and 92%), paired with their very delicate, relatively unprotective skin. Berries, like many fruits and vegetables (for example, avocados and bananas), will continue to ripen even after harvesting through the production of a naturally formed chemical called ethylene – a ‘fruit ripening gas’ – which is responsible for them going from ripe to spoiled within hours. Ethylene is also known as the ‘aging hormone’ in plants. Produced by a plant when it is sick or injured, it’s the same chemical that causes them to die.

Let’s back up even further. What’s taken place in the life of a berry before the moment you hand over your cash at the market to bring it home where it will continue it’s ripening stroke rotting process on your kitchen counter?

Great care and attention is required in the cultivation of berries. Their growing requirements are extremely sensitive and their behavior unpredictable. Mild rain or extreme heat will destroy them, especially when ripe and even when covered by protective tents. As harvest approaches, growers will keep close watch on the weather and if skies suggest rain, they will pick the berries immediately to save the crop. Too delicate to be harvested by a machine, each berry must be picked by hand. Growers wear heavy gear in hot summer temperatures to protect themselves from stings from bees and raspberries alike.

Once picked, berries can survive for about one day at room temperature, so must be transported quickly, yet often across far distances. National Geographic followed the journey of a strawberry 3,200 miles from the west to the east coast, with fuel bills in the several thousands of dollars and truckers paid by the mile, all racing against the biological berry clock while the little guys sat carefully tucked inside the refrigerated trailer of a truck, suffocating from their own aging gas. This all brings us back to you handing over your cash where we started above

Some foods, it seems, are naturally resistant to the artificial rhythms of industrialized agriculture. Berries, brightly colored compared to the leafy background against which they grow, are meant to stand out and be visible in their natural environments – a pretty intelligent evolutionary mechanism for getting animals to eat and spread their seeds (in biological terms, this is called ‘dispersal’). Given their rapid deterioration once removed from their place of growth, it’s fair to conclude they are intended to be eaten at the source, probably somewhat immediately rather than trucked across the country.

As with everything, your local farmer’s market will have the freshest, least-traveled and least-aged berries. If you sense your berries have started to go off, the berry experts out there suggest a hot water or diluted vinegar rinse to revive them.

As much as the berries take the tart here, the crust is also a treasure for any baking repertoire that seeks healthy alternatives. The recipe is extremely versatile and lends itself to experimentation. I’ve had success with ground pecans and rice flour, also with butter in place of oil for a non-vegan crowd. It presses beautifully into whatever form and crisps up quickly in the oven.

The coconut lemon curd is also a really simple go-to. At first I was inclined to use honey for sweetness, but the maple syrup mellows out the tartness of the mixture, along with the creamy coconut milk. You can put this in/on everything: spread it onto a layer cake, bake it into a loaffry it into doughnuts, fold it into greek yogurt or just eat it on its own with some whipped cream (and berries) on top.

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TART SHELL

INGREDIENTS
1 cup raw almonds
2 1/3 cups gluten-free oat flour
2 tbsp ground flax seed
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
3 tbsp dark brown sugar
1/3 cup coconut oil, softened
3 tbsp maple syrup, plus 1 tablespoon
1-2 tbsp water, as needed
1 tablespoon almond milk (or soy)

METHOD
Preheat oven to 375° F. Oil a 10-inch tart pan with a removable base (8-inch will work fine, but you may have leftover dough from this recipe) and line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper.

Grind almonds in a food processor until crumbed into coarse, small pieces. Then add oat flour, cinnamon, flax and salt, and continue to pulse until incorporated. Add coconut oil, maple syrup and 1 tablespoon of water, and continue to pulse. You should have a crumbly mess of damp pieces of dough, which should stick together when pressed between your fingers. If it doesn’t, add 1 more tablespoon of water and continue to mix thoroughly.

Pour the dough evenly over the base of the pan and begin pressing down with your fingers from the center of the pan towards the edges and up the sides, ensuring as much as possible that you are forming an even layer of dough. With the pad of your pointer finger, lightly press the lip of the crust into each flute of the tart pan so that your dough mimics the shape of the pan. Using a fork, poke the base of the tart several times to allow air to escape during baking.

Whisk together the almond milk and remaining maple syrup in a bowl. Carefully brush the mixture over the top edges of the crust (this will help the exposed crust get golden and shiny).

Bake for 12-14 minutes until dried out and slightly darker in color. Don’t worry if it feels soft to the touch, it will continue to firm up as it cools.

COCONUT LEMON CREAM FILLING

INGREDIENTS
1 cup canned coconut milk
1/3 cup maple syrup
juice and zest of 2 lemons
1 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp vanilla extract

METHOD
Whisk coconut milk, maple syrup and lemon juice and zest in a large saucepan. Turn heat to medium-high and once warmed throughout, stir in sugar. Then add cornstarch and still constantly for 4-6 minutes while the mixture thickens. If you don’t continue to stir, you will end up with clumps of cornstarch. Once the mixture has thickened to a creamy, thick yogurt consistency, remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract.

Allow to cool for 10 minutes or so before applying to tart shell. The mixture can be made several days ahead and stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator. It will firm up once cooled, so when you’re ready to use it, let it fully come to room temperature and then whisk it until it returns to a creamy consistency.

ASSEMBLY

INGREDIENTS
4 cups fresh mixed berries, rinsed and drained (1 carton of each will do)
1 tablespoon honey
water
1 teaspoon lemon juice

METHOD
Place your tart shell on a serving platter. Spoon the lemon curd into the center and using the back of a spoon spread it out in even circles to the edge of the tart. Continue to smooth until you have a flat surface.

Arrange berries on top of the filling, either randomly as shown above or patterned. I like to fill in any blank spaces so the tart feels full to the brim with fruit.

Whisk together honey, lemon and water in a bowl. Using a pastry brush, paint the mixture onto the top of the berries, covering all surfaces until shiny.