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Mediterranean Rice Salad

June 19, 2011

In an effort to practice for my first exam at school, I made several cups of fluffy long-grain rice last week.  Jonathan and I are not avid rice eaters, but we learned to be after eating about a cup a day, four days in a row!  Practice after practice, the rice came out just right for our salads at home and then at school, the rice refused to cook.  Such is life right?

Usually I cheat and use a fancy rice cooker to do my work, but do to my exam I conquered stove-top rice.  It’s actually relatively easy.  Just remember to taste, taste, taste before letting it sit to steam!  The size of the pot and the heat will determine how slowly or quickly the rice will cook.  Be careful not to let it overcook, because the texture may become sticky.  Perfect for sushi, but fluffy rice is better for side salads.

Mediterranean Rice Salad
Serves 4-6 (Makes 4-5 cups)

2 cups water or mild, unsalted vegetable broth
1 cup long-grain brown rice
1 small bunch kale, stemmed and chopped
2 roma tomates, seeded and diced small (1/4-inch)
1/2 cup fresh corn kernels (about 1 large ear, cut)
6 large scallions, thinly sliced (I used purple scallions, featured in the photo)
1/4 pound kalamata olives, pitted and halved
juice of 1 or 2 lemon(s)
salt and pepper to taste

1: In a small saucepan, bring water or broth to a boil.
2: In a medium bowl, wash rice in cold water.  Drain and repeat until wash water is clear.
3: Meanwhile, in a another small saucepan, dry-roast the rice until dry and emits a nutty aroma.  Add 1 3/4 cups of the boiling water (or broth) to rice with salt, to taste. Cover and simmer for 30-45 minutes, until rice is cooked to a light texture.  Texture should not be crunchy or sticky. Allow 10-15 minutes for covered rice to steam. Fluff with a fork.
4: In a large bowl, toss rice, kale, tomatoes, corn, scallions, olives with the juice of 1 lemon.  Add pepper and additional salt if needed.  Drizzle additional lemon juice over the salad if desired.


Rhubarb Spritzers

June 15, 2011

The Tony Awards Ceremony took place on Sunday and what better way to celebrate an award show than with a group of friends and champagne?  Not just any champagne, but fruit-infused spritzers!  It’s what I brought to the party and I’m ready to make more for future backyard get-togethers.

This delicious recipe comes from Louisa Shafia’s Lucid Food; Cooking for an Eco-Conscious Life.  The cover of her cookbook features a gorgeous photograph of rhubarb, which caught my eye immediately.  The rouge-blushed, celery-looking vegetable that poses as a fruit, intrigues me to no end!  Every morning last week, I revisited the book for summer recipe ideas and, by almost a random act of events, I happened to meet the author at the end of the week!  Louisa is a graduate of the Natural Gourmet Institute, which I currently attend.  She was teaching an evening public class at the school on veggie burgers.  I was stoked!  Talk about good timing right?

I don’t usually publish unaltered recipes, but Louisa gave me permission.  The method is in my own words, but the recipe needed no change.  It’s simple, fruity and refreshing!  Enjoy!


Rhubarb Spritzers
Recipe from Lucid Food: Cooking for an Eco-Conscious Life, by Louisa Shafia
Makes 8 cups

10 stalks fresh rhubarb
2 cinnamon sticks
honey, to taste
champagne or seltzer water
4 strawberries, thinly sliced
1 spring mint

1: Trim off and discard leaves of rhubarb.  Cut stalks into 2-inch pieces. Place rhubarb and cinnamon sticks into a medium or large pot and fill with water, just until the fruit is covered. Cover with a lid and bring to boil, then lower heat and simmer for 3-4 minutes.
2: Pour mixture through a fine mesh strainer. Use the back of a spoon to press out all liquid from the pulp.  (Pulp may be saved for a filler in another dessert recipe or discarded.) Whisk in honey, then allow liquid to cool before serving.
3: To serve- pour mixture into glasses, then finish with champagne or seltzer water.  Garnish with a strawberry and a mint leaf.

Note: Though rhubarb is quite tart, don’t go overboard on the sweetener. Simmering the fruit with water dilutes some of the sour flavor, so it surprisingly doesn’t require much honey. 

The Raw: Creamy Pear Tart with Apricot Almond Crust

June 10, 2011

It’s entirely too hot to bake and I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m already tired of sorbet!  Not to knock it, but my favorite desserts are ones with a bit more sustenance.  Something creamy, chocolate-y or flavored with bourbon.  To tackle my sweet tooth simply, and without additional heat, I made this creamy pear tart.  It’s a no-bake dessert, using entirely raw ingredients.

The crust is created with blended almonds and apricots, flavored with lemon juice to give it a little tangy kick.  The cashew cream filling is exactly how it sounds, creamy! Yay! It’s also quite sweet with only a slight nutty flavor.  The topping is made of sliced anjou pears, because their great to eat raw and they looked just too beautiful at the market to pass.

I had never (consciously) made a completely raw tart before, but was surprised by how easy it is.  I own an upright blender, so making the cashew cream was a little tricky at first.  I initially didn’t have enough water in the mixture.  If you don’t own a vita-mix, just be patient, keep adding water little by little and blend until smooth.  If your blender does not cooperate, follow the directions below about straining the mixture before adding to the tart. This dessert is perfect when chilled right before serving.  I keep the tart in the refrigerator, but freeze each piece about five to ten minutes before serving.


Raw Creamy Pear Tart
Makes one, 9-inch pie

1 Apricot Almond Crust, recipe below
3 – 3 1/2 cups, Raw Cashew Cream, recipe below
2-3 small anjou pears, halved, seeded and sliced crosswise
1-3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1: Pour cashew cream into pie crust and smooth the top.
2: Place pear slices over the top of the tart; begin at the outside of the tart, overlap pears and work toward the middle. Sprinkle with lemon juice, then serve.  May chill before serving.

Apricot Almond Crust
Makes one, 9-inch crust

2 cups raw almonds, soaked 2 hours or overnight
1/2 cup packed dried apricots, unsulphered
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1-2 teaspoons lemon zest

1: In a food processor or standing blender, chop almonds into an almost fine texture. Add apricots and pulse until apricots are chopped and mixture sticks together.  Mix in lemon juice and zest.
2: Transfer mixture into a springform pan or pie pan. Press mixture into bottom and sides of pan. (The sides do not need to be fully covered.)

Raw Cashew Cream 
Makes about 3- 3 1/2 cups

2 cups raw cashews, soaked  2 hours or overnight
1/2 – 3/4 cup water
2 Tablespoons raw honey
2 Cups raw cashews, soaked 2 hours or overnight
1/2- 3/4 cup fresh pear or apple juice

1: In an upright blender or a vita-mix, blend all ingredients until smooth.  In the upright blender, if the cashews will not become creamy, press the mixture through a fine strainer.  Discard what doesn’t go through the strainer.)


Gluten Free: Soy Nutty Cookies

June 8, 2011

Maybe it’s not right to eat cookies for breakfast, but what can I do with a cookie reminiscent of a bowl of buttery grits? True health-lovers are welcome to make a face.  Ew, buttery grits?

That’s what I keep tasting, but guess what, there is absolutely no butter anywhere near these little treats.

So that buttery taste?  It comes from the flavor of soy beans. A couple weeks ago, we learned how to make homemade soy milk in culinary class.  It’s actually relatively simple.  We learned about the process in order to make tofu, which is also pretty easy.  The beans must be boiled with water, then blended and strained.  Basically that’s it.  Soymilk.   What’s left in the strainer are all the ground bean particles, which still contain quite a bit of flavor.  They can be wrapped and frozen or immediately made into cookies, breads, brownies, cupcakes etc.  I decided upon a simple cookie with a little raw honey and walnuts.  They are held together with an arrowroot mixture, to make them completely gluten free. The honey can easily be substituted for maple syrup to make them vegan.  Enjoy!

Okara (After Soymilk, Before Cookies)

Soy Nutty Cookies
Makes 18-20 2-inch cookies

1 1/2 cups okara
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup crushed walnuts
2 Tablespoon arrowroot, whisked with 4-6 Tablespoons warm water
3 Tablespoons raw honey or pure maple syrup

1: Preheat oven to 350°F. Prepare baking sheet with parchment paper or reusable baking pad.
2: In a large bowl, stir together okara, salt, crushed walnuts and arrowroot slurry.  Mix in honey until well blended and mixture begins to stick together.  Spoon out 1 Tablespoon.  Roll into a ball and place on baking sheet.  Flatten down to about 1/4-inch in height. Bake 20-25 minutes, until golden brown.  Cookies are a bit delicate, so cool on baking sheet before transferring to a plate  for serving or an airtight container for storage.

Shitake & Nettle Soup

June 5, 2011


Growing up on a farm in Kentucky, I found myself stuck in a patch of stinking nettles on more than one occasion. Though my neighbors taught me to forge for wild greens, we never picked nettles.  They were definitely considered nothing more than a nuisance to us, but sometimes the cows would keep them down.  Later, during a trip to Oregon, Jonathan and I met a friendly, artistic family who lived on a bus and forged for fresh foods.  We joined them on a little trip to pick wild berries and ended up with a heaping bag of stinging nettles as well.

I had no idea, until then, that nettles could be boiled to resemble cooked spinach or even eaten raw.  Rolled up lengthwise, nettles can be ingested raw without stinging your tongue.  They offer a variety of medicinal benefits, such as treating allergies and preventing ulcers and urinary tract infections. When dried it is used as a blood thinner, so may help prevent high blood pressure.  I actually take a capsule of freeze-dried nettles regularly to help with my allergies. The only note about ingesting them raw is that the nettles should be young, or not yet flowering.  Once they begin to flower, they’re really too tough and “stingy” to eat.

This soup is a great blend of the East and West.  Shitakes and nettles.   A dish that’s great anytime of the year because it’s refreshing and comforting.  While we love soups in this home, they often leave us hungry within an hour.  Not this one.  One bowl left us pleasantly full.


Shitake & Nettle Soup
Recipe altered from The Vegetarian Times
Serves 6

1/2 cup wheat berries, rinsed
2 Tablespoons olive oil
4 ounces shitake mushrooms, stemmed and thinly sliced
10 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/4 cup brown rice vinegar
4 cups shitake stock or low-sodium vegetable stock
1 cup cold water
1 bunch (10 ounces) young stinging nettles, stemmed and chopped

1:  Soak wheat berries in a bowl or jar of water in the refrigerator overnight.
2: Right before cooking, drain the wheat berries and set aside.
3: Heat oil in a 2 qt. saucepan over medium heat. Sauté mushrooms until they begin to brown.  Add garlic and continue to cook about 2 minutes. Stir in vinegar and continue cooking until the liquid is nearly evaporated.  Scrape the bottom of the pan and stir in any brown bits from the mushrooms.  Add in stock, water and drained wheat berries. Bring to a boil.  Lower heat and simmer about 20 minutes.
4: Stir in nettles and cook 10-15 minutes more.

Polenta & Bean Burgers

June 1, 2011

Someone turned up the heat in New York City!  Seriously, it seems like overnight it went from winter to summer.  Where was spring?  The monsoon month we just had, I guess.  I’m not complaining, but this may soon become a summer of raw eats for Sweet Inspire. Any excuse to keep the oven and burners off!

Before diving into the raw, I want to share this bean burger I made for my sister-in-law.  She visited a couple weekends ago and we thoroughly enjoyed her company!  She visited the city on her own for full day before meeting up with us, so by the time we all went out together, I sort of felt as though I had a tour guide, instead of being one.  We walked, gawked stumbled into Saturday flea markets, baked bread and tried to avoid rain.  I am thankful she took me to one of my new favorite shops– a store devoted to adorable new and vintage dish ware! The perfect place to update some Sweet Inspire plates!  We also had several side street adventures.  Check out some of the quirky scenes from the trip on her blog.

Oh yeah, the burgers.  These bean burgers with polenta are bursting with savory flavor and moisture. They hold they’re shape very well and are even more tasty the next day.  The beans provide protein and fiber, and the polenta adds a little crunchiness to the texture.  I listed several ways to cook these, so that you have options.  They are all delicious, but flavors will vary slightly. The photo features stove-top browning.  If you decide to pan-fry the burgers, be sure to add extra seasoning beforehand, as the process may overpower the seasoning with fry flavor.

I say, fire up the grill and enjoy!

Polenta and Bean Burgers
Makes 6 large burgers
Recipe adapted from Ultimate Vegetarian by Parragon Press

2/3 cup polenta
1/2 cup dried chickpeas/garbanzo beans, rinsed
1/2 cup dried black-eyed peas, rinsed
6 Tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, small dice
1 teaspoon paprika
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup grated carrot
1 Tablespoon nutritional yeast

1: Place polenta a small/medium bowl.  Fill with cool water about 1-inch above polenta. Set aside to soak.
2: Place beans in separate saucepans.  Cover each group of beans with cool water (a couple inches over) and add a pinch or two of salt.  Bring to a bowl, then lower temperature and simmer  until tender.  Chickpeas should take 40 minutes.  Black-eyed peas should be about 50 minutes.  Drain and rinse.
3: Place both beans in an upright blender and pulse until mashed, but texture should be coarse. Transfer to a large bowl and set aside.
4: In a large sauté pan, heat about 1 Tablespoon oil.  Sauté onion and garlic until onion is lightly browned. Add paprika and continue to heat about 1 minute.  Transfer to bowl of beans and mix well.
5: Drain polenta and stir into bean mixture.  Stir in carrot and nutritional yeast.  Form mixture into patties (about 4-5 inches).  Use wet hands to keep the mixture from sticking.
6: Brush outside of burgers with oil (unless pan-frying), then immediately grill, bake or brown over the stove. Serve warm on a whole wheat bun or croquette-style.
Here are the types of cooking methods you can use…
* Grill 3-4 minutes on each side until golden brown or preferred color.
* Bake at 400°F about 8 minutes on each side.
* Brown by heating sauté pan on medium.  Cook burgers about 6-8 minutes on each side, until golden brown. (Featured in the photos)
* To pan-fry, do not brush burgers with olive oil, but fill a frying pan about halfway or slightly more with frying oil (with a high smoke point, like coconut oil.)  Heat oil, then fry each side of the burgers about 5 minutes or until golden brown.  Place finished burgers on a plate covered in paper towels to absorb access oil. (OR if you don’t want to use paper towels, place a cooling rack over a baking pan.  Transfer finished burgers to cooking rack, so access oil can drip off.)

Whole Wheat Poptarts

May 29, 2011

Happy Memorial Weekend!  A big thank you to family, friends and men and women I don’t know who have served/ are serving our country.  To those overseas, I wish you home safe and soon.  I like to think of the AmeriCorps volunteers as well, this time of year.  The young people who get paid very little, but do so much for disaster relief efforts or educating the new generation.  Thank you all.



I made poptarts for breakfast this morning and Jonathan loved them!  He’d eaten three before I could tell him how much butter was included.  These are not your average “poster board pastries” from the box, which I admit I actually like.  The homemade version is much more flaky and delicate, owning to all the butter or coconut oil. Make one version vegan and one not.  They’re both equally decadent.  We used cherry and blueberry preserve for filling!

Unlike many home poptart-makers on the web, I did grow up with the boxed version.  I’m not likely to eat those questionable ingredients again, but this particular recipe was just a little to dessert-y first thing in the morning.  I think the recipe is great, so try them for yourself.  Just a warning, they are a little tricky to make, quite like my family’s Cream Wafer Cookies.  Made into half the size, these pocket pastries would definitely wow guests at a party! I hesitate to call them “poptarts,” but this is an adapted recipe.  I would more likely refer to them as flaky pocket pastries, because they are rich, don’t require popping from a toaster and literally melt in your mouth.

Whole Wheat Poptarts
Makes 9, 3 x 4-inch pastries
Recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour 

1 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, cut into small pieces OR 1 cup solid coconut oil, cut into small pieces
2 Tablespoons mashed banana*
1 Tablespoon maple syrup
1-2 Tablespoons almond or coconut milk
Optional: turbinado sugar, for topping

3/4- 1 cup jelly preserve of your choice
1 cup chocolate or nut spread

1: In a large bowl, sift together flours and salt.  Cut in butter (or solid coconut oil) until mixture until texture resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in banana and syrup, just until mixed. Divide dough into half.  Form each half into a ball or molded rectangle.  Refrigerate for 20-30 minutes.  (You can refrigerate overnight, but do seal in a bag or container.)
Remove one half of the dough from refrigeration and let it warm up for about 5-10 minutes.  Meanwhile, lightly oil a large baking sheet or prepare with parchment paper.
3: On a clean and floured surface, roll out dough into a 9 x 12-inch rectangle.  (Don’t fret if the rectangle is not shaping, just be sure to cut each poptart piece 3 x 4-inches.)  Use flour generously to keep dough from sticking to surface and rolling pin. Use a pastry or pizza cutter to cut rectangles 3 x 4-inches.  Place 9 rectangles on baking sheet, the place in the refrigerator.
4: Remove the second half of the dough, wait 5-10 minutes, roll out and cut.
5: Pull previously cut rectangles from fridge, then brush them with almond milk. Spread about 1 1/2- 2 Tablespoons of jelly preserve or other spread in the center of each rectangle. Sandwich with the newly cut rectangles.  Gently press together the sides to correct any uneven edges. Flute the edges with a fork to keep filling from leaking.  With a toothpick, prick three holes in the middle of each pastry.  (Optional: Brush top rectangles with almond milk and sprinkle with turbinado sugar.) Place baking sheet and poptarts in the refrigerator about 10 minutes before baking.
6: Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400°F.  Bake 16-18 minutes, until edges brown.  Place on a cooling rack for a few minutes before serving warm.

* Bananas are easiest to mash when very ripe.  If you don’t have time, peel the banana, break it up and leave it in a bowl of a few minutes before mashing.