Sunday, 29 April 2012

Whole and Ancient Grains are Trending Up!

SmartCooks here.  

Whole and ancient grains are trending up! these days among consumers.  Research is showing they are healthier than refined wheats, rate high on the nutritional scale in terms of protein values, minerals, and antioxidants etc., and add more flavour to dishes and baked goods. 

But when I walk into the local 'health food store', I end up bewildered at the many whole grain food choices sitting in rows of bags and bins.  I've really gotten into quinoa, wheat berries and buckwheat in the past year and have them planted firmly on my bucket list of 'must haves' (in addition to brown rice, pasta or corn), but there are endless other newer choices that I could try.  

So, I have questions, like....   
i)  'Whole grains' vs 'refined' grains?  
ii)  'Ancient grains'
iii) What's the healthiest 'whole grain' used with what foods?  

To help me navigate the bins, I put together a Guide (below).  Bottom line, I'm going to keep trying different whole and ancient ones in different ways and keep the variety going.... should be interesting. 

i) First, what exactly are 'whole grains'?

A bit of interesting science....  a one-paragraph definition of 'whole grains'  from the Whole Grains Council:

"The edible part of every whole grain is known as the kernel and is made up of 3 parts:  i) bran; ii) germ; and iii) endosperm.

Processed grains lack the bran and germ, which are removed during the milling process. The remaining endosperm creates the  flour’s smooth texture for longer shelf life.  But, without the bran and germ, the flour is devoid of the dietary fiber, iron, and B vitamins. 

Whole grains, on the other hand, include all 3 parts of the kernel and provide nutrients like fiber, complex carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, fatty acids and antioxidants."  

Digression about regulatory standards:  A product labelled "100% whole wheat" in Canada is not necessarily '100% whole grain', because of our complicated regulatory maze.  100% can really mean 95% of the whole grain kernel.  Go figure.  In the U.S., however, "100% Whole Wheat" means exactly 100% whole grain.  Regulatory harmonization anyone? 

ii) Ok, so 'ancient grains'?

There's no official definition of an 'ancient grain' or what I call the 'lost grains'.  ConAgra Mills makes a stab at it:  

"Modern wheat like corn and rice has gone through dramatic changes in the past 100 years.  They've been bred, refined and changed significantly by modern plant science practices. In contrast, ancient grains (e.g., amaranth, quinoa, teff) have remained largely unchanged in the thousands of years they have been in use as dietary staples of our ancestors. Because they haven't been processed or refined, most of them naturally possess higher nutritional values."  

iii) Healthiest 'whole or ancient grains' to use for what foods? 

Top 12 Plus Those About to trend UP!:  

1) Quinoa  

Red, white or black ... the 'mother of all grains' from the Incas, with a highly pedigreed nutritional score and a nutty flavour.  A cup of quinoa is packed with 8 grams of protein (similar to a cup of milk) and 5 grams of fibre, plus essential amino acids, vitamins and minerals.  Gluten-free and low glycemic (regulates blood sugar).  A powerhouse.  
Uses:   A side dish like rice, pasta or couscous or for baking.  Spice it up!   

2) Wheatberries 

Wheatberries are grains of wheat without the husk.  Since the wheat kernel is left intact, none of the nutrients are stripped away. A cup of cooked wheat berries has about 300 calories, is low in fat, and packed with fibre, 6 grams of protein, vitamins and minerals.  They, however, are not gluten free.  

Uses:  Wheatberries have a nutty, crunchy taste and are easy to use as a side dish. Zing 'em up by adding spices, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. To cook, they need to be simmered for up to an hour (if using hard wheat berries....soft wheat berries take less time.)  Cook 'em on Sundays and they keep 4-5 days in the fridge.  Bon Appetit has a recipe for Sunday Roast Beef with a Wheat Berry Salad on the side. 

3.  Farro

Farro (also known as Emmer) is the oldest and original grain domesticated by humans, dating back to the Biblical 'Garden of Eden'.  Farro became the primary grain consumed by the Roman Empire; in fact, it helped fuel the Roman legions’ march across Europe.  It fell out of favour for centuries and is now being rediscovered as a great source of vitamins, nutrients, protein, fibre and complex carbohydrates.  
Uses:  Like other whole grains, it can be cooked like rice or used in salads, soups or pilafs.  The 'Pearled' form has the hull removed, which shortens the cooking time.  Salad recipes made with farro include tomatoes, herbs, mushrooms, etc.  (Lorna Sass's book, Whole Grains, Every Day Every Way, has many good recipes). 

4.  Buckwheat 

Some research says buckwheat originated in China; others say it is native to Russia.  Nonetheless, it is not a wheat at all -- it's a herb closely related to rhubarb (therefore it's gluten free).  Buckwheat has been shown to help lower cholesterol levels and help stabilize blood glucose levels.  Buckwheat seeds can be used one of two ways:
- Ground into flour; OR   
- Crushed to make 'groats', which can then be cooked like rice. 
Uses:  Buckwheat is the main ingredient in products like soba noodles (yum!) or pancakes and waffles (which I make and freeze for breakfasts).  Roasted groats are often called 'kasha' and used in breakfast porridge.    

5.  Kamut

Kamut is actually called Khorasan wheat and originated in Egypt around 8000 BC. It was prized then, and now, for its superior nutritional values, including high levels of protein (11 grams in one cup), antioxidants and minerals. Kamut can be found in kernel form or ground into flour. It is quick and easy to prepare and has a sweet and slightly nutty taste.  It is a good alternative to wheat for people with refined wheat sensitivities to refined wheat; however, it is not gluten-free.  
Uses:  Kamut is delicious as a side dish (there is a tasty recipe for Kamut, Cranberries and Feta at Kalyn's Kitchen), or look for Kamut pasta or bread.

6.  Amaranth

Amaranth has been cultivated as a grain for more than 8,000 years and was a key part of Aztec religious ceremonies.  It was banned for a time when but continued to grow undisturbed as a 'weed', rediscovered in the 1980s and is today gaining popularity.  It is very high in fibre (21% of recommended daily value in one cup) and 9 grams of protein. Preliminary research is showing it may help lower cholesterol.  
Uses:  Amaranth can be used for its kernels or as flour.  A stir fry of amaranth with carrots, celery, mushroom and sunflower seeds is a taste sensation.  Amaranth leaves are often used in Indian cuisines such as masalas.  

7. Barley 

LIke other ancient whole grains, barley dates back to the Stone Age.  Its most popular usage is in its malted form (i.e., in beer), but it’s much more than that. Though lower in protein than quinoa, barley is still a good source of fibre (six grams per cup, cooked), and in particular cholesterol-lowering soluble fibre. Barley also causes less of a blood sugar spike than whole grain wheat.
Uses: The simplest way to add more barley to your diet is by using the pearled version in chicken soups or beef stews. Like quinoa, it simply requires boiling until soft.  

8. Bulgur

Bulgur is the key ingredient in tabbouleh, the classic Middle Eastern salad.  It comes from wheat as the result of boiling, drying and cracking wheat kernels (so it's not gluten-free).  Surprisingly, it beats out quinoa, oats, millet, buckwheat and corn for its 8 grams of fibre in a cup.  It cooks in about the same amount of time as pasta or quick cooking rice.  
Uses:  Beyond tabbouleh, it's very versatile for any number of dishes.  Cracked wheat salad, mushroom/bulgur burgers, falafels ... Canadian Living has a raft of recipes that use bulgur.
9.  Teff

In the Western world, teff is not well known but has been consumed for centuries by millions in African countries like Ethiopia and Eritrea.  It is now being sold in the West by companies such as Teff Co.  Teff is the size of a poppy seed, is gluten-free, comes in a variety of colours (white, red, dark brown), and can withstand high heat, bright light and difficult climates.  It packs a nutritional  punch -- high in calcium, vitamin C and a starch that is thought to help prevent colon cancer.
Uses:  Teff can be ground into a flour and used to make tasty breads or tortillas (pictured above).  It can also be cooked as a grain and it cooks quickly (12-20 minutes).  It is the daily food staple for many of the world's top elite African athletes.  

10.  Spelt 

Meet a close cousin of wheat known as spelt.  It's an ancient grain that has a higher protein count than today's wheat.  It also offers a broader spectrum of nutrients, like Vitamin B2, manganese and niacin, thiamin and copper.  Research is still divided on whether it can be a substitute to wheat flour so those who are gluten-sensitive tend to avoid it.  
Uses:  It can be used in grain form by soaking it overnight and then cooking it.  There's an interesting salad with cilantro, lime, and spelt berries at Healthful Pursuit.  It can also be used in place of flour.  

11. Millet

History shows that millet was consumed in China and Africa back to 8300 BC. Until recently, however, we in North American used it primarily for birdseed.  Today, it is the world's sixth most important grain with India producing the most (and using it for example to make the flat bread called 'roti').  In Taiwan, the indigenous folks there hold an annual festival to mark the millet harvest, and sing a traditional hymn.  It's posted on YouTube and is well worth watching.  I find it haunting.  

Millet is a good source of protein (6 grams a cup), and can help control blood glucose levels.  Research is being done to ascertain its role in maintaining good muscle and nerve control.  It's also gluten-free.  
Uses:  Millet has more varied uses than many whole grains i.e., flour, pearled grains and even millet flakes.  It can be used to replace flour in many forms of baking.  If avoiding potatoes, the Grain Council suggests a recipe for Millet-Cauliflower 'Mashed Potatoes'.   

12. Rye Berries 

Rye berries have recently shown up in a bin at my local health food store.  Rye bread has long been a treat but now the grain is available as well.  
Rye berries are high in vitamins and minerals and low on the gluten scale.  Their role in helping to prevent some forms of cancer is being researched.
Uses:  Cooking with rye berries can take up to an hour to be done but the result is chewy, mild and a flavour like walnuts.  Those who appreciate wild rice will like rye berries. It can be used just like rice or other pilafs. 

13.  Other Whole and Ancient Grains Trending Up Up Up!   

Freekah:  Love the name (pronounced 'freek-ah') for this New Ancient Grain.  It's early (green) harvest wheat that is toasted to give a smoky flavour and the grain rubbed off.  It looks like rice and originated in the Middle East where it has been used for 2,000 years.  Early research shows it has 4x the amount of protein as brown rice and is loaded with fibre.  Freekah and lentils pair nicely together.  Low gluten but not quite gluten free.  

Indian ricegrass:  Its gluten-free nature is increasing the popularity of this ancient grain. In the past, it was a staple food of Native Americans, especially when the maize crop failed.  Ricegrass seeds were ground into meal or flour and made into bread.  Since 2000 the rice grass has been cultivated in Montana and marketed as Montina, a gluten-free grain. This ricegrass is super rich in protein (17 grams), fibre (24 grams in just two-thirds of a cup.  It has an intense wheat-like flavour.  

Sorghum:  Its extremely high levels of anti-oxidants make sorghum one to watch as an upcoming superfood grain.  It is  gluten-free with loads of cooking versatility (baked goods, porridge, popcorn and beer!).  For centuries, it as an important staple for millions of rural folks in Asia and Africa, and renowned for its ability to grow in harsh environments.  

Triticale:  A relative newcomer (1960s) on the whole grain circuit, tritcale is what results when wheat and rye combine. Studies (including ones in Western Canada) are under way to determine its value as a food and biofuel product.  To date, it is being ground for flour and used in breakfast cereals.  

Red rice:  White, brown, wild.... now red rice?? Fun with food indeed.  Loaded with protein and anti-oxidants, this grain is under active study.  In the meantime, if you find it, try this straightforward recipe for Bhutayi cuisine red pilaf.  

Black (or forbidden) rice:  This nutty, chewy rice was once known as 'The Emperor's Rice' and prohibited to everyone except royalty.  It was believed it was superior and time (and research) have proven this to be the case  -- nourishing, high in fibre, vitamins and minerals.  Colourful plate indeed, especially if combined with kale and light green lettuce.  

Many sources were used to assemble this list, including:  Whole Grains CouncilBob's Red Mill, Shape Magazine and ConAgra Ancient Grains, among others.  Photos are from common sources or pressroom at the Whole Grains Council.  

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

UPDATED -- Quick Pickled Wild Leeks (Ramps)

April 2012 

SmartCooks here.  

From my Saturday afternoon of foraging in the woods for wild leeks, I made what I'm calling Quick Pickled Wild Leeks (Ramps).  

These jars join two other ramp concoctions in the fridge, i.e., 
i) wild leek pesto (6 small batches in the fridge and freezer!); and 
ii) green kimchi (fermenting in the fridge).

Recipes for the first two have been posted separately.  Even though the ramp bulbs are a little on the small, early side, I got two nice jars of pickles out of them. 

Substitutions for Lovage and Other Ingredients I Couldn't Find Locally 

The best recipe I found was from Hungry Tigress, who writes from her farm home in the Berkshires somewhere.  I adapted the recipe a bit because she really goes local for ingredients and I simply wouldn't easily find some of them easily.  I went with her suggestions for substitutions.

For example, she uses the herb 'lovage' (picture left) in the recipe and, well, I haven't seen it in my shopping travels locally so I substituted two ingredients found much more easily -- celery leaves and flat parsley.  

Quick research shows that lovage is a very old herb with a unique flavour of anise and celery.  It can be used as a salt substitute and is flavourful in soups, stews, anything tomato-y.  Plus, every part of the plant is edible.  However I no did find.,,,,  

The other ingredient that helps cut down on the amount of sugar is maple syrup.  The Tigress used one made by her neighbour that looks more like a light-coloured maple honey.  I'm quite happy with my Gatineau, darker coloured maple syrup so that's why jar (up top) looks darker than hers. (Picture right AND her ramps are also more mature.) 

Finally, Tigress suggests using raw sugar.  Gotta do some research on all the various types of sugar available and which one(s) to use, where and why.  The usual rule for me is to use as little as possible; beyond that, I'm lost on refined, unrefined, and all the rest of it.  There's no doubt that raw sugar is better because it is unrefined and contains more nutrients than the 'refined white death'.  Anyway, I didn't have any so substituted regular old sugar -- 1/4 cup didn't seem too excessive and it is necessary to help cure the pickles.  

These pickles are quick, easy to make and last up to 3 months in the refrigerator.  Not a hope they'll last that long.... 

UPDATED Note:  The first two batches I made were fabulous and I used a combo of celery and flat parsley.  I couldn't find raw sugar so just substituted white sugar and I found the pickles quite sweet.  Through further research, it seems raw sugar is not readily sold in Canada -- doesn't meet our healthy/hygiene guidelines.  So I substituted light brown sugar (could have been dark brown sugar) and I found the taste of the next batches much improved.  So, I've updated the recipe to reflect this.  The pickles are just yummmmm.... unlike any store-bought ones and very easy to make!!!!   

Recipe for Quick Pickled Ramps (Wild Leeks)


2 lbs ramps, greens removed (use greens for pesto or kimchi!)
3 cups white wine vinegar
2 cups water
1 T salt
1/4 cup raw sugar (ideally)*** or light or dark brown sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 & 1/2 tsp whole allspice
2 tsp white pepper
1 small bunch whole lovage leaves, about 1/4 cup, or combo of celery leaves and flat parsley
2 quart mason jars and lids

**** In researching, I discovered raw sugar is not sold here in Canada because it does not meet Canadian standards for health and hygiene.  Suggestions are to substitute light or dark brown sugar.


1. Add all ingredients except the lovage (or celery`parsley mixture) and the wild leeks (ramps) to a medium-sized sauce pan and bring to the boil.

2. Once boiling, add the clean and greened ramps, bring back to the boil and let boil for 1 minute. Take off heat and let cool.

3. Add lovage leaves (celery/parsley) evenly to the quart jars. Fill jars with cooled ramps and liquid.

4. Place in refrigerator to cure for 5 days.


Monday, 23 April 2012

Wild Leek Greens Kimchi Recipe

April 22, 2012

SmartCooks here.  

Kimchi made with the greens of the wild leeks (ramps) -- that's what hit me as I looked over my carefully dug, cut, and preserved stash of early harvest wild leeks (ramps) sitting cleaned and drying on my kitchen island.  It was clear I had an overabundance of green leaves and not as many bulbs.  Not a problem..... 

The inspiration for kimchi is from one of my favourite foodie sites -- Hungry Tigress.  The Tigress used to write two blogs -- Tigress in a Pickle and Tigress in a Jam but combined them to one mega-site.  She's primarily a Canner (not me) but I'd tried some of her other posts like pumpkin muffins. The kimchi recipe seemed very straightforward so I decided to give it a whirl and do up a few jars.  

Kimchi (or kimchee)

First, a little about Kimchi, which I tried for the first time about a year ago ... travel or eat out much? ... not. 

Kimchi is well known in Korea where it was served for centuries at almost every meal. It was especially popular as a food to eat in the cold winters because of its high content of vitamins and minerals.

It is now mainly a condiment (or banchan) for rice and noodles.  There are hundreds of recipes for kimchi that vary by region and taste.  There's are also annual Kimchi Festivals with displays of regional dishes in clay pots (pictured left from a Korean website). 

Basically, kimchi is made from fermented raw vegetables, ranging from napa cabbage, daikon radish, wild leek leaves, to eggplant, scallions, and cucumber.  The taste varies widely, from pungent (the traditional pickled napa cabbage), spicy and hot (due to the red chili peppers), sour (from the fermentation process), sweet (from the pickling) to milder.  Buddhist monks, for example, make a mild version that does not use strong flavoured condiments or vegetables, opting instead for herbs, pine nuts, wild sesame, peanuts, pumpkin etc. 

The secret to the taste comes from the softened texture of the vegetables produced by salting.  Traditional kimchi recipes include seafood and fish sauce; vegetarians leave this out.  I prefer vegetarian versions.  I also prefer recipes that are more seasonal i.e., don't need to ferment for weeks and weeks.  

Kimchi is very healthy, with some studies showing it is one of the healthiest foods in the world; one serving can give more than 50% of the daily recommended allowance of vitamin C and carotene, and is packed full of antioxidants, thought to prevent cancer and other diseases. Kimchi is low calorie and low sugar but with high amounts of fibre (Tigress shows a plate of kimchi.)  

Wild Leek Greens Kimchi Recipe 
(Hungry Tigress inspired.) 


1 bunch of wild leeks greens, cleaned, dried (enough for 1 gallon jar or 2 quart mason jars) 
1 T sea salt
1 tsp sugar
2 T aleppo pepper (or korean chile, or 1/2 cayenne & 1/2 sweet paprika)
1 T minced fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp toasted sesame oil


1. Slice the wild leek greens in 1 inch sections by stacking the leaves on top of each other. 

2. Place greens in a bowl, add all other ingredients except the soy sauce and the sesame oil.  Toss to distribute evenly.

3. Stir soy sauce and sesame oil together and then add to greens.  Stir.

4. Put into the jar(s), let sit at room temperature overnight.  Place in the fridge. Every day or two give the jar(s) a shake or mix the kimchi with a spoon.  As it goes through the fermenting process the top greens should go down to the bottom. 

5.  The kimchi will be ready in about one week when the smell becomes mouth-watering.  Wild leek kimchi will last for months in the fridge.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

SmartCooks Digs Ramps (Wild Leeks) Pesto, Lemon Zest

April 21, 2012

SmartCooks here.  

Wild leeks (ramps) are in the house and pesto is first up after an afternoon of digging and odd reconnections.  Here's the story.

Unexpected Reconnections 

In March I was surfing around websites for farms in Eastern Ontario that might have the early spring produce like wild leeks, asparagus, and morel mushrooms. I found Oasis Organics Farm and e-mailed my query.  The farm replied late this week to say the wild leeks were up.  

So today (Saturday), Husband set the GPS and off we went along the back roads of North Gower.  My first shock of the day occurred as we drove; we totally expected to drive by an ATM along the way so I could get some cash.  Wrong.  It's way more rural outside the concrete Ottawa jungle than I remember.  Instead, we had to overshoot the Farm and continue another 20 km into Smith's Falls to a CIBC machine and then backtrack.  Silly city slickers R Us.  

The second shock of the day occurred when it turned out the woman at the Farm recognized my name from working together as 'secretaries' in the Psychology Department at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, in 1977.  I was working there because I had taken a year off between my second and third years of university to recover from surgery and to make some money.  I do remember another 'secretary' doing the same thing. I left London before she did and moved back to Ottawa.  When she arrived in Ottawa, she contacted me and crashed with a roommate and I for a few days and then moved on.  I have a vague recollection of this.  

I never saw her again until, 35 years later, trekking through her 200-acre property in the rain to dig up wild leeks.  Odder yet, she works for the federal government, in communications, which is also my field, and at a Department I know well.  Ain't life a brook...

First there were wild leek patches, then islands and mini-carpets. They may be tiny in size but they have a powerful flavour -- somewhere between an onion and garlic or leek, but milder.  We picked carefully for conservation purposes.  I left soggy, satisfied and still bemused by chance encounters.  
Wild Leek Pesto 

There's are many ways to make wild leek pesto (check out Closet Cooking, My New Roots, and Food 52).  I saw recipes using raw or toasted almonds, pine nuts, walnuts or hazelnuts.  Some recipes used just the green leaves; others added root bulbs.  Still others mixed  basil with the ramp leaves. Oils used ranged from olive, canola to sunflower.  Still others recommend blanching the ramp leaves in boiling water for 30 seconds to make the leaves more bright and vibrant.  So, basically, no rules...

I chose a recipe that showcased the taste of the wild leek leaves and is super easy (below).  I then mixed the pesto with Thai rice noodles, added some sautéed vegeys (peppers, turnips, watermelon radish ...alas no fresh local asparagus yet), and topped it with a sprinkle of  freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.  I could have used quinoa or any other grain in place of the noodles of course.  

Wild Leek Pesto is completely versatile.  It can be kept in the fridge for a few weeks, frozen for a few months and used on any number of dishes, including topping for fresh pizza.  All to say, experiment and use what moves you in the moment.... 

I totally dug it... maybe because I helped dig it fresh! 

Wild Leek Pesto, with Lemon Zest
(aka The Saturday night meal to watch the Senators win AGAIN!!!!!)  


1 cup of wild leek (ramp) leaves (can throw in a few root bulbs, if desired) 
3 T olive oil (canola or safflower are options) 
1 T lemon zest 
1/4 cup raw almonds, toasted (or pine nuts, walnuts or hazelnuts) 
1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (plus some for sprinkling) 
Fresh salt and pepper 


Toast almonds, (or pine nuts, walnuts or hazelnuts) in frying pan for a couple of minutes.  Watch carefully that they brown, not burn.

Put other ingredients in a food processor and blend.  You can also add a bit of pasta water, if desired.  

Toss with hot pasta or quinoa or whatever grain you are using.  Add in anything else (e.g., vegeys) and sprinkle some Parmigiano-Reggiano on top.  


Sunday, 15 April 2012

SmartCooks Discovers Spicy Mung Beans are Hot, Hot, Hot

April 2012

SmartCooks here. 
I grew up without discovering the unique properties of a whole range of legumes.  So.... never too late....  I did my homework, sought out what I wanted, tested a few recipes, and discovered the true taste of mung beans, a staple commonly used in many cuisines in Southeast Asia and India. 

About Mung Beans 

Mung beans can be used one of three ways, at left in order:   
- either whole (green colour), the 
- common hulled or split beans (light yellow); and 
- sprouted, which are delicious in salads. 

Legumes like mung beans are an essential part of a vegetarian diet, filled with protein, vitamins and nutrients and packed with fiber.  Soaking them overnight makes them easily digestible; split beans are easiest on the digestion.  

Funny factoid.  When I googled nutritional properties of mung beans, the first article I got was a U.S. Department of Agriculture study from 1927, which concluded very succinctly:  "The indications are that the mung is a superior type of bean from a nutritional standpoint, but not adequate as a sole source of protein."  Studies to this day are consistent with that one.  So .... as part of a balanced meal plan, I'm there.

Lisa's Vegetarian Kitchen website/blog  

I found the perfect recipe for Spicy Mung Beans on a website written by a food blogger based in London, Ontario (my hometown!).  She calls herself a 'veteran vegetarian' for 22 years who cooks vegetarian dishes from her kitchen, with an emphasis on spicy Indian dishes.  I've cooked 3 or 4 of her creations now and they're all fabulous. 

Spicy Mung Beans was particularly tasty, although, warning, I used only 2 jalapeños (not 3-4 as suggested in the recipe) and found it plenty hot enough!  The other variation I made to the recipe was to use split mung beans (not whole) as they are easier to cook and digest. I found split mung beans at Loblaws! (... rant for electronic directories in supermarkets goes here... ). I used the same cooking times as she recommends and did several taste tests to ensure I wasn't overcooking the beans.  

Pre-soaking the Beans

I'm not a big fan of a lot of advance prep work for recipes, mostly because usually I get home from work and then decide what's for dinner. The later it is, the more haphazard the dinner (and bad choices result). But, given I've had more time for myself in recent months (hence, the blog), I've done more advance planning on meals.

Prep work for mung beans is essential but super easy.  Basically measure out 1 cup of beans, rinse well under cold running water for several minutes, place in a pot or bowl, cover with lots of water and soak a minimum of 6 hours or overnight until dinner the next night. That I can do. Note that the beans more than double in bulk after soaking. A cup of split beans gave me 3 meals.


The recipe calls for using a mixture of either butter and oil (easy) or ghee, also known as clarified butter, an ingredient found in many MIddle Eastern recipes.  It is easily found in Loblaws (not with the Butter of course... rant for an electronic directory yet again ... )  OR, you can make your own on a weekend as it keeps well in the fridge for 3 months or so. Cheaper... 

There are many ghee recipes but what I did was take 1 pound of unsalted butter, put in a pot, and heat it on medium on the stove.  Allow the butter to melt, stirring constantly.  The oil will separate and top will begin to froth.  Remove the froth.  Keep cooking to allow oil to become clear, then remove from heat and let it cool (about 15 minutes).  When cool, strain it through a strainer with cheesecloth or a kitchen towel right into a jar or other container.  Done.  Easy.  

Recipe for Spicy Mung Beans 

1 cup whole (or split) dry mung beans
2 tsp ghee (or a combination of butter and oil)
1 tsp cumin seeds
1-2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cayenne
1/2 T ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 medium onion, finely sliced
1-inch piece of ginger, grated or finely chopped
3-4 jalapeños green chilies, finely chopped (I only used 2 jalapeños, plenty hot enough!)
1 large tomato, diced (or little ones... your choice)
1 tsp sea salt, or to taste
Fresh ground black pepper
1/4 cup fresh parsley or cilantro, chopped (I'm a fan of both so mixed 'em up)

Rinse the split or whole mung beans under cold running water and place in a bowl. Cover with several inches of cold water and soak for 6 hours or overnight. Drain, rinse, and set aside. 

Heat the ghee or butter and oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds, and stir and fry for a minute or two. Next add the ground spices, stir for about 15 seconds, and then add the onion, ginger and green chillies to the pan. Fry until the onion wilts and begins to brown. 

Add the mung beans and and 1 1/2 cups of water to the pot.  Bring to a boil, immediately reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered until the beans are just tender, about 20-30 minutes. Add more water if necessary just to keep the beans covered. (I definitely needed to add more.) 

Now add the tomato, salt and pepper. Simmer for another 15-20 minutes or until the beans are soft and the liquid is mostly absorbed. Taste for seasoning, then stir in the parsley near the end of the cooking time. Serve hot with fresh cooked brown rice.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Herbivoracious Leek Fritters, with Asian-Style Cabbage and Greek Yogurt

April 2012

SmartCooks here.  

So, my quest for fresh, new tastes turned up a vegetarian dish called 'Kouftikes de Prasa Salad' or, basically 'Leek Fritters with Asian-style Cabbage and Greek Yogurt topping'.  

It's a signature dish from a forthcoming recipe book called Herbivoracious:  A Flavour Revolution, to be released May 8, 2012.  I cooked it this week and 'twas fabulous.  

Herbivoracious website (Cool name eh?)

Herbivoracious is my go-to fav site for inspiration for global flavour combinations.  The author -- Michael Natkin -- is a 30ies something looking guy who took up cooking at age 18 when his mother was dying from breast cancer. 

She turned to a macrobiotic diet to try and combat the cancer; Michael took up cooking for her and said he has never looked back.  He gravitated to Zen Buddhist style cuisine while working at a farm kitchen in California and then interned at various restaurants in New York and Seattle. He started the Herbivoracious blog in 2007.

Kouftikes de Prasa 

A kofta is a little meatball or patty but made vegetarian by using leeks, breadcrumbs and eggs. It is dressed up by adding a spicy cabbage, made with preserved lemons and harissa.  The recipe suggests putting it on pita bread for a sandwich.  Instead, I put it on a plate as a delightful entree.  Tofu or meat can of course be added on the side depending on your appetite.  

Preserved Lemons are first! 

This dish calls for preserved lemons, a Moroccan condiment. If you're in a hurry (and I frequently am), just use thinly sliced fresh lemons instead.  It was still great.  But on weekend time, I looked around for the best (read easiest/fastest) preserved lemon recipe and found that the traditional style of doing preserved lemons would see the lemons taking weeks to ferment properly (not for me).  So, instead, I opted for doing it this way (see below):

Recipe for Preserved Lemons 

6 thin-skinned lemons, washed, trimmed at both ends, and cut lengthwise into six chunks 
6 T coarse salt
About 1 cup fresh lemon juice

Heat oven to 200 degrees F.  In a baking dish just large enough to hold the lemons, toss lemons with coarse salt and pour enough of the lemon juice over them to just cover them.  Bake, covered, stirring occasionally, for 3 hours.  Let lemons cool and transfer them (plus juice) into a mason jar.  They keep, covered and chilled, indefinitely.

Sumac and Harissa

The recipe also calls for two ingredients I did not have -- sumac and harissa. Wonders never cease but I found both at Loblaws.  

The sumac was not with the spices of course or even near the spice aisle but somewhere between the Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine sections.  Harissa was similarly difficult to find.  

(Small rant:  Why? can't supermarkets install searchable directories for customers to find products? It can't be difficult to do.) 

Sumac has a lemony flavour so it's perfect for this and Middle Eastern and Arab cuisine, e.g., hummus, salad and kebabs.  It's found in za'atar which I've talked about before in the blog.  It would be a great spice dye for colouring Easter eggs naturally as I noticed friends do in Facebook postings.  

I bought harissa in a tube instead of a can as most recipes only call for a little bit at a time.  Harissa is strong, with chilies, garlic, cumin and caraway; substitutes include Sriracha  (rooster juice) or a Thai chili-garlic sauce.

Recipe for Kouftikes de Prasa 
Herbivoracious style
(Makes 4 servings)

Make cabbage first as refrigerating it for 2 hours helps meld flavours together (personal experience... (not the end of the world if it's not 2 hours).  When ready to cook, ensure all the ingredients are cut up and spread around you as cooking time is fast.


For the Spicy Cabbage:  
2 cups finely shredded red cabbage (in a pinch, save the shredding grief and buy a bag of already shredded green and red cabbage) 
½ teaspoon Kosher salt 
¼ cup white vinegar 
½ preserved lemon, finely chopped (or just a thin sliced lemon) 
2 teaspoons harissa or Thai-style chile sauce (such as Sriracha)

For the Leek Patties:  
2 large leeks, white and light green parts only (about 12 ounces)
2 T olive oil
3/4 tsp salt
4 large eggs, beaten
1/2 cup breadcrumbs (Make yourself (I didn't) so use Panko if you can)
½ tsp cumin powder
¼ tsp Aleppo pepper or cayenne
Pinch cinnamon
Vegetable oil for shallow cooking
Flaky sea salt

To finish: 
4 pita breads, lightly toasted or grilled (optional, can leave out if using an entree) 
20 thin half-moons of cucumber 
½ cup thick Greek yogurt 
Handful mint (or cilantro) leaves, torn 


For the spicy cabbage:  Thoroughly toss together all ingredients and refrigerate for at least two hours (the day before is fine too). Allow to return to room temperature before serving.

For the leek patties:  Cut the leeks in half lengthwise and then into ¼” half-circles. Wash thoroughly.  In a large skillet over medium high heat, heat the olive oil and saute the leeks until tender and starting to shrivel, about 5 minutes.  In a bowl, thoroughly mix the cooked leeks, salt, eggs, breadcrumbs, cumin powder, Aleppo pepper or cayenne, and cinnamon.

Put about 1/8” of vegetable oil in the skillet and set the heat to medium-high. Drop the batter in with a quarter-cup measure and use the back of the cup to smooth each patty into a circle about 4” in diameter. Make 8 patties total, which will require two batches. Cook each patty until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. Remove to paper towels and season with the flaky sea salt.

To finish:  Place two leek patties on a plate or atop a pita. Top with a handful of the spicy red cabbage, 5 cucumber slices, and 2 T of the Greek yogurt. Sprinkle a little sumac on the yogurt, and scatter a few mint leaves over the whole sandwich. Serve immediately.