Refreshing Salad of Green Mango & Cukes

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Hi! Today’s quick post is a simple mango and cucumber salad I made at lunch. I served it alongside some puliogare (tamarind rice) and it was fast and tasty combination. I had a slightly over-ripe green (sour) mango in the fridge. I actually saw a delicious looking green mango salad on another food blog yesterday (she has lots of great mango recipes). I got the inspiration to use mango in a salad today. Normally I make pickle with the green mangos or chop them up for bhel puri. Just didn’t get around to it, but I’m happy to say here is a great alternative!

The green mangos are smaller, firmer and much more sour than the usual mangos we get in US stores. You can find them in Asian markets and Indian markets. I have even seen them in a Middle Eastern market. If you don’t have “chat masala”, you can add cumin powder and a bit extra lemon. It isn’t the same, but it will still make a nice salad.

Refreshing Salad of Green Mango & Cukes

1 green mango (sour)
2 Persian cucumbers
1/4 cup of finely chopped onion
1/2 to 1 whole green chili pepper, finely chopped
1.5 tsp chat masala (or cumin powder)
salt to taste
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/8 of cup of chopped cilantro

Cut the mango and cucumbers into bite-sized pieces and place in a bowl. Add the onions, pepper, masala and salt. Stir well. Add 1/2 of the lemon juice and stir. Taste and add more juice and salt if necessary. Sprinkle the cilantro over the top. Serve chilled.

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Mouth-watering Mushroom, Kale & Tofu Scramble & Grits

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Hello! I’m back to the Indian-inspired cooking for a bit. It’s “cold” here in S. Cali this week requiring some spicy comfort food. Yes, it’s in the high 50’s to low 60’s, but what can I say? This morning I threw together a quick tofu scramble while the grits were gurgling on the stove. I love mushrooms and when I’m feeling a bit under the weather they always seem to bring me back around. For some extra nutrients, I threw in kale and tomatoes. The tomatoes were just cooked enough to be soft but still pop a little in your mouth. Hence, the “mouth-watering” description. I ate these served over yellow corn grits with a few dashes of super-spicy Marie Sharp’s Belizean Heat. I think grits have to be eaten with a bit of hot sauce. Just goes hand-in-hand.

This is an easier recipe than my scrambled tofu with spinach since I don’t use onion and garlic. It also takes less time since you don’t have to wait on the onion to cook. The only thing you have to mess with is chopping the mushrooms (and kale if using fresh). I have a bag of organic kale in the freezer. It’s handy for quick meals where I really need some greens. The kale cooks faster than fresh since the ice crystals have broken it down a bit.

If you don’t have all of the spices, run out to the store and get them! What are you waiting for? Just kidding… you can add whatever you like – just don’t use too much of any one thing so you keep a balanced flavor. Of course, you could go the Mexican or Italian route with the spices too. Tomorrow I will use the leftovers to make tacos with corn tortillas. Just throw on some spicy salsa, fresh shredded cabbage and another nice, healthy meal is ready! Here is today’s version of the tofu scramble…

Mouth-watering Mushroom, Kale & Tofu Scramble & Grits (serves 2 – 4)

1 pkg. firm tofu (press out the water for 10 – 15 minutes)
1 lb. of portabella or other mushrooms, cleaned and chopped
1 cup of kale, frozen or washed and chopped
2+ tbsp oil
2 tsp of black salt (or to taste)
1 tsp cumin seed
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp cumin powder
2 tsp coriander
1 tsp cayenne pepper (or to taste)
2 tsp garam masala (optional)
1 cup cherry tomatoes
2 tbsp chopped cilantro
hot sauce to taste
3 cups cooked grits

Heat up your trusty cast-iron skillet (or other large skillet) to medium. When it’s really hot, add your mushrooms and let them cook for a minute or two. Stir and add a pinch of salt over them. As they start cooking down and releasing their water, you can add the oil and kale. After about two minutes, crumble the tofu with your hands into the skillet. There should be bite-sized pieces and some smaller pieces. Add a bit more oil if necessary to keep it from sticking. Stir and then add all of the spices and stir again to get the spices incorporated. Reduce the heat to low. Allow to cook, stirring only once in while so that the tofu starts to get slightly brown and crispy in spots. After approximately 5 – 8 minutes, make a little space in the middle of the pan by moving everything else to the sides. Toss the tomatoes in the center and let everything cook for about 3 minutes. Stir and turn off the heat. Keep in mind that cooking times will vary depending on the type of tofu you are using, how much water is in it, if you are using cast-iron or not… Spoon over hot grits. Serve with fresh cilantro and hot sauce.

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Wild Salad Sunday – Food Foraging in Huntington Botanical Garden

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Another post for my Salad Project! This morning I had the opportunity to attend a Food Foraging class at the Huntington Botanical Gardens. For an avid gardener like myself, this was heaven on Sunday morning! We gathered early while there was still a chill in the air. Our teacher, Nancy Klehm, greeted us and gave us an intro on foraging. I enjoyed hearing her talk about how to treat the plants that are foraged. She doesn’t just go and rip out the plants, rather she gently takes a bit and leaves the rest for others. Just as we would never stomp through the wilderness while hiking, destroying things, we don’t want to destroy the plants that are feeding us. I agree with this outlook and respect for nature and for the plants.

We got started with a tasting of a bit of tea made with foraged dandelion root and burdock root as well as a tincture made with wild burdock root. She also brought some dried wild plums that we tasted. They reminded me of hibiscus tea. We then started our foraging as Nancy showed us several “weeds” and wild foods that are edible and/or medicinal. We learned about which foods can help the liver, kidneys and blood, how to use the plants for first aid and how to choose the best-tasting parts of the plants. The most useful take-away for me is finding out that all of these so-called weeds that we have in S. California are actually edibles. And they are high in nutritive values as well! We have a bed of radishes and carrots at our school garden that is overrun with oxalis, mallow and sow thistle (sonchus) that I will now leave in peace. The “weeds” can live in harmony with the radishes and carrots (as long as it isn’t too crowded). What a great salad it will make for our students.

At the end of our class, we feasted on some wonderful things. Each student gathered some wild greens for a community salad. Nancy brought a fruity tahini-based dressing (my favorite dressing base) that she mixed with some homemade several-fruits-vinegar, garlic and some other things. She also shared some homemade crackers with lavender seeds, fresh cheese made from raw cow’s milk, and wild current preserves. To top it off, she made a frittata with foraged oyster mushrooms, wild spinach and some other foraged greens. To wash it down, we had a tea made with wild sumac that was very tangy for lack of a better description (don’t try to make this at home as there are not-so edible types of sumac!). Thanks for a great class, Nancy!

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If you are going foraging, please be mindful of not eating things from sprayed areas or polluted areas. Better yet, take a class with Nancy! Here is a link to her website. Here are photos of just a few of the plants we learned about today:

Miner’s Lettuce / Claytonia perfoliata

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Oxalis (Wood Sorrel)

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Chickweed / Stellaria media

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Mallow / Malva neglecta 

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Curly Dock / Rumex crispus

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Wild Salad with Foraged Foods

In a large bowl, place:

handful each of 3 or more of any of the following: wild spinach, oxalis, sow thistle, dandelion, clover, wild mustard, mallow, yarrow, mugwort, curly dock, chickweed, plaintain leaf
add a handful  or two of mint, lemon balm, Calendula leaves and / flowers, arugula, nasturtium leaves and/or flowers

Try to balance the bitter greens with the milder greens, the drier leaves with wetter leaves and add various flowers for texture and color. Mix and toss with dressing of your choice or the dressing below. Bitter greens are usually good with some type of fruit-flavored dressing.

Standard Tahini-Orange Dressing

1/4 cup of tahini
1/2 cup of orange juice
1/4 cup of water plus more as needed
1 – 2 cloves of garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste

Mix the tahini and orange juice, stirring and adding water until it is the consistency you like. Add the minced garlic and stir well. Add salt and pepper to taste. Allow to sit for at least 10 minutes if possible to allow the garlic to infuse the dressing.

Sid’s Everyday Pancakes – Kid in the Kitch!

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Today my son woke up early and wanted to help make the pancakes. He absolutely loves cooking and helping in the kitchen. As an eight year old, there are certain things he can’t do or that I’m nervous about him doing safely. However, he listens well, he’s calm and follows directions. That makes it easier to teach him how to cook.

We make pancakes almost everyday. But we make fast and easy pancakes. I use a mix from Trader Joe’s – it’s one of the few convenience foods that I rely on (btw, it has buttermilk in the mix so it isn’t vegan). My kids love it and I think it’s healthier than most other mixes I’ve looked at. Of course, you can make your own mix (which I aspire to, but it’s low on my list at this point)!

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Since we don’t  do eggs in our house, I use sourdough starter for leavening the pancake batter. It works great and doesn’t give much of a sour flavor when it’s used right away. If you aren’t familiar with sourdough starter and you like to bake, you should check it out! It’s awesome but kind of like having a pet. It has to be fed and nurtured. You can’t stick it in the cupboard and forget about it for a month or it will die. There are places to get the starter mix (King Arthur Flour is a great source), but I think it’s best to get it from someone you know. If you don’t have sourdough starter, you can sub a flax egg (1 tbsp ground flax seeds mixed with 3 tbsp water).

Without further delay, here’s Sid’s blog debut…

Sid’s Everyday Pancakes (makes enough pancakes for 1 or 2 kids)

2 tbsp sourdough starter or flax egg
1 cup Trader Joe’s Multigrain Baking and Pancake Mix
approx. 1/2 cup almond milk or other milk

Place the sourdough starter or flax egg in a mixing bowl. (Then feed your sourdough – here is Sid feeding it with more flour and water.)

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Add the pancake mix and stir a bit.

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Slowly add the almond milk and continue to mix and add milk until the mix is pourable but not too liquid.

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Now pour the batter by the spoonful onto a heated cast iron griddle or other skillet (action shot):

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Flip the pancakes over when they start to get bubbles on the top (great job, Sid!):

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Mushroom “Bacon” and Avocado Sandwich

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Hello! This is a super quick post for a super quick sandwich. I have been racing the clock all morning trying to get errands and chores done. My friend S and I are meeting for a lunch run and I had to eat properly before heading out. This sandwich is quick, light and satisfying. The main thing that takes a bit of time to prepare is the “bacon”. With my quick version, it takes only 10 minutes (no marinating this time). I hope you try it out!

Mushroom “Bacon” and Avocado Sandwich

1 lb. mushrooms, crimini or button or portabella
a few pinches salt
1 tbsp oil (grape seed, olive, etc.)
1 tbsp tamari or soy sauce
dash or two of garlic powder
dash or two smoked seasoning or liquid smoke
1 tbsp maple syrup
2 slices bread
1 tbsp vegenaise or mayo or your choice
2 lettuce leaves, washed and dried
1/4 avocado, sliced
1 tomato, sliced
salt and pepper to taste

Clean and slice the mushrooms. Place the 1 tbsp oil and half the mushrooms in a heated cast iron skillet in a single layer, sprinkling with a pinch of salt:

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Let the mushrooms cook until lightly browned on the first side. Scoop them to the side and repeat with the other half of the mushrooms. When these are brown on the bottom, stir together and sauté for a minute or two until they are cooked and a bit dry. Sprinkle over the mushrooms: tamari, garlic powder, smoke ingredient and maple syrup. Stir and turn off heat.

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Toast the bread, if you like. Slather some mayo of your choice on one slice and top with the tomato. On the other slice layer the avocado. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Top with lettuce and “bacon”. Press slices together and eat. Enjoy!

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Salad of Muscat Orange Champagne Vinaigrette and Falafel Croquettes

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Hello! Another salad day…I started out making one kind of salad but ended up in a different direction. I thought it turned out great, though I wasted time by not thinking things through. You should always have a plan (but not be too rigid where you can’t make improvements!). I don’t think my pictures do this salad justice as they are a bit busy looking. There is actually gorgeous fresh spinach at the bottom of the bowl. The spinach was great as the canvas for the orange flavor, the parsley, tahini and falafel. Spinach salad is classically paired with red onion and orange. There is a reason for this – it’s darn good!!!

I purchased some Muscat Orange Champagne Vinegar at Trader Joe’s a few weeks back in anticipation of making a salad dressing. When I finally opened the bottle of vinegar it wasn’t quite what I pictured. It was a bit musky and not too orange-y. While making my dressing, I thankfully had saved the innards of the orange I segmented and added the lovely squeezed juice. If you don’t have the fancy Muscat Vinegar, just use what you have on hand and add orange juice. I have done this many times before and will do it many more times. I also used the TJ frozen falafel. I keep them in the freezer along with some pita bread  or lavash for last-minute meals. I hope you are inspired to try this dressing!

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Salad of Muscat Orange Champagne Vinaigrette and Falafel Croquettes (Serves 2 – 4)

For the dressing:

4 tbsp Muscat Orange Champagne Vinegar or other vinegar (see notes above)
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 or 2 oranges or up to 4 tbsp orange juice
2 tsp tahini
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients together, adding more orange juice as needed for flavor. Set aside.

1 bunch of fresh spinach leaves, washed thoroughly and spun dry
1/2 cup parsley, chopped
1 cup of grape tomatoes or other small tomatoes
1 large juicing orange
1 small red onion
2 small Persian cucumbers or 1 hothouse duke
Salt & pepper to taste
6 frozen or pre-made falafel
4 tbsp tahini
1 small lemon

Cook the falafel as directed on the package. In the meantime, roughly chop the spinach and place in a bowl. Toss in the parsley and tomatoes and set aside (I cut my in half to make it easier to chew – do as you please). Segment the orange and cut the segments into bite-sized pieces, then add to the salad. Here is a tutorial on how to segment citrus. It’s really easy to do and it’s a useful skill! Slice 1/2 of the red onion finely and toss in the bowl. Chop up the cucumbers into bite-sized pieces and add to the party. Sprinkle a bit of salt and pepper to taste over the salad and toss gently. Divide the salad into portions. Dress each salad with the vinaigrette to taste.

Top each salad with 2 to 4 falafel croquettes. I cut them in half since they were pretty big. Now mix the tahini and the juice of the lemon or 2 tbsp lemon juice until it’s a thick sauce. Add water as necessary if it’s too thick. Top each falafel with a few spoons of tahini sauce. Enjoy!

Anya’s Famous Fruit Salad – My 6 year old Guest Blogger

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Our guest blogger for this post is my 6 year-old daughter. She loves to make fruit salads and has become quite good at it! She says her salad is “Famous, but it’s not really famous”. My son worked as the photographer and did a wonderful job. Thanks to both of them for helping out!

Salads are a great way to get the kids in the kitchen and involved with cooking. They can learn to prep veggies and fruits (great for you later when they can serve as sous chef!), how to use a knife safely, wash foods properly and learn math (fractions, multiplication and division). My daughter is very artistic and enjoys making food look pretty by arranging things just so on the perfect dish. Both of my kids love to help out with any cooking. They like to try the foods that they are working with which broadens their food choices. While making this salad, we taste-tested pomegranate seeds, pomegranate vinegar and pomegranate molasses while I was teaching them how to open up a pomegranate. Of course, you can sub whatever fruits you like in this dish. But try to take advantage of the opportunity to introduce or reintroduce foods that your kids say they don’t like… you never know if they will change their minds! The more variety we eat, the more nutrients we get. But don’t tell them that, just say it tastes good!

Anya’s Famous Fruit Salad 

3 clementine or mandarin oranges
1 banana
1 apple
1/4 cup of pomegranate seeds
1 tbsp liquid sweetener of choice (agave, maple, optional)

Peel the oranges and divide the segments. Add to a plate or bowl.

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Cut the apple and banana into bite size pieces. Add to the plate or bowl.

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Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds and sweetener (agave or maple syrup, etc.). Eat.

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