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An Ancient Bread to Celebrate an Ancient Holiday

October 30, 2014

Dana Zia:

Here is an oldie but goldie on an ancient bread that has been baked to celebrate Halloween for centuries. Enjoy and happy halloween!

Originally posted on The Go Lightly Gourmet:

“The spirits of dead friends sought the warmth of the
Samhain fire and communion with their living kin.”
Janet Farrar

Barmbrack, ancient All Hallows eve bread

Halloween is one of the oldest holidays on our calendar. It dates all the way back to the ancient Celts, some 2000+ years ago, who called it Samhain, (pronounced, sow-in.) Samhain means summer’s end and it was a time to harvest crops and animals and get ready to hunker down for the long winter months. Samhain was their New Year’s Eve and was a time of merry making and feasting.

These folks believed that on Samhain, the veil between the worlds grew very thin and ghosts would walk the land to visit the living and perhaps do a tad of mischief. This is true, in a way, because this holiday is on the exact day that night and day are the same length. It is a plunge into the darkness…

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The monsters in the cupboard

October 30, 2014
Hi, I'm a GMOed pumpkin. I'm your freind......

Hi, I’m a GMOed pumpkin. I’m your freind……

For Halloween I’m going to tell you a very spooky story. Once upon a time there was a green green valley filled with happy farmers and lots of happy clean animals and produce. Everything was very healthy and thriving, even the bugs and weeds.

One very bright farmer, that was kinda lazy, had an interesting idea one day, “What if I can find a way to kill those weeds and bugs that eat my crops without breaking my back all day?” So he got busy and invented pesticides and herbicides. It was all innocent enough, really it was, he was just trying to get more time in the hammock with his ice tea.

The pesticides and herbicides worked great! (Except it killed lots of good bugs and plants too) Some of the other farmers were pretty excited about this new development, especially when they got more time to play video games and eat cookies. But there was a wise ole woman, with one eye that wandered off and bees in her hair that lived in the greenest part of the valley, that wasn’t having it. No sir, her wandering eye could see into the future and she saw nothing but bad things coming from this.

She stomped her feet and told the future, but no one was listening except some of the younger farmers who had a feeling this was bad too. The farmer that invented the killer sprays, being smart and stupid at the same time, came up with another idea. What if he dissected the DNA of the produce, animals and the killer sprays and mixed them together so that the sprays wouldn’t destroy the plants that you wanted to grow, only the weeds and bugs?

GMO

Oh this new invention made the ole woman’s eye spin round in her head like a top and the bees droned angrily! She ranted and raved and told the future again about how these plants were really disguised monsters that would bring ruin to green valley. They would bring birth defects, cancer, autism, organ failure, inflammation, digestive and skin issues, food allergies, immune disorders and many more diseases to humans and the flora and fauna that she could not see but knew. But they weren’t listening, they were busy spraying these crazy new plants and marveling over how they didn’t die.

There was a young farmer that was listening however. He was very smart too, and he started doing testing on the effects of these “frankenfoods” as they were called in green valley. He found out that the ole woman was right! This farmer went to the green valley government FDA to tell them, but he was shocked to find that it was now run by the same farmer that invented all this.

He decided to try to tell everyone he could about the monsters that were disguised as real foods; some folks listened and joined him in raising produce and animals without the modifications and poisonous sprays. The others scoffed at them and told him they just didn’t understand, without these great new plants and sprays, they were all going to be out of jobs and starve…….at least that is what the government told them.

This went on for a while till something bad begin to happen, all the bees started to die. Between all the sprays and the toxic genes that were spliced into the plants that came out in the pollen, the bees just couldn’t live. The flowers weren’t being pollenated and the crops stopped producing. People started dying of malnutrition and strange diseases and everyone wondered why. And if that wasn’t enough, the children were being born with green skin and too many eyes.

The ole woman, her bees and the band of thoughtful farmers, told them why, and yelled, shouted and shook signs that the frankenfoods were monsters and needed to be labeled so. But the rest of the now dying green valley was perplexed, they couldn’t think straight anymore since the monsters were taking over their bodies and turning them into zombies. They hazily thought, “There was no reason to label the frankenfoods at the store, because 80% are already frankenfoods and why do we need to know anyway? They are good for us…right? (rib-bit)”

And so our scary story comes to a fork in the road and only you can determine which way it is going to end. Are the frankenfood monsters going to turn everyone into zombies? Or are the thoughtful farmers and consumers going to stand up against the monsters and demand that they get exiled from the green valley? (or at least have them labeled)

To the exile these monsters vote yes on labeling these frankenfoods but the most important thing is to vote with your dollar and only buy organic when every possible. If a product has GMOs in it, they cannot label it organic because most GMOs have a pesticide or herbicide spliced into their genes. (A little interesting tid-bit that most people don’t know)

It only takes 5% of the consumer’s dollars to tip the scale towards more corporations labeling GMOs on their own. They are ruled by the dollar no matter what their scruples are. So, the future is in your hands. Remember, food is medicine or poison, just depending on what you choose to put in your mouth.

Don't let the beasts eat you, Vote yes to label GMOs

Don’t let the beasts eat you, Vote yes to label GMOs

Succotash, and ancient dish made new again

September 22, 2014
Chef Pascal Chureau’s succotash

Chef Pascal Chureau’s succotash

I experienced the most wonderful birthday present this summer; one of our daughters bought us a dinner at a winery in Forest Grove that was served outside under the sparkling sunlight with sweeping views of wine country. The food was fantastic, the wine pairings perfect and the evening luscious. The whole experience evoked a deep gratitude for our land, Oregon, that we call home.

It was an event dreamed up by a French chef gone Oregonian, Pascal Chureau of Field and Vine Events and Allium Bistro. He had the idea of promoting the Oregon Farm Loop, which is located in Molalla County, with dinners catered with local produce and meat and wine or beer pairings from the winery or brewery that the event takes place on. A portion of the profits are donated to promoting the farm loop. It is a brilliant idea that he pulls off elegantly.

The meal was a 7 course affair that was cooked right on the spot and served family style at long communal tables. It was quite fun to chat with our neighbors, who all turned out to be foodies, (no surprise) and take in the scenery and delightful offerings. My favorite dish, which was really hard to choose since they were all delish, was the succotash. Succotash?? Who would of thunk it?

Field and vine event overlooking the lovely Willamette valley

Field and vine event overlooking the lovely Willamette valley

Succotash is an ancient dish that usually contains corn and shelled beans or peas of some sort and is served in a creamy sauce. The creamy sauce can be made with cream or just be plain ole butter, and lots of it. (No wonder I loved it) It can easily be made with whatever you have one hand that’s over abundant. That’s how it became wildly popular in the great depression and how it became wildly unpopular in the 70s where it was served up overcooked and shriveled. But let me tell you, it is a revelation if made right!

The dish originally came from the NE Native American tribes where they would make it with corn, meat and squash and somehow it got to the South, where it is still a popular dish today. The word succotash comes from the word “msickquatash” used by the Narragansett Indians on Rhode Island and means “broken bits”. It just means lots of veggies in butter for me. How can you go wrong?

There is a great trick to cutting corn off the cob; you use a small sharp knife and a bundt cake pan. Balance the corn, fat end down, in the middle of the bundt pan and then cut the corn kernels off by slicing down and all those fat kernels fall right into the bundt pan and don’t go bouncing all over the kitchen. It is magic.

I have taken liberties with Chef Pascal’s succotash recipe that he graciously shared with me by the addition of our local veggies and the subtraction of one stick of butter. If you would like more butter, by all means, don’t let me stop you. Enjoy the rest of our luscious late summer, swimming in veggies and succotash. (Oh and butter)

Chef Pascal Chureau’s succotash is going blow your mind!

Chef Pascal Chureau’s succotash is going blow your mind!

Chef Pascal Chureau’s succotash
This dish easily serves 6 as a side and 4 as a main dish. You can sub out sweet paprika for the smoked but the smoked is SO much better! Smoked paprika available at Mother Natures. You can also use green beans instead of the shelled beans.

3 TBLS of coconut or avocado oil or other high heat oil
8 ounces of andouille or some sort of sausage, sliced (optional)
1 medium sweet onion, diced
2 cups of fresh cut sweet corn
3 to 4 cloves of minced garlic
3 medium sized over ripe tomatoes
1 cup of fresh peas or shelled beans of some sort
1 medium zucchini diced medium
1 red bell pepper, diced small
1-2 TBLS of minced fresh basil
1 stick of unsalted butter cubed
2 tsps of smoked paprika
Salt and pepper to taste

Prep all your lovely farm fresh veggies, sausage and herbs. Puree the tomatoes and garlic in a blender and set aside. Take out a big skillet that is deep and large in diameter. Heat up the oil and sauté the sausage over medium heat till lightly brown and then add the onions. Sauté for a few more minutes till the onions become fragrant and then add the pureed tomatoes and sweet corn. (If you are using green beans, add them here) Bring this delicious mix to a simmer, lower the heat to medium and keep simmering until the corn is cooked through, about 10 minutes. Add the peas or beans, zucchini, bell pepper and the basil and simmer for about 5 more minutes then add the smoked paprika, salt and pepper to taste and turn off heat. Now for the indulgent part, stir in your butter till it is melted and starts to create a creamy consistency. Taste, lucky you, and add more seasonings to your liking. Eat with relish and grunts of delight.

A gazpacho summer

September 4, 2014

gazpacho at your  service

gazpacho at your
service

De gazpacho no hay empacho-You can never get too much of a good thing or too much Gazpacho” Old Spanish saying

Most people judge their summers in fun, travel, and the success of their gardens, I judge them in food. I officially declared this a gazpacho summer. I’ve always wanted a gazpacho summer! Warm and perfect with sparkling days that produce ample tomatoes for making this cold Spanish soup. I remember one cool summer, a few year ago, when I stomped over to my mother’s and boldly declared that I was moving somewhere, anywhere there were real summers that I could eat gazpacho.

Gazpacho is a cold vegetable soup that is cooling and smooth. It is chocked full of uncooked luscious summer vegetables and herbs that only come at the height of summer like tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, cilantro and basil. It has ancient roots that originate in Northern Africa and was brought over by the Moors to settle happily in Southern Spain, in the Andalusia region.

Americans have mostly tasted the tomato based gazpacho called “red”, but there is also “white” and “green” gazpacho. The white is dairy or almond based and the green is packed full of fresh herbs and greens for its color. There are many modern renditions that have morphed from the parent gazpacho to include melons, yogurt, tequila, strawberries and cauliflower but the common denominator of them all is lots of fresh produce, pureed and served cold.

20140803-IMG_5588Gazpacho is a simple peasant’s meal, made from the produce warm with the sun’s light that has been picked that day, stale bread and very good olive oil. It is intended to not only nourish but also quench the thirst so it is pureed. It is salad in a blender and summer in a bowl. In Spain, gazpacho is often served as a main course with garnishes that make it stick to the ribs. Cubed ham, avocados, hard boiled eggs and almonds are a few of the yummy toppings it is served with.

Before the invention of those mechanical wonders; blenders and food processors, the women would gather together in a group with all the produce and pound it to smithereens in a large wooden vat made just for the occasion. Single families would puree it with a mortar and pestle and all left overs were served with pasta or whatever at the next meal. As romantic as this sounds, I am quite content to whirl mine up in a blender.

20120903-IMG_2514Purists in the gazpacho world believe that this summer dish should be served at room temperature because chilling dampens down the sweetness and the fragrance of the fresh tomatoes. Its ok to chill is a bit in the fridge but don’t get it ice cold. However, any left overs should be stored in the fridge. Using a very nice extra virgin olive oil to the recipe is important to make the flavors pop.

The recipe I am sharing with you today is a combination of many that I have experimented with. This version does not have any bread in it but is based wholly on getting as ripe as tomatoes as possible for the true summer flavor to shine. If your tomatoes aren’t ripe enough, in fact almost over ripe, put them in a paper bag with an apple for a day or two till they are there. Here’s to our gazpacho summer! Hooray!

Summer NW Gazpacho
Serves 4. If you want to make this a real meal deal add to the garnishes some grilled cubed chicken breasts or some boiled chopped eggs.
The soup
2.5 pounds of ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped
2 pounds of cucumbers, coarsely chopped
1-2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 red onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, seeded, deveined and chopped
3 TBLS each of chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup of a good extra virgin olive oil
2 TBLS of fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste

The garnishes
6 ounces of chevre or soft goat cheese
3 TBLS each of chopped fresh basil, divided
12 sugar snap peas, chopped into quarters
12 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 avocado, diced
1 TBLS of lemon juice

Get out two nice big bowls and the blender. (If you have an immersion blender, you are in luck! Use it instead of all the bowls and blender.) In one of the large bowls, toss all the ingredients to the soup in there are mix till all is well married. In batches, put a few cups of the veggies in the blender and blend till smooth, pour into the other bowl. Press the pureed soup through a sieve or food mill to remove all the seeds and tomato skins. (You can skip this step if you want to de-seed and skin the veggies first but it seems easier this way for me.) Taste, flavor with salt and pepper and and refrigerate till you have your garnishes done.

Mix the goat cheese with 2 TBLS of the basil and cilantro till well blended, and roll into four balls. Gently toss the diced avo with the lemon juice in a small bowl. Serve up the gazpacho into summery bowls and add one goat cheese ball to each bowl and sprinkle with the garnishes and left over herbs. You can also serve in shot glasses for an easy starter. Serve with a sunny smile!

Take a walk on the wild side with Fermenting your own sauerkraut

August 9, 2014
Homemade, honest to goodness, sauerkraut

Homemade, honest to goodness, sauerkraut

I’ve been receiving these jolly green giant cabbages in my CSA boxes lately. (CSA stands for “community supported agriculture” which is a subscription service to receive a glorious box of organic veggies weekly) These cabbages are awe inspiring and a bit daunting on what to do with them, but I have discovered that when life gives you cabbage you make sauerkraut.

Sauerkraut is one of the most well-known foods that are naturally fermented to get the distinctive tangy flavor this food is celebrated for. Genghis Khan is credited with introducing it far and wide but it was an art form born in China. (He ripped it off from them, so to speak) The Germanic tribes of Eastern Europe went wild over it and made it one of their national foods. It’s probably why they grew so healthy and strapping as sauerkraut is a wonder food.

Sauerkraut, that is made the old school way by lacto-acid fermentation, is filled with communities of beneficial micro-organism that are largely devoid in our modern food that is so fixated on everything being sterile. Beneficial micro-organisms work symbolically with us in so many ways that is hard to explain in a weensy article, but they are critically important for our immune and digestive system. They protect us and nourish us, and we do the same to them.

Here is my high tech sauerkraut making gear. Notice the lovely bubbles that means we have fermentation!

Here is my high tech sauerkraut making gear. Notice the lovely bubbles that means we have fermentation!

Most sauerkraut is made by fermenting with a microbial called “Lactic Acid Bacteria” (LAB) that are found on all plants and in the soil. You simply cut the cabbage up, give it a nice salt rub, then let the LABs do their magic at fermenting the cabbage and preserving it all at the same time. The LABs do the same thing to cabbage that they do with us, protect it. Then we eat it and we get protected. Genius.

Amazingly enough fermenting vegetables is super safe and a powerful way to take control of your health. Fred Breidt of the US Dept of Agricultural once said, “Risky is not the word that I would use to describe vegetable fermentation. It is one of the oldest and safest technologies that we have.” He went on to say, “As far as I know, there has never been a documented case of food-borne illness from fermented vegetables.”

So with that in mind, give this wild ancient art a try. I explained a lot of it in the recipe but if you have more questions there are lots of resources online and the book called “The Art of Fermentation” by Sandor Katz tells all. Feel free to add some other flavors to the mix like beets and ginger or carrots and cumin. Turn fear into curiosity and take a walk on the wild side!

 

 

Home fermented sauerkraut

Home fermented sauerkraut

Homemade fermented classic sauerkraut
1 large head of cabbage, preferably green or Savoy
1.5 tablespoons of salt
1 tablespoon of caraway seeds

Equipment that you need;
2 large mouth quart jars, washed in the dishwasher
A large mixing bowl
2 small skinny jelly jars full of clean rocks
Clean cheesecloth or muslin
A couple rubber bands
A muddler or something to tamp down the cabbage

Okay dokay, ready to ferment? Here we go. First off peel the droopy outer leaves off your cabbage then cut it into 4ths, de-core it, then finely slice each wedge crossways to make thin ribbons. Toss the cabbage ribbons into a large mixing bowl, separating the ribbons as you do. Sprinkle the salt over the mix then begin to rub the salt into the cabbage by massaging it all. At first it seems you are getting nowhere but after about 4-5 minutes you will begin to notice that the cabbage is breaking down and getting wetter and smaller. After somewhere between 5-10 minutes of massaging, when your cabbage is reduced to half the size you’re done. Massage in the caraway seeds for a few more minutes and it is ready to go.

Next, get out 2 canning quart sized jars and stuff them with the cabbage mix. Tamp the cabbage down as you go to tightly pack it in the jars. I used a canning funnel and a muddler and it worked great. You can pack it down with a large wooden spoon too. When you have the mixture evenly divided between the two jars and squished down tight, pour what fluid is left in the bottom of the bowl over the cabbage. Take an outer leaf you pulled off from the cabbage and tuck it over the to-be sauerkraut to keep the oxygen from getting to it. Tamp it down again.

Now place your rock filled (I know, it’s high tech here) jelly jars on top of the cabbage to keep it submerged. Cover with the clean cloth, put a rubber band around each of the jars and place in a quiet room, out of direct sunlight at the temperature of 65-75 degrees consistently, to do its magic. If the temperature rises above 75 degrees, move it to a cooler location as hot fermentation can make the whole thing go off. It will taste and smell bad. Cold temperatures just slow down the process but no harm done.

Press the cabbage down every few hours the first day to get the juices flowing. (I just pressed down and the rock filled jar to do this with no need to remove the rubber band and cloth.) The liquid will begin to seep out of the cabbage and cover it. This is your brine. Allow the cabbage to ferment for 3-10 days, pressing it down daily under the brine. ( I found that 7 days was just about right)

While it is fermenting you will see lots of bubbles and activity, which shows it is alive and well. As long as the cabbage stays under the surface of the brine, fermentation will occur perfectly. If any mold or scummy stuff grows on the surface, remove it immediately and then re-submerge your cabbage. The sauerkraut under the brine is fine.

Begin tasting it at day 3-4 and then every day until it reaches the perfect tangy-ness for you. When it gets at your preferred flavor, remove the cloth, the jelly jars and the top cabbage leaf and fluff it up into the liquid. Store in the fridge with a lid on it and it will last months. As long as it still smells and tastes good, it’s good. Put on your salads, with your hot dogs, or anywhere else you can think. It is GOOD for you!

The strawberries are here!

June 17, 2014

“We cannot set down foot but tread on strawberries,” an early English settler in America

Strawberry shortcake with balsamic balck pepper strawberries

Strawberry shortcake with balsamic balck pepper strawberries

Last weekend I was at the Portland farmer’s market downtown and bought a BEAUTIFUL half flat of organic strawberries. The strawberries were from California (I prefer Oregon ones) but that was fine, I had red gold in my hands! There is nothing like red ripe strawberries to make me totally dork out and do the “strawberries are here!” dance then turn the kitchen into a strawberry wonderland.

Even though strawberries are available all year round due to the miracle of shipping them from Peru or some such place, those aren’t real strawberries. They don’t taste, smell or act like a real strawberry, just resemble one…sorta. Real strawberries are red all the way through and are fragrant and juicy. So when the “real” strawberries appear, I am overjoyed!

Strawberries are an ancient fruit that many cultures have danced over for thousands of years. They are native in the Northern hemispheres but the modern strawberry was developed from plants born right here in North America. The first written history on this adored plant is by a Roman Senator in 224BC and from there on out they are a popular subject to (droll) write about. When the European invaders, I mean settlers, came to America they were astonished at all the strawberries growing in the new world.

Oreganic strawberries are the only way to go!

Oreganic strawberries are the only way to go!

Not surprisingly, the strawberry is woven through many Native American tales as the berry that brings peace to the home and village with its bright color and sweetness. They would take the wild strawberries and mash then up, add cornmeal and cook them on the fire. (Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the ancestor of the strawberry shortcake.) The settlers waxed poetically about these humble cakes.

Those Native American’s were no dummies as strawberries are a super valuable source of antioxidants. In fact they are rated 3rd highest in antioxidants out of all foods with blackberries and walnuts in first and second place. Strawberries are also turning out to be a powerful anti-inflammatory and actually help regulate blood sugar instead of spike it. (That has the nutrition geeks furiously researching!) So if you have diabetes you can regularly enjoy this delights.

I recommend only buying organic strawberries as conventional ones are sprayed with up to 300 types of anti-fungals, pesticides and herbicides. We aren’t the only ones who love these sweet nuggets so the commercial farmers fight back with chemicals. Conventional strawberries are listed second (with apples being first) as the most “dirty” produce. They are literally poisonous like Snow White’s apple. Please don’t be tempted by the witch of modern chemicals and buy conventional strawberries.

I couldn’t help myself, I had to do strawberry shortcakes for the recipe to share today. I mean, there is no other way to better enjoy the season’s best. These sweet little nuggets have a couple of interesting ingredients that you wouldn’t normally think would be good together but they add a depth instead of detract. I have a gluten free option that is equally amazing on my website, cavewomancafe.come. Take a walk on the wild strawberry path and be amazed!

Starwberry shortcake

Starwberry shortcake

Strawberry shortcakes with a new twist
Heads up! These take 20 minutes of chill time so figure that into your prep time. Please use as many organic products as possible but the flour, sugar and berries are the most critical. Serves 8
The biscuits
1.5 cups of unbleached organic flour
1/2 cup of cornmeal, Fine ground
5 tablespoons of organic sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
1/4 teaspoons of salt
The zest of one lemon
1/2 cup (1 stick) of chilled butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup of half and half
1 large egg, beaten
The strawberries
2 pounds of organic strawberries, washed and sliced
A few tablespoons of sugar, depending on how sweet the berries are
3 Tablespoons of balsamic vinegar (I used white balsamic)
A few cranks of black pepper or a large pinch
1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
Whipping cream or ice cream

Heat the oven up to 425 degrees and get a mediumish. In the bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and lemon zest till all fluffy and well mixed. Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter or with two forks or the old fashion way, my favorite, with your fingers. (Hopefully you washed your hands first) When the butter is fairly well incorporated, add the cream and mix till just barely blended. (BTW this first step can be done in a flash with the food processor. Just mix the dry ingredients with a few pulses, then add the butter and pulse till the butter is just starting to mix in, then add the cream and pulse till barely mixed)

Turn you dough out on floured work surface and gather into a ball then flatten out into a rough 8×5 inch rectangle about 1 1/4 inches thick. Don’t overwork the dough or it gets tough. Cut the dough into squares to make 8 biscuits. Put the biscuits onto a lightly greased baking sheet and chill for 20 minutes. Brush the top of the biscuits with the beaten egg and sprinkle with some sugar. Tuck in the oven to bake for 15 minutes or until they are golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack to await their grand moment. (This step can be done a day ahead of time)

Gently mix your lovely fresh red ripe strawberries with the sugar, balsamic vinegar, black pepper and vanilla. Let them set for about 30 minutes to marry the flavors. (You can whip your whip cream up here with a dash of balsamic vinegar, a couple tablespoons of sugar and some lemon zest) Cut the biscuits in half and serve the strawberries spooned in the middle with whip cream. Place the top of the biscuit tittering on top and a dollop of whip cream. Sprinkle a wee bit of black pepper on the whip cream for beauty. Do the happy strawberry dance.

Seaweed power!

May 16, 2014
Chawan Mushi with shrimp and spring peas

Chawan Mushi with shrimp and spring peas

About 160,000 years ago, the human diet went gourmet and started eating seaweed. This was about the time that all homo sapiens became coastal dwellers due to the fact the ocean contained a limitless source of nutrition including the super nutrient dense, salty seaweed. It turns out our ancestors were way smarter than us as we hardly eat seaweed unless it is wrapped up in a sushi roll.

It is interesting the note that seaweed contains the flavor profile of umami, which lights up the taste buds and ignites the response to eat as much as possible. In fact, seaweed is umami which MSG was originally grown from before it was turned into the chemical monster it is now days. Our bodies have evolved to highly desire this umami flavor since it was only in seaweed to our ancient grandparents. So seaweed=umami=nutrition, simple.

Seaweed is a supercharged food filled with antioxidants, calcium and a broad range of vitamins that we don’t typically get from land food. One of the most important of those nutrients is iodine, which is missing in most every other food we eat. Iodine is imperative for maintaining a happy thyroid gland and its and hormones. (That’s why they add it in salt)

It also has extraordinary high levels of calcium, B-12 and soluble fiber in it. Sea veggies seem to help regulates many of the hormones and it a major anti-inflammatory food. This is quite possibly the fountain of youth in Japan as some claim the high consumption of seaweed contributes to the county’s super low incidence of diseases.

I bet your thinking, “That’s great Dana, but I haven’t got the foggiest idea what to do with it.” My best suggestion is to get local herbalist Vivi Tallman’s Seaweed Sprinkles” and sprinkle it on everything. (Her number is 503-368-8255 and she also sells at farmers markets in the area) I love the stuff and find it easy to use. You can also pulverize nori sheets in a blender and put it on the table with the salt and pepper. You’ll find yourself reaching for it a lot!

Also familiarize yourself with the seaweeds of the world and its culinary uses. (I found it interesting that there is not any known poisonous seaweed to humans and it is located in all oceans.) Start finding ways of incorporating it into your cooking. Get playful and curious here, it will pay off!

I decided to do just that and have been playing with many types of seaweed in the kitchen. I started making dashi, which is a Japanese soup stock made with kombu seaweed (which is kelp, yup, kelp). It is the base of many Japanese’s dishes. I also made a fish soup out of the dashi that was wonderful! Have fun playing with your (sea) veggies!

Chawan Mushi with shrimp and spring peas

Chawan Mushi with shrimp and spring peas

Chawan Mushi with shrimp and spring peas
Chawamnushi is a Japanese custard steamed in a cup. Chawan means tea cups or rice bowls, and mushi means steaming in Japanese. Simple enough and amazingly delicate and addictive.

1.5 cups of dashi or chicken stock
1 tablespoon of sake(or use a white wine)
A pinch of sugar
2 teaspoons of low-sodium soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon of sesame oil
1 tablespoon of finely grated fresh ginger root
3 large eggs
1/2 cup of fresh shelled peas
OR 1/2 cup of frozen peas
OR 1 cup of chopped fresh pea pods
3/4 cup of baby shrimp, cooked
1/2 cup of chopped shitake mushrooms
2 green onions, thinly sliced

Pick out 4 small heat proof bowls of ramekins to make your Chawan Mushi and turn on the oven to 375 degrees. In a medium mixing bowl, combine dashi stock, 1 tablespoon of sake and sugar in a bowl and stir till the sugar is dissolved. Add the soy sauce, sesame oil and the ginger and mix some more. Measure out 4 tablespoons of this mix into a small cup and set it aside for now.

Gently whisk the eggs up in a bowl. Do this so gently that you do not create any bubbles in it. Gently stir the bulk of the dashi mixture into the eggs. Divide the peas, shrimp, mushrooms and green onions among your four ramekins, saving out some for garnishes. Pour the egg mixture over the veggie-shrimp mixture.

Get out a rectangle glass baking dish (9×13 works) and set the ramekins in there. Set in the oven and fill the baking dish with water till is about halfway of the ramekins. Bake at 375 for 5 minutes then turn the heat down to 325 and bake for 25 minutes and check for doneness. The custard is set when it is still quite jiggly and if you poke it with a toothpick or knife it produced clear dashi like fuild. If it isn’t quite done yet, keep baking and checking every 5 minutes so you don’t overcook it. Garnish with the saved veggies and shrimp then add one tablespoon per ramekin of the reserved dashi mix and serve up with a smile.

How to make Dana Dashi
This is Dana Dashi, other words, not traditional. If you want traditional, remove the ginger and add bonito flakes. You can get the kombu and other sea veggies at Mother nature’s and bonito flakes at an Asian store in Portland or order online.

A 4 inch square piece of kombu (or there abouts)
A piece of fresh ginger, about the size of two fingers, cut into thin slices.
6-8 shitake mushrooms, sliced
1 quart of water

Get out a nice stainless steel pot and place the kombu, mushrooms and ginger in it. Cover with the water and soak for 30 minutes. (No heat) Set the saucepan over mediumish heat until the water just starts to boil. Remove the seaweed and keep the ginger in it and simmer for about 10-15 minutes. When it is cool, pour the liquid through a fine mesh strainer or 2 layers of cheesecloth and into a bowl. Ta daaa! You have Dana dashi. That wasn’t hard, was it? Store it in the fridge for up to 1 week. Compost the strained out stuff.

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