Balsamic Rice and Bean Salad

triple choco mousse cake

Triple Chocolate Mousse cake

May is always a month of chocolate for me – both my husband’s and my birthdays are in May, along with five other family members (plus both of our cats) and everyone is a chocolate fan. For my husband, I made a truly scrumptious triple chocolate mousse cake, and for myself I made ganache filled “ultimate” chocolate cupcakes.   Both recipes came from Cook’s Illustrated and turned out fantastic.  If you would like a copy of either then let me know!  The mousse is (naturally) gluten-free and I adapted the cupcake recipe to be gluten-free.

Ultimate Chocolate Cupcakes

Ultimate Chocolate Cupcakes

Due to my sweet-filled month, for my first demo in a while I thought it might be good to prepare and share a more wholesome recipe, and I found it in Tracy Hill’s cookbook Delightfully Free (she’ll be at Seattle’s Pike Place market today signing copies, and you can also buy it at the Cordata store).  Not only are the photos mouth-watering, but the recipes are pretty awesome too, and they are all gluten, dairy, and refined sugar-free!  I knew when I saw the photo for this salad that I wanted to prepare it – it would be a great salad to bring to a graduation party or BBQ, and would also serve as a well-rounded main course because of the combination of brown rice, beans, nuts/seeds, and vegetables.

We’re still at the beginning of our growing season here in the great Northwest, but I was able to purchase some local garlic scape to use instead of the green onions in the original recipe – I sliced them very thin (garlic scapes are typically cooked, but if you don’t overdo it then they are great in a salad) and they added just the right amount of fresh tasting garlicy-ness.  We have local basil in stock, and I also used some of the local roasted hazelnuts that we carry in our bulk department.

The salad was very popular with customers and those that tasted it wanted to know how soon they could buy it pre-made in the deli (I did give a sample to our Cordata Deli Manager with the feedback…hopefully you’ll see our version soon!).  I’ve included instructions on how to cook brown rice and beans from scratch, but you can always grab some pre-cooked rice from the Deli’s Grab and Go section and a can of beans to cut down on your time in the kitchen.

Enjoy!

Balsamic Rice and Bean Salad © 2013 Sassy Sampler

Balsamic Rice and Bean Salad © 2013 Sassy Sampler

Balsamic Rice and Bean Salad

adapted from Delightfully Free by Tracy Hill

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 1/2 c cooked (and cooled) brown rice
  • 1 1/2 c navy or cannellini beans, cooked from dry or 1 can Great Northern Beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 c chopped celery (I sliced them pretty thin)
  • 1 1/2 c chopped yellow or orange bell pepper (about 1 large pepper)
  • 1/3 c chopped green onion or garlic scapes
  • 1/2 c fresh basil leaves, torn or chopped (or chiffonade cut)
  • 1 c halved cherry tomatoes
  • 3/4 c Balsamic Dressing, or more to taste
  • 2/3 c chopped walnuts, hazelnuts, and/or pumpkin seeds

Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing  (makes about 1 1/2 c)

  • 1/4 c red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 c balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 c grapeseed oil
  • 1/8 t sea salt
  • 1 t agave nectar
  • 1 small garlic clove, pressed or minced
  • 2 T water
  • Small pinch of paprika
  • Pinch of xanthan gum

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Shake all dressing ingredients together, except xanthan gum, in a jar with a tight-fitting lid.  Add the xanthan gum and shake again.  For smoother flavors, emulsify the dressing by mixing all ingredients, except xanthan gum, in a blender on high for 30 seconds.  Add the xanthan gum and blend again for 10 seconds.  Store in the refrigerator.
  2. In a large bowl, combine all salad ingredients, with the exception of the nuts/seeds and dressing.
  3. Toss salad with about 3/4 cup of dressing (or more if you like!) – be sure to give it a few good shakes to re-mix.
  4. Sprinkle the salad with the nuts/seeds when it is served, or you can mix them in just before serving.

Note from the cookbook author — This salad is extra tasty made a day ahead of time (keep the nuts/seeds set aside until you serve).  It is also a great topper for green salad.

Note from the Sassy Sampler – Customers commented that this salad would be great with parboiled green beans or with feta cheese sprinkled on top…and I agree!

To cook short grain brown rice:

Thoroughly rinse 3/4 c rice.  Add to a small bottomed pot with a tight-fitting lid and cover with 1.5 cups of water and sprinkle about 1/2 t of sea salt.  Allow to come to a boil and then cover with the lid, turn heat down to low and allow to cook undisturbed for 1 hour.  Remove from heat and let sit for 5 – 10 minutes, remove the lid, fluff, and enjoy!

To cook navy/cannellini beans:

Note—beans will expand to 2.5 times their normal size, so you will only need to cook 1/2 c beans for this recipe

  1. Go through the beans on a plate to remove any stones, dirty or damaged beans, etc.
  2. Pour the beans into a medium bowl and cover with water—remove any “floaters”.
  3. Drain beans and cover with at least 1 1/2 c of COLD water.  Soak the beans overnight (you can do this on the counter), or at least six hours.
  4. Rinse the beans three or four times until the water runs clear.
  5. Put beans in a pot and cover with fresh water.  Bring to a boil and simmer for 60-90 minutes, until beans are tender.  Add salt (if desired) only in the last few minutes of cooking time or your beans will take longer to cook.
  6. Cooked beans are best the next day and can be stored in the fridge for up to 4 days.

Visit Tracy’s website at www.delightfullyfree.com and check out her cookbook of the same name!

Balsamic Rice and Bean Salad PDF

Homemade Almond Milk

Almonds are one of the healthiest “nuts” you can eat (they are related to the peach, and are technically considered a seed). They are high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, as well as protein, and they also contain amino acids, manganese, and Vitamin E.   The US is the world’s leading almond grower, and essentially 100% of those almonds are grown in California.

Commercial versions of almond milk contain preservatives (which I feel affect the flavor), although they also tend to be fortified with calcium and Vitamin D which is a plus.  The biggest downside, however, is the sugar that is added to them.  Keeping this in mind, I set out to create a simple almond milk recipe that didn’t require any special equipment and didn’t have any added refined sugar.  After looking at dozen different recipes/methods, I decided to get into the kitchen and get working!

I started by soaking the almonds overnight in the fridge, covered.  This is an important part of the process because the soaking really brings out the milky-ness quality of the almonds and also makes them more digestible, resulting in better absorption of nutrients.  Another great benefit of soaking almonds (or any nut) is that it removes the tannin from the skin, which gives nuts their bitter flavor.

The next morning, I halved and pitted some Medjool dates to use as a sugar alternative, and also set them to soaking (so your blender is able to process them).  Once those had soaked for about 45 minutes, I got out the blender and started processing – first a heaping cup of soaked almonds went in, then 2 cups of water.  It only took a minute or two for the almonds to grind down, and then I added the dates (tasting the concoction after every two dates to see how the sweetness was progressing).  I decided that five was the perfect sweetness – not so sweet that it was overpowering but sweet enough to compliment the amazing almond flavor.  You can choose to omit the dates entirely, or add up to seven if you really like the sweetness of commercial almond milk.  The nice thing about using dates as the sweetener is that they are also high in fiber and are easily digested.  I added the last two cups of water, plus a pinch of Himalayan pink sea salt (my favorite) and I was ready to strain my milk.

You can strain the milk in a number of different ways, or if you are going to use the almond milk strictly in smoothies, then you can choose to omit this step (leaving the almond pulp in the milk gives you the full benefits of the almonds and is protein rich).  I chose to use a jelly straining bag, as it fit perfectly over the opening of my pitcher and has a super fine weave so I knew that my milk would be very smooth.  You can also strain the milk using a nut milk bag or a fine mesh metal strainer (I would suggest putting a few layers of cheesecloth in the strainer – that way as you finish you can gather up the corners and squeeze the last of the milk out of the pulp that is left over.  The almond/date pulp that you are left with can be used in many ways, including adding a bit to your morning oatmeal, adding it to smoothies, or dehydrating it and using it as a flour alternative.

Success – for about $1.33 a serving I had four cups of the most delicious organic and fresh non-dairy milk I have ever tasted!

Homemade Almond Milk © Sassy Sampler 2012

Homemade Almond Milk © Sassy Sampler 2012

Homemade Almond Milk

Recipe by Sassy Sampler

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 c raw, organic almonds
  • 4 c filtered or spring water (cold)
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 3-7 fresh Medjool dates  (optional, for sweetness), split in half and pit removed, soaked for at least 30 minutes and up to 3 hours
  • Vanilla bean, cut in half and one side scraped and reserved (optional) OR 1/2 t pure vanilla extract

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Soak almonds in fresh water for at least six hours or overnight (if you choose to soak overnight, then cover and refrigerate the almonds).
  2. Drain and rinse soaked almonds.
  3. Using a blender or Vitamix, add almonds to blender with 2 cups of water.  Blend until it is relatively smooth (all the noticeable chunks are gone).  Add the sea salt.
  4. Add dates and blend to fully combine—3 dates will be slightly sweet and 7 dates will be similar to store-bought almond milk sweetness.
  5. Add remaining 2 cups of water and blend to combine (depending on the size of your blender, you may need to hand mix in the remainder of the water).
  6. Add vanilla bean seeds or extract if using and blend to combine.
  7. Strain mixture into a large bowl or pitcher, either using a metal fine-gauge strainer set over the bowl or a nut milk bag/jelly strainer bag.  If using a strainer, I recommend adding a square of folded cheesecloth and straining through that—you can gather up the corners and squeeze out all the milk much more quickly than using just a strainer.
  8. If using a strainer and no cheesecloth, use the back of a spoon or rubber spatula to gently push the milk through the strainer (don’t push down too hard or you will get some of the pulp in the milk).
  9. Refrigerate for up to 4 days in a covered container.  Because this is a raw drink, there may be separation after it sits—just mix and enjoy!

Almond Milk PDF

You can use the leftover pulp in many ways:

  • Put it in a dehydrator and you will get almond flour
  • Mix a tablespoon or two into your oatmeal/hot cereal.
  • Mix with a little honey or agave and spread it thin on a baking sheet—bake at 350°F until crunchy.
  • Add to smoothies
  • Check out Pinterest for more almond pulp ideas!

Almond milk is a tasty way to add heart-healthy fats to your diet!

Your leftover dates can be used for future batches of almond milk, or can be made into a yummy “caramel” dip…or you can just eat them!  I recommend pitting them and then putting a walnut in the center (great suggestion for an appetizer from a customer).

Green Bean and Tomato Salad; Eat Local Month

September 1st was the kick-off for Sustainable Connections annual Eat Local Month.  The first event was a BBQ featuring local grass-fed beef burgers from Matheson Farm and locally grown portabella mushroom burgers, held at the Downtown Co-op and we have another BBQ scheduled for tomorrow at the Cordata Co-op from 11am-2pm featuring both vegetarian and beef kabobs.   There will also be live music from Kuungana marimba band and lots of other delicious local food.  There are many other events scheduled this month, including the annual Whatcom Harvest Dinner, held this year at Bellewood Acres farm and store.  Check out Sustainable Connections website for more information on upcoming Eat Local events happening this month.

Mama Jay and some happy customers

Me at my demo station inside the Cordata Co-op

Today at the Cordata Co-op, KAFE 104.1 came to promote Eat Local Month.  We asked local BBQ sauce guru Mama Jay to come to sample her delicious sauce with local pork, and we featured a local lunch special (a meatball sandwich with Breadfarm hoagies and Matheson Farm beef, plus an Italian-style coleslaw made with local ingredients).  A few of us gave interviews to be aired as part of the promotion, and in honor of the festivities I decided to make a salad using as much local produce as possible.  It didn’t turn out to be too hard, since we have over 50 local produce items in stock right now!  I settled on Green Bean and Tomato salad, a recipe I found on Epicurious via Yummly.

Scotty from KAFE 104.1 and me, hamming it up for the camera.

The salad came out fresh and delicious – I used organic green beans from Moondance Farm, organic cherry tomatoes from Spring Frog Farm, organic slicing tomatoes and organic Italian parsley from the Growing Garden, and organic hard necked white garlic from Rabbit Fields Farm.  It’s pretty simple to make – just blanch the green beans (and plunge them in ice water to stop the cooking process), chop your tomatoes, mix up the herb dressing and toss.  Everyone who sampled the salad really loved it, even a couple picky kids.  The green beans stay crisp and the two kinds of tomatoes lend to the overall flavor.  I don’t usually put oregano in my balsamic dressings, but this tasted great so I will remember it in the future.  Enjoy!

Green Bean and Tomato Salad © Sassy Sampler 2012

Green Bean and Tomato Salad

Serves 8; adapted from http://www.epicurious.com

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 1/2 # green beans, snapped (or cut) into 2 inch pieces
  • 3/4 c tomato, chopped and seeded
  • 1 c cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/3 c extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 T balsamic vinegar
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 t dried oregano
  • 1/4 c Italian parsley, chopped
  • Sea salt and pepper

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the green beans  until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes.
  2. Drain beans, and transfer to a bowl of ice water to cool.  Drain again, and place in a large bowl.
  3. Add the chopped tomatoes to the bowl.
  4. In a measuring cup, mix the olive oil, vinegar, garlic, and oregano.
  5. Pour dressing over salad and mix.  Add the cherry tomatoes and parsley as garnish.  Season with salt and pepper.

Green Bean and Tomato Salad PDF

Rhubarb Ginger Cordial (Squash)

Since we’ve been experiencing mostly liquid sunshine around these parts this June, the local produce seems to be growing a little slower.  This time of year we are usually getting excited for strawberries and carrots, and with all this damp we are hoping that it will still be a good season.  We do, however, have a selection of locally grown greens, as well as rhubarb grown in Ferndale by Bob Smalls, which I thought would be fun to feature in my recipe demo this week.

When I think about cooking with rhubarb, it is usually in conjunction with strawberries, but that wasn’t quite interesting enough for me.  I found an intriguing recipe in the Popular Gardening Series Organic Farm and Garden “magabook” for rhubarb ginger cordials, and I had to try it out.

Cordials (also known as “squash”) are concentrates that are mixed with water, wine, sparkling water, iced tea, spirits, etc. to create a refreshing drink.  Traditional cordials generally contain ginger, but I had never heard of one made with rhubarb.  Pre-made cordials tend to have artificial flavorings and colors in them (they are also generally hard to find in the US) and I had heard they were easy to make so I figured it was worth a go.

Easy it was – all you have to do is roughly chop the rhubarb and ginger (peel the ginger first) and then throw it in a pot with a bunch of water and some sweetener.  I used agave syrup, but you could also use honey or pure coconut syrup.  I let the ingredients boil for about a half hour until the liquid was reduced by half.  After that it’s just a matter of letting the mixture drain into a bowl and then cooling it down (although I tried some when it was warm and it was delicious as well).

I served it mixed with Voss Sparkling water and a little crushed ice and it was light and refreshing – gingery with a little rhubarb tartness to finish the flavor off.  As a mixer, I think this cordial would be delicious with a little vodka and sparking water and it would be a delicious addition to iced tea.

Rhubarb Ginger Cordial © 2012 Sassy Sampler

Rhubarb Ginger Cordial

Makes 2 cups

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 c coarsely chopped rhubarb
  • 1/4 c fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 4 c filtered water
  • 1/4 c honey or agave syrup

Mix with:

  • Sparking water
  • Club soda
  • Wine
  • Iced or hot tea
  • Spirits (for a cocktail)

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. In a medium pot, combine all ingredients.  Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat and boil gently for 20 minutes or until the rhubarb becomes very soft and the liquid is reduced by about half.
  2. Line a sieve with dampened fine cheesecloth or a jelly bag and set it over a bowl.
  3. Add the rhubarb mixture and let it drip (at room temperature) for at least 30 minutes or up to four hours. Gently press on the pulp to extract any remaining liquid.  Discard the pulp in the cheesecloth.
  4. Transfer the cordial to a jar or an airtight container.  Refrigerate until chilled or for up to one week.
  5. To serve—use 2 T—1/4 c per serving mixed with sparkling water, wine, iced tea, or mix it into a cocktail.

Rhubarb Ginger Cordial PDF

Zesty Marinated Asparagus

It’s May, and that’s means that it’s asparagus season in Washington.  Our state produces about 40% of the asparagus grown in the US, according to the Washington Asparagus Commission, and we recently started receiving beautiful organic asparagus at the Co-op.  This is a vegetable that is best enjoyed in season – it’s at its least expensive price and most delicious flavor.  In honor of that, I picked a recipe to sample with customers this week that is both easy and tasty – Zesty Marinated Asparagus.

Marinated asparagus is incredibly easy to make.  Simply rinse your asparagus, chop into bite-sized chunks, and blanch in a pot of boiling water for 1-2 minutes – just until it turns a vibrant green.  Immediately plunge the spears into ice-cold water to stop the cooking process, and mix with marinade in a zip-top bag or leak-proof container.  Refrigerate for at least 3 hours and you have a delicious snack or side dish that tastes complex but is simple (and quick) to prepare.

I chose to marinate my asparagus overnight in a balsamic vinaigrette – this dressing is also easy to make so it doesn’t add much prep time to the recipe (although you can always use a bottled dressing in a pinch).  Customers really enjoyed the dish – they said it was indeed zesty, had a nice crunch from the blanching, and had a nice flavor that would suit a variety of dishes. Kids even loved it – I had just as many of them asking for seconds as I do when I sample something sweet!

I would recommend using a good quality balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil – you really taste the flavors and a higher quality product will make an impact.  I say good because you need 3/4 c of each for the 2 pounds of asparagus in the recipe, so unless you’re feeling reckless, save the expensive stuff for another time.  I used Lucini 10-year Reserve Balsamic Vinegar of Modena (on sale right now for $10.89), because of its flavor and body.  I’ve mentioned before that one of my favorite olive oils that we carry at the Co-op is the Mihelakis Family Greek olive oil, so I used that as well.  However, no matter what ingredients you choose to use I’m sure you’ll love this recipe.

Enjoy!

Zesty Marinated Asparagus © Sassy Sampler 2012

Zesty Marinated Asparagus

INGREDIENTS

  • 3/4 c good quality extra virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 c good quality balsamic vinegar
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 T Dijon or stone ground mustard
  • 2 pounds fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2 1/2” pieces
  • 2 t grated lemon zest
  • 1/4 c chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 t sea salt
  • 1/2 t fresh ground black pepper

To make the balsamic vinaigrette:

  1. Combine the vinegar, garlic and mustard in a bowl with a whisk.  Add a pinch of sea salt and whisk.
  2. In a steady, slow stream add olive oil to the mixture, whisking constantly.  Set aside and proceed with recipe.

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Blanch asparagus just until tender and bright green, about 1 minute.
  2. Plunge asparagus into a bowl of ice-cold water to halt the cooking process.
  3. Drain asparagus and place in a large resealable plastic bag (or leak-proof container).
  4. Pour in vinaigrette and seal bag.  Mix asparagus with vinaigrette thoroughly.
  5. Refrigerate at least 3 hours (or overnight), turning bag occasionally.
  6. Just before serving, drain vinaigrette into a bowl.
  7. Arrange asparagus on a serving platter and sprinkle with lemon zest, parsley, salt, and pepper.
  8. Serve reserved vinaigrette in a small dish on the side.

Don’t leave out the parsley and lemon zest – they add the extra “zesty” to the dish.

You can also make this with store-bought balsamic vinaigrette—use 1 1/2 c.

Zesty Marinated Asparagus PDF

Don’t forget to pick up your Proud Co-op Member yard signs to help us celebrate the International Year of Cooperatives – we still have them available at both our stores, or you can also pick one up at the GaPac Credit Union on James St. and at the Industrial Credit Union on State St.  We’re also holding a photo contest on Facebook – take a photo of the sign in your yard, post it on our page, and be eligible for a prize giveaway!  Deadline is May 14th.  Go Co-op!

Carrot Ginger Salad

April can be hit or miss in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, and luckily this year is more of a hit – we have had great luck with beautiful weather on the weekends this month and it’s making all of us excited for summertime.  For my recipe this week, I wanted to pick something that tasted fresh and summery and I found what I was looking for in Organic Farm & Garden magazine (a Popular Gardening Series “magabook” by Hobby Farms.com).  They offer several recipes in this issue (along with great organic gardening advice) and I thought their recipe for Carrot Ginger Salad would be a winner.  (Note – we are sold out of the magazine at the Co-op, but you can get it online at either of the links above.)

Photo courtesy of Jerry Janeway © 2012

We still have delicious and sweet  local carrots from Hedlin Family Farm, a third generation organic farm in the waterfront town of La Conner (home to author Tom Robbins).  The Skagit Valley Tulip Festival is in full swing right now, and this would be a perfect weekend to spend some time outside tiptoeing through the tulips (they won’t actually let you do that, but you get the idea).  But I digress…back to the carrots!

A lot of carrot salads are soaked in mayonnaise and have added sugar, and I didn’t want to go in that direction; this recipe is flavorful, fresh, and tastes like summer – the carrots give a nice sweet crunch and the dressing and fresh ginger add a dimension that you wouldn’t expect, as it leaves you with a subtle succession of flavors. I was hesitant to combine some of the ingredients that were listed – cumin and mint with ginger…are they crazy?  Turns out they are brilliant, as the flavors work really well within the acidic dressing and compliment the carrots and ginger perfectly.  This salad is also really simple to make and would be perfect to bring to a potluck or gathering, as it keeps at room temperature for several hours.  Enjoy!

Carrot Ginger Salad © Sassy Sampler 2012

Carrot Ginger Salad

Serves 6

adapted from Organic Farm & Garden magazine, Volume 1, 2nd edition

INGREDIENTS

  • 5 large carrots (about 2.5-3#) , grated diagonally or cut julienne
  • 1 T fresh grated ginger

Dressing:

  • 3 T fresh lemon juice
  • 3 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 t sea salt
  • Pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1 small garlic clove, minced
  • Pinch of ground cumin
  • 1 heaping T  fresh mint, chopped

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. In a large bowl, combine carrots and grated ginger.  Cover and refrigerate for about a half hour so the flavors can combine.
  2. In a jar with a lid, mix lemon juice, olive oil, minced garlic, salt, a pinch of cayenne pepper and cumin, and the mint.  Shake to combine.
  3. Add dressing to carrots and mix well.  If time permits, allow the salad to sit on the counter for about half an hour before serving so the flavors can combine.

For best flavor, allow the salad to come to room temperature before serving.  (Dressed) salad will keep for several days in the fridge.  Cover tightly.  You can also double the dressing recipe if you want a spicier version.

You may be hesitant to add the cumin and mint to this salad, but don’t skip (or substitute) those ingredients—they add complexity to the salad and are an important factor in the overall flavor.

Carrot Ginger Salad PDF

Vanilla Chia Pudding

Working in the natural food industry, we see all kinds of food fads – some of them are perfectly legit and are eventually accepted into the mainstream, and some fade away for a host of different reasons.  One fad that I hope will develop into mainstream diets are chia seeds, which are considered to be a ‘superfood’.

“Why a superfood”, you ask?  Most of us know chia seeds only because of Chia Pets (which are a non-food grade version of the seed), but they pack a lot of punch in a really small package.  Chia seeds have been traced as far back as the Aztecs, who valued them because of their high nutritional value.  These teeny tiny seeds are high in Omega 3 fatty acids, fiber, and antioxidants and also contain a respectable amount of protein, Omega 6 fatty acids, and calcium.  They help you stay hydrated (they hold over 10 times their weight in water) and are a great snack if you need a little pick-me-up.  Chia seeds are also great for diabetics because they help slow your body’s conversion of starch to sugar.

My glass of chia water from this AM!

So….how do they taste?  Pretty boring, which is a good thing.  They have a slightly nutty flavor and are pretty bland, so they mix well into a variety of different foods – you can mix them into just about any cold liquid (try stirring a spoonful into water, milk, iced tea, juice, smoothies, etc.) and you can also incorporate them into your bowl of oatmeal or yogurt.  The biggest complaint I hear about them is the gelatinous layer that forms around them when they have soaked in liquid – it can be a little strange if you haven’t tried them before.  I personally like that quality about them – it definitely makes them more interesting!

A great use for them is chia pudding – you can make a “pudding” with the seeds simply by putting some in milk and letting them hydrate, but this recipe adds some additional healthy foods like raw cashews and Medjool dates and doesn’t contain any added sugar.  It is appropriate as a snack, breakfast, or dessert and has the consistency of tapioca pudding (although it isn’t nutritionally deficient like tapioca pudding is).  It’s also really easy to make, since you are basically just throwing everything in the blender – no cooking involved!  This naturally gluten-free and vegan pudding was a huge hit with everyone who tried it (except for one small boy whose father was very disappointed because he liked the pudding so much!) and will keep in the fridge for up to 5 days – so make some all for you or to share with those you love!

Vanilla Chia Pudding photo © Sassy Sampler 2012

Vanilla Chia Pudding

Serves 6-8

From Martha Stewart Living (there are some great recipes on her website that are gluten-free – just type “gluten-free” into the search box for related videos, articles and recipes)

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 c organic chia seeds
  • 1 organic vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped—reserve seeds and pod
  • 1 c (5 oz) organic raw cashews, soaked in filtered water for 2 hours or overnight, at room temperature
  • 4 c filtered water
  • 7 organic Medjool dates, pitted
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 1/4 t ground cinnamon
  • 2 T organic raw coconut butter, such as Artisana
  • 4 t pure organic vanilla extract
  • 2 c mixed berries—raspberries and blueberries are great
  • 3/4 c organic maple syrup for drizzling

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Place chia seeds and vanilla pod in a medium bowl and set aside.
  2. Drain the cashews and rinse them well.
  3. Add cashews, water, dates, salt, cinnamon, coconut butter, vanilla extract, and vanilla seeds to a blender.
  4. Gradually bring up to high-speed and blend for 2 minutes.
  5. Pour mixture into the bowl with the chia seeds and vanilla pod—whisk well.
  6. Let the mixture stand for 15 minutes, whisking every few minutes to prevent the chia seeds from clumping.  The pudding should thicken quickly (it won’t come to pudding consistency until it has been chilled in the next step).
  7. Refrigerate pudding until cold, about 3 hours.
  8. Remove from fridge and discard the vanilla pod.
  9. Whisk the pudding.
  10. Divide pudding among 8 bowls.  Top each with berries, and drizzle with maple syrup, if desired.

You can find almost all the ingredients in our bulk department, including organic chia seeds.  I served them with Remlinger Farms Berry Jubilee, grown in Carnation, WA and organic bulk maple syrup.  The berries are in our frozen section year-round.

The pudding can be refrigerated for up to 5 days in a covered glass container.

Soaking the cashews first  makes them more digestible by deactivating the enzyme inhibitors that are naturally present.  They also won’t turn into a really smooth paste if they are not soaked.  Don’t soak them for more than a day as the nuts will disintegrate into a gelatin-like substance.

Vanilla Chia PuddingPDF

Gazpacho (made with all local ingredients!)

For this week’s recipe, I wanted to try to make something that used as many local products as possible. Another major part of my criteria was to make something that required little (or no) time to cook because it is decidedly summer in the Northwest right now (better late than never!).

There is so much local produce available right now – I toured the Produce department and found no less than 35 different items that were grown (and brought to us farmer direct) from Whatcom County farms.; I settled on creating a recipe for Gazpacho – a chilled vegetable soup that originates in Spain. There is no cooking involved and it is quick and easy. I’ve never made it before, but that didn’t stop me!

I started with gorgeous organic tomatoes, an organic English cucumber, and organic basil from the Growing Garden in Bellingham (grown by our own long-time Board member Brent Harrison).; Organic red garlic came from Rabbit Fields Farm in Everson.; I rounded it out with some extra virgin olive oil (pesticide-free) from Bija that is bottled in Lynden and Bellewood Acres apple cider vinegar, also made in Lynden from local apples. A little Himalayan pink sea salt from Salt Works in Woodenville (the farthest away of my ingredients – they process the salt in-state). I did put some ground black pepper in the soup as well, which isn’t local, but I won’t tell if you don’t!

Tomatoes are in season right now, so while I did peel them, I didn’t bother de-seeding them – the seeds in fresh in-season tomatoes are generally soft and not as bitter as off-season tomatoes.; Other than that, you basically chop your ingredients up, throw them in the food processor, and let them chill in the fridge until you are ready to eat. The longer you can let it chill, the more complex the flavor becomes.  Fumar con fruición!

Gazpacho in a cucumber cup © Sassy Sampler 2011

Gazpacho

INGREDIENTS

  • 6 large tomatoes, peeled and rough cut
  • 1 large English cucumber
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4-6 large leaves of basil, chopped
  • 1 T Apple Cider Vinegar (Bellewood Acres)
  • 1-2 T Extra Virgin Olive Oil (BIJA)
  • 1/2 t sea salt (SaltWorks)
  • Black pepper

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Add your cucumber to food processor and process until only a few small pieces remain.Pour cucumber purée into a large bowl.
  2. Add the tomatoes to the food processor and process until only a few chunks remain. Add to cucumber purée and stir to combine.
  3. Add the minced garlic and about 4 leaves of chopped basil to the purée. Add sea salt.
  4. Add olive oil and cider vinegar. Add pepper to taste and mix well.
  5. Cover bowl and refrigerate until you are ready to serve. The longer it sits in the fridge, the better the flavors will have combined.
  6. Serve ice-cold with a sliced and toasted baguette (Against the Grain Gourmet makes a great GF baguette). Garnish with more chopped basil before serving.

If the tomatoes you are using are out of season, you may want to remove the seeds either before you purée the tomatoes, or strain the tomato purée after processing. If they are in season, chances are you won’t have to take this step.

All ingredients in this recipe were either grown or processed locally (in Whatcom County or WA State, in-season), with the exception of the black pepper.

Gazpacho PDF

Agua Fresca

I love talking food with my friend Michael M. at the Co-op – he is also an avid cook and is really good about making all kinds of things from scratch, including his own tortillas and refried beans (which I will be trying myself very soon).  Late last week he was telling me about how he makes Agua Fresca – a refreshing drink that is common in Mexico and Central America.  It is essentially a fruit, grain, and/or flower flavored beverage that is great on a hot (or warm, in our case) summer day.

Yummy local veggies!

The forecast predicted warmer temperatures and sunny skies for this weekend, and I thought that Agua Fresca sounded like a great recipe to demo.  We have so much delicious Washington grown fruit right now to choose from that the biggest decision was deciding what flavors to make!  With Michael’s sage advice, I decided on a couple different ones – watermelon, donut (or Saturn) peach and lime for the first and cantaloupe, cucumber, basil and lime for the second – and all ingredients except the lime were grown in-state.

Agua Fresca is extremely easy to make – simply peel and rough cut your chosen ingredients and throw them in the blender.  Once they are puréed, you strain it through either cheesecloth or a fine mesh strainer, add it back to the blender with a little sugar, and then into your pitcher with some water.  Once it is chilled (very important – it is best when served ice-cold) you are good to go – one sip and you feel like you should be sitting on a beach with a good book – you can almost hear the waves crashing in the background!

You can use any soft fruit (or vegetable) for this recipe, and you are only limited by your imagination.  This is a great way to use overripe fruit, as it will purée that much easier!  I’ve included the recipes for the two versions I made to sample for customers (who loved it – kids especially), but don’t be afraid to think outside the box!

Agua Fresca photo © Sassy Sampler 2011

Agua Fresca

Recipe courtesy of Michael Marques

INGREDIENTS

Watermelon/Peach

  • 1 “personal” watermelon, chopped
  • 3 donut peaches or 1 large peach, pitted and chopped
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 2-4 T sugar *
  • Water

Cucumber/Cantaloupe

  • 1 large cucumber, seeded and chopped
  • 1 cantaloupe, seeded and chopped
  • 3-6 large leaves of basil
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 2-4 T sugar *
  • Water

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Prepare your fruit/herbs/vegetables.
  2. Add fruit/herbs/vegetables to blender and purée.
  3. Strain purée through cheesecloth or a fine mesh strainer into your pitcher.  Get as much of the juice from the pulp as possible; discard pulp.
  4. Strain again, but back into the blender this time.  Add sugar, starting with 2T and blend until combined.  Taste mixture to see if you want to add more sugar.
  5. Pour mixture back into your pitcher.  Add enough water to fill container and mix.
  6. Chill completely and serve icy cold, preferably with crushed ice.

* you can use just about any sweetener – if you choose to use a liquid one like honey or agave syrup, then you should dissolve it in a little bit of hot water before mixing it into the purée.

Can’t you see the beach?

Agua Fresca translates literally as “fresh water”.  It is served all over Mexico and it very simple to recreate at home.  It is hard to mess up—you can add as much water as you like to make it thinner or thicker, depending on your personal tastes.  Comer con gusto!

Agua Fresca PDF


Shanghai Cucumbers

One of my favorite dishes that I’ve had at a restaurant is PF Chang’s Shanghai Cucumbers.  The first time I had them, I went home and recreated them.  It is a quick and easy recipe that is delicious with a number of dishes.  All you need is a cucumber, toasted sesame oil, tamari or shoyu, and gomasio (toasted sesame seeds).  I found out recently that PF Chang’s also adds a small amount of white vinegar to the sauce, but I don’t tend to do that when I make it, although it does add a slight amount of tang (that isn’t unwelcome) to the dish.

Shanghai Cucumber ingredients

I believe that cucumber choice is the key to success with this recipe.  I am a huge fan of the local Dominion Organics Middle Eastern (or Persian) cucumbers and feel that this variety tastes the best, especially for this recipe.  English cucumbers are my second choice, when the Middle Eastern ones are not in season, and the nice thing is that those are generally local year round (they are grown in BC in a hot-house).  If neither of these varieties of cucumbers are available to you, then you can of course use your standard cucumber!

Another key ingredient that I use is the Ohsawa brand organic gluten-free tamari.  We don’t carry it at the Co-op, but owners can special order it in quantities of 3 (it works out to be about $9.60 a bottle – I saw it for as much as $21 a bottle on Amazon!).  It is much pricier than other tamaris on the market, but it is vastly superior so it is worth the extra cost.  We carry Ohsawa Nama Shoyu at the Co-op (if you can tolerate wheat) which is also pricier than other shoyus, but again, it is vastly superior.  It is the only unpasteurized (and therefore raw)  shoyu on the market – and neither the shoyu or the tamari is made with grain alcohol.

Anyway, back to the recipe!  Start by peeling strips off the cucumber – this is more for looks than anything else!

Once you have done that, hold your knife at a 45° angle to the end of the cucumber and slice into bite-sized chunks.  Rotate cucumber a 1/4 turn and slice again – repeat until you can’t cut any more off!

Next, mix your sauce ingredients in a small measuring cup or in a small bowl.  Pour over your cut cucumber, sprinkle with gomasio, and you’re done!

This dish takes about 5-7 minutes to make (depending on how quick you are with your knife!) – if you make it ahead, I like to reserve the sauce and add it right before serving.  If you have leftovers, they will still be delicious (and slightly more intense!) the next day, although they won’t look as pretty.  I make these at home to go with steak, Asian cuisine, and just for a snack.

Shanghai Cucumbers

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 Middle Eastern or English Cucumber
  • ~ 2 T GF tamari or shoyu
  • 1/4 t toasted sesame oil
  • Gomasio (to taste)
  • Optional—1 t white vinegar

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Wash your cucumber of choice.  With your vegetable peeler, peel strips off the cucumber, being sure to leave some of the skin.
  2. Holding your knife at a 45° angle to the end of the cucumber, slice cucumber into mouth sized pieces, rotating a 1/4 turn after each cut.  Place cut cucumber into a bowl.
  3. In a small measuring cup or bowl combine tamari/shoyu and toasted sesame oil.  Add vinegar if using.
  4. Toss cucumber with the sauce.  Sprinkle gomasio to taste.
  5. Enjoy!

To make your own gomasio:

  1. Heat a small sauté pan over medium heat.
  2. Add raw sesame seeds to pan, and shake continuously until the seeds become slightly browned and become very aromatic, about 2 minutes.
  3. Remove from pan; Optional—sprinkle sea salt (to taste) over seeds and mix well.
  4. Keep in airtight container in the fridge.

You can use any kind of cucumber in this dish, but Middle Eastern/Persian and English cucumbers work the best.  If you use a regular cucumber, then you will need to peel the whole thing and deseed it first.

Shanghai Cucumbers PDF