Millet Grapefruit Walnut Salad (+ Cookbook Giveaway)

by Maja Lukic


I'm intensely aware that it's been a few weeks since my last post. I may be the world's laziest blogger by typical food blogger standards. The reason is this: I tend to follow intuition and inspiration rather than a set schedule and inspiration is fickle. And there's this, too: whenever my creative projects threaten to overwhelm, I slow down and take a brief hiatus from blogging. And the last of my half-hearted excuses is this: the weather has been gorgeous and I have a stack of new novels. Reading outside in a park or on a rooftop or, preferably, by a large body of water is one of my favorite things to do on warm days. And so, on a quiet Sunday afternoon, it's tough to drag myself away from extravagant sunlight and electric blue skies and into a cramped, overheated kitchen to test recipes. 

But I'm back today--if only briefly--with some fun news. This week, I'm participating in a "Virtual Salad Party" hosted by California Walnuts. Basically, all week, participating bloggers will be posting and featuring selected entree salad recipes created by one of three chefs:  Aida Mollenkamp, Joanne Weir, and Mollie Katzen.

I like walnuts, I like salads--naturally, I jumped at this opportunity. For the featured post, I chose to prepare this Grain Salad with Toasted Walnuts, Dates and Grapefruit by Chef Joanne Weir. You can check out some of the other awesome posts here. Anyway, in conjunction with the "Salad Party" happenings, the generous folks at California Walnuts have sent over an extra copy of Chef Weir's most recent cookbook for me to give away--to one of you. For full giveaway entry details, see below. 

But first, a brief interlude to introduce this salad. Entree salads are a default meal for me (and for many of you, I suspect) because they're fast, easy, and chill (to the extent that a meal can be described as chill). There is a sliding scale of "healthy" because anything from hemp seeds to steak is fair game. And salads are open to infinite variation, depending on what's available and what's in season.

This recipe is no exception. It's a creative mix of grains, nuts, herbs, dried and fresh fruit with a bright citrus vinaigrette. Although the original recipe is great as written, I played with some of the ingredients to suit my own tastes and preferences. The recipe calls for equal parts quinoa and millet but I decided to use all millet because I just don't love quinoa that much--sorry, guys. I substituted walnut oil for the olive oil for enhanced walnut flavor and while I enjoy the grapefruit, I may try different fruit next time--red grapes or blackberries come to mind. I may add in some roasted asparagus, too. The salad benefits from a fresh infusion of seasonal greens--I used pea shoots here but anything from wild spinach or escarole to sorrel to baby kale should work. To top it off, I tossed in handfuls of edible flowers until the entire plate began to resemble a high school production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream." For color, but also, I have no self-control in the presence of edible flowers (see hereherehere, and here). All in all, I found this to be a delightful little lunch/dinner salad.  

To win a copy of Chef Weir's cookbook, all you have to do is leave a comment on this post telling me about your favorite salad ingredient. Don't forget to leave your email so that I have a way to reach you! A winner will be selected at random on June 21, 2014. Good luck!

Millet Grapefruit Walnut and Date Salad (v/gf)

Adapted from Joanne Weir

Serves 6

Salad

1 1/2 cups millet

sea salt

2 grapefruits, washed

1 cup walnuts, roughly chopped

1/2 cup dates, pitted and chopped

1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped

2 cups pea shoots (or other spring greens)

Grapefruit-Walnut Vinaigrette

2 tbsp white wine vinegar

3 tbsp walnut oil (or olive oil)

1/2 tsp grapefruit zest

2 tbsp fresh grapefruit juice

1 tsp maple syrup

sea salt

Preheat the oven to 375 F degrees. 

To prepare the vinaigrette, whisk the vinegar, walnut oil, maple syrup, and grapefruit zest together. Set aside. 

Place the millet in a skillet over medium high heat and toast for about four minutes, shaking the pan constantly. Add 2 1/4 cups water and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil on high heat. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer until all of the moisture is absorbed (about 35 minutes). You may need to add more water periodically if the grains dry out as they're cooking. When cooked, spread the millet out on a baking sheet to cool. 

Place the walnuts on a baking sheet and toast for about seven minutes or until fragrant and lightly browned. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. 

Wash the grapefruits and segment over a medium bowl to catch the juices. To segment (or supreme) grapefruit, slice off the top and bottom horizontally to reveal the flesh inside. Rest the fruit on a cutting board on one of the flat ends and, with a sharp knife, slice off the peel in strips, working from top to bottom. Work the blade of the knife along the curve of the grapefruit to remove all of the white pith. Then, with a paring knife, cut the segments out by slicing into the grapefruit vertically between the membranes. (It helps to hold the grapefruit in your hand as you do this.). Repeat until you've removed all of the segments and then squeeze the remaining center of the grapefruit over the bowl to extract the juices. Discard the center and remaining membranes. Repeat with the second grapefruit.

Add two tablespoons of the grapefruit juice to the vinaigrette. Season with sea salt.

Toss the pea shoots (or other spring greens) with a tablespoon or two of the vinaigrette and layer at the bottom of a wide shallow bowl to create a bed for the salad. Toss the millet, walnuts, dates, parsley, and grapefruit segments with the remaining vinaigrette. Taste for seasoning and serve on top of the pea shoots.

Notes: Although Weir specifies 15 to 18 minutes as the grain cooking time, I found it was closer to 35 minutes. Also, millet tends to cook unevenly--at the end, some grains will be soft while others will be al dente. That's OK--it's just the nature of the grain. These are my modifications to Weir's original recipe:

- I used all millet instead of equal parts quinoa and millet. 

- I added pea shoots to the salad and increased the amount of parsley.

- I added maple syrup to sweeten the vinaigrette.

- I substituted walnut oil for the olive oil in the vinaigrette.


Sherry-Roasted Strawberries with Vanilla Date Pistachio Muesli

by Maja Lukic


It's a rare thing for me to eat a substantial breakfast. I'm a coffee & smoothie devotee -- it's the one constant in my day, sort of like the one perfume I've been wearing for years without thinking.

But a few weeks ago, I crashed and became sick -- for culprits, look to stress, spring germs, erratic sleep, inconsistent weather, too many projects. On the first morning that I woke up feeling better, I was starving. I wanted to eat something relatively healthy but nourishing, settling. I wanted it to have fruit, too--vitamins, hydration. And if beautiful edible flowers were somehow involved in the situation, I wasn't about to object.  

Then I remembered that I used to eat a ton of muesli in college. Muesli is basically a high-energy combination of oats, nuts, seeds, and dried fruit soaked in a liquid, which might be anything from water or fruit juice to cream or milk. The basic formula allows for infinite variations and unbounded creativity. Any ingredient in your cupboard will work, as will any liquids you have in the fridge. And in the summer, it's a wonderful, no-cook option. 

If you've seen recipes for "overnight oats," it's basically the same concept except that there's something about the term "overnight oats" that grosses me out. 

As delicious as the muesli is on its own, it's incomplete without the sherry vinegar-roasted strawberries. A traditional muesli recipe would also include a fresh grated apple, added before serving.  I replaced the apple with roasted strawberries for color and a brighter flavor. I could eat the strawberries alone -- they're complex, tangy, sweet but not cloying. Ever since I worked on this romesco recipe, I've been obsessed with sherry vinegar--an infatuation that has led me into far too many specialty shops in search for the perfect sherry flavor. It's less sweet than balsamic but just as, if not more, complex. And it syncs beautifully with fruit. 

This recipe requires a few minutes of preparation the night before and about a half an hour of hands-off roasting in the morning, which makes it the easiest recipe I've ever posted, I think. It's perfect for a spring brunch or a special weekend breakfast. And it's the sort of recipe that encourages rest and relaxation. With that goal in mind, I wish you a relaxing and healthy week. 

Vanilla Date Pistachio Muesli

Serves 1

1/2 cup rolled oats (gluten-free)

2 tbsp hemp seeds

2 tbsp unsweetened coconut flakes

2 tbsp pistachios, roughly chopped

1-2 dates, Medjool pitted and chopped 

3/4 cup almond milk (or other milk)

1/2 vanilla bean

sea salt

toppings: Sherry Roasted Strawberries (recipe below), pistachios, edible flowers (entirely optional), milk or yoghurt, maple syrup or honey

In a small bowl, combine the oats, hemp seeds, coconut flakes, pistachios, dates (either one or two, to taste). To use half a vanilla bean, cut a bean in half crosswise. Reserve one half for future use. Split the remaining half lengthwise with a sharp paring knife and scrape the seeds into the oat mixture. Add a pinch of sea salt and almond milk. Stir.

Cover and leave in the fridge overnight. In the morning, add more almond milk or some yoghurt if the muesli looks too dry. Top with roasted strawberries, more pistachios, edible flowers (if using), and maple syrup or honey, to taste. Serve.  

Sherry Roasted Strawberries

Serves 4

Adapted from Joy The Baker

1 lb. strawberries, hulled

2 tbsp maple syrup

1 tbsp sherry vinegar

1 tsp coconut oil

sea salt

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. 

Hull and slice the strawberries in half or quarters, if the strawberries are large. Whisk together the maple syrup, sherry vinegar, coconut oil, and a pinch of sea salt. Toss the mixture with the strawberries until the strawberries are evenly coated. Spread the strawberries out on a rimmed baking sheet in a single layer.

Roast for about 30 to 40 minutes, or until the strawberries are cooked and a syrup forms. Keep an eye on the berries and remove from the oven before the syrup begins to burn. Transfer the strawberries and syrup to a dish and allow to cool for about 5 to 10 minutes before serving. 

Note: Use the strawberries immediately for best texture but they can be stored in the fridge overnight; reheat before serving. 


Baked Apples with Apple Cider and Sea Salt Caramel

by Maja Lukic


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Happy New Year! Hope everyone had a safe, happy, and healthy New Year's Eve. It's been absurdly cold in New York the last few days and the forecast for the remainder of the week is not optimistic. 

Reading through Clotilde Dusoulier's The French Market Cookbook: Vegetarian Recipes From My Parisian Kitchen recently, I was reminded of something I used to make quite a bit on cold winter evenings in high school -- baked apples. At the time, we were living in Oak Park, Illinois, a pretty little village on the Western side of Chicago. It's a sweet little place in its own right but also, most notably, the birthplace of Ernest Hemingway and home to a few Frank Lloyd Wright buildings. Anyway, Chicago, as you know, has bitterly cold -- but beautiful -- winters. On chilly weeknights, I would bake a single apple enhanced by nothing more than a sprinkle of cinnamon and nutmeg until the heat from the oven and the smells of warm, roasted apple flesh and toasted spices filled our entire apartment. Years later, nothing is as evocative of that time as the burnished gold of a baked yellow apple. 

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This is an embellished version of the original with a rustic date, walnut, and orange filling and an ingenious apple cider and sea salt caramel sauce. The recipe for the caramel sauce is adapted from Dusoulier's book, which presents traditional French cuisine (think clafoutis, canelés, bouillabaisse, choux pastry, leeks vinaigrette, farci poitevin) through vegetarian, and often vegan, dishes. The results are, in some instances, downright innovative. Dusoulier also includes tips on seasonal market shopping for fruits and vegetables -- I mean, really, the easiest way to win me over. (By the way, you can read her blog here). 

I was impressed by her creativity in crafting a vegan, gluten-free caramel sauce -- not an easy feat -- with apple cider, as well as her use of almond butter at the very end to replace the real butter called for in traditional recipes. The final product is a creamy, sweet-and-sour caramel meant to be used without restraint. 

The original recipe insists on the use of granulated white sugar -- unrefined sugar has impurities that prevent proper caramelization, according to Dusoulier. Far be it from me to argue with a more experienced/talented cookbook author but I found that for my limited purposes here, alternative sugars are fine. Also, I’ve strayed from the original recipe in terms of technique -- mainly because I’m lazy. Rather than caramelize the sugar on its own and heat up the cider separately, I short-circuit all that by increasing the amount of sugar and heating the two ingredients together to create an apple cider simple syrup of sorts. If the prospect of making caramel without a candy thermometer seems insane to you, it probably is, but basically, if you’ve made simple syrup in the past, this is only a slightly more complex version. One important note, though: the recipe moves fairly quickly so have your mise en place laid out before you begin.

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And, by the way, the French name for unpeeled baked apples like this? According to Dusoulier: pommes en chemise or apples with their shirts on. I did not know that. Here's to starting 2014 on a personal development note. 

Baked Apples w/Date-Orange-Walnut Filling (v/gf)

Inspired by The French Market Cookbook

Serves 4

4 medium organic apples, any variety (I like Golden Delicious or Crispin)

4-5 organic Medjool dates, pitted and chopped

1/2 cup raw walnuts, chopped

2 tbsp almond flour/meal

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp nutmeg

zest of 1/2 orange

sea salt

1/2 cup apple cider (or water)

Apple Cider & Sea Salt Caramel, to serve (recipe below)

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Wash and core each apple. You can use an apple corer, if you have one, or, for a more rustic look, you can literally cut the core out with a thin paring knife. If you choose the latter method, keep the opening fairly narrow. 

Toss the dates, walnuts, almond flour, spices, zest, and a pinch of sea salt in a small bowl. Make sure the almond flour is evenly distributed. 

Place the apples in a baking dish and stuff the cores with the filling, packing it in tightly. Pour apple cider or water into the bottom of the dish and cover with foil. Bake covered for about 25 to 30 minutes. Uncover the apples and bake for an additional 15 to 20 minutes until the apples are fully cooked through and the skin looks wrinkled. You can baste the apples with the juices every 20 minutes or so. (The skin may burst or split but that's OK). Test for doneness by inserting a paring knife into the side of an apple. 

Allow the apples to cool for about 10 minutes. Serve plain or drizzled with Apple Cider & Sea Salt Caramel Sauce (recipe below).

Note: The cider/water is necessary so that the apples do not stick to the pan and/or burn -- don't leave it out. I prefer a dry filling because the apples will release juices as they bake. I don't add any sweetener or sugar to the filling because the apples caramelize in the oven and are ultimately topped with a sweet sauce. Also, weirdly, the almond flour has a subtle sweetness. 

Apple Cider & Sea Salt Caramel Sauce (v/gf)

Adapted from the The French Market Cookbook

Makes 1 cup

1 cup apple cider

1/2 cup unrefined brown sugar (or coconut sugar)

1 tbsp & 1 tsp corn starch

2 tbsp raw almond butter (or real butter)

1/2 tsp sea salt

In a small saucepan, heat the cider and sugar together over medium-low heat. You can gently swirl the mixture from time to time but do not stir. It will take about 5 minutes or so for the sugar to fully melt. Once the sugar melts, it will start to simmer and thicken slightly. Allow the cider syrup to simmer away for a minute or two.

In a small bowl, whisk together a few spoonfuls of the hot cider with the corn starch until fully dissolved and no clumps remain. Add the corn starch slurry to the saucepan and continue whisking the mixture until it starts to thicken and bubble. This should take no more than a minute. As soon as it reaches a sort of jelly consistency, move the pan off the heat and whisk in the sea salt and almond butter (or real butter). Use immediately or store in the fridge for a few days. 

Note: The corn starch amount is not just me being ridiculously fastidious -- that is the exact amount you need for the proper consistency. You can replace the apple cider with other juices. Almond milk makes a great substitute for the apple cider but it will yield a creamier, sweeter caramel.