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.


Shaved Fennel Persimmon & Walnut Salad

by Maja Lukic


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Perhaps it's because I've been more sedentary than usual or perhaps it's the brutal onslaught of ice and snow but I've had this craving for fresh winter salads. After a few days of fantasizing about light and healthy but seasonal dishes, I grabbed some fennel and a handful of persimmons and got to work.

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The result is a salad plate that shines with bright flavors and vibrant colors. The gorgeous orange color of the persimmons is visually uplifting and eases the lack of sunlight, the vast expanse of gray skies, and the distinct sensation that everything has assumed a sort of lifeless quality. (I may be struggling with some seasonal blues). The walnut oil and toasted walnuts ground the salad -- it is winter, after all -- and tone down the strong anise flavor of the raw fennel. The arugula is probably an optional component. Leave it in, leave it out -- I think the salad also works pretty well without it.  

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There was a time, not too long ago, when I couldn't stand the taste of raw fennel. In fact, I thought fennel was inedible unless roasted or braised into oblivion. Totally misguided! Raw fennel, sliced thinly into delicate wisps and paired with a bright vinaigrette and contrasting ingredients such as sweet ripe fruit and toasted nuts, is amazing in a salad. As with all things, I'm late to the party. If you're really into raw fennel salads, check out these other interesting variations on the theme: Celery, Apple, and Fennel Slaw, Fennel and Blood Orange Salad, and Shaved Fennel Salad

Persimmons are a recent obsession of mine. This pretty coral fruit has a sweet flavor that falls somewhere in between an apple and butternut squash and is amazingly healthy -- some label it a superfood but I'm not a fan of that word. 

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Because I'm still psychologically scarred from a singular experience with an underripe Hachiya persimmon, I would recommend that you choose the Fuyu varietal for this salad. The Fuyu (pictured throughout) is distinguished by its flat bottom and squash shape and sort of resembles an orange tomato. The Fuyu can be eaten while still firm. The heart-shaped Hachiya has a pointy bottom and a deep orange-red color. If not fully ripened, it imparts a horrible astringent and furry taste and is basically inedible. If you've never had the experience, I can confidently tell you that it's not a great sensation in the mouth. (For what it's worth, the Hachiya is more appropriate for baking/roasting anyway). But persimmons are wonderful little fruits and a welcome seasonal ingredient.

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One final note: I'm still adjusting to my new camera and lens -- which I love -- so if the photos look slightly off, I apologize and promise it will only get better from here. Which is to say, please keep checking back!

Shaved Fennel, Persimmon, and Walnut Salad w/Lemon-Walnut Vinaigrette (v/gf)

Serves 2

For the salad

1 large or 2 small fennel bulbs, trimmed and sliced paper thin

2 persimmons, sliced paper thin

2-3 cups arugula 

1/2 cup walnuts, roughly chopped

Lemon-Walnut Vinaigrette

2 tbsp lemon juice

1 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard

1/2 tbsp maple syrup (or more to taste)

2 tbsp toasted walnut oil

sea salt

Prepare the Lemon-Walnut Vinaigrette by whisking together the lemon juice, Dijon mustard, maple syrup, and walnut oil. Taste and sweeten with additional maple syrup, to taste.

Toast the walnuts in a skillet over medium heat for about 3 to 5 minutes or until lightly fragrant. 

Slice the fennel and persimmons thinly in a food processor or with a sharp knife. For the fennel, cut off the stalks and trim the ends. Cut the fennel in half lengthwise, remove the core (save for snacking), and slice the fennel crosswise into paper thin wisps. For the persimmons, cut them in half lengthwise and slice thinly into half moons.  

In a large salad bowl, toss the shaved fennel with half of the vinaigrette and let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes. Add the persimmons, arugula, and walnuts to the fennel. Gently toss the salad with as much of the remaining vinaigrette as you'd like and season lightly with sea salt. Serve immediately.

Note: Slice the fennel and persimmons as thinly as possible. I have a dim view of mandolines so I would recommend a food processor with a shredding/slicing attachment or a sharp knife and some patience. About an eighth of an inch or thinner is best for both the fennel and the persimmons. You may substitute the walnut oil with olive oil, avocado oil, or a different nut oil. 


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.