Monday, August 25, 2014

Washed Walnuts: A Healthy Perfect Summer Snack

This is how we ate.

Long before Michael Pollan implored us to cook more, my mom spent hours in the kitchen, preparing us dinner from scratch every night.  Before Eric Schlosser told us there is shit in the meat, my mom forbade us from eating fast food hamburgers, simply because of a vague sense that "you don't know what's in them."  Often she'd go back to recipes she learned from her own mom and mother-in-law, conjuring up their memory in the way she chopped onions, or their tips for gauging the temperature of a pot of boiling rice (Stick your finger on the inside wall of the the pot.  If it sizzles, it's done).  She would send us to school with a whole tomato in our lunch bag as a snack.  She was always trying to get us to eat fruit, more fruit, more fruit.  And we would roll our eyes, shoot her some attitude, and eat tortilla chips.

My mom is an Iranian woman, and as such, has an innate sense about food.  I think that people from a lot of countries have this, but it's kind of lost its way in the US.  She never ever wastes, she balances flavor with wholesomeness.  She's impermeable to commercial food conglomerates who insist their packaged products will enhance her life.  She cooks with real ingredients.

She tried with every ounce of effort she had to imbue my sister and me with this intuition, but the pull of packaged foods, school lunches, friends with cabinets full of candy bars, were all too much.  And now, as an adult in Los Angeles, with its overabundance of strange and wonderful foods everywhere, it'd be positively dismissive of me to reign it in.  At late night Ktown haunts, I've eaten things that literally slithered off the plate, I can't not try bone marrow waffles, I've enhanced my world through dumplings that burst with soupy broth as you bite into their delicate skin, I pile vinegary curtido on my greasy, heavy pupusas like a pro, and get a little choked up when I think about my first encounter with birria.  When confronted with such an embarrassment of culinary riches as this city is, it's hard to maintain the unwavering dietary compass that my mom tried so hard to instill.

So this recipe is a Violet Sassooni classic, in that it covers all the bases, without ever trying:  it's a totally delicious ethnic snack and a summer refresher, but it also happens to be low-carb, gluten-free, dairy-free, high in protein, raw, and vegan.  Plus it's only got two ingredients, and one is water.

Walnuts, pre-soak

Soaking walnuts in the refrigerator for a day or more does a few things.  As they soak, they give off much of their brown color, and with it goes their bitter edge.  You end up with a beautifully pale rendition of the nut with a much lighter, almost porous crispness, which, served over ice cubes, satisfies and refreshes on a hot day.  They're a great snack on their own with a little salt to dip each piece in, and you can even add them to a salad, but they are best as part of a breakfast meal of fresh flatbread, feta cheese, and sweet cantaloupe.

with flaky salt

Washed Walnuts

Note:  This recipe is extremely simple, but it uses a lot of water.  At least in California, we're in a historically severe drought.  You can definitely use the water you use to soak the walnuts to water plants.

Also note: The water that comes off the walnuts gives a dingy brown stain to everything it comes into contact with, especially porcelain sinks.  You can scrub or bleach it out, but just be aware.  Your best bet is to drain the liquid into a pitcher, and then directly use it to water plants.

One more note:  Use the best walnuts you can here, as they're the star of the show. Your best bets for highest quality/cost ratio are Middle Eastern stores, Trader Joe's, or bulk bins.

Raw walnut halves

Place walnut halves in a bowl, and top with water to cover.  Chill in refrigerator. The first day, change the water every few hours, up to three or four times.  Let them continue to soak overnight.  At this point, they are ready to eat.

For a single serving, grab a handful, shake off any excess water, and place on a plate with a small mound of salt.  Dip each walnut in salt before eating.

For a crowd, drain off liquid and place walnuts in a serving bowl with several ice cubes.

Any remaining walnuts should be stored in water in the fridge.  Change the water every day or so.  Walnuts will stay fresh and good this way for a week or more.

after overnight soak

sometimes the water freezes in the fridge into cool crystalline formations

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Iranstagram: 3 to Follow

When Thrillist published my post on LA's best Persian food, something interesting happened.  People started talking about it on Twitter, and a new world opened up to me.  I had no idea there were so many Iranian food people (bloggers, MasterChef contestants, restaurateurs, cookbook writers) all over the world, and my Twitter-illiteracy once again bit me.  I've since remedied this, jumping into the conversation to reminisce about Persian foods, share LA restaurant recommendations, and coo over all manner of photos.  And it's the photos that are the most evocative.

Iran's definitely one of those countries that, when experienced at street-level, is so much different than what you hear on the news.  So, I wanted to share a few Instagram accounts that I've recently discovered, reporting from within the country and offering a human view of the menacing Islamic Republic.

everydayiran:  This account features a rotating collection of Iranian photographers, and gives a bright, dynamic image of life on the streets, out in nature, and all over Iran.  My favorites tend to include hip Tehrani women who constantly put together incredibly chic outfits -- veil, manteau, and all.

f64s125: Photographer Ako Salemi's black and whites capture solitary moments in corners shrouded in shadow within a bustling city, and feature the clean lines of Iran's architecture.

solmazdaryani:  Solmaz's photos offer intimate peeks into the home life of non-city Iranians, sometimes very old, sometimes sharing a meal on the floor of a modest home.  I don't know much about the photographer here, but a quick google search leads me to understand she's an amateur photographer in Tabriz.  She only has a few photos up, but I hope she posts more and more.

Some other web-related notes:
 - Brandon Stanton of Humans Of New York (in my opinion, the best thing on the internet) spent some time in Iran a few years back.  His photos from that trip, with his signature human treatment, are terrific.

 - As I've been consuming more Iranian media, I've been wanting to create my own little collection of the things I like: less frippery and ornateness, more modern imagery, contemporary arts, cleaner food styling.  I've created a Pinterest page that does all that.  Follow it for your daily dose.

- And as always, I'm on twitter, instagram, and facebook myself.  The All Kinds of Yum Facebook page will keep you up to date on the very best that LA has to offer in food, fun, and general civic awesomeness, with some relevant side trips along the way.  And here's Twitter, and here's Instagram.  Go crazy.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Lemon Vanilla Buckwheat Waffles

I have a weird soft spot for other people's dietary restrictions.  I'm sure it'd get old after a while, but now and then, I enjoy the creative challenge of feeding people with "special needs".  Whether you're a lactard, a vegan, or kosher, I want to work around all your issues and feed you.

So, when I saw a recipe for buckwheat waffles, my thoughts immediately went to my gluten-sensitive friend Stephanie (of coconut caipirinha fame).  I needed to make this for her.

A note on the gluten business:  I am aware that recent research showed that non-celiac gluten sensitivity actually does not exist.  I also know that Steph feels sick when she eats wheat products, and that no one knows her body as well as she does.  So, in this particular instance, I'd say that science that is telling her she's not feeling what she is very clearly feeling is about as useful as Dr. Bunsen Honeydew's gorilla detector.  

Anyway, we got together at the home of our dear friend Rachel, a landscape architect who's also worn the hat of spice seller, Silver Lake Farms microgreen grower, at-home vegetable garden tender, and all-around person you want to cook and eat with.  
Oh Lucy!
While her fiance served us cold brew and played jazz, and new pup Lucy laid around and made the place extra-cozy, we put the Belgian Waffler to work.

We tweaked the recipe a bit, adding lemon zest and juice and vanilla extract, and the results were wonderful.  Our waffles had gorgeous color, crisp texture on the outside, steamy and doughy inside, with a grassy, nutty flavor that planted them squarely in the realm of grown-up tastes.

They made a perfect breakfast with some figs, blueberries, and sweetjuicyflavorful melon from the CSA.

Lemon Vanilla Buckwheat Waffles
Adapted from Simply Recipes
Makes 5 waffles, plus one baby waffle

You can use lower fat milk and yogurt here, but remember that fat is flavor.  We used 2% for both, and it worked out great.

1 1/2 cups buckwheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
1/2 tsp cinammon
2 eggs, separated, plus 2 egg whites
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
1 cup plain yogurt
1 cup milk
1/4 cup water
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
juice of half a lemon
zest of 1 lemon
Nonstick cooking spray
Extra butter for serving
Heated maple syrup for serving

Set waffle maker to medium.  In a large bowl, whisk together buckwheat flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.  In a medium bowl, beat all 4 egg whites, sprinkling brown sugar over them as you go, until soft peaks form.

In a separate bowl, whisk together egg yolks, melted butter, yogurt, milk, water, vanilla extract, and lemon juice and zest.

Add the yogurt mixture to the flour mixture and stir until just combined. Gently fold a third of the beaten egg whites into the batter until completely incorporated. Fold the remaining beaten egg whites into the batter until just combined.

To make waffles, spray top and bottom of waffle maker with cooking spray.  Pour or spoon batter into the wells (a ladle works well here) until it almost fills the edges.  Close the waffle maker, and check on the waffle after about five minutes: it's ready when the batter's dark grey color starts to show golden brown.  Carefully remove the waffle (a fork or tongs may help here), and repeat the process for the next, starting with cooking spray, until you've used all the batter.

Serve with butter and warm maple syrup, and if you have blueberries and vanilla tangelo marmalade to go along with it, consider yourself very, very lucky.