Steamed Mushrooms with Yams

Steamed Mushrooms with YamThis simple dish is unimaginably good, and I can imagine some pretty good things.  It’s origins are in Japanese temple cuisine and it is just one example that showcases how incredibly satisfying and flavorful vegetarian food can be. The Japanese monks and nuns that originated this type of cooking, called shojin ryori, did not eat anything that could consciously try to avoid being eaten, such as animals.  As a result of this restriction, they developed a cuisine that is highly dependent on wild plants, seasonal vegetables, and of course, soy products.

To those skeptics out there, this type of cooking is very different from the type of food that is typically associated with western vegetarian or vegan cooking.  There is no attempt in this cuisine to recreate a meat-like effect using plant products.  No veggie burgers or Tofurkey to be found here. Instead, these are direct formulations that are devoid of some of the forced, strained, or desperate feeling that I get when I look at recipes from a lot of the western vegetarian/vegan movement.  I admit that I have a strong bias against a bunch of the crap food that has come out of folks trying to be vegetarians in America.  I am sympathetic to the desire for people to do as their conscience (or health) dictates, but a lot of it seems forced.  If you don’t like eating meat, stop trying to recreate it in soy and gluten…. 

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Baked Figs With Greens

DSC_0065This is really just a simple salad that is topped with some lovingly prepared figs.  The figs are marinaded and then baked in a fluid that will, after it is reduced, become the dressing for the salad.  This simple, sweet and sour glaze sets off the intense rich flavor of the baked figs.  We typically top this type of salad with either some really sharp blue cheese or Gorgonzola.  Almonds provide a great addition, particularly if you take the time to dress them with salt, oil and dried rosemary.

I hate to write and dash, but there is really not much to say about this one.  One piece of advice is to use cast iron to bake the figs; you will get a little bit of char and caramelization…perfect.  Also make sure to reserve the liquid at each step (marinade, then bake) so that you can reduce it into a lovely glaze later on.  In order to reduce the liquid, transfer it to a sauce pan and boil the crap out of it.  When it starts to thicken, remove it from heat, transfer it to another bowl and let it cool.  No sense in wilting your lovely salad by being hasty.  Well, there is one last piece of guidance I can provide; cook this, then eat it…it’s really, really good.

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Baked Figs With Greens
Recipe type: Side
  • 6 figs, halved
  • ½ cup cider
  • 2 Tsp. Olive Oil
  • 1 Tbs. honey
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • Mixed greens, such as spinach, leaf lettuce, mizzuna
  • ½ red onion, thinly sliced
  • ¼ cup thinly sliced cucumber
  • ¼ sweet bell pepper, sliced
  • 1 ripe tomato
  • sliced almonds for garnish
  • 1 oz. Gorgonzola, crumbled
  1. In a small bowl, combine vinegar, honey, and salt. Pour over halved figs and set aside to marinade for 15 to 20 minutes.
  2. Coat medium cast iron skillet with the olive oil and place figs, cut side down, in bottom. Pour marinade over figs and bake in a 425 degree F oven for 8 to 12 minutes.
  3. Remove figs from skillet and allow to cool.
  4. Reduce marinade fluid over high heat until it forms a thin syrup. Set aside to cool so it can be used as a dressing.
  5. Using remaining ingredients, prepare individual salads and arrange figs on top. Drizzle with thickened marinade and garnish with almond and Gornonzola.


Basmati Rice Spiced with Cardamom and Saffron

Basmati Rice with Saffron and CardamonThis dish leans on the flowery flavor of Basmati rice to back up a pretty solid blend of spices.  It is light in texture and fills the role of a pilaf for those times where you really don’t want to expend much effort in your side dishes.  Simply drop all the stuff in the pot, bring it to a boil, lid it up and simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes.  The rice will continue to cooks somewhat after you remove it from the heat.  If you use a clay pot rice cooker to cook this dish, the slacker effect is amplified, since the rice will stay hot right at the table while your prepare the rest of the meal.

There are a couple of ingredients that may be not massively common in this dish.  The first is orange flower water, which provides a nice astringency to the dish and the second is the spice blend ras el hanout.  Both can be had by mail order, although if you really wanted to, you could blend up your own ras el hanout from a recipe such as this.  It is a great blend of spices that is used extensively in Moroccan and Middle Eastern cooking.  It is not overly hot and provides a wonderfully complex profile of flavor, especially when paired with the saffron.

At the end of the day this is a pretty handy base recipe that can be thrown together with spices selected to match your main dish.  In our case, our main was a tagine of chicken with dates and figs.  The rice needed to be have enough punch to cut through the sweetness of the fruit.  I have also cooked a version that used lime and cumin flavors instead.  Adapt at will; just maintain the 1 to 1 1/2 proportion of rice to water, use oil (or butter), be liberal with your flavors, and, above all, have fun.

Basmati Rice Spiced with Cardamom and Saffron
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Rice
Cuisine: Mediterranean
Serves: 3
  • 1 cup Basmati rice
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tsp. orange flower water
  • 2 tsp. ras el hanout
  • ¾ tsp. cardamon, ground
  • 2 generous pinches saffron
  • 1.5 cups water
  1. Combine ingredients in a medium sauce pan or preferably in a clay rice pot. Heat to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cover tightly. Simmer rice for between 15 and 20 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to rest for about 20 minutes prior to serving. Rice will continue to steam during this time.

Peas and Mushrooms with Black Vinegar Sauce

Peas and Mushrooms with Black Vinegar SauceIt is always a fantastic thing when summer is finally here and we can rely on regular vegetables from the garden.  This year we tried something a bit different.  We typically plant bush-type Oregon Sugar Pod peas and I have to say they are a very nice pea.  They produce reliably over a moderately long window of time have a nice, mild flavor.  This year, in addition to the Oregon Sugar Pods, I planted four hills of Sugar Snap Pole peas.  I had never grown pole peas before and thought that they would be a nice supplement to the up-slope corner of the garden.  So they were…

Not only was the yield from these plants amazing, the pods were shockingly sweet and never really seemed to get tough, regardless of age on the plant.  Sure we had a couple that we starting to turn yellow that got a bit tougher, but even these were reasonably tender and sweet.  Because of the high and ongoing yield from these plants, we have been able to fill the spot typically enjoyed by green beans a bit early in the year.  This is one simple side that we cooked up; one of many to come this summer, I think…. 

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Corn Cakes with Sweet and Tart Relish

Corn CakesThere are many different versions of this classic Thai appetizer out there, this one just happens to be the one that we cook at our house.  They may not look like much, but these corn cakes are absolutely fantastic.  Frying at a high heat brings out the pungent flavors of the curry paste that, along with the bread crumbs and a little corn starch, binds the vegetables together.  Despite being deep fried, the corn and beans retain just a little bit of crunch and the kaffir lime leaves provide a fragrant citrus bite…. 

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