Monday, March 28, 2011

Creamy Nettle and Roasted Artichoke Dip

This is for all of you who love spinach artichoke dip as much as I do. Utilizing the tender shoots of spring nettle turns this notoriously rich appetizer into something a little more salubrious. (For the health benefits of nettle, see my previous "Sauteed Nettle with Sesame and Shiitake" post).
I may be a bit obsessed with the arrival of nettles each spring, but once you start taking advantage of them regularly, you will find forgiveness in your heart for my repetition.
Roasting artichoke hearts adds a lovely depth to this dish, combined with fresh garlic and organic cream cheese.
Whether it's March Madness basketball, or a precursor to a special meal that requires a unique nibble, this one is sure to please.

Creamy Nettle and Roasted Artichoke Dip:
*4-5 cups freshly harvested nettle shoots
*3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
*sea salt and pepper
*1 can whole artichoke heats in water, drained and cut into thin quarters
*extra virgin olive oil
*1 garlic clove
*1 package high quality whole organic cream cheese
*1/4 cup high quality whole organic sour cream

Preheat oven to broil.
Rinse and drain nettles. Saute over medium heat in the butter. Drizzle with a small amount of water to wilt. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until tender and completely wilted, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to completely cool.
Meanwhile, place drained artichoke hearts on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil. Broil until lightly golden, about 5-7 minutes. Keep a close eye on them. Remove from oven and cool.
Transfer cooled nettles to a food processor fitted with a blade. Add garlic clove. Pulse to blend.
Scrape contents into a medium mixing bowl.
Chop the cooled artichoke hearts into small pieces. Add to bowl with remaining ingredients. Blend throughly. Season with additional sea salt and pepper. Serve with sourdough wedges.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Tropical Flavors

A return trip to Costa Rica recently reunited me with my love for tropical fruit. Not the tropical fruit found in the brightly lit, overly air-conditioned supermarkets here in most of the United States, but the ripe, juicy gifts native to tropical soil.
Ripened by the strong heat of the sun, I love to indulge while the fruit is still warm and relaxed, infused with its sweet liquid. Favorites: papaya, mango, platanos (plantain), "date" bananas, cantaloupe, all matter of melons, and pineapple.
Placing the tender fruit rinds on a plank for the birds is the ultimate scene. Not to mention the flowers. Oh you could almost eat the flowers.
Please enjoy a few images from the land of eternal sunshine. . .

A roadside stand, well known by our hosts, became our first destination

Next to the cooler: bottles filled with local honey

Breakfast: 1st course

Other fruit lovers

And finally, some food for the eyes:

Mmmmm. . .

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sauteed Nettles with Sesame, Shiitakes and Shallots

All you have to do is cruise through last spring's recipes to see what a fan I am of nettles. Nettle and potato fritters, and nettles quiche have proudly appeared here before. The health benefits of nettles are vast, they are easily (if not more so) just as satisfying as spinach, and appear without hardly any effort early on in the season.
This is my favorite time to partake, when the shoots are tender and vibrant green. After a winter full of roasted roots, eating fresh greens is nothing short of a seasonal tonic.

Spring greens help cleanse the respiratory system, improve circulation, lighten mood, purify the blood and improve liver, kidney and gull bladder function. High in minerals such as calcium, phosphorous, zinc, magnesium and iron, spring greens also contain vital vitamins such as A, C, E and K. Nettles are some of the first wild edible greens to appear, allowing them to take up additional properties from the dormant winter soil, making them a very wise choice for diversifying the diet.

Shiitakes offer a broad range of useful benefits as well. Research shows that eating shiitake mushrooms stimulates the immune system and carries antiviral as well as antibacterial properties (good news for those of us who battle with seasonal colds). Plus, shiitakes happen to be high in the precious vitamin D, which we can all desperately use more of.
Lentinan, a compound present in shiitakes, has been used as an intravenous anticancer treatment in some countries due to its antitumor properties. And they are divine sauteed in butter.

Shallots, like onions, contain a host of special properties too: vitamins A and B6, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and folate.
Bottom line: this dish is a nutritional powerhouse. If you have access to a stream bank or undisturbed, damp, semi-forrested area, most likely you can find stinging nettle. Grab some gloves and garden snips and get into it.

Sauteed Nettles with Sesame, Shiitakes and Shallots:
*3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
*about 7 medium shiitake mushrooms, rinsed, dried and sliced
*2 medium shallots
*2 cloves garlic, minced
*about 4 cups loosely packed freshly harvested nettle shoots, rinsed
*1/2 cup rich chicken broth
*1/8 teaspoon sesame oil
*1-2 Tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the shiitakes.

Allow space in between mushrooms to allow to brown. Turn occasionally until golden and tender, about 2 minutes. Remove from pan with a slotted spoon and transfer to a small dish. Set aside.

Place remaining butter in pan. Add shallots. Reduce heat to medium low. Brown shallots before adding the garlic. Saute until aromatic and tender.
Place nettles directly into pan and pour in the broth. Increase heat to medium. Stir, allowing nettles to wilt completely, about 4 minutes. Remove pan from heat. Return shiitakes to pan. Drizzle all contents with the sesame oil and toasted sesame seeds. Gently toss. Serve warm.

Turn it into a Meal:
Serve nettles with fresh poached eggs for breakfast, or alongside grassfed steak, pastured pork or lamb for a lovely evening meal.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Gluten-Free Vegan Nirvana Cookies

This recipe was passed on from my friend Dana and her sister. It is a new favorite. Unrefined coconut oil, maple syrup, walnuts and almond butter marry beautifully with your choice of diverse variations.
I call them nirvana cookies because each bite is a little piece of gastronomic enlightenment. Don't be surprised if you find yourself levitating a few inches above ground . . .

Nirvana Cookies:
*1 cup rice flour, coconut flour (or regular organic white whole wheat flour)
*1/2 teaspoon baking soda
*1/2 teaspoon sea salt
*1/2 cup almond butter, or favorite nut butter
*1/3 cup maple syrup
*3 Tablespoons unrefined coconut oil
*1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
*1/3 cup chopped walnuts, slivered almonds, pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds

Preheat oven to 350. Line a baking sheet with parchment.
Blend all dry ingredients together in a medium bowl. Mix nut butter, maple syrup, coconut oil and vanilla in a separate mixing bowl. Add flour mixture to wet mixture. Thoroughly blend. Add nuts or seeds until fully mixed.
Roll a tablespoon of dough into a ball, place on baking sheet and gently press with fingertips to slightly flatten. Repeat with remaining dough.
Bake for 8-10 minutes or until slightly golden. Transfer to a baking rack to cool.

Serve with a glass of cold, raw, grass-fed milk (if you're not a true vegan that is).