retreat-worthy: chickpea potato salad

The winter is a time for heartier fare, but I also like to make these sorts of cooked salads – they are satisfying and nourishing, but digest easily.  This is a good example of something that I like to make – it’s also what I served to the students at a silent meditation a few weeks ago.  I like to make it with lots and lots of cilantro, as if the herbs were salad lettuce – it’s a nice way to add greenery and bright flavour to the winter dining table.  I also think it’s really worth using dried chickpeas over canned: they have a subtler, nuttier flavour than the canned stuff, and have a cheery yellow look instead of the grey slimy sad face that the canned chickpeas have.  Make this for a weekday office lunch, or as a side dish for a weekend smorgasbord.

Chickpea potato salad

makes 4-6 servings

1 cup dried chickpeas
2 small red potatoes
a few tbsp olive oil
a large handful fresh cilantro
1-2 tsp ground cumin
1-2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp turmeric
1 lemon’s zest and juice
salt and pepper to taste
a drizzle of maple syrup (optional)

Soak the dried chickpeas in lots of water overnight.  Drain the soaking water, and cook the chickpeas in a pot of new water.  It’ll take about 30 minutes until they are cooked through.  Drain the chickpeas of the cooking water.

Meanwhile, cut the red potatoes into small chunks and toss in a tablespoon of olive oil.  Roast in a 425 F oven until brown and roasty.  Toss into a big bowl with the chickpeas.  Roughly chop the cilantro, and toss with everything else.  A little drizzle of maple syrup can help balance out the flavours if the salad is too tangy from the lemon juice.

chickpea potato salad

retreat-worthy: beet and black rice salad.

The key to successfully cooking for other people while they are on a meditation retreat is to think thoughts of love and compassion, so as to channel those same qualities into the food you make, hence providing nourishment that dares to delve into a world beyond physical.  With this intention in mind, I like to think of unicorns and bunnies to facilitate this work.  If I find myself getting caught up thinking whether my imagined unicorn should have a pink mane or a purple one, I resort to softly humming, “Kumbaya” or “My Favourite Things” from the Sound of Music (bright copper kettles and warm woollen mittens are da bomb).

Ultimately, retreat-worthy food is nourishing, but easy to digest; tasty, but leaves the palate clean so to avoid distractedly licking one’s chops while trying to meditate.  Here is a vegan salad made of pickled beets and black rice that I served this past weekend at a day of silent meditation – I think it would be an enjoyable lunch, eaten in silence or not.

Beet and black rice salad

serves 4

1 cup uncooked black rice
1-750 ml jar of sliced pickled beets
1 orange
1/4 cup white sesame seeds
1/4 cup nigella seeds
1/2 cup zereshk or chopped dried cranberries
1 heaping handful of fresh parsley
1/4 cup sesame oil
salt and pepper

making beet salad

Cook the black rice in a spacious pot so that it can simmer in excess water (start with adding 3 cups).  By cooking the rice in a loose, dance-y way, it will clump less in the salad.  When the rice is cooked (about 30 minutes), drain in a fine-mesh sieve and rinse with cold water.  Tip the rice into a big bowl.  Now drain the jar of beets and rinse the beets with water – just a little bit is fine, you want the beets to still retain some of their vinegaryness.  Add the beets to the rice.  Grate over the zest of the orange, and squeeze over its juice.  Add the remaining ingredients and toss toss toss.  If it still tastes too sour for your liking, add a tablespoon of sugar or maple syrup to balance out the flavour.

vegan beet black rice salad

A note about sourcing ingredients: black rice can be found at an Asian supermarket, or substitute wild rice if that’s easier to find.  Nigella seeds are little, dusty-looking black seeds that have a spicy, onion-y taste – they can be found at a Middle Eastern supermarket.  Zereshk is the dried fruit of beriberis, and look like smaller versions of a raisin, but have a sour taste.  They can be found in a Persian or Middle Eastern supermarket as well.  If you happen to live in Winnipeg, both nigella seeds and zereshk can be found at Dino’s Supermarket on Notre Dame.

i like you. here’s some food.

Over the weekend I baked a large carrot cake for my friend’s birthday.  It was served at a party with lots of our friends, and our friends are nice people, so they congratulated me on how delicious and beautiful the cake was.  My outward response was, “Thanks!” but inside I thought, “Well I guess they didn’t notice the lumps in the icing.  Or that the cake had cracked apart on the inside.  Or that a corner of the cake had fallen off and had been patched together again with icing and luck.”  They obviously didn’t notice my vacant stare as I had this inner monologue.

I think we don’t give each other enough credit for being kind-hearted souls that want to support and wish each other well.

I also think we don’t give ourselves enough credit.

Many years ago I made a cake of similar size (chocolate sponge, white chocolate icing) for a friend’s grandma’s 80th birthday.  She asked me to make it because she thought I’d have fun doing it.  When she saw I was so upset at how the cake wasn’t holding together and that there were crumbs in the icing, she said quietly, “I thought this was supposed to be fun.”

Her gentle reminder brought it all home for me, and I realized how awfully dramatic I had been about the whole matter.  It is supposed to be fun – or at the very least, not terrible and tragic.  Making food for others is one of the best ways to show you care, and eating is one of life’s greatest joys.  (I secretly believe that those people who just pick at their food and say blankly, “Oh I’m full” go home and decadently dip apple slices right into the peanut butter jar and chase it with vanilla ice cream and chocolate cookies).  However, being human, things don’t always turn out (it gets a little burnt, it’s too soft, too thick, whatever), so what you make doesn’t always look like it belongs on the cover of a magazine.  But I think that’s okay, because the point was to say, “Hey, I like you enough to make you a cake/cookies/stew/falafel.  Let’s continue to like eachother.”  And the person receiving it will say, “I’m hungry, so ditto” or something like that.  They won’t see the imperfections, they will see the effort and love.  And then you should tell yourself, “I made an effort, I’m an all right human being.”  And then divvy out some portions of what you made so you can enjoy it together.

So, as MFK Fisher says, “Serve it forth.”  And heap on the love.

lentil loaf.

The Internet is rife with hyperbole, but the other day I finally, finally, made a lentil loaf.  Seriously.  I have a page ripped out from a magazine with a recipe for a Curried-Lentil Quinoa Loaf stuck in my food journal (because I’m cool like that), and the footer on the page says, “October 2010.”  Four years.  2014 has been a year of breakthroughs, apparently.  Of course, I did not use that recipe (because following through completely would be just too perfect) and instead I used the Lentil-Walnut Loaf recipe from Angela Liddon’s The Oh She Glows Cookbook.  I know I’m late to the party, but her cookbook and blog are so beautiful and inspiring: you can really feel her passion and dedication to good food.  This loaf did not disappoint!

What I made is a slight variation from the original, simply because I was trying to use what I had.  It was so good that I forgot to take a photo of it until it was half gone.  Also I don’t have a full-size loaf pan; I have only mini loaf pans, which probably sounds ridiculous for someone who bakes so much bread, but the loaf turned out wonderfully in a shallow 9×13″ baking pan.

lentil walnut loaf

A slight variation of Angela Liddon’s Lentil Walnut Loaf

serves 4-8

1 cup uncooked green lentils
1 tsp vegetable oil
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
2 carrots, grated
1/3 cup raisins
1 cup walnut pieces
1/2 cup oat flour
1/2 cup Panko bread crumbs (next time I’m going to try all oat flour)
1 tsp dried oregano
salt and pepper

for the balsamic-apple glaze:
1/4 cup ketchup
2 tbsp apple butter
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp maple syrup

Soak the lentils overnight in plenty of water.  The next day, simmer the lentils in fresh water until they are tender.  Drain most of the cooking water, and pulse the lentils in a food processor or blender until it resembles a coarse paste.

Meanwhile, saute the onions in vegetable oil until they soften and take on some light colour.  Add the celery and carrots, and continue cooking until the veggies soften.  Throw in the raisins and walnuts to heat them through.

Stir everything together, and add salt and pepper to taste.  Line your loaf pan with parchment paper, and press the mixture into the pan evenly and firmly.  Whisk together the ingredients for the glaze and spread over the entire surface of the loaf.  Bake in a preheated 325 F oven for 30-40 minutes, so that the loaf dries out and the edges turn a little brown.  Let it cool before slicing so that it can firm up a little bit.  We ate it with coleslaw and wild rice for dinner.  Little slices of the leftovers are an excellent snack, stolen right out of the fridge, eaten cold.

it’s all sourdough love, baby.

Bread was among one of the first things I ever baked, and it was a strange, mysterious and incredibly rewarding experience.  Watching the yeast dissolve and grow foamy in sugary water, then the springy aliveness of the dough – it was all so new and exciting.  Enamoured with my new hobby, I even wrote a short story about breadmaking for a high school English assignment, about which my teacher said, “This is very sensual” – a comment that surprised my logical, rational outlook of myself, but I didn’t know much then (I still don’t).

From that first basic white loaf I branched out into making whole wheat bread, rye, pita breads, bagels, challah…but of course the next big step in any self-proclaimed serious baker’s repertoire is sourdough.  The promise of Real Bread flavour, the beautifully uneven holes that are revealed upon slicing – these rewards demand planning and patience, qualities that apparently our fast-paced lives lack regard for.  Feeling somewhat ready for the challenge, my first dalliance into sourdough was over eight years ago with a wild yeast starter made with organic raisins (I don’t think I could find organic ones then, it still wasn’t that common), flour and water.  The lumpy potion sat in a Mason jar on the kitchen table for a week, eyed suspiciously by my roommates.  After a week, not even a blip of a bubble came out of it, and I was crushed; looking back now I see that the whole thing was a misguided and overly ambitious endeavour to be made in the dead middle of a Canadian winter in the suburbs of a university town.  Brokenhearted, I went back to the relative dependability of store-bought dried yeast, but the shadows of sourdoughs unrealized haunted me.

This fall, I decided that it was about time that I shook off the emotional distress of the past, and pep-talked myself into feeling that I was finally mature enough to take care of a sourdough starter.  To leave nothing to chance, I used a recipe from the Tassajara Bread Book (by Edward Espe Brown) that called for a small amount of dried yeast.  From my research I knew that eventually wild yeast would inoculate the starter and the flavour would come to represent the local microflora of the Canadian prairies, but for now I was satisfied with a generic Sourdough Baby.

Luckily, the Sourdough Baby began showing signs of life right away!  The first loaves where a miracle, and so were the second and third.  It has been a joy and delight to use and feed my new pet.  For the past few weeks, Baby and I have been getting to know eachother: every time I make up a fresh batch of dough, I learn more about Baby’s preferences, such as warmer temperatures, a pre-ferment without any salt to get the carbon dioxide production going, which pans it likes to be baked in to give the most volume, a regular feeding schedule.  I am very proud to say that I haven’t bought bread for many weeks now, as Baby and I are getting used to eachother’s rhythms.

I foresee a happy life together.

sourdough rising

retreat-worthy: shiitake mushroom and veggie soup

shiitake mushroom soup

Another soup, just in time for the cold weather!  This recipe is derived from the version in Amrita Sondhi’s The Modern Ayurvedic Cookbook.  My mom used to cook with dried shiitake mushrooms all the time, and I hadn’t until now – turns out it’s really simple!  You just let them soak in room temperature water for at least an hour (she would suggest overnight) so they hydrate and soften for cooking.  Fresh shiitake mushrooms are an option too, but they are harder to find.  I usually buy mine at an Asian grocery store, though a big chain store probably has them as well.

This recipe is vegan, gluten-free (if you use gluten-free tamari), and worthy of being eaten any day, retreat or not.

Shiitake mushroom and vegetable soup

makes 6-8 servings

12 (58 g) dried shiitake mushrooms
6 c. water for soaking
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 c. onions, finely diced (about 1/4 large onion)
1 cup carrots, chopped into half moons (about 2 carrots)
2 cups sweet potatoes or 1/2 acorn squash, peeled, chopped into small chunks
1 large handful Chinese cabbage, finely sliced, or baby bok choy (I prefer the bok choy, it’s just so pretty, and also delicious)
2 tsp fresh ginger, minced
1/3 cup tamari (gluten-free if possible)
1/4 cup brown miso paste
1/4 cup green onions, finely sliced (garnish)

Let the mushrooms soak in the water for at least an hour, or perhaps overnight.  Save the soaking water for making the soup, and slice the mushrooms.

In a large stockpot, gently saute the onions in the vegetable oil over medium-high heat.  When they start to soften, add the carrots and sweet potatoes (or acorn squash).  Stir occasionally, letting the vegetables grow bright in colour.  Add the sliced mushrooms and soaking water.  Top off with additional water if required to just cover the vegetables, and bring to a boil.  Cover, and reduce heat to a simmer until the vegetables are just cooked through.  Stir in the Chinese cabbage or baby bok choy, and let cook for 5-10 minutes longer until the greens are tender.  (I tend to leave the bok choy whole; they shrink a lot when they are cooked, and their slender shape is beautiful to behold.)  Just before you are ready to serve, stir in the ginger, tamari, and miso paste.  Scatter over the green onions and soak up the nourishing flavours of this light but satisfying soup.

retreat-worthy food: moroccan-inspired couscous

Next up: Moroccan-inspired couscous, or to be more exact, Ottolenghi-inspired couscous.  Besides having written several truly gorgeous and inspiring cookbooks, Yotam Ottolenghi runs several restaurants in London, UK, that venerate vegetables and tastes that reflect his Middle Eastern upbringing.  This recipe is based off of the “Ultimate Winter Couscous” in his book, Plenty.  It was part of our first dinner at the retreat, and is transport-friendly, in that it can be made ahead of time and is delicious served warm or at room temperature.

Ottolenghi couscous

makes 6-8 servings

1/2 of a whole acorn squash
2 zucchini or 3 beets (my original plan was zucchini, but there wasn’t any in the store at the crucial moment, so beets it was)
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 tsp dried ginger
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup (174 g) couscous
1 cup water, boiling
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 bunch cilantro
1/2 bunch mint
1/4 cup olive oil
1 lemon
3/4 tsp salt

Cut the squash in half, and roast cut-side-down at 400 F in a baking dish that has a little pool of water poured into it.  It’ll take about 30 minutes until it becomes tender and a knife can pierce the skin easily.  Since you will only need half of a squash for this recipe, save the other half for later, perhaps as a mash beside veggies or stirred into a muffin batter.  If you are using the beets, roast them with the skin on, wrapped in foil.  This will take longer, probably 1 hour.

When the squash and beets have been cooked and cool enough to handle, peel the skin off and cut into cubes.  If you are using the zucchini, cut into cubes and pan-fry in vegetable oil until golden brown.  Once the zucchini is cooked, throw in the cubed squash and spices.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, pour the boiling water over the couscous and cover.  Let it sit for about 5 minutes, and then fluff the couscous with a fork.  Toss it with the cooked vegetables, and add the remaining ingredients: raisins, roughly chopped herbs, olive oil, the zest and juice of one lemon, and salt.  I really like how this dish leaves you feeling satisfied, but not heavy – and it’s a great way to enjoy the produce of the fall season!  And, if you are so inclined, this would be so delicious with some feta crumbled on top.  Yeah.

moroccan couscous

retreat-worthy food: granola

I just finished cooking for 21 students at a weekend meditation silent retreat that was led by my yoga teacher, Jonathan Austman!  It was a great honour to nourish people as they dedicated themselves to their practice.  All the food was vegetarian (actually it was mostly vegan), and made according to Ayurvedic principles.  Some students may or may not have broken silence to tell me how good the food was…all I can say is that I have very good recipes to work from!  Over the next few weeks I will post recipes that I used, as requested by those who attended.  Enjoy!


This granola recipe is based off of the one in The Complete Tassajara Cookbook by Edward Espe Brown.  Tassajara Zen Mountain Centre is a retreat centre in California, where the author was the head cook from 1967 to 1970.  It is probably the most delicious granola recipe I’ve come across: it is light, cooks evenly and consistently, and is really simple to make. Make a huge batch and save it in an air tight jar for a few weeks.  We served it with plain yoghurt and honey.


makes 12 servings

4-½ cups (400 g) rolled oats
1-½ cups (165 g) chopped almonds
3 cups (378 g) sunflower seeds
½ cup (98 g) vegetable oil
½ cup (132 g) brown rice syrup
½ cup (140 g) maple syrup
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1-½ tbsp (12 g) cinnamon, ground
a few dashes of freshly grated nutmeg
1-½ tsp (4 g) salt
1 cup-ish of dried fruit (raisins, chopped apricots…)

Combine the oats, almonds, and sunflower seeds and spread onto a baking sheet.
Gently heat up the oil and syrups until it is watery.  Take off the heat and stir in the vanilla, spices and salt.
Pour the oil/syrup mixture over the oats and mix together (use your hands, it’s easier!) and then spread it out again evenly.  Bake at 325 F, for about 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes, until it is an appetizing roasty light-medium brown.  Let the granola cool and dry (I tend to leave the granola in the turned-off oven overnight to make sure it thoroughly dries) and then scatter over the dried fruit.

homemade granola