Tofu Saag Paneer, Spring Style

Saag paneer was always my number one choice when ordering food at an Indian restaurant. What could be better than spiced, creamed spinach, studded with soft cheese cubes and served over perfectly cooked rice? Heaven. The way I would feel the day after eating it for dinner was the exact opposite of heaven, though. I eventually came to the conclusion that the saag paneer hangovers were not worth it, especially when I realized that I could make delicious saag paneer at home, with tofu replacing the cheese and coconut milk standing in for the heavy cream. Nowadays, I honestly prefer my version. It tastes just as satisfying, but also nourishes me in that energizing, life-giving way that only plant-based food can.Just a quick note to say that I realize that this recipe is nothing close to authentic, starting with the use of extra vegetables, to the tofu, and even the spices. Saag paneer is more of an inspiration here, a really great one at that, and I definitely don’t mean to offend any real Indian cooks.This particular recipe is brightened up with the use of seasonal vegetables, mainly because I cannot contain my excitement for all the spring produce around right now. I also figured that tender spring things like asparagus, broccoli, and peas would mingle well with creamed spinach, and they really do. The tofu works very well here, too. The thing I love about tofu is that it’s able to become so many things. It’s particularly perfect as a paneer stand-in because it looks similar and has a similar texture. A quick sear in the pan and a toss in some spices, and it becomes totally irresistible.Now about the spices. Traditionally, garam masala is the spice blend that’s used to flavor saag paneer. The thing is, I rarely have garam masala on hand, but I pretty much always have curry. So, I use curry in this saag paneer, and it works really well (see what I mean when I say not traditional?). I think the reason it works is because both garam masala and curry are spice blends, and both contain powerful spices like cumin and coriander. Curry has turmeric while garam masala doesn’t, and garam masala is usually sweeter and includes spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, but generally, they are both complex and delicious. Anyways, I point all of this out to say that it’s totally ok to use curry here and generally to work with what you’ve got in your pantry. I’m a big believer in making recipes your own. If you do have garam masala though, feel free to use it in this recipe and maybe adjust the amount if needed.The curry that I always have on hand comes from our amazing partner, Nuts.com. It’s made with noticeably fresh spices and lasts forever, because I keep it refrigerated. Since curry is a blend of strong spices, it’s basically an express way to flavor, and it’s instantly able to enhance so many dishes, like this tofu saag paneer, as well as soups, stews, sauces, etc. It’s definitely one of my favorite pantry staples. I also used Nuts.com chili powder in this dish for even more complexity.For other great ways to use curry powder, check out these dishes from our archives: Our Favorite Weeknight Curry, Mango Curry, Curry Coconut Ice Cream, Lemongrass Curry Noodles, Sweet Potato and Brussels Sprout Gratin, Savory Vegetable Crumble.CLICK FOR TOFU SAAG PANEER, SPRING STYLE RECIPE

Be still my heart: Radishes!

So cute, they’re adorable! But so brash. They can be a little bossy, a little assertive. A wake up call! Of course I’m talking about radishes, the charming but somewhat overlooked actors waiting in the wings of our kitchen stage. Let’s talk about their myriad facets, and the many roles they are ready to play on our plates!

A bit of radish history

Radish plants are native to China, and are thought to have been cultivated in Europe as early as Neolithic times (from around 9,000 to 3,000 BC). They were certainly eaten in Egypt since the beginning of civilization. The 100,000 builders of The Great Pyramid evidently ate enormous quantities of radishes together with onions and leeks. The mind boggles.

Today’s familiar red globe radishes first appeared on the food scene in the 18th century, and now there are more than 250 varieties in various shapes, sizes and colors. A veritable treasure trove of radishes!

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Ayurvedic Walnut Veggie BrainBurgers

The English walnut has a rich, expansive history and the respect of modern science. Here's a veggie burger featuring the walnut from Chef Domnick Mason at the Raj Ayurvedic resort and spa in Fairfield Iowa. The Raj, for the last 25 years has provided a full range of authentic panchakarma treatments to clientele worldwide as well as meals for guests and the community that feature organic foods - much of it local.

This is the recipe for the famous Raj veggie-burger featuring the brain-nourishing, health-supporting walnut. Nuts are considered an important part of the vegetarian diet as they supply fiber, minerals, and vitamins. They contain beneficial phytochemicals. Some contain many different forms of plant sterols, which are believed to help moderate blood cholesterol. Some of the volatile oils in nuts contain antioxidants that help counter free radical damage. Tree nuts like almonds, walnuts and pecans contain no cholesterol. Most of the calories in nuts come from fat, but mainly unsaturated fat, and fat performs some essential functions in the body. A growing body of scientific research spotlights the health benefits of this delicious nut.

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Why Giving from the Heart Can Be So Scary

What kind things do you think but don’t say? How would your life be different if you expressed your love, desire, and gratitude more often to those closest to you? What do you keep to yourself because it feels too scary to share?

The following is an example of a seemingly insignificant moment that I’ve never forgotten because I chose to be guarded rather than vulnerable. When I was in 11th Grade, a friend and I set off on a late afternoon stroll through some pastures in Vermont. There was a golden hue as the spring day was slowly turning to night, and I remember looking at my friend and thinking how beautiful she looked. However, instead of sharing from my heart and telling her what I saw, I bit my tongue and said nothing. How strange to be too shy to extend a compliment, but this happens more frequently than you might think.

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Rhubarb Celli Ripieni – Old School Jam Cookies from Abruzzo

There are still a few spots left in our Abruzzo Forage and Cook Retreat in Italy this coming October! We thought we would talk a bit more about the vegan menu that we were able to develop for this retreat, as well as share a traditionally vegan cookie recipe from Abruzzo.


Traveling through Italy as a vegan (and in some cases even as a vegetarian) can be rough. Sure, you will be able to get by ok, but you will also inevitably miss out on a ton of truly authentic and delicious dishes, and may even end up eating more than a few mediocre vegan meals. We’re speaking from experience. That’s why we initially planned our retreat to be strictly vegetarian – we didn’t think we could pull off a vegan menu in such a remote region as Abruzzo. But so many of you expressed an interest in a 100% vegan menu, that we had to rethink the whole thing.



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Arugula!

Arugula is my number one go-to green. I put it on EVERYTHING! I like a little bit of bitter, and it has good tooth—texture you can sink your teeth into. Arugula plays well with others, especially seasonal fruits like blueberries, roasted cherries, apricots. Throw it in with other lettuces, in a frittata, into a pesto. Throw it on top of soup! Top it with sardines. Throw it in at the last minute of scrambling an egg. On top of toast with smushed avocado. The topping looks like green hair! Like that girl in school who had that curly kind of crazy hair? Like that.

It’s kind of my savior.

What could be easier than grabbing a handful or two out of a bag, box or farm-market stash and plopping in whatever you’re doing? Drizzle on a little olive oil, lemon juice, sea salt. Done.

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Seasonal Veggie Quinoa Salad with Pitta Churna Dressing

Fresh foods contain "prana," or life-giving energy, and are as close to nature as possible.

Prana is the vital energy present in fresh vegetables and fruits and pure air that we breathe. One of the reasons for eating is to imbibe prana, so you want to choose foods that are high in prana. The more you eat of life-giving foods, the more health and longevity you are likely to enjoy. Ayurveda considers food very powerful medicine. Make the best use of the foods you prepare and eat by choosing fresh, organic, filled-with-prana foods! 

Incorporating more fresh vegetables and fruits in your diet will give you an immediate energy boost. It's also important to cut the vegetables and cook them fresh at every meal. Buying pre-cut vegetables means that you have already lost some of the prana. For that reason, buy vegetables and fruits whole for maximum vitality.

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Favorite Spring Cleaning Recipes

We’ve got a round up of our favorite Spring recipes for you today! They’re all perfect for when you get that urge for a spring cleaning and a fresh start, whether that means opening all the windows, scrubbing every corner of the house, organizing your closets, or cooking something light, refreshing, and life-giving to the max. All these recipes utilize spring produce and other high-vibe, plant-based ingredients. Enjoy :)
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A taste for vegetables: your guide to falling in love

Vegetables are ALWAYS a good idea, and this post is a good reminder to eat the rainbow! A plate full of color means you are loading up on the important phytonutrients that can do better than anything else on the planet to balance your immune system, reduce inflammation, and make you FEEL better. My advice? Go for it. 

For over a decade, I’ve been preaching that you need to love your vegetables, not just endure them. Veggies, and the fantastic array of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals they contain, are crucial for brain health, longevity, and cancer prevention, among their many good deeds. Cruciferous vegetables (including broccoli, kale, cabbage, and cauliflower) contain B vitamins that are critical for methylation, for example, a process through which our brains repair themselves. We all need brain repair!

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Keeping the Balance

Recently I was hanging out with a friend who’s the poster child for “woe is me.” According to him, no one works as hard for as little and everyone else’s life is better, easier, and more fun. The more time I spent with him, the more I began to notice myself falling into this thought form as well. Whether we’re aware of it or not, we tend to mirror those around us.

Since my “woe is me” friend talks incessantly about how busy he is, how everyone he hires fails him in some way, and how everyone else seems to “have it made,” he misses the opportunity to see what’s around him and recognize the many blessings in his life. Interestingly, I’ve noticed the people whom my friend believes “have it made” tend to work hard, but they have the ability to slow down enough to find joy and beauty wherever they are, no matter what they’re doing. Henri Matisse said, “There are always flowers for those who want to see them.” There’s always something to marvel at, but we have to be willing to slow down and look.

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Ayurvedic Fried Plantains (Bananas)

Plantains are a delicious fruit belonging to the genus Musa, which includes the banana. There is no formal botanical distinction between plantains and bananas. Plantains are often eaten cooked. The plantain (banana) is indigenous to tropical Southeast Asia — including Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines — and Northern Australia.

In ayurvedic terms, plantains have an astringent taste. People who need to balance Pitta and Kapha generally need to eat more bitter and astringent foods. Raw plantains and bananas can be harder to digest and, when eaten uncooked, are cold in nature, so cooking is an ideal way to prepare this fruit. In ayurveda, the banana is thought of as nature’s personal fountain of youth. It is known for stimulating healthy digestion and helps the body retain essential elements such as calcium, potassium, and phosphorus. Enjoy!

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Vegan Farro and Pea Cakes

Do you guys do spring cleaning? Stronger sun and longer days motivate me to clean and organize like nothing else. Winter tends to put me in a hibernation mode, when coziness is the number one priority, and certain corners of the house get neglected. But come spring, and I feel awake and ready to take action once again. I want the house to feel light and airy, and as uncluttered as possible, as if to reflect the quality of the light outside. This is when I love tackling our closets with a super critical eye. If something hasn’t been worn for more than a few months (and if it’s not a specifically seasonal item), it gets donated. Same with any and all tchotchkes that have no sentimental value, and Paloma’s forgotten toys.


My approach to cleaning and organizing my pantry is a little different. I try to get rid of as little as possible, and instead, I look for ways to creatively use up what I find. The things that mostly clutter up my pantry are small baggies of bulk grains, beans, or spices that aren’t enough to take up real estate in a whole glass jar. They usually get tucked away somewhere in the back corner of the drawer, and then forgotten. So my thought is, maybe you ran into a similar problem this spring? And maybe you found some farro in the back of your pantry? Or maybe you just have a jar of farro proudly displayed on your kitchen shelf? Or (this is the last ‘or’, I promise), you’ve never tried farro, but you really want to. My point is, you should make these farro cakes this spring!

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Rachel Naomi Remen: sustenance for uncertain times

When it comes to healing, our notion of time can behave very strangely. It might speed up or it might be infinitely slow, like molasses. When we are eager for a loved one to get better, as I am now, it can seem like forever. The body heals at the rate that it heals. I remember Rachel Naomi Remen saying disease is a weird thing; it reveals itself when it’s ready to reveal itself. It can be frustrating when all sorts of symptoms appear, but no prognosis is certain. You are left wondering...where am I?

Rachel Naomi Remen, one of the pioneers of the mind-body health movement and relationship-centered care, is my inspiration for how to think about these unfathomable mysteries. How many of you have read (and reread) her book Kitchen Table Wisdom? I read it when it first came out and I was in culinary school. My copy is a dog-eared treasure on my shelf.  

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Mindfulness on the Mountain: Spring Rolls

As I swallowed my last sip of tea, the leader of our group hike announced that it was departure time. Like horses at the racetrack when the gates open, the hikers in my group hit the trail with a jolt. It was barely daybreak, but they were already swiftly moving, chatting, and increasing their gait at a rapid pace.

 

Having just rolled out of bed, I was still having difficulty focusing my eyes, let alone taking deep enough breaths to fill my lungs with oxygen. I huffed and puffed as the burn began to grow in my thighs. Already overheating, I stopped to remove my fleece shirt. By this time, the swiftly moving hikers were already far ahead and the slower few passed me as I tugged my shirt over my head.

 

A few years ago this would have concerned me greatly. I had a thing about always being in the front.

 

I’m not as fit as I used to be, so it’s much more difficult for me to be at the front; however, I’ve also learned a valuable lesson about slowing down. It’s not always necessary to race to the end. There can be great value in being more mindful and reveling in the journey.

 

So, on that dark morning, instead of sprinting to the finish line, I got to breathe in my surroundings, feel the morning air on my cheek, and see the colors of the sunrise. For a while I hiked alone, which offered me an opportunity to think, which is something I don’t always make time for in my daily life. And when I met up with another hiker, we ended up having a delightful conversation about mindfulness, which seemed to be a nod from the Universe.

 

Letting go of my need to be the lead trail horse was not easy; sometimes I still find myself worrying that others will think less of me, but when I see how enriched my life can be when I take time to go more slowly and savor what’s around me, I know I’m on the right path.

 

Do you ever find yourself pushing so hard to reach a destination that you miss the journey? What do you do because you fear the judgments of others? What steps can you take to bring more mindfulness into your life?

 

 

Fresh Spring Rolls for Mindfulness

 

Nothing says, “spring isn’t too far away” quite like spring rolls…the name says it all! Not only are they delicious, but also they’re fun to make. There is something meditative about rolling them. Use whatever vegetables you have on hand. Cucumbers, micro greens, pea shoots, bean sprouts, red bell pepper are all tasty additions. Flavored tofu can be used in place of the shrimp. As you work with each ingredient, take time to really see it. How does it look, smell, feel, sound, and taste?

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Edible healing

Julie Burford, my beloved Soup Sister and neighbor about whom I’ve frequently written (watch us making soup together here) is always on the frontline of cooking for people in need. She’s the Florence Nightingale of the kitchen, the one in our neighborhood who absolutely shows up with something nourishing or comforting or both when someone is sick or struggling. Her husband Stan says, “She’s the edible therapist!”

There have been a flood of people in her world who have been ill lately, including five people this week. Granted Julie’s 74 and has a bit more time on her hands now that she’s not running a non-profit, but she. Steps. Up. Every time. For her friend diagnosed with Parkinson’s...  or for friends of friends... or friends of friends of friends! “Oh, I got home early from dinner tonight,” she says breezily. “I can whip up a batch of butternut squash soup.”

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She has her tentacles out for who needs what when, and an extraordinary capacity to nourish. Without any compensation. I mean, don’t even think about it! She cooks for a woman who has chronic leukemia every week.

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Our Favorite Weeknight Curry

Curry is such a great weeknight dinner solution. It’s a vibrant, one-pot dish, doesn’t take too long, packs a lot of flavor, and does well when loaded with all kinds of veggies. This recipe is our absolute favorite weeknight curry of all time, and it’s built on the combination of canned tomatoes and coconut milk. Have you ever tried pairing the two? The umami from the tomatoes, mixed with the rich fattiness from coconut milk, makes for the silkiest, most flavorful curry base, with minimal effort. 



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Quick Sweet Potato Chocolate Pudding w/ Adaptogenic Mushrooms

Pudding/mousse-like desserts are my favorite, and coming up with new, simple chocolate pudding recipes is sort of a hobby (check out this Whipped Chocolate Chia Pudding and this Black and White Chocolate Pudding from the archives). Most times, a new chocolate pudding recipe happens when a craving hits at the most inconvenient of times. Instead of going to the store, I work with whatever ingredients I have on hand to create something satisfying. I pretty much always have cacao powder around, and I go from there, figuring out what I can use for the creamy element, then the sweetener. The creaminess can come from anything from avocado to sweet potato, cacao butter to coconut fat, to agar. For sweetener, I usually stick with maple syrup or dates, both of which are a constant in my pantry.


This sweet potato version is my new favorite because it comes together in a flash, especially if you are in the habit of roasting up a few whole sweet potatoes on the weekend, like I am. It tastes perfectly luxurious, and it’s so easy to spruce it up with all kinds of super-powders – in this case, powerful adaptogenic mushroom powders.
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Healing Greens 101: An Ayurvedic Perspective

No longer just a frilly garnish, kale is taking the culinary world by storm. Along with it, leafy greens like spinach, chard, and even collards and turnip greens are gracing plates everywhere from fine dining hotspots to fast food restaurants across the country.

These nutrient-packed veggies have long played a starring role in Ayurvedic cooking, and with good reason. They’re hydrating, nutrient-rich, and when prepared while fresh, they contain prana, or life-supporting energy. Below, we’ll share both Ayurvedic and nutritional insights on leafy greens, along with tasty ways to incorporate them into your daily diet.

Greens Are Good for You

From a nutritional perspective, leafy greens are excellent sources of antioxidant vitamins A and C, and they also provide vitamin E, folic acid, vitamin K, iron, calcium, magnesium, and fiber. They’re low in calories, and many varieties—especially the cruciferous (cabbage) family—contain unique enzymes that have been associated with supporting the immune system.

Ayurvedic vaidyas (experts) regularly prescribe a daily dose of leafy greens, because they’re good for your skin, hair, and for removing amavisha (toxic wastes) from the body. The human body is about 60 percent water, and leafy greens help purify your shrotas (the subtle channels of the body) and replenish your inner hydration stores.

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Baby artichokes! A treasure house of nutrients, fiber and flavor

In California every spring (and briefly again in the fall) the baby artichokes arrive. It’s a very special moment, a seasonal splendor many of us cooks wait for. Especially those of us who’ve eaten the carciofi simply and elegantly prepared in Tuscany. One of the seven wonders of the culinary world!

I’ve written about finding my sweet spot with food when at 35, I left a hard-driving job on the east coast and took what I call my life sabbatical, arriving in Rome with no language and no luggage. What I haven’t shared is what happened after Rome, when I went up to Florence, largely because I thought I should. I didn’t really know what I was going to do other than continue studying Italian, since my skills were still not, um, very polished. In Italian class, the teacher shared information about a cooking class. All those memories of standing on a stool stirring soup in my mother’s and grandmother’s kitchens stirred something inside me…

Next thing I knew I was standing on a corner of the Via Taddea, where the big market is in the center of Florence. I’m waiting and waiting (turns out I was ½ hour early), not even sure who I’m waiting for. It’s late Friday afternoon. I’m thinking, if she doesn’t show up in 3 minutes… and here she came, with her basket—Judy Witts Francini, of Divina Cucina cooking school. Are you here for the cooking class? She asked. I am barely able to reply with my rudimentary Italian.

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Secret to a Great Life: Getting What You Need, Not What You Want

What in your life is exactly as you planned? What is completely different?

 

Never in a million years would my 22 year-old-about-to-graduate-from-college self have imagined my present life. She would’ve fallen out of her chair laughing if you’d told her she’d miss her 15-year reunion because she’d be speaking on a spirituality cruise to Alaska. Or, that she’d be making plans to have a child on her own. That pearl-wearing, Camus-reading girl would’ve thought you were making it up.

 

It’s rare that we end up doing what we think we’ll do. Each step puts us on a slightly different trajectory. And, as we get older, we grow and change, and our priorities adjust as we become increasingly more ourselves.


In the words of the Rolling Stones, “You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometime, you just might find you get what you need.” I didn’t get what I thought I wanted when I graduated college, but I got exactly what I needed. And for that, I am truly grateful.

 

When in your life did you get what you needed instead of what you wanted? In what ways has this shaped who you are? Although it can feel antithetical to moving forward, as often as you can, take time to be grateful for all the missed turns in your life, because they may have actually been keeping you on your true path. It’s easy to feel regret. Gratitude can be much harder, but the things we regret are often the things that helped shape us and make us who we are today.

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