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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Tasty, easy, nutritious Shavuot menu

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of teaching a Shavuot-themed class to the lovely ladies of Westchester Day. Shavuot is my favorite Jewish holiday, as it's basically the only one that is not part of the "they tried to kill us. We won. Let's eat," category.
It's a holiday of joy, with no threats, no fears. It's the celebration of the greatest gifts the Jewish people ever received: the Torah. Shavuot takes place in the peak of spring, which is not only exciting for the sun, light, warmth and flower tapestries everywhere, but also because culinary speaking, the season's bounty allows for creating delicious and fresh food with plenty of produce, many colors and textures.
Since it's a tradition to eat dairy products during the holiday, the class I taught had plenty of them (although I personally don't deal that great with dairy). I want to share the recipes with you, as well as an extra one for a salad, and don't hesitate to comment, ask or send feedback, they are all greately appreciated!

  • Almond gazpacho with grapes
  • Arugula and asparagus salad with goat cheese
  • Baked eggs with spinach, tomato, herbs and sheep’s milk cheese
  • Herbed salmon with turmeric and white wine
  • Homemade ricotta and strawberry parfait with rhubarb and chia seed compote

This is not your traditional gazpacho! It doesn't even have tomatoes. It's one of my favorite recipes, and everyone always finds it "interesting."  It's a very sophisticated dish with complex flavors.
4 ounces (about 2/3 cup) almonds, soaked in water overnight, rinsed and drained
2 to 3 medium cloves garlic
2 teaspoons sea salt, to taste
Four (1-inch) cubes of honeydew melon
½ baked potato (flesh only)
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, to taste
2 tablespoons raw apple cider vinegar, to taste
4 cups iced water
A few drops of pure almond extract, optional
Halved grapes, for serving

Place almonds, garlic and salt in the bowl of a food processor or blender. Beat until nuts are as finely ground as possible. Add melon and potato, blending until pureed. Drizzle in oil a bit at a time, and once it’s all incorporated, add in the vinegars. Gradually pour in the water. Strain if desired, but I love mine with texture! Taste for seasoning and add more salt and/or vinegar if needed. Add in 2 or 3 drops of almond extract, if desired. Taste again and adjust seasoning if necessary. Chill well, preferably for a couple of hours or overnight. The flavors will develop further. Adjust seasoning before serving. Serve in bowls topped with a few grape halves.
Serves 6

This salad has crunch, smoothness, sweetness, saltiness a slight tang, and just screams of spring! It repeats some of the ingredients used in other recipes in this menu, so you don't have to shop for extras! 

1 bunch asparagus, washed and bottoms trimmed
1 (8-ounce) package organic strawberries, rinsed, hulled and halved
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, separated
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup, separated
2  tablespoons balsamic vinegar, separated
Coarse sea salt and black pepper, to taste
1 garlic clove, minced
2 ¼ ounces baby arugula, washed
6 large fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup seedless grapes
1 bunch (about 20) salted and roasted pistachios, shelled
2 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
½ teaspoon dried culinary lavender
Preheat oven to 400 F. And proceed to wash and cut vegetables as indicated above while oven warms up.
Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and place on it the asparagus and strawberries. Drizzle them with 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 ½ teaspoons maple syrup and 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar. Mix well making sure both, asparagus and strawberries are evenly coated. Sprinkle with salt and generously with pepper.
Roast for about 20 minutes, until strawberries melt and their juices bubble (make sure they don’t burn) and asparagus brown a bit.
While roasting is taking place, prepare dressing: in a small bowl, whish with a fork minced garlic, 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, 1 ½ teaspoons pure maple syrup and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
Serve arugula in a salad bowl. Top with grapes, pistachios and the warm strawberries and asparagus with their juices. Place goat cheese on top of warm fruit, so it melts a bit ,and with your fingers crumble lavender on the very top.
Serve immediately!
Serves 4


Based on my grandmother's recipe, but with many simplified steps, this is a favorite dish of mine for brunch. By all means use fresh, sauteed spinach if you prefer, but a pack of the frozen greens can save you some work and time. 
Olive oil, for pan
1 (10 oz) package frozen spinach (preferably organic), thawed overnight in refrigerator
1 dozen large eggs, preferably pastured
3 tablespoons tomato paste (preferably organic), more to taste
Assorted chopped herbs, fresh or dried, such as oregano, thyme, parsley, etc
8 ounces sheep’s milk cheese such as Pecorino Romano or kashkaval, or feta, cut, sliced, crumbled, or shredded
Red pepper flakes, to taste (start with ¼ teaspoon)

Preheat oven to 400 F. Line an 8x8-in baking pan (or equal capacity) with parchment paper, if using an aluminum pan, and oil it.
Place thawed spinach in a kitchen towel (or a couple of paper towels), squeeze the spinach in the towel and drain as much liquid as possible. Set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together eggs and tomato paste. Add in drained spinach, herbs and chili flakes into the bowl with the egg-tomato mixture. Mix to distribute evenly and pour onto prepared pan. Sprinkle with cheese pieces and bake, uncovered for about 20 to 25 minutes, until mixture doesn’t wobble when pan is shaken.
Serve hot or at room temperature.
Serves 4 to 6.


The superfood turmeric adds its superpowers to this dish, plus a beautiful golden hue. Since curcumin, the active substance in turmeric, is best absorbed with black pepper and oil, this recipe is a perfect vehicle for flavor and health. 
1 (2 to 2 1/2 lb) skinless salmon fillet (preferably wild Alaskan)
Sea salt, black pepper and turmeric, to taste
2 tablespoons olive or coconut oil
1 lemon
½ to ¾ cup chopped fresh herbs of your choice (parsley, basil, scallions, mint, dill, etc)
¼ cup white wine

Preheat oven to 425 F.
Line a roasting pan with parchment, if using aluminum. Place salmon in the roasting pan and season with salt, pepper and turmeric on both sides. Drizzle oil and squeeze lemon juice all over the fish. Scatter the herbs over the fish. Pour wine around the fillet. Roast uncovered for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the desired doneness. Insert the tip of a paring knife to see if it’s cooked through (although many people like salmon slightly undercooked). Let cool for a couple of minutes, and serve.
Serves 6.


I get it! you might not want to make your own ricotta cheese. Feel free to substitute for store bought or even for Greek yogurt, but I do recommend that if you have 15 extra minutes, you take the time to make the ricotta yourself, and even better, with your kids. It's the perfect way of seeing how cheese is made from milk and just that is an amazing experience!

4 cups whole milk, preferably grass fed and organic (goat milk works too)
2 cups heavy cream, preferably organic
1 teaspoon sea salt
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Set a large sieve over a large mixing bowl. Moisten 2 layers of cheesecloth with water and line the sieve with it. The dampness will keep the cloth in place.
Heat the milk and the salt in a large saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Bring to a boil (large bubbles breaking on the surface), and remove from heat. Stir in lemon juice and let mixture stand for 1 to 2 minutes, until curdles form. The mixture will separate into curds and whey, which is the liquid part. Scoop curds from pan and transfer to cheesecloth-lined sieve. Let drain for 25 minutes. The longer the curds drain, the thicker the ricotta will be.  Transfer the cheese to a bowl, and discard the cheesecloth. Use the whey in smoothies, no need to discard it! Use immediately or cover and chill for up to 4 days.
Makes about 2 cups.
2 rhubarb stalks, leaves discarded, coarsely chopped
5 tablespoons raw honey, separated, plus more to taste
2 tablespoons chia seeds
2 cups ricotta cheese
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1 pint strawberries (preferably organic)
1 lemon, juice and zest optional
1 cup roasted and salted pistachios, chopped, optional
Mint leaves, for serving

Cook the rhubarb in a saucepan with 2 tablespoons water, covered for 8 to 10 minutes, until soft, but don’t overcook, or the color will be unpleasant. Puree with an immersion blender and let cool. Add 2 tablespoons raw honey and 2 tablespoons chia seeds. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix ricotta, vanilla bean seeds and 4 teaspoons raw honey. Taste and adjust seasoning (add more honey, if needed).

Slice the strawberries and if they are not sweet enough, add a drizzle of honey. Add some lemon juice and zest, if using and allow to macerate.

Place half of the sliced strawberries in the bottom of a see-through vessel. Add half of the ricotta mixture and top with rhubarb-chia gel. Repeat by topping it with strawberries, ricotta and rhubarb. Sprinkle pistachios on the surface and decorate with mint. Serve.

Serves 6 to 8

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Berry Chia Bars

I cook because:
1. I must do it
2. I love eating
3. I promote healthy habits (and cooking is one of the most important ways to develop them) 

However, my main passion is and will be baking, as impractical as it can be. Food is a need, and dessert, a want. You can improvise as you cook, change, adapt as you go. Baking requires precision, obedience, patience, faith and lots of tolerance for frustration. Plus, since I'm obsessive compulsive about only using real foods that are rich in nutrients, no refined sweeteners nor flours and I'm a huge fan of including super foods in my recipes (plus not dealing that well with dairy and gluten), I've exponentially grown my chances of failure. 

My kitchen is a mixture of a Whole Foods Market-loving mad scientist's lab, with an overworked Manhattan family kitchen where a chef with big aspirations and very little room tries to produce some healthful, palatable goodies... Since baking is mostly about chemistry (especially the reactions among eggs, butter, flour and sugar, which I don't use), unfortunately, lots of experimental batches end up in a trash bag,. So, when something turns out right, I feel as if I'd climbed the Everest! And this recipe is one of those. It's based on the Hamentaschen recipe I developed two years ago, and I just tweaked it a bit and served it during my children's school Health Initiative night. I was asked for the recipe, which besides showing that they were actually good, is the biggest self esteem booster ever, and encourages me to keep trying and proof that you can have your cookie and health healthfully too!

Gluten free - Vegan - No refined flour nor sweeteners

Feel free to use frozen and thawed mixed berries or just a single kind. They are all delicious! Other frozen (and thawed) fruits, such as mango with pineapple, cherries, etc are great options as well. Play around, just taste the filling before adding any sweetener, as they might not need any, as some are really sweet my themselves. 
However, do use frozen fruit, as the freezing process changes its texture and that is desirable for this recipe.
Also, this filling is awesome raw, just by itself or drizzled atop of yogurt, oatmeal or even in savory dishes. My daughter and her friends eat it by the spoonful!

  • 1 (10 oz) package of organic frozen berries, thawed in the refrigerator for a couple of hours or overnight.
  • 1 tablespoon whole chia seeds
  •  1 1/2 teaspoons pure maple syrup
  •  Freshly squeezed juice of 1/2 lemon, or to taste
  • Lemon zest, optional
  • Pinch unrefined salt

  • 1/2 cup (120 g) pure maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup (120 g) extra virgin olive oil (or avocado oil)
  • 8 g (about 2 tablespoons) ground chia seeds
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon unrefined salt 
  • 2 cups (250 g) gluten free oat flour
  • 1/4 cup (50 g) potato flour (NOT potato starch)
Throw everything in a blender and blend until fruit has pureed. If you are using fruits other than berries, don't add the maple syrup. Mix first, then taste and add syrup, only if needed. 

Let the chia thicken the mixture while you prepare the crust.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Line the bottom of a 9x13-in baking pan with parchment and set aside.

In a large bowl, mix with a spatula or wooden spoon the maple syrup, oil, ground chia, vanilla and salt, until incorporated.

Add the oat and potato flours and mix until a dough forms.

Spread and press the dough evenly on the bottom of the prepared pan with a spatula or even your hands. 

Pour the filling onto the crust and spread evenly.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the filling looks dry. 

Let cool, cut into bars or squares and enjoy.

Friday, May 2, 2014

The multiple uses of a can of coconut milk plus reflections on social media

For a long time I refused to join Facebook, but when I started blogging, it became a necessary tool to stay in touch. I often wish we still lived in a social media free world. Our time yielded more (at least mine did) in those days. From a refuser, I've become an addict: one of those people who get a nervous tic if their fingers are not typing on the impalpable keyboard of their phone, emailing, texting, facebooking, instagraming, pinning, tweeting, and I'm sure there are many more verbs for doing things in social media, but I'm too old to know about them yet!

Nevertheless, there are some perks. In general I'm really bad at staying in touch, and since I moved out of my native country and live in a city where people come and go, social media has allowed me to at least know a bit about people who are very dear to me, but who live far away.

Where is this story going (before my ADD hits in)? A couple of weeks ago, I posted on Fabebook a picture of my favorite brand of  coconut milk, which is packaged in a BPA (a hormonal disruptor)-free can and that doesn't have any thickeners. Basically, it's only coconut and water, the way it should be--but is not if you read the ingredients of any other coconut milk can label. 

Unfortunately, I haven't found it in stores, so I've been ordering in amazon. My dear friend, and perinatal and pediatric nutritionist & lactation counselor, and blogger Debra Waldocks (do yourself a favor and subscribe to her blog, just click on her name), asked, from Israel, for inspiration on coconut milk uses, and tadah! this blog post was born... 

Bottom line: social media has some good things, but just as with dessert: it may cause addiction, so it should be consumed mindfully (this as I type a post that will go out on FB, twitter and instagram)!!!

Please read this post I wrote a while back about coconut derived products, if you want to learn more about the perks of this amazing tropical fruit. Briefly, I'll just mention that it's quite rich (60% of the total fat in coconut oil) in medium chain triglycerides, which--as renown integrative doctor Dr. Frank Lipman explains--are easily digested fatty acids that are used as energy rapidly, and metabolized quickly in the liver without being stored as fat. Don't think I'm recommending to gulp down gallons of coconut milk a day, but it's a great ingredient to include in your repertoire.

Coconut milk is an amazing option to dairy. It's not an exact substitute, as coconut milk has some different qualities: it's more dense and fatty, contains about half the amount of protein that dairy milk contains, it's sweeter and more luscious, and it does have a characteristic flavor, but this often works to its advantage. Both vegans and Paleo (Primal) lifestyle followers use it quite often .  
Warning: I love coconut milk. However, some people not only don't like the coconut flavor, but actually can't stand it, so I recommend you always ask if you are sharing! 

The very best coconut milk is the freshly made one, but I'll just suggest you some ways of using the canned one and you might get inspired to make your own, but et's take it a few steps at a time. 

Here are my favorite 5 uses, and would love to know if you come up with more ideas!

1. Add it to your soups and stews.
Coconut milk adds a delicious texture, creaminess and a bit of exoticism to soups, stews and purees. You can make kosher and/or Paleo beef Stroganoff with coconut milk en lieu of cream, or even add some into your cholent. Carrot, lentil, sweet potato, mushroom, squash, you name the soup, just add some! Here's a soup recipe my friend Sarah shared with me from a magazine, and it's absolutely delicious and packed with nutrition!
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 2. Whip it.
I've been making whipped coconut cream for a couple of years already, and I still can't get over the amazement every time the stiff peaks form. I love adding a tiny bit of coconut nectar or yacon syrup and the scrapings of 1/2 vanilla bean. Use it as you would whipped cream. 
To make it: Refrigerate a can of full-fat coconut milk (not light) overnight in the back of the fridge (where it's cooler). The can should still be closed. When ready to use, open the can of coconut milk and place the creamy, more solid part that has separated, into the bowl of a standing mixer, preferably using a silicone spatula (you could even whip it by hand in a bowl using a wire whisk).Whip coconut cream with the whisk attachment of a standing mixer until stiff peaks form. 
Don't discard the remaining liquidy part! Add it to soups, smoothies or as a cooking liquid for grains or beans.

3. Freeze it. 
Its higher fat content, richness and sweetness make coconut milk an ideal liquid to churn into ice cream or making popsicles. Try this: Do the refrigerator trick explained above. When ready to make, melt 3 ounces of dark chocolate (70% cacao content). Once melted, add the coconut cream (the denser portion after separation in the fridge), 1/4 cup (100g) coconut nectar (OR pure maple syrup, raw honey, xylitol, or yacon syrup), a pinch of unrefined salt, the scrapings of a vanilla bean pod and blend with either an immersion blender or a power blender. Let cool for a couple of minutes and add the flesh of 1/2 of a very ripe avocado. Blend until compeltely smooth. Portion into Popsicle molds and freeze or, if you have an ice cream machine, cool the liquid, covered in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour and churn according to the manufacturer's instructions. 
  • If you are rushing or don't feel like turning on the stove, use 3 tablespoons of cacao powder (I like using raw) instead of melted chocolate and the additional cocoa.
  • Add some drops of mint extract or essential oil (just do very few drops at a time, as both are very concentrated)
  • Forgo the chocolate and the cocoa and add 3 tablespoons (or to taste) freshly squeezed lemon juice (plus the zest, if you please) and/or add your favorite fruit. Particularly easy if the fruit is frozen: from bananas to berries, pineapples or mango. Just blend all the ingredients together and play around. Mix and match! You don't even have to measure, just taste as you go and adjust as you'd like.

4. Culture it. 
I've spoken about coyo (coconut yogurt) before, and it's pure yummyness! I make water kefir at home (a post on that in the works), and by adding 2 tablespoons of prepared water kefir into 2 cups of coconut milk and letting it culture at room temperature for 24 hours, I make a lovely coconut kefir. If you have a yogurt maker or are thinking of purchasing one, you can get a vegan yogurt starter and make some pretty easily. Cultures for Health is a great source for cultures and equipment. 
For recipes:
This one is great from; and this other one from is a bit of a cheater's version that is super easy and doesn't require you to wait for the milk to ferment. I hope they get you inspired!

5. Sub dairy.
Ideal for vegans, Paleo, lactose-intolerants, kosher keepers or anyone else avoiding dairy, a can of coconut milk can open a world of possibilities.  Use coconut milk as a substitute for:
  • milk (although it will result in a richer concoction).
  • heavy cream: do the refrigerator trick explained under "whip it," but don't whip it, just use the separated part.
  • buttermilk: place 1 tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice in a liquid measuring cup and fill up to one cup with coconut milk. This can be used to substitute 1 cup of buttermilk in a recipe.   
  • Sour cream: Combine the heavy cream and the buttermilk methods.

Coconut milk loves being paired with vanilla, chocolate as well as with sour flavors that cut through its richness, that's why it's such a good friend of fruits, especially the tropical ones (such as mango and pineapple) that tend to grow in the same soil as coconut.