I’ll admit it openly: chia seeds are now in my grocery rotation. After my last happy surprise, I decided to focus this Superfood Sunday on a product I’ve been interested in for a while.
The goji berry, also known as Lycium barbarum and wolfberry, comes from an Asian shrub found in China, Mongolia, and Tibet. Like tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplants, they’re members of the Solanaceae, or nightshade, family. They have been used for centuries in Asia for medicinal purposes, and herbalists claim they can do anything from protecting the liver to balancing hormones. The goji berry is packed with antioxidants like beta-carotene and zeaxanthin, which protect the eye by absorbing blue light and can decrease the risk of developing macular degeneration with age.
Violently red, they’re usually available in dried form, like the ones I found at Whole Foods. In traditional Chinese medicine, they’re eaten raw, brewed into tea, or added into soups. Recent years have introduced goji juice as well as other treats like goji trail mixes. Although I was tempted by the bag of chocolate covered goji, I persevered in my pursuit of their purest available form. Goji berries have a taste similar to dried cherries or cranberries, with a combination of sweetness and a tart finish. Tarter than a raisin, and much less plump, they’re easy to sprinkle into salads, cereal, or baked goods. If you find yourself with a bag of these berries, try out this recipe:
Banana Goji Muffins
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 Tablespoons ground flax
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsweetened plant-based milk
2 Tablespoons applesauce
2 very ripe bananas
round 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
5 tablespoons (or more!) dried goji berries
rounded 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Mash the bananas well, working out all the lumps.
Mix together all of the ingredients, adding baking soda last. Line muffin pans with liners. Then, fill each muffin with batter to the rim. Bake for 20-25 minutes, depending on the size of your muffin tin. Keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator, and enjoy, perhaps with some goji juice!
At midnight during the summer I am usually tucked into my bed, nodding off to the next episode of “Game of Thrones” on HBO to Go. There are those, however, who are still out at the movies at that ungodly hour, which means that I now often find myself at work along with them. The night that “This is the End” came out was one of those nights. Much to my mother’s chagrin, I stayed at the movie theater after my shift ended to catch the midnight show. Still dressed up in my collarless, navy, button-up uniform shirt, I bought myself some caffeine and settled in for the ride. All I can say is if you have not seen it yet, get up and go.
The apocalyptic comedy stars…well, everyone, but namely Seth Rogen, Jay Burachel, James France, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride, and Craig Robinson. (Seth, Jay, and Danny actually stopped by my theater on opening day to hand out candy and popcorn to unsuspecting moviegoers; I was an entirely unhelpful employee as I stood off to the side and stared at them walking in.) The stars, who all play hilariously obnoxious versions of themselves, find themselves stuck in James Franco’s mansion to hide out while the rest of the world burns down around them. Unfortunately for them, Franco’s pantry contains just “12 bottles of water, 56 beers, Nutella, C.T. Crunch…and a milky way bar.” Naturally, a fight ensues over who should get some of that Milky Way:
Jonah Hill: Can I have that Milky Way? James Franco: No you can’t have the Milky Way, cause it’s my special food, I like it. Seth Rogen: I want some of the Milky Way. Craig Robinson: I’ll be pretty bummed if I don’t at least get a bite of the Milky Way.
I get it, Craig. I would be pretty bummed too. It is also good to know that Milky Ways are James Franco’s “special food.” I understand where he’s coming from, too. But if the world is coming to an end you better believe I will be stuffing my face with every kind of chocolate available. Frankly I’m surprised that no one was fighting over the Nutella. Thankfully, though, it is not the end of the world, and there are still plenty of Milky Way bars to go around, a fact which was quite helpful when I made Milky Way cookies. These surprisingly simple cookies are gooey and delicious. If Milky Ways aren’t your thing, most other types of chocolate candy should work just as well.
35 mini Milky Ways, coarsely chopped (I cut them in quarters)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugars. Beat in eggs and vanilla until well combined.
In a separate bowl, combine flour and baking soda. Slowly add this mixture to the other bowl.
Pour in the chopped candy bars, and mix well so you don’t get all the candy in a few of the cookies.
Roll dough into small balls and place on the baking sheet. They expand, so leave a bit of room in between each ball. I would also recommend coating your hands in flour so that you can get nice, even balls without them sticking to you (it’s a pretty sticky dough).
Bake for approximately 8 minutes. Let cool about 2 minutes on baking sheet.
Sweet and minty, a glass of Moroccan tea hits just the right spot after a long morning of labor and construction under the scorching sun. Often served with biscuits and nuts at the end of lunch, it was something I look forward to every day that not only satisfies my sweet tooth but also reenergizes me for the afternoon work.
A few weeks ago, I got the opportunity to work on an Engineers Without Borders project—building a bridge in a rural village in Morocco. I can’t help but smile every time I say I’m building a bridge, but I’ll be honest here, it’s no big stone bridge like the Golden Gate in San Francisco or the George Washington in New York. In fact, it is a polymer rope suspension pedestrian bridge that is designed for the villagers of Ait Bayoud in an effort to bridge two villages and offer easy access to the market, schools, and the hospital.
But enough about the project, I’m here to share my Moroccan tea experience.
Local Moroccans may live a simple life, but they do take pride in their tea—the quality, preparation, and custom. It’s almost like a show they put on. In comes the platter with a silver kettle surrounded by many colorfully patterned glasses. Then enters the mint, blocks of sugar cubes, and tea leaves. The kettle with water and tea leaves is placed on top of the buta-gas tank and allowed to boil to let out the natural fragrance; perhaps it’s their opening line to let the audience know that the show is about to begin. At this point, the eldest and most respected member of the family (the grandfather) would perform his duty; he pours the tea out a few feet from the rim of the glass and creates a lot of bubbles in the tea. But he only pours out two glasses… hmm, are we suppose to share these among a group of ten? Be patient, the show has barely started. Next, he pours the tea from the glass back into the kettle and adds in the fresh mint leaves and generously drops six to seven large sugar cubes. Our eyes open and our jaws drop; is that going to be too sweet? My answer is: no. At this point, he returns the kettle back on the gas tank and waits. He sits there with a smile on his face as if he thinks we can’t handle the sweetness or that he’s satisfied with the tea he’s about to serve. He takes the kettle off the heat and distributes the tea among all the glasses, effortlessly creating a waterfall from the mouth of the kettle to the bottom of the glass. Tea is served; the show is over.
The show may be over, but the tasting is yet to begin. A good quality tea is one that is well aerated and is layered with bubbles on the top. It is strong yet sweet with a touch of minty aftertaste. With its unique recipe, every household claims to make the best tea—whether it be stronger or sweeter or less mint flavored. I try to judge and make a preference, but at the end of the day, I know I just want to have a glass of the Moroccan tea and chew on a biscuit before heading back to work.
True story: you should be able to find empanadas at any mexican restaurant in Southern California. They are staples dishes, stuffed breaded pastries that are sometimes spicy, sometimes sweet, and taste as good as cute as they look. While there are many variations of empanadas in various cuisines (Indian, Afghan, Nigerian, and many more! google it) within Mexican cuisine empanadas serve as somewhat of a pastry eaten after dinner or even for breakfast (kind of like pie)! Even within Mexican cuisine there are many variants as well, and in this installment of Mexicali Cooking, I will guide you through a cheesy vegetarian recipes forempanadas.
In an odd sense, empanadas are likes sugar cookies- you can literally make 100 in a night. It’s not particularly easy, but it is worth it. So, since it’s officially summer, and I am assuming that we all have a little more time to spend doing hobbies, why not make a lot of empanadas? Maybe not 100, but 20 is a good amount. They are pretty easy to make, VERY delicious, and perfect for saving for the next day or the day after that. Although, I will confess, since it is a dough-based recipe it does require some time, but hey, if your friends are coming over in packs of four why not make 20? If you want an afternoon snack, they also serve as the perfect finger-food. Like sugar cookies, they are eaten in 3 bites or less but leave a savory taste on the tongue.
The trick here is making them more spicy and savory than sweet. Empanadas usually have pumpkin, sweet potatoes, or cream filling, gearing them toward after-dinner snack. Here, I made an “it’s 3pm, and I want a snack that I can just warm up in the microwave, but remains tasty” type of empanada. So, to go for the afternoon spice instead of the after dinner sweet taste, you can substitute more sugary fillings with potatoes or a chopped array of bell peppers and cheese. The potatoes have a meaty consistency without all the dense calories, while the cheese adds the melt-in-your-mouth sensation that makes you grab yet another one!
The recipe below can be altered in several ways- all to your liking. The joy of making a staple Mexican dish like empanadas is that you can add your own chef ‘signature’ to them. For me, the cilantro in the dough and addition of curry is what makes them zesty and new. I suggest making alterations of your own as you make this recipe and you cultivate your own signature.
5 1/2 cups instant corn Masa mix
2 cup warm water
1 1/2 tablespoon vinegar
2 teaspoon salt
1/4 tsp of chopped cilantro
6 tablespoons melted butter
6 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed or 12 small potatoes
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 green peppers, finely chopped
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon curry
1 cup corn
1 cup cream cheese, softened
1 cup Cheddar cheese, grated
oil for frying
Makes about 20;Serves 10-12
I like to make the filling first, than the dough.
For The Filling
Cook potatoes in boiling water for 10 minutes or until soft. Drain.
In a large skillet, sauté onions and green peppers in oil.
Season vegetables with curry, black peppers, red pepper flakes, and salt.
Add cream cheese, and mix well.
Add Cheddar cheese.
Add corn, combine well, and add more curry if you want it a bit more “zesty”
Combine the filing into a paste.
For the dough
Combine Masa, water, melted butter and vinegar in a large mixing bowl. .
Season with salt.
Mix and work dough with hands until well combined.
Form half of the dough into a long roll and cut roughly equal 10 pieces.
With each pieces, spin the dough between your palms so it forms into a ball.
Slowly apply pressure to the ball making it more and more flat, but still having thickness
With your index finger and your thumb, press the thick edges of the coin shaped dough, spinning the circle as you do it, and slowly moving toward the center so the dough is equally thick.
Slap the now disk shaped dough on the cutting board to flatten it, and repeat for the other side.
Place between 1 tablespoon to 2 tablespoons of filling in the center of the disk
Pick up the disk in the palm, as you wet the edge with water for sealing
gently fold over one side of the disk, in a half moon shape, add water to places where cracks may appear
Seal the empanada with you finger, lightly pressing on the junction
Using a fork, gently press on the edges of the empanadas to seal it further, and to achieve that classic Mexican look.
Fry the empanadas in oil for about 35 seconds on each side, or until they golden brown.
It’s time I write this down, in hopes of making sense of it: I’m a declared pre-med neuroscience major. I have two years to take three years’ worth of classes (I jumped on the pre-med bandwagon a little late). I could have easily taken some courses this summer to lighten my load. I could have taken a clinical internship or worked in a lab to amp up my resumé. But no. I’m working at a restaurant. By choice.
It may be one of the least practical and yet best decisions I’ve ever made. I’m a firm believer, after all, in the concept of summer vacation. The whole idea of “break” tends to intimidate Ivy-Leaguers. “Break” feels like we’re erring from our destined path. It’s the one thing we don’t do well, but also the thing that would perhaps make us even more successful if we were more open to it. Breaks are healthy for the mind (a fully developed neuroscientist could prove it, but to be honest I’m just not on that level yet).
The point is, I’m taking a break from pursuing my scientific life goals for the summer, and I’m extremely okay with that. I’m exploring something that has always fascinated me; something that I will perhaps never have another opportunity to explore: the NYC restaurant world. I’m interning at Amali, a Mediterranean restaurant on the Upper East Side that prides itself on delicious farm-to-table cuisine, local and organic sourcing, and giving back to the community. It has been chosen as an NYT critic’s pick, raved about in Wine Spectator, and named one of the “Top 100 Greek Restaurants” by the National Herald. To say I’m proud to work there would be an Olympus-sized understatement.
Owner James Mallios is my direct supervisor. He’s been called a “Greek Tony Soprano”—an eerily accurate description. Following him around has been an eye-opener in many ways. Most importantly, I’ve learned that owning a restaurant is a ridiculous amount of work. No, really—a ridiculous amount. I’ve learned that behind every cool-and-collected wait staff is a to-do list longer than the menu itself and a memory bank of every loyal customer’s favorite bottle of wine. I’ve learned that behind every polite “hello-gentlemen-how-are-you-this-evening?” is a whole lot of nerves and stress. I’ve learned that the restaurant world is basically show business. Or, to give it its own genre (which it certainly deserves), reality show business.
There are the daily tasks before and after meal service—cleaning and setting and resetting tables, moving tables upstairs and downstairs for private events and parties, making coffee, folding napkins, bleaching the counters, polishing silverware, washing the windows. The staff groups up and eats a meal before the dinner service. They are quizzed on the evening’s specials, and get to taste them if the dish or the server is new. They are informed of any VIPs who will be visiting the restaurant that night (on the UES, there are many). They are assigned to certain sections of the restaurant, and anticipate the arrival of their first guest.
When I’m not taking part in all this, I’m assigned other miscellaneous tasks: running errands around the city, emailing back and forth with event coordinators, trying to keep track of an ever-changing inventory, reorganizing the wine cellar (also a never-ending task), writing grants to build a rooftop garden, writing a dinner invitation from Amali to Michele Obama (a long shot, we realize), responding to nice (and nasty) Yelp reviews, updating online menus. There is always something that needs to be done. Though Amali is only open from 12-3 and 5-10, there is always someone at the restaurant working on something—even in the wee hours of the morning. Work is far from over after the last customer goes home. Actually, serving customers is a small percentage of a restaurant staff’s overall work.
I’ve also learned to be a hostess and a back waiter (the one who isn’t your server, but who might bring your food to your table), and I’ve just trained to be a server. There was also one occasion on which I bartended for a party of UES socialites. More on this feat next time.
I’ve tried almost every dish at Amali. My favorites so far are the eggplant appetizer, the lamb ribs, and of course the ricotta doughnuts for dessert. I’ve memorized most every dish’s preparation, ingredients, and presentation. I’ve come to love just watching the chefs work. It is truly a dance. The more chaotic the kitchen, it seems, the more perfect its final products. Even more amazing is the unwavering calm of chef Nilton “Junior” Borges, “a soft-spoken Afro-Brazilian with an easy laugh.” A million things are happening at any given moment, and somehow Junior is at peace. This is why he is a chef.
Just like the cast of a Broadway show, the staff at Amali is a family. We joke and tease, but we all have one common goal: making Amali successful. While other restaurants’ employees may begrudge going to work, Amali’s are happy to be there. It is, after all, a beautiful space run by hard-working, funny, close-knit leaders who do in fact deserve to be wildly successful.
Most importantly, I’m having fun. I come home exhausted, but “good exhausted,” ready for another day—and another show.
I wouldn’t generally call myself super gung-ho when it comes to horseback riding—what with suffering from a sore pair of legs and butt after just a few hours of walking, and having generally been assigned temperamental horses on past excursions, the thought of sitting on top of a massive, powerful, moving animal makes me a little nervous—but there’s no turning the opportunity down when it comes to horseback riding in the Argentine Andes. So a few days ago, I went to Potrerillos, a tiny village about one hour away from the city of Mendoza, to ride in the province’s backcountry.
Gaucho day, as they called it, was an incredible experience. We saw the beautifully barren landscape of the Andes mountains, we walked through streams and snow, we enjoyed a relaxing lunch complete with malbec and my host mom’s banana and cacao bizcochuelo (a sponge cake-y banana bread). The weather was beautiful. Condors soared above us and off in the distance. My horse might have been a little temperamental (he bit and kicked a few of his slower friends and constantly tried to eat prickly bushes, which didn’t strike me as the most appetizing of the flora available), but hey, that’s all a part of the experience. After four hours on horseback, we came back to Mendoza happy, tired, sore, and dazed at the incredible landscapes we’d seen.
Before the horseback riding adventure had even begun however, we were welcomed into the estancia with mate and warm sopapillas, fried squares of dough sprinkled with sugar—a most perfect way to begin the day. These pillow-y pastries were served very simply, but my goodness were they delicious. Crunchy on the outside, fluffy on the inside, and only slightly sweet with the sprinkled sugar, it was incredibly difficult to resist taking seconds (and thirds and fourths). Sopapillas are definitely not the healthiest of pre-horseback riding snacks, but hey, anything’s permitted when you’re about to go horseback riding in the Andes.
Hello all! I’m studying in Beijing and Santiago as a Global Scholar for six weeks this summer and would love to share my culinary experiences in both cities. This post covers a Chinese style of eating with which I was previously unfamiliar: hotpot.
The principle is simple–boil a variety of meats and veggies in a giant bowl of broth until everything is well cooked–but the logistics are surprisingly difficult. Picking up a fish ball with chopsticks while trying to avoid burning your hand on the central heating mechanism is quite tricky. Also, the noodles, mushrooms and tofu tend to sink to the bottom of the pot, so fishing them out is an adventure as well. But once you’ve learned the rhythm, the meal becomes quite unique.
My favorite aspect of hotpot (beside the enormous quantities of veggies involved) is the peanut sauce in which you’re supposed to dip the items that you’ve fished out of the pot. The sauce itself is rather salty, but adding substantial doses of chili and garlic oil, as well as fresh cilantro, add a welcome umami heat. There are several hotpot places in New York (see here and here), so when you return to the city, be sure to sample this Chinese staple!
When I was twelve I attended a weeklong summer cooking camp at Chef Central. Each day revolved around a different meal: Sunday brunch, 4th of July barbeque, and such. My favorite was the “light summer lunch” day. It was the first time I got to experiment with cold soups. The only cold soup I’d ever had was gazpacho, and as I’ve always detested peppers in any form, it was never a big hit with me. But at cooking camp we focused on cold fruit soups.
The great thing about cold fruit soups is that they’re really versatile. They’re pretty much great for any meal. I like to use them as desserts, because they go great with some biscotti or a simple cookie and are light enough to complement the season but heavy and sweet enough to satisfy a dessert craving.
The other day I was feeling in a very summery mood and decided to whip out one of those old soup recipes. I decided on strawberry because that just screams summer to me. It only takes about fifteen minutes to make, although you do have to let it sit in the fridge for a while after preparing it. After two excruciating hours I packed the soup up and brought it to my friend’s house for one of our “Sherlock and food” parties.
The soup was a hit. My friends loved it. I had some with a black and white cookie, some people just drank it like a smoothie, and one of my friends even used it as a sauce for her brownie (extremely advisable if you were wondering). Every way it proved delicious.
Recipe for Strawberry Soup
Makes 12 servings
• 3 pt. fresh strawberries
• 12 oz. sour cream
• 1 pt. cream
• ½ cup sugar
• juice of ½ lemon
Remove the stems from the strawberries and cut into quarters. Reserve on large strawberry for each serving for garnish. Puree the strawberries in a food processor or blender, adding the lemon, sugar and sour cream. Add the heavy cream and whip until slightly thick. Chill the soup in the refrigerator for 2-72 hours. Serve as a dessert or starter course in chilled bowls, garnished with a large strawberry cut almost in half, secured to the rim of the bowl. Garnish with mint if desired.
I don’t wear Birkenstocks. I don’t make my own granola, I’m not a raw foodist, and I have never subscribed to Gwyneth Paltrow’s GOOP Newsletter. In fact, I pride myself on a healthy suspicion of food and diet fads. But this summer, I decided to delve into the strange world of superfoods. A superfood, although not strictly defined, generally is considered especially nutritious or beneficial to health and well-being. From what I can tell, the more ancient cultures it’s associated with, the more “super” a food is; if the Mayans ate it, you should be eating it too.
Fittingly, my first superfood, chia seeds, actually come from the Salvia hispanica plant, which was grown in Mexico dating back to the ancient Mayan and Aztec cultures. Perhaps their biggest benefit is the high concentration of fiber and healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which are believed to reduce inflammation. Unlike flax seeds, another common source of omega-3s, chia seeds do not need to be ground for our bodies to take advantage of their benefits. They also avoid another pitfall of ground flax–they don’t go rancid. This superconcentrated source of nutrients has come back into fashion, overcoming its embarrassing image in the ‘80s, when it brought the world the Chia Pet. I tried to ignore the image of my stomach sprouting a green Mohawk as I stirred the seeds into a bowl of water, let them sit, and then came back to give them a try.
They don’t add much real taste, per se, but their texture is what makes them remarkable and useful. When put in water or other liquid, the seeds expand into little balls of gel. This gives any chia-thickened liquid a tricky consistency: not quite chewy, not quite smooth, and dotted with tiny black crunchy seed hulls. If you learn to like the texture, though, look for plain chia seeds at your local health food store, or try one of the many energy bars or juices touting chia seeds as an ingredient. Need ideas for preparing chia? Fulfill your chocolate cravings in a healthier way with some pudding.
Chocolate Chia Pudding
For a single serving:
½ cup unsweetened nondairy milk like almondmilk
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp cocoa powder
½ tsp maple syrup, or more to taste
1 ½ tablespoons chia seeds
Top with berries, orange slices, or lemon zest for garnish.
For other flavors, try adding: cinnamon and chili powder, almonds and banana with almond extract, or any other fruit.
Whisk together milk, vanilla, and cocoa powder and add sweetener to taste. Keep whisking until cocoa is completely incorporated.
Pour the mixture into a bowl and add the chia seeds, keeping in mind that the chia will expand and add volume.
Stir well, making sure the seeds are moistened. Leave at room temperature, stirring every 15 minutes or so to break up any clusters that form.
Let stand until the pudding has thickened to the desired texture, at least one hour.
Spending a summer working at movie theater in Hollywood has its perks. I get to bask in the glamour of serving popcorn to and cleaning up after stars who pop by the sneak peaks of their new openings; I am comforted by the scent of freshly made kettle corn while I scrub the lenses of the 3-D glasses clean. It is actually a fun gig, and so far I’ve learned some useful lessons:
1) Popcorn is extremely messy and difficult to sweep up off of a carpeted floor.
2) It is more difficult than it looks to create the perfect condiment design on a hot dog. My apologies to all the patrons whose hot dog buns came with a glob of mustard on one end that slowly trailed into a squiggle.
3) People who are given free food are much messier than those who pay for their concessions. People who see “The Purge” and “Fast & Furious 6” are much messier than people who see “Francis Ha” and “Before Midnight.”
I have not seen the first two, but I have seen those last two (though my cleanliness may be more related to the fact that I now know the people picking up my trash than my movie choices). I’ve never been a fan of action-packed summer blockbusters. So when “Before Midnight” opened in a sea of adrenaline pumpers, I was more than ready to settle into the cool, nearly empty movie theater. Richard Linklater’s “Before Midnight,” starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, focuses on a single day in Jesse and Celine’s relationship. The two are approaching the end of their summer Greek getaway and a possible breaking point.
While the ladies prepare their final Greek feast, the camera zooms in on the chopped juicy, bright red tomatoes right down the center, and focuses on the women as they tenderly fold marinated rice into succulent grape leaves. I of course developed a hankering for Greek food. This recipe for homemade tzatziki is simple yet refreshing. If you are not summering at a Greek villa, don’t fret—this dip will make you think you are.
Adapted from Serious Eats and Chobani
½ pound cucumbers
1 cup Greek yogurt
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 handful of dill, minced
1 tsp. lemon juice
Seed the cucumbers. To do this, cut it lengthwise. Take a spoon to the middle and scoop out the mushy center part. You’ll be left with a little cucumber boat.
Shred the cucumbers in a food processor. If you don’t have one you can just chop the cucumbers thin.
Mix in all the ingredients. You may want to play around with the amount of lemon juice you use, depending on your taste.