Monthly Archives: November 2013

May I Introduce Cashew Cream, Your New Best (Vegan) Friend

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My relationship with cashews has been on-again, off-again. Yes, they’d sit in my cupboard, waiting to be chosen as a snack or occasionally crushed up on noodle or rice dishes, but I never really considered them for a central role in a dish. . . until I used them as a base in a vegan macaroni and “cheese” recipe a couple of years ago (uh, yum) and realized cashews are — aside from being lovely and humble and delicious– extremely versatile.  Since this epiphany, I’ve used cashews in many other dishes, and I’ve not been disappointed yet! 

Cashew trees are native to Brazil, and the cashew nuts we enjoy are actually the seeds that adhere to the base of the cashew apple. Cashew shells are toxic, which leads me to wonder who was brave enough to first figure that out? But don’t be put off by their poisonous exterior; cashews actually have a mild flavor. They would also like everyone to quit saying they are fattening. Yes, cashews contain fat (which is why they can be turned into such a rich-tasting sauce), but they have a lower fat content than other nuts. (About 20 cashews, or one ounce, contains 12 grams of fat and 5 grams of protein, compared to 16 grams of fat in 2 tablespoons of peanut butter.) Cashews are also high in copper (we need this to create collagen, make new red blood cells, and boost our immune system), manganese (think strong bones, normal blood sugar), magnesium (very important for bone health by balancing calcium absorption), and phosphorus (a mineral that helps with kidney function and muscle contraction). Further (did you really think we were done here?), cashews help prevent cardiovascular problems and gallstone formation, and women involved in a cashew-eating study (sign me up!) were able to lose or maintain weight much more easily than those not consuming cashews.

So, get on out there and reintroduce yourself to the cashew, just in time for the holidays!

Cashew Cream Sauce:

  • 1 cup raw cashews
  • 3/4 – 1 cup water
  • 1/2 t. sea salt (optional)

1) Cover the cashews with water and soak overnight (or a few hours if you just don’t have all night!).

2) Drain cashews, put in the food processor (or blender) with water and salt and blend for about 3-4 minutes. And you’re done! If you’re using in a hot dish, you can simply heat up the sauce on the stove, adding in spices or fresh herbs.  

3) Of course there are ALL kinds of ways you can use this yummy sauce.  Some of my favorite savory ideas are to add 1 tsp. curry powder and use over roasted vegetables, add fresh basil or rosemary and put over pasta –or add some cream sauce to marinara or pesto, or use as a base to soups or mashed potatoes. You can also use cashew cream in desserts, but this is for another post.  You’re definitely ready to bedazzle your guests next week with some ridiculously tasty and stealthily-healthy dishes.

I whipped up some cashew cream this evening, adding black pepper and chopped scallions and enjoyed it over pasta with roasted Brussels sprouts and sweet potato. Happy blending! 🙂

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Olives: Not Just For Pizza Anymore

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Ever heard of the dove who returns to a sea-bound ark with an olive branch in its beak?  Remember Jesus preaching on the Mount of — wait for it — Olives? 

Olives are one of the most perfect foods on the planet, in my opinion. Spherical, shiny, salty. . . they are beautiful to behold and even better to eat.  Olive oil gets most of the attention these days for its health benefits and delicious taste, but I’d like to draw attention back to the source of this nectar of the gods, the olive itself.

Like most of you, I grew up only running into flavorless black olives on my pizza (healthy meal? check!), or at the occasional dinner where I would engage our guests with the obligatory look-I-have-ten-olives-on-my-fingers routine. My parents were so proud. Can most kids down an entire bowl of olives in 7 minutes flat? I don’t think so. Alas, my 1980s family was also all about the margarine and the ranch dressing.  I don’t know when the divine pairing of balsamic vinegar and olive oil took place, forever altering the culinary course of bread and salad, but I’m quite sure it was not in Idaho.  But I digress.   

Olive trees are native to the Mediterranean, Asia, and northern Africa, though of course they are now grown in many temperate parts of the world, including California and New Mexico.  The olive tree can thrive for hundreds of years, and between its gnarled trunk, gorgeous branches, and delectable fruit, it is easy to see why the Ancient Greeks and Romans considered olive oil sacred (who doesn’t? My husband would drink this stuff by the glass if it were socially acceptable) and presented olive wreaths to Olympic champions.  (On that note, don’t you think victorious athletes of today would much prefer a glorious plant-based wreath to a bulky solid-gold medal and Wheaties contract? Of course they would.) Another fun historical/literary fact: the bed of Penelope and Odysseus (yes, that Odysseus) was apparently constructed around the trunk of an olive tree. I leave you to interpret. Let’s just say that the Greeks, who today use 60% of their agricultural land to grow olives and produce 20% of the global olive supply, take olives very seriously. 

I know, I know, olives are high in fat.  But remember, my little fat gram counter, there are good and bad fats, and olives happen to fall squarely in the good column, providing a healthy serving (usually about 1 gram per olive) of monounsaturated fat, along with antioxidants, calcium (olive milk, anyone?), fiber, potassium, and vitamin E.  Because olives are too bitter to be eaten when raw, they must undergo some type of curing. Greeks process ripe olives, then cure them in one of three ways: dry-cured (rubbed with salt), sun-cured (left out in the sun, wrinkled), or oil-cured (soaked in oil for several months). Kalamata olives (uh, yum) are cured in red wine vinegar or wine; the ripeness and fermentation give them their depth of flavor. Canned black olives, which we are most familiar with in America, are picked unripe and soaked in an alkaline lye mix for several hours, oxidized with air, then rinsed. Iron is added to keep the characteristic dark color and firm texture, and chemicals are used to help the olives stay strong for the de-pitting process.  Lye leeches out the flavor, but these short-cuts make for much quicker production.  Convinced yet to give whole, wrinkly olives with pits a try?  (I am loathe to abandon my favorite, garlic-stuffed jumbo green olives, but I will at least branch out.)        

I love to add olives to pasta or grain-based salads, slice them onto flat-breads or hummus, make them into pates for appetizers, or simply eat them as a satisfying snack. Olives, olive you!     

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