Conscious Food Choices

For the love of delicious healthy food…

Creamy Blue-Green Pesto (Vegan, too)

Pesto, like chocolate, is one of those wonderfully strong-flavored things that you can slip all sorts of healthy stuff into without anyone guessing. My most favorite surreptitious ingredients in basil pesto are hemp seeds and blue green algae. Hemp seeds are full of complete and easily digestible protein, have the highest essential fatty acids of any plant food on the planet – a perfect 3:1 ratio of Omega-6 Linoleic Acid and Omega-3 Linolenic Acid, which is good for for your heart and immune system – and best of all, they taste a bit like pine nuts. (They can completely replace the nuts in your pesto recipe without anyone noticing, but I usually do a mix of hemp and raw cashews because I really like the sweet creaminess the cashews add.) The blue-green algae is full of chlorophyll and phytonutrients, plus adds some trace minerals and vitamins, and can also go undetected, even by the pickiest of (12 year old) eaters. My boyfriend’s son Kai generally does not eat “foods of color” but curiously loves pesto, which is what motivated me to try to slip as much other healthy green stuff in as I could. The last time I made it we did it together, but I slipped in the blue-green algae at the end when he wasn’t looking. Can’t reveal everything to everyone all the time…

Creamy Blue-Green Pesto (Vegan)

  • 1 bunch fresh basil, washed and picked (about 3 cups)
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup raw cashews
  • 1/2 cup hemp seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea or Himalayan salt
  • 1/2 t umeboshi vineger (optional)
  • 1/2 t fresh black pepper
  • 4 capsules Crystal Manna Blue Green Algae

Save out a handful or basil leaves, and then blend all remaining ingredients well in blender or Vitamix until smooth and creamy. Taste and adjust for salt – this should be well salted and fairly intensely flavored, as a little goes a long way. Add remaining basil leaves and blend briefly, maintain a little texture. (You can add in a few more nuts here too, if you want a little crunch). Use at once or keep in glass jar with a puddle of olive oil on the top to keep it from going brown. Will keep 1 – 2 weeks in the fridge.

Play with your pesto!

Pesto can be made with really anything so please get creative with what is in the fridge.

  • Add a little parsley to the blender to up the green intensity
  • Add a bit of nutritional yeast to make it richer and slightly cheesy
  • Use any other type of nut here, pine nuts are traditional, but I have had great pesto made with pistachios, walnuts and even sesame seeds. Or make it with all hemp.

Also, I just want to say that the amounts of everything are extremely flexible – I have make a 10 minute pasta with a  “chunky pesto” sauce using about 10 basil leaves from a withering basil plant who’s day had come… in this case it went into a mortar and pestle with 1/2 clove of garlic and a few tablespoons of olive oil, salt and pepper and got chopped toasted pine nuts mixed in later. Just proving that 10 fresh leaves are infinitely superior to any pre-fab pesto sauce you could ever buy from anywhere!

Pesto is not just for pasta- its great on steamed potatoes and vegetables, and is fantastic mixed with quinoa. If, like me, you never thought “fantastic” and “quinoa” should appear in the same sentence, check out Pesto-Quinoa Stuffed Tomatoes with Roasted Portabellos

July 1, 2011 Posted by | Fresh, Low Carb Recipes, Raw Food Recipes, Recipes, Sauces, Sugar Free/Unrefined Recipes, Vegan Recipes | , , | 1 Comment

Happy Summer! Fresh Pasta “Margherita”

Last week I was working on the foodie section for a friend’s hilarious and brainy new website,, and I had the great pleasure of researching and writing about the origins of pasta and the pasta machine, much of which significantly happened in Naples.

Apparently, the first pasta machine on record was commissioned in the 1700’s by the King of Naples, Ferdinand II. Up until that time a “pasta maker” was someone who sat on a bench and kneaded the dough with his feet. (The term “maccaruni” in fact, means “made by dough by force”. )

Cesare Sapdaccini, this same genius engineer, is also credited with inventing the 4-pronged fork on behest of the Queen, who was reportedly embarrassed by the King eating pasta with his fingers. (Thus proving that the birth of civilization actually began in Naples…!)

To underscore that, Naples is also where Gelato, Pizza Margherita, and a wonderful Neapolitan custom called “Caffe Sospeso” was born:

Caffe sospeso literally means “coffee in suspense” and in old timey Neapolitan society it was a custom to order not one but two coffees at a time, one for you and one for someone else less fortunate. The order would be logged in the cafe’s book until someone else came in and inquired, at which point they would be graciously served.

Anyway, to read more pasta trivia (and mythology), check out La Storia di Pasta.

So, what do you do after spending a whole day reading about Neapolitan pasta? Make fresh pasta! How could I not? The egg pasta dough recipe is super easy and straight out of Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian cookbook,* and he also has a vegan version in there but I wanted the full “Crack-The-Eggs-Into-The-Flour-And-Mix-With-Your-Hands” Experience. (And besides, I was planning to top it with a very un-vegan fresh mozzarella, basil and tomatoes).  So this is it.

Fresh Summer Pasta “Margherita” for 4

Prepare the Fresh Egg Pasta Dough:

  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups unbleached flour
  • 1 t salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 eggs yolks

Combine 1 1/2 cups flour and salt on a counter or large board. Make a well in the middle. Into this well, beak the eggs and yolks. Beat the eggs with a fork, slowly and gradually incorporating a little of the flour at a time. When it becomes too hard to stir with a fork, use your hands. When all the flour has been mixed in, knead the dough, pushing it against the board and folding it repeatedly until it is not at all sticky and quite stiff.

Sprinkle the dough with a little of the reserved flour and cover with plastic or a cloth: let it rest for about 30 minutes.
(Recipe Courtesy Mark Bittman)

(I actually let it rest for one hour, and it was still a bit tough to roll out thinly. But I might have gotten a bit overzealous in the kneading stage… it is a beautiful, silky dough – really satisfying to knead. I didn’t try it with my feet, but I was questioning how enlightened Mr. Sapdaccini really could be after all of that: why would anyone want to make pasta dough with a machine?)

Meanwhile, prepare the sauce:

Summer “Margherita Sauce” for Pasta

  • 1/2 pound super fresh mozzarella, cut in 1″ cubes
  • 1 cup sweet ripe cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, cut or torn
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 T capers
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 – 1/2 t salt, to taste
  • 2 T freshly roasted pine nuts

In a medium sized serving bowl, combine all ingredients except salt and pine nuts,  and let marinate together at room temperature while the pasta dough is resting and cooking.

Roll the dough out on a lightly floured board as thinly and evenly as possible and cut into any shape you like. You can see that I went to town with the ravioli roller...

Boil in salted water for  just 2 – 3 minutes until tender but al dente. Drain and toss with Margherita mixture, and toasted pine nuts, adding salt to taste and drizzling with a bit more olive oil as needed.

Serve immediately, while the cheese is still cool and the pasta is hot. Enjoy!

*Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian has become my all purpose cookbook bible (really! It’s huge but I shlepped it all the way to Bali, and to Costa Rica before that. And you know what? It was the one cookbook that Tracy Morrisette – the chef I was working with in Costa Rica – had also brought with her from the States! Says something, I think). I rarely use recipes except for reference, but when you need a quick and reliable basic, like fresh pasta dough, or need to to know how many beans to soak to feed 40 people, this is the book to turn to.

June 22, 2011 Posted by | Fresh, Pasta, Recipes | , | Leave a comment

Ginger-Goji Super Granola and Friends…

I am not crazy about the flavor of goji berries, but am a strong believer in their superpowers, so this is a way to spice them up by dry blending them with a bit of crystallized ginger. (Yes, the sugary one…but a little goes a long way).

Ginger-Goji Super Granola (Raw-ish)

  • 1/2 recipe of Vanilla Almond Granola Base 
  • 3 c flaked or shredded dried coconut (combo is nice)
  • 2 c walnuts and/or pecans (soaked and dried)
  • 1 c organic goji berries,  dry blended until roughly powdered
  • 2 T finely chopped crystallized ginger pieces
  • 1 T freshly grated ginger
  • 1 c dried mulberries, (or ¼ c dates, raisins or other dried fruit) coarsely chopped or lightly dry blended
  • 2 T liquid coconut oil
  • 1/4 t coarsely ground sea salt
  • 2 T maple syrup
  • 1 t cinnamon (optional)
  • Vanilla maple glaze made with: 1 T vanilla plus 1/4 c maple syrup

Dry blend crystallized ginger, fresh ginger and goji berries in Vitamix until most of the goji berries have powdered and are reclumping into gingery bits. The odd whole berry is fine here too.

Combine coconut, chopped nuts, gingered goji berries and other fruit in very large bowl. Add liquid coconut oil and toss to coat.

Add 2 T. maple syrup, salt and cinnamon or other spices and flavorings, toss lightly to coat.

Finally, add Vanilla Hemp Granola Base over nut mixture. Toss lightly, drizzling with remaining maple-vanilla mixture so everything is lightly coated. Make sure not to overmix at this point – there should be distinctive lumps of the oat-y base, alongside the coconut-nut mixture, all lightly glazed with the maple vanilla mix… (Mmmmm)

Spread onto 3 or 4 Perflexx sheets. Dehydrate 8 -12 hours or overnight, turning once to crisp up the undersides.



Flavor Variations (are endless… these are just ideas)

Maple Pecan Granola

  • Use all pecans instead of walnuts
  • Use gingered gogi berries, or not…
  • Use only the finely shredded coconut, not flakes
  • Increase cinnamon to 2 T
  • Add 1/2 t freshly grated nutmeg

Blueberry Almond Granola

  • Use 2 cups chopped raw almonds (soaked, dried and truly raw)
  • Use only flaked coconut
  • Leave ginger out but dry blend the gogi berries to a fine powder to dissapear them
  • Use 1 c sundried blueberries as the dried fruit,  and do not chop or blend.
  • Replace cinnamon with 1/2 t fresh lemon juice and zest
  • Add 1/2 t almond extract to and 1 t lemon juice to vanilla maple glaze

Rainforest Crunch:

Brazil nuts are a great source of selenium, a necessary trace mineral not easily found in many foods. This is a good way to eat a little bit each day.

  • Use 1 c walnuts, plus 1/2 c brazil nuts, soaked overnight, thinly sliced and dried
  • Add 1/2 cup finely chopped raw cashews, (unsoaked is fine).
  • Use chopped dried figs, pineapple and/or mango for the fruit.

Pumpkin Spice:
Pumpkin seeds are another great nutritional powerhouse. Extremely high in minerals, especially magnesium, plus a wide range of B Vitamins, and Zinc, they also contain L-Tryptophan which among other things, makes you feel good. Along with walnuts, they are also listed as one of the better sources for omega 3 fatty acids.

  • Add 1/2 t nutmeg, 1/4 t dried ginger and a pinch of cloves, or 3/4 t pumpkin spice mix to gogi berries and dry blend.
  • Add 1 cup soaked and dried pumpkin seeds to the blender just at the end, to coat them in flavor
  • Add 2 t cinnamon and a dash more nutmeg or spice blend to the vanilla maple glaze at the end

June 18, 2011 Posted by | Breakfast, Food Consciousness, Raw Food Recipes, Recipes, Sugar Free/Unrefined Recipes, Vegan Recipes | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Back from Bali…

One of the garden pools at Ananda Cottages, Ubud

I recently got back from 5 weeks in Bali, cooking on another Frog Lotus Yoga Teachers Training with Vidya, and it was an amazing time. A lot of the great Balinese vegetarian dishes are delicious and very simple to make so I will post some recipes after I have test driven them in my own kitchen.

I can’t stress enough how different it was to cook in a Balinese kitchen from a Costa Rican kitchen! Bali is just 8 degrees South of the Equator, while Costa Rica is 9 degrees north, so the climate is similar, the foliage is similar, everyone eats rice three meals a day, and many of the local fruits and veggies are the same. HOWEVER, all that being said, it’s just totally different.

The first thing is the speed in which everything is cooked. In Costa Rica, where simmering beans is a daily ritual and propane is the fuel of choice, I sometimes had a hard time getting water to boil. In Bali, as in most of Asia, cooking things very fast on a very high flame is the norm. Most dishes are either boiled or blanched in water,  or stir-fried in a giant wok over a huge fat turbo ring burner which is scary hot and amazingly fast. The flip side of that is that there is not much of a concept of slow cooking, and since a lot of the richness and flavor for (non-Asian) vegetarian cooking is developed by slow cooking –  caramelizing onions and garlic, reducing all the water out of zucchini and carrots in order to develop a deeper or richer flavor for things like taco fillings  – I had a real challenge.

Attempting to slow cook in a wok...

First because there is no equipment for it – the Balinese either cook in a wok, or they boil in water in incredibly thin bottomed pots which burn everything instead of cooking –  so, by necessity, I learned to simmer in a wok, which sort of works, if you have two…

Second because the Balinese chefs, as skilled and professional and well meaning as they are, are all conditioned to cooking super-hot and stirring constantly, and it was difficult to get them to stand away from the wok and let things cook slowly without them stirring it every minute. I had to find ways to distract them with other projects to get them to leave the stove alone!

The Balinese kitchen team I was working with was amazing. The Balinese have an incredibly aesthetic culture, and take great pride in doing everything beautifully, perfectly, by hand. (Which is also quite different from the Costa Ricans, who are fine to throw everything in a pot, then in the food processor and serve without ceremony.) Everything in Bali is done meticulously, and a bit ceremoniously. As an ex-pastry chef, I am used to being the one in the kitchen that all the other chefs make fun of for being uber-meticulous, but working with the Balinese chefs and the level of detail and care they put into every little thing put me to shame.  And, amazingly, they do this without any attitude about it, (or attitude towards me when I decided it was more important to get the food out for 40 people than to make sure that last carrot got cut perfectly). It was fantastic to work with them.

Ariana & Wayan making hummus with the hand grinder

Also, even though I was working in a brand new kitchen which was bright, clean and modern, the Balinese attitude towards equipment is very very  different from my American one. They are incredibly industrious and creative about getting by with whatever they have on hand. So if you have one big spoon the stir the pot, why would you need two? You just wash that one and use it again. This was a constant challenge for me because, well,  I am a sloppy cook and would rather have 4 spoons on hand so I don’t have to look for one for very long, or wash it before I use it!  So I spent the first week discovering what equipment the kitchen did not have (usually at the last minute) and working with Ketut, my Balinese chef, to find some sort of alternative. Some things I never found, and learned to live without – a big colander for instance – there is no concept of the need for something to drain pasta for 35 people in – they take care of most orders a la carte, boiling a small pot of water and cooking little batches of pasta for 1 – 4 people at a time, which then get fished out with a small wooden handled strainer. Over time I started to do the same.

(In retrospect, it must have been hilarious to see me trying to communicate what I thought I needed using Kitchenese, our shared mix of broken English and pantomime, which as mangled as it was, was also surprisingly effective).

I spent the second week trying to procure the equipment and items I determined were really necessary to cook vegetarian food for 40 people. A food processor, for instance, made it to the top of the list after a valiant attempt at making hummus and felafel using a hand grinder attached to a wooden sawhorse…

The third week I was in the rhythm enough to really begin to enjoy the incredibly industrious and exotic vibe of a Balinese kitchen. By then we all had some idea of what we were doing – Ketut knew what to do to make a Raw Zucchini Lasagna, and I was happy to turn over all the Balinese and Asian menu over to the kitchen so I could watch how they prepared traditional specialties like Gado Gado or stewed banana stems.

Bali has some of the most amazing fruit! Here are my favorites:



Bali Salak



– a bit of a punk rock Lichee. Peel off the red spiky exterior to reveal a sweet delicately fragrant fleshy …well, eyeball inside. Delicious. It’s a major flavoring for Balinese candies and soft drinks.

Bali Salak  – if a super-dry crunchy Granny Smith apple could taste like a pineapple and masquerade as a snake egg, this would be it. I love these. They are also sometimes boiled before being eaten, and then they taste like a cooked pear.

Durian – Called the King of Fruits.  Super stinky and. I think,  divinely delicious. A big green spiky fruit with lovely, avocado-like sweet creamy yellow interior. Totally sexy and just this side of revolting at the same time.

Mangosteen – Also called the Queen of Fruits and with good reason. A blood red hard shelled fruit which must be cracked open carefully to reveal the most incredible, delicate, fragrant, pure white fruit segments. The mangosteen is extremely high in xanthones and is considered a miracle fruit because of its long list of medicinal qualities.

More about all of these fruits can be found at Definitely worth checking out.

Unfortunately, most of these fruits are too delicate to ever make it to the States.  The few pieces of mangosteen and salak I “forgot” in my luggage got sniffed out at JFK by a sweet little beagle with a sharp nose who I befriended before I realized he was gainfully employed by US Customs.

June 14, 2011 Posted by | Food Consciousness | , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Chocolate Ganache Cupcakes

My friends all know that I hate cupcakes. Vehemently. I have hated them for a long time – at least since the cupcake craze started in NYC by Sex and the City – and I kept waiting for them to go away, (…um, you know, like: grow up) but in the meantime they seem to have invaded other cities, cookbooks, some of my favorite blogs…and now even my dreams. I had a dream last night in which I had to make a cake for 200 people in an hour…and in it, I was seriously considering cupcakes. Very stressful.

Chocolate Ganache Cupcakes with Edible Gold Leaf

Happily, and despite my own prejudices, I have discovered that there are some real life occasions when one hour is all you’ve got – you want to make something fun for your boyfriend and his 12 year old son’s birthday, for instance – and I have to admit that nothing could be better and more appropriate for the occasion than…chocolate cupcakes! So, here they are – vegan, no refined sugar, dipped in super gooey ganache, topped with edible gold leaf… making them, well, a little bit sexy. Who knew?

Chocolate Cupcakes with Ganache Frosting

  • 1 cup unbleached white, or “white whole wheat” flour
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 3/4 c agave syrup, or coconut crystals
  • 1/2 c almond milk
  • 1/3 cup oil (organic grapeseed)
  • 2 t vanilla
  • 1 t apple cider vinegar

Preheat oven to 350°. Prepare 12 muffin tins with paper cupcake liners.

Combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt in mixing bowl. Add agave syrup, almond milk, oil vanilla and vinegar and whisk lightly for 30 seconds to one minute until well combined. Pour into paper cupcake liners and bake for 20 – 25 minutes until tops spring back lightly when touched.

Chocolate Ganache Frosting

  • 1/2 cup raw agave syrup
  • 1/2 c cocoa powder
  • 1 t vanilla extract
  • pinch salt
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil, liquid but cool

Mix together all ingredients except coconut oil in Vitamix.  Add coconut oil in slow steady stream and blend until thick and glossy. Dip cooled cupcake tops into warm ganache. Top with edible gold leaf, nuts, or topping of choice. Enjoy!

March 30, 2011 Posted by | Desserts, Food Consciousness, Recipes, Sugar Free/Unrefined Recipes, Vegan Recipes | 2 Comments

Agave Syrup and Coconut Palm Sugar…

Ok, I am back in New York City and somehow adjusting to being woken up at 4:30am by Harlem garbage trucks instead of Cahuita howler monkeys…and today I woke up thinking about sweeteners.

While in Costa Rica I used a lot of honey and the less-processed, crude version of cane sugar they call “tapa de dulce” which was fine because everyone I was cooking for was relatively healthy and I had no-one who was seriously watching their blood sugar levels. I often found myself wishing I had access to agave syrup, (especially for dessert making) but right when I was talking to my boyfriend Hannes about schlepping down a gallon in his luggage, I was sent a link to a simple but convincing article called Agave Nectar: Good or Bad?. It’s worth a read, particularly because it explains why fructose is bad for you in a very simple but scientifically grounded way:

Because fructose is digested in your liver, it is immediately turned into triglycerides or stored body fat. Since it doesn’t get converted to blood glucose like other sugars, it doesn’t raise or crash your blood sugar levels. Hence the claim that it is safe for diabetics.

But it isn’t.

That’s because fructose inhibits leptin levels — the hormone your body uses to tell you that you’re full. In other words, fructose makes you want to eat more. Besides contributing to weight gain, it also makes you gain the most dangerous kind of fat.

That would put anyone off agave syrup, right? But it’s also becoming increasingly clear that not all agave syrups are equal and some seem to have a MUCH higher fructose level than others. I just recently discovered Volcanic Nectar, who sells a raw, organic, low fructose agave nectar, apparently containing only 47.6% fructose and with a very low Glycemic Index of 27.  I have just ordered samples from this company and can’t wait to try it out…

For the last couple of years I have been following the whole controversy around agave syrup with a grain of salt, mostly because most of the noise seemed to be coming from Dr. Mercola, whom I think of as a bit extreme. And when I pursued the investigation with a couple of the doctors I know, we all seemed to net out that agave syrup wasn’t SO bad, so long as it was used in moderation by people where were already in relatively good health. I still believe this and now I am especially excited about the prospect of finding a high quality, low fructose brand that we can all depend on. But, I have to say that while I was still in Costa Rica, reading that article tilted the scale – Hannes left the agave syrup (a brand I was not sure about) at home.

Which brings me to another interesting and sweet new development, Coconut Palm Sugar. I love the taste- it’s a bit like a light brown sugar and a little bit goes a very long way if you are talking about sprinkling on top of your morning porridge…it also great for baking as it can be used cup for cup like sugar.

Coconut palm sugar apparently has a glycemic index of around 35, which is also considered very low – much lower than cane sugar, honey or most agave syrups, and the sweet comes from sucrose, not fructose. That being said, I am not really sure how it can be as sweet as it is with that low an index, and there have been some new reports showing inconsistencies in the GI testing. So, at the moment, I am trusting only one producer – Coconut Secret – a Philippines-based small company who seems to have its heart in the right place.  As to be expected with any new “healthy sweetener” there is a lot of mixed-up and conflicting information out there, but I am cautiously optimistic…and also having a great time incorporating coconut sugar into my new recipes. It’s very nice to have another alternative sweetener to play with.

Finally, I have to say it’s nice to be back in the states, in NYC, where Spring is just starting to break. It’s nice to be home, and I have a new appreciation for living in a place where pretty much everything is available, even in Harlem.

March 19, 2011 Posted by | Food Consciousness, Raw Food Sources | , , , | 2 Comments

Pura Vida Tortilla Soup (Raw)

“Pura Vida” literally means “Pure” and “Life”, and it is a term used loosely in Costa Rica as a greeting or farewell  – meaning things are cool, and that life is good, in balance…

This recipe was based on Ani Phyo’s Tortilla Soup Recipe in her book, Ani’s Raw Food Essentials, but I think Tracy Morrisette, the chef at the Goddess Garden, brilliantly improved it with the addition of a little nutritional yeast and chili powder. Not to mention some utterly addictive deep fried fresh tortilla strips covered in her nacho cheese-flavored spice mix! Tracy made this soup for us on the first retreat here in Costa Rica and it blew my mind: an utterly virtuous and creamy raw soup with a handful of wickedly delicious crunchiness on top. Pura Vida!

Serve this gently warmed up for a cold winter day, or at room temperature on a hot one.

Pura Vida Tortilla Soup (Raw) – Serves 6

  • 4 1/2 cups tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/4 small red onion, chopped
  • 3/4 cups olive oil
  • 2 t salt
  • 1 ½ t garlic
  • 1/2 fresh jalapeno (or to taste)
  • 1 t cumin
  • 1 t ancho chili powder
  • 1 t dried oregano
  • 1 T nutritional yeast
  • 2 sundried tomato halves, soaked
  • 3 cups water (use soak water from tomatoes)

Fried Tortilla Strips

  • 6 corn tortillas, cut into half inch strips
  • 2 T nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1/4 t onion powder
  • 1/4 t garlic powder
  • 1 T ancho chili powder

Blend the Soup: Combine all soup ingredients in a Vitamix and blend until completely smooth and creamy, taste and adjust for salt and spiciness.

Fry the Strips: Combine yeast and spices in small bowl and set aside. Deep fry tortilla strips in two or three batches until crisp and lightly brown.  Drain each batch well on newspaper covered with paper towels to catch the oil, and sprinkle generously with the seasoning mix, tossing to coat. Serve in bowls alongside soup.

Serve soup cool at room temperature, or warm slightly in a saucepan: stirring constantly and testing with a finger often to make sure it does not get too hot. Pour immediately into warmed bowls and pass the strips!

March 8, 2011 Posted by | Fresh, Low Carb Recipes, Raw Food Recipes, Recipes, Soups, Vegan Recipes | , , , , | 7 Comments

Eating Fresh Chocolate with the Bribri

Costa Rica is a really interesting place, food-wise. There are a number of paradoxes. They have so much edible exotica hanging from the trees here, plus hundreds of varieties of coconuts and palms, cocoa and banana trees growing wild everywhere, and almond trees lining all the beaches… yet it’s extremely difficult to get coconut oil anywhere or any kind of natural sweeteners including palm or coconut sugar, nuts are mostly imported and extremely expensive, and the unsweetened cocoa powder (when you can find it) is strangely fruity and does not resemble anything we have in the states.  That being said, I just had the coolest chocolate adventure ever…

A few days ago I had the amazing opportunity to visit the Bribri Indigenous Reserve in the Talamanca, or “blue mountains”, right on the border of Costa Rica and Panama. To get to the village, we traveled almost an hour into the mountains, sometimes stopping to push the truck  (and other vehicles) across the flooded roads, and then another hour upriver in dugout canoes. It had been raining hard the day before so the river was high, and full of flocks of yellow butterflies, with white and gray herons fishing alongside the banks everywhere.

The Bribri are Costa Rica’s largest indigenous group, and while there are only 10-15,000 people left, from what I could see they seem to be gracefully navigating a delicate balance between modernization, change, and maintaining the cultural preservation of their community and local culture. The story goes that the men of the community spent most of their time working in the banana plantations, and, as happens, the money wasn’t exactly coming back home with them when they returned. So the women, realizing that they needed to take things into their own hands, formed a council of leaders and began to organize educational tours of their community. These tours are unique in that they are highly organized but wonderfully informal. You never feel like a tourist, you feel like you have been personally invited to experience a small slice of the Bribri life… their life. For real.

When we pulled the canoes back onto shore, we were met at the boat by one of the local women leaders, Priska, who toured us through the Bribri primary school, showing us their new kindergarten and the health clinic, and then down a dirt sunlit path past their new secondary school which was build last year and just graduated its first group of 12 students. There are no cars, not even bicycles here, and the buildings are built lightly, on stilts, out of bamboo and rough unfinished wood. They are beautiful.

As we continued along the path I realized we were walking through acres and acres of cocao trees, and that there were cacao fruits hanging everywhere! Marcello, who is the co-owner of the Goddess Garden, has a close relationship with the Bribri and he and Priska picked fruits from the trees and cracked them open on a rock by the side of the path, sharing the soft white meat and purple seeds with us. My chocolate adventure had begun!

We arrived at a simple wooden “restaurant” a short while later, and were met with cold fresh limeade and warm banana pancakes on banana leaves. Yumm. After, we all made our way down to the river for a swim, trailed happily by a troupe of brown naked children who jumped in with us and cut like fish through the strong current.  After a swim and a short bake on the river rocks, we made our way back to the restaurant for lunch. Lunch was vegetarian – it is usually chicken or fish, but Marcello called ahead and told them they could save the chicken –  and it was fairly standard Costa Rican fare: white rice, black beans, some sort of refried beans, and a mixture of veggies including green platanos and tiquisque which was simple and tasty.  Plus a little spaghetti (..!?) and a pile of boiled fresh hearts of palm, which was totally delicious.

Afterwards, one of the younger girls of the village, Daisy,  joined us at the table and gave us a bit of history about the community and took our questions. Apparently, both schools, the clinic, and the big suspension bridge over the river we were swimming in have all been built from money earned from tour groups like ours, but the Bribri only accept 700 visitors a year because any more people would “keep them from doing what they want to do”.  I love that. I wish I had asked them what they want to do, but I suspect it is just to live their lives…

At this point, the smell of roasting chocolate was too strong to ignore. One of the women brought from the kitchen a large wooden bowl of freshly roasted cacao beans which we were all invited to taste before she began to crush it with a huge stone. Several of the visitors took turns crushing the chocolate, and then one of the local girls –  Felicite, the resident expert –  flipped the bowl a few times, spinning the beans into the air and deftly removing all the chaff from the cacao. I wish I had tried that – she made it look easy but I am sure it was not. At this point the still warm cocoa beans were fed slowly into a hand grinder and pulverized to a thick, gooey paste, and apparently I was the only one in the group that thought this was delicious (it was a lot less bitter than the unroasted cacao I use at home!). She then whipped out a small can of sweetened condensed milk, combined it with the cacao paste, and passed out pieces of banana for us to dip in it while the children ran off with the condensed milk can. Everyone was happy.

I have to tell you that the reason I was there in the first place is becuase Marcello and I have been talking about doing a cookbook here at the Goddess Garden, featuring my vegetarian recipes and highlighting the local and indigenous food of Caribbean Costa Rica and the Bribri in it. We had also been speaking about the Bribri diet, which I understood not to be so healthy. So I was here in the village to see all of this for myself. And I have to say, even though the women looked a bit heavy, I thought they all looked more solid and wholesome than truly unhealthy. Sitting there with them, eating roasted cacao, mixed with sweetened condensed milk, on a freshly picked banana… another interesting paradox of Costa Rica was coming into focus.

Also, I have to show you the kitchen, which gave me a whole new appreciation for “wood stove”. The stove they cook on is actually built out of wood, with a couple of cinder blocks and two metal to put pots on. There is no electricity, except for a small amount of solar, no refrigeration, and the sink drains directly into a small ditch, which no doubt leads off into the jungle somewhere and down to the river. But given all of that, it had the vibe of a professional kitchen and I felt completely at home there.

Marcello had arranged for me to speak privately with Priska and some of the other women – I wanted to know what the typical meals are, and what their special traditional dishes are,  whether they use any natural sweeteners like palm sugar or dried cane juice, what they grow and what they harvest, whether they grow their own rice and beans, etc. It quickly became clear that I would have to spend more than one day there to get any kind of understanding of their lifestyle. Marcello and Priska spoke about working with me to explore ways I may be able to help them improve their own diets a bit, and how I might also help them provide some extra sweets and snacks to sell to the visitors to take home with them. I would have to come back speaking Spanish…which I promised to do.

Part of the paradox is how un-opportunistic people are in Costa Rica are, in the midst of so much natural abundance. And although I can feel my own hyper-opportunistic American nature by contrast, I do think some sort of gentle “cultural exchange” would be really interesting and could be helpful to them as well. But more than anything I came away humbled by what they are able to pull off in that simple kitchen, and by the quiet dignity of these women, and I think it would just be a gift to be able to spend more time with them –  an opportunity to understand them and their way of life.

March 6, 2011 Posted by | Food Consciousness, Fresh | , , , | 3 Comments

Raw Pad Thai with Young Coconut “Noodles”

The Farmer's Market in Limon

Like the Raw Lasagna, my Raw Pad Thai recipe is also an adaptation from Russell James’ original recipe. (If you haven’t already – sign up for his email list to get the original emailed to you). This recipe is extremely flexible so use what you have on hand. I made this one with tahini because for some reason that is available here but also have made it with almonds, almond butter, and peanuts and it’s great. I used raw bok choy which I was lucky to find in the farmer’s market in Limon and love the combination of that with the arugula, but napa cabbage is great too, and of course if you can get mung bean sprouts (I can’t) then that would add a more Pad Thai touch to the recipe.

Young coconuts and tamarind are easily available in this part of Costa Rica, but you may have to do a bit of sleuthing to find them in your home town. Look for Tamarind Paste in your local Hispanic market (ask for Tamarindo) and both tamarind paste and young coconuts, or “white coconuts” can often be found in the produce section of Chinese or Southeast Asian markets, and in some high-end markets like Whole Foods.  You can also ask your local health food store to order you a case of young coconuts – they come 9 to a box – and then cut them all open and freeze the meat and juice to have on hand all the time. I love young coconuts! This is just one of the many ways you can use them.

Raw Pad Thai “Noodles” and Vegetables – Serves 4

Young Coconuts

  • 2 – 3 young coconuts
  • 1 ½ cups arugula, torn into 3′ pieces
  • 2 carrots, ribboned with a vegetable peeler
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, julienned
  • 4 cups young bok choy, sliced thin on diagonal
  • 1 spring onions, sliced thin on diagonal
  • 8 basil leaves, chiffonade
  • 4 tablespoons cilantro, roughly chopped

Pad Thai Sauce

  • 1 oz tamarind paste (or 2 dried apricots, one date, plus 1 T lemon juice)
  • 3 T palm sugar, or coconut crystals, or sucanat
  • 1 T red miso
  • 1 t sesame oil (leave out if using nuts instead of tahini)
  • 4 sundried tomato halves, soaked
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 t dulse flakes or kelp powder (optional)
  • 1 teaspoons ginger
  • 1 teaspoons garlic
  • 1 tablespoon lime
  • 1/2 jalepeno, seeded and minced
  • 6 T tahini

Make Sauce: Combine all sauce ingredients in a Vitamix or other high speed blender and blend until smooth.

Prepare Noodles: Cut open the top of the coconuts with a large sturdy cleaver over a large bowl, being careful to capture the juice. (Use juice for another purpose… like drinking!) With the back of a spoon, gently work out large pieces of the white flesh from the inner shell. (If you are new to this, Dr Ralph gives a thorough video intro to coconut whacking here). Slice the meat of the coconut in to long, fettuccine-like pieces.

Assemble Pad Thai: In a large bowl, toss together all vegetables, reserving a pinch of basil and cilantro for garnish. Pour 1/2 sauce over vegetables and massage gently with your hands to coat well and soften vegetables. Add coconut noodles and toss gently, adding some or all of the remaining sauce to taste. Allow to sit for 1/2 – 1 hour to allow flavors to combine and serve with a sprinkle of herbs and a slice of lime.

February 27, 2011 Posted by | Fresh, Low Carb Recipes, Pasta, Raw Food Recipes, Recipes, Salads, Sugar Free/Unrefined Recipes, Vegan Recipes | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Hello from Costa Rica!

As many of you know, I am currently in Costa Rica, working as a chef for two 3 week Yoga Teachers’ Trainings with Vidya Heisel.

Hello from Costa Rica!

The Southern Caribbean side  of Costa Rica is amazingly tropical and full of wildlife and exotic fruits and vegetables so I have been having a great time learning about all those odd looking hairy tubers they have here, and trying to figure out what to do with the huge and almost vegetable-like jackfruit and breadfruit!

Interestingly, despite the fact that there seem to be fruits and vegetables dripping off the trees here, there does not seem to be a deep food culture in Costa Rica. Especially for vegetarians. Gallo Pinto – which is rice and beans – and fried plantains are what you get…so after doing quite a bit of research on “traditional” Costa Rican cuisine, I opted to get my hands on as many local and indigenous fruits and veggies as I could get, and incorporate them into a more international menu. I am working with Tracy Morrisette, the Goddess Garden’s excellent new chef, who is making fantastic inroads with the gardeners and local area farmers, so I never know what is going to get dropped off in the kitchen these days! Sometimes its some strange hairy tuber, sometime a bright red fruit with inner meat that looks like a little yellow brain…

Here is a list of some of those crazy wonderful fruits and veggies I am working with, in addition to the daily supply of young and mature coconuts and many varieties of bananas that come from the trees on the Goddess Garden property

  • Carambola or “Starfruit”: (from Goddess Garden trees) a tart succulent fruit which looks like a star when cut. We use in dressings, juices and marinades.
  • Wild Grapefruits, Wild Limes and Sour Mandarins (from Goddess Garden trees) – interesting varieties of citrus are everywhere.
  • Naranjilla:(from Goddess Garden trees) this looks like a cross between a tomato and a persimmon and grows in a tree. It’s tart and can be juiced.
  • Tiquisque: This is a small brown hairy root vegetable which when peeled, cook up like a sticky potato. There are both red and white varieties.
  • Chayote Squash: These are a pear shaped squash with a very firm, dense, zucchini like flesh
  • Passionfruit: These are large round very tart fruits filled with slippery seeds – great for juicing.
  • Platanos or Plantains: looks like a big green banana.  When green can be served like a potato, often fried. When ripe they taste like a sweet but starchy banana.
  • Jackfruit: These fruit grow high up in very large trees and have a meaty yellow flesh that can be used like chicken in curries and cooked dishes.
  • Ackee: The soft inner flesh of a bright red fruit that grows on the trees around the property also has a meaty texture and can be fried and used in savory
  • Nami (pronounced Nyaami): This is a very large starchy tuber or root that tastes similar to Tiquiscque.
  • Yuca: This is another large starchy tuber.
  • Water Apple: These are bright red pear shaped fruit that are lightly sweet and slightly pear flavored. They are commonly eaten as a salad.
  • Pejibayes (also called Palm Fruit): These are small orange and green fruits of a palm tree, which when boiled taste something like a cross between a chestnut and a sweet potato. The locals love them boiled in salt and dipped in mayonnaise.

Pejibayes, or "Palm Fruit"

Water Apple






Carambola, or Star Fruit

February 18, 2011 Posted by | Food Consciousness | 3 Comments