Coconut Sesame Rice Bowls and a Table for One

I recently moved into my own place, a decision that only those not entirely disgusted by watching their paycheck drop into a bottomless pit every month should undertake.  The part of me that can overlook the pains of that, however, thrives in this situation. Quiet solitude may not be for everyone, and as a frequent assembler of people, it’s certainly not what I want all the time, but for the time being this solitary physical space feels very right.

In the month leading up to my move, I dished out at sizeable portion of my savings for apartment staples. You know, things like a couch and a TV so that I can at least maintain my solo nights of Netflix and chill. A dining table and four chairs also took a high priority on my furniture-buying list, because what home would not be complete without a place to eat, right? So now a simple wooden round table with four unabashedly hipster, white plastic bucket-seat chairs divide the space between the kitchen and my TV corner.

I envisioned having bi-weekly dinner parties, filling those four spaces with friends, good food, and hours of storytelling at its finest.  Just as the kitchen table during my childhood was a fundamental place where the family reassembled each night to share the day’s experiences, I desired that my table too would become central to the little life I’m creating here. And yet, eight weeks after moving in, I can probably count on my two hands the number I times I’ve, including on my own, sat at the table to eat.

I’m afraid to say that that I play victim to the monotonous rhythm of the daily eat-work-eat-run-eat-sleep routine. I cook the same handful of go-to recipes, ones that make enough to serve 4-6 and that I heat in the microwaves at work all week. I find that I all too often park myself on a stool at the countertop or on the couch to idly take in forkful after forkful alongside a daily dose of unnecessary and unfulfilling Facebook perusing. Amidst the repetition, the kitchen table remains ignored.

Unfortunately I don’t see this changing too much. My goals of hosting frequent dinner parties were lofty to say the least, though let it be heard that I will gladly welcome anyone who wants to let me cook for them in exchange for bringing the wine. And the reason I find myself turning to the same old recipes month after month is because, well, I like them. I mean, yes, cheesy eggs on toast does get a little old after 4 days in a row but somehow I still crave it pretty frequently. But above all other go-to dishes, the one that stands alone as the meal that I could eat every day for the rest of my life and die happy, is little more than a bowl of rice.

That might be why I’ve kept this recipe to myself for so long. Something about the dish feels inherently solitary. It provides the “wrap yourself in a blanket on the couch and eat while watching Anthony Bourdain or The Bachelor” sort of comfort you want to experience alone, whether you’re feeling lonely or not at all.  It pairs well with contemplation, red wine, and the threadbare pair of leggings you’ve had for ten years. And since it was a dreary sort of day where many may not venture outside of the confines of their homes, it seemed right to finally share it.

It starts with a pot of rice, a 50/50 mix of brown and white rice cooked in Alice Waters’ foolproof method of boiling and then oven steaming. I mix it with kale and coconut that have been roasted with a sesame dressing until crisp and smoky-sweet. It’s seasoned with furikake and sesame seeds and beyond that, this simple rice base only needs a variety of topping options. The simplest add-ons are slices of avocado and sheets of nori which I use in place of utensils to grab onto a clump of rice. It’s not a very graceful way of eating which is probably another reason why I consume this alone. Other options are a fried egg with a runny yolk or chicken, salmon, or shrimp that’s been diced, doused in soy sauce and sesame oil, and sautéed. So tonight, hungry and alone, though not at all lonely, and with a lot of things on my mind for good contemplation, I set my table for one.

Coconut Sesame Rice Bowls
serves 4
adapted from Shutterbean's recipe 

½ cup brown medium grain rice
½ cup white medium grain rice
1/3 cup olive oil
2 Tbs. soy sauce
1 tsp. sesame oil
1 bunch of kale, stripped from its stalk and torn into rough pieces
1½ cups large flake coconut
2 Tbs. furikake rice seasoning
1 Tbs. toasted sesame seeds
salt and pepper, to taste

Topping options: fried egg, avocado, nori, sautéed chicken, shrimp, or fish

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Bring water to a boil in a large, ovenproof and nonstick pot. Add the brown rice and let the water continue at a low boil, uncovered, for 20 minutes. If you are using all white rice, skip this step. Add in the white rice and cook for 10 minutes. Drain almost all of the water, stir in a splash of olive oil and cover the pot with the lid. Transfer to the oven to cook for an additional 10-15 minutes until dry. Fluff with a fork and set aside.

While the rice cooks, add the kale and coconut to a bowl. Whisk together the olive oil, sesame oil and soy sauce. Add two thirds of this dressing to the kale and coconut and toss to thoroughly coat. Transfer to a sheet pan and roast in the 400 degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes, tossing periodically. When cooked, remove from the oven and sprinkle with a large pinch of salt.

Toss the cooked rice with the rest of the sesame dressing along with the furikake and the sesame seeds. Taste and add salt and pepper as desired. Add in the kale and coconut mixture. Place a portion of the rice in a bowl along with your desired toppings.

Swiss Chard Tart with Sesame Cracker Crust

So here we are, coming to the end of June, and just like last year my family an I have reached the stage of our gardening where we find ourselves in a bit of a leafy green crisis. We can literally scalp our rows of chard and lettuce and within the week they have grown back to full size. We start to run out of room in the refrigerator, out of storage containers, out of recipes. Though I suppose I can hardly justify complaining about an overabundance of homegrown vegetables. They are gorgeous and delicious and, most notably, absolutely free so we try our best to cram them into as many dishes as possible.

We have found a winner of a recipe in the recent Martha Stewart Living Food Issue Magazine, one that can rid the refrigerator of 1.5 pounds of greens in one fell swoop and is incredibly tasty at the same time. Now, a little side note, if you haven’t picked up this magazine yet, you really should. It has become a permanent fixture on the kitchen table and I discover something new to make every time I flip though it. It also has the recipe for this one-pot pasta, which has been making quite a few appearances in the foodie blogosphere lately. It may very well be the brainchild of someone with magical powers and is revolutionary in its approach to making a pot of pasta. Everything literally cooks together in one pot – you don’t even need a colander. It stands for all things cheap, easy and fabulous and will probably become a weekly thing once our cherry tomato plants begin to burden grace it with their bounty. But back to the recipe at hand…

This here is a Swiss chard tart with sesame cracker crust. To break it down its pretty much like taking the filling of spanakopita  (the recipe actually calls for all spinach but, well, we had Swiss chard so that’s what we used) and stuffing it into a tart shell that tastes like those little sesame cracker sticks in the packs of Asian-like trail mix. You know what I’m talking about, right? The pieces that everyone picks outs out of the mix first, leaving behind the stale nori crackers and wasabi peas.

You start by making the dough for the crust, which uses a dump and stir method and it comes together in seconds. It gets rolled out, placed into a tart pan, and baked until golden and crisp. The filling is mostly the greens but they get a salty punch from feta and some nice residual heat from red pepper flakes. And when the two come together and bake until piping hot, the result is simply lovely. The green surface is speckled with the bits of red, yellow, and orange stems of the chard and the scattering of white sesame seeds. The taste borders the line between light and fresh and something that is perhaps a little naughty with its rich, flaky crust. The crust holds up really well and actually stays quite crispy even after refrigerated and heated up again in the microwave. It’s a definite best contender for an easy lunch to bring to work the next day. Because of its richness, it pairs well with something a little more acidic. A pinot grigio would be nice but I had it with

Dogfish Head Festina Peche, a brewed malt beverage with a tart and tangy taste and a lingering wheat-like finish. All in all, with a slice of this tart at hand and a cold glass of your drink of choice, this is all I want out of an early summer evening supper.

Swiss Chard Tart with Sesame Cracker Crust
serves 4-6
slightly adapted from Martha Stewart Living Magazine

¾ cup whole wheat flour
¾ cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp coarse salt
t Tbs. sesame seeds
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup water

1½ lbs swiss chard
1 Tbs olive oil
1 large shallot, finely diced
1 clove of garlic, minced
¼ tsp red pepper flakes
3 oz feta cheese
2 eggs, lightly beaten
½ tsp. coarse salt
½ tsp sesame seeds

Start by making the crust. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Combine the flours, salt and sesame seeds in large bowl and whisk to combine. Add in the olive oil and water and use a wooden spoon to mix together, finishing with your hands to knead it into a uniform ball. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface into a circle about 2 inches wider in diameter than your tart pan (use one with a removable bottom). Fit the dough into the pan, pressing it up the sides and trimming off any excess. Prick the bottom of the dough all over with a fork and bake for about 30 minutes and let cool slightly. Once cooked, reduce the oven to 350 degrees.

While the tart crust cooks, prepare the filling. Remove the green leaves from the chard and tear them into large pieces, saving the stems. Add the leaves to a large pot with ¼ cup of water and cover. Heat on medium, stirring periodically until the leaves are wilted. Transfer greens to a sieve placed over a bowl or sink to drain the excess water and set aside. Drain any water from your pan and place over a medium heat with 1Tbs. of oil. When hot, add the shallot, garlic and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring, until the shallot is soft, about 4 minutes. Set aside.

When the chard leaves are cool enough to handle, place themin a clean towel and squeeze it over the sink to remove the extra water. Transfer to a cutting board and roughly chop. Add to a mixing bowl with the shallot mixture, crumbled feta, eggs, and salt. Stir to combine. Add the filling to the slightly cooled tart shell and evenly press it in. sprinkle the ½ tsp. of sesame seeds overtop. Bake in the 350-degree oven for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes before slicing.

Loony Burgers

I discovered veggie burgers in London, strangely enough. The residence manager of my flat (who also happened to be a mother-like figure to all 28 of us on the study abroad trip) was a pescetarian but also a big foodie and therefore a powerhouse of knowledge for anyone looking for vegetarian, vegan, and all-around good, organic cuisine. She helped me discover Planet Organic, Food For Thought, Hummus Brothers and, most notably, Mildred’s, a hole-in-the-wall, vegetarian café and restaurant that just so happened to have the best vegetarian burgers and sweet potato fries in the planet. These veggie burgers are by no means a comparison to the flimsy, rubbery things in the frozen food section (do people really eat those?). I would assimilate them to a sturdier version of falafel, a swelling patty of mashed beans and whatever fresh vegetables they had that day (a certain zucchini, sweet corn, olive, and herb version was my favorite). They were served on a seeded bun with arugula and alongside crispy yet tender sweet potato fries and a basil yogurt dipping sauce.

Now I was, and still am, a meat-eater but have made an earnest effort to go meatless a couple days a week in the past 3 years or so. So back in the U.S., I desperately searched for a comparable replacement of my meatless burger only to be met with unfortunate realization. Almost all vegetarian substitutes of commonly meat-containing foods have soy as a prominent ingredient. This is a problem and has been since the first time I ate tofu and ended up with fat swollen lips and an uncomfortably prickling and itching scalp and neck. Soy products and I do not get along (except soy sauce, which for some reason gives a much reduced allergic reaction) so I have since avoided the likes of all veggie burgers in the fear of the hidden evil ingredient.

That is, until I discovered Luna Burgers.

I saw them in the freezer section of a local food co-op, a neat little package of 2 patties in a rustic brown cardboard box. I was dubious when I went to look at the ingredients, expecting the worst. But wait! Was I reading correctly? No soy?! It was just a simple, no-fuss list of basic ingredients: beans, grains, vegetables, and herbs/seasoning. And to make a long story short, the Luna Burgers came home with me. I cooked them up in a frying pan and met the same flavorful, herbaceous, and creamy yet crispy, burger-sensation as I did at Mildred’s. I found myself in veggie burger heaven, so much so that I came up with the brilliant idea of making the exact same thing myself at home. Why does it always come to this – why can’t I just buy already made things like everyone else? But I must say, it was entirely worth it.

Loosely following the ingredients list on the back of the Luna Burger package and guestimating on ingredient amounts, things somehow turned out just right the first time, resulting in 4 patties just over a quarter-pound each. They even looked like beef, tinted red from grated beets. I put the patties in the freezer for future use but you could certainly cook them right away. Just heat a small splash of olive oil in a pan and cook both sides until browned and crisp. I like them on an English muffin with spinach, cucumbers, goat cheese, and sea salt and fresh cracked pepper but the toppings are entirely up to you. Regardless of add-ons, these burgers are crazy good, so I call them Loony Burgers, the soy free, meat free, ridiculously amazing burger.

Loony Burgers
makes 4 or 5 burgers

½ onion, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and shredded
½ medium beet, peeled and shredded
the leaves from 3 pieces of kale, cut into small ribbons
1 can of black beans, drained and rinsed
1¼ cup cooked barley or other grain, cooked according to package instructions (lentils would make a good substitute for a gluten-free version)
½ cup rolled oats
¼ cup blueberries
½ Tbs. molasses
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
½ Tbs. tahini
½ tsp. cumin
¼ tsp. finely chopped rosemary
salt and pepper, to taste
1 egg (optional)

In a frying pan over medium heat, sauté the onion in olive oil for 5 minutes until soft. Add the carrots, beets, kale, and a good pinch of salt and sauté for an additional minute. Set aside to cool slightly.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the beans, cooked barley, and oats and use a potato masher to mash everything together until it becomes a sturdy paste. Don’t worry about getting things perfectly smooth. Some remaining whole beans or big chunks will be just fine. Mash in the blueberries until incorporated. Add the cooled, cooked vegetables, the molasses, vinegar, tahini, cumin, rosemary, another good pinch of salt, and some pepper, and use a wooden spoon of a large fork to combine everything together. Taste and add more salt or other seasoning if needed. At this point you can add in a beaten egg (it will help to hold things together) but is not necessary if you want to keep the burgers vegan.

Refrigerate the mixture for 30 minutes. Once cool and firm, divide the mixture into 4 or 5 patties (a kitchen scale works well here to keep them the same size). You can either cook them right away or set them on a parchment lined baking sheet and place them in the freezer. Once frozen, pack the patties into a freezer safe container with a piece of parchment between each patty so they don’t stick. To cook, defrost overnight in the refrigerator or, if you are impatient like me, in the defrost setting of the microwave, and pan-fry in a bit of olive oil until hot and crisp. Assemble on a bun or English muffin with toppings of your choice.

My Attempt to Embrace Winter

I’ll be honest, I really, really don’t like winter. I know that we are supposed to make the most with what each season gives but that is oh so hard when all I want to do is wear sweatpants and ten layers of sweaters and hibernate under a pile of blankets until daylight savings. I’ve been sleeping in a lot lately too, which is something I really don’t like. Generally my eyes enthusiastically burst open at the crack of dawn and by 6:30 I’ve showered and have a hearty breakfast in the works. Now it’s just a never-ending series of snooze-button pressings until the sheer embarrassment that I’m still in bed at 8:00 forces me into a wobbly standing position. Like I said, I really don’t like winter.

Over the weekend I went to the farmers market for the first time since mid-December. With memories of Christmas cheer, the hustle and the bustle to stock up on handmade crafts and Brussels sprouts stalks for the holiday table, I set out in the hopes of perhaps snagging some winter greens ore maybe even some pretty purple cauliflower. However, I arrived and saw almost nothing but mounds of potatoes and turnips. Not that there is necessarily anything wrong with those items but at this point in winter, I am getting just a wee bit sick of potatoes. At this point, I just want a little freshness. 

Even the tiniest of hints.

I’m not asking for a sun-ripened tomato here, just something to let me know that the sun will be back around soon.


So after a miniature sulking session I decided that I would not give up. I would embrace winter, work alongside and maybe, just maybe, we could get through this thing together. With a little stroke of inspiration I scrounged up a hodgepodge of ingredients and concocted a winter salad that was able to bring some life back to my palette.

It’s a menagerie of root veg, oranges, salty olives, crunchy celery, and rich avocado, tossed atop a bed of quinoa and dressed with refreshing citrus vinaigrette. It’s invigorating in flavor the way the saltiness and sweetness seem to complement each other so well. You eat it thinking that it’s almost so wrong that it is totally and completely right. Olives and oranges? How would that work…trust me, it does.

If anything, this salad can at least bring a little brightness to the day just from its sheer autumnal and jewel toned hues: deep burgundy contrasted by the neon orange of the tangelo and rounded out with the limey pop of green from the avocado. Finally, a flurry of white goat’s cheese like a dusting of snow finished it off. This would be just as great on regular quinoa but the red quinoa seemed to enhance the “winter salad” feel. It comes together in as long as it takes to cook the quinoa and certainly is a nice break from all those potatoes.

Winter Quinoa Salad
serves 2-4
A few notes on the ingredients…as much as I would like to say that I roasted my own beets, I was too lazy. Plus, the ones at the grocery store looked a little sad. Instead I used these organic vacuum-sealed beets and actually found their flavor to be quite comparable to fresh. Good to know. I also used Minneola tangelos for their tart grapefruity flavor but navel oranges or even blood oranges would be fine. Finally, if you want to make this ahead of time, toss the quinoa, beets, oranges, olives, and celery with the vinaigrette and refrigerate and wait until serving to top with the avocado and goat cheese. It tastes best at room temperature.

1 cup quinoa, rinsed
5 baby beets, sliced (if you are cooking fresh beets here are cooking instructions)
2 Minneola tangelo oranges, zested, segmented, and juices reserved
¼ cup kalamata olives, quartered
1 rib celery, diced
½ avocado, diced
goat cheese crumbles, to serve

for vinaigrette
¼ cup fresh orange juice, reserved from oranges
¼ tsp orange zest
1 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
salt and pepper

Prepare the quinoa according to the package instructions. While that is cooking, prepare the beets, oranges, olives, celery, avocado, and goat cheese and set aside. In a small bowl, combine the dressing ingredients and whisk until combined.

When the quinoa is finished, pour it into a bowl and let sit for about 5 minutes to cool some. Add about ¾ of the dressing ad toss to combine. Add the beets, orange segments, olives and celery and mix. Spoon into serving bowls and top with the avocado and the goat cheese and a drizzle of the remaining dressing.

Beet and Barley Risotto

Waking up Saturday morning, my heavy eyes flickering open to the new day’s light, I saw a glow through my window. No, it wasn’t the brightening orange of crisp autumn like a warm filter in my windowpane. It was something a little more…unexpected. I woke up to a blinding whiteness that casts iridescent glimmers across my walls. A frosty fogginess not much unlike the way heaven might feel. It was the morning light reflecting off a fresh 5 inches of snow. Yes, in Virginia we had snow in October, a sight I have never seen in 21 years of my life.

It ruined the Halloween plans of many yet caused a sudden bout of holiday spirit and I embarrassingly found myself humming Christmas music throughout the day. It was a day to wrap up in a blanket, sip a warm cup of tea, and cuddle up with the heater vent like it’s our last day on earth together. But above all it was a day where baking cookies was absolutely necessary and long, slow comfort food a must. It would have been a good day for something like this beet and barley risotto.

I like to think of this dish as the perfect way to celebrate the first frost. It uses up the very last of late summer beets and incorporates that fresh flavor before winter comes along and we are stuck in the long days of meat, beans, and potatoes. Yet its warmth, richness, and creaminess are comforting enough to take off a serious chill.

It’s as simple as any other risotto. While the beets idly cook away in the oven, the barley and onions take a nice bubbling bath in wine and stock, slowly soaking up the liquid until swelled and tender. The natural starches lend silkiness without a single addition of cream necessary.  But or course, a fine grating of parmesan cheese, folded and melted within, just adds that little extra touch of gooeyness. And finally, the beets are diced and stirred in, transforming the dish into mass if brilliant rubies. It’s topped with crumbled goat cheese, which melts into the risotto in pockets of tangy, cheesy sauce, and balsamic reduction syrup for a sweet-tart kick.

It’s one of those dishes where I couldn’t wait for leftovers the next day, and the day after that. It has this special way of filling up the heart with love and comfort yet its deceivingly healthy and full of vitamins and protein. It slowly heats you from the outside as you stand over the pot stirring away, loving each and every piece of barley in sight and then from the inside as the warm grains slide down the throat. A first-snow dish for sure.

Beet and Barley Risotto
adapted from imagalicious
serves 4

I know that some people are a little iffy about beets so this could also work with butternut squash. The same goes for the barley; if you prefer risotto with traditional Arborio rice, it’s perfectly fine to use that. My big tip for this dish is to start the beets way ahead of time. You never know how long they’ll take and if they are big like mine were, it could take up to two hours.

2 medium sized beets
1 cup pearl barley, rinsed
1 sweet onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil
½ cup dry white wine
1 quart vegetable or organic chicken stock
½ cup grated Parmesan
salt and pepper

to serve
balsamic reduction (recipe follows)
goat cheese

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Scrub the outside of the beets under cold water. Dry and rub with olive oil and salt. Place in a foil parcel and bake in the oven for about 90 minutes or until tender all the way through.

Heat the stock to a simmer in a saucepan. In a deep frying pan or pot, heat the olive oil and cook the onion along with a teaspoon each of salt and pepper until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a minute more. Add in the barley and stir to coat and continue to cook for one more minute. Add the white wine and stir. Once the wine is evaporated, add a few ladlefuls of the warm stock and stir. Let the barley continue to cook over a medium heat, stirring occasionally so that nothing sticks to the bottom. Every time the liquid is fully absorbed and things look dry add a few more ladlefuls of stock until all of the stock runs out. The process will take about 40 minutes.

When the beets are cooked, remove them from the oven and let cool slightly. Remove the skin and dice into fairly small pieces. Add to the risotto along with the Parmesan and stir until everything is bright red. Season with salt and pepper as needed.

To serve, place in a bowl and top with a crumbling of goat cheese and a drizzle of the balsamic reduction.

Balsamic reduction
½ cup balsamic vinegar
1 Tbs. brown sugar

Mix the two ingredients in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring constantly with a heatproof spatula until reduced by half and syrupy. Remove from the heat. Use right away or store in the refrigerator and reheat as needed.