Walnut Butter with Blueberries, Goji Berries + Vanilla

I received free samples of California Walnuts mentioned in this post. By posting this recipe I am entering a recipe contest sponsored by California Walnuts and am eligible to win prizes associated with the contest. I was not compensated for my time.

There was a conversation going around the last few weeks about using up what’s in the cupboard, finding random stowed-away forgotten, stale, and outdated ingredients, and actually making a meal of them. As that went around, I truthfully had the thought of Ha, well that doesn’t apply to me.
I also remember a few years ago, a friend that first got to know me as a study abroad/international student and came to visit. He remarked at how elaborate the collection of ingredients in my pantry were. At the time, it felt like a moment of baring my soul, for what’s in your pantry and fridge tell as much or perhaps more about someone as taking a look in their medicine cabinet.

I tend to have a fairly vast collection of cooking ingredients simply because I love to experiment and create, and I like the flavors of a lot of different places. My kitchen is perhaps the [adult foodie] version of my dear grandmother’s elaborate dress-up closet that we loved as a kid.

Lately, I’ve also been making meals inspired by Heidi Swanson’s Near & Far cookbook, though I’ve particularly been drawn to the Near section, meaning Northern California cuisine. In the springtime particularly, this means I’ve been making meals with plenty of greens and herbs, and with flavors and ingredients that are pretty close to home here in Oregon’s southern Willamette Valley. In other words, as the stay-at-home recommendations went into effect, I craved even more the flavors that come from closer to home.

And…when I finally dug through the pantry and fridge to inventory what’s there, I discovered I’m not the outlier with no outdated or forgotten foods in the pantry like I’d convinced myself to be.

A jar of freeze-dried wasabi powder
An untouched jar of Rhubarb Cordial which I made during cordial-making week in Herbal Pharmacy class four years ago
A few blooming teas and flavored teas and extra-floral teas that various individuals have gifted me – love tea, kinda picky about which ones I’ll drink on the regular
A package of pizza spice mix
A jar of jalapeño jelly I made a long time ago that appears still good – the gift of high sugar content
A big pack of spring roll wrappers I’ve only needed in small amounts
A couple dried habaneros – before I realized only a smidge in a recipe will singe the hairs off, clear the mucus membranes, and help me breathe fire like the dragon I sometimes claim to be. ;)

And, not outdated at all and in constant rotation, an entire third of my fridge and a shelf on the pantry dedicated to the nut, seed, and dried fruit collection. Because I like to start from the equivalent of primary colors when making recipes, I usually purchase raw, unroasted nuts and seeds, and dried fruit with no added oils or sweeteners. This also means their amazing nutrients are retained without adding extra oils, salt, or sugar. Despite a few other ingredients that clearly need to be tossed or regifted – that cordial did not look good and went down the drain this morning – this preference for having diverse and fresh ingredients on hand came in real handy the last few weeks.

So let’s turn to this particular recipe, shall we?

One of the components of total health and overall diet that is important is the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid types in our daily diets. Both omega-3s and omega-6s are essential, meaning we have to get them from our foods to have adequate health, but their ratio is perhaps just as important. In traditional diets, our evidence shows that peoples were likely eating a 3:1 or even 2:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3s, and this is still optimal. In a standard Western diet, that ratio is often skewed to a 20:1 or more ratio. Anything above a 5:1 ratio begins to be more of a pro-inflammatory state for the body.

Omega-3 fats are primarily found in fatty fish like salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies and sardines.
But they’re also found in plant-foods including walnuts, chia, flax, and hemp seeds, as well as edible wild plants – a major source for our ancestors.

Omega-6 fats, though essential, are ones we usually don’t have to work at getting because they’re prolific in our food supply – primarily through corn, soy and other-vegetable oils, but also in most of the other nuts and seeds not mentioned above.

One important note is that no food has just one type of fatty acid profile – foods contain varying amounts of all types of fat, both monounsaturated, polyunsaturated (those omega-3s and 6s), and saturated fats. Our body thrives with a balance which is another reason it is wise to eat diversely and seasonally.

Working a little of that Near & Nearer concept into my meals and snacks lately, this recipe primarily features California walnuts, which I love because they offer a rich, sophisticated flavor, and they’re the only nut to provide an excellent source of the plant-based omega-3, ALA (2.5g/oz).

And a handful (or spoonful) of California walnuts is a versatile snack and can satisfy any taste preference, from savory to sweet.​ As far as this walnut and berry nut butter goes, it works that slightly sweet angle with blueberries that were grown by one of our local farmers, a handful of antioxidant-rich goji berries, and just enough sunflower seeds to balance out the stronger flavors that walnuts on their own in a nut butter provide. I particularly enjoy this as a snack or alongside apple slices as a little after dinner treat. And if you make it, whether you have to go source a few ingredients or work that Far angle of the Near & Far concept, I promise you will too. :)

Walnut Butter with Blueberries, Goji Berries + Vanilla, makes 240 grams (about 8 oz.)
1 ¾ cups / 175 grams California Walnuts
¼ cup / 35 grams sunflower seeds
2 Tbs. / 20 grams unsweetened dried blueberries
2 Tbs. / 10 grams dried goji berries
1/8 tsp. vanilla
a dash of salt and up to 1/8 tsp.

  1. Set the oven to 160°C / 320°F.
  2. Spread out the walnuts and sunflower seeds on a baking tray and roast for 15-18 minutes until they begin to turn a slightly darker, toasted hue.
  3. Transfer to a food processor and mix on high speed for approximately 10-15 minutes or until it starts to become smooth and perhaps a little runny (stopping and scraping down the sides every now and then). 
  4. Add in the dried berries, vanilla, and salt.
  5. Puree again until the berries are mostly incorporated but might still have some small pieces.
  6. Pour into a 8 oz. jar and store extra in the fridge.

Winter Tabbouleh and How Fiber Helps Support your Health — and Hunger

In the health, wellness, and fitness community, we often hear all about the macronutrients (fat, protein, and carbohydrates). Yet, a nutrient that’s incredibly beneficial to our health is far less mentioned. That’s fiber.

Fiber is best known to keep you regular or prevent constipation, but there are many more benefits. In the athletic community, the one that comes to mind first is helping to relieve that ‘hungry all the time’ feeling that often comes with heavier training loads. Next is gut health, lowering disease risk, and helping to regulate the body’s use of sugars.

Dietary fiber consists of the non-digestible carbohydrates from components of plants. The human body does not make the types of enzymes needed to break the bonds in these fibers, so they pass through relatively intact.

Fiber is found in most plant foods, primarily vegetables and whole grains, as well as nuts, seeds, and fruit. There are two types of fiber— soluble and insoluble.  Both are beneficial to our health.

Soluble fiber absorbs water and turns into a gel-like consistency that slows down digestion. Ever had chia pudding or chia in a smoothie and felt full and satisfied for hours? That’s the soluble fiber at work.
Soluble fiber also helps slows the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream so blood sugar levels remain more stable. Food sources include chia, psyllium, flax and other seeds and nuts, oats and oat bran, lentils, peas, and some fruits and vegetables.

Insoluble fiber is not digested by the body. It is helpful for clearing out the buildup of undigested food and environmental and metabolic toxins in the digestive system as it moves through. Insoluble fiber also helps get the digestive system moving and eliminate any constipation. (Side note: constipation is not just having difficulty having a bowel movement. That’s the extreme. It also refers to spending more than just a couple minutes on the toilet, passing hard, dry, small pieces, failing to eliminate daily, and transit time beyond 12-24 hours.) Now that we’ve got that cleared up, insoluble fiber can be found in whole grains such as oats, millet, quinoa, sorghum, amaranth, brown rice, farro wheat, beans, and fruits and vegetables.

Fiber Nourishes Your Gut

Your digestive system is home to trillions of beneficial bacteria, called the gut microbiome. They live in an (ideally) symbiotic relationship with you. This means you and they both benefit from them being there. Just like you, the microbes need to eat to live and grow, so they obtain nourishment from the food you eat. In the case of beneficial bacteria, they feed on the undigested part of the food, (fiber), that is passing through your large intestine by fermenting it into short chain fatty acids such as Butyrate.

A healthy gut microbiome can protect you against disease-causing bacteria because the good bacteria compete for space in the intestines, literally out-populating the bad bugs from taking hold. It can also help you absorb otherwise non-absorbable nutrients like certain antioxidant polyphenols, produce some micronutrients like vitamin K, and provide needed fuel for the cells in the colon. Production of short chain fatty acids by bacteria in the intestine plays an important role in the maintenance of the intestinal barrier. What’s more, Butyrate has also been shown to be protective against colon cancer.

Whereas we don’t want an overgrowth of bad bacteria, having ample and diverse beneficial bacteria is a hallmark for optimal health. Low beneficial bacteria can impact your protective mucus lining in the intestinal tract, which supports up to 80% of our immunity. The commonly used phrase “leaky gut” comes into play here when the interplay between a low fiber diet, low beneficial bacteria count, and difficult to digest macromolecules poke holes in the cheesecloth-like fragility of the intestinal lining and then opens the way for the immune system to do its job –in overdrive – resulting in sensitivities, intolerances, and allergies to many foods that are in your normal routine. Prolonged problems here are part of the pathophysiology of autoimmune diseases. 

Fiber Keeps You Feeling Full Longer – Read this again during your next heavy training cycle!

Because fiber is so difficult for your body to break down, it stays in your gastrointestinal tract longer compared to simple carbohydrates like table sugar. Having food in your system helps you feel full longer. This is partly why eating an apple is better than 100% apple juice (stripped of fiber), which is then better than apple-flavored juice (stripped of all nutrients). We even have studies showing that diets rich in high-fiber whole foods help reduce the perception of hunger. This is good information if you experience the “hungry all the time” feeling during heavy training cycles when you’re actually eating enough.

How much do we need?

Research has found that hunter-gathers ate a large quantity of fiber compared to modern humans, upwards of 100g of fiber per day. The average American has around 10-15g per day, and the US Dietary Reference Intake is around 25-38g of dietary fiber per day – which is well above that of the average person –but easily achieved by gradually increasing plant-foods in the daily routine. Can we consume too much? Yes, that is possible. Too much fiber can lead to a bowel obstruction and diarrhea (which is also caused by many other factors).

Caveats

Some therapeutic diets eliminate fiber-rich carbohydrates temporarily with the aim of improving long-term health and shifting the microbial population. For example, this is the purpose of the low FODMAP diet for small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), and the candida protocol. Individuals who try an extreme low-carbohydrate or ketogenic diet also do so with the intention of improving health –often by way of improving the body’s response to sugars. But what’s commonly left out of the conversation is that all of these diets are meant to be temporary, because they all come with long-term negative health consequences such as eliminating all those beneficial bacteria that feed on fiber.

One more thing, we often hear the advice to reduce fiber in the days before a big athletic race, or eat ‘quick sugars’ in the few hours before athletic activity. This advice largely depends on the person, since just like we can train our bodies, we can also train our gut. Some of my best marathons were run after eating my routine high-fiber dinner and breakfast. I’ll delve more into this topic soon! 😊

Summary: Dietary fiber is an essential nutrient required for proper digestion of foods, proper functioning of the digestive tract, and for helping you feel full. A deficiency of fiber can lead to constipation, hemorrhoids, and elevated levels of cholesterol and sugar in the blood. Conversely, an excess of fiber can lead to a bowel obstruction and diarrhea. Individuals who increase their intake of fiber should do so gradually since this internal adjustment is going to adjust the populations of beneficial (and not so beneficial) microbial species in the lower GI –and thus might initially come with uncomfortable symptoms.

Now that we’ve got our daily dose of nutrition wisdom, let’s eat! William labeled me the queen of grain salads the other night after presenting this dish. It’s a seasonal variation on a plethora of other fiber rich tabbouleh-like grain salads in the recipe archives of this space –and one I’m really favoring right now for the bright colors, balance of slightly sweet and savory, and all in one dish for dinner. I routinely use millet or quinoa, but used both in this version. We had a stockpile of pumpkins in our house from last season’s harvest which I’ve by now mostly used up, but I noticed at our local farmers market last weekend that winter squash and pumpkins are still going strong—locally we tend to have them until mid to late March. If they’re less available near you, swap them out for some other seasonal vegetable – or leave out completely.


Winter Tabbouleh, serves 4-6
1 small pumpkin or winter squash (about 2 cups cubed)
1 cup millet or quinoa or a combination of both
2 cups water or vegetable broth
¼ tsp. cinnamon
1 cup cilantro
½ cup mint
3 green onions
¼ cup walnuts, chopped and lightly toasted
¼ cup goji berries
2 cups cooked garbanzo beans
1-2 handfuls spinach or other greens, optional
2 Tbs. apple cider vinegar
2 tsp. honey
1 Tbs. olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  • Heat oven to 400 degrees F.
  • Cook millet by combining with 2 cups of water or broth, along with the cinnamon, in a medium saucepan and bring it to a boil. Turn down to a simmer, cover and cook until the liquid is completely absorbed, 25 minutes. Set aside to cool.
  • Place the squash cubes on a baking sheet with a little water. Bake for 25-35 minutes until the squash is soft. Alternatively, you can bake the squash whole until soft, then peel off the skin and chunk into pieces. This is my preferred quick-prep-ahead method lately.
  • In a large bowl, toss together the garbanzos, cilantro and mint, gojis, toasted walnuts, cooked squash and green onions. Then add the millet and spinach greens and give it all a good stir. Finish it off with the apple cider vinegar, honey, olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm or at room temperature.

a Thanksgiving Menu, Roasted Vegetables with Autumn Roots + Mushrooms, and Persimmon + Grains with Moroccan Seasoning

If you’re online at all these days, you’ll notice October ended and we’re straight on to the holiday season. For many, this is a time of year that is especially difficult whether it be because of the dark and cold days, the pressure of the season, or the extra challenges of navigating all the holiday gatherings.

Historically, Thanksgiving was one of my favorite holidays – until my food intolerances got in the way and it became much more difficult to enjoy the meal without anxiety, asking lots of questions, educating the host, and planning to bring more of my own foods so as to be able to enjoy it. I grew up in the kitchen and whether it’s in my own house or that of anyone else, I feel most comfortable in any gathering when in the kitchen with my hands in the food. So it’s a given that I absolutely love the idea of Thanksgiving, which is essentially a celebration of food.

For the past few years, I’ve gotten better at navigating this big holiday feast and partly because I’ve been better prepared, more comfortable as I’ve aged into this lifestyle of navigating food intolerances, and because I’ve been better at informing and educating the person(s) I share space with.

In light of that, I’m sharing a couple of my favorite recipes for the season, first, a platter of simple and delicious roasted vegetables that pleases just about everyone, and second a Moroccan-inspired seasonal millet, quinoa, and persimmon creation that fits most food intolerances and special diets.

If you have food restrictions that makes joining others for big meals a challenge, are hosting persons with food restrictions, or are just looking for some delicious seasonal whole food dishes for your holiday feasting, look no further. Though our Thanksgivings are always spent traveling to large family gatherings and only have marginal representation from the recipes below, this is the Thanksgiving meal that is my ideal — with a couple special additions per my loved one’s request and some savory recipes that have been big hits in the past. 😊

Savory //
Roasted Vegetables with Autumn Roots + Mushrooms (Recipe Below)
Persimmon + Grains with Moroccan Seasoning (Recipe Below)
For the Joy Salad
Celery Root + Potato Mash
Wild Rice Stuffing Balls
Celebratory Turkey (the best you can find, brined and rubbed with thyme)
Slow-Cooked Creamy Beans with Thyme, Sage + Oregano
Black Olives and homemade mini-dill pickles, as obligatory (and delicious) table accompaniments

Other savory ideas:
Apple, Fennel + Pomegranate Quinoa Salad
Moroccan Butternut Squash + Wild Rice with Garbanzos
Pumpkin, Sage + Rosemary Baked Risotto
Delicata Squash, Rosemary + Cranberry Flatbread
Simple Vegan Cornbread Stuffing (make with gf cornbread)

Sweet //
Apple Pie with a Fabulous Gluten + Dairy-Free Pastry
Pumpkin Pie
Blackberry Pie

Notes about the Menu:
– If you eat turkey and are highly sensitive to gluten, you may need to make sure your turkey has been processed without any gluten-additives. My first recommendation is always to purchase a turkey from a local farmer, if available, but I know that can be asking a lot, especially if you’re not hosting the meal. Otherwise, here is an excellent list of available brands that don’t process with gluten.
– For dairy-free / vegan mashed potatoes, we tend to skip the russet varieties and opt for German Butterball, red potatoes, or Yukon Gold varieties. They have more flavor and moisture, and work well by mashing without butter, and just a bit of non-dairy milk, seasoning, and a splash of olive oil, if desired.
– Most traditional stuffing recipes can be adapted to be gluten-free by using gluten-free bread or cornbread. Use vegetable broth and olive oil or a vegan butter to eliminate animal products.


Roasted Vegetables with Autumn Roots + Mushrooms
– I find roasted vegetables to be pleasing to just about everyone, including picky young eaters and those that ‘don’t like vegetables.’ Just about any vegetable tastes great when roasted correctly, which means that it is deeply golden brown, a little crispy and caramelized around the edges, and soft all the way through.
– I add a bit of herbs and spices to round out the flavors and help support adequate digestion, a needed component with these heavy-feasting meals. Use equal parts of all vegetables or what you have, in an amount to fill your roasting pan or to feed your number of guests.

Small red, striped or golden beets
Parsnips
Carrots
Red or yellow onions
Mushrooms, any type you prefer
a tablespoon or so of coconut oil per baking sheet to provide moisture and flavor
dry thyme seasoning
Balancing Spice blend (see below)
salt and pepper

  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Scrub clean and dice the vegetables and mushrooms until they are medium in size and roughly uniform. Combine them on a large roasting pan and mix in about 1 tablespoon each dried thyme leaves and the Balancing Spice Blend, along with salt and pepper to taste, and just enough coconut oil to provide moisture and flavor (about 1 tablespoon for a large pan).
  • Roast in the oven for about 40-60 minutes, until all vegetables are completely soft all the way through. Since the mushrooms will take less time than the rest, you can add them in about half-way through if you’d like them less well-cooked.
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Balancing Digestive Spice Blend (makes about 1/4 cup)
1 Tbs. coriander seeds
1 Tbs. cumin seeds
1 tsp. fennel seeds
2 tsp. ground ginger
1 Tbs. ground turmeric
a dash of black pepper

  • Toast the coriander, cumin and fennel seeds in a frying pan over medium heat. Stir constantly for approximately 3-5 minutes, until you can just smell them.
  • Cool and then grind the seeds together with the rest of the spices until it reaches a uniform powder.

Persimmon + Grains with Moroccan Seasoning, serves 4-6 as a side-dish
Ras El Hanout is a Moroccan spice blend, somewhat similar to a garam masala. The name actually means “Top of the Shop” and each spice house will usually have their own blend which features their best spices. I made my own (see below), but there are several good ones available to purchase, or improvise with the Balancing Digestive Spice Blend above, or curry powder, knowing it won’t provide quite the same flavor profile.
Use any gluten-free whole grain such as quinoa, millet, rice, wild rice, buckwheat, etc. I love the combination of millet and quinoa here, but choosing just one also works well.

1/2 cup each of millet and quinoa
1 small onion or 2 shallots, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp. Ras El Hanout
2 Tbs. tahini
1 1/2 Tbs. lemon juice
1 clove garlic, smashed and minced
2-4 Tbs. water, as needed
salt and pepper, to taste
a large handful of cilantro, finely minced
1 large persimmon, sliced thin into half-moons
a handful of toasted and chopped hazelnuts or sunflower seeds, as desired for flavor / texture

  • If you have the time, cover the grains with a few inches of water in a pot and soak for at least 8 hours. Drain and rinse. If you don’t have time for this step, it’s okay!
  • In a pot, heat a splash of olive oil on medium and soften the onion and garlic until tender. Add 1 teaspoon of the ras el hanout and sauté until fragrant. Add the grains and stir well to let the flavors infuse for a few minutes. Stir in a big pinch of salt and 2 cups of water, cover, and simmer on low heat until the grains are cooked through, about 25 minutes. Set aside to cool.
  • Whisk together the tahini, lemon juice, remaining clove of garlic and season to taste. Thin as necessary with water.
  • Tip the cooked grains into a serving bowl and then toss with the cilantro, tahini dressing, and sliced persimmon. Add the nuts or seeds as desired, stir, and taste and adjust salt and pepper as needed.

Ras el Hanout seasoning
Blend this up by weight or by teaspoons.

4 parts cumin
4 parts ginger
4 parts turmeric
3 parts black pepper
2 parts coriander
2 parts cinnamon
2 parts cayenne
1 part cloves
1 part allspice
1 part cardamom
1 part rose petal powder