Tahini, Date + Turmeric Bars

Tahini, Date + Turmeric Bars

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Over the summer, I learned about 30 herbs and/or spices that are commonly used in western herbal medicine in my second herbal medicine class, and I really relished the opportunity to both broaden and deepen my understanding of natural plant medicines. In addition to learning that skullcap, the plant I had chosen to focus on learning about for an entire term in my first class, is the most popular herb sold through my university’s herbal dispensary, I spent the summer delving into a lot of research about specific herbs for treating inflammation and allergies due to my project for a client with seasonal allergies. I was limited to working with only the herbs in our class list, however, and because of that I chose a fairly non-traditional approach to working with allergies. Turmeric was among the herbs we studied, and though I did not end up recommending turmeric for allergies, I realized I easily could have and was probably expected to.

Though I know a lot more about the benefits of turmeric than I did before, there is much research to suggest that the curcumin compound it contains has extremely strong anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant abilities and it is beneficial in all manner of disorders and imbalances. Among others, it has antibacterial, anticancer, anti-rheumatic, anti-tumor, antiviral, anti-phlegmatic, and anti-parasitic properties. I’ve recommended it to my mom who has arthritis, runner friends for pain, and have taken it myself for (nearly instantaneous) relief after slamming my knee into a door. Though my knee incident was an exception, I take a different approach to using herbs than we would for pharmaceutical drugs; I don’t take them for their quick effect. Instead, herbs work to slowly and gently bring the body back into balance, and they work better in conjunction with other lifestyle supports, like getting enough rest, a balanced diet, exercise, etc.

Turmeric is extremely trendy right now, and while there is good reason for it to be, I also like this article about practicing caution with it, as with all herbal medicines. Too much of anything, even a supposed health food, can push us into imbalance. While I came to this conclusion on my own and no longer pop a curcumin supplement for running recovery “insurance” on a regular basis, I do tend to use it in small amounts frequently–and mostly because I really enjoy its flavor.

What I really enjoyed about the class is that we delved into the research on a number of common herbs and spices–ones we are already using and that aren’t the new trendy superfoods–like the ginger and cinnamon these bars contain. After 14 weeks of reading a ton of research articles, I finished the class even more in support of the importance of eating healthfully as the norm and using herbs and spices in small amounts throughout the day in whatever foods we’re eating so perhaps there’s a little less need to use any medicines–herbal or otherwise–to “fix” imbalances.

 

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Tahini, Date + Turmeric Bars, makes 8
I regularly rely on bars for after workouts and for busy afternoon snacks on the go. While I have a few versions of granola or energy bars on this blog that I do go back to, for the last few months I’ve been opting away from oats and grains as a main ingredient. Instead, I’ve been adapting a new favorite packaged bar. It has taken many renditions but now that I’ve finally gotten the base consistency to my liking (actually better than the packaged bar which I find a little too sweet,) I’m excited to begin delving into a few different flavor combinations, especially as William doesn’t favor my heavy affinity for the ginger/cinnamon/cardamom/turmeric spice combination and prefers the berry/fruity realm instead. For these bars, don’t forego the black pepper, as it helps the turmeric to be become more bioavailable. Additionally, for the options I’ve listed, the first is my favored ingredient but I also enjoyed the other options listed. Enjoy!

1/4 cup tahini
1/4 cup cashew or almond butter
3 medjool dates, pitted
6 Tbs. hemp protein powder or hemp seeds
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. cardamom, optional
dash of black pepper
1 Tbs. brown rice syrup, apricot jam, maple syrup or honey
1-2 Tbs. water, as needed
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup dried figs or apricots, diced
2 cups crispy rice cereal or 2/3 cup oats, finely ground

  • Puree the tahini, nut butter, dates, hemp, salt, vanilla, spices, and syrup in a food processor until completely combined. Add 1-2 Tbs. water as needed to bring it together, if it’s a little dry. You can also a little more syrup or another date but I found that option a little too sweet.
  • Then add the raisins, diced figs or apricots and crispy rice or finely ground oats. Puree a couple more times until these last ingredients are just incorporated but not completely broken down.
  • Turn out and press into a 8×8-inch baking pan, or something of similar size. Chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, and then cut into individual bars, store, or eat as needed. They will last in the fridge for at least two weeks with no change in texture/consistency.

superseed porridge with rhubarb, blood oranges + tahini

superseed porridge with rhubarb, blood oranges + tahini

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William took over my yoga mat the other night and started doing weird yoga-esque stretches I’ve never seen before. I’m certainly no yoga expert, but I think he was making them up. When I inquired about this new foray into brief stretching, he started talking about helping out his Qi (sounds like chee), which in Traditional Chinese Wisdom is the circulating vital energy or life force within us.

Around our house, I talk about Qi all the time, especially as it relates to mental clutter, anger or frustration, and digestive unease–basically whenever I notice something is personally out of balance. William is just about the only one I talk about Qi with, and having him suddenly spout my words back at me was a moment of startling clarity. As it turns out, when we spend enough time with someone, we begin to believe and do the same things as each other. I guess that’s why he also wanted only a big thrown together “beans and rice salad” for his weekly meal contribution recently, instead of the more typical tacos, pasta, and pizza fare.

It all makes me wonder, what little practices and sayings am I picking up from him (and others) that I haven’t noticed?

 

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Superseed Porridge with Rhubarb, Blood Orange + Tahini, serves 1

I eat more oatmeal than my old horse but have also been experimenting with a good mixed grain/seed porridge combination these past few months. I’ve finally found one I like. It includes a few of the pseudo-grains/seeds I’ve been trying to enjoy more of including amaranth and buckwheat. They are wonderful and nutritional heavy-weights, but have strong, distinct flavors that can overwhelm all on their own. I leave out what we consider true seeds from the actual mix as I like to add ground sesame, flax, sunflower, pumpkin, hemp, chia, or tahini as the whim strikes, and I expect you will as well. Sometimes I add in an adaptogen like ashwagandha or maca powder, which I’m eagerly learning more about in my herbal medicine classes for their ability to help us adapt to stress. That’s a highly individual thing, however, and I recognize that simply making a good morning meal and eating it mindfully at a table is a vast improvement for many of us. I’ve tried this porridge mix with a number of flavor combinations throughout the seasons, but the one I love right now is heavy on the rhubarb with blood oranges and tahini.

 

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Super Seed Porridge Mix, makes 10 1/3-cup servings

2 cups old-fashioned oats, gluten-free if necessary

2/3 cup quinoa flakes

1/2 cup amaranth

1/2 cup buckwheat

  • Mix together and store in a container of choice. When ready to cook, use 1 cup water to 1/3 cup grains for each serving.

 

Rhubarb, Blood Oranges + Tahini Porridge

rhubarb sauce, as much or as little as preferred

1-2 tsp. tahini

1 cup water

1/3 cup porridge mix

1 blood orange, sections separated and roughly chopped and a little zest stirred in.

sweetener, to taste

  • I stew the rhubarb into a sauce or compote ahead of time. Including chopping and prep, it takes no more than 20 minutes. Simply chop a few stalks of rhubarb roughly and then add to a small saucepan along with a small splash of water. Cook over medium high for a few minutes until it becomes a sauce. Unlike a lot of people, I don’t add sugar to the sauce and instead leave it tart. I’ll add a sweetener of choice to whatever I mix it into and adjust as needed. If I feel like getting fancy, I’ll stir in a little vanilla or orange zest.
  • Then boil the one cup water and whisk in the grains in a small saucepan. Cook until it becomes a porridge, and stir in the rhubarb sauce and tahini in the last few minutes, until warm.
  • Finally, add in a little orange zest and the orange sections in the last minutes, as their Vitamin C is heat sensitive and easily lost in cooking. Add sweetener of choice to taste.
  • All in all, this is more of a weekend porridge—or as I’ve taken to doing, it can be easily made up the night before. I cook the entire thing save the blood orange, and then pour into my serving bowl and let it chill overnight in the fridge. The next morning, I simply reheat in the microwave and stir in the orange and orange zest and I’ve got a fancy start to an otherwise busy morning.

Mejadra with Swiss Chard + Tahini

Mejadra with Swiss Chard + Tahini

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I go on stints where I cook almost exclusively from one cookbook or blog. Actually, I take recipes, apply their concept, and change almost everything. I’ve been cooking from Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem lately.

I also share recipes on Food52 sometimes and I received the kindest comment on my beet and lentils with flatbread there. It made my whole week and reaffirmed why this blog remains mainly about food. The comment made me think, too, about the decisions I’ve made that were true turning points. One of those was during my senior year in high school when I decided to go to university rather than culinary school, and then after university, deciding to find a job rather than going back to Ireland for a course at Ballymaloe.

Sometimes I feel as if I was born to cook and feed people. I’ve loved everything about cooking for as long as I can remember. I love the creativity of selecting ingredients and flavor combinations. I love both its meditative aspects and the more fast-paced balance of doing multiple tasks simulanteously. I love sitting down to a special meal with William and sometimes friends or family, turning off the phone, computer, TV, pause and say grace, and then invite in the experience of enjoying a meal.

I remember bringing a beef and mushroom stew over to a friend’s one time in college, and how her then-boyfriend took two bites and then paused, looked at me, and said, Bec, I can tell this was made with love, before proceeding. And it was.

I know a lot of my friends and family do not get the food I make. I’ve long felt sensitive about it, as I’ve been cooking creatively since the beginning. When William and I first began dating, it was summer and I was in town for a week. There was very little to eat in my college house as my roommates and I were largely absent for the summer. I invited him over for lunch, knowing there were approximately five ingredients to make a meal—and I knew they could combine to provide a pretty spectacular combination. William survived college up to then on his grandma’s spaghetti sauce, made by his family and frozen in huge quantities, tuna sandwiches, plain spaghetti, pizza, and kraft mac + cheese. Anything outside of that lineup was super adventurous, and he didn’t exactly appreciate what I thought was a fabulous summer lunch—with ingredients largely from my self-watering garden. For months after, he approached every dinner I’d make with trepidation, knowing it was going to be awful, and a breach from his standard American diet. But he’d try it anyway. Nine times out of ten, he’d end the meal telling me he was pleasantly surprised, again. The weird things I made actually tasted good. All he had to do was try.

When left to my own devices, I tend to veer strongly in the direction of cooking with middle eastern influences. I don’t know exactly when I picked this up as I didn’t try the cuisine until mid-college at least. I like the combination of savory and sweet grains and spices, the vegetable-heavy emphasis of the traditional recipes, and the infinite possibilities as even the simplest of ingredients can taste rich and flavorful and nourishing.

 

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As I reflect on the statement above, I feel as if I was born to feed people, I realize I still haven’t found exactly what this means for me. I know my place is not actually feeding people in the standard chef/culinary sense. I know it is not in producing food, as I also once contemplated. Perhaps it is in sharing recipes here or elsewhere, but more likely, it might be in feeding people something other than actual food, in the form of kindness, hope, understanding, or inspiration. Ultimately, I know for me to be able to do that with authenticity, I have to be able to provide it to myself first.

William has been working late these days, and I’ve often been feeding only me. So I’ve been cooking with more mindfulness, taking recipes and adapting them intuitively to what I need, trying to eat meals a little more slowly with less distractions. I’ve been focusing on allowing the process to fill me up in ways that stretch far beyond the meal itself, to let light shine into the dark internal corners I’m afraid of, and let self-compassion and love in, when for so long I’ve projected it only outward, onto others.

I’m at a real turning point just now, and it feels like a good one. I’m finally coming to know and appreciate me. I’ve been learning (and still often failing) how to feed myself the essential nutrients that come from genuine self-care, rather than merely “nutritious food.” This is one of the meals I’ve been enjoying lately through the process.

 

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Mejadra with Swiss Chard + Tahini

The inspiration for these two recipes are drawn from Jerusalem. Mejadra is an ancient dish in the Arab world, considered a meal for the poor but fit for kings. At its simplest, it is rice and lentils cooked together with caramelized onions. Crazily enough, those simple ingredients can taste heavenly. I’ve incorporated a few wonderful spices in keeping with Ottolenghi’s version, and for William, I’ve added raisins. He loves raisins. He added another handful for good measure as he gobbled it up.  The Swiss chard and tahini-cream will make for a nice side. I’m loving Swiss chard lately, when for so long I discarded it completely. The trick, I think, is a quick sauté. 

For the Mejadra:

1 very large onion (1 1/2 lb.), sliced thinly into rounds

2 Tbs. olive oil, divided

1 tsp. ground cumin

2 tsp. ground coriander

1/2 tsp. turmeric

1 1/2 tsp. allspice

1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. pomegranate molasses

1/2 tsp. salt

pepper to taste

1 cup long-grain brown rice, soaked and rinsed

1 cup lentils

1/2 cup raisins, optional

3 1/2 cups water

  • Begin by soaking the brown rice for at least 8 hours in a large bowl of water with a little apple cider vinegar or lemon juice. This breaks down some of the phytic acids which can bind the zinc, magnesium, calcium, and other important minerals. Prior to cooking, rinse and drain the rice.
  • In a large sauté pan, add 1 Tbs. olive oil and heat to medium-high. Then, add in the sliced onions, cook and stir for 3-5 minutes, and then turn down to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until they soften and caramelize, about 25-30 minutes.
  • While the onions are cooking, add the remaining 1 Tbs. olive oil, spices, rinsed rice and lentils, pomegranate molasses, raisins, and water to a medium pot, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, turn down to low, cover, and allow to cook for 40-45 minutes, or until the water is absorbed.

For the Swiss Chard:

1 tsp. olive oil

1 large clove garlic, smashed and minced

1 bunch Swiss chard, stems chopped, leaves sliced

salt and pepper to taste

  • In a medium sauté pan, heat the oil over medium-high. Add garlic and chard stems and allow to cook until beginning to soften. Add a little water as necessary to help the chard stems soften up.
  • Then add in the sliced leaves and heat just until they begin to wilt. Remove from heat and add salt and pepper to taste.

For the Tahini-Cream:

2 Tbs. tahini

1 1/2 Tbs. lemon juice

1 small clove garlic, smashed and minced

2-4 Tbs. water, as needed

salt and pepper, to taste

  • Whisk together all ingredients in a small bowl, thinning as necessary with water.
  • Spoon the tahini-cream atop the Swiss chard as a side to the mejadra.