Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Revolutionary Red...Pepper and Walnut Spread--Muhammara



Friends, I know I haven't posted in eons, but I do promise to remedy this. It has not been for lack of cooking--I have been in the kitchen/lab daily :), urban gardenin', Ph.D.-ing...engaging in all sorts of subversiveness. Mischief, Mayhem, Mangia, Marx--every day, all day!!!

Let's begin with this song, to match an appropriate dour mood. '"The dream gone Coretta, but the King live on."


So, I hattteeeeeee giving "recipes" for things like hummus or dips because that's like asking for a recipe on how to make tea (and believe me, working in an herbal healing shop, I get asked how to make tea quite often). In other words, it's plain silly; I will give you a general guideline on how to make this absolutely delicious dip, however.

Muhammara
This is a Middle Eastern red pepper dip that features an absolutely amazing(ly) versatile ingredient--pomegranate molasses.

Roasted red peppers--Don't use jarred red peppers. I am serious. It is so easy to roast red peppers and the ones from the jar have a vinegary taste you really don't want in this. Don't be a lazy goat--just throw them in the oven until their skins are black. I found this cute lil' baby ones and they worked well, but you can use any plain red pepper. When you roast the peppers, you can get all fancy and peel and deseed them. I kinda like the seeds, honestly. Extra fiber :) Either way works, however.

Walnuts--maybe 1/2cup for about 2 roasted peppers. Dry toast in a pan on the stove--this is what releases their flavor.

Pomegranate molasses--this is really what makes this dish. Get a bottle of this at any Middle Eastern store; *gasp*, even Whole Foods has it. It can be used in a ton of things--for example, tomato, cucumber, onion, parsley salad, with this + lemon juice as the dressing.  Did you know the word pomegranate derives from medieval Latin: pōmum "apple" and grānātum "seeded." That was your etymology nerd wink of the day (hi, fellow cunninglinguists!)


Garlic--two cloves. You could try frying up the whole clove in a little olive oil to take a bit of the garlic taste edge off...or not. Garlic is crucial though. Keeps you healthy and vampire-free.

Lemon Juice--squeeze about half a lemon

Salt and paper. Throw all this into a food processor or a blender. 

The traditional recipe calls for bread crumbs, but I have never used them myself, and it still tastes wonderful. I also don't really add extra olive oil, but you are welcome to. You can throw in some cumin too. I like to put in some harissa to make it a little spicier, but then again, I put harissa in everything, so don't mind me over here :)

One final fun fact. Muhammara always makes me think of the Bulgarian word "mahmurlia" which means hungover. Fun times. Once you try this revolutionary red pepper dip, you will be hung up on it, for sure.


Friday, January 16, 2015

Ms. Phat Booty Black Bean Vegan, Gluten-Free Brownies


So, real talk. I've got "fat kid syndrome." You see, I was raised by my Bulgarian grandparents who believed that unless a kid was fat, she wasn't healthy. I had totally pinchable round little rosy cheeks and round...rolls in other places. So what--I was a lil gordita cutie. I lost a lot of the "baby fat" (ha!), but I have never really gotten myself to a place where I am able to eat what I want. Case in point--I haven't had cake or cookies or candy in I don't know how long. I can't really afford to. I am constantly battling the proverbial "fat kid syndrome."
I say this not to induce groans of "Get over yourself already," (although if this is your reaction, I would ask you to sip a little less of the Haterade :), but rather to ask you to always look beyond the surface. I have seen plenty of rail thin people eat obscene amounts of sweets--more power to them. I am not one of those people, which is why I am super circumspect about what sweets I ingest. Odd thing is having forgone sweets for so long has caused me to have a super low sugar tolerance; luckily for me, I find most commercially-produced goods to be cloyingly sweet and some of the worst offenders are the vegan, gluten-free cookies and such. Take a look at some of those labels and you will see mountains of white powder (ahem). Maybe now is a good time to put one especially bad offender on blast--sorry/not sorry!

What can I say--this week, I coined the Toni-ism of "Espresso Elitism." I am herein coining another Toni-ism (trademark!)--"Sugar Snobbism." I have it. You betcha.

I won't start on the whole sugar vs. fat debate because then I will never finish :). Suffice it to say, homemade baked goods are the only way to go for me. But don't worry--as you have seen in my other posts about measuring schmeasuring even when it comes to baking, you can pretty much just throw some stuff in and eyeball it.

Every time I have made these brownies, I hear raves and paeans of joy and paroxysms of delight...and what other p word could I use? :) Just let me reassure you, these are ridiculously good and healthy for you.

Mos Def begin by listening to this remix of this classic tune. Trust me. You need to get into a jaunty, fat-booty-esque mood. Then, proceed with caution...cause I mean as Mystikal said, "Shake that..., BUT watch yourself." Or should it be butt. Anyway--carry on.









Ms. Phat Booty Black Bean Vegan, Gluten-Free Brownies


  • 1 15 oz. can black beans, well rinsed and drained--I do not use canned. I actually cook the beans, but this is because I am crazy and I don't like preservatives in my beans. You don't have to be crazy like me :P
  • 2T flax meal mixed in with 6T water--this will be your "egg." Let that mixture rest for 5 mins till it thickens.
  • 1/4C coconut oil, melted (crucial Toni tip: I loveeeee Ziggy Marley's Coco'mon Orange and Almond Coconut Oil. That stuff is straight irie. Lively up yourself with it. And no, I am not being paid to promo this. Of course, you can make your own by just adding orange and almond extracts.)
  • 1/2C cocoa powder (make sure it has no sugar in it. That's not cocoa--that is vileness :)
  • 1/4t sea salt
  • 1/3C turbinado sugar, ground up in a coffee grinder
  • 1 1/2t baking powder
  • if the batter is too thick, add water or heck...almond milk works too (above you see what the batter should look like)

Mix all of this stuff in the food processor. Put in a muffin pan. You will get somewhere between 10 and 12. Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes. Let them cool before attempting to take out of the pan as they will fall apart. Patience, my dear Watson is the name of the game.

"Is sugar and spice the only thing these are made of?" Mmm; yeah, mon!



Thursday, December 4, 2014

Be Still, My Beeting Heart

Ah, nothing beets beet puns. Not beeting a (dead) horse (or any of that matter--I like my animals!) I could go on for days, but I won't...since I actually want to keep you here, dear reader.

Musical treats before we begin can be found here.

Before I go on, I want to speak on the Spartan conditions you see pictured in most of my posts. Yes, T2 and I often dine on a filing cabinet while sitting in camping chairs. Notice, however, the lovely tablecloth I now have on top of the filing cabinet. Spartan chique! Tres chic!
Oh, and if you are wondering who T2 is, that is the benefactor of my lovely company and foodifyings. You all should also find a volunteer to try out all of your cooking/company, too. I assure you--no one turns down free food and it will also encourage you to rise to greater culinary heights, without turning you into one of those annoying people who can't stop talking about their "love."

Speaking of "my love," begin by listening to Sharon Van Etten's "Our Love."

My heart beets with a sanguine fervor for one thing--beets. Since beets are also really healthy for your blood, you can better appreciate my cunning word play.

Beetsacado Crostinis

1. Take one avocado and mash it up. Add salt and pepper and enough lemon juice to taste (this also prevents the avocado from oxidizing. Mmm, sexy chemistry.)

2. Roast some baby beets or regular beets in the oven. I wrap each one in tin foil and bake at 425 for about 15 mins. Peeling is a cinch after.

3. Assemble crostinis by doing a layer of avocado and a layer of diced beets on a slice of toasted bread.

4. Crucial step invented by me: find pomegranate molasses to drizzle beets with. Trust me. I will be buried in fan mail for this step alone (I wish). Chiffonade some basil and even more crucial, *smoked salt* on top of all this.

Speaking of smoking, ever since I found out my friend Clare and her hubby have a smoker, I have forced them to adopt me so I can make everything smoked. Below you see me smoking some Greek olive oil infused with rosemary. The fumes clearly make me giddy!

I served the beetsacado crostini with some black-eyed pea hummus with smoked Spanish paprika. Recipe for that one is forthcoming, but considering I totally invented the recipeoff the top of my head, you might as well do the same :) But I promise a recipe, fret not.

Moving on to more beets. If you read my blog a lot, you know of my obsession with all things Tunisian. So below, I present to you the so-called Tunisian pink salad, which is a riff on this. The way you will know you did that one right is...if you flushed beet purple with sheer delight, you did it right! No. But the way I was taught to gauge how ready it is if it is "glistening."

Tunisian "Pink Salad"

Boil: beets, potatoes, and carrots. Mash all of them together. Non-vegan option: hard boil two eggs and mash those in there, too. Next, add some vegan mayo (which tastes better than regular, I promise) and some harissa. Mix all of these. Add some really good olive oil; chop some cilantro finely and add it. Enjoy with a nice crusty loaf of bread and olives. Mmmmmediterranean deliciousness!




Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Gluten-Free, Vegan Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins and S-Pear-Tacular Kombucha

Thank you, polar vortex, for bringing some winter weather our way. As an Eastern European-for-life, winter time is easily one of my favorite seasons. But who can't use a little sunshine even in the dead of cold :)!? Begin by listening to this suave summer jam:

Now, let us discuss baking. If you have read any of my previous entries, you know my general disdain for pedantic stuff like measuring, along with my other truisms like "studying is for fools." Yeah, marinate on that one for a bit :) I do my cooking organically and that means...recipes schmecipes. But that also means that people always come at me with "I bet you can't bake though."
I do beg to differ, my friends--turns out my inventions are not limited to the world of savory treats alone. But before we start talking about baking, let me take a moment to take a pro stance on probiotics (ha, I could go with these puns all day long...crickets). I want to talk about kombucha. You see, I have been brewing kombucha for years now. I have a veritable kombucha colony--it is called Tonebucha because it is so good, it makes you sing :). I have been crowned the kombucha queen of Arlington (at least in my own head). I love my kombucha SCOBY babies so much, I have even named them--allow me to introduce you to Amir, Samir, and Zubair! Yes, they look like sheikhs so this is how they earned their monikers.

And speaking of monikers, imagine my utter delight at winning a kombucha naming contest! Barefoot Bucha had a contest to name their latest flavor--I drank it and within less than 10 seconds came up with S-Pear-Tacular :) So from now on, when you buy your kombucha on tap at Whole Foods, you can smile knowing you "know" the person who named it!



Here you see me enjoying the fruits of my labors. Look at that golden delicious hue! Luminous. I do believe I am in love!

Now, time to make some delicious golden muffins to defy the cold clutches of winter!

Toni's Gluten-Free, Poppy Seed Lemon Muffins



2 cups sorghum flour
1/2 cup raw turbinado sugar (ground up in a coffee grinder till it is fine)
1 T baking powder
2 T poppy seeds
1/2 t salt
3/4 cups unsweetened almond milk
rind and juice of an entire lemon
1/4-1/2 cup melted coconut oil
2 tsp vanilla or almond extract
1t cardamom



1. Preheat the oven to 375.
2. Place in oven and bake for 23-27 min or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.





Thursday, July 31, 2014

Mulukhiya--One Green You Definitely Will Not Find in Whole Foods

Let's start this post in our typically seditious fashion by watching this video of a Cote D'Ivoire cacao farmer who has never tasted chocolate though he has spent his life growing cacao beans. Two takeaways for me: one, profound sadness over the fact that due to colonization and oppression, many (most?) people all over the world will never get a chance to benefit from the fruits of their labor. Much akin to the construction workers in Mumbai who literally live in the construction sites of luxury buildings they will never set foot in again, too many people are ground up in the machine of consumption. On the other hand, this also brought a smile to my face if only in the sense of that despite the hardship, they were still able to smile and enjoy this, albeit small, sensory experience and smile about it.

Food for thought, literally.

Since this entire post is North African in theme, let's continue by listening to this:
And this:
Let's talk mulukhiyah. Mulukhiya is the Corchorus plant, or jute, whose leaves are used in North African cooking. A bitter plant, it grows rather mucilaginous when cooked. If you had to look that word up, bone up on your GRE vocab, boys and girls :) While on dictionary.com, look up masticate, macerate, and mucus. Good :) Basically, the plant becomes slimy, like okra, when cooked--you will even see slime trails when you stir it with your spoon. Appetizing, I know. But you don't care about that! Why!? Because it is incredibly good for you! Health over everything--the leaves are rich in betacarotene, iron, calcium, Vitamin C and more than 32 vitamin and minerals! Heck, you feel healthy just looking at it. Stop whining and eat your greens!

As my friend Erin says, the Tunisian mulukhiya is "the best-tasting motor-oil-looking food I have ever had."

Now, usually, mulukhiya is prepared with a lot of meat, oil, or generally non-vegan-friendly ingredients. I took it upon myself to fix that.

Toni's Kidney Beans and Mulukhiya

Go to your local Middle Eastern store. Stop grumbling--just do it. If you keep shopping at grocery chains, you will never learn how to cook. There, I said. Gauntlet is thrown down; what! :)

The mulukhiya is sold frozen and for a whopping bank-breaker of $2. Gasp!

The way I came up with this version is from constantly making rajma. The process in this case actually matters a lot. I use a pressure cooker. You should really consider investing in one--saves a lot of time.

Soak kidney beans overnight, changing the water a couple of times. On the next day, in a pressure cooker, put both the kidney beans and the solid frozen rock of the mulukhiya inside with some water. Cook for maybe 5-10 minutes. In another pan, start caramelizing/browning very thinly-sliced ribbons of onions. Add some garlic after they have caramelized. Add cumin and coriander powders. Also, see if you can find some Aleppo pepper or what Whole Foods calls the "tagine spice blend." Another crucial ingredient--dried small lemons, often used in Persian cooking. If you cannot find those, use some lime--rind and juice. Some salt.

Once the kidney-mulukhiyah mix is ready, add the onions, etc. to it and cook all of this on a low temperature for a good while. This will definitely get rid of any sliminess, I promise.

Next, time to make some bulgur! You see, there is bulgur, and then there is bulgur...and well, then there is also Bulgar, like me, and vulgar too :) The bulgur in question is a Turkish bulgur. It is definitely not the kind used to make tabbouleh salad--the grains are significantly bigger and fatter. Now that you are at the Middle Eastern store, go ahead and get that too (see how I did that. Heh). It, too, is a whopping $2.69.

The Bulgur-aian

Saute shallots in olive oil. Add turmeric and fresh thyme. Add the bulgur and let the grains brown a little bit. At this point, you could put in some mushrooms or some red pepper paste or ajvar or roasted garlic or truffle powder (if you fancy) or really experiment with anything extra. Add water enough to cover the bulgur by at least two fingers of depth (very scientific measure, I know). Put on a really low heat and cover with a lid. It will be done when all the water has been absorbed.
All I can say about this is that even the pickiest eaters (and there are many) love this--I am talking skateboarders, graffiti artists, both... :) So, bulgur--for the Banskies in your life. :))

Finally, end with a sorghum-date cake. You would probably say, "Toni, this does not look appetizing!" My retort would be, "Umm, what do you expect for a gluten-free, vegan, low-fat and low-sugar dessert!" But in all seriousness, for being ridiculously healthy, this is not half-bad. I "invented" it because I love sorghum!



2 cups sorghum flour
5-6 dates (chopped)
a splash of orange blossom water
1-2 tsp. cardamom
the rind and the juice of one Meyer lemon (sweet lemon)
about 1/2C almond milk (unsweetened)

If the mix is a little too dense, add a little water. Bake at 375 until the top is set.

On the side, have some home-made bread with zaatar. Will tell you about how I always make my bread from scratch next time :)










Friday, July 18, 2014

Pan Con Tomate and Bulgarian Banitsa

Greetings, folks. Let's begin with a message we can all get behind:
And as proof that I like my subversive activities thoroughly riotous, here is a shot of my large arsenal of fireworks for the 4th of July:
Before we move on to the regularly-scheduled culinary delights, check out my latest article where I up to my usual Martha Stewart meets Marla Singer cultural pokings :)
And since we are talking about hipsters, natch, let me tie this in to talking about tapas. The latest "in" thing amongst the prison-tattooed masses are the small bites that have long moved past their originally Spanish roots to essentially mean exorbitantly-priced appetizers. I say we replace tapas with the new item du jour--dim sum is, at least, significantly more substantial and forgiving on your wallet.


Pan Con Tomate, usually priced at $7 a plate, is ridiculously easy to make at home. All you need is good bread, garlic, and a good tomato.
Slice bread; toast it in the oven. When you take it out, rub a garlic clove all over it (trust me when I say I could live on this and this alone. Bread and garlic. The life for an Eastern European). In a little bowl, take a nicely-ripened beefsteak tomato and grate it. There should be no skins--only pulp and seeds. Of course, if you are a real food snob, you could always make tomato concasse, but...whatever, Martha! Add salt and pepper. Assemble the pan con tomate by just spreading the tomato mixture on the bread. Maybe drizzle with good olive oil (that's like the "good" living room--for guests only!) Yes, that simple! "Trust the T :)," as my friend Frank would say.
And in segueing over to my Bulgarian recipe, allow me to share some photos of Bulgarian tomatoes I had the pleasure of eating. Al fresco national pride indeed :)



To further get you into a Bulgarian state of mind, watch this absolutely delightful trailer:

Then proceed with the Bulgarian Justin Timberlake to get amped for your cooking exploits:

Now you are ready to make some banitsa! Opa!

There is no Bulgarian dish that is loved more than the banitsa (well, maybe the shopska salata is a close second). All of our Slav neighbors have some version of it; the Greeks have spanakopita and the Turks have burek.




So--on to Toni's Vegan Banitsa. My poor Grandma is probably rolling in her grave reading this very thing, but I invented a vegan banitsa, sans feta cheese, butters, milk, or eggs. Crazy, you say. Indeed!

1. Chop some green onions (the poor man's leeks, as I like to call them). Toast some walnuts in a pan and chop them. Super crucial step--add zaatar! Zaatar is a spice blend quite akin to a Bulgarian table salt blend called chubrica. This basically makes the dish. Add good olive oil and make the oleo.

2. Take phyllo dough sheets and take about two sheets; maybe drizzle a bit with olive oil and start to do layers. The top layer should be phyllo with olive oil on it.
3. This is super crucial--make criss-cross knife cuts into the whole thing so the slices are in place. Bake the whole thing at 350 until it starts to get a tad bit brown on top; no more than 5-10 minutes. Then take a bottle of sparkling water and pour it over the whole banitsa, making sure it gets through the cracks. You will likely use about 1/2 to 3/4 of the bottle. Throw it back in the oven and bake until the whole thing is set--maybe 15-20 mins. max.

I hope you try it :)

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Great Vegan-or-Egg Debate / Eggstravaganza

Brace yourselves for a gasp-worthy revelation--I am not fully vegan. I eat eggs...not that often, but I do eat eggs. Before you scream fowl (puns!), know that I will accept the moniker of egg-eater.

But let me first tell you a little story. I grew up in the lovely little town of Perushtitsa, in Bulgaria. My grandparents, like all other "village peeps," were leading a sustainable lifestyle long before it was in. We had sheeps, goats, chickens, and turkeys...sometimes even rabbits. We had cherry, apricot, and apple trees. We always ate well, thanks to the fruits of our labors. Ever since I was little, I had an especially soft spot for birds and chickens in particular. I remember peeking in their chicken lodge (too fancy to be called a coop :) at night, around 8PM or so, and marveling at them sleeping on their perches. I always wondered how they managed to not fall off. To this day, I still smile inside when I hear "going to bed with the chickens" because I saw it first hand! They looked so peaceful. I also love sparrows. We owe them a lot--they suffer through winter so they can remind us how beautiful birds are. Holy, even. I can't draw to save my life, yet the first time I sat down to try and paint, I painted these two. I guess they had been quietly chirping in my heart, waiting to come out.



All this to say that I love chickens to no end. You might ask then how I reconcile that with eating eggs once in a while...well, despite objections that there is no such thing as an "ethical egg," I am not sure I would agree. Our chickens seemed pretty happy. I like to think that by buying free-range farm eggs, I am on the same tip. But I know I can't call myself "vegan," except that it is a lot easier to just tell people you are practically vegan rather than go into the nuances of your eating habits. Arguably.

So join me on this little leap of faith/flight of fancy for a moment--set aside your cheating-vegan-bashing and read on.
This post is about my fairy godmother; my ITALIAN fairy godmother. Pro tip: when choosing honorary godmothers, choose well. And if you insist she is your fairy godmother long enough, she will eventually relent. My fairy godmother Mary is a culinary queen of unparalleled skill. She also loves Shakespeare. And used to wind-surf. And make chocolates. And visit Japan. And Bulgaria. World, lucky for you (since I am lucky to call her my godmother), I will share much of her savory savant-ness in this blog.

You will benefit from my self-inviting myself (nothing new for us Bulgarians) "na gosti"--i.e. cooking lessons :)

Pro tip: presentation, presentation, presentation. Thankfully, I have excellent knife skills, if I do say so myself--humble, aren't I?

Take a look at what a little cutting on the bias can do; dainty and lady-like, no? Will take your vegetables from blah to va-va-voom. The carrots are cooked with fennel--because same family vegetable go well together. We also made a celeriac root and nectarine salad (with white balsamic vinegar)--so simple. Just boil the cubed celeriac and assemble.

Moving on to cookings. The key to the most beautiful scrambled eggs is...drum roll...slow, lowish heat and ridiculously fresh eggs with beautiful *orange* yolks. They look like smiling suns to me, in my heliocentric Toni way :)
You don't need cream or milk or water to create fabulous scrambled eggs. Just don't overcook; take your time.


I have been consistently and insistently obsessed with these next ones--Jose Andres-style scrambled eggs. First step is to caramelize onions (if you don't know what that is or think it involves sugar, get off my blog now! Just kidding.). The key is to have equal parts onions and eggs. Crucial. Don't overcook, again.
And for the grand finale, lemon chess pie. I love lemons and I love chess--I have managed to beat my 13 y.o. Bobby Fisher chess prodigy of a brother three times now (the little rapscallion has beaten me more times than I can count). Whoo hoo. At any rate, I will one of these days figure out how to make this pie sans eggs and present you with the recipe, hand-written by me no less. The pie crust on this one is darn nigh divine.