Louisa Shafia’s Lucid Food: Cooking for an Eco-Conscious Life is a welcome addition to the expanding canon of cookbooks promoting more ethical and sustainable ways of shopping, cooking, eating and living. The book expresses Louisa’s passion for her subject and the expertise she has developed since her graduation from NGI in 2001 (CTP 81). She’s worked in such venerable eco-conscious institutions as Millenium, Roxanne’s, Aquavit, Pure Food & Wine, started her own environmentally friendly food consultancy, and now writes a food blog.
The book’s introductory “Eco-Kitchen Basics” will be useful for the beginnner. They provide eco-friendly shopping advice, waste reduction practices, a rationale for the cost of eating organically and sustainably, as well as explanations of other eco-responsible living choices. There’s also a “lucid” glossary of buzzwords that can befuddle the consumer – fair-trade, pasture-raised, organic, cage-free, biodynamic – what they mean and the issues they raise. People who are newly-initiated to this way of eating will appreciate the pithy breakdown of this information in a way that doesn’t overwhelm.
The recipes, a pan-ethnic mix of mostly plant-based dishes and some responsibly chosen animal fare (mostly seafood), are divided by season to make menu planning easier. The food photography (by Jennifer Martiné) and the accessible recipes are seductive enough that I’m strongly tempted to try a few. Many, I think, would be suitable inspiration for Friday Night Dinner dishes.
To get interactive with this book, you’ll probably have to frequent a green market or get involved in a CSA, but that’s a good thing, right? The book particularly succeeds with recipes that emphasize simple preparations of more esoteric seasonal ingredients.
The recipes inspired by Louisa’s Persian heritage are particularly alluring. Two rice dishes particularly caught our eye. The first is a basmati rice-stuffed dumpling squash with dried fruits, walnuts, saffron, and rose petals (a fall dish). The second is Green Rice, seasoned with leeks, lime powder, parsley, cilantro, and dill (summer). I’ve had Louisa’s version of Green Rice, and it was awesome.
I think it’s probably a safe bet that cooked rhubarb with honey, cardamom, and rose water is a bang-on pairing with strained yogurt and pistachios. I’m also drawn to the Persian New Year’s Soup (Ash-e-reshteh), a clear broth with chickpeas, kidney beans, favas, and lentils with greens, noodles, and fresh herbs. Since I’m a bread enthusiast, I’ll probably test the Fall fruit focaccia made with plums.
This past Friday, January 29, Louisa was the guest chef of our Friday Night Dinner, and word among the students and diners was that the dinner was a hit. The menu:
Warm Chickpea Cakes with Tamarind Beet Glaze and Frizzled Carrots over Salad Greens in Citrus Vinaigrette
Pan Roasted Portobello Mushrooms with Crispy Shallots over Lemony Root Vegetable Puree, Sautéed Kale
Pear Kanten with Poached Pear and Orange Dice, Pear Cream, Gingersnap Tuile, Orange Saffron Sauce
Here’s the recipe for Louisa’s Chickpea Cakes with Cilantro-Jalapeno Sauce (both recipes can be found in Lucid Food):
Serve these fragrant Indian-spiced cakes with sweet and tangy Cilantro-Jalapeño Sauce to set off their flavor, and Cucumber Yogurt for a creamy contrast. For a hearty lunch, perch a few cakes on top of a green salad, or pack them into a pita pocket along with shredded vegetables. Makes approximately 10 cakes.
¼ cup millet
1 cup water
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for frying
1 yellow onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and diced
2 tablespoons ground coriander
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons dried mint
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 cups cooked chickpeas
1 cup bread crumbs
Place millet in a small saucepan with 1 teaspoon salt. In a tea kettle, bring ¾ cup water to a boil. Add boiling water to millet. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 25 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand for 10 minutes. Transfer millet to a food processor and puree until smooth. Set aside.
Heat a large skillet and add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil, followed by the onion. Saute for 5 minutes, until soft, then add the garlic, jalapeno, coriander, cumin, mint, turmeric, and cayenne, and sauté for 2 more minutes. Stir in the chickpeas, then remove from the heat, and let cool.
Put the mixture in a food processor and pulse until the chickpeas are broken down, but the mixture still has texture. Fold in the millet and 1/2 cup of the bread crumbs. Season to taste with salt. Refrigerate for 20 minutes to cool mixture completely, making it easier to form into patties.
Pour the remaining 1/2 cup of bread crumbs onto a plate. Form 3 tablespoons of the mixture into a ball. Flatten the ball against your palm, shaping it into a cake. Dredge the cake in the bread crumbs. Heat a skillet with 1/4 inch of olive oil. When the oil is hot, drop in several cakes and fry until golden brown, about 1 minute per side. Drain on a wire cooling rack. If you prefer to bake the cakes, preheat the oven to 425°F. Place the cakes on an oiled, parchment-lined baking sheet and brush each one with a little olive oil. Bake for 10 minutes, then rotate the pan and bake for 5 minutes, or until the cakes are brown on top and crisp. Serve hot.
We have Mexico to thank for the tangy flavor combination of cilantro, jalapeño, and lime, although this sauce complements all types of cuisines. Pair it with crispy appetizers like the Chickpea Cakes. Try pouring it over grilled chicken or fish for a zesty finish. Serve this sauce in the first hour after blending, when its color is brightest. Makes approximately 1 cup.
2 cups fresh cilantro leaves
1 or 2 jalapeños, ribs and seeds removed
and coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
Combine the cilantro, jalapeño, honey, lime juice, and olive oil in a food processor or blender and blend until liquefied. Taste and season with salt. If you prefer more heat, add another jalapeño and blend again.