by Dahlia Shaaban, Nutrition & Lifestyle Coach with Pekoe
I have a confession. I’ve become a little self-conscious and uninspired in my culinary practice. Feeling like I’m always cooking the same damn thing and my dishes aren’t edgy enough in keeping up with foodie culture.
But it’s more than that. Cooking for one is lonely. I do best when I’m cooking with and for others in a community of loved ones.
To that end, I actively seek out culinary community and organize dinner parties- especially as the days get colder and the howling winter winds pick up speed.
On a recent Thursday I accepted a dinner invitation from Nancy- neighbor, Pekoe enthusiast, and friend from the yoga community. She asked me to design a healthy yummy meal, she would pick up ingredients, and we would cook together.
So I checked out foodgawker– a resource my friend and long time culinary co-conspirator Jonathan recommended. A veritable food porn emporium.
Immediately I was pulled to the image of this hypnotic beet-semolina burger served with a cucumber sauce, an offering from Viji and Manoj of a Handful of Recipes, a couple that blogs about their culinary adventures in sumptuous vegetarian fare. It dazzled my senses- set them ablaze. This was not the standard interchangeable mash up of grains and beans, but a meaty, almost erotic veggie burger that was alive. Pulsing.
Tom Robbins famously described beets as “the most intense of vegetables… deadly serious… The murderer returned to the scene of the crime,” in the opening of his novel Jitterbug Perfume.
Challenge accepted. Nancy and I had a date with beets.
That night I also brought with me salmon that my friend and Pekoe enthusiast Jelena and her husband Scott caught themselves in Alaska back in August. The gorgeous filets were in my freezer and despite Nancy’s protestations that we may be making too much food, I had my heart set on offering the prized wild-caught salmon to the evening.
Our evening of cooking began. We took our time- told stories, drank wine, and conspired in infusing our personal touches to the recipe.
I have something of recipe ADD when I cook. I look at ingredient lists, skim the instructions, then set aside as I use intuition and experience to determine what each ingredient needs, portions for each, and create my own action plan moving forward. Usually it works splendidly, though sometimes my culinary hubris gets the best of me. Nancy is decidedly more precise and deliberate.
To the beet mixture and we added smoked green chili Nancy brought back from the most recent chili harvest in New Mexico, where her ancestors cultivated and dried chili for generations. We subbed pine nuts for sesame seeds in the cucumber sauce because of my pesky sesame intolerance (the cosmic joke of it all, a Middle Eastern girl allergic to sesame).
We used the extra beet juice derived from grating this most intense of vegetables and made cocktail shooters with ginger liqueur. Tom Robbins would smile in sly approval.
We also decided that with the salmon filets and beet burger, we had enough food and didn’t need buns for the burger after all. “Fuck the buns!” we agreed with an impassioned high five. Instead the burger would become a fritter, a bed for the Jelena-caught salmon, that we slathered with generous amounts of paprika, pink Himalayan salt, coarsely ground pepper and freshly squeezed lemon.
And the meal we created – the fruits of an epicurean journey we took together on just an ordinary Thursday night – was divine. A feast made sacred with our creative collaboration, transforming simple nourishing ingredients into an epicurean revelation.
In this season of the harvest – and the communities that gather and bring it to fruition – I hope you will find your tribe and seek out culinary adventure. Perhaps even using these recipes as a roadmap.
Celebrating the harvest, abundance, and sacred offerings thereof… To your health!
Beet- Semolina Burgers with Cucumber Sauce
Check recipe with visually dazzling step by step instructions, our initial source of inspiration, at Handful of Recipes.
Super-Simple Seared Salmon
Prep Time: 10 min
Cook Time: 10 min
2 6 oz. salmon fillets, skin on
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
2 tsp paprika
1) Wash and pat dry salmon filets.
2) On a ceramic dish, drizzle with olive oil and generously season with paprika and freshly ground salt and pepper. Set aside.
3) In a medium saucepan, melt half of the butter over medium high heat, swirl in some olive oil.
4) Add filets skin side down to pan, making sure each filet has ample room around it… it’s important not to overcrowd the pan. Do not move filets, instead swirl pan as needed to effectively distribute heat. Sear for 2-3 min or until filet is cooked one quarter of the way through. Use spatula to carefully turn over.
5) Add remaining butter as needed and sear for another 2-3 min, or until filet cooks one quarter of the way through from other side, leaving inner half rare… Remember, it will continue to cook once removed from heat!
6) Serve immediately and garnish with fresh lemon wedges.