Deli-style Polish dill pickles

green cucumber lot

There is no better cucumber than a pickling cucumber. Crisp and freshly-scented, they grow well in our gardens and love to perk up our salads.  Sadly, they are only here for a short while, soon replaced by imported field cucumbers and long, plastic-wrapped English cucumbers – OK, but not the same. 

As summer ends, gigantic bundles of dill show up in buckets beside baskets of these little cucumbers at the farmer’s market. Time for pickling!

For my Polish parents, this was non-negotiable. Didn’t everyone ferment jars of pickles at this time of year? Once sour, they lived in a big cloudy jar in the refrigerator or the cold-cellar, served up as quartered spears alongside open-faced sandwiches on buttered rye, topped with ham or salami, a dab of mustard, tomato slice and some diced green onion on top “for decoration”. Whenever I smell dill, I’m back at their table.

The difference between the pickles found on store shelves and deli-style Polish dill pickles (also known as Kosher dills) are that regular store pickles get their flavour from a vinegar spice-and-brine solution with which they are canned. 

Polish dills are fermented in jars (or barrels if you’re into volume) in a brine solution, but no vinegar and they are never sealed. Once they have reached the right consistency, they go straight in the fridge. They are never sweet, but tangy and garlicky, adding an eye-squinting sizzle to your sandwich or snack. They are alive.

Fermentation is an age-old process to preserve food while also enhancing its nutrition to feed your gut microbiome—the 100 trillion or so bacteria and microorganisms that live in the digestive tract. A healthy microbiome means a stronger immune system with far-reaching health benefits.

Instruction:

Steps to make  a 1 quart / 1 litre mason jar of pickles (note – you may easily double, just by doubling ingredients, which I did for photos here. I made 2 L)

Sterilize – you don’t want the bad bacteria joining your good bacteria.

  • Put jars in dishwasher sterilizing cycle
  • OR wash with regular dish soap and water and place in oven at 110°C (230°F) for 15 minutes. Remove and cool. 
  • Boil the lids in a pot of water for minimum 5 minutes and allow to air dry on a rack or clean towel

Ingredients to make 1 Quart / 1 Litre

  • 1 pound/500 grams of unwaxed pickling cucumbers
  • 1 1/2 tbsp non-iodized sea salt, Kosher salt or Himalayan pink salt
  • 2 cups non-chlorinated water (preferably filtered or spring)
  • 1-2 heads fresh-flowering dill (the big flower-head on the dill plant)
  • 2-3 cloves garlic 
  • 1 or 2 horseradish or fresh grape leaves (optional – for extra crunchiness)

Process

  • Thoroughly wash the cucumbers. If they are not fresh off the vine, soak them in cold water for 30 – 60 minutes
  • Dissolve salt into non-chlorinated water. If you are using tap water, boil the salt with water, mix well and allow to cool
  • Into your sterile jar, place a big fresh dill flower on the bottom, plus one horseradish or grape leaf if using
  • Pack your pickles tightly into jar, lining them up against the sides and filling gaps as you go, until  you reach the top
  • Stuff extra dill florets in any spaces, and add 1 clove sliced garlic pieces and 2 whole cloves among the pickles
  • Pour the brine in to cover all cucumbers, spices, garlic and make sure everything is submerged.
  • You may wish to use a weight like this to hold everything down

Ferment

  • Leave the pickles until the colour turns from bright green to army green 
  • It is important to “burp” the jars every day for the first few days since carbon dioxide forms as the ferment begins. Little bubbles will rise to the top. That’s a good thing! Just loosen the lid to let the gas escape.
  • The speed at which sourness develops depends on temperature – much faster if it’s hot and humid; a bit longer in cooler temps – so the time frame may range from 4 days to 2 weeks.
  • Taste one every so often until they’re how you like them
  • If white scum appears on the surface, don’t panic. Just skim it off. That’s not a problem at all. If it is black or smells bad, compost your pickles and start over.
  • Pickles should be crispy, sour and infused with garlic and dill flavour. If they ferment too long, they may get a bit soft
  • If you feel you’re at the right texture, place in fridge to stop ferment and enjoy for up to 6 months. Seriously. They can last that long. But they never do.

Ready to Eat!

Resources:

 

The guru of the modern fermentation movement is Sandor Katz.  His book The Art of Fermentation – An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes From Around the World is referred to as the Bible on this topic.

 

 

He does have a lighter volume, Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition and Craft of Live-Cultured Food, that is a bit more accessible with short descriptions and more conventional recipes. Highly recommend. 

 

 

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Roasted Delicata Squash Rings

 

Autumn is here and we are seeing winter squash and pumpkins in all of their glorious hues of green, yellow and orange. The striped delicata squash is among my favourites.  “Delicata” because its skin is delicate, becoming soft and completely edible after roasting. The seeds are good to eat as well.

With this simple recipe (inspired by Forks Over Knives magazine) I decided to roast and eat some rings plain and some filled with a little bit extra. Creativity comes with the additions. You can rub any spice you like on top of the rings: cumin, paprika, cinnamon, curry powder, chili powder, etc. Once roasted, I would not skip the last step, which is brushing on a little maple syrup because it creates a lovely glaze over your selected spices, whether sweet or savoury. 

Nutritionally speaking, delicata is high in fibre, Vitamins A & C, manganese, potassium and magnesium. 1 cup has about 85 calories.

Fillings can be anything you like to eat:

Savoury:  rice & beans, quinoa with chopped peppers, stuffing, mashed potatoes, succotash, garlicky greens, corn, couscous, mushrooms, the sky is the limit.

Sweet fillings:   diced pears, mango or pineapple salsa, apples, raisins & rice

In this batch, I made a garlicky broccolini mixture (water sauteed onion, garlic, chopped broccolini, topped with a sprinkle of tamari and sesame seeds). The sweet ones were filled with a pear-cranberry compote.

Roasted Delicata Squash Rings

Creamy, rich, versatile squash rings that work as an appetizer, side or main. Eat them plain or fill them up!
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 35 mins
Course Appetizer, Main Course, Side Dish, Snack
Cuisine American

Ingredients
  

  • 1 Delicata Squash
  • Your Favourite Spices Cinnamon, Paprika, Cumin, Curry Powder, etc.
  • Your Favourite Fillings Stuffing, rice-and-beans,succotash, other veggies, fruit salsas or compotes
  • 1 tbsp Maple Syrup

Instructions
 

  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees
  • Scrub the squash clean under running water
  • Cut off a thin slice at each end of the squash
  • Cut the remaining squash into 1-inch rings
  • Remove seeds from each ring with a teaspoon
  • Place rings on a parchment-lined baking sheet
  • Sprinkle desired spice on top of each ring, or leave plain if preferred
  • Place in oven for 15 minutes
  • Turn the slices over, then roast for an additional 15 minutes
  • Remove from oven and turn over one last time, brushing each ring with maple syrup
  • Put back in oven for additional 5 minutes
  • Remove from oven and add any desired fillings
  • Serve and enjoy!

Notes

  • Fillings are optional and you can put in whatever your heart desires.
  • In my rings above, I filled my savoury rings with a broccolini/onion/garlic mixture which I water-sauteed and sprinkled with tamari and sesame seeds
  • The sweet rings were filled with a pear-cranberry compote that I made when I had too many ripe pears
Keyword Autumn, Oil-free, Vegan

 

Peach Blueberry Oats

 

Summer means fresh, juicy peaches and blueberries that taste better than at any other time of year. This simple little dish is perfect for breakfast, a snack or even to use as a topping on some sweet “nice cream”. It can be eaten hot, warm or cold. Unlike crisp or cobbler, this dish is oil-free and sugar-free, relying on the natural sweetness and juice from the fruit. If you would like it a little sweeter, you can always drizzle a little maple syrup on top.

 

 

 

 

 

Peach Blueberry Oats

Great for breakfast or dessert!
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 40 mins
Course Breakfast, Dessert, Snack
Servings 4 1/2 cup servings
Calories 195 kcal

Equipment

  • 8 X 8 glass baking dish

Ingredients
  

Ingredients

  • 4+ whole peaches, sliced Slice enough peaches to fully cover bottom of pan
  • 1 dry pint / 551 ml container fresh blueberries
  • 1 cup large flake oats
  • 1/2 - 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup water (optional) If your fruit is not super juicy, pour the water over the fruit and oats before baking

Instructions
 

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
  • Wash and slice peaches, cutting away from the stone and spread the slices on bottom of an 8 X 8 glass baking dish
  • Evenly spread blueberries on top of the peaches
  • Evenly sprinkle oats on top of the blueberries
  • Very lightly mix with a fork to incorporate oat layer into the fruit a little bit
  • If your fruit is not the juiciest, add the water
  • Dust with cinnamon
  • Place into preheated oven and bake for 40 minutes
  • Remove from oven and let cool for 1 minute, then use fork to thoroughly mix the baked fruit and oats together, until the oats are moist with fruit juice
  • Serve hot, warm or cold, on its own or as a topping over "nice" cream.
  • Drizzle with maple syrup if you like it sweeter (optional)

Notes

You may also cook this in the microwave on High for approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Stir after cooking.
Keyword Blueberries, Peaches, Summer

Fresh-from-the-Garden Salad with creamy herb dressing (Oil-free, plant-based, vegan)

Once the backyard veggie garden is planted, half the fun and excitement is waiting for the first harvest. The earliest things that I have seen (besides rhubarb) are many of the returning perennials, like sorrel, chives, mint or other herbs, radishes and different varieties of lettuce. 

Fresh Romaine, Arugula, Mint and Dill minutes after harvest and ready to form the backdrop for the Garden Salad

When the lettuce comes in, there is a window of opportunity to eat it before it bolts to flower and the leaves become bitter. Nothing beats this freshly-picked lettuce and other early crops to make a wonderful summer salad. A nice base is a combination of romaine leaves and spicy arugula, with a bit of chopped mint and a little bit of dill. It’s also fun to mix lettuces: leaf lettuce, boston, romaine and sorrel.

Artfully arrange brightly-coloured additions on top of the greens, such as:

  • Radish slices
  • Green onions or chives
  • Diced cucumber
  • Halved grape or cherry tomatoes
  • Nuts (almonds, walnuts, pecans)
  • Seeds (sunflower or pumpkin)
  • Edible flowers (zucchini blossoms or nasturtiums)
  • Fresh fruit (berries, sliced peaches or nectarines, pears)

Finally, a fresh, creamy oil-free dressing using the herbs from your garden.

Creamy Herb Dressing (Oil-Free)

A bright and delicious dressing or dip using fresh herbs from your garden.
Prep Time 10 mins
Course Dressings and Dips, Salad

Equipment

  • High-Speed Blender

Ingredients
  

  • 1 cup raw cashews, soaked for 10 to 15 minutes
  • 3/4 cup chopped fresh herbs (any combination of basil, parsley, cilantro, chives, oregano, marjoram, lovage, thyme or mint)
  • 2 or 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • lemon or lime juice from 1/2 a lemon or lime
  • 1/4 cup water or vegetable broth, drizzled in as required to thin the dressing
  • Salt to taste

Instructions
 

  • Soak raw cashews for 10 or 15 minutes
  • Drain cashews and add to high-speed blender, along with all of the herbs, garlic and lemon juice
  • Blend at high speed until creamy consistency is reached. If dressing is too thick, thin with a little water or vegetable broth
  • Season with salt to taste - not too much salt!
  • Drizzle over arranged salads or use as dip for crudités 
  • Will keep in refrigerator for up to a week

Notes

I would not recommend using rosemary or sage here, as their flavour profile is too strong and would overpower the dressing.

 

Vegan Rhubarb Crumble Bars

There is a corner in my backyard that belongs to the rhubarb. Every year when I see the little leaves pop up after the last snow, I know spring has arrived.

Rhubarb is a perennial that is eaten as a fruit, although botanically it is a vegetable. While usually cooked, I remember eating it raw as a child, dipping the long stalks into a bowl of sugar, one dip for every bite. It is very tart – an eye-squinting, mouth-puckering tartness.

A co-star in the classic strawberry-rhubarb pie, it is often paired with strawberries or other sweet fruits in cobblers, crisps, compotes or preserves.

Historically, rhubarb root was used medicinally (as a laxative) in China over 5,000 years ago. It’s use in cooking didn’t start until the 19th century, in Britain. It became wildly popular for use in desserts and wine prior to World War II, then quickly dropped out of favour, most likely due to sugar rationing.  

A word of caution, the leaves of the rhubarb plant are toxic due to high concentrations of oxalic acid.  Granted, one would have to eat at least 5 kg for it to be lethal in humans, but best not to test that. Keep pets away from the leaves as well.

Nutritionally, 1 cup of uncooked rhubarb contains 26 calories, 1.1g of protein, 0.2g of fat, 5.5g of carbohydrates, 2.2g of fiber, and 1.3g of sugar.  It is a good source of Vitamins C and K, potassium and manganese. It is surprisingly high in calcium and also a good source of magnesium. 

These vegan rhubarb bars are the perfect compliment of sweet and tart and are lovely with a cup of tea.

Vegan Rhubarb Crumble Bars

The perfect compliment of sweet and tart in a recipe that heralds spring!
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 45 mins
Course Dessert
Cuisine Vegan
Servings 12

Ingredients
  

Crumble Crust/Topping

  • 1 1/4 cups quick-cooking rolled oats
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose or whole wheat pastry flour
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2/3 cup vegan butter, cubed eg/ Earth Balance baking sticks

Rhubarb Filling

  • 4 cups diced rhubarb
  • 1 lemon juice and zest
  • 1/2 to 3/ /4 cup sugar adjust sugar to taste, some prefer more tart, others more sweet
  • 2 1/2 tsp cornstarch

Instructions
 

Crumble / Crust Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line an 8 X 8 pan with parchment paper that overlaps on two opposing sides to make lifting the baked bars out easier
  • In a large bowl, mix together the oats, flour, baking powder, sugar, salt and cinnamon
  • Using two forks, blend in the chopped butter cubes until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs (Alternately, you can use your fingers to do this, but they will melt the butter a bit more than forks will)
  • Spread 2/3 of the crumb mixture into the bottom of the pan, pressing it down firmly into a crust
  • Bake for 15 minutes until lightly golden

Rhubarb filling

  • In a heavy saucepan, combine rhubarb, lemon juice, lemon zest and sugar
  • Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently for approximately 10 minutes
  • When the liquid has released and the rhubarb has softened, sprinkle and quickly stir in the cornstarch, stirring constantly until mixture has thickened
  • Turn off heat and let mixture cool briefly.

To assemble:

  • Pour warm rhubarb mixture over baked crust in pan
  • Evenly sprinkle the remaining crumb mixture on top of the rhubarb layer
  • Bake for 30 minutes or until the crumble is golden and the rhubarb bubbling at the sides.
  • Let cool completely
  • Lift out of pan using the parchment as handles
  • Cut into squares and serve
  • Store in the refrigerator for up to a week, or freeze for up to 3 months
Keyword Baked Goods, Rhubarb, Spring

Simply Unbeetable

Beautiful garnet red beets or charming striped Chioggia (candy cane) beets, these earthy root vegetables have pretty incredible superpowers. High in fibre, folate, potassium, iron and vitamin C, 1 cup of beets has only 60 calories.  They are packed with betaine, an amino acid that lessens the body’s concentration of homocysteine, which is a harmful substance that contributes to peripheral vascular disease, heart disease and stroke. Evidence shows that betaine also protects agains non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and inflammation, both common markers of chronic disease. 

Drinking nitrate-rich beet juice has been proven to boost exercise performance in athletes. As they are ingested, the nitrates in beets are converted to nitric oxide, which helps relax blood vessels and improves blood flow. This effect in the elderly may help fight the progression of dementia as more blood flows to the brain. For diabetics, it may lower the risk of complications, particularly nerve and eye damage. For men with erectile dysfunction, additional benefits. I think I can hear a stampede of feet running to the farmer’s market for a fresh bunch of beets *as we speak*!

This cold-pressed beet juice is so good, it’s hard not to guzzle it down all at once. It is best to drink it fresh, but it stores well in two 500 ml mason jars in the refrigerator for up to 72 hours. If stored, shake the jar before drinking. 

Simply Unbeetable 

3 large or 4 medium or 10 very small beets
4 large carrots
3 large celery stalks
1 apple
1/4 fennel bulb sliced (optional)
1 thumb ginger
Juice from 1/2 of a lemon

This makes 4 cups (1 L or 32 oz) of juice.

 

 

 

 

 

Game Changer: Fat-Free Onion Cream

One of the most difficult parts of transitioning to a low-fat whole-food plant-based diet is trying to figure out sauces and dressings that don’t involve oil. Tahini and hummus take on a much bigger role in salads than ever before. When I found this onion cream at Fat-Free Vegan Kitchen, I fell in love and  had to share it.

This recipe uses only three ingredients: onions, lemon juice and a little salt. I used plain old yellow onions, but I suppose it would work with other kinds. The process is simple too – all you need is an oven and a blender.  The end result is a savoury and bright cream sauce that you can use in countless ways: mix into soups or stews, stir into a risotto or pasta sauce, use as a base for oil-free salad dressings and dips, or use instead of hummus or mayo in wraps and sandwiches. I even top my baked potato with it. I could eat it from the jar with a spoon, I love it so much!

2 tablespoons contain approximately 22 calories.

The recipe makes enough to almost fill a 500 ml mason jar, which will keep in the fridge for at least a week. It won’t last that long. 

Recipe for Fat-Free Onion Cream may be found at Susan Voisin’s Fat-Free Vegan Kitchen. 

Crispy oil-free potato chips in 3-5 minutes

What do some of us miss when switching to a whole-food, plant-based diet with no processed food and no oil?

Potato Chips.

I was gob-smacked to discover that you can make crispy chips in the microwave in about 3 to 5 minutes, depending on how powerful the oven is and…it is the easiest thing ever.

THE POTATOES

I have been experimenting with Russets, Yukon Gold and red potatoes. While some people say Russets are the way to go, I found the Yukon Gold crunched up a lot better. I think your mileage may vary on this one depending on your oven and it’s probably best (and fun!) to test all varieties. I plan to try sweet potatoes next.

TECHNIQUE

The scrubbed potatoes do not need to be peeled, but they do need to be sliced very thinly. I use a mandolin (very carefully – these things are SHARP – use the safety holder). If you don’t have a mandolin, just use a sharp knife to slice your potatoes as thinly as possible. 

Place the cut slices in a bowl of cold water to rinse off the starch. 

Meanwhile put a sheet of parchment paper on a microwavable dinner plate 

Take out enough of the potato slices from the water to put on the plate.  Dry them  first between tea towels or paper towels.

Lay the potato slices on the parchment on the plate not touching one another. I did it this way, but found the slice in the very middle of the plate burns, so you may wish to leave that empty.

Microwave for 3 to 5 minutes, watching closely. Stop the microwave when they are lightly browned. It’s quick.  You have to pay attention – don’t walk away!

FLAVOURS

It’s best to toss the raw potato slices with spices after you dry them, but before you lay them on the plate. You can use the following or experiment with any flavour profile you like:

 

  • salt
  • paprika and garlic
  • chili powder
  • barbecue spices

Crunch and enjoy!

 

 

Tofu Scramble – Easiest way to mimic scrambled eggs in the plant-based diet

I was never a huge fan of tofu. Now that I’ve been preparing it in different and more varied recipes, I’ve come to respect its versatility and how it can transform itself from soup to stir-fry to dessert. 1 cup of firm tofu has only 94 calories, a whopping 10 g of protein, 227 mg of calcium, 1.82 mg of iron and only 5 g of fat.

Tofu has the starring role in this dish, the plant-based version of scrambled eggs.  It’s quick. It’s simple. The trick here is to use black Himalayan salt. Kala namak is a kiln-fired rock salt used in South Asia and its sulphurous, pungent-smell stands in quite nicely for eggs.  It’s available on Amazon if you don’t have an international grocer nearby. This is a simple “base” recipe, which may be modified by adding different flavour profiles as outlined below.

Basic Tofu Scramble

Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 15 mins
Total Time 25 mins
Course Breakfast
Servings 4
Calories 210 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • 1 tbsp olive oil or vegan butter For oil-free version, sauté in water
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 block extra-firm tofu
  • 2 tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 3/4 tsp black Himalayan salt (Kala Namak Salt)
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 2 scallions, diced

Instructions
 

  • Heat a large skillet to medium-high
  • Add olive oil or butter to pan (or water by the tablespoon if omitting oil)
  • Start by sautéing onions and garlic until soft and translucent. Don't let the garlic get too brown or it will taste bitter.
  • Crumble the block of tofu into the skillet
  • Sprinkle with nutritional yeast, turmeric, salt and paprika
  • Gently mix the spices into the tofu using a wooden spoon until everything is blended and fragrant, approximately 5 minutes or so
  • Fold in the diced scallions in the last minute of cooking

Variations on a Theme – just add the following ingredients to the basic scramble for a whole new breakfast experience. Experiment! Have fun!

Italian scramble

Add 1 tsp oregano, 10 halved cherry tomatoes, diced small green pepper, 4 sliced mushrooms, sprinkle with freshly chopped basil

Tex-Mex scramble

Add 1 tsp cumin, 1 tsp chili powder, 1/2 tsp coriander, 1 cup black beans, 1 diced red or green pepper, 2 large mushrooms, sliced, 1 finely diced jalapeño pepper. Sprinkle with fresh cilantro –  Serve with a little hot salsa. You can even wrap this into a tortilla for a breakfast burrito

Spanish scramble

Add 1 large cooked potato, diced to skillet with onions and garlic. Add 1 tsp oregano, 1/2 tsp smoked paprika, diced red pepper, 4 sliced mushrooms and a handful of baby spinach leaves. Sprinkle with parsley.

Caribbean scramble

Add 1 cooked sweet potato, diced, 1 cup very thinly-sliced collard greens (matchstick size) to skillet with onions and garlic. Add 1/4 tsp  allspice, 1/4 tsp cinnamon,  dash of hot sauce.

 

In honour of Veganuary, Collard Veggie Wraps

For those trying out plant-based eating for Veganuary, here’s a quick and easy whole-food plant-based lunch – no tortilla required! Loaded with fibre and phytonutrients to help prevent disease and promote good health.

The trick for healthy eating is to stock up on a variety of fruits and vegetables. When the urge strikes, you open your fridge and feel virtuous and inspired and have enough ingredients to make colourful and healthy meals and snacks.

1) Wash two large collard green leaves, dry and cut off the thickest part of the stem beneath the leafy part. Lay these flat.
2) Smooth about 1 tbsp hummus on the light green portion of each leaf as the base
3) Next layer a little arugula (or spring mix or chopped lettuce) on each leaf
4) Top with your favourite sliced vegetables. Here I’ve used red cabbage, red and orange grape tomatoes, green onion and sliced cucumber. Other options might be bell pepper strips, mushrooms, alfalfa sprouts or bean sprouts or slices of avocado.
5) If you enjoy them, sprinkle some fresh herbs such as parsley, basil or cilantro on top
6) Fold short edges, and roll up the leaves into a wrap. Then cut each roll in half and enjoy!

Note, if you overstuff your collard leaves and can’t roll them, just fold as best you can and eat taco-style…over a plate…with a few napkins handy. They can be messy, but delicious!