A few weeks back a special client asked me to prepare a dinner meal for her and 9 guests. I am always excited to plan meals for parties and I feel it is a great privilege to be asked to cook, a privilege which I take seriously. For this client, a wonderful doctor and gifted healer who is helping me with my body and my health, I took it seriously to the utmost. Some of my friends and family might argue I take my food sourcing and cooking way too seriously at times, and I post way too many pictures of my culinary endeavors, but so be it, I’m fine with being, unabashedly, that girl. We are supposed to follow our bliss, and culinary creativity, food problem solving and feeding people I love and respect, well that's just what turns me on.
The doctor’s request had some extra-special restrictions. After she began to rattle them off, I had to grab a pen and pad to write down the growing list of no’s:
· No sugar
· No salt
· No gluten
· No intense spices
· No onion
· No garlic
· No ginger
· No nightshades
· No vinegar
· Nothing fermented
“ummm, ok, so like, you mean no freakin’ flavor,” was my inside thought. I said sweetly:
“ok great, no problem!”
With a little further brainstorming, and a reminder from the doctor that people who have been cleansing and disciplining themselves towards certain goals, are usually eating a very “bland” diet and mucous membranes are thinner and taste buds are more sensitive and alive.
We arrived at a workable menu:
· Black beans
· Brown rice w/ nori, sesame oil & toasted sesame seeds
· Steamed citrus turmeric fish
· Salad w/ avocado, pears, toasted walnuts
· Beets tossed with olive oil and snipped fresh dill, cilantro, oregano
· Olive-oil-roasted kabocha & butternut squash
· Tahini dressing
· Citrus tarragon dressing
The Adams market, where I did most of my shopping, had amazing wild Alaskan black cod and beautiful citrus—I found the sweetest cara cara and blood oranges, lemons and juicy limes, quite the commodity these days. I used them for the citrus tarragon dressing, which went with the salad, from a fresh selection of mesculin The citrus was also put to use in thin circular slices on top of the fish.
Then I had to go about the task of making all the elements agree and be flavorful. Did I mention I couldn’t use salt?!?! And vinegar and Dijon mustard is in a lot of my cooking. Then creative thinking started to get the juices flowing.
“What is traditionally good with black beans?” I asked myself.
Cumin! Turmeric! Ooh oooh, oregano, thyme! Touch of cinnamon! Lemon and orange zest was where my mind went next. Digging through all my spice shelves and drawers (yes I have a pretty huge collection of spices and masalas), I was on my way to whipping up something new and creative. I was getting excited.
Because I love all of you who are reading this, I will give you the whole grocery list and execution (you’re welks):
· Wild firm white-fleshed fish
· Dried black beans
· Small kernel organic brown rice
· 2 types of winter squash
· Organic salad greens
· Sesame seeds
· Carom seeds
· Cinnamon sticks
· Cumin powder
· Dried oregano
· Powdered turmeric
· Olive oil
· Grapeseed oil
· Black (or toasted) sesame seed oil
· Other fresh herbs
1. Here’s how you do the black beans:
· Rinse (don’t soak) 2 cups black beans
· pressure cook them for 25 minutes w a piece of kombu (removes gas, puts in iodine & other important trace minerals), a big cinnamon stick, dried crumbled oregano & cumin (FYI - When you pressure-cook your own black beans, the taste and texture is unmatchable).
· Release pressure from the pot and let beans cool for 10 minutes
· add more oregano, cumin, the zest of 1 whole lemon and ½ and orange
2. Here’s how you do the rice:
· FYI – get small kernel brown rice, make sure it’s not too greenish in color
· Rinse & partially soak under cold running water for at least 5 minutes.
· Drain rice, combine in a pot with 3.5 cups of boiling salted water and 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil or non-toasted sesame oil
· Reduce heat and cover rice pot tightly. Don’t even look at it for 20 minutes.
· After 20 minutes, fluff rice with a metal fork add a touch more oil, cook 5 – 10 more minutes
· Toss rice in a glass bowl with thinly sliced toasted nori, toasted sesame seeds and a touch of black sesame seed oil
3. Here’s how you do the beets:
· leave the skin on—it slides off like a sleeve after cooked
· cook beets 10 minutes in the pressure cooker, unless they’re tiny, then less
· let cool in a colander until you can handle them
· slide skins off and chop in uneven pieces into a bowl
· add assorted fresh herbs & olive oil
4. Here’s how you do the salad:
· measure out 1 handful of mixed organic greens per person
· rinse, dry and put in a salad bowl with the toasted walnuts
· slice pears and avocados and fan out on the top of the greens in any decorative pattern
· top with citrus or tahini dresssing
5. Here’s how you do the beautiful lovely fish:
· slice oranges, lemons & limes in thin circles, could use a mandolin
· using a sharp knife, remove any excess skin from the fish, cut lengthwise into the filets, making long full pieces, then gently pat dry with paper towels
· sprinkle & massage in turmeric, thyme and carom seed on all sides of fish
· arrange in an oiled baking dish & cover the surface of the fish with the sliced citrus trio
· cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes on 325, covered
· remove cover and cook for 5 – 8 minutes more uncovered
· here’s an image of the beautiful lovely fish from my @yoginicuisine Instagram feed: https://instagram.com/p/0bCGuer_Ui/
6. Here’s how you do the squash:
· using a sharp knife, cut the kabocha & butternut squash in large pieces brush on all sides with olive oil.
· Oil a deep casserole / pyrex baking dish with olive oil then pour 3 inches of water (or oj) into the casserole
· Place squash in dish, spread out so pieces aren’t touching each other, place a fresh bay leaf in the cavity or on top of each piece, drizzle more olive oil on the top
· Bake at 400 for 45 minutes covered, taking out and basting with cooking liquid whenever you think of it
Finally, to go with the salad and basically tie everything on the plate together, the dressings were the unifying force.
7. Here’s how you do the tahini dressing:
· 1 cup tahini,
· 1/3 cup of citrus juice and
· ¼ cup water. (Use more water for a thinner sauce, more tahini for a thicker paste-like consistency. It is such a satisfying taste, and sesame is a great source of calcium and selenium).
8. Here’s how you do the citrus dressing:
· ¾ cup olive oil
· 2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
· 1/3 cup citrus juice
· put citrus juice & tarragon in a bowl, gradually add thin stream of olive oil as you wisk the mixture together
· Serve immediately, or you will have to re-wisk, the dressing will separate.
No one learned more than I, nor was more surprised than I was during this challenge that no salt, non-fermented, hardly-spiced foods could be so good! I did later learn that salt was available for the guests to add to their food as they saw fit. Well that did make my heart sing with joy because I could only imagine how the undertones of all the other delicate spices would really come through with a little salt, but I was confident that if salt was omitted to the finish line, the cooking would stand on its own. This was such a fun and honorable challenge and it meant so much to me since the client is an amazing person who is helping me, and others in our community in so many ways.
I bow down to the fish that nourished us for the making of this meal.
Om Namah Shivaya!
Happy cooking! Namaste!