Roasted Figs with Buche de Chevre & Balsamic Glaze

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There was a skinny fig tree in front of my childhood home — the original home, the only one that appears in my dreams, that I have hopelessly yearned for since the day I left for America.

Throughout my childhood, I remember tasting a sweet ripe fig only once. I grew up in the years of extreme food scarcity and no child could wait until the figs were ripe to harvest them. My brother and I began picking them earlier each year because we wanted to get them before the other children in the neighborhood could steal them. We tried to leave the raw figs in the rice sack or in the sun for them to ripen, but the figs stayed hard no matter how long we waited. 

One day, I was idling by the 2nd floor window daydreaming, which was something children often did in that era. A gentle breeze ruffled the leaves of the fig tree and a pinkish purplish bulb caught my eye. A ripe fig! I had never before seen a fig like this, rufescent and drooped from the slightly wilted stem. I nearly killed myself trying to pluck it with the help of a clothe hanger. I quickly stuffed it in my mouth before anyone could see me. There are no words that can describe the intense and shocking burst of pleasure as my teeth sunk into the flesh of that fig.

As I prepared these roasted figs today, I felt a nostalgic tug in my heart — a nameless longing. Was I twelve or thirteen? What was I daydreaming about? The neighbor boy with a “bad reputation” to play badminton with? The faraway lands I secretly read about in forbidden hand copied books? Or was it food? I was always a little hungry in those days and food was never far from my thoughts.

Not in my wildest dreams would I have imagined roasting dozens of ripe figs in an oven — a wonderful contraption I didn’t know existed until I came to the US.

As I used to daydream by the window, I now do by the oven. These roasted figs are sumptuous. They are great as appetizer, dessert or a snack. I used Buche de Chevre which was absolutely exquisite, but goat cheese will also taste great with it. The balsamic glaze is an important ingredient that is not optional in my mind. It is a perfect finishing touch to complete the dish.

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Roasted Figs with Buche de Chevre & Balsamic Glaze

Figs

Brown sugar

Buche de Chevre

Balsamic Glaze

Pinch of salt

Pine nuts

Mint leaves

Olive oil spray

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Rinse the figs and pat them dry, then cut off the stems and, without cutting through the base, halve them from top to bottom.

Spray a baking pan with good olive oil. Dip the cut side of the fig in a dish of brown sugar. Line the figs cut side up in the baking pan.

Bake until the sugar is bubbling and the figs is heated through, about 15 minutes.

Sprinkle broken cheese on top. Drizzle with balsamic glaze. Top with pine nuts and mint leaves. Serve warm.

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Peach Matcha Panna Cotta

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This peach matcha panna cotta is not only yummy, it is light, healthy and good for you. Matcha is a super food that boasts a long list of health benefits that range from memory boost to body detoxification. I bought my matcha from Davids Tea. It is infused with peach flavor and slightly sweetened — perfect for making dessert.

The ingredients of this panna cotta is deceptively simple — milk, Greek yogurt, peach matcha powder, xylitol and gelatin. I made the dessert the night before and served it with sliced ripe nectarine as breakfast for Peter. A great way to begin the weekend!

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Peach Matcha Panna Cotta

Ingredients:

2 cups of milk (4%)

1 cup full fat Greek yogurt

2 to 3 tablespoons peach matcha powder (I used 2 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon, but if you like the matcha flavor more intense add another teaspoon or two.)

1/4 cup xylitol or sugar

1 pack unflavored gelatin (1 1/4 ounce packet)

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Preparation:

Pour 1 cut of milk into a sauce pan or small pot. Sprinkle the gelatin powder evenly on top of the milk and let stand for a few minutes. Turn stove on to low and heat the milk with gelatin as you slowly stir until the gelatin is melted. Don’t let milk boil.

Blend 1 cup of milk, 1 cup of yogurt, 1/4 cup xylitol and peach matcha in a food processor until smooth. Add the melted gelatin to the processor and blend until well mixed.

Oil the container before you pour the mixture if you will invert the panna cotta onto a plate to serve. You can also pour the mixture into the bowls or cups and serve directly from them.

Leave in the fridge for 2 hours or longer.

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Avocado Toast with Kale Salad & Fennel Salad

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Audrey’s soon to be alma mater, The Hamlin School, put on a lovely musical The Wizard of Oz. I went to see it last night and was pleasantly surprised by how good it was, especially considering the fact that they only had two weeks of rehearsal. The girls looked like they were all having a lot of fun, singing and dancing their hearts out.  I have always believed that anyone can act if he or she is given the right part.  And these kids proved me right. They were all impressive in playing the characters they were assigned to do.  According to Audrey, she had the most embarrassing part in the whole show — Toto the dog. She was in a thick furry dog suit, bouncing around and sweating like crazy.  I could tell that there were moments she subconsciously wanted to hide when she was on stage. I told her afterwards that, like anything in life, the only way to enjoy something is to give it all. According to Angela who went to see her in today’s performance, Audrey was having a great time prancing around with confidence.  

I made some yummy avocado toast with massaged kale salad and lemon olive oil marinated fennel salad for lunch — a perfect light meal to enjoy two hours before curtain time. Massaged kale is one of Angela’s favorite salads, while the marinated fennel is Audrey’s favorite. The ingredients are deceptively simple, but the result is refreshing and tasty.

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Ingredients:

4 slices of bread of choice

2 avocados, separated

1 bunch lacinato kale, stemmed and sliced

1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon fresh squeezed lemon juice, separated

2 tablespoons olive oil, separated

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon or more toasted pumpkin seeds

A pinch lemon zest (optional)

A couple of mint leaves (optional)

A few slices of radish (optional)

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Preparation:

Make the massaged kale salad according to instruction in this link

Make the marinated fennel according to the instruction in this link.

Mash 1 avocado with 1 teaspoon of lemon juice and a pinch of salt.

Toast the bread slices.

Spread mashed avocado evenly on the 4 pieces of toast.

Top the toast with kale salad or marinated fennel. Add thinly sliced avocados. Top with thinly sliced radish or mint leaves and sprinkle on the pumpkin seeds.

The recipe makes 4 servings.

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Healthy Mini Tarts with Fresh Berries

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The last week of May in San Francisco is absolutely my favorite time of the year. Today is a warm and sunny day that signals the coming of summer. Audrey and I will be going back to China to visit my parents when school breaks.  She will also be playing my character on screen in the flashback scenes.  We went shopping for summer clothes for our upcoming trip.  In a little boutique on Union Street, I saw the prettiest skirt in the whole wide world but they didn’t have my size. “I’m so fat,” I lamented. Audrey stopped me right there and said, “Don’t ever say things like that about yourself.  You are beautiful.” Did I sense some sort of a role reversal? She totally sounded like the mother between us when she said that.

After we were done with shopping, we came home and made these simple and delicious tarts with patriotic colors to celebrate Memorial Day.  They are healthy and quite guiltless to enjoy. For those of you who are allergic to gluten, They are also gluten free!

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Healthy Mini Tarts with Crispy Almond Flour Crust & Fresh Berries

Ingredients for the Shells:

1 cup almond flour

1/4 cup oat bran

1 1/2 tablespoon honey or molasses

2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Pinch of salt

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Ingredients for the Creamy Filling:

1/2 cup nonfat Fage or other Greek yogurt

1/2 cup 1/3 less fat cream cheese

3 tablespoons xylitol or sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Fresh berries to top it off

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Preparation:

Pre-heat oven to 325.

Grease muffin pan well with coconut oil (grease only 8 cups and not all 12 cups)

Mix all dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. Mix all the wet ingredients in another bowl. Fold wet into dry and knead until well mixed.

Separate the dough into 6 to 8 equal balls. Press into 8 muffin cups to create the shape of the tart shells. If you make 8 mini tarts, the shells will be thinner and shallower. If you make 6, the shells will be thicker and deeper.

Bake for 13 to 15 minutes. Let cool.

Cover the muffin pan with a cutting board and flip them over. Pat the back of the muffin pan with your hands to loosen baked shells from the pan.

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Coconut black Rice Pudding with Fresh Mangos

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I went to a Vietnamese Chinese market yesterday and bought some beautiful and delicious tropical fruits.  The mangos reminded me of the ones that I used to buy in Malaysia when I was filming Marco Polo.  This morning, I made a coconut black rice pudding with fresh mangos for breakfast. Rice with crushed peanuts is a usual staple for breakfast in Southeast Asia. It is as ordinary as oatmeal in the West.  Of course you can also serve this rice pudding as a dessert.  For me, coconut and mango is a perfect combination, like peanut butter and jelly or peanut butter and chocolate.

I made my rice in the automatic rice cooker as I sliced the fruits. It’s simple and easy. I used the coconut milk beverage from the carton to cook the rice. And I drizzled about 2 to 3 tablespoons full fat coconut milk from the can on top of the pudding before serving. 

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Coconut Black Rice Pudding with Fresh Mangos

Ingredients:

1 cup of Thai black sweet rice or Forbidden Rice

2 cups coconut milk, beverage from the carton

1/4 cup or more xylitol or sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 to 3 tablespoons full fat coconut milk, can

2 tablespoon crushed peanuts, optional

2 ripe yellow mangos, peeled, pitted and sliced (small, flattened oval shape mangos)

Preparation:

Pour the rice, coconut milk beverage, xylitol or sugar, vanilla in the rice cooker and let soak for 30 minutes before pushing the on button.

When the rice cooker turns to warm, let rice sit for 5 minutes. Scoop rice into serving bowls and top with fresh mango slices, coconut milk from the can and crushed peanuts if using.

If you like your pudding wetter and creamier, you can also pour 1/4 to 1/3 cup of coconut milk from the can into the rice cooker after rice has been cooked. Mix with a non-scratch spatula before scooping into serving bowls.  If you use forbidden rice instead of sticky rice, it tastes better in the creamier version.

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I used the left-over coconut milk from the can and the mango to make coconut mango panna cotta. I will share the recipe another time. 

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Healthy Banana Bread with Cranberries & Walnuts

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The last two weeks of March is a nerve wrecking time for a lot of high school seniors. This is when college acceptance decisions are sent out to aspiring applicants. Angela has already been accepted to a number of great schools, but she won’t hear from her dream school until the last day of March. While outwardly she doesn’t appear to be too stressed, I’m sure the big unknown is not an easy place to be in. Children nowadays don’t wait for much. Everything is instant (the instagram culture.) I suppose this period of waiting is a good exercise in patience for them. But the uncertainty is turning out to be just as excruciating for Peter and me. Peter is usually a sound sleeper. He can fall back asleep pretty quickly even after being called by the hospital in the middle of the night. But he kept waking up last night; the anxiety of waiting has finally gotten to him. It’s not that we think Angela must go to her dream school to have a fulfilling life. It’s that we’d hate to see our child’s dream crushed. Sometimes, Peter and I fear that it’s risky for her to set her heart on a school that is so difficult to get into, but we also know that if you imagine less, less will be what you undoubtedly deserve.

Instead of tossing and turning in bed, Peter and I decided to get up at the crack of dawn. We gave each other talk therapy as we pigged out. We both felt much better after our lavish and drawn out breakfast.

This banana bread is made with no added sugar, 100% whole wheat flour and coconut oil. (I used xylitol instead of sugar.)

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Healthy Banana Bread with Cranberries & Walnuts

Ingredients:

2 cups whole wheat flour

1 1/2 cup mashed bananas

1/4 cup +1 teaspoons milk of choice (I used buttermilk) 

1/3 cup melted coconut oil

3 medium eggs, beaten

1/2 cup xylitol or brown sugar

1/2 cup walnuts

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

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Preparation:

Pre-heat oven at 350. Grease a bread baking dish.

Mix all dry ingredients except for walnuts and cranberries in a mixing bowl.

Mix all wet ingredients in another mixing bowl. You can use a hand mixer on low to mix the wet ingredients or mix them by hand. I used a mixer.

Pour wet into dry as you slowly stir until well mixed.  Add walnuts and cranberries and stir to mix.

Pour the mixture into the bread pan and bake for 55 to 60 minuets, or until a toothpick inserted to the center comes out clean.

Let the bread cool on the rack for 10 to 15 minutes before slicing. Put the left-over bread in a large ziplock bag to prevent it from drying.  This banana bread is low-fat and will dry if it is not sealed.

Alternatively, you can also pour the mixture into lined muffin pan and bake for about 20 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

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Osso Buco Style Ling Cod with Gremolata

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This morning, Peter and I wanted to take a walk but it was drizzling.  So we instead took a walk in the isles of Costco and came home with loads of food. For lunch, I made this hearty, soothing and yummy dish that was perfect for a rainy spring day. Peter and I loved it, and ended up having it for both lunch and dinner without even changing the plates or the utensils. Lazy Sunday indeed.

You can enjoy the fish “osso buco” over polenta or creamed potato, but I simply added the potatoes into the dish and made it a one pot meal. Very satisfying.

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Osso Buco Style Ling Cod with Gremolata

Ingredients:

2 6 oz ling cod fillets or other white fish fillets

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, separated

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 yellow onion, chopped

2 cups chopped tomatoes

1 cup chopped celery

1 cup chopped carrots

1 1/2 cup halved or quartered red skin potatoes

1/4 cup marinara sauce

2 cups chicken broth

1 cup white wine

1 1/2 tablespoon tapioca flour or corn starch, I used tapioca flour

1 1/2 tablespoon corn flour or wheat flour, I used corn flour

A few dashes of cayenne, smoked paprika, oregano, garlic powder, onion powder and basil

Salt and pepper to taste

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Preparation:

In a large bowl, mix the tapioca flour, corn flour, the dried spices and a generous pinch of salt.

Wash and dry the fish. Rub with a little olive oil. Dredge the fish pieces one by one in the flour mixture.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and a large skillet or a pan on high and brown the fish on all sides. Set aside.

On medium high, heat the rest of the oil in a wok, sauté the garlic and onion until aromatic. Add the tomato, celery, carrots and potatoes and stir for about 4 to 5 minutes.  Add the marinara sauce and stir for another minute or two.  Pour the chicken broth into the wok and cook for 5 to 6 minutes. Salt to taste.

Pour the cooked vegetables and all the juice into the skillet with the browned fish and return to stove on medium high. Pour in 1 cup of white wine.  Cook until fish is done, about 10 minutes.  (My fish is thick. If your fish is smaller, cook for less time.) 

Mix a little water into the bowl with the left-over flour mixture for dredging, and use it to thicken the broth if desired. The spices in the flour mixture also add extra flavor to the dish.

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Ingredients for Gremolata:

1/3 cup minced parsley

1 loosely packed teaspoon minced lemon zest

1 loosely packed teaspoon minced orange zest

2 clove garlic, minced

Preparation:

Use a grater or a vegetable peeling to get the outer most layer of the lemon and orange skin.  Mince the zest with a knife.

Mix the zest with chopped parsley and minced garlic. You can make gremolata up to 6 hours ahead and leave in the fridge in a sealed container.

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Brandied Figs Breakfast Cake

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Audrey and I are driving to Tahoe today.  The week of President’s Day had been called Ski Week in Angela and Audrey’s school for a long time until it was changed to President’s Week for political correctness. We never took the girls to the slopes when it was Ski Week simply because Peter and I are not skiers, but I liked the sound of Ski Week. It sounds a lot more fun than President’s Week. Political correctness can be so dull sometimes, certainly in this instance in my opinion. A few of Audrey’s friends are on the slope this week and she really wants to join them.  Audrey will be learning how to ski while I drink hot chocolate and read. I got up early to make this delicious breakfast cake with brandied figs for us — after all it is Valentine’s Day and figs have been an aphrodisiac associated with love and fertility since ancient Greece.

There is no added fat in this cake other than the  natural oil in the almond flour, but the cake is very moist.  These Calimyrna figs are so sweet that you need very little sugar. We had this for breakfast, but it is also a great afternoon snack or a dessert. Try it. It will pick up your spirit and mood without feeling guilty afterwards. 

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Brandied Figs Breakfast Cake (Gluten-free, No added sugar, Low-fat, Nutrient-rich)

Ingredients:

1/3 cup almond flour

1/3 cup + 2 tablespoon oatmeal four (I made mine from oatmeal in my Vitamix)

4 to 5 tablespoons xylitol or sugar (I used xylitol)

1 tablespoon additional xylitol to make powered sugar for dusting

3 large eggs, beaten

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2/3 cup non-fat Greek Yogurt (I used Fage)

1 1/2 heaping cups brandied figs (see recipe bellow)

1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum (optional)

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Ingredients for Brandied Fig:

10 to 12 sun-dried Calimyrna figs

1/2 cup brandy

3/4 cup water

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Preparation:

In s small sauce pan, boil the figs in the water to soften them. When they are soft, pour in brandy and boil a few more minutes on high until the liquid is reduced to half.  Drain figs and cut into thick slices.  Set aside.

Pre-heat oven to 350c.  Grease an 8×8 baking dish.

Mix all dry ingredients well in mixing bowl.  Beat the eggs with vanilla and pour into the mixing bowl.  Add yogurt and mix all ingredients until it is smooth.  Add the figs and stir a little, but not too much.  Pour mixture into the baking pan.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center no longer sticks.  Cool on rack for about 15 minutes before slicing into 16 squares. Dust with powdered sugar before serving.

I made powdered “sugar” in my coffee grounder with 1 tablespoon of xylitol.

In s small sauce pan, boil the figs in the water to soften them. When they are soft, pour in brandy and boil a few more minutes on high until the liquid is reduced to half.  Drain figs and cut into thick slices.  Set aside.

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Garlicky Parmesan Baked Baby Bella

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I am usually left out of the Super Bowl festivities simply because I don’t understand football. It has seemed an un-crossable cultural barrier for me as a Chinese woman.  While Peter cheers and curses, I’m either reading or taking a walk on the beautiful and deserted trails. I, along with the rest of the world will never understand the extent of the American Super Bowl mania.  Everyone is having a party today. I made the mistake by going grocery shopping after lunch and the lines for the cashiers were so long that I left without my grocery. On my way home, I saw the Buffalo chicken wing place on Lombard, which is usually quite empty, had long lines of people ordering boxes of wings to take home.

There was a box of baby bella in the fridge and I decided to celebrate the excitement of the day by making a Super Bowl finger food with the mushrooms.

At the suggestion of a friend, I watched the beginning of the show and was very moved by Lady Gaga’s National Anthem.  I am an American after all.

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Garlicky Parmesan Baked Mushrooms

Ingredients:

8 to 10 oz baby bella

1 cup panko bread crumbs

1/3 cup shredded parmesan

1/2 garlic powder

2 teaspoons dried oregano leaves

2 eggs, beaten

Honey Mustard Yogurt Dip

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, or coarsely ground mustard

1 1/2 teaspoon honey

2 tablespoon Fage Total or other Greek yogurt

Preparation:

Make the dip and set aside.

Heat the over to 410F

Wipe the mushroom with paper tower, cut off the end of the stems.

Dip the mushrooms one by one into the egg and then coat with panko bread crumbs. If there is not enough bread crumbs on the mushroom, repeat the egg and panko dipping one more time.

Lay the breaded mushrooms on a parchment paper lined baking sheet.

Bake 8 to 10 minutes based on the size of the mushroom.  Over cooking will result in sogginess.

Serve warm with the dip or with ketchup.

Happy Super Bowl Day!

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Lemony Khorasan Wheat Salad

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I went to Amy Tan’s house for an Asian Pacific Fund charity dinner, which was meticulously prepared by an amazing amateur team led by Lance Lew, whose day job is director and producer of Asian Pacific America’s weekly show on NBC Bay Area.  The four-course dinner was a perfect melding of East and West flavors such as dried salted plum powder with pan seared scallops, pappardelle in black bean garlic Alfredo.  Innovative yet not fussy, it was one of the most delicious meals that I have had for a long time.  More power to passionate amateur chefs!  Cooking is an integral and enjoyable part of life, not a show or a competition requiring hard-to-pronounce ingredients or a showbiz personality. 

At the end of the dinner, Amy asked us to take some Meyer lemons from her abundant harvest.  Those are some of the most fragrant and juicy lemons that I have ever tasted and I decided to put it to good use right away in this Oriental Wheat Salad.  Oriental wheat is an ancient grain also called Khorasan wheat or kamut, and it contains more proteins, lipids, amino acids, vitamins and minerals than modern wheat.  It is also nutty and chewy and twice the size of other kinds of wheat.

This Oriental Wheat Salad is satisfying as a vegetarian meal in one dish, or it can be enjoyed as a side dish for grilled meats. It is really simple to make and very yummy.

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Lemony Oriental Wheat Salad

Ingredients for Salad:

1 cup uncooked kamut, cooked in 3 cups water, a pinch of salt, 1 teaspoon olive oil

2 stocks celery, finely diced

1 cup parsley, finely chopped

1/2 cup toasted walnuts, chopped

1/3 cup chopped dried apricots

Pepper to taste

Ingredients for Dressing:

Juicy from 1 large lemon, about 2 1/2 tablespoon

2 tablespoon finely chopped red onion

2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1/4 teaspoon salt

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Preparation:

Cook the grain in a rice cooker or in a pot with 3 cups of water, a pinch of salt and a teaspoon olive oil.

Mix the ingredients for the dressing and set aside.

When the grain is done, let it cook to room temperature.  Mix with the celery, parsley, walnuts and apricots.

Toss gently with the dressing and let sit for 20 minutes for the dressing to be soaked into the grain.

Note:

If you don’t have kamut, wheat berries or farro will work very well for this recipe too.

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Guests at the charity dinner

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Lance with Emerald Yeh and me