Cookbook Q&A: Straight From The Earth And Their Kitchen

After our friend Punxsutawney Phil cursed us with six extra fun-filled weeks of winter, some might say we have a case of spring fever. So, helping to alleviate what ails us is a prescription that is literally Straight from the Earth.  

A new book from Myra and Marea Goodman, a mother-daughter dynamic duo, Straight from the Earth piles on layers of luscious vegetables and offers readers a bounty of diverse and delectable plant-based recipes. If this can’t shake away the winter blues, then I am not sure what can!

We here at Oldways are no strangers to plant-based diets. We understand that the research points to all the positive health benefits of this lifestyle and beyond the health aspects there is the delicious food!  We all experiment with a variety of plant-based diets, ranging from occasional meat to full-time vegan diets so hearing from others who also enjoy vegetables shining on their plates is always a pleasure. Myra and Marea are an inspirational team offering insights into cooking as well as to how a family can come together to create something truly beautiful.  They don’t preach to us about plant-based diets, but rather invite us to their table to enjoy, as they do, food that is not only straight from the earth but also from the heart.


OLDWAYS:  Can you tell us about your relationship with the land and how your passion for plant-based diets began?
MAREA:  I was lucky to grow up on my parents' 2 1/2 acre farm in Carmel Valley where I got to run around barefoot and garden with my own two little hands. This kind of close contact with the earth, and the delicious bounty she provides, was truly a privilege. I learned that seasonal, fresh fruit was far superior to the perennial supermarket varieties, so I waited with ardent anticipation for the raspberries, plums, and apricots to ripen. Still, being in nature is my sanctuary--I can't imagine living without a close relationship to the land.

OLDWAYS:  We’re seeing a growing interest in plant-based diets and new ways to use vegetables.  What changes have you seen through Earthbound Farms and in your local community that point to this trend?
MYRA:  Sales of healthy greens are soaring at Earthbound.  People can’t seem to get enough spinach and kale these days, and they are using them to make all sorts of delicious and healthy foods: smoothies, juices, salads, sautés and as a featured ingredient in soups and entrees. Our little local farm stand is busier than ever.  People come there for our organic fresh juices, organic gourmet salad bar, and an array of organic prepared foods and fresh produce. Monterey County has over 130 registered organic farms, 16 farmer’s markets, and a number of great CSAs. As someone who grew up on TV dinners and buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken, I am so happy to see this shift to embracing fresh whole foods.

OLDWAYS:  Myra, having written two other cookbooks before Straight from the Earth, how was this experience – collaborating with your daughter Marea – different from the others?
MYRA:  I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to work so closely with my daughter on a cookbook that will always be a family treasure. The collaboration between the two of us yielded more innovative and exciting recipes than I would have ever created on my own. Marea is a fearless cook, and her flavor combinations are not bound by convention. She lives two hours away from me, but this project brought her home for many intensive days of cooking and tasting.  We got to know each other as adults, grew to respect and admire our different work styles and world views, and had the pleasure of helping each other perfect our respective recipes.

OLDWAYS:  In the book you talk about your recipes being tested and approved by carnivores.  From your experience, what do you find is often the biggest hurdle facing people who want to start focusing on more plants on their plates. What strategies do you recommend to help people overcome these hurdles?
MAREA:  It seems to me that many people just don't know how to cook plant-based foods and make them tasty. It is such a loss! It has been my experience that many people avoid cooking because they haven't yet learned how, or are afraid to stray from a recipe. I say, go on a kitchen adventure! I am all about experimenting with different spices and flavors. I hope that this book helps people gain confidence in their own kitchens when it comes to cooking plant-based foods, and helps encourage them to enjoy the natural varieties of these perfect foods.

MYRA:  Marea and I are both omnivores, so I think we can safely reassure people that they don’t need to rely on animal products to make delicious and satisfying food.  So much of our use of butter, cheese and meat is habitual. When we decide to make a meal vegan, we’re forced to look to ingredients “straight from the earth,” and we naturally incorporate more healthy and delicious produce, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds and healthy oils. In our book, we assembled recipes that have proven to please omnivores and vegans alike.

OLDWAYS:  As someone adopts a more plant-based lifestyle what are some staple ingredients you would recommend they add to their pantry?
MAREA:  Having a stocked pantry, as well as a refrigerator full of vegetables, has been key for helping me maintain plenty of variety in my diet. I have mason jars full of lentils, beans, rice, and other staple dried foods in my pantry. I am also a huge fan of nutritional yeast for its satisfying, cheese-like flavor, as well as hemp seeds for their buttery crunch. I eat these two foods every day.

MYRA:  And the great thing about vegan baking is that you don’t need perishable ingredients like eggs, milk and butter in your fridge when you have a sudden yen to bake up some cookies or brownies.  We use chia seeds or flax seeds mixed with liquid as our egg substitute, and rely on shelf stable soy milk and coconut oil instead of dairy. We also use whole wheat pastry flour instead of white flour, so I make sure to have that, plus oats, quinoa, and many seeds and nuts in my pantry (as well as good quality baking chocolate!)

OLDWAYS:  We would love to include a recipe from the book to share with our readers.  Although it is not easy to choose one, may we have permission to include your recipe for Seared Polenta with Spicy Heirloom Tomato Sauce?
THE LADIES:  Of course!!  Thank you for featuring our book on your site.  It is an honor!

Seared Polenta with Spicy Heirloom Tomato Sauce
This dish will warm your soul and win the hearts of your favorite omnivores. A plate of crispy pan-fried polenta cakes topped with heirloom tomato sauce is an entree to satisfy even the pickiest eater (and it’s certified kid-friendly by my cousin, Nina Harmer). This dish is special to our whole family. We all adore the tomato sauce, a recipe my mom developed long before we decided to write this cookbook together, and we make it with tomatoes my dad grows in our garden. The polenta cooks quickly, but it needs an hour or two to cool in the fridge, so we recommend making it ahead of time or letting it cool while you cook the tomato sauce. Topped with toasted pine nuts and fresh parsley, my mom’s sauce pairs perfectly with my seared polenta cakes—making this recipe an example of our creative mother-daughter collaboration. —Marea

Serves 4 as an entree or 8 as a side dish

Ingredients:
Polenta
2 cups/480 ml plain unsweetened soymilk
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp garlic powder
¼ tsp red pepper flakes
1 cup/175 g corn grits/polenta
¼ cup/35 g whole-wheat pastry flour or corn flour
Canola oil for frying
Spicy Heirloom Tomato Sauce (see separate recipe) or good-quality jarred marinara sauce, heated
1 cup/30 g chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
½ cup/60 g pine nuts, toasted

Directions:
Grease a 9-by-9-in/23-by-23-cm baking pan with olive oil. Set aside.

To make the polenta: Combine the soymilk, olive oil, oregano, salt, pepper, garlic powder, red pepper flakes, and 2 cups/480 ml water in a medium saucepan, and bring them to a simmer over medium heat. At the same time, bring a second pot of water to a boil. Slowly whisk the polenta into the soymilk–olive oil mixture in the medium saucepan. Continue whisking until the mixture is smooth, reducing the heat to low to avoid spattering. Cook until the polenta grains are tender, about 15 minutes, whisking regularly (it should have the consistency of cream of wheat). If it gets very thick before the polenta is fully cooked, add additional boiling water, ¼ cup/60 ml at a time. Immediately pour the polenta into the prepared pan. Cool for about 20 minutes, then refrigerate until the polenta is cool, 1 to 2 hours.

Cut the cold polenta into eight equal triangles using a sharp knife. First cut a vertical line down the middle, followed by a horizontal line that divides the polenta into four equal squares. Then make two diagonal cuts from corner to corner to create eight triangles.

Sprinkle the flour on a flat plate and dredge each polenta triangle in flour. Ready a plate lined with several layers of paper towels.

Place a large skillet (preferably cast iron) over medium-high heat and film it with a thin layer of canola oil. Sear the polenta triangles on each side until they are crispy and golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add more oil as needed between batches. Transfer the seared polenta to the paper towel–lined plate to absorb excess oil.

To assemble the dish, place two polenta triangles on each plate. Top with hot tomato sauce. Sprinkle with the parsley and pine nuts, and serve immediately.

1 Serving (2 polenta triangles plus ¼ of the sauce): Calories: 620 | Fat: 33g | Carbs: 73g |
Protein: 19g | Sodium: 1120mg | Dietary Fiber: 52% | Potassium: 60% | Vitamin A: 110% |
Vitamin C: 310% | Vitamin E: 30% | Thiamin: 30% | Niacin: 30% | Vitamin B6: 35% | Folate: 35% |
Iron: 50% | Copper: 40% | Phosphorus: 25% | Magnesium: 30%

Spicy Heirloom Tomato Sauce
Growing up in New York City, I had tomatoes that were hard, cold, tasteless wedges on iceberg lettuce salads. The first time I saw, smelled, and tasted a vine-ripened heirloom tomato, I was beside myself with joy. Miraculous! It took growing and having more heirloom tomatoes than we could possibly eat fresh to enable me to cook them into a sauce. Homemade heirloom tomato sauce turns the simplest pasta night into a gourmet dinner. I am so lucky because my husband, Drew, has become an avid tomato gardener, and he makes huge batches of sauce that we freeze in zip-top bags so we can enjoy the taste of peak summer all year long. This version is the Goodman classic sauce with a little extra kick from red pepper flakes to spice it up a bit. It’s the perfect accompaniment to Marea’s delectable seared polenta cakes. If you plan on doubling or tripling this recipe, you’ll want to peel the tomatoes first (see Note). Otherwise, you can do what I usually do, and use tongs to pick the skins out of the sauce as it simmers. Marea doesn’t mind the skins, and just leaves them in her sauce. The choice is yours. —Myra
Serves 4

Ingredients:
3 tbsp olive oil, plus more for the baking dish
1 large yellow onion, coarsely chopped
2 ½ tbsp chopped garlic
¾ tsp red pepper flakes
6 lb/2.7 kg ripe heirloom tomatoes (quartered if you are not peeling them)
¼ cup plus 2 tbsp/90 ml tomato paste
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
¾ cup/25 g packed chopped fresh basil

Directions:
Heat the oil in a large, nonreactive pot over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until it softens but does not brown, 8 to 10 minutes.

Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring frequently, another 2 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, cover the pot, and cook, stirring frequently, until the tomatoes are soft, about 10 minutes. Using a potato masher, mash the tomatoes to break up the chunks. Add the tomato paste and ½ tsp salt and simmer, uncovered, stirring frequently, until the sauce thickens to the desired consistency, 30 to 45 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper. Add the basil and simmer for 2 minutes more. Remove the pot from the heat. The sauce can be refrigerated, covered, for up to 1 week, and frozen for up to 1 year.

Note: Peeling Tomatoes
Cut a small X in the bottom of each tomato. Fill a large bowl with ice and water and set aside. Fill a large pot with water and bring it to a boil over high heat. Add four or five tomatoes to the pot and cook until the skins begin to wrinkle and split, 30 to 90 seconds. Using tongs or a slotted spoon, transfer the tomatoes to the bowl of ice water. Let the water in the pot return to a boil, and continue blanching the remaining tomatoes in small batches. If the water in the bowl gets warm, add more ice. When the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, pull off the skins with your fingers; they should come off easily.

1 Serving: Calories: 250 | Fat: 12g | Carbs: 36g | Protein: 9g | Sodium: 530mg | Dietary Fiber: 28% |
Potassium: 53% | Vitamin A: 110% | Vitamin C: 310% | Vitamin E: 25% | Thiamin: 20% | Niacin: 25% |Vitamin B6: 35% | Folate: 30% | Iron: 35% | Copper: 15% | Phosphorus: 25% | Magnesium: 20%

 

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