Summer Cobb Salad with Coconut Bacon

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Summer is HERE! Wowee zowee it’s been a beautiful July filled with plenty of sunshine, swimming, fresh fruit, and family time. It’s also a very special feeling being in Canada for the whole spring-to-summer transition once again. It’s one of my favourite things, watching this little part of the world turn green and warm, for the lakes and rivers to invite us in, for the farmers’ markets to burst with local goodness, and for the long days to stretch into equally enchanted nights.

I don’t cook a whole lot this time of year – I like to keep my food really fresh, mostly raw and pretty light.  If I am turning the stove or oven on, it’s often to make staples that I can keep on hand in the fridge to amp up a salad or sandwich. Lentils, beans, and quinoa are some rotating essentials that I can add a bunch of fresh veggies to, or turn into a dip. I also love to have some coconut bacon from my second cookbook, Naturally Nourished, on hand to add awesome flavour and texture to something as basic as avocado toast.

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The inspiration for this salad came when I had just made a fresh batch of this magical stuff, and I was trying to come up with some alternative uses for it (besides the best B.L.T. ever) when I remembered another classic bacon meal: the Cobb Salad! If you live outside of North America, chances are you’re not familiar with this iconic dish, a texture-rich combination of chopped romaine, avocado, tomato, chives, hard-boiled eggs, bacon, and chicken. It’s a rich and protein-heavy “salad”, often smothered in a creamy blue cheese dressing. Whoa! Major. Needless to say, I knew that this was perfect makeover fodder, and I had everything I needed to get started.

To turn this indulgent dish into something just as delicious, but actually a salad, was relatively easy. First, I decided to turn up the green and add some spinach to the mix. This small addition delivers more iron, protein, vitamin C and folate. Instead of chicken, I pointed my garden arrow at peas, to add body and filling fiber. Cooked chickpeas, butter beans or French lentils would also work beautifully in their place. Watermelon radishes just came into season here, and it was a total no-brainer to add them to this version, since they add great crunch, delicious earthiness, and pink. Because pink! And of course I kept the avocado…duh.

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The Creamy Chive Dressing is such a win here. I created it in hopes of maintaining that rich and satisfying mouthfeel that blue cheese dressing lends to the classic Cobb, but without the cheese, cream, sour cream and mayo (I mean, holy cow). Instead I used hemp seeds, which are rich in Omega-3 fats, and protein to energize our summer bods. It’s tangy, a little garlic-y, and super fresh. And since my recipe makes more than enough for this salad, pour the rest over thickly sliced beefsteak tomatoes, grilled eggplant and zucchini, or fold it into cooked grains and greens.     

My version of Cobb Salad is more of a concept than a recipe – so feel free to play around a bit with what you have, in the amounts that you have. And if you’ve got some other salad-y things kicking around that would work here, toss them in! No rules, just a clean-out-the-fridge kinda deal. It’s summer. Let’s keep things easy and flowin’!

To say I’m obsessed with this salad is an understatement. It’s the perfect summer meal and has everything going on with its fresh, crunchy, garden-fresh veggies and greens, creamy avocado, juicy tomatoes, rich and smoky coconut bacon, smooth and tangy chive dressing, satisfying eggs, and if you don’t want to dive face first into that bowl right now I don’t think we’ll ever be friends ; )

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Show me your salad on Instagram: #mnrcobbsalad

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Caramelized Onion White Lentil Hummus

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If there is one trick I’ve learned in all of my years cooking, both at home and in restaurants, it is this: caramelized onions can make almost anything taste amazing. They’re the ridiculously simple, yet magical ingredient that turns an ordinary dish into something so rich-tasting and satisfying that people go …oh hi excuse me, this is incredible.

I think the simple reason that caramelized onions taste so good, is because they are a labour of love. Not like an all-day stirring the pot kinda deal, but most definitely a food that you can’t just leave on the stove and dive into an Instagram vortex. No. Caramelized onions take care and attention, at least for the better part of half an hour, and the results are so worth it I bet you’ll catch yourself multi-tasking at the stove tonight just to have some on hand to gussy up your omelet this weekend (boss move there, by the way).

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The more accurate reason that caramelized onions taste so good however, isn’t technically caramelization – it’s called the Maillard reaction. The Maillard reaction is a browning reaction similar to caramelization, but with one distinct difference: caramelization is a chemical reaction between reducing sugars, while Maillard is a chemical reaction between reducing sugars and amino acids (proteins). And yes, there is enough protein in an onion to elicit this response – how thrilling for us! Although the Maillard reaction is very complex and complicated, what we do know is that it requires heat to transform and rearrange sugars and amino acids to create new and fantastic flavour molecules in and on your food, making it even more delicious. If you’ve ever eaten a golden slice of toast, enjoyed a rich cup of coffee, or nibbled on a grilled vegetable, you’ve experienced the pure pleasure that all of this this chemical commotion is responsible for. Science!

Harnessing the power of the Maillard reaction can make you a better cook, because things that are browned properly taste more intensely, more complex, and well, better. Without even being aware of it, it’s the reason you’ll reach for the roasted veggies with the crispiest edges, or the reason that you prefer a fried egg over a boiled one (no judgement!). There are a couple ways of making this spectacular series of chemical reactions work for you, and the first is high heat. Maillard will not occur at very low temperatures, especially in situations where the food is not in direct contact with the heat, like it is on a skillet or grill for instance. When you’re roasting veggies, make sure the oven is at least 400°F / 200°C. When you’re making pizza, you can crank it up even higher, to get those beautifully blistered crust edges that make your mouth water.

The second way is to keep the food you’re cooking on the dry side. For instance, have you ever noticed how if you wash mushrooms (which you should actually never do), they’ll never really get brown and crusty? Too much moisture! Instead, brush those fungi gently to remove any dirt or debris, then put them in a screeching hot pan with some ghee and don’t stir them. I talk more about this technique here. This is the same reason you need a large pan for these caramelized onions, since they’ll need the space to allow the water to evaporate around them. If the onions are too close together, they’ll only steam each other. Eew. If you’re oven roasting vegetables for dinner, cut them in the morning and leave them out all day uncovered so that the surface water will evaporate, and the veggies will brown more easily. Yes, this seems like a bit of a hassle, but the culinary nerd in me admits that it’s cool because it works.

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So, where does the hummus come into this story? Well, hummus is pretty much a food group in my world. I’ve made so many variations with so many kinds of legumes, spices, alt seed butters, toppings, and stir-ins, that I could hardly believe I had never tried it with the ingredient that could single-handedly save humanity: caramelized onions. I knew that deep richness of the onions would meld perfectly with the creamy dip, and make the flavour even better. I wasn’t wrong! The only thing that I wanted to improve upon, was the protein content – not because I’m obsessed with protein, but simply because I thought it could be higher. To do that I simply swapped out the traditional chickpeas for white lentils, or urad dal. We not only get more protein from this change-up, but almost double the fiber, with less sodium, less fat, and less sugar. Sweet.

This dip is the perfect, rich compliment to all the crisp and light, early summer veggies popping up. I went to my friend’s farm and picked some seriously beautiful radishes and young carrots, which paired so well with the caramelized onion flavour. I also had some Life-Changing Crackers on hand, which always make dipping more delicious. One thing I changed from the first version to the third, was the onions on top. Instead of blending all of them into the dip, I used about a third of them on top, which allows you to scoop a few tender morsels up with each bite. This delivers even more caramelized onion flavour and texture, which, let us be reminded, is the whole point of this exercise.

Even though this hummus keeps well for at least five days in the fridge (you can even freeze it!), it is best eaten freshly made at room temperature, since the flavour is at its peak then.

And because you’re wondering, you can find white or ivory lentils at Indian grocers, Middle Eastern markets, or some natural food stores. They are the skinned and split version of urad dal, which is black, so make sure you buy the huskless version! If you can’t find them at all, simply use chickpeas – it will be just as delicious.

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If it’s your first time caramelizing onions and you’re feeling intimidated, here is a stellar step-by-step tutorial from Bon Appétit. It varies ever so slightly from my method, but you’ll get the picture!

Big love and happy hummus,
Sarah B.

Show me your hummus on Instagram: #mnrcaramelizedonionhummus

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Hello dear friends!

There are only a few spots left for our January 2019 Wild Heart High Spirit retreat and we’d love to see you in Bali! 

Join us along with 15 other women to unwind, reconnect, and find the inspiration to ignite you on your health journey. Our thoughtfully-designed program will awaken and nourish your entire being – body, mind, and spirit! This is a true celebration of life, and we get to do it together in paradise! Come see what all the magic is about. 

Much love,
Sarah B, Mikkala and the Golden Circle Retreats team

Adaptogenic Date Shake

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Each year, my now friend Sasha Swerdloff of Tending the Table genius organizes a trip for women in the food world (bloggers, cookbook authors, chefs, nutritionists, photographers etc.) to get together, hang out, share delicious food, and get to know each other beyond a screen (…see? Genius!) This year I actually got to attend – ok truth: I shamelessly invited myself because I wanted to meet this talented troupe of ladies IRL. The group decided to gather in Palm Springs, much to my delight as I needed to escape two kinds of hell: overdue home renovations and Ontario in February.

The days were magically sunny, delicious, and life-affirming. We cooked a lot, then let our food get cold taking too many photos of it. We swam, we hiked, we yoga-ed, we laughed, and conspired together. Besides all of the heart-warming togetherness, one of the highlights for me, was visiting a date farm just outside the city limits, to understand where our favourite whole food sweetener comes from (and to gorge ourselves, naturally). I had never seen dates on a tree before, and was moved to learn from the passionate farmer himself just how these sweet miracles grow.

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Dates grow on palm trees, and they fastidiously follow the calendar – you can practically set your watch to a date palm’s seasonal cycle. The first day of spring the tree is in full bloom and the hard work begins, as the farmer pollinates each one by hand. The ratio of male to female trees is about 1 to 30, since the male trees are only necessary to produce the pollen, and the female trees are the ones that produce the fruit. Between the first day of spring and the first day of summer, the tree sets up its entire crop for the year. All the work (trimming, feeding, etc.) must take place during this season, since it’s during this period is when the fruit ripens, turning from green, to yellow, to brown. The dates are ready to eat from the first day of autumn, and then the harvest begins. During this season, the fruit is either left on the tree and protected with cloth bags to prevent rain, birds and insects from spoiling the fruit, or picked when ripe. The farmer told us that the best place for the dates is to remain on the tree for freshness, but if the load is too heavy, it will not bloom as well the following year, thus effecting the trees’ output.

After decades of date farming, he was as wide-eyed and passionate about his fruit as an eager young man, which really made us all swoon. It is truly one of my favourite things in this world, to see how and where food is grown, and to meet and connect with the people who lovingly produce it. We all left with full bellies and hearts, and of course, our bags bulging with dates.   

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Along the dusty, desert road home we saw so many signs for date shakes, since this is the land where this indulgent treat was invented back in the 1930s. None of us caved and bought one, but my mouth was definitely watering, and I was excited to get back and make one for myself. The original recipe is simple, and calls for dates, vanilla ice cream, milk, and sometimes a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg. I knew this was the perfect makeover opportunity, and high-vibed my date shake with coconut milk instead of dairy, hemp seeds, and adaptogens.

So why the adaptogens? Well, I felt like the already-pretty-healthy date shake could use a boost, and what better way to make something more supportive than with a dose of stress-reducing, adrenal-loving, hormone-balancing, potions to get you back into balance? Yahs! I had these four choices on hand, but there are a lot of options once you start to dig around the health food store a little. Here is a little about each one and why I chose them.

Ashwaganda: helps the body adapt to stress and bring us back into balance. It encourages deeper sleep, supports the immune system, and energy levels.
He Shou Wu: builds the blood, harmonizes adrenal gland function, nourishes hair, skin and nervous system, increases antioxidant activity.
Maca: increases stamina, elevates mood, helps to balance hormones in both men and women, supports fertility and healthy libido.
Licorice: balances hormones, helps the body adapt to stress, supports the immune response, and aids learning and memory.

*Some adaptogens during pregnancy, breastfeeding, and while on medication are not recommended, so check with your natural health care provider before trying any of them.

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The farm we visited grew seven types of dates, and we loved trying them all. The unanimous favourite was the grower’s very own variety that he created himself, called Black Gold. He also mentioned that this was the best type of date for a date shake, but considering the fact that you maaaaay not get a chance to visit Palm Springs anytime soon, I’ll go ahead and recommend using Medjool dates for the shakes, since they are widely available, and their thin skin blends very easily into a smooth consistency. If you cannot find Medjool, try Deglet Noor instead, or soak your dates in warm water for half an hour before blending.

Dates are a great source of energy, and provide a generous amount of filling dietary fibre with very little fat. Dates are mineral rich, delivering potassium, manganese, magnesium and copper, as well as an assortment of B-vitamins. Seek out dates that are plump and juicy-looking (if you’re buying from a market, ask to try them first), that their skin is intact, and that they are neither glossy or dusty. I store my dates in an airtight glass jar in the fridge to extend their shelf life, and protect their flavour and nutrients. Kept this way, dates will last up to six months. Outside of the fridge at room temperature, dates will last about a month and a half, or you can freeze them for up to a year.

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The banana in this blend up is totally optional, and I actually really liked the version without, even though it was less thick and “milkshakey”. If you want to add more dates for sweetness and flavour, live it up. I found that this amount, about 3 Medjool dates, was just perfect for me, even without the banana. The spices are also optional, but help to disguise any strong flavours from the adaptogens, which admittedly can sometimes taste like the inside of a barn, or everyone’s favourite: feet? Mmmmm. Right. Let’s cover that up.

All in all, this is a delicious and filling way to start your morning, or the perfect afternoon pick-me-up. It’s creamy, smooth, sweet and totally balanced. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!   

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I just want to give a huge shout out to Sasha and all the women who attended the retreat – it was truly a beautiful experience. And if anyone out there is looking for some inspiration and general awesomeness, follow these wonderful people, below:

Sasha Swerdloff – Tending the Table
Renne Byrd – Will Frolic for Food
Lily Diamond – Kale and Caramel
Kimberly Hasselbrink – Kimberly Hasselbrink
Shelley Westerhausen – Vegetarian Ventures
Lindsay Kluge – Ginger Botanicals
Trisha Hughes – Go Eat Your Beets
Carly Diaz – Carly Diaz
Eva Kosmes Flores – Adventures in Cooking
Sophie MacKenzie – Wholehearted Eats

Hope you’re all enjoying the first breaths of Springtime. Sending love, gratitude, and sunshine,
Sarah B.

Show me your shakes on Instagram: #mnrdateshake

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Hey ya’ll! One more thing before I go: new Wild Heart High Spirit retreats are being planned! I’ll share more news about the retreats soon, but if you want to be the first to know when tickets are available, go to www.goldencircleretreats.com and join the email list. I’m so excited to welcome another group of women to this magical experience!