Category: Gluten-Free

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!

Cacao Hemp Crispy Treats

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So the big move-in happened, but we are far from moved in. I am writing this from my dirty dining room table, watching and listening to a collection of relative strangers drill, saw, spackle, sand, stain, and paint around me, like a tornado of humans in tool belts. Drywall dust dances in the shafts of light pouring into our new space, as I try to ignore the deafening screech from a floor sander behind a paper-thin plastic partition a few feet away from my head. Ahhh…home renovation. I could go on about the frustrations of living in a construction site, how my filth-tolerance has reached unthinkable heights, and how if I hear someone tell me that it should all be complete in “two more weeks” I may collapse, but I know that whenever it is done, it will all be worth it. Really and truly.

I made these Cacao Hemp Crispy Treats a few days before we relocated from our rental to our home, knowing that I would need to have a stockpile of snacks that didn’t require refrigeration, or even cutting, since we would be living without electricity, and I had no idea where to locate a knife in the unpacked boxes stacked high in the basement. Since then, I’ve thanked myself every time I’ve sunken my teeth into each chewy-crunchy-sticky bite, the cacao releasing its relaxation-inducing alkaloids and minerals into my frazzled bloodstream, the hemp seeds delivering their much-needed anti-inflammatory omega-3s, and the nut butter grounding my nerves with all its protein and healthy fat. In these uncertain times, I’ve been certain that a delicious snack was ready to satisfy me at the drop of a hammer.

My original inspiration for these bars came from my fellow Canadian health-food blogger and vegan recipe guru Angela Liddon, of Oh She Glows fame. Her Almond Butter Crisp Rice Treats were a fun Sunday afternoon snack project for my four-year old son and I, and since then I’ve been making many variations of them. My goal was to add more protein, healthy fats and filling fiber to the bars, so I tossed in heaps of hemp and chia seeds until I found the right balance. Losing their chewy-crisp goodness would have been a real shame, since it’s the texture of these treats that is so very crave-able! So I tinkered a few times, and found the exact right amount that maintained the satisfying chew. I also wanted to add chocolate. Because chocolate.

After nailing the additions, I knew that top needed some flair: not just visually, but something to cut the richness a tad. I had some freeze-dried raspberries kicking around my pantry that I had bought on a whim in the US some months back, and immediately knew that they would be the perfect supplement with their vibrant pink hue and bright acidity. Bingo! Freeze-dried fruit (and vegetables) have been popping up all over the place lately, since they taste incredible, have a long shelf life, and are a nutritiously convenient way of getting another serving of produce a day, especially for kids. However, if you can’t find freeze-dried raspberries, or any substitute for that matter, you can easily replace them in this recipe with more traditional dried fruit like goji berries, roughly chopped figs, apricots, or even raisins. You could also top the bars with toasted nuts or seeds, coconut or cacao nibs. Think of these as a blank canvas for your favourite add-on flavours and textures, or keep it as simple as you like. The bars are also delicious as is, and if you’re into a dark and rich flavour above all else, simply leave the toppings off. But do not under any circumstance skip the flaky salt – it is key. 

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Hemp hemp, hooray!
Since being back in the homeland and trying to buy as much locally-produced food as possible, I’ve been loving on hemp seeds lately – even more than usual! Because of their mild, nutty flavor, they blend so effortlessly with just about any food, sweet or savory. And what they lack in flavor, they make up for in protein and healthy fats, specifically those essential Omegas. We’ve all heard about Omega-3s and how important they are for the health of our entire body, helping to prevent cancer asthma, depression, obesity, diabetes and so on. But! There is another star on the block, Omega-6, which seems to be less talked about due to the fact that many of us get enough (or in some cases, too much) of this essential fatty acid.

Omega-3 and Omega-6 fasts are essential, meaning that our bodies don’t produce them and we need to obtain them from the foods we eat. Sources of Omega-3 fats include flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, chia, dark leafy greens, some sea vegetables and cold-water fish. Omega-6 sources include soybean, canola, corn, peanut, sunflower, and sesame oils. You can see from this list that most people in the Western world at least, are getting their fair share of Omega-6 fats, and lacking in Omega-3s. In fact, in North America it is estimated that the population consumes 10 to 20 times more Omega-6 than Omega-3, due to the popularity of processed foods. Although the correct ratio of these fats is still a matter of debate, researchers in this field agree that this ratio is far too high. We should be aiming for an Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio between 2:1 and 4:1.

So why is the balance so important? Because the ratio of Omega-6s to Omega-3s helps determine the flexibility of our cell membranes, meaning that ALL communication throughout the body depends on at least in part on this balance being correct. Coronary heart disease, chronic inflammation, obesity, and healthy genetic processes have all been linked to the delicate equilibrium of essential fatty acids.

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How can we improve the situation then? Just making simple, small changes to our diets will greatly improve the balance of fats in our bodies. Instead of relying solely on foods high in Omega-6s like peanut butter and foods made with vegetable oils (like corn, sunflower and soybean oil) swap them with foods high in Omega-3s like walnut butter and flaxseed oil, and sprinkle chia seeds on your breakfast bowl or a salad. For omnivores replacing chicken, beef and pork with wild-caught, cold water fish will make a big difference too.

But the most ideal food to choose when trying to achieve that perfect balance of these fats then, is hemp! Hemp’s Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio is a healthy 3.75:1. You can find hemp in many forms these days: un-hulled and hulled seeds (also known as hemp hearts), hemp oil, hemp flour, hemp protein powder, hemp milk, and hemp seed butter. Remember that choosing hemp in its most natural form (the un-hulled or hulled hemp seeds) is your best bet to ensure a high-quality, whole food product.

I like to sprinkle hemp seeds on just about everything, from my breakfast porridge to my salads and sandwiches. They add an amazing creaminess to smoothies, raw custards and cheesecakes. You can even make your own milk from hemp and you don’t even need to soak the seeds first! Simply blend 1 part hulled hemp seeds to just under four parts water, with an optional sweetener like maple syrup, dates, or honey, and enjoy. Simple and delicious. You can get the full hemp milk recipe here.

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The last thing I want to mention is the crisp brown rice. There are a few types of it on the market, and one reason I’m happy to be back in Canada, is because they have the right kind. By that I mean really crispy rice crisps. For whatever reason, the ones I found in Europe would always get soggy very quickly, whereas the ones here maintain their crunch even after combining them with wet ingredients like maple syrup and brown rice syrup. I’ve also found high-vibe sprouted brown rice crisps over here from a company called One Degree (not sponsored). They work really well too, but cost a fortune. I alternate between those, and the ones I’ve found at my local bulk food store that aren’t sprouted or even organic, but they get the job done when I’m renovating a house and feeling strapped for cash. You may need to experiment with a couple kinds before finding “the one”. In the end, the bars should be relatively crunchy-crisp – not mushy at all (even though they will still be delicious).

If you like Rice Crispy Treats, you’re going to love these bars. They’re the grown-up version of your favourite childhood treat, with a mega boost of nourishing superfoods. It’s an indulgence you can feel good about feeding both you and your family…but I won’t tell anyone if you hide them and eat them all yourself. I’ve definitely never done that before. Nope. Never.

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Show my your bars on Instagram: #cacaohempcrispytreats

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Hey Toronto! I’ve just launched my first collaborative project since moving back to Canada, with my friends at ELXR Juice Lab: the Activated Power Bowl! This delicious breakfast (or snack!) is made lovingly with activated grains, superfood stir-ins, and tasty toppings. There are three mouthwatering varieties to choose from, or you can build your own bowl. I am so thrilled to offer my fellow Torontonians a vegan, gluten-free, whole food breakfast with activated grains – this is truly the first of its kind! The Activated Power Bowl is available at all four ELXR locations across the city, so if you’re in town go pick one up and enjoy. We had a very successful launch over the weekend – huge thanks to everyone who came out to taste and support!

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