fig and sunflower bites

One of my clients asked me to pick up nut-free bars for their kids' snacks this week—nut-free because so many schools don't allow peanuts or tree nuts through the door. I thought I would have more options than I did at the grocery store, considering, but so many bars (especially the ones that proudly tout being made of only 3 or 4 or 5 pronounceable ingredients) rely on nuts for heft. 

This recipe is what I came up with instead—basically the same formula as any dried, blended fruit-and-nut bar, nothing fancy, but they're vegan and can be gluten-free and are totally free of nuts thanks to sunflower seeds, which go creamy and tender in the food processor. They taste like Fig Newtons, and I wanted one so much when I got back from the gym today. (Instead I stood at the counter and ate cold macaroni and cheese from the fridge with my hands.) 

Next time I'll try these with a spoonful of cocoa powder, or roll the log in crushed sunflower seeds before chilling, or swap the figs for something else (dried cherries!!!! dried apricots!!!! maybe a mango-coconut version?). Also: Instead of making a log and slicing, you could pat the mixture into an even layer in a pan lined with parchment paper and then slice into squares or bar shapes, or roll tablespoon-sized balls of it.

Fig and Sunflower Seed Bites
Makes about 2 dozen

1 cup dried figs (I like black Mission figs but the brown Turkish figs would work just as well)
Boiling water
1 cup raw sunflower seeds
Pinch kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup wheat germ or flax meal

In a smallish heat-safe bowl (or a 4-cup glass measuring cup), pour enough boiling water over the dried figs to completely cover them. Let them soak 30 minutes. Drain, discarding the liquid, and set the figs aside.

Combine the sunflower seeds and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Blend until the seeds are broken into very tiny crumbs but aren't quite a meal. Add the figs, vanilla extract, and wheat germ (or, if you want to make a gluten-free version, flax meal), and blend until totally combined. The mixture should be sticky but on the firm side.

Scrape the mixture onto a large sheet of parchment paper and use your hands to form it into a rough log shape about 12 inches long. Fold the parchment over the log and tuck it under the log's edge. Use your hands or a bench scraper to shape the log into a cylinder. Twist the ends of the paper to seal the log in and refrigerate for an hour. 

After an hour, slice the log into 1/2-inch-thick rounds. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

hello out there + creamy tomato soup

The last time I had a blog, it was a Tumblr—the year was 2012, and I was not writing much about food. It is 2018, the Tumblr is long gone, and, following a year of post-media-job burnout, I'm making some space to write again. Also: I want a place to put recipes. One of my intentions this year is to write down recipes as I think of them, instead of making something, having a vague thought about recording the recipe somewhere, and then letting it float off into the ether.

I always find the first few days of the year optimistic but lonely. There's so much newness. Here in New York it's bitter cold—the streets are all salt-bleached and so bright white—and people are still finding their ways back to work after the holidays, and I always feel, the first weeks of January, like I just want everyone back where they're supposed to be. L flew to California for New Year's and won't be home for another week, so it's just me and our cat, tormenting each other.

I've been making and eating a lot of soup these solo weeks. When we were in school, A and I would cook in big batches and pack up our respective freezers; then we'd survey our stashes proudly and A would talk about how much she loved the practice, how secure and cared for it made her feel, how she felt like a pioneer. Last week I made two beany stews, a harira that I liked but want to improve on (I have this harira fixation from a time I went to Housing Works years ago and bought a cheap and incredible bowl of tomatoey, cinnamony harira. I am trying to recreate it.. This one, from Epicurious, was good but was missing richness or smokiness or something. And I think I want a lentil-only version.) and a vegan hoppin' John (for new-year luck, of course). Since bean soups become completely exhausting to me after two or three helpings, I froze big portions of both. It does feel very responsible, very pioneer-like.

The first recipe I remember feeling like I totally came up with is tomato soup. I didn't grow up eating soup, canned or otherwise, since I didn't like the feeling of drinking a meal—so I've never had Campbell's, but someone told me this tastes a little like it. Luckily my feelings toward soup in general have changed, but I still don't think I'd ever had tomato soup before this one, and was struck with this alien and urgent Need for it. It's totally cozy and unfussy, the way tomato soup should be, and it doesn't taste like tomato sauce, which tomato soup never should. I also love this recipe because I almost always have the ingredients in the pantry.

Sometimes I swap the onion for a couple of shallots. I'm sure you could substitute the milk for a nondairy one with no problem—coconut milk would be really good, I bet, especially if you sautéed a little turmeric and cumin seed and coriander with the onion. Or sauté fennel seeds with the onion. Or add, in addition to the onion, half a bulb of chopped fennel, then garnish with the snipped fronds.

Here's a photo I took of the recipe as I wrote it out by hand (2013!). I'm translating my handwriting below, too.

creamytomatosoup.jpg

Creamy Tomato Soup
2 servings with half-grilled cheeses, 3 servings with whole grilled cheeses

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 large onion (or 2 shallots), chopped small
Kosher salt
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
1 cup vegetable broth
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
Freshly ground black pepper
Cream or plain yogurt to serve

Melt butter in a medium pot over medium heat. Add the onion and a pinch of salt, stir, and cook until the onions are translucent, about 7 minutes. Add the flour and cook about a minute, stirring constantly. Add the milk, broth, and tomato paste. Stir to combine completely, then whisk in the baking soda—the soup will foam for a few seconds, and then you'll be done. Grind some black pepper in and taste for seasoning.

Serve with cream or yogurt swirled into it.