vegetarian

Mushroom "Crab" Cakes

I am super excited to share this recipe with you! I'll admit I'm not someone who particular loves mushrooms. In most dishes if I had the option to have the meal with or without mushrooms it would be without. Then again, most of my memories of mushrooms were that of the slimy, rubbery type my father used to get on his pizza everyone and awhile. Lately, I have grown to like them more, and have appreciation for them if I'm out to dinner and they are served in a dish I order. But I've been secretly wanting to do more with them. Then I found Mycoterro Farm at the Winter Farmers' Market last week. I had just grabbed myself some coffee from my new favorite roasters, a local placed called Karma Coffee Roasters, and was heading to line up from my produce when I saw a sea of funky looking mushrooms set up and just had to learn more... 

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The man running the mushroom stand was exactly how you'd might imagine... I was taken back to my trip to Bonnaroo in 2006 and had to laugh. The first thing that caught my eye was a bizarre looking mushroom that resembled a sea urchin and I had to learn more. It's called a Lion's Mane mushroom. The guy (super nice and helpful but I didn't get his name) tells me that the mushroom has a taste similar to lobster, with a texture like crab.

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I had to have one and he provided me with some extra information on the mushroom, including a recipe for a "crab" cake. I took the recipe and tweaked it a bit and have to admit he was 100% right. I could fool anyone with these little bites; no one would know I was serving mushroom! For the most part I remained true to the recipe that came from Mycoterra Farms with the exception of adjusting some of the measurements of ingredients and using Greek yogurt in lieu of mayonnaise as I preferred to use the Greek yogurt as a healthy, fat-free (unprocessed) substitute.

An important note I learned was that raw, or undercooked, this variety of mushroom will taste quite bitter, and is best cooked slowly in a skillet or roasted. This recipe called for roasting the mushroom, so I followed suit. I chopped up the mushroom, perpendicular to the spines, as noted to retain the stringy seafood texture, tossed in some organic extra virgin olive oil and threw in my oven along with a large clove of garlic to roast at 350 degrees for 30-40 mins, turning part way.

Mushrooms retain a lot of water, so they shrink quite a bit when cooked. I was so concerned about overcooking these that I pulled them out on the early side. I could tell they could use some more cooking so after I started sweating some diced onion on the stove top, I added the lion's mane to cook another minute. I put the mushroom, garlic and onion mixture in a food processor and pulsed 3-4 times just to break up the chunks. In a separate bowl I started adding the rest of the ingredients for the "crab" cake: 2 tbs Greek yogurt, 1 tsp soy sauce, 1 cup of bread crumbs, 1 egg, a generous amount of fresh chopped parsley, a splash of vinegar, splash of lemon and 1 tsp of paprika (and salt and pepper to taste). I gently folded in the the mushroom mixture with the other mixture to create the cake mix. All they needed was to be cooked!

I'd imagine that you could bake these in the oven, but to really get the true texture of a crab cake they need to be pan fried. My go-to cooking oils are grapeseed oil and coconut oil - both have a high smoking point, meaning they can withstand high heat, without breaking down/burning (and becoming a carcinogen). I was out of grapeseed oil, so I used coconut oil and it worked perfectly. If you've never cooked with coconut oil, I'd highly recommend it. While the oil itself smells like coconut oil, I don't find in imparts a coconut flavor to what you are cooking. (pic) Look at these beauties! Out of the pan, I simply blotted off the excess oil and sprinkled a touch of sea salt on top.

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For dipping (because every good grab cake needs a sauce) I whipped up a quick 4 ingredient remoulade-like sauce and served my creation with a Purple Kale salad with avocado and chickpeas (I'll add a like to that recipe once I post it).

Lion's Mane mushrooms are a vary rare variety, so the fact that I have access to them now this winter through the market means I'll be making and enjoying this recipe a few more times. I don't know about you, but I think this would make perfect game day grub for the big game a few Sundays from now! If you don't have access to lion's mane can you make this recipe? Absolutely! The unique qualities of the lion's mane do add that texture and slight taste you'd expect from a crab cake, but that's not to say you couldn't use this cooking method with a more common variety, like oyster mushrooms (which have a more mild flavor) and replicate something in the same vain. Go ahead! Be adventurous! As the "mushroom guy" said last week, "can you imagine the first person that decided it would be a good idea to try to eat one of these things?!" Curiosity can pay off. I'm very pleased I got over my aversion of mushrooms and discovered something so delicious to add to my cooking repertoire!  

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 pound (2 pints) Lion's Mane Mushroom
  • 2 tbs Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tbs Greek yogurt (organic mayonnaise can be used as a substitute)
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 cup organic bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup diced onion
  • 1 egg (you can easily make this recipe vegan by replacing this with a "flaxseed" egg)
  • splash of white or red wine vinegar
  • 2-3 tbs fresh chopped parsley
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • lemon juice from 1/4 lemon
  • 3-4 tbs coconut oil (or alternative) for cooking the cakes
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

For remoulade:

  • 1/4 cup non or low-fat organic Greek yogurt
  • 2 tbs Dijon mustard (I used Trader Joe's Garlic Aioli Mustard)
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • juice of 1/4 lemon

DIRECTIONS

  • Dice Lion's Mane mushroom into large pieces. Toss in olive oil and roast in oven, with garlic at 350 degrees for 30-40 mins. Turn halfway through. The mushroom will shrink substantially as the water cooks out.
  • When ready, put mushroom and garlic mixture in food processor and pulse 4-5 times until mix is broken down in smaller chunks.
  • In a separate bowl mix together the egg, soy sauce, Greek yogurt, lemon, chopped parsley, salt and pepper. Use a whisk to evenly mix the wet ingredients. Add breadcrumbs, onions* and pulsed mushroom mixture.
  • *If you choose, you can saute the onions instead of using raw onions (this is optional). To do so, cook in a saute pan on medium-low with coconut oil, slowly sweating the onions until translucent (about 5-7 minutes).
  • Use an ice cream scoop or tablespoon (depending on the desired size of the crab cakes) to measure equal portions of crab cakes. With your hands, form into cakes.
  • Heat coconut oil in non-stick pan on medium heat and fry until lightly browned on both sides.
  • Finish with a touch of sea salt
  • For remoulade: Using a whisk, mix yogurt, mustard, parika, lemon juice and salt and pepper.

Kale & Cashew Pesto over Spaghetti Squash

I love cooking in the winter. As the days get colder and shorter, and I start craving warming comfort food, the kitchen becomes a haven. Usually the stovetop is slowly simmering marinara sauces and stews and the oven is cranking out delicious sugary baked goods. A year ago today, I was (at least) 23 lbs heavier. As we head into the holiday and colder blistery New England winter, I'm determined to find new healthy favorites that are just as comforting as the heavy dishes I used to devour. I look to seasonal produce to help inspire me. Italian dishes are undoubtedly comfort food to me, but pasta certainly isn't on my go-to "healthy" list. Luckily, high carb and calorie pasta can be easily substituted with spaghetti squash.

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Spaghetti Squash is considered a winter squash. They can be identified by their tough skins as opposed to summer varieties like zucchini. Like butternut, acorn, kabocha, pumpkin, and delicata squashes, you should easily be able to find these at a grocery store this time of year. They also are featured in Winter Farmer's markets that pop up after the holidays.

Spaghetti Squash gets its name for its resemblance to spaghetti pasta after its been roasted and the flesh removed. Its low in carbs and calories, and high in vitamins. A cup contains only 42 calories and 10 carbs so you could definitely go for seconds and thirds without feeling guilty! The stuff is just really delicious, if you haven't tried it, introduce yourself to it this week!

I've made spaghetti squash with bolognese before, but this week I wanted to try something different, like a pesto. Traditional pesto is made with basil, garlic, Parmesan cheese, pine nuts and olive oil; and you can't really go wrong with that. While you can certainly find basil in the grocery store this time of year, its definitely more of a summer flavor. I made several variations of pesto this summer with a variety of greens from our farm share. Kale, being one of my favorite greens, and also in season, would make the perfect base! Out of pine nuts, I opted for raw, unsalted cashews I had. Everything else would remain the same.

Roasted cherry tomatoes complete the dish as the acidity helps to cut through the richness of the pesto. They are just popped in the oven towards the end of the squash roasting and make a beautiful garnish. I love how they look like bright little rubies standing out against the green pesto. It's very Christmas-y!

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So here's how to whip this dish up.

The first thing you have to do is roast the squash. Pre-heat your oven to 375°. Using a heavy kitchen knife, carefully cut the spaghetti squash down the middle and remove the seeds. Place cut side up, drizzle with a bit of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake for around 45 minute or until fork tender.

While the spaghetti squash is roasting, you can whip up your pesto. Add kale, cashews, garlic, a squeeze of lemon and Parmesan cheese in a food processor and pulse until everything has broken down in tiny bits. Then, slowly drizzle your olive oil in, blending until smooth. Use a spatula to scape everything out into a separate bowl.

Next prepare the cherry tomato topping. Depending how much tomato you like, slice a handful or so of cherry tomatoes in half. Toss with olive oil, salt, pepper and fresh thyme. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper for easier clean up. When the squash only has 20 mins left, pop the tomatoes in the oven to roast.

One the squash is ready, everything will come together really fast. Pull the squash and tomatoes out of the oven and let cool so the squash is easier to handle. Using a fork, start scraping at the flesh and pull out the "spaghetti". All that should be left is the tough skin that can now be discarded. In a bowl, toss the spaghetti squash with half of the pesto. Save the rest for later use (you can freeze it) or add a bit more to the spaghetti squash. Just be mindful of the portions, between the oil, nuts and cheese there is a lot of calories and fat in pesto, luckily its mostly the healthy kind and your serving it with squash that virtually has none.

Serve in two bowls and top each with the roasted cherry tomatoes. If you'd like, garnish with a few chopped cashews for extra crunch.

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Ingredients

  • 1 spaghetti squash
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • Pesto
  • ½ cup cashews (plus some extra for garnish later)
  • 2 medium cloves garlic
  • 3 cups kale, washed, chopped and packed tight
  • ½ cup grated parmesan
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • juice from half a lemon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Roasted Tomatoes
  • 1 Pint Cherry Tomatoes
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme (or 1/2 tsp dry)

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 375
  • Cut spaghetti squash in half the long way. Remove seeds.
  • Drizzle with 1-2 tbs olive oil and season with salt and pepper
  • Roast in oven for 45 mins
  • Meanwhile, add kale, cashews, garlic, Parmesan cheese and lemon juice into blender and pulse until kale and cashews are in tiny pieces.
  • While pureeing, slowly add up to 1/2 cup olive oil, until pesto is smooth.
  • Scrape into another bowl and reserve for later.
  • Cut cherry tomatoes in half. Toss with a tablespoon of olive oil and season with salt, pepper and thyme.
  • Place in oven the last 20 mins that the squash is cooking.
  • When squash is done, let cool a few minutes before handling.
  • Using a fork, scrape out all the "spaghetti" like flesh until only the tough skin is left.
  • Toss half of the pesto in with the squash, and serve in two bowls.
  • Top with roasted tomatoes and garnish with a few extra chopped cashews if you like.

Saffron Butternut Squash Soup

I can't say enough good thing about squash. They are a great source of anti-oxidants, vitamin C, Omega-3s, helps to regulate blood sugar levels, and overall promotes optimal health...and they are really delicious. It's sort of funny, but the first time I ever tried squash was this year through the farm I was a part of. Squash comes in many varieties from summer squash like zucchini to winter varieties (my favorite) including butternut, delicata, and spaghetti squash. Squash is a must add to your grocery list. If you are new to squash or have picky eaters at home, soup is the perfect vehicle to introduce this wonderful vegetable. This recipe particular recipe will warm your soul during cold fall and winter days and is very easy to prepare.

I usually get pretty excited when I see squash soup on a menu when I go out to dinner, but the few times I've ordered it I've been disappointed. In my quest to eat healthier, I cut out extra calories where I can. Each time I've ordered butternut soup this year its always made with a ton of extra cream. It absolutely drives me crazy, because you don't need to use heavy cream/milk to make a great squash soup. I've enjoyed many soups that don't have a drop of cream that are silky smooth and delicious.

I do agree that cream can help balance out flavors but its really high in calories and fat - and there are plenty of great subsitutes. I'm using unsweetened coconut milk in this soup. It will help give the soup that silky texture, without all the fat and calories.

The flavor of coconut can be really polarizing. But let me say that the flavor of both the coconut milk and the coconut oil the recipe calls for is extremely mild. If you absolutely abhor coconut (or are allegric) subtitute with almond milk and another oil. Believe me, the coconut milk this recipe calls for is NOT what you are accustom to having in a Pina Colada, nor will it taste like sun tan lotion. The slight coconut flavor from these ingredients really pairs so well with the rich spices we're using. You have to trust me on this one.

Spices play an important role in this recipe; the star, saffron. Saffron is one of the most expensive food items by weight. Each thread-like strand of saffron come from the stamen of a crocus. Since each flower only has three stamens, it takes an acre of crocus crop to yield one pound of the stuff! Thankfully, a little goes a long way and you should be able to get a small jar relatively cheap. I've seen it from Trader Joe's for about $12. For this recipe I used saffron that my brother brought home for me from Spain (where saffron is most commonly cultivated and sold). The flavor of saffron is very unique - and hard to describe. It's very floral and you can get immense flavor from just a few strands. I've made the mistake of adding too much to a dish and it was very over-powering. For this recipe I only used about a quarter of that little pile you see in the picture below.

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While saffron makes this dish special, the soup wouldn't be complete without a few other friends like paprika, cumin, coriander, curry and white pepper. Paprika was the most obvious accomponiate to the saffron, because its also a Spanish spice. You can buy sweet or smoked paprika, either will do in this dish. Contrary to what some may think, paprika is not spicy so you can use it liberally. This dish only needs a tablespoon. Next, I added cumin, which will give a smokey heat to the dish. The cumin is what really makes this soup so comforting and warming on a cold New England day. In lesser amounts I also added some coriander and curry. Neither is absolutely necessary, but I felt it really rounded out the flavors. I choose white pepper over traditional black pepper just for looks (so if you don't have it, use regular pepper).

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The toughest part to this recipe is preparing the squash. You will need a good vegetable peeler, sharp knife, and a bit of muscle. Can a half inch from the bottom and top of the squash first. Next, peel the skin off. Because you've cut the bottom you can stand the squash upright to stabilize it. After its peeled, use a heavy chef's knife to cut it in half the long way. Use a large spoon to pull out the seeds (you can clean and roast these just like pumpkin seeds if you like). Finally, dice into one inch cubes.

The onion and garlic will be much easier to handle. Simply peel and quarter the onion, and add it to your bowl of squash. The garlic gloves can be tossed in whole (to help avoid burning) after they have been peeled as well.

I haven't met a vegetable that doesn't like roasting. I think the way these veggies are prepared for the soup make it extra flavorful. Many soup recipes I see simply call for sauteeing or steaming the vegetables, but I love the carmelization that happens during roasting. The only downside is that you tend to loose more nutriets roasting than steaming, but the flavor is phenomenal. I roast the vegetables with the dry spices (not the saffron yet) to help bring out their aromatics.

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A key part of roasting your vegetables is choosing your oil. When it comes to healthy eating there are definatley oils to avoid (canola/vegetable), so I normally stick to olive oil or grapeseed oil. However, I've recently started using coconut oil in my cooking and I really love it. Virgin coconut oil is a healthy saturated fat. When you buy it, it actually is in a solid state, it doesnt turn to liquid until its warmed up. What makes coconut oil so amazing is that it can handle higher tempatures and safely convert from a solid to liquid state and back, without breaking down. The reason to be concerned about overheating oils is because as an oil exceeds its burning point, it starts to break down and they turn into a carcinogen (cancer causing agents).

You will have to warm up the jar in the microwave to covert to a liquid before measuring out the tablespoon for this recipe. Just make sure the cover is off and you don't put any metal in the microwave. Toss the chopped veggies, spices (except saffron) and oil in a bowl to coat evenly and spread out a baking sheet. Add a few pinches of salt to everything. Roast in a 400° oven for 25-30 minutes, turning occasionally, until the butternut squash is fork tender.

When the veggies are done recipe. Start working on the broth. Pour the coconut milk into a large pot (big enough to hold all the roasted veggies) and turn onto medium heat. Add the saffron strands. I waited to add saffron until this point, because it would have burnt in the oven. Instead, I add them to the milk so the flavors bloom. You will see the white coconut milk turn yellow. You only need to wait a minute or so and you can go ahead and add the vegetables to you pot.

Blend with an immersion blender*. Slowly add the vegetable broth. You may not need all two cups so add it slowly until you reach the desired consitency. If the soup is still too thick, you can add a bit more liquid either from the coconut milk or vegetable broth. Turn to low, and let the soup cook another 15 mins before serving to allow the flavors to mellow.

*If you don't have an immersion blender, you can use a regular blender. Just make sure it was made for hot liquids and hold a towel over the top in case it explodes. Return the soup to the pot after blending to allow to simmer as above. Finally, taste and season with salt, as needed. I like to leave that until the last step once you can try all the flavors together.

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Serve the soup with a dollop of sour cream, greek yogurt, or a drizzle of olive oil.

Ingredients

  • One butternut squash, peeled and chopped into cubes (about 6-8 cups)
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and quartered
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 tbs virgin coconut oil
  • 2.5 cups unsweetened coconut milk
  • 2 cups low sodium vegetable broth
  • 1/4 tsp saffron threads
  • 1 tbs paprika
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp coriander
  • 1/2 tsp white pepper
  • 1/2 tsp curry powder
  • salt & pepper for seasoning

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 400°
  • Peel butternut squash. Cut in half, remove seeds and chop into one inch cubes.
  • Peel and quarter one medium onion. Peel 2 garlic cloves.
  • Place butternut squash, onion and garlic into mixing bowl. Warm up virgin coconut oil (if in solid form) and add 1 tbs to the vegetables. Add in paprika, cumin, coriander, curry and 1 tsp salt. Toss to coat evenly. (Do not add in the saffron at this time).
  • Lay vegetables on baking sheet and place in oven for 25-35 mins until the squash is fork tender. Turn vegetables half way through so they caramelize and cook evenly.
  • Once you pull roasted vegetables out of the oven, start warming the coconut milk over medium heat in a large pot. Add the saffron to let steep. The white coconut milk will turn yellow. After waiting a minute for the saffron to steep, add in all the roasted vegetables plus any liquids from roasting. Use an immersion blender to start pureeing into a soup (if you do not have an immersion blender, transfer into a regular blender safe for hot liquids). Add 1-2 cups of vegetable stock until you reach the desired consistency. If full 2 cups of vegetable stock isn't enough, add more coconut milk or stock based on your preferences.
  • Let soup simmer on low another 10-15 minutes to full absorb saffron flavor. Add extra salt to taste as needed.
  • Serve with a dollop of sour cream, greek yogurt or drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Nutritional Information*

Serving size: 1.5 cups

Calories: 157, Carbs: 22g, Fat: 7g, Protein: 3g, Sugar: 8g