It is a magical time of year in Southern California. The skies are clear and a brilliant blue from the recent rains, the temperatures are comfortable, and in the evenings the sweet scent of jasmine fills the air. Vibrant wildflowers paint the neighborhoods with their beautiful Spring blooms, multi-colored bougainvillea vines illuminate the hills with deep pinks and purples, and the deciduous plum trees that were bare throughout the winter are now covered in white flowers and buzzing with honey bees. We have been taking advantage of this pleasant weather, spending more time outside, and enjoying working in the garden. This weekend, we had a backyard brunch party with ten of our friends; a potluck feast of crisp salads, spring berries, handcrafted cocktails from our mixologist friend Al who introduced us to the light and bubbly Mid-Morning Fizz, and the centerpiece was a double batch of our shakshuka with crusty baguettes for dipping into the hearty sauce. There’s something special about sharing a meal outdoors with friends and family, and this is the time of year to do it before it starts to get too hot. Love is in the air, spring has arrived, and so has asparagus, whose tender shoots are one of the first spring vegetables to appear after the snows of winter. This delicious and comforting soup highlights this seasonal vegetable with simple ingredients that allow the fresh, sweet flavor of just-picked asparagus to truly shine.
Monday was National Margarita Day. We don’t know who comes up with these random food holidays or how they get started, but somehow, we seem to hear about them the day they happen. Our schedules are fairly flexible so it keeps things exciting for us when these culinary affairs unexpectedly appear. A few weeks ago, we were in the kitchen about to make vegetarian matzo ball soup for the blog, when we realized everyone online was posting about National Chocolate Cake Day. You can’t ignore a sweet holiday like that, so we followed our instincts, baked a cake instead, and made the soup the following day. And how can you pass up an opportunity to start off your week making delicious margaritas first thing on a Monday morning?! Sure, it may have been 8am, but it was 5 o’clock somewhere plus it was Washington’s birthday, so we had to raise a glass to honor the father of our country, even if we hadn’t had our breakfast yet. And as appropriate as cherry margaritas would have been to recognize his 282nd, another idea blossomed. One of our favorite local Mexican restaurants, Cacao Mexicatessen, makes the best margaritas, and we thought if there was one recipe we’d like to make, it would be theirs. Even though they are closed on Mondays, we crossed our fingers and sent them a message on Instagram asking if they would be willing to share their recipe with us. Not only did they immediately respond on their day off, but were gracious enough to email us the recipe and said we would be welcome to post it on our website. So in celebration of this momentous holiday, as well as a belated toast to our first president, we thank Cacao, and nobly introduce you to these most-delicious jalapeño-cucumber margaritas.
Regardless of this uninvited heatwave here in Los Angeles—yes, it is literally 90 degrees today—we want to believe or at least pretend that it is still winter. Trust us, we are not complaining one bit, but 90 in February is a little extreme, and it would be nice to experience all four seasons equally. We have a dream! Speaking of balance, we dedicated the first half of this month to making cookies, caramels, and sweet Valentine’s Day desserts, so today we are honoring the yang to our yin and sharing a delicious risotto recipe, adapted from one of our favorite cookbooks, The Veganomicon. And since it is still technically February, asparagus season has officially begun and it is the perfect time to start making some meals with it! This creamy risotto highlights this healthy winter vegetable in the most flavorful way possible: sautéed asparagus tips are cooked separately until golden and crispy while the remainder is sliced and cooked gently with Thai basil, fresh mint leaves, loads of shallots and seasoned with chopped garlic and a spicy serrano pepper for heat. The risotto is simmered with a fragrant homemade broth filled with fresh lemongrass, ginger, crushed garlic, and soy sauce. Even though Mother Nature has hastily decided to pour a glass of Sangria, start eating ice cream bars, and sport a bikini, we are going to sit here patiently and enjoy one of our favorite dishes as though it was winter.
Peanut butter and banana is one of the best combinations. We both grew up enjoying it on sandwiches, and it’s still one of our go-to lunches when we go hiking. It is delicious on pancakes and waffles, and makes a healthy and indulgent smoothie. Recently, we even made an incredibly rich banana chocolate chip cake with peanut butter frosting for a friend’s birthday. We just can’t get enough! So when we were brainstorming simple dessert ideas for Valentine’s Day, we decided to take this classic combination and turn them into cookies! We took our favorite four-ingredient, one-bowl peanut butter cookie recipe, indented the middles like thumbprints, placed a thick slice of banana in each one, and sprinkled the top with turbinado sugar so they caramelize in the oven and come out glistening like sweet amber-colored jewels. These chewy, moist cookies are full of rich, creamy peanut butter flavor and the sweet glazed bananas are the perfect addition. You can whip up this easy-to-follow recipe in less than 30 minutes, leaving you a long romantic evening to spend with your Valentine.
Mediterranean restaurants are a vegetarian’s best friend. From tangy cabbage salads and fresh tabbouleh, to stuffed grape leaves, deeply spiced falafels, and smooth hummus and muhammara, you will find far more meatless items on middle-eastern menus than in most restaurants, making them a popular choice for vegetarians and vegans. The cuisine is light and healthy, and since it is often served family-style with a selection of small dishes, you can order a variety of plates, and sample a little of everything. The recipe we are sharing today is fun to make, and involves roasting a whole eggplant on the stove, directly on the flame, until it is charred, blistered, and blackened, resulting in an irresistibly smoky flavor and creamy texture. Combined with fresh lemon juice, raw garlic, chopped parsley, creamy tahini, and a few pinches of cumin and cayenne pepper, this tangy, smoky, garlicky dip makes a deliciously healthy snack and is the perfect dish to serve with some warm pita at your next party. Let us introduce you to the Levantine delicacy known as Moutabal.