We’ve been having some beautiful spring-like weather here in the desert, with unusually warm temperatures, an abundance of sunshine, blooming trees and busy bees all over the place. Mama Nature has decided to skip right over winter and head straight on into spring, it seems. The desert floor is a lush carpet of green and wildflowers and I am feeling the pull outdoors. I want to be out and about, climbing rocks, hunting flowers, chasing rainbows…I want to go play! Needless to say, I have not been enjoying the confines of my kitchen these days and I am certainly not in the mood for warming winter meals. I have to remind myself that it is still February, hence the over-abundance of hearty winter roots and greens. And since I choose to eat from the earth and cook with the seasons, and technically, it is still winter, I am stuck with this surplus of hearty seasonal bounty. Though Nature’s confusion has thrown me for a loop, I think it’s time to get creative, lighten things up and seek a little color in my dreary winter food palate.
Normally, I adore root vegetables, I really do. I love them roasted, sautéed, baked and pureed, but I just haven’t been in the mood for heavily rooted dishes these days with sunshine and wildflowers calling me out to play. But I do hate to waste and I have a surplus of veggies that need to be put to good use. Now, when I say surplus, I mean I am swimming in a sea of roots and greens. I seem to have a steady supply of sweet potatoes, white potatoes, parsnips and turnips. Carrots, cauliflower, cabbage and chard. Rutabagas, Brussels sprouts, beets and bok choy. Not to mention the radishes…well, we’ll leave those out of things for now.
A big pot of root veggie soup is always a quick and easy way to make a dent in your winter vegetable surplus, so I got to work washing and slicing, chopping and dicing. But I must admit, I was not really feeling this hearty veggie stew…until I saw the sage.
From time to time we are treated to a little sprig of fresh sage in our weekly CSA produce delivery. It doesn’t happen often, but whenever the sage appears I am compelled to make this cashew cream. It is a delightful indulgence as sage is rare and cashews are a precious commodity in this household. It requires an entire cup of raw cashews, but this Sage Cashew Cream is certainly worth it.
I start by making a plain cream base, blending raw, soaked cashews and water. Then, I like to divide it in half. I use one serving for my Sage Cashew Cream and reserve the second serving for something else. You’d be surprised what you can do with a bit of plain ‘ole creamed cashews. Mayonaise, sour cream, salad dressing, vanilla cream and even chocolate frosting…it is a vegan’s saving grace, I tell you! Not that I am strictly vegan, but me and dairy just don’t get along, so I do adore this cashew cream.
Sage Cashew Cream
- 1 cup raw cashews
- 1/4 cup water (more or less depending on the desired consistency)
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil
- 3 tablespoon fresh sage, chopped
- 1/4 cup shallots (or red onion is fine), finely diced
- 1/4 cup vegetable broth
- In a bowl, cover the cashews with water and allow them to soak at least 2 hours. The longer they soak, the softer they become and the smoother the consistency of your cream. I prefer to soak mine a good 8 hours, if I manage to plan that far in advance.
- Drain the soaked cashews, rinse and blend with 1/4 cup water in a high speed blender until smooth and creamy. You may need to add a little more water to thin it, but I like to keep mine on the thicker side, so I can add other liquids later (like lemon juice, sweetener, etc.).
- Measure out 3/4 cup and set aside remaining cream for later.
- In a small saucepan, heat coconut oil over medium heat, add diced onions and cook until translucent. Add sage and cook just until soft.
- To blender add 3/4 cup cashew cream, vegetable broth and sage and onion mixture. Blend until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.
With the addition of this Sage Cashew Cream, my winter vegetable stew was instantly transformed. Still hearty, for sure, but light and creamy at the same time. And the flavor of all those earthy vegetables, the fresh sage and sweet cashews created quite a harmonious balance in the midst of my seasonal confusion.
Creamy Root Veggie Stew with Sage Cashew Cream
- 1 medium red onion, roughly chopped
- 1 cup sweet potato, cubed
- 1 cup butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed
- 1 cup turnip, rutabaga or parsnip (I used a combo of all 3), peeled and cubed
- 1 and 1/2 cup brussels sprouts, trimmed and quartered
- 1 and 1/2 cup chopped kale
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil
- 5 cups vegetable broth
- 2 teaspoons dijon mustard
- a handful of your favorite fresh herbs (I used rosemary, thyme and savory…and I didn’t measure)
- 1/2 cup Sage Cashew Cream (see recipe above)
- Set your soup pot over medium heat, melt coconut oil and add your chopped onions, sweet potato, butternut and turnips (or rutabaga or parsnips). Cook for a few minutes until softened.
- Add vegetable broth and herbs, simmer for about 30 minutes.
- Add brussels sprouts, kale and dijon, simmer 10 minutes more or until vegetables are soft.
- Stir in Sage Cashew Cream and serve. I like to top my beautiful bowl of soup with a tablespoon of reserved sage cream and some crispy shallots and sage leaves (sliced and pan-fried until crisp).
The next day I still had about half a cup plain cashew cream base, which I dared not waste, so I thought I would try something new. With all this winter produce surrounding me and mother nature thinking it is spring, I was looking to add a little color to the subdued tones of my winter cooking. I was suddenly inspired to experiment with a rainbow colored coleslaw. It is common among vegan cooks to create a sort of “mayo” using cashews, so why not apply that to my traditional coleslaw dressing?
Creamy Cashew Dressing
- 1/2 cup plain cashew cream
- 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
- 1 and 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon agave syrup
- 2 teaspoons celery salt
- Mix all ingredients in a bowl until well-combined.
Now for the salad. Although I had three giant heads of organic green cabbage taking up space in the fridge, I opted for the purple variety simply for a bright splash of color. I added some deep green lacinato (tuscan) kale and the most deliciously sweet and perfectly crisp organic carrot I have ever tasted. As I rummaged through my mess of a produce drawer, I discovered the golden beets. I had forgotten about those and they might be a nice addition to my salad. Those poor, ugly little roots were not much to look at until I sliced into one. I daresay, those beets were like discovering a pot of gold at the end of vegetable rainbow. So vibrantly delightful!
Rainbow Coleslaw with Creamy Cashew Dressing
- 2 cups thinly sliced purple cabbage
- 1 cup thinly sliced laticino kale
- 1 medium carrot, julienned
- 1 small golden beet, julienne
- Toss vegetables with your own desired amount of Creamy Cashew Dressing. Some people like their coleslaw drowning in dressing, some people like theirs a little lighter. I prefer mine somewhere in between.
I seem to have found my balance in my seasonal cooking confusion, remaining rooted in winter while seeking the vibrancy of spring. It was simply a matter of lightening things up a little and brightening the mood.
Lighten up, brighten the mood, find your balance.