Green Beans with Mint Pistachio Pesto

a row of green beans at patrick's farm, danae watering some starts, and a big bucket o' greenbeans.

a row of green beans at patrick's farm, danae watering some starts, and a big bucket o' greenbeans.

Growing biodynamic veggies on the north shore of Maui and selling them at the farmer’s market, a co-creator of a budding vintage clothing business that’s saving the world one outfit at a time, an up-and-coming band with music that no one on earth can resist dancing to, and an epic wedding that encouraged guests to come dressed as pirates.

I am describing non other than Aaron and Danae, one of the most fun-loving and inspirational couples I’ve met since moving to Maui. The recently married lovebirds pursue what makes them happy by marching to the beat of their own drum—a very fun, foot-stomping drum beat at that.  Even the most conventional of people will find themselves tapping their foot in excited agreement with the life they’ve created for themselves, and the places they are going.

For the past four years, Aaron and Danae have been working and living on Patrick's Ha'iku Biodynamic Farm, a few acres of lush land, tucked away on the north shore of Maui. Prior to moving there, neither had any experience working the land or caring for animals, but joyfully absorbed knowledge from Patrick, the proprietor of the whole magnificent operation, and haven't looked back since. Last week I was fortunate enough to visit the farm and the lovely Danae (Aaron was off to practice with his band, Flat Jackson. Which, by the way, you should do yourself a favor and check them out. They’ve been known to describe their genre of music as a “lizard-infused honky tonkin’ slam-grass band”. I know you’re intrigued. Anyways, back to the farm). I helped Danae feed the chickens, collect eggs, take Rosie the baby cow for a walk on a leash (she was the sweetest thing ever!), and pick green beans. Well, actually, Danae did most of the work, while I clicked buttons on my camera so you fine readers can have a glimpse at their picturesque island farm life.

Green Beans with mint pistachio pesto. A vegan side dish that's fast and healthy. 
clockwise from top right: the entrance to the farm, rosie the cow, danae feeding the chickens, and another view of the farm.

clockwise from top right: the entrance to the farm, rosie the cow, danae feeding the chickens, and another view of the farm.

After the farm chores were finished, Danae and I hung out under the eaves, shared a beer, and chatted over their dreams-in-the-making, of owning land and a center to treat those suffering from PTSD with garden therapy.

Garden therapy (or horticulture therapy), if you haven’t heard of it already, is a practice that’s increasing in popularity in all sorts of therapy settings around the world, from youth outreach programs, to substance abuse centers, to hospitals and nursing homes. Besides the obvious, such as sunshine, being outdoors, a sense of community, and exercise, studies have been conducted that reveal getting your hands dirty increases seratonin levels (a “happiness hormone”). No, really. There is a common bacteria that naturally lives in soil—called Mycobacterium vaccae—that actually triggers and spikes seratonin when we come in contact with it, which in turn boosts our mood. Kind of makes you want to go plants something right now, huh? Other studies have shown that harvesting fruits and veggies releases copious amounts of dopamine, a hardwired response that effects the pleasure center of our brains (in the simplest of biological terms, collecting food equals survival), skyrocketing gardeners into a state of euphoria. While scientists don’t yet know all the reasons why garden therapy works, it is very apparent that growing food and getting dirt under our fingernails decreases stress and anxiety, improves memory and concentration, and amplifies overall happiness.

If that’s not a good reason to help a friend pick beans on a Monday afternoon, I don’t know what is. Danae sent me home with a paper bag of happiness-inducing green beans, with which I created this recipe. At first I experimented with adding in a little red tomato, purple onion, and feta, but in the end I decided that simpler was better. The crisp green beans, topped only with the mint pesto, tasted like springtime on a plate.  It's an incredibly easy dish that allows the farm-fresh ingredients shine. Even if you don't have a garden where you can pick green beans to trigger a healthy dose of dopamine, your taste buds will be plenty happy with the light, bright flavors of this recipe.

Here’s a few links if you want to learn more about Danae, Aaron, Patrick's Farm, and garden therapy:

Green Beans with mint pistachio pesto. A vegan side dish that's fast and healthy. 

Green Beans with Mint Pistachio Pesto

Notes: If you can only find roasted salted pistachios, simply reduce the amount of salt in the recipe accordingly.


1 lb. green beans, trimmed
1 cup packed mint leaves
1/2 cup roasted unsalted pistachios
1 Tablespoon + 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 small garlic clove
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup olive oil + 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided
1/3 cup loosely packed small-size mint leaves


Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the green beans and cook 3-4 minutes, or until just beginning to turn tender (but still bright green and crisp). Drain the green beans and transfer right away to a bowl of ice water (this will stop the cooking process, and help the beans retain their bright green color).

To make the pesto, put the 1 cup packed mint leaves, pistachios, lemon juice, garlic, and sea salt in a food processor. Pulse until finely chopped. With the food processor on, slowly add in the olive oil until combined.

Drain the green beans. In a large bowl, toss the beans with 1 teaspoon olive oil, the remaining mint leaves, and salt to taste. Top green beans with mint pistachio pesto and serve. Alternatively, toss green beans with the pesto before serving.

 

Savory Cornbread Waffles with Eggs and Salsa Crema

Gluten free savory cornbread waffles, topped with fried eggs, ripe avocado, and a spicy roasted salsa crema. Perfect for breakfast, brunch, or dinner.

Thank goodness for Photoshop. Seriously. If it wasn’t for touch-ups, you would be looking at little black ants crawling all over the white wooden background table. Should I be writing about an ant invasion in a food blog? Probably not. But I can’t help it since I just spent about a half an hour in Photoshop with blemish tool, deleting all traces of those infuriatingly persistent black anthropods.

Let me explain: I live in a sub-tropical jungle, on the north shore of Maui, a rural area that gets an anywhere from 80 to 120 inches of rain a year. One-hundred-and-twenty!!!  (For comparison, when I lived in Southern California, the average yearly rainfall was a measly four inches). Trees and plants actually increase in size right before your eyes. Mosquitoes and bugs abound. And ants. Are. Everywhere. It’s just something one has to get used to—a trade-off for the gorgeous, lush surroundings.

I often have to take pictures of the food I make outside in my yard when the lighting isn’t quite bright enough in my little cottage (if you look closely, you can actually see the reflection of the tree tops in some of the egg yolks). On this particular day however, the ants somehow found the food faster than usual, and instantly began swarming. Instead of being smart about it and moving my setup to a less ant-infested area, I decided to simply try swishing the ants away between each photo I took. Which of course was a losing battle. They just kept coming, telling all their friends that their order of eggs and waffles was ready for pick-up.

Thankfully, I got the pictures I needed before having a total ant-induced meltdown. Maybe someday I’ll have a bright, white kitchen that radiates natural light, a magical place where I will no longer fear an ant takeover. But in the meantime, I’m very happy with my little kitchen, and the big flavors I create here.

Like this breakfast. Gluten free cornbread in the shape of waffles? Yes please. Topped with yolky fried eggs, sliced radish, cilantro, perfectly ripe avocado, and a roasted salsa that’s spicy AND creamy? Double yes please! I’m officially a savory waffle convert. There will always be a time and place for sweet, syrupy waffles, but for now, hand me the salsa crema and another egg.

Gluten free savory cornbread waffles, topped with fried eggs, ripe avocado, and a spicy roasted salsa crema. Perfect for breakfast, brunch, or dinner. Gluten free savory cornbread waffles, topped with fried eggs, ripe avocado, and a spicy roasted salsa crema. Perfect for breakfast, brunch, or dinner.
stacks of golden yellow waffles, and beautifully hued eggs from our backyard chickens.

stacks of golden yellow waffles, and beautifully hued eggs from our backyard chickens.

tomatoes freshly picked from my friend's garden on the left, and roasted veggies for the salsa on the right.

tomatoes freshly picked from my friend's garden on the left, and roasted veggies for the salsa on the right.

Gluten free savory cornbread waffles, topped with fried eggs, ripe avocado, and a spicy roasted salsa crema. Perfect for breakfast, brunch, or dinner.

Savory Cornbread Waffles with Eggs and Salsa Crema

recipe inspired by Bon Appetit

serves 4-6

Roasted Salsa Crema

3 medium tomatoes, quartered
1 medium white onion, sliced into 1/2 inch circles
1/2 red bell pepper (seeds removed)
2-3 Serrano peppers
1 clove of garlic (skin left on)
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
3/4 teaspoon cumin powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup sour cream


Turn oven to broil. Spread out tomatoes, onion, bell pepper (cut side down), Serrano peppers, and garlic on a cooking sheet. Broil for 10-15 minutes, or until veggies begin to char and blacken in areas. Remove from oven and allow to cool.
Remove the skins from the garlic and the bell pepper, and remove the stems from the Serrano peppers. Place in a blender, along with the tomatoes, onion, apple cider vinegar, cumin, and salt. Blend until smooth. Add the sour cream and blend again until fully incorporated.

 

Gluten Free Cornbread Waffles

3/4 cup oat flour (certified gluten free if you are very sensitive to gluten)
3/4 cup finely ground corn meal
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 Tablespoons butter, melted
3 Tablespoons honey
2 eggs, whisked
3/4 cup milk

In a medium bowl, mix together well the oat flour, corn meal, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, thoroughly combine the melted butter, honey, eggs, and milk. Pour the liquid mixture into the dry mixture, and stir to combine. Allow to rest for 10 minutes (this will give the oat flour enough time to soak up the liquid, creating a thicker batter).
Heat waffle iron according to manufacturers instructions. Spoon the recommended amount of waffle mixture into a waffle iron according to your iron. Close the lid until cooked through and golden brown. If desired, keep waffles warm by placing on a tray in the oven on lowest temperature setting (below 200 degrees), untilyou are ready to assemble.

 

Waffle Toppings

8 eggs
2 Tablespoons butter or oil of choice
5-6 small radishes, thinly sliced
1/2 cup roughly chopped cilantro
1 avocado, peeled, pitted, and sliced
4 mini red bell peppers, deseeded and sliced (optional)

Heat a large pan over medium-low heat. Melt 1 Tablespoon of butter (or oil of choice) in the pan, then gently crack 4 of the eggs into the pan, spacing the eggs equally apart. Cook for about 3 minutes, or until the whites are set and the yolks are still runny. Carefully remove eggs from pan and set onto a plate. Repeat with remaining eggs.

To Assemble:

Line a serving tray with the waffles, top with fried eggs, radish slices, avocado, cilantro, and bell pepper. Drizzle with desired amount of Roasted Salsa Crema.

 

Eggplant and Halloumi Salad with Edible Flowers

The past few weeks I’ve been taking care of my friend’s garden while she’s on a month long vacation, and it has been an absolute delight (the garden I mean, not the absence of my dear friend). It’s made me realize how much I miss gardening, the feel of having my hands in the dirt, the joy of eating the freshest possible veggies, the smell of tomato vines and basil, the low drone of bees collecting pollen. It’s a process that soothes the part of my brain that’s always going going going, a sort of meditation, that always leaves me feeling refreshed and lighthearted.

This recipe is a celebration of spring, inspired by all of the goodies that are growing and blossoming right now. The eggplant is producing in abundance, propped up with a trellis to counteract the heavy weighted fruits (yes, technically an eggplant is a fruit—not a veggie— since it contains seeds. Mind blown? Maybe?). There are so many herbs—basil, mint, oregano, parsley, thyme, rosemary—that I start feeling overwhelmed just thinking of the possibilities of what the heck to do with all of them. And the edible flowers—ohh the edible flowers! My favorite part of the garden and this salad.

Eggplant & Halloumi Salad with Edible Flowers, drizzled with Lemon Tahini Sumac dressing. A perfect recipe to celebrate spring.

The cilantro had all bolted (in other words, was flowering and in the process of going to seed), as had the fennel and arugula. All taste like a variant of the real thing, the downy white cilantro flowers a bit more mild and earthy, and the sunshine yellow bursts of fennel blossoms more warm and sharply anise-flavored. Society garlic, with their delicate purple petals, and red and orange marigolds, are sporadically planted around the garden to attract beneficial bees and insects. I collected the peppery flavored nasturtiums and the mild and gorgeous star-shaped blue borage just up the road, where they have begun to bloom and are free for the taking. A small volunteer begonia in one of my succulent pots by my front door produces pastel pink flowers with a surprising lemon zing.

The eggplant in this recipe is sliced and cooked to dreamy creamy perfection, and placed on a bed of vibrant herbs and arugula. Halloumi, if you’re unfamiliar, is a Greek style cheese that is quite firm and retains a very high melting point. This means you can grill it, fry it, cook it, without it losing shape. I enjoy it best when still warm. The tahini-lemon-sumac dressing is bright and earthy, which serves to both unite and elevate the many flavors of herbs and flowers present in this dish. The edible flowers I’ve used for this salad are by no means the ones you have to use. It’s quite amazing how many flowers are edible once you start looking in to the subject. They are such a fun ingredient, each lending their own unique flavor, and all of them beautiful. If you have any flowers growing in your yard—or in your neighbors yard (if they wouldn’t mind, of course)— I encourage you to investigate if they are in fact edible. If you ever want to add some pizzaz/flare/pow/bang/allure/dazzle/wow factor to a dish, edible flowers are the answer.

Here is a great guide I’ve found with pictures and descriptions of edible flowers.

Eggplant and Halloumi Salad with Edible Flowers

recipe inspired by Bon Appetit

serves 4

Notes: Only eat flowers that you know beyond a doubt are NOT poisonous. Also, stay away from flowers that may have been sprayed with pesticides. Other than that, feel free to experiment with whatever edible flowers you have access to. You don’t have to use the same edible flowers that I did. Here’s a very thorough guide on what flowers to use, and also what to steer clear of.

If you have the right equipment, such as a high-powered blender (like a Vitamix), or a good quality food processor (like a Cuisinart), I encourage you to make your own tahini for the dressing. I often find that tahini bought at the store tastes old, or sometimes even rancid. Making your own ensures you will have the best tasting ingredients. Here’s a link from The Kitchn on How To Make Tahini.

 

1 1/2 cups (loosely packed) arugula
1 cup (loosely packed) mint leaves
1 cup (loosely packed) basil leaves (torn if the leaves are big)
1/2 cup (loosely packed) flat-leaf parsley leaves
1/3 cup chopped green onion
2 medium eggplant, stems cut off
1/3 cup olive oil for brushing
8 oz. Halloumi cheese, cut into 1/3 inch slices
A handful of assorted edible flowers
sea salt
Tahini Lemon & Sumac Dressing (recipe follows)

In a medium bowl, toss together the arugula, mint, basil, parsley, and green onion. Transfer and spread out evenly onto a serving platter.

With a vegetable peeler, remove vertical strips of the eggplant skin every inch or so. Cut eggplant in 1/3 inch slices. Heat a griddle over medium-high. Lightly brush with olive oil and sprinkle salt on only one side of each eggplant slice just before grilling. Place the eggplant slices oil-side down and cook 5-7 minutes, or until eggplant is beginning to soften and has char marks. Just before flipping, brush the top sides with olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. Flip slices and cook again for 5-7 minutes, or until eggplant is cooked through. Remove from stovetop and set aside on a plate.

Brush Halloumi cheese with olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. Grill each side just until char lines appear, about 1-2 minutes on each side.

To assemble: on top of the bed of arugula and herbs, alternate staggered layers of eggplant and Halloumi cheese. Drizzle desired amount of dressing over the eggplant and Halloumi. Top with edible flowers. Serve/enjoy immediately.

 

Tahini Lemon & Sumac Dressing

1/4 cup tahini
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup hot water
3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons ground sumac
1 clove garlic
sea salt and pepper to taste

Add all ingredients to a blender, and blend on low until smooth. At first the dressing may appear curdled, but just keep blending until everything becomes fully incorporated and creamy.