gluten free

red rice with coriander, apricot and herbs

Image/styling: Olaiya Land

Once upon a time, before Beau and I got married, I had a boyfriend who was a vegetarian. Please know that I love and cherish the vegetarians in my life. But this boyfriend was the worst sort of non-meateater. The sort of judgy vegetarian who, when we were in the early stages of our relationship, had no problem with me cooking and eating meat, then would randomly get angry about my “disgusting meat addiction”. The sort of vegetarian who, when we were out, would finish my hamburgers and slices of pepperoni pizza because it was “better than wasting”. A vegetarian who was actually more of a carb-atarian and who occasionally cooked horrible hippie food with whatever strange dregs were rolling around in the fridge (sauerkraut burritos, anyone?).

I’m embarrassed to admit that my relationship with this particular ex contaminated my feelings about vegetarians in general. For several years after we broke up, I projected his condescending sense of superiority onto all the vegetarians and vegans I met. (After we broke up, I started dating a meat-eating, Southern, ex-republican who’s job in the Special Forces saw him jumping out of helicopters on a regular basis. Needless to say, he did not complain about my “meat addiction”. Oh, what a painfully obvious rebound.)

I’m happy to report that my anti-vegetarian sentiment disappeared along with the presence of this ex in my life. Unexpectedly, my time with him left me with a deeper empathy for people who don’t eat meat. In our five years together, I saw first-hand how thoroughly vegans and vegetarians are treated as a fussy nuisance or an afterthought at holiday gatherings.

Image/styling: Olaiya Land

Turkey! Ham! Rack of lamb! Gravy and stuffing--made with pan juices, of course! These are the traditional stars of the holiday table. Vegetarians and vegans are left to cobble together a meal of cranberry sauce, gloppy green bean casserole, dinner rolls and perhaps a Brussels sprout or two. (Let’s not even discuss the inedible Field Roast, which is an approximation of no roast I’ve ever tasted.)

If you’re not a vegan or vegetarian yourself, you’re likely to have one or more at your holiday table. Which is why we need more holiday dishes that can accompany meat (if you go that route) and are sexy enough to keep our non-meateating friends and fam from feeling shafted.

Enter this Red Rice with Coriander, Apricot and Herbs.

Image/styling: Olaiya Land
Image/styling: Olaiya Land

I found this amazing red rice on my last trip to Paris. It’s hearty, nutty and subtly sweet, with a beautifully firm texture. (Wild rice is a great substitute if you don’t feel like tracking this down.) Whole coriander seeds and fresh lemon zest add zing. The jewel-toned dried apricots lend sweet-tart balance and keep this rice dish from looking blah. And fresh herbs because, fresh herbs on everything. Always and forever.

Because we all have shit to do at the holidays, this is super easy to make. You cook the rice using the pasta method (boil and drain) and prep everything else while it cooks. The whole thing comes together in about 30 minutes. I’m going to go ahead and say this vegan, gluten-free dish will please pretty much everyone at your holiday feast.

Which is what the holidays are all about--making everyone who gathers around your table feel welcome.


Red Rice with Coriander, Apricot and Herbs

Red Rice with Coriander, Apricot and Herbs

  • 1 ¼ cup Camargue Red Rice (or wild rice)
  • Kosher or sea salt
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons coriander seeds (the smaller, the better)
  • ½ cup roughly chopped dried apricots
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest (from 1 small lemon)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons roughly chopped parsley
  • ¼ cup roughly chopped cilantro

*Notes: I used red rice grown in the wetlands of southern France. You can buy the same sort of Camargue red rice here. Wild rice would also be great in this dish.

- My very favorite dried apricots are the Blenheim variety. They are more tart than Turkish Apricots. I buy mine at Trader Joe’s, but you can also get them here.

- If you want to kick the heartiness up a notch, a handful of chopped pistachios or toasted walnuts would be a great addition.

- This dish can be served warm or at room temperature. It’s good on the first day, but maybe even better the day after. (I just ate some cold, straight out of the fridge and it was pretty delicious.) If you make it in advance, I recommend reheating it, covered, in a low oven before serving.

Image/styling: Olaiya Land

Place the rice in a large saucepan along with a generous pinch of salt. Cover with water by 3 inches and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook until the rice is done but still firm. Mine took about 25 minutes. Drain and set aside.

While the rice is cooking, heat a large sauté pan over high heat for about 1 minute. Add the oil. When the oil starts to shimmer, add the diced onion, black pepper and a generous pinch of salt. Reduce the heat to low and cook until the onion is very tender. If it browns a bit, that’s ok, but the goal is not to get it brown and crispy. You want meltingly soft onions, so keep the heat low and stir often. When the onions are soft, add the coriander seed and cook for 1 minute. Add the chopped apricot and lemon zest and cook for a minute or two more. If the rice is still cooking, turn off the heat on the onion mixture and set aside.

When the rice has been cooked and drained, add it to the pan with the onion mixture and cook over medium heat until everything is warm and the flavors have come together, 2-3 minutes. Season with the lemon juice and stir in the parsley and cilantro. Taste and add more salt, pepper, lemon or olive oil as desired. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 4-6 side-dish servings

Image/styling: Olaiya Land

blueberry-hazelnut oat bowl + self care for the holidays

Image: Olaiya Land

Can you feel it?

We’re at the giddy precipice of the holiday season, looking over the edge before plunging breathlessly into it all. Like a roller coaster car suspended for a split second above a valley of curves and drops and loop-de-loops.

Yes, the holidays are an exhilarating (and often anxiety-inducing) ride. The media says we’re supposed to pretend the holidays are all love and light and eggnog lattes and good cheer. While I’m an unrepentant lover of all things Christmas, I have been around long enough to know that sometimes the stretch between Thanksgiving and January 1 is the hardest part of the year.

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In addition to glittery Christmas trees and spiced apple cider and brown paper packages tied up with string, the holidays are also:

- A mountain of stress. Induced largely by the pressure to buy everyone on your list beautiful presents, each paired perfectly to the receiver’s personality and taste and lovingly wrapped in recycled craft paper and festooned with vintage ribbons, or perhaps fresh pine needles.

- Your annoying uncle Leroy who starts talking politics after his third scotch then steps outside to smoke a cigar while the evening practically deteriorates into a fist fight and everyone informs everyone else why their views are garbage and COMPLETELY WRONG.

- Boring-ass work parties where you have to make small talk with Barb from accounting and enjoy yourself enough that the party-planning committee isn’t offended, but not so much that you end up telling your boss what you really think of her.

- Figuring out how to sample all the once-a-year cookies and cakes and roast goose or whatever while simultaneously not feeling like a disgusting and very unhealthy blob of a human being.

- Judging yourself because another year has gone by and you still haven’t gotten a raise/found a partner/lost 10 lbs/made time to volunteer at your kids’ school/finally started meditating.

The holidays are a complex mix of joy, togetherness, beloved rituals, obligations and stress.

Too much stress.

Image: Olaiya Land

Which is why I want you to join me in my mission to boost the joy and ditch the stress of the holidays. I wouldn’t say I’m 100% there yet--I still get wound up about baking a gazillion holiday cookies and how to give meaningful gifts and have I posted enough holiday recipes to the blog? But things are A LOT better than they used to be. Five years ago, I was a mash-up of Martha Stewart and Gwyneth Paltrow on speed. It wasn’t pretty. (Or very joyful for that matter.)

These days, I’ve got a solid repertoire of tactics I use to keep me sane at the holidays. Since I want you to find your holiday zen too, I’m going to be sharing some of my best tips for keeping the holidays manageable and joyful. Which means we’ll all have more time and mental space to focus on what really matters--spending time with people we love. (And baking lots of cookies. And watching Love Actually. And listening to LOTS of cheesy Christmas tunes, of course.)

Image: Olaiya Land

So as we dive headlong into the fun and the chaos of the season, my first piece of advice is to TAKE CARE OF YOUR SWEET ASS SELF. You are definitely not going to make the season brighter laid up on the couch with a nasty flu. And it’s hard to spread holiday cheer when you’re sleep-deprived and irritable AF.

By all means, plan parties. Trim trees. Sew stockings. Throw back a ‘nog or two. But remember to take some time for the things that make you feel good: Meet your best friend for drinks after work. Read a book just for pleasure. Go for a mind-cleansing run. Have a tickle fight with your kids. And for the love of all that is holy, try to get enough sleep!

Also, feed yourself nourishing food. Like, maybe, this Blueberry-Hazelnut Oat Bowl.

Image: Olaiya Land

I promise you, this is not your grandma’s oatmeal. There are a lot of sexy things happening here. Like toothsome (not soggy!) oats. And maple blueberries. And homemade hazelnut butter. (Because you’re fancy like that and hazelnut butter kicks peanut butter’s ass any day.)

This is a warming bowl of self-care. The sort of breakfast that leaves you feeling satisfied and sustained, with enough energy to ride the ups and downs of the holiday season and come out the other side feeling like you made the most of it all.


Blueberry-Hazelnut Oat Bowl

  • 3 cups hazelnuts
  • Kosher or sea salt
  • 1 cup rolled oats (not instant)
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup, plus additional for drizzling (optional)
  • ½ cup raw pepitas
  • 1 cup almond milk, preferably homemade

*Notes: You can whip this up using store-bought nut milk and nut butter. But it’s WAAAAY better with homemade versions. I advise setting aside an hour on the weekend to prep up the almond milk, nut butter, blueberries and pepitas. You can even cook the oatmeal in advance if you want. Then just heat and go in the mornings if you’re short on time.

- The method below is how my mother cooks oatmeal--she uses water to let the oat flavor shine through and not too much of it, so the oats stay firm. Excessive stirring is discouraged. Feel free to use a different recipe if you like a different style of oatmeal, or even substitute a different grain for the oats.

- I use this almond milk recipe. But I use slightly less water to make a thicker milk that foams better for lattes. Sometimes I use a little honey to sweeten it. But normally, I don’t add any sweeteners to it.

Image: Olaiya Land

Preheat your oven to 350° F. Spread the hazelnuts on a rimmed sheet pan and roast until the skins start to loosen and the nuts turn golden-brown and fragrant, 8-12 minutes Transfer the hot hazelnuts to a clean tea towel. Gather the four corners of the towel and twist them together to form a parcel around the hazelnuts. Rub vigorously to remove as many skins as possible. When you open the towel most of the skins should have fallen off. Lift the nuts off the towel with a slotted spoon, leaving the skins behind (it's ok if some are still attached) and place them on a plate to cool.

Image: Olaiya Land
Image: Olaiya Land

When the hazelnuts are cool enough to handle, place them in the bowl of a food processor with a pinch of salt. Process, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, until the nuts have turned into a smooth nut butter, 5-10 minutes. Transfer to an airtight container and store in a cool, dark spot. You will have extra for future breakfasts and snacks.

To make the oatmeal, heat 2 cups water in a medium saucepan over high heat. When the water comes to the boil, stir in the oats and a small pinch of salt. Cover, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the oats sit until they absorb most of the cooking liquid.

Heat the blueberries, maple syrup (if using) and a tablespoon of water in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook until the berries start to burst and the juices thicken a bit, about 10 minutes.

Toast the pepitas in a dry skillet over medium heat, stirring often, until they start to turn golden and some of them start to expand and make a popping sound. Sprinkle with a little salt and transfer to a plate to cool.

When you’re ready to assemble the bowls, heat the almond milk in a small pot over low heat. (I use my milk frother because it’s faster and easier.) Divide the oatmeal between 2 bowls. Pour the almond milk around the oatmeal. Top the oatmeal with a generous spoonful of hazelnut butter. Spoon some of the blueberries and their juices over the top then sprinkle with some of the toasted pepitas. Sprinkle very lightly with salt and drizzle with additional maple syrup if you like. Serve hot.

Makes 2 servings

Image: Olaiya Land

roasted white beans with fennel + mint chimichurri

Image: Olaiya Land

Ok. It’s time to get real with y’all. I have struggled with my weight for pretty much my entire life. As I wrote about in this post, I was a chubby bi-racial kid growing up in a super white, rural farming community. We moved to Wichita when I was 9, where I was the chubby brown girl who didn’t quite fit in with the white kids and wasn’t quite accepted by the black kids. I have a vivid memory of bawling my head off around this age because my hair wasn’t long and straight and blond like my mother’s. From the time I can remember anything, I remember feeling like I didn't belong. 

As a single-parent, my mom worked a lot when I was little. I spent most of my days with my grandparents, both of whom had lived through the Great Depression. They kept their house stocked to the rafters with every manner of foodstuff imaginable. They fed me sugar cereal, mac-n-cheese and candy bars. Fried chicken, frozen pizza and Hostess fruit pies. 

Food was love. And they loved the shit out of me. 

Image: Olaiya Land

It was the early 80s and we didn’t know as much back then about how sugar and processed carbs are essentially garbage. I know my grandparents just wanted to spoil me--their only grandchild for 9 years--and make sure I never went without the pleasures they had to forgo as children.

Food was my solace and my secret shame. By the time I was 12, I had a full-on eating disorder. I wanted to be thin and popular and look like the other girls at a time when almost no one looked like me. But I needed food to assuage my awkwardness and my fear of not being good enough. It was a vicious cycle.

Image: Olaiya Land

Fast-forward to adulthood. I’ve learned to love myself and love the body that I’m in. But it’s been a long road. From the time I graduated college until today, I’ve experimented with a vast panoply of diets. Weight Watchers. The Zone. Atkins. Keto. Low-fat. High-fat. Intuitive Eating. Extreme calorie restriction. The works. 

Things started to get better in the body kindness department the day I banished my scale. That sly dictator lounging under the bathroom sink had been running my life for years. I decided he had to go. Not weighing myself has been a major boost to my self-esteem. (And I’m serious about it--I don’t even let my doctor tell me my weight when I go to see her.) 

Next came finding a way of eating that works for me. I’ve been tweaking this over the past couple of years, but the gist of it is that I go easy on the sugar and carbs. I’ve learned that counting calories is absolutely toxic for me; I quickly tip over into crazytown if I go down that path, anxiously obsessing over everything that goes in my mouth. 

Image: Olaiya Land
Image: Olaiya Land
Image: Olaiya Land

I’m currently eating slow carb, which means lots of vegetables, protein, healthy fats and unrefined carbs, like beans and lentils. And zero calorie counting. Saturday is a free day when I eat whatever I want. So I don’t feel like anything is permanently out of bounds. (A girl has to get her pizza on from time to time!)

On the exercise front, I’ve decided only to do activities that I would do even if they burned no calories. I will play tennis in the freezing cold or blistering heat. I'd play in the rain if I could. There’s almost nothing that can keep me off the courts. So this is definitely on the list. I do strength training that involves a lot of balancing and compound movements because it feels like play and makes me feel strong and capable. And I walk with Beau in the evenings. That’s it. 

Image: Olaiya Land

So, about these beans. 

A slow-carb lifestyle involves A LOT of beans. And though I love beans in all their many shapes and sizes, here’s the truth of the matter: beans can get pretty boring when you eat them night after night.

One evening, I decided to toss some beans in with the vegetables I was roasting. What came out of the oven was AMAZING. (Some might even call it culinary genius. I’m not saying who.) These roasted beans were crispy on the outside and pillowy soft on the inside. Like dreamy little roasted potatoes. Or tater tots. Only healthier. 

Image: Olaiya Land

Now I am obsessed with roasted beans. They are my new go-to weeknight starch. I toss them on a sheet pan along with whatever vegetables I have lazing around in my fridge. Thirty minutes later--voilà! Supper is served. If you’re feeling fancy, poach a couple eggs or throw a piece of fish on the grill to serve alongside. Add a squeeze of lemon or a few dashes of hot sauce. It’s hard to go wrong.

For those of you who are perhaps less experimental in the kitchen, here is a recipe to get you started. You roast up a tray of plump corona beans (or gigantes or any other large bean really) with a bit of shallot. Grill up some squid (if you’re into seafood). Add some shaved fennel for crunch and a fresh, zingy chimichurri and your weeknight supper just got extra sexy.

Wherever you are in your relationship with food and your body, I think you can feel pretty good about this salad. It’s delicious whole foods, simply prepared. Miles away from Kraft mac-n-cheese and Hostess fruit pies. But with all the love.

XO,

Olaiya


Image: Olaiya Land

Roasted White Beans with Fennel and Mint Chimichurri

  • 4 cups cooked corona beans (or other large white beans), rinsed
  • 1 medium shallot, sliced
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice, plus an extra squeeze for the fennel
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, finely minced or pressed
  • 1 teaspoon chopped calabrian chiles in oil or a generous pinch of chile flakes
  • 1/2 cup roughly chopped fresh mint, plus additional mint to garnish
  • 1/2 medium fennel bulb, fronds reserved for garnish
  • 1 recipe Grilled Squid (see below), optional

*Notes: Canned beans will work for this recipe, but home cooked beans are best. Plus it's difficult to find large beans like coronas or gigantes in a can. Here are some tips on how to cook a perfect pot of beans.

- When it comes to Calabrian chiles, I love this brand. (Seattle friends: I buy these at PFI in SoDo)

- Grilled octopus would also be delicious in this recipe!

 

Preheat your oven to 475° F.

While the oven is preheating, dry your beans thoroughly with paper towels then transfer them to a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Scatter the sliced shallot over the beans and sprinkle with salt. Drizzle generously with olive oil and toss to coat the beans and the shallot. When the oven is hot, roast the beans, stirring occasionally for even browning, for 12-20 minutes. The exact time will depend on the size of your beans and how wet they are when they go in. You want them to be golden brown in spots, crispy on the outside and tender and fluffy on the inside. Don't worry if some of them split open. Remove them from the oven and set aside to cool.

While the beans are cooking, make the chimichurri: in a medium bowl, stir together 6 tablespoons of the olive oil along with the lemon zest, juice, garlic, chiles, mint and a pinch of salt.

With a sharp knife, Japanese slicer or mandoline, thinly slice the fennel and place it in a bowl. Toss it with a tablespoon or so of the chimichurri and an extra squeeze of lemon juice. Taste and add more chimichurri or lemon juice if you like.

When the beans have cooled somewhat, drizzle most of the chimichurri over them (save a tablespoon or so if you are making the squid). Toss to coat. Season to taste with more salt if necessary. Place the seasoned beans in a serving bowl and top with the dressed fennel and the grilled squid (if you're adding them). Sprinkle the reserved mint and torn fennel fronds over the salad and serve. 


Tender Grilled Squid

• 1 lb. squid, cleaned, cut into large pieces and patted very dry with paper towels
• Extra-virgin olive oil
• Sea salt

*Note: You can buy cleaned, pre-cut squid from your fishmonger or clean it yourself, which is a lot cheaper. Here's a video if you need help.

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Heat a large pan over high heat for a minute or so. Add enough olive oil to film the bottom of the pan, then add the squid pieces. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the squid is opaque and just barely cooked through, 2-4 minutes. It will give off a lot of water. Don't worry, this is normal. Do not overcook the squid or it will get rubbery.

Immediately transfer the squid to a large plate to cool. While the squid is cooling, heat a grill or grill pan to high heat.

Toss the squid in olive oil to barely coat (use some of the mint chimichurri if you have it) then grill until char marks appear, 1-2 minutes. Turn and grill for another minute or so until char marks appear on the other side. Transfer to a bowl to cool or eat immediately.