Raw Peanut Butter Cocoa Maple Squares

Raw Peanut Butter Maple Squares

I am now a convert to raw treats, especially when the sweetness comes from natural ingredients rather than refined sugars that produce a processed high. I'm all for purity, even when it comes to decadence. Being summer here, although not a particularly warm one, raw is also optimal to limit oven sessions.

Looking to feed my insatiable craving for peanut butter, I consulted Rawsome Vegan Baking which is by far one of the choicest books I have received this year because I have discovered a fellow nut fan in author Emily von Euw. I mixed things up just a little bit to suit my fancy, subbing peanut butter for the cashew butter called for in the original recipe. I've no doubt they would have been just as delicious, but I did have a particular craving to satisfy.

For me, peanut butter and chocolate make for the most exquisite pairings. Here, almonds and dates, sweetened with golden maple syrup come together in three layers of goodness. Rich, creamy, with some nutty texture and, yes, decadent, if you fail to resist the urge to eat a queen-sized portion of the pan — otherwise, they are pretty darn good for you.

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Saag Aloo (Spinach and Potato Curry)

Visit the Indian Food Glossary for information on the ingredients in this recipe
saag aloo

Unbelievably, after a conversation with my best friend Basil, I realized that I had yet to document and share a recipe from my kitchen for saag aloo here on my space. As this potato and spinach curry is one of the most popular North Indian vegetable dishes around the globe, I am rather ashamed to just be sharing a favorite version from my kitchen just now — and that after 7 1/2 years of blogging with particular attention to Indian cuisine! I've shared many classics over the years but somehow this earthy and spicy vegetable classic got lost in the shuffle. That oversight is now corrected.

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Green Pea Risotto

pea risotto

Once again a trip to the local market has to be an exercise in restraint as the bins and tables are bursting with beautiful local fresh produce of all kinds. But I can rarely resist picking up a bag of fresh garden peas in their pods, as the season for these always seems to be so short. I use frozen peas all year round, but there's nothing like the pop and sweet flavor of freshly shelled peas, and the methodical pace of shelling the peas is so calming besides.

Fresh Garden Peas

I've been especially indulgent with the garden peas this year, and although many of them are left around in a snacking bowl, I also like to take advantage of their culinary possibilities. So I combined them this time with one of my favorite dishes to come up with a simple but colorful summery risotto. Studded with fresh plump peas cooked until just tender at the very end of the cooking time, and flavored with a quick pea and fresh mint and basil purée, this creamy and classic risotto is easy to prepare, requiring only attention, and makes for a stunning gourmet way to enjoy the garden pea season.

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Gingered Mung Beans

Visit the Indian Food Glossary for information on the ingredients in this recipe
gingered mung beans

Legumes are a vegetarian's meat. Generally speaking, legumes in some shape or form appear on my menu everyday. They provide a multitude of health benefits, are inexpensive, and for the most part are easy to prepare. In addition to all of those benefits, think of the vast array of legumes at our fingertips and the endless ways to incorporate them into your diet — it follows that meals are never boring, but are instead an exciting taste experience.

Craving mung beans and not wanting to fuss too much in the kitchen, I came up with a simple curry with lots of ginger for a zingy dish. Mung beans have a distinct sweet and earthy taste and occupy a prominent role in the dishes they appear in, including spicy curries. They take very little time to cook, with minimal soaking beforehand — split mung cooks even faster, with no soaking time, but I generally prefer the slightly plumper whole mung for more texture.

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Avocado Mango Salad with Cilantro and Roasted Cashews

avocado mango salad

This is certainly on the list of the most refreshing and vibrant salads I have ever enjoyed. Colorful chunks of sweet mango and creamy avocado are dressed up with a bold and tangy lime dressing that embraces the herbs and fruit for a extra boost to the palate without overpowering the balance of flavors throughout. I've added jalapeño here for a bit of a kick and stove-top toasted cashews for some nuttiness and texture. There's a lot going on here, but it all comes together texturally and textually for a stunning taste experience. Despite the complexity of flavors, putting this salad together takes very little time at all and should be considered an ideal summer meal accompaniment or light lunch.

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Baked Cherry Oatmeal Pudding

cherry oatmeal pudding

Fresh sweet wine-red summer cherries might be my favorite snacking fruit, which can make pitting enough of them to get past my mouth and into a recipe an uncertain exercise — always better to have far too many on hand, at least in my house. But when they do survive long enough to be put into something like this oatmeal pudding, the results are extraordinary — baking cherries elevates their sweet taste and, combined with the essence of almonds, fills your kitchen with heavenly aromas.

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Roasted Balsamic Cherry and Goat Cheese Crêpes

balsamic cherry goat cheese crepes

If you were to ask me what my favorite fruit is at any given time, I'd likely say whatever fruit happened to be in front of me. But I do have a special weakness for sweet cherries when they're in season — plump, firm, sweet and so bold and striking in flavor, I buy large bags full of them as often as I can for snacks, breakfasts and treats.

This time around, I've tossed them in balsamic vinegar and roasted them in preparation for a crêpe filling. Roasting softens the cherries and deepens the flavor into almost a cherry pie filling taste without the sugar, and the balsamic vinegar further intensifies the flavor by lending it something like the taste of a robust red wine — definitely not vinegary! Combine with toasted almonds and tangy soft goat cheese and roll up in a soft, light and chewy crêpe and you have a sweet and savory treat that's perfect for brunch or lunch.

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Spicy Mushroom Green Pea Curry

Visit the Indian Food Glossary for information on the ingredients in this recipe
mushroom curry

Mushroom lovers will no doubt agree that this curry needs little introduction. Besides, it's about the food and not a lengthy preamble. Here meaty button mushrooms are enhanced in this dish by a rich blend of Indian spices, tangy tomatoes and plump local green peas. In addition to adding texture to dishes they appear in, mushrooms are a perfect vehicle for the seasonings present. This one is a perfect example of the magic mushrooms can conjure up.

Frozen green peas can be used in this curry, but if you are able to take advantage of the relatively short window of opportunity, do take the time to shell fresh peas while they are in season.

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Basmati Rice with Ginger-Seasoned Yogurt

Visit the Indian Food Glossary for information on the ingredients in this recipe
rice with yogurt and ginger

Yamuna Devi offers an extensive selection of rice dishes, and though I have owned The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking for many years I've yet to try every recipe in the rice section of her book, let alone all of the recipes calling for rice throughout. I'm happy to have some inspiration to look forward to. Certainly a staple from this most favored book is this creamy rice made with yogurt. Because it is not spicy, it's an ideal tempering dish to go along with fiery dishes. It's best served chilled, meaning you can prepare it ahead of time to go along with a more elaborate meal.

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Avocado Greek Salad

avocado greek salad

Salads appear on my table year round, but they are especially suited to the summer months when the produce is fresh and local and lighter meals are in order. All the fixings of your usual Greek salad are featured here — fresh vegetables, olives and feta — but the twist here is the addition of creamy avocado. The first time I tried it, I substituted goat cheese for the feta for some extra creaminess. The possibilities here are endless really, although a healthy helping of good quality olives and cheese are in my mind essential.

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New to the Pantry

From time to time, I am invited to explore books and sample products for possible review on my blog. The latest treat was some bread made right here in Ontario, Canada. A slice of buttered toast is often how I start my day, so I want a loaf of bread with plenty of flavor and substance — none of those airy bland generic white breads that give you a five-minute sugar spike for me! I'm also fussy about the quality of ingredients used and the baking process. So I was eager to try some slices of this bread that looked so appealing and smelled so inviting.

The Stonemill Bakehouse in Toronto is a family bakery that began in Germany in 1907 before moving to Canada in 1982. Using whole grains, organic sourdough and slow fermentation, their breads contain no sugar, which is certainly a bonus as sugar is hardly needed unless the bread lacks flavor from inferior ingredients.

And no sugar was needed at all. I tried the Multigrain Sourdough bread. I started with a buttered slice to get an initial idea of the bread before toasting some up. The seeds and grains provide a pleasant contrast of texture and flavor and the sourdough taste lingers pleasantly after a few bites. The bread is rather rustic in texture providing a good base for sandwiches, yet still soft enough to serve up if you don't want too much crunch to your sandwich. The bread absorbs flavor without turning into a soggy mess. Because of the firm texture, a few slices would also be a fine accompaniment to a warm bowl of soup.

The bread also toasts nicely, coming out crunchy but still chewy. Toasting really brings out the flavor of the seeds too. It makes an ideal bread for grilled cheese sandwiches when that craving hits for a classic bread accompaniment.

I'm looking forward to trying some of the other offerings from Stonemill. They have a rather extensive list of different breads that includes such intriguing loaves such as Flax and Chia, Cranberry Pumpkin Seed, Hearty Bavarian Rye, and Sunflower and Walnut. They're also the first company in English Canada to introduce vitamin D into some of their breads — almost as much as in a cup of milk and more than in egg yolks or fortified orange juices. The vitamin D is a natural result of exposing the yeast to a source of light, so it's not even synthetically produced. The breads with vitamin D include the ones that I want to try above, as well as Sprouted 3 Grains & Oatmeal, 11 Whole Grains & Honey, 12 Whole Grains & Sprouted Rye, Sprouted Flax, and several of their sourdough breads like Classic French, Multigrain and Belgian Whole Wheat.

And their breads are easy to find at most of the major grocers in Ontario, with limited distribution in Quebec and Canada. Those outside these areas can visit Stonemill via their Facebook page and they'll let you know if there's a store in your area. It's worth the small amount of time to find out.

Disclaimer: I received a sample of this bread for possible review on my blog and was compensated for writing this post. The opinions expressed here are my own.

Chickpea and Spinach Coconut Curry

Visit the Indian Food Glossary for information on the ingredients in this recipe
chickpea spinach curry

Succinct and complete, this easy chickpea curry is sure to become a staple on the menu if you adore the goodness of plump chickpeas and creamy coconut milk as much as I do. The addition of earthy spinach adds additional creaminess, not to mention extra nutrients.

As the dish incorporates spice blends that are made up ahead of time, such as curry powder and panch phoran, it comes together in hardly anytime at all and is an ideal accompaniment to basmati rice or Indian flatbread, such as naan. It is now part of my repertoire of quick yet nourishing meals when I am in a hurry.

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Short Grain Rice with Lemongrass

Lemongrass Rice

Rice is generally served at least once or twice a week in my kitchen. Although I enjoy it with little adornment alongside other dishes, especially soupy curries, I do like to dress it up sometimes too. The inclusion of coconut milk makes this rice extra creamy and the lemongrass gives the dish some delightful tang. Aromatic and comforting, this well-balanced combination is often served on special occasions. Sri Lankan in origin, the similarity between Indian and Sri Lankan cooking is of course to be expected as Sri Lanka is so close, just south of India's southern tip, although Sri Lanka has a diverse range of other influences that make their offerings unique. I am looking forward to exploring more traditional Sri Lankan food.

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Blueberry and Goat Cheese Salad with Mushrooms

blueberry goat cheese salad

It's blueberry season again, and although I eat them year round in great quantities, they are a real treat when they are fresh and local. Perfect just for snacking on, served up with your morning cereal, included in baked treats or even featured in salads, as I have done here, they are my berry of choice. With the recent heat wave, eating light with little heat emanating from the oven or stove-top is often the way to go.

I was recently sent a selection of blueberry recipes featured on the U.S Highbush Blueberry site. With so many tempting recipes to choose from, I think it was the heat and the intriguing blend of flavors included in this salad that resulted in this one landing on the table first.

blueberry goat cheese salad with mushrooms

Everything is here. Creamy and tangy goat cheese, crunchy walnuts, crisp salad greens, vibrant fresh blueberries, earthy and succulent mushrooms (my addition) all dressed up in a simple yet lively balsamic vinaigrette. Apart from the ease of preparation, it's a lovely salad in appearance in addition to a treat to the palate. Canada Day is past now, but those in the U.S. might want to consider dressing up their tables this July 4th weekend with this beauty. For that matter, this salad is perfect for any occasion or just as a simple but fabulous light lunch or side for dinner. I think it goes without saying it's also packed full of nutrition.

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No Croutons Required Soup and Salad Challenge for July 2014

It is my turn to host No Croutons Required this month. For this event we invite bloggers to submit a soup or salad suitable for vegetarians. As always, Jacqueline and I very much appreciate the dishes submitted.

To participate:

Make a soup or salad that is suitable for vegetarians and showcase it on your blog.

Link back to this announcement and my blog as I am the host for July.

Add your post using the linky tool at the end of this post by the 20th of this month. Only one entry per blogger please.

The roundup will be posted at the end of the month.

In the meantime, check out last month's roundup of delicious soups and salads.