Sweet Baked Yam With Tahini, Cilantro, and Pepitas

As the fall and winter months steal over the calendar, baked yams similarly creep into my meal plans as the year’s darkness and chill cause cravings for sugar and fat. This is not to say I don’t find an excuse to eat sweet potato fries all year…but since the trend to replace yams with russet potatoes in French fries hit the gastronomic scene in the 1980s, yams have come a long way from their once-a-year appearance at the Thanksgiving dinner table to transitioning into more of a culinary “regular.”

Why Choose Yams Over White Potatoes?

Yams are a great replacement for regular white potatoes if a diet requires complex carbs rather than starch, which is often hard to digest and more filling than it is nutritious. Generally, sweet potatoes have a lower glycemic index (GI) than russet potatoes. Additionally, yams are packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants like beta carotene. This antioxidant is turned into vitamin A once it is digested, which is essential for immune system function, skin clarity, and eye health. It is also pivotal in maintaining healthy mucous membranes in the digestive system, increasing immune response and lowering inflammation. In fact, vitamin A is incredibly abundant in yams, clocking in at over 100% of the daily value (DV) recommended for optimal health. What’s more, it is a fat-soluble nutrient–so preparing your yams with a little fat helps to make this vitamin more readily absorbable.

 

The Colorful Food Diet

Studies suggest that loading your plate with a variety of colors is a great way to ensure consumption of an abundance of nutrients, and typically at a lower caloric cost. This is a fun way to skip out on taking daily supplements and to explore new foods and cooking methods at the same time. Additionally, brightly colored foods tend to be fruits and vegetables, which have added benefits aside from their vitamin and mineral content such as fiber, complex carbs, healthy fats, and more.

Health Benefits of Tahini

Aside from boasting a rich, complex flavor, tahini has several health benefits as well. Just one tablespoon of tahini contains minerals essential to bone health, like phosphorous and manganese. Tahini also contains thiamine (vitamin B1) and vitamin B6, which are both important for sustaining energy production. Like yams, tahini is contains anti-inflammatory compounds and may even be beneficial to people with arthritis.

Sesame seeds, the main ingredient in tahini, have even been shown to improve kidney and liver function, and may even help to prevent fatty liver disease by increasing fat burning and decreasing fat production due to naturally occurring compounds. Sesame oil is a heart-healthy oil with primarily unsaturated fats and omega-6.

The Bottom Line

This dish is rich, filling, and incidentally healthy. One yam can easily feed two people, especially if prepared as a side dish to a protein or salad. Get your knife and fork ready and eat to your health!

Tahini and lemon juice is a classic pairing. The acidity of the lemon helps to temper some of tahini’s more earthy, bitter notes while enlivening some of its more pleasant characteristics, like its nutty richness and tang. Throw some grated garlic into the mix and you’ve got the beginnings of a flavorful dressing!

This easy dinner comes together quickly and is a great way to stretch ingredients to fill more bellies!

Sweet Baked Yam With Tahini, Cilantro, and Pepitas

Bake a yam and dress it with a sweet tahini sauce, fresh herbs, pepitas for crunch, and sour cream, creme fraiche, or yogurt for brightness! A simple, healthy, and fresh lunch or dinner.
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 1 hr
Course Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine Healthy, Intuitive, Vegetarian
Servings 2 people

Ingredients
  

  • 1 yam or sweet potato, medium
  • 1/4 cup tahini
  • 100 g fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 Tbs honey
  • 3 cloves garlic, grated or pressed
  • 2 Tbs water
  • 2 Tbs sour cream, creme fraiche, or yogurt
  • 1 Tbs cilantro, chopped
  • 1 Tbs pumpkin seeds, toasted
  • sumac, to taste (optional)

Instructions
 

  • Preheat oven to 425°F.
  • Scrub yam free of dirt and particulates. Wrap in tin foil tightly and bake in the oven until fork-tender and releasing caramelized juices, 45 minutes to an hour and a half, depending on the size of the yam.
  • Meanwhile, create the tahini dressing. Mix tahini, lemon juice, honey, garlic, oil, and water in a small bowl or liquid measuring cup until silky and uniform. Remove cilantro leaves from the stems and chop.
  • In a small skillet over medium heat, toast pumpkin seeds until fragrant and golden, about five minutes. Set aside.
  • When the yam has finished baking, remove from the oven, discard the tinfoil, and set the yam on a large plate. Using a long knife, slice the yam into four even pieces, lengthwise. Immediately splatter tahini and sour cream in equal measure over the yam. Toss cilantro and pumpkin seeds over the top, and a dash of sumac, if desired. Serve immediately.
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Thai-Inspired Kefir Water (Tibicos) Mocktail

During the indulgence of the holidays, do yourself a favor and add a kefir water mocktail to the rotation of boozed up eggnog and spiked hot chocolate. Not only is this choice better for your liver, but it boosts your gut health (which is especially crucial when  eating hard to process foods) and may even boost immune system and cancer cell response, and be anti-inflammatory.

What Is Water Kefir?

Sometimes called “tibicos,” water kefir is fermented sugar water. Even simpler to make than kombucha or jun, water kefir has all the benefits of naturally occurring yeasts and probiotics without the caffeine of kombucha or jun, and without the dairy of milk kefir or yogurt. Instead of a “mother” culture or scoby, however, water kefir is brewed using kefir grains, which contain the sugar-consuming bacteria necessary to cause fermentation to occur.

Why Choose Water Kefir Over Other Cultured Beverages?

If you are vegan or sensitive to dairy, water kefir is a great alternative to milk kefir or yogurt. As it is caffeine-free, it can be consumed any time of day or night, and is a great choice for those who are sensitive to the effects of caffeine. It may even contain less sugar in an 8 ounce glass than the average kombucha or milk kefir. (In short, the longer you allow your water kefir to “culture,” the longer the bacteria has a chance to eat up the sugar in the sugar-water solution. This translates to less sugar in the final product.) Water kefir also takes less time to ferment than kombucha or jun, clocking in at 24-48 hours of fermentation time, as opposed to cultured tea’s fermentation period of 7-30 days.

Making Water Kefir At Home

Water kefir is simple to make and easy to maintain. To brew, all you need is:

  • sugar
  • water free of chlorine; hard, highly mineralized water is good
  • a 32 ounce mason jar
  • a coffee filter
  • a rubber band
  • a wooden spoon
  • a fine mesh strainer
  • activated water kefir grains
  1. Pour 1/4 cup of sugar into your jar.
  2. Add 1/2 cup of hot water and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved.
  3. Add 3 cups of cool water to the jar and test to make sure it is between 65°F-86°F.
  4. Add activated water kefir grains. Cover the jar with a coffee filter secured by a rubber band and let culture 24-48 hours.
  5. To flavor the kefir, separate the grains from the liquid using a strainer and reserve the kefir. Add fresh fruit, ginger root, fruit juice, coconut water, etc to a clean jar, add kefir water, cover with a lid, and let sit at room temperature for several days. Relieve the pressure building in the lid every day by cracking the lid open, otherwise your jar could become dangerously pressurized! The kefir water is ready to refrigerate and drink when it is lightly carbonated.
  6. Repeat the above steps to continue making water kefir. If you would like to take a water kefir “break, repeat steps 1-3, add water kefir grains and cover the jar with a lid, then immediately refrigerate. Kefir can survive in the fridge up to 3 weeks before it must be fed again.

Sugars Compatible with Water Kefir Culture

  • refined white sugar
  • cane juice crystals
  • turbinado, demerara, or raw sugar
  • brown sugar
  • rapadura or sucanat

It is important to check a source like this one from Cultures For Health to make sure your sweetener is aligned with the health of the water kefir’s culture. For example, agave and maple syrup are undigestible for water kefir. Ingredients like molasses and coconut sugar can be used in small doses, or combined with any of the sugars in the bullet list above. Honey has its own bacterial culture and is not recommended, as it may be very damaging to water kefir grains.

Stick to the list of approved sugars, however, and your culture should be very happy! The good news is, each sugar in the bullet list above has a unique flavor profile, which means water kefir can taste quite different depending on the sugar you choose to feed it.

Where Can I Buy Water Kefir?

Of course, you can find water kefir grains on Amazon or other third-party vending sites. Or, you can buy directly from companies like Cultures For Health and receive their water kefir starter kit. Happy Gut has kefir grains for sale and boasts a collection of flavor additives you can purchase at checkout. Alternatively, there may be someone near you who is cultivating water kefir. Kefir grains do multiply over time, and perhaps they would share a few with you.

Why Water Kefir Is A Mixologist’s Dream

Water kefir can be fed many kinds of sugar and therefore can take on different flavor characteristics. It can also be flavored after the ferment using fruit, chopped roots, herbs and aromatics, juices, coconut water, and more.

The Diageo Bar Academy has some thoughts on what makes a quality drink. They say:

A good cocktail has tension. Tension exists in the balance between the elements: alcoholic strength, sweetness, sourness, bitterness, saltiness, temperature and texture. Flavour alone is not enough to make a good drink great.

With that in mind, water kefir can be manipulated into many “textures” or levels of carbonation, many levels of sweetness, and even levels of sourness. As it is a fermented beverage, it adds a trace layer of alcohol to any mixed drink, though it alone would have to be consumed in massive quantities in order to feel the effects of alcohol. (Most folks recommend drinking 16 ounces of water kefir a day.)

Incorporating water kefir into a crafted drink (with or without alcohol) is a great way to add complexity and a touch of sweetness or sourness to your beverage. Simple or very lightly flavored water kefir also makes a great replacement for tonic or soda water in a mixed drink. In short, starting with a quantity of intentionally-brewed water kefir means most of the heavy lifting for creating a drink is done. Simply add fresh fruit juice, some herbs, and maybe some alcohol, and you have a refreshing (even healthful) drink on your hands!

Simple, Thai-Inspired Kefir Mocktail

With fresh, simple ingredients, it’s hard to go wrong.

With a simple kefir water flavored only with white sugar and coconut water, this drink was complex and delicious even before it was fully assembled!

Thai-Inspired Water Kefir (Tibicos) Mocktail

This curated beverage contains trace amounts of alcohol, but not enough to feel its effects. Enjoy in lieu of a cocktail; or, add a splash of tequila, white rum, or vodka if desired.
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 10 mins
Total Time 10 mins
Course Beverage, Cocktail, Happy Hour, mixed drink, Mocktail
Cuisine American, Healthy
Servings 1 drink

Ingredients
  

  • 0.5 ounces fresh ginger root, peeled with the edge of a spoon
  • 1/2 cup turbinado or raw sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 5 large basil leaves
  • 8 ounces coconut kefir water
  • 0.5 ounces fresh lime juice
  • lime wedges, for garnish
  • coarse mineral salt, for garnish

Instructions
 

  • Roughly chop peeled ginger and place in a small sauce pot along with raw sugar and water. Bring to a boil and stir to dissolve sugar. Remove from the heat and let mixture steep until it is cool to the touch, 20-30 minutes.
  • Strain ginger and reserve the simple syrup.
  • Cut a lime into wedges and rub the top of a large glass or jar with the cut lime. Turn the glass upside down on a plate with coarse mineral salt until the lip of the glass is heavily salted.
  • Muddle 4 of the basil leaves in the large glass or jar along with lime juice. Fill the vessel with ice and stir until ice is coated.
  • Remove bruised basil leaves from the jar and add kefir water, along with 0.5 ounces of the ginger simple syrup. Stir.
  • Add remaining basil leaf and lime slices to the glass as a garnish. Serve immediately.
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Creamy Pumpkin Pasta (V)

Picture this: you’ve just found the most perfect recipe for homemade pumpkin pie. You’ve cleared you schedule, cleaned your kitchen, purchased the ingredients…and now all there is left to do is bake.

You begin adding ingredients to the mixing bowl with precision and care until you come to the pinnacle moment that gives your pie its very essence: the can of pumpkin puree. (Of course, if you take the time to process your own pumpkin every time you bake a pie, my hat is off to you. Sometimes we only have time for a two hour project, so a can of the sweet orange stuff will have to do!)

After adding the necessary puree to the bowl, your stomach falls to the floor. You realize, hands shaking, that you have an odd amount of leftover pumpkin in the can. You know logically that if you cover it with cling film and try to save it, it will kick around in the fridge for longer than you’d like until you find some use for it or at last throw it away. Even the dogs have started rolling their eyes at you when you continue to offer them spoonfuls…they’ve seen this all play out before.

Fear not, reader. There is an easy, delicious use for the odd amount of pumpkin puree that you’ve always wondered what to do with. The solution in this case, and in many other cases, is: pasta.

this recipe is so easy and cheap to make, and takes very little time to assemble. here’s to another simple weeknight dinner!

For those of you who are paying attention to how much dairy you consume, this recipe was created with the intention of making it vegan. (If you’d rather have your dairy, feel free to substitute heavy whipping cream for coconut cream and parmesan for capers.) With the holiday season upon us, I found myself craving something relatively healthy and light.

cooked pasta is introduced to pumpkin and coconut cream and blended

This recipe can all be made in one pot, for those of you who prefer to do less dishes. I have a feeling I am not alone in this…

Toast the walnuts while you are making your sauce. Chop them up to your desired coarseness when they are cool enough to touch. Add red pepper flakes, torn parsley, and capers.

…not a bad way to end the day !

Creamy Pumpkin Pasta (Vegan)

This healthy, one-pot dinner makes a great ending to a busy day.
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 15 mins
Course Main Course
Cuisine Healthy, Intuitive, vegan
Servings 4 people

Ingredients
  

  • 8 oz pasta of your choice
  • 1/2 cup full fat coconut milk, with cream
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1/3 cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
  • 2 Tbs capers
  • 4 Tbs fresh parsley, torn or chopped
  • 1/4 Tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • salt, to taste
  • freshly cracked pepper, to taste

Instructions
 

  • Preheat oven to 350°F.
  • In a large, heavy-bottomed sauce pot, bring 4 quarts of salted water to a boil.
  • Chop parsley and set aside. Measure out pumpkin and coconut and set aside.
  • Boil pasta until al dente, 7-12 minutes. Meanwhile, toast walnuts until fragrant and golden brown, about 5 minutes. When cool enough to touch, coarsley chop walnuts and set aside.
  • Drain pasta. Add oil to pot and turn heat to medium. Add red pepper flakes and "bloom" in the oil, cooking for several minutes until the color and flavor starts to bleed into the oil.
  • Turn heat to low, add pumpkin and coconut cream and stir. Turn heat off, and add drained pasta, parsley, walnuts, and capers, stirring to combine. Taste, adding salt and pepper as needed.
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Other Ways to Use Up Pumpkin Puree

No-Fuss Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls

Let’s face it–some sourdough recipes are anything but no-fuss. On the coattails of sourdough’s great, quarantine-inspired resurgence, many bread lovers with lofty aspirations of achieving the perfect loaf have come to the same conclusion: working with sourdough can be kind of hard.

It’s not that caring for a starter poses an insurmountable challenge. If anything, neglecting–or simply forgetting–about your starter in the fridge can be the biggest hurdle, if you don’t bake every day, or even every week.

What Does It Mean To Care For Sourdough Starter

The fact is, sourdough is alive with wild yeasts and lactobacilli, an umbrella term for bacteria strains typically found in yogurt and dairy products. These strains of bacteria excel at converting sugar into lactic and acetic acid, which translates, happily for us, into flavor. (This is why we love our artisan bakers for intimately caring for their cultured loaves, from the beginning stages of liquid starter to a gorgeously shaped levain.)

Dreamy as the sourdough life may seem, not all of us can shape our lives around a schedule dictated by bacteria, temperature, and flour. The good news is, there are many uses for sourdough starter other than making bread, many of which take much less time to master.

Ways to De-Mystify Your Starter

If pulling out the scale once a week becomes a pain-point in the process of caring for your starter, ditch it.

The deeper one digs into the realm of sourdough culture (pun intended) the more involved (and superstitious) recipes for sourdough become. A baker may weigh every ounce to the proper decimal, consider every variable impacting culture activity, and plan their life around their starter–and still bake a crummy loaf.

Don’t view your starter as a complex adversary–it is a new friend you are getting to know.

Feed your sourdough culture 1 cup of water and 1 cup of flour when you pull it from the fridge. Clean the container, pour the fed starter back into its vessel, and use what doesn’t fit in a recipe like No-Fuss Cinnamon Rolls. (This is called sourdough discard.)

If you are unsure of how to use your sourdough discard, consider these ideas:

A simple rule of thumb for understanding sourdough starter behavior is, the warmer the environment, the more active the starter. This is why if you keep sourdough starter on your fridge, it requires daily feedings–versus the weekly feedings required when kept in the fridge.

Resources For Further Sourdough Recipes and Research

  • The New York Times produced a deep dive into making a sourdough loaf, with illustrative pictures and step-by-step instructions.
  • Breadtopia hosts a wealth of information about different kinds of flours, sourdough care, loaf-shaping methods, and also boasts a large collection of recipes.
  • King Arthur Flour is a trusted source for recipes with predictable levels of success for bakers of all experience levels.
  • Cultures For Health is an excellent resource for many “alive” products, including milk and water kefirs, sourdough, kombucha, and more.

But enough about starter care: let’s get to the good stuff.


hear that? that’s the sound of success. and also, my neighbors’ construction project 🙂

This recipe is for the casual sourdough fan,

who may have acquired a starter during quarantine but still would unabashedly consider themselves in the “training wheels” phase of Sourdough Understanding. Personally, I’ve had my starter for years, and I’m still getting to know it–I am still baking loaves that cause me frustration, and, occasionally, I bake beautiful ones.

These cinnamon rolls, however, have yet to disappoint. This was one of the first recipes I ever followed which yielded successful results from a starter and made me believe that maybe I was, in fact, developing the accompanying intuition for translating my starter’s behavior into an end result I wanted to eat.

vanilla cream cheese frosting makes everything better…and a flaky bun makes for a great bite

Assemble the ingredients for the dough and mix.

there’s our friend the sourdough starter, in the top left corner
she may look a little shaggy, but she cleans up real neat

It is very important not to overmix the dough at any point in this recipe!

When you first begin mixing the ingredients together, feel free to use your hands so you can experience the textural change the ingredients undergo as they combine. The dough should barely come together, feel shaggy, and also very tender. The more you “knead” the dough and mix it together, the tougher it gets (and nobody wants a tough bun!) due to gluten networks forming. Treat this dough as gently as possible and you will be rewarded with airy, delicious buns.

On paper, this shaggy mixture should hang out at room temperature overnight–but since it’s been a little colder at my place in these winter months, I let it sit on the counter, covered, for about 18 hours. Again, don’t go overboard adhering to a strict schedule on this one. I’ve made these before letting the dough rest about 10 hours with great success. This is not a recipe to stress about…promise.

Here’s what the dough looked like after resting for a glorious 18 hours:

the dough should be significantly more relaxed in the bottom of the bowl
l: filling ingredients; r: rising agents and salt for dough

Sprinkle baking soda, baking powder, and salt over the dough and mix gently until incorporated. Dough should be incredibly soft, tender, and supple at this point and will literally feel like (and resemble) a dimpled baby’s bottom. Roll dough out over a floured surface into a vaguely rectangular shape.

Filling ingredients are mashed together with a fork until a paste forms. Spread over the dough, roll into a log, and cut.

i am of the school of thought that more filling is better…
leave some space in your pan to account for growth
whipped up some vanilla cream cheese frosting, because that’s my business
good morning to me
if you like a bun with a little structural integrity, this is the recipe for you

No-Fuss Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls

This simple dough relaxes at room temperature overnight before being rolled out, rolled up, and baked into sweety cinnamon-y goodness.
Prep Time 45 mins
Resting Time 12 hrs
Total Time 13 hrs 10 mins
Course Breakfast, Dessert
Cuisine American, festive, holiday, Intuitive, sourdough, traditional

Ingredients
  

Dough

  • 1/2 cup cold butter, salted
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup active sourdough starter, or sourdough discard
  • 1 Tbs white sugar
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 tsp fine salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda

Filling

  • 2 sticks salted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 Tbs ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar

Icing

  • 4 oz full fat cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla or vanilla bean paste
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 pinch of salt

Instructions
 

  • 12 hours or so before you wish to bake, prepare the dough.
  • Using a food processor or a pastry cutter, combine butter and flour until the mixture looks sandy and uniform. If using a food processor, empty contents into a large bowl. Add starter, sugar, and milk and very gently mix until dough only just comes together. It is important not to overmix at this stage. Cover the dough with plastic wrap or a clean, damp towel and let rest at room temperature 12-18 hours.
  • In a small bowl, mix salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Sprinkle over the rested dough and mix with your hands until the ingredients are incorporated. Dough should slacken considerably and feel very tender and light. Again, be careful not to overmix.
  • Preheat oven to 400°F.
  • Lightly flour a clean level surface and roll out the dough until it is roughly 1/4" thick, and in a rectangular shape.
  • In a medium bowl, mash warm butter, sugar, cinnamon, and ginger with a fork until a paste forms. Spread the paste evenly over the dough using the back of a spoon or a spatula.
  • Roll the dough up lengthwise as tightly as possible. Cut the ends off of the log, then cut the remaining dough into roughly 1" thick rounds.
  • Place buns in a buttered cast iron skillet, cookie sheet, or muffin tin and bake 20-25 minutes, or until buns are golden brown at the edges.
  • Meanwhile, prepare the icing in a medium bowl. Combine room temperature cream cheese, vanilla, salt, and milk with a whisk or spatula. Gradually add powdered sugar until incorporated, adding more sugar as desired.
  • Drizzle buns with icing and serve immediately. Keeps in the fridge up to 3 days. Reheat in small bursts in the microwave for delicious leftovers.
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