Posts by Chef Nathan Lyon

Pass the Salt Podcast is LIVE!

Announcing PASS THE SALT Podcast! Yes. We’re doing it. Aarti Sequeira (Food Network Star, Author of Aarti Paarti Cookbook), Sarah Forman (Culinary Manager & “Super Sous”), Brendan McNamara (Actor, Comedian, Maker of Movies) and I are podcasting.

“Pass the Salt” podcast – the convivial conjunction of pop culture and the food world. Eat, talk, repeat! From bone broth to uni to coffee to ice cream – we cover all the good stuff. New episodes each Wednesday.

Tune in and subscribe at http://ptspod.tumblr.com/

Follow us on Twitter and Instagram: @ptspod

Questions, comments, topic ideas? Send them in (through my blog, twitter, Instagram…)! We want to hear from you.

PTSPOD Collage

Pickled Radish and Radish Top Red Pepper Salsa – Drought Friendly Recipe

On March 18, Super Sous and I wrote a blog introducing our “Drought Friendly Recipe” project. Recipes that are delicious and have low water footprints. Good to make no matter where you are in the USA – since 50% of all California produce is shipped to feed the country.

In that blog, we mentioned the idea of food waste, writing that 40% of all food that is grown in the US is wasted. This happens on all levels of the food chain. From the farms to transportation to grocery stores to restaurants to our own homes. Inherent in that 40% is approximately 11 trillion gallons of lost water. California is relying heavily on groundwater (think using your savings account instead of living off of your checking account – where your checking account would be California’s reservoirs). As the groundwater has been depleting, we are drilling wells reaching water that fell to the earth 20,000 years ago. As Mother Jones writes, “Such water is not just old. It’s prehistoric. It is older than the earliest pyramids on the Nile, older than the world’s oldest tree, the bristlecone pine. It was swirling down rivers and streams 15,000 to 20,000 years ago when humans were crossing the Bering Strait from Asia.”

We need to conserve all the water we can!

On April 22 (Earth Day and Super Sous’ birthday!), MSNBC will be broadcasting a documentary on food waste called “Just Eat It.” You can watch the trailer and/or check out this fascinating view of food waste at its origins on the farm:

Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 11.42.22 AM

Although we may not have control over how something is farmed, we can certainly control things once we purchase them.

Let’s take the simple radish. Somewhat underestimated, the radish is a delicious addition to your regular repertoire. Radishes are a crunchy, spicy root vegetable that are delicious whether raw or roasted.

Not only is the radish delicious, but radish tops are a tasty green. Mild with a slight hint of pepper; delicate, but not too delicate; they have integrity. Radish tops often get discarded, but they are so worth preparing – raw, sauteed or in this radish top red pepper salsa recipe which is perfect for a taco, chips/crackers, potatoes…

Since it’s edible, delicious and took water to grow, let’s enjoy the whole thing. Here’s one idea to utilize the whole radish – from root to top.

pickeld radish

Pickled Radish

½ pound radish, rinsed and cut into 1/8-inch slices

1 cup distilled white vinegar

¾ cup water

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

¼ teaspoon salt

Add all ingredients to a small bowl and mix to combine.

Let sit for at least 1 hour before using.

Radish Top and Red Pepper Salsa

Radish Top and Red Pepper Salsa

Yield: 1 cup

5 large fire-roasted red bell peppers, drained and rough chopped (1 cup)

2 large garlic cloves, peeled and rough chopped

¼ cup roughly chopped fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley

¼ cup roughly chopped fresh mint leaves

1 cup roughly chopped (rinsed) radish greens

1½ tablespoons whole grain Dijon mustard

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

Zest of ½ small lemon (1/4 teaspoon)

Juice of ½ small lemon (1 Tablespoon)

1/8 teaspoon ground cumin

1/8 teaspoon ground coriander

2 tablespoons grapeseed oil

½ teaspoon granulated sugar

Place all ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth. Season to taste with additional salt, lemon and/or sugar. Let sit for 1 hour for flavors to meld before serving.

Drought Friendly Recipe – Roasted Eggplant Caponata

It’s time for another drought friendly recipe.

On March 18, Super Sous and I wrote a blog post about the California Drought and introduced the idea of Drought Friendly Recipes. These are recipes that use foods with a low water footprint. (Lower than some of the heavier hitting foods, like California nuts (e.g. almonds, walnuts, pistachios) and anything related to the California beef/cattle industry.)

The premise of this idea is that between 74-80% of all water (figures vary) in California is used for agriculture and 50% of all our agriculture is exported to feed the rest of the country, so we are all affected by this drought and we can all help conserve California water.

This week, California’s Governor Jerry Brown announced mandatory cuts to water use for the residential users of California’s water. (A reduction of 25%) And while every drop counts and Californian’s pull up their grass to install drought tolerant plants and restaurants stop serving water to patrons unless requested, what is being done to address the 80% of water use?

California farming/commodities is a 46.4 billion dollar industry with 1/3 of that amount being attributed to milk & cream, grapes and almonds crops.

Let’s take a brief moment to reminisce. What happened to the days of the good ole peanut? Peanut butter, peanuts on a your salad? Virginia grown peanuts?  You know… think back about 5-10 years ago. California almonds use 9-10% of California’s agriculture water. Almonds trees need to be watered year round. I love almonds like the next person, but in a time of extreme drought, how many almonds do we need to be eating? Some figures state that it takes about a gallon of water to produce 1 almond.  In our original blog post, Super Sous and I gave the global water footprint number (from the Water Footprint Organization) which is 1,927 gallons of water for 1 pound of almonds. Upon tweeting this from @chefnathanlyon Twitter account, the California Almond board and I had this conversation:

1of3almonds

20f3almonds

3of3almonds

So… until that number is produced, I think we can safely say that it takes a lot of water to produce a pound of almonds.

I think the real / underlying question is – where is the oversight in our agriculture and water system here in California? Who is looking at the big picture view? Certainly, no one wants a small farmer/family business, regardless of the crop, to go under because of this drought (which sadly is already happening). California grows over 400 crops. It’s a wonderful thing… if you have water.

If you own a farm which has access to groundwater that hasn’t dried out and/or has access to reservoir water and can afford the water, then you are green-light-go. If you own a farm that has no ground water or access to reservoir water or you can’t afford the water, then your fields will go fallow. Anyone can choose to plant any crop on their land. There is no one saying that we need x amount of wheat or x amount of nuts from California to feed the world. In times of extreme drought, should there be? And should Governor Brown give restrictions to farmers? Should farmers also be subjected to a 25% reduction of water?

Jon Stewart from The Daily Show addressed this very issue the other night:

Daily Show Drought Clip

Regardless of restrictions, we need to have a ready supply of water in California if we want to keep California agriculture a thriving business. We need a solution.

So really – when are we going to start talking about a water pipeline or desalination. Every time these ideas come up, the phrase “so expensive” follows suit. Isn’t it more expensive for California to lose its 46.4 billion dollar industry? Or for residents to run out of water (which has already happened in some towns)? Or for the United States to have to import more food internationally?

In the meantime, every bite we take counts in conservation. So, enjoy our latest drought friendly recipe. It’s a Roasted Eggplant Caponata. My take on the classic Sicilian eggplant dish chock full of cooked, sweet veggies. Pairs well with pasta, toasted baguette, over a bed of greens or with a bowl and your favorite spoon. No nuts needed.

eggplant caponata

Roasted Eggplant Caponata

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

1 large Italian eggplant, peeled and diced medium (approximately 7 to 8 cups)

2 medium yellow onions, peeled and diced small (2 cups)

7 tablespoons of grapeseed oil, divided

3 large garlic cloves, peeled and minced (1 tablespoon)

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground fennel seed

¼ teaspoon crushed red chile pepper (chile flakes), or to taste

1 fennel bulb, diced small (1 cup)

1 large red, yellow, or orange bell pepper, cored and diced small (1¼ cup)

1 (14-ounce) can diced fire-roasted tomatoes, undrained

3 tablespoons capers, rinsed, drained, and chopped roughly

1 cup green olives, pits removed and chopped roughly

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Kosher salt, to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

⅓ cup roughly chopped fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley

7 medium-sized fresh basil leaves, stacked, rolled and sliced very thinly

Adjust two oven racks to the middle position, then preheat the oven to 450ºF.

In a large bowl, toss the eggplant with 3 tablespoons of oil, and season well with salt and pepper.

Spread out the eggplant in one layer onto two parchment paper-lined sheet pans. Roast, uncovered, in the oven for 15 minutes. Remove the sheet pans from the oven, stir the eggplant, then place the sheet pans back in the oven, this time on opposite racks. Bake 15 minutes more, until the eggplants are lightly colored and cooked through.

After the eggplant has been cooking for 15 minutes, stir the diced onion with ¼ cup of oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Cook for approximately 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft, translucent, and lightly caramelized.

Next, stir in the garlic, cumin, ground fennel, and chile flakes and cook until fragrant, 1 minute.

Add the diced fennel and the bell pepper and cook until they begin to soften, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes.

Stir in the tomatoes, capers, olives, vinegar and baked eggplant. Cook until the caponata has thickened, approximately 15 minutes, then remove from the heat, season to taste with salt and pepper, and stir in the parsley and basil.

Serve and enjoy.

P.S. Check out our recent Drought Friendly Recipe for Eggless Shakshuka.

Drought Friendly Eggless Shakshuka

On March 18, Super Sous and I posted a blog about the California Drought and how it affects the entire United States via the food grown in California (50% of California fruits and veggies are exported across the US – not just to grocery stores, but to restaurants, institutions, hospitals, schools, etc.).

Another thing that we mentioned in the blog post, is that we (Super Sous and I) have decided to create some “Drought Friendly Recipes”. Since 74% of all water in California is used for agriculture, our idea is that we can incorporate foods into our day-to-day lives that have a lower water footprint (than others).

For example, if the Water Footprint Organization says (global average) that it takes 28 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of lettuce, this might be a better drought friendly food choice than, say, eating a pound of figs which they slate at 401 gallons of water per pound.

Of course, figs and lettuce have different nutritional properties (and you are probably not going to eat a pound of either in one sitting!), but these drought friendly recipes aren’t about completely re-arranging your diet or skipping out on the nutrients you need. It’s about being aware of the drought and what each of us can do to conserve our precious water. If we can substitute a “water heavy” meal (like beef which is calculated to take anywhere between 1500 to 2000 gallons of water per pound), for a drought friendly recipe even once a week, it will make a difference in terms of conservation. (Fun fact: Did you know that 1 pound of goat meat takes only 127 gallons of water to produce?)

Now, this is not a perfect science/water calculation and we know it.

This is about having a conversation about the drought and dialoguing about conservation and solutions.

Our first “Drought Friendly” recipe is an Eggless Shakshuka. Shakshuka is a North African egg dish with tomatoes, onions and spices. Here, Super Sous and I substitute eggs with goat cheese and avocado. You can add both goat cheese and avocado or choose one or the other. Whatever you like best.

1 egg is cited by National Geographic to require 53 gallons of water to produce, whereas 1 pound of avocados (2-3 avocados) takes  237 gallons. Shakshuka would normally call for 6 eggs. So, this dish, (eggs alone) would take 317 gallons of water to produce. The 1 avocado used is 1/3 of that. And whereas a typical American breakfast might be eggs and bacon breakfast or a cup of greek yogurt or grabbing something on the go, this is a great alternative.

Since I began on my culinary journey, from learning how to garden with my grandparents as a child to working at farmers markets for over 10 years to cooking on television, I have always told people to shop locally as much as possible. Go to farmers markets, shop in season and support your local farmer, when you can. If you live outside of California, for example in Virginia where I’m from, and you are buying all of your meat and produce locally, and you are cooking all your meals at home, then wow! you are amazing and Super Sous I want to come over for dinner! But seriously, if you are able to do such a thing, than these recipes will be more food for thought than drought friendly conservation efforts. However, most of us don’t cook every meal at home. And most people don’t shop solely at farmers market nor even have that option depending on where in the country we live and what time of year it is. So, there’s a good chance you are shopping at grocery stores and eating at restaurants that are using California produce.

The last thing I want to mention is about food waste. This recipe calls for beet greens. There are so many recipes for beets out there, but less so for beet greens (although they are so tasty). Super Sous and I want to utilize as much as possible of the fruit and/or vegetable we are cooking with. 40% of all food goes to waste in the United States which translates to trillions of lost gallons of water. No need to discard the beet greens next time you grab a bunch of beets – here’s a great way to enjoy them.

Finally, Super Sous and I would love to hear from you. Comments, questions, thoughts, ideas, etc. Like I wrote, this is not an exact science or a strict dietary plan or about restricting your meals or nutritional needs. This is about a conversation that needs to be happening a lot more.

So, let’s gather around the communal table and discuss. I’ll bring the bread, you bring the shakshuka.

Shakshuka Goat Cheese

Shakshuka with goat cheese only

Shakshuka Goat and Avocado

Shakshuka with goat cheese and avocado

 

Drought Friendly Eggless Shakshuka

 

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

 

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons grapeseed oil

¼ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

1 large yellow onion, peeled and diced medium (1½ cups)

10 cloves garlic, peeled and minced (3 tablespoons)

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons Hungarian paprika

¼ teaspoon crushed red chile pepper (chile flakes)

2 cups roughly chopped beet greens, rinsed but not dried

2 large fire-roasted red bell peppers, diced medium

1 (28-ounce) can diced fire-roasted tomatoes, undrained

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 small avocado, pitted and sliced

3 tablespoons fresh goat cheese (chevre)

20 fresh cilantro leaves

1 baguette, sliced into large pieces

 

Place a large sauté pan over medium-low heat and add oil, onion and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 6 to 8 minutes, until the onions are soft and translucent.

Add garlic, cumin, paprika and chile flakes. Stir and cook until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes.

Add beet greens and stir. The remaining moisture from rinsing the greens will release any brown bits from the bottom of the sauté pan. Continue cooking and stirring, for 3 to 5 minutes, until the chard has steamed, softened and reduced to half of its original volume.

Add the peppers, tomatoes and black pepper. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for approximately 10 minutes, until the liquid has thickened slightly.

Season to taste with additional salt and pepper.

Remove from heat.

Arrange slices of avocado and dollops of goat cheese on the shakshuka. Sprinkle over fresh cilantro.

Serve on plates with a slice of fresh baguette.

Introducing Drought Friendly Recipes – Tick-Tock Drip-Drop

Grab yourself a cool glass of water and take a seat.

You’re gonna need it. And not just the seat. I’m talking about the water.

Last week, Jay Famiglietti, senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory/Caltech and a professor of Earth system science at UC Irvine, wrote an Op Ed in the LA Times stating that we have only 1 year of water left in our California reservoirs.

I say “we have” and “our California reservoirs” because this problem reaches beyond California. Far beyond.

According to the California Water Science Center USGS (data from 2010), California uses 38 billion gallons of water each day – equivalent to draining the Shasta Lake Reservoir (California’s largest) once every 40 days.

lakeShasta_Feb-Oct_comparison

The majority of that water, a whopping 74%, is used for agriculture.

Agriculture that is grown and shipped all over the United States, as well as overseas.

California grows over 400 commodities, a 46.4 billion dollar business. Around 50% of what is grown in California is exported according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

California leads the nation in growing and supplying over 75 crops to the rest of the country. Meaning, if you purchase, for example, US grown: kale, tomatoes, lettuce or strawberries, to name a few, there’s a pretty good chance that it was grown in California.

However, if you purchase US grown: almonds, figs, kiwi, raisins, grapes, clover seed, dates, artichokes, peaches, pomegranates, dried plums, sweet rice, walnuts, or pistachios, there’s a 99% chance that it was grown in California. (Now that I’ve mentioned almonds, I  can’t exclude the fact that 70% of the worlds almonds come from California!)

Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 7.55.20 PM

So, now we’re talking a big problem. A 50 – 99% of the rest of the United States kind of drought problem. And we’re not just talking about your local grocery store, we are talking restaurants, hospitals, schools, businesses… the list goes on.

As of now, there’s no real plan in California for when the water runs out and no real rationing or accountability for reduction of water.

Practically speaking, once the reservoirs are empty, we will be using groundwater. (Using underwater aquifers, wells, etc.) The problem with this is that 1. We have no idea how much water we really have and 2. Our groundwater is depleting… and fast. In some areas of California’s central valley, it has completely dried up.

As of the end of 2014, 5% of the 27 million acres used for crop farming had gone fallow due to the drought, including ¼ of rice fields. (And don’t forget that 99% of US sweet rice and majority of wild rice is grown in California.)

A tire rests on the dry bed of Lake Mendocino, a key Mendocino County reservoir, in Ukiah

So, where does that leave me and you?

I’d like to introduce you to the phrase (or remind you of the phrase): Water Footprint.

Water Footprint is the “amount of fresh water used in the production or supply of the goods and services used by a particular person or group.” (Oxford Dictionary)

According to the Nature Conservancy you, my fellow American, have a water footprint of 32,911 gallons of water a day.

Screen Shot 2015-03-15 at 11.01.12 PM

Let’s take a closer look at this. Did you use a piece of paper today? Perhaps print something or scribble a note? That one sheet of paper took 3.4 gallons of water to produce.

In the market for a new pair of jeans? That’ll be 1,800 gallons of water for the cotton to grow for those jeans.

Need a new car? That’ll be around 40,000 gallons of water.

But the truth is, regardless of a big purchase here and there, a large part of the water you are consuming each day is through the food you eat.

Here’s a sample of the water footprint of some common foods. Foods that are primarily grown in California and are exported to feed the rest of the country.

Lettuce:          28 gallons per pound

Carrots:          33 gallons per pound

Onions:          46 gallons per pound

Lemons:         77 gallons per pound

Peaches:         109 gallons per pound

Wild Rice:      299 gallons per pound

Milk                 640 gallons per pound

Walnuts:         1,112 gallons per pound

Beef:                1,847 gallons per pound

Almonds:        1,929 gallons per pound

(Note: There is a range in variability. Each business or company or farm differs in how much water they are using. That said, these numbers represent a global average published by the Water Footprint Network, an NGO founded in 2008 with a mission to “promote the transition towards sustainable, fair and efficient use of fresh water resources worldwide.”)

I also want to bring your attention to the water wasted through food waste. 40% of all food that is grown in the US is wasted. This happens on all levels of the food chain. From the farms to transportation to grocery stores to restaurants to our own homes. Inherent in that 40% is approximately 11 trillion gallons of lost water. That’s the amount of water we need to get out of the drought in California! (Granted not all of the 11 trillion gallons originated from California, but we could guess that it would be around 50% of that, or 5.5 trillion of wasted water from California. Water we desperately need.)

So, as people who eat food from California we have two responsibilities:

  1. Reduce our water footprint through our food choices
  2. Eliminate our food waste

That’s why we (Super Sous and I) have started working on creating Drought Friendly Recipes. Recipes that have a low water footprint and are delicious and doable for the home cook.  (Look for #droughtfriendlyrecipes on social media as well as this blog.) We’ll also be sharing water conservation tips in the kitchen. Coming soon.

If 74% of California’s water is caught up in agriculture then all of us who are chef’s and all of us who cook and all of us who go out to eat and all of us who eat food can make a difference in this drought.

It’s our drought. We are all in trouble. We are all California. Facing the unknown. Facing possible food shortages. Facing rising costs of food.

We have to do something.

We’ll be posting more about this topic on the blog as well as the list we have compiled of crops and their water footprint – once we complete some more research.

Right now, we are in drowning (pun) in research and articles.

It’s a sobering issue and things are not looking pretty. But we need to talk about it. We need to share with one another. Discuss our concerns and our ideas. We are beyond just crossing our fingers and hoping for rain. Until a plan is put into place to bring water into California, we all need to take action. We can’t make it rain, but we can use every drop we have wisely.

20150310_CA_trd

Tick-tock-drip-drop.

Now, about that cool glass of water by your side. Thirsty?

Cauliflower “Couscous” Salad with Currants, Pine Nuts and Fresh Herbs

From start to finish this dish will take you around 10 minutes. Not only is it quick and easy, it’s versatile. Eat it as it’s own dish or use it as a bed for grilled fish, chicken or lamb. Enjoy it for lunch or throw it together for dinner. And did I mention it’s gluten free and vegetarian? (Make it vegan by omitting the cheese.) Fast, simple and delicious. No matter how you slice it, this one is a winner!

Cauliflower Salad

Cauliflower “Couscous” Salad with Currants, Pine Nuts and Fresh Herbs

Yield: 2 to 3 servings

1 small head of cauliflower, approximately 1½ pounds, cored and florets cut into medium-sized pieces

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste

1 small shallot, peeled and diced small (3 tablespoons)

2/3 packed cup roughly chopped fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley

½ packed cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro

¼ cup toasted pine nuts

¼ cup dried currants

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (juice of 1 lemon)

1/3 packed cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, not pre-grated

Place cauliflower chunks in a food processor. Blend until cauliflower has broken down into couscous sized pieces. You should have approximately 3 cups.

Place a large sauté pan over medium-high heat and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Heat until very hot and almost smoking, approximately 1-2 minutes.

Transfer cauliflower from food processor into the hot sauté pan. Add salt and pepper. Stir.

Cook on medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until cauliflower is heated through and lightly cooked, approximately 3 minutes.

Remove from heat and transfer cauliflower to a medium-sized mixing bowl.

Add shallot, parsley, cilantro, pine nuts and currants. Stir to combine.

Add lemon juice and remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Stir to combine.

Add cheese and stir to combine.

Season to taste with salt, pepper and additional lemon as needed.

Divide into bowls and serve.

Switching it Up. From Sweet to Savory Breakfasts. And this Morning’s Sticky Rice with Bok Choy and Pickled Cucumbers

One of our (Super Sous & I) favorite things about our time in Asia was breakfast.

As luck would have it, the hotels we stayed in had huge buffet breakfasts (this seemed standard for hotels) and while there was a handful of sweet items available, the majority of choices were savory. Dim sum, pho, fish, salad, soup, congee, noodle dishes, stir fry vegetables… The choices seemed endless! There were western items as well: bacon, eggs, beans (British), breads, but the real gems were the local/regional specialities. 

What we came to experience after 2 weeks of savory breakfasts was that starting our day with savory instead of sugar was not only a great way cut sugar consumption, but to keep ourselves energized until lunch as we felt much more satiated. 

Even though we are used to eating a healthy breakfast, like nonfat Greek yogurt with fresh fruit, that breakfast alone can contain the equivalent of several tablespoons of sugar. 

It takes a little more forethought to eat savory for breakfast, but you can pull together something quick (photo below) like my sticky rice dish with pickled cucumbers and sesame stir fry bok choy. 



And… don’t forget about last night’s leftovers! How quick is that?!

Here’s to savor(y)ing the mornings…