Cooking, Growing, Healthy Food, Inspiration, Organic Herbs and Teas

by: Chef Mark Thompson

It’s no secret to anyone that knows me that I love books. A lot. Real books – printed books that I can hold, flip through and put on my bookshelves. Old school. No e-books for me. But if thats your thing, don’t let me stop you.

Culinary books are a great resource – for techniques, flavor combinations, ideas and inspiration. Oh, and recipes. There are tons of tomes out there, but these are my personal favorites when it comes to plant-based cooking.



The Vegetarian Flavor Bible

The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity with Vegetables, Fruits, Grains, Legumes, Nuts, Seeds, and More, Based On the Culinary Wisdom of Leading American Chefs

by Karen Page

That’s one heck of a subtitle. But it’s true. This book has been indispensable to me. Hands down the book I use the most often. It was preceded by Culinary Artistry (I bought three copies, because friends kept ‘borrowing’!), then an updated and expanded version was released, The Flavor Bible. This vegetarian version came out in 2014. The bulk of the book is dedicated to ingredient matches and affinities. Want to know what goes with mangoes? It’s there. Really want to know? Everything from almonds to yuzu. Classic and clever pairings garnered from the input of some of the best chefs in America. As well as methods of preparation, seasonality, flavor profiles, sample dish ideas, nutritional profile, botanical relatives and tips. Also, there is a fascinating timeline of vegetarian history, great quotes, information on eating plant-based, menus from top restaurants and more. Learn about it, and buy it here.



The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking

by Michael Ruhlman

A New York Times bestseller, Ratio, like the Flavor Bible, is another book to help break beyond recipes and find a new freedom in cooking. Recipes, of course, are helpful, especially when starting out or experimenting with new cuisines. However, knowing a basic ratio makes cooking easier and more intuitive. For example, a classic vinaigrette is 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar. Where you go from there is completely up to you (and half the fun!). Oil? The standard is olive. But what about avocado or hazelnut or sesame? Instead of the traditional white wine vinegar, try sherry, raspberry or balsamic. Or go crazy and use lemon juice! It’s your world now. Add in some salt and pepper, it’s that easy. Other common additions would be shallots, dijon mustard and herbs. Just the beginning… There are 32 other ratios with countless variations. While not a vegetarian book, it is incredibly helpful nonetheless.

This book is also available as an app. Which, even given my affinity for books, I will admit is pretty handy. Ruhlman also has a very informative blog, as well as many other great books. I like them all, including the ones having nothing at all to do with cooking. Such as The Elements of Cooking, Ruhlman’s Twenty, The Making of a Chef, House, Walking on Water and Wooden Boats. You can find it all here.


How to Cook Everything Vegetarian

Simple Meatless Recipes for Great Food

by Mark Bittman

I’ve liked Mark Bittman for some time now. Up until recently he was a columnist with the New York Times, but has since left to work with a vegan startup. He is also an outspoken commentator on our broken food system appearing often on news programs, in documentaries and writing other books like Food Matters. His column, The Minimalist, was known for straightforward, simple recipes. This volume, one of a series, carries on that theme. This is a more traditional cookbook, but a massive one. And while there are over 2,000 recipes, there are also variations and substitutions and techniques to help facilitate spontaneous and seasonal cooking. The recipes run the gamut of soups, salads, breads, desserts, grains and way more. My personal favorite is the section on spices, condiments and sauces. It’s a great way to build up your pantry with natural, homemade goodness, without all the chemicals and superfluous ingredients found in mass market convenience products. With this book, you can make your own pesto, ketchup, eggless mayo, mustard, vegan fish sauce, barbeque sauce and mix your own curry powder, chili powder, garam masala and tons more.

This book is also available as an app, which makes a convenient, searchable, portable companion. Other books I like by Bittman include the aforementioned Food Matters, as well as VB6 and Kitchen Express (not entirely plant-based, but easily customizable). For more information, visit his website here.




Extraordinary Recipes from the Restaurant That is Reinventing Vegan Cuisine

by Tal Ronnen with Scot Jones and Serafina Magnussen

Just know this – Bill Clinton, Paul McCartney and Jay-Z are all fans of Ronnen. So, you don’t really need me to tell you. But I will anyway. This is vegan food taken to the highest level. Primarily Mediterranean, it is beautiful just to peruse, but there is plenty here that you could make at home. The first thing I did was make his simple, but tasty Walnut Parmesan. Some very interesting flavors and a section on basics, with recipes for almond Greek yogurt, cashew cream, vegetable stocks and a demi-glace that is next up on my hit list. He also has another book, The Conscious Cook, which is also worth checking out.


Dirt Candy: A Cookbook

Flavor-forward Food from the Upstart New York City Vegetarian Restaurant

by Amanda Cohen & Ryan Dunlavey with Grady Hendrix

My new favorite cookbook. Funny, clever and filled with great recipes, ideas and techniques. Written in graphic novel form, it is part memoir, a history of her NY restaurant, and a cookbook all in one. Learn the trials of opening a restaurant and how to make Smoked Corn Dumplings or Huitlacoche Cream. What I like most is ideas for components to reinforce and add extra layers of flavor. For example, her recipe for Roasted Carrot Buns also includes a carrot & cucumber salad, carrot hoisin and a carrot halvah garnish to really bring out the carrot flavor in different ways and textures.


The Accidental Vegetarian

Delicious Food Without Meat

By Simon Rimmer

The chef at the Greens, in Manchester, England, Simon Rimmer has put together this tasty collection of dishes that could please anyone, omnivores included. Pulling inspiration from around the globe, there are dishes with Thai, Indian, Japanese, Middle Eastern and Italian influences. Most of the dishes are simple enough even for a weeknight, but there are plenty to impress at your next dinner party as well. Samples include Leek & Potato Rosti, Phyllo Strudel with Port and Eggplant Tikka Masala.



The Omnivore’s Dilemma

A Natural History of Four Meals

by Michael Pollan

Basically an exposé of what it takes to get food on your plate. An attempt to answer the question, “What should we eat?” Delves into the benefits and problems with organic production, fast food, the meat industry, and foraging. A fascinating look into a broken system. The book earned Pollan a James Beard Award. There is also a young readers version available. Also great is In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto and I also enjoyed Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education.


The China Study

Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-Term Health

by T. Colin Campbell, PHD and Thomas M. Campbell, MD

An eye-opening look at the effect our diet has on every facet of our health. The book is based on the most comprehensive study of nutrition ever conducted. The main focus is the correlation between animal protein consumption and chronic illnesses. It can be a bit tedious, but the information is incredible. The study is featured in the film Forks Over Knives.



600 Recipes, 1500 Photographs, One Kitchen Education

by James Peterson

Somehow this guy seems to know everything about cooking. I mean, he did teach for seventeen years and write the advanced curriculum for The French Culinary Institute. So there’s that. He also has a degree in chemistry. He’s also written over a dozen books. This is the culmination of all of them, in one convenient package. It won a James Beard Award, as have several of his others. This is not all plant-based cooking, this is all cooking. So if you would be offended at pictures on trussing a veal roast, skip it. If you want to learn how to make concassée, Borscht, grill zucchini, and find out what the heck herbs de Provence is, then this is the book for you.


Cooking, Healthy activities, Healthy Food

adapted from The Minimalist Baker

Granola is great to have ready to go in the kitchen. It’s great by itself, on ice cream, yogurt, mixed with your favorite cereal, take some on a hike or for a work snack – really the possibilities are limitless. You can also make it seasonal, based on what you have in the kitchen already or just based on the flavors you like. We made this one into an autumn-y blend, just for fun! Feel free to adapt as you would like. We used almonds and walnuts as our nut blend, but peanuts or cashews work just as well. It’s best to use the raw versions, if they are already roasted they will burn in the oven. The chia seeds, flax meal (or flax seeds), cinnamon, nutmeg, and sweet potato puree are all things we had already and wanted to use. Other good ingredient options are coconut, raisins, craisins, or any kind of dried fruit, be it mango, pineapple, banana, or apple. Follow your heart!


  • sweet potato puree – ½ cup, which is less than one sweet potato
  • oats – 3 cups
  • almonds & walnuts – 1.5 cups, chopped coarsely
  • chia seeds – 2 tbsp
  • flax meal – 2 tbsp
  • coconut sugar (can also use white or cane sugar) – 3 tbsp
  • kosher salt (or sea salt) – ¼ tbsp
  • cinnamon – ½ tbsp
  • nutmeg – ¼ tsp
  • coconut oil – ¼ cup, melted (we used unrefined, it has less coconut flavor)
  • maple syrup – 1/3 cup (agave works also, but doesn’t have that yummy maple flavor!)
  • zante currants – ¼ cup


To make the sweet potato puree: Bake a whole sweet potato at 375 degrees until tender. Let cool, scoop out flesh, and puree in your blender. Any extra can of course be eaten!

For granola: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, mix together all dry ingredients except currants (or any dried fruit & raisins) – nuts, seeds, oats, salt, spices, sugar. In a separate bowl, mix together the sweet potato puree, maple syrup, and coconut oil. Combine into one bowl, and mix them together thoroughly. Spread the mixture into an even single layer on two baking sheets. Cook for 10 minutes, then rotate and switch shelves, also add currants or dried fruit on top at this point. Back in the oven for 10-15 more minutes. Check frequently to make sure it’s not burning – it should be toasted and dried out, but not burnt. When finished, remove from oven and let cool until room temperature, then transfer to your desired container. This will last at least a week at room temp, or you can freeze some to last longer, up to six months.

Mixing everything together ensures consistency in flavor.

Mixing everything together ensures consistency in flavor.


Ready for the oven!

Ready for the oven!

Now, some crunchy granola to add some energy to your day!

Now, some crunchy granola to add some energy to your day!

Flowers and berries in modern herbal medicine: Elderberry

Growing, Healthy activities, Healthy Food, Organic Herbs and Teas

Materia Medica: Elder

Common names: Elderberry

Latin name: Sambucus nigra var. canadensis

Parts used: Flowers and berries in modern herbal medicine, all parts historically.

Action: The flowers are a wonderful diaphoretic! Fevers are the body’s way of fighting off infections, so we don’t always want to lessen a fever, unless it’s either too high or has been going on too long. For a fever they’re beautiful in a tea or even in the bath, but tinctures will work well too.



Elderberries are antiviral and are an immunomodulator, which means they help the body balance to whatever level of action the immune system needs to fight infections. The berries make a lovely tincture, syrup, or elixir (combination of the two!) to prevent infections, and when taken during acute infections can lessen the infection’s severity. You can dry the berries too and add them to teas, they’re in our Heart Chakra blend, as well as the Everyday Wellness!

Elderberry plant

Elderberry plant

Once you can identify elder, and are aware of its healing properties, you’ll see it everywhere! Highway ditches, roadside creeks, your backyard! It’s a shrub and not a tree, and if you see one in the wild you’ll probably see 50! It prefers wet feet, which is easy to get in rainy Florida, and as of the last few years has taken to flowering almost year round! We’re lucky to have an elder shrub growing in the Dandelion garden and it is one of the happiest cultivated elders around! Tall, prolific flowers and berries, and keeps both its neighboring human and bird population very happy (the birds eat the berries too!).

I love to use elder daily in the wintertime, when everyone around me is full of cooties. It makes a beautiful and delicious preventative drink, and is was from inspiration from the elder that created the Everyday Wellness herbal tea blend at Dandelion!

Elder really is a pharmacy within a plant, and a tasty one too! Please enjoy these links to learn more about elder from some brilliant teachers:

Kiva Rose’s elder monograph

Rosemary Gladstar’s Garden Wisdoms: Elder Medicine

Jim McDonald’s Elder monograph

Eat The Weeds: Elderberries: Red, White, and Blue


Cooking, Healthy Food


serves 6-8

Mark made this dish for us in Colorado after another day of hiking. This is a beautiful fall weather dish! (Even if you’re in Florida and it’s not cold!)


  • 1 lb box whole wheat pasta
  • 1 butternut squash, cubed
  • 5 tbsp EVOO
  • ½ white onion, chopped
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1 ½ cups unsweetened almond milk
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tbsp rosemary
  • dash red chili flakes
  • dash of sage
  • nutmeg to taste if desired
  • salt & pepper to taste


Place 2/3 of the cubed squash into a medium/large pot, cover with water, and lightly salt. Boil until tender enough to puree.

Meanwhile, in a separate pan, simmer chopped onions, 3 tbsp EVOO, salt, bay leaf, 2 pinches of rosemary, red chili flakes, and black pepper. Sweat until onions are translucent.

While these are cooking, toss remaining 1/3 of cubed squash in 2 tbsp EVOO, salt, pepper, and remaining rosemary, then place on an oiled baking sheet. Cook in 400 degree oven until browned, flipping once.

When the pot of squash is done boiling, drain, then cook for a few more minutes on low heat to evaporate excess water, then transfer to the blender. Puree until smooth, set aside.

Start cooking pasta al dente.

In the pan of onion blend, add flour and whisk thoroughly until moisture is soaked up. Let this cook for a few minutes until light brown. Whisk in almond milk. Bring to a strong simmer, stirring often, until it thickens. Careful not to burn! Once it thickens, add pinch more salt, a dash of sage, and the pureed squash, mix, then take off the heat. If desired, add nutmeg to taste. This should be the consistency of an alfredo sauce.

Put sauce, roasted squash cubes, and drained pasta into a mixing bowl, then stir until coated. Put into oiled baking dish, top with cheese (vegan or dairy). Cover with foil, bake in 350 degree oven for 10 minutes. Uncover, cook for additional 10 minutes. Then switch to broil to brown the cheese for approximately 3 minutes.

This pairs well with a nice light salad and a fireplace!

For more wholesome recipes visit:

Could desert crops become the new sustainable dinner?

Growing, Healthy Food

From our recent reporting on The Culinary Frontier, a look at what’s on the menu in the warmer, drier years ahead. Some of it’s pretty tasty.


Inperennially water-starved Patagonia, Arizona, just 18 miles from the Mexico border, Gary Nabhan, well known as an author and ethnobotanist, farms a worldly array of desert crops that could make any food lover salivate. The harvest, more than 120 varieties strong, includes Sonoran pomegranates, Baja California Mission guavas, Winter Banana apples, amaranth, asparagus, globe artichokes, and even an arid-friendly Texas Mission variety of the infamously thirsty almond. His 5-acre farm, which he manages with his wife Laurie Monti, a medical anthropologist and professor of indigenous studies, grows these foods on precious little water — about 17 inches of rainfall a year, a dollop compared with the US-wide average of 28 inches.

In the fall, even after a spring and summer of almost no rain, the Hopi Corn is ripe and ready for harvest — as long as Polly Goldman can get a little help from her family.

Blending thousand-year-old desert crop varieties with water-saving approaches and farming techniques inherited from Moorish Spain, Africa, and indigenous North America, Nabhan’s modest arid plot offers a glimpse of how we could sustain ourselves in an era of chronic drought and increasing climate chaos.

A drought-friendly dinner “isn’t going to be any less delicious,” says Nabhan. Shifting what we eat could, in his view, mean a scrumptious revolution. During a phone conversation, Nabhan ticked off a tasty menu of other drought-friendly options: sea beans, Mesquite carob (good for diabetes), pistachios, figs, tepary beans, pigeon peas, quinoa, and soups and stews made with prickly pear cacti instead of the more water-intensive bell peppers.

In equally arid northern New Mexico, famed chef and author Deborah Madison surveys a hardscrabble terrain and sees another lush menu of possibilities. The Greens Restaurant founder, always scouting for new sustainable recipes in the garden and the kitchen, points to foods that “we are already familiar with, but haven’t tried growing as much” in recent times: Sonoran wheat. Quinoa. Red orach. Rattlesnake beans. Zucchini in multiple varieties.

One reason Nabhan is such a fan of these obscure food plants is that they’re adaptable. Like any plant, they like water; but when water grows scarce, these plants have natural methods of storing it, or thriving without it. Not so with the miles and miles of lettuce, strawberries, and other crops such as wheat (at least the modern varieties) that dominate the Western diet.

In the Salinas Valley of California–a region known for water guzzling crops like lettuce and strawberries — Jim Leap and Polly Goldman farm a bounty of vegetables that require very little water. This row of garbanzo beans is an example.

In California, the source of a full two-thirds of the nation’s fruits and nuts, one-third of its vegetables, and nearly 20 percent of its dairy products, growers’ response to drought has centered largely on water conservation measures such as drip irrigation.

But Craig McNamara, the President of the state’s Board of Food and Agriculture, argues, “We’re going to have to change what’s for dinner.” Bespectacled and chiseled with a straight-combed silver mane, McNamara, who farms 450 acres of organic walnuts and olives in Winters, California, bears a striking resemblance to his father Robert, the former defense secretary who steered military offensives in the Vietnam War. Today, McNamara worries that California’s drought could topple the state’s agricultural primacy. “For the first time, I’m tremendously worried about where we are…I’ve never felt we are closer to collapse than I do today.”

Despite the “beyond painful” drought crisis, McNamara says the conversation about shifting crops is still at a whisper: “I’m not sure how much this is getting to farmers.”

About 180 miles south of Davis, near the town of Madera in the gut of San Joaquin Valley, organic vegetable farmer Tom Willey sees market signals pointing farmers toward more thirsty crops, not fewer. “I don’t see a headlong rush to more water-saving crops.” Even as the drought deepens and water supplies disappear, Willey says many growers are still moving into almonds, which have been much vilified lately for their heavy water demands (roughly a gallon per nut). In fairness, it should be noted that much of today’s almond acreage used to grow cotton, which is one of the plant world’s biggest water hogs. So while almonds do use a lot of water, California at least traded T-shirts for more protein.

On his 75-acre patch of land, Willey has a little more flexibility than the average farmer. He produces a “seasonal progression” of row crops — annual vegetable varieties such as squash, leafy greens, and peppers that can be shifted depending on weather, water and market demands. “We can act and react much easier than farmers with permanent crops” such as fruit and nut orchards, Willey explains.

Jim Leap and Polly Goldman’s corn–an heirloom variety developed by the Hopi Indians, partly because of how well it tolerates dry years.

The Drought’s Opportunities

On his small homestead farm in San Juan Batista, sustainable agriculture educator Jim Leap produced a prodigious harvest this year of dry-farm beans, corn, winter squash, and tomatoes on just 10 inches of rain (and no irrigation). Leap, who for 21 years managed a research farm at the UC Santa Cruz Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, points out, “I can’t superimpose that on farmers who are trying to make a living.”

Prior to the 1950s, when sprawling irrigation canal projects and increasingly globalized markets took hold, the Golden State produced a very different bounty — grains, sugar beets, potatoes, beans, dry-farmed apples. With the rise of California’s massive agricultural aqueducts came access to cheap irrigation water, which, coupled with lucrative new export markets, spawned an array of thirsty specialty crops. At present, there is no fast track back toward more drought-tolerant harvests.

Absent sweeping policy changes, more and more small farmers are bucking the trends. And, in this case, “the market” is leading the way. Thomas Nelson, who analyzes sustainable food markets for the UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, notices a growing interest among chefs and farmers in harvesting drought-tolerant wild greens such as miner’s lettuce, wild mustard, bristly ox tongue, and black locust flowers. They may sound obscure, but these foods are increasingly popular among professional foragers and chefs at up-market restaurants.

“The market has a really push-pull dynamic,” he says. “One reason almonds have grown so big is because there was a big marketing push behind them. It becomes a self-perpetuating system.” Well, the same could be true for drought-tolerant heirlooms and other dry-farm fruits and vegetables. As Nelson points out, the booming niche market for heirloom tomatoes and salad mixes was just a glimmer 25 years ago.

Going dry and small

Back in the eternally dry Southwest, famed sustainable-foods chef and author Deborah Madison sees progress on the margins. “Some people are definitely starting to look at [shifting to water-saving crops]. Every agriculture conference I go to ties into these issues,” she says — “but I don’t think it’s happening fast enough.”

Much of the solution, says Madison, who founded Greens Restaurant (one of the nation’s premier vegetarian venues), lies in “hyper-local” farming systems that can provide a diverse food supply with greater adaptability to climate chaos. “The solutions depend on lots of hands, and smaller farms,” she says, and smaller economies of scale that enable attention to detail. “A lot of the changes we need, I don’t think big agriculture can do it.”

From his rain-deprived vantage point near the Mexico border, Nabhan makes a compelling case for scaling up desert crop varieties and time-tested farming techniques. What’s especially compelling to Nabhan is that these are not new ideas. The challenge, he says, is to “make certain that we don’t grow these in monocultures as we’ve done with other crops.”

For more about what makes a “good farming system” — it involves a lot more than smart methods of cultivation — see “Food Shift,” Christopher D. Cook’s full story on this subject.

To keep up with our continuing coverage of sustainable agriculture and related issues, subscribe to our newsletter.

Photos by permission of Tohono O’odham Community Action and Polly Goldman.