Questions
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A few weeks back, I re-watched the Zoolander for the umpteenth time. One of my favorite moments in the movie is when Derek, following an upsetting loss to Hansel for VH1's Male Model of the Year, looks down into a puddle outside the award show and asks to himself, "Who am I?" to which his reflection replies "I don't know." As Derek replies with "I guess a have a lot of pondering to do" he is abruptly splashed in the face by Hansel riding off into the night on his razor scooter. 

As comedically rooted as the scene is, I felt an oddly strong connection to Derek in that moment and had to mentally restrain myself from shouting "Preach!" at the screen. These days the question "Who am I?" has felt a bit like my own personal, sometimes wonderful, sometimes mind-numbing, mantra. Often, the journey towards discovering myself (whatever that actually means) feels inspiring, motivating, and inherently exciting.  But, truthfully, most days it feels like getting splashed in the face by a giant puddle. 

I'm fully aware that this uncertainty and questioning is normal right now. Hell, it seems every adult I talk to claims the twenties to be one of the toughest periods of their lives, or rather the period they'd opt never to re-experience. And, on top of that, that they didn't feel like they had anything figured out until their forties anyway. Quite the trifecta, but nice to have something to look forward to, I guess. 

For now, I'm trying to channel this seemingly never ending questioning into small changes and projects in my day to day life. Most notable, and most relevant to this blog, is cooking. 

My relationship to the kitchen and the recipes that come out of it has remained consistent for most of my life. I look up a recipe,  cook it, maybe make a minor adjustment or two if needed, and call it a day. Although I definitely have my moments when a bit of kitchen improvisation feels just right, I really, truly love following recipes and getting them to look just like the picture. What can I say? I'm Type A, ok!

I won't deny that this form of cooking has given me an unparalleled food education. But, with the start of a new a year, I find myself asking more and more "What is my perspective on food? What techniques, dishes, and flavors make me, me?" In an attempt to answer this, I've started loosening the reigns on my normal routine and developing more of my own recipes. I will say that a recent clean out/reorganization/restock of my pantry and the addition of an incredible new chef's knife has definitely helped fuel this creativity. But, ultimately, the real drive is to push myself outside my comfort zone and explore the vastness of food. 

I've only come up with a few originals since January, but they've all proven delicious and successful--I think! The three recipes I've chosen to share here are all rooted in dishes I love or meals I've eaten out, but at the end of the day, they are true LaKind creations. They are all across the board stylistically, but, in general, sum up the type of food I love to eat: veggie heavy, full-flavored, and feel good. I hope you all enjoy them as much as I've enjoyed preparing (and eating) them. Many many more where this came from. 

And, just a note to anyone else out there continuing to struggle with the "Who am I?" question, I urge you to spend some time in the kitchen. Its a pretty amazing place to figure stuff out. 

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This recipe came about just over a month ago on a frigid evening here in Chicago. I had randomly developed a craving for collard greens (don't ask me where that came from). Refusing to trek to the store in the arctic tundra, I scanned my fridge for options and noticed an untouched bunch of kale and a nearly empty jar of sauerkraut. Hmmm, I thought. What if I slow cooked the kale in the remaining sauerkraut juice with some spices and aromatics? Bet it couldn't be too bad. It was spectacular and elicited nearly the same feeling as long cooked Southern collards but took a quarter of the time. As I'm sure most of you don't have stray jars of sauerkraut around, a mixture of water and white wine vinegar serves as an easy fake out. Also, any type of greens like Swiss Chard, beet greens, or even collards themselves would work beautifully in this dish. 

Collard Kale

1 bunch of lacinto kale, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons vegetable oil or coconut oil

1 teaspoon cumin seeds 

1 teaspoon black mustard seeds

1/2 teaspoon chili flakes 

1 small yellow or red onion, finely diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

salt and pepper 

1/2 cup sauerkraut juice or a mixture of 1/4c water + 1/4c white wine vinegar 

lemon (optional garnish) 

cilantro (optional garnish)

Heat the vegetable oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add in the cumin seeds, mustard seeds, and chili flakes and saute for 30 seconds until fragrant. Add the onion and cook until translucent, 5-6 minutes. Add the garlic and saute for 1-2 minutes until slightly golden. Add in the kale and cook for 4-5 minutes until completely wilted. Season with a hefty pinch of salt and pepper. Pour in the sauerkraut juice and turn down the heat to low. Cook covered for 15-20 minutes until all of the liquid is absorbed and the greens are very tender and army green in color. Serve with a squeeze of lemon, a sprinkling of cilantro, and a small pinch of red pepper flakes. 

Serves 3

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Sister Salad was one of my favorite staff traditions back when I worked at Sister Pie in Detroit. These salads were designed to fuel us for a full afternoon of baking and pack maximum nutrition and flavor into one bowl. The typical breakdown was always some sort of green, a grain, a protein like beans or tempeh, a medley of cheeses, seeds, and nuts, and a light vinaigrette. I came up with my own variation this past week in an attempt to use up odds and ends in my fridge and pantry. The result hit the spot, and I think would have made my former boss and sister salad creator, Lisa, proud.

A few notes: I recently purchased a jar of preserved lemons which is why they make a debut in this salad dressing. Regular lemons are a perfect substitute and are much easier to find. Just omit the cut up preserved lemon parts and instead go for a teaspoon or so of lemon zest to amp up the flavor. There are also quite a few baked chickpea options in most grocery stores these days. If you want to forgo the extra step of roasting the chickpeas at home, feel free to go for store bought. 

Maddie's "Sister" Salad

3 handfuls arugula

1/2 bulb fennel, thinly sliced

3 tablespoons sunflower seeds

2 oz feta cheese, crumbled

1/2 cup cooked quinoa

spiced baked chickpeas (see recipe below)

preserved lemon vinaigrette  (see recipe below) 

salt and pepper 

In a large bowl, toss together the arugula, fennel, sunflower seeds, feta cheese, quinoa, and spiced chickpeas until well-combined. Drizzle on the lemon vinaigrette and toss to coat. Season the salad with salt and pepper to taste. 

Serves 3

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Preserved Lemon Vinaigrette

1/2 small preserved lemon, minced

1 tablespoon preserved lemon juice

1 teaspoon white wine vinegar 

1 teaspoon dijon mustard

4 tablespoons olive oil

salt and pepper 

In a small bowl, whisk together the preserved lemon, preserved lemon juice, white wine vinegar, and dijon until smooth. Slowly whisk in the olive oil until thickened. Season with salt and pepper to taste. 

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Spiced Baked Chickpeas

1 14oz can chickpeas 

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Drain the chickpeas in a fine mesh sieve and rinse thoroughly. Place the chickpeas on a large plate lined with paper towel. Place another paper towel on top of the chickpeas and pat to dry.

In a small bowl, mix all of the spices until well combined.

Transfer the chickpeas to a baking sheet and drizzle with the olive oil. Sprinkle the spice mixture over all of the chickpeas and toss to coat. Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden brown and crunchy. Let cool for 5-10 minutes. 

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When I think winter foods, slow-cooked meals always come to mind. While I'm totally game for a few steady months of stews, roasts and such, sometimes I just want something raw, crunchy, and fresh tasting. Something to remind me that summer and, more importantly, vegetables other than potatoes are near. This slaw comes together in seconds and serves as a lovely counterpoint to a piece of chicken, fish, or other meaty entree. 

Tri-Color Winter Slaw 

1/2 head of red cabbage, sliced thinly

1 bunch of radishes, thinly sliced or julienned

6 celery hearts + leaves, thinly sliced

3 scallions, thinly sliced

1/4 cup parsley, chopped

lemon dijon vinaigrette  (see recipe below)

sunflower seeds (optional garnish)

chives (optional garnish)

In a large mixing bowl, toss together the cabbage, radishes, celery hearts and leaves, scallions, and parsley until well combined. 

Pour the dressing over the slaw and toss to coat. Top with sunflower seeds and chives if using. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Serves 6

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Lemon Dressing

1/2 teaspoon celery seeds

1 teaspoon dijon mustard

3 tablespoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar 

3/4 cup olive oil 

salt and pepper 

In a small bowl, whisk together the celery seeds, dijon mustard, lemon juice and white wine vinegar until smooth. Slowly whisk in the olive oil until thickened. Season with black pepper to taste.