We had this asparagus recipe for the first time a couple of years ago. Prepared by our talented (and recently engaged!) dear friend Kristen, we fell in love with it immediately and have been making it since.

fire roasted asparagus with cilantro, orange and cumin pesto

Taking advantage of the spring and the start of asparagus season, the time of year when these spears taste best, I made it for dinner last Sunday to enjoy with Steven, Deby and Xanthe.

It takes a bit of time but I guarantee you will love it. I like to serve it at parties because of its stunning look. The dish is versatile and can match with anything really. You and your guests will oooh and aaah over the layers of flavor; ranging from tangy, to spicy, to sweet and savory.

some key ingredients for fire roasted asparagus with cilantro, orange and cumin pesto

Fire Roasted Asparagus with Cilantro, Orange and Cumin Pesto

2-3 lb fresh asparagus (~30 spears)
1 Italian loaf cut into 1½ inch thick slices
1 bunch fresh cilantro leaves
1 cup fresh juice (about 5 oranges*)
2 tsp cumin seeds
1/3 cup almond oil
Pinch of Cayenne pepper
¼ cup olive oil
½ bunch chopped chives
1 fresh garlic clove, mashed or pressed
1 cup parmesan cheese, shaved into thin slivers
Juice of 1 lemon
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

To prepare pesto:

Juice oranges and pour liquid into a small pan. Simmer to reduce until about ½ cup. Let cool completely.

Place cumin seeds on a hot skillet and toast for about a minute or till aromatic. Transfer to a mortar and pulverize.

Add reduced orange juice, cilantro, cumin, almond oil, cayenne pepper, salt and lemon juice to food processor and pulse for few seconds till all ingredients are blended. Taste and adjust flavors with more salt, pepper or lemon juice as desired.

To prepare asparagus:

Cut bottom bit of asparagus off. If the stalks are thick, using a potato peeler, peel outer rough layer off lower portion of each stalk. Blanch asparagus by boiling or steaming for about 3-4 minutes or till al dente, then immediately remove from pan and submerging in ice water to stop cooking and to preserve a bright green color.

Drain asparagus. Add salt, pepper and 1 tablespoon of olive oil to asparagus and toss to coat.

Pre-heat grill to 450F. Place asparagus and bread on grill and roast them for 3 to 4 minutes, turning occasionally. Asparagus may require a little extra grilling to get those nice brown marks. Remove from grill.

Cut toasted bread into 1×1 inch cubes.

To assemble:

Place asparagus and bread on a large platter. Add chives, garlic and parmesan shavings then toss by hand. Add cilantro pesto and toss again. Drizzle with remaining olive oil and serve. Yum! I even enjoyed the leftovers the next day at work.

*For the best flavor, your orange juice must come from oranges, not bottles or cans. For the same reason, it is crucial that you toast and grind your cumin seeds rather than use pre-ground cumin.


I never really liked canned or bottled juices. They always seem to taste a bit too sweet for me. Orange juice is especially tricky: often it comes with additional, unwanted pith and peel flavors, which makes it bitter; and it either tastes like plastic or metal from the container. Not good.

freshly squeezed Texas and blood orange juice

So over the weekends I try to prepare fresh juice for our breakfasts. It’s a really nice treat. One of the many benefits of living in beautiful California is that fresh, flavorful and economical citrus is available most of the year. This time of the year is really exciting, as all of the fruits come to market. I’ve seen lots of different types of lemons, grapefruit, tangerines, oranges and so on. Sometimes we even have friendly neighbors delivering citrus to our door from their gardens or country homes.

Last Saturday I squeezed fifteen oranges to make this “true blood:” seven sweet Texas and eight Moro blood oranges. Moro oranges are the darkest of the blood oranges around here. Neither orange is very juicy, that’s why I used so many. I like them though because they’re the sweetest.

blood and Texas oranges on the half shell

Just like on that HBO program, this juice is loaded with life sustaining goodness: lots of anthocyanins and other antioxidants.

It’s a breeze to make though you may need to put some muscle into it. Simply squeeze the oranges and serve in tall glasses. Add ice if you like it cold.

I don’t remember if the Texas oranges come from Texas. Maybe they’re from here, or perhaps Louisiana?


I’ve been thrilled lately to be cooking from Najmieh Batmanglij’s Silk Road Cooking: A Vegetarian Journey. Her rice dishes all turn out exciting and quite different from things that I’ve ever made before. This Susa polow is no exception. The book says that Susa was the capital of Elam, an ancient bronze-age kingdom in what’s now part of Iran. Najmieh suggests that this rice dish might have been packed for travelers on a famous highway that went 1,500 miles. I don’t know about that (and I wonder how she would know that?) But this dish is filling, aromatic, and tasty. Hegui thought it a bit too sweet. However, Heather at my office, whose husband makes a lot of Persian food, seemed to like it a lot.

Susa polow with lentils, currants and dates

I did use less sugar than the book recommended. Also I had beluga lentils, which I ended up cooking longer than the mere fifteen minutes recommended in the original recipe. It took about 35 min before they tasted tender to me. I sprinkled some chili flakes on the rice at the end, too.

some key ingredients for Susa polow

Susa Polow with Lentils, Currants and Dates

2 cups basmati rice, picked over and rinsed
1 cup lentils, picked over and rinsed
3 cups water
2 ½ tsp salt
½ cup vegetable oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 2-inch cinnamon sticks
2 cardamom pods
2 medium onions, peeled and thinly sliced
2 cups currants
2 cups dates, pitted and cut in half (I used Majool)
Zest from one orange
1 tbsp sugar
½ tsp black pepper
3 cups vegetable stock or water
1 tsp ground saffron dissolved in 2 tbsp hot water

Boil lentils in three cups water with ½ tsp salt until tender (15 to 30 minutes). Drain.

Heat ¼ cup vegetable oil in large skillet or wok on medium heat. Add cumin, cinnamon and cardamom. Cook for 20 seconds. Add onion and fry for 15 minutes until golden brown. Add rice, currants, dates, orange zest, sugar, 2 tsp salt, pepper and 3 cups water or vegetable broth. Bring to boil then simmer covered until water absorbed.

Add lentils and mix gently. Mix remaining oil with saffron water then drizzle over rice. Cover and cook for 15 minutes more. Remove from heat and let stand covered 10 minutes. Transfer to serving platter and enjoy.

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fresh cranberry quick bread

by Stevie on January 5, 2010

For ages I’ve been relying on a recipe for cranberry quick bread that I got on the back of a bag of fresh cranberries from Ocean Spray about twenty years ago. It calls for a lot of orange juice, which I find too intense. Since I don’t make the bread that often as cranberries are only really available in Fall/Winter, it’s never been a problem. I got a bag of fresh cranberries last week with vague plans of making the bread while my friend, Gordon, was visiting from New York, but I never got around to it. They’ve been sitting in my fridge until yesterday.

fresh cranberry quick bread

Over X-mas another friend, David, gave us some homemade crystallized orange and lemon peel and some mixed nuts roasted in spices. I wanted some recipe that combined all three but didn’t know where to turn. Oh, my! I looked at the New Joy. They’ve got several recipes for quick breads but strangely none with fresh cranberries. I ended up improvising, combining two of their recipes: the one for a quick bread with fresh pears and pecans, and the one for dried cranberries with nuts.

This bread is moist, light compared to other quick breads, sour from the fruit, crunchy from the nuts, chewy from the crystallized peel and sweet. I had three slices for breakie the first day!

Fresh Cranberry Quick Bread

1 bag fresh cranberries, rinsed and picked over
1 ½ cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
Zest from half lemon and half orange
Juice from one orange (I used mandarin)
¼ cup water
½ cup vegetable oil
¼ cup crystallized lemon and orange peel, chopped (optional)
½ cup mixed spiced nuts, chopped (optional)

fresh cranberry quick bread goes well with your morning coffee

Pre-heat oven to 350 F. Grease a 9” by 5” loaf pan.

Mix flour, sugar and baking soda in a bowl. Set aside.

Beat egg with vanilla, zest, orange juice, water and vegetable oil. Mix cranberries into wet ingredients. Fold dry ingredients into wet. If using crystallized peel and nuts, fold them in after batter starts to become fully moistened. Pour batter into loaf pan.

Bake for 1 ¼ hours until a toothpick piercing the center of the bread comes out clean. Remove to cooling rack. Let rest for about fifteen minutes. Remove from pan. Allow to cool completely.

Serve with coffee at breakfast, at dinner with a savory meal or as a started with a creamy goat or blue cheese.

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groovy mango nectar

by Heguiberto on July 29, 2009

Mangoes look especially good this time of year. I bought several of them the other day because they were on sale at a Mexican market I shop at in the Mission. The whole week I was craving the fresh juice; the type of juice I grew up drinking in beautiful Brazil.

mouthwatering groovy mango nectar

mouthwatering groovy mango nectar

Most cities in Brazil have shops named casas de suco the literal translation being ‘juice houses.’ At these shops, fresh fruits of all kinds are nicely displayed everywhere: hanging on the walls, in doorways and on the counters. It’s a real fruit cornucopia, showing the bounty of Earth (maybe the bounty of the tropics?) In casas de suco you customize your own juice drink by pointing out whichever fruits appeal to you the most. They then blend them together for you. When you enter one of those stores the sweet and sour aroma of tropical fruits blow your mind. I always groove on the aromas of pineapple, guava, mango, passion fruit and papaya, just to name a few. It’s an amazing olfactory and sensual experience! So many colors, textures and scents! When you next visit Brazil, don’t miss out on trying it out. It’s so much better than Jamba Juice.

My mango nectar turned out really tasty, and resulted in 2 servings of about 16oz each. Since I don’t live in the tropics here, I’ve mixed temperate and tropical fruits to create a wonderful mix of “north and south.” You can mix it up further with your own fruit favorites. Here’s the recipe:

Groovy Mango Nectar

1 mango, peeled with seed removed and cut into pieces
½ cup of blueberries
3 Texas oranges, juiced (they are very sweet, great for juices)
some ice

How to:
Just place everything in a blender, add more ice or juice to make enough for two 16oz cups. Blend until smooth. Enjoy this drink for breakfast or just as a healthy snack!

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