I need to talk to you about something. You see, I’ve learned to love… granola. Yes, granola. I know what you’re thinking: but Neven, it’s just cereal! All granola is basically the same! There’s hardly any cooking involved! 

I get it. But it’s time to move past the hippie associations and enjoy a bakery classic done well. Here’s where you can improve on the typical off-the-shelf granola:

  1. Use more nuts and seeds
  2. Bake it browner
  3. Use good oil, and lots of it
  4. Serve it thoughtfully

Try it. You’ll like it.

Ingredients

Granola:

3 cups / 300 g rolled oats
1 heaping cup / 150 g raw pumpkin seeds
3/4 cup / 100 g golden flax seeds
1/2 cup / 75 g raw pistachios
1/2 cup / 75 g raw hazelnuts
1/2 cup / 50 g raw sunflower seeds
1/2 cup / 30 g raw large, dry, unsweetened coconut flakes (not the bagged, wet stuff)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup / 120 ml extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup / 120 ml maple syrup or honey
1/4 cup / 25 g crystallized ginger

To serve:

1-1 1/2 cups granola
1/2 cup seasonal fruit (berries, stone fruit, banana, rhubarb)
1 tsp dark chocolate, finely shredded
1 tsp very good olive oil
1 cup plain yogurt or kefir
1 tbsp honey
milk (optional)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a large, shallow, rimmed baking pan with parchment paper.

Chop the pistachios and hazelnuts roughly. Dice the crystallized ginger finely and set aside for later.

In a large bowl, stir together all the ingredients except the crystallized ginger. (It would burn in the oven.) Drizzle in the olive oil and the maple syrup slowly while stirring and folding to make sure they’re evenly distributed.

Spread the mix on the lined baking pan in an even layer no more than 1/3” thick. Bake on the middle rack until golden brown and nutty, 30 to 40 minutes. Stir and fold over every 10 minutes or so to get good, even coverage. When it’s done, nothing should look burnt (watch out for that coconut), but there should definitely be a brownish quality to it—not just beige with a bit of gold.

Remove from the oven and move to a new pan, if possible, to cool faster. If you like big chunks in your granola, don’t disturb it until completely cool, and then break it up roughly with a spatula. If you like it looser, feel free to stir right away.

Once the granola is cool, stir in the ginger.

Stored in a tightly sealed container, the granola will keep for 4 weeks.

To serve:

In a small bowl, stir together yogurt and honey. Roughly chop the fruit. Shred the dark chocolate with a grater or a sharp knife.

Place 1-1 1/2 cups of granola in a medium-sized bowl. Top with the dark chocolate, drizzle on the olive oil, add the fruit, then top with the honey-yogurt. Pour in a shot of milk if you wish. Stir and chew well.

Notes

The best way to buy most of the dry ingredients here is in the bulk section of a well-stocked grocery store. It just makes more sense than picking up a bunch of small jars and bags.

I recommend Strauss yogurt and California Olive Ranch extra-virgin olive oil.

When it comes to chopping nuts, you might think a food processor would be faster. It would—but you’d end up with a lot of mushy dust. Using a knife will be slower, but better.

Don’t worry if the granola seems “wet” when you first pull it out of the oven; the sugars will harden as it cools.

In addition to eating granola as a breakfast bowl, please feel free to also top your ice cream with it, or just snack on it whenever.

The fine folks at San Francisco Creative Mornings asked me to talk about food. My thesis is it’s punk rock to go home and cook dinner, and to offer some strategies to do just that. It was a pretty fun talk, next time I’ll remember to repeat the questions.

This one was born from necessity and refined over a few iterations. My wife asked if we could have something “green and healthy” for dinner; we had half a bunch of kale in the crisper drawer, some leftover gouda from a picnic, half a meyer lemon, some raisins, and the usual pantry staples. It has since become an oft-requested meal in our home.

I’d never made a raw kale salad before—it seemed like it would end up too tough, like damning yourself to a dinner of cud chewing. Kale is hearty stuff, for braising, or roasting into chips as seems to be the trend. But sliced into thin strips, kale is perfectly edible and captures all those super-food nutrients. You’ll likely run into at least a few varieties. Any will work; I like curly or red just because it looks so interesting.

The hardest part of this is pulling the kale leaves from the tough stems and, really, it just takes a few minutes. You can do this by hand or use a knife. Next, pile four or five of the de-stemmed leaves together, roll them into a tight package, then cut them into thin strips (about 1/8 an inch) with a sharp knife. Because kale tends to be curlier than, say, basil, this can be a little tricky. Don’t sweat it if they don’t line up perfectly.

The salad works well with a bright, lemon vinaigrette (don’t miss our primer on making your own) and the right toppings to help balance out the earthy kale. Sweet golden raisins (dark raisins, currants, or even dried cranberries could work; I prefer the color and flavor of goldens), buttery pine nuts (you can substitute chopped walnuts), and rich, tangy aged gouda just bring it all together. For the cheese, try to find one that’s aged at least 6 months, as it will have developed a deeper flavor and will be a little easier to grate; you could sub something like a parmesan or pecorino.

I’ve noticed kale seems to take a little more dressing than other greens. I don’t know if it’s the frilly edges or if the leaves themselves simply absorb the dressing better but you can get away with more dressing without getting soggy. As always, go slowly with the dressing; it’s always easy to add more.

Sadie’s kale salad

  • 1 bunch of kale
  • 1/4 cup good olive oil (4 tbsp.)
  • 4 tsp. lemon juice
  • 2 tsp. shallots, diced
  • 1/2 cup aged gouda, grated
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • Kosher salt and pepper to taste
  1. Heat a small pan on medium-low and slowly toast the pine nuts, about 4 to 6 minutes, shaking occasionally. Keep an eye on them as they will burn quickly.
  2. Add the diced shallots to a small bowl with a pinch of salt, and lemon juice. Mix with a fork to combine.
  3. Slowly pour a thin stream of olive oil into the shallot/lemon juice while whisking to emulsify the dressing.
  4. Grate the cheese.
  5. Separate the kale leaves from the tough stems. Chiffonade the leaves by stacking 4 to 5 at a time, rolling them tightly, then cutting them into thin slices.
  6. Add the leaves to a large mixing bowl, whisk the dressing again, slowly pour about 2/3 of the dressing around the edge of the bowl then mix the salad. Add more dressing if it seems dry.
  7. Add about 1/2 of the grated cheese, a pinch of salt and a few grinds of fresh pepper to the salad, mix to combine, then repeat.
  8. Add half the raisins and toasted nuts, turn once, then top with the remaining. Alternatively, plate the salad before adding the raisins and nuts then dole those out individually. Serves 4-6

Summer has arrived, even in normally chilly San Francisco, where temperatures that pass 80 send crowds to air conditioned movie theaters. The very thought of a heavy meal is enough to make you sweat; let alone the prospect of heating up your kitchen turning on the oven.

Fortunately, this is also the time of year that vegetables are at the their peak: perfect for salads. I realize that salad may seem a little boring—the perfunctory side dish to the actual meal you had in mind—but they are quick, relatively easy, infinitely expandable and, best of all on a hot summer’s day, cool. All it takes is a little work to make them actually enjoyable.

Let’s start with the base: the greens. The most obvious option here is lettuce, but even this seemingly simple choice is full of alternatives. Iceberg carries almost no flavor of its own but is a fine medium for richer accompaniments — the classic wedge with creamy blue cheese and bacon being a fine example.

More suited to our purposes of a light, flavorful, summertime salad are butterhead (often sold as Boston or Bibb lettuce) and leaf lettuces, which grow more loosely instead of packing into the classic bulb. All of these tend to be more flavorful, sweet and rich, with little-to-no bitterness.

Bitter, however, can be desirable, and there are a few types of greens that can help. Chicories are bitter leaf vegetables that include escarole, Belgian endive, frisée, and radicchio. They can be mixed with milder, more flavorful lettuces for a mix of flavor, or used on their own as a contrast to rich ingredients like smoked meats, pungent cheeses, sweet fruits and vegetables, or nuts.

Arugula (known as rocket outside of the U.S.), is another distinctly flavorful leaf, more peppery than bitter, almost spicy.

There’s also mesclun, which you may find in your grocery store as “spring mix” or “baby lettuce” or “European mix” or some other thing. It originally hails from Provence, France, and is meant to be an equal-part mix of young leaf lettuce, chervil, endive, and arugula. But just about any mix of young, tender leaves with some bitter components gets labeled as mesclun.

Herbs make an excellent addition to the initial mix — mint, marjoram, sage, parsley, basil, alfalfa, dill, chives, or dandelion leaves all work well in salads to add small bits of colorful flavor. Use these sparingly, though, as they can overpower, and avoid herbs like rosemary that can be both tough to chew and demanding in flavor.

Finally, there are an amazing number of greens that aren’t traditionally thought of as salad material due to their toughness. Beet greens, carrot greens, chard, mustard greens, and kale are not just edible when raw—they’re delicious and interesting. I’ve found cutting them into thin ribbons (a chiffonade) by rolling the leaves into a bundle, then cutting into thin cross sections, works well for these tougher leaves.

You’ll want to make sure to wash your greens because nobody wants a mouth full of dirt in their salad. A salad spinner is one of those rare, single use tools that gets our seal of approval for this purpose. You can also just rinse the greens in a colander, let them drip dry, or lay them in a single layer on paper towels.

Of course, a salad isn’t a salad if it’s just greens, especially if you’re aiming for a full meal. As anyone who’s ever bellied up to an all-you-can-eat salad bar or buffet can attest, the combinations are limitless. I’ll throw out a few:

  • Roasted, chilled vegetables, like beets, carrots, parsnips
  • Pillows of soft cheeses, like gorgonzola or chevre
  • Shredded hard cheeses like gouda, parmesan, or romano
  • Fresh chopped heirloom tomatoes
  • Chopped nuts like almonds, pine nuts, walnuts, or pecans
  • Dried fruit like raisins or dried cranberries
  • Torn bread pieces, slowly fried in butter
  • Smoked or cured meats like bacon, salami, prosciutto
  • Salted or cured fish like anchovies and sardines
  • Boiled or roasted chicken, chilled and shredded (think leftovers)
  • Salted or cured olives or capers
  • Eggs, either hard boiled and chopped or poached

For the most part, I tend to avoid the “chopped vegetable drawer” approach of flaccid spinach, shredded and dried out carrots and celery, bitingly pungent onions, and the perfunctory cherry tomato. These tend to either be too bland to add much actual flavor or overpowering when raw to be enjoyable.

When assembling a salad, use a bigger bowl than you think you’re going to need. Particularly when it comes to dressing, you’re going to want the extra space to keep from spilling it out on the counter. Instead of just dumping the dressing on the greens, try “dressing the bowl” instead, by slowly pouring a small stream around the edge, then mixing the salad. Remember, you can always add more dressing, so just add a little at a time.

Lastly, we should dress our salad simply and in a way that enhances the unique flavors, not drowns it. The easiest, most versatile way to do this is with a vinaigrette that you make yourself.

For the longest time, the notion of making my own salad dressings was just plain intimidating — dressing was something that came in a bottle, it had to be specially made in a far off place, there were secret ingredients. Like other condiments, I never really considered it was even possible to make my own.

The truth is, most of what’s in those bottles is crap, unless you actually like artificial flavors and colors, chemical preservatives, and just can’t get enough of xanthan gum.

A vinaigrette, on the other hand, can be made quickly and easily with things you likely have (or should have) on hand. At its simplest, a vinaigrette is vinegar (or another acid, like lemon juice) that is emulsified in oil, meaning it’s mixed together vigorously enough that the oil and vinegar don’t separate, as is their nature. A few aromatics help round it out.

Let’s start with the oil. Neutral oils like canola or grapeseed are fine but boring; best to save them for high heat applications due to their high smoke point. Nut oils add some depth; best to stick with milder flavors like hazelnut, almond, or walnut (peanut is best for frying). Nut oils tend to be much more volatile so keep them in the fridge to keep them from going rancid.

Olive oil really shines here, and this is where you notice the good stuff (cooking it neutralizes much of the appeal of fancy olive oil). It’s worth having some extra virgin on hand for dressing. I tend not to trust much olive oil that gets exported out of Europe any more (if you live in a place that respects Europe’s protected designations, by all means, enjoy their olive oil). Fortunately, we’ve been making pretty good olive oil in the states for a while.

Vinegar gives your vinaigrette that distinctive taste and pungency and, again, it’s worth going with a good one. Balsamic is fine, though the good kinds can be kind of expensive to use regularly, and it’s probably too sweet for general use. Apple cider vinegar is a wonderful flavor. Red and white wine vinegars are more all purpose. Lately, champagne vinegar is my favorite. Fresh squeezed lemon juice works equally well, and it can really brighten up a summer salad. (It’s also well suited to Southeast Asian-style salads made with not-so-leafy things like mango, papaya, cabbage.)

A few aromatics really make the whole thing sublime. I prefer a little finely chopped shallot in just about every vinaigrette I make; it’s not as biting as onion. Roasted garlic adds some richness and flavor. Fresh herbs like mint or basil go particularly well with, say, meyer lemon and a fruity olive oil. A small dollop of dijon really brings together a classic vinaigrette (and it helps it emulsify, too, since mustard itself is already an emulsion.)

Assembling it all is simple. Prepare your aromatics: shred any herbs by hand, chop your shallots. Measure out your acid, add it to a small bowl (a glass liquid-measuring cup with a spout works perfectly), add the aromatics, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir with a fork then measure out three times as much oil as you have acid and slowly pour it into the bowl, in a thin and steady stream, mixing with the fork all the while. I find it helps to turn your bowl to the side a bit to really mix it well. If you’re making a small salad for, say, two or three people, 1 teaspoon of acid to 1 tablespoon of oil works particularly well and is easy to scale up.

Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette

  • 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp. meyer lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp. diced shallot
  • 1/2 tsp. grated lemon peel
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • A few grinds of fresh pepper

It’s so easy to make this, I don’t both making much. I just pull it all together right before serving. You can easily scale it up and use, say, the juice of an entire lemon. Just remember the ratio of 1 part lemon juice to 3 parts oil.

  1. Dice the shallots, grate the peel, then combine in a small bowl with the lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Whisk a few times with a fork.
  2. Slowly pour (a drizzling stream, just past drips) the olive oil in to the bowl, whisking constantly with the fork. Tilt the bowl slightly as it comes together to get all of the dressing emulsified. Serves 2-3

A Classic Champagne Vinaigrette

  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tsp. champagne or white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp. diced shallots or garlic or roasted garlic
  • 1/2 tsp. dijon mustard
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • A few grinds of fresh pepper
  1. Dice the shallots, then combine in a small bowl with the vinegar, mustard, salt, and pepper. Whisk with a fork to combine.
  2. Slowly pour (a drizzling stream, just past drips) the olive oil in to the bowl, whisking constantly with the fork. Tilt the bowl slightly as it comes together to get all of the dressing emulsified. Serves 2-3

Last year, with the help from our friends at Mule Radio, we started our very own podcast. It’s been great fun, we’ve learned a lot, and hopefully our listeners did, too.

We’ve got other ideas for Salt & Fat, so we’re going to be winding the podcast down. Today’s episode, fittingly, is all about starting fresh, and it will be the penultimate one. We want our last episode, in 2 weeks, to be all about our listeners, so if you’ve been holding off on asking a question or just saying hi, now’s the time to call (260-225-7258) or email.

We love Salt & Fat and want it to be the best it can be — the first thing you’ll notice is we’re going to be writing here more. We’re thankful for everyone who tuned in, especially thankful to Mule Radio for giving us a chance to try out our radio voices, and can’t wait for what’s next.

Freshly made tortillas have the potential to completely change your cooking game, taking you from the playground of bland, store-bought, flour flats to the big leagues of big corn flavors and wonderfully soft dough textures. What follows is a basic corn-tortilla recipe with a shocking twist: the use of corn stock instead of water. If you don’t already have corn stock in the freezer (we wrote up a mock recipe a while ago) just use water and you’ll be making regular corn tortillas. Those are still great, though I really dig the roasty, sweet, hyper-corny flavor of the stock-based ones. Whenever I have extra corn stock, I’ll be saving a few cups for them.

Ingredients

Makes ~16 tortillas

Directions

Place the masa harina and the salt in a large mixing bowl and stir with a fork to combine. Add about 1 cup of the stock while folding/mixing with a spatula. Once the dough is sort of coming together (it’ll still be very dry and rough) switch to kneading with your hands. Mash, fold, and punch the dough.

Add more stock slowly, 1/4 cup at a time. Depending on your masa harina, you may need anywhere from 1 1/2 cups of stock to the full 2 cups. Masa dough doesn’t really mind if you overwork it, so feel free to add more masa harina or liquid to balance it out. Make sure the dough is even, with no dry pockets.

The final product should take no more than 5 minutes of kneading, and it’ll feel like putty: flexible, moist, but not wet or sticky. Nothing should be sticking to the sides of the bowl or pooled at the bottom of it. Shape the dough into a rough ball, cover the bowl with a towel, and let rest for 15 minutes up to an hour. You may need to moisten it slightly with water if it feels dry after resting.

In the meantime, prepare the following hardware:

  • Two nonstick pans, teflon or cast iron or similar. You can also use one long griddle over two burners.
  • Tortilla press. If you don’t have one—and they’re pretty cheap and small, really—you can press your tortillas with a round, see-through pie pan. Press straight down and look through to make sure it stays even. But do consider getting a press, ok?
  • One gallon-size ziplock bag, cut open into two plastic covers large enough to cover the two sides of your tortilla press.
  • Tortilla warmer, or, a large, clean towel, slightly moistened and folded in half.

Set one pan (or one end of the griddle) over medium-low heat. Set the other pan over medium-high. Make sure they preheat for at least 3 minutes.

The flow of your hardware should be: masa bowl > tortilla press > medium-low pan > medium-high pan > tortilla warmer. Arrange these in a way that makes sense to you and fits your kitchen space.

Break off a golf-ball-size piece of the dough and shape it into a rough ball. Don’t worry too much about making it perfect; the dough should cooperate willingly. Cover the bowl with the towel again.

Press it gently onto the first piece of plastic on the bottom side of the tortilla press, just enough to flatten it a bit. Again, don’t worry about the shape too much, as long as it stays together.

Cover it with the second piece of plastic and work the press: press down. Open the press and rotate the tortilla 180º. I don’t mean flip it; rotate it while flat against the bottom and press down again to make sure it’s even.

Open the press again and lift the plastic-sandwiched tortilla. Remove the top piece of plastic carefully and place back on the press. Now transfer the tortilla, dough side down, onto your other hand, then peel off the second piece of plastic from the top. Always peel the plastic from the tortilla, not the other way around.

Gently place the tortilla onto the first, medium-low-heat pan. You can flip it over carefully, or touch the end of the tortilla by the bottom of your palm to the pan, then move your hand out of the way and let it drape over the pan.

Give it 30 seconds on this side, then flip it over. You can use a spatula, but as the tortilla won’t really stick to the pan, it’s easier to just do this using your fingers. Give it another 30 seconds.

Now flip the tortilla back onto the first side onto the second, medium-high-heat pan. Press it down gently with the back of your hand or a flat spatula; this will help it really absorb the heat quickly, resulting in the crucial final step of puffing up. The tortilla should basically inflate over the next few seconds.

Once the tortilla puffs up—and if it doesn’t, press it down again, and consider perhaps boosting the heat a bit?—it’s ready to come out and go into your tortilla warmer.

So, 30 seconds on each side in the medium-low pan, then flip over again onto the medium-high pan and wait for it to pillow up. You’ll get into the rhythm of it eventually, rolling and pressing tortillas while waiting for the previous batch to heat and puff up.

Your tortillas should stay warm for up to an hour in a proper warming dish, 15-20 minutes in a towel. Stored in a bag in the fridge, they will keep for up to a week. To reheat them, microwave for 1-2 minutes in a moistened towel.

Serving suggestion: tacos filled with our mole.

Notes

You’ll find masa harina in the Hispanic section of your supermarket. (Please note that this is not the same as cornmeal, corn starch, or other ground corn products.) The Maseca brand is ubiquitous and cheap. For extra credit, consider asking your local Mexican taqueria if they’ll sell you some fresh masa, in which case you can skip the mixing steps and go straight to the press. Masa is the stuff that gets dried and packaged for commercial sale as masa harina; it tastes better fresh, but it’s extremely inconvenient to grind and nixtamalize your own masa at home.

Depending on your corn, how much of it you use, and how much you let it reduce, your corn stock may be anywhere from a refreshingly fragrant water to a thick, sticky syrup. I reduce mine quite a bit, until it resembles unfiltered apple cider or rich chicken soup.

The two-pan method of grilling tortillas, described by your most trustworthy source on Mexican cooking, Rick Bayless, is essential; I made about 150 tortillas using the single-pan method and never got them to puff up as nicely as when I added the second, high-heat pan. What happens is that the first pan seals the sides of the tortilla, and the high heat of the second pan makes it expand quickly the only way it can: by separating the two outside layers and inflating from the inside. It is this double-layer nature of properly puffed tortillas that gives them their soft, never-cracking texture and fresh taste.

Instead of counting to 30 every time you add a tortilla to the pan, consider placing a big analog clock near your stove. I pulled up the big clock display on my iPad and set it on the counter.

Whether you use corn stock or water, these will be so much better than anything you can buy in the store. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself eating them plain—but what am I saying, there’s nothing plain about these tortillas!