Sunday, March 27, 2011

Interesting Eats: Passion Fruit

Have you ever tasted a fresh Passion Fruit?
While almost everyone I know has heard of "Passion Fruit", hardly anyone I know has ever tried it. In fact, I myself had never tried Passion Fruit until about 2 years ago when I visited the Dominican Republic with my friend Amy. Passion Fruit were plentiful there, and we greedily ate several Passion Fruits a day and officially declared it to be our favorite fruit. There is just something about that sweet, tart flavor that energized me and made me crave it anytime I needed a pick-me-up, whether first thing in the morning, or as a quick snack before heading out in the evening.

Passion Fruit is pretty hard to find back home in the states, but I always keep my eyes out for it and snatch it up when I can. While they aren't cheap (about $2 for a fruit the size of a billiard-ball), I find they are well worth the price for a special treat - after all, it's cheaper and healthier than a gourmet cupcake!

A purple-skinned Passion Fruit (and a quarter for size compairsion)

How to Eat a Passion Fruit
There are two types of Passion Fruit - one has purple skin, the other has golden - but while they look very different on the outside, the flavors are similar with strong sweet and sour notes and a taste likened to guava. To select a ripe Passion Fruit, choose a heavy, firm fruit with wrinkly skin.

The Dominican way to eat a Passion Fruit is to simply cut it in half, stir in a teaspoon of brown sugar, and eat it straight out of the fruit.

You'll find the texture to be very similar to Pomegranate - small edible seeds encased in the fruit's pulp. Eat it as is, seeds and all, for a high-fiber, vitamin-packed snack.

The insides may not exactly be beautiful, but the flavor is amazing when mixed with a little brown sugar.

You can also add the Passion Fruit seeds to green-salads or fruit-salads to liven them up.

Hungry for more Passion Fruit?

Cupcakes: Or if you'd really rather have a gourmet cupcake than a piece of fruit - compromise and have both! MORE Cupcakes in River North makes a Passion Fruit Meringue cupcake that is pretty darn incredible, but they rotate their flavors daily so be sure to call first if that's what you're after(312.951.0001).

Jam: I found this Passion Fruit Jam at a Mexican-owned grocery store in Ravenswood. It's great on toast, saltines, or served with a cheese plate.

Travel: To truly get a tropical fruit-fix, take a tropical vacation! May I recommend Brazil?

Passion Fruit Mousse dessert at a hole-in-the-wall "by the Kilo" buffet in Rio De Janeiro

Passion Fruit (Maracuja in Portugese) is so common in Brazil that I bought this can of Passion Fruit nectar made by Coca-Cola in a convenience store.

Fresh Fruit juice is so plentiful in Brazil, look at the long juice menu I found in a Bar/Pizza Place in Sao Paulo!

(translations: Maracuja = Passion Fruit; Goiaba = Guava; Acai = super-food berries; Caju = the fruit of the Cashew Tree)

A fruit-lover's paradise at the Central Market in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Dining Out in Chicago: Victory's Banner

Reasons Victory's Banner is my favorite place for brunch (in no particular order):

1.) The Sunny, Uplifting environment: In the heart of Roscoe Village, the space has cheerful baby-blue and white walls, lots of windows, and (when the weather warms up) side-walk seating. Cheerful art with themes of peace decorate the walls and tables. The wait-staff, wearing colorful saris, remain calm and joyful no matter how packed the restaurant (their calmness likely due to the fact that all employees are meditation students of the spiritual leader Sri Chinmoy, whose face is prominently featured throughout the restaurant).

Cheerful, original art by Sri Chinmoy decorates the restaurant

2.) Out of this World French Toast: I declare that their French Toast is the best in the city, and I'm not alone in thinking that, as reviews from the Chicago Reader and other publications agree. For no extra charge it is served with peach-butter and real maple syrup, but I recommend paying the extra $2 for a puree of real raspberries which elevates the dish to a whole new level.

They also have a Vegan version of French Toast made with coconut milk and chai-inspired spices.

REAL maple syrup on every table.

Order a cup of chai, and for an extra $1 make it bottomless!

3.) Delicious, unique menu items: My favorite is their "Eggless Wonder #2", a sautee of marinated tofu, vegetables, potatoes, brown rice, feta and pesto (Eggless Wonder #1 is the same, but with goat cheese instead of feta and pesto). It's a delicious, savory breakfast that leaves me feeling energized, not weighed down like traditional brunch foods.

On my next visit, I plan to try their Uppama "India’s answer to cream of wheat - a savory hot cereal with peas, tomatoes and onions, served with a sweet coconut chutney and yogurt".

They also have a full lunch menu available with soups, salads, wraps, and burgers.

Eggless Wonder #2, served with a crusty slice of hearth bread.

"Satisfaction Promise", their most popular egg-dish, a scramble of two eggs with spinach, pesto, sun-dried tomatoes and feta.

4.) Did I mention the restaurant is 100% Vegetarian? And with such a wide selection of omelets, scrambles, pancakes, and french toast, the absence of meat could easily go unnoticed. Order a burger or side of bacon or sausage and rest easy knowing that it's vegetarian!

The completely vegetarian 'Sausage' and Gouda omelet.

Victory's Banner
2100 W Roscoe (2 blocks West of Damen)
Closed on Tuesdays. Open 8am-3pm all other days.

Important Note: the restaurant closes twice a year and will be closed from April 9th - 19th.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


LÄRABARS have been around since 2003, but I only discovered them about a year ago. I quickly became a very big fan, so much so that I can name at least a dozen people that I've handed one to and told them they must try it! I guess I'm a little bit pushy :-)

LÄRABARS are among the simplest of products I've found at the grocery store. Some of my favorite flavors have just 3 ingredients, always starting with a delicious base of dates and nuts, with the addition of different fruits and spices depending on the flavor. They create decadent flavors like Carrot Cake, Pecan Pie, and Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip without ever exceeding 9 ingredients.

The Cherry Pie LÄRABAR:
Like a chewy tart-cherry fruit leather,
studded with crushed Almonds.

Even better, each bar contains a full serving of fruits, they are chock-full of healthy fats, and all can be eaten by those on a vegan*, gluten-free, Kosher, or RAW diets. (*the chocolate chip flavors use dairy-free chocolate, but the chocolate chips may contain trace amounts of dairy from the production facility)

And while some other RAW-food bars on the market can cost upwards of $3 and are found only at specialty food stores, LÄRABARS can be found for somewhere in the $1.25 range at places like Dominick's, Jewel, and Target (though health-food stores tend to carry a broader array of flavors).

I like to carry one in my purse for when hunger strikes. Read below for some of my favorite flavors.

Cherry Pie: dates, almonds, & unsweetened cherries

Tropical Fruit Tart: Dates, Pineapple, Unsweetened Coconut, Almonds, Extra Virgin Coconut Oil, Cashews, Orange Juice Concentrate, Orange Peel

Apple Pie: Dates, Almonds, Apples, Walnuts, Raisins, Cinnamon

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Interesting Eats: Kumquats

If you like the sweet & tart contrast of Sour Patch Kids and Lemon Heads, try nature's version: Kumquats.

You can pop the olive-sized fruits right into your mouth like candy. No peeling necessary: In fact, the peel has a sweet taste that mellows out the sourness of the fruit's flesh, for a balanced burst of fresh citrus flavor.

I recently found them at Whole Foods Market for $4.99/lb, which means that a dollar's worth is guaranteed to be enough to satisfy your candy craving. The Kumquat growing season (November to March) is ending soon, so try them while you can!

For more of a challenge, search the internet to find plenty of recipes for cocktails, chutneys, or fruit salads featuring kumquats.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Dining Out in Chicago: Kopi - A Traveler's Cafe

Kopi is my favorite place for a leisurely lunch. My first experience at Kopi was last summer, ducking in to escape the pouring rain. I sat cross-legged on cushions on the floor with a large pot of tea in front of me while dunking an italian-'beef' sandwich into a warm tangy broth. It was such a comforting and flavorful way to spend an afternoon.

Kopi's incredibly delicious "This Is Not An Italian Beef Sandwich", made with "hickory smoked veggie deli slices, grilled onions, roasted red peppers, and pepperoncini on a demi baguette. served with potato chips and a dippin' broth that magritte would be proud of."

Since then, I've been back to Kopi many times for it's low-key vibe, quality vegetarian food, and multi-purpose atmosphere. Whether you want to sip tea on floor-cushions, pull up a seat at a table in a casual cafe, shop their travel-themed boutique, or enjoy a decadent evening of wine & cake, you can't go wrong with Kopi.

The menu is all vegetarian (technically pescatarian as they serve fish, eggs, and dairy) but even non-vegetarians will enjoy it. The fake "meat" they use is clearly quality with a nice flavor and texture, but those who would prefer "meat"-less have plenty of options such as salads, paninis, or a bean burrito. My "meat"-less favorite is the mouth-watering Fromage D'Alps sandwich, with generous chunks of sharp white cheddar perfectly matched with dijon mustard, raisin bread, and granny smith apple slices.

A gourmet cheese plate in Sandwich form - "the Fromage D' Alps" featuring "aged black diamond cheddar cheese and granny smith apple slices on a hearty multi grain raisin bread with dijon mustard. served with a side of grapes and olives."

Everything I've tried at Kopi was of the highest quality down to the details of the hearty breads, crunchy tortilla chips, and quality 'meats' and cheeses. The quality is especially apparent in their house-tea of chamomile, peppermint, and rose-hips. Lo-and-behold, when I opened the lid to the teapot, in the strainer I could clearly make out each of those ingredients - several generous spoonfuls of leaves and flowers. If you order tea, be sure to take a peek inside the pot!

The portion sizes at Kopi are also pretty generous, so sadly I've always been too full to try any of their tempting desserts, but I keep coming back in the hopes that the next time I'll have room!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ancient Grains: Farro Salad Recipe

Here's another gem from Giada De Laurentiis's Everyday Italian that I discovered while borrowing her cookbook from the library.

This recipe caught my eye since it featured a grain I'd never tried before - the Ancient Roman grain of "FARRO". I picked up the grain on a trip to Whole Foods Market, and though I initially balked at the $8 price tag, I decided it was worth while since it was enough to make two batches of this healthy entree salad.

The grain Farro was suprisingly light yet chewy, and worth every penny! This salad would be perfect for a summer picnic, or in tonight's case, the perfect way to forget about the chilly winter air outside!

Prep Time:
20 min
Inactive Prep Time:
Cook Time:
35 min
6 servings


  • 4 cups water
  • 10 ounces farro (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
  • 1 pound tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  • 1/2 sweet onion (recommended: Walla Walla) chopped
  • 1/4 cup snipped fresh chives
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil


  • Combine the water and farro in a medium saucepan. Add 2 teaspoons of salt. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the farro is tender, about 30 minutes.Drain well, and then transfer to a large bowl to cool.
  • Add the tomatoes, onion, chives, and parsley to the farro, and toss to combine.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the garlic, vinegar, salt, pepper, and olive oil. Add the vinaigrette to the salad and toss to coat.
  • The salad can be refrigerated overnight. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Everyday Italian: Spicy Tomato Sauce Recipe

Inspired by an episode of Anna & Kristina's Grocery Bag where they reviewed the cookbook "Everyday Italian" by Giada De Laurentiis, I checked it out from my local library and was very pleased!

While it isn't a vegetarian cookbook, there were a handful of recipes that I have since added to my binder of go-to favorites. What stood out about her recipes is that they truly are everyday meals - the ingredients are mostly items that I can stock in my pantry and the many of the recipes come together in less than 30 minutes. Despite the simplicity, I was surprised by how much fresh flavor these recipes packed.

Earlier this week I made Giada's "Spicy Tomato Sauce" and simply had to share it. If you love Arrabiata (spicy) or Puttanesca (with Olives and Capers) tomato sauce, this one's for you.

Thank you to for publishing the recipe online for me to share:

Spicy Tomato Sauce from Giada de Laurentiis's Everyday Italian

The sauce known as all’arrabbiata—or “in the angry style”—is made with hot red pepper flakes (and sometimes fresh chilies for an extra kick). I like to use the briny elements of olives and capers and skip the fresh chilies, adding depth to the spiciness rather than just more heat. Perfect with penne or rigatoni.

  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

  • 1 small onion, minced

  • 2 garlic cloves, minced

  • ½ cup pitted black olives, coarsely chopped

  • 2 tablespoons drained capers, rinsed

  • ½ teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste

  • Generous pinch of dried crushed redpepper flakes

  • 1 28-ounce can crushed Italiantomatoes

  • In a large skillet, heat the oil over a medium-high flame. When almost smok

    ing, add the onion and garlic and sauté for 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and add the olives, capers, ½ teaspoon of salt, and red pepper flakes, and sauté for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and simmer until reduced slightly, about 20 minutes. Season the sauce with more salt to taste. (The sauce can be made 1 day ahead. Cool, then cover and refrigerate. Rewarm over medium heat before using.)

    Yields: Serves 4 over a pound of pasta as a main course

  • A batch I whipped up the other night, with the addition of two diced Tofurkey Italian Sausages for some added protein.

  • An up-close look at the texture of the sauce, chock-full of black olives, capers, and crushed tomatoes.