Making Lye Cured Olives



We harvested our olives this week, and followed the usual tradition of picking the best olives for preserving and the rest for pressing into olive oil. The majority of the olives we grow are Sevillano olives, which are perfect for preserving using a traditional lye cure, or for making Spanish style fermented olives. They can also be cured using a water extraction process, which I explained in another post several years ago.

Curing olives leaches out the bitter compounds that make the raw olives inedible. These bitter phenolic compounds are more concentrated in green olives and decrease as the olives mature. The phenols in olives give the “peppery bite” found in many high quality extra virgin olive oils and are the primary source of the many health benefits attributed to olive oil including reducing the risk of cancer, heart disease, inflammatory disease and Alzheimer’s.

We definitely like some bitterness in our olive oil, and thus prefer to harvest and press our olives green. A touch of bitterness in brined fermented olives is fine too, but all olives require leaching of the majority of bitter compounds prior to consumption, and in green olives treatment with lye is the most rapid and effective way to do this. The traditional black olives most Americans grew up eating are green lye cured olives that are then treated with iron and an oxidation process to create a black olive. Green lye cured olives have the familiar mild olive flavor that most of us grew up with. They are also like a blank slate that can then be jazzed up with a variety of flavorings depending upon your preferences.

The University of California guide to preserving olives is a dependable resource for making a variety of olives. Over the years we have tried many of their recipes, but the lye cured olives are always the most popular. The recipe in their guide along with these visuals will guide you on the steps in the process.

The first step is the olive harvest. For preserved olives, harvest carefully to prevent bruising of the fruit.


olive-harvest w

The 2015 Olive Harvest

Olives for oil are stripped from the trees onto cloths placed on the orchard floor. For preserved olives picking by hand and gently placing into a collection vessel will lessen the risk of bruising. On occasion I have picked through the “oil olives” after harvest looking for the nicest fruit and preserved those but I examine them carefully to avoid bruised olives.

You also should inspect the olive carefully for any spots which might indicate the presence of the olive fly. Do not preserve the fruit with spots.olives-with-flyw


Olives with olive fly damage. Each of these has a spot from the fly and are unacceptable for making preserved olives but can be used for olive oil.

If you have any doubts about whether the spots you see on your olives are from olive fly, cut them open and examine them. Often the damage on the inside is much worse than what might appear on the exterior.

the-cracked-olive-with-damage w

Olive fly damage inside the olive

If you are harvesting olives from trees that have been neglected it may be difficult to find any olives that are acceptable. We prune yearly and spray our olives several times with an organic kaolin clay compound (brand name Surround) to discourage the moths. Even with all this care, most of our olives have damage on them.

bucket-of-fresh-picked-olives w


Basket of carefully selected Sevillano Olives ready to cure

Once you harvest the olives you should treat them soon, preferably within 24 hours. Don’t chill the olives, just store them at cool room temperature until you begin processing.

The lye that is used to cure olives might be sold as a product for making soap, or as a drain cleaner. It sounds scary, as in strong concentrations it is a caustic base which can burn you if splashed on your skin or swallowed. But lye is used in a variety of processed food products that you might routinely eat, including hominy, soft baked pretzels and peeled mandarin oranges. It is even on the list of substances allowed in organic food production. Lye (sodium hydroxide) is a compound that is only harmful when in a very high concentration. Just as the acid you might add to your pool can burn you when taken straight, but can be completely safe to swim in when diluted, so the caustic base of lye can burn you when concentrated but when diluted is not harmful. When your olives are made properly, the residual amount of lye in the final product should be negligible.

Find a source of lye that is 100 percent lye. I found this lye at a local hardware store.


100 percent lye sold as drain cleaner

Read the directions on using lye in the UC guide for making olives carefully prior to beginning the lye curing process. It is very important that you read these precautions as exposure to concentrated lye can cause burns to the skin or blindness if splashed in the eyes. Remember to always protect your hands with gloves and your eyes with goggles before beginning to work with the lye solution. Be gentle during the process so you don’t splash the liquid, and don’t worry. I am uncoordinated but have been doing this for years and have never splashed it on myself.

Fill a food safe plastic bucket or other lye resistant container with enough water to cover your olives completely. I had about 3 gallons of olives, and I used 3 gallons of water. Add 3 Tablespoons of the powdered lye to each gallon of water. For this 3 gallons I used 9 Tablespoons of lye. Do not add water to lye, you should only add lye to water. Stir gently to dissolve the lye.

adding-lye-to-water w

Adding lye gently to the water.  Notice the eye and hand protection. Long sleeved shirts, long pants and shoes are recommended, and goggles are preferred over glasses too so I was somewhat negligent here! mixing-lye-and-waterw

Stir to dissolve lye in the water

Once all the lye has been added the temperature of the liquid might warm up. Check the temperature with a thermometer, and don’t add the olives until it has cooled down to cool room temperature (below 70 degrees).

Now carefull add the olives to the lye bath, again gently to avoid splashing. I put them in a glass measuring cup, then gradually tipped the cup to pour them into the solution.adding-olives-to-the-lye-bucketw

 Gently add olives to the lye bath

The olives must be protected from contact with air as this will cause discoloration. Cover the top of the olives in the bucket with a wet dish cloth. Then place a plate, a bowl or something else (I used a strainer) on top of the cloth to hold them under the liquid.

cover-lye-with-a-moist-towel-to-limit-air-exposure (1w)

A wet towel is used to hold the olives under the lye solution while curing. Put a plate or bowl or strainer on the cloth to hold the olives under.

The UC guide says to stir the olives every few hours while curing, but I only stirred them once and they seemed to cure well.

The olives are finished curing when one of the larger olives is removed from the water, rinsed and cut and the cure has softened the olive and turned the flesh green all the way to the pit. testing-lye-penetrationwThis olive is not fully cured. Note the white ring close to the pit. Cure the batch longer if your test olive looks like this.

Usually after about 12 hours my Sevillano olives are ready. Sometimes theoretically the olives may require a separate new lye cure but that has never been my experience. You can read more about that in the UC Guide.

tannic-acid-in-the-lye-water-after-curing w

When the olives have been cured, you will note the lye bath has become very dark from all the compounds leached from the olives.

Once the test olive has been adequately penetrated by the lye, your lye cure is finished. You must now remove the lye from the olives. First drain the liquid from the olives by pouring them into a large strainer or colander. It is safe to pour the lye solution down the drain at this time. Return the olives to the bucket, cover the olives well with cool water, then drain them and rinse them in the strainer several times to rinse off the surface lye. During this whole process you should still be careful about avoiding any contact of the lye with your skin or eyes. Once they are rinsed the residual lye is no longer concentrated enough to be caustic.

You now will begin the process of soaking and rinsing several times per day to gradually remove the lye from the olives. Put the olives back in the bucket, cover them with water, put a clean wet cloth over the top, and let them soak for a few hours. Rinse off the water in the strainer or colander and repeat this process several times per day for at least 3 days. This process leaches the lye from the olives. The water should be completely free of any color when the olives have been adequately cleaned of the lye. The olives will no longer feel soapy or slippery. At this point you can taste an olive and should not note any soapiness or lye residue. 

Congratulations, you have successfully lye cured your olives!  Your olives are now a blank slate for flavoring. There are so many ways to flavor these plain olives. To eat some in the next few days, flavor them with a simple marinade. A good starting marinade can be made with 1 quart of water, 2 teaspoons of salt, 2 Tablespoons of vinegar, several sliced cloves of garlic, and some hot pepper slices or flakes to taste. For some variety, rosemary, thyme or bay leaves can be added to the brine or 1/4 cup of lemon juice can replace the vinegar, and sliced lemon rind can be added. The olives are usually ready to eat after 24 hours of soaking in the marinade.


 Marinated olives with lemon, garlic and hot peppers

Olives you are not planning to eat in the next few days must be preserved for long-term storage. Preservation requires either salt or vinegar brine and refrigeration. I prefer salt as it is easier to remove with soaking and leaves me with a bland olive to flavor later.

Salt brining for storage is a multiple step process. First make a lighter brine using 3/4 cup salt per gallon of water. Soak the drained olives in this brine for about 1 week. Then drain the olives and soak them in a stronger brine of 1 1/2 cups of salt per gallon of water for 10-12 days, Now drain them again and store them in the final freshly made brine of 1 1/2 cups salt per gallon of water. Store the olives in the refrigerator int he brine and use them within 2 months. I consider the olives a seasonal treat to enjoy over the holiday season and usually finish them by New Years Day.

Home cured olives in strong salt brine ready for the holidays! 

Don’t forget to plan ahead when you want to eat these olives because they are salty! A day or two before you want to eat some olives, soak them in water in the refrigerator to remove the salt.  You can then eat them plain or flavor them by soaking in the marinade discussed previously.


© 2015. Dayna Green-Burgeson RD, CDE. All Rights Reserved.

Reproduction of any content in the article without the written persmission of the author is prohibited.

3 Ingredient Creamy Lime Pops

Citrus season on Burgeson Family Farm always starts with the lime harvest. Before the very hot summers have faded to the crisp days of autumn we treat ourselves to cool lime-centric drinks on the porch in the evening: gin and tonic, greyhound and margarita cocktails and sparkling water on ice with generous wedges of lime plucked from the tree just minutes before. When I walk by the trees, laden with fruit, it is almost impossible for me to resist grabbing a lime, scratching the aromatic rind and inhaling the intoxicating aroma. We load our car with bags of limes to sell at the farmer’s market and farm stand at Garden Earth Farms, our sister farm in Santa Rosa, and the drive to deliver is like 2 hours of aromatherapy.

limes with flowers

Limes on the trees at Burgeson Family Farm. Note the bees are at work pollinating a new crop which will be ready in the spring. It is uncommon for us to have 2 crops in one year but it looks like it will happen this year.

This is the pop recipe that “started it all”, the pop obsession in our family. Lime pops are so cool, creamy and tart; it takes only 3 ingredients and minutes to make the mix, and to me they are more satisfying and delicious than a key lime pie.  This recipe will work with any limes, either the small little Key limes with their intense acidity and aroma and multitude of tiny seeds, or the big juicy seedless Bearss limes, or even store bought supermarket Mexican limes.

key and bearss limes

Key limes on the left and Bearss limes on the right

(Many people think that only key limes are yellow but all limes will turn more yellow when they are very ripe. Note the Bearrs limes are actually more yellow than the Key limes.)

If there is a farmer in your area growing limes, I urge you to  buy some at least once to make this, or your cocktails, with them.  Most of the limes in the grocery stores are shipped from Mexico, and they are far from freshly picked. The oils in the zest of a freshly picked lime add so much to the flavor of this recipe. You may want to keep one on hand to “scratch and sniff” for a pick me up.

3 Ingredient Creamy Lime Pop Recipe

For this recipe you need only 3 ingredients:

Limes (4-5 large ones or about 10-14 small ones)

1 can of sweetened condensed milk (14 ounces) (I use organic)

1 ½ cups of non-fat Greek yogurt (I use organic, usually either Straus, Clover or Wallaby because I have actually seen their farms and “happy cows” as I travel about Northern California)

Finely zest the rind from the limes. I love this little tool, a microplane grater, for making a very fine zest:

microplane grater rind

You should have 2 Tablespoons of zest. Note the beautiful fine zest this tool makes.

a fine lime zest

Squeeze the juice from enough limes to make ½ cup.  This handy citrus juicer makes that task a breeze.

juicing limes

Put the juice and zest in a bowl. Stir in the condensed milk.  Add the Nonfat Greek yogurt and mix well. I use a hand whisk. You can also whip it in a blender which will make the mixture fluffy and the pops will be more light and creamy once frozen.

whisking ingredients

(I like to mix it in a measuring cup with a pour spout for easy pouring into the molds).

Note: These are high in protein and low in fat (see the analysis below). If you would like the recipe to be even higher in protein and lower in sugar and fat, you can add more of the Greek yogurt. That can be done according to your taste, as it will make them tart.  They also will be a bit less creamy.

Pour the mixture into the popsicle molds. This recipe will make 10 popsicles of about 1/2 cup each.

filling pop molds

If you don’t have molds you can use small paper cups, but I urge you to consider buying some popsicle molds. They are the most used piece of kitchen equipment we have purchased in a long time. For more about popsicle making and molds take a look at this other blog post I have on pops.

Put the popsicle sticks in the molds.

insert sticksDon’t shove the sticks all the way to the bottom. That will leave a short stick for eating. The mixture should be thick enough to suspend the sticks at the right depth. If not, freeze for awhile and then insert the sticks about halfway into the molds.

Now put the molds in a flat spot in your freezer and patiently wait for at least 4-6 hours for them to freeze completely all the way through. The sticks must be completely frozen in the middle of the pop.

To remove the popsicles from the molds put some very hot water in a glass. (I heat the water in the glass for a minute or two in the microwave). Dip the pop in the hot water for 10-20 seconds or so, until it slightly releases from the sides of the mold. Now squeeze the mold a bit to loosen the pop, hold the pop with the handle facing down and slide it out of the mold. If it does not come out easily, do not pull too hard on the stick or it might come out of the pop. Instead, heat it in the water again until it releases easily.

You can refreeze the pops on a tray until they are very hard, so they don’t stick together, then store them in a container or plastic bag in the freezer. They theoretically will last a long time, but practically speaking, it is doubtful they will be around all that long. They are that good.


Creamy Lime Pops

Nutrition Analysis per Pop (Makes 10):

152 calories, 6 grams protein, 24 grams carbohydrate, 3 grams fat, 2 grams saturated fat,

© 2015. Dayna Green-Burgeson RD, CDE. All Rights Reserved.

Creamy Fruit Pops

finished pops 1

Who doesn’t love ice cream cones and ice cream bars? The cold creamy texture is such a treat on a hot summer day. In our household we love ice cream, and we were buying too much fancy organic ice cream for both my budget and my sensibilities as a dietitian. ½ cup of premium ice cream has as much saturated fat as many of us should be eating in an entire day, and who eats only ½ cup? Certainly no one in my family.

Another concern that I had about eating so much ice cream is that it was displacing other desserts that might be higher in healthy antioxidants (ie fruit). It is pretty clear by reading the ingredient labels and by tasting, that most ice cream, even those with fruit flavors, contain a nutritionally nominal amount of fruit.

Fruit and fruit juice pops are a great way to have a cold treat on a hot summer day while increasing our daily intake of fruit. But I will be honest, sometimes I like a creamy treat, and fruit or fruit juice pops, while tasty at times, are just too icy to replace ice cream to my palate. I want something more like an ice cream cone or ice cream bar.

This summer we developed a method for making creamy pops that have displaced almost all of the ice cream we were eating. There are endless variations on our theme but the common ingredients that contribute to the creamy texture are a seedless fruit puree of some type and sweetened condensed milk. Sweetened condensed milk  is a “magic ingredient” for creamy ice cream without making a cooked custard base or even using an ice cream maker to churn. America’s Test Kitchen uses it for a simple chocolate ice cream recipe in this YouTube video. Why not take the creaminess provided by the condensed milk and apply it to a healthier fruit popsicle, a kind of hybrid popsicle/ice cream bar?

In most cases besides fruit and condensed milk, we add a bit of vanilla yogurt or Greek yogurt. If we are being decadent we might fold in a touch of whipped cream. Ground nuts, nut butter, low-fat cream cheese and whey protein powder have also occasionally made an appearance. You really can let your imagination go wild.

Here are the general directions for making:

Creamy Fruit Pops

To make creamy fruit pops, you first must purchase popsicle molds. We have tried several types and they all work fine. Adrian likes the Zoku classical popsicle molds.They come with their own reusable plastic sticks.

I prefer the molds I purchased at Cost Plus which use the traditional wooden popsicle sticks.

I hate drippy frozen pops so I also tried push-up type popsicle molds and recommend them for all those messy eaters out there (yes, that would be me!)

Next, you make smooth puree of fruit. We typically use berries, apricots or plums. Cook the fruit in a glass bowl in the microwave or on the stove until it has broken down into a mush. Using an immersion or stand blender to grind the cooked fruit can speed this process along. The puree will look like this raspberry puree, which is smooth but has a lot of seeds.

cooked puree with seedsWe like our pops to be very smooth, so we strain out the seeds and skins from the puree. We use a fabulous attachment for our Cuisinart citrus juicer called a Power Strainer. cuisinart with attachmentIt pushes the fruit puree through small holes leaving the seeds behind.

strainer in actionWe use it all the time for tomato sauce and fruit purees. Unfortunately it is no longer being made and we will probably cry if it ever breaks. I did find that you can buy it used on Amazon. Alternatively a hand strainer such as this model is a worthwhile investment for making smooth purees and sauces.  Even a stainless colander type strainer with a spoon or a pestle can be used to remove the seeds. You can also just leave the seeds and skins in for more fiber if you would like.

A typical ratio for the mix is 3 cups of fruit puree , ¾ cup sweetened condensed milk and ½ cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt. I like organic sweetened condensed milk and organic yogurt so I try to use this whenever possible. Mix this up and taste. If it is not sweet enough or creamy enough for your preference, add more condensed milk (an entire can is 1 ½ cups which is quite a bit but we have used this amount on occasion, especially with lime and lemon pops). If it is not tart enough, or you want more of a yogurt pop, you can add more yogurt. For 3 cups of fruit puree we typically use between ½ and 1 can of sweetened condensed milk, and between ½ and 1 cup of yogurt (either nonfat Greek or vanilla yogurt). If you prefer more of an “ice cream”, decadent pop, you can fold between ½ and 1 cup of cream whipped to soft peaks into the mixture. Another way to get a more rich or creamy pop is to add nut butter or finely ground nuts to the mixture (about ¼ cup or so).

We like to blend the ingredients to a fluffy texture in a blender on high speed to aerate, but whisking with a hand whisk or using a mixer would also work. This is the final raspberry mixture.

raspberry pop mixNow pour your mixture into the molds, insert the popsicle sticks, pop them in the freezer and wait for at least 4-6 hours or more until they are firm.To unmold either let them sit for a few minutes out at room temperature to soften, or hold them between your hands to warm up, or dip in a bowl of hot water for a few seconds to soften the outside to un-mold. Don’t pull too hard on the stick before the outside is soft, or try to remove them before the center is frozen, or the stick will come out leaving you a pop in the mold without a stick!

finished raspberry popYum, a creamy raspberry yogurt pop.

These pictures show preparation of a variation which is a creamy raspberry fruit pop with a swirl. When filling the molds, the raspberry is alternated with spoonfuls of the swirl ingredient. Once the pop is filled, a knife is swirled through the two flavors lightly.

The raspberry mixture was 3 cups raspberry puree, ¾ cup sweetened condensed milk and ½ cup nonfat Greek yogurt.

The cream cheese swirl was made by blending 4 ounces of low-fat cream cheese with 1 cup vanilla yogurt and ¼ cup of sweetened condensed milk.

filled popsicle moldThis is the swirled cream cheese/ raspberry mixture in the Zoku Classical molds before freezing.

The toasted hazelnut swirl was made by toasting ½ cup hazelnuts in the microwave for 1-2 minutes until lightly toasted. They were then ground to a paste in the blender, and blended until smooth along with ¼ cup of sweetened condensed milk, ½ cup nonfat greek yogurt and ½ cup of vanilla yogurt.

filled mold swirl popsThis is the swirled raspberry hazelnut mixture in the Cost Plus molds.

The popsicle sticks were then added and the pops were placed in the freezer.

popsicles tucked away in freezerFinally the pops were dipped in a bowl of hot water for a few seconds and un-molded.

Here is an array including cream cheese swirled, hazelnut swirled, and raspberry yogurt pops.

raspberry popsA mix of cool raspberry and raspberry swirl pops.

What a welcome treat on a hot summer day!

We have made blackberry, plum, raspberry, grape, blueberry and apricot. We have also made key lime, orange and lemon (using just the juice and rind with condensed milk and yogurt or whipped cream). Our main ingredients are always what we grow or what is in season. I still have not tried peach, but for those of you with peach trees and a bumper crop I urge you to give that a try. We have added peanut butter, cashew butter, hazelnut butter and whey protein powder.  Every pop has been tasty, or so it seems, as none are left in the freezer!

As you can see, ingredient amounts are really left to your imagination. Just use what you like, add what you have, taste the mixture before you freeze it and go from there. Good luck with your creations and happy summer!

© 2015. Dayna Green-Burgeson RD, CDE. All Rights Reserved.

Pomegranates: How to get the seeds and how to make pomegranate juice

Pomegranates are such a beautiful, nutritious fruit that it is a shame that so few people get the chance to enjoy them. Many are intimidated by the process of removing the seeds, and obtaining juice from the seeds is even more overwhelming. But the delicious reward for your endeavours is unequaled, and it really can be a relatively clean and painless process if done correctly.

Often the pomegranates you buy in the store have been picked before they are fully ripe. The best pomegranates are the ones that are so ripe they have started to crack. Obviously at this point they do not store well but this is when the color is the darkest and they are the most sweet. We try to pick our pomegranates right before they crack. Unfortunately when I picked today for the market on Tuesday, we had waited so long most of them looked like this.

I won’t be able to sell this pomegranate but it will make great juice and it will be easy to open!

We use most of the pomegranates we grow to make juice. We love to
mix the juice with tonic water, or spirits such as vodka or tequila to make
cocktails. It also can be boiled down to make pomegranate syrup to use in

We tried using citrus presses and other easy methods to make
the juice, but we have found that the skin and pulp impart bitter flavors to the juice
so we have gone back to using a somewhat laborious method which involves
first removing the seeds from the pomegranate, then getting juice from the

Here is how tp get the seeds from the pomegranate:

First remove the skin from the top and bottom of the
pomegranate. Cut around the circumference but only through the skin, not
deep enough to cut the seeds. This will prevent the task from becoming a big
juicy mess!Cut around the circumference of the pomegranate both top and bottom but do not cut through the seeds, only through the skin.

Now peel off the skin. Notice the seeds are whole.This is because they were not cut with the knife.

Peeling off the top and bottom to reveal the lovely seeds inside.

There can be some pomegranate spray, so I usually do this step and the steps afterwards holding the pomegranate under a bowl full of water.  The water contains almost every bit of spray. If I do this while watching TV rather than outside or in the kitchen, I cover the sofa with an old sheet as an extra precaution.

Now cut from top to bottom in about 5 or 6 locations around the perimeter of the pomegranate. Again, these are shallow cuts that only cut the skin, not the seeds.

Now  break the pomegranate apart along the natural segments, and remove the seeds from each segment. This is less messy if it is done under water.

Note the natural segments of seeds that have separated from the skin and membrane.  Gently scrap away those seeds from the membrane and let them drop into the water.

The white pulp will float to the top and the seeds will sink to
the bottom of the water. Now skim the pulp off the top of the water,
and strain the seeds, and they are ready to go.

If you dry the seeds on a cloth and then store them in a sealed container in the refrigerator, with folded paper towels on the top of the seeds, they can last for weeks. You can sprinkle them on salad, on your yogurt and oatmeal or just grab handfuls for snacks.

If you want to take it to the next level, you can make juice.

Here is a huge soup pot filled with pomegranate seeds ready for making juice.
Adrian often does this job while he is watching TV. He covers the sofa with a sheet because he prefers to not use the water, so it can become a somewhat messy job. Check out that sheet.The juice can be made with either raw or cooked pomegranates. We have found it is somewhat sweeter if we cook them. If you are planning to make juice and do not have a juice press, you should heat them to get the maximum yield. Put a small amount of water in the bottom of the pot, smash them down slightly with a potato masher to release more liquid, put on the cover, and slowly heat the pomegranates, stirring occasionally, until they have come to a simmer and have broken down but have not boiled, and the juice has been released. Then let them cool.

These are the pomegranates after heating and cooling. They are now ready to be pressed.

Cooked pomegranate seeds ready to be made into juice.

The seeds are then placed into a juice bag which we purchased, along with our little tabletop press, at The Beverage People, which is in Santa Rosa. It is an Italian Fruit Press and is made by Ferrari. You can also use a large piece of muslin if you are planning to squeeze the juice by hand.

The pressing-1Pouring seeds and juice into tabletop press

Before we had this tabletop press, we used a large old wine press we had, and before that we just used muslin or a cloth bag and squeezed by hand. The little tabletop press is by far the best way to go when you have a lot of pomegranates and are planning to make juice every year.

If you are doing this by hand, just place the pomegranate seeds in a fine mesh strainer and let the juice run out freely. Then put the seeds in a muslin bag or in the middle of a large muslin piece and twist the top until the juice is squeezed out of the bag. Continue to twist and squeeze the bag or fabric until you can get as much juice out as possible. You can get about 3/4 of the juice out without using a press. We got about 1 cup of juice per pound of seeds squeezing by hand. This is the seeds from 2 large pomegranates.

We put the bag of pomegranate seeds in the press, gradually
screw it down to create pressure on the seeds and the juice runs out of the
spout into our collection device.

The juice-1This may be the best pomegranate juice you have ever tasted!

From there we pour it into bottles and freeze or can it to use year round.

Nutrition Note: pomegranates are high in phyto-nutrients
associated with a reduction in disease. Much of the strongest research has suggested that eating pomegranates or drinking the juice can reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease. The research on reducing the risk of prostate cancer has been especially promising.

© 2015. Dayna Green-Burgeson RD, CDE. All Rights Reserved.

California Summer Farro Salad

The finished saladCalifornia Summer Farro Salad

This salad showcases a unique method of preparing zucchini for salads by shaving and salting it. Every fresh ingredient in this recipe is in season right now, making this salad a showcase of healthy California summer produce.  Serve California Summer Farro Salad as a light main course for lunch, or add some grilled chicken or fish, or perhaps some cooked dried beans or other legumes for a heavier, higher protein dinner.

For the farro in this recipe I use the 10 minute farro from Trader Joe’s.  I empty the whole bag in 6 cups of boiling water with ½ teaspoon salt and cook it boiling and uncovered for 10-15 minutes until it is tender, then drain it. The whole bag makes about 4 cups, which is the right amount for this recipe.

Unprocessed farro can take a very long time to cook, whereas quick-cooking or pearled farro will take less time to cook and will be less chewy when done. Read the directions for whatever product you plan to use and cook it accordingly.

In the last 5 minutes of cooking the farro for this recipe, add the chopped kale or chard if you are planning to use it.

Ingredients for Salad

  • 4 cups warm drained cooked farro (½ teaspoon salt used in cooking water) with
  • 1 cup of washed chopped greens such as chard or kale.added to the farro during the last 5 minutes of cooking (these greens are optional but add color, flavor and nutritional value)
  • 2  Tablespoons California Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 4 cups (about 3-4 medium) zucchini, shaved, salted with ¼ teaspoon salt, mixed and drained according to these directions (It will be about 2-3 cups after salting, draining and pressing)
  • 3 cups coarsely chopped fresh tomato
  • 1 cup chopped red and/or green bell pepper
  • ½ cup sliced pitted Kalamata olives
  • ¼ pound low-fat feta cheese, crumbled.

 The salad dressing ingredients:

  • ½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (this is the juice of about 2 large juicy lemons)
  • ½ cup California extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 large fresh cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 large shallot, finely chopped.
  • Leaves from 2 large sprigs of fresh oregano, finely chopped (about 1 Tablespoon)
  • Leaves from 2 large sprigs of fresh mint, finely chopped (about 1 Tablespoon)
  • ¼ cup of finely chopped fresh basil
  • 2 teaspoons of anchovy paste
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground pepper


  • Mix all the dressing ingredients together and set aside
  • Cook the farro (and kale or chard if using) and prepare the zucchini (the zucchini must sit after salting for at least ½ hour)
  •  Once the farro is cooked, drain it and immediately stir in the 2 Tablespoons of olive oil. Let the farro sit until it is no longer hot. Lukewarm is fine.
  •  Add all the other salad ingredients to the farro.

All the ingredients ready to mixCalifornia Summer Farro Salad Ingredients

  • Pour the salad dressing over the ingredients and mix well. Serve right away, or refrigerate for up to 2 days before serving.

zucchini and farro salad_edited-1A Healthy Sized Serving of California Summer Farro Salad

© 2013. Dayna Green-Burgeson RD, CDE. All Rights Reserved.

Reproduction of any of this content without written permission of the author is strictly prohibited.

Shaved Zucchini for Salad

shaved zucchini 2

The summer garden in California brings an abundance of perfect ingredients for salads. Delicious, juicy, vine-ripened tomatoes. Peppers of all colors, both mild and hot.  Cucumbers, fresh herbs, garlic, onions and the last of the lemons for the year. But one thing is missing for those who might want to eat a home-grown salad: lettuce. Unless you live in a cool coastal or mountain climate, the heat that ripens the other delicacies of summer causes lettuce to turn bitter and bolt into flower and seed prematurely.

The summer garden also brings an over-abundance of zucchini. I think I have chucked at least a thousand zucchinis in the compost pile over my lifetime as a gardener. Ever on the watch for new zucchini recipes, I recently found some salad recipes using shaved zucchini prepared in the manner described below. What a revelation! Some of my success with this may be due to the wonderful, dense, sweet European varieties of zucchini we grow (Romanesco and Cocozelle ) but it still is surprising how the character of zucchini can change so much with this simple technique. Zucchini prepared in this manner is now replacing lettuce in many of my salad recipes with unique and often sensational results.

I recommend that you give this method a try. Start off by dressing it with a simple lemon based vinaigrette, or maybe a Caesar dressing with a touch of shaved parmesan. If you have plenty of fresh, ripe, juicy tomatoes, and crisp mild peppers, use it in my California Summer Farro Salad recipe.

You should use medium sized zucchini for this recipe.

zucchiniThese are a mix of Cocozelle and Romanesco Zucchini.

Cut the stem and flower ends of the zucchini off.  If they are very long you may want to cut them in half so the final shavings will be about 3-5 inches long.  Then one by one, set the zucchini on the counter-top for support and using a potato peeler press down hard and cut long shavings on the top of the zucchini. Cut about 4-6 shavings, until you see the seeds, then turn the zucchini a bit and start on another side. Eventually you will have circumnavigated the whole zucchini. Don’t use the center, which is the watery, seedy part. It can be stored for another use, or thrown away.  The goal is to have firm, relatively thick shavings with not too many seeds or watery pulp.

Put the shaved zucchini in a colander. For every 4 cups of shavings, which is about 3-4 zucchinis, sprinkle on ¼ teaspoon salt, mixing the zucchini with your hand as you sprinkle. Continue to mix the zucchini well to distribute the salt, and let it sit for ½ hour to drain. The zucchini will look like this.

the zucchini shredsShaved salted zucchini

After about half an hour (you can go for longer, up to an hour if you like), press the liquid out of the zucchini and use it in salads or refrigerate it for up to one day to use later.

© 2013. Dayna Green-Burgeson RD, CDE. All Rights Reserved.

Reproduction of any of this content without written permission of the author is strictly prohibited.

Heirloom Beans

An exciting development in California has been the growth of the “heirloom bean” industry. Look beyond the standard grocery store, and you will find you are no longer limited to pinto beans, kidney beans, white navy beans, lentils and split peas. Farmers markets, specialty food stores and online retailers now offer dozens of varieties of beans, with unique tastes and flavor characteristics that bring real excitement to cooking with this humble food. Even Thomas Keller of the world-famous French Laundry restaurant has a special variety of bean he purchases from Rancho Gordo.

While the price of many “heirloom” foods is dear (5 dollar tomatoes, 100 dollar Thanksgiving Turkeys etc.) heirloom beans are an affordable luxury. At 5 dollars or so per pound, they are more expensive than your standard kidney beans, but in terms of overall value for the food dollar they are a bargain. A 5 dollar bag of beans can make a hearty main dish for at least 4 people, with as much protein as 3 ounces of meat for each person. And the protein from beans has a much lower carbon footprint than animal protein as well.

In terms of the labor involved in growing these beans, I can assure you, they are an amazing bargain at this price.  I tried growing some heirloom beans this summer, and after 5 months of tending the trailing vines I ended up with a small handful of beans. They were hard to shell too. Here is what I ended up with:

I am thankful to the passionate farmers who are keeping these rare varieties of beans alive so that we can enjoy them. I am afraid that my bean growing skills might lead these rare varieties to become extinct!

Once you see the beautiful array of colors, and taste the unique flavors, you realize these new heirloom beans are “not your grandmother’s beans”.  The first time I had my current favorite, The Good Mother Stallard Beans, which are available to order online from Ranch Gordo or The Chili Smith,  I was taken aback by the rich meaty flavor and I just had to have more. I wanted to learn more about heirloom beans so I decided to make a trip to the Rancho Gordo store in Napa to see for myself what they had to offer. I had a great little visit, poking around the store, asking the friendly employees lots of questions, looking at the cool bean cooking pots they had, trying to set a limit on how much I should take home. The beans were all so pretty and all so different it was hard to say no to any of them.

I left the store with the following bounty in my bag:

I plan to cook all these beans in a simple manner so that I can truly appreciate the complexities of flavor associated with these different varieties.  Most heirloom beans are so fresh, you do not need to soak them before cooking.  I have also found that because they are so fresh, they tend to have less of the gassy producing indigestible carbohydrates in them. I really have had no problems with bloating and gas with the heirloom bean varieties I have tried. I usually limit the amount of garlic and onions I prepare with the beans and I think that helps as well.

As you can imagine, I was biting at the bit to dig into those Good Mother Stallard beans.

This is what those beauties looked like when I took them out of the bag:

This is my general bean cooking recipe that I plan to use for all of these heirloom bean varieties. Always wash the beans and remove all stones or other grit before using them.

For a small batch for 2 put 1/2 pound of the beans in a pot and cover them well with water. The water should be about 2 inches above the beans. Add 1/4-1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 bay leaf, a pinch of sage, 1 clove of garlic thinly sliced and 1 Tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil. Bring the beans to a boil, then cover them and simmer on the lowest possible heat. Check them every 15 minutes or so, and add more water if necessary. The beans should always be well covered with water. After about an hour or so, begin checking the beans by tasting one to see if the texture is soft. Once they are cooked all the way through, turn off the heat and they are ready to serve.

You can do a quick soak method as an alternative, and this may remove even more of the gas-producing compounds in the beans. Bring them to a boil, then turn off the heat and let them sit for an hour. Pour off that water, add fresh water and the other seasonings and cook them as noted above.

Behold, the unadorned Good Mother Stallard bean in all her glory. A simple food, and simply delicious.

Nutrition tips: Legumes, which include dried beans and peas, are an important component of the traditional healthy Mediterranean diet. A variety of legumes are served simply as a side dish or used  to make spreads such as hummus or white bean puree, added to soups and stews, or served cold in salads. The California Mediterranean diet includes the traditional Mediterranean varieties and uses of legumes, but also includes the varieties of beans and flavors of the New World, including Latin and South America. In these agrarian cultures beans and legumes have served as an inexpensive source of protein, iron, calcium and other vitamins and minerals. Legumes are also an excellent source of soluble fiber, which can lower cholesterol and blood glucose levels, and it is likely this has contributed to the health benefits associated with the Mediterranean diet.

© 2015. Dayna Green-Burgeson RD, CDE. All Rights Reserved.

Roasted broccoli soup with cheddar crisps

When you grow a garden it sometimes seems that all the vegetables or fruits become ripe at one time. Anyone who has grown tomatoes or zucchini in the summer is familiar with this predicament. For many of us, this is the time to can, freeze, dry, or in some other way preserve the bounty of our harvest. The winter garden can be just as singularly prolific: broccoli raab one week, kale the next, broccoli after that.

If this head of broccoli sits on the plant too long it will go to flower and will no longer be edible.

Certainly one can eat the same vegetable night after night for dinner, and believe me, we do.  We have had roasted broccoli for dinner at least 4 nights in the past week.  However, a little variety is always appreciated, and nothing uses up a windfall of vegetables like soup. Since I like the sweetness that comes to broccoli when it is roasted, I decided to try a roasted broccoli soup, and I was quite happy with the results. Admittedly the color was not quite as fresh and green as a soup made with fresh broccoli, but the subtle sweet flavor made up for the army fatigue hue and a nice crispy yellow cheddar garnish helped to brighten up the color and boost the flavor.

The broccoli can be cut up into very large pieces for this recipe. No need to be very particular about it as it will be blended up into the soup at the end.

For 4 cups of cut up broccoli which should make 4 generous servings you will also need:

¼ of a large or ½ of a small onion cut into rough chunks

2 whole cloves of garlic peeled

1 small or ½ large potato,  peeled

2 Tablespoon of California extra virgin olive oil

32 ounces of chicken broth.

For the cheddar crisps have ready 4-6 ounces of low-fat cheddar cheese for the above recipe quantities.

Start by roasting the broccoli, onion and garlic.  Pour 1 Tablespoon of olive oil in a roasting dish, add the broccoli, the onion and the garlic and mix it around with your hand until it is all coated with the oil. Then bake it in a 400 degree oven, stirring once every 5 minutes, until it is lightly caramelized and browned. This should take about 20 minutes.

As you can see the broccoli, onion and garlic above have some nice caramelized color to them which will give some great flavor to the soup.

While the broccoli is roasting, chop your potatoes in some large rough chunks. No need to be too particular about it as they will also be blended up into the soup.

Once the broccoli is cooked add it to the pot along with the potato pieces and the chicken broth.

Broccoli, potatoes, onions and garlic in the pot with chicken broth.

Now bring the whole mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, and simmer until the vegetables are very soft.

While the soup is cooking, make the cheddar crisp garnish. Following this link to my recipe and directions for the cheddar crisps. After they are made and cooled break them into rough pieces to use as the garnish.

Crumbled Cheddar Crisps

Once the soup is cooked thoroughly, which should take about 20 minutes or more, it will need to be pureed. I did this with my new Vita-Mix Blender which was a Christmas gift from my son and my husband.

Roasted broccoli soup in my new Vita-Mix blender

Wow, did it make the soup smooth and creamy! I started the blender on a low speed, then gradually ramped up to the higher speed and it sounded like an airplane taking off!

If you use a regular blender jar, make sure to cool the soup a bit before blending it and leave an opening in the top for the air to get out or it will explode on you! Another good way to puree soup is to use and immersion blender. You just place it in the pot and puree the soup right there.

This is the soup in a bowl after being pureed.

After you puree the soup you will need to heat it back up before you serve it. You should also add salt and pepper to taste at this point. If you like a creamier soup you can add milk, or half and half or cream. However, I tried that and found that I preferred this more full flavored version without any dilutions.

Serve the soup piping hot in a bowl with the cheddar crisps crumbled over the top right before serving.

Roasted Broccoli Soup with Cheddar Crisps

© 2015. Dayna Green-Burgeson RD, CDE. All Rights Reserved.

Cheese Crisps

This is a one ingredient recipe that became my son’s favorite after school treat. Cheese crisps started as a simple piece of cheese melted in the microwave, and progressed to an art form and a source of debate in our household in in terms of what kind of cheese, how long it should be cooked, what to cook it on, etc. Cheese crisps are a  fun “make it yourself” after school snack for kids or a tasty little appetizer. They are a great way to use little bits of leftover cheese. Cheese crisps can also be crumbled and used as a fancy garnish for salads and soups.

The general premise is that if you take a piece of cheese and heat it in the microwave, first it will melt, then it will become bubbly and finally it will get crispy. During this process some of the fat will also melt out of the cheese. You will end up with a reduced fat piece of crispy cheese goodness. How can you go wrong with that?

I have tried this with almost every type of cheese possible. The lower the fat content of the cheese, the more it will puff up and become crispy prior to becoming brown. The higher fat or more moist cheeses may need to be cooked until they are quite brown before they will become crisp, so they take a bit longer. Every microwave will cook at a different rate too, so you will just need to experiment with this one.

I used a  75 percent reduced fat Cabot cheddar cheese.  I obtained the cheese from Trader Joe’s.  It works great for this recipe as it puffs up and becomes super crispy due to the low fat content.

Start by cutting a piece of parchment paper about 5 inches square.

Cut a piece of cheese about 1/4 inch thick. This piece was about 1 1/2 inches wide by 3 1/2  inches long. 1 to 1 1/2 ounces is about the maximum amount of cheese you should use and 2 inches is about the maximum width I would recommend for the narrowest side. You can also make this recipe with a 1 ounce pile of grated cheese. Put the cheese on the parchment and place it in the microwave.

Set the time for 2 minutes on full power and turn the microwave on. WATCH CAREFULLY!  It takes our microwave between 1 to 1 1/2 minutes for the cheese to be fully crisped up and ready. First it will melt, then it will start to get bubbly.

The cheese above is melted and starting to get crispy. This cheese was low fat so it cooked in 70 seconds and was crispy before it became brown. The cheese crisps up as it cools so when you first take it out of the oven it may not be crispy, but in a minute or two it will crisp up. If it is not to your liking you can alway cook it a few more seconds.

This is how the cheese looked when it was finished cooking.

Here are pictures of a much higher fat and higher moisture content cheese: Laura Chenel Chevre (Fresh Goat Cheese). It was so soft I was surprised that I could cook this one to a crispy texture. I had to sort of smash the cheese together into a mass on the paper:

With soft cheeses especially it is important to use an ounce or less, or the cheese will not get cooked in the middle. This is the cheese halfway cooked, after about 40 seconds.

This is the finished goat cheese crisp.

As you will see from the picture, a lot of moisture and oil was left on the parchment and the surface of the cheese when it was finished cooking. Just blot the fat and moisture off with a paper towel.

After they have cooled for a minute or so, take the cheese crisps off the parchment and place them on a plate and you are ready to reuse the parchment paper over and over again.

When all your crisps are finished, you can pile them on a plate to serve. Try several different cheeses and serve as an accompaniment to a cocktail or a glass of wine.                                             Goat Cheese and Cheddar Crisps

© 2015. Dayna Green-Burgeson RD, CDE. All Rights Reserved.

Pasta with broccoli raab and sausage

Broccoli raab (also called rapini) is a member of the brassica family.  The brassica family includes some of the more common vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and brussels sprouts. Through our gardening adventures we have found that even the brassicas grown for their leaves, such as kale and mustard greens, will eventually form small heads that look like miniature broccoli before they go to flower. Usually once they are at this stage the greens and heads have become quite bitter and are past their prime. However in the case of broccoli raab, although in this picture it looks like a miniature head of broccoli, both the tender leaves and the small flower buds can be eaten.

Raw Broccoli Raab

Broccoli raab has a touch of bitterness, but there is also a unique nutty component to the flavor.  When it is sauteed, the robust flavor makes it a great accompaniment to grilled meats. Once we tried it, everyone in our family was hooked, so we decided to grow it in the garden this year. In our part of California, broccoli raab and other brassicas are primarily winter vegetables, so we planted it in early fall. It is easy to grow, the seed came up in a very short time, and once it was large enough to eat (but before it developed the yellow flowers) we harvested the tops and small leaves by cutting them with scissors and got another crop within a week or so. We cut these, and got a third crop and by then the plants were about spent.  So the fall planting is reaching the end of the harvest stage, and has now become entertainment for the wild bee population. However, we planted another batch and hope to get a harvest before the summer heat sets in.

Bees love the flowers of broccoli raab and other brassicas

As a simple side dish, I like to boil the broccoli raab and then saute it, in the same manner that I make my sauteed chard. However, it can also be used to make a delicious pasta main dish. One thing I love about this recipe is that it is a one dish meal.  It is also a versatile recipe as it can be made with broccoli raab or chard or other hearty greens.

For a batch to serve 4 use about 4 cups of chopped broccoli raab (This may be 2-3 bunches if purchased at the grocery store as the bunches in the stores are small). Other ingredients include 2 cloves garlic, ½ of a large onion, 1-2 Tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, about 16-20 ounces of organic chicken broth and 4 chicken or turkey spicy Italian sausage (I like Trader Joe’s brand). Alternatively you can use 12-16 ounces of bulk Italian Sausage.  I often use Diestel brand which is a lower fat, locally produced product.

If you are a vegetarian you can skip the sausage (or use one of the excellent vegetarian sausages on the market) and use vegetable broth.

Sauce ingredients: Spicy Italian Sausage, Garlic, Onion and Organic Chicken broth

Finally, you need enough pasta for 4 people (about 8 ounces dry, you can read the label for serving size information). I usually use whole grain pasta, and for this recipe I used a whole grain rigatoni from Trader Joe’s.

I also used 4 large pieces of slightly stale levain bread from Acme Bread and another Tablespoon of olive oil to make the toasted bread crumb garnish. Any firm artisan style sourdough bread can be used to make the toasted bread crumb garnish, but you can also skip the bread crumb garnish and use grated dry cheese such as parmigiano, pecorino romano or a local dry jack cheese instead.

If the broccoli raab is a bit mature, break off the flower buds and leaves.

Breaking off the leaves from the tough stem

Discard the largest, toughest stems.

Stems to be discarded

Chop the buds, leaves and smaller stems coarsely.

Chopping the broccoli raab

Broccoli Raab ready to be cooked.

 Crush the cloves of garlic with the back of a cleaver to loosen the skins, then remove the skins and slice them thinly.

Thinly sliced garlic

Remove the skin from the onion and slice it thinly.

Thinly sliced onion

I find the casing of sausages to be a bit tough. If the sausage has a casing that is thick and therefore easily removed, you can remove it before cooking the sausage. However, this is optional.  To do this slice through the sausage casing lengthwise.

Slicing through sausage casing.

Then remove the casing from the sausage.

Peeling casing from sausage

Slice the sausage in half, then cut the halves into slices about ½ inch thick.

Sliced sausage

If you use bulk sausage, it can just be crumbled into the pan.

Bring a large pot of water to boil and add 1 Tablespoon of salt to the pot.

If you want to make the optional bread crumb garnish take the levain bread (or other dry hearty artisan bread) and tear it into pieces and then grind it into coarse crumbs using a food processor. Add a drizzle of oil and mix to coat the crumbs evenly. Bake them on a baking pan in a 325 degree oven for about 8-10 minutes (stirring once after 5 minutes) until lightly toasted. Be careful, they can burn very fast! Set aside.

Toasted bread crumbs

Now, in a large skillet, heat the olive oil on medium high heat. Add the sausage and onion.

Sausage and onion in the pan.

Cook the sausage and onion, stirring occasionally, until well browned.

Sauteed onion and sausage

Turn down the heat to low, add the sliced garlic and stir it around for a couple of minutes more. Do not let the garlic brown! Turn off the heat.

The sausage mixture after turning off the stove.

Now plunge the broccoli raab into the boiling water and let it cook for 5-10 minutes until one of the largest stems, when pulled from the water and tested, is no longer tough.

Broccoli raab in boiling water

Scoop the broccoli raab out of the pot and into the pan with the sausage. Do not pour out the hot water, leave it boiling as you will be adding the pasta to it in a minute.

Broccoli raab being scooped into pan with sauteed sausage

Now turn the heat on the frying pan back up to medium high. Add 16 ounces of chicken broth and stir it all up. Bring it to a boil, turn the heat down to a moderate simmer, and continue to cook while you are cooking the pasta. You want the mixture  to be somewhat saucy, so if  it gets too dry, add some more chicken broth. You can also add some water if necessary, but only add about ¼ cup liquid at a time.

The broccoli raab mixture with chicken broth added

Add the pasta to the water you boiled the broccoli raab in and cook it until it is done but not mushy (read the label for approximate times). Scoop it out, add it to the pasta mixture, and stir it all up.

Scooping pasta into broccoli raab mixture

Add more chicken broth or water if necessary, and cook the mixture until the pasta is all evenly coated and it is well blended and hot. You can keep it warm on a low heat for up to 15 minutes before serving at this point as long as there is plenty of liquid in the mixture.

The finished pasta dish

Put the pasta onto warm bowls or plates, and sprinkle with breadcrumb mixture (or grated cheese) and serve immediately.

Pasta with broccoli raab and sausage

© 2015. Dayna Green-Burgeson RD, CDE. All Rights Reserved.