L'arte d'arrangiarsi and a Roasted Red Pepper & Sauerkraut Dip (gluten free, vegan, ACD)

As a longtime art kid, I have found food to be another artistic medium with which to express myself.   I'm starting to think more about how the colors and texture of ingredients will compliment each other, not just the flavors. I'm playing with garnishes and different ways of cutting vegetables for variety and visual appeal. I'm using different colors or shapes of bowls or plates in order to accent or contrast the food.  I put effort forth to make my food look beautiful. It makes me feel connected and inspired and creative, and that makes me feel alive.

Think about how awesome food looks when you order it at a restaurant (a good restaurant, that is). People pull out their cameras. They "ooh" and "ah" and say things like, "Oh my, this just looks too beautiful to eat!".  They talk about how gorgeous their meal was the whole ride home in the car.  They tell their coworkers about it the next day at the office.  They show you pictures on their iPhones.

Yes, we all love beautiful food.

Eating is a full sensory experience. It isn't just about how a dish tastes - the color, the texture, the smell, and the energetics of the food also play a part in how you experience a food.  The more deeply you experience your food, the more nourishment you will gain from it.  That isn't just esoteric philosophy talking - it's science, people! Sensory neurotransmitters help stimulate digestive enzyme production.  Fully experiencing the various sensory elements of a food will actually help your digestion and increase your appetite.  

There is an expression in Italy that I hold close to my heart: l'arte d'arrangiarsi*the art of making something out of nothing.  This is the skill of making a few simple ingredients into a feast, a few friends gathering at your home into a rocking party, or a quiet evening at home feel like a long weekend getaway. The Italians are masters at enjoying life and finding beauty in the small things that are present in everyday life.  I agree whole heartedly with the Italian approach!  Finding enjoyment and beauty in the simple moments of our day is vital; it keeps us sane, grounds us, and brings us pleasure amidst the chaos. In my opinion, any occasion - even a meal alone on your couch - is occasion enough to create beauty. Food is an easy way to beautify your daily pattern, and it need not be complicated or expensive. It just takes a moment of thought, a little creativity, and a sense of adventure.  

The easiest way to add a beautiful twist to your food is to play with garnishes.  It adds color, texture, and even aroma or sound (the crunch of nuts, for example).  I feel like creating garnishes is almost like sculpture or painting, and it is where I really have fun.  Come on, unleash that creativity! Experimenting with garnishes it is much less expensive than deciding you want to start oil painting or something. Plus, if your garnish ends up looking weird, you can eat it, and there is no lasting record of your botched attempt. You WILL so better next time.

Here are some tips for making beautiful garnishes:

  • It is often nice to garnish with ingredients used in the dish, especially if the dish is pureed.  It helps give an indication of the ingredients, and provides a POP.
  • When in season, garnish sweet or savory dishes with edible flowers.  Here is a great index!
  • Use fresh herbs, either minced or torn or whole leaf. This is wonderful on any kind of dish, from meat to beans to vegetables to rice.
  • Sprinkle on a dash of brightly colored spice - curry powder, paprika, cayenne pepper, red pepper flakes, cinnamon, etc.
  • Garnish salads or soups with bread crumbs, homemade croutons, or small pieces of roasted squash or sweet potato
  • Garnish with grated raw beet, carrot, turnip, or kohlrabi. This is especially delicious on raw dishes, salads, or chilled soups
  • Green onion provides wonderful color and great flavor
  • A colorful mix of finely minced vegetables is a beautiful garnish, and looks almost like confetti. Try mixing 2-4 vegetables of different colors together.  Use it on salads, sandwiches, grains, etc.
  • Need something salty? Try sprinkling on some olives, cultured vegetables, a little sauerkraut, or a drizzle of umeboshi plum vinegar.
  • Chopped nuts or seeds, hemp seeds, or sesame seeds add crunch, texture, and protein
  • Crumbled kale chips or roasted nori are lovely and very tasty
  • Cut cute little shapes out of thinly sliced vegetables with tiny cookie cutters, or get creative with a paring knife 
  • Dried fruits, berries, or finely chopped fresh fruit (apples provide great crunch) add a sweet element
  • A drizzle of high quality oil adds a beautiful sheen to soups and dips.  Olive oil is always a good choice, but try other oils, like hemp, walnut, avocado, or almond. My recent favorite is pumpkin seed oil - it has an earthy, rich flavor and a beautiful dark green color that adds a wonderful unexpected twist to dishes.
  • Try using different colored serving bowls. Remember the color wheel? Play with using complimentary or contrasting colors, and see what vibrates best.

If lively-looking food can stimulate your appetite, this dip is sure to make you hungry.  The color vibrates and simply yells "EAT ME!", especially when served in a brightly colored bowl.  And while the dip itself is lovely, I think the garnish is what really sets it apart. A little green to make it sing, some minced red pepper and pepper flakes for texture, and a drizzle of oil for marbly sheen add something special, don't you think?

And of course, beyond being superficially beautiful, it is also tastes great and is a nutritional rockstar.  The smoky flavor of the roasted red pepper is well-complimented by the tart sauerkraut, pungent garlic, and yeasty, salty miso. Red peppers are a great source of antioxidants and vitamin C, and garlic is detoxifying and naturally antibacterial.  Raw sauerkraut and miso provide beneficial lactobactilli bacteria that help regulate healthy gut flora, stimulate your immune system, and aid digestion.  You could use canned sauerkraut if you'd like, but keep in mind that canned sauerkraut has been heated and the beneficial bacteria has been destroyed, so it is not as nutritious.  

As Roberto Begnini conveyed in his amazing film of the same name, la vita è bella (life is beautiful).  So let's eat it up with a great big spoon - or a gluten-free cracker or a spear of crunchy fresh carrot - and enjoy every delicious bite. 

*Quick Italian lesson:  Here's your phonetic pronunciation guide for l'arte d'arrangiarsi, with the accented syllable in bold:    

Lahr-tay    dahr-rahn-gee-ahr-see

L'ar    te     d'ar   ran  gi    ar   si     

Roasted Red Pepper & Sauerkraut Dip

yield 2 cups

This dip is absolutely delicious, uses only a handful of ingredients, and only takes minutes to prepare. The smoky flavor of the red pepper is lovely with the tart, salty sauerkraut. It is also super beneficial for your health! If desired, get crazy, and add fresh herbs or other spices of choice - I think it could be great with basil, or perhaps some cumin.  You could use canned sauerkraut if you'd like, but keep in mind that canned sauerkraut has been heated and the beneficial bacteria has been destroyed, so it is not as nutritious. 

1 cup roasted red peppers (store-bought or home-roasted, see instructions following recipe)

1 cup raw sauerkraut, with a little bit of the sauerkraut juice

1 heaping Tbsp South River Garlic Red Pepper Miso, Chickpea Miso, or Azuki Bean Miso (all soy-free), or traditional soy miso (if soy-tolerant)

1 very fresh garlic clove

1 tsp red pepper flakes

2-3 tsp olive oil

optional, for garnish: fresh parsley, minced roasted red pepper, red pepper flakes, olive oil

Place all ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend until totally smooth.  Transfer to a serving bowl, and garnish with parsley, minced red pepper, red pepper flakes, and a drizzle of olive oil.  

Serving suggestions:

  • dip for felafel, raw or cooked vegetables, or homemade root vegetable or squash fries
  • use in sandwiches or wraps
  • spoon over cooked meats, steamed vegetables, potatoes, sweet potatoes, or grains
  • toss with pasta, olives, and canned tuna 
  • use in place of tomato sauce in lasagna, pasta, or pizza
  • dilute with water or broth and use as a salad dressing
  • garnish for simple soups