Valentine’s Day is all about love and intention, and what better way to deliver a message of care and thoughtfulness than a beautiful homemade meal? When you put passion into creating something to share, the love is evident.
As a chef, there are many things I take into consideration when developing a recipe or assembling a menu for specific events or occasions. Whenever I cook a meal for this holiday, I aim to make it intimate, as well as focus on ingredients that are light, warm, calming, and soothing. Since eating together is something we have the opportunity to do on a regular basis, I also want to be deliberate about making it feel even more special.
Initially, “sexier” ingredients such as filet, lobster, and caviar might come to mind, but I don’t think you need to take it to that level to impress. I feel using clean ingredients — such as those void of refined sugar, bleached flour, antibiotics, and hormones — is a kind place to start when cooking for your loved ones. And this year, when there’s such an increased emphasis on health, I want to make plants — our nutritional powerhouses — the star of the show.
In February, there isn’t a copious bounty of fresh ingredients available in some parts of the country, so these dishes use whole-food ingredients you’ll find accessible most anywhere.
I love beginning a meal with soup, and this one in particular is a favorite of mine to make during the darker winter months. For the entrée, I wanted something light that incorporates elements you might typically find in a salad, but assembled in a very different form and offering the substance that an entrée ought to carry. It’s familiar ingredients in an elevated presentation.
If you’d like to add to this menu, consider offerings from local bakeries, butchers, or artisan farmers. Just as love is specific, no cooking effort is one size fits all, and paying attention to and incorporating your loved one’s favorites or preferences shows added consideration.
Heirloom Carrot-Ginger Soup With Pumpkinseed Crumble
Makes six servings
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes
- 2 tbs. avocado oil
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
- 3 shallots, peeled and diced
- 4 cups heirloom carrots, peeled and sliced 1/4-inch thick
- 1/4 cup fresh ginger, peeled and grated
- 2 cups vegetable stock
- 2 cans full-fat coconut milk
- 1 tbs. apple cider vinegar
- Crème fraiche for topping, if desired
For the Pumpkinseed Crumble:
- 6 tbs. pumpkinseeds
- 2 tbs. light or dark brown sugar
- 2 tbs. lemon zest
- 1 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Add the pumpkinseeds to a baking sheet and toast for seven to 10 minutes, until lightly browned.
- In a large pot over medium heat, add the avocado oil, garlic, and shallots. Cook until the shallots are translucent, about five minutes.
- Add in the carrots, ginger, and vegetable stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. The more color you get on the carrots, the sweeter the soup will be. Simmer for about 15 minutes, until the carrots are soft.
- While the soup is simmering and once the seeds have cooled, make the pumpkinseed crumble. Pulse the brown sugar and lemon zest in a food processor. Add the pumpkin seeds and pulse. Add the olive oil and continue to pulse until mixture comes together. Season with salt.
- Add the apple cider vinegar to the soup.
- If you have an immersion blender, use it directly in the pot over medium-high heat for several minutes until the soup reaches desired consistency. Otherwise, transfer the soup to a blender in batches, blending over medium-high speed until it reaches desired consistency. (If you use a blender, be cautious to let the soup cool slightly prior, blend in small batches, and use a dish towel to hold the lid of the blender on to avoid the heat causing the lid to blow off.)
- Garnish with the pumpkinseed crumble and a dollop of crème fraiche if desired.
Spanish Vegan Paella With Harissa-Roasted Carrots and Maple Tahini
Makes four to six servings
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 50 minutes
- 3 tbs. avocado oil
- 1 Spanish yellow onion, thinly sliced
- 2 red or yellow bell peppers, thinly sliced
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tsp. smoked paprika
- 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 ½ cups short grain rice
- 1/2 tsp. turmeric
- 1 can (14 oz.) diced tomatoes
- 4 cups vegetable stock
- 1 cup frozen green peas, thawed
- 1 can (14 oz.) artichoke hearts
- 4–6 lemon wedges
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 16–36 gem lettuce leaves
For the Harissa-Roasted Carrots:
- 5 lbs. tri-colored carrots, peeled and cleaned
- 2 tbs. harissa
- 2 tbs. avocado oil
- 2 tsp. pure maple syrup
- 2 tsp. lemon juice
For the Maple Tahini:
- 1/4 cup tahini
- 2 tbs. pure maple syrup
- 2 tbs. lemon juice
- 1/4 cup water
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Prepare the Harissa-Roasted Carrots. In a large bowl, mix the harissa, avocado oil, maple syrup and lemon juice together. Add the carrots and toss to coat. Place the carrots on a baking sheet and roast for 7 to 10 minutes, until nicely browned.
- In a large, wide bottom pan over medium heat, add the avocado oil and sauté the onion and peppers until tender. Add the garlic, paprika, red pepper flakes, and bay leaves. Cook for three to five minutes.
- Add the rice, turmeric, tomatoes, and vegetable stock. Stir so the rice falls to the bottom of the pan. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for about 15 minutes.
- Add the peas and artichoke hearts. Cook for five minutes.
- Turn off heat and cover. Let sit for about 10 minutes, until the rice absorbs the liquid.
- While the rice is sitting, make the Maple Tahini. In a bowl, whisk together the tahini, maple syrup, lemon juice, and water. More water can be added if needed to reach desired consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Once rice is done and liquid is absorbed, fluff and season with salt and pepper.
- To plate, lay out four to six gem lettuce leaves per serving. Thoughtfully place about 1 cup of the paella and Harissa-Roasted Carrots on each lettuce leaf, and finish with a drizzle of the Maple Tahini. Allow your inner artist to come out as you plate. Garnish with a lemon wedge.