Nutritious never looked so good

Heidi Swanson gives "natural" foods a makeover in these seductive recipes for sangria, wheat berry salad and mesquite chocolate-chip cookies.

Published March 6, 2007 12:00PM (EST)

White Sangria

This spritzy white wine sangria is accented with peach slices. Choose peaches that are lusciously flavorful but not overly ripe, or they'll disintegrate into the sangria. The agave nectar is clean-tasting and mild-flavored enough that it sweetens without distracting from the other ingredients.

2 or 3 peaches, peeled, pitted and cut into eighths
3 cups seedless grapes of mixed colors, halved
1/3 cup agave nectar
2 (750 ml) bottles sauvignon blanc
1/2 cup apricot brandy
1 (1 liter) bottle sparkling water

Combine the peaches, grapes, agave nectar, wine and brandy in a 1-gallon jug. Stir gently so the fruit doesn't break up, then chill in the refrigerator for a few hours or, even better, overnight.

Serve in tall glasses, making sure each has a nice assortment of the wine-soaked fruit; top each with a generous splash of sparkling water.

Makes 1 large pitcher, enough to serve 6 to 8.

Baby Lima Soup with Chipotle Broth

This hearty, comforting soup requires minimal babysitting, and as a bonus, the dainty baby lima beans soften up in about an hour without any presoaking or fuss. You can find chipotles in adobo sauce in the Mexican-foods section of most markets. They lend a spicy, smoky, assertive flair that's nicely balanced by the beans and regal reddish gold broth.

(My friend Amanda has a job that requires her to seek out the best chaat, thin-crust pizza and curry in the city. Upon meeting, Amanda and I hit it off immediately and found ourselves combing the aisles of small Mexican grocery stores in San Francisco's Mission District. Wall-to-wall dried beans and chiles were punctuated by towers of steaming, freshly made tortillas. She rattled this recipe off somewhere between the nopales and the posole.)

1 pound dried baby lima beans, picked over and rinsed
10 cups water
1 head garlic, top lobbed off to expose the cloves and loose skins removed
2 tablespoons clarified butter
1 onion, halved top to bottom and sliced into thin crescents
1 to 2 chipotles in adobo sauce
2 teaspoons fine-grain sea salt
Squeeze of lime juice (optional)

Pick over the beans, looking carefully for any pebbles or dirt clumps; baby limas seem to be magnets for dirt. Rinse the beans, then combine them with the water and garlic in a heavy soup pot. You might think putting a whole head of unpeeled garlic in the pot is strange, but just go with it. Bring the beans to an active simmer and cook for 30 to 40 minutes, until just a touch al dente and not mushy or falling apart. Test their doneness by tasting; you really can't tell any other way.

Heat the butter in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat, add the onion, chipotles, and 2 teaspoons of the adobo sauce, and sauté over medium high heat for 3 to 4 minutes, just until the onion starts to soften. You can always add more adobo sauce later for a spicier soup; just don't overdo it on the front end.

Add the salt and the onion-chipotle mix to the pot of beans and simmer gently for about 5 minutes to blend the flavors. The broth should be thin, so add more water if needed. Add more salt and more adobo a bit at a time if the flavors aren't popping. Finish with a squeeze of lime if you like.

Serves 4 to 6.

Wheat Berry Salad With Citrus, Toasted Pine Nuts, Feta and Spinach

Plump wheat berries shimmering with an orange-flecked citrus dressing make this a lively winter salad, but don't hesitate to alter it to accommodate the changing seasons. For autumn, try a cranberry vinaigrette and toasted walnuts. Basil dressing with fresh heirloom tomatoes and corn would be well-suited to summer. In spring, toss the wheat berries with a bit of lemon juice and olive oil, blanched asparagus segments, favas and shelled peas. Play off the shape of the wheat berries with different serving ideas: On top of crostini or crackers, you have a twist on caviar; or wrap some up in a leaf of lettuce, and you've got a new take on the spring roll.

2 cups soft wheat berries, rinsed
6 cups water
2 teaspoons fine-grain sea salt, plus more as needed

Citrus Dressing

Grated zest and juice of 1 orange
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Fine-grain sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 generous handfuls spinach leaves, stemmed and well rinsed
1 cup toasted pine nuts
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

Combine the wheat berries, water, and 2 teaspoons salt in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer, covered, until plump and chewy, about an hour or so. The berries should to stay al dente, and the only way to be sure they're done is to taste a few. Drain and season to taste with more salt.

To make the dressing, combine the orange zest and juice, lemon juice, and shallot. Whisk in the olive oil and season with a few pinches of salt and a few grinds of pepper.

Toss the hot wheat berries with the spinach, pine nuts and citrus dressing, then top with the feta. Taste for seasoning and sprinkle with a bit more salt if needed.

Serves 4 to 6.

Mesquite Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chances are you're new to mesquite flour, a wonderful, fragrant flour made from the ground-up pods of the mesquite tree. It has a slightly sweet and chocolaty flavor, with a touch of malt and smokiness. Look for mesquite flour that is fragrant, powdery and finely ground. If you can't find it locally, check online for mail-order suppliers. If you don't have any mesquite flour, substitute 1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour in its place; your cookies will still turn out oozy, chewy and delicious.

2 1/2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
1 cup mesquite flour, sifted if clumpy
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
3/4 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups natural cane sugar
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups rolled oats
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 375°F, position the racks in the upper half of the oven, and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Whisk together the flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Set aside.

In a large bowl or stand mixer, beat the butter until light and fluffy, then beat in the sugar until of a consistency like thick frosting. Beat in the eggs one at a time, incorporating each fully before adding the next and scraping down the sides of the bowl a few times. Stir in the vanilla until evenly incorporated. Add the dry ingredients in 3 increments, stirring between each addition. At this point, you should have a moist, uniformly brown dough. Stir in the oats and chocolate chips by hand, mixing only until evenly distributed.

Drop 2 tablespoons of dough for each cookie onto the prepared baking sheets 2 inches apart and bake for about 10 minutes, until golden on both top and bottom. Don't overbake these; if anything, underbake them. Cool on wire racks.

Makes 2 to 3 dozen chunky, medium-large cookies.

By Heidi Swanson

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