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Summer breezes really do make me feel fine. Maybe that’s a bit hokey, but it’s completely true. The celebration of Queen Victoria’s birthday translates to a long weekend, big time summer kickoff around here. Families will go up north to the cottages for the first time this year, barbecues in backyards are prevalent, hikes, fireworks, cold patio beers and other libations abound, commemorative mugs with pictures of the Queen adorn the gift shop windows in my town; happy feelings. The warmth, sun, singing birds and lovely breezes draw us all outdoors, ready to enjoy each other’s company and stay in that precious light, later and later into the evening.

This seasonal shift brings me to salads and other cooler preparations for food. I still love a piece of sticky, barbecued tofu or tempeh, a pizza cooked on a hot grill, a summery sauteed succotash, lightly charred veggies and the like, but ultimately I find myself craving salad-y things and cool, tossed together items more often. Enter my secret, hardly-ever-indulged-in love of broccoli salad. You know the one I’m talking about. It has sunflower seeds, raisins, cheddar, other add-ins and a good amount of mayonnaise.  I used to work at a gourmet foods kind of place that made a version with cooked up cavena nuda (an oat-based rice sourced from the Canadian prairies). I had to literally fight myself from grabbing a bite every time I looked at it in the deliciously well-stocked to-go counter. I never felt exactly stellar after consuming it, but the combination of crisp broccoli, creamy dressing and crunchy add ins was pretty bang on to me. A wholesome, home spun version was long overdue in my life.

Another note on salad eating: the default mode of extra flesh-baring in the summertime has me gravitating towards raw foods for sure. A lot of cold weather butt-sitting has been, ahem, brought to my attention lately in some form or another. Don’t get me wrong, I’m crazy happy with life, feel pretty good and still fit into my jean shorts from last summer just fine. But sometimes when a gal slips into a little light dress for the first time and notices the dramatically bright white glow emitting from her (somehow less muscular-seeming) calves, she can’t help but get hell bent on some overall health improvement. A little time spent in the sun (vitamin D woop!) and a few salads later, all’s gonna be fine I’m sure of it.

So I give you a big bowl of broccoli. Yes! With crunchy soaked/sprouted wild rice, toasted salty sunflower seeds (you could use raw if you want to maintain an overall raw preparation), the very traditional golden raisins (you bet), and chive blossoms. The dressing is the best part though. It’s super creamy with avocado, full of basil, healthy fats and citrus-y goodness. I could eat it straight up with a spoon, no problem. The sprouted rice (technically a grass; not a grain) provides some complex carbs, protein, B vitamins, folic acid, and very delicious crunch. It won’t have the same texture as cooked rice, but I think you’ll be fine with that once you enjoy it here. I actually wouldn’t bat an eyelash at the idea of eating the whole recipe for this salad in a day. It would certainly be a fantastic barbecue potluck contribution to sway the steak eaters over to the plant enthusiast side. It’s one of those “Ha! We actually DO eat cool and exciting stuff, suckers!” kind of dishes. Also feel free to add “And check out how toned and tan my calves are!” for good measure.

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broccoli salad with sprouted wild rice and citrusy avocado & basil dressing 
serves: 6-8
special equipment: a blender for the dressing
notes: I simply sprouted the rice by soaking it for a day or so, changing the water 3-4 times. The shot above (with the rice in the sieve) shows what stage it should be at. This recipe will make more than enough dressing for the salad–not exactly the worst problem in the world. Don’t have chive blossoms? Just use actual chives or finely minced shallots/red onion/green onion.

1 medium, ripe avocado, pitted and peeled
juice of 1 orange
juice of 1 lemon
juice of 1 lime
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp agave nectar
1 small jalapeno, seeds and veins removed (optional)
1 cup lightly packed basil leaves
salt and pepper
3 tbsp grapeseed oil

1 bunch of broccoli, large woody stems removed
1/2 cup wild rice, soaked, sprouted and drained
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
salt and pepper
6-7 chive blossoms, broken up into smaller pieces/petals

Make the dressing: Combine all of the dressing ingredients except for the basil and oil in a blender. Blend on medium-high speed until a smooth and creamy mixture is achieved. You may have to stop the motor and push the avocado  down a couple times. Add the basil leaves and oil to the blender pitcher. Put the lid on and slowly bring the speed up to medium-high. Once you have a creamy consistency similar to mayonnaise, you’re set. It should taste sweet, tangy and rich. Adjust seasoning to your liking and set aside.

Chop the broccoli into very small florets. They shouldn’t be bigger than the end of your thumb (see photo above). Place florets into a large bowl with the sprouted rice, raisins and sunflower seeds. Pour about 3/4 of the dressing over the broccoli mixture. Give the salad a good seasoning with salt and pepper and toss to combine. Place salad into your serving bowl of choice. Garnish with chive blossoms and a sprig of basil if you like.

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  • Joyce23/05/2012 - 8:40 pm

    Ooh! I can just imagine how awesome the texture of this salad would be from the seeds and wild rice. I’m definitely going to make this soon. Thanks for sharing!ReplyCancel

  • Rachel23/05/2012 - 8:47 pm

    This salad screams summer to me, as if I needed another reminder of the changing seasons! I bet the crunchy raw broccoli and creamy avocado are wonderful together! Perhaps I’ll make this with my purple and orange cauliflower from this week’s CSA.ReplyCancel

  • Aman C23/05/2012 - 8:50 pm

    Yay, looks delicious! I’m gonna make it tonight! Thanks a lot!ReplyCancel

  • Brooke (The Flour Sack)23/05/2012 - 9:31 pm

    Oh my goodness!!! This looks completely incredible… I am absolutely making this this weekend! I will report back when I do :)ReplyCancel

  • Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar23/05/2012 - 10:01 pm

    This salad is stunning! Love this idea!ReplyCancel

  • Cookie and Kate24/05/2012 - 12:47 am

    Oooh girl, this is my kind of meal. I just want to stick a fork in it. It’s salad weather around here, that’s for sure! The sheer thought of putting on a swimsuit has motivated me to start doing lunges across my apartment. Computer bum no more!ReplyCancel

  • Kathryn24/05/2012 - 5:08 am

    I need some serious work before any of my flesh is on display; this salad looks just the ticket.ReplyCancel

  • autumn24/05/2012 - 6:21 am

    I too have fond memories of broccoli salad and for me it was my grandma’s and also less-than-virtuous. I love that the creaminess in the recipe comes from avocado instead of mayo!ReplyCancel

  • Carrie | acookgrowsinbrooklyn24/05/2012 - 8:32 am

    I’m not a big fan of mayo, so am constantly avoiding the creamy salads at BBQs – but using avocado to get the creamy factor is such a great idea! You got my wheels spinning!ReplyCancel

  • Dara24/05/2012 - 9:02 am

    This is a beautiful salad! I am loving the flavors and colors.ReplyCancel

  • Tine24/05/2012 - 10:28 am

    I definitely gonna make this salad! Beautiful colors, beautiful taste!ReplyCancel

  • Margarita24/05/2012 - 10:40 am

    I love the healthy goodness packed in this fresh salad! Indeed a salad for healthy, glowing skin and a sexy body!ReplyCancel

  • Sarah24/05/2012 - 11:03 am

    I have never sprouted rice! Very cool, chica.ReplyCancel

  • Kevin (Closet Cooking)24/05/2012 - 8:17 pm

    That avocado dressing sounds so good!ReplyCancel

  • sarah24/05/2012 - 9:56 pm

    This looks so good, so delicious and healthy. Just what I need on a day like today {when I put chocolate in my coffee and made banana bread, ha}ReplyCancel

  • myfudo25/05/2012 - 4:14 am

    I love broccoli! The avocado adds more flavor. I am making this definitely…ReplyCancel

  • Becs @ Lay the table25/05/2012 - 8:52 am

    Wow, I’ve never seen sprouted rice before, got to try this.ReplyCancel

  • Jeanine26/05/2012 - 11:58 am

    Yum! I love all of these textures. I used to love that mayonaise-ey raisin-ey broccoli salad so I’m excited to try your healthier version :)ReplyCancel

  • […] Broccoli, Avocado, and Rice Salad – This is one of the more interesting (and beautiful) salads I’ve seen lately. Though I couldn’t get a picture to show you – I definitely recommend heading over the her blog and checking it out – it’s well worth the time! This salad features broccoli, wild rice, and an avocado dressing. I like the idea of combining veggies, fats, and grains all in one dish – it’s a meal in itself! […]ReplyCancel

  • Lj27/05/2012 - 7:46 pm

    I made this salad and took to a Menorial Day family gathering. It went over very well! I didn’t have sunflower seeds so I used chopped almonds and it worked fine. I especially liked the avacado dressing because it was very rich and creamy with no mayo, so I didn’t have to worry about serving something that might have gone bad on a long hot carride. Thanks for the recipe, I will be checking back for more:)ReplyCancel

  • Recipe Roundup « Curious Joys28/05/2012 - 4:29 pm

    […] – Broccoli, Basil + Avocado Toss […]ReplyCancel

  • Laura Heck29/05/2012 - 12:00 am

    I made this last night, minus the sprouted rice because we didn’t have enough time to sprout it ourselves. Added some chopped white onion and diced avocado to the salad and it was absolutely delicious! Definitely a favorite for summer. We had baked red snapper and jalepeno cheddar grits too, such a good meal all together!ReplyCancel

  • Koko29/05/2012 - 12:09 pm

    I LOVE the sound of this recipe. Just amazing….broccoli, avocado….mmmm!ReplyCancel

  • […] Dinner: A heaping plateful of one of the most genius salads I’ve encountered (and I’ve encountered my fair share of salads, believe you me), the Broccoli Salad with Sprouted Wild Rice and Citrus Avocado Basil Dressing from Laura at The First Mess. […]ReplyCancel

  • […] It’s easy to whip up a pasta salad and fun to get creative with the ingredients.  But what about opting for a green salad to accompany the meat?   Broccoli Basil & Avocado Toss looks sure to satisfy the veggie part of the equation. {from The First Mess} […]ReplyCancel

  • {Monday Mentions} Things I am.20/08/2012 - 8:29 am

    […] Broccoli, Avocado and Wild Rice Salad. Woah! Stop.  Dinnertime. (yes I did) […]ReplyCancel

  • Claire25/02/2013 - 9:09 pm

    Just made the dressing for this salad (rice is soaking now) and totally DID eat some of it with a spoon. Yum. Not sorry.ReplyCancel

  • […] From: The First Mess […]ReplyCancel

  • smoothiejunkie06/06/2013 - 6:10 pm

    My rice has been in water for 4 days and now just beginning to sprout. Good thing I didn’t make the rest of the salad for dinner last night. I’m using Lundberg Black Japonica Rice… is there something else out there that sprouts quicker?


  • Sherry17/07/2013 - 1:09 pm

    That is the MOST divine dressing that has ever graced my taste buds! It’s a lifetime keeper. I’ll be using it on everything I can think of. Thank you!ReplyCancel

  • […] and Wild Rice Salad With Citrusy Avocado and Basil Dressing via The First Mess Last but not least, here’s a salad that looks and tastes more elegant than most piles of raw […]ReplyCancel

  • Cass01/10/2013 - 10:29 pm

    Hi, this looks delish and I can’t wait to make it! I’m in Australia and can’t get chive blossoms – is there anything I can substitute it with?


    • Laura Wright02/10/2013 - 8:23 am

      Hi Cass, you can just use chopped up chives and it would be all the same :)

  • […] this is likely a salad like none your Memorial Day pack has had the pleasure of tasting. Give the Broccoli Salad with Sprouted Wild Rice and Citrusy Avocado & Basil Dressing from the folks over at The First Mess the side-dish spot at your picnic spread. Everyone will be […]ReplyCancel

  • Sarah10/01/2014 - 12:01 am

    Made this for dinner tonight- really good! The dressing was amazing. Super complex. We are on a paleo diet so I subbed out the rice for some “rice” we made with cauliflower! Worked great.ReplyCancel

  • […] scoop of beans, then smother the whole thang in some kind of awesome sauce. I particularly love this one (creamy and tangy), this one (spicy and peanuty, though I swap agave for white sugar) and this one […]ReplyCancel

  • […] what I whipped up; wild rice and broccoli salad with an avocado and basil dressing, and a chickpea salad with a mango dressing. I also cooked some sweet potato fries and warmed up […]ReplyCancel

  • Pat11/06/2014 - 1:30 pm

    I’ve made this amazing salad several time and have recently (finally) gathered all the ingredients to make it again. We have another recipe (an unhealthy but delicious pasta dish) which my family devours as soon as it’s made. My daughter has named it crack (as in crack cocaine) due it’s immediate effect. So today I made your salad and as soon as I tasted it after a long hiatus, I immediately had to name it ‘crack2’. HA! This is delicious! Incredible! Thank you!ReplyCancel

  • Jess22/03/2015 - 2:55 am

    I just made this salad for my work lunches for the next couple days. Seriously yum!
    I added some thinly sliced raw kale and some cauliflower to the salad, and used a mixture of sunflower seeds and pepitas as I didn’t have enough to either to make the ½ cup measurement.

    The dressing was a bit too tangy for my liking, so when I make it again I’ll probably use the juice from ½ a lemon as these ones must have been super juicy!ReplyCancel

  • Vegan (for a week). |26/06/2015 - 3:04 am

    […] Tuesday: Broccoli, basil + Avocado toss from ‘The First Mess‘. This citrus-y, crunchy dish is absolutely yummy! Looks beautiful and tastes just as great. […]ReplyCancel

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Cut one hot pink stalk. Dip the fresh-cut end into a bowl of sugar and take a bite. There’s an initial damp, crunch sensation, similar to celery, with a bit more heft. Then it starts: the eyes begin to wince automatically, cheeks sucking in, slight head tilt to absorb it all. There’s a little joyful, granular shock of sweet sugar before the tongue returns to the roof of the month, trying to minimize the impact once more before it’s over. Sour. Delightfully, face-suckingly sour. The crunch, the unmistakable colour, the flavour unlike anything else in the plant world: an immediate fresh fruit impression with a thick, and heady sourness that stands up to all kinds of sweet. It refuses to go quietly; not under an enthusiastic dip in sugar, a thick blanket of oat crumble, buttery pastry, or eggy custard warm with tropical vanilla. Rhubarb remains with its strong character intact. It is such a unique, natural treasure to behold in springtime when deep pink crowns of it emerge in backyards, as if overnight.

A fruit fool is a rustically pretty, non-fussy, super English dessert (it dates back to the 16th century!). It very simply consists of sweetened and stewed/cooked and pureed fruit with whipped 35% cream and usually a little crunchy/biscuit-y something for textural contrast. The first time I saw one was years ago in this beautiful book by Jamie Oliver. Just the sheer name of it was calling to me. A speedy rhubarb fool. Pull it out of the garden, throw it together, chopped rhubarb and vanilla bean in the pot, whip the cream, delicately fold fold fold; all on a lark. Homey, charmingly clumsy, gorgeous pink and comforting.

I went a fairly non-traditional route with the cream component, subbing chilled and whipped coconut milk (favourite thing right now) with honey and vanilla bean. Since I went a bit crazy in that regard, I thought I would work some cardamom, ginger and orange into the rhubarb itself. A magical sprinkling of pistachios on top brings this exotic treat full circle. The rhubarb never hides under it all. A gaze at the shocking pink contrast, little sour pinch on your tongue to say hello. It’s perfect for grey spring days, something to savour now and keep as a reminder of the treasures to come while you sink your feet into the green grass and suck your cheeks together.

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a rhubarb fool with vanilla coconut cream
serves: 4-6
notes: When you’re extracting the top “cream” layer from the can of coconut milk, be extra careful to not grab any of the coconut water with your spoon. Some chopped strawberries would be a lovely addition to the compote if they’re available in your area. Crumbled ginger snaps would be a fantastic topping/garnish option instead of pistachios.

rhubarb compote:
1 lb rhubarb, pink and light pink parts chopped
juice of 1 orange
1/4 cup agave nectar or raw honey, maple syrup etc. (or more if you like, I went kind of tart here)
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 inch fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated

vanilla coconut cream:
2 cans full fat coconut milk, chilled overnight
3 tbsp maple syrup or powdered sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, seeds removed–or 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

handful of roasted pistachios, shelled and chopped (optional)

Combine the chopped rhubarb, orange juice, agave nectar, cardamom and ginger in a large saute pan over medium heat. Bring to a boil. Simmer the mixture until the rhubarb starts breaking down and the consistency is slightly jammy and compote-like, about 15 minutes. Set aside to cool completely.

Make the cream: Remove the top layer of solid cream from the cans of coconut milk, carefully avoiding the water at the bottom of the can (reserve this for smoothies). Place the cream into a small bowl. Add the maple syrup/powdered sugar and vanilla bean seeds. Mix with a hand mixer on medium-high speed, stopping and scraping down here and there. Mix until a lightly stiff, whipped cream-like consistency is achieved. Wrap and set aside in the fridge until you’re ready to use it.

To serve: Place about half a cup of the cooled rhubarb compote in each serving dish. Top with a dollop of the vanilla coconut cream and a sprinkle of pistachios if you like.

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  • Kasey16/05/2012 - 4:47 pm

    Though I’m all about my sweets, I happen to love that tart, puckery sensation associated with biting into rhubarb. This is where the Brits really know how to live! Gorgeous, gorgeous.ReplyCancel

  • Maria @ Scandifoodie16/05/2012 - 6:11 pm

    I looooove rhubarb! And I actually love the sourness of it. This sounds absolutely delicious!ReplyCancel

  • Cookie and Kate16/05/2012 - 8:48 pm

    I’ve never tasted fresh rhubarb or tried a fool, but I’m sold on the idea of both now that I’ve read your post. I love sour stuff, bring on the sour!ReplyCancel

  • Shanna | FoodLovesWriting.com16/05/2012 - 9:14 pm

    That first paragraph is killer, such a perfect description of the taste of rhubarb. Beautifully written!ReplyCancel

  • autumn17/05/2012 - 6:31 am

    I love fools! This kind, not the unfortunate human kind. And I have been wanting to try the refrigerate/whip coconut whipped cream method, this is a perfect excuse! Looks lovely.ReplyCancel

  • Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar17/05/2012 - 6:38 am

    Oh my, I just love rhubarb! This looks delightful!ReplyCancel

  • sarah17/05/2012 - 10:32 pm

    This looks fantastic! All kinds of goodness going on here. I made coconut milk whipped cream for the first time recently and liked it so much. And I’m smitten with those last two photos. I love spoons and action shots.ReplyCancel

  • sarah @ two tarts19/05/2012 - 6:23 pm

    This sounds & looks so delicious. I have a leftover can of coconut milk in the fridge and rhubarb growing in my yard. If I get a burst of energy later today, and I hope I do, I plan to eat this for dessert tonight! :)ReplyCancel

  • […] pods, or vanilla seeds, I just winged it, pulling on some ideas from thefirstmess’s version here. I thought at the last minute this morning I’d make some crisp oatmeal lace cookies to go […]ReplyCancel

  • Sarah21/05/2012 - 3:16 pm

    I love a good fool (haha). Rhubarb is great, too—love the glut of it this time of year.ReplyCancel

  • kale21/05/2012 - 8:16 pm

    Second rhubarb fool I’ve seen today. Both make me want to make this right now!!ReplyCancel

  • Denise | Chez Danisse25/05/2012 - 1:33 pm

    I cannot seem to get enough rhubarb and this looks like a nice combination of flavors and textures. I’m especially intrigued by the coconut cream and roasted pistachios.ReplyCancel

  • Rhubarb Recipes for Summer |06/06/2012 - 1:02 pm

    […] A Fool for Rhubarb via […]ReplyCancel

  • […] just as soon as I start eating something other than rhubarb.  I also am very interested in this rhubarb fool (also featuring cardamom and pistachios) that uses coconut cream, but I have not tried it yet.  If you are at home with all of the resources of your kitchen I […]ReplyCancel

  • Angelie23/06/2012 - 3:00 am

    Looks yummi! I’m gonna make this tonight – it’s gonna be great :D makes it easy and satisfying to be lactose intolerant ;)ReplyCancel

  • […] recipe is from Laura at thefirstmess. I love every single one of her recipes and her photography is all sorts of crazy awesome. I might […]ReplyCancel

  • […] Faves: Rhubarb Fool with Coconut Whipped Cream and Pistachios, Spaghetti Squash Noodle Bowl with Lime Peanut Sauce, Spaghetti Squash Noodle Bowl with Lime […]ReplyCancel

  • […] ♔ Is this dreamy or what? A Rhubarb Fool with Vanilla and Coconut Cream […]ReplyCancel

  • 8 Best Healthy Food Blogs14/01/2014 - 11:17 pm

    […] Faves: Rhubarb Fool with Coconut Whipped Cream and Pistachios, Spaghetti Squash Noodle Bowl with Lime Peanut Sauce, Spaghetti Squash Noodle Bowl with Lime […]ReplyCancel

  • […] serve: coconut whipped cream (1/2 of this recipe) chopped toasted hazelnuts […]ReplyCancel

  • […] rhubarb is finally in season.  I love a classic strawberry rhubarb pie, but came across this Rhubarb Fool with Coconut Cream recipe from The First Mess two summers ago.  I make a little extra each time and spoon it […]ReplyCancel

  • […] flakes puffed quinoa hemp seeds bee pollen extra mint sesame seeds extra cacao nibs chopped almonds coconut whipped cream/cashew cream […]ReplyCancel

  • Veronica12/11/2014 - 1:45 am

    Hi Laura,

    I have just found your site. Being a lover of good food, cooking, photography and all things healthy I have to congratulate you on your wonderful recipes and awesome photos.

    Today is one to treasure here in Melbourne where we often have 4 seasons in one day. But today is a perfect spring day with clear skies and the smell of flowers and newly cut grasses wafting in through my front door on such a gentle breeze.

    It was a perfect day to enjoy a relaxing lunch on the verandah, roasted vegetables from the farmers market with rosemary polenta and roasted tomato relish.

    BUT, the treat of the day was your Rhubarb Fool with Vanilla Coconut Cream. Oh, my goodness, what a taste sensation. Both my partner and I didn’t want this dessert to end. Thank goodness there is some left for tomorrow!! It will be my next dessert for a dinner party. Thank you.ReplyCancel

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I come from a long line of tough brauds, no question. The inclination to cook, do more physical work, stay constantly busy, and get my hands dirty has never been a mystery to me. My grandmother turns the ripe old age of 89 this month and continues to work 5 days a week. I still can’t fully comprehend that. I remember my Nana as the most feisty, resourceful, don’t-take-any-shit type of woman I’ve ever known. I didn’t appreciate her tenacity so much when she was with us, but now I try to emulate that very quality she held up high so often. I miss her quips and thoughtfulness, always in a perfect balance.

My mother definitely follows suit with the theme of tough ladies here. A day of luxury with manicures, brunch and tea? No thanks. She’d rather tackle a gardening or building project and actually get something done with her time. We were at a bookstore recently and I pointed to a table they had set up under a pastel banner that said “Treat Mom,” or something of that ilk, huge smirk on my face knowing what the reaction would be. There were delicately tasseled blankets, various types of flowery bubble bath, semi-trashy novels, glossy hardcover biographies of 50’s starlets, striped canvas totes for leisurely trips to the beach, scented beeswax candles, rose-hued lip balms etc. She just scoffed at the whole thing in a lighthearted way, and I was laughing along with her. Not to say that curling up with a new book in a lovely blanket with rosy-glossy lips is preposterous. It just doesn’t exactly embody the ultimate treat for ladies like us. A rare native plant for her massive, immaculate gardens or perhaps a shiny new electric drill? Now you’re getting close.

Her days are filled with endless to-dos that always get done because she plugs through and stays motivated to work hard, regardless of the task. I admire that so much. If something is worth doing (and it almost always is), you should do it really well. It’s this unrelenting, guiding mantra that seems to drive her forward. And for all of that, the goodness that she brings into my life, the woman deserves some chocolate once in a while (she actually deserves it every day, truth). I originally planned to make something rhubarb-y this week. Market availability kind of squashed that whole plan, but it’s all the better because chocolate is number one around here, always (PROOF!).

The base recipe for the brownies themselves from here (the fantastic Oh She Glows blog) is already so good, the best I’ve had actually. I added a central layer of coconut milk-based caramel, putting them into mega fudge-y territory, a quality I can never get enough of with brownies. There’s a good amount of (organic evaporated cane) sugar in these, but what is life if you can’t enjoy a little sugar with those you love once in a while, right? Right. C’mon, you know I’m right.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the amazing ladies celebrating. Your strength and care is an inspiration. Love you Mom! X’s, O’s and chocolate forever :)

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salted coconut caramel fudge brownies (vegan, GF)
brownie recipe super lightly/barely adapted from Oh She Glows
caramel recipe adapted from Baked Explorations (favourite baking resource as of late)
serves: makes an 8×8 pan
notes: Resist the temptation to use all of the caramel! Reserve about 2-3 tbsp from the recipe and set it aside for another use (ahem, to drizzle on top of a cooled brownie with some Luna and Larry’s coconut bliss perhaps?).  On top of that, you should refrain from trying to eat them warm (guh, I know it’s hard). These need a solid 3-4 hours to cool completely before removing from the pan and cutting.

1/2 cup natural sugar
1 tbsp maple syrup (or honey, agave nectar etc)
2 tbsp water
1/3 cup full fat (canned) coconut milk
fat pinch of sea salt

1.5 tbsp ground chia seeds (or flax) + 1/4 cup water
heaped 3/4 cup GF flour (an all purpose blend, white or brown rice etc)
1.5 cups almond meal/flour
2 tbsp arrowroot
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp cinnamon (this is just to bring out the chocolaty-ness)
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp extra virgin coconut oil + extra for greasing (in a semi solid/soft state–not melted!)
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup natural sugar
1/4 cup full fat (canned) coconut milk
2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8×8 inch pan with coconut oil. Layer 2 pieces of parchment into the pan in opposite directions to line it. Grease the parchment with more coconut oil. Set aside.

Make the caramel: place the sugar, water and maple syrup into a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir gently so as not to splash the sugar up on the sides too much. Continue to stir as the mixture starts to bubble and boil. Do not walk away! Once the colour of the mixture turns to medium-dark amber (like the colour of dark maple syrup), remove it from the heat. Pour the coconut milk in slowly. The mixture will bubble up and spit slightly. Start quickly whisking the mixture as soon as you can to achieve a homogenous mix. If there are hardened parts, set the pan back on the burner over low and continue to whisk until most of the lumps are gone. Add a pinch of salt and scrape mixture into a small bowl. Set aside to cool completely. It should thicken up quite a bit (I place the bowl in the fridge to speed this process up).

Whisk together the ground chia seed and water in a small bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the flours, arrowroot, cocoa powder, salt, baking soda and cinnamon. Set aside.

Set a medium saucepan with a couple of inches of water over medium heat. Bring to a light simmer. In a medium, nonreactive bowl, combine the coconut oil and semisweet chocolate. Place bowl over simmering water, ensuring that the base of the bowl is not touching the water. Whisk chocolate and oil until chocolate is completely melted. Remove from the heat.

To the chocolate mixture, add the chia and water mixture (it should be gel-like at this point), natural sugar, coconut milk and vanilla extract. Whisk to combine.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix together with a spatula. The batter will seem dry and stiff. Mix until there are no more dry/flour-y spots left in the batter.

Scoop half of the batter into the prepared pan. Smooth it out as much as you can with a spatula. To thoroughly flatten it,I place a sheet of saran wrap on top of the batter and press on top with my fingers/palms until the surface is even and the bottom of the pan is covered.

Pour all but 3 tbsp of the coconut milk caramel on top of the first layer of batter. Smooth it out to evenly distribute it. Scoop the remaining batter on top of the caramel. Spread it out as best you can, employing the previous spatula and saran wrap technique combo. Place pan into the preheated oven and bake for 35-40 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool completely before de-panning and cutting.

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  • Kasey09/05/2012 - 7:34 pm

    Love the tribute! My mom’s not the frilly type, either, and truth be told she probably works harder than I do (clocking in after hours on freelance assignments and even designing the Turntable Kitchen Pairings Box recipe cards!). Love that you’re celebrating your mom with chocolate – it’s always the number one choice (obviously).ReplyCancel

  • sara09/05/2012 - 7:53 pm

    that caramel! oh man, i NEED these.ReplyCancel

  • Jacqui09/05/2012 - 8:02 pm

    I like you and your family of women, they sound just like mine : )
    I’ll take brownies over bubble bath any day! Love the carmel layer too.ReplyCancel

  • Erin09/05/2012 - 8:09 pm

    These look absolutely divine! I love that the caramel sauce uses coconut milk- definitely put these at the top of my “to try” list!ReplyCancel

  • Cookie and Kate09/05/2012 - 8:25 pm

    Love your accounts of the no-nonsense women in your life. My mom is a really hard worker as well (a workaholic, really) and the woman has had one manicure, ever. How she runs her own company without a drop of coffee in the morning is just beyond me. These brownies look incredible, no doubt my mother would love a slice. :)ReplyCancel

  • Marissa | Pinch and Swirl09/05/2012 - 8:26 pm

    You’ve described my favorite kind of ladies – especially love this – “I miss her quips and thoughtfulness, always in a perfect balance.” + plus brownies look amazing, salt makes everything better.ReplyCancel

  • Jeanine09/05/2012 - 11:37 pm

    That caramel coconut layer sounds divine, I’m going to make these this weekend!ReplyCancel

  • Michelle10/05/2012 - 1:28 am

    Oh wow! This post made me so happy. Firstly. because these brownies, dear god! Secondly, because I totally feel you re: strong, powerful ladies. My mom is the single biggest female influence in my life and I’d have it no other way. I always strive harder and aim higher because of her. Feeling the love and passing it on.ReplyCancel

  • Thelittleloaf10/05/2012 - 3:05 am

    These look incredible-I love the idea of coconut caramel.ReplyCancel

  • Kathryn10/05/2012 - 4:41 am

    The women in your life sound pretty darn amazing; what fantastic role models to have. I think these brownies are a very fitting tribute to them.ReplyCancel

  • talley10/05/2012 - 6:40 am

    my mom would choose weeding the garden over getting a manicure any day! I only wish I had a garden. These brownies look heavenly; enough chocolate to make me happy, coconut caramel to make my husband happy and gluten free for my mom. Wonderful recipe, cannot wait to try it out. Beautiful post.ReplyCancel

  • Emily10/05/2012 - 5:15 pm

    These are stunning! They look and sound delicious. Lovely photos!ReplyCancel

  • Jenné @ Sweet Potato Soul10/05/2012 - 9:30 pm

    Wow, these looks incredible! The perfect treat to soften a tough lady. I will give these a try this weekend. Have a great mother’s day with your family!ReplyCancel

  • Margarita10/05/2012 - 9:56 pm

    My mom is the best of both worlds… she is a girly girl when she steps out of the house, but at home she’s hands and knees scrubbing the floor, hacking meat, gutting fish, gardening, and so on. I took after her kitchen love but the girly girliness not yet. I love these brownies… I’ve never made anything with a coconut and chocolate combo before (unless you count cookies with coconut flakes and choc chips).ReplyCancel

  • sarah10/05/2012 - 11:18 pm

    These look *amazing*. And I loved reading about your mom – lovely.ReplyCancel

  • Richa@HobbyandMore11/05/2012 - 12:59 am

    My mom is like that too.. she always has so much to do.. and still has like 5 times more energy than me.
    These brownies are gorgeous, gooey and look delicious!ReplyCancel

  • Alicia @ Treble Tart11/05/2012 - 8:47 am

    I have been craving brownies like none other lately! Thank you so much for posting this; it’s exactly what I needed!!ReplyCancel

  • Winnie11/05/2012 - 10:13 am

    Great post and the browning look heavenly. ps I am new to your blog and I am loving it!ReplyCancel

  • georgea11/05/2012 - 12:27 pm

    these look amazing! I can’t wait to try themReplyCancel

  • Sarah11/05/2012 - 1:07 pm

    I cannot wait to try these! They look so very tasty. Love all the big pictures on your fantastic blog!ReplyCancel

  • Jennifer (Delicieux)11/05/2012 - 8:13 pm

    What a beautiful tribute post, all the women in your family sound so strong. And chocolate is a wonderful way to celebrate. I especially love the sound of the coconut milk caramel. I am so going to have to try this.ReplyCancel

  • […] The First Mess, which is another brilliant food blog full of yummy veggie and vegan food.  These brownies have me thinking of doing a vegan […]ReplyCancel

  • art and lemons16/05/2012 - 7:17 am

    Every time I read your blog, I’m inspired to get into the kitchen no matter what time of day, and cook or bake. Certainly 7 a.m. is brownie time, yes? Or at least a post-Mother’s Day chocolate exception counts. Lovely account of the women in your family, I would certainly fit right in with the hard working, no nonsense, chocolate first ethos.ReplyCancel

  • Meaghan19/05/2012 - 4:20 pm

    I made these today for the first time. Uhm…I really can’t come up with a word that describes how ridiculously fudgy and amazing they are. Fudgemazing, perhaps? I used Mimic Creme’s Almond and Cashew Cream instead of Coconut Milk in both the Caramel and the Brownie recipe – worked very well.

    I made a double batch in a 9×13 pan and saved about 1/2 cup of the caramel to drizzle over the top. Great tip! I can’t seem to keep my fingers out of the bowl though.

    Anyway – just wanted to say thanks ’cause these rock. I’m very excited to bring these to the dinner party I’m going to tonight – I know all the omnivores will marvel at my cruelty free dessert!ReplyCancel

  • Aimee06/06/2012 - 6:10 pm

    I’ve been drooling over this recipe for a week. I just put them in the oven. First, the batter and the caramel are delicious ;). I must say though, the caramel in between didn’t work for me. I leveled out the bottom layer of brownie mixture which in itself was quite tedious then poured most of the caramel down and immediately knew that getting the second layer of brownie batter on top was not going to be easy. The caramel just leaked up while I was spreading the batter out. So now I have caramel floating on the very top of my brownies which is fine by me! I just hope it doesn’t burn :/. They are in the oven now. I will come back with results.

    How the heck did you get the caramel to stay in between the layer?

    Thanks so much for the recipe, it’s going to be delicious no matter where the caramel lay.ReplyCancel

  • […] for the ice cream makes a bit more than what is needed for the pie. Oops :) Cool thing: I had some caramel from these brownies and drizzled some onto the crust before I laid the ice cream in. Highly […]ReplyCancel

  • Jessacita03/09/2012 - 1:04 pm

    I was wondering if the coconut milk you are using is the thick kind that comes in a can or coconut milk that comes in cartons similarly to soy, almond and rice milk. I really don’t want to use the wrong thing :( Thanks for your help!ReplyCancel

    • Laura03/09/2012 - 1:39 pm

      It’s the canned kind! I’ll specify in the recipe :)ReplyCancel

  • joanne07/09/2012 - 5:04 am

    This recipe sounds delicious! Is it possible to substitute coconut sugar for the sugar or yacon syrup? If it’s possible to substitute yacon syrup, how much would you recommend? Thanks!ReplyCancel

  • Brooke05/12/2012 - 8:03 pm

    I cannot have nuts, any suggestions for an almond flour substitut? Thanks so much!!ReplyCancel

    • Laura06/12/2012 - 9:43 am

      Hi Brooke, I don’t have any experience making these without the almond flour. A little google searching led me to this idea: replace it with half coconut flour and half ground flax meal. Coconut flour tends to soak up a lot of moisture so you may notice that the batter is drier. In that case I would add a 1-2 tbsp more of the coconut milk. Hope that helps!

  • Brooke06/12/2012 - 5:41 pm

    Thanks for your quick response!! I am going to give it a try.ReplyCancel

  • Elsa11/04/2013 - 11:09 am

    Just wondering how far in advance I can make these? Typical brownies are no good the next day… do these keep for a couple of days?ReplyCancel

    • Laura Wright11/04/2013 - 11:16 am

      Hey Elsa, If you wrap them super tight they would be fine for 2-3 days. The caramel layer kind of keeps the moist quality intact.

  • Mik04/07/2013 - 5:31 pm

    For the GF flour do you recommend a special blend? can it be only white rice flour or must be a mix between brown and white? Thanks!!ReplyCancel

    • Laura Wright05/07/2013 - 8:21 am

      Hi Mik,
      I’ve made these using a mix of brown and white rice flour, but also with just pure white rice or brown rice flour. Haven’t tried any all purpose blends yet, but brownies tend to be less finnicky in the world of GF baked goods, so if you have a blend that you like it’ll probably work.

  • Rozanna07/07/2013 - 2:41 am

    These are delicious! We have a tradition at work where you have to bring in cakes on your birthday. We had three lots this week, including my batch of these brownies. In what was declared the Exmouth bake off, I was crowned winner! So delighted that the Vegan entry beat non-vegan baking. It’s great to be able to share delicious vegan food with non-vegans, helps dispel the myth that vegan food is dull or that we are making some kind of sacrifice :)ReplyCancel

  • Ariane15/07/2013 - 11:43 pm

    Your recipe and the pictures inspired me that I just had to go and make them last night. They turned out yummy, but not as nice as on your pictures. I wonder why? They don’t have this crunchy top and the very fudgy middle – did I bake them too long? The top looks like a dry cake with speckles of almond flour visible and a slightly fudgy inside. When do you take them out, when it’s still a bit wobbly? Or when the cake is firm? Or could I have done something else wrong? I followed everything to the t :-( (btw I used 165 degrees Celsius fan forced)ReplyCancel

    • Laura Wright16/07/2013 - 8:17 am

      Hey Ariane,
      I’m so sorry that the brownies didn’t work out for you! From the way you describe the texture, it sounds like you may have baked them a little too long. Also, I don’t have a fan in my oven, but I know from working in professional kitchens that forced fans tend to cook things a lot faster. The brownies should seem a bit soft in the middle of the pan when they’re ready to remove from the oven. I hope this is helpful in some way and that you’ll maybe be inspired to try them again. Thanks for your feedback too! :)

  • Ariane16/07/2013 - 11:36 pm

    Thank you Laura. I will for sure try them again! I will now need to find an easy and yummy vegan cake recipe that my boyfriend can whip up for my birthday in a few weeks. I am hoping for something with berries ;-) I will search your lovely website and see if there is something that I can give to him as a challenge.ReplyCancel

  • Amadea20/01/2014 - 1:22 pm

    Hi Laura,

    I’m wondering if I need to use arrowroot if I end up using nonGF flours?ReplyCancel

    • Laura Wright22/01/2014 - 7:57 am

      Hi Amadea, as long as you replace the the 2 tbsp of arrowroot with 2 equal tbsp of flour, you’re good :)

  • Sheryl13/02/2014 - 12:24 am

    Wow! I’m in my pajamas in bed goofing around on Pinterest when I saw these. I’m tempted to get out of bed and go make them right now. YUM! I can’t wait to try these. I’m so grateful for creative culinary people who share their tasty talents.ReplyCancel

  • SJ24/03/2014 - 5:47 pm

    Just curious, but are the chia seeds required for this recipe?ReplyCancel

    • Laura Wright27/03/2014 - 12:22 pm

      Hi SJ,
      I use the chia gel as a binder in this recipe, essentially replacing what would normally be an egg in a traditional recipe. Ground flax seeds will work all the same if you have those!

  • Tracy Ross08/04/2014 - 7:07 pm

    I really want to try these but I need clarification on “natural sugar”. Is white sugar not natural? Thanks!ReplyCancel

  • Tracy Ross08/04/2014 - 11:57 pm

    As long as I’m asking silly questions, is regular old salt not “sea salt”? Where does it come from if not the sea? Thanks!ReplyCancel

    • Laura Wright09/04/2014 - 7:05 am

      Hi Tracy, natural sugar just refers to evaporated cane juice, or white sugar that hasn’t been turned white yet. It looks like white sugar, just a bit more golden/beige-ish coloured. I specify it because it’s a bit less processed. And the sea salt thing is just to get away from iodized table-style salt, which has a bit of a weird taste.

  • […] of gathering ’round more often. I’ve wrote here about how tough and motivated my mum is before, but in this noticeably busier season of life, her strength and inner drive has been particularly […]ReplyCancel

  • anna28/05/2014 - 11:26 pm

    Hi Laura! I LOVE all your recipes. You are so inspiring! I want to make these brownies tomorrow but I am wondering, do you think oat flour would work instead of the 3/4 cup of GF all purpose or rice flour?ReplyCancel

    • Laura Wright01/06/2014 - 3:29 pm

      Anna! Sorry for replying to this so late. I think oat flour may just work as a substitute in this situation. Let me know how it went if you tried!

  • Cat25/07/2014 - 6:59 am

    Just got these in the oven, didn’t quite go as planned, the caramel was runnier than I thought it would be, although forgot to put it in the fridge, so it sort of all mashed up with the top layer, I also need a smaller pan, so some of the caramel leaked out to part of the pan that was empty. However, the mix tasted amazing, so who cares, just means I’ll have to try again :)ReplyCancel

  • […] maybe make some and try them For a glutenfree version see Laura’s Salted Caramel Brownies here For more baked desserts, cakes, cookies see here. Grab a bite and then try to explain to hubbs […]ReplyCancel

  • […] maybe make some and try them For a glutenfree version see Laura’s Salted Caramel Brownies here For more baked desserts, cakes, cookies see here. Grab a bite and then try to explain to hubbs […]ReplyCancel

  • Emily10/12/2014 - 12:30 pm

    I made these brownies last night for a birthday and I was a little skeptical if I could actually pull it off- but the result was amazing! I told the bday man that they were vegan and he said if I didn’t tell him he wouldn’t have known because they tasted exactly like your traditional brownie (if not better). They were gooey, chocolately and so delish. I will definitely make them again. The only part I got nervous about was the caramel. It was runny and seeped onto the surface of the second layer- but I figured the mesh would probably be good, and it so was! Thanks for sharing these awesome recipes, including all the lush photography- will be coming back for more!ReplyCancel

  • […] Salted Coconut Caramel Brownies from The First Mess. I made this recipe recently and oh.em.gee they are chocolately, gooey, perfectly salted, and gluten free. Mark, who “claims” not to love chocolate, ate these with no hesitation. The photo is mine but to find the recipe, click on the link above.  […]ReplyCancel

  • […] **This recipe is adapted from The First Mess "Salted Coconut Caramel Brownies" […]ReplyCancel

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Spring vegetables are starting to come up in a more prevalent way in and around southern Ontario. On a late night/early morning trip to this place last week, I started noticing the big waxy boxes that read “Ontario Asparagus” on the side with the Foodland logo, shuffling their way through on big carts, palettes of lifting jacks, backs of trucks etc. There’s rhubarb, green garlic and wild leeks, little spring onions and lettuces, super fresh with minerality and an unmistakeable green-ness. It’s starting to really happen.

I find the recommended initial preparations of these first-of-the-season gems tend to be quite mild, soft and non-intrusive. All of the mags show the vegetables lightly blanched or maybe roasted with salt and pepper. Adorned with a poached egg, a whisper of parmesan, a couple chopped mint leaves, a delicate drizzle of olive oil. Not too much fuss. The overarching goal seems to be a genuine savouring of the earth’s first offering of the year, basking in its true nature. I am on board with that, trust.

After my initial taste of first-asparagus and that “oh wow” moment, when the sweetness hits, the shock of perfectly crisp-tender, fresh, vegetal perfection kicks in… I start to get a little bored with the usual steamed/roasted/grilled olive oil, salt, and pepper routine. I love simplicity when dealing with fresh food. It is gratifying in its unraveling of meal time, cutting to the chase of satiety. Sometimes I want to go in a different direction though. I’m in love with the prettiness of asparagus in long, elegant ribbons. The crisp sweetness and perfect potential for salads is right there so I went with it.

I made up a punchy vinaigrette with chili paste, lime, toasted sesame oil, ginger and garlic. Mega flavour town. Tossed it all up with the asparagus, some shredded cabbage, green onions, fresh mint and salty, crunchy peanuts. I know it seems like a lot going on for the tender, still-new asparagus but believe me, it can take the heat. The sweetness is all the more prevalent in this combination, the lime and heat from chili really bringing it to the forefront. The acid from the lime is strong without imparting too much flavour and the toasted sesame oil/peanut combo brings it all back to earth. It’s certainly a fresh and lively way to go forth into spring.

pin it!pin it!

asparagus salad with sesame chili & lime dressing
serves: 2-4
notes: If you’re making this ahead, save the mint slicing and dressing-tossing for the end, right before serving. The acid in the dressing can render the thin asparagus less crisp and mint tends to go dark post-slicing.

1 small clove of garlic, minced
1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and grated/minced finely
zest and juice of 1 lime
2 tsp chili paste
1 tbsp agave nectar or honey
1 tbsp rice vinegar
salt and pepper
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
2 tbsp grapeseed or other neutral oil

1 bunch asparagus, ends trimmed and stalks peeled into ribbons
small handful of grated cabbage (red, green, napa, savoy etc)
3 sprigs of mint, leaves removed and finely sliced
2-3 green onions, finely sliced
1/3 cup peanuts, toasted and roughly chopped

Make the dressing: combine the ginger, garlic, lime zest, lime juice, chili paste, agave nectar, rice vinegar, salt and pepper  in a jar or tupperware dish with a tight fitting lid. Stir to dissolve the salt and combine everything. Add the sesame and grapeseed oils. Put a lid on top and shake mixture vigorously to combine. Set aside.

Combine the ribboned asparagus, cabbage, sliced mint and green onions in a large bowl. Pour the dressing over top and toss to combine with your hands or tongs. Place salad on a serving plate and garnish with the chopped peanuts and a bit more chopped mint if you like. Serve and enjoy.

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  • sarah02/05/2012 - 3:23 pm

    This is a lovely salad. I’ve been stuck on beets and haven’t eaten any asparagus yet this spring! I better get on that. Beautiful photos as always, Ms. Laura.ReplyCancel

  • erin02/05/2012 - 3:24 pm

    This is the perfect salad to add to my asparagus kick! How lovely!ReplyCancel

  • Shelley02/05/2012 - 3:55 pm

    I am so jealous of you and my other foodie friends across the web… I have yet to get asparagus at my farmers market! Can you believe it? And, I’m in California… I thought we were the lucky ones to have produce whenever, wherever!! Alas, no. I heard rumblings that it will show this Sunday and I cannot wait! This looks amazing. I think it will contribute nicely in my quest to OD on asparagus… :-)ReplyCancel

  • Jeanine02/05/2012 - 6:02 pm

    Yum, I love the flavor punch!ReplyCancel

  • Nico02/05/2012 - 7:54 pm

    I am also just now seeing asparagus for the first time this season! The tiny spears could not be more perfect and I love simple applications like this for them.ReplyCancel

  • Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar02/05/2012 - 10:14 pm

    This salad is lovely! So pretty!ReplyCancel

  • Ashlae02/05/2012 - 10:31 pm

    I, too, get bored of roasted asparagus. Actually, I had it last night and all I could think about was how much more I would enjoy it raw. Anyhow, this salad looks delicious. And freaking beautiful. I’m a huge fan of ribboned asparagus and cannot wait to give this a try.ReplyCancel

  • […] Asparagus Salad with Sesame Chili Lime Dressing from Laura of The First Mess […]ReplyCancel

  • Vicky03/05/2012 - 8:31 am

    This sounds delicious! Love the combination of flavors here!ReplyCancel

  • Marissa | Pinch&Swirl03/05/2012 - 12:53 pm

    That last photo won me over; I must make this. The salad looks perfectly refreshing and I love the peanuts for crunch.ReplyCancel

  • Kelsey03/05/2012 - 1:57 pm

    Reminds me of my time in SE Asia, a bit. Love love love.ReplyCancel

  • Cookie and Kate03/05/2012 - 7:24 pm

    This post is killing me, Laura. The recipe and the way you describe it… perfection. I always feel so clunky, searching for the right words to describe flavors, but you nailed it. I can’t get enough asparagus lately, and ribbons of it are my favorite. It’s already too hot to crank up the oven for roasting, so salads are the best I can do (I’m not complaining).ReplyCancel

  • Kim03/05/2012 - 7:47 pm

    This asparagus salad is SO beautiful. I am going to make it–my farmer’s market is on Sunday!! I can’t wait! Thanks for posting.ReplyCancel

  • Jill | A Cook's Nook04/05/2012 - 9:10 am

    This looks gorgeous. We just bought a big bundle of asparagus, and I have a slight obsession with all things peanuts. I only wish we didn’t have to wait until mid June for the Farmers’ Markets to open here!ReplyCancel

  • Carrie | acookgrowsinbrooklyn04/05/2012 - 11:31 am

    I have never seen a more perfect looking picture of a salad. Something kind of cathartic about turning asparagus into ribbons, right?ReplyCancel

  • This looks so yummy, I love asparagus :)ReplyCancel

  • Laura {gourmettenyc}05/05/2012 - 1:14 pm

    What a beautiful salad! I absolutely love shaved asparagus – it’s so fresh. I will definitely have to try this!ReplyCancel

  • sarah @ two tarts06/05/2012 - 10:50 pm

    I am pretty sure I would love that dressing on almost anything!ReplyCancel

  • thelittleloaf07/05/2012 - 4:45 pm

    I love asparagus season – they’re just coming into the shops in the UK and I can’t get enough of the stuff! Love the combination with crunchy peanuts here – just gorgeous.ReplyCancel

  • sara forte08/05/2012 - 1:05 am

    gorgeous! the words. photos…all of it. I need it and am SO sad that I had two bowls of granola for dinner. Nice work, lady.ReplyCancel

  • […] season, especially since it keeps popping up in some of our favorite places (Naturally Ella and The First Mess, for starters). The thought of eating raw asparagus seemed intriguing – though we were a bit wary […]ReplyCancel

  • Rose10/05/2012 - 11:22 am

    Hi there

    This sounds delicious. But im allergic to peanuts, can you suggest a different nut that might go well in this recipe?


    • Laura10/05/2012 - 12:01 pm

      Hi Rose!
      Roasted cashews would be a perfect, equally delicious replacement. Or toasted sesame seeds would be nice too :)

  • […] quintessentially seasonal dish, the Asparagus Salad with Sesame Chili Lime Dressing from The First Mess is an elegant and unique take on the abundant asparagus you likely see piling […]ReplyCancel

  • […] Asparagus Salad + Sesame Dressing by The First Mess offers an exciting way to prepare asparagus, ribbons!  Simply use a peeler to make long thin ribbons, perfect for any spring salad. […]ReplyCancel

  • Holly12/01/2015 - 6:13 pm

    Help! Do I need to blanch the asparagus and then chill? Or just shave raw asparagus?

  • Holly13/01/2015 - 12:27 am

    Amazing on every front!!!!

    I blanched asparagus and chilled — could only ‘ribbon’ the outsides as they weren’t crisp enough. It worked out great anyway…I peeled the outsides and chopped the rest into 1-inch pieces. The dressing is mesmerizing!! So many flavors you can’t pinpoint why it’s so delicious..ReplyCancel

  • […] Avocado 6. Carrot Noodles With Zesty Garlic Sauce 7. Cucumber Mint Noodles With Ginger Dressing 8. Shaved Asparagus Ribbons With Sesame-Chili and Lime Dressing 9. Eggplant Noodles With Sundried Tomatoes and Chickpeas 10. Chicken Pho Zucchini Noodle Soup 11. […]ReplyCancel

  • […] Avocado 6. Carrot Noodles With Zesty Garlic Sauce 7. Cucumber Mint Noodles With Ginger Dressing 8. Shaved Asparagus Ribbons With Sesame-Chili and Lime Dressing 9. Eggplant Noodles With Sundried Tomatoes and Chickpeas 10. Chicken Pho Zucchini Noodle Soup 11. […]ReplyCancel

  • May Link Love |13/06/2015 - 11:52 pm

    […] is in season and looking gorgeous at the market these days. I’m itching to try this asparagus salad with a sesame chili lime […]ReplyCancel

  • […] found this recipe on Pinterest.  It’s originally from The First Mess and I loved the idea of using an Asian flavored dressing for the salad.  I can’t seem to […]ReplyCancel

  • […] Asparagus Salad with Sesame Chili Lime Dressing […]ReplyCancel

  • […] Asparagus Salad with Sesame Chili Lime Dressing – These long, beautiful ribbons of fresh asparagus will make you wonder why wheat noodles were ever even invented. A perfect combination of spicy, sweet and zesty. […]ReplyCancel

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I work in a recently opened fine dining establishment that prioritizes locally and ethically procured food in a somewhat busy, high volume, tourism affected area. The costs are going to be high from the start, from the rent, the taxes, the ingredients, the staff to make it work etc. This isn’t unusual though. Restaurants deal with the juggle of a million costs as a way of life. It’s a whole lot to consider when local and sustainable is thrown into the mix too. Sourcing from the community means snubbing a considerably cheaper big-time food distributor that sells everything from hydroponically grown cherry tomatoes to frozen sea bass to punch-in time clocks. Would you buy vegetables, eggs, fish etc from the same place you buy floor cleaner and mop heads? Probably not. Why would you offer your patronage, your hard-earned money, to a restaurant that does?

These questions and underlying concepts are super sensical to me, sure, but the equation and price tag is shocking to many. French fries are a really good example here. Ours hit above the five dollar mark. A common reaction: “But it’s just potatoes..!” It totally isn’t. Yes, the potatoes themselves cost money, but filling an industry kitchen-sized fryer will run you about $75 or more for oil. Someone (with food and safety training) has to be paid for the hours they spend cleaning, cutting, frying, seasoning and plating those potatoes (in a rather quaint paper cone, all tossed with minced thyme for your enjoyment I’ll add). Oh, and the server that handles your order and takes care of you for the evening factors in there. The table where your fork lays. The chair you’ve perched yourself on. The lighting in the room, water, linens (rather than cheaper throwaway paper napkins), you get the idea. There’s a lot to consider.

So when I saw that a blogger visiting the restaurant tweeted about the experience and cried “Overpriced!,” I was annoyed. I kind of stepped back and considered that a large portion of the population may feel this way about dining out though, especially within establishments that prioritize the community and minimal environmental impact. It takes a whole lot of principle to stick to your guns on that front, it isn’t always cheap to do on a large scale. It is well documented how hard it is to make money in the restaurant business anyway, without all of the measures to ensure that guaranteed fairness on all sides. Fifty dollars for a simple shirt made out of cheaply grown cotton with minimal labour? Sure. Thirteen hundred for a 60 inch flat screen made in Taiwan? Absolutely. I don’t want to convey that the production of these items is simple, but rather ask why there is so much pause and criticism when food is at stake, something that nourishes all aspects of our being, brings community to the table and ensures a part of our very survival. There’s a huge lack of regard for the power that it brings, from production to plate.

It’s a lack of education certainly and a conditioning of cheap food (which means crappy ingredients and underpaid employees in shitty working conditions) over such a long period of time. The times have changed though. Any information is constantly available for the taking thanks to the internet. Those who have access to good food and the opportunity to dine out should know better. The outrage and blind criticism has no place if you have an internet connection and 15 minutes to spare prior to your reservation, like none. Assuming that you’ve read this blog before, you probably care at least a little bit already (is that a big assumption?) and that certainly means a lot. I think a slow and gentle tide of understanding is beginning to turn and a greater sense of gratitude is coming to the table, but it does take time and a few grumbles along the way.

None of this ties into the recipe du jour per se. Given my constant stream of busy-ness and frustration over this sort of thing in the past few weeks, a super sticky, spicy, sweet, messy, mega satisfying sandwich with tempeh, sprouts, avocado and other goodies was looking pretty, pretty good. This combination is largely inspired by one that I enjoyed at Candle Cafe last time we were in NY. I’m a big fan of sweetness in barbecue sauce, but I also enjoy a bit of convenience at times. When fixing up the sauce, I reach for an all-natural ketchup that has all of the ingredients I would be using in a homemade sauce anyway (tomato paste, vinegar, evaporated cane juice, spices, salt) and cut down on simmering time pretty greatly. A prefab convenience that probably costs more than the sum of its parts, yes, but totally worth it when messy, barbecue sandwiches are at stake. Pretty high value for the cost in the grand equation. And I’m all about that grand equation lately.

pin it!pin it!
bbq tempeh and sweet potato sandwiches + barbecue sauce recipe
sauce adapted from Everyday Food, Issue 44, July/August 2007
serves: 2 (with extra sauce woohoo)
notes: I always simmer/steam tempeh for a bit before I apply a final cooking treatment just to guarantee some quality toothsomeness. I don’t think it’s totally necessary though if you’re in a pinch for time. Oh, and tofu would also apply beautifully here if tempeh is unavailable.

tempeh, sweet potatoes + sauce:
1/2 block tempeh (4 ounces), cut into 4 triangles or rectangles (depending on your bread surface shape)
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch slices
1 tsp grapeseed oil
1/4 onion, grated
1 small clove of garlic, minced
3/4 cup natural ketchup (Trader Joe’s and Annie’s are fantastic)
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp sriracha (or other hot sauce)
2 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp worcestershire sauce (Annie’s brand to the rescue again!)

2 lightly toasted rolls of your choosing (I went the crusty multigrain route)
1/2 an avocado, peeled and sliced
big handful of sprouts
thin red onion slices
etc etc, go wild!

Make the sauce: heat the grapeseed oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the grated onion and garlic and saute until very fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the ketchup, vinegar, sriracha, maple syrup and worcestershire sauce to the pot and stir to combine. Bring mixture to a light boil, stirring here and there. Simmer until mixture thickens slightly, about 7-10 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside (leftover sauce will keep for one week in the fridge in a sealed, non-reactive container).

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Place the tempeh pieces and sliced sweet potatoes in a medium-large saucepan. Cover with water by about an inch and simmer until sweet potatoes are soft, about 7-8 minutes. Carefully remove tempeh and sweet potatoes to a plate. Pat dry with a kitchen towel. Place tempeh and sweet potatoes on lined baking sheet.

Heat your barbecue to medium-high or set your oven to broil. Brush tempeh and sweet potatoes with barebecue sauce. Place under the broiler or onto the barbecue. Flip and baste with sauce every minute or so, until coated to your liking and there’s a bit of char on the outside.

Place warm tempeh and sweet potatoes on to bread of your choice with desired toppings. Enjoy!

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  • Michelle25/04/2012 - 4:36 pm

    Here here sister!

    I eat out waaaaaay less than the average New Yorker, but when I go out I want it to be for a special meal, prepared with great ingredients, care and thought. So much of that cheap, poor quality food I can prepare better myself, at home, for even less money (and I am no way an expert chef). Better to shell out a bit more for something of quality has always been my attitude.

    Also that sandwich looks amazing and I am going to make it ASAP. BBQ sauce is the bees knees.ReplyCancel

  • Amanda25/04/2012 - 4:42 pm

    Our obsession with cheap food and our unwillingness to pay for good food and food experiences is precisely what has us in such trouble. What it comes down to is a lack of respect – for food and those that produce it (farmers and restaurateurs alike). Now, that sandwich – that’s something I could totally respect.ReplyCancel

  • Erin25/04/2012 - 4:53 pm

    Before I got my current job, I was well on my way to purchasing a coffee shop that I was going to turn into a cafe with only locally sourced products. The current owner couldn’t understand why I would want to do something like that when it was “cheaper” to continue on with his distributor. I also believe there is a statistic (which if I wasn’t almost out the door I would look up) that Americans spend far less of their paycheck on food than any other country. Our priorities are terribly skewed. Great post, Laura!ReplyCancel

  • Jeanine25/04/2012 - 5:14 pm

    Yum, I love bbq sauce and ketchup and the Candle Cafe!

    I’m with you on this one – I’d rather pay more quality food (and sanitation) than go somewhere where who knows what corners have been cut…ReplyCancel

  • Amanda25/04/2012 - 6:57 pm

    I could not agree more. I think there is a definite lack of education about the true cost of our food, but also an “ignorance is bliss” mentality. As you said, the information is readily available, but it’s a tough reality and many people don’t want to be informed. On the positive side, I think more and more people are taking it upon themselves to learn about where their food comes from and taking steps (although often small) in the direction of buying local, organic, and so on.

    Great post, and your sandwich looks awesome!ReplyCancel

  • Nico('s Tiny Kitchen)25/04/2012 - 7:07 pm

    Oh I so agree with you here. When the food we buy is particularly cheap, I think we all need to question the why and the how because they are so often artificially cheap. We need to vote with our dollars, which should mean understanding where those dollars are going.ReplyCancel

  • Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar25/04/2012 - 7:51 pm

    This sandwich sounds so lovely, and I really enjoyed reading this post. It really got me thinking!ReplyCancel

  • Meister @ The Nervous Cook25/04/2012 - 9:01 pm

    Agreed on all points here: As a specialty coffee industry professional, I’m also super aware of people’s perception regarding price, quality, value, cost of production… It’s a difficult hurdle for people to overcome, that change in thinking, that reevaluation of what it takes to make something carefully, deliberately, with taste and integrity and health in mind. But it’s not impossible!

    I also agree with that delicious sandwich and everything about it: I, too, recently ate that very thing at the Candle Cafe (new favorite restaurant, am I right?), and love the sweet-smoky mix of BBQ and sweet ‘tater. Perfect. Messy. Happy.ReplyCancel

  • Kate King25/04/2012 - 9:38 pm

    Totally understandable why you were upset. I get very agitated when I hear others say that it is too expensive to eat “healthy” and their rationale behind buying the horrible cheap products they do. There is a reason why it is cheap and there is a reason why I would definitely fork over more money for food. You are what you eat and I rather support my body, the environment, and community who helped produce those more expensive products then save money and eat like crap. I agree that most people are uneducated about the matter at hand and that you vote every single time you shop. You rock girl.ReplyCancel

  • Robin25/04/2012 - 10:18 pm

    This is great. We recently moved to a plant based diet and with summer coming I’ve been thinking a lot about what to put on the grill besides vegetables. Definitely going to give this a try. Thanks!ReplyCancel

  • Elenore Bendel Zahn26/04/2012 - 2:38 am

    Laura! Word! Awesome!ReplyCancel

  • Firstly, I have to say this sandwich looks delicious. I love tempeh, especially when smothered in BBQ sauce.

    I think this notion of “over priced” goods extends to many areas, photography specifically. Digital camera’s have convinced everyone and their dog they are a professional photographer. That being said, it’s very difficult to make a living at it these days. Amateurs charge pennies and produce sub par images. People now want their weddings to be shot for next to nothing, which is beyond frustrating for someone who actually has a university degree in the field.

    Back to food costs though, I totally agree with you. Restaurants that produce quality meals using local ingredients have to charge more. I don’t mind shelling out extra money because I know the quality of food will be that much better. Recently, Dallas (where I live) has seen an influx of farm to table restaurants. Their popularity is so great that many competing restaurants (that don’t use local fare) can’t compete. It’s a great trend and I’m so excited about all the new dining possibilities in this city.

    Anyway, sorry for writing a novel. Your post just really spoke to me. Now I’m off to make your sandwich! Thanks for sharing your thoughts Laura.ReplyCancel

  • Kelsey26/04/2012 - 1:05 pm

    I feel like my last three or so comments may seem somewhat trite or non-expressive, leaving simple punches like “Preach or Amen,” because I find it difficult to really affirm how much I appreciate your perspective, and I wish we could all just mull it over in person. I have a few stories of this sort that I think would make you giggle. Do you giggle? laugh? See. This is what I mean. Internet-land can only help us so much. In any case, I say throw out the TV, folks, and feed your belly the best.ReplyCancel

  • Sarah26/04/2012 - 1:22 pm

    It’s true of non-restaurant food—and even a more common complaint.

    My best comeback to the local/ethical/organic/hand-crafted – food-is-too-expensive argument:

    Just turn it around and ask, “Why is everything else so cheap?”ReplyCancel

  • Carrie | acookgrowsinbrooklyn26/04/2012 - 1:55 pm

    I love that you wrote on this topic – it’s near and dear to me and needs to be highlighted again and again and again. And, I’m not a huge fan of tempeh, but you are close to converting me with this sandwich – feast for the eyes.ReplyCancel

  • Ashlae26/04/2012 - 4:15 pm

    I totally agree with you! I’m also the person who will (stupidly) spend $100 on a simple cotton dress.. and I did the whole 60″ flat screen thing for my boyfriend. But you will never hear me complaining about the cost of food – ever. Especially in a restaurant. No one is forcing anyone to buy $5 french fries.

    It also irks me when people complain about how expensive it is to eat healthy (compared to unhealthy, overly processed foods). I laugh at them, because they don’t understand that eating healthy food can (and usually does) reduce medical bills. In my case, having a chronic bowel disorder, it has saved me thousands upon thousands of dollars. Not to mention, a countless number of surgeries.

    Oh, and I would love to bite into that sandwich right about now. Yay for being able to tolerate gluten, again!ReplyCancel

  • Yui27/04/2012 - 1:56 am

    I always love tempeh. You may believe it or not but I ever made this tempeh sandwich, with my own sauce recipe of course lol. I need to say they turn so great! I love it. I really do. Thanks for the recipe anyway. Will try it soon.ReplyCancel

  • Lia28/04/2012 - 1:00 pm

    Sorry I’m a couple days behind! This week was a busy one at work.

    To state the obvious, I think all of us agree because we’re interested in this blog. People who balk at $5 french fries don’t usually ooh and ahh over tempeh sandwiches. Not that our agreement is a bad thing! It’s great to interact with like-minded people, especially when it comes to food.

    I’d like to add my two cents regarding restaurants that focus on local, sustainable eating. I haven’t been to many of them, but the ones I have been to, frankly, weren’t very good. I’m more than happy to pay $20 for roasted organic chicken with local potatoes etc. but it has to be perfectly executed. If not, I’d probably choose the $10 chicken that isn’t local, but tastes good. I think that’s the same tradeoff many Americans make. Hopefully, restaurants like yours will alter that norm!

    Lastly, I want to challenge everyone here who accepts that eating healthy is more expensive than processed foods. Mark Bittman wrote an excellence article last year that focuses this exact myth. Take a look at the “Comparison Shopping” graphic, it was pretty eye-opening for me (not that I eat McDonalds ever). Granted he wasn’t focusing on organic, local food, but getting more Americans to eat healthy foods at home is the first step to that goal.

    Awesome topic! And that sandwich looks delicious. I’m OBSESSED with Trader Joe’s ketchup, haha.ReplyCancel

  • Cookie and Kate30/04/2012 - 1:09 am

    I hear you on this one. I’ve worked in the food industry and I’ve seen the low quality of food that comes from the big suppliers and gets arranged nicely on a plate to disguise it. I’m so much wiser for it. I almost never eat out, for several reasons, but I’m much happier forking over a bunch of money for a meal meets my quality standards.

    Oh and that sandwich looks mega tasty.ReplyCancel

  • Courtney30/04/2012 - 3:10 pm

    I completely agree with you! People don’t really understand all that goes into making them that plate of food, especially when it is something that is locally and sustainably sourced. Yes, you may be paying more for those fries, but you are getting better quality and a product that didn’t have to travel too far from farm to table. Plus, they will probably be the best fried you have ever eaten! By the way, this sandwich looks awesome!! (that’s coming from a Texan who was raised on good brisket and barbeque!)ReplyCancel

  • […] few weeks ago, I was drooling over this post. So last weekend, for my dad and Jack, I decided to made a mushroom version. The only change I […]ReplyCancel

  • Recipe Roundup « Curious Joys28/05/2012 - 4:31 pm

    […] – BBQ Tempeh Sandwich – Aunt Peggy’s Cucumber, Tomato, and Onion Salad – Sweet Potato […]ReplyCancel

  • Barbecue tempeh | Syr2101/09/2012 - 4:16 pm

    […] BBQ tempeh sandwich + the cost of food » The First MessApr 25, 2012 … bbq tempeh and sweet potato sandwiches + barbecue sauce recipe … notes: I always simmer/steam tempeh for a bit before I apply a final … […]ReplyCancel

  • emily31/05/2013 - 7:18 pm

    thank you for your words abt cost structures in restaurants that CARE about paying employees fairly, purchasing QUALITY foods, and PREPARING foods on site. I would LOVE to see this kind of insight hit the MAIN MEDIA> as the common public (especially in the Midwest where we are) does not know how expensive it is, nor do they think they need to know. and that NEED is why we are so unhealthy + over-weight as a society! I am right next to you on that Soapbox! Thanks!ReplyCancel

  • javadivawithdogs26/07/2013 - 2:55 pm

    I live in a similarly priced food market. Part of the expense that is absorbed is that the minimum wage is about 10.50/hr. Ethically I support a living wage for all. But I sometime long for inventive cheap fast eats. The thing that is unfortunate to me is that I can’t really say I have developed favorite go to places that I enjoy eating at. It really saddens me that the added expense had not translated to a better dining experience. Rushed slack and borderline rude staff. Inconsistently prepared food. All add up to a consistently less than satisfactory experience. On the flipside I have had some $5 fries that were AMAZING. One with truffle that I still dream about and recently a side of fries with a lentil burger while on vacation driving thru Palm Springs. Drizzled with herbs oil and garlic, they powered us thru the rest of our driving for the day. Restaurant work is a fleeting mad science, keep at it. Quality and consistency are worth it.ReplyCancel

  • Leslie DeBlasio19/09/2013 - 7:18 am

    Nice to expand my repertoire of vegan recipes!ReplyCancel

  • Jeremy04/11/2013 - 9:58 pm

    This was fantastic! Like eating a good ol’ fashioned BBQ, but so much healthier and happier!

    Beautiful site and wonderful recipes. Cheers,


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  • Dennis01/03/2014 - 7:02 pm

    This looks amazing! Can’t wait to make it. I am also glad you avoided the standard BBQ sauce with High Fructose in it! I have a Trader Joe’s near me and they have some great Tempeh options.

    I also love your photography!ReplyCancel

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