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Drought Friendly Recipes For A Drying California

Sarah Forman
Alaskan True Cod Taco with Pickled Radish and Radish Top Salsa

In response to California’s historic drought some chefs are creating meals that use less water. Valley Public Radio’s Ezra David Romero reports from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Sustainable Foods Institute.

When Television Chef Nathan Lyon read about California’s worsening drought earlier this year, he started thinking about the amount of water it takes to grow the food in recipes he creates in Los Angeles. That’s when he and Culinary Manager Sarah Forman decided to develop what they call “drought friendly recipes."

"Really be aware that when you throw food away you're throwing away gallons and gallons of water that we desperately need." - Nathan Lyon

“Instead of looking at bowl of strawberries I look at that bowl of strawberries and think wow that’s like 20 gallons of water right there," Lyon says. "I just want these recipes to start a dialogue that people aren’t having right now.”

Credit Sarah Forman
Sarah Forman and Nathan Lyon created drought friendly recipes when they realized the severity of the drought.

With that in mind, the two went to a Los Angeles farmers market and hit the kitchen to create meals with the smallest water footprint possible. To become more drought conscious Lyon encourages people to cook with recipes that use as much of a product as feasible. He also suggests using online resources like the tool offered by the Water Footprint Network that helps consumers measure how much water it takes to produce, raise or grow an ingredient.

“As a chef it’s sort of up to us to revolutionize what people have been doing in the past, bring attention to the amount of resources it takes to grow these things and say you’ve already paid for it so utilize that to the best of your ability," says Lyon. 

Lyon is an Emmy nominated chef and co-host of Growing a Greener Worldon PBS and A Lyon in the Kitchenon the Discovery Health channel.  He also was among the final four on the second season of The Next Food Network Star.

One of the recipes the duo created is an Alaskan True Cod Taco with Pickled Radish and Radish Top Salsa.

"It’s not a beef taco, so we’re using fish," Forman says. "So it’s going to be a lower water footprint to process this fish. It’s very simple, but it's very flavorful and delicious and sustainable for the ocean and also for the drought.”

Like the cod taco, their recipes tend to use more fruits, vegetables and fish over red meat.

"We realized that it was 50 gallons for example for a pound of x, y or z produce and it was almost over 2,000 gallons of water per pound of beef depending on who you are speaking to." - Nathan Lyon

He says part of the idea behind drought friendly recipes is to reduce food waste, which in turn reduces water waste.

“I think that’s what Americans are looking for something very simple, but also something they can do to actually make change," Lyon says. "Really be aware that when you throw food away you’re throwing away gallons and gallons of water that we desperately, desperatley need.”

Lyon also wants to expose consumers to food that they may not know how to cook with, but that is readily available in stores and farmers markets.

Credit Sarah Forman
Radish Top Salsa

“Their habit is to go and get the bananas and the apples," says Lyon. "When we bring different types of recipes to the general populace then it makes it more accessible it sort of chills them out, it doesn’t make them so stressed. For example the salsa if you have a food processor you can just wiz it up and that’s really the end of it.”

Forman came up with the idea to use excess radish tops for a salsa on the drought friendly taco. She wants to bring awareness to how much water it takes to grow the food we consume.

“Everybody eats, most people cook at home at some point in their life," Forman says. "This is not to vilify the beef industry; we keep calling out beef or any particular farmer. It’s just a topic we really want to bring awareness to and keep the conversation going and eat delicious food.”

Lyon and Forman say they don’t expect people to only eat drought friendly meals, but they do hope that by incorporating water conscious recipes, people can reduce their water footprint.    

Drought Friendly Recipes:

Alaskan True Cod Taco with Pickled Radish and Radish Top Red Pepper Salsa

Credit Sarah Forman
Alaskan True Cod Taco with Pickled Radish and Radish Top Salsa

Yield: 6 tacos

1 pound wild Alaskan true cod, 1-inch thick
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon grapeseed oil

Pat the fish dry and season all over with salt and pepper.

Place a medium nonstick sauté pan over medium heat and add oil.

Let heat for 2 minutes until oil is very hot.

Add fish and let cook for 3 to 4 minutes on each side. You will know the fish is done when the flesh becomes opaque and begins to flake.

Remove fish from pan and transfer to a plate. Flake the fish with a fork or fingers into bite-sized pieces. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper.

Assembling the Taco:

6 Corn tortillas, warmed through
2 avocados, pitted and sliced thinly
½ cup shredded purple cabbage
¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves

Place a cabbage on the tortilla, followed by avocado slices, fish, pickled radish and top with salsa. Sprinkle cilantro leaves and serve.

Drought Friendly Spicy Mango Ginger Popsicle

Credit Nathan Lyon
Drought Friendly Spicy Mango Ginger Popsicle

Yields: 6 popsicles

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon fresh ginger juice
1/16 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1½ cups sweetened mango puree or pulp

Combine lime juice, sugar, ginger juice and cayenne pepper in a medium bowl. Stir until sugar dissolves. Add mango puree and stir to combine. Pour into popsicle molds and freeze.

Drought Friendly EgglessShakshuka

Credit Nathan Lyon
Drought Friendly Eggless Shakshuka

Yield: 4 to 6 servings


2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
¼ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
1 large yellow onion, peeled and diced medium (1½ cups)
10 cloves garlic, peeled and minced (3 tablespoons)
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons Hungarian paprika
¼ teaspoon crushed red chile pepper (chile flakes)
2 cups roughly chopped beet greens, rinsed but not dried
2 large fire-roasted red bell peppers, diced medium
1 (28-ounce) can diced fire-roasted tomatoes, undrained
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 small avocado, pitted and sliced
3 tablespoons fresh goat cheese (chevre)
20 fresh cilantro leaves
1 baguette, sliced into large pieces 

Place a large sauté pan over medium-low heat and add oil, onion and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 6 to 8 minutes, until the onions are soft and translucent.

Add garlic, cumin, paprika and chile flakes. Stir and cook until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes.

Add beet greens and stir. The remaining moisture from rinsing the greens will release any brown bits from the bottom of the sauté pan. Continue cooking and stirring, for 3 to 5 minutes, until the chard has steamed, softened and reduced to half of its original volume.

Add the peppers, tomatoes and black pepper. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for approximately 10 minutes, until the liquid has thickened slightly.

Season to taste with additional salt and pepper.

Remove from heat.

Arrange slices of avocado and dollops of goat cheese on the shakshuka. Sprinkle over fresh cilantro.

Serve on plates with a slice of fresh baguette.

For more drought friendly recipes visit  chefnathanlyon.wordpress.com.

Ezra David Romero is an award-winning radio reporter and producer. His stories have run on Morning Edition, Morning Edition Saturday, Morning Edition Sunday, All Things Considered, Here & Now, The Salt, Latino USA, KQED, KALW, Harvest Public Radio, etc.
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