Monday, March 01, 2010

Haitian Red Beans

This recipe is a reminder that simplicity can be incredibly delicious. I found it on Gherkins & Tomatoes, a blog about food, history and hunger that I can't adequately explain in a short sentence, so please check it out for yourself. Cynthia posted this recipe in the wake of the earthquake in Haiti. She once lived there and offered it as a meal of solidarity with the nation's people.

It's a big pot of beans to be eaten with rice and other dishes, or as a simple meal in itself. The method of frying aromatics in oil and using them to season the beans at the end interested me. It's similar to toasting spices in ghee to finish curries and dals in Indian cooking. Pureeing some of the beans and their rich cooking liquid creates a thick sauce. Adding the seasonings saturates the beans with flavors that keep you taking bite after bite.

I did embellish the recipe slightly, but I think it's still the ultimate in simplicity. You don't need fancy heirloom beans--I bought my grocery store's house brand of small red beans. And of course the leftovers are great. In fact, every time I ate them, I raved about just how great they are. I'm so making this again and again. If you try it, I hope you'll love what you end up with as much I did!

Haitian Red Beans
Adapted from Cynthia Bertelsen
Cynthia gives us this dish's proper name, Sos Pwa Rouj, or Red Beans in Sauce. She calls for peanut oil instead of ghee, but I didn't have any and didn't want to buy the refined, flavorless type they were selling at the supermarket. An organic or unrefined peanut oil should have actual peanut flavor and would be preferable here. Any oil good for high heat cooking will work, but ghee (clarified butter) tastes the best to me. For my version as written below, I couldn't resist adding 2 fat shallot cloves, which added beautiful aromatic flavor to the ghee mixture. Don't skimp on fat or omit this step--it creates an incredibly rich, satisfying sauce that is sometimes meaty, sometimes buttery, and quite complex for a simple pot of beans. Serve as a side dish with simply cooked meat or fish, or enjoy as a main course. Other possible accompaniments are pickled veggies, Indian pickles, hot sauce, chopped chile peppers and fried or hardboiled eggs.

Serves 6-8

1 lb small red beans, rinsed and picked over
1/2 onion, skin removed
1 bay leaf
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp kosher salt, plus more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 Tbs ghee
2 large shallot cloves, thinly sliced (about 1/3 cup)
3 to 4 cloves garlic, chopped
3/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley leaves, divided
Steamed rice for serving (I used long grain brown rice)

Place beans, onion, bay leaf and thyme in a Dutch oven or heavy stockpot and cover with water by about 3 inches. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to medium and cook, partially covered, for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until tender. Stir occasionally and add more water as needed to keep beans from crowding (I added about 2 cups). Note: Unless the beans have been sitting on a shelf for years, you don't need to soak them. However, soaking for at least 6 hours will speed up the cooking time. Be sure to discard the soaking water and rinse the beans before proceeding with the recipe.

Place a colander over a large bowl and drain the beans. Measure the bean cooking liquid. You'll need 3 cups. If you have more, boil to reduce to 3 cups. If you have less, add water to equal 3 cups.

Put 1 1/2 cups beans and 1 cup of the cooking liquid in a blender or food processor. Puree until smooth. Combine the puree, the whole beans and the remaining cooking liquid in the bowl you used to drain the beans. Add 1 tsp salt and black pepper and stir to combine.

Wash the pot you used to cook the beans. Add the ghee and heat to medium-high. Add the shallots, season with salt and pepper, and cook until light golden brown. Reduce heat to medium-low and add the garlic and 1/2 cup of the parsley. Cook until garlic just begins to color, taking care that it does not burn. Add the bean mixture and stir to combine. Cook until heated through. Taste for seasoning.

Serve over rice and sprinkle with remaining parsley.

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Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Radicchio Risotto

This beautiful, earthy risotto is from Tessa Kiros' new cookbook, Venezia: Food & Dreams. Yes, it's beautiful despite the appearance in the photo, which does little to show off its charms!

The risotto is meat free and a great side dish or first course. I served it with steak in red wine-anchovy sauce with a dab of balsamic vinegar, resulting in much deliciousness, but not a lot of color contrast on the plate. All that being said, this risotto is a keeper!

I love the crisp bitterness of radicchio (the one that looks like a mini purple cabbage), and it gets just slightly mellowed and toothsome when cooked slowly along with the creamy Arborio rice. This is a red wine risotto (like this red wine risotto with sausage, arugula and caramelized onions), which deepens the color--and, I think, the flavor--even more.

According to Kiros, Venetians prefer a wet, soupy version of risotto made with vialone nano rice, rather than Arborio or arnaroli, which Kiros suggests. I loved reading about Venetian food and culture, and the book took me back to my trip to Venice, just about 10 years ago! It is one of the most unique and mind-boggling places on earth. Kiros seems to have written two books about this city she clearly adores--it's at once a well-done cookbook and artsy travelogue, with many photos bathed in Mediterranean sea-light. If you like Kiros' style, this book will have you drooling and trolling expedia all at once.

Right now is prime risotto-making weather. Does this recipe make you want to cook up a pot? Here are more risotto ideas I've posted: Roasted beet risotto; Roasted butternut squash risotto with mushrooms and spinach; and Fresh fava bean risotto with pancetta. That last post includes helpful (in my humble opinion!) step-by-step photos to hone your risotto making technique. And here's what I had to say about Tessa Kiros' last book, Falling Cloudberries.

Radicchio Risotto
Adapted from Venezia by Tessa Kiros.

Look for an imported brand of Arborio rice from Italy. In my experience, they provide the thick, creamy texture I've found lacking in domestic Arborio. Most supermarkets tend to have it in stock.

Serves 4 as a side or first course.

4 cups low sodium vegetable broth
1 Tbs. olive oil
1/2 Tbs. butter
1 large shallot, chopped
1 lb radicchio, thick stems removed and roughly chopped
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Pinch of dried thyme
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup Arborio rice
3/4 cup red wine
Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for serving
Fresh sage, parsley or basil, chopped, for garnish

Put broth in a small saucepan, cover and warm over medium-high heat. When broth barely starts to simmer, reduce heat to low (do not boil).

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook 1 to 2 minutes to soften. Add the radicchio, season with salt, pepper and thyme. Cook, stirring often until slightly wilted, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and rice. Stir continuously until rice is glossy and opaque, about 3 minutes. Add the wine, bring to a simmer and cook until absorbed.

Add about 1 1/2 ladlefuls (about 1 1/2 cups) of the warm broth. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat and cook, stirring continuously, until absorbed into the rice. Add 1/2 cup of broth and cook, stirring very often, until absorbed. Continue repeating these steps until risotto is tender, yet slightly firm to the bite. You may not use all the liquid, but if you run out, use hot water. This process (beginning with the first addition of broth) will take 20 to 24 minutes.

Taste for seasoning. Serve risotto immediately, garnished with cheese and fresh herbs.

Review copy of Venezia was generously provided by the publisher.

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Monday, November 09, 2009

Chickpea Soup with Sweet Potatoes & Roasted Poblanos

This is a hearty vegetarian soup I came up with when we were in the mood for something healthy and invigorating. After I've eaten a few rich or heavy meals, I find myself craving heat and spice. Somehow it wakes up my body and makes a virtuous dish taste perfectly satisfying.

Roasting some poblano peppers is an easy extra step that gives this soup a little something special. It seems to be more of a stew than a soup despite coming together in less than a half hour, not counting a few minutes spent roasting the peppers. I patterned it after a delicious smoky turkey chile I love to make. Try it when you need a pick-me-up meal. I'll also note that, like any meat-based stew, the leftovers take on a very appealing, steeped-in-flavor effect the next day.

Chickpea Soup with Sweet Potatoes & Roasted Poblanos

Roast the poblanos ahead of time directly on the burners of a gas range, under a broiler or on a grill. When skin of peppers is black, place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap until cool enough to handle. Slip off the skin with your fingers, then remove the stem and seeds. See detailed instructions here.

Serves 4

1 1/2 Tbs canola oil
1/2 red onion, chopped
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp mustard seeds
1 Tbs chopped fresh ginger
3 cloves garlic chopped
2 tsp curry powder
1 tsp ground coriander
Red pepper flakes to taste
4 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
2 to 3 sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into bite-size chunks
3 cups cooked chickpeas (about 2 14-oz. cans, rinsed and drained)
1 (14-oz) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
3 poblano peppers, roasted, peeled, seeded and cut into thin strips
Chopped fresh cilantro and sour cream for serving (optional)

Heat the oil in a large pot or Dutch over medium heat. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper and cook until soft. Add the cumin and mustard seeds and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the ginger, garlic, curry powder, coriander and red pepper flakes. Continue cooking for 2 minutes, or until garlic is tender and spices are fragrant.

Add the broth, cover and raise heat to high. As soon as liquid comes to a simmer, add sweet potatoes and return to simmering once again. Reduce heat to medium, cover and simmer until potatoes are tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Add chickpeas, tomatoes and poblanos. Simmer just until heated through. Taste to check the seasoning and add salt and pepper as necessary or beef up the spices (you might want more curry flavor, or some ground cumin to supplement the whole cumin seeds, etc.). Serve with fresh cilantro and sour cream.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Summer Tomato Couscous

It's common knowledge that the two things most often associated with rock n' roll are, 1) sex, and 2) drugs. Well, for a concert Mike and I went to last night, it was more like 10 P.M. curfews and true respect for punctuality.

We saw Modest Mouse at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago. We really like this band, and they were good. Really good, even. Nice set list and the show lasted nearly 90 minutes. Still, we just couldn't get over the fact that we were attending the earliest concert in the history of rock shows: doors open at 5:30, opening act at 6:30; headliner at 8:00 on the dot. Outta there by 9:30. We had no intention of going for the opener, and we still missed half of Modest Mouse's first song. I'm not necessarily blaming the band--I have no clue who's responsible. I'm just betting the Wiggles don't even go onstage till at least 8:30.

Anyway, we wanted to go out and unwind over a casual dinner before the show, but since we actually have jobs, there was no time. We ended up chowing down a couple of bánh mì sandwiches from a great little takeout place near the theater, which is right next to a concentration of Vietnamese restaurants and shops.

This particular deli, Ba Le, supposedly bakes the crusty baguette-style rolls that a lot of other restaurants purchase, so it was nice to go to the source. Bánh mì are all about the contrast between meaty ingredients like pate, ham, pork sausage, even head cheese, and fresh toppers like pickled veggies, fresh jalepenos and cilantro. These yummy sandwiches are definitely the new hotness, so try tracking them down in your neck of the woods.

We ended up having a really fun night, of course, with the sandwiches being a highlight. We probably should have just eaten quickly at home, but I cooked my little heart out the night before, so a break was warranted. I made my easy, easy fig jam and this summery couscous with the cutest mixed mini tomatoes ever. If you have produce like this around, it's an easy side dish for a weeknight meal.

Summer Tomato Couscous
A mix of little red, yellow, grape, pear, or cherry tomatoes gives you the contrast of flavors and textures that makes cooking with summer produce so nice: the cherry tomatoes are really sweet and wilt considerably, while the pale yellow pear tomatoes have a milder flavor and stay firm. You can do this with any baby tomatoes.

Serves 4

1 cup whole wheat couscous
Salt and pepper
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 bunch scallions, sliced
1 to 1 1/2 pints baby tomatoes
4 cloves garlic, chopped
Fresh herbs (like basil, mint or chives) for garnish, optional

Prepare couscous according to package directions and season to taste with salt and pepper. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the scallions and cooked 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionally until some begin to wilt. Add garlic and continue cooking 1 minute. Season to taste and remove from heat.

When couscous is done, fluff with a fork and transfer to a serving bowl. Gently stir in tomato mixture and fresh herbs if using. Serve right away.

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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Indian-Spiced Beet Soup

What you see above is the nicest day in Seattle ever. Mike and I were there last week to meet our new niece, who divides her time between eating, sleeping and being adorable. We spent most of the week in Bellingham, a couple hours north of Seattle, but we did spend our last night downtown where we had this awesome view from our hotel.

Even though we didn't do much eating in Seattle, I'm writing about it because we had a few incredible dishes I have to mention, and because Seattle inspired this velvety beet soup.

After reading this article about the egg craze among Seattle chefs, we were determined to try the lamburger meatball (there's a video clip in the article--watch and you'll understand) at Andaluca. It's a soft boiled egg wrapped in ground lamb. Enough said. The restaurant has a great tapas menu including a Middle Eastern-spiced meat patty made with juicy duck meat...really original.

On my sister-in-law's excellent recommendation, we ended up at Lola, where we had our favorite dish of the whole trip: grilled octopus with morel mushrooms, ramps and a poached egg on top (I think it's only on the menu while the veggies are in season). I've never seen so many of the northwest's seasonal morels in one dish, and the octopus was perfectly charred. We want to recreate this one at home, although we won't have the same gorgeous ingredients.

And finally, beet soup. You see a lot of beets in the Pacific Northwest (back me up on this, Seattlites?). That's fine with me, and the ubiquitous pairing with goat cheese is only common because it's truly delicious. Our first day home, we wanted a meal with lots of healthy veggies, so Mike suggested one of our favorite creamy soups...with beets. I'd never done anything with pureed beets, but I consulted a few cookbooks and learned that it works beautifully.

This particular recipe is adapted from Passionate Vegetarian and is loaded with Indian spices. I gave it a nice amount of heat too. No goat cheese in the soup, but I did save my beet greens and made a "northwest omelet" with the sauteed greens, garlic and plenty of chevre. I think the turmeric intensified the color and turned the soup more blood red than beet red. Consider this as part of a Halloween supper in a few months, perhaps.

Love your beets? Try this pink risotto, Double Beet Penne, Beet & Goat Cheese Salad, or Smoked Fish and Beet Salad.

Indian-Spiced Beet Soup
Adapted from Passionate Vegetarian by Crescent Dragonwagon
The cumin is a big flavor here, so I think toasting and grinding it fresh (with an electric spice grinder or mortar and pestle) is worthwhile. If that doesn't work for you, use 2 tsp. of ground cumin. Jalapenos aren't very hot (especially with seeds removed), but use the smaller amount if you need to keep the soup mild.

Serves 4 to 6

4 medium beets
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 1/2 medium red onions, chopped
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 to 3 jalapenos, seeded if desired and chopped
2 to 3 tablespoons minced fresh ginger (use smaller amount for less heat)
1 Tbs. cumin seeds, toasted for 3 minutes in a dry skillet and ground
1 tsp. ground turmeric
1 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper (or to taste)
7 cups reduced sodium vegetable broth
2 Tbs. honey
1 (14 oz.) can diced tomatoes (no salt added, if possible)
1/4 cup uncooked basmati rice
3/4 tsp. garam masala
Sour cream for serving
Chopped fresh cilantro for garnish

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Scrub and trim the beets, leaving 1 inch of stems attached. Wrap in a foil pouch and seal edges tightly. Roast on a baking sheet for 75 to 90 minutes, or until very tender. Open pouch and, when beets are cool enough to handle, rub the skin off with your fingers. Cut into small cubes.

While beets roast, make the soup: In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat the oil on medium low. Add the onions, season with salt and pepper, and cook until very soft, about 10 minutes. Add the jalapenos and ginger and cook 3 more minutes, stirring often. Add the cumin, turmeric, coriander and crushed red pepper and cook 2 minutes more, stirring continuously. Add the broth, tomatoes and 1 Tbs. of the honey and bring to a boil. Add the rice. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 25 minutes.

Add the chopped beets to the soup and remove from heat. Using a handheld immersion blender (or working in batches with a regular blender), puree until you have a smooth consistency. Put soup over medium-high heat and bring to a bare simmer. Stir in the garam masala and remaining honey. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed. If soup is thicker than you like, add a small amount of water. Ladle into bowls and garnish with sour cream and cilantro.

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Friday, March 13, 2009

Sicilian Broccoli Pasta

Moving over from Irish food to something completely different...Sicilian cuisine! Okay, I do not profess to be any sort of expert on this region of Italy, but I do know one thing: the Sicilians have mastered the balance of sweet and sour.

Have you ever eaten eggplant caponata? It's a relish-type spread often served on crusty bread and made with onions, tomatoes, capers, olives, peppers and of course eggplant; but, it gets its characteristic sweet and sour tang from raisins or sugar and red wine vinegar (here are a few versions). That's the flavor I was going for with this dish.

I threw it together on the fly as a side for boneless Parmigiano-crusted pork chops (recipe: dip in flour, dip in egg, dip in panko and parm, bake). I happened to have a good quantity of steamed broccoli on hand, and a little bit of one of my favorite whole wheat pastas (Bionaturae Chiocciole from Whole Foods) that had been hanging out in the pantry for months. You could toss in leftover chicken pieces and turn the pasta into a main course or add more veggies for a vegetarian meal.

I hope I've inspired you to try this Sicilian-style pasta, but I want to know if anyone out there has gotten into the St. Patrick's Day spirit with some Irish food yet? I'm thinking about making my Irish Potato Chowder tonight and throwing in some scallops I have in the freezer. I'm hoping it will happen, provided I have enough energy to cook on a Friday night!

Sicilian Broccoli Pasta
I used about 5 ounces of pasta, but there's roughly enough sauce to dress about half a pound. The ingredient amounts can be stretched or even doubled if you want to make a bigger batch.

Serves 2

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 to 8 ounces whole wheat pasta, such as penne or chioccoli
1 Tbs. olive oil
1/2 small red onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 (14 oz.) can diced tomatoes, preferably unsalted
1/4 cup raisins
1 to 2 Tbs. red wine vinegar
2 to 3 tsp. sugar
2 to 3 cups steamed broccoli

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, salt liberally and cook pasta according to package directions or until al dente.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper and cook until tender and lightly browned. Add the garlic and cook 1 to 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and bring to a simmer. Add the raisins, 1 Tbs. vinegar and 2 tsp. sugar. Simmer until slightly thickened and season with salt and pepper to taste. Add additional vinegar and or sugar until the sweet and sour flavor is balanced to your liking. Stir in broccoli to heat through.

Transfer cooked pasta to a large bowl and add the sauce. Toss gently to combine and serve.

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Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Roasted Beet Risotto

Let's do a quick, informal survey.

Do you make risotto?

A yes or no in the comments will suffice, but I'd love to hear when you turn to this creamy, satisfying rice dish and what your favorite additions are. And if the answer is no, why not? I'm not one to cook rice as a side dish all that often, although I do like brown rice flavored with scallions and garlic. When it comes to risotto, however, I hardly put it on the same plane with simple steamed rice.

From the method of cooking, to the rich, toothsome end result, risotto is more than just a grain dish. Most of the time, I made it the main meal. I like to add poached chicken, but shrimp or roasted veggies are nice. If you do want to make risotto a side dish, then I think you may as well make it memorable. I usually try to avoid gushingly purple prose when describing food, but what can I say? Stained a striking hot pink and bejeweled with roasted beets, this risotto is a stunner.

Unlike the red wine risotto with arugula I made a while ago, this version gets all its gorgeous magenta color from fresh roasted beets. The recipe has no twists whatsoever; it's risotto 101. You can roasted the beets a day or a few hours ahead. It's an extra step, but it couldn't be easier. If you've only had canned beets (I still like tossing the shredded ones in salad), you'll love the clean, earthy taste of fresh ones.

I made this risotto to go with steaks for a fantastic Valentine's Day dinner that actually happened the day after. Because it's an all-veggie risotto, I think it's well suited for a side. But no one would mistake it for an afterthought.

I found this recipe on the Gourmet magazine website and was sold by their (much more beautiful than above) photo. I cut the recipe in half and omitted the wine, which I tend to do if I don't have an open bottle of white. If you want to make this vegetarian, use mushroom broth instead of chicken. Here's an old post of mine describing the basic risotto technique, with step-by-step photos. And here is one of my all-time favorites, Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto with Mushrooms.

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Mushroom-Barley Soup with Kale

This is what you need for those between-party days during the holiday season. These are days when your meals are not comprised of hors d'oeuvres, cocktails and cookies. No, these are the days when you have the luxury of cooking a simple, healthy homemade meal to get your body rested and ready for the next festivity.

The kale gets a head start in the pot before quick-cooking barley is added. In the meantime, I saute a whole lot of mushrooms and add them to the soup at the very end. This helps maintain their texture and flavor--mushrooms really don't benefit from being simmered for any length of time. It's as simple as that.

And just in case you are on the Christmas-Cookie Diet, there was a great article in the New York Times on Wednesday about how to handle your butter for better baking. There are some great tips, so check it out!

Mushroom-Barley Soup with Kale
You could certainly throw in meat or beans to add some protein. Try chicken or crumbled turkey sausage.

Serves 4

2 Tbs. olive oil, divided
1 onion, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 cloves garlic, chopped
Pinch of chili flakes, or to taste
4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
2 cups water
12 oz. chopped kale
1 heaping cup quick-cooking barley
8 oz. white mushrooms, sliced
8 oz. portobello caps, sliced and chopped into bite-size pieces
2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

In a Dutch oven or large saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil on medium-high. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper, and cook until tender and browned. Add garlic and chili flakes and cook 1 minute.

Add the broth and water. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low and add the kale. Cover and simmer 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the barley, cover and cook 15 minutes or until barley is tender. (If the package directions call for a longer or shorter cooking time for your barley, adjust accordingly.)

Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and cook until they release their liquid, stirring often. Raise the heat to high and continue cooking until liquid evaporates and mushrooms are tender and lightly browned. When barley is finished cooking, add the mushrooms. Remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

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Sunday, December 07, 2008

Apple, Pomegranate and Honey Salad

Did I mention that I made two Thanksgiving dinners before Thanksgiving? If you've read the last few weeks' posts, you know that I wanted to try out new side dishes and roast my own turkey at home before I went to have the real holiday with my family in Connecticut.

So, instead of making a huge spread just for me and Mike at home, I had one meal consisting of turkey and a couple of other dishes, and another meal of substantial sides like cornbread-chorizo stuffing and this seasonal salad.

If a side salad requires any effort at all, I save it for a special occasion. Our stand-by everyday salad is just baby greens, red onions and diced tomatoes dressed with a splash of olive oil and either balsamic or lemon. This is definitely a bit more special. I think this would be a beautiful addition to a Hanukkah spread--I know honey and pomegranates often pop up on Jewish holiday menus. Replacing the apple with avocado would also play up the Hanukkah theme.

The honey dressing here adds a nice sweet note. I used raspberry vinegar, but if you only have red wine vinegar in your pantry (or Sherry vinegar), use that by all means. The type of lettuce you use is flexible too, although I wouldn't go with anything too peppery, like arugula. One thing you shouldn't substitute or skip is the fresh mint. I'm a fan of this herb in many dishes, but even a little bit adds a wonderful bright hit of flavor that complements the pomegranates and apples. Even if you don't make this part of a holiday meal, it's a great way to use in-season pomegranates in a tasty, healthy way.

Apple, Pomegranate and Honey Salad

Cut the pomegranate in half crosswise and submerge one half in a bowl of water while you remove the seeds by hand. The seeds will sink to the bottom so you can lift any flesh out of the bowl, then strain the seeds. This method also keeps the juice from staining your work surface.

Serves 4

For salad:
2 small heads Boston lettuce, or other mild-tasting lettuce, leaves separated and torn into bite-size pieces (about 6 cups leaves)
1 Fuji apple, thinly sliced
1/3 cup very thinly sliced red onion
1/2 pomegranate, seeded
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons sunflower seeds
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint

For dressing:
2 tablespoons canola
2 tablespoons raspberry vinegar
1 tablespoons honey

In a large bowl, combine lettuce, about 3/4 of apple slices (save the rest for a snack), onion and pomegranate seeds. Combine all dressing ingredients in a small jar with a tight lid and shake well until emulsified. Drizzle about 3/4 of the dressing over salad and toss. Season with salt and pepper. Add additional dressing if necessary. Add the sunflower seeds and mint and toss again. Arrange salad on individual plates and serve.

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Silky Chestnut Soup

The next Thanksgiving recipe from last weekend's cooking extravaganza is this easy, healthy chestnut soup. I love chestnuts, and now that they are easy to find pre-roasted in jars, cans or vacuum packs, you can enjoy them without the doing the roasting yourself.

Several years ago, I got the notion to roast some fresh chestnuts and nearly blinded myself. I forgot to cut slits in the skin to let the air out, so the nuts exploded in my face when I took the baking sheet out of the oven. It was harrowing (and really funny, after the shock). Suffice it to say, I don't roast chestnuts anymore.

But I love them as much as ever. They go in one of my favorite stuffings and they are great with Brussels sprouts. A lot of recipes for chestnut soup use cream, but this one gets a silky texture simply from pureeing the chestnuts with onions, leeks and chicken broth. There are a few other ingredients but that's basically it.

We had a lot of ideas about how to play around with this soup. Instead of brandy, you could use sherry or fruit brandy. You could add milk to give it some creaminess and lighten the color. You could garnish it with creme fraiche (as much as I love using Greek yogurt as a garnish, the creme fraiche would be just right in this particular case). Speaking of garnish, the chopped chestnuts that turn crispy from a quick saute are delicious, so don't skip that step!

Silky Chestnut Soup
Adapted from this recipe by Alex Urena for Food & Wine magazine

Serves 4 as a first course

3 tablespoons canola oil
One 14-ounce vacuum-packed jar of cooked and peeled chestnuts (2 1/2 cups)
1 medium onion, minced
1 leek, white and tender green parts only, halved lengthwise and sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 teaspoons honey
4 cups chicken stock or canned low-sodium broth (or vegetable broth)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon Cognac or brandy
1 tablespoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add 7 of the chestnuts and cook until crisp and browned, stirring often. Remove from pan and cool. Finely chop and set aside.

Add the onion and leeks to the pan, season with salt and pepper, and cook until vegetables are tender and lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Add the honey and stir well. Add the broth and remaining chestnuts, cover, and simmer 10 minutes.

Puree soup in a blender, working in batches. Taste for seasoning. May be covered and refrigerated at this point for 24 hours. To serve, return soup to the pot and reheat. Add the brandy or Cognac, and garnish with reserved chopped chestnuts and parsley.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Cranberry Sauce with Pears and Ginger

I had a two-day Thanksgiving feast this past weekend. I'm going to celebrate the actual holiday in Connecticut with family, but since Thanksgiving food is so fun to cook (and eat), I like to do a meal for me and Mike. That way, I get to try out whatever recipes I want, and we get to have our own leftovers!

Of course, having this blog is also great motivation to do a Thanksgiving trial run. In the next week, I'll post all the recipes I tried this weekend. One fabulous cornbread stuffing recipe came straight from Gourmet magazine and another was an online find, but the rest are originals. Everything we made was delicious, and I'm glad I decided to go all-new, rather than repeating any old favorites (like this chestnut stuffing).

The first one I'm posting is this cranberry sauce that I put together after reading many other cranberry sauce recipes. None were quite what I wanted. This uses slightly less sugar than the norm, but it's not at all too tart. The sweetness gets balanced out by the savory flavors of diced jalapenos and garam masala. The prominent flavor of fresh ginger is fantastic and completes the slightly Indian vibe.

I'm not sure which recipe from the weekend is my favorite, but I have to say that we loved this cranberry sauce. It's my favorite ever. Mike said it was "really interesting," and he meant that as a big compliment--which I loved! It's also great on sandwiches or, honestly, just eaten with a spoon.

Cranberry Sauce with Pears and Ginger

The spice of the fresh ginger is the big flavor in this not too sweet cranberry sauce. If you don't like the taste of fresh ginger, use half the amount. Garam masala is a mild Indian spice blend that you can find at ethnic markets and large supermarkets. This is a quick recipe, but it requires 3 hours of chilling time (you can always speed things up with the freezer though).

12 oz. fresh or frozen defrosted cranberries
1 pear, cored and chopped into 1/3-inch pieces
1 Tbs. finely minced fresh ginger
2 small jalapeno chiles, seeded and finely diced
1/4 cup water
Zest of 1 lime
Juice of 1/2 lime (about 1 Tbs.)
2/3 cup sugar
1 tsp. garam masala
1/4 tsp. salt

Add all ingredients to a large saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook 7 to 9 minutes, or until cranberries pop, pears soften and mixture thickens. Stir often to prevent sticking on the bottom of the pan. Transfer to a serving dish or storage container and chill uncovered for 3 hours. May be made up to 2 days ahead; cover after 3 hours. Serve chilled.

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Monday, July 14, 2008

Greek-Style Silky Braised Greens

I bet you were expecting something jazzier than braised greens (like a recipe for grain alcohol, perhaps?), after my yammering about work deadlines in my previous post. I submitted my third and last assignment on Sunday afternoon, finally crossing the finish line of my week of deadlines. I made myself a vodka-cranberry thing (not quite a cosmo, not quite standard mixed drink) and read the slightly outdated issue of Us Weekly that my neighbor sometimes leaves by the elevators for public consumption.

I didn't celebrate the final deadline with my favorite pineapple-rum drink, but I did find a great name for it thanks to a lovely reader. Though I really like Diana's suggestion to call it the "Deadline Chaser," I have to go with Mallika's name: the Pina Libre, honoring my freedom from deadlines. Thanks to everyone who left their thoughts on summer cocktails in the comment section!

I know greens don't sound very exciting, but before you click me away (god, I haven't lost you already, have I?), humor me for a minute. These are the most luscious greens I've ever had, and I'm not just exaggerating for effect here. Cooked for about 20 to 30 minutes, longer than seems prudent, these greens go luxuriously silky. But that's not all.

While your greens simmer away, you caramelize some red onions and make a lemony, garlicky yogurt sauce. Caramelized onions can make anything taste incredible, but yogurt on hot greens? It's a revelation. I got the idea from a recipe on for beet greens with yogurt and onions. I knew it would be a winner when I saw the source: The Glorious Foods of Greece, a book by Diane Kochilas, an authority on Greek cooking whose book, Meze, I own and really like.

I made the yogurt sauce (almost) according to the recipe, but I made some changes to the other elements like using a little less fat and cooking my greens much longer. I used a bunch of Swiss chard and mustard greens, which was a very complementary match. The mustard greens have a spicy (mustardy, actually) bite and tougher texture, and the chard is soft and mellow.

I was so infatuated with this dish that I made it again a week later using turnip greens and spinach (I buy whatever looks good). The turnips greens made it less silky than my first version, but the dish was still wonderful. How do you like to cook greens? If you are a vegetable lover, but have never slowly braised hearty greens, you must give this a try!

Greek-Style Braised Greens
Adapted from The Glorious Foods of Greece by Diane Kochilas
Use any greens that look good. I like to combine, a milder green with a bitter or spicy one. Creamy Greek yogurt is essential; I like Fage nonfat. If you don't like raw garlic, you can leave it out of the yogurt sauce. Za'atar is a middle eastern spice blend of sumac, thyme, sesame seeds and salt. We made some to go with our pita bread and discovered that it was delicious with the greens too. This is great with vegetables, sausage, or grilled meat, like my marinated lamb kabobs.

Serves 2 to 4

2 tbs. olive oil, divided
1 1/2 tbs. unsalted butter, divided
6 cloves garlic, slivered, divided
1 to 1 1/2 pounds hearty greens (chard, mustard, collard, turnip, kale, spinach, beet)
1/2 to 1 cup chicken broth or water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tbs. lemon juice
6 oz Greek yogurt
1 red onion, thinly sliced into half circles
Za'atar for serving (optional)

Heat half the oil and half the butter in a large, heavy saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add 5 cloves of the garlic and cook until golden. Add the greens, in 2 batches if necessary, and stir to coat with the oil. Add enough broth or water to cook the greens without scorching the pot (about 1/4 to 1/2-inch deep). Season with salt and pepper, cover and steam for about 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until all the greens are wilted and soft. Remove lid and braise 10 to 15 minutes, or until any stems are completely tender and liquid is almost totally evaporated. Greens should look almost overcooked; some greens will take less time, but it's hard to truly over do it.

Meanwhile, crush the remaining garlic clove in a mortar (or garlic press, or with a heavy object), add the lemon juice and let is soak for a few minutes. Stir lemon and garlic into the yogurt and season with salt and pepper.

Saute onions, seasoning with salt and pepper, in remaining oil and butter over low heat until soft and browned, 10 to 15 minutes.

To serve, transfer greens to plates with a slotted spoon; top with caramelized onions, yogurt sauce and za'atar, if using.

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Smoky Lentils with Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Yesterday, I felt like eating something filling and hearty. The day turned dark and tropical-stormy (still 87 degrees though), so a big pot of lentils was exactly the kind of thing I wanted simmering away in my kitchen.

During the week when my husband travels for work, I often eat vegetarian meals because I don't feel like going to the trouble of wrangling meat for myself (as if I'm out killing fresh chickens like Renee Zellweger in Cold Mountain). Anyway, I might do something with fish, but otherwise it's mainly vegetables, beans, pasta and grains for me (and eggs--I'm a fool for eggs lately).

With the hot summer weather, I haven't thought about lentils in awhile, but they are one of my favorite easy dinners. I love them in soups or alongside chicken sausage or salmon. Unlike other legumes, there's no pre-soaking, and they cook in about half an hour.

Lentils are hearty fare, but to make them a true main course, I added diced sweet potatoes that I roasted separately and added at the end. You could add a bit more broth and simmer the potatoes with the lentils, but roasting makes them nicely browned on the outside and gives you the chance to season them separately.

I find that brown lentils have a sort of natural earthy sweetness by themselves, which I played up by adding smoky cumin and mild chile powder. To balance out all the sweetness, I made my favorite green--deliciously bitter broccoli raab--to eat on the side. I wasn't planning to share this simple everyday meal on the blog, but it was so tasty, I had to.

Smoky Lentils with Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Okay, I didn't go totally vegetarian--I used chicken broth. But, I would just as readily use vegetable broth, especially since I started buying the Kitchen Basics brand. Their dark, rich vegetable broth is head and shoulders above other supermarket brands, and their broths have less sodium too. I didn't measure my spices when I made this, so I'm giving estimates here. For the lentils, just use a bit more cumin than chile, and feel free to adjust.

Serves 4

For the potatoes:
cooking spray
2 to 3 sweet potatoes (about 1 pound when peeled)
Mild red chile powder to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

For the lentils:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 large red onion, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 or 4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon mild chile powder
2 2/3 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup brown lentils

To make the potatoes, preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil and coat with cooking spray. Pile on the sweet potatoes, coat them with cooking spray (you could use olive oil for this, but I was going for low-cal and fast) and season with chile powder, salt and pepper. Roast for about 20 minutes, stirring once, or until potatoes are tender and browned in spots.

To make lentils, heat the oil in a large, heavy saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper, and cook until soft and starting to brown. Add the garlic, cumin and chile powder. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring continuously. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Add the lentils, season with salt and pepper (keep it light, you can add more later), and reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until lentils are tender, but not mushy. Stir in the roasted sweet potatoes and serve.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Review: The Summertime Anytime Cookbook and Mushroom and Leek Soup

Summer may not officially begin until the solstice on June 20, but what we consider the summer season in the United States kicks off on Memorial Day weekend. So naturally, now is a great time to talk about a new summer-themed cookbook. Written by Dana Slatkin, chef at Shutters on the Beach, a restaurant in Santa Monica, California, The Summertime Anytime Cookbook has some simple, fresh ways to do California cuisine even if ocean breezes don't necessarily blow your way.

The book is full of color photos of many recipes, plus a few beach shots that will make you sigh on a chilly night. The organization is novel, grouping recipes into chapters that evoke a certain mood or occasion: Sunny Days, Cloudy Days, Balmy Nights, Stormy Nights and Misty Mornings. At first I thought the concept was a little silly, but I quickly began to enjoy thinking about the dishes with this mindset. It's a neat trick that provides a context in which you'll view the recipes. Flipping past chicken breasts with smoky lentils; butter bean salad with oven-dried tomatoes, black olives and pesto; and apple-jack (as in Monterey jack cheese) pie with ginger custard sauce in the Stormy Nights chapter, I envisioned myself in a warm kitchen as the wind whips outside and rain lashes the windows making Slatkin's radicchio soup with smoked mozzarella cheese.

The majority of the recipes are simple and easy to pull off even if you don't have access to fabulous California produce. If ingredient substitutions are not suggested, the casual, easy-going feel of the book should encourage you to swap broccoli for broccolini or frozen corn for fresh. I like the advice Slatkin gives in the headnotes to the recipe for wild mushroom and leek soup:

This soup is pure mushroom indulgence. Once pureed, it is so creamy that you could easily omit the cream and never miss it.

Oh, you don't say. If you recall my love for pureed veggie soups, you can understand why I chose this recipe (provided below) to try out. I was skeptical about the level of "pure mushroom indulgence" I was going to experience, but I can honestly say that the soup was simply, deliciously mushroom-y, as promised. With no cream, it was still thick and rich, if not a very lovely color. Swirl some sour cream on top and it's perfectly presentable. Very easy and definitely something I will make again.

I also tried a "Cloudy Days" recipe for lemon-ginger string beans, which was a new-to-me, yet low-maintenance, version of a vegetable I don't usually get excited about. Scattered throughout the book are cute bits of Martha Stewart-ish lifestyle advice on "beach table chic" or "six uses for a bucket of sand." These bonus tidbits might be an added draw to some people, but the collection of 130 recipes plus photos doesn't need much enchancement. I'm looking forward to reliving the California vibe of my formative years (I grew up just south of Santa Monica) by making Tomatillo, Chile and Bean Chowder; Truffle-Scented Salmon with Mustard Vinaigrette; and Strawberry-Rhubard Cobbler (desserts aren't neglected here, including fruit-focused treats, as well as things like Peanut-Butterscotch Crunch Bars).

If summertime can be an escape from work, routine and responsibility, this book plays off that mystique to create a culinary escape. Through the accessible recipes, you can transport yourself to a Southern California beach, basking in the sun and reveling in the moist, salty air. This is a book you'll be happy to curl up on the couch dreaming of vacation with, or turn to for new salad ideas, simple fish dishes or inspiration for your haul of summer produce.

Wild Mushroom and Leek Soup
Adapted from The Summertime Anytime Cookbook by Dana Slatkin

If you want to use heavy cream, add one cup along with the sherry. Pacific Foods makes a very good mushroom broth available at Whole Foods market and many other stores. For vegetable broth, lately I've been loving the rich, dark version made by Kitchen Basics, available in supermarkets. Any kinds of mushrooms would be good; I used a mix of portobella, white and shiitake.

1 tbs. unsalted butter
1 tbs. olive oil
1 1/2 lbs. mushrooms, chopped
3 to 4 large leeks, white and light green parts, chopped
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Pinch cayenne pepper
6 cups mushroom broth or low-sodium vegetable broth
2 tbs. dry sherry or lemon juice
sour cream for serving
chopped fresh chives for serving

In a large pot, heat the butter and oil over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and cook until they release their juices, then raise the heat to medium high and cook until liquid evaporates and mushrooms are soft and beginning to brown.

Reduce heat to medium, add the leeks and cook until soft. Season with salt, pepper and cayenne. Add the broth, bring soup to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Add the sherry and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes so vegetables get very soft and flavors develop. If you think too much liquid is evaporating, cover the pot for a portion of this time.

Puree soup in batches in a blender (I used an immersion blender, but I think a traditional blender may give a smoother texture--it's up to you). Return soup to the pot and heat thoroughly without boiling to avoid splatters. Ladle into bowls and garnish with sour cream and chives.

The Summertime Anytime Cookbook was sent to me for review by the publisher, Clarkson Potter.

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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Creamy Fava Bean Soup with Mint

Does that photo of a simple (yet elegantly presented) soup get you excited? Not really? Well, it should! No, it's not a fudgy brownie or a tender scone, but it's been making me incredibly happy lately.

Since I made this Carrot-Curry Soup, I've been having a field day with my immersion blender. And to think I would never have purchased such a gadget if left to my own devices. It was actually given to me by the kitchenwares buyer when I worked in the corporate advertising office of Filene's, the venerable department store chain in the Northeast that has since been absorbed by Macy's. I worked as an assistant buyer there right after college, then moved to advertising and had to deal with buyers who loved to drive me crazy by changing the items, prices or photos they wanted to feature in the print ads and catalogues we produced.

Anyway, this little immersion blender was one of the many samples used for photo shoots that were always laying around the buying offices. This was about 6 years ago, and it's only recently that I've truly learned to love my blender. You can make pureed soups in a regular blender, in batches, but a hand-held model does the job in no time with less potential for mess.

So, I've been making pureed soups every chance I get. I did a nice one with celeriac which tasted vibrantly of celery (shocking), but it was an even duller green color than the picture above, so I didn't post it. The thing about soups like this is that you don't need a recipe after you try it once or twice--you can just choose any vegetables or legumes that take well to being pureed (anything too seedy, fibrous or stringy may not work; or it may need straining), combine them with herbs and spices of your choice, add some diced potato or cauliflower for incredible creaminess with a neutral flavor, and go crazy! I'm in love with the creamy texture I can create with just potato or cauliflower and not a drop of cream.

In this particular soup, fava beans add quite a bit of creaminess on their own, so I went with cauliflower instead of starchier potato as my thickener. The flavor is mild, like fava beans, and it's nicely underscored with fresh rosemary. Don't skip the sprinkling of fresh mint or drizzle of lemon juice; with such a simple soup, it's the little things that take it from basic to memorable. Mint is an incredible accompaniment to vegetables--it's a classic with peas, and I've been loving omelets with sauteed zucchini, goat cheese and mint. And finally, I always serve my creamy vegetable soups with either sour cream or yogurt swirled in. The cool tang elevates the other flavors, and it looks beautiful.

Creamy Fava Bean Soup with Mint

Whole Foods markets sell great frozen, shelled fava beans year round. If you can’t find frozen (or fresh), use lima beans. This soup gets its amazingly creamy texture from the pureed beans as well as cauliflower, which has a neutral flavor in this soup. Make it vegetarian--use vegetable instead of chicken broth.

Makes 4 main course servings

1 tbs. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tbs. fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
5 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 head cauliflower, trimmed and florets chopped into approx. 1-inch pieces
2 1/2 cups frozen, shelled fava beans, or lima beans
Juice of 1/2 to 1 lemon (2 to 3 tbs.)
Yogurt or sour cream
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring frequently until onion is soft and golden. Add the garlic and rosemary and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add broth and cauliflower and season with salt and pepper; cover and bring to a simmer. Cook for 15 minutes or until cauliflower is tender; add fava beans and cook for 5 to 8 minutes more, or until heated through and tender.

Remove pan from heat and puree using a hand held immersion blender (alternatively, puree in batches in a regular blender). Return to low heat, but do not simmer, or soup might splash out of the pot. Add 2 tablespoons lemon juice; taste and adjust seasoning and/or add more lemon juice, according to taste. Ladle into bowls and dollop with yogurt or sour cream and sprinkle with mint.

Here are some more soup recipes from the archives...I love them all.

Creamy Eggplant-Lentil Soup
Quinoa Soup with Spinach and Corn
Golden Split Pea Soup with Leftover Ham
Green Lentil Soup with Indian Spices and Coconut Milk (scroll down)
Vegetable Barley Soup with Poached Egg

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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Carrot Curry Soup and Cornmeal Biscuits

I’ve always been one to favor chunky soups over smooth, creamy purees. Probably because I was afraid the purees contained an unholy amount of actual cream. I’ve recently figured out that this is not the case. Simply pureeing vegetables will give you a thick, satisfying texture with little or no cream.

I’ll just say up front that I love this carrot soup. It is so thick, rich and loaded with curry flavor. It is mostly made of carrots (shocking, I know) simmered with cumin seeds, red curry powder and some potatoes, which provide extra body and creaminess. Once all your veggies are peeled, it’s really easy, too.

I started with a carrot soup recipe from Once Upon a Tart, a cookbook I really like (and have used mostly for scone recipes and this soup). I opted for coconut milk (reduced fat works fine) to give the soup just a little extra creamy oomph and some more Asian flavor. I honestly thought I would need to punch up the seasoning at the end, but the curry and cumin flavor is perfectly assertive and balanced.

Soup demands bread, rolls or biscuits on the side, so I made these cornmeal biscuits from Cooking Light. For a lighter recipe, they worked really well AND you can make them easily in one bowl; you don’t have to bother with a pastry blender either, just work the very cold butter in with your fingers. The only change I made was to use all whole wheat pastry flour instead of half AP, half whole wheat. Also, they needed a good 4 or 5 extra minutes in the oven.

If you’re celebrating Easter today, have fun! I think I’ve made lamb for the past 3 or 4 years, but today we’re cooking all Asian food. As has been customary for the past 3 years, we were awakened at 6:30am by some lunatic in our building who plays Christian rock CD’s excessively loudly (penetrating ear plugs loud) once a year on this day…awesome. And by that I mean, not awesome.

Carrot Curry Soup
Adapted from Once Upon a Tart by Frank Mentesana and Jerome Audureau

I like the flavor and medium-spicy heat level of Spice Islands red curry powder. If you have a very spicy curry powder, use the lower amount.

Serves 4 to 6

1/2 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large white onion, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped fine (about 2 tablespoons)
1 generous teaspoon cumin seeds
2 to 3 teaspoons red curry powder
2 pounds carrots, peeled and chopped
1 pound russet potatoes, peeled and chopped (about 2 small)
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth, plus up to 1 cup additional for thinning soup
1 (14 oz.) can coconut milk (lowfat or regular), divided
2 fat lime wedges, plus additional for serving
chopped cilantro, for garnish

Heat the butter and oil in a large soup pot over medium-low heat; add the onion, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally until very soft and lightly browned, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the ginger, cumin seeds and curry powder; cook for about 3 more minutes, stirring continuously. Add the carrots and potatoes; stir for 2 minutes. Add 3 cups of the chicken broth and 1 cup of the coconut milk. Season again with salt and pepper, as desired. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to maintain a steady simmer and cooked, covered, until carrot and potato is very soft, 20 to 30 minutes.

Remove from heat and use a hand-held immersion blender to puree soup. You can also do this in batches in a blender. You should have a very thick consistency. Return to low heat and add the remaining coconut milk, reserving about 3 tablespoons for garnish. Add up to 1 additional cup of chicken broth to get the consistency you want. Squeeze in the juice from the 2 lime wedges. Taste and add more salt and pepper or lime juice as needed.

Ladle into bowls and drizzle with coconut milk in a swirl pattern. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve with lime wedges.

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Sunday, February 03, 2008

Healthy, Easy Spanish Tortilla

I can't really say breakfast is my favorite meal because I love ALL good meals. But, I do enjoy making breakfast food. I like waffles and crepes, but we don't make them too often, so it's all the more fun when we do. I love quick breads, especially scones. I adore pancakes, though this is probably the breakfast item that gets the most abuse. Don't give up on pancakes, even if you've been served one too many that had the weight and texture of a flat tire. Light, thin cakes mixed with a light touch and topped with maple syrup are one of life's great breakfasts.

When it comes to egg-centric breakfast dishes, there's hardly anything I don't like. One of my standards is eggs over easy with runny yolks, buttered toast and a roasted vegetable, preferably asparagus or zucchini. When we want something that involves a little bit more ceremony, my favorite thing to make is a frittata. I've written about frittatas before, and they're a mainstay in my cooking repertoire because they're incredibly easy, good for any meal, not only breakfast, and adaptable to any ingredients you have on hand.

It wasn't until just recently, though, that I got a handle on the Spanish version of frittata, known as tortilla. The traditional version doesn't need anything more than eggs and sliced potatoes, but you'll also see them made with some onion and maybe peppers. Usually, the thinly sliced potatoes are pan-fried in a skillet using a considerable amount of olive oil. Not only is this less healthy, but it takes time and vigilance over your hot stove. I never bothered making tortilla because it seemed like a lot more work than a standard frittata.

When I had a bunch of leftover red potatoes one day, I decided I wanted to use them for a potato frittata. I would slice and roast them in the oven, then just proceed with my usual frittata method. It dawned on me that the finished product would ultimately be a Spanish tortilla, but a lot healthier and simpler--perfect!

I had half a jar of piquillo peppers, the hot-sweet pickled chiles that are a common Spanish ingredient. I cut those up and used them to add some color, and their kicky flavor turned out to be a nice match for the bland potatoes. Now, I use this method to make potato frittatas with any ingredients I want. The last one I did was with sauteed spinach, caramelized onions and feta. The potatoes turn the otherwise light frittata into a more substantial dish. If you have potatoes lying around along with the odd hunk of cheese and some vegetables in the fridge whose time is limited, you've the got the makings of a great frittata for any meal.

Spanish Tortilla or Potato Frittata
This, like any frittata recipe, is an approximation, not a scientific formula. You can add or take away an ingredient to suit your taste. You can make it with 6 eggs if your skillet is 8 to 10 inches, but I would not go with any less than that. Any type of potato will work here. If you can't find piquillo peppers, either leave them out, try roasted red peppers, or saute some thinly sliced fresh red bell pepper with the onion.

Serves 6

Nonstick cooking spray
3 or 4 small red potatoes, thinly sliced
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tsp. olive oil
1/2 large onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
8 eggs
1/2 cup drained and chopped piquillo peppers
Parsley, for serving

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spread the potatoes in single layer on a baking sheet coated with nonstick cooking spray. Lightly coat the potatoes with cooking spray and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 10-15 minutes or until tender.

Meanwhile, add the oil to a 9- to 12-inch oven safe skillet, preferably nonstick or cast iron, over medium heat. Cook the onions until soft and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and season with salt and pepper. Add the onion mixture and the piquillo peppers. Preheat your oven's broiler to high and position a rack about 6 to 8 inches away from the heat source. Generously coat the empty skillet with nonstick spray or olive oil and heat to medium-low. Arrange the roasted potato slices in overlapping concentric circles. Pour the egg mixture over the potatoes and cook until the eggs start to set around the edges. Tilt the skillet as you lift the edges of the tortilla with a spatula, letting the liquid egg run into the gaps. When most of the egg is set around the edges, transfer the skillet to the broiler. Cook until egg is just set in the center, about 2 to 5 minutes. It's fine if the tortilla browns a little on top, but watch closely because it can start to burn fast. Let tortilla rest for a few minutes, then serve sprinkled with fresh parsley.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Creamy Eggplant-Lentil Soup

Some things make great leftovers--lasagna, soups and stews, enchiladas. Other things, like risotto or shrimp n' grits, not so much. When you're cooking for one, it helps to go for the things that make great leftovers.

Mike just started a consulting project that requires him to fly to Hartford on Monday mornings, work at the client's offices during the week and get back to Fort Lauderdale on Thursday night. He's done projects that involved a lot of travel in the past, and it's the nature of his job. He doesn't mind the traveling and staying in a hotel, and I don't blame him--I'd rather do that than work in the same office, in the same cubicle, day after day without variation. He has a good gig.

What it means for me on a very practical level is that I don't have someone to cook for as often. Since Mike loves trying new dishes as much as I do, I feel bad making new and exciting things when he's not here. But what are you gonna do? Last week, I needed to cook, and there was a soup recipe in the February issue of Food & Wine that combined two of my very favorite foods--lentils and roasted eggplant. There are a couple lentil recipes on this blog, but that doesn't truly reflect how much I love lentils. They are my go-to ingredient when I want something satisfying and healthy.

This soup is not glamourous, but it is really good. I ate it for dinner three nights in a row, and I have to say that it grew on me. Night one was nice. On night two, I thought, yum, I like this. Night three--so creamy, so light yet filling, subtle yet flavorful--I'd make it again. I've never pureed lentils this way, and it really does create a creamy texture along with a little bit of milk. With a good slice of buttered bread, this is a tasty meal.

The actual recipe as printed in the magazine was lacking--the soup was begging for some aromatic vegetables so I worked in sauteed onion and garlic. The method was a little convoluted, so I tried to streamline it in my version. Finally, F&W tried to gussy it up with a fried sage leaf garnish. There is no way that I would get another pot dirty when I could garnish this soup with a sprig from my thyme plant. A perfect weeknight dinner for one.

By the way, I saved Mike some soup to try when he got home, and the review was good.

Creamy Eggplant-Lentil Soup
Adapted from this recipe in Food & Wine, February 2008
You can used any combination of dried herbs you like--try sage, rosemary, oregano, marjoram or mint. If you want to use fresh herbs instead, add them to the blender with the eggplant instead of sautéing them.

One 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 lb. eggplant, quartered lengthwise
Cooking spray
1 tbs. olive oil
1/2 medium onion
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup brown lentils
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth, divided
1 cup lowfat milk
1 tbs. lemon juice

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place the eggplant quarters, skin side down, on a foil-lined baking sheet and lightly coat with cooking spray. Season with salt and pepper and bake until eggplant flesh is lightly browned and very tender, about 25 to 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the lentils in the saucepan with 1/2 tsp. salt, add enough water to cover by about 2 inches and bring to a boil. Simmer until lentils are tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper, and add the spices. Cook, stirring often, until onion is soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 to 2 minutes more. Add onion mixture to a blender and set aside.

When eggplant is done, let it cool slightly, then scrape the flesh into the blender with the onion mixture. Add 1 cup of the chicken broth and puree until smooth. Transfer to the saucepan. Now, add the drained lentils to the blender along with the other cup of chicken broth and puree. Add to the saucepan with the eggplant mixture.

Stir the milk and lemon juice into the soup and bring to a simmer. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper as needed. Serve, garnished with fresh herbs if desired.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto with Mushrooms and Spinach

Do you have a trademark dish? In other words, a dish you know you’re good at and could make anytime, anywhere, probably without a recipe? I’m willing to bet anyone who likes to cook has at least one dish like this. Risotto is one of mine. The funny thing is, I recently realized that I only have one risotto dish on this blog. And I’ve never even shared one of my very favorite risotto recipes. Sorry about that.

I don’t remember the first risotto I made. I may have still been in high school because I think that’s when my mom starting making risotto. She would make it with sautéed chicken breast and vegetables, but she had to keep all the veggies separate from the rice. Although my sister loved risotto--and she didn’t really have anything against vegetables--she liked her chicken risotto plain. I can picture her spreading it to the edges of her plate so it would cool faster--a delicious, colorless meal.

I’m not a big fan of white rice, except for sushi, or with Indian food…okay maybe I do like white rice. But for me, risotto is in a whole different category. It is so creamy, yet toothsome, and satisfies your belly like regular steamed rice does not. I love this recipe because all the components are favorites of mine, especially the butternut squash. It requires roasting to caramelize it and bring out the sweetness, so this is a great cool weather risotto. No meat here, but it still makes a hearty main dish.

In my previous post for Fava Bean Risotto with Pancetta, I included some step-by-step photos if you’re a risotto newbie. Finally I’ll echo what Nigella Lawson writes in How to Eat, her first cookbook that I was skimming through last night. Risotto is not difficult. It’s actually quite forgiving unless you totally abandon it for extended minutes to risk scorched rice. Think of the stirring as a relaxing, meditative activity, and this could become one of your favorite meals to prepare too. I’ve included tips and detailed instructions in the recipe, so I won’t go on.

So, what are your trademark dishes? Let’s discuss in the comments.

Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto with Mushrooms

I like to use Arborio rice from Italy for risotto. I’ve tried domestic brands of risotto rice, but they never seem as creamy as the Italian brands. This is a fairly light risotto--you'll see recipe that have you finish the rice with butter or cream or more cheese, but I don't find it necessary. You can make this vegetarian by replacing the chicken broth with vegetable broth. If your grocery store sells peeled and chopped butternut squash, it might be worth the extra cost. It’s a bit of a hassle to peel yourself, so if your husband is sick of doing it for you this is a great option.

3 cups butternut squash, peeled and cut into half-inch pieces
2 1/2 tbs. olive oil, divided
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 tsp. dried thyme or rosemary
1 lb. Portobello mushrooms, sliced and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 tbs. unsalted butter, divided
1 large shallot, chopped (or 1 small onion)
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 1/4 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
6 to 8 oz. spinach leaves
Fresh thyme leaves and/or chopped parsley (optional)
Parmigiano-Reggiano, for serving

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil and coat with cooking spray. On the baking sheet, toss the butternut squash with about 1 tablespoon of olive oil, salt and pepper and dried thyme. Roast until tender and lightly browned, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat 1/2 tbs. olive oil and 1/2 tbs. butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and cook until their water nearly evaporates, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low and continue cooking until tender, about 3 more minutes. Set aside.

Heat the chicken broth (it does not have to boil) in a medium saucepan and keep warm over low heat.

In a large saucepan or soup pot, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1/2 tablespoon of butter over medium-low heat. Add the shallot and cook until soft but not browned. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly for 1 minute. Add the rice and stir constantly for 2 to 3 minutes until all the grains are slick and slightly opaque. Add the wine and simmer until almost completely absorbed.

Add two ladles full of broth to the risotto and bring to a simmer. Season with a bit of salt and pepper. Keep the risotto at a steady simmer, stirring continuously until the broth has evaporated almost completely. Add one ladle full of broth, stir until it is nearly evaporated, then add another ladle full. Continue simmering and stirring, adding broth as necessary, for about 22-24 minutes or until the rice is creamy and cooked through, but still firm to the bite. When the risotto is on its last ladle full of broth, add the spinach (I try to use as much as I can fit, but use the amount that looks right to you, remembering that the volume reduces considerably.). Stir until spinach is just wilted. Add the roasted squash and portobellos. Add the fresh herbs if using. Serve immediately, passing Parmigiano-Reggiano at the table. Check the seasoning and add more salt and pepper to taste.

You may not use all the broth. If you run out of broth, just use hot water to finish the risotto. It’s not absolutely necessary to stir for 22 minutes straight, but you don’t want to put down your spoon for too long or leave the risotto unattended and risk scorching.

Here are some more creative risottos from food blogs I read:

1) Meyer Lemon Risotto made with barley from 101 Cookbooks--I've been wanting to try risotto with different grains--love this!

2) Tomato Risotto with Fennel Seeds from Lucullian Delights--the fennel seeds made this simple dish so interesting.

3) Risotto with Beets from La Tartine Gourmande - Stunning--just look! And what an appealing mix of flavor and texture.

4) Gorgonzola, Rocket and Pear Risotto from The Passionate Cook - I love blue cheese with pears and we are crazy about rocket (or arugula if you don't live across the pond). Also check out the link's to Johanna's other seasonal risotto dishes, including one with chestnuts!

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Sunday, January 06, 2008

Quinoa Soup with Spinach and Corn

This soup is one of our favorite recent recipe discoveries. I’m happy to say that it came in its original form from another food blogger I recently discovered. I have been enjoying Nicole’s blog, Cucina Nicolina, and this soup attests to her culinary sensibility (I love fawning over other food blogs--you guys are endlessly inspiring!).

You know quinoa is good for you, right? It’s an ancient grain, a superfood, a complete protein and all that jazz. But none of that would be any comfort at all if the stuff wasn’t so delicious. I’ve been making steamed quinoa for a couple years now as a side dish, usually a pilaf. This is always very good, but I’ve never enjoyed quinoa as much as I do in this soup.

This recipe is for a very big batch, and I don’t recommend scaling it down. Not because you can’t, but because you’ll want a lot of this soup to eat for lunch, for a quick leftover dinner, whatever. A lot of liquid is required here because quinoa is like a sponge that never tires of soaking up anything in its wake. You’ll notice the soup continue to get thicker in the days after you make it. Just add a bit more liquid to get the consistency you want, or eat as is and enjoy the luxurious thickness.

The first time I cooked this soup, I thought it would need something more to add richness and substance, so we topped it with poached eggs. While this is really delicious and is vital to other soups such as this one, you just don’t need it to make the quinoa soup complete. The particular quality of starchiness in the quinoa thickens and enriches the broth enough on its own.

I know I’ve written about nothing else in this post but soup, so I’ll try to wrap it up quickly. Mike and I LOVE it. We’re not vegetarians, certainly not vegans, but we couldn’t ask for more than a bowl of this. Try it with the Honey Spelt Bread in the previous post. And by the way, it’s done from start to finish in under 30 minutes, and that’s if you’re fairly lazy about it.

Quinoa Soup with Spinach and Corn
Adapted from this recipe at Cucina Nicolina
I prefer chicken broth (especially Swanson’s low-sodium or Whole Foods regular), but you can certainly use vegetable broth if necessary. This soup is easy to play with, so add any dried or fresh herbs, or seasonings that sound good. If you really want to speed up the process, you could cook the mushrooms in a separate skillet while the quinoa is simmering.

Serves 7-8

2 tbs. olive oil, divided
1 lb. mushrooms, sliced (use white, Portobello, or a combination)
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 large red or white onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 3/4 cups quinoa
8 cups chicken broth
3 cups water
2 cups frozen or fresh corn
12-14 oz. spinach leaves
2 tbs. soy sauce

Heat 1 tbs. of the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring often, until the water they release nearly evaporates, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue cooking until lightly browned and soft. Remove to a bowl and set aside.

Add the remaining oil to the pot and heat to medium. Add the onions, season and cook until soft and browned, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic, cook for 2 minutes more and add the chicken broth. Cover and bring to a boil, then add the quinoa. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. Uncover and add the water and corn and return to a simmer. Add the spinach leaves a few handfuls at a time. Add the reserved mushrooms and soy sauce. Simmer for a few minutes to blend the flavors, taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper as needed. Serve as is, or with a poached egg on top.

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