Archive for the ‘Vegetables’ Category

Roasted Carrot Soup

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

My friend and I just yanked the remainder of my vegetable crop out of the earth this past weekend. Leeks and kale and a few hearty potatoes were strewn across my wooden table outside – waiting to be cleaned by a pending rainstorm. But I was most excited about the carrots.

Some were tinged with purple, others a pale white and others still the traditional, bright orange. I had planted a “multi-colored” packet of carrot seeds earlier this year and promptly forgotten about them. And when I started pulling them out of the ground I was momentarily dismayed at their appearance. Many, too many, were tiny. We’re talking #2 yellow pencil small. Others were extremely misshapen – looking like two-legged orange pantaloons rather than your average, sleek and straight carrot.

But the taste? They are sublime. The purple are the sweetest, followed quickly by orange. The white ones? While interesting to look at – a bit on the bitter side. So I wanted to find a recipe that would blend my bounty together. And Roasted Carrot Soup was just the ticket.

I can thank Martha for the recipe below. She knows how to keep it uncomplicated. And I simplified the recipe further – excluding the ginger in hopes of coaxing out a pure carrot taste. I also substituted Greek yogurt for heavy cream. Not out of any attempt to be virtuous, mind you. I just failed to pick it up at the store. And really, I think the soup holds up quite well without it.

The nice thing about carrot soup is its versatility. You can toss in some fresh ginger or roasted cumin or even a bit of dill. Make it creamy. Or don’t. The world is your oyster. Or your bright orange bowl of goodness, if you will.

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Roasted Carrot Soup

Yield: ~ 8 cups

Ingredients

  • 1 large onion
  • 1 generous bunch carrots (about 2 pounds or 6 cups), peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt, plus more for seasoning
  • Pinch of freshly ground pepper, plus more for seasoning
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 cups vegetable stock, plus more for thinning
  • Creme fraiche or Greek yogurt, for garnish (optional)

Instructions

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Cut onion into 8 wedges (keep root end intact to hold layers together). Toss onion, carrots, oil, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl. Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet, and spread in a single layer. If possible use separate pans for carrots and onions as the onions tend to roast more quickly. Roast vegetables, turning occasionally, until edges are deep golden brown, about 25-30 minutes.

Cut off root end from onion. Transfer all vegetables to a large saucepan, and add bay leaf. Add enough stock to just cover (about 4 cups). Bring to a simmer, and cook until carrots are very soft, about 30 minutes. Let cool slightly, and discard bay leaf.

Puree vegetables and stock in a blender until smooth (work in batches, if necessary, to avoid filling blender more than halfway).

Transfer puree to a clean pan; place over low heat. Add stock to thin soup to desired consistency. (I used about 2-3 cups of stock.) Season with salt and pepper. If desired, place a dollop of crème fraiche or Greek yogurt on top of each serving.

Corn & Roasted Poblano Chowder

Sunday, October 17th, 2010

I must come clean. I made this soup a few weeks ago and, in my haste, threw it directly into the freezer before writing about it. Not even one picture was snapped during its creation. I’ve had a number of “bigger issues” to focus on of late and I’m afraid I didn’t give this delectable soup its due. But it such a delicious dish – I felt the need to share. So – please forgive me for posting about this at the end of corn season. And for using a few stock images in place of the pictures I usually take myself. Hopefully your enjoyment of this chowder will more than make up for my behavior J

Fresh corn is easily at the top of my “favorite vegetables” list. Perhaps even my “favorite food” list. I ate it throughout the summer – fresh off the cob, roasted on the grill, stirred into casseroles. Sadly, I didn’t get around to making my favorite – fresh corn pudding. Next year… But I did manage to make a big batch of comforting soup.

The corn at the farmer’s market was ridiculously inexpensive so I bought about 12 ears and made a triple batch of Corn & Roasted Poblano Chowder. This is a lighter version than many I’ve tasted. Absent is the heavy cream and crispy bacon that grace many traditional chowders (both would be tasty additions should you want a more decadent bowlful). I wanted the corn to be the star – so I kept the fat content to a minimum and intensified the flavor – and the heat – by adding roasted poblano peppers.

Another trick – making my own stock. A friend recommended I reserve the cobs after removing all the kernels and throw them into a stock pot with some onions, carrots and whatever other vegetables I had on hand. I added the tops of the leeks I had laying around, covered everything with water and let it simmer for a few hours. After straining, I was left with a lightly sweet and savory vegetable broth that I froze for use throughout the winter.

The result of all this simmering and stewing is a healthy bowl of comfort food. Perfect for these crisp, cool days. Now I just need to find the perfect corn bread recipe to accompany it. Stay tuned!

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Corn & Roasted Poblano Chowder

Yield: 6 servings

  • 2 large poblano peppers
  • Olive oil cooking spray
  • 2  tablespoons  butter
  • 1  tablespoon  olive oil
  • 1 1/2  cups coarsely chopped leek (about 1 large)
  • 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2  cup finely chopped red bell pepper
  • 2  cups milk
  • 3  tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3  cups vegetable or chicken broth
  • 2  cups  fresh corn kernels (about 4 ears)
  • 2  pounds  cubed peeled Yukon gold or red potato
  • 1  teaspoon  salt
  • 1/4  teaspoon  freshly ground black pepper
  • Small bunch fresh cilantro (optional)

Instructions

Turn on the broiler. Liberally spray peppers with olive oil spray and place on foil-lined pan. Place under broiler for approximately 10 minutes – turning every few minutes to ensure even roasting. Once they are blackened – remove and place in brown paper bag and let sit for 10-20 minutes. Once cooled – remove all the blackened skin, cut open and remove seeds and cut into a small dice. Set aside.

Heat butter and oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add leek, onion and bell pepper; cook 4 – 6 minutes or until vegetables are tender, stirring frequently.

Combine milk and flour in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk. Slowly add milk mixture to the pot, stirring constantly. Stir in broth, corn, potato, salt, and freshly ground black pepper; bring to a boil. Stir in roasted poblano peppers. Reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes or until potato is tender.

Serve with chopped cilantro.

Soup’s On!

Tuesday, October 5th, 2010

I’ve been staring out my window at the last remnants of the kale for weeks – trying to figure out what to do with the lonely bunches of leaves scattered across my garden. I love kale – it’s earthy, chewy texture just tastes like nutrition incarnate. I didn’t always hold it in such regard. For years I thought of eating it as punishment. Bitter. Limp. Mushy. These are words that came to mind when thinking of this versatile green. Luckily I finally figured out how to prepare it and now it ranks as one of my favorite vegetables.

I spent weeks gazing at these leafy greens because there are just so many ways to prepare it. Kale chips – doused with olive oil, sprinkled with sea sat and roasted in a hot oven. Simply sautéed with garlic and fresh lemon. Stirred into mixed vegetable dishes. So many options. But I had what appeared to be a bushel of kale – both curly and lacinato (AKA dinosaur – which I prefer for it’s more delicate texture) growing in bunches in the garden. So I finally decided that soup was the ticket. Thick, rustic white bean soup featuring loads of the hearty, chewy leaves.

A quick review of recipes turned up a simple yet flavorful option. AND it features my favorite flavor enhancer – Parmesan cheese rinds! I’ve been cutting these ends off of my blocks of Parmigiano-Reggiano for months – storing them in the freezer. Just waiting for the perfect opportunity to make use of the salty, pungent slabs of rind.

This is the kind of soup that tastes best if made 1 or 2 days ahead. Just cool it and chill and then warm it back up when you’re ready to serve. It’s also an excellent candidate for freezing. It’s simply a bowl of health – filled with protein as well as anti-oxidant and vitamin-rich kale. Topped with a generous sprinkling of Parmigiano-Reggiano… it makes me almost welcome the chilly days of fall.

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Kale & White Bean Soup

Yield: 6-8 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 lb dried white beans such as Great Northern, cannellini, or navy
  • 2 yellow onions, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 5 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 quarts water
  • 1 (3- by 2-inch) piece Parmigiano-Reggiano rind
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)
  • 4 carrots, halved lengthwise and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 lb kale, stems and center ribs discarded and leaves coarsely chopped (lacitano is preferable – but use whatever kind you wish)

Instructions

Cover beans with water by 2 inches in a large pot and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and let stand, uncovered, 1 hour. Drain beans in a colander and rinse.

Cook onions in oil in an 8-quart pot over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add beans, broth, 1 quart water, cheese rind, salt, pepper, bay leaf, rosemary and crushed red pepper and simmer, uncovered, until beans are just tender, about 50 minutes.

Stir carrots into soup and simmer 5 minutes. Remove bay leaf and stir in kale and remaining quart water and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until kale is tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Season soup with salt and pepper. Remove cheese rinds before freezing or serving.

Note: while I think it’s perfectly delicious as is – you can spice this up by adding some sausage or pancetta to kick it up a notch. Just cook it up and add before tossing in the carrots.

Indian Curry

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

Ever since my inaugural chutney attempt, I’ve been looking for an appropriately delicious curry with which to pair it. And I think I found it. I’ve been making curries for years – relying solely on “curry powder” that comes in handy little jars from the grocery store. I’ve always known that a true curry, at least the Indian version*, is made from mixing a bunch of ingredients together to make up the famously vivid yellow sauce.  However I have been intimidated by the long list of exotic spices needed to make it authentic.

I’m happy to report that I finally overcame my insecurities. Thank goodness my friend Leslie reassured me that it’s really not that difficult. Yes, you need to purchase a number of spices – many that might not be all that familiar. And some funky looking ingredients like whole cloves and cardamom pods (pictured) are critical elements. But I urge you to head straight for Whole Foods – or any other grocery store that sells spices in bulk. Just grab a teaspoon of this and a tablespoon of that and voila! You’ll have all the spices needed to make this mouth-watering dish. And once you have all the ingredients – the preparation is a walk in the park.

The recipe below is for Indian Curry Sauce. I paired mine with roasted cauliflower, green beans and chickpeas. I also tossed in some fresh spinach before serving it over brown jasmine rice. And of course I topped it with my fresh peach chutney and a smattering of flaked coconut.  This sauce would pair very well with chicken or shrimp. And I’ve no doubt you can rustle up some pretty decent pre-made chutney – a mandatory accompaniment in my book.

Namaste!

Curry Sauce
Yield: enough sauce for ~ 8 servings (you can freeze half for later use)

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic – crushed
  • 2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
  • 4 teaspoons turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon cardamom powder
  • 2 tablespoons crushed coriander seeds
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 10 cardamom pods
  • 10 whole cloves
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar (to taste)

Instructions:

Heat oil in a large sauté pan and add diced onions. Sauté approximately 5 minutes on medium high and then add crushed garlic and grated ginger. Continue to cook over low heat for another 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, measure out turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom powder, coriander, cumin, cayenne pepper and salt and mix together. Add spice mixture to sautéed onions and cook over low 10-15 minutes. (Note – be prepared to have your cooking implements stained a vivid yellow by the turmeric!)

Add cardamom pods and cloves along with coconut milk and yogurt and simmer for approximately 20 minutes. I used Greek yogurt which has a lower water content than regular yogurt – so I added about a half a cup of water to loosen up the curry sauce. Taste and adjust seasonings – adding a bit of sugar will enhance the flavor.

When you’re ready to serve, remove cardamom pods and cloves.

Note:  I did a bit of research into the word “curry” and Wikipedia explained that it is a “generic description used throughout European culture to describe a general variety of side dishes, best known in South Asian cuisines, especially Indian cuisine. It is analogous to “soup” or “stew” in that there is no particular ingredient that makes something “curry.” The word curry is an anglicised version of the Tamil word kari (கறி ), which is usually understood to mean “gravy” or “sauce” rather than “spices”.

Balsamic Onion Marmalade

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

Italian Red Torpedo Onions

Until I yanked them from the ground, my garden was lousy with onions. They sprung up suddenly over the past few weeks – heavy, green cylinders shooting up out of the earth. And they’re not just plain old, mild green onions. Nope – these are Italian Red Torpedo onions. Streaked with vivid hues of purple and resembling mini submarines in shape, they have a pungent bite a bit stronger than your average, spherical red onion.

My gardening pal Rachel procured what seemed like a bushel of them from a friend and planted them in my backyard. When she first put them in, I wasn’t terribly enthusiastic. They appeared a bit anemic. Tiny little, pale purple tubers dangling from delicate green threads. But her green thumb is much more pronounced than mine so off she went, trowel in hand, to bury the fragile plants in the earth. Thank god she had more faith in the little guys than I did – because these are some of the most delicious onions I’ve ever tasted. And they made me appreciate these vegetables that I have long taken for granted.

sliced onions

Once I noticed the plethora of onions gracing my garden, my mind went immediately to onion jam – or marmalade. Slathered on thick, rustic bread topped with a hearty cheese and a few stems of peppery arugula – this savory/sweet spread is a personal favorite. And I hoped to figure out a way to make my own – rather than shelling out the extortionary fees usually charged for this delicacy.

So I scanned the internet for recipes. And there are a ton. Too many to count. And all of them suggest different ingredients and methods. Red onions, yellow onions, sweet onions, and plain old white. Balsamic, white, cider or sherry vinegars. Cook them on top of the stove. Bake them in the oven. The recipes were all over the map. But when I landed on a recipe by my favorite Top Chef master Tom Colicchio – I knew I need look no further. Especially considering the title of the book from which this recipe hails – “’wichcraft: Craft a Sandwich into a Meal — And a Meal into a Sandwich.”

Now, I wanted to incorporate my fancy red onions into the recipe – so I sliced them thinly and, wanting to support our local farmers, combined them with sweet Walla Wallas. Tom used plain old yellow onions – which are likely delicious. And perhaps even easier as they don’t have the high water content of sweet onions – and would therefore need less cooking time. Also, I recognize that not everybody has Italian Red Torpedo onions lying about. So I’m pretty confident you can use any kind of onion you want. And no doubt many of the other recipes scattered on the internet are equally delectable. I merely liked the simplicity of this ‘wichcraft recipe – just onions, vinegar, sugar, salt, and pepper.

balsamic onion marmalade

And the result? Sublime. Velvety and succulent. As promised, a fine balance of sweet and savory. The perfect accompaniment to a fabulous cheese platter. For meat eaters – no doubt a tasty topping for roasted pork – or any roasted meat for that matter. I’m planning on loading some on top of some baked sweet potatoes in the not-too-distant future.  Or slathering some on toast to serve with the fresh eggs I received from my friendly neighbor the other day. The applications are virtually endless.

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Balsamic Onion Marmalade

Yield: approximately 6 cups

Ingredients:onion marmalade with goat cheese

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 large sweet onions (Walla Wallla or Vidalia), thinly sliced (about 12 cups)
  • 2 medium red onions, thinly sliced (about 4 cups)
  • 2 teaspoons Kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup sugar (brown or white)
  • 1 cup balsamic vinegar

Instructions:

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat until it easily slips across the bottom. Add the onions, salt, and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes, until the onions are soft.

Add the sugar and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 10 – 30 minutes, until the onions appear dry. (Note: the original recipe called for only 10 minutes for this step. However, as noted, I replaced sweet onions for the “regular” onions in Tom’s recipe and the sweet ones have a higher water content. So I had to cook them much longer – closer to 30 minutes.)

Add the vinegar and reduce the heat to low. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for about 1 – 1 1/2 hours, until the onions are soft and dry. Note – if you’re using sweet onions, you might be left with a lot of liquid as they simmer. After the first hour, try turning up the heat to medium high and gently boil the onions for about 10 minutes. Then return to low and continue to cook until most of the liquid dissipates.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Store in well-sealed canning jars in the refrigerator. It will keep for a few weeks.

Plant-Food Protein – Chickpeas & Quinoa

Monday, June 21st, 2010

I am a vegetarian. It’s a personal choice – I still have plenty of friends who eat meat. But I haven’t eaten it in about two years. So I’m a relative novice. And I’m always looking for new ways to incorporate more protein into my diet. Personally, I am not a fan of a lot of the “fake meats” – the tofu and seitan and other meat substitutes. I prefer getting my protein from beans, nuts, yogurt, cheese, eggs – those kinds of things. I’m not disparaging the faux meats – they work quite well for lots of people. I simply don’t care for them.

As I mentioned, beans are a leading choice. And garbanzo beans, or chickpeas, are on top of my list. They have over 15 grams of protein per serving and are loaded with fiber. Also, they are extraordinarily versatile – you can use them whole in salads or mix them up into hummus. They even make up the base for falafel – a popular Middle Eastern staple made of ground chickpeas. Delicious! So I was intrigued when I recently read about roasted chickpeas. Said to be crispy outside with a soft, chewy interior – the sounded like the ideal protein-packed snack or healthy addition for summer salads. Just chickpeas, a little olive oil and some spices (see recipe below). And they turned out perfect on my first attempt!

Another favorite source of protein is quinoa. It’s a versatile grain that has a relatively high amount of protein. I can’t depend on it for the majority of my daily protein intake – I would have to eat a LOT of quinoa. But I try to choose it whenever I can. And, to shake things up a bit, I recently tried quinoa pasta. I’m happy to report that it tastes really good! I even prefer it to some of the denser whole wheat varieties. It’s fairly light and has a good bite to it. And it’s a great option for my gluten-free friends. An added benefit – it’s a vibrant yellow so adds a nice hit of color to any dish. I paired it with asparagus sautéed with lots of garlic and thin slices of lemon and topped the dish with a healthy dose of extra virgin olive oil. Simple … and delicious.

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Oven-Roasted Chickpeas

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 (16 ounce) can chickpeas or garbanzo beans
  • 1 tablespoon crushed fresh garlic 
  • salt and pepper

Instructions:

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with tin foil and set aside.

Drain can of chickpeas/garbanzos. Rinse and drain very well again. Pat dry.

Toss drained chickpeas, garlic, oil and seasonings together in bowl.

Spread mixture onto lined cookie sheet so that the chickpeas are in a single layer.

Put into 400 degree oven for 30-45 minutes shaking occasionally. Watch carefully so they don’t burn.

Remove from oven and let cool for a few minutes.

Note: you can add any kind of spice you like to liven these up. Try cumin, fresh rosemary, crushed red pepper flakes, curry – virtually any spice you like will add another note of flavor. These are best served hot out of the oven. But they can be stored in an air-tight container and enjoyed for a few days after baking.

Fresh Zucchini & Corn

Monday, June 14th, 2010

I love versatile recipes. Ones that can be used throughout the year – that are appropriate for gray, rainy days as well as warmer, sunny ones. For the past weeks, until just a few days ago, it’s been grim here in Seattle. Endlessly wet. What seemed like a record-breaking number of back-to-back rain-filled days. A warm, soothing casserole seemed in order, so I whipped up some Zucchini, Corn & Black Bean Enchiladas. And I was all ready to write about them this weekend when, lo and behold, the sun returned. Spring has arrived – just in time for summer. No complaints here – but it feels improper to be writing about steaming casseroles today. So I am thrilled that the recipe I was intending on sharing is so adaptable.

Zucchini and corn are coming into their prime. Though Seattlites really need to wait until July for the locally grown variety, both are becoming more abundant, and affordable, at the grocery store. And I always equate my first taste of sweet, fresh corn with the true beginning of summer. It’s tough to beat right off the cob, but I love incorporating it into salads and other dishes. And this recipe is no exception. The sweet, crisp burst of the kernels serve as a perfect complement to the soft, savory mouthful of the zucchini and black beans.  This is a recipe in which I would have to insist that fresh corn is used – frozen just won’t cut it I’m afraid.

Back to the versatility aspect. As I mentioned, the main filling can be used in a delicious casserole or individual enchiladas. But on days like today, when it seems a shame to turn on the oven, scooping the mixture into slightly warmed corn tortillas is an excellent alternative. Top it with a dusting of queso fresco, a few sprigs of fresh cilantro and a squeeze of lime and you’ve got an amazingly tasty, and healthy, summertime soft taco.

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Zucchini, Corn & Black Bean Filling

 Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium sweet onion, diced
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 medium zucchini, diced into small cubes
  • 2 large ears of corn
  • 1 can black beans, rinsed
  • 1 small can diced green chilies
  • 2 tablespoons cumin
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 small bunch cilantro, coarsely chopped
  • Zest and juice of 1 lime

Instructions

Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add diced onion and sauté for about 5 minutes. Add minced garlic and continue to cook for about 3 minutes – until soft. Add zucchini and sauté with onion and garlic for another 3-4 minutes. Add the cumin, chili powder, garlic salt and crushed red pepper. Continue to cook over low heat for approximately 5 minutes.

Add the black beans and diced green chilies and mix thoroughly.

Husk the corn and remove all the kernels by cutting down the sides of the cobs. Add the kernels to the zucchini and black bean mixture. Turn off heat and fold in the chopped cilantro and lime zest and juice. If there is a lot of liquid, continue to cook on low heat for about 5 minutes – allowing most of the liquid to evaporate.

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Enchilada Casserole

You can easily an enchilada casserole by using the Zucchini, Corn & Black Bean mixture above and following a few simple steps:

Ingredients

  • Zucchini, Corn & Black Bean mixture
  • 1 19-ounce can enchilada sauce
  • 10 medium corn tortillas
  • Vegetable oil spray
  • 1 cup shredded pepper jack cheese

Instructions

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Spray the bottom of a 9×13 glass casserole pan with cooking spray. Spoon in about 1/3 cup of enchilada sauce and coat the bottom of the pan. Layer two whole tortillas and cut an additional tortilla and fit it in so the bottom of the pan is covered. Spoon 1/2 the Zucchini, Corn & Black Bean mixture over the tortillas. Drizzle another 1/2 cup of sauce over the top. Sprinkle with 1/3 cup of the cheese. Layer another two whole tortillas and cut an additional tortilla to fit in. Spoon over the remaining Mixture. Cover with remaining tortillas and pour remaining sauce over to cover well. Sprinkle remaining cheese over the top.

Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake another 15-20 minutes, or until bubbling slightly.

Top with sour cream and fresh cilantro (if using).

Rhubarb Revamped

Sunday, May 2nd, 2010

I think rhubarb is one of the most beautiful vegetables around (that’s right – it’s a vegetable). Varying from deep ruby red to pale carnation pink on the outside, the insides of the stalks are a surprisingly vivid green when cut open. So when I stumbled upon a recipe for Gingered Rhubarb Chutney I was intrigued. I imagined a jar full of majestic chunks of crimson swimming in a thick, lustrous sauce. It would be such a striking accompaniment for grilled pork or chicken or a lovely sauce for roasted vegetables. Even a stunning accessory for a cheese plate.

So I picked up a bunch of freshly picked rhubarb from our local farmer’s market and headed over to my friend Caitlin’s house for an afternoon of culinary experimentation. We were baking my favorite muffins as well as a new recipe for a healthy banana coconut version. And we agreed that the rhubarb chutney recipe sounded like a winner – so why not try it. I figured that it was meant to be when I noticed that the jaunty letters she has splayed above her kitchen matched the ruby red of the rhubarb stalks poking out of my bag…

I suppose I should have read the recipe a little closer. I was initially focused, however, on the baking. While I was elbow deep in muffins, Caitlin carefully measured all the Chutney ingredients into her lovely orange Le Creuset French oven. When I finally turned my attention to the simmering pot I was mildly surprised to note its dark brown appearance. I hadn’t realized that the balsamic vinegar would dominate the contents to such a degree. I was, admittedly, a bit dismayed – thinking that the visually appealing jars of ruby red chutney I had hoped to dole out as gifts were not meant to be.  But Caitlin was encouraging so we let the pot do its thing.

What resulted when all was said and done was a densely flavored chutney featuring a strong acidic hit from the rhubarb and vinegar, balanced by the sweetness of the currants. The various spices – the ginger, cardamom and jalapeño – all melded together to give it an unexpected dimension. And when Caitlin’s dear husband (another true foodie) tasted it, his only response was, “Word.” Which translates to “yum.” They assured me the chutney would be an excellent accompaniment to all the grilled meats they prepare. And I agree that it’s a keeper.

So – lesson learned. We started out with a stunningly gorgeous vegetable – one that I gaze at adoringly in its natural state.  And it turned into something I hesitated to photograph for this post. It just goes to show that appearances can be deceiving.  

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Gingered Rhubarb Chutney

(Adopted from a Cooking Light recipe)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 3 cups finely chopped rhubarb
  • 1 cup finely chopped yellow onion
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup dried currants
  • 1 tablespoon grated peeled fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/2 jalapeño pepper, minced

Instructions

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer about a half hour or until it thickens.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

This can be stored in jars in the refrigerator for several weeks.

Spontaneity, Black Beans & Bliss

Monday, April 26th, 2010

I originally intended to write about salad dressings for this week’s post. They are one of my specialties – balsamic , citrus, tarragon and rosemary-infused.  And I will write more about various varieties in the not-too-distant future. But I started cooking this past week in anticipation of this blog post and I got a little off track… I began with one of my favorite salad dressings – Lime, Pepita & Cilantro. It’s something I concocted a few years ago and I love its tangy, highly flavored punch. So I whipped up a batch to toss onto thinly sliced cabbage, as I usually do. Then I got to thinking…

I used to pair this Mexican-influenced slaw with grilled halibut for zesty soft tacos. And that is still a delicious pairing. But I’m a vegetarian today so thought I’d heat up some black beans. Then I had a crazy idea. Why not make them from scratch? Something I had never done. Too much trouble, I had thought. How very, very wrong I was! Sure, it takes some forethought. But I’m a meal planner, after all.

So I soaked the beans according to the package – choosing the “quick soak” method because I am, at my core, impatient. Following a quick boil and an hour-long soak I drained and rinsed them and returned them to medium heat with some fresh water and let them simmer for a few hours while I went about my day. When they started to soften I added a small can of diced green chilies and a few tablespoons of cumin along with a teaspoon of red pepper flakes. The cooking continued and what resulted was a pot of black beans with an earthy aroma, a soft bite and a taste so far superior to canned beans that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to go back. I made the entire bag and was able to freeze half so I have some waiting in my freezer for another day. Bliss.

Once the beans were done I slathered them on a tortilla and topped it with my cabbage, carrot and onion slaw mixture (see recipe below) and a dusting of crumbled cotija cheese (jack cheese would do just as well) and sat down to a healthy, fresh and terribly inexpensive meal.

What I love about how this transpired is that it wasn’t planned. Amazing things can happen in your kitchen if you follow your instincts and listen to your stomach and feel empowered to try new things. What resulted for me this week is a new, favorite dish.  Something I will prepare again and again. I hope you will try it. Or at least let yourself go to explore new possibilities and expand your culinary horizons.  ¡Buen apetito!

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 Tri-Colored Slaw with Lime, Pepita & Cilantro Salad Dressing

Ingredients

  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 cup pepitas – AKA pumpkin seeds (roasted and salted)
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • Zest and juice of two limes
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon honey
  • 1 cup chopped cilantro
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 head red cabbage, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 head green cabbage, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup grated carrots, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced

Instructions

Combine the garlic and pepitas in a blender or Cuisinart or the bowl section of a submersion blender. (A quick note about these tools – they are indispensible. I use them for blending dressing, chopping nuts and garlic, blending hot soups, whisking sauces. The uses are endless. A great investment, in my opinion. If you’re not familiar with these amazing utensils – read more at this link.)

Once the garlic and pepitas have formed a paste, add the water, lime juice and zest and honey. Mix until well blended. Add half the cilantro and blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper as needed.

Mix the dressing with the cabbages, carrots, onion and remaining cilantro. It’s best to let this mixture sit for about a half hour before serving.

As noted, serve alongside any kind of soft taco you like. Or it can be served as a separate salad. The dressing can also be used to make a salad entrée – served over lettuce, corn, red peppers, and whatever protein you prefer.

Purple Potatoes and Preserved Lemons – An Education

Sunday, March 28th, 2010

I went to my first cooking class the other day. Not the first in a series. My first cooking class ever. Hard to believe. I’ve been in love with food for as long as I can remember and cooking since I was old enough to knead dough to make cheddar cheese pretzels from my “The Kid’s Cookbook.” And I’ve been enraptured with TV cooking shows since the days of The French Chef (I still remember sitting next to mom as she frantically wrote down notes to try to capture one of Julia’s recipes. This was back in the day before remote controls and the Internet and DVRs … how far we’ve come). But I digress.

Last week I attended a “Gourmet Vegetarian Celebration Feast” at the Blue Ribbon Culinary Center. Situated on Lake Union with a stunning view of the water near downtown Seattle, this is a school that has been around for a while. I’ve been meaning to take a class for years and have to say that I wish I hadn’t waited so long. I consider myself somewhataccomplished in the kitchen and suppose I figured I could learn whatever I needed to learn from my TV friends Giada, Bobby and Ina.  And there’s always Google to help me hunt down explanations of gastronomic terms and exotic ingredients, right? These technological solutions have served a purpose and allowed me to grow my culinary skills. But I must say there is nothing like first-hand experience.

The chefs at Blue Ribbon taught me a lot. For instance, I didn’t know that potatoes as we know them are imposters… the whites and yellows that are plentiful in the grocery aisles have been stripped of their original color – which aparently was purple. Purple! Who knew? They make a gorgeous mashed potato, in case you’re interested.

I also didn’t realize that olive oil is a perfectly good substitute for melted butter when working with Phyllo dough. And apparently our local organic grocer PCC has a whole wheat variety of Phyllo that works wonders. Genius.  Another favorite tip? When cutting up vegetables, reserve the “unwanted parts” (i.e. the dark green ends of leeks and the tips of carrots and celery, etc.) – toss in a Ziploc and keep them in the freezer. These flavorful bits can then be used in the future to make sumptuous vegetable stocks. 

I also learned that I have been misusing preserved lemons. I’ve preserving lemons at home for years but had no clue that one is only supposed to use the rind – not the flesh. Good to know. (For those of you unfamiliar with this delicacy – I highly recommend you try them. Jars of this vibrantly piquant delight frequently used in Moroccan and Middle Eastern cuisines can be found at most gourmet markets. I’ve included a recipe below that features them – but they can also be chopped up and added to a myriad of dishes – whether scattered over salads or added to savory soups they add a new dimension of tartness and brightness that will get you hooked.)

I’m digressing again… What I’m trying to say is that I learned far more than expected from this enlightening 3-hour class and I would highly recommend that people hunt down cooking classes in their own communities. Chefs from all walks of life are out there – eager to share their knowledge. And it’s such a simple and entertaining way to expand your culinary knowledge, aptitude and enjoyment.

The recipe that follows was one of my favorites from class. There were several other contenders including Phyllo Filled with Leeks, Lentils & Blue Cheese and Corn Soufflé-Stuffed Tomatoes. Stay tuned for these recipes to be featured in future posts.

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Warm Chickpea Salad with Preserved Lemon Vinaigrette

Recipe courtesy of the Blue Ribbon Culinary Center

This can be served as a side salad alongside your main course – or can make one in and of itself.  Cut up some crusty whole grain bread or cook up some brown rice or other grains to make it a complete meal. If you’re not serving it all immediately, you can reserve the chickpea mixture apart from the arugula and then mix separately when you’re ready to serve. Also – the leftovers make a great lunch – try filling a whole wheat tortilla with the mixture for a delicious wrap.

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 1 cup dry or 2 ½ cups cooked chickpeas (reserve liquid)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced
  • ½ preserved lemon, flesh removed and rind chopped
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • ¼ cup sherry vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon agave or honey
  • 2 Bosc or Bartlett pears, chopped
  • 2 cups toasted walnuts
  • 1 pound arugula
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

In a large, heavy sauté pan, heat oil on medium high. Add onions and cook until they start to turn brown and release some juices (about 5-7 minutes), stirring occasionally. Add garlic and preserved lemon and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes, then turn heat down to low and cook until all onions are caramelized (about 5 minutes).

Add the vinegar to the pan and deglaze – ensuring all the bits of onion and other ingredients are gently pried from the bottom of the pan.  Add the pears and sauté for about 3-10 minutes, depending on how ripe your pears are – mine were somewhat firm and took closer to 10 minutes. Check them before moving to the next step – you don’t want them to retain any crunch. With a spoon, smash a few of the pears and add the Dijon, yogurt and agave or honey and stir well. Add the chickpeas and liquid. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and cool for 5 minutes.

Toss with the arugula and walnuts and season to taste with salt and pepper.

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End note – this is for those of you who doubt their cooking abilities and have hence resisted taking a class. I see this concern as similar to those of us who don’t go to the gym because we’re not in shape. Or others who clean the house before a housekeeper visits. I am admittedly guilty as charged on both counts. But here’s the thing….even those of us who have spent some significant time in the kitchen are there to learn and many of us need instruction as much as the more novice chefs in the room.

Case in point – I was a total disaster when it came to trying my hands the Pavlova (a fancy term for a baked meringue dessert). Pristine egg whites are the most critical element to a successful Pavlova and it fell upon me to separate a few eggs. Simple enough, I thought. I gently selected an egg, cracked it on the counter and proceeded with my first attempt to make sure that the bright orb of yolk remained distinctly separate from the runny whites. I had done this countless times before – a walk in the park I thought.

With everyone’s eyes upon me, I started the separation process and, as you may have guessed by now, the yolk fractured, leaving spots of bright yellow throughout the transparent white. The friendly chef chortled good-naturedly but made it abundantly clear that the mess that lay in my bowl would need to be discarded. Then she encouraged me to try again. So back to the container of eggs I went.  Egg elected, gently cracked, divided into two halves, separation process resumed. The white landed in my bowl and I smugly tossed what appeared to be an unharmed yolk into a separate bowl. The chef was lurking at this point. With good reason. A thorough investigation of my egg whites resulted in the discovery of a hint of yellow. Not good enough. Not my proudest moment. Happily I got it right on the third try. Yet another lesson learned.

Photo note: as mentioned in previous posts, I try to take all the pictures featured on this blog. However I was unable to hunt down a purple potato this week so the picture featured above is not my own.