Category Archives: vegetables

Small comforts

chicken-pie

I KNOW IT’S A CLICHÉ to write about “comfort food,” but the anxiety I’ve experienced  since the election has made comfort seem more necessary than ever. There is something calming about the normality of cooking, especially if you’re making something both comforting and nourishing.

Last week I made a mushroom-chicken pot pie topped with biscuits that fit the bill. Aviva showed me how to do this basically in one pot: saute onions and garlic with your choice of vegetables –some options: mushrooms, chopped potatoes or sweet potatoes, carrots, peas, cauliflower greens– in butter and/or oil in a cast iron skillet. Add a few tablespoons of flour and seasonings (salt, pepper, rosemary or thyme) and then add enough broth (chicken or vegetarian) to make a nice “gravy” for your pie. Add cooked chicken or leave it out for a vegetarian version. The sauce should be a little thinner than you want it as it’ll thicken in the oven. You can top with a biscuit dough, as I did here (Mark Bittman’s biscuit topping works well) or with a typical pie crust.

puff-pastry-pot-pie

Or, for the easiest method, do as I did recently and use puff pastry (buy it frozen and thaw it). Lay a circle of puff pastry over your filling, and cut a few slits for the steam to escape.

For any of these toppings, bake at 400 degrees for about 30-40 minutes, until the filling is bubbling and the biscuits or other crust is golden.

The pot pie is a little more ambitious than my usual comfort nourishment though. I gravitate toward the simplest form of cooking. Faithful readers of this blog (thank you!) know that I love SOUP, especially in fall and winter, when my go-to supper is soup and bread (or toast, popovers, cornbread, etc.).

Indeed I have a long family history with soup, one part of which I wrote about in my latest sketchbook:

soupspoon-jpg_0001

In just the last few weeks, I’ve run through a lot of my soup favorites: lentil with spinach and lemon, parsley-potato; chicken soup with matzo balls, red lentil soup; and of course, minestrone.

My latest soup creation is another lentil soup, this time with lots of carrots to brighten its color, and some seasoning to perk up the flavors. I adapted it from a recipe by British food writer Diane Henry for “Turkish carrots and lentils with herbs” in the book Plenty (no, not the Ottolenghi Plenty).

Henry’s recipe is more a side dish with fewer lentils and no real broth; I doubled the lentils and added more water for a soup-ier version. She suggests fresh mint, parsley or dill for the herbs — I chose to use cilantro (but I do want to try the mint version sometime.) Henry also adds 2 teaspoons of sugar, but I left it out; it didn’t seem to need it. The coriander seeds and red pepper, along with the lemon and herbs give it a bright and lively flavor.

carrot-lentil

This first serving was more stew-like; when I heated it up the next day, I added more water to make it more of a soup. Really good either way.

Carrot-lentil soup

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly chopped
  • 2 teaspoons coriander seeds, crushed
  • 1/4 – 1/2 dried red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup lentils
  • 6 large carrots, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste (or you can use tomato puree)
  • 4 or 5 cups vegetable stock or water
  • salt and pepper
  • chopped cilantro
  • lemon juice
  1. Heat the oil in a saucepan and saute’ the onion until soft. Add garlic and spices and cook for two minutes. Then add everything else except the cilantro and lemon juice.
  2.  Bring to a boil and cook until tender, about 30 minutes. Add more water or broth as you like — it can be more of a lentil stew or a soup.
  3. Adjust the seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste. If desired, add a glug of olive oil to the soup (I don’t but you might want to).
  4. Ladle into bowls, adding a generous squeeze of lemon juice and a good sprinkle of cilantro into each bowl.

I love Diane Henry’s concise description: “This shows just how delicious frugality can be.” And comforting too.

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Filed under Praise for other cooks, soup, supper time, vegetables, winter

Fresh from the pantry (almost)

RedLentils

Red lentils are also called Egyptian or Mansoor lentils

THE ENTRY FOR LENTILS in the Oxford Companion to Food follows closely behind the one for lemons — and that seems right, as lemons add brightness to this easy-to-cook-but-sometimes-a-little-dull legume. A recipe on my lemon blog for Lemony Lentil Soup with Spinach (scroll to second recipe) is testimony to this great marriage.

Lentils have been cultivated since antiquity in Egypt, and evidence of lentils has been found in many prehistoric sites in Europe. In India, the largest producer of lentils today, they are an everyday food called dal, often cooked with onion and spices and served with rice. Next to soy beans, lentils have the highest protein content of all vegetables.

There are dozens of different colors and sizes of lentils, each with their own character. Brown or green lentils are fine, but red lentils are very nice for soups as they cook quickly and break down into a puree. And, of course, there’s the color. Some of that lovely salmon color fades with cooking, though, so I was happy to find New York Times’ food writer Melissa Clark’s recipe for Red Lentil Soup with Lemon, which adds carrots and tomato paste to the pot to bring some of the color back. And this time of year, when it’s often grey and dismal outside, I really appreciate a burst of color in the soup bowl.

Lemonsqueeze

When cooking any kind of lentils, don’t forget the lemon

Another thing to love about this soup is that (as long as I’ve got the red lentils in the pantry), I usually have all the ingredients on hand. Lemon, onion, garlic — check. Cumin, chile powder or cayenne, tomato paste — check. I don’t always have fresh cilantro, but parsley or even chives will do in a pinch.

Truth be told, I very rarely follow a recipe precisely (often not even more-or-less) but this one was so simple and easy — and didn’t call for any unusual ingredients — that I didn’t have my usual tendency to depart from it. (That is, aside from adding an extra carrot for more orange flecks, and a good squeeze of lemon juice in the serving bowls for brighter flavor.)

I made some popovers and a green salad to go with it, and called it supper.

RedLentil soup

 

 

 

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Filed under Praise for other cooks, soup, spring, vegetables, winter

Pistou!!

cranberry beans

I’d bought some fresh cranberry beans at the farmers’ market, which were very tasty and tender

IT’S THAT TRANSITION TIME — warm and summery one day, cool and rainy the next. During the cool rainy (and windy) days last week, I wished I had some soup to eat. . . but I didn’t feel like making my usual fall and winter soups. I didn’t want to rush the season.

Then I saw this article and recipe in the New York Times for soupe au pistou, the Southern French vegetable soup flavored with basil (usually a basil pesto without the pine nuts).

stringbeans, potatoesThe lovely thing about this particular recipe by David Tanis is that it uses all those vegetables that are in season right now, in September. However, it’s also very adaptable, and there are countless variations. For example, in a second batch I made, I cooked dried, soaked white beans instead of the cranberry beans. (Yes, I imagine you could substitute canned beans). And I couldn’t find romano beans, so I just used more regular green beans.

Another adjustment I made to the recipe was to skip the separate step of blanching the vegetables, and just cook them right in the pot (as one reader suggested), to my liking. I kept them bright and slightly crunchy for the first serving; the next day, when I reheated the soup, the vegetables were less bright but more tender. Both variations were good.

Some people use rice or macaroni instead of potatoes, or insist that tomatoes are essential if you want to call it soupe au pistou  (Here, for example, is a completely different recipe).

I like the potatoes, though, and I think the soupe is fine with or without the tomatoes. Since I’ve never had an traditional soupe au pistou, I can’t judge its authenticity except to say I like this soup, whatever you call it.

The dollop of basil pesto (without nuts, but if you have some usual pesto on hand, no one will object) adds a distinctive seasoning, but this soup is flavorful even without it (maybe then you should call it something else).

pistouReally, this soupe au pistou is so good that it led me right back into the soup-making season–without regrets.

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Filed under fall, Praise for other cooks, soup, vegetables

August fixin’s

pasta and vegAUGUST REMINDS ME of my childhood: the sticky hot humid days in Chicago, barely relieved by the big swamp cooler in the basement. We had no air conditioning and my two sisters and I slept in an upstairs attic-type room, catching what little breeze we could from the open window and a fan. A thunderstorm was an evening’s entertainment:  From our screened-in back porch, we’d listen to the thunder, watch the streaks of lightning and smell the oncoming rain.

But best of all, August meant we would pack up the car (I always had a case full of books) and leave the city for a rented cabin in Ephraim, Wisconsin, or South Haven, Michigan, where we’d swim in Lake Michigan (Yes, we did that at home too, but here it was even better) and eat fresh peaches and blueberries, corn and tomatoes, trout and smoked whitefish, and bakery white rolls. And cherry pie.

Wherever you are, fresh produce is abundant this month, and dinner doesn’t have to be salad. On these lazy days, I love to center an August meal around corn on the cob. Or potato and green beans in a vinaigrette. Or cherry tomatoes, as in the photo above, roasted (or sauteed) with some garlic and oil and sprinkled with basil, to dress a pasta. With a side of green beans with lemon zest, and a simple salad with beets (dressed in another vinaigrette) and hazelnuts, it was a light but satisfying meal that didn’t take long at the stove.

blackberry cobbThis kitchen blog began in 2009 with Blackberry Cobbler No. 8, a recipe for the eighth version I had made of blackberry cobbler.

This week my daughter and I picked  blackberries (it’s been unusually hot here so it’s almost end-of-the-season) for a cobbler and decided that the No. 8  version is still hard to beat, with very tender biscuits with a touch of cornmeal. There’s not too much sugar in it, and a dollop of ice cream on the warm cobbler will suit it just fine.

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Filed under dessert, fruit, musings, summer, supper time, vegetables

Taste of Sicilia

sicilia insalata_0001As we’re getting ready for a trip to Sicily, I was reading through a little travel journal I kept from a visit there eight years ago, when I went to research lemons. I came across this page with a tuna-lemon-olive oil salad with artichoke hearts and green beans that I made in a lemon orchard agriturismo above Sicily’s Lemon Riviera, on the eastern side of the island (we are going there again!). We usually had a kitchen in Sicily, so we could shop in the markets, and we ate some variation of this salad nearly every day we were there — and with tuna so good and produce so fresh and delicious, we never tired of it.

This salad (with variations) became a standard once we were home, too. You may have to substitute Meyer lemons or preserved lemons for the Sicilian lemon if you want to eat the lemon peel, but otherwise –except for the gorgeous views of Mount Etna and the Mediterranean — it translates well, especially in the spring.

tuna insalata

I’m sure we always had bread or breadsticks with “My Sicilian lemon insalata (good for il prazo–lunch–or antipasta). The bottom line reads: “good with Etna red or white, iced tea or lemonade.”

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Filed under salad, spring, Uncategorized, vegetables

Börek? Not really.

Claudia Turgut’s blog, A Seasonal Cook in Turkey, is often an inspiration, and it especially called out to me last week, when I wanted to make a special appetizer to share at Jennifer’s house while we watched the Oscars together. I was considering the luscious looking savory pastry called  börek that Claudia made with various fillings and served at teatime.

But I was not in Istanbul, so how could I possibly make börek?

It wasn’t the filling that was the problem; it was the lack of yufka, that special dough that comes in big round sheets. You can easily buy yufka fresh in Turkey, it seems — but not so here. The closest you can come (unless perhaps you are near a Turkish market) is frozen filo dough, but that is thinner and smaller and rectangular — and just not the same.

The answer? I couldn’t make genuine börek, but I could make my own approximation of it — and as soon as everyone tasted it, no one seemed to care if it was genuine or not.

Claudia’s recipe called for a filling of sauteed onion and parsley, but since I didn’t have parsley, I  added some spinach and crumbled feta cheese to a lot of sauteed onions, and a little salt, pepper and cayenne to taste.

The filling

I unwrapped a couple sheets of thawed filo dough, brushed them with a mixture of melted butter and oil. After my first attempt, I decided that two sheets of filo was still too thin, so I added a third sheet, with another light brush of the butter/oil mix. Then I scattered the filling across the sheets of dough.

making borek

Then I rolled it up the long way, and cut it into pieces.

borekroll

borekbeforebaking

The pastries on a cookie sheet just before baking

I mixed an egg yolk with a few drops of water and brushed them on the pieces, then sprinkled them with sesame seeds, the usual ones and black ones  (poppy seeds are good too) before popping into a 350 degree oven. They took about 20 minutes or so before they were golden brown and smelling delicious. I took some of them out just a bit early so I could reheat them at Jennifer’s house that evening.

borekonplate2

Mmmmm……they weren’t real börek, it’s true — but they were irresistible!

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Filed under baked goods, Praise for other cooks, Uncategorized, vegetables

Shortcut salad

 

shortcutsaladI had a head of cauliflower that was calling out to be roasted, so I took out a cookie sheet, set the oven to 400 degrees and cut off the woody parts of the vegetable. Then I broke and cut the cauliflower florets into small pieces, mixed them with a bit of olive oil and salt and spread them on the sheet, roasting until they were browning and a little crispy on the edges. That brings out and mellows the flavor of the cauliflower.

It would be easy to gobble up a whole head of cauliflower that way, but I resisted as I needed those tasty florets to go a little further.  I had in mind using them to make a nice healthy salad that I could put in the fridge so we could eat it for lunch or a snack.

Hmmm, wouldn’t it be good to have some chewy nutty farro as a base? –and some roasted peppers for color and flavor? Farro, an ancient strain of hard wheat, isn’t difficult to cook, but it does take a bit of time, and I just happened to have Trader Joe’s 10-minute farro on hand, as well as a jar of roasted yellow and red peppers.

shortcut2I am usually reluctant to admit that I use some shortcuts, but that is pretty silly. Why not use shortcuts if the ingredients are healthy and they make your life a little easier?

shortcut3The finished salad also had chopped green onion, parsley and mint and a dressing made of my favorite trio: lemon juice, olive oil and salt.

Variations? Of course! You could add beans, a different grain, a different vegetable, other herbs, vinegar in place of lemon, etc. etc. In fact, I had some leftover salad and I added sliced Kalamata olives, some pickled beets (also from a jar) and more lemon juice to freshen it up — and the second variation was good too.

I just wish I always had a vegetable-based salad or soup in the fridge for the best healthy fast food. It’ll probably never happen, but if shortcuts help me toward that goal, I’m all for them!

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Filed under salad, soup, Uncategorized, vegetables

Thanksgiving’s simpler sides

As usual this year, I am making cranberry chutney as well as a basic cranberry sauce with orange zest to take to the Thanksgiving feast. And green beans, perhaps with some toasted pecans or caramelized lemons (or both?). And rolls — not that anyone needs or even wants more carbs, but these are yet another Thanksgiving tradition (and there are so many).

Really, one day is not enough to appreciate all the side dishes of Thanksgiving tradition, and one doesn’t always have leftovers, so I decided to make a meal of some classic sides before Thanksgiving. When you’re just making a couple of dishes, of course it’s much simpler, and this meal was so good I may do another variation or two of side dishes after the big feast.

brussels

Roasted brussels sprouts were on my menu

I made a wild rice-brown rice pilaf with onions and mushrooms, topped with toasted pecans — the cranberry chutney on the side (I’d made extra) really perked up this dish. And I had just bought a bag of nice little brussels sprouts from the farmers’ market, so those were roasted, with a little pomegranate vinegar on top.

TdaysidesAnd of course, there were baked sweet potatoes.

Maybe it wasn’t the most beautiful or original supper plate we ever had, but it was very satisfying to give full attention to some of Thanksgiving’s less glamorous sidekicks!

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Filed under fall, supper time, Uncategorized, vegetables, winter

Al fresco

zuccflowersIt’s well into August and the farmer’s market is bursting with pretty much everything. We finally got some rain here last week, which made the farmers really happy.

farmersmktEverything is fresh, beautiful and tasty!

newpotatoes

salmonsaladWith all these fresh selections, I’ve still been mostly in the salad mode, which has the great advantage of using little or no heat.

capresesaladI’ve  even had enough Sun Gold cherry tomatoes and basil from my own teeny garden to make a Caprese salad (with fresh mozzarella).

pizzaAnd occasionally I have turned on the stove or the oven, to make pasta with roasted or sauteed tomatoes and basil — or pizza with those same ingredients. (Mmmm, it had been such a long time since I had pizza.) And green salad alongside, of course.

springrollskin

Another great way to eat your salad is in a fresh spring roll — also called summer roll or salad roll.

springrollwrapI’d never made these before but it turns out to be pretty simple — just a lot of chopped salad ingredients (plus some thin Asian noodles — I used brown rice ones), some shrimp or chicken or tofu if you like, and the spring roll skins, which are briefly soaked in hot water, then rolled around the filling like a burrito. You can find instructions here and many other places on the Web, and adapt them as you see fit. And make or buy a nice sauce to dip them in.

alfruit dessertAlso,  all the marvelous fresh fruit this time of year makes it easier to eat a little lighter than usual. We’ve really been enjoying a simple dessert lately: a bowl of fruit with a nice dollop of maple-sweetened yogurt. Sitting outside on a warm evening with a slab of watermelon or a juicy fresh peach is appealing too.

bbbcakeBut I really couldn’t let August go by without baking at least one Blueberry Boy Bait! I made it when we had some company coming, and it was a fitting afternoon treat.

Freddie and Val sample the Blueberry Boy Bait

Freddie and Val sample the Blueberry Boy Bait

And what better way to enjoy it, as with so many of these meals and snacks,  than al fresco — the perfect summer way to dine!

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Filed under dessert, fruit, salad, summer, supper time, vegetables

All-in-one supper

allinoneThe one-dish meal is usually a pot of soup or stew (and sometimes a salad) but another way I’ve found to do this is an all-in-one supper roasted in the oven on a cookie sheet. (The clean-up is super easy too if you line the cookie sheet with foil.)

Because asparagus is in season, I’ve been making this meal recently with roasted potatoes and onions, asparagus and fish.

Lately, Dover sole is the least expensive fish on offer at our favorite fish store, and I’ve found that it’s so quick and easy to cook it in the oven.

Simply rub a little oil on top of the filets, then season with salt and pepper and a scattering of herbs if you like (I used fresh thyme here; dill or chives or parsley would be fine too) and a squeeze of lemon juice. It takes only five minutes or so to cook the thin fillets.

doversoleandlemon

I like to top the fish with lemon slices, caramelized in a skillet with a little butter or oil. It’s an extra step, but worth it.

The only trick to this all-in-one meal is the timing. I heat the oven to 400 degrees, start with the potatoes (tossed with a slick of oil), and then (when they’re getting soft), add the onions (also with a bit of oil). About 20 minutes in, I’ll add the asparagus (yes, a little oil and salt) and finally (when everything is about 5 minutes away), the fish, which cooks very quickly. If you are making this meal for more than two people, you will likely need two cookie sheets.

The potatoes and asparagus are forgiving (a little extra time in the oven won’t hurt) but check the fish often, as you don’t want to overcook it! It won’t hurt to open the oven every minute or two. If the filets are very thin or small, they may even take less than five minutes. As soon as the flesh turns white and flakes apart when touched with a fork, it’s done.

soleandasparagusAnd so is supper. All you need is a plate and a fork.
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Filed under spring, supper time, vegetables