Thursday, October 31, 2013

Roasted Eggplant and Lentil Soup

In addition to a zucchini of epic portions, my garden had several eggplants still waiting for a culinary destiny when I did my final clean-up. And as with my zucchini, I chose soup to put the fruits of my hard labor to good use. I've had lentils on the brain since making Pan-Seared Salmon with Braised Lentils and Swiss Chard, and I was more than happy to find I wasn't the only one who thought their earthiness would make a winning combination with eggplant. (Chickpeas also pair splendidly).

My biggest objection to the original recipe was that it failed to use the delicious and nutritious skin of the eggplant. The skin blends down to tiny, beautiful purple flecks, adding a nice visual element to the mostly monochromatic soup. Milk or half-and-half add richness and creaminess to the soup, but vegans could substitute a nondairy milk (soy, almond, cashew, coconut, etc.) or additional water or broth. The tangy touch of yogurt or sour cream is lovely finishing touch, but vegans could leave that out as well, perhaps adding an extra splash of lemon juice to bump up the sour accent.

It may feature a summer vegetable, but this chunky, filling soup is perfect for a cozy fall dinner. Delicious right out of pot, leftover the next day for lunch, or even plucked from the freezer, this soup is a quick and easy way to fill your belly when the early sunset has your evening energy fading fast.

Roasted Eggplant and Lentil Soup
adapted from Food and Wine
serves 4

One 1 1/4-pound eggplant, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup lentils
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock or low-sodium broth or water
1 cup milk or half-and-half
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Plain yogurt or sour cream, for serving (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 400°. Toss eggplant pieces with  olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake until the eggplant is very tender, turning occasionally, about 30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, cover the lentils with 2 inches of water. Simmer over low heat until the lentils are tender, about 20 minutes. Drain the lentils in a colander.

3. Add eggplant to blender. Add 1 cup of the stock and puree until smooth; transfer to a clean saucepan. Add the lentils and the remaining 1 cup of stock to the blender and puree until smooth. Add the lentil puree to the eggplant puree in the saucepan.

4. Stir the milk and lemon juice into the soup and bring to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper; keep the soup hot over low heat, stirring occasionally. Divide into four bowls and stir in yogurt or sour cream, if desired.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Puréed Zucchini Soup With Curry

It is way too late in the year to have a zucchini recipe to share, but alas, the two-pound monster zucchini I found while cleaning up my gardens for the year thought otherwise. A two-pound zucchini is a formidable culinary undertaking, and the quickest way to put it all to good use was a hearty pot of soup. It starts with a classic base and subtle additions of curry and rice give it a special touch. Curry is added with a light hand so the soup does not have an assertive Indian flavor, but instead a subtle hint of warming spices in the background of each bite. Zucchini makes a surprisingly smooth soup on its own, but the addition of rice gives it additional body and silkiness.

This soup was originally intended to be a spring dish, but I don't think it would be a stretch to use this same recipe with a hearty winter squash as well. With my first CSA pick up just over a week away, I may be back to try out that hypothesis very soon.

Puréed Zucchini Soup With Curry
adapted from the New York Times
makes 4 to 6 servings

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 small white or yellow onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 pounds zucchini, diced (about 7 cups diced)
2 teaspoons curry powder
6 cups chicken stock, vegetable stock or water
1/4 cup brown basmati rice
Salt to taste
Freshly ground pepper (I like a lot of it in this soup)
Pinch of cayenne
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy soup pot and add the onion. Cook, stirring, until it is tender, about 5 minutes. Add a generous pinch of salt, the garlic and the zucchini and stir for about a minute, until the garlic smells fragrant. Add the curry powder, stir together, and add the stock or water, the rice and salt to taste. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer 30 minutes. Taste and adjust salt.

2. Purée the soup with an immersion blender or a food mill or in batches in a blender, taking care to remove the lid or take out the center insert and to cover with a towel to avoid hot splashes. Return to the pot, heat through, add pepper and cayenne to taste and stir in the lemon juice.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Smoky Spiced Tempeh and Quinoa Salad

Good food is good food, no matter the amount of animal protein it contains. Although I'm most certainly not a vegan or vegetarian, most of my meals fall under one of those categories. I'm not a fan of faux meat products, but appreciate soy products for exactly what they are and am game when tingredients like tempeh appear in a recipe. Partnering with super food quinoa, this probably could only sound more like a vegan hippie recipe if nutritional yeast was in the name, but I still couldn't get enough of it.

Tempeh and quinoa are nutritious, though fairly neutral ingredients, and this expertly curated spice blend is why the salad is so delicious. I doubt I would be able to re-create spice list just from taste, but I do know that each bite is packed with smoky, spicy, and savory notes that keep me shoveling this versatile salad into my face. Spread on bread or into a tortilla or pita it makes for a fine sandwich, a delightful salad atop greens, and a delicious spread for crackers, as the source recipe suggests. My first inclination after making it, however, was none of these options. While portioning into lunch-size servings, I realized that texture makes it perfectly suited for a "veggie" burger, so I formed a patty and threw it into a hot pan straight away. It would have been delicious with just a smear of Dijon and some greens, but I couldn't resist melting some raw cheddar over the top (to the horror of vegans everywhere).

What this salad lacks in beauty, it makes up for in flavor, and it is a great opportunity to turn people around on a couple of ingredients that often give pause. But even if you're not ready to take the plunge with tempeh and quinoa, you've still got the perfect new spice mix to try out in a batch of veggie burgers or tuna salad.

Smoky Spiced Tempeh and Quinoa Salad
adapted from The Kitchn
makes about 2 cups

8 ounces tempeh
1 cup cooked and cooled quinoa
2 tablespoons regular or vegan mayonnaise
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Small dash of ground cloves
Small dash of ground cinnamon

1. Cut the tempeh into 1-inch chunks (no need to be precise). Fill a saucepan with an inch or two of water and place a steamer basket inside. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Place the tempeh in the basket, cover, and reduce heat to medium. Steam for 15 minutes, remove tempeh, and let cool.

2. Place the tempeh in a food processor and pulse until crumbly. Add the remaining ingredients and pulse until the mixture comes together. Taste and adjust seasonings, if desired. (Alternatively, you can crumble the tempeh and mix in the other ingredients by hand.)

3. Serve with a green salad, as a taco filling, or as a spread for sandwiches or crackers.

4. Salad may be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Quick-Cooked Tomatillo-Chile Sauce

Earlier this week I shared a recipe for Fresh Green Tomatillo Sauce, so it now it's time to share one that is a bit farther down the cooked scale. In the previous sauce the flavor profile featured the tartness, but in this sauce acidic notes are muted in favor of a deeper, earthier flavor. It doesn't go as far as Roasted Tomatillo Salsa, which is all about the roasted and smoky flavors, but nicely bridges those two extremes. Again we see chiles, cilantro, and onion making an appearance, garlic and stock fortifying the flavor even further. With that usual cast of characters, this is most certainly a pleasing preparation for any tomatillo lover, but the gentler acidic character will appeal to larger audience of non-tomatillo devotees.

Any of the suggestions I made for Fresh Green Tomatillo Sauce are just as appropriate for this variation, though I heartily endorse its use in the shredded pork chilaquiles pictured above. As I steadily make my way through my freezer cache in order to make room for my impending winter CSA, I am both delighting in the revisiting these summer flavors and sad to see them go. But when you love food and cooking as much as I do, each day has the potential for culinary adventure. Who knows? This concentrated summer flavor just may end up meeting up with hearty winter squash.

Quick-Cooked Tomatillo-Chile Sauce
makes about 2 1/2 to 3 cups
adapted from Authentic Mexican by Rick Bayless

1 pound (11 medium) fresh tomatillos, husked and washed OR two 13-ounce cans tomatillos, drained
Fresh hot green chiles to taste (roughly 3 chiles serranos or 2 chiles jalapenos), stemmed
5 or 6 sprigs fresh coriander (cilantro), roughly chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 large garlic clove, peeled and roughly chopped
1 tablespoon lard or vegetable or canola oil
2 cups any low-sodium poultry, meat, or vegetable broth or stock (depending on how the sauce is to be used)
Salt, about 1/2 teaspoon (depending on the saltiness of the broth)

1. The tomatillos. Boil the fresh tomatillos and chiles in salt water to cover until tender, 10 to 15 minutes; drain. Simply drain the canned tomatillos.

2. The puree. Place the tomatillos and chiles (raw ones if using canned tomatillos) in a blender or food processor, along with the coriander, onion, and garlic; if using a blender, stir well. Process until smooth, but still retaining a little texture.

3. The sauce. Heat the lard or oil in a medium-large skillet set over medium-high. When hot enough to make a drop of the puree sizzle sharply, pour it in all at once and stir constantly for 4 or 5 minutes, until darker and thicker. Add the broth, let return to a boil, reduce the heat to medium and simmer until thick enough to coat a spoon, about 10 minutes. Season with salt.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Fresh Green Tomatillo Sauce

I finally cleaned out my gardens last week. My final harvest yielded a good amount of eggplant, some jalapenos, poblanos, and mini sweet bell peppers, a couple tomatoes, a surprise 2+ pound zucchini the size of my forearm, and even a few last tomatillos from plants that looked like they were in their death throes, yet were flowering at the same time. Apparently it's not just my mutant plants hanging on for dear life, as I saw a couple vendors still selling a few tomatillos, but I thought I should share a few last tomatillo recipes before all vestiges of this favorite fruit disappear.

If you know me or Mexican cooking, it should be no surprise that I went straight to Rick Bayless for recipes. I can't say enough about how much I love his cookbooks and recipes, so I expect nothing less than  perfection when I try his recipes. And you know what? I'm never disappointed. I've made seemingly countless tomatillo sauces at this point, mostly from his recipes, all with their own unique character. As the name would suggest, this sauce is fresh and vibrant, celebrating all the tart and citrusy notes of the tomatillo. Hot chiles, cilantro, and onion are familiar companions, this classic combination just as delicious with barely cooked tomatillos as deeply roasted ones.

There's no end to the ways this sauce can be used. A few suggestions include a dip for chips, topping for tacos, tostados, and eggs, or sauce for smothered burrito pictured above, though that is certain not an exhaustive list. If you like tomatillos, you're almost guaranteed to love this sauce, relishing in it's spicy, tart flavor brightens up any dish it is added to.

Fresh Green Tomatillo Sauce
makes about 1 ½ cups

8 ounces (5 or 6 medium) fresh tomatillos, husked and washed
OR one 13-ounce can tomatillos, drained
Fresh hot green chiles to taste (roughly 2 chiles serranos or 1 chile jalapeno), stemmed
5 or 6 sprigs fresh coriander (cilantro), roughly chopped
½ small onion, chopped
Salt, about ½ teaspoon

1. The tomatillos: Boil fresh tomatillos in salted water to cover until barely tender, 8 to 10 minutes; drain. Canned tomatillos only need to be drained.

2. The puree: Place the tomatillos in a blender or food processor. If you want a milder sauce, seed the chile(s), then chop into small bits and add to the tomatillos along with the coriander and chopped onion; if using a blender, stir well. Blend or process to a coarse puree.

Finishing the sauce: Scrape into a sauce dish, thin to medium-thick consistency with about ¼ cup water, then season with salt. Let stand for about ½ hour before serving, for the flavors to blend.

Traditional Variations

Chunky Tomatillo Sauce: Prepare the sauce as described, finely chopping the chile, onion and coriander, then adding them to the blended tomatillos. If the chopped onion is rinsed, the sauce will sour less quickly.

All-Raw Tomatillo Relish: Prepare the sauce with chopped raw tomatillos, adding ¼ cup water before blending. Taste for salt and stir in additional water, if needed.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Baltimore Pit Beef

I can't resist an opportunity for rituals, especially around food, and this year I've decided that my Packer snacks will be themed around the city/region of the opposing team. To play the 49ers, I made Mission-style burritos, chili for the Redskins, Cincinnati Chili for the Bengals, Coney Dogs for the Lions, and most recently, pit beef for the Ravens. Pit beef is a recipe for a crowd, but luckily I was hosting a house full of hungry men when I cooked up this recipe. Grilled meat is a pretty good bet to satisfy a crowd even in its simplest form, but this beefy goodness is made even more sublime with a simple, well-balanced spice rub and pungent horseradish-based tiger sauce. I'm an avid fan of strong flavors like horseradish, but even my father, with his much more mild-mannered taste buds, said that the tanginess of the tiger sauce hit just the right balance with the rich, smoky, salty beef. Raw onion, another polarizing ingredient, adds a nice sharp note that accents the rest of the flavors, though both the onion and sauce it can be easily omitted for those who find it to be a bit too much.

The temperatures are still mild enough here to permit firing up the grill for this recipe, which will definitely give you the best flavor. If you'd rather keep warm and cozy inside, the beef can be roasted in the oven and finished with a sear in a cast iron pan to create a delightful, crusty exterior. A crowd-pleasing recipe for any gathering of carnivores from coast to coast, I hope you won't wait until your team plays the Ravens to cook up this delicious recipe.

Baltimore Pit Beef
adapted from Steven Raichlan, via the New York Times
makes 8 sandwiches

For the rub:
2 tablespoons seasoned salt
1 tablespoon sweet or smoked paprika
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 3-pound piece top round
8 kaiser (or other) rolls
Horseradish sauce (see below)
1 sweet white onion, sliced thin
2 ripe tomatoes, sliced thin (optional)
Iceburg lettuce (optional).

1. Combine ingredients for the rub in a bowl, and mix. Sprinkle 3 to 4 tablespoons all over the beef, patting it in. Place in a baking dish, and cover with plastic wrap. You can cover the beef with the rub for a few hours, but for maximum flavor, leave it for 3 days in the refrigerator, turning once a day.

2. Prepare a hot grill. Grill beef 30 to 40 minutes, or until outside is crusty and dark brown and internal temperature is about 120 degrees (for rare). Turn beef often. Transfer to a cutting board; let it rest 5 minutes.

3. Slice beef thinly across grain. Pile beef high on a roll or bread slathered with horseradish sauce. Garnish with onions, tomatoes and sliced lettuce. Serve.

Yield: 8 sandwiches.

Horseradish Sauce
yields 1.5 cups
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup prepared white horseradish, or to taste
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Salt and black pepper to taste.

Combine ingredients in a bowl, and whisk to mix. Adjust seasonings to taste.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Indian-Spiced Eggplant & Cauliflower Stew

The more I experiment with my eggplant crop, the more I'm coming to appreciate what a versatile canvas it can be. Baba ganoush and eggplant Parmesan are two of the most iconic dishes for this gorgeous member of the nightshade family (ratatouille and moussaka being others), but I have to say I'm especially pleased with how it fares with the vibrant spices of Indian cuisine.

Curry powder and garam masala form the flavor backbone of this dish and their varieties myriad and varied, so choose ones that you really love for this recipe. Cauliflower and potato curry was the first one I ever prepared (and loved!), earning cauliflower an eternal welcome in any curry I make; it takes a turn as an expert companion to eggplant here. Onions, tomatoes, and chickpeas round out a typical cast of characters, all of those ingredients taking up classic Indian spices with great aplomb. The creamy swirl of yogurt or sour cream makes the tapestry of flavors especially vibrant, so barring veganism or lactose intolerance, I strongly encourage that finishing touch.

Though Indian food comes from a land that generally dare not dream of freezing temperatures, those flavors are just as delightful on chilly Wisconsin fall day as a searing one in Delhi. Flavorful bites call up images of warm and far away lands, while still linked to milder climes by familiar comforting spices of fall like cinnamon and cardamom.

Indian-Spiced Eggplant and Cauliflower Stew
adapted from Eating Well
serves 4 to 6

2 tablespoons curry powder
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 large onion, sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1-pound eggplant, cut into 1-inch chunks
8 ounces small cauliflower florets
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup plain yogurt or sour cream, (optional)
Pita, rice, or naan, for serving (option)

1. Heat a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add curry powder, garam masala and mustard seeds and toast, stirring, until the spices begin to darken, about 1 minute. Transfer to a small bowl.

2. Add oil, onion, garlic, ginger and salt to the pot and cook, stirring, until softened, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in eggplant, cauliflower, tomatoes, chickpeas, water and the reserved spices. Bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Top each serving with a dollop of yogurt or sour cream, if desired, and serve with pita, rice, or naan, if desired.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Roasted Eggplant and Chickpea Soup

Someone failed to tell my eggplants that it's fall, because they just keep producing. Temperatures slipped dangerously close to freezing last night, but as long as Jack Frost stays away, I'm going to let them keeping on growing. I'm glad this bumper crop arrived after my zucchini had waned, because turning eggplant into Thai curry, baba ganoush, and eggplant Parmesan has certainly kept me busy already. My winter CSA starts in just a couple of weeks and I'm confident I'll have put it all to good use by then.

The obvious place to turn to use up a lot of any one vegetable is soup, and though the list of ingredients is brief, this certainly isn't short on taste.There's a bit of chopping and peeling (if desired) involved to get your vegetables ready for primetime, but the ingredients mostly roast unattended, developing a deep flavor with minimal effort required. Chickpeas roast alongside the eggplant, onions, and garlic, picking up a nutty flavor and crunchy texture that is the perfect contrast to the silky, earthy eggplant. A dollop of yogurt or sour cream adds a rich, creamy, tangy accent, but isn't necessary if you're vegetarian or vegan.

This soup may be made with the last of my summer crop, but it most certainly has the soul of fall, each bite packed with the hearty texture and flavor necessary to fortify against the impending colder months.

Roasted Eggplant and Chickpea Soup
adapted from Martha Stewart
serves 4

2 medium eggplants (about 1 1/2 pounds total), peeled, if desired, and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 small yellow or white onion, diced medium
2 garlic cloves, unpeeled
6 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 can (15.5 ounces) chickpeas, rinsed, drained, and patted dry
4 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth or water
Fresh oregano (optional)
Plain yogurt or sour cream (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, toss together eggplant, onion, garlic, and 4 teaspoons of the olive oil; season with salt and pepper. Arrange in a single layer in a roasting pan or rimmed baking sheet, leaving a wide strip of empty space at one end. In bowl, toss chickpeas with remaining 2 teaspoons olive oil. Transfer to empty space on sheet. Roast until eggplant is golden and cooked through and chickpeas are slightly crunchy, about 35 minutes.

2. Set chickpeas aside. Peel garlic and add to a medium pot, along with eggplant, onion, and broth. Bring mixture to a simmer over medium-high. With a potato masher or back of a wooden spoon, mash some eggplant until soup is thick and chunky, or puree to desired consistency with an immersion blender. Stir in chickpeas and season to taste with salt and pepper. To serve, top with fresh oregano and plain yogurt, if desired.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Roasted Chile Relleno with Avocado-Chipotle Sauce

Whether in their fresh or dried (ancho) form, poblanos are my favorite pepper, and consequently I have a real weakness for chile rellenos. It's one of my favorite things to order when I'm out for Mexican food, and I'll happily chow down on both the Americanized and authentic versions. Despite a deep love for this dish, I don't have the ambition or time to bread and deep-fry chile rellenos at home. But a roasted version? That I can handle.

Restaurant chile rellenos are often just stuffed with wonderfully indulgent amounts of cheese, but I love the added veggie, beans, and grains in the homemade version that create a much more varied collection of flavors and textures. Though it lacks a deep-fried breading, the luxurious avocado sauce and toasty pepitas add their own unique richness and crunchiness that are still amply satisfying. A healthier and less labor-intensive version of the Pueblan classic, this dish is a more-than-fitting use of that state's namesake pepper to fulfill your spicy, cheesy cravings.

Roasted Chile Relleno with Avocado-Chipotle Sauce
adapted from Serve Yourself by Joe Yonan
serves 1

1 large or 2 to 3 small to medium poblano peppers

For the Filling:
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon ground ancho chile
1 medium shallot lobe, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
4 or 5 Swiss chard leaves, stacked, rolled, and thinly sliced (or spinach or kale)
1 plum or other small tomato, cored, seeded, and chopped
¼ cup cooked black or pinto beans, preferably homemade, rinsed and drained
¼ cup cooked brown or white rice, farro, or quinoa
1 ounce Monterey Jack or cheddar cheese, cut into small chunks or grated
Kosher or sea salt

For the Sauce:
½ avocado, pitted
2 tablespoons low-fat yogurt or sour cream
¼ teaspoon adobo sauce (from a can of chipotle in adobo)
Juice of ½ lime
2 to 3 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon roasted shelled pumpkin seeds (pepitas)

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.

2. Blacken the skin of the poblano pepper by turning a gas burner to high and setting the poblano right on the grate, using tongs to turn it periodically until it is charred all over. (If you don’t have a gas stove, preheat your oven broiler and set the poblano on a pan about 4 to 5 inches from the broiler element or flame and broil for 5 to 6 minutes, turning periodically until it is charred all over.) Transfer the pepper to a stainless steel or glass bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let steam as it cools.

3. While the poblano is cooling, make the filling. Pour the olive oil into a medium skillet over medium heat. When the oil starts to shimmer, sprinkle in the ground ancho chile and cook for about 30 seconds, until it foams and releases its aroma. Add the shallot and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables start to soften, 2 to 4 minutes. Stir in the Swiss chard and tomato and cook until the chard wilts and the tomato softens, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl. Stir in the black beans, rice, and cheese, and season with salt to taste. Let cool.

4. When the poblano is cool enough to handle, gently rub off the blackened skin, being careful not to tear the flesh open. Use a sharp paring knife to cut a slit on one side of the poblano, starting near the stem and cutting about halfway down the side. Carefully reach in and remove the seeds, trying not to enlarge the opening if possible. Use your hands to carefully stuff the filling into the poblano, getting it as full as possible. Carefully transfer the stuffed poblano to a baking sheet, cut side up. Don’t worry if the filling is exposed.

5. Roast the poblano for 15 to 20 minutes, until the filling is bubbling and the cheese is melted. Remove from oven and let cool slightly.

6. While the poblano is roasting, make the sauce. Scoop the avocado flesh into a small bowl and use a fork to thoroughly mash it. Whisk in the yogurt, adobo sauce, and lime juice, adding more water if you want the sauce to be thinner. Pour enough sauce onto a dinner plate to evenly coat the botom.

7. Transfer the poblano to the plate and spoon remaining sauce on top, sprinkle with the pumpkin seeds, and eat.

Note: To roast the pumpkin seeds, spread them in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake at 375°F for 5 to 7 minutes, until the seeds are very fragrant. Immediately transfer to a plate to stop the cooking and allow the seeds to cool completely.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Pan-Seared Salmon with Braised Lentils and Swiss Chard

Because I have an adventurous palate, my constant quest for new foods and flavors can sometimes lead me to forget about out old favorites. For whatever reason, lentils are one of those foods for me. I don't think I've met a lentil dish I didn't like, but I don't find myself plucking them out of the pantry on a regular basis. And there's no good reason for not making them more often. They cook much faster than your average dried legume without requiring any pre-soaking, making them the perfect bean for a quick weeknight meal.

The list of ingredients is startlingly short for the flavor the finished dish turns out, just a few gentle touches of herb and acid required to perfectly unite the earthy lentils, rich salmon, and subtly bitter Swiss chard in a flavorful broth. I found this combination to be absolutely delectable, but I already have notions of trying spinach and kale once I've finally picked my Swiss chard plants clean. This is satisfying enough on its own, but if you're feeling a bit more voracious, a side of quinoa or rice really rounds out the meal nicely. Quick enough for an average Thursday, but special enough for date night, this dinner is sure to impress whether or not there's time to linger over each scrumptious bite.

Pan-Seared Salmon with Braised Lentils and Swiss Chard
adapted from America's Test Kitchen Cooking for Two 2010
serves 2

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 bunch Swiss chard (about 6 ounces), stems and leaves separated, stems chopped and leaves cut into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup minced onion
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon minced fresh thyme or pinch dried
2 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 cup brown lentils (about 3 ounces), picked over and rinsed
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper
2 (6-ounce) skinless center-cut salmon fillets, about 1 1/2 inches thick
1 teaspoon vegetable or canola oil
Lemon wedges, for serving

1. Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a 10-inch non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add the chard stems and onion and cook until the vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and thyme and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

2. Stir in 1 3/4 cups of the broth, lentils, and lemon juice. Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook until the lentils are tender, about 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste, transfer to a bowl, and cover to keep warm.

3. Pat the salmon fillets dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Wipe out the skillet with a wad of paper towels, add the toil, and return to medium-high heat until just smoking. Carefully lay the salmon in the skillet, skinned-side up, and cook until well-browned on the first side, about 5 minutes. Flip the fish and continue to cook until the sides are opaque and the thickest part registers 125 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, 3 to 5 minutes longer. Transfer the fish to a plate, tent loosely with foil, and let rest while finishing the lentils.

4. Wipe out the skillet with a wad of paper towels and return to medium-high heat Ad the lentils and remaining 1/4 cup broth and cook until hot, about 1 minute. Stir int he chard leaves and remaining 1 tablespoon butter and cook, stirring constantly, until the chard is wilted, 2 to 3 minutes. Serve the salmon and lentils with lemon wedges.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Kale Walnut Pesto

In the not too distant future, it's going to be time to completely clean out my vegetable and herb gardens. My kale plants have continued to produce generously throughout the summer, and despite a voracious appetite for kale chips, my overzealous planting left me with an abundance of kale to use up. I've made many pestos with my herb garden plenitude and other greens, but this is my first foray into one made with hearty winter greens, and while it has a character all its own, it certainly doesn't disappoint. Kale doesn't have as assertive a flavor as basil, but its earthiness is a wonderful foil for salty, savory Parmesan and rich, toasty walnuts. Traditional pesto doesn't contain any citrus, but the subtle addition of lemon really brightens the sauce and brings out more in all of the other ingredients.

I froze this pesto in 1/4 cup portions, enough  to lightly sauce one serving of pasta, so there's no excuse not to prepare a homemade meal for dinner. To use with pasta, cook pasta to just shy of al dente and drain, reserving about 1/4 cup pasta water per serving. Return the pasta to the pan, add the (thawed) pesto to the warm noodles and toss to coat, adding  pasta water a tablespoon at a time until sauce achieves desired consistency. Add a little more freshly grated Parmesan, if desired, and serve promptly.

This pesto has many uses beyond a pasta sauce, delicious on a sandwich (especially grilled cheese), as a dressing for potato salad, or with eggs. If this particular combination of greens, nuts, and cheese isn't to your liking feel, this is still a great template for experimentation. Arugula, pecans, and Pecorino Romano? Spinach, almonds, and Asiago? No matter what greens, nuts, and cheese you choose, this recipe is a culinary road map to, quite literally, awesome sauce.

Kale Walnut Pesto
makes 1 1/2 to 2 cups, enough for 6-8 servings of pasta
adapted from The Kitchn

1/2 cup chopped walnuts
8 ounces kale, trimmed, rinsed and chopped
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spread the nuts in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and roast them in the oven until they are golden and fragrant, about 10 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Have a large bowl of cold water ready. Drop the chopped kale into the boiling water. When the water returns to a boil, swirl the kale around a few times until it becomes limp.

3. Drain the kale and plunge it into the cold water. Drain again, then place the kale on a clean dishtowel and blot away the moisture.

4. Place the nuts, kale, Parmesan, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a blender and puree until uniformly smooth. You may need to add more olive oil to reach desired consistency.

5. To refrigerate, cover with plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pesto. Will stay fresh for up to 3 days. To freeze, place desired portions in small containers with plastic directly on the surface of the pesto, or place in plastic freezer bags, and freeze for up to two months.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Applesauce Flax Oat Bars with Fruits and Seeds

When it comes to breakfast on-the-go, these bars are the ultimate in portable oatmeal. I was personally sold on this recipe from the first ingredient on the list, healthy and flavorful coconut oil. I first bought coconut oil specifically to make Oatcakes, one of my all-time favorite snacks, but because I don't have familiarity with is as I do other oils, it hasn't gotten nearly the use it should. The rest of ingredients on the list - from the peanut butter, now shown to reduce the risk of breast disease, to the nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and spices - are no slouch either. Raisins, cranberries, pepitas, and sunflower seeds are ingredients that I always have in the pantry, but dried blueberries, cherries, or apricots or any kind of kind of nuts, preferably toasted, would make great substitutions. The applesauce keeps these bars moist and adds a subtle sweetness, but my next experiment with this recipe is sure to be using pumpkin puree instead of part or all of the applesauce. Individual bars freeze well, especially if you bake them in an individual brownie pan, which gives you more brown and crispy edges and makes them more structurally sound. With all the goodness of a loaded bowl of oatmeal, these bars pack flavor and nutrition into a form that's easy to eat anytime, anywhere.

Applesauce Flax Oat Bars with Fruits and Seeds
adapted from The Kitchn
makes 12 bars

1/4 cup melted coconut oil
3 tablespoons smooth peanut or almond butter
3 tablespoons honey, maple syrup, or brown rice syrup
1/4 cup ground flax seeds
1 1/4 cups apple sauce
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups rolled oats (use certified gluten-free oats if necessary)
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/ 2 to 1 teaspoon cinnamon (to taste)
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (optional)
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Line an 8"x8" baking pan with parchment paper.

2. In a small saucepan over low heat, combine the melted coconut oil, peanut butter, and brown rice syrup and stir until melted. Remove from heat. Add the ground flax seeds, apple sauce, and vanilla, and whisk to combine.

3. In a large bowl, combine the oats with the dried fruit, seeds, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Add the liquid mixture to the dry ingredients and stir until well combined.

4. Transfer the mixture to the baking pan, pressing with your hands to create an even surface.

5. Bake until golden, about 45 minutes. Cool completely in pan. Lift out and cut into 12 pieces.

6. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Wrap individual bars tightly for transporting.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Leek, Potato and Spinach Stew

Remember when I said it was game on with heartier pasta? That philosophy also applies to soups and stews now that the cooler temperatures have arrived. Chili was my first foray into that territory this fall, but there's so much more to explore.

Leek and potato soup is one of my absolute favorite soups, and while it takes a lot to draw me from away from the classic recipe, this soup had too much extra going for it not to give it a shot.  While classic leek and potato soup is a wonderful side to a sandwich and salad, this stew turns that irresistible flavor into the main event. The low-fat turkey sausage adds a palate of delicious spices and richness, the beans and spinach ample heartiness, with a lovely fresh note from the generous helping of herbs. This is certainly a complete meal in a bowl, but it wouldn't be out of the question to serve it with a hunk of crusty bread to soak up all the delicious broth.

If you like to riff on recipes, as I am wont to do, I encourage you to experiment with other types of beans and hearty greens. Chickpeas and kale, perhaps? Although it's not quite as good as fresh off the stove or after a day or two in the fridge, extra portions of this soup will freeze pretty well for future meals. With my winter CSA starting next month, I can this recipe making a reappearance in my house in very short order.

Leek, Potato and Spinach Stew
adapted from Eating Well
serves 4 to 6

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 links hot or sweet Italian turkey or chicken sausage (6-7 ounces), casings removed (optional)
2 cups chopped leeks (about 2 leeks), white and light green parts only, rinsed well
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup dry white wine
1 pound new or red potatoes, halved and thinly sliced
4 cups reduced-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
8 ounces spinach, stemmed and chopped (about 8 cups)
1 bunch scallions, sliced
1 15-ounce can cannellini, navy, or other white beans, preferably no-salt-added, rinsed
1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs, such as dill, chervil, chives and/or parsley

1. Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add sausage, if using, and leeks and cook, stirring occasionally and crumbling the sausage with a wooden spoon, until the leeks are tender, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and salt and stir until fragrant, about 20 seconds. Add wine, cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Uncover and cook until the wine is almost evaporated, about 4 minutes. Add potatoes and broth; cover and bring to a boil. Stir in spinach and scallions and cook, covered, until the potatoes are tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in beans. Cover and let stand for 1 minute. Divide among 6 soup bowls and sprinkle each portion with herbs.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Chicken, Bacon, and Parmesan Rotini with Scallions and Garlic

When I'm cooking and eating lunch or dinner by myself, my meals quite often fall into one of three broad categories - sandwiches, salads or noodles. These are typically vegetarian for health and convenience reasons, running the gamut from elaborate and complex to a good ol' PB&J. In the summer months, my noodle preferences lean towards cold veggie noodle salads, but now that autumn is settling in, it is game on with heartier pasta fare.

It doesn't take a genius to realize why this is so delicious. When you start with bacon and end with Parmesan, almost anything you throw in between is guaranteed to be delectable. This recipe might only use one slice of bacon, but not a bit of that flavor is wasted, the rendered fat used to gently cook the onions chicken, and garlic and unite all the ingredients with rich and smoky flavor. The final sharp accent of the scallion greens is the perfect contrast, making all the luxuriousness even more notable.

Not only is this particular combination delicious, but the recipe provides a nice jumping off point for cozy pasta dinners for one (or more). The basic method of cook pasta, saute proteins and vegetables, and create a pan sauce with pasta water is endlessly useful and a method every busy chef should have at their fingertips.

Chicken, Bacon, and Parmesan Rotini with Scallions and Garlic
adapted from Food and Wine
serves 1

1 ounce sliced bacon, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch strips
2 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breast or thigh, cut into bite-size pieces
1/2 medium to large or 1 small onion, sliced thin
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 scallions, white bulbs cut into 1/2-inch lengths, green tops chopped
2 cloves garlic, sliced thin
2 to 3 ounces pound whole wheat rotini, or other small pasta
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan

1. In a large deep frying pan, cook the bacon over moderate heat until crisp. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon. Put the pan over moderate heat. Add the onions and a pinch of salt. Cook onions, stirring occasionally, until the onions start to soften and become translucent, just a few minutes. Add the chicken and continue cooking until the onions are golden, 7 to 10 minutes total.

2. Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the pasta until almost done, about 9 minutes, reserving 1/2 cup pasta water. Drain the pasta and set aside. 

3. Stir in the scallion bulbs and the garlic; cook 1 to 2 minutes longer, stirring occasionally. Add the pasta water and bring to a simmer. Cook until the pasta is just done, about 3 minutes. Stir in the Parmesan and season to taste with salt and pepper. Toss with the bacon and scallion greens and serve promptly.