Thursday, May 29, 2014

Easy Portobello Burgers

I, like so many Americans, celebrated Memorial Day weekend with plenty of cooking out. As Monday evening rolled around, after my grill had seen brats, steaks, and corn that got slathered in butter, I was ready to detox my diet. But just because I needed to eat healthier doesn't mean I wanted to eat blander or put the grill away just yet. The perfect solution? Portobello burgers.

Now if you have your heart set on a carnivorous meal, this isn't going to do it for you. My biggest issue with fake meat is products is exactly that - they're so fake. A mushroom is not beef and tofu is never going to be chicken, so why can't we just celebrate these delicious plant products for what they are? And this portobello "burger" is damn tasty. It might not be the same as biting into a big patty of beef, but these portobellos are still a perfect base on which to pile all your favorite burger toppings. A quick marinade of soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and garlic deeply infuses the mushrooms with flavor, while also keeping them from becoming a desiccated puck on the grill. Because the "burger" itself is so virtuous, there's absolutely no shame in topping them with a generous smear of the mayo-mustard mixture, plus a slice of cheese if you like as well. And if you still must have some meat, this mushroom is pretty delicious piled right on top of a beef patty.

Easy Portobello Burgers
adapted from Cooking Light
serves 4

1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 (4-inch) portobello mushroom caps
Cooking spray
1/4 cup low-fat mayonnaise
1 to 2 tablespoons coarse grain or Dijon mustard
4 whole grain sandwich buns
Tomato, lettuce, and thinly sliced onion, for serving

1. Combine first 5 ingredients in a large zip-top plastic bag; add mushrooms to bag. Seal and marinate at room temperature for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 hours, turning bag occasionally. Remove mushrooms from bag; discard marinade.

2. Prepare grill to medium heat. In a small bowl, whisk together mayonnaise and mustard and season to taste with salt and pepper.

3. Place mushrooms, gill sides down, on grill rack coated with cooking spray; grill 4 minutes on each side. Place buns, cut sides down, on grill rack coated with cooking spray; grill 30 seconds on each side or until toasted. Divide mayonnaise mixture evenly between top halves of buns. Place 1 mushroom on bottom half of each bun. Top each mushroom with toppings of choice; cover with top halves of buns.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Spicy Lentil Wraps with Tahini Sauce

No matter how hard I try, I will always have far more bookmarked recipes than I have time to try, much less perfect. In order to keep my culinary to-do list manageable, I have a couple of methods for whether a recipe is really worth a shot - either I'm so excited to try I make it immediately, or it keeps popping back into my head. This recipe is more of the latter variety. The first time I saw it mentioned on The Kitchn, I immediately saved it, but with a few weeks of work lunches in the freezer already, there wasn't room for this one too. But every time I popped over to The Kitchn, I couldn't help thinking about this recipe, so it went right to the top of the queue as soon as my freezer cleaning was complete.

I can't say I've been disappointed with anything I've bought at Trader Joe's, so the fact that this wrap was modeled on a Trader Joe's offering definitely intrigued me. Dried lentils are something I always have around, their quick preparation and affordability making them an absolute pantry staple. Bulgur gets a spot for the same reason, so this meal was practically destined to be in my life. It may not be as quick and easy and picking up a sandwich at the store, but portioning and freezing the leftover lentil mixture makes the extra effort well worth it.

Quick cooking, affordable ingredients aside, this wrap is all about sauces. The homemade versions described below are worth it if you have the time, but even store-bought red pepper paste and tahini will leave your taste buds happy. The lentils and bulgur are the spicy, smoky soul of this wrap, but it's the spicy, savory red pepper paste and creamy tahini that really makes it delicious. Crunchy greens are a nice contrast from the tender filling, my only complaint with this wrap being the somewhat brittle tortilla I used to wrap it all up since I didn't have any whole grain lavash on hand. But you know what? I can't say I really minded scooping up the lingering bits that fell to my plate, those remnants extending my meal a few more delicious bites.

Spicy Lentil Wraps with Tahini Sauce
adapted from The Kitchn
Makes 6 wraps

1/2 cup lentils, preferably red, rinsed
2 cups water
3/4 cups fine grain bulgur
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 scallion, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
6 (approximately 9x12-inch) sheets whole grain lavash or whole grain tortillas
3/4 cup red pepper paste (recipe below, or use store-bought)
2 cups shredded cabbage, spinach, or other greens
Tahini sauce to serve (recipe below)

1. Combine lentils and water in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to low. Simmer until lentils are soft, about 20 minutes.

2. Turn off heat and stir in bulgur. Let stand until water is absorbed and bulgur is soft, about 30 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring frequently, until soft and translucent. Stir in cumin and red pepper flakes and cook for another minute.

4. Add onions, scallions, parsley, and salt to lentil-bulgur mixture and stir until well combined. Let cool before using to make wraps. (If you want a smoother texture closer to the Trader Joe's version, you can run the filling through a food processor, but I like it just as it is.) You can freeze the filling in an airtight container if not using all at once.

5. To assemble, lay out a lavash sheet with the shorter end closest to you. Spread 1 1/2 tablespoons of red pepper paste across the lower 1/3 of the sheet. Top with the lentil-bulgur mixture, and then the cabbage. Roll from the bottom up, and spread an additional 1/2 tablespoon of red pepper paste across the top end to help seal the wrap. Repeat for remaining wraps.

6. To serve, cut each wrap in half and serve with tahini sauce on the side.

Red Pepper Paste
makes about 3/4 cup

6 red bell peppers, cored and chopped
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Olive oil to cover (if refrigerating)

1. Combine bell peppers, cayenne pepper, and salt in a food processor and puree.

2. Pour the puree into a skillet over low heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until reduced to a paste. This can take up to 2 hours.

3. Let cool before using. To store, pack the paste into a jar, pour enough olive oil on top to cover, and refrigerate.

Tahini Sauce
makes about 3/4 cup

1/4 cup tahini
2/3 cup or more warm water
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons finely chopped parsley
1/4 teaspoon crushed garlic
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

1. Place all ingredients in a small bowl and mix with a fork until well combined.

2. Gradually stir in small amounts of additional warm water until the desired consistency is achieved.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Cauliflower Chickpea Salad with Curry Yogurt Dressing

A large head of cauliflower goes a long way. I may have purchased my last head to take it for a spin in fried rice, but there was plenty left for additional culinary creativity. Cauliflower has become quite the popular crucifer lately, and although I've loved in since I was a kid, it was Dijon-Roasted Cauliflower that spurred my more recent obsession with it. I've found that cauliflower makes a fine soup, veggie burger, or addition to pasta, but when the weather gets steamy and you want a little cauliflower in your diet, this is the way to go.

This salad formula is yet another example of my workhorse salad template (greens + fresh or cooked veggies + nuts + fresh or dried fruit + cheese; add beans or meat for extra protein) put to good use. The flavors and ingredients here borrow a little bit from both Moroccon and Indian cuisine, absolutely delicious despite the lack of authenticity. A combination of cauliflower and chickpeas make up the most belly-filling portion of this salad, and although I greatly prefer the combination, you could certainly double either the cauliflower or chickpeas in lieu of using the pair. Leftover roasted cauliflower and chickpeas make this meal even quicker and easier, both well worth the effort of cooking up an extra-large batch. The combination of sweet and chewy raisins, crispy and toasty almonds, and salty feta cheese contrast provide varied accent in each bite and the spiced creamy dressing pulling it all together nicely.

Cauliflower Chickpea Salad with Curry Yogurt Dressing
serves 1

2 ounces cauliflower, cut into small to medium florets with at least one flat side (or leftover Dijon-Roasted Cauliflower)
Olive oil cooking spray
Extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons regular or Greek yogurt
1/4 teaspoon curry powder
2 cups (about 2 ounces) spinach, salad greens, or lettuce
1/2 ounce thinly sliced red onion (about 2 tablespoons)
1/4 cup canned chickpeas, thoroughly rinsed and drained, preferably roasted
1 tablespoon raisins
1 tablespoon toasted sliced almonds
1/2 ounce/2 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese
Salad dressing, for serving

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray. Toss the cauliflower and chickpeas with olive oil to coat and season to taste with salt and pepper. Roast until tender and browned, about 15 minutes, depending on floret size.

2. Meanwhile, combine yogurt and curry powder in a small bowl. Add water, about 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon at a time, to achieve dressing consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

3. Spread salad greens on a plate and top with red onion, cauliflower, chickpeas, raisins, almonds, and feta. Drizzle with salad dressing and enjoy!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Cauliflower Fried Rice with Shrimp

Unless I'm medically required, you'll never catch me signing up for a restrictive diet. I'm not dropping gluten or becoming a vegan, and you'll certainly never catch me going paleo. But just because I don't buy in fully to one of those lifestyles, it doesn't mean I can't glean a few good ideas. The recent popularity of the gluten and paleo diets has led people to find a lot of creative alternatives for bread and grains, one of them being cauliflower. Although I'm not about to stop chowing down on (whole) grains, I am definitely for adding more vegetables to my diet, so I decided to give cauliflower rice a shot.

Fried rice is one of my go-to dinners when I'm short on time, have a lot of odds and ends in the fridge that need to be used up, or both, and I figured incorporating this new prep into a tried-and-true favorite was a good place to start. Other than using cauliflower, this a classic fried rice recipe, full of all the flavors you hope to find in your Chinese take-out and the perfect vehicle to test drive this new substitution. And you know what? This turned out just as wonderful as the original. Grated cauliflower has a strikingly similar texture to cooked rice and soaks up flavors just as eagerly, with the added benefit of picking up an even more delicious brown crust. It may not replace the original version, but this certainly hasn't seen its last appearance at my dinner table.

Cauliflower Fried Rice with Shrimp
adapted from The Kitchn
serves 2

1/2 head cauliflower
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil, plus more for finishing
2 eggs, beaten
8 ounces shrimp, peeled (and deveined, if desired)
1/2 cup diced or shredded carrots
1/2 cup frozen peas
4 scallions, sliced into thin rounds
2 to 3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 to 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1/2-inch freshly grated ginger
2-3 cloves minced garlic 
Sriracha or other hot suace

1. Cut cauliflower into quarters. Grate cauliflower using grater or food processor until coarse.

2. Place a skillet over medium heat and add a teaspoon of oil. Scramble the eggs, breaking them into small curds. When the eggs are just barely cooked, scrape them into a clean dish and set them aside.

3.  Add another teaspoon of oil to the pan, add the shrimp, and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until shrimp is opaque and cooked through, 2 to 4 minutes, depending on the size of the shrimp.

4. Add another teaspoon of oil to the pan and stir in the grated cauliflower. Make sure all the grains of cauliflower are coated with a little oil, then spread the rice into a thin layer across the bottom of the pan. Let it cook for a few minutes, then gather it together and spread it out thin again. Continue until the rice is toasted and beginning to brown.

5. Add two tablespoons of soy sauce, one tablespoon of rice wine vinegar, and ginger and garlic and stir. Add the peas and carrots, cooking until they are tender and warmed through. Stir in the eggs, shrimp, and scallions.

6. Taste and add more soy sauce and rice wine vinegar if needed. Finish with hot sauce and sesame oil, to taste

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Quinoa Salad with Balsamic Roasted Mushrooms

I'm getting back to basics lately. At least for the time being, my culinary ambitions are taking a back seat to my professional and personal ones, so the meals I'm making are a little less Top Chef and a little more Better Homes and Gardens. I last shared a main course green salad, created using one of most-used recipe templates, and now it's time for a basic grain salad, another indispensable arrow in my culinary quiver.

The basic template for this recipe isn't all that far off from my main course green salad version. Greens + onion + veggie + fresh or dried fruit + nuts + cheese is still a great combination, but here they either mix with or rest atop a bed of whole grains, instead of being an accompanied by a roll or slice of crusty bread. The chewy, nutty quinoa is an especially good grain to play off the rich elements of funky blue cheese, crunchy almonds, and tart cranberries, with the fresh spinach and scallions mingled throughout keeping it light. The tender, tangy mushrooms add another distinct flavor and texture, but if fungi aren't your thing, roasted chickpeas or grilled chicken breast are nice substitutions (or additions).

Grain salads are often delicious cold, room temperature, or warm, so what is a hot dinner warm night can be a delicious lunch the following day, whether or not you have access to a refrigerator or microwave.

Quinoa Salad with Balsamic Roasted Mushrooms
adapted from Whole Foods
serves 4 (as a main) to 6 (as a side)

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 pound cremini or shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1 cup red or white quinoa
4 cups (about 4 ounces) tightly packed fresh spinach or arugula, chopped
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
1/2 cup dried cranberries
2 ounces crumbled blue cheese
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 450°F.

2. Whisk vinegar and Dijon mustard together in a large bowl. Add sliced mushrooms to bowl and toss to coat with the vinegar mixture. Spread mushrooms in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast until tender, stirring occasionally, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven.

3. While mushrooms roast, prepare quinoa according to package directions. When quinoa is ready, remove from heat, add spinach and scallions and toss to wilt vegetables slightly.

4. Add mushrooms, almonds, cranberries, and blue cheese to quinoa mixture and stir to mix well. Serve with remaining dressing on the side.