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Posts Tagged ‘Vegetable’

Lentils have always been a staple for us. During Greg’s first year of graduate school, before we were married, his work week sustenance consisted almost entirely of brown rice and lentils. High in fiber and magnesium, and easy on the wallet, this was a quintessential “poor man’s food”, and delicious to top it all off.

Since then, our lentil repertoire has evolved quite a bit. We add red lentils to soups or stews for extra depth, creaminess, and nutrition without interfering with flavor. (Fun fact, red lentils somehow complement the flavor of roasted tomato soup!) Brown lentils, the cheapest option, are slightly meatier and, unlike their red cousins, hold their shape much better when cooked.  We often cook them up in soups and stews with a melange of vegetables — carrots, eggplant, kale.

Recently we saw French lentils on sale for roughly the price of standard brown lentils.  They are earthier and have a beautiful, delicate black and green color.  Technically, these lentils are called “green lentils” because true French lentils, or puy lentils, come from the region of Le Puy.  This below cooking method seemed most appropriate, whether the lentils were actually from France or not.

Red Wine Braised Lentils
4-6 large carrots
4-6 stalks celery
1 large onion
2-4 garlic cloves
1 quart chicken stock
~1 cup red wine
2 cups dry lentils (brown or green)
salt to taste

Soak lentils in advance.  They will plump to about 4 cups.  Dice vegetables.  In large pot or dutch oven, saute onion with salt over medium heat.  When translucent and beginning to brown, add garlic, celery, and carrot, salt again, and continue to cook (covered is fine) until soft.  Add wine and let alcohol burn away.  Add stock and lentils and simmer, covered, until lentils are tender. Season with salt and pepper.

You could add other sturdy vegetables as well, like fennel or potatoes.  Tomatoes would be another good addition.  We served ours topped with greek yogurt and paprika.  The yogurt was for creaminess and to cool it down.  The paprika was just for vanity.

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Upon returning from our trip to China/Taiwan, we’ve turned over a new leaf and have decided to start eating healthier than ever. We’ve cut out processed sugar (fruit is fine), and have stuck to whole grains, lots of vegetables, and very limited sweets (save the very occasional baked treat with maple sugar or fruit as sweetener). Keeping to this new healthy lifestyle, we have collectively lost about ten pounds in the last six weeks!

We’ve recently received a cookbook written by one of my favorite bloggers — Super Natural Every Day. This book emphasizes whole grains and vegetables, keeping pantries stocked with whole, natural foods made with as little processing and as few added flavorings, stabilizers, and preservatives as possible. It’s really a fabulous read, and the blog is one of my long-standing favorites. The salad featured here is largely based on her kale salad with toasted coconut.

We made this for lunch with a bit of leftover short grain brown rice, but really any grain will do (quinoa, wheat berries, etc.). For a more substantial meal, you may want to consider adding some protein (tofu, any kind of white bean, or chicken) or a sprinkle of toasted nuts.

One important note — do be sure to wash your kale carefully. Though kale is not one of the dirty dozen, it is a “special mention” on the list of vegetables that are commonly contaminated with toxic insecticides. Also, it drives us crazy when people tell recommend discarding the ribs of kale! Yes, they are tougher than the leaves are, but full of fiber and should not pose a problem to young healthy teeth. If you’re an 80-year old with dentures, you may want to be a bit more careful, but otherwise, keep the ribs.

Coconut Kale and Caramelized Leek Salad

1/2 bunch of kale, finely chopped
1 leek
1/4 c coconut flakes, unsweetened
1 c cooked brown rice
a few sprigs of fresh herbs (we used basil)
sesame oil to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the kale and coconut flakes evenly on two cookie sheets, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and bake for 10-15 minutes. Do check on these and toss a few times during baking, as they are prone to burning.

On low heat, saute chopped leeks until soft and caramelized (brown). Alternatively, you can slice these lengthwise into halves and grill, then chop after grilling, as we did.

Once the kale and coconut are finished, combine all ingredients in a large bowl, drizzle with a bit of sesame oil or good olive oil, add some chopped herbs (basil, in our case), and a grinding or two of black pepper.

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So here’s a confession: With temperatures in the mid-90s today and stifling humidity, this is certainly not a recipe we would ever recommend making in mid-July. However, given the dearth of recent posts, we dug a bit into the recesses of our repertoire and ended up with something decidedly autumnal: vegetable gratin. Now this is not to say that this recipe isn’t incredibly delicious, and that sitting in my air conditioned office I’m not salivating, but unless your kitchen is air-conditioned or you live in the southern part of the southern Hemisphere, you may want to hold off until the advent of cooler temperatures.

The problem is that cheese is just so good.  And baked things covered in bread crumbs are good, too.  So what do you do if you want to experiment with fun and exciting root vegetables?  Why not just smother them in cheese, top with bread crumbs, and bake in the oven? After all, we know that mac and cheese is delicious.  We know this is a good method for cooking spinach even.  And we all know that potatoes au gratin are a fine treat.  So why not swap rutabaga for potatoes and make a mac and cheese cousin?  Maybe even justify this cheese mess but adding some leafy greens.  Something sturdy, like kale, will surely do the trick.  And of course, don’t forget the caramelized onions.

So here’s the general system: get your vegetables.  Cook them (sautéing in a pan is fine) so that baking doesn’t leave you with a soggy mess.  If you can drain the water just by salting (like for zucchini) you can do that, too. (But personally, I think the little extra work to cook is worth the richer flavor.)  Layer veggies with cheese (if you want, and why not?) and cover with a hefty layer of bread crumbs.  Bake at 375 or 400 (I think you’ve got some flexibility) until the top is brown and the veggies are bubbly, maybe 20-30 minutes.

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When shopping for produce the other day, we were distracted by the most stunning poblano peppers we’ve ever seen.  Though neither of us had ever cooked with poblanos, we had to buy them — surely we could figure out something to do with these lustrous and deep green vegetables. Turns out, poblanos are wonderfully easy!

Unlike green bell peppers, which have a fresh, clean, sweet flavor, poblanos are more interesting, slightly earthy and savory, with a slight amount of heat (though this can vary pepper to pepper).  Roasting produces a milder, smokier, and more complex pepper.

We chose a simple approach: stuff with (dressed up) rice, roast covered in foil, finish with a quick broil (why not, right?).  You can be very flexible with your stuffing.  We sauteed onion and garlic, added some chile for spice, and mixed in pre-cooked rice with some grated cheese.  For two poblanos we used half an onion, a few cloves of garlic, half of a small, seeded habanero (we’re a bit gun-shy at the moment due to a recent habanero-ed slaw!), and about a quarter cup of grated cheddar.  Other vegetables, grains, maybe even nuts or meat (chicken, fish, or ground beef) would work nicely as well; why not experiment with a handful of ingredients already in your fridge or pantry?

To stuff the poblanos, cut lengthwise and half-way through across the top (we didn’t want to cut off the top, but there really is no harm if you do).  Clean out the seeds, stuff with rice, and put pepper back together (so it looks like it did before you cut it…sort of).

Place in roasting pan, cover in foil, and bake at 400F for about 30 minutes, until poblanos are soft.  If you want to get some nice blisters, finish for a few minutes under the broiler (you can totally skip this part).  That’s it.

To go with our poblanos, we also baked white fish wrapped in foil, which conveniently cooked for the same amount of time at the same temperature.  We started with frozen fillets, to which we added splashes of lemon juice and olive oil, and pinches of salt, pepper, and thyme.  This is another versatile cooking technique, which would work well with almost any combination of flavors.  We’re thinking of doing a scallion-ginger-soy-sauce recipe next.

As for the “inaugurating summer” bit — it’s freaking hot! We’re melting in this 90+ weather.  How we both grew up in tropical climates now fully escapes our memories and imaginations!

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Eggplant is back!

This winter gave us many things: record snowfall; our first set of heating bills; reason to put insulating plastic sheets on the windows; a stronger-than-usual longing for short sleeves, flowers, and sunshine; and some very pricey eggplant.  Winter gave and took away, and perhaps most notably this year it took away eggplant from our diet.

Cooking eggplant requires one to remember two things: salt heavily, cook thoroughly.  Do that and you can put eggplant in anything, from salad to sandwiches to sauce for pasta, which is what this post is about.  Well, I guess for us cooking eggplant also requires that summer be around the corner, because nobody should pay more than $1.50/lb for eggplant.

In our continuing theme of cooking pasta with little more than a few vegetables and olive oil (we’re not sure when we decided that, with the exception of fresh basil, pasta doesn’t need herbs), this pasta dish is simple, short on ingredients, and quick enough that you can do the whole thing while the water boils.

Take one large eggplant and cut into small cubes, maybe 1/2 inch.  In deep saute pan, heat oil, add eggplant, salt heavily, and cook covered on medium heat.  Add chopped garlic to taste (we use 4-5 cloves).  When eggplant is definitely done, add diced tomatoes (we used a can), and let simmer until pasta is done.  Add 1/4-1/2 cup of pasta water to sauce, stir in pasta, that’s it.  Add herbs if you so desire, especially if fresh basil is in season.  Also good would be to stir in some fresh spinach or arugula at the last minute.  As always, we used bucatini, but anything would do.

And speaking of summer being right around the corner, you may notice some changes around here. That new header picture was taken from our first-of-the-season trip out to Lyman Orchards last weekends. None of the fruit was ready for harvesting yet, but the apple trees, pear trees, and peach trees were in full bloom. We spent the afternoon sunbathing under the fragrant, flowering trees. Magical.

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Cold, wet, rainy spring!

Spring! It’s here! Perky buds on the trees! Galoshes galore! Spring is finally here! Admittedly, this is a bit of a feeble attempt at enthusiasm, because frankly, I don’t know why Greg prefers spring to winter so much. Winter comes along with beautiful snow-blown landscapes and the potential of days off due to unplowed streets and grocery stores full of squash and tubers and root vegetables, perfect for hearty slow-cooked meals, stews and roasts and the like… Spring brings rain, and lots of it.

It is true that on my trot through the park last night, I saw a pair of ducks hanging out in what had previously been dry ground, now flooded into a legitimate pond, perfect for the happy couple to frolic in. And walking into one of the Yale buildings today, there was a beautiful flowering tree, so fragrant I thought the undergrad who had just walked past drenched herself in too much perfume. But with more rain on the forecast and a tired Lily Pulitzer trench, there are really few things I look forward to about spring… but then there are green beans.

Green beans are just about at their peak right now, $1.19 and vibrant at Edge of the Woods today. Radishes are on their way to the market also, and thus, a salad was born:

Green Bean Radish Salad

bunch of green beans, trimmed
bunch of radishes, sliced paper thin
good-quality mustard to taste
olive oil, salt, pepper

Bring a big pot of salted water to a boil. Blanch the green beans briefly, 2-3 minutes, then soak immediately in cold water to keep the beans from continuing to cook. If you miss this step, the beans will be a bit mushy.

In a separate bowl, whisk together mustard, olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste. Spoon this dressing over the green beans and radishes, and toss to cover completely. Finish with a sprinkling of freshly ground black pepper.

Equally delightful modifications:

Top with toasted, salted almonds. Or prosciutto. Or pancetta. Or a grate or two of Pecorino Romano. Instead of radishes, use thinly sliced red cabbage and lemon juice in place of mustard. The cabbage soaks up the dressing and develops a fabulous crunch of a texture that complements the suppleness of green beans quite well.

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Salad!

Yikes, where did this blog go?!  Well, that’s what we get with the end of the semester (semesters) closing in for one part-time student with a full-time job and one full-time student with a part-time job.  Whew.  But, you know, even though something like 5 weeks have elapsed since our last post, we still have over 40 views just two days ago.  I guess we have a dedicated and hopeful following.

This post is about salad!  And it’s about social constructs, too, because lately our salads are salads only in name, I guess.  What makes a salad?  Romeo by any other name would still smell like a rose, but does a salad have to be cold leafy greens, or a starch smothered in a cold sauce?  Whatever you want to call this, it at least began as a salad.

Before I go on, my wife makes the most delightful salads, and in particular she is a salad dressing master.  I’ve heard those scoffers, those unbelievers who think homemade salad dressing is for people who don’t live in the real world, for people obsessed about purity, and for people with have too much time–real people just don’t have the means to make their own salad dressing–from scratch!!  But, um, this is crazy talk.  These fools have never watched my Joann whip together a dressing, in a snap, with no planning, and reckless abandon.

I’ve tried to replicate.  After all, Joann makes it look so easy!  It’s just some oil, something acidic, salt, pepper, and MAYBE something for flavor.  That’s it.  Well, it’s only a little more complicated.  Classic mistake (which I made, of course): not enough oil.  You’re going to use ingredients that are very flavorful in their own right, so mellow it out with enough oil, which will also ensure that everything in the salad gets nicely coated.  And use good oil.  Come on, there are like three ingredients here, they need to matter.  But “good” oil doesn’t mean black truffle infused olive oil hand squeezed from olives that were massaged every night.  It means olive oil, extra virgin–and it doesn’t need to be fancy.  Or it means sesame oil (actually, it means only 1/3 sesame oil because a little goes a long way).  Or peanut oil.  The point is that the oil add some flavor of its own.  Is that so much to ask?

As far as acid goes: vinegar of any nearly any kind, lemon juice or some other citrus, maybe even pomegranate or cranberry juice (though those are probably more of a “flavoring” than the acid base we’re looking for).  And for flavorings: just about anything.  Herbs are good, as is honey or mustard.  It’s hard to go wrong here.  Just be thoughtful about matching the oil, acid, and flavoring.

Back to this salad.  We started with a bed of spinach.  To that we added caramelized onions, sauteed rutabaga, sliced radishes, toasted almonds (“toast” them in some oil just until they smoke–they are incredible), dried cranberries, and chicken.  More than half the ingredients are cooked!   And the warm ingredients caused the spinach to wilt just slightly, which was very nice.  We didn’t even need croutons or cheese!  For other additions: sauteed mushrooms, summer squash, sliced cheese (we’ve been using a vegetable peeler on romano and cheddar), toasted croutons (can be made using left-over bread and some oil–just pop under the broiler).  Also, caramelized onions make everything better.

Well, after all that, I realized we don’t even have a picture of this epic salad.  Fine.  I’ll leave you with a totally unrelated picture: still life, in April.

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