Category Archives: Vegetable Dishes

Spiced Sweet Potatoes with Candied Pecans

16 - Sweet Potatoes & Pecans 2Spiced Sweet Potatoes with Candied Pecans

Did Thanksgiving creep up on you this year like it did to me?  I felt like it was just sort of hanging out there, lurking in the corners, and then after all the drama we’ve had around here with the hurricane and then the Nor’easter it waited until just the right moment to pounce on me, “Ta DAH!  Remember me?  It’s holiday season again!”  (kinda sorta like we used to hide and then jump out of the dark shadows to scare the pants off of my younger siblings when we babysat them).  So, if you’re still pulling together that menu for tomorrow and are looking for colorful side dishes for that holiday table, here’s the recipe for Spiced Sweet Potatoes with Candied Pecans I came up with last year when I was invited to a potluck holiday dinner.

Sweet Potato Pancakes

This vegetable side is a combination of savory with a mild sweetness and hints of citrus and spice so that it balances out all the other foods that you might have on your table.  By using chicken stock to make the mixture creamy, I also limited the amount of butter that I put in the mashed up potatoes, keeping the dairy indulgence for the regular spuds or another helping of pie.  It is easy to transport to a potluck holiday dinner and can be made in advance and reheated just before serving it.  One of the best parts of this dish, too, is that the leftovers can be used to make these Sweet Potato Pancakes for breakfast the morning after Thanksgiving.  I might have to make a batch of this just so that I can have the extras to do just that.

Sweet Potatoes

Spiced Sweet Potatoes with Candied Pecans

Prep Time: 1 hour, more or less

Serving Size: 8-10 (see what to do with the leftovers)


4 large Sweet Potatoes

1/2 c. Chicken Stock, warmed up

3 Tbsp. unsalted Butter

1 Tbsp. Orange Zest

1/2 Orange, juiced

2 tsp. Chinese 5-Spice Powder

1/4 tsp. ground Ginger

1/2 tsp. Salt

1 pinch Black Pepper

Candied Pecans for garnish (recipe below)

1/2 c. Pecan halves

1 Tbsp. Maple Syrup

1/4 tsp. Salt


Peel the sweet potatoes and cut in to large chunks.  Place in a large pot of cold water and bring to a boil.  Turn the heat down, allow the water to simmer, and cook the potatoes through until they are tender.  You can also cook the potatoes in the microwave until tender, if you prefer.

Cooked Potatoes

With a fork or potato masher, smash up the potatoes until they are relatively smooth with almost no lumps.  Pour in the chicken stock and stir to combine with the potatoes.  Then, mix in the butter, one tablespoon at a time, making sure that the butter is fully incorporated.

Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Butter

Add the orange zest and juice, the spices, and the salt and pepper and mix well.  Taste.  Adjust the seasoning as necessary.  The flavor should be slightly citrusy, mildly creamy, and have a pleasant backnote of warmth and spice tones.

Mixed Sweet Potato Mash

Spread the potatoes evenly into a baking or serving dish.  This recipe made a good-sized portion of a sweet potato side dish plus some leftovers.  It can be made in advance and then reheated just before it is served.

Spiced Sweet Potatoes

Before serving it, decorate the top with the Candied Pecans.  Make a few extras to nibble on while waiting for the guests to arrive.

Spiced Sweet Potatoes with Candied Pecans

Candied Pecans

Prep Time: 5-10 minutes

Serving Size: 1/2 cup


1/2 c. Pecan halves

1 Tbsp. Maple Syrup

1/4 tsp. Salt


Place pecans in a non-stick skillet over medium heat.  Dry roast them for a couple of minutes until they just start to change color and become fragrant.  Toss them briefly to make sure that they pick up a bit of color on the other side as well.  Then, turn the heat down to medium-low and pour in the maple syrup.  It will bubble up.  Stir immediately with a wooden spoon to make sure that all the pecans are coated in the syrup, but don’t let them clump together.

Let the mixture cook for about 30 seconds to allow the syrup to stick to the pecans.  Turn off the heat, and add salt to season.  Please let the pecans cool down before testing them as they’ll be very, very hot coming out of the pan.  Cool on parchment paper, separating the pecans so that they don’t end up in one giant, sticky mass.

Candied Pecans

Buon appetito e Buona Festa!

Potato and Green Bean Salad with Arugula Pesto from Michael Natkin’s “Herbivoracious”

Potato and Green Bean Salad with Arugula Pesto

With barbecue season now in full force, I’m on the look out for some portable, flavorful dishes that I can contribute to the buffet tables at these get-togethers.  Yesterday, some friends had located a space where we could grill outdoors, not an easy thing to find in New York City, and had asked everyone to chip in with desserts and salads.  I’d earmarked this recipe for Potato and Green Bean Salad with Arugula Pesto from Michael Nakin‘s recently published cookbook Herbivoracious as one to try out, so this gathering seemed like the perfect opportunity to make it.


I’d first seen this book at the IACP Conference Taste of 5 Boroughs event on the publisher’s table.  After flipping through it briefly, I was taken in by all the gorgeous, colorful photos of the tasty-sounding vegetarian dishes that Natkin had created.  At Eat, Write, Retreat last month, I had a chance to hear him talk about the book and how the community of people who have followed him and his blog Herbivoracious had helped and inspired him along the way.  I also had a chance to taste some of the recipes from his book at an event held in New York by his publishers.

Michael Natkin

Filled with seasonal ingredients and bursting with lively flavors, this salad turned out to be an ideal accompaniment to the grilled meats my friends had prepared.  It’s also relatively simple and quick to prepare.  The potatoes are boiled, green beans get a quick blanch, and the components for the pesto can easily be whipped together in the food processor.  The vibrant, verdant colors pop on a picnic table laden with other salads, chips, and nibbles.


The arugula gives the pesto a peppery upfront bite.  The mint provides lift of freshness while the cheese brings it all together and adds a slightly mellow note to the mix.  My only regret was that I didn’t make an extra portion of the pesto to enjoy on other vegetables, maybe even on the shell peas that are also now in season or to spread on toasted bread or to toss with pasta.

Arugula Pesto

I think I would also have carried the cooked potatoes and green beans to the party separately from the pesto and have added that at the last minute, as the color of it started to change from being more preppy kelly green to forest hued after a while.  I think that tossing everything together in advance also took a way some of the intense, bright taste of the pesto as a contrast to the creamy potatoes and slightly crisp beans.  I opted not to add the extra black pepper and walnut pieces, as I thought that the dish worked well without them.

Potato and Green Bean Salad with Arugula Pesto

Everyone at the party seemed to enjoy this dish.  It was devoured very quickly, making me realize that I could have probably quadrupled the recipe (I had doubled it.).  This is definitely one that I’ll be keeping on hand in my files for upcoming potlucks or even just as a light side dish for a hot summer evening.

Buon appetito!

Red Lentil Dal with Tamarind and Asparagus by Naomi Duguid

It’s asparagus season, here in New York, which is one of my favorite times of year.  I never liked these tender green stalks when I was growing up, as I’ve mentioned, but now I look forward to seeing them when they arrive in the farmers markets.  It also means that I start pulling ideas from magazines and website as to how to prepare them aside from the usual steaming, grilling or sautéing.  In this month’s issue of Food & Wine magazine there was an article about Naomi Duguid with a recipe for Red Lentil Dal with Tamarind and Asparagus


The colors in the photo of the dish, plus the fact that I enjoy eating dal combined with the fact that I can now get my hands on some fat, juicy asparagus, made me tear out the recipe to try it.  I found the asparagus at the Greenmarket, had a few of the spices in my kitchen already, and sourced the other ingredients from my neighborhood stores.  The tamarind concentrate proved to be the hardest component to find, but I did locate it after going to about three places.

Asparagus cooking with the spices, garlic, and onions

I’m trying to get more vegetables into my diet and am also attempting to eat less meat in general, so this dish fit those criteria.  It was also a snap to pull together making it an ideal weeknight dinner or quick lunch.  I cut this recipe in half, which gave me about two portions for a light midday meal.

Lentils added to the pan to cook down for a few minutes

As a side mention, if you, like me, religiously follow the list of ingredients in putting together your shopping notes, you will forget to pick up the limes that are listed in the recipe headnotes and at the end.  I’m not sure why, but somehow they aren’t included with the main ingredients, even though Ms. Duguid mentions them as integral to the balance of flavors in the dish.  I bring this up, as I thought that the freshness of the lime juice really brought the whole meal together.

Red Lentil Dal with Tamarind and Asparagus

Served with brown basmati rice and the juice of a sliver of lime, this dish was creamy, tart, fragrant, and earthy, with just a little sweetness from the onions.  The spices provided an aromatic perfume that melted into the lentils, brightening up their sometimes drab nature.  Next time, I might add more of the serrano to the dish to give it some additional heat and a bit of depth, but other than that (and the aforementioned lime issue), this dish seemed to me to be perfect in taste and texture.  It’s definitely one I’ll be having during this asparagus season and many more in the future as well.

Buon appetito!

Sautéed Asparagus and Ramps

Do you know what the first sign of spring is in these parts?  No, it’s not crocuses blossoming or daffodils blooming or birds trilling merrily.  It’s RAMPS!!!  This year, I caved into the excitement and picked up a bunch of them to try with another spring vegetable – Asparagus – to make Sautéed Asparagus and Ramps to celebrate the season.

Every year, when Ramps, also called wild garlic or wild leek, arrive in the Greenmarkets and start popping up on restaurant dishes, it’s like some frenzy or RAMP-O-RAMA takes hold in New York.  Ramp-Watch starts up shortly after Easter and then full-blown RAMP-A-PALOOZA happens shortly thereafter.

I’ve watched this for several years.  The Tweets go out that ramps have arrived in the market and which vendor is carrying them.  People line up, and the second the bundles hit the table, they are snapped up by the eager hoards.  Pickled Ramps, Spaghetti with Ramps, Ramp Pizza, Ramps dipped in chocolate and covered with sprinkles, Ramp & Bacon Cupcakes, Fried Ramps with Beer, you get the idea. (O.k., so I made the last three of them up, but it is just a matter of time before someone makes them, or even Ramp Ice Cream.)  Even Eater commented on it this year.

Personally, although I was pleased to see Ramps in the market when I dropped on Wednesday, I was even more excited to see ASPARAGUS!  This is a phrase my mother would have been shocked to see when I was a child as I wouldn’t go near the things, no way, no how.  My parents, however, used to eat frozen or canned asparagus which take on the same slimy, stringy consistency and grey-green color that canned green beans do, so I was always completely repulsed by them.  Then, as an adult, I learned that asparagus could be bright, crunchy, vibrantly verdant.  Now, each year, I eagerly gather them up from the moment they are in season, until I can no longer track them down anywhere at a local farmers market.

So, I decided to see what I could come up with if I paired these two springtime treats together.  The chronic issue I’ve run into when cooking Ramps in the past is that the bottom part takes longer to get tender than the leaves at the top.  My solution to this is to treat the white bulb and tougher part of the stem as I would garlic or onions.  The green, tender portion of the vegetable, I made into a chiffonade and used it as I would parsley or  basil or any other fresh herb.  That way, I could use all of the goodness of the ramps and bring out the white’s more garlic-y flavor and the top’s more grassy, onion-y contrast all at the same time.  Maybe Peas will come into season soon so I can see how well they work with Ramps, too.

Sautéed Asparagus and Ramps

Prep time: 15 minutes

Serving Size: 2 portions


5-7 Ramp bulbs with leaves (You will want to have 1 Tbsp. of the white part and 5-6 leaves of the green part for this recipe.)

14-16 Asparagus spears (the most tender you can find)

1/2 tsp. Salt

1 tsp. Unsalted Butter

1/4 tsp. Salt

1/8 tsp. Black Pepper, freshly ground


Rinse any dirt off the ramps by putting them under running water.  Cut off root end of ramp and discard (or compost) them.  Pull off the extra skin that might be on the white part of the ramp, and discard or compost that part, too.  (It’s sort of like the papery piece that is on the end of scallions.)

Finely chop white part and any tough green part of the ramps.  Separately, slice the leafy, green part of the ramp in to strips or chiffonade.  You will want to have 1 Tbsp. of the white part and 5-6 leaves of the green part for this recipe.  Save any of the remaining green part for another dish.

Rinse the asparagus to get rid of any dirt or sand.  Trim the ends of the asparagus either by cutting the bottoms of them off with a knife or (my favorite method) bending them several inches from the bottom of the spear find the point at which it breaks off.  It will give a satisfying snap, sort of like popping bubbles of bubble wrap, where the tender part starts and the woody, harder to eat part ends.  Discard or compost those bottom bits.

Put a saucepan of water on to boil.  When it has reached boiling point, add 1/2 tsp. salt and let the water come back up to a boil.

While the asparagus are cooking, put a frying or sauté pan on the stove over medium-low heat (not blazing) and melt the butter in the pan.

Check the asparagus to see if they are ready.  The asparagus should be done by the time all of the butter has melted and is foamy.  A fork or knife should easily pierce the spears, but they should not start to come apart.

Add the white part of the ramps to the butter and toss to coat in the fat.  Cook for about 30 seconds, until you start to smell the an essence of garlic coming from the mixture.

Add the asparagus and toss them with the ramps and the butter to coat them thoroughly.  They don’t need much cooking, this step is more to incorporate all the flavors, so you can move immediately to the next step.

Add the green tops of the ramps.  These delicate leaves will cook very quickly.  Toss them with the asparagus and the white part of the ramps.  Season with the remaining 1/4 tsp. of salt and the black pepper.  Toss again to incorporate the seasonings.  Turn off the heat and serve at once.

The vibrant colors along with the delicate, herby aroma, sort of like the wind brushing through a field of onion grass, is enough to waken the senses from the sleep of winter.  This is delicious as a side dish, could be a perfect appetizer portion or (as I discovered with the leftovers) is ideal for folding into an omelette.

Buon appetito!

Herbed Zucchini-Feta Fritters from Lokanta Maya

Have you ever eaten Turkish cuisine?  After I lived in London in the late ’90s, I returned to the United States with a great appreciation for the flavorful dishes of this country with its vast landscape.  So when I saw that as part of the International Association of Culinary Professionals conference a few weeks ago, Didem Senol (photo above), the owner of Lokanta Maya and an alumna of the French Culinary Institute in New York, would be leading a demonstration class about the culture and cooking of her country, I signed up to learn more about it.

Herbed Zucchini-Feta Fritters with Yogurt-Cucumber-Mint Sauce (Mücver)

Among the delicious examples of Turkish cooking that we were able to enjoy during the demo were these crisp, fluffy Herbed Zucchini-Feta Fritters known as Mücver with a cool, creamy yogurt sauce.  Flecked with dill, mint, and parsley with chunks of feta nestled throughout, the fritters were served to us right from the frying oil, hot yet delicate and not heavy at all.  After munching on these tasty bites, a number of hands went up in the air asking where we could get her recipe for these.  Then, the May issue of Food & Wine magazine arrived in my mailbox.  Flipping through it, I saw that Chef Senol and her wonderful fritters were there in a feature about Istanbul and mezze.  Could I make these at home and possibly hope to replicate them?

Salted Zucchini

As Chef Senol explained to us, one of the keys to achieving the light texture of the fritters was to salt the zucchini and then squeeze as much water out of them as possible before adding it to the flour, egg, cheese, and herbs.  That way, the batter isn’t too runny, and the fritters will crisp up nicely.  I used my hands and grasped small fistfuls of the grated zucchini pieces, squeezing them with lots of might to force out as much liquid as possible.  From other recipes that call for this same technique, I’d also recommend your piling the zucchini in a cheesecloth and twist and squeeze that to get the same results.

Dill, Parsley, Mint

One of the other main attributes of these little delights, which comes through the moment your teeth break through the hot crust and settle into the soft interior of the fritter is how the combination of the dill, parsely, and mint complement the zucchini and brighten the flavor of the dough.  There’s a grassy, springlike freshness to these fritters with each bite being lively and slightly complex without being overpoweringly herbal.  I realized about two-thirds of the way through mincing the herbs by hand, running a knife over them multiple times, that I was doing it the hard way.  If you have a mezzaluna, I recommend taking that route instead to save time and give you more uniform results.

Mixture for the Herbed Zucchini-Feta Fritters

Once the drained zucchini and herbs are combined with the feta, egg, and flour, it comes out looking like this.  While the mixture sets in the fridge, it is the perfect time to turn to making the sauce.

Cucumber-Yogurt-Mint Sauce

As you can see from the second photo, my sauce didn’t come out looking anything like the one that Chef Senol had created.  Although the recipe called for everything to be mixed separately into the yogurt, I wonder if it had all been put through the food processor which would then capture more of the color of the mint in the final product.  Also, my cucumber didn’t seem to be as finely minced as hers.  Next time, I’m going to experiment with the sauce a bit more to see if I can get it to be gorgeously silken and light-green-hued as hers.

Frying the first side

I ended up shallow frying these, rather than deep frying them in a saucepan, per the instructions.  This took a bit longer to cook them, but I don’t think the results came out any less perfect.  I don’t have a deep-fryer in my house, so next time, I’ll have to figure out how to use that technique without making a complete mess of my kitchen and setting off the smoke detector.

Flipping them over to the second side

These do cook up quite quickly, with the crust becoming a beautiful golden brown.

First batch is almost ready

I divided the recipe in half, so I was able to cook everything in two batches.  This made about 10 fritters that were about two tablespoons of batter each.  Some were a bit bigger than that, so if you were more precise and uniform than I when dropping the zucchini mixture into the pan, you could get about 12-14 fritters from half a batch.

Herbed Zucchini-Feta Fritters with Yogurt-Cucumber-Mint Sauce (Mücver)

Here’s my results.  While they didn’t come out looking exactly the same as the ones that our group enjoyed during Chef Senol’s demo, they were no less delicious.  The hot, crisp fritters combined with  creamy, refreshing yogurt sauce made a wonderful snack.  I would definitely make these again, especially when faced with the end of the summer bounty of herbs and zucchini.

Buon appetito!

St. Patrick’s Day Menu Ideas – Leek & Potato Soup with Cheddar Cheese-Chive Tuiles

Leek & Potato Soup with Cheddar Cheese-Chive Tuiles

With folks getting ready to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day tomorrow, it seemed only fitting to develop a Lent-friendly, vegetarian version of an Irish staple Leek & Potato Soup.  While I can’t confirm that any of my relatives ever ate this dish, and my mother never fixed it for us, as it is such a basic soup using just a few simple ingredients, I could see where it might have been on the table of my ancestors.  They left Fair Erin more than 150 years ago on one side of the family and longer ago than that on the other side, so I can’t really ask anyone about it to be sure.  As I mentioned in my previous post, I dressed up this recipe a wee bit with a Cheddar Cheese-Chive Tuile, but had it not been a meat-free day, I would have been tempted to add a mound of the smoked bacon that I’d discovered at Gourmet Guild last weekend.

Leek & Potato Soup

Serving Size: at least 8 portions as a starter

Prep Time: 45 minutes to 1 hour


1 c. Yellow Onion, chopped

3 medium Yukon Gold Potatoes, cubed

3 large Leeks, cleaned and chopped

4 Tbsp. Unsalted Butter

4 c. Water

1 tsp. Salt

1/4 tsp. Black Pepper

1 tsp. Fresh Chives, chopped


Take one medium onion and chop it into about 1/4-inch sized pieces, making about 1 cup.  For a tutorial on an easy, quick method for chopping onions, please click here.

Peel potatoes.

Cut the potatoes into about 1-inch cubes and put them in a saucepan along with cold water.  Set them aside while cleaning and cutting the leeks.  Keeping them in water will stop them turning brown (oxidizing) before you are ready to cook them.

Potato slice

Nibble on end of potato that you didn’t add to the others.  What?  You didn’t cut off a bit of potato to have as a snack?  My dad always did that for me when I was little, so I keep the tradition today.  Raw, starchy, crunchy, and a bit teeth-coating, it’s a root vegetable textural thing.

Dirty Leeks

I love leeks, but they are a mess to clean and prepare.  My suggestion is to fix them last, after the onions and the potatoes, so the dirt is contained and it doesn’t travel to the other ingredients.

Cut off the root end of the leek.

Cut off and discard the tough, dark green ends of the leek.

Cut leek in half down the middle.

Eewww, see how dirty that is inside?  That is stuff we don’t want in the soup.

Angle the darker ends of the leeks away from you, so that the grit or dirt doesn’t wash back down to the cleaner part of the leek.  Roll around in your hands to make sure that you’ve cleaned them thoroughly.

Chop leeks into about 1-inch pieces.  They might even squeak at you when you chop the, as they are so clean!

Melt butter in large pot or Dutch oven over low heat until it gets frothy.

Add onions.

Add leeks.

Stir leeks and onions so that they are coated in the butter.  Let them cook for 2-3 minutes until glossy and the onions are translucent.

This is what they should look like – moisture sweated out and all glossy and shiny.  For the record, yes, I did remove that rogue speck of dirt that somehow made it in there.

Drain potatoes, keeping the water in which they were sitting as that will be added to the soup pot, too.  Put potatoes into pot along with the leeks and onions.

Stir potatoes to make sure that they get coated in a some of the sweated fat mixture.

Pour in 4 cups of the water that was drained from the saucepan in which they were sitting.  If there isn’t enough water leftover from that, just add all of the potato water and top it up with regular water to make 4 cups of liquid.

Bring mixture to a boil.  Turn the heat down and let it simmer for 20-25 minutes.  [If you are thinking about making the Cheddar Cheese-Chive Tuiles to go along with the soup, this would be a good point at which to start that, as the tuiles can set while you are working on the puréeing part of the recipe.

Test to make sure that the potatoes are cooked all the way through and that the leeks are very soft.  The potatoes should basically be on the verge of breaking apart when a knife is inserted all the way through them.

Turn off the heat.  With an immersion blender (one of my favorite pieces of kitchen equipment), purée the potato-leek-onion mixture until it is smooth and creamy.

Add salt and pepper and stir blend into the soup.  Taste.  Adjust the seasoning as necessary.

Serve warm with the tuile draped lovingly over the side.  The warmth of the soup will allow it to melt lusciously into the dish so that you get a nutty, tangy bite of the cheese with each creamy spoonful of the soup.

Buon appetito and Happy St. Patrick’s Day!