Category Archives: Vegetarian Meals

Guest Post on A Culinary Journey

Indian Fry Bread TacosIndian Fry Bread Tacos

It might have seemed like it’s been a little bit quiet this week, however, that’s far from the truth around here.  After Pig Island, I was deep in study-land cramming for an exam for my culinary class.  I was also preparing a guest post for Chef Dennis Littley who is the author of the fantastic recipe and cooking information website A Culinary Journey.  The tagline for his site is, “Yes, Virginia, there is more to life than takeout and the microwave,” echoing my own sentiments about making great dishes in your own home.

Great summer vegetables from the Greenmarket

Chef Dennis and I first met face-to-face at The Big Summer Potluck a little over a month ago.  We had actually “met” via Google+ and a mutual food blogger friend, the fabulous Mango Queen, prior to that.  He’s been an invaluable resource for me with some of the issues I’ve faced from time-to-time on my website, and I just thoroughly enjoy reading what he’s been getting up to in his kitchen.  It’s also just been such a pleasure to get to know someone equally passionate about cooking and food and who is an integral part of the food blogging community.

Herbivoracious by Michael Natkin

So, please head on over to A Culinary Journey to check out my post about the Indian Fry Bread Tacos from Michael Natkin’s terrific vegetarian cookbook Herbivoracious.  I’d been hanging onto this recipe to make when all the tomatoes, squash, peppers, and corn hit peak season.  This is a fantastic way to use up your summer produce, especially, if you are like me and just can’t resist loading up on all of it, knowing that it will only be around for a brief moment before we head into fall and winter.

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

Ingredients

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!

Cinco de Mayo Entertaining & Menu Ideas

Chilaquiles for Brunch

I’m still in a bit of denial that May is really here already, so wrapping my head around what to pull together to acknowledge Cinco de Mayo has been daunting.  This year, I’ll actually be in Washington, DC at Eat, Write, Retreat with several dozen other food bloggers and writers.  With the day itself falling on a Saturday, this is a perfect opportunity to gather your friends around to eat and drink and to celebrate being together.  Maybe a few of these American-Mexican hybrid dishes could be on the menu to get things rolling.

Tomatillo Salsa

This Tomatillo Salsa is a good base for any one of a number of dishes, the Chilaquiles, enchiladas, nachos.  My favorite way to eat it is just drizzled over eggs folded over gooey melted cheddar cheese.  It really perks up the morning, and gets the day started on just the right note.

Fork Tacos for DIY entertaining

My sister-in-law will groan at seeing this dish, but it’s not a bad option for a Weeknight Dinner for the gang.  I’m speaking from first-hand experience on this one, as growing up we had Fork Tacos at least a few times a month, and I was the person who was usually tasked with putting it together.

7-Layer Dip

Or maybe you’d like to start with the leftovers first?  When I originally posted this recipe for 7-Layer Dip, I was using up those Fork Taco dinner extras.  You could even start off by making this dish instead of the tacos.  I might even add a layer of the Tomatillo Salsa to the beans, making it an 8-Layer Dip.

Family-flexibile Fajitas

I wish I had a better photo from this post for Family-flexible Fajitas, but the truth is that my siblings and their kids and spouses descended upon all the dishes before I even had a chance to make my first fajita.  That’s the reality of living in a large family.  Seriously, they were all eating the Guacamole as fast as I could mash up the avocados, even using the little ones to sneak chips in underneath my arms to grab a bite.  That should be recommendation enough that this dish is a real crowd-pleaser and would be a great way to entertain your friends for Cinco de Mayo.

Buon appetito!

Ricotta-Stuffed Pasta Shells with Savory Tomato Sauce

A few years back, my youngest sister suggested making this dish for my father when we were at his house for dinner.  As he’s now back to bachelor-style fare, with my mother being ill, he doesn’t have pasta very often.  For some reason, he won’t fix it for himself, which we all find odd, as it is one of those things that we all learned how to cook early on in learning how to feed ourselves.  With these Ricotta-stuffed Pasta Shells with Savory Tomato Sauce, we also discovered that we had a niece/nephew-friendly dish as well, so it is in the rotation of possible menu selections for their visits.

I found this in the back of a cabinet when I cleaned out my parents’ kitchen

I offer it here as a second-to-last Lenten Friday dinner option, just as you can’t face one more tuna dish or going out for pizza again on a Friday night.  Throw in a salad and garlic bread to make it complete – red and white checked tablecloth optional.  Candle in Chianti bottle is even more optional.  This is also a good way to use up some of the Easy Tomato Sauce if you have any of that still on hand.  I made half a batch of the Ricotta-Stuffed Pasta Shells with Savory Tomato Sauce for the purposes of this demo, as you’ll see from the photos.  The leftovers are great, too, but I didn’t want to have them around for a week.  To feel the hungry hoard at my folks’ house, we double the recipe.

Ricotta-stuffed Pasta Shells with Savory Tomato Sauce

Prep-time: 1 hour (with cooking)

Serving size: 4-6 shells per adult

Ingredients:

Ricotta-stuffed Pasta Shells:

24 Jumbo Pasta Shells

1 15-oz. container Ricotta Cheese

1 1/2 c. Parmesan Cheese, grated

1/2 tsp. Salt

1/4 tsp. Black Pepper, ground

1/4 tsp. Nutmeg, ground

2 Tbsp. Parsley, curly-style Italian, fresh, chopped

2 Egg Yolks (save whites for another use)

Savory Tomato Sauce:

1 tsp. Salt

1 c. Onion, cut into small dice

1 Tbsp. Garlic, minced

1/2 tsp. Red Pepper Flakes

2 1/2 c. Easy Tomato Sauce

3/4 tsp. Oregano, dried

1 Tbsp. Parsley, curly-style Italian, fresh, chopped

Assembly:

Put a large pan of water on the stove to boil. When the water has reached a rollicking, bubbling state, add the salt and let the water come to the boil again.  While the pasta water is boiling and the shells are cooking, make the Spicy Tomato Sauce.

Put oil in large saucepan and let it warm over low heat.

Add onions and raise the heat a little bit.  Cook for 2-3 minutes, until the onions are translucent and soft.

Add garlic, stir into onions, and let cook for about 1 minute more, making sure not to let it burn or turn golden.

Add red pepper flakes.  You can adjust the amount to your taste.  The goal is to perk up the sauce to provide a lively balance to the heavy cheese, not to make it super-spicy.

Add Easy Tomato Sauce and stir to incorporate. [If the pasta water is boiling at this point, add the shells and then return to making the sauce.]

Add the dried oregano and chopped, fresh Italian parsley and stir into the sauce.  Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed.  Leave to continue cooking over low heat while preparing the Ricotta-stuffed Pasta Shells.

If you haven’t already done so, put the pasta shells into the boiling salted water and let them cook according to the package instructions.

Once cooked through, drain pasta and let it cool while fixing the cheese filling.

Pour the ricotta into a medium-sized bowl.

Add 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese.

Add salt, freshly-ground black pepper, and ground nutmeg to the cheeses.

Add chopped, fresh Italian parsley to the cheeses and seasoning.

Mix seasonings and ingredients into the cheeses and blend together thoroughly.

Add egg yolk to cheese mixture and stir to blend it completely into the cheese mixture.

The mixture will have a slight yellow-ish hue from the egg yolk, and the ricotta mixture will be creamy.  It was about this point that I realized that I had just made the classic filling for cheese ravioli, as I’d learned in my pasta making course last year.

Put a couple of spoonfuls of the pasta sauce in the pan and spread it around to coat the bottom of it.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Carefully open up the cooked pasta shells and fill each of them with a couple of tablespoons of the ricotta mixture.

Place the cheese-stuffed shells in the pan.

Continue filling the shells with cheese and putting them in the pan, lined up beside each other.  When we make this for our family, it becomes a team effort, with my sister recruiting me and her boyfriend to help her stuff the shells, to get that double batch of them in the oven for dinner.

Cover the pasta shells with the tomato sauce, using about 2 cups of it.  Sprinkle the sauce-covered stuffed shells with remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese.

Cover the pan with foil and place in the oven to cook for 25-30 minutes, until the shells are heated through and the cheese is all melted.

Gently pull back the foil, allowing for the oohs and aahs to escape from everyone’s lips at the beauty and wonder of this gorgeous pasta dish.

Serve the shells immediately and bask in everyone’s contented smiles.  The tangy-tart sauce with a hint of heat (but not overly-spicy) helps balance the rich, creamy cheesiness of the stuffed shells.  This recipe has definitely become a crowd-pleaser around my folks’ house.

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

Ingredients:

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

Assembly:

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!

Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Pizza Dough Recipe

I have quite a collection of pizza dough recipes, but somehow, I’ve never made this dish at home.  It’s something that I always prefer to eat out, at places where they have the high-burning ovens that create that crisp-chewy crust, preferably with some char on the top edge.  Last night, that changed.  I whipped up a batch of Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Pizza Dough from this month’s Bon Appetit magazine and invited some friends over to sample the results.

Flour, salt, yeast mixed together

Four ingredients and a bunch of time, as with his No-Knead Bread recipe, that’s all it takes to make this dough.  Plan to start this recipe a day before you want to serve the pizzas.

Adding water to the flour mixture

The water needs to be at least warm.  Boiling hot water will kill the yeast and water that is too cold will not activate its chemical properties.  I’ve messed up yeast before, so I’m always a bit intimidated by working with it.

Dough all mixed together

The dough just needs to come together before it has to sit for a while.  It will not look like much, but this is only the first stage of the process.

Peeking at the progress part-way through

Look at all these great bubbles from the yeast doing its work

After about twenty hours, this was the result, all bubbly and risen high.  I let the dough sit a bit longer as my kitchen temperature was a bit cooler than that stated in the recipe instructions.  Also, note that the top is a bit dry, which is an error that I made in prepping it.  I should have left plastic wrap on top instead of covering the bowl with a towel.

Dough divided in to rounds

It took a bit of work and a bunch more flour to get the dough divided up into rounds for the second stage of the rising process.  Still, I think they look kind of beautiful, don’t they?

Look at all these great pizza toppings!

While the dough was in its last rise and the oven was heating up, I pulled together some toppings for the pizzas, so that when my guests arrived, we could put everything together.

Dough stretched out and ready to cook

I decided to go with rectangular-shaped pies, as I don’t have a pizza stone.  The dough was still really sticky when I tried to shape it, so I just worked with it the best I could.  The baking sheet was lightly greased with olive oil before I put the dough on it, in the hopes that the bottom would get extra crispy.  Then, my friends joined in to pile on their choices of toppings.  As it was a Lenten Friday, with some of the group observing dietary restrictions, we split the pizzas up into all-veggie and meat-eater friendly.

Adding some mushrooms

Then some artichokes

All loaded up with great toppings

Put a bit of cheese on top

Out of the oven and ready to eat

Of the six rounds of dough, we devoured four.  A salad on the side and a couple of desserts, including this Torta al Cioccolato, made of the rest of the meal, along with a few bottles of wine and beer.  It was definitely a casual, relaxed, hang-out kind of Friday night with topics ranging from Downtown Abbey to the Oscars to jobs to dating.

The red peppers and onions went on this one

The pizzas were a hit, with a couple of my friends completely shocked that this was my first attempt to fix them at home.  They were the perfect group dinner: easy to prep, cook, and serve, even with the staggered arrival times of my guests.  Although the smoke detector went off twice, as my apartment isn’t really ventilated appropriately for high-heat cooking, I would certainly make these again.  Maybe, someday, I’ll even get to prepare them in my own backyard Italian pizza oven.

Buon appetito!