You Don’t Have to Take My Word for It

Do you ever come across a recipe that haunts you until you make it? It doesn’t happen to me that often, but it’s happened a few times in the past couple of weeks with one cookbook in particular, Diana Henry’s latest, Simple: Effortless Food, Big Flavors.

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The cookbook is outstanding, but with blurbs from Nigella Lawson and Yottam Ottolenghi, you don’t have to take my word for it. Henry seems like a pretty big deal in England: a weekly newspaper column, a broadcast on the BBC, and numerous awards, and I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve barely heard of her on this side of the ocean. Hopefully after this book she’ll become a household name, because it’s smashing.

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I’m posting these Persian-Inspired Eggs with Dates and Chili because it’s almost Purim and Mordechai, Esther, Achashverosh and Steve Bannon all live in Sushan, in the Kingdom of Persia. Diana says she first had a similar recipe in the Iranian food shop Persepolis in south London, served to her by the owner Sally Butcher. The café had it as a breakfast, but Diana added some greens and onions to it to make it into a more substantial lunch.

We had it for dinner last week when I felt pressed for time. I doubled the recipe and left out the chili, in hopes the girls would eat it. Bea had some, but Lilli was not keen on it. But the grown-ups loved it. It was easy to put together and just marvelous, even without the chili.

Persian-Inspired Eggs with Dates and Chili from Simple by Diana Henry

Ingredients

½ tablespoon olive oil

½ onion, finely sliced

½ teaspoon cumin seeds

¼ teaspoon chili flakes

Handful of baby spinach

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

Salt and pepper

2 soft dates (such as Medjool), pitted and coarsely chopped

1 tablespoon coarsely chopped cilantro leaves

Greek yogurt and flatbread (pita), to serve (optional)

Directions

Heat the olive oil in a small skillet and add the onion. Cook over medium heat until it is golden and soft. Add the cumin and chili flakes and cook for another 30 seconds or so, then add the spinach. Keep turning the leaves over in the heat so they wilt and the moisture that comes out of them evaporates, then reduce the heat and add the eggs, seasoning and dates.

Cook quite gently, just as you would if you were making creamy scrambled eggs; the mixture should be soft set. Finally scatter the cilantro. Serve immediately, with a little yogurt on the side (if you’ve made quite a spicy plateful you’ll need it) and flatbread, if you want.

 

The Second Time Around

Man, things are so different the second time around. With Lilli, we were so clear with our rules: No sugar until her first birthday, no screen time until she’s two. And now with Bea? She had Fluff last week and has seen every presidential debate to date. (And let’s just say Lilli is making up for lost time with the screens.)

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Now, now, it’s not as bad as it sounds. We’d made Lilli a Fluffernutter which she obviously rejected after one nibble. Since we’d been given explicit directions by the pediatrician to expose Bea to all the allergens that trip kids up – her first bit of peanuts was mushed-up Bamba a month ago – we figured, why not give her a little? And she loved it. I mean, what’s not to love? It’s all sugar.

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We’re not doing that much better for our own dinners. We ate nachos for dinner last week. To be fair, it was National Nachos Day, and the nachos involved roasted butternut squash that had been tossed with maple syrup and sprinkled with cayenne and cumin. There were also sweet balsamic onions that did a perfect job of balancing the spice of the squash. They were phenomenal, and would have been even better if I’d used the gruyere that the recipe called for instead of the shredded cheddar we have on hand for Lilli’s quesadillas. (She likes them best with stars and moons carved into them. Thanks, Ranger Rick Jr. magazine for that pro tip.)

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The recipe comes from The Ultimate Nachos cookbook, which is home to the horchata recipe I just shared with you guys. Some might be surprised to hear how much use a nacho cookbook gets used in my kitchen, but I’m really serious about my nachos. There’s a taco shop very close to us, Lone Star Taco, that makes my favorite ones in town. I went there solo on my birthday for them, and that’s where I’ve chosen my Mother’s Day brunch two years in a row. What can I say, I really dig nachos. Incidentally, Guy Fieri featured the place on his Boston show and we once totally sat next to some fans of his who had come specifically on his recommendation. And yes, I told them to get the nachos.

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Being a nacho recipe, it’s pretty straight forward, except that I found the directions for prepping the squash a bit confusing. After I peeled the squash, I cubed half, then sliced each piece thinly, and saved the other half for this recipe. It honestly didn’t take very long to do.

Autumnal Nachos

½ butternut squash

2 Tablespoons maple syrup

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

½ teaspoon ground cumin

1 Tablespoon unsalted butter

1 large red onion, thinly sliced

1 teaspoon sugar

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

7 ounces corn tortilla chips – approximately half of a store-bought bag, or, if prepared fresh, use 15 corn tortillas, each cut into 6 triangles

6 ounces shredded Gruyere cheese (about 1 ½ cups)

¼ cup sour cream

Directions

Preheat oven to 425F

Peel the butternut squash and then cut it in half lengthwise. Remove the seeds and fibers from the center. Thinly slice the squash and then cut it in half again lengthwise.

In a medium bowl, toss the squash with the maple syrup, cayenne, and cumin.

Place the squash on a parchment paper or aluminum foil-lined baking sheet. Roast the squash for 20 minutes, or until tender.

While the squash is roasting, melt the butter in a skillet. Add the onion and cook over moderate heat until a deep brown color, 10 to 15 minutes. Be careful not the burn the onion.

Stir in the sugar and balsamic vinegar and season with a bit of salt and pepper. Cook the onion for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Reduce the oven temperature to 350F.

Layer the tortilla chips on a 9×13-inch baking sheet. Evenly distribute the squash and onion over the chips. Cover the chips with the shredded cheese.

Bake the nachos for 10 to 15 minutes until the cheese has melted.

Serve the nachos with sour cream on the side.

Mac(abee) and Cheese

I am completely at ease with my age. I am not at all embarrassed to admit I just skipped my 15 year high school reunion. ($30 a ticket when Facebook is free? Pfft!) I’ll admit, it’s weird to remember things from 25 years ago so easily, but as Aleza pointed out last week, it’s pretty neat to remember history and be a part of it at the same time.

My body, however, is a different story. Things creak and crack, weight seems extremely easy to gain and much harder to lose. Last week when I bent down to pick up a boot, I pulled something in my back. I spent the work week Googling words like “lumbar support” and “yogic stretches at a desk.” I rode my bike some days, but didn’t want to push it too hard. Thursday night, after I stood by the stove frying celery root and carrot latkes, and stirring my butter and flour to make a roux for my chipotle mac and cheese, I felt it a few hours later when I was whimpering in pain at 1AM. I needed a heating pad after yesterday’s hard wooden pew at Christmas Mass, and I’m writing this not from my usual perch on the red couch, but in a chair with my own personal heating pad.

I honestly didn’t even know if I’d get up a post this week, but someone wrote me saying that she’d never fried a latke before and was surprised I didn’t have a recipe posted on Cheap Beets. Not one to leave anyone in a food-related lurch, I immediately e-mailed her my favorite go-to potato latke recipe. But I’m so mortified I’d let that important food detail slip, that I’m offering up two holiday-related recipes as penitence.

The first, a latke fried in oil, is to remind us of the miracle of the menorah. Briefly, in the 2nd century BCE, the tyrannical Greek King of Syria, Antiochus, outlawed Judaism and took over the Holy Temple of Jerusalem. A Jewish rebellion ensued, led by the Maccabees, and against all odds, the Jews reclaimed the Temple from the Greeks. The Jews had to repair and purify the Temple, but they only had one night’s supply of oil for lighting their holy menorah. Miraculously, that small amount of oil burned for eight consecutive nights, giving them just enough time to replenish their olive oil supply.

For Eastern European Jews, the potato latke is the most common fried recipe. (Israeli Jews eat sufganiyot, fried jelly doughnuts.) Now, the latke I have for you is made not with potato but with celery root and carrot. My friend Russ, who likes to keep it real and old school for the holiday, always goes potato, but hear me out. First, potatoes are a soggy drag. You have to squeeze and squeeze all the excess water out, and you’re always left with a brown puddle at the bottom of your mixing bowl. Second, how old school is it, really? Potatoes are a New World vegetable, so it looks like the potato latke tradition is only a few hundred years old, at best.

I went with carrot and celery root because my co-worker’s wife gave us another of her CSA celery root rejects on Thursday morning and I thought they’d team well with some of the remaining CSA carrots I still had in the crisper. I paired those with a dollop of cilantro and garlic yogurt, because, well, why not?

The second dish I have is to celebrate a lesser-known, but possibly even more awesome Chanukah food: cheese. The custom of cheese for Chanukah dates back to the Middle Ages, when the Book of Judith played an important role in the Chanukah narrative. Judith was a celebrated Jewish heroine who saved her village from an invading Assyrian army. Judith, a beautiful widow, plied the Assyrian army’s general with wine and salty cheese. When the general passed out drunk, Judith beheaded him with his own sword. The Israelites launched a surprise attack on the leaderless Assyrian army and emerged victorious.

Sure, the tale is hidden in the Apocrypha, but I like celebrating a strong female leader – and cheese. I actually was able to use wine in this dish too, from the same small bottle I used for our stuffed pumpkin in the fall. (What can I say, we’re not big wine drinkers.) I add chipotle to mine, riffing off an episode of Gilmore Girls I once saw where Sookie cooked up a pan of jalapeno mac and cheese for a kid’s birthday party. The kids hated it, but I kind of sat up and went “oh?” And thus, chipotle mac and cheese was born.

Celery Root and Carrot Latkes

Ingredients

1 celery root, washed and peeled

2 medium-sized carrots, peeled

½ red onion

3 eggs

1/3 cup flour

¼ teaspoon cumin

Pinch of salt

Oil to fry

Directions

Shred, with a box grater or food processor, first three ingredients. Place into a large mixing bowl, and add the next four. Heat approximately 1/3 cup oil in a large skillet (I prefer a non-stick skillet, and actually have two going at the same time for this step.) Lower the flame and space out as many tablespoons of batter as you can fit without them touching. Fry on one side for approximately four minutes until golden brown. Turn over and fry on other side for three minutes. (Uncharacteristically, I actually employ a timer for this task.)

Remove from pan and place on paper towels to drain excess oil. Continue with remaining batter, adding more oil when necessary.

Serve with the following yogurt.

Cilantro Yogurt

In a small bowl, mix together:

¾ cup Greek yogurt (I used whole-fat, but I know a reduced-fat would work well, considering all the flavor boosters in this sauce.)

½ cup chopped, fresh cilantro

1 small clove garlic, minced

Squeeze of lemon

2 teaspoons olive oil

Pinch of salt

I ended up with leftovers of this dip, and mixed it with some chickpeas I had in the fridge the next day for lunch. It was terrific.

Chipotle Macaroni and Cheese

Ingredients

2 ¼ cups macaroni (really, any small pasta will work well for this)

¼ cup butter

½ cup flour

3 cups milk

½ cup dry white wine

10 oz. (1 ¼ cups) shredded cheddar cheese

1 chipotle in its adobe sauce, chopped

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350F. Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the package.

Meanwhile, gently melt the butter in a medium saucepan, add the flour and chipotle and cook, stirring, 1-2 minutes. (This brownish paste is called a roux, by the way.) Add the milk a little at a time, whisking vigorously after each addition. Stir in the white wine. Bring to boil. Cook, stirring continuously, until the sauce thickens, then remove from the heat.

Let's talk about the roux, just for a sec.

Add the ¾ of the cheese to the sauce. Stir well to mix in the cheeses, then taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper if necessary.

Add your well-drained pasta into the sauce, then pour everything into a 13”x9” or 2 quart baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top. Bake for 25 – 30 minutes or until golden brown. Serve hot.

Miles to Go Before I Sleep

Babies, I am learning, as more and more of our friends have them, do not care about your carefully constructed plans for their arrival. They do not care if you’ve decided they will only wear cloth or Seventh Generation diapers; if it’s not working for them, they’ll be sure to let you know.

Our friends Amanda and Quentin hosted us for a fabulous vegetarian Mexican meal at their house in August. Amanda was due in mid-October, and we heard about their wonderful midwife they had chosen, the birthing center across from the hospital where Amanda would birth their son. We also discussed their plans for spending the last few weeks of September and early October cooking freezable meals to be eaten at a later date, because cooking with newborn babies is not something that happens.

Well, as it turned out, Miles Timothy had other plans. He zipped into the world, at one in the morning on September 29th, in their bedroom! Practically perfect in every way, Miles, and his new mother and father – who delivered him! – were escorted to the hospital by some very nice firefighters.

Everything worked out, although Miles’s surprise entrance meant that all those meals that were to be cooked before his arrival never got made. Knowing their time was going to be limited for the next few, well, 18 or so years, I spent a little time on Sunday whipping together some freezable meals for the new parents. Amanda is a vegetarian, so I felt that making a casserole, although filling and definitely freezable, wouldn’t necessarily have the protein she’d be needing. Although some babies have trouble digesting their mother’s milk if she’s eaten legumes, I decided to go with chickpeas and brown rice.

Rice, as well as quinoa, freezes and reheats without any trouble.  So when I started making the dish, I tossed a few cups of brown rice with water, a ratio of 3:1, in the rice cooker. Easy peasy. I dug around my cookbooks for a good recipe for something chickpea-based, but came up short. As it turns out, Deb from Smitten Kitchen, went through the same chana masala quest a few years ago and ended up blending a few recipes. I used hers with a few adaptations.

In order to drop the temperature of the dishes without having them sit out and collect bacteria, I placed the cooking vessels in ice water. After the chickpeas and rice were cooled down, I placed them into freezable plastic containers, and brought them to the new parents. We had a quick visit and got to meet Miles in all his perfect tininess.

Chana Masala

Adapted from a Deb from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted it from a Madhur Jaffrey recipe, which had also been adapted.  This was a perfect pantry recipe, as I had everything on hand.

Ingredients

1 Tablespoon vegetable oil

2 medium onions, minced

1 clove garlic, minced

2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger

1 fresh chili pepper, minced (Deb called for a hot green one, I found a random Hungarian pepper in the bottom of my crisper and just went with it. Feel free to use whatever hot pepper you enjoy, or leave it out if heat’s not your thing.)

1 Tablespoon ground coriander

2 teaspoons ground cumin

½ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

2 teaspoons paprika

1 teaspoon garam masala

1 15 ounce can of whole tomatoes with their juices, chopped small (you’ll need 2 cups worth if you’re using fresh)

2/3 cup water

4 cups cooked chickpeas or 2 (15 ounce) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed

½ teaspoon salt

½ lemon, juiced

Directions

Heat oil in a large skillet. Add onion, garlic, ginger and pepper and sauté over medium heat until browned, about 7 minutes. Turn heat down to medium-low and add the coriander, cumin, cayenne, turmeric, paprika and garam masala. Cook onion mixture with spices for a minute or two, then add the tomatoes and any accumulated juices, scraping up any bits that have stuck to the pan. Add the water and chickpeas. Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes, then stir in salt and lemon juice.

Redemption Salad

Lately, I’ve been inflicting injurious harm to salads within my reach. Or, as Rich put it when he saw the mess on my plate at his brother’s wedding two weeks ago, “What did you do to your salad?” I looked down at my plate. The dressing was more of a lake on my little dish.  A grape tomato floated in the liquid like a buoy. A piece of lettuce, like a water-bogged piece of driftwood, was sinking nearby. “I don’t know,” I replied, stymied. The following week, at a friend’s bridal shower, a similar fate happened to my salad there as well. I’ve tried to understand what went wrong; my guess is one shouldn’t apply salad dressing with a ladle. Or, I shouldn’t use a ladle, at least.

This week was the start of Ward’s Berry Farm choose-your-own-CSA-box through my office. It couldn’t be simpler: I was given the option of ordering upfront for the entire season or going week-by-week, choosing whatever box tickles my fancy when it’s announced. And I couldn’t be happier. May and April were such a bust, produce-wise.  I am still annoyed at the bunch of asparagus I picked up with glee last month at Russo’s, only to realize it was from California. So the idea that I can get a box of produce from the farmer who picked it, two blocks from my office, makes me so happy. This week’s box included two heads of lettuce: my shot at redemption for the wrong I did to those poor, unsuspecting plates of banquet salad.

I intentionally kept the salad simple. I carefully cleaned the red leaf lettuce, gave it a spin in a salad spinner and ripped it into bite-sized pieces. I sliced up a cucumber, and then peeled and grated a beet. If you can, do it it with a food processor; it keeps things on the clean side. Then, I gently drizzled on this sunset-hued chile-cumin vinaigrette from Didi Emmons Vegetarian Planet. I modified the recipe just a touch. I found that the two teaspoons of honey made for a very tangy dressing, so I added a third. She calls for a mild red chili power: I used the Aleppo powder I picked up at Fairway last time I was visiting friends in the city.

Chile-Cumin Dressing adapted from Vegetarian Planet

Ingredients

1 ½ teaspoons cumin seeds

1 garlic clove, chopped

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon mild red chili powder

3 teaspoons honey

1/3 cup apple cider vinegar

2/3 cup canola or corn oil

Salt and fresh-ground black pepper to taste

  1. Toast the cumin seeds in a small, dry skillet, shaking the pan often, until they release their aroma. Grind the seeds in a spice mill. In a blender or food processor, blend the garlic, mustard, cumin, chili powder and honey to a paste.
  2. Pour the vinegar and oil into a bowl. With the blender or processor running, slowly pour the vinegar-oil mixture into the paste. When all of the vinegar-oil mixture has been incorporated, add salt and pepper. Store the dressing in a covered container in the refrigerator. It will keep for up to 3 weeks.

Makes about 1 cup dressing

I Dream of Eggplant.

I think I was frying eggplant in my dream, but curry will do nicely.

Last night I dreamed about eggplant. When I do remember my dreams, I like to check the online dream dictionaries so I don’t spend my morning thinking things like, “What on earth does a bicycle (or an eggplant) appearing in my dream mean?” For some inexplicable reason, none of my go-to dream interpretation websites offered an answer. Eggs, yes. Plants, yes. But no eggplant. (OK, I’m not really shocked there isn’t an interpretation for dreaming about eggplant, but I can’t be the only one! Can I?) My own interpretation of my night of nightshade leans towards me falling asleep while trying to figure out what to do with the eggplant sitting in my fridge right now. Eggplants are .79/lb. at Russo’s this week. Cook that up with some rice or quinoa on the side, we’re all set for dinner and some lunches, too.

I’m on the fence about salting, which is said to prevent a prickly bitterness on the tongue. I used to be fanatical about it, but I didn’t the last two times I cooked eggplant, and I thought it was fine. Nonetheless, this is how I prepare my eggplant for salting: First I peel it, then slice the eggplant into fourths. I put it on a baking pan and sprinkle it with kosher salt. I wait about 20 minutes, and in the meanwhile, do things like chop up onion and get out my spices. After 20 minutes, I return to my eggplant, which now looks like it has spent the last 20 minutes on the elliptical at the gym as the salt has sweated out a lot of the bitterness to the top of its flesh. This has also made my vegetable less watery and less able to soak up oil. Some people suggest running the eggplant under the faucet to get the salt off. I lean towards wiping it down with a wet paper towel. Now your eggplant is good to go.

Schvitzing Eggplant

I’m a little embarrassed that my first recipe for my blog is a curry. I feel like I am being lazy somehow. Copping out: Oh, a vegetarian blog featuring a curry? What’s next, chickpeas and sprouts? But the truth of the matter is, this is my go-to recipe when I have an eggplant and just can’t think straight anymore.

Eggplant Curry
Adapted from The New Moosewood Cookbook (Mollie Katzen’s Classic Cooking)

If you’re new to this whole veggie thing, and would like a good starting off point, I cannot say enough good things about Moosewood. Seriously, if you were to own just one vegetarian cookbook, this is the one. Every few years the publishers do some sort of update, making the rich-in-dairy dishes a little more heart friendly, but any edition of the book would be an excellent addition to your cookbook shelf.

Preparation Time: 45 minutes
(Put up rice when you begin)

2 to 3 Tbs butter and/or peanut oil

1 Tbs mustard seed

2 Tbs. sesame seeds

2 tsp. cumin seeds

1 1/2 cups chopped onion

1 1/2 to 2 tsp. salt

2 tsp. turmeric

1/4 tsp. cayenne (possibly more depending on your tolerance/preference)

2 medium eggplants (7 to 8 inches long; 4-inch diameter at roundest point), cut into 1-inch cubes

water, as needed

1 cup frozen peas

optional: 1 small bunch of fresh cilantro, minced

1) Heat butter or oil over medium heat in a very large, deep skillet.  Add seeds, and saute until they begin to pop (About 5 minutes)

2) Add onion, salt, turmeric and cayenne. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent (12-15 minutes)

I’ve noticed that the pan gets very dry at this point, so I often find myself adding a little more oil so my seeds and onion don’t burn.

3) Add eggplant and salt. Cook, stirring from the bottom regularly, for 15 to 20 minutes — until the eggplant is soft. You might need to add a little water if the mixture is too dry. Cover the pan between stirrings.

4) About 25 minutes in, the eggplant should have lost all will to behave like eggplant. It should be really mushy. At this point, stir in the frozen peas. Give it another 7 minutes or so, so that the peas cook up with the curry.

5) Serve the curry over rice, and top with fresh cilantro.