Salt of the Earth

Lately I’ve been appreciating my college classmates. They are all such good people. If they’re a lawyer, chances are it’s at Legal Aid. If they’re a therapist, they dropped everything and moved to New Orleans to counsel child Katrina victims. Heck, even my horrible ex-boyfriend of whom I have nothing kind to say about has somehow ended up working at Habitat for Humanity for years.

tacos

I have been thinking about this because a few weeks ago, a classmate of mine was killed in a car crash in Baltimore. Her name was Neely, and she was one of the best out of a group of wonderful classmates. She had devoted her career to informal Jewish education, including founding an LGBT program for Jewish teens in Baltimore.  She leaves behind her husband – another classmate of ours who’s now a rabbi – and three little girls.

I went to Seminary for college. We also attended secular university and learned words like hegemony and read The Iliad. But mostly, it was Seminary, so yes, I also have classmates who are now rabbis, Jewish camp directors and teachers. With everyone earning two degrees – some days started with Hebrew at 7:45AM and didn’t end til Music Humanities at 9PM – we weren’t on a meal plan. We had kitchens and cooked all our own meals. So when my college friends Carly and Mike (now married) came for a visit last week, Carly remarked, as I greeted her wearing an apron, that it seemed like not much had changed at all.

corn and mushroom and fixins

I was hosting during my first week back to work, so I wanted to make it really easy on myself. I served fish and vegetarian tacos. Whenever we have fish tacos it’s always the right choice, and they’re not a ton of work, either. The vegetarian tacos were a recipe from Modern Jewish Cooking: Recipes & Customs for Today’s Kitchen by Leah Koenig, given to me by my dad this past birthday. I’d had my eye on it, and had really come to enjoy Leah’s recipes found in many publications. It’s actually really strange that I don’t know her, as we have nearly 20 friends in common on Facebook, and a couple of her recipe testers for this cookbook are good, good friends of ours. People who show up on my blog are good friends with her.

As with most cookbooks, I’ve stuck to the vegetable recipes. I enjoyed the miso roasted asparagus back in April, as well as the garlic marinated zucchini and the roasted broccoli with shallots and lemon. I am strongly considering the potato leek kugel for Rosh Hashana. I also have my eye on the black bean and sweet potato chili. Some of her recipes are inspired by the cuisine of the Roman Jewish community, and she helpfully labels dishes for Shabbat dinner, Rosh Hashana and other holidays.

fish taco fixins

The vegetarian tacos in question comprised balsamic roasted mushrooms and corn, which could be a great side dish but served as a main dish when I followed Leah’s suggestion to wrap it in a warm tortilla and top it with “a little grated cheese, fresh baby spinach and sliced avocado.”

Dinner was delicious, but Lilli seemed a little off during the meal. Rich took her temperature and found she’d spiked a fever. As I flitted about, taking care of Bea, Mike and Carly silently got up and cleared the table. Mike stood and washed every single dish and pot and pan and loaded the dishwasher as Carly rummaged in my Tupperware cabinet and put away leftovers. She also offered to fold any laundry if I needed any help. We ended the meal with treats from Mike’s Pastry, which they’d picked up in Harvard Square.

Like I said, I went to college with great people.

Balsamic-Roasted Mushrooms and Corn from Modern Jewish Cooking by Leah Koenig

Leah compares the partnership of balsamic vinegar and cremini mushrooms to the one of peas and carrots: They just work well together. I love that they use fresh late summer corn. “Earthy and deeply flavored, with a hint of sweetness from the honey and roasted red onion, this dish makes a great side for steak, chicken or tofu.” Or, as I mentioned earlier, do as we did, and wrap it in a warm tortilla and top it with a little grated cheese, fresh baby spinach, and sliced avocado.

Although Leah has you drizzle the balsamic mixture on top of the vegetables, as written here, I just tossed everything in an enormous mixing bowl with my hands.

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients

1/3 cup/80ml balsamic vinegar

1/3 cup/80ml soy sauce or tamari

1/3 cup/80ml extra-virgin olive oil

2 Tablespoons honey

4 garlic cloves, minced or pushed through a press

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 ½ lb/680 g cremini mushrooms, stemmed and halved or quartered (if large)

2 small red onions, halved through the root and cut into ¼-in/6mm slices

2 ears sweet corn, kernels removed, or 1 ¼ cups/205 g thawed frozen corn kernels

Freshly ground black pepper

2 Tablespoons chopped fresh mint or flat-leaf parsley (I skipped both these herbs, given the components of the rest of the meal)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400F/200C and line two large rimmed baking sheets with aluminum foil.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the vinegar, soy sauce, olive oil, honey, garlic and cayenne.

Divide the mushrooms, onions, and corn evenly between the prepared baking sheets. Drizzle each vegetable mixture with half of the vinegar mixture and gently toss with tongs to coat. Season with pepper. Roast, stirring once, until soft and tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Using tongs (I used a slotted spoon) transfer the vegetables to a serving platter or bowl; pour over 1 to 2 tablespoons of the cooking liquid and discard the rest. While still warm, toss with the mint and serve.

Notes on our fish tacos

The reason this is such a fast weeknight meal is because all of the ingredients pull together quickly and can also be made beforehand.

Shredded cabbage

Thin discs of radish

Sprigs of cilantro

Pickled onions from Ultimate Nachos by Lee Frank & Rachel Anderson

And crema, also from Ultimate Nachos – I halved the entire recipes

Basic Crema

1 cup sour cream

1 cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon salt

In a small bowl, mix all of the ingredients together.

Cover with plastic wrap and allow to sit at room temperature for about 1 hour.

If not using right away, keep the crema covered and store in the refrigerator. Crema will keep for as long as the expiration dates stated on the back of the sour cream and heavy cream. Before using it, bring the crema back to room temperature.

I actually  have a trick for the fish which works reasonably well. I grab a few frozen fillets of cod from Costco that I keep on hand, fill a sided pan with water, and poach the frozen fish in the pan for about 10 minutes. Because you’re going to be shredding the fish, it doesn’t have to be pretty at all. Remove the fish using a slotted spoon.

To serve, place fish, shredded cabbage, radish discs, pickled onion, drizzled with crema and sprigs of cilantro in a small tortilla. If you have limes, slice and serve on the side.

‘Shrooms on a Plane

I’ve been meaning to tell you about these mushrooms. I totally forgot about them until I rediscovered them on my phone. I was scrolling through Lilli photos at my desk at work and came across these. The first time I made them was when we were on lockdown. That’s probably why I forgot to talk about them.

Taste of Allston

I found the recipe in the strangest of ways: On an airplane, on our return flight from Spain and The Netherlands. I was delighted to discover that one of the channels on my personal television included some cooking shows. While I’m not a fan of The Food Network, it’s hard not to love Jamie Oliver. I actually couldn’t find my headphones, so I just watched Jamie make these mushrooms. They looked great and I put them on my to-do list, but I never had all the ingredients in the house at the same time until this past April.

It turns out these mushrooms are fantastic, and I ended up making them three more times in quick succession. They use a hot pepper, so get out your rubber gloves if you’re going to be handling babies in the near future.

mushrooms to be roasted

Since I didn’t actually hear this recipe on the plane, I’ve tried to get this as close to a recipe as possible. These mushrooms now take their place in the category of foods that I haven’t actually served because I eat them at the stove top. (This includes a humdinger of a kohlrabi recipe from summer CSAs past.)

The measurement of 10 oz. of mushrooms is based solely on the fact that that is the amount in the containers sold in grocery stores. The truth is, if you want enough to serve anyone apart from yourself over the stove, I’d recommend preparing 20 ounces of mushrooms. I will leave the amount of hot pepper up to your own personal tastes, but please don’t skip it.

Roasted Mushrooms adapted from Jamie Oliver

Ingredients

10 ounces of mushrooms, rubbed clean and quartered

2 cloves or 1 Tablespoon of fresh chopped garlic

Up to one small red hot chili pepper, minced

1 Tablespoon fresh chopped parsley

1 very large pinch of kosher salt

2 Tablespoons olive oil (This is a guess. I honestly just pour until its moist enough to toss)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees

Place all the ingredients in a large bowl. Using your hands, toss to combine. Don’t be scared to get your hands dirty.

Pour all ingredients into a small roasting dish, making sure to scrape in all the good stuff that is sticking to the sides of the bowl.

Roast the mushrooms for approximately 25 minutes. You’ll know to remove them when the mushrooms are  deep brown and the garlic will have begun to caramelize.

Try and get them into a serving bowl, but I won’t blame you if they don’t make it onto the table.

Setback

Well, gosh. First and foremost, thank you so much for all your kind comments last week, on the blog, in person and over e-mail. You really know how to make a lady feel loved. Second, sorry for not coming back sooner to share good food. See, remember how I complained about my back? It turns out it wasn’t a pulled muscle, but a tear in the cartilage in my lower back. To answer the two questions you are now asking: Yes, it does hurt; quite a bit, and yes, they gave me some excellent pain killers. I’m also going to an acupuncturist twice a week and am being treated with Chinese herbal medicine. I’m seeing the surgeon on Thursday.

I’ve also been working on another project which I hope to share with you soon…

Anyhow, I stayed home from work for a better portion of the week with a heating pad pressed against my back. It hurts to sit for too long, so then I stand for a little bit, until that hurts… you get the picture. All this back pain has kept me out of the kitchen. This afternoon I stood by the counter and prepped some roots for roasting, and about 5 minutes in I had to call it quits and Rich kindly took over the project.

So the recipe I have for today has been vetted by me, but has been prepared by my sous chef Rich. (I know, I tell people all the time I won the husband lottery.) This morning I woke up to the scent of household cleaning supplies as he had spent the morning cleaning the kitchen, the bathrooms, and was onto his second load of laundry.

It had been very cold last week, and this recipe would have been perfect if I had made it then. Of course, we are now experiencing the “January thaw” Old-Time New England Cookbook talks about, although there’s been nary a snowflake to melt.

Now, about this recipe: It’s a mushroom barley soup from Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook, which I feel is one of those desert-island cookbooks. The first time I used this recipe was in my early twenties, when a guy I had a crush on off-handedly mentioned he loved mushroom barley soup. I “coincidentally” showed up the next day with a gallon Ziploc bag full of it. Good stuff.

When most people think of mushroom barley soup, they think of something thick and porridge-like.  This is more of a broth with chewy bites of barley and mushrooms. I’ve altered the recipe a little bit for the reflux: removing the sherry, and changing the soy sauce to tamari to create a second layer of umami, as both the mushrooms and the tamari are chockfull of it. The result is almost meaty, even though the dish is completely vegetarian. (It could also be made vegan by substituting oil for butter.) The mushrooms used here are white button; nothing fancy. The onions are slowly sautéed in a separate pan until they are translucent and have lost their bite, as was done to the garlic. I’ve also eliminated the fresh black pepper Katzen calls for. If someone at your table finds it lacking, just make sure the grinder is nearby. But honestly, this soup doesn’t need it.

With a slice of leftover challah, this made a very nice lunch. I used a small, handmade bowl, which was about 1/3 smaller than a regular soup bowl. You have to be careful not to eat large portions with the reflux; an overstuffed stomach can cause a lot of discomfort.

Mushroom Barley Soup Adapted from Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook

Preparation Time: 1 ¼ hours

Ingredients

½ cup uncooked barley

6 ½ cups water

1-2 Tbs. butter

1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 ½ cups)

2 medium cloves garlic, minced

1 lb. mushrooms, sliced*

½ to 1 tsp. salt

4 Tbs. tamari

Directions

Place the barley and 1 ½ cups of the water in a large saucepan, or a Dutch oven. Bring to a boil, over, and simmer until the barley is tender. (20 to 30 minutes).

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a skillet. Add the onions and sauté them until they are completely translucent but not browned. Add garlic, mushrooms, and ½ tsp. salt. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until everything is very tender. About 10 to 12 minutes. Stir in tamari.

Add the sauté with all its liquid to the cooked barley, along with the remaining 5 cups of water. Simmer, partially covered, another 20 minutes over very low heat. Taste to correct seasonings, and serve.

*I realize that the packages of button mushrooms are 10 ounces, so if you’re using one of those, reduce the water by a cup, and the tamari by 1 Tbs.

Silent Night

My bicycle, a 1960s English three-speed we bought for $60 at a tag sale in my hometown, lives in the front foyer from roughly mid-April to early October. It lives in the basement the rest of the year, easing access to the front hall closet for winter coats.

I’m writing this in mid-December, and my bicycle is still in the front hallway, where I put it on Friday after I rode it home from work. It’s dark by the time I leave my office, and the bike ride home along the river has become one of the most pleasurable moments of my week. There’s a stillness to the air, and no matter how many cars pass me to my left on Storrow Drive, the world seems silent.

I remark on this quietness because it’s the reverse of my morning commute, which is always cluttered by buses, cars and trucks all fighting their way to get to work on time. I plan my day on my ride in, and even before I get to the river and the safe bike path, I’ve decided on what to cook for dinner that night. But on these tranquil evening rides, my mind is as still as the chilled air, and I breathe in and out as I gaze across the river into Cambridge.  I’ve tried to remember if evening rides home in the summertime were this serene. I can’t say for certain, but there’s something so lively about a warm summer evening, when it doesn’t even get dark until long past 8PM, that leads to me to believe the answer is no.

The weather this weekend was more seasonal for Rich’s family Christmas party, and the temperature barely broke 30 today. It finally feels like December, but the forecast says it’s going to be in the 40s tomorrow. I don’t want to give up my evening ride of solitude along the river quite yet, so I’ve dug up my long johns to wear under tomorrow’s corduroys.

For dinner tonight, we are having some odds and ends in the fridge: some mustard greens and white beans, and this leftover mushroom and walnut pâté from that holiday party yesterday. This is one of those recipes I mull over during my morning ride.

Rich’s wonderful Aunt Nance, who I always look forward to visiting at family parties, asked me for the recipe just a few minutes after I’d set our offerings down on the counter. This recipe can definitely be made vegan, using olive oil, but that velvety richness that had Nance reaching for the knife was from the butter. It’s always the butter, isn’t it?

There might be a butter crisis in Norway, but there’s been a sale on it pretty regularly at the market around the corner. I can’t help but buy a box if it’s going to save me $1.77 and I know it can all be frozen until it’s needed; sorry Sven. Rich has started to complain about the 10 lbs. of butter that falls out of the freezer every time he opens it up for an ice cube (“Think of the Norwegians, Molly!”), but I’ve decided to ignore him.

The mushrooms I used in this version are crimini (aka “baby bellas”), but white button mushroom will work just as well. I clean mine by wiping them down with a barely moistened paper towel; I’m really just making sure all the dirt has been wiped away. Besides the butter, I keep my nuts, including these walnuts I bought from Ocean State Job Lot, in the freezer, as it keeps them from spoiling.

Mushroom Walnut Pâté

Ingredients

10 oz. (1 ¼ cups) chopped mushrooms

1/3 cup walnuts

7 large shallots (approximately 1/2 cup), peeled and chopped

2 teaspoons fresh thyme

Unsalted butter

Directions

Toast walnuts for 7 minutes in a 350 degree oven or toaster oven. (You can put them in while the oven is preheating)

In a medium sauté pan, melt 1 Tablespoon of butter over medium heat and add the chopped shallots. Slowly cook them until they have gone from pink to translucent to brown; about 10 minutes. Shallots crisp very quickly, so if yours hits that point, remove them immediately from the heat. But don’t worry if they do, this has not ruined the dish. At all. Remove and set aside.

(I have to grab a second skillet for this next step because my trusty sauté pan gets a little too brown too quickly, but I can’t stop using it. You should be able to do this all in one pan, but if things look like they’re heading from brown to black, grab a second pan.)

Melt 1 ½ Tablespoons of butter in a sauté pan over medium heat, then add the mushrooms. Let them cook in the butter for a few minutes without disturbing them. After about three minutes, give everything a stir. The mushrooms are going to give off a lot of moisture, and just keep on cooking them in the butter. After a few more minutes, give them another stir. In about 8 minutes in, add in a little pat of butter, about ½ Tablespoon.

Cook the mushrooms for about 5 minutes more, by which time the mushrooms will have deepened in color and begun caramelizing. This is a good thing. Once the mushrooms are a deep brown, add a pinch of salt, the roasted walnuts, thyme and shallots. Cook about 1 minute more.

Transfer contents of the pan to a food processor, and press on. While everything is whirling, drizzle in enough olive oil to make the concoction moist, about 1/4 cup. Stop machine, give a taste, add more salt if necessary. This all should take about 15 seconds.

Serve immediately on toast, bread, crackers, etc. Or, refrigerate for up to 4 days — that’s a guess, I’ve never had leftovers of this around that long!

Choppin’ Broccoli

Darn it, shoulda used extra-firm tofu.

I think Rich and I broke a holiday party record yesterday: four parties in nine hours. And the food. Oh boy, the food. Highlights include warm ricotta dip, fig and caramelized onions on parmasean tarts, Swedish meatballs, homemade marshmallows, roasted Brussels sprouts, two separate brie en croutes –all warm and melty with caramelized onions and cranberries spilling from underneath their puff pastry shells — a divine cheese platter and rich chocolate ganache cookies. I also drank some wonderful homemade merlot and was introduced to a fresh cranberry and vodka drink that needs further exploration.

So it’s no surprise that Rich and I woke up this morning still pretty full, and a little, just a little bit, grossed out by how much food we ate yesterday. So tonight I turned to my favorite dish I cook up when I think we need to hit pause on our holiday eating.

This recipe is adapted from Mollie Katzen’s Still Life With Menu Cookbook. I’ve found her original recipe to be too vinegary and lacking in soy sauce, so over time I have rejiggered it. She also calls for water chestnuts, which I never seem to have on hand, although last time I made this, I tossed in a can of baby corn. The dried black mushrooms are a pantry staple, thanks to Ocean State Job Lot. Tonight I added a block of medium firm tofu, although looking through the photos, should have been extra firm. Nonetheless, it still tasted great. The red chili flakes give it a good kick, so if you think it’s going to be too spicy for you, just use less than a teaspoon. Rich loves the extra kick and even adds Siracha sauce to his.

Broccoli and Black Mushrooms in Garlic Sauce

Adapted from Still Life with Menu Cookbook

Preparation time: 40 to 45 minutes (The actual stir-frying, once all prelimanaries are ready, takes only about 10 minutes.)

Yield: 4 main-dish-sized servings

Helpful hint: Put your rice on as you start to collect the ingredients, and it will be warm, ready and fluffy when the dish is done.

6 Chinese dried black mushrooms

2 cups boiling water

1/4 cup rice vinegar (cider vinegar will also work in a pinch)

1 1/2 cups water

1/4 cup (packed) brown sugar

3 tablespoons soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon salt

6 medium-sized cloves garlic, coarsely minced

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (more or less, to taste)

2 tablespoons cornstarch

2 tablespoons peanut or sesame oil

1 bunch broccoli (1 to 1 1/2 lbs.) stems trimmed and shaved, cut in 2-inch spears

salt, to taste

1 8 oz. can water chestnuts, drained and sliced, OR 1 can baby corn, OR 1 package extra firm tofu — the choices are really endless, and entirely up to you

1) Place the dried mushrooms in a bowl. Add boiling water, cover with a plate, and let stand at least 1/2 hour (preferably a whole hour). Drain the mushrooms, squeezing out all excess liquid. (You may wish to reserve the soaking water for soup stock.) Remove and discard mushroom stems, and slice the caps in half.

2) Combine the vinegar, 1 1/2 cups of water, brown sugar, soy sauce, salt, garlic and red pepper in a bowl.

3) Place the cornstarch in a small bowl. Add some of the sauce, whisk until dissolved, then return this mixture to the rest of the sauce. Leave the whisk in there; you’ll need it again.

4) Have all ingredients ready and within arm’s reach before starting the stir-fry. Place a medium-large wok over high heat for about a minute or two. Then add the oil. After about a minute, add the broccoli. Salt it lightly, and stir-fry for several minutes over consistently high heat, until the broccoli is bright grean.

5) Add the black mushrooms and water chestnuts, or tofu or baby corn, and stir-fry a few minutes more.

6) Whisk the sauce from the bottom of the bowl to re-integrate the cornstarch. Pour the sauce into the wok, turn the heat down just a little and keep stir-frying over the medium-high heat for another few minutes, until the sauce thickens and coats everything nicely. Serve immediately, over rice.

Ummmmami

Not the prettiest of dishes, but I get giddy when I think about how it tastes.

In kindergarten I learned that I had four different taste buds on my tongue, and to prove it, Mrs. S. put salt, sugar and lemon juice on their designated spots on the front and sides. I must have blocked out what we used to taste bitter, and maybe that’s why, on some level, I’ve never gotten used to bitter things like hops and mustard.

That lesson in tastes stuck with me for the next 20 years, and I would dance salty, sweet and sour foods into their “sweet spots” in my mouth. Well, usually. I always did have a little trouble deciding where to roll a Sour Patch Kid. And then, everything changed.  Even though it had been discovered nearly 100 years ago, Umami, roughly translated from the Japanese to mean “meaty” or “savory,” started making headlines about three years ago. Umami occurs naturally in foods like meat, parmesan cheese, soy, red wine, MSG, anchovies and mushrooms. And it is this taste sensation that has me loving this dish.

I make up excuses to cook this stew. We would eat it every week if I didn’t think Rich would mind. The potatoes always get cooked to a perfect velvety texture, and the mushrooms, cooked in the soy and sherry, feel as rich as meat on my tongue. I’ve actually recently read about a new taste, Kokumi,  but I’ll hold onto my umami and savor this dish.

This Chinese vegetable stew is hearty, and I’ll admit, not the prettiest of dishes. The vegetables don’t retain any of their crispness or their color. They turn soft from the slow cooking and get quite dark from the soy sauce. But did I mention how delicious this stew is? Try and keep potatoes on hand at all times, stored in dark cool place, and far away from onions, which will spoil the potatoes more quickly. Although I’ve stuck to button mushrooms for this recipe, dried shiitake mushrooms (which can be found at OSJL for $2 a package) will work great.

Potato Stew from Madhur Jaffrey’s World-of-the-East Vegetarian Cooking(serves 4-6)

Two notes about this recipe:

  1. Although it calls for carrots, I leave them out because they hurt my tummy. I am sure they taste delicious in this recipe.
  2. I don’t actually have sherry on hand, but have used sherry vinegar and am delighted with the results.

Ingredients

1/4 cup vegetable oil

2 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed

2 quarter-sized slices of fresh ginger, lightly crushed (I use my frozen ginger root, and just take it out of the freezer for about 10 minutes before I cut off the slices)

3/4 pound boiling potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes

1/2 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 2-inch lengths

Cook's Illustrated Tip: Line up your green beans and you'll only need one cut

2 carrots, peeled and cut crosswise into 1 1/2 inch-long segments

6 ounces mushrooms (if possible, with approximately 1 1/2-inch caps)

1/4 cup Chinese dark soy sauce

2 cups water

4 teaspoons sugar

2 tablespoons shaohsing wine or dry sherry (or sherry vinegar)

Heat the oil in an 8-inch-wide, heavy-bottomed pot over a medium-high flame. When hot, put in the garlic and ginger. Stir and fry for 15 seconds. Add the potatoes, beans and carrots. Stir and fry for 1 minute. Add the mushrooms. Stir and fry for another minute. Now put in 2 cups water, the soy sauce, sugar and wine. Bring to boil.

Cover, lower heat, and simmer for about 20 minutes or until potatoes are just tender. Remove cover and turn heat to high. Boil away most of the liquid.

You should have about 1/8 inch of sauce left at the bottom of the pot. Stir the vegetables gently as you boil the liquid down. Remove the ginger and garlic, if you like.

Dinner for Two Becomes Dinner for Five

Shabbos dinner somehow grew from just me and Rich to three guests at our table Friday night. In my fridge I had three beets, a head of cabbage, five mushrooms, and a block of feta. We feasted.

I was very silly and didn’t take photos of our food before we supped, so what I have here are leftovers — hooray for leftovers! I have no shots of the cabbage and mushrooms, which turned out to be the hit of the night. I didn’t do anything special to them — just sauteed up an onion for  a good long time until it began to caramelize, tossed in some garlic, then the mushrooms, then the cabbage.  Right before I took it off the flame I added two sage leaves. All I did was cook the cabbage down until it was too exhausted to put up a fight anymore. Limp, molted green and muddy brown, it probably wouldn’t have made very pretty picture, but it tasted great.

The beets took 25 minutes in the pressure cooker.A very simple dish: I cubed the beets, and half a block of feta, then drizzled balsamic vinegar and sprinkled fresh mint (from my container plants outside) on top.

I used the other half of feta for the quinoa, chickpea, and farmers’ market tomato salad. I cooked the chickpeas in the pressure cooker for 11 minutes with some bay leaves, a teaspoon or so of whole black peppercorns and two cloves of garlic, unpeeled. While that was going on, I cooked the quinoa in my rice cooker — no muss, no fuss. Quinoa is a great pantry staple: protein, carbs, fat, calcium, you can get a pound of it for less than $4 in bulk at Harvest Co-op.

As for feta, here’s a tip: If you go the Market Basket in Somerville — which, by the way, has FANTASTIC produce at the some of the best prices in town — head over to the deli counter. On the right hand side up against the wall is a counter fridge. Inside you’ll likely find huge blocks of really decent feta for about $4.

To dress the quinoa salad, I combined:

6 TBS olive oil

3 TBS red wine vinegar (I like my lips to pucker, so I always go 2 to1 with my dressings, while I think most recipes will say 3 to 1)

1 clove of garlic, minced

1/8 teaspoon mustard (I’m actually pretty anti-mustard, but it can’t be beat for emulsifying salad dressings)

a pinch of salt

a few grinds of fresh black pepper

2 teaspoons agave nectar (you can do honey, too, but I like the sweetness of agave, and it’s good to have on hand for vegan salad dressings)

2 TBS chopped fresh mint

I put all these together in a glass jar, and shook. That’s all. This is basically the blue print for all my dressings.

Make sure to let the quinoa cool down before you dress it. Otherwise it will soak up everything and you’ll be wondering where all your flavor went. I speak from experience!

Quinoa salad on one of my new plates... thanks Freecycle!