It Only Looks Fancy

Tell me I’m not the only one who went into Marshall’s last month in search of Father’s Day gifts and walked out with a 2 lb. bag of sunflower seeds. No? Only me? Oh well. I had a purpose in mind for the sunflower seeds – a Thai-inspired sauce – but I’m so taken with this recipe for Baby Carrots with Carrot-Top Pesto that I haven’t managed to find time to work on that other recipe.

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The carrot recipe comes from Saladish: A Crunchier, Grainier, Herbier, Tastier Way with Vegetables by Ilene Rosen with Donna Gelb, and I can’t stop/won’t stop cooking from it. All the recipes can be made beforehand, put in the fridge, then taken out, and are all still fantastic. My own take on this cookbook is that it’s a lot like Ottolenghi’s vegetable platters but not as ridiculous in their finishing details.

 

20180708_164536.jpgI made these carrots again tonight with my CSA carrots. I’ve also enjoyed the Rice Noodles with Lots of Asian Herbs and Lime Dressing, Roasted and Pickled Cauliflower, and tossed the Basil Dressing with a farro salad with summer squash and fresh corn. There are a ton more things I’m looking forward to making before this book has to go back to the library. Honestly, it’s looking more and more likely that I will actually buy this book, it’s that good.

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Although this looks like a fancy dish, it takes less than a half hour to put together, and most of that time is carrots roasting. While the oven preheats, I cut off the greens tops and plop them in a huge bowl of cold water to give them a clean. I scrub the carrots in cold water with a vegetable brush instead of peeling them. Although her recipe calls for 2 bunches of carrots, I used one with no negative results.

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Ilene suggests using the carrot top pesto as “a spread for crostini with anchovies, pickled carrots and sliced radishes; as a dressing for a wedge salad of iceberg or romaine hearts with crumbled blue cheese, spiralized or grated carrots, or as a garnish swirled into warm or chilled carrot soup.” Or you can put them on top of the roasted carrots themselves, with the aforementioned sunflower seeds, which you can get at Marshall’s while picking up presents for your next birthday/Father’s Day/Mother’s Day, etc.

Baby Carrots with Carrot-Top Pesto from Saladish by Ilene Rosen

Ingredients

1 bunch baby carrots, scrubbed, tops attached

2 to 3 tablespoons flavorless vegetable oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Carrot Top Pesto

About 2 cups loosely packed green carrot tops (stems discarded), from carrots above

¼ cup sunflower seeds, toasted (I didn’t toast mine)

1 small garlic clove

1 ½ teaspoons Dijon mustard

1 ½ tablespoons white wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice

1 ½ teaspoon honey

½ cup plus 2 tablespoons flavorless vegetable oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Fruity olive oil for thinning the pesto

3 tablespoons queso fresco, crumbled

2 tablespoons canned or jarred pickled jalapenos, minced (I did not have any on hand)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400F

Trim the carrots, leaving ½ inch of the green tops attached. Reserve about 2 cups of the remaining frilly tops for the pesto, plus several of the nicest-looking tops for garnish. Cut any fatter carrots lengthwise in half so they are all about the same thickness and place them on a sheet pan. Toss with enough oil to coat, spread them out in the pan, and season with salt and pepper. Roast the carrots for 18 to 25 minutes (depending on the size), turning occasionally, until nicely browned and tender.

Meanwhile, make the pesto: Put the carrot tops, 3 tablespoons of the sunflower seeds, and the garlic in the bowl of food processor or in a blender and grind to a paste. Add the mustard, vinegar, and honey and blend throroughly. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in the oil and process until the pesto is thick but still retains some texture. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (You’ll have some pesto left over; store it tightly covered in the refrigerator, and use it within the next day or two, while the color is still bright.)

Arrange the carrots on a serving dish. Thin the pesto with olive oil until it can be drizzled. Spoon some pesto lightly over the carrots, and transfer the remaining pesto to a small serving bowl. Top the carrots with the cheese, followed by the jalapenos (if using), and finally the remaining 1 tablespoon sunflower seeds. Serve the remaining pesto on the side.

 

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Lunch Break

In all the news that’s fit to eat, this springtime has brought us sun, rain and food trucks. More specifically, the new Boston food truck schedule includes a rotating list of five trucks parked directly across from my office building. Although my co-workers would be the first to tell you that I’m a lunch packer, in the name of research, I have found myself grabbing my hat and scarf and venturing across Commonwealth Avenue to inspect the goods.

There are a few vegetarian options out there, including one of the pioneer food trucks here in Boston, Clover Food Lab. Clover, which now has brick-and-mortar restaurants in Harvard and Inman Squares, offers up some pretty decent $5 pita sandwiches, including a BBQ seitan, a soy BLT, a chickpea fritter (read: falafel), an egg and eggplant, and a rotating seasonal sandwich. I’ve enjoyed what I’ve had there, but I usually walk away saying to myself, “I could have totally made that,” and then go home and make it, or a variation on it.

The latest seasonal sandwich I’ve enjoyed at Clover (back in April) was a steamed sweet potato that had been tossed with cinnamon, dabbed with cilantro sauce, and then topped with a spicy jicama slaw.

I actually recreated the sandwich more or less, sans pita, during Passover, and it’s the inspiration for the sweet potato and cilantro pesto salad below. (Although now I’m realizing that I’ve enjoyed the sweet potato and cilantro combination in the past.) During Pesach I used walnuts, but I ordinarily make it with pepitas, (Spanish for pumpkin seeds). The nice thing about pestos are that they’re very forgiving and can be endlessly tweaked. I know there are some cilantro-haters out there reading this, but I’ve read that one can actually train the palate to enjoy the ruffled herb.

This can be made without cheese to keep it vegan and, depending on if you like spice, with or without chile pepper, although I would strongly support keeping it. Add a can of black beans to make this heartier. A little tip for cleaning the cilantro: soak the leaves, head first, in bowl of cold water, for 15 minutes. The dirt and grit will fall to the bottom of the bowl. I tend to do two rounds of this hands-free cleansing. This can be done as soon you bring the herbs home from the market. Store them in the fridge standing upright in a glass container filled with water.

Sweet Potato and Cilantro Pesto Salad

Ingredients

1 lb. sweet potatoes (approximately 2 medium-sized potatoes)

1 bunch cilantro

1 clove of garlic, peeled and chopped

2 Tablespoons pepitas

1 chile pepper, chopped

1/4 cup hard cheese, such as Parmesan, finely grated (completely optional)

1 squeeze of lime juice

1 pinch of salt

Olive oil

Direct

Choose a pot that’s large enough to hold the sweet potatoes without crowding them. Fill the pot about 3/4 of the way with water and add several large pinches of salt. Bring to a boil.

While the water is heating, peel the sweet potatoes. Slice them in half, lengthwise, then slice those halves lengthwise. Depending on the size of the potato, cut those into three or four 1-inch cubes.

Add the sweet potatoes to the boiling water. Cover the pot and cook the potatoes for about 12 minutes, until just tender, but resistant in the middle if poked with a fork. When tender, carefully pour the pot of hot water and sweet potatoes into a colander in the sink. Set the potatoes aside and let them cool off a little bit.

Into the bowl of a food processor, place the remainder of the ingredients, except the olive oil. While the machine is running, pour the olive oil down the chute. Process for about 35 seconds. I don’t measure the amount of oil I use – my guess is half a cup – but I look for the pesto to turn to a smooth paste that will toss and coat things nicely. Of course, if you like your pesto a little on the chunky side, run the machine for about 20 seconds.

Once the sweet potatoes have cooled down, gently toss them with the pesto in a large bowl.

Second Annual Cambridge Guac Off

The competition was fierce at the Second Annual Cambridge Guac Off this past weekend. I was lucky enough to be invited back to help judge the competition, and what a contest it was! There were a dozen different entries for guests and contestants to sample, and a stock pot full of some of the most potent sangria I have ever overindulged in. Food processors whirled and mortar and pestles ground away at the ripe green fruits that had been tossed with cilantro, garlic and lime juice.

Secret ingredients abounded this year. Some, like the Rick Bayless-inspired pepitas, queso fresco and jalapeno entry, used traditional Mexican flavors. Less so was the blue cheese which found its way into the second place entry. And while some protested the awarding of first place to a pesto-infused guacamole, I for one embraced this next step in dip evolution. Rounding out the entries was a fresh mango salsa and a tequila-spiked avocado sorbet.

The Guac Off winners were kind enough to share their recipes with Cheap Beets. In the style of so many great home cooks, measuring spoons were set aside and the final dips were done to taste. I’ve assured Matt, Calvin, Rachel and Isabelle not to worry about those details, and that the recipes will speak for themselves.

For more pictures of the event, check out Calvin’s Flickr page.

First place: Pesto-Guacamole by Matt Frank

Ingredients

4 Ripe avocados

1 unripe avocado

1 medium red onion

Paprika

Sea Salt

Pepper

Cilantro flakes

Basil flakes

Lime juice

Tabasco sauce

Jalapeno paste (they sell it in a tube)

Fresh garlic

Garlic powder

Onion powder

Olive oil

Notes on the pesto: Trader Joe’s brand or homemade will work. (The winning recipe had homemade, but the trial run used Trader Joe’s) Any traditional pesto should do.

Directions

Peel and cut the unripe avocado into one inch pieces. Halve the red onion, and dice one half into small pieces.  Peel the garlic clove. Toss all three in a mix of light olive oil, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, basil flakes, cilantro flakes, tabasco sauce, lime juice, sea salt and pepper. Bake on the top rack of a 475 degree oven for approximately 20 minutes.

Fork mash the baked avocado and garlic clove into a paste. In a separate bowl, fork mash the four ripe avocados, and then add the mashed avocado paste and the jalapeno paste. Mix. Add some Tabasco sauce, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, lime juice and basil flakes and mix. Add a tablespoon of basil pesto. Mix. Taste, add more pesto and tabasco sauce as needed, taking care not to offset the balance. Additional spicing should be done judiciously.

Once the guacamole is properly flavored, add the baked red onion, and half of the other remaining raw onion. Gently fold into the guacamole, making sure to distribute evenly without breaking it up.

Second Place: Simple Guacamole (with a secret ingredient) by Rachel Linso and Calvin Metcalf
In a large bowl, mix together

4 very ripe avocados

1/2 can roasted diced jalapenos (approximately 1/2 Tablespoon)

1/2 yellow onion, diced

Nice-sized hunk of blue cheese

Pepper to taste

Third Place: Roasted Jalapeno and Roasted Corn Guacamole by Isabelle Weyl

The night before you want to serve this guacamole, roast a jalapeno pepper, deseed, and slice into thin strips. Shuck two ears of corn, salt and coat in olive oil. Wrap in tinfoil and roast in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes. Remove corn from the cob and add to the bowl containing the strips of roasted jalapeno. Refrigerate overnight.

When ready to prepare and serve the guacamole, bring the corn and pepper mix to room temperature, mash 5 smallish avocados with 3 dashes of Tabasco sauce and a hearty spoonful of sour cream.