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Archive for the ‘Vegetables’ Category

tasty and wonderful

tasty and wonderful

The last time I was in Israel I arrived in Tel Aviv at dawn.  I left Athens for Israel at one in the morning, and it took many hours of travel before I finally reached Tiberias, my first stop on the journey.  Tiberias is a beautiful little city that occupies a short stretch of the coast along the Sea of Galilee.  There are small and winding stone alleys, a lively beach scene, elegant boutique hotels and crumbling, ancient minarets left over from the Ottomans.  Ignore the young teenagers carrying machine guns; it’s a charming town.  Tiberias is particularly special to me because it is where I met my husband.  I can easily conjure the colorful, swirling, exhilarating memories of the night that we met, so you can imagine how excited I was to return with him three years later.

However, our reunion with this cherished city was not the picture of romance that I envisioned.  We were tired, confused, starving.  We had been up for hours.  We were hangry (a unique physical/emotional state brought on by low blood sugar; hunger+angry=hangry).  People that know me know about hangry.  Hanger must be attended to.  We ended up at a small place called Little Tiberias.  We ate quite a few dishes that day, but I only remember the fried cauliflower.  Is it terrible to say that my memories of the fried cauliflower run alongside my memories of meeting Jon? 

off the coast of tiberias

off the coast of tiberias

I don’t know if I have ever loved a vegetable the way that I loved that cauliflower.  It could have been because I was starving but I’m pretty sure its because it was out of this world.  It was tender and crispy all at the same time, warm and smothered with garlic and olive oil and lemon and coriander leaves.  My mouth is watering as I write this.  My passion for this cauliflower was so intense that the chef came out and shared the recipe with me, which basically consisted of “loads and loads of garlic” and “tons of lemon and olive oil” and “good white cauliflower dropped in a lot of hot oil.” 

Cauliflower is an underused vegetable, pushed aside all together or covered in fake, melted cheese.  Yuck.  I have always enjoyed its earthy flavor and prefer it  roasted in the oven with lemon or nutmeg or paprika, but ever since that day I really love my pretend Little Tiberias version.  I don’t technically fry the cauliflower (although I’d like to try one day) and I swapped the coriander leaves for arugula, but it still tastes delicious and reminds me of Israel and love and beach and sunshine.  I also added a little bit of paprika – no idea why.  The cauliflower gets nice and browned and lemony and garlicky – the wilted arugula a perfect complement.  Please try this immediately and tell me all about it or share one of your favorite ways to prepare cauliflower!    

lemony garlicky cauliflower and wilted arugula (and love)

  • one head of cauliflower, cut into bite sized florets
  • four or five cloves of garlic, chopped
  • one large or two small lemons (meyers are best)
  • one generous handful of arugula
  • one teaspoon of paprika
  • kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • extra virgin olive oil
  1. heat a very generous amount of olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat and add the cauliflower, cooking for a few minutes untouched until they begin to brown
  2. add the paprika, salt and pepper and give the florets a turn or a shake to encourage nice browing on their opposite sides
  3. once cauliflower is browning nicely, squeeze half of a lemon over the florets, add a splash of water, reduce heat to medium and cover, cooking for about 8 more minutes or until cauliflower is tender (be sure and check temperture level and add a little water as necessary to keep from burning)
  4. in the meantime, whisk the rest of the lemon with some extra virgin olive oil and a pinch each of salt and pepper to create a simple vinaigrette
  5. in the last few minutes of cooking, add the chopped garlic to the cauliflower and stir, watching carefully so that the garlic doesn’t burn
  6. when cauliflower is finished, toss it with the arugula and the vinaigrette

I like to serve this will something simple like chicken or salmon or steak.

You could substitute the arugula for cilantro, a cousin to the coriander leaves that they use at Little Tiberias.  I don’t use cilantro because I hate it, which goes to show just how good the version in Israel was!

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i love these peopleI’ve just returned from a beach trip with my husband’s family.  We had a really lovely time.  Really.  I can only think of one teensy complaint about the week (okay, two if I include the fact that my head is still peeling ): Jon’s family does not place any value in eating well.  Allow me to paint the picture for you by highlighting some of the most memorable concoctions; buttered pop tarts, cheesy poofs (which would have been dipped in sour cream had it been available), and coffee sweetened with ice cream, artificial creamer AND sugar.  This is no joke.  This is real. 

At the beginning of the trip I’m simply thinking of a nicely crusted piece of salmon or some flavorful chicken –  by the end of the trip I am so desperate for a vegetable that I’m considering a handful of grass or that piece of seaweed I saw lying listlessly next to my beach towel.  The reasons that we don’t just cook our own food at the beach condo are too complex to discuss, and I really don’t want to be obnoxiously pushy about the fact that we like to eat food and nourish our bodies.  Already we are introduced as such, “This  is my brother Jon and his wife Amanda.  They’re healthy.”  The second sentence is said in a more hushed, foreboding tone, kind of like when you’re announcing a family member that is a little slow, or, I don’t know, terminally ill. 

The most amazing thing is that all of these wonderful family members that I truly adore do not weigh four hundred pounds.  Miraculously they are all slim, trim and stunning; either a small miracle or a testimony to the influence of good genes.   

I’m telling you all of this just so that you understand my desperate desire to eat something that grew from a seed and sprouted through the earth, something that was plucked from a vine or was once covered in dirt.  These are my thoughts as I’m wandering through the market on Sunday, loving every minute of my reclaimed freedom of food choice.  I planned to overload the menu with veg, while as usual, be thrifty and use all of my purchased ingredients.  I knew I would have some extra arugula and decided to just grab a small assortment of vegetables to grill up and serve on top of the remaining greens.  I’m so fortunate to be able to buy individual vegetables as opposed to a pre-packaged bunch; this is the beauty of the farmer’s market.  So, I selected a zucchini, a summer squash, a few portabello mushroom caps and a red onion.  Remembering the balsamic that I just brought back from Italy and a jar of roasted red peppers in my fridge, I think that this will be so easy to throw on the grill, taste amazing, and feed the screaming veggie monster that had yet to be satisfied. 

I just finished my lunch, and what I thought was going to be a very simple preparation of grilled veggies on some

beautiful grilled veggie goodness

beautiful grilled veggie goodness

left over greens (I’ve done this before, you know), turned out to be a symphony of tangy, warm, toasty, flavorful, satisfying goodness.  Oh yes.  And to think that I was also eating on the cheap and nourishing my deprived body?!  There is a God who loves me. 

I’ve thrown this little menagerie together before, but a few minor tweaks really made it special.  For starters, I used arugula instead of spinach.  If you think arugula is bitter or strong or just plain gross, erase this notion from your brain immediately.  Toss those greens in some lemon and good quality olive oil, get over it and enjoy.  Pair them with something complementary like red onion or soppressata or cauliflower or tomato sauce.  But I digress; the arugula that I tossed in lemon and olive oil as a bed for my grilled vegetables elevated the flavors of each vegetable, as did the pairing of lemon with the balsamic that I poured over my vegetables.  (It also probably didn’t hurt that I used some balsamic from Italy…).  What really added panache though was a little side bowl of whole milk ricotta cheese that I mixed with a smidge of grated fresh garlic and salt and pepper.  Oooooooohhhh, a little bit of arugula, some portabello, a piece of onion and a little dollop of that pillowy cool ricotta, scented with the fresh garlic – heaven!  Or maybe a little bit of arugula with some roasted red pepper and a piece of summer squash, and another little schmear of that glorious ricotta – perfection!  The sweetness of the vinegar, the balancing sour of the lemon, the roasty flavor of the vegetables, the assertive flavor of our darling arugula, and the crown of that beautiful ricotta – a revelation!  Each bite was chosen for a new combination of flavors, each one announced as the best so far.  

Did I mention that this was also easy as pie?  You could really go overboard and throw in some toasted flat bread or pour the greens and veggies over a nice little serving of quinoa or couscous.  You could toss in some fresh herbs, like basil or thyme.  You could grill some chicken alongside your veggies. (And speaking of grilling, you also must get one of those cast iron grill pans that go over two burners.  It will change your life.  It makes all of this so simple and quick to cook and clean.) 

little ricotta cloud

little ricotta cloud

If I sound bossy here I do apologize; maybe it’s because I just spent a week trying to avoid buttered preservatives and sugar encapsulated in trans fat, forbidden to indulge my omnivorous desires for real food.  This is hard for me.  It makes me sassy when I’m back in control. 

The recipe below is for two; very easy to adjust for any number of people.  I do hope that you will recreate this meal immediately and enjoy every single unique bite as Jon and I just did.  While you savor each little flavor explosion, meditate on the fact that you are capable of making this fabulous food, that your body is singing a chorus for all of this lovely veg, and that most likely what you put on your grill cost less that a box of cheesy poofs or a gallon of ice cream.  Glory!

delicious grilled veggie and arugula salad with pillowy garlic scented ricotta

  • one zucchini, sliced into half inch rounds
  • two summer squash, sliced into half inch rounds
  • one medium red onion, peeled and quartered
  • two portobello mushroom caps, sliced into manageable chunks
  • a few good quality jarred roasted red peppers
  • a few generous handfuls of arugula, rinsed and dried
  • one lemon
  • about a quarter cup of balsamic vinegar
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • one half clove of garlic, grated or pushed through a press
  • a few tablespoons of whole milk ricotta
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  1. toss squash, zucchini, shrooms and peppers in a mixture of balsamic vinegar, olive oil and salt and pepper, and add them to a well oiled grill pan over medium heat, about 4 minutes per side or until desired doneness
  2. meanwhile, toss the arugula with a dressing of salt and pepper, the juice of a fresh lemon and olive oil; lay on a platter or places
  3. add garlic to the ricotta and season with salt and pepper to taste; set aside in a little serving bowl
  4. top the arugula with the finished vegetables and gently toss so that arugula slightly wilts; serve with the ricotta on the side and enjoy every bite

You could really use any kind of mediterranean style vegetables that you like, including eggplants or artichoke hearts – this is a great way to use any left over vegetables.

While the ricotta cheese is a fantastic companion to the salad, parmesan or goat cheese or any other cheese may be a great accompaniment; I happened to have some extra ricotta in the fridge – get creative and use what you’ve got!

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artichoke and potato hash - tasty

artichoke and potato hash - tasty

Last night’s dinner was delicious and I want to share it with you.  Homey little brown potatoes get some panache by the addition of artichoke hearts, garlic and capers.  Don’t be shy – the flavors are surprising – amazing.  The minute the garlic and capers hit the pan with the browned potatoes and artichokes, you are overwhelmed with such an intoxicating fragrance!  Over and over again we commented on how good it smelled. 

Artichokes are in season right now; it’s a great time to take advantage of the fresh offerings and reasonable prices.  Since the market was sold out of baby artichokes (the original ingredient in the recipe), I used frozen artichoke hearts from  Trader Joe’s.  I can’t wait to try this with the fresh, baby artichokes.  The recipe below is adapted from A Platter of Figs and serves four – I cut it in half for two and served it with a skirt steak.  I hope you will try this and love it as much as I did!

artichoke and potato hash

  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 lbs medium waxy potatoes such as yellow fin or yukon gold, peeled and cut into one inch chunks (I actually used medium red potatoes, peeled and cut into a bit of a smaller dice)
  • 15 baby artichokes – about 2 lbs (I used about 15 frozen artichoke hearts and halved them lengthwise)
  • 1 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, roughly chopped (I didn’t have this on hand so I didn’t use it!)
  • 2 tbsp capers (we are heavy on the capers here, and used the larger size)
  • 4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  1. bring six cups of salted water to boil in a 2 quart saucepan
  2. add potatoes to saucepan, reduce heat to medium, and simmer until almost tender, about four minutes (adjust cooking time depending on potato size)
  3. drain potatoes and transfer to a dry surface to cool for a moment
  4. trim your artichoke hearts lengthwise, if using – OR – trim away tough outer leaves of baby artichokes to expose their tender, pale green interior, and slice them into 1/4 inch wedges
  5. heat olive oil in a 12″ skillet over medium high heat, and add potatoes, flipping occasionally until they are light brown (about 10 minutes depending on size of potatoes)
  6. add the artichokes and cook, flipping occasionally until artichokes and potatoes are golden brown and tender (about 10 minutes more depending on size of potatoes and artichokes)
  7. season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and add parsley, capers and garlic
  8. stir to combine and remove from heat… delicious! 

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So I realize that brussel sprouts are at the very tail end of their season (and I may be really stretching it), but I still see them bright and peppy on their stalks at the market so I feel justified in this post. 

my favorite cafe in the namesake city of the brussel sprout

my favorite cafe in the namesake city of the brussel sprout

Like the city of their namesake, brussel sprouts are terribly underrated; they have such an unfortunate reputation of being stinky and plain.  In fact, these little runts of the cabbage family may be the mascot for the rejected vegetable team, elevated by veggie haters as the chief offender and reason to shun vegetables.  Maybe this is true if you boil all of the flavor out of them and dump them on a plate with a little table salt (a tragedy); however, a properly cooked brussel sprout paired with some punchy ingredients and a little bit of love can yield something very, very tasty. 

Brussel sprouts are sweet, earthy, maybe even a little floral – pancetta and garlic beautifully complement these aspects of their flavor.  They are great vehicles of flavor – crispy edges with soft centers – pungent sauce or olive oil hidden in the leaves – their own essence assertive enough to not be lost in the mix.  These tiny crucifers are not only too delicious to be avoided, but they are packed with vitamins and phytonutrients that provide all sorts of lovely benefits to your body (cancer prevention, clear skin, boosted immune function, etc.). 

My husband and I most often enjoy them prepared in the fashion I’ll outline below; you could serve them alongside a simple chicken or pork, or you can eat them as the main with some crusty bread, as we often do.  I have

brussel sprouts with pancetta

brussel sprouts with pancetta

experimented with this classic pairing multiple times with many variations; I like them best in the way that I’m sharing.  The pancetta is very toothsome; crispy but also pleasantly chewy.  The saltiness of the pancetta combined with the garlic and caramelization of the brussel sprouts, the small amount of wine or broth that deglazes the pan, a tiny squeeze of lemon – all of this combines in glorious goodness.  You could also cut some sprouts in half and roast them in the oven.  Toss them with some olive oil, salt and pepper and they will brown very nicely.  A simple, warm sauce of mustard, white wine or white wine vinegar, thyme and a generous sprinkle of freshly grated parmesan cheese makes an elegant and versatile side. 

Perhaps you have written off the brussel sprout; if so, I ask you to give the humble veggie another chance.  If I haven’t done enough to convince you, maybe my husband’s unabashed passion will: “They’re my absolute favorite vegetable,” he says, “and they’re named after my favorite city.”  That’s a one-two punch for the brussel sprout.

brussel sprouts with pancetta

serves 2 generously

  • 20 or so small brussel sprouts, trimmed of bottom “stem” and outer leaves plucked
  • quarter inch slab of pancetta, diced into small cubes
  • a few cloves of garlic, very coarsely chopped
  • generous splash of chicken broth, white wine or vermouth
  • little squeeze of lemon (optional and a little something extra)
  • little bit of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  1. trim the brussel sprouts and blanch them for about three minutes in boiling water, draining and transferring to an ice bath
  2. cut the blanched brussel sprouts in half – meanwhile, crisp the pancetta in a skillet over medium high heat
  3. when pancetta begins to crisp, add the brussel sprouts cut side down and cook for 3 to 4 minutes (turn the heat down if they are browning too much or too fast)
  4. check to make sure that brussel sprouts are browning nicely, then turn over to brown on the other side, maybe 2 minutes more
  5. deglaze the pan with a little white wine, vermouth or chicken broth, then add the garlic to the pan
  6. toss and cook for about 1 to 2 minutes more, stirring gently to combine flavors and prevent garlic from burning
  7. squeeze with a bit of lemon, serve, and repent of your aversion to brussel sprouts

Look for brussel sprouts of a similar size, with crisp compact heads and intact leaves.  Some of the leaves will come off during cooking; don’t worry – these will crisp up and become delicious.

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