Friday, December 30, 2011

Spicy Spinach and Artichoke Pasta

Okay, so the previous post wasn't the last of 2011 because I made my pre-race pasta dinner tonight instead of going out.

Usually I go out for a pasta dinner the night before a race, but the last time I did so I found myself thinking when it was served, "Hmm...$10.95 for something I could have made at home."  I won't name the restaurant, since we do generally enjoy it when we go, but their vegetarian options are somewhat limited and that night's selection didn't quite justify paying for one plate what I would have paid for the groceries had I made it myself.  It was Steve's $10.95, not mine, but still.  It's the principle of the thing. 

So, between wanting something similar tonight (without having to put hole-free clothes on, go out, wait to be seated and then wait to be served) and Steve having to work, we ended up staying in (Steve works from the house) and I whipped up a batch of - you guessed it -

Spicy Spinach and Artichoke Pasta:
Half a package of whole wheat linguine (I used Alma's)
2 tbsp olive oil
3-4 oz chopped baby spinach
1 15-oz can artichoke hearts, quartered, plus half the brine
14 oz Dei Fratelli crushed tomatoes (or whatever kind you've got)
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp dried Italian herbs
sea salt to taste
fresh-ground black pepper to taste
crushed red pepper to taste

Cook the pasta according to the package directions.  Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat.  Add spinach and stir often until more than a little wilted, about 5 minutes.  Add remaining ingredients, cover and simmer for 15 minutes or until flavors have blended.
Easy peasy.  It came out great and I'm still wearing a sweater with a hole in it, yay!

Until 2012...

Thai red coconut curry stir-fry

I made this Tuesday night (leftovers were gone by lunch Wednesday) and I'm just now getting around to blogging about it.  It's been a very lazy week at home since I joined the sisterhood of hospital staff who worked on Christmas Day.

A couple of months ago, I made my first Thai coconut curry, based on a recipe I found online, and was disappointed enough with the result that I didn't bother to write about it.  I just ate the leftovers very sulkily at work over the next couple of days.  Later, I got a little curious about this "red coconut curry" that I'd heard about, looked for a recipe that seemed reliable, went out and got some Thai Kitchen red curry paste and some fresh veggies and got down to bidniss.

This recipe was my starting point, and the author helpfully suggests alternatives based on meat-eating status and availability of seasonal produce.  I replaced the chicken and chicken broth with tofu and veggie broth (and skipped the fish sauce), and my veggie selection was different as well.  I picked up a red bell pepper, some baby carrots and a head of broccoli and sliced up the last few mushrooms I had in a package from something else I'd made a few days prior (don't even remember anymore) and pretty much followed their instructions.  Oh, I also used lime juice instead of lemon and didn't worry about the basil.  When the stir-fry was ready (I took a picture of it in the pan because it was just so pretty!), I served it over a bed of rice noodles.  Delicious! 

Of course, if you're not a vegetarian, you could make it exactly as shown in the original recipe, but the nice thing about this and so many other recipes is that it lends itself to substitution.  Maybe try it with shrimp instead of chicken?  I dunno.  The only thing I'd say is that if you actually want to have leftovers, use slightly larger quantities of veggies and meat/tofu/whatever, because it cooks down a good bit and there was only one leftover portion for the next day's lunch.  (Guess who ate it?)  And if you use broccoli like I did, be sure to stir it in near the end, since it takes very little time to cook and you don't want it to be mushy by the time the dish is ready to serve.  I added the broccoli at about the same time as the cornstarch mixture, and it came out just right.

Well, this is probably it for 2011.  If you're in the Columbia area, I look forward to seeing some of you tomorrow morning at the Cold Winter's Day 5K or tomorrow night on Main Street, where George Clinton will be kicking off 2012 P-Funk style!

Stay warm and be safe, everyone!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Lentils with cracked wheat and wilted kale salad

Well, today was the last of several days off from work before before I go back and - yuck - work straight through the Christmas weekend.  Oh, well.  At least I got over my cold in time to do all the fun stuff planned for this past weekend.

So, being home, I decided to cook for the fun of having a lunch not of leftovers and also so that I'd have ample leftovers for the next few days of lunch breaks at work.  I'm actually at a point now where I have too much in my cupboards, so I'm looking more for excuses to use up pantry items than the relatively scant produce in the fridge.  I asked Steve to pick up some more kale a few days ago because I was starting to want some again, and today I finally cooked it.  Nothing fancy about the kale itself, but the lemon-tahini dressing really makes this wilted salad.  It's also good atop a simple spinach salad.  Try it sometime!

Wilted kale salad:
2 tbsp Earth Balance
1 tbsp olive oil
1 bunch kale, washed and roughly chopped, stems removed
sea salt to taste (regular is okay too)

Heat Earth Balance and olive oil in a four-quart pot over medium heat.  Add kale and stir every 2-3 minutes until wilted.  Season to taste with salt.

Lemon-tahini dressing:
2 tbsp tahini
1 tbsp water
1.5 tbsp lemon juice
salt and crushed red pepper to taste

Combine the first three ingredients in a mixing bowl until smooth.  Stir in salt and crushed red pepper.
To pair with the kale, I wanted something at least vaguely North African or Middle Eastern so that no other flavors would clash with the dressing.  I looked up some bulgur wheat recipes (I was actually using cracked wheat from the Indian grocery store; technically not the same, but close enough for my purposes) and decided to go with this one, since it also gave me a reason to cook up the last of my brown lentils.  For Emeril, it's surprisingly simple.

The flavors all came together very well, but if I ever make this again, I'm going to ignore the bit about adding the uncooked bulgur wheat to the cooked lentils and then leaving it to absorb the liquid.  I found it hard to tell if the wheat had enough water or not (since the cooked lentils got pushed to the bottom of the pot and trapped some of the liquid) and kept adding water until it became apparent that there was too much.  The result was a little on the mushy side.  I was able to fix it (kinda) by turning the heat back on for a few minutes once everything had been stirred together, but still.  Bulgur wheat's just as easy to make as couscous and, if you do it right, turns out about the same as whole wheat couscous.  Live and learn.  Nevertheless, nothing was lacking in the flavor department (in part because I added a little more of the dry spices to the final mixture), and I've got leftovers for the next couple of days and a teeny bit more space in my cupboard than I had this morning.

Hopefully I'll find time to cook and blog about it once more before the holiday.  If not, I wish you all a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, etc. and a prosperous 2012!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

North African Vegetable Soup

When shopping for Christmas presents on Amazon last week, I came up a few cents short of the $25 minimum order that qualifies for free shipping.  So, I looked around in the food/kitchen part of their website for a little something for myself and found this prepared harissa from France.  The four-pack cost about $15.  En tube, no less!

Then I felt like a jackass when I Googled "harissa recipes," hoping to find recipes using harissa, and instead found a slew of harissa recipes I could have easily made myself.  Oh, well.  I still got something to remind me of the wonderful time I spent in Geneva and of all the weekend shopping trips in France with my Swiss and German roommates, buying groceries with ingredient lists in several languages because they were being sold throughout the European Union.

So, when I changed the search to "recipes using harissa," this Moroccan vegetable stew recipe from Sara Moulton came up in the results.  This worked out well, since I'm a little under the weather today (and, thankfully, home from work), so I haven't had an appetite for the Indian yumminess that I made the other day.  Whenever I have a cold, all I really want is liquid, so I turned this stew into a soup, used up several veggies that had been hanging around for a while and got to use some of the harissa to boot.  I made numerous changes, as shown below the photo, based mainly on what was on hand:

2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 large yellow onion, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
4 cloves garlic
2 tsp minced ginger
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cumin
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 15-oz can diced tomatoes, undrained
4 cups vegetable broth (I used Better than Bouillon veggie base)
1.5 cups thawed frozen yellow squash, sliced in 1/2-inch rounds
1 15-oz can chickpeas, drained
1/3 cup cilantro, chopped
harissa for serving

In a soup pot, heat oil over medium heat.  Add onion and saute for 3-5 minutes.  Add celery and garlic, stir and cook for another 3-5 minutes.  Add the next three ingredients and stir to combine.  Add tomatoes and sweet potato, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes.  If sweet potatoes are not tender after this step, add the squash and chickpeas, raise the heat slightly, cover and simmer another 5-10 minutes or until sweet potatoes and squash are tender.  Turn off heat, stir in cilantro and serve.
I tasted the result before and after adding the harissa, and it's really good both ways.  I was able to taste the cinnamon more before I added the harissa than after, but I also liked how the harissa gave the broth a little more color than the liquid from the canned tomatoes could do on its own.  The harissa wasn't quite as hot as I expected (maybe I'll taste a difference once I'm no longer congested), but it was still very tasty and has great potential for being used in other soups and stews as a zippier alternative to tomato paste, particularly in Turkish recipes like chickpea and zucchini moussaka that I blogged about last year.

I'll be taking it easy for the rest of the day so that I can go back to work tomorrow and also be well enough to enjoy all the fun stuff going on this weekend, like tomorrow's holiday drop-in at work and Columbia Veg's "'Tis the Season to Party Like Veg*ns" potluck!

Hope everyone's having a happy and safe holiday season, and I'll be seeing some of you soon!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Tamarind Rice and Okra Masala

Well, the holidays are here once again, which means that opportunities to overeat abound.  Since I just bought a pair of skinny jeans the other day (my first-ever time shopping at Old Navy), I'm going to do my best to restrict any holiday excesses in my kitchen to the big day (T minus 11 and counting) and to making stuff for the various parties we've been invited to.  Thankfully, my pantry is always well-stocked for making Indian food that's tasty, filling AND won't stop me from wearing the new jeans when we go out for New Year's.

Lately I've also been loading up on pantry items because I needed a break from all the cooking and juicing I'd been doing in order to keep the veggies in the fridge from spoiling.  With the exception of a bag of celery that Steve bought on sale last week, I soon found myself with an overabundance of dry goods that needed to be addressed.  One of my go-to recipes in this situation is the tamarind rice recipe from Healthy South Indian Cooking (p. 138).  Since I had a bag of cut okra in the freezer, I decided to make the okra masala from the same cookbook (p. 253) as a side dish and substitute a couple of celery stalks for the diced onion since it was the only fresh veggie in the fridge yesterday.  I made a few more tweaks with both recipes, but they're still pretty close to the originals.

Word to the wise: not for the first time with the tamarind rice, I followed the directions about soaking the split peas and then adding them to the hot pan uncooked, and (like before) I wished I hadn't.  Have you ever made six-bean soup from dried beans and some of the thicker beans didn't cook all the way through?  The result I get with the split peas is a little like that.  Not so undercooked as to render you flatulent for the rest of the day, but just a little too chewy.  I have to make a note about that in the book and just use some chopped nuts instead the next time.

As always with Indian recipes, any ingredients you've never heard of can be found at your neighborhood Indian grocery store.  Some ingredients you have heard of can also be bought there for less, like big bags of turmeric for two bucks.  If you haven't already been, check 'em out!

Tamarind Rice:
1 cup brown rice
1/3 cup yellow split peas
1 tbsp tamarind paste
2 tsp salt
1/4 cup canola oil
8-10 curry leaves
3 dried red chili peppers
1/2 tsp asofoetida powder
1-2 tsp black mustard seeds
1-2 tsp urad dal
3/4 tsp turmeric
1 tsp chutney powder

Cook one cup brown rice in two cups of salted water, covered with a tight-fitting lid, until all liquid has been absorbed, about 30-40 minutes.  Remove from heat and let cool at least 15 minutes.  (If using white rice, use 1.5 cups of water per cup of rice.  It's also better to make it several hours or one day ahead so it can dry out and not get mushy during the cooking process described below.)

Soak yellow split peas in 1 cup of water for one hour.

Blend tamarind paste, salt and 1/4 cup of warm water in a small bowl and set aside.

In a large saucepan or wok, heat oil over medium heat.  When the oil is hot, add the curry leaves, red chilies, asofoetida, mustard seeds and urad dal.  Cover and cook until mustard seeds pop and urad dal is golden brown.  (If the pan is hot enough when adding these ingredients, these items will cook fast.  Watch the urad dal and dried chilies in particular to make sure they don't burn.)

Drain the water from the split peas and stir them into the saucepan, stir-fry for one minute, then add the tamarind mixture and stir well.

Add the turmeric and chutney powder and stir for one minute.  Add the rice and stir until all ingredients are combined.

Okra Masala:
2 tbsp canola oil
1/4 tsp asofoetida powder
1 tsp black mustard seeds
2 tsp urad dal
1/2 cup chopped onion (this is where I substituted celery)
2 cups frozen (or fresh, if you have it ) cut okra
1/2 tsp cayenne or to taste
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
1 tsp salt or to taste

Heat oil in saucepan over medium heat.  When oil is hot, add asoefoetida, mustard seeds and urad dal.  When the mustard seeds pop and urad dal is golden brown, add the celery and stir-fry for 3 minutes.

Add the okra and spices and stir-fry for another 5 minutes.  Add the tomato sauce and salt (if needed; some tomato sauces are saltier than others), reduce heat, cover and simmer until okra and celery are tender, another 5-7 minutes.