Category Archives: Side dish

Huge News…and Coconut Rice!

As of last Monday January 23rd, I took a full-time job! A legit gig, a straight 9-5 deal. I’ve been working freelance for nearly a decade, and it’s been an incredible ride. But I’ve always been one to look out for the next great thing, and believe me, I landed a great thing as the senior food editor at Tasting Table. There aren’t many jobs out there that suit me, my background, and my personality, but I can’t think of a better match. I get to create new recipes, test tons of recipes from the country’s best chefs, review cookbooks, and work alongside some super smart thinkers, writers, editors, and chefs. It’s a dynamic work environment where anything seems possible—so exciting for a food writer. For so long I’ve been scared of what’s happening with cookbooks, food television, magazines—so much upheaval, so many talented friends out of work, so much unfairness and irresponsibility (that’s life, right?). Well, now I get to bask in my good fortune. That’s how it feels on the other side of the fence, looking at nothing but possibility and great big open field of opportunity. It’s a great thing.

Getting dinner on the table though, well, that’s going to be a whole new challenge!! No longer do I have the luxury of skipping down the steps to the kitchen at 5:30 and whipping up something on a whim. No longer do I even have the luxury of sitting down to dinner with my kids (except for weekends, and what a beautiful food-filled weekend did I just have!). Now I have to really think about the week in advance. I’m planning and being strategic. We WILL still eat a homemade meal every night. It’s just going to take some creative hopscotching to do it.

So from here on forward, not only am I going to offer up recipes that inspire me and fuel me as a cook. I’m going to feature plans for getting through the week on a working moms schedule.

But you’ll hear more about that next week. Once I’ve gotten through this week and have the recipes and strategies to share (a few recipes will count on a gorgeous pork roast, so start looking for good deals now—I bought a stunning 4 1/2-pound shoulder for about $30 in Brooklyn meaning it’s probably far cheaper elsewhere!).

For now, I have a beautiful coconut rice side. Those of you who may be scared off by rice (it’s like coffee—either you’ve got the touch, or you don’t) need not worry: this dish gets baked in the oven for a nearly foolproof perfectly cooked outcome. I use coconut milk and a little water as the cooking medium, and finish it off with chopped peanuts, toasted coconut, and cilantro. Instead of white rice, I’m using long-grain brown jasmine rice that boosts up the fiber count and makes me feel okay about the sweet-rich boost from the coconut milk. It’s just the thing to make that ho-hum chicken breast seem a little more special.

Coconut Rice with Peanuts and Cilantro

Serves 4

I love this as a meat-free lunch doused with Sriracha sauce.

  • 3/4 cup long-grain brown rice (I like jasmine)
  • 1 1/4 cups coconut milk
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon plus a pinch kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup roughly chopped raw peanuts
  • 2 tablespoons shredded coconut (preferably unsweetened)
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the brown rice in a baking dish and pour in the coconut milk and water. Add the salt and give it a stir. Set the rice in the oven and bake until all the liquid is absorbed, 50 minutes to 1 hour. Remove the baking dish from the oven, fluff, and set aside.
  2. Place the peanuts and coconut on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast, stirring every minute or so, until the coconut is golden and the peanuts take on an oily shine, 2 to 4 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, sprinkle with a pinch of salt, and use a spoon to scatter the peanut mixture over the rice. Finish with cilantro and serve.

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Filed under Dinner, Grains, Recipe, Side dish, Vegan, Vegetarian

Caramely Spiced Carrots for a Sweet New Year

New Years resolutions often revolve around self-improvement, such as: this year I’m going to stretch everyday (that was mine, it lasted until January 3rd) or I will stop eating sugar (not my resolution and never ever will be!). What I have found to be more effective, though, are resolutions that hone in on attitude adjustments. Such as: this year, I’m going to be more patient with my kids—when they annoy me, I will take a deep breath, smile while exhaling, and try to amend the situation from a positive place. That’s a resolution I can stick to because it acknowledges a fault while resolving to improve over time.

How does this relate to carrots?

Well, carrots and I have history, as in I really, really dislike them. As a kid, my mom would keep a bowl of baby-cut carrots (carrots trimmed to baby size via machine versus actual baby carrots pulled from the ground before they reach maturity) or carrot sticks in a bowl in the fridge. She’d cover them with water and there they’d linger for days on end.

Embracing the concept of a new year, trying new things, having new adventures, and turning over new leaves, I decided t was time I made peace with carrots. I saw a bunch at the market. I stared at them for a while. And then, like the sad last-of-the-litter puppy yelping for attention, I picked up the carrots by the scruff of their greens and dropped them into my basket.

I dressed the carrots with olive oil, honey, orange juice, lots of ground cumin, and a healthy dose of salt. Then I popped them into a cold oven. I figured that by the time the oven hit 425°F (ten to twenty minutes, depending on your oven), the carrots would be one-third to halfway done roasting—so why waste that preheating time?

The carrots were insanely good! They charred, they shriveled, they sweetened, they glistened in their honey-orange glaze. We devoured them (even me). There was a problem, though: the honey and orange juice turned to asphalt in my baking dish and it took four days, a dryer sheet (anyone else know this trick? Add a dryer sheet to an especially troublesome pan, fill with hot water, and soak over night—for most pans it works like a charm), a half bottle of Barkeeper’s Friend, and two scrubbies to get the darned thing clean.

So I tried a few more times, with the goal of the same deliciously caramelized carrots minus the mess in the pan. Roasting the carrots with olive oil and salt to start and then adding the honey-orange juice mixture at the midway point seemed to work well. There was a little deep brown stickiness in the pan at the finish, but nothing that a quick scrub couldn’t remedy.

Carrots and I are making progress. We’re taking small steps together. While I still harbor many carrot prejudices, I’m happy for this New Year’s triumph that wasn’t necessarily a resolution, but had a happy ending anyway.

Oven Caramelized Carrots with Honey and Cumin

Serves 4 to 6

The cumin gives the carrots a fabulously earthy flavor, a taste combo I first experienced at ABC Kitchen in Manhattan, one of my absolute favorite restaurants. If you’re not a cumin lover, take it down to 1/4 teaspoon but please don’t cut it out entirely.

  • 1 1/2 pounds medium carrots, scrubbed and unpeeled, halved lengthwise
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • Flaky salt, for serving (optional)
  1. Place the onions in a 9- by 13-inch baking dish. Arrange them lengthwise so they’re in a single layer—you may need to place shorter carrots crosswise at the short ends of the pan. Drizzle the carrots with the olive oil and add the salt, roll them to coat.
  2. Place the carrots in a cold oven and turn the oven on to 425°F.
  3. Roast the carrots for 25 minutes. While they roast, whisk together the orange juice, honey, cumin, and pepper. Pour the mixture over the carrots and use tongs or a wooden spoon to roll them in the honey mixture.
  4. Continue roasting until the carrots look glazed, the ends begin to darken, and the tip of a knife easily slides in and out of the biggest carrot, 15 to 25 minutes longer (I like my carrots extra dark and sticky, like the photo above, so I let them go until they reach that point).
  5. Remove from the oven and use tongs to transfer them to a serving dish. Sprinkle with a pinch of flaky salt if you like, and serve warm or at room temp.

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Filed under Dinner, Recipe, Side dish, Vegetable, Vegetarian

Balance and Bite: Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto with Apples, Bacon, and Cumin-Popped Pepitas

What does it mean to develop a recipe? What does it mean to test one? What does it mean to adapt a recipe? What is a truly original recipe? These questions represent the fundamental core of what I do as a recipe developer and food writer.

To develop a recipe means that you start at square one, with an idea, and make some hits and misses along the way. You tweak, you taste, you tinker. Until the recipe is just right. Sometimes all it takes is one shot. Sometimes it takes weeks, months, and years (like my ongoing quest for perfect biscuits and cornbread). To test a recipe means you are cooking a recipe, top to tail, exactly as written. You’re noting problems, making observations on timing, and perhaps suggesting shortcuts. The main goal is for the recipe to remain true to the creator’s intent–my fingerprint shouldn’t be detected whatsoever. To adapt a recipe means you take a recipe and change an ingredient or two. Perhaps switch out honey for sugar or take a recipe for a whole chicken and “adapt” it to be suitable for chicken breasts. It’s when a new idea totally piggybacks on someone else’s method.

I’m at my happiest when I’m developing. When I’m truly creating, thinking and imaging the possibilities of what could happen if.

It often starts with a concept. It hits me, starting like a small itch, and develops into a full on compulsion until I get the idea just right. A few months ago it was deviled tea eggs stained and marbled by tea and spices, and then halved and stuffed with deviled duck rillette. Then it was little cookie-cup s’mores stuffed with chocolate truffles and topped by a tanned marshmallow (stay tuned for that recipe). This week it was this risotto.

This risotto all began with the most innocuous butternut squash. When I cut the seemingly perfect squash open, the entire bottom half was semi-rotten. Useless, trash. But the neck of the squash was fine. Not enough to roast solo for a side dish, I decided to turn it into my main dish–which would be risotto. Instead of cooking the squash in the same pot as the risotto, I decided to roast it so it would retain its independence. Rather than cooking down and melding with the rice, roasting concentrates its flavors, making it extra sweet, extra browned, and texturally divine. Bacon and butternut squash are great friends, and a little bacon added a fantastic smokiness to the squash as well as the overall dish. Roasting apple with the bacon and squash gave the dish a sweet-tart tang and the peels offer petals of color. Fresh rosemary with its piney woodsy-ness can never hurt.

I stirred this combo into a basic finished risotto. It needed something, though…something crunchy and something sharp. Pumpkin seeds, or pepitas, fried with some cumin ended up to be a stellar choice. As they toast in the skillet, they expand into crunchy little pumpkin flavored footballs. Scallions add a  pungent bite. Creamy/crunchy, earthy/buttery, roasted/fresh; smoky/sweet. The risotto is a great snapshot of balance and bite, and of what happens when you wonder.

Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto with Apples, Bacon, and Cumin-Popped Pepitas

Serves 4 or 6 as a side

To make this vegetarian, leave out the bacon and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the roasting pan when cooking the butternut squash. I like creamy, sturdy carnaroli rice for risotto.

For the squash

  • 1/2 medium butternut squash, peeled and chopped into 1/4 to 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 apple, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 3 bacon strips, sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

For the pepitas

  • 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2/3 cup pepitas (hulled green pumpkin seeds)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

For the risotto

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 1/2 cups Carnaroli or Arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine or Vermouth
  • 6 cups hot vegetable or chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 4 scallions, trimmed and finely chopped

1. Roast the squash: Place the squash, apples, bacon, and rosemary on a rimmed baking sheet or in a baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and roast until the squash is tender and starting to brown and the bacon is crisp, 30 to 40 minutes, stirring once midway through.

2. Make the pepitas: Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium-low heat. Place the pepitas in the pan and cook, stirring often. Add the cumin after 6 minutes and then continue to cook until the seeds have popped and browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Turn the seeds out onto a paper towel-lined plate, sprinkle with salt, and set aside.

3. While the squash is roasting, make the risotto: Heat the olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring often, until they begin to brown around the edges and soften, about 6 minutes. Stir in the rosemary and pepper and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the rice and stir to coat with the aromatics. Cook until the rice begins to smell toasty and turn opaque, about 2 minutes. Pour in the white wine and cook, stirring, until the wine is absorbed.

4. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add about 1/2 cup of broth. Cook, stirring often (you don’t have to stir constantly, but you don’t want to leave the pot standing unstirred for longer than 1 minute), until the rice nearly absorbs the broth—the pot shouldn’t look dry at the bottom and there should be a slight amount of liquid remaining, enough to keep the rice from sticking to the bottom. Continue to add more broth, 1/2 cup at a time, and stirring between each, until you have added about 5 1/2 cups of broth (this will take around 25 minutes). Taste the risotto. You want it to be every so slightly al dente in the center—like pasta with a semi-white core. Continue to add broth and stir if necessary. Remember that, like a steak, risotto continues to cook once the heat is turned off. So it’s better to err on the side of undercooking than overcooking.

5. Turn off the heat and stir in the butter and the Parmesan cheese. Stir the squash mixture into the risotto and taste; add more salt if needed. Serve sprinkle with scallions and the pepitas.

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Filed under Dinner, Grains, Pork, Recipe, Side dish

A Simple Meal in 20 Flat: Salt and Pepper Trout with Green Beans, Brown Butter, and Toasted Almonds

After a giant belt-loosening wallet-draining feast like the one I enjoyed last Thursday, I ground myself with basic, simple, straight forward food. Nothing too rich, too fancy, or too time consuming—just a good meal my kids will eat that doesn’t dirty every pan in the house.

We had a fun day in the city yesterday and took the boys to see the Muppets (my older son, Julian, totally jammed to “We Built this City” it was a truly fantastic sight! And thankfully no one was sitting in front or behind my little head banging Starship thrasher), followed by chess in Union Square, a walk through the holiday market, and bubble tea in the East Village. On our way home, I witnessed a horrible accident on the Bowery: a Vespa got smashed by a car making a left turn. Thankfully the driver was fine and while we weren’t involved in the bang-up, I did my civic duty and waited 30 minutes for the cops to arrive (insane). By the time we made it over the bridge home to Brooklyn, it was nighttime, the boys were hungry, and I was wiped.

I popped into Greene Grape Provisions, my local food shop for all things twice as expensive as they should be yet often worth it, especially in the meat and seafood department. Since I wanted dinner on the table quickly, I knew I had to either go veg or go with a quick protein. After all the intense meat eating of last week, I opted for a quick trout saute, paired with steamed green beans that get a good sear in browned butter. The duo of a meal counts on five ingredients total: trout, butter, green beans,  sliced almonds, and lemon. If you count salt and pepper then I guess it’s seven. Plus you can get it done in less than 20 minutes Hallelujah.

Farmed rainbow trout has a nice flake and a mellow flavor. It’s a good graduation from benign tilapia and a heck of a lot cheaper than salmon or tuna (don’t let the head-on attribute throw you–this just means it’s super fresh! After it’s cooked, I use kitchen shears to easily snip the head off–and it’s fun for the kids to look at!). Plus it’s a sustainable fish to choose since it is domestically farmed in an eco-friendly manner. I like to give it a fast sear in a nonstick pan with a little butter. While it browns in butter on my left burner, on my right burner I steam up some green beans (you can totally do it in a microwave too–add a few tablespoons of water to a microwave safe bowl, cover with plastic wrap, poke a few vent holes in the top, and zap until tender, 6 to 8 minutes). They come out of the pan and in goes some butter–it browns fast because the pan is already hot–add sliced almonds to toast, and then toss in the cooked green beans. Salt, pepper, lemon on the fish, done. It is the opposite of a Thanksgiving feast, but man am I thankful for it!

Salt and Pepper Trout with Green Beans, Brown Butter, and Toasted Almonds

Serves 4

  • 1 pound green beans, topped and tailed
  • 2 whole trout (about 1 pound), gutted and cleaned
  • Kosher salt and a few twists of black pepper
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds
  • 1 lemon sliced into quarters

1. Bring 1 inch of water to a simmer in a Dutch oven or large pot. Insert a steamer basket and add the green beans to the basket. Cover the pot, reduce the heat to low, and steam until the beans are tender, 6 to 8 minutes. (When you remove a bean to test it, recover the pot quickly so all of the steam doesn’t escape!) Turn the heat off and transfer the beans to a medium bowl. Pour out the remaining water and place the pan back on the burner. Wipe the pan out with a kitchen towel.

2. Place the trout flesh-side up on a cutting board. Season each trout with a few pinches of salt and pepper. Melt 1 tablespoon in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 trout, flesh-side down, and cook until browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Slide a spatula under the trout and flip it over (as shown, above). Cook it skin-side down until the flesh feels firm (not rock hard but not spongy) to light pressure, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a platter. Repeat with another tablespoon of butter and the other trout.

3. While the second trout is cooking, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in the pot used for the green beans over medium-high heat. Once the butter is melted, add the almonds, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook until they’re toasted, stirring often. (The butter will brown as well). Stir in a pinch of salt and then add the cooked green beans, tossing to combine with a few more pinches of salt. Divide the beans among 4 plates.

4. Slice off the head and fins from the trout and divide each fish into 2 fillets (kitchen scissors work nicely). Place a fillet on each plate, squeeze a lemon wedge over each fillet, and serve.

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Filed under Dinner, Fish and Seafood, Quick Food, Recipe, Side dish, Uncategorized, Vegetable

15 Minute, Healthy, Kid-Friendly Meal: Sesame Soba Noodles

Every Tuesday it’s my turn to make lunch for all of the kids at my son’s homeschooling cooperative. It’s tricky—while I want to make a lunch that all the kids will find tasty, I also want to use the opportunity to challenge their palates and open them up to new flavors. This is easy because A) there is a “courtesy portion” rule meaning that every kid has to try at least a bite or two before refusing to eat it and B) I know that there is sliced bread and some type of nut butter available as an emergency sandwich backup.

The most reliable way that I have found to get kids into new flavors is by introducing them via a familiar package. Some of the past lunches were lamb meatballs with the new flavor being lamb, and the familiar being the meatball-and-sauce package. Or, instead of rice and black beans, I made rice and lentils (mujadara).

Yesterday (Tuesday) I found myself quite flustered in the morning. You see, I’m used to working on pretty intense deadlines and I just made it through a wild twelve-week cookbook project that required I be at top game and also be hyper-organized. I turned the manuscript into my editor at Clarkson Potter on Monday afternoon, meaning that by Tuesday morning I was moving at zombie-speed. I tend to unravel a bit after a deadline, I’m loose and forgetful, I’m hazy, I’m sleepy. It subsides after a week or so. But I acknowledge that, yes, I get a bit dippy after a deadline (a huge sorry to the effervescent and ridiculously talented Melissa Clark who I interviewed one day post-deadline while I was at my floppiest).

So I found myself on Tuesday morning not knowing what to make for the kids. I nearly made (gasp!) pasta with butter and cheese. Shame on me, I thought. I opened the cupboards, rooted around, and came out triumphantly grasping a baton of soba noodles and a bottle of soy sauce. Kids love soy sauce and they certainly love spaghetti, so they’d surely love sesame soba noodles. Add ribboned carrots and chopped snow peas plus a dab of peanut butter and ginger for crunch, color, depth, and brightness and I had an easy-to-love meal that took (thankfully) barely a brain cell to make.

**I’m trying out a new recipe style below. Do you find it easier to follow? It seems that traditional recipe format doesn’t necessarily translate so well to blog-recipes, so am tinkering with recipe presentation. Would love to hear your thoughts!

Sesame Soba Noodles with Carrots and Snow Peas

Serves 4 to 6

This is a fantastic make-ahead dish. The sauce, noodles, and cooked snow peas can happily sit out at room temperature for hours without being compromised—keep the sauce separate from the noodles and wait to toss just before serving.

1. In a medium bowl whisk together:

  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1/2 tablespoon peanut butter
  • 1/2 tablespoon honey

Use a teaspoon to scrape the skin off of a:

  • 1-inch piece gingerroot

Grate the ginger into the bowl with the soy mixture, stir, and set aside.

2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add:

  • 2 bundles soba noodles (about 6 ounces)

Once the noodles have about 1 minute left to cook (when you bite into a strand, it will have a slightly opaque center), add to the pot:

  • 1 snow peas, thinly sliced on a bias

Boil the soba and snow peas for 30 seconds to 1 minute or until both are tender and the snow peas are bright green. Drain through a sieve and then rinse under cold water to stop the cooking and prevent the noodles from sticking together. Transfer the noodles to a large bowl stir in:

  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

3. Using a vegetable peeler, shave:

  • 2 medium peeled carrots

Once the carrots are completely ribboned, roughly chop the ribbons into confetti-like bits. Add the carrots and the sauce to the noodles and stir to combine. Serve with:

  • Fresh cilantro

 

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Filed under Dinner, Recipe, Salad, Side dish, Vegetable, Vegetarian, Vegetarian Main

On the Side: Smoky, Spicy, Sweet Potatoes with Roasted Peanuts and Cilantro

Whenever I spend time with Suvir Saran, the incredibly talented Indian chef and proprietor of American Masala Farm in upstate New York and Dévi (pronounced like Davy Crockett) in Manhattan, I always walk away craving Indian flavors. Not necessarily Indian food—I mean, I love the dals, fritters, and pilaus of India, but it’s Suvir’s mastery of spices that rock my world the most. The way he scents homemade apple butter with black peppers, fennel seed, and cardamom. His technique for frying ground black peppercorns to bring out their smoky and spicy hidden agenda. Cook by Suvir’s side and your appetite for spice becomes ravenous.

Our worlds came together during the NYC blackout of 2003. Suvir and I were neighbors in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, and soon after meeting, his partner Charlie, my husband Matt, and the two of us became fast friends. We’d have daylong cooking and eating adventures that would take us deep into Queens and Brooklyn, or as near as our own kitchens to leisurely cook course and course of homey, delicious food. And on one summer day, it included grilled corn with chaat masala.

Chaat masala is a spice blend made from more than a dozen spices including amchoor (dried green mango powder), sanchal (black salt), and asafetida (a garlicky flavored root with a super intense aroma and flavor). It’s often sprinkled over street snacks (called chaats) like bhel puri and papri chaat. I has an incredibly salty-tangy-sour-umaminess that is incomparable to anything else.

Suvir dipped a lime wedge into a small bowl of the spice blend and then simultaneously squeezed the lime while rubbing it over the corn. Oh my, it was like tasting food for the first time! My palate opened, my eyes grew big, and I devoured the corn in a nanosecond.

In American Masala, our first cookbook written together (our second, Masala Farm, comes out this December), we included a recipe for roasted and then fried sweet potatoes that get seasoned with chaat masala, lime juice, and cumin. They’re incredible. But at five-thirty in the evening, there’s no way I’m twice cooking sweet potatoes. So I came up with a recipe that fits into my “two starving kids and no time to spare” lifestyle. I usually make these using tamarind paste for the smoky glaze, but I ran out and couldn’t find it for the life of me (New York: a city where you can find anything you desire if you’re not actually looking for it). I came up with a quick substitute (ketchup, brown sugar, and smoked paprika) that hits many of the same notes.

Smoky Honey-Glazed Sweet Potatoes with Peanuts and Cilantro

Serves 6

A pinch or two of chaat masala, an Indian spice blend made with dried mango, is incredible sprinkled over the finished dish instead of plain salt. It’s available through the NYC-based spice purveyor Kalustyans and at small Indian food shops, too. Chopped scallions are a fantastic and less assertive substitute for the red onions (plus they don’t have to be salted or rinsed).

  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt plus extra for serving
  • 4 medium sweet potatoes (about 2 1/4 pounds)
  • 1 tablespoon ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 red onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons roughly chopped cilantro
  • 1 lime, halved
  • 1/2 cup roasted peanuts, roughly chopped

1. Adjust one oven rack to the middle position and another rack to the uppermost position. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Whisk the canola oil, honey, and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt together in a large bowl. Halve the sweet potatoes into quarters lengthwise and then chop crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces. Place the potatoes in the bowl with the oil mixture, toss to coat, and turn out onto a rimmed baking sheet (save the bowl for later). Place in the oven on the middle rack and roast for 25 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, make the smoky glaze. Whisk together the ketchup, brown sugar, smoked paprika, and cayenne in the large bowl you used for the sweet potatoes. Place the onions in a fine-mesh sieve and toss with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Set aside for 5 minutes and then rinse under cold water. Turn out onto a paper towel-lined plate and set aside.

3. Take the potatoes out of the oven and turn the broiler on to high. Use a spatula to scrape the potatoes into the bowl with the smoky glaze. Gently toss the potatoes to coat and return them to the baking sheet. Place the potatoes on the upper rack and broil until sizzling, about 2 minutes (watch closely as broiler intensity varies). Remove from the oven and transfer half to a large plate. Sprinkle with half of the onions, the cilantro, the juice of 1/2 lime, and some peanuts. Repeat with the remaining potatoes, onions, cilantro, lime, and peanuts, sprinkle with a pinch or two of salt (or chaat masala, see note above), and serve.

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Filed under Dinner, Recipe, Side dish, Uncategorized, Vegetable, Vegetarian

Side Dish or Center Plate? You decide: Broccoli-Brown Rice Pilaf with Garlic, Lemon, and Spiced Almonds

This is the first post in a weekly series on interesting, delicious, healthy side dishes. The side dish is often the forgotten component of a meal—it’s the rice, roasted potatoes, or simply buttered green beans. Sides, however, can be just as interesting and delicious as the main plus they present an incredible opportunity to get creative, try out new flavors, and figure out fun ways to get healthy and wholesome whole grains and veggies onto plates. Additionally, sides are often cheap to make and easy to turn into a vegetarian main dish (whether you’re vegetarian or not, it’s nice to add a meatless Monday or two into your week to lessen your family’s dependence on animal proteins which in turn helps the environment and your bottom line).

In this hearty pilaf, the rice and broccoli elements are easy to love, with familiar flavors like garlic and lemon. The slivered almonds are fried in olive oil until they’re golden and crunchy, and then get sprinkled with spices and salt. They’re little flavor grenades that absolutely explode when bitten into! And the cool part is that kids and adults can sprinkle them over their own portion as they wish. For some reason I love Middle Eastern, North African, and Indian spices with the nuts, but something more mellow, like a cumin mixed with paprika or chipotle chile powder with dried rosemary would be nice.

Broccoli-Brown Rice Pilaf with Garlic, Lemon, and Spiced Almonds

Serves 6 as a side, 4 as a main

Once the spices hit the sizzling-hot almonds, the essential oils in the spices are released giving the nuts an even deeper, toastier flavor. These are fantastic added to salads, too. If using white rice instead of brown, reduce the cooking time for the rice by fifteen to twenty minutes.

  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 cup slivered almonds
  • 1 teaspoon full-flavored ground spice blend (such as ras el hanout, garam masala, za’atar)
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 small shallot or 1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 3/4 cups long-grain brown rice
  • 2 cups chicken broth, vegetable broth, or water
  • 3 cups finely chopped broccoli florets (from 2 medium stalks)
  • 3 garlic cloves, pressed through a garlic press or finely minced
  • 1/4 lemon, for serving (optional)

 

1. Heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the almonds and cook until golden brown, stirring often, 2 to 3 minutes. Use a spatula or slotted spoon to transfer the almonds to a plate (use tongs to help you get all the almond bits out of the pan—the pan gets reused for cooking the broccoli and you don’t want leftover almond pieces to burn); turn off the heat and set the pan aside. While hot, season with the spices and 1/2 teaspoon of salt and set aside.

2. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in another large skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and cook, stirring often, until the shallots are soft and browned, about 3 minutes. Stir in the rice and cook, stirring often, until it smelly toasty, about 2 minutes. Pour in 1 1/4 cups of water and the chicken broth (if using water instead of broth, add 3 1/4 cups total). Give the rice 1 stir, bring it to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook until tender, 35 to 40 minutes. To test the rice, quickly remove a few grains using a fork—once it’s cooked to your liking, turn off the heat and let the rice steam for 5 minutes.

 

3. While the rice cooks, make the broccoli. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the remaining oil in the pan from the almonds and set it over medium-high heat. Let the oil get hot for 1 to 2 minutes and then add the broccoli. Let the broccoli brown in the pan without stirring until it turns bright green and has browned edges, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic and the remaining 1 teaspoon of salt and toss to combine. Cook until the garlic is fragrant, stirring often, for about 1 1/2 minutes. Turn off the heat and transfer the broccoli to a large bowl. Cover with the rice, squeeze the lemon over the top, and stir to combine. Sprinkle with the toasted almonds just before serving. Taste and add more salt if needed.

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So Long, Farewell: The Last Heirloom Tomato (Panzanella Gratin)

My dad is a suspicious guy. He’s also as sharp as a tack and has a fiery temper—I mean, it’s not just anyone who gets booted out of the Israeli army for punching an officer, kicked off of a kibbutz and then sues for labor and time invested, and has the ability to invoke an airline passenger revolt when the plane is stuck on the tarmac for no good reason (did I mention he exists on pint glasses of Turkish coffee and two-packs of Marlboro reds a day? Maybe that explains a lot, actually).

Ever since Matt and I had our two boys, my dad comes for a visit every six to eight weeks, usually over a weekend. Meaning dad comes with me to the Saturday farmers market. Initially, he was excited for our weekend ritual. The massive heirloom tomatoes that are so much better than the vine-ripened ones “that taste like nothing” from the Devon Avenue fruit stand in Chicago. The Concord grapes he can smell from a block away. The okra he’ll inevitably turn into a slimy and under-seasoned mess of bamia, a Romanian okra, tomato, and garlic sauté (we all choke it down anyway). Dad loved Saturday mornings at the market. Walking down DeKalb with a coffee. Whistling like a bird to the toddlers along the way. Stopping to pet all the dogs and explain why he is such a natural with dogs, kids, staying healthy, getting around the law, solving the problems of the world, etc. etc. And then he got suspicious.

“How do you know they’re”—the “they” in question being the sleepy-eyed farmers who get up at the crack of dawn to drive the produce to the city or the crunchy gen-Y hipster selling produce in a thin flannel shirt and cut offs with oxfords—“not buying this stuff at the grocery store and selling it at a 100% profit? How do you know they’re not buying this stuff dirt cheap and re-selling it to you here in Yuppietown?”

“Because dad, I know,” I say.

My dad flies in this Saturday for a visit. I scheduled his flight to arrive after I’m already done with my Saturday morning Dough (oh those cinnamon sugar yeast-raised sell-your-soul-for-one donuts!) and farmers market run. That way, he can walk in the door,  admire the produce, and eat a nice salad without having to get on the offensive.

The sad bit is that heirloom tomatoes are done. My dad’s last visit was in June (an unusually long time ago) before the season started—this is his first visit since. Anticipating his arrival, I set aside what I suspected were the last two heirloom tomatoes I’d get my hands on this year. Two days to go and the tomatoes were splitting, fruit flies were swarming, and I was getting anxious.  I knew that their time had come. I turned them into a layered panzanella gratin, fueled by an intensely garlicky vinaigrette, lots of basil, and fused with goat’s milk Gouda. The boys ate it like pizza. I did what I do best—pick at the best bits in the pie plate—the crisp and crusty edges, the cheesy nuggets in the bottom of the dish, little bits of tomato-juice soaked bread. We feasted. Rhys beckoned “more, more!” The lentils and kielbasa I made as a kid-friendly backup lingered on the table ignored.

Sorry dad. I tried. You’ll just have to save your theories and suspicions for next season.

Heirloom Tomato Panzanella Gratin

Serves 6

3/4 baguette, thinly sliced into 1/8- to 1/4-inch pieces

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 large or 3 small garlic cloves, finely chopped

12 large basil leaves, finely chopped

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 large and ripe heirloom tomatoes (about 1 pound each), cored and sliced into 1-inch rounds

1/2 pound mild, meltable cheese (such as a young goat’s milk Gouda or sheep’s milk Manchego or a blend of a few cheeses—but don’t use mozzarella as it’s too wet and stringy), grated

Heat the oven to 375°F. Place the baguette slices on a rimmed baking sheet. Use 2 tablespoons of the oil to brush both sides of the bread and then sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon of the salt over the top. Toast the bread until it’s golden-brown around the edges and the surface is dry, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside. Raise the oven temperature to 450°F.

Whisk 2 tablespoons of oil with the lemon juice, garlic, basil, remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and the pepper in a small bowl.

Place as many bread slices as will fit in a single layer in the bottom of a 9 1/2-inch deep-dish pie plate or a 9-inch baking dish. Cover with an even layer of tomato slices and then top with half of the basil and oil mixture. Top with half of the grated cheese and then press down on top of it to compress the layers. Repeat with another layer of bread slices, the rest of the tomatoes, the remaining basil-oil mixture, and the remaining cheese. Drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil and place in the oven. Cook until the cheese is browned and sizzling, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and let it stand for 10 minutes before serving. It’s great warm or served at room temperature.

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A Game Changer: Crisp and Delicious, Yes Folks, This Is Okra

Occasionally in life, you’re thrown for a loop. You form an opinion, you stick by it, defend it, lean on it, and then one day you get sucker punched by it.

This has happened to me twice at ABC Kitchen in Manhattan. First it was chef Dan Kluger’s carrots. Those fabulously sweet-roasted cumin-y cayenne-spiked spears offset by sour cream, avocado, and oil-drenched and toasted bread cubes (calling them croutons seems like an insult). They reversed my carrot prejudice. I used to abhor carrots. Now, I crave Kluger’s.

Then, the chef did it to me again. With okra. He roasts it in a wood oven. Until it’s crisp and smoky. No slime, no slippery slithery slickness.

I saw a gorgeous, green heap of okra on Saturday at the Fort Greene farmers market. They were perfectly pointed, their hairy ridges all bristly. Shoppers paused, gave it a glare, thought for a moment, then thought better of it and then moved on. I stood by the wood crate and filled a bag.

A neighbor stopped by, he raised an eyebrow. “Okra?” he said instead of hello.

“Yes,” I responded with confidence. “Okra. I’m roasting it. It’s going to be killer.”

“You know it’s the last weekend for heirloom tomatoes,” he added. Hurricane Irene wiped out most nearby crops. Yes, I knew. But for right now, my attention was on the okra.

Roasted with bacon, shallots, olive oil, and salt, okra becomes crisp, caramelized, and incredibly addictive. They’re like potato chips but better, the ultimate bar snack, the very definition of finger-licking good.

At dinner last night, we fought over the last crisp bits at the kitchen table, my six-year-old rolling his eyes in pleasure, the two-year-old stealing the bacon bits from the bottom of the platter. My husband and I kidnapped scraps from each others plates. Please, rebel. Pass up the heirloom tomatoes, the buxom bell peppers, the taut eggplants, the easy leafy greens. Go for the okra, prejudice be damned.

 

Crispy Okra, Bacon, and Caramelized Shallots

Serves 4 (or 2 if you’re really greedy)

4 shallots (or 1 red onion), halved and thickly sliced into wedges

1 1/4 pounds okra, topped and halved lengthwise

3 slices bacon, thinly sliced crosswise

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Place the shallots, okra, and bacon on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with the olive oil and toss with the salt. Roast until the okra is super crisp and browned, 25 to 35 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve.

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Toeing the Line of Summer: Sweet Corn, Scallion, and Basil Farrotto

There gets to be a point in the summer when I start to crave cold weather. I want to be back in the kitchen turning out batches of tender-melty chocolate chip cookies, braising pork shoulders and lamb shanks, and heating the oven to 500°F. for three-cheese pizza. At the first sign of fall, usually when the mornings start to require a light hoodie for seven a.m. coffee on the deck, it feels okay to think about cooking something a little more substantial than my lunchtime addiction of tomato, cucumber, and sriracha-mayo sandwiches and at night, anything off the grill.

Here on the East Coast, sweet corn comes into its own sometime in August. Sure, you can get it before then and it’s okay. But it’s in August and September when the corn is candy sweet and ripping-juicy. I love corn on the cob. LOVE. I mean hey, I’m a Midwesterner after all. Matt and the kids, well, they have more refined East Coast palates. They like they’re corn civilized and nicey-nice, sliced off the cob and delivered to the table in a mess-free package.

When the corn is sweet enough to eat raw, and fresh enough for its juices to run as white as milk, I make corn farrotto. Farro is an ancient grain—while it looks like rice, it’s actually emmer wheat, and has been cultivated for thousands upon thousands of years. It’s toasty, nutty, chew is absolutely lovely paired with sweet corn (sliced off the cob, of course). I like to keep the flavors as pure and clean as possible. So instead of chicken broth or even vegetable broth I make a corn stock from the kernel-shaved cobs and a little salt. With some scallions, a shallot, a nod of Parm, and some basil just because, it satisfies my craving for something fall-like and hearty without completely cutting my summer ties.

Farrotto doesn’t require as much stirring as Arborio or Carnaroli rice, the two varieties most commonly associated with risotto. So don’t think you have to stand over the stove and stir endlessly. Plus, it doesn’t give off lots of starch like risotto rice either, meaning the window of perfection is cracked a little wider. Enjoy that open window while you can—cold days are just around the corner.

 

Sweet Corn, Scallion, and Basil Farrotto

Serves 4

4 ears sweet corn, husked

1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

6 scallions

1 shallot, finely chopped

1 3/4 cups farro, rinsed

1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (more if you like)

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

Set a box grater inside of a large, wide mixing bowl and grate the ears of corn on the medium-hole side of the grater. Set the corn pulp aside. Place the cobs in a large pot, add 8 cups of water and 1 teaspoon of the salt, and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 30 minutes or until the broth tastes sweet and corny. Remove the cobs from the broth and set aside. Pour the broth into a large liquid measuring cup; you should have about 5 to 6 cups of corn broth. Set aside. (If you have less than 4 cups, squeeze and “milk” the cobs over a bowl to extract more liquid. Or add enough water to equal 5 cups).

Finely chop the white parts of the scallions and set aside. Finely chop the green parts of the scallions (except for the top 1 1/2 inches of the greens—these can be tough) and set aside. Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the chopped white scallions, the shallots, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until they soft and starting to get sticky (if they start to color, reduce the heat to medium-low), 4 to 5 minutes.

Stir in the farro and cook until smells toasty, about 2 minutes. Add 1 cup of broth and stir and scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid is absorbed. Repeat another 4 times until you have added 5 cups of liquid and about 35 minutes have passed. Taste the farro. It should taste like it needs another 5 minutes to cook, meaning it is slightly too al dente (when cooked perfectly, farro should have some chew but not hardness at its core—it won’t become as soft or porridgey as risotto rice such as Arborio or Carnaroli), which is perfect for now. (Don’t be tempted to add salt—Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese is quite salty, so taste the farrotto for salt after stirring it in later.)

Mix in the reserved corn pulp and the chopped green scallions and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pulp starts to threaten to stick to the bottom of the pot and the farro tastes less raw at the center, about 5 minutes longer (you can add more corn stock if you think it needs it). Stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter, the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and the basil. Taste for salt, adding more if needed, and serve hot.

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Filed under Dinner, Grains, Recipe, Side dish, Vegetarian, Vegetarian Main