Spaghetti Squash with Asparagus and Ricotta

Today is “Blursday.” Somehow I thought that being retired, the stay-at-home orders would be a minor adjustment for us. But even though we didn’t have jobs to got to anymore, the days still used to have more definition. After almost 4 months at home, the main “event” that now divides the day for us is dinner. Who cooks and what do we eat? I’m trying for variety in our meals even if there is very little variety in anything else in our lives right now. So when I came across this recipe for Spaghetti Squash with Ricotta and Asparagus it sounded like the perfect summer, meatless meal. Paired with a crisp Provencal rosé, this proved to be a lovely, light yet satisfying dinner for two.

We were lazy and decided that we didn’t want to make anything else to accompany the squash, but if you are more ambitious (or have tiny appetites), this could be stretched to feed 4 as a dinner. My husband ate his portion with a couple of crispy sesame bread sticks, but I didn’t feel the need for anything but the wine.

Now spaghetti squash is used by a lot of people to mimic pasta when they are looking to lose weight. And frankly, when eaten that way, I am NOT a fan. Because while the strands that develop when the squash is cooked, may resemble spaghetti, they most definitely do not taste like spaghetti. If you are someone who has fooled yourself into thinking that it tastes like pasta, more power to you. However, when it is treated on its own merits, it is quite delicious, and easy to prepare. This Spaghetti Squash with Ricotta and Asparagus is a delicious example of the latter. And during those hot summer nights, this meal would be satisfying without being heavy. Creamy yet with a bite. Delicious! And it was simple enough that with a little help from me, my husband was able to prepare the dinner.

Recipe

Yield: Dinner for 2-4 (More as a side)

Ingredients

1 small spaghetti squash (about 2 pounds)

1 tablespoon olive oil, divided

4 cloves garlic, smashed

1 pound asparagus, trimmed

1 cup ricotta cheese

Freshly squeezed lemon juice (from about 1 large lemon)

Finely grated zest of 1 lemon

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (from 4 to 5 sprigs)

1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt or to taste

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

¼ cup pine nuts, lightly toasted in a dry skillet (Watch this carefully, flipping frequently. It just takes a few minutes.)

Directions

Arrange the rack in the upper middle of your oven and heat to 375 degrees F.

Cut the squash in half lengthwise (Be CAREFUL) and scrape out the seeds and the pulp that is attached. Discard the mess. (Yes, you can wash and toast the seeds if you want. I did not.)

Brush the cut sides with 1/2 Tablespoon of EVOO. Place the squash, cut-side down on a rimmed baking sheet with the garlic cloves underneath. Roast for about 35 minutes.

Meanwhile, trim the woody ends off of the asparagus and cut the stalks on a diagonal into 2-inch pieces.

Remove the baking sheet with the squash from the oven and add the asparagus around or to one side of the squash. Drizzle with the remaining EVOO and sprinkle with salt. Return the baking sheet to the hot oven and continue roasting until the garlic is fragrant, the asparagus is tender and the squash is easily pierced with a fork. This took about an additional 20 minutes for me.

Meanwhile, place the ricotta, lemon juice, zest, thyme, salt and pepper in a large bowl and stir to combine. When the squash and asparagus are done, remove the pan from the oven. Using tongs, place the squash halves in a bowl or on a cutting board. Try not to take any of the excess liquid. Using a fork, scrape the inside flesh of the squash to form strands. Squish the now soft garlic into the ricotta mixture. Add the asparagus pieces, trying not to include any extra moisture that may have formed on the pan. Add the squash strands and mix through. I found using tongs worked best for this. Place on a platter and sprinkle with the toasted pine nuts. Serve. Yummmmm!

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Olive Rosemary Foccacia

Olive Rosemary Foccacia

There are many foods that I can live without, but bread isn’t one of them. I enjoy it in all of the many forms and flavors that it takes. I love flat breads and fry bread. Herbed breads and sweet breads. And breads with crusts that make me thankful I have great teeth. Olive Rosemary Foccacia raises the volume on soups, salads and pastas. The pillowy chewiness of the center with the slightly salty crust and zing of fresh herbs makes this bread almost a meal in itself.

This easy-to-make recipe comes via Valerie Bertinelli and like just about every recipe of hers that I have tried, the directions are simple and it works out on the first try. As much as I like bread, even I can’t eat a whole pan of this delectable Olive Rosemary Focaccia in one sitting. Although it’s perfect for a family. So I ended up freezing half and saving some for another dinner. I definitely encourage you to eat this bread warm from the oven. Since mine was made a few hours earlier than we ended up eating dinner, I simply warmed it for a few minutes in a 350 degree oven when I was ready to serve. The same goes for bread that you froze and defrosted.

So the next time you want to turn turn up the volume on a bowl of soup, salad or pasta, try this Olive and Rosemary Foccacia.

For another take on focaccia try this recipe.

Recipe

Olive Rosemary Foccacia

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling

1 teaspoon sugar 

2.25 teaspoons active dry yeast 

3 1/2 cups bread flour 

1 cup all-purpose flour 

1 teaspoon kosher salt 

1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary, plus more for sprinkling (I have made this with just rosemary and with a mix of fresh herbs – rosemary, oregano and thyme. Works well either way.)

1 small yellow onion, quartered and sliced (Red onion works too)

One 5.3-ounce jar pitted green olives, drained (A mix of black and green or one or the other works. Use what you have. I used Kalamatos and Cerignola this time.)

1 teaspoon sea salt flakes (Optional but really nice)

Directions

  1. Line a sheet tray with parchment paper and grease with a thin layer of olive oil. (You can also make this directly on the pan if you don’t have parchment.)
  2. Place sugar and 1 1/2 cups slightly warm tap water into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Sprinkle the yeast over the top. Let the mixture stand for 10 minutes to activate the yeast.
  3. Combine the bread flour, all-purpose flour, salt and one tablespoon rosemary in a large bowl. Add to the mixer along with the oil. Knead the dough on medium speed until it forms a smooth, supple ball that is not sticky to the touch, about 5 minutes. Turn the dough out on the prepared sheet tray, drizzle with more olive oil and cover with a bowl or clean kitchen towel. Allow to rise until it doubles in size, about 2 hours.
  4. Using well-oiled fingertips, gently press the dough out onto the sheet tray, making dimpled indentations all over the dough. Cover with a towel and allow to rise again for another 45 minutes.
  5. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
  6. Sprinkle the dough with the onions, olives and rosemary and drizzle generously with oil. Bake the focaccia until it is puffed and golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Drizzle with additional olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt flakes before serving. Don’t be stingy with the EVOO. The focaccia drinks it up and it’s just delicious!

Crostata di Ricotta

Crostata di Ricotta is a prized cheesecake from the Garfagna region of Tuscany. This post was supposed to have been ready ahead of the Festival of Shavuot, which commemorates the spring harvest and the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. It is customary to eat dairy meals during the holiday so I thought this wold be perfect. However, I’m afraid that I was only able to actually get it made in time for us to enjoy it for the holiday. So keep this in your pocket for next year.

But who am I kidding? This delicious cheesecake, permeated with raisins soaked in Marsala and redolent of the grated zest of an orange is perfect any time. The recipe comes from Carol Field’s book The Italian Baker. She got the recipe from Joyce Goldstein who was a chef at Cafe Chez Panisse. I know – two Jewish women and not an Italian name in sight!

But when you smell this tart with its buttery melt-in-your-mouth sweet crust and bite into the airy, custardy Marsala-scented filling, you will think you are in Tuscany. I was brought up on and love a really good New York cheesecake – so dense and rich that a fork could stand up in it. This Crostata di Ricotta isn’t that. So rid yourself of any preconceptions and enjoy this ricotta tart for what it is – amazing.

Making the Crostata di Ricotta isn’t difficult and it is one of those things where you can make the pastry the day before. I really urge you not to use bought pastry dough for this recipe. Yes, it’s a little more work but the result is so worth it. And if you have a food processor, it actually comes together in no time.

There are many different pastry doughs that would work here as long as they are a rich, sweet dough. I normally like to use a Pâte Sucrée with eggs, but since I was running low on eggs, I made a Pasta Frolla from The Italian Baker that didn’t require any. That is the recipe below. It was not a recipe like any I had made before, but it did come together easily. And while rolling it out proved to be a bit problematic, I was able to pat it into place with my hands and knuckles. The finished product is beautiful and delicious.

My husband and I LOVED this. The crust is fragrant and incredibly delicate – just melting in your mouth with every bite. It is so delicate that it seems to disappear before you even have time to swallow. Oh and let’s not forget the filling. Ahhhhhhhh, the filling. It’s like eating the most flavorful, custardy cloud you can imagine. I’m really not doing justice to how delicious this is. Many things I think are too fussy and not worth the effort. This is absolutely worth the effort.

Carol Field suggests eating the Crostata when still warm or at least the day it is baked. However, if you make it ahead and refrigerate it, she says that it can be warmed in a 350 degree F oven for 20 to 30 minutes. Truthfully, I’m not sure that I would like it warm, but it was amazing eaten a few hours after it had come out of the oven. And even eating it right from the fridge was still pretty great. But your first bites should be from the fresh tart.

Recipes

Yield: One 9.5-inch cheesecake; 8 to 10 servings

For the Pasta Frolla

Ingredients

1.5 cups (200 grams) all-purpose, unbleached flour

3/4 cup plus 1 Tablespoon (100 grams) potato starch

1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar

Pinch of kosher or fine sea salt

1.75 sticks (200 grams) unsalted butter, at cool room temperature and just malleable

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Grated zest of 1 lemon

Grated zest of 1/2 navel orange (the other half will be used for the filling)

Directions

Place the flour, potato starch, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse once to mix.

Cut the butter into small chunks and scatter over the flour. Process with about 6 long pulses until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the vanilla and grated zest. Process until the dough just starts to come together but before it forms a ball. Knead the dough by hand very briefly until it comes together in a ball that is no longer sticky. I did not have to add any flour to my surface to do this, but if you must just add a small amount. Form a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour or up to overnight.

When you are ready to roll out the dough, remove it from the fridge for about 10 minutes so you can work with it.

For the Crostata di Ricotta

You will need a deep-sided tart pan with a removable bottom that measures 9.5 inches across the top. Absent that, you could use a spring-form pan but it won’t be quite as pretty as if you have the fluted sides.

Ingredients

1/2 cup (80 grams) golden or other raisins

4 Tablespoons Marsala (I only had a very fine dry Marsala instead of a sweet Marsala. It worked out fine.)

1 pound (450 grams) whole milk ricotta

1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar

1 Tablespoon unbleached, all-purpose flour

4 large eggs, separated, at room temperature

1/4 cup heavy or whipping cream (I only had half & half so used that)

1/4 cup sour cream (I actually only had creme fraiche which has a higher fat content than sour cream. I figured it made up for not having heavy cream.)

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Zest of 1/2 navel orange

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt or kosher salt

Directions

Soak the raisins in the Marsala for at least 15 minutes (I did overnight). Drain and reserve the Marsala.

Roll out your dough (Mine kept breaking but it actually was quite malleable and I was able to work it with my hands into the pan with the end result being beautiful!) Refrigerate the pan with the dough until you are ready to fill it. This keeps the dough from shrinking.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Place the ricotta, heavy cream and sour cream (or creme fraiche) in the processor and pulse until smooth. Add the flour and sugar and pulse until mixed. Now add the egg yolks, reserved Marsala and vanilla. Pulse until well combined. Add the raisins and pulse once to mix through. Pour the mixture into a large bowl.

In a clean bowl, whip the egg whites with the salt until stiff peaks form. Stir 1/3 of the whites into the ricotta mixture and then gently fold through the remaining whites. Don’t overdo this. You don’t want to deflate the whites.

Remove the tart pan with the pastry from the fridge. Place the pan on a baking sheet or aluminum foil to catch any butter drips. Fill the pastry with the ricotta mixture and even out the top. Place in the oven and bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until the pastry is golden and the filling just barely wobbles. Turn off the oven and open the door part way. Leave the cake in the oven for 30 minutes to cool down slowly. This prevents too much cracking and allows the cake to fully set. After 30 minutes remove the cake to a wire rack.

Once it is cool enough to easily handle, you can remove the tart from the baking ring. The easiest way is to place the tart pan over a large can. The outer tart ring falls off and the tart remains on the bottom. Be standing by to hold onto the Crostata. Then mangia!

Mexishuka (Mexican Shakshuka)

This Mexishuka (Mexican Shakshuka), a delicious twist on Mediterranean Shakshuka, will send your tastebuds spinning. By now, most everyone knows and has eaten some version of shakshuka. And like everyone who has tried it, I love it too. But in an effort to use up (down) my pantry, I recalled a recipe that I had come across years ago but never tried. Months into sheltering-in-place – it was time.

I had just received my grocery delivery which would last me for two weeks. Now I have a minor pet peeve. When I am watching cooking shows – not competitions – that are based in someone’s home, I am always amazed at how totally empty their refrigerator and freezer are and how clean their ovens are. Come on! No one who cooks all of the time as such an empty fridge or an oven that clean! I especially love the one who lives in the middle of nowhere North Dakota on a farm – IN WINTER – with an empty fridge and freezer. THIS is what my fridge looks like after my most recent delivery. Keep in mind that I won’t shop again for two weeks.

But I digress. While I had not ever made the recipe for Mexishuka (Mexican Shakshuka) before, I already saw that I wanted to adjust the recipe and I made some significant seasoning changes. I had everything I wanted on hand, including some cans of vegetarian, fat-free refried beans from – well, I don’t actually know, but since the cans were still okay, I’m using them. I did try to buy some Queso Fresco with this last order but nothing was available. So I will substitute with a shredded mozzarella. A shredded cheddar also will go well with this. This dish is vegetarian so is perfect for a Meatless Monday dinner, although it would also make a delicious Sunday brunch. It is loaded with serious attitude and yet tastes soooooooooooo comforting. My version is very well-seasoned but not crazy hot.

Recipe

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

15 oz. can of refried beans of choice ( I used a fat-free, vegetarian version) [Delicious but optional so don’t fret if you don’t have any.]

15 oz. can of pinto or kidney beans, rinsed and drained

About 2 Tablespoons EVOO (Canola oil is fine too)

1 large onion, coarsely chopped

4 garlic cloves, crushed and finely chopped

28 oz. can of whole tomatoes, crushed (or diced)

2 Tablespoons tomato paste

1 large jalapeno chili pepper, finely diced (or a hotter chili if that is how you like things)

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1.5 teaspoons mild chili powder

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground allspice

1 Tablespoon brown sugar

1 teaspoon paprika (preferably Spanish smoked Paprika)

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)

1 teaspoon kosher salt or to taste

4 to 6 large eggs

Large handful of loosely packed greens, coarsely chopped ( kale, Swiss chard, spinach, watercress or a mixture)

Garnish (Optional, so take your pick or use them all)

fresh cilantro

sliced avocado

lime wedges

shredded cheese

salsa of choice

Tortillas, pita or other bread that you have around

Directions

Warm the EVOO on medium heat in a heavy (preferably cast iron) large skillet. Add the onion and jalapeno and stir frequently until the onion begins to turn golden, about 8 to 10 minutes.

Add the garlic and cook for one minute, stirring. Then add the spices and tomato paste and cook for one minute, stirring until the spices release their fragrance and the tomato paste just begins to brown.

Add the tomatoes, pinto beans, apple cider vinegar and greens and stir through. [NOTE: when you add your greens depends on the greens being added. Baby spinach takes almost no time to cook so I would only add that just before adding the eggs. Kale takes longer so I would add it here.] Cover the pan and lower the heat to a gentle simmer. Cook for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat.

Make 4 to 6 indentations (depending on the number of eggs you are using) in the mixture. Carefully crack each egg into an indentation, being careful not to break the yokes. Using a knife or spatula, carefully pull on the egg whites (being careful not to disturb the yolks) to mix them with some of the sauce.

Turn the heat back on to a gentle simmer and cook for about 10 minutes, basting the egg whites with sauce from time to time. Now cover the pan and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, depending on how you like your eggs.

In a separate pan or the microwave, heat the refried beans. For serving, place a good dollop of refried beans on the plate/shallow bowl alongside the Mexishuka. Garnish and enjoy!

Roasted Cauliflower Soup

Roasted Cauliflower Soup is the perfect Meatless Monday dish that is good any time. I didn’t even know that I wanted it until I needed to save a head that I had bought.

My Pandemic food delivery arrived two days ago and it is meant to last me for 2+ weeks. I’m still getting used to thinking about food shopping in those terms. It is particularly challenging when it comes to fresh produce. Cauliflower is so versatile that I knew I wanted to have some even if I hadn’t decided yet how I would make it. The cauliflower that came was a gorgeous, large head. (My food shopper must have been an out-of-work restaurant worker because he really made great choices, especially when it came to produce. I am so grateful to him and all of the workers who are taking risks to keep us safe during this pandemic. Please be generous with them when you can.)

Unfortunately I didn’t have room left in my fridge for it once I put everything else away, so I placed it on my windowsill and hoped for the best. This morning I noticed that it was starting to get those icky black spots and knew that I had to do something fast. Roasting it seemed the best quick option, but then what?

I have cooked cauliflower in many ways and some options can be found below, but I wanted to use this opportunity to try something different. It had to be fairly easy to make and could use ingredients that many of us have on hand or are easily accessible. My vegetarian cookbooks were my first resource, but nothing appealed to me so I turned to the source-of all- knowledge. This recipe by COOKIE + kate caught my eye and after making it, there is no looking back. Delicious, creamy and utterly satisfying! Roasted Cauliflower Soup is the perfect Meatless Monday dish that is good any time. Use it as a first course or as a light meal with some good crusty bread and a salad if you want (and have the ingredients!)

PS: My husband REALLY LOVED this soup.

For more great cauliflower recipes:

Cauliflower Fried “Rice” with Tofu

Valerie’s Roasted Cauliflower Steaks

Valerie’s Roasted Cauliflower Steaks

Lamb Meatballs with Cauliflower

Cauliflower and Peas (Ghobi Aur Matar)

Spiced Lamb with Cauliflower Tabbouleh

Rich Bean, Mushroom and Cauliflower Stew

Recipe

Yield: 4 servings (more if using as a first course)

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 large head cauliflower (about 2 pounds), cut into bite-size florets
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • kosher or sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper, to taste
  • 1 medium red onion, chopped (You can use a yellow onion if that is all you have)
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
  • 4 cups (32 ounces) vegetable broth (Chicken broth works if keeping it vegetarian/vegan isn’t an issue)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter (Can substitute non-dairy buttery sticks to keep it vegan)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, or more if needed (Optional)
  • Scant 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • For garnish: 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, chives and/or green onions or roasted pumpkin seeds and a drizzle of EVOO (And if you don’t have any of these, sprinkle with a little paprika)

INSTRUCTIONS

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. If desired, line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper for easy cleanup.

On the baking sheet, toss the cauliflower with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil until lightly and evenly coated in oil. Arrange the cauliflower in a single layer and sprinkle lightly with salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Bake until the cauliflower is tender and caramelized on the edges, 25 to 35 minutes, tossing halfway. (I did not actually bother measuring the EVOO or the salt. I drizzled, sprinkled and tossed. Don’t get bogged down with measurements when cooking. This isn’t baking.)

Once the cauliflower is almost done, in a Dutch oven or soup pot, warm the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened and turning translucent, 5 to 7 minutes.

Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds, then add the broth.

Reserve 4 of the prettiest roasted cauliflower florets for garnish. Then transfer the remaining cauliflower to the pot. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring the mixture to a simmer, then reduce the heat as necessary to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 25 minutes, to give the flavors time to meld.

Once the soup is done cooking, remove the pot from the heat and let it cool for a few minutes. Then, carefully transfer the hot soup to a blender, working in batches if necessary. (Do not fill past the maximum fill line or the soup could overflow!) OR Use an immersion blender right in the pot! My choice is always for less work and less clean-up!

Add the butter and blend until smooth. Add the lemon juice, if using, and nutmeg and blend again. Add additional black pepper and salt, to taste (I added another 3/4 teaspoon, because my broth was unsalted.) Don’t go crazy, but you do need to properly salt the soup to bring out the flavors. You can also use a little more lemon juice, if it needs more zing. I ended up using the juice of a half lemon. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think it would have been delicious without any lemon so don’t stress if you don’t have it. Stir well.

Top individual bowls of soup with 1 roasted cauliflower floret and a sprinkle of roasted pumpkin seeds, chopped parsley, green onion and/or chives. Drizzle with a bit of EVOO. This soup keeps well in the refrigerator, covered, for about four days, or for several months in the freezer.

What I’m Buying Now

Root Vegetables | Co+op, welcome to the table

Like most of the world, my husband and I are confined to our apartment. And because we are in the vulnerable age category and I have asthma, we are being especially cautious. Therefore, we have not gone to a grocery store for a month and are relying on the brave individuals who will shop and deliver goods to us. And in order to cut down on the number of deliveries, I have to think very carefully about what I’m buying now.

Being an American of moderate means, I have been spoiled. We live in the land of plenty and I have never lacked for anything of importance. And I had become careless. Yes, I recycled before it became fashionable. But I also wasted food and used toilet paper without a thought. Covid19 has changed all of that. And hopefully, some of the rationing that I have been practicing will continue once we get past this epidemic. And I believe that we will, just as previous generations got past polio and the Great Flu Epidemic. Not unscathed. And not without tremendous and gut-wrenching loss. But this too will pass.

I’m fortunate in that I get to share my isolation with my husband and best friend. I simply can’t imagine what it would be like to go through this alone. But we are missing our first grandchild who was born in November and lives across the country. At this age, she changes daily. And while our son and daughter-in-law have been great at sharing photos and videos, it just isn’t the same as being there to hug and kiss her, read and sing to her. She’ll probably be walking by the time we get to see her in person again.

And like many of you, my husband and I have gotten a little scruffy around the edges. No trips to get haircuts. And I have given myself permission to dress in my favorite overalls and to wear my curly, fuzzy hair down with my dangly earrings. It will be difficult to return to taming my unruly locks and dressing like a respectable adult again.

So what do I do each day? Like many of you, I turn to hobbies and even prayer. I grocery shop and plan meals in my head and make adjustments according to my pantry and what’s actually available at the store when I place an order. Fresh produce has always filled my shopping cart, but I need to think of what foods will hold up well since I am trying to shop only once every 10 days. So what I’m buying now are loads of root vegetables: carrots, radishes, potatoes, turnips, parsnips and beets. Onions, shallots and garlic. And cabbages like kale (curly and lacinato), red cabbage, broccoli and kohlrabi. These are all great for soups, salads, pickles etc.

And while I always bought lots of fresh herbs (which I grow on my terrace in the summer) I was admittedly wasteful. Now, as soon as my parsley and cilantro or dill arrive, I wash the herbs in cold water and dry them well in my salad spinner before putting them away. The same goes for my kale, which I remove from the stems, chop up, wash and dry well. I am amazed at how long these all last now in my fridge and I have almost zero waste from rotting greens. With these in my fridge, and the spices in my pantry, I can make almost anything from plain rice to potatoes to pasta to pulses (lentils) taste delicious as well as being nutritious.

And don’t forget the lemons! Without the zest and bright, fresh juice life would definitely be a much duller place. Other citrus fruit is also good if you have it available.

The further challenge for this week is that it is Passover. And while certain of the rules around eating have relaxed over the years for many adherents, it still is not anything goes. I grew especially anxious when buying eggs became challenging. So many Passover desserts and special treats like matza balls and matza brei rely on eggs as the permissible leavening. And while I have developed a number of delicious vegan options over the years, it’s still a challenge.

Some Passover Options for Vegan and Non-

I am not a rabbinical authority and depending on where your family is from and the traditions you follow, some of the vegan desserts may not be permissible. Options are presented that are now allowed by many who follow the Reform and Conservative Movements and/or Sephardic traditions. It is up to you to decide whether they fit into your permissible Passover foods. And depending on the ingredient that you may be missing, don’t stress. Get creative and use what you do have on hand.

Death by Chocolate Vegan Passover Cake

Passover Sephardic Wine Cookies

Chocolate Chip Vegan Meringue Buttons for Passover

Passover Almond Coconut Macaroons

Passover Florentine Cookies

Passover Orange Ginger Spice Cookies

Moroccan Beet Salad – Barba

Orange and Radish Salad

Roasted Asparagus and Bell Peppers

Parsley Soup

Yemenite Chicken Soup

Aromatic Chicken and Vegetable Soup (Koli)

Garlicky Beet Spread

Moroccan Beet and Orange Salad with Pistachios

Beet Caviar

Vegan Stuffed Vegetables Mediterranean Style

Chicken Thighs with Garlic and Olives and Kale Salad with Lemon Anchovy Dressing

Chicken Thighs with Mushrooms, Eggplant and Tomatoes

Roasted Chicken Thighs with Fennel & Lemon

Nigella Lawson’s Sheet Pan Chicken, Leeks and Peas

Roasted Chicken with Clementines and Arak

Harissa Chicken with Leeks, Potatoes and Yogurt

Chicken Legs with Wine and Yams

Crock Pot Short Ribs

No matter what traditions or religion you observe (or even don’t), we are in this together. So please make smart choices, think of others, especially those less fortunate, and stay healthy. Be generous to those who are helping to make our lives safer and to those families and individuals who have lost their jobs, their loved ones and their sense of security. Remember to call those who are older or alone. Keeping in touch by phone, email or video chatting has never been more important – or easier. It is especially difficult for those who are celebrating holidays this year without their friends and family. Stay connected. And find a way to laugh every day.

Nutritious Comforting Khichari

Comforting Khichari is nutritious, delicious and perfect for a Meatless Monday meal. It’s also a great pantry meal and easily adaptable. Like most of the world, my husband and I are sheltering inside until the Covid 19 pandemic is defeated.

We are eternally grateful to the brave and heroic healthcare workers, grocery shoppers, delivery people and others who are putting their lives on the line so that we can be cared for and fed. There cannot be enough shout-outs to those who are risking their own lives during these extraordinary times.

In order to help in some small way, we are trying to limit grocery deliveries. But we also know how important it is to so many families living on the edge to have any income coming in. So if you are receiving deliveries, please be generous with the people who are making them. Every little bit helps. For those lucky enough to have jobs that can be performed remotely and the incomes to go with it, be very generous.

So why Khichari? The most basic is comprised of a lentil, rice and some seasoning. Not only are these pantry staples for many, but it is loaded with nutrition for those who are following a vegetarian or vegan diet. While not a vegetarian, my husband and I often eat vegetarian or vegan meals. I came across this particular recipe recently and knew that I had everything on hand. Well almost. I didn’t happen to have the Thai chile or cauliflower. But I did have a butternut squash and a jalapeno pepper.

I made up a simple raita (yogurt and cucumber) to eat alongside with some pita that I had in my freezer. If you are vegan, a chutney of some sort or some other vegetable dip would be appropriate. And if you don’t have either of those, this dish is comforting and delicious on its own.

I simply peeled, cubed and roasted my butternut squash with EVOO, salt and pepper at 425 degrees F. for about 20 minutes. And I added a cup of frozen peas to the end of the cooking time as much for color as anything else. What I am trying to say, is don’t stress if you are missing an ingredient or if you want to substitute something. I had mung dal in my pantry and curry leaves in my freezer. If you don’t, then double up on the split red lentil and just leave out the curry leaves. Maybe add some lemon or lime zest if you have it or a bit of asafoetida.

This is not a traditional recipe so don’t be afraid to play with it a bit. Now is a great time to be a bit fearless with cooking. However you end up making Khichari, just keep the proportions of grains and lentils to liquid. And if you are not using a split lentil, the cooking time might increase a bit along with the liquid. You can always add liquid as you go if necessary. Assuming you can receive deliveries, most of the ingredients are available online and keep well stored in airtight containers. After that, go for it!

For other great dal and side ideas:

Chana Dal Kichadi

Punjabi Chana Dal

Indian Side Dishes with Something to Please Everyone

Recipe

Yield: About 4 servings

Ingredients

¼ cup red split lentils

¼ cup yellow split mung dal

¼ cup basmati rice

¼ cup white quinoa

2 tablespoons ghee or melted virgin coconut oil

½ teaspoon ground turmeric

6 fresh curry leaves or 2 dried cassia leaves (optional)

1 1-inch piece ginger, peeled, very finely chopped (about 1 tablespoon)

1 small green Thai chile, finely chopped

2 cups chopped cauliflower florets and/or peeled daikon

1 teaspoon ground fennel seeds

1 teaspoon (or more) Himalayan rock salt (or kosher salt)

Optional

Cilantro, basil, lime slices, black pepper, and olive oil (for serving)

Directions

Cover lentils and mung dal with water in a small bowl and let soak 30 minutes. Drain. Meanwhile, rinse rice and quinoa and drain well.

Heat ghee or oil in a large pot over medium-low. Add turmeric and toast just until slightly darkened, about 10 seconds. Add curry leaves, if using, ginger, and chile and cook until very fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add drained lentils, mung dal, rice, and quinoa and cook, stirring, until nearly dry, 1–2 minutes. Add cauliflower, fennel seeds, 1 tsp. salt, and 4 cups water. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and skim off any foam that forms on the surface, then simmer covered until grains and vegetables are very tender, 30–40 minutes; the khichari should be thick, very soft, and just loose enough not to stick to bottom of the pot (add water as needed to loosen). Season with more salt, if needed. Note: I did not have the cauliflower so I roasted my butternut squash separately and added it on top for serving.

Divide among bowls. Top with cilantro, basil, black pepper, and limes. Drizzle with oil.

One-Pot Pasta Puttanesca

This One-Pot Pasta Puttanesca is a game changer! Everything cooks in one pot and is delicious and cooked exactly right. I already am a fan of sheet-pan cooking, but when I tried this pasta I became an evangelist. It’s absolutely brilliant. No more worrying about if your sauce and pasta are both ready at the same time.

Since we are all confined to our homes, I am spending even more time than usual looking at recipes. I saw this recipe on one of my favorite food blogs, the kitchn.com. Apparently it was developed by a Martha Stewart chef and it truly is magical. Even in these days of difficult-to-come-by groceries, I had all of the ingredients on hand. I did make a couple of changes to the original. The recipe called for 1 Tablespoon of salt which was too much especially when adding olives and capers. And for some reason, the original recipe said to only use 12 ounces of pasta when most boxed dry pasta come in 1 pound increments. Those were easy fixes to make.

This definitely is something that will make it into my regular rotation of dinners. It is just so easy, with minimal clean-up – ONE POT! And everything was cooked perfectly. I had baked bread earlier in the day so along with a glass of delicious red wine, my husband and I feasted. Really, you MUST try this.

For the recipe to work, you need a large shallowish pan like the Staub Heritage All-Day Pan or this Lodge enameled cast iron pan. I love my Staub pan and use it constantly. These pans are perfect for braising and go from the stove-top to the oven. If you are setting up your kitchen or looking to replace pots and pans, you can’t go wrong with either of these. (And I receive no remuneration for saying this.) You also need to use pasta made from wheat. The starch from the pasta will combine with the water to thicken and form a creamy sauce. This won’t happen with a vegetable-based pasta and the cooking time would be off.

Make this One-Pot Pasta Puttanesca for your next Meatless Monday.

How we’re managing isolation

My husband and I are in that vulnerable category of over 60 and with underlying health issues. So we are being very careful about social distancing. In addition to our normal home activities and chores, we have added some things. We are each taking advantage of free online lecture series, some of which are quite wonderful.

Not being able to use the gym in our building has meant getting creative with workouts. You can find us walking our long hallways (we live in a condo) and running stairs. Not much competition with our neighbors so far. And I have started a weights program and actually am developing arm definition! We do crossword puzzles together and I just started a wonderful 1,000-page biography of Winston Churchill by Andrew Roberts. That will clearly keep me busy for some time to come. Our beautiful, sweet cat is getting very, very spoiled having us constantly at her beck and call.

And I do needlepoint and my husband is a “maker.” None of this makes up for the loss of social interaction or the freedom of movement, but maybe I’ll come out of confinement a little smarter, healthier and having created something beautiful.

Recipe

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

1 pound of dry pasta like a linguine

About 12 ounces of grape or cherry tomatoes, cut in half

1/2 cup pitted and halved olives (I used a mixture of Kalamatos and green olives)

1/4 cup capers, drained

1/2 cup chopped fresh, flat-leaf parsley

2 Tablespoons EVOO

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon (or to taste) red pepper flakes

4.5 cups warm tap water

Optional

Grated Parmesan, Asiago or Pecorino Romano cheese

Directions

Put all of the ingredients into the pot and bring to a boil on high heat.

Boil rapidly for 10 minutes, swishing the pasta around to keep it from sticking and to distribute the ingredients. I find that using tongs is best for this.

Turn off the heat and mix thoroughly. Add some additional chopped parsley and the cheese, if using to serve.

Note:

My husband requested that I add a protein and I happened to have some shrimp in my freezer. I added about a dozen shrimp during the final three minutes. Personally, I would have been fine without it so this would make a perfect meatless Monday meal.

African Peanut Soup

Rich in flavor and robust with sweet potato chunks and kale, this creamy, spicy soup is sure to please. This African Peanut Soup is a riff on the West African Maafe or peanut stew. A perfect Meatless Monday meal that comes together in no time.

As we are all sheltering in place trying to avoid contracting and spreading the Novel Coronavirus, eating healthily and satisfyingly has become even more important. Grocery shopping has become increasingly difficult so it is good to find delicious recipes that make use of as many pantry staples as possible. And the vivid colors and flavors of this African Peanut Soup can cheer anyone out of their boredom.

I searched the web and found many variations for this ground nut soup, although many of the ingredients were the same, appearing in different quantities. There also were versions with chicken or beef, but I wanted something meatless, that was easy to put together and packed a punch. Ultimately, I made a few changes to the recipe, in part, because it turned out that I was missing an ingredient and wasn’t about to go to the store to get it. With a couple of tweaks, I was able to make an acceptable work-around. But you be the judge. Give this soup a try.

We can all get through this pandemic.

For more healthy pantry soup ideas:

Lentil Soup

Mediterranean Style Lentil Soup

Karhi, a Yogurt Sauce (Also eaten as a soup over rice)

Greek Red Lentil Soup

Carrot and Harissa Soup

Recipe

Servings: 4 to 6 with rice

Ingredients

1.5 tablespoons peanut oil oil (or high heat oil such as Canola or Grapeseed)

1 large onion, diced

3 large garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger

1 jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

4 cups vegetable broth, plus more as needed (I didn’t need more)

3/4 to 1 cup creamy or chunky natural unsweetened peanut butter

1 cup finely chopped or ground canned tomatoes

2 tablespoon maple syrup

1 large or 2 small sweet potatoes, diced (about 20 ounces total weight)

1 bunch curly kale leaves or collard greens, torn off of the stem into bite sized pieces

1 to 2 rounded teaspoons Sriracha or other hot sauce or to taste

Salt and pepper, to taste

For Serving

Cooked rice

Roasted peanuts, roughly chopped

Fresh cilantro or parsley

Directions

  1. Coat the bottom of a large pot with the oil and place over medium heat.
  2. When the oil is hot, add the onion. Saute the onion, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes, until soft and translucent.
  3. Add the garlic, ginger, cumin, cardamom and jalapeno. Cook everything for about 1 minute more, until fragrant.
  4. Add the broth, peanut butter, chopped tomatoes and maple syrup to the pot. Stir well to fully blend everything. Add the sweet potato, raise the heat, and bring the liquid to a boil.
  5. Lower the heat and allow the soup to simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the sweet potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. You can thin the soup with some extra broth or water if it becomes too thick. Mine didn’t.
  6. Stir in the kale. You may need to add a bit at a time and let each addition wilt to make room for the next.
  7. Let the mixture continue simmering for 5 to 10 minutes, until the kale is tender and the soup is thick.
  8. Remove the pot from heat and season the soup with salt, pepper and Sriracha to taste. Adjust any other seasonings to your liking.
  9. Ladle the soup into bowls and top with a scoop of rice, chopped peanuts and cilantro. Serve.

Indian Spiced Lentil Burgers

Like many people, my husband and I try to eat healthily. Since we cook and eat almost all of our meals at home, this is fairly easy to do. We also try to keep a balance of vegetarian vs. meat-based meals. These Indian-spiced lentil burgers will make Meatless Mondays anything but boring.

As it happens, Andrew and I have both been home sick for the past 10+ days. No Novel Corona Virus, but very bad colds and coughs. It’s pretty easy to get down and out right now, so I am paying special attention to creating interesting and healthy meals. And as anyone who has had a terrible cold knows, the taste buds are one of the first casualties.

So when I came across this recipe for Indian Spiced Lentil Burgers with a Cilantro Chutney, I immediately perked up. I figured, rightly so as it turned out, that there would be enough flavor here to break through even my currently stuffed nose. I had all of the ingredients needed for the burgers, but unfortunately was short on ingredients for the chutney. The ingredients for the chutney can be found below, but I actually used a delicious onion chutney that I happened to have on hand instead. You can also purchase Indian Cilantro or Mint Chutney which should be equally delicious and one less thing to have to put together yourself. When you are coming home from work or are not feeling your best, simplicity is key.

I happen to love Indian food and the particular mix of seasonings given here. However, the recipe is pretty flexible. It is really the method and proportions that count. So if you prefer a more Mediterranean set of flavorings, just swap out the cumin, turmeric and coriander for the seasonings of choice. And instead of a delicious chutney, use a tomato-based or pesto spread on your bun. If you are going the Asian route, spread on some Teriyaki sauce or Peanut Sauce.

By using a food processor to do the main chopping, and the speed with which red lentils cook, this dish comes together pretty quickly. You do need to refrigerate the patties before cooking them, however. Because of that, you can either throw these together in the morning before you leave for work or make the patties the night before.

These burgers are not going to fool you into thinking you are eating meat. So junk that notion and enjoy them for the deliciousness that they are.

Recipe

Yield: 4 burgers

INGREDIENTS

For the Chutney:

  • 1/2 small bunch cilantro, stems and leaves coarsely chopped to make 2 packed cups 
  • 1 small jalapeno pepper, seeded and coarsely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons lime juice, from about 1 lime
  • 1 tablespoon oil 
  • 1/4 teaspoon table salt

For the burgers:

  • 1 cup dry red lentils 
  • 2 teaspoons table salt, divided
  • 1/2 red onion, thickly sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, sliced
  • 2-inch piece ginger root, unpeeled, cut into thin slices
  • 1 medium carrot, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for broiling the burgers
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 large eggs
  • 6 tablespoons fine, dry breadcrumbs

Garnishes: Optional

  • 4 hamburger buns or similar rolls
  • 4 tablespoons Greek yogurt
  • Chutney (Onion, Mango, Mint, Coriander)
  • 1 cucumber, thinly sliced
  • 4 lettuce leaves, a handful of sprouts, or greens of your choice
  • Quickly pickled onion

Make the chutney, if using: In a food processor, puree the cilantro, jalapeno, lime juice, 1 tablespoon oil, and 1/4 teaspoon salt until smooth “ish”, scraping down the sides of the bowl two or three times. The mixture will still have some texture but should be predominately smooth. 

Transfer to a small bowl. Don’t wipe out the food processor. You’ll use it again in a second.

Pick over the lentils: Spread the lentils on a baking sheet and pick out small stones or pieces of dirt if there are any. Place them in a sieve and run them under cold water to rinse them. Drain. 

Cook the lentils: In a large saucepan, bring 4 cups water and 1 teaspoon salt and the lentils to a boil. Adjust the heat to a low boil and cook for 5 to 6 minutes, or until tender, but not mushy. 

At this point they should still hold their shape somewhat, though you will notice that the outer husks may have separated. Drain well in a fine-mesh colander or sieve. 

Chop the vegetables: While the lentils are cooking and draining, pulse the onion, garlic, ginger, and carrot in the food processor until finely chopped. (If you are using a different flavor profile, you can omit the ginger.)

Cook the vegetables and spices: In a large skillet over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add the chopped vegetables and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, or until softened. Add the turmeric, coriander, cumin, and 3/4 teaspoon salt and cook for 30 seconds to bloom the spices. Turn off the burner and remove the pan from the heat.

Mash the lentils: Stir the well-drained lentils into the still-warm vegetables in the skillet. With a fork or potato masher, mash about half the mixture, leaving the other half intact.

Clear a space on one side of the skillet and add the eggs. Beat them well with a fork, and stir them into the lentils. Add the breadcrumbs and stir again. Let the mixture cool enough for you to handle and form into patties.

Form the patties: Form the lentil mixture into 4 patties that are about 4-inches across. Brush lightly with oil. Refrigerate the patties, uncovered, for 30 minutes or overnight.

Cook the burgers: Set a rack 4 to 6-inches from the broiler element and preheat the broiler. Using a well-seasoned cast-iron pan or a baking sheet lined with foil, heat the pan in the hot oven. Brush the tops of the patties with oil and place onto the hot pan. There should be a nice sizzle. Broil for 6 to 7 minutes, or until golden brown. Turn carefully, brush with more oil, and brown on the other side (another 5 to 6 minutes.)

Serve the burgers: You can lightly toast the buns if you like. Then spread some of the yogurt and chutney/sauce on the two halves. Place the burgers on top. Top with sliced cucumbers and lettuce or greens of your choice. And while these certainly didn’t need it, I could see adding a slice of cheese on top if I were going with a Mediterranean profile.

For other Meatless Monday ideas:

Cauliflower Fried “Rice” with Tofu

Butternut Squash and Arugula Pizza

Roasted Tomato Soup

Sheet Pan Honey(Agave)-Sesame Tofu and Green Beans

Heirloom Tomato and Ricotta Tart

Tofu Coconut Curry