Spinach Avocado Hummus

Spinach Avocado Hummus

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These days any bean spread or dip is called “hummus.” It used to bother me because hummus is such an iconic dish in the Middle East. It just seemed disrespectful. And then I thought – “loosen up! Get a grip.” So while this Spinach Avocado “Hummus” definitely includes chickpeas and tahini, it also includes spinach and avocado to create a vibrant green deliciousness. This wonderful riff on a classic just might become a new favorite.

The seemingly long time in the food processor creates a beautifully fluffy spread with every element well blended. This almost light-as-air hummus practically melts in your mouth.

And while I had never seen nor tasted this Spinach Avocado Hummus before, when I went searching for recipes to compare, there were about a dozen. All were pretty similar and I have no idea which one came first. For me, I became aware of it here.

The measurements given should be viewed as a starting place. Obviously, you can fine tune things to suit your personal tastes. I changed up a few things to suit my tastes, adding more spice and lemon juice. So definitely don’t get bogged down in having exactly 200g of baby spinach or one cup of onions etc.

One thing I do feel pretty strongly about is that whenever possible, I like to cook my own beans. If I am making soup, the cooking liquid is a great base for the broth. (The liquid can also be used as aquafaba.) But while the beans do honestly taste better (just ask my granddaughter!) this Spinach Avocado Hummus will also be quite good if you only use canned chickpeas. However, if you must use canned beans, please use a good quality organic bean. This is especially important if you are vegan or vegetarian where beans may be a big source of daily protein.

This gorgeous dip will brighten up any table. As I have written before, we always have at least four or five salads, dips or spreads for Shabbat that we then enjoy all week. It is a habit that I picked up after living in Israel for almost a year. There and throughout the Middle East, salads are served at breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Unlike my traditional hummus, which I prefer to eat still warm, the Spinach Avocado Hummus tasted best after refrigeration. I thought that the flavors had more time to meld and enjoyed it even more the second day.

Just be sure to have plenty of fresh pita, naan or challah to scoop up the Spinach Avocado Hummus. Of course, crispy veggies or pita chips work well too.

Spinach Avocado Hummus

Check out some of my other salads and spreads:

Salads for Every Meal

Garlicky Beet Spread

Moroccan Beet and Orange Salad with Pistachios

Beet and Chickpea Quinoa Salad

Moroccan Beet Salad (Barba)

Beet Caviar

Moroccan Carrot Salad

Orange and Radish Salad

Farro Salad

Get your Freekeh on – with this lemony, herbed salad

Twice-Cooked Eggplant Salad

Eggplant Pâté (Bharta)

Eggplant Raita Middle Eastern Style

Greek Eggplant Dip: Melitzanosalata

Recipe

Yield: About 8 servings

Spinach Avocado Hummus

Ingredients

2 cups (340g) cooked, drained chickpeas

2 T EVOO plus more for serving

1 cup (52g) thinly sliced yellow onions

¾ cup (177ml) tap water

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

53.3 oz. (200g) baby spinach

Juice of 1.5 lemon or to taste

3 Tablespoons tahini paste

Flesh of one ripe avocado (avocado weighing about 6 oz. (170g)

2 large garlic cloves, crushed

1.5 teaspoons ground cumin

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (Optional)

1.5 teaspoons kosher salt or to taste

Directions

Place 2 T EVOO in a med. large saucepan and heat on medium. Add the onion and fry until brown (about 8 to 10 minutes.)

Add the drained chickpeas and water to the pot. Bring to a rapid simmer. Then reduce the heat to medium low, cover the pot and cook for about 10 minutes or until the chickpeas begin to breakdown.

Add the baby spinach and stir through until wilted. Remove the pot from the heat and allow to cool somewhat.

Spinach Avocado Hummus

Place everything (including any liquid) in a food processor along with the flesh of the avocado, lemon juice, tahini and spices. Process for about 5 minutes, scraping down the bowl occasionally. The hummus should be creamy and fluffy. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours, but is even better the next day.

When ready to serve, spread out the hummus on a plate. Garnish with finely chopped pepper, chives, scallion or cilantro and drizzle all over with a good quality olive oil.

The hummus can be refrigerated for several days.

Chocolate Truffle Cheesecake

Chocolate Truffle Cheesecake

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This killer Chocolate Truffle Cheesecake is decadently rich, dark and velvety. Did I mention that it has an Oreo crust?! And for those with an egg allergy – NO EGGS! I had seen a recipe for a chocolate cheesecake on the King Arthur website and it got me remembering a Mocha Cheesecake that my Mother used to make occasionally when we had guests over. It may have been based on one that was published (we’re talking almost 60 years ago, folks) in the New York Times. I’m pretty sure that the author was Maida Heatter, that doyenne of fabulous desserts.

The only problem is that it’s just me and my husband these days and that cake fed 16 people. Now I REALLY love a great New York-style cheesecake. However, even I cannot eat that much of it. And unfortunately, I never have enough room in my freezer. You know, to put some away for a pretty rainy day – or Congressional Hearings into January 6.

So, it got me thinking that I needed to come up with a version that uses my 6-inch springform pan. I found that this is the perfect size to yield 6 servings. We can definitely consume that over the course of the week.

The base of the cheesecake started with one that I published last year with a blueberry topping. Please use a really good quality dark bittersweet chocolate like Valrhona or Scharffenberger. 70% cacao is perfect. (And actually – never use poor quality chocolate. It’s just not worth it. Better to make something else entirely!) This will counter the rather sweet cookie crust and the sweetened condensed milk. The espresso powder will emphasize the deep chocolate taste.

Chocolate Truffle Cheesecake is for serious chocolate lovers. It has a true, clean chocolate taste and a smooth, truffle-like mouthfeel that starts melting as soon as it hits your tongue. And as rich as this cheesecake is, compared to other New York-style cheesecakes, you don’t have to feel too guilty. Go for it.

Chocolate Truffle Cheesecake

Recipe

Yield: 6 Servings

Ingredients

Yield: About 6 servings

Ingredients

Crust (This is the amount in the original recipe which makes a delicious but fairly thick crust)

250 g of crushed chocolate cookies such as Oreos (This is about 2.5 cups)

1/2 cup (113 g) melted butter (salted or unsalted)

Filling

8 oz. (225 g) full-fat cream cheese in a block, softened

1/2 cup (120 g) heavy or double cream

1 teaspoon espresso powder

1/25 cups of dark (70%) chocolate (about 175 g)

2 Tablespoons cornstarch

1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt

1 Tablespoon Black Natural Cocoa Powder (Dutch cocoa could be used instead)

2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or Dark Rum

1 cup (306 g) of Sweetened Condensed Milk

Directions

Lightly grease the bottom of the springform pan and line it with a round of parchment. You don’t have to do this but it will make it easy to transfer the cake off of the bottom of the tin.

Chocolate Truffle Cheesecake

Blitz the biscuits in a food processor or with a rolling pin until you have fine crumbs. Do not wash the food processor. Just try to remove any excess crumbs. Transfer the crumbs to a bowl and add the melted butter. Mix until all of the crumbs are moist. Press the crumbs into the bottom of the prepared pan. Refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F or 160 C.

Using a hand beater or the food processor (why dirty another utensil?) beat the cream cheese until light and fluffy.

Chocolate Truffle Cheesecake

In a smallish bowl, whisk the heavy cream and corn starch until smooth. Add this to the cream cheese. Add the vanilla, sweetened condensed milk and citrus zest. Blitz until the batter is completely smooth. Pour the batter into the pan over the crumb base.

Wrap the bottom of the pan in two layers of aluminum foil to prevent any leakage. Set the pan in a baking dish large enough to hold it. I used a 9-inch square pan. Carefully add hot tap water to the pan until it comes up about half-way up the sides of the springform mold.

Place in the oven and bake for about 1 hour or until the center just slightly jiggles. Turn off the oven and leave the door ajar with the cheesecake inside. Keep the pan in there until your oven fan turns off or the cheesecake cools down. This prevents the crust from cracking.

Remove the cooled cake to a wire rack and using a sharp, flat blade, just carefully run it around the circumference of the cake. Cool the cake in the fridge for 4 to 6 hours.

When you are ready to serve, unlock the springform and carefully remove the ring. You can then either leave the cake on the bottom for serving or it should come off easily once the suction has been broken. Transfer to a serving plate and enjoy.

Savory Asparagus Tart

Savory Asparagus Tart

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This fabulous Savory Asparagus Tart is ready in under an hour, but looks like you slaved all day. I served it for our Shavuot dinner with a salad and Lemon Almond Semolina Cake for dessert. Our drink of choice was a beautiful Vermentino from Ryme Wine Cellars. But this easy-to-prepare savory tart would also make a beautiful brunch meal or a perfect Meatless Monday option.

Savory Asparagus Tart

Believe it or not but I came across this recipe in a folio sent by my grocery store a couple of months back. I made a couple of changes and my presentation was a simple change that just made this tart a visual stunner.

This Savory Asparagus Tart comes together so quickly because you use a prepared frozen puff pastry. It was even quicker because this time I bought cheese that was already grated and crumbled. Something this pretty AND delicious doesn’t have to be difficult. My husband and I were able to spend the entire day outside enjoying the gorgeous weather and we still sat down to a beautiful and delicious meal. Give it a try. And if you don’t wish to use puff pastry, a regular tart or unsweetened pie pastry or phyllo dough would also work.

Savory Asparagus Tart

Recipe

Yield: 6 generous servings

Ingredients

1 full package of frozen puff pastry, thawed according to package instructions

2 teaspoons EVOO

1 pound (1 bunch) fresh asparagus, trimmed

8 large eggs

1/2 cup whole milk ricotta cheese

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper or to taste

4 green onions (scallions), trimmed and thinly sliced

5 ounces shredded cheese (I used a combo of asiago, parmesan and fontina, but any one of those would also work)

4 ounces of goat cheese crumbles

2 to 3 Tablespoons chopped fresh dill

2 to 3 Tablespoons chopped (or snipped) fresh chives. (You can use other fresh herbs if these are unavailable or to suit your preferences.)

Savory Asparagus Tart

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a 1/4-sheet pan (9 x 13) with parchment or lightly brush with oil

Flour a work surface and roll out the pastry to fit the pan so that it will go up the sides. Place it in the pan. You can trim any excess or fold it under. Prick the pastry all over and place it in the fridge while yo prepare the filling.

Set aside 5 asparagus spears that are about the same size and that have straight stems. Use a vegetable peeler to peel the stems and trim off the woody bottoms of the asparagus.

Savory Asparagus Tart

Trim off the woody bottoms of the remaining asparagus and cut the spears into pieces that are 2 to 3-inches long. Place the cut pieces in a large sauté pan with the EVOO and cook on medium high heat for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Savory Asparagus Tart

Whisk the eggs, ricotta, salt and pepper in a large bowl.

Remove the sheet pan from the fridge and scatter the cut, sautéed asparagus and the sliced green onions evenly across the bottom of the pastry.

Savory Asparagus Tart

Top with the shredded cheese.

Savory Asparagus Tart

Pour the egg mixture over the top and spread it evenly. Then top with the goat cheese crumbles. Carefully lay the asparagus spears that you set aside across the top on a slight angle. Press them gently into the cheese. Sprinkle the entire top of the tart with the fresh herbs.

Savory Asparagus Tart

Bake for 10 minutes in the middle of the oven and then lower the temperature to 375 degrees F. Continue baking until the edges are puffed and golden and the eggs are set and beautifully browned – about 25 minutes.

Savory Asparagus Tart

Remove from the oven and allow everything to set for 10 minutes before cutting.

Serve with a beautiful salad, crusty bread and a crisp white wine. Leftovers can be wrapped in parchment and reheated in the oven, preferably on a pizza steel or stone.

Chickpea Spinach Fesenjan

Chickpea Spinach Fesenjan

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Like many people these days, my husband and I are eating more plant-based meals. Maybe you are choosing to eat less meat for your health or because it is better for the planet. Perhaps you are making this choice for ethical or moral reasons. With so many wonderful options for meat substitutes now readily available, it has never been easier to try making this transition.

Not too long ago, my niece gifted me a beautiful cookbook called I Cook in Color by Asha Gomez. Based now in Atlanta, GA, Ms. Gomez originates from Kerala in Southern India. The dishes are visually striking with fresh flavors, lots of herbs and spices and fruit/vegetable forward.

Chickpea Spinach Fesenjan is her take on a famous Persian stew or khoresh. It is generally made with some kind of ground meat or poultry. Redolent with walnuts, cinnamon, turmeric, cumin, cardamom, orange zest and pomegranate molasses, it is rich without being heavy. Following Ms. Gomez’s suggestion, I served the vegan Chickpea Spinach Fesenjan with a Dilled Red Onion Basmati Rice. For a bit of extra richness and umami, the rice cooks in coconut milk.

Dilled Red Onion Basmati Rice

Since it is not really pomegranate season here, I was unable to garnish my dish with that beautiful pop of red jeweled fruit. But the resulting dinner was nevertheless amazing and I would be proud to serve it to guests. I accompanied my tangy, sweet fesenjan with some ripe cantaloupe as a starter and the Saffron Pistachio Blondies for dessert. Meat? Never missed it!

However, if you really aren’t ready to go meatless, you can try this more traditional version of fesenjan.

Recipe

Chickpea Spinach Fesenjan

Servings: about 6

Ingredients

2 cups lightly toasted walnuts

3 Tablespoons neutral vegetable oil

1 large yellow onion, peeled and diced

4 large garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

2 teaspoons ground turmeric powder

1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

1 teaspoon cumin seeds’1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

2 cinnamon sticks

2 Tablespoons light brown sugar or jaggery

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

1.5 teaspoons kosher salt

3 wide strips of orange zest from a navel orange

2 cups vegetable or chicken stock

1/4 cup pomegranate molasses (readily available these days, but a recipe is linked)

4 cups of cooked chickpeas (I like to cook my own, but canned are fine too)

4 cups torn fresh spinach leaves (About 2 big handfuls)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. (This can also be done in a dry pan on the stove if you are not using your oven for anything else.) Spread the walnuts on a sheet pan in a single layer and place them in the oven for about 5 minutes. As soon as you begin to smell the walnuts, immediately remove them from the heat and allow them to cool.

Chickpea Spinach Fesenjan

Once cooled, pulse the walnuts in a food processor until almost a fine powder. Be careful not to turn them into a paste.

Heat the oil in a large, heavy pan with a lid over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally until they are golden (about 8 minutes). Next add the garlic and cook for about 1 minute more.

Now add in the spices and roast for about 30 seconds to help them bloom. Once they are fragrant, add the brown sugar and salt and give everything a quick stir.

Once combined, you are ready to add the orange zest, stock, pomegranate molasses and walnuts. Simmer for 2 minutes, mixing everything through. Then lower the heat to medium-low and add in the chickpeas. Cover the pan and cook for 20 minutes. The fesenjan can be prepared ahead up to this point. When you are ready to serve, add the torn spinach leaves. Give everything a good mix and remove from the heat.

While the fesenjan is cooking, you should prepare your rice, if using. Of course, this would also be delicious with naan or some other flat bread.

Upside Down Blueberry Pancake

Upside Down Blueberry Pancake

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If I had to choose a last meal on earth, it would be this Upside Down Blueberry Pancake. My husband created this incredible skillet pancake over many months of trial and error. It would be too cruel of me not to share it.

Breakfast foods are a favorite of mine – but only when I eat them for dinner. I just can’t consume that much first thing in the morning. About once a week, I ask my husband to make this Upside Down Blueberry Pancake for dinner. And as soon as I have devoured it, I begin counting the days until he makes it again.

Without any shame, I eat half of the pan with vegan sausage patties in one sitting. There are 18 ounces of blueberries in this pancake! My tongue and teeth are purple when I finish – but that is what baking soda is for!

The gorgeous, fat purply blueberries burst in your mouth and the delicious tang of fresh lemon – zest and juice – enhances the fruitiness. This is AMAZING! The pancake part of this dish is spongey and lofty, perfect for absorbing all of the fruity, blueberry, lemony juices. And if there is anything – and I mean anything – left on my plate, I use my finger and tongue to lap up every delicious bit.

For a lot of people, this dish would serve 4. But I have never felt uncomfortably stuffed or heavy after eating half of the pan. Upside Down Blueberry Skillet Pancake is neither overly sweet nor heavy. This will knock any other skillet or griddle pancake right out of the running. And because it bakes up in the oven, there is no standing over a griddle or fussily flipping pancakes. Everything is done in one pan.

Other than a well-seasoned cast iron skillet, there are no special tools or skills needed for this recipe. This is dinner AND dessert in one go. If you don’t make this right away – well, I can’t be held responsible.

Upside Down Blueberry Pancake

Recipe

Yield: 2 to 4 servings

Ingredients

For the blueberry filling:

    1/3 cup granulated sugar

    Zest and juice of 1 medium lemon

    18 ozs. of blueberries, rinsed and well drained

    3 tbsp unsalted butter

  For the batter:

    1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

    1 tsp double acting baking powder

    1/8 tsp baking soda

    1 tbsp granulated sugar

    ½ tsp kosher salt

    ½ tsp ground cardamom

    4 large eggs at room temperature

    1 cup buttermilk (or 1 cup plain, whole milk kefir)

    1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Upside Down Blueberry Pancake

Directions

Preheat oven to 400°F

Place a 9” cast iron skillet on the stove. Put 3 tbsp unsalted butter, cut up, into the skillet.

Dry ingredients:

Place 1 cup flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 1/8 tsp baking soda, 1 tbsp granulated sugar, ½ tsp kosher salt, and ½ tsp ground cardamom in a bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.

Filling:

Place 1/3 cup granulated sugar in a small bowl.

Finely grate the zest of 1 medium lemon onto the sugar.

Upside Down Blueberry Pancake

Mash the zest and sugar together with a rubber spatula, or rub the zest into the sugar with your fingertips until the zest and sugar is fully combined and gritty. If no one is watching, then by all means, lick your fingers.

Start heating the skillet on medium heat to melt the butter. Reduce the heat to low.

Juice one half of the lemon onto the blueberries. Add one half of the sugar/zest mixture. Gently toss to combine.

Juice the other half of the lemon into butter in the skillet. Add the remainder of the sugar/zest mixture. Stir to combine.

Pour the blueberries into the skillet. Use a spatula or spoon to even them out in the skillet. The butter should be gently bubbling under the blueberries.

Batter:

Place 4 large eggs into a large bowl and whisk until frothy. Add 1 cup buttermilk (or kefir) and 1 tsp vanilla extract and whisk to combine.

Gradually add the dry ingredients to the eggs/milk, stirring the batter just enough to combine them.

Remove the skillet from the heat.

Pour the batter evenly all over the berries, by swirling from the middle of the pan outwards into a circle.

Put the skillet in the oven, baking at 400°F until puffed and golden-brown, about 20 minutes. You want this to be well browned or the batter will be under-done.

Remove and let cool for a few five minutes.

Serve and enjoy! And don’t forget to spoon all those delicious juices onto the plate. They are perfect for dipping the poufy pancake in.

Falafel

Falafel and Pita

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Falafel is a ubiquitous Middle Eastern food adopted by the world. Delicious, budget-friendly, vegan and nutritious. Made from chickpeas with lots of fresh herbs and fragrant spices, these crunchy, moist nuggets are a go-to street food that I was first introduced to on a trip to Israel. Stuffed into fresh pita with pickled vegetables and tahina sauce and/or Amba, it is enjoyed standing up chatting with friends. If the juices don’t drip down your arm as you eat then you aren’t doing it right! Veteran falafel eaters learn to adopt a stance when eating where you arch your body a bit back and lean over the falafel.

Of course, Falafel also is great as an appetizer or over a salad. Chickpeas are loaded with protein, cook up beautifully and have great flavor. They are a versatile staple that should be part of everyone’s pantry. Even the cooking liquid known as aquafaba, is a wonderful substitute for egg whites and whips up to make a beautiful meringue-like substance that can be used in all kinds of baked goods.

Having tried several falafel recipes, this one has best suited my tastes. It comes from Molly Yeh with a few tweaks from me. My husband made the pita, but feel free to use store-bought. Generally I am not a huge fan of Ms. Yeh. I find a lot of her recipes very fatty, unhealthy and a bit twee. But she has made a few things that have turned out well and exactly as written, even if over time I have made some changes. This is one such recipe.

Falafel

My husband mistimed the pita, so as a consequence, I made the falafel mixture and ended up refrigerating it in an airtight container overnight. It worked out perfectly. I probably would not keep it uncooked for more than a day, however, given all of the fresh herbs and soaked , but uncooked chickpeas.

We don’t consume a lot of fried foods, but during the pandemic I treated myself to a mini-fryer. This was definitely one of those lightbulb moments. The particular fryer I bought is inexpensive and doesn’t take up a lot of space, which I don’t have. It is easy to use, clean-up is a snap and best of all – no fried food smell. The temperature is constantly controlled with almost no absorption of oil by anything you are frying. (No, I am not compensated by the company.) That said, the original recipe called for shallow frying in a pan. Either method would work well. As you can tell from my photos, I love a really well-browned outside with just a wonderful crunch. The inside is still moist and green from the herbs.

Many street vendors sell their falafel stuffed into pita with french fries on top. I have to admit that I never quite got that, especially as someone who REALLY likes crispy fries. They also have a knack, built up over time, of stuffing a simply enormous amount of stuff into a pita. I do not yet have that knack. However you decide to eat your falafel patties, you won’t be disappointed. Make them soon. They are a perfect addition to Meatless Mondays.

Falafel and Pita

Recipe

Yield: About 4 servings

Ingredients

1 tablespoon coriander seeds

2 teaspoons cumin seeds 

1 cup dried chickpeas, soaked for 10 hours or overnight and drained 

1 small onion, coarsely chopped 

4 large cloves garlic, peeled and minced

1/4 cup lightly packed cilantro leaves with stems, roughly chopped 

1/4 cup lightly packed flat-leaf parsley leaves with stems, roughly chopped 

1/4 cup lightly packed fresh dill, leaves and stems, roughly chopped

3 to 4 Tablespoons, fresh mint leaves, torn

1/4 teaspoon baking soda 

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon 

1 teaspoon kosher salt 

1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

1/4 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (Optional)

2 tablespoons all-purpose unbleached flour 

Fresh Juice of one large lemon

Olive oil or flavorless oil, for frying 

Falafel and Pita

Directions

Toast the coriander seeds and cumin seeds in a skillet over medium heat until lightly browned and fragrant, then grind in a spice grinder. (I grind my spices a medium amount. I think the spices are better distributed throughout if done on a medium rather than a course grind.)

In a food processor, combine the cumin, coriander, soaked chickpeas, onion, garlic, fresh herbs, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, a few turns of black pepper, Aleppo pepper, if used, flour, and lemon juice and pulse quickly, 80 to 100 times, until the mixture is combined, but still slightly grainy. If you squeeze a spoonful in your hand and it holds together, you have the right texture.

Falafel

In a large skillet, heat ¼-inch oil over medium-high heat until shimmering but not smoking. Form balls of falafel mixture, 2 to 3 tablespoons each, packing them firmly and then flattening them slightly. Fry on all sides until golden brown. Transfer to a paper towel.

If using a deep fryer, then use as directed with the oil set to 350 degrees F. Carefully drop the falafel balls into the fryer a few at a time. I like my balls well-browned and with a crispy outside and a just moist inside. There is no need to turn the patties since both sides get cooked at the same time. I didn’t time things but the patties cook in about 3 minutes. You want to be sure that the falafel is fully cooked since you are using raw, soaked chickpeas.

Poor Man’s Pasta

Poor Man’s Pasta

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Poor Man’s Pasta has just a few simple ingredients. But never has poor seemed so rich! The humble cauliflower, garlic and some good olive oil makes a creamy, flavorful and very satisfying sauce for the pasta of your choice. Do choose a pasta with some shape that will trap and hold the sauce. I used a small shell, but orecchiette would also be a great choice.

And after watching Lidia Bastianich during the early shortages of the pandemic, I learned a trick that poor Italians used to replace cheese on their pasta. Breadcrumbs sautéed in olive oil with garlic and parsley until they have achieved a crunchy deliciousness makes parmesan cheese unnecessary. Have you ever wondered what to do with those left-over, dried out pieces of bread? Wonder no more! Of course, you can also use Panko or other store-bought breadcrumbs for this topping.

You will need a food processor to blitz the cauliflower into an almost powdery state. Store-bought riced cauliflower is still too big to achieve the right level of creaminess that you want here. Nothing gets wasted. You can include any fresh, young cauliflower leaves and the more tender parts of the stem. They all add flavor.

Olive oils can be pricey, it’s true. So buy the best EVOO that you can afford. I love the Mediterranean Olive Oil that I buy from Sciabica online. My daughter-in-law Frances introduced me to it and I have never looked back. There are, of course, other good brands out there, so choose one you like.

Fresh garlic is the other essential ingredient in this simple dish. Don’t use old garlic that has become bitter! Full disclosure, I did use shmushed up anchovies in my sauce. However, if you want to keep this vegan or just hate anchovies, the sauce will still be delicious if you leave it out.

I used fresh parsley in the breadcrumb mixture but you could use dried if that is all you have.

The richness in this dish comes from the cauliflower, pasta water and olive oil. When cooked together some wonderful alchemy occurs that provides depth and comfort in a healthy and affordable dish. One pound of pasta will easily make 6 servings, especially if served with a salad and some bread. I made a delicious kale salad and Andrew baked focaccia. A glass of red wine and this humble dinner became something extraordinary.

After the recipe directions is an idea of what you can do with left-overs – assuming you have any.

Recipe

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients

1 pound of a curved pasta like orecchiette or shells

6 Tablespoons EVOO, divided

3 anchovy fillets (Optional)

4 large garlic cloves, peeled and grated or crushed, divided

1 medium head of cauliflower (about 2 pounds)

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes or to taste

kosher salt to taste

About 1 cup of dried breadcrumbs (Panko is great because it isn’t too fine. Those bumps soak up the flavor best.) You can make more of this mixture if you really like the topping. Just adjust the oil and parsley for the larger amount.

2 Tablespoons chopped fresh, flat-leaf parsley or 1 Tablespoon dried

Directions

Trim the cauliflower and cut into florets. Place these along with any fresh leaves and the more tender stems in a food processor. Blitz until the cauliflower is almost powdery.

Poor Man’s Pasta

Set a pot of well-salted water to boil. While this is coming to a boil, place 5 Tablespoons of oil in a large skillet. If you are using anchovies, put them in the oil on medium high heat, shmushing them around until they break up and melt into the oil. Add the garlic and chili pepper flakes and stir for 30 seconds. Do not burn the garlic.

Now add the cauliflower and mix it through to coat with the oil and garlic mixture. You can sprinkle on some kosher salt. If you are not using anchovies, add 1 teaspoon of salt to start. If you are using anchovies, only start with 1/2 teaspoon. You will be adding the well salted pasta water to the sauce so don’t over salt here. You can always add more, but you can’t remove it!

Sauté the mixture until the cauliflower breaks down and softens. Meanwhile cook your pasta according to the instructions on the package. Use the shorter cooking time given.

Just before the pasta is ready, take a bit more than a cup of the pasta water and add it about 1/4 cup at a time to the cauliflower mixture. Turn up the heat a bit and stir the water through until everything is creamy. I used a cup of water but depending on how much cauliflower you actually have, you might add a bit more or less than that.

Drain your pasta and mix it with the sauce.

Poor Man’s Pasta

While your pasta is cooking you can also brown your breadcrumb mixture. Place a Tablespoon of EVOO into a smallish skillet. When the oil is hot, add the breadcrumbs, 1 crushed clove of garlic and the chopped parsley. Depending on your breadcrumbs, you can add a bit of salt to taste. Brown them, stirring often until they are dark and crunchy but not burned.

Poor Man’s Pasta

Plate the pasta with the sauce and top with the breadcrumbs. Leftovers can be gently reheated or even placed in a baking dish and covered with a fresh mix of the breadcrumb topping drizzled with EVOO but which has not been sautéed. Bake in a 350 degree F oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until everything is heated through and the breadcrumbs are crunchy. Yummmmmmm!

Baked Poor Man’s Pasta

Because the Poor Man’s Pasta easily made enough for 6 servings and my husband and I are only 2 people, I decided to do something different for the leftovers.

I lightly oiled a rectangular baking dish and poured in my leftover pasta. I then added some dried oregano over the top along with a light sprinkling of shredded Mozzarella and Provolone. Yes, this is now vegetarian rather than vegan, although you could do this suing vegan “cheese.” I thickly sliced some Roma tomatoes across the top. Added more breadcrumbs and seasoning, including some salt. A bit more shredded cheese. (I probably used about 2 oz. of cheese total) I drizzled on a good glug of EVOO and baked uncovered in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes to warm everything through. I then cranked the heat up to broil and watched the tomatoes bake and everything on top brown. Yummmmmmy!

Poor Man’s Pasta Night #2
Poor Man’s Pasta Night #2

Potato and Green Pea Curry

Potato and Green Pea Curry

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Potato and Green Pea Curry is nutritious, vegan deliciousness in one pot. This easily adaptable curry is enhanced by the fluffy and flavorful Garlic Herbed Naan shown here. All of this can be made ahead and warmed when you are ready to eat. It’s another wonderful Meatless Monday – or any day – option.

Garlic Herbed Naan

As those who follow me know, my husband and I have moved to eating vegetarian and vegan meals about 5 days a week. So I am always on the lookout for something that suits our tastes, is nutritious and deeply satisfying. These days, it is easier and easier to follow a vegan diet. While I admit that I am not sold on plant-based yogurt or certain meat look-alike substitutes, they are readily available. And for those who want them, their taste and costs are improving every day.

As with any meal plan you follow, it is important to put together a meal that is appealing and nutritious. After all, just being “good for you or the planet” isn’t much solace if the food doesn’t taste great. Mediterranean and South Asian cuisines lend themselves to vegan or vegetarian preparations. A place for encouragement and great recipes is Pick Up Limes, which is where these recipes originated. This vlogger is a registered nutritionist and a walking advertisement for veganism in a totally non-judgmental package.

While I made Potato and Green Curry as written, it is easily adaptable to using other veg. But because I want as much nutritious bang for my efforts, I know that this recipe covers all of the bases. I also liked that it all came together in under an hour and that I could prep it ahead. Being retired doesn’t mean that I necessarily want to spend hours in the kitchen. My husband and I love to take long walks. When we arrive home happily tired, I want a delicious dinner that comes together quickly and easily. This fits the bill.

Naan is pretty available where we live, but my husband and I enjoy baking most of our own bread. The naan shown here also comes together quickly and the seasonings can be changed to suit your tastes. While the original recipe called for plant-based yogurt and non-dairy milk, mine was made with Bulgarian natural yogurt and 2% milk. We do use soy milk as well in our house, but this is what I went with. I also deviated by using ajwain or carom seed and fresh vs. dried parsley. If you don’t have or don’t like ajwain, commonly used in Indian cuisine, you can leave it out or substitute cumin seed.

When my husband gives me an enthusiastic response to a vegan dish, I know that it is worth sharing. He was brought up in a very meat-eating family. These dishes are not look-alike substitutes for meat. Nor are they trying to fool you into thinking that you are eating meat when you aren’t. They are, however, delicious meals in their own right and can be enjoyed whether you have adopted a vegan/vegetarian lifestyle or are simply looking for new dinner ideas.

As with many South Asian and Middle Eastern/Mediterranean meals, this recipe appears to have a LOT of ingredients. Most are spices that any home who eats these foods would readily have on hand. So don’t be scared off. And the fresher your spices, the more flavorful your food!

Recipe

Potato and Green Pea Curry

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

1 Tablespoon neutral vegetable oil

2 teaspoons each: whole cumin, coriander and brown mustard seeds

1 medium onion, peeled and diced

3 large cloves of garlic, peeled and minced

1 Tablespoon, grated or minced fresh ginger

1 vegetable bouillon cube

1 Tablespoon garam masala

2 teaspoons ground turmeric

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (I did NOT use this and didn’t miss it)

3 to 4 medium potatoes (I used Yukon Gold, but a red potato or even Russet would work) peeled and cut into small cubes

1.5 cups of water

1 cup frozen, thawed green peas

1 can (about 15 oz.) or 1.5 cups cooked, drained chickpeas

1 can (about 399 ml. or 13 oz.) full-fat coconut milk

About 2 generous cups fresh baby spinach, torn

For serving:

Potato and Green Pea Curry

Basmati or other rice

fresh cilantro

lime wedges

naan

Directions

I find if I prep everything first then the actual cooking is a snap. It may mean a couple of extra bowls, but it really is so much faster and easier in the end. And nothing ever gets missed that way. Neither am I sent scrambling to suddenly mince or grate something.

In a 3.5 quart or bigger pot, add the oil and heat on medium high. When the oil is hot, add the whole seeds and toast for 30 to 60 seconds. This will “bloom” the spices.

Add the chopped onion next and cook until translucent – about 3 to 5 minutes. If it appears that the spices are getting too dry, you can splash in a Tablespoon of water.

Next add the garlic and ginger and cook for two more minutes or until fragrant.

The bouillon cube, garam masala and turmeric go in next. If you are using cayenne pepper, add it here as well. Stir for 30 to 60 seconds.

Potatoes and water are added now. Partially cover the pot and bring to a simmer. Cook until the potatoes are tender – about 15 minutes.

Now add the peas, chickpeas and coconut milk. Stir through well and cook until warmed. This can be done ahead up to this point. When you are ready to serve, add the spinach and cook through until wilted. This should only take a few minutes. Serve hot.

Wonderful One-Pot Pasta

Wonderful One-Pot Pasta

Yes, nutritious and vegan tastes this great! Wonderful One-Pot Pasta with lentils is packed with vegan power and gives you a satisfying dinner in under an hour. And this one-pot method of cooking pasta right in the sauce makes clean-up a snap. Who could ask for anything more?

For the past year, I have been watching a vlog called Pick Up Limes out of the Netherlands. It’s all about the vegan life-style. The vlogger is a registered dietician and a walking advertisement for the vegan life. She is completely non-preachy and makes everything approachable. While she now spends less time on her life, which I kind of miss, she is a wonderful resource for vegan recipes and nutrition. This pasta recipe originated with her. Per usual, I made a few tweaks to portions and method. Frankly, even I was a bit surprised how much I loved this dish.

Wonderful One-Pot Pasta layers in the flavors to make a savory, thick – and very healthy – sauce. Every element plays a part. The capers and olives lend a brininess and the lentils add smooth mouthfeel and meatiness to the dish. And after eating the generous portions you feel full without any heaviness. It’s a great introduction to vegan eating.

I served this with broccolini that I lightly sautéed in a pan with just salt, pepper, grated garlic and lemon zest. The crunch of the broccolini was a perfect accompaniment to the unctuous pasta. A small salad instead wouldn’t go amiss and some good bread to lap up every bit of the delicious sauce.

There are a few shortcuts that you can take even though I chose not to. With a pantry full of dried lentils and beans, I cooked mine up in the morning. Unlike some legumes, most lentils do not require pre-soaking and a long, slow cooking. These only take a good rinsing and 15 minutes of cooking to be ready. However, prepared lentils are often available in the produce department in vacuum-sealed bags if you choose to go that route.

And normally, if I had thought ahead, I would have bought pitted olives for the dish. Since I had some lovely picholine olives from Morocco with pits I used those. It took a few minutes longer to cut the flesh off of the pits, but not much more. Kalamata olives, which are black, are readily available pitted and would be just as good here.

I did use the recommended spinach. While it added to the nutrition of the dish, it didn’t contribute much in the way of flavor in my opinion. So as a consequence, I have made it optional. Don’t forego making this pasta if you are out of fresh spinach! The original recipe called for 1/2 teaspoon of red chili flakes. My husband and I do not like every meal to be spicy, so I only used a sprinkling and might even leave it out altogether the next time. All of the other ingredients are essential to the overall mix of nutrition and flavor.

When I saw the original amount of pasta called for, I thought there is no way that the portions would be generous. Boy, was I wrong. Somehow, 300 g or 10.5 ounces of pasta resulted in a very generous four portions. If you wish to increase the portions to make this for a bigger crowd, the Pick Up Limes website has a conversion table on the recipe.

We ended up using some grated Parmesan on top, but afterwards my husband and I both agreed that it was not needed. So if you are not going full-blown vegan, you can use it or not. And while I have not tasted them myself, there are also vegan “cheese” options out there. It’s up to you.

Wonderful One-Pot Pasta

For a non-vegan one-pot pasta dish that is quite good:

One-Pot Pasta Puttanesca

Recipe

Yield: 4 very generous portions

Ingredients

Wonderful One-Pot Pasta

1.5 Tablespoons Olive Oil (Canola or sunflower could also be used)

4 large garlic cloves, peeled and minced

2 cups (about 1 medium) onion, peeled and chopped

1 vegetable bouillon cube

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon dried basil

1/4 teaspoon ground dried fennel

Up to 1/2 teaspoon chili flakes (Optional)

10.5 oz. (300 g) dry spaghetti noodles

3 cups (720 ml) tomato sauce

2 cups (480 ml) water

2 cups (360 g) cherry or grape tomatoes, halved

2 to 3 cups (225 g) cooked lentils (brown, green or whole red lentils) (I was fine with 2 cups; my husband wanted more, so I added the additional cup. The original recipe called for 1.5 cups.)

1/2 cup (68 g) green or black olives (about 20 regular olives), sliced or chopped

1/3 cup (50 g) sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil, drained and chopped

1 Tablespoon (9 g) capers, rinsed if stored in salt

2 cups (60 g) fresh baby spinach (Optional)

Fresh Basil (Optional Garnish)

Directions

Dissolve the bouillon cube in the 2 cups of water. Add the oil to a large pot on medium-high heat.

When hot, sauté the onion, garlic, herbs and chili flakes, if using for 3 minutes.

Now add the pasta, pasta sauce, water, cherry or grape tomatoes, olives, sun-dried tomatoes and capers to the pot. Bring everything to a simmer. Using tongs or a wooden spoon, push the pasta into the sauce as it begins to soften. The pasta will need to be fully submerged in the sauce to cook properly. [I got a bit impatient here. To speed things up, you can break the pasta in half – a heresy, I know. Otherwise, just be patient. It will take a few minutes.]

Once simmering, cover the pot with a lid and cook for 10-15 minutes, depending on the brand of pasta. Keep checking after 10 minutes. You want the pasta cooked but al dente. 10 minutes into the cooking time, add in the cooked lentils. Stir through.

At the very end, stir through the spinach if using. Serve it generously and garnish with fresh basil, if using. Now enjoy!

Lentil and Chard Soup(Adas bi Hamoud)

Lentil and Chard Soup

Lentil and Chard Soup is one of those traditional soups which each family makes its own. I looked at several recipes for this delicious and nutritious vegan soup before making it. As always, I took what I liked from each to make it my own. Initially I read that it was a Syrian soup, but most of the recipes that I found online said that it was Lebanese. Whatever its origins, Lentil and Chard Soup is tangy from the lemons and chard with enough heft from the lentils and potatoes to make this a meal with some good bread and perhaps a salad or some hummus on the side.

If you are unfamiliar with chard (Swiss chard, Rainbow chard, Silverbeet, Perpetual Spinach) you should make friends quickly. This green, leafy vegetable is loaded with vitamins and as part of a healthy diet, it can help lower blood pressure and combat certain cancers. While in the beet family, chard can substitute in most recipes calling for spinach or kale. You should note that chard takes longer to cook than spinach – around the same time it takes to cook kale.

Winter has finally well and truly arrived in Chicago and we have been having frigid temperatures and snow. My husband and I still take our long, almost daily walks and are undeterred.

Snowy January 2022 Chicago

However, I do love to return home to a pot of soup to warm my insides. It’s like getting a big hug – nothing cozier. Lentil and Chard Soup comes together quickly and easily can be doubled to feed a crowd.

For another delicious way to prepare chard, try:

Swiss Chard Sauté

Lentil and Chard Soup

Recipe

Yield: About 8 servings

Ingredients

Lentil and Chard Soup

1.5 cups of brown or green lentils, rinsed well and drained (I like Pardina lentils because they hold their shape when cooked.)

4 cups vegetable stock

4 to 6 cups water (or more stock)

2 bunches of chard (any variety), cleaned and coarsely chopped

5 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed (I like Golden potatoes)

7 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

1 large onion, chopped

2 – 3 Tablespoons EVOO

Up to 1 cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice (Start adding slowly and taste before adding more. The soup should be tangy from the lemon.)

Heaping 1/2 Tablespoon (1.5 teaspoons) dried mint

3 teaspoons ground cumin

A good dash of ground cinnamon

A handful of fresh cilantro (coriander leaves), chopped

kosher salt and pepper to taste

Directions

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil on medium heat. Add the onions and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Sauté, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, until the onions begin to be golden. Add the garlic and continue cooking for 3 more minutes – just to mellow out the garlic.

Lentil and Chard Soup

In a large pot, add the lentils, potatoes, stock and water if used. At this point, just add about 8 cups of liquid. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Skim off any scum that rises to the top. Then add 1 teaspoon of salt. Stir through. Add the chard, onions, garlic and cumin. Give a good stir. There should be enough liquid to cover the potatoes and lentils by 2 inches. Add more water as needed. Partially cover the pot and lower the heat to a simmer. Cook until the potatoes and lentils are tender. This will take anywhere between 20 to 30 minutes.

Lentil and Chard Soup

Add the lemon juice, cinnamon and mint and taste to see if you require more salt. I didn’t. Add the cilantro just before serving.