Farro Salad

It’s been a long winter and a rather dismal spring. Coronavirus aside (okay, is there REALLY anything “aside” about COVID-19?), the weather here has been chilly, damp and most of all – gloomy. I definitely need something to perk me up that has bright colors, loads of flavor and is easy to make. My shopping has changed thanks to COVID-19 and I am at the end of my two weeks since my last delivery. That means that fresh vegetables are sparse. But the idea of a dinner without some great veg dish is unthinkable. Farro Salad makes the perfect side for any grilled or roasted meat, poultry or fish. And since farro is a grain, one dish serves a dual purpose.

This Farro Salad is perfect as I made it, but don’t get too bogged down in specifics. If you don’t have red onion, use shallot, yellow onion or scallion. If you don’t have parsley, use cilantro, basil or even chopped spinach. Need to turn this into more of a main dish? Add some crumbled feta or queso fresco and chickpeas. And if you don’t have farro – well, I can’t help you there. Actually, that’s not true. Use another hearty grain like freekeh, barley or wheat berries. If you have none of those, try this with orzo. The important thing is to cook whatever grain/pasta that you are using according to the directions given on the package until al dente (With some “bite.”)

Farro comes in three forms: pearled, semi-pearled and whole. They each cook for different amounts of time and it is suggested that you soak the whole farro overnight. Any one of the types will work here. And if you are looking to stock your pantry with something other than beans and pasta, you can’t go wrong with farro, which is also delicious hot.

So even if you are living in a sunnier clime, we can all use every bit of the brightness, color and flavor we can get. Try this soon.

Recipe

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

1 cup of uncooked farro, cooked according to directions

2 Persian or mini-cucumbers, diced (If you don’t have these cucumbers, English cucumbers are a good replacement.) (Radishes would also work.)

About 1/2 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved and coarsely chopped

10-12 Kalamata or other flavorful black olive, chopped

Zest of one lemon

Juice of one lemon

1/2 of a small red onion, chopped

1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Kosher or sea salt to taste (I used about 1 teaspoon)

Cracked black pepper, to taste (Or Aleppo pepper if you have it)

A generous 1/4 teaspoon of ground Sumac (optional)

About 4 Tablespoons (1/4 cup) good EVOO

Rounded teaspoon preserved lemon paste (Optional but delicious and great to have around!)

Directions

Cook the farro according to directions, but add the preserved lemon paste to the water if using. I added my salt to the cooking farro, but you can add it after the salad is pulled together. Drain and cool the farro.

Add the farro to all of the other ingredients and serve in a pretty bowl at room temperature. Left-overs can be covered well and left in a cool place overnight. You can refrigerate left-over salad but fresh tomatoes are never as good once they have been refrigerated.

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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.

Anzac Biscuits with Cranberries

I enjoy reading David Lebovitz’s blog and as soon as this recipe came through this morning, I knew that I had to try it. Anzac Biscuits with Cranberries (Cranzac Cookies) is the perfect Covid 19 treat. This sweet cookie which is popular in Australia and New Zealand doesn’t require any eggs or out-of-the-way ingredients. And if you don’t have cranberries or don’t like them, swap in raisins or other moist dried fruits. Don’t have Golden Syrup, use corn syrup. No dark brown sugar, use light brown sugar.

So what are Anzac Biscuits exactly? They are an oatmeal cookie that supposedly was sent by loving wives, mothers and sisters to their soldiers serving abroad during WWI. The cookies held up well to naval transportation. Some stories claim that the cookies were not sent to soldiers but instead were sold at home to raise funds for the war effort. Whatever the true story, everyone will agree that they are a lovely cookie, as we Americans would say, that are perfect for a lunchbox, afternoon tea or healthyish dessert. I love them with a glass of milk but they go equally well with tea or coffee.

Anzac Biscuits with Cranberries has a wonderful toasty, almost nutty flavor even though there are no actual nuts in the recipe. The cranberries lend just the slightest amount of tartness which plays off perfectly with the sweetness. Each flavor element is present with every bite. You have the coconut, the oatmeal, cranberry and that slight hint of molasses from the brown sugar. I would definitely recommend using the Golden Syrup if you can find it although Corn Syrup should work. Golden Syrup is made from pure cane sugar and has a wonderful, clean taste. Don’t get me wrong. I am not one of those who thinks that Corn Syrup is nothing short of devil worship. I swear by it for my Bourbon Pecan Pie. But I have also come to appreciate Golden Syrup.

Aside from the fact that these cookies are absolutely delicious and don’t require any eggs, they also can easily be put together by hand. I even ended up using my hands (immaculately clean, of course) to do the final mixing and forming. There is not a lot of binder in this recipe and so in order for the cookies to form, I found that I needed to pack them a bit by hand. Children should love helping with this part. The resulting cookie is surprisingly moist, with just the right amount of chewiness.

Make these wonderful Anzac Cookies with Cranberries as a treat for your family (or just yourself) or as a special thank you for our soldiers on the front lines of the fight against Covid 19. Bake a batch tonight.

PS: My husband said to be sure to tell you that these cookies taste way better than they even look!

NOTE: While David didn’t mention it and I didn’t try it this way, I really don’t see why the cookies couldn’t be made with a good quality non-dairy buttery product to keep them vegan.

Recipe

Yield: 26 cookies

Ingredients

1 cup (95g) old-fashioned (rolled) oats, not quick-cooking

1 cup (200g) packed dark brown sugar

1 1/4 cups (175g) all-purpose flour

1 cup (90g) unsweetened shredded coconut

1/2 cup (60g) dried cranberries

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons water

4 tablespoons (60g) unsalted or salted butter, melted

1/4 cup (60ml) golden syrup

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350ºF (175ºC.) Line a baking sheet or two with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. (If you want to bake them all off at once, you can using two baking sheets, although there will likely be enough dough left to bake more. Since I was able to fit 1 dozen cookies/pan, my last batch was only 2 cookies.)

In a large bowl, mix together the oats, brown sugar, flour, coconut, dried cranberries, baking soda, and salt. Add the water, melted butter, and golden syrup and stir until everything is well combined. (I ended up using my hands to fully combine things since there isn’t a lot of binder here. It will come together but the dough is a bit crumbly.)

Using your very clean hands, or a spring-loaded ice cream scoop, shape the dough into 1 1/4-inch (3cm) balls. Place them evenly spaced apart (about 1- inch/3cm) on the prepared baking sheet(s) and use your hand to flatten each mound of dough so they are about half as high as they originally were. (About 2- inches/5cm.) (As mentioned above, I ended up packing the dough firmly with my hands and then slightly flattening the cookies. They do not spread a great deal.)

Bake the cookies, rotating the baking sheet(s) in the oven, until they are lightly browned across the top, about 12 to 14 minutes. Remove from oven and when cool enough to handle, use a spatula to transfer them to a wire rack.

Storage: The cookies will keep for up to five days in an airtight container at room temperature. The dough can be refrigerated for up to 5 days or frozen for up to three months.

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.

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.

Ribollita Soup

Ribollita Soup is the ultimate comfort food

Soup is comfort food. And Ribollita Soup may just be the ultimate winter comfort soup. This savory Tuscan bean porridge checks all of the right boxes. And it is easy to tailor it to your own tastes. In deciding which recipe to follow, I looked at no fewer than 8 versions before settling on this one that appeared in Food and Wine. I made a couple of tweaks. But this humble and cost-saving soup that makes use of simple ingredients and stale bread is one of the most satisfying wintery soups I have made. And I make a LOT of soup.

This version of Ribollita Soup does take some time to cook properly, but there is nothing difficult or fussy about it. And on these cold wintery days when you are snuggled up at home with a good book and some music in the background, put up a pot of Ribollita for ultimate comfort. You won’t be disappointed. Add a glass of wine, and you raise this peasant soup to fine dining.

I used canned beans here but if you like to cook your own (as I often do) the best can be found at Rancho Gordo. I was first introduced to Rancho Gordo beans at the Culinary Institute several years ago on a trip with our son and daughter-in-law. Their heirloom beans are well-worth exploring.

My ribollita was made using chicken stock and Parmesan rinds, but you can easily veganize the soup using a vegetable stock and leaving out the cheese. Do use a simple rustic bread for this soup. It doesn’t actually have to be stale. The origins of Ribollita were to make use of everything and to waste nothing.

Recipe

Yield: About 6-8 servings

Ingredients

3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving

1 large yellow onion, finely chopped

2 large carrots, finely chopped

1 celery stalks, finely chopped

1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more

8 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)

28 ounce can OR 24 ounce box crushed tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)

1 1/2 cups unoaked white wine

8 cups chicken or vegetable stock (You could also use a mixture of water and the liquid from your cooked beans if you cooked your own)

3 stale Tuscan-style bread (rustic country loaf or boule) slices, crusts removed and bread torn into 1/2-inch pieces (about 3 1/2 ounces)

2 large bunches of kale (preferable lacinato kale, stemmed and torn into bite-sized pieces (This may seem like a lot of kale but it cooks down)

Parmesan cheese rind (optional)

About 4 cups of peeled, diced Yukon Gold potatoes

4 cups cooked cannellini beans (or other thin-skinned white beans from 2 15-ounce cans or homemade).

Freshly ground black pepper

Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving (optional)

Directions

Heat olive oil in a large, heavy pot or Dutch oven over medium-low. When oil shimmers, add onion, carrot, and celery; stir to coat with oil. Stir in salt to help draw out liquid from onions and season the foundation of the soup. Cook, stirring often and scraping bottom of pot with a flat-bottomed wooden spoon, reducing heat as necessary to maintain a gentle sizzle, until mixture is very soft and translucent, about 30 minutes. Increase heat to medium; cook, stirring often, until sofrito is caramelized, about 10 minutes.

Sofrito

Stir in the garlic and crushed red pepper, if using; cook, stirring constantly, about 1 minute. Stir in crushed tomatoes and wine, and stir, scraping up any browned bits on bottom of pot, until mixture is well combined. Increase heat to maintain a vigorous simmer (be careful of splattering tomato). Cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture is reduced to a jam-like consistency, about 20 minutes.

Add 8 cups water or stock, bread, kale, and Parmesan rind, if using; stir, scraping bottom of pan to fully incorporate sofrito into liquid. Simmer until kale is tender and bread is dissolved, about 20 minutes. Stir in potatoes, and simmer until partially tender, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, puree 1 cup beans with 1 cup tap water or bean cooking liquid (if not using canned). Add bean puree and remaining 3 cups beans, and simmer until beans and potatoes are completely tender but not falling apart, about 25 minutes. Season with about 1 teaspoon more salt, or to taste, and a generous amount of black pepper.

Let soup cool to room temperature if not eating immediately; cover and refrigerate. Reheat soup gently before serving, and adjust seasonings as necessary. Divide among bowls, and top each with a drizzle of olive oil and freshly grated Parmesan cheese, if desired. Serve hot. (I found the soup did not need any additional olive oil)

Swiss Chard Sauté

Swiss Chard is an under-rated vegetable. There, I’ve said it. But once you have tried this easy-to-prepare Swiss Chard Sauté, you will become a convert.

So what is Swiss Chard? It’s a green, leafy vegetable that is high in vitamins A, K, C and E as well as the minerals magnesium, manganese, iron and potassium. Young plants can be eaten raw in salads and more mature plants (what you generally see in the produce section of your grocery store) is best eaten sauteed. In Turkey and Egypt is is often cooked into soup or broth. I love the slightly peppery taste and the contrast of the somewhat crunchy tender stems along with the softer leaves. It can be blanched and added to quiche instead of spinach or kale for a more flavorful accent. But this Swiss Chard Sauté is probably the simplest way to prepare it and something my son enjoyed even as a young child.

Great as part of a vegan meal or as a side to grilled fish, chicken or meat. I like left-overs with scrambled eggs for breakfast the next day. However, you enjoy it, be sure to pick a bunch with shiny, unblemished leaves and the tenderest stems. Chard comes in different varieties – green, rainbow and red – but they all taste pretty much the same and any could be used in this recipe, which can be easily be doubled. This version comes from Jane Brody’s Good Food Cookbook, a great source of delicious and nutritious recipes.

Recipe for Swiss Chard Saute

Yield: 3 to 4 servings

Ingredients

Mangold or Swiss chard 'Rainbow' leaves isolated on white

2 teaspoons EVOO or good vegetable oil

2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic

1/2 cup sliced leeks (white part only) or 1/2 onion, halved and thinly sliced

2/3 cup thinly sliced celery

1 Tablespoon broth (vegetable or chicken) or water

1 good bunch of Swiss Chard, coarsely chopped, including thinner stems

Freshly cracked black pepper and kosher salt to taste

Directions

Heat the oil in a large skillet or wok, preferably non-stick. Add the garlic, leeks or onion and celery. Sauté the vegetables, stirring them for about 3 minutes.

Add the broth or water and the Swiss Chard. Season with salt and pepper, stirring the ingredients to combine them. I find that using tongs works best here. Cover the pan and simmer/steam the mixture, stirring occasionally over low heat for about 5 minutes or until the chard is just wilted and tender.

Socca Niçoise Chickpea Bread

Tonight we’re having Greek Red Lentil Soup for dinner and I wanted some kind of bread to go with it. Socca Niçoise chickpea bread is the perfect accompaniment. Between the lentils and the chickpeas I certainly don’t need to worry about protein or flavor. This would be the perfect “meatless Monday” meal! And while I have no issues with gluten and happen to love almost all breads and pastas, this recipe is not only vegan, but it is gluten-free. The Socca was especially delicious drizzled with EVOO and with either tapenade or roasted smushed garlic spread on top. I’m just sayin’.

I will never be able to eat Socca without thinking of Julia Child. She did one of her TV episodes on the South of France and highlighted Socca. At the end of the show, in that inimitable Julia Child voice and with her joie de vivre, she looked at the audience and said “Socca to me!” [For those too young to recall the TV show Laugh-In, “Sock it to me” was a recurring phrase.]

What is Socca, really?

Socca Niçoise chickpea bread is a traditional Southern French treat. There are a dozen different ways you can make it. You’ll most often find socca cooked street-side on fiery grills, where the resulting flatbread is coarsely chopped and served in a cone with a sprinkling of salt and pepper. While every home cook in the South of France may have their own technique for preparing the batter, the ingredients are almost always the same: chickpea flour water, and olive oil. The Socca sold on the street are more crepe-like than this recipe but it still is delicious and worth making.

What is chickpea flour and is it the same as besan?

Chickpea flour is made from dried chickpeas (garbanzo beans) and is also commonly known as garbanzo flourgram flour, and besan. However, besan or gram flour is a flour of chana dal or split brown chickpeas. Chickpea flour or garbanzo flour is ground up white chickpeas. I happened to have besan on hand the first time I made this so that is what I used. I then bought chickpea/garbanzo flour and made it again. I also used 4.5 ounces of flour the second time instead of going with 1 cup. It turned out that one cup actually weighed out to 5.33 ounces. So which was better?

Both were good, but if I had to choose, I preferred the one made with actual chickpea flour and when I measured by weight rather than cups. The resulting socca had more flavor and was more reminiscent of what you would buy from a street vendor in Nice. I also drizzled olive oil on the top after 5 minutes in the oven and then returned it to the oven for another 3 minutes. When it came out of the broiler, I then drizzled more EVOO and sprinkled on my za’atar. The edges and bottom were brown and crispy and the middle was just barely flexible. I could get addicted to this especially since it is sooooooooooo easy to make. The second time I ate it with my delicious split pea soup. So, so satisfying.

Recipe for Socca Niçoise Chickpea Bread

Yield: 2 to 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 cup chickpea flour (4 1/2 ounces)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for the pan and drizzling
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 Tablespoon of finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1+ teaspoon za’atar (optional)

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Prepare the chickpea batter. Whisk the chickpea flour, water, olive oil, rosemary and salt together in a medium bowl until smooth. Let rest for 30 minutes to give the flour time to absorb the water.
  2. Preheat the oven with the pan. Arrange an oven rack 6 inches below the broiler element and heat to 450°F with a 10-inch cast iron skillet inside. About 5 minutes before the batter is done resting, turn the oven to broil. (Don’t try this with any other kind of pan. And if you don’t have a cast iron skillet – get one. They are the best for so many things but especially when you want to really sear or brown food.)
  3. Carefully remove the hot skillet from the oven. Add about 1+ teaspoon of oil, enough to coat the bottom of the pan when the pan is swirled. Pour the batter into the center of the pan. Tilt the pan so the batter coats the entire surface of the pan.
  4. Broil the socca for 5 to 8 minutes. Broil the socca for 5 minutes. The top will begin to look a bit cracked. Drizzle generously with EVOO and return the pan to the oven for about 3 more minutes. The socca should be fairly flexible in the middle but crispy on the edges.
  5. Slice and serve. Use a flat spatula to work your way under the socca and ease it from the pan onto a cutting board. It should come right out leaving your pan practically clean. Drizzle with more EVOO and sprinkle with za’atar. Slice it into wedges or squares.

RECIPE NOTES

Storage: Socca is best if eaten immediately after baking while still warm, but can be refrigerated and re-toasted for up to 1 week.

Chickpea flour: You can find chickpea flour in the bulk bins at Whole Foods and other natural foods-type stores. Bob’s Red Mill also sells it in packages. Look for it under the name “garbanzo bean flour” if you’re having trouble finding it.

Valerie’s Roasted Cauliflower Steaks

I consider it a huge win when I find something to make that is easy, delicious and visually very appealing. Even better, Valerie’s Roasted Cauliflower Steaks will make both meat lovers and vegans happy.

The “Valerie” in this dish is Valerie Bertinelli. Both an actress and an accomplished home cook, her recipes have proven easy to follow and reliable as well as delicious. Even though I was expecting this to be good, my husband and I were surprised at just how delicious it really was. ANd so pretty!

I made half of her original recipe and eyeballed most of the ingredients. So below is Valerie’s recipe for Roasted Cauliflower Steaks for those who feel most comfortable with exact amounts. This easy-going recipe will work either way. And while I did use the butter for the pine nuts and raisins, you could just as easily use either a buttery vegan spread or a good fruity EVOO to keep this dish vegan-friendly.

Any left-over raw cauliflower (and there will be) can be zapped in a food processor to use as cauliflower rice for Cauliflower Tabbouleh, Cauliflower Fried Rice or even a Cauliflower pizza crust.

Recipe

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

2 heads cauliflower (if you use larger heads you will get the 6 servings)

Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons pine nuts

1/4 cup golden raisins or raisin medley

1 tablespoon unsalted butter/vegan buttery spread or EVOO

1/4 cup fresh parsley, roughly chopped or torn

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Cut off the cauliflower stems, then place the heads cut-side down and slice into 1/2-inch-thick steaks. Arrange on a baking sheet in a single layer. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper on both sides. Transfer to the oven and bake until golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes, flipping after the first 10 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, add the pine nuts to a dry medium saute pan and toast over medium heat until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Add the raisins and butter and season with salt. Cook, tossing, until the butter has melted and coats the pine nuts and raisins. Off the heat, stir in the parsley.
  3. Transfer the roasted cauliflower to a serving platter. Pour the pine nut-raisin mixture over the top. Season with salt.