Kale Butternut Squash Stew over Polenta

Kale Butternut Squash Stew

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Kale Butternut Squash Stew over Polenta checks every box for a delicious fall dinner. This vegetable forward meal is bright with the beautiful orange of the butternut squash, the bright green of the kale and the pale yellow of the creamy polenta. The small amount of pancetta is just the right amount to add a salty, crunchy topping to this thoroughly delicious meal. If, however, you wish to keep the meal vegetarian/vegan, I would make some mushroom “bacon” or crispy shallots as a topping instead.

I served this over a creamy, slightly cheesy polenta, but it would be equally delicious over millet, rice or your grain of choice. The polenta added just the right contrast – and color – for me. And if you are going vegan, nowadays you can find vegan cheeses at many mainstream grocery stores. And an unsweetened plant-based “milk” and “butter” would substitute well for the dairy versions.

It always pleasantly surprises me when I come across a recipe that seems almost an afterthought to a magazine that I’m checking out. This one was in the November 2022 issue of Chicago. The recipe by Sarah Grueneberg from her cookbook Listen to Your Vegetables is served as a Thanksgiving side dish. However, after reading it, I thought that by playing around a bit with proportions, and serving it over polenta, Kale Butternut Squash Stew would make a satisfying main meal. And I was right!

This is such a happy dish. Just looking at the beautiful colors makes me smile. And with just a few simple ingredients – and a glass of a nice red wine – we ate well and felt great doing it. The only ingredient that proved a little tricky to find was an Italian pancetta. The grocery stores all sold “pancetta” from Wisconsin. Finally, after a visit to Eataly, I was successful in sourcing the real thing. A good thick-cut “bacon” of any variety would also produce a delicious result, but I was determined to use pancetta.

Kale Butternut Squash Stew

It was amazing how a such a small amount could impart so much flavor. If you choose to leave it out, then I would definitely use EVOO with some minced garlic and sage thrown in at the beginning. In addition, I would serve the dish with a flavorful topper like a mushroom “bacon” for just the right amount of punch.

Kale, Butternut Squash Stew is an uncomplicated dish to make. But I have found that some of the best meals I have ever eaten are simple dishes made well. This dish encompasses everything I love about autumn in one dish. And my husband raved about it. The next time I make this, I think I’ll make an apple pie for dessert….

Recipe

Yield: 4 generous portions with polenta or other grain

Ingredients

1/2 cup pancetta or thick-cut bacon, diced

2 teaspoons EVOO

1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cut into large dice

1 medium red onion, peeled and coarsely chopped

kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste

1.5 Tablespoons fresh thyme leaves (I used Lemon Thyme)

1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes in juice

2 large bunches of Tuscan (also called Lacinato or Dino) Kale, washed, stems removed and torn into 3-inch pieces.

2 cups of vegetable or chicken stock

Directions

In a large, heavy pot or deep, wide pan (cast iron is great here) cook the pancetta in the EVOO over medium heat until the fat is rendered and the pancetta is golden and crispy. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside. Do NOT wipe out the pan!

Return the pan to medium heat and add the squash and onion. Season well with salt. Start with 1 teaspoon. You can always add more. Mix through coating the vegetables with the oil and fat from the pancetta, if used. (If you chose not to use pancetta or bacon, then add 2 more teaspoons of EVOO to the pan before adding the squash and onion.) Cook until the vegetables are softened and beginning to caramelize. This will take about 10 minutes.

Add the thyme and stir through with a wooden spoon, scraping up any brown bits on the bottom of the pot.

Kale Butternut Squash Stew

Pour in the tomatoes and cook until thickened and the liquid has reduced – about another 10 minutes.

Stir in the kale and cook just until it begins to wilt. Add the stock, reduce the heat to medium low. You’ll want to cook the mixture for about 20 more minutes or until it has thickened and everything has had a chance to make friends and meld. Taste and adjust your seasoning and add lots of fresh, cracked black pepper.

While the stew is cooking, make your polenta, according to your preferences and the package instructions. I like to cook mine in a mix of milk and water and I add plenty of butter and black pepper. At the end of the cooking time, I stir in some freshly grated Pecorino or Parmesan. For this dish, you want the polenta to be soft and creamy.

Top the servings with the bits of polenta or mushroom “bacon.” A nice red wine and some flatbread or other crispy bread is all that is needed to have a small feast.

My Best Oatmeal Cookies

My Best Oatmeal Cookies

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There aren’t too many things that beat a great cookie. And My Best Oatmeal Cookies are a truly great cookie! Chock full of flavorful dried fruits and nuts and seasoned with just the right amount of sugar and spice. Lumpy and bumpy – just the way an oatmeal cookie should be.

My Best Oatmeal Cookies are simple to make, but do use fresh dried fruit for maximum flavor and chew. And please, please, always toast your nuts before adding them to the mixture. For years I would just add nuts straight from the fridge or freezer without toasting them first. What a difference a little bit of toasting makes. Since your oven is already heating up for the baking, just toss your nuts on a baking tray and toast for about 12 minutes or until fragrant while you are prepping the cookies. The nuts go in last so the timing is perfect.

While you could just go with cinnamon and nutmeg in this recipe, I strongly urge you to make up a batch of Sweet Hawaij. I’ve begun using it in most recipes that call for cinnamon. Included below is a recipe for Sweet Hawaij from the cookbook Shuk by Einat Admony and Janna Gur. This Yemeni spice blend is magical. I often use it to replace anywhere you might use cinnamon, pumpkin or baharat spices. It will take coffee and roasted vegetables to the next level. Try it in pumpkin pie. I guarantee you will be converted. I make up my own but it is also available online and at spice stores.

Oatmeal cookies happen to be a favorite of my husband’s. The last recipe I tried was for a pumpkin bread that didn’t work the way I had hoped. So I really wanted to make something he and I would love. While I am a huge chocolate lover, everything does not need chocolate to be great. A tendency I have noticed is that people put chocolate chips in EVERYTHING. Please just leave these cookies as is and enjoy them with a glass of milk or a cup of coffee or tea.

You can enjoy My Best Oatmeal Cookies, still slightly warm from the oven or they will keep for days in an airtight tin with a slice of bread in it.

My Best Oatmeal Cookies

Recipe

Yield: About 3 dozen cookies

Ingredients

1.5 cups of unbleached, all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons of sweet hawaij

1/4 teaspoon of kosher or fine sea salt

1 large egg, well beaten

1/2 cup melted butter or vegan butter

1/2 cup melted solid vegetable fat (I like Crisco)

1.75 cups “Old Fashioned” Rolled Oats

1/2 cup dark brown sugar

1 Tablespoon dark molasses

1/4 cup dairy or non-dairy milk

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 cup toasted chopped pecans

1/2 cup toasted chopped walnuts

1/2 cup moist raisins

1/2 cup moist medjool dates, coarsely diced

1/2 cup moist dried sour cherries

Directions

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. Line 3 baking sheets with Silpat or parchment. Set aside.

Sift the dry ingredients (first 4 ingredients listed) into a large bowl. Add all of the remaining ingredients and mix through until everything is distributed evenly.

Using a 1.5 Tablespoon cookie scoop (or a spoon) place dough on the prepared baking sheet. The cookies do not spread a great deal but I still keep them about 2 inches apart. I do not flatten the scoops. This keeps the centers chewy and the edges crisp-ish.

My Best Oatmeal Cookies
My Best Oatmeal Cookies

Bake, turning half-way (unless you are lucky enough to have a convection oven) for about 16 to 18 minutes. Ovens vary but the cookies should have flattened out somewhat and are brown around the edges. Allow the cookies to cool for about 3 minutes (more is fine) on the baking sheet before removing them to a cooling rack.

Sweet Hawaij

Yield: About 1/2 cup

1 Tablespoon ground cloves

2 Tablespoons freshly grated nutmeg

2 Tablespoons ground cinnamon

2 Tablespoons ground ginger

1 Tablespoon ground cardamom

This will last in a cool, dark place kept in a small glass air-tight jar for up to a year. Mine gets used up waaaaaay before that!

Persian Red Lentil Tamarind Soup (Dal Adas)

Persian Red Lentil Tamarind Soup

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Persian Red Lentil Tamarind Soup bursts with warming spices and the fruity tang of tamarind. Eat it as a satisfying soup with naan or over rice as a stew. While it may not be traditional, add some torn kale, spinach or chard for extra flavor and nutrition. This hearty vegan one-pot meal is perfect as we enter into fall.

While many of us are still facing summer temperatures thanks to climate change, the shorter days and some cooler nights are harbingers of the autumn and winter that really will finally arrive. We love soup anytime of the year and when it contains beans, lentils or pulses – so much the better. These perfect little nutrition bombs that come in so many guises are a superfood that we all can enjoy. Everything from creamy cannellini beans to dal in colors of the rainbow, runner beans, pinto, black-eyed peas…. I could keep going – and likely have tried most of them.

Persian Red Lentil and Tamarind Soup

Some legumes, like the masoor dal (or split red lentil) used here, cook up in under 30 minutes. You may see some in your stores that are much brighter, orangey red. This is because of added food coloring. Try to always buy organic dried beans.

These days I mostly cook from dried beans. They store beautifully in an airtight container and even older beans will revive with a long soak and slow cooking. They define comfort food, are budget friendly, nutritious and appear in almost every culture in one form or another. Everything from a cassoulet to frank and beans, Hoppin’ John and chili. South Asians wouldn’t think of a meal without some form of dal. And if you are trying to eat more vegetarian or vegan meals, there is no single food that packs a more nutritious power.

Now I’ll admit, that it can sometimes be challenging to take food-porn worthy photos of cooked lentils. This is especially true if they are the main ingredient without the benefit of other colorful produce. However, once you give them a taste in one of the myriad ways that they can be prepared, I think you’ll come to agree that delicious things occasionally come in slightly less attractive packages. What the French might refer to a person as “jolie-laide” or beautiful-ugly.

Persian Red Lentil Tamarind Soup

So whether you call these Nature’s gifts lentils, dal, pulses, or legumes, be sure to incorporate them into your diet.

For two other delicious red lentil soups that will give you dinner in under an hour:

Red Lentil Soup With North African Spices

Greek Red Lentil Soup

Recipe

Yield: 6 Servings

Persian Red Lentil and Tamarind Soup

Ingredients

3 Tablespoons EVOO

1 large yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped

6 large garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

A 3-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped

About 12 to 15 fresh cilantro stems, finely chopped

1.5 teaspoons kosher salt (Diamond Crystal preferred)

2 rounded teaspoons ground cumin

1 rounded teaspoon turmeric

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon Aleppo Pepper

1 Tablespoon tomato paste

2.5 cups split red lentils (masoor dal), rinsed well and drained

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 Tablespoons tamarind paste (more or less depending on brand) or fresh lime juice

Simple Basbousa

Simple Basbousa

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Simple Basbousa is an easy version of this beloved Levantine sweet treat. This recipe requires no special equipment and because no eggs are called for, it can easily be veganized.

There are many versions of this delightful dessert, including one on my blog with pistachios and coconut. However, all of the recipes for basbousa utilize semolina and a sugar syrup. This means that the cake flavors intensify over time and remains incredibly moist even after several days. Because the Simple Basbousa is dense and sweet from the sugar syrup, a little goes a long way. But it is the perfect complement to well-spiced foods and strong coffee fragrant with cardamom.

I did make a few tweaks to the original recipe, but the changes do not make this Simple Basbousa any more complicated. Generally baked in a rectangular pan. I made mine in a 10-inch square pan because that was what I had on hand.

For Americans who are unfamiliar with basbousa, this Simple Basbousa version reminded both me and my husband of a moist cornbread with honey. Nothing fancy to see here. Just a delicious, simple cake. And in the summer, who wants to slave over dessert?

For more delicious semolina cakes:

Orange Semolina Cake

Lemon Semolina Almond Cake

Simple Basbousa

Recipe

Yield: 25 squares

For the cake

2 cups of coarse semolina (My so-called coarse semolina proved to be only slightly less refined than my fine semolina, so don’t fret if you can’t find both.)

1/4 cup of fine semolina

1 cup of plain whole milk natural yogurt OR plant-based such as coconut

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup of unsalted butter or a plant-based vegan “butter,” melted

1/4 teaspoon kosher or fine sea salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon each of pure almond and vanilla extract

25 whole blanched almonds

For the syrup

2 cups of granulated sugar

2 cups of water

4 to 5 cardamom pods

1 teaspoon of orange blossom or rose water (I used orange blossom as my husband is not a fan of rose water)

Simple Basbousa

Directions

For the cake

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Mix together the sugar and melted butter. Then add the yogurt and mix until smooth and well combined.

Combine the semolina, salt and baking soda and then add to the yogurt mixture. Stir well. The mixture will be fairly thick.

Place the batter into a greased pan (9 X 12 or 10 X 10). Smooth out the mixture using the back of a spoon or an off-set spatula. Score the basbousa with a knife into the squares that you see above.

Add an almond to the center of each square, pressing down gently into the batter.

Bake 35 minutes or until golden brown. Ovens vary so it may take longer or shorter.

Meanwhile, make the syrup. Bring the water, sugar and cardamom pods to a boil over medium heat. Boil for 8 to 10 minutes. Then remove the syrup from the heat, discard the cardamom pods and mix through the orange blossom or rose water.

As soon as the basbousa comes out of the oven, pour the syrup gradually over the top. It will be absorbed almost immediately. Allow the basbousa to cool and then cut through the score lines and enjoy!

Hummus with Meat and Eggplant

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Hummus with spiced meat (Hummus im Basar) is a meal. Hummus with Meat and Eggplant is a feast. And while this dish is clearly not one of my vegan options, it can be made with one of the many meat crumble substitutes available.

I cannot urge you strongly enough to make your own hummus. It does require an overnight soaking of chickpeas but is a simple enough process. And while I have been known to buy a good ready-made brand on occasion, the difference of home-made is substantial. I especially love hummus freshly made and still warm. Hummus with Meat and Eggplant deserves nothing less than the best.

Because this dish is all about the hummus, please only prepare it if you are willing to make your own hummus. Even using a good quality canned chickpea instead of working from dried beans, is preferable to store-bought hummus. Okay, I’ve had my rant.

All this dish needs for the perfect meal is some fresh pita (home-made if possible) and some salads. This time I charred some peppers and made a quick salad with garlic, pickled lemons and cilantro. There is the ubiquitous baba ghanoush, my version of a Jerusalem salad along with Moroccan carrots and herbed olives. I’m lucky that my husband has learned to enjoy making fresh whole wheat pita. If you have access to a good fresh store-bought pita or other flat-bread like naan, go ahead and use that. (Lucky you!)

Salatim

Once your hummus is made, the rest of the dish really is ready in under an hour. If you follow my blog, you will know by now that I adore eggplant in all of its varieties. Eggplant is so versatile. I am using it here to enhance the depth of flavor and add a velvetiness to the meat. And while it is doing this, the eggplant also allows me to use less meat, something I am always looking to do. If you are using vegan “meat” crumbles, the eggplant will add great flavor and texture as well.

This recipe for Hummus with Meat and Eggplant will easily feed 6 to 8 people with bread and salads. Leftovers are possible, but I would store the topping and hummus separately for best results.

I have chosen to not include a recipe for standard hummus here. (However, do be sure to check out my Spinach and Avocado Hummus for a great variation on a classic.) There are literally dozens of recipes available online and you very likely are already making one of them. One isn’t necessarily more “right” than the next. I like mine with garlic and lemon. Choose the one that you like. They will all work here.

My starting point for the meat topping comes from Sababa: Fresh, Sunny Flavors From My Israeli Kitchen: A Cookbook by Adeena Sussman. I then made it my own. Don’t get too bogged down in exact amounts. We each like things a particular way – sweeter, more tart, spicier etc. Also different brands of tamarind paste may be more tart than others and some of my spices may be fresher – or less fresh than yours.

It may seem as if there are a LOT of ingredients. However, if you do Middle Eastern or South Asian cooking, you should have most things on hand. And there are absolutely no fancy techniques here. It’s basically chop, mix and cook. Oh yes – and enjoy!

Hummus with Meat and Eggplant

Recipe

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients

4 Tablespoons EVOO

1 pound ground lamb or lean beef or meat substitute

1 medium eggplant (about 1 pound), cut into 1-inch dice

1 large onion (any variety), peeled and finely chopped

4 large cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed or grated

2 teaspoons kosher salt or to taste

2 teaspoons dried, ground cumin

rounded 3/4 teaspoon ground sumac

1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper

3 Tablespoons Tamarind paste or to taste

2 Tablespoons tomato paste

15 ounces of tomato sauce

Freshly squeezed juice of 1/2 of a juicy lemon

1 to 2 Tablespoons date syrup, agave or maple syrup to taste

1.5 cups of chopped fresh herbs – cilantro, flat-leafed parsley, dill or a mixture

1/4 lightly toasted pine nuts or blanched, slivered almonds

About 4 cups of fresh hummus

Hummus with Meat and Eggplant

Directions

Add the oil to a large, heavy flat-bottomed skillet or Dutch oven. Heat it to shimmering and add the onion, eggplant and 1 teaspoon of the salt. Cook on medium-high heat, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are softened and the onions begin to brown. This will take about 10 to 12 minutes.

Make a well in the middle of the vegetables, pushing them to the side. Add the ground meat and break it up, allowing it to brown. When it is almost finished browning, add in the chopped garlic. Give the whole pan a good stir. I like to use a flat wooden spatula to left everything up and move it around.

Add in the tomato sauce and paste and spices. Give everything a good stir. Next add the tamarind paste and lemon juice. Stir through, taste it and adjust the seasonings to taste. My tamarind was pretty tart so I added in about 1 Tablespoon of date syrup to “soften” things a bit.

Continue cooking, covered on a low heat for about 10 more minutes to allow everything to meld. This can be done ahead and then reheated when you are ready to eat.

Just before serving, add about 1 cup of the chopped herbs to the mixture and stir through.

Hummus with Meat and Eggplant

To serve if you plan on eating everything in one sitting: arrange the hummus on a platter and smooth it out, making the sides a bit higher than the center. Spoon the meat (or meat substitute) filling into the center and garnish with remaining chopped herbs and toasted nuts. Now dig in!

To serve individual portions because it will not all be eaten in one evening: arrange individual plates as if they are mini-platters.

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.

Chickpea Sandwich Smush

Chickpea Sandwich Smush

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Every week I bake a wonderful sandwich bread. In fact, my husband and I eat bread of one kind or another daily and we both enjoy making different kinds. Bread isn’t the enemy, guys! The flour I use is grown and milled locally with all of the whole grain goodness intact. I use a blend of different flours, some of which are heirloom varieties. You can taste the difference. So doesn’t this deserve a great filling? Just try my Chickpea Sandwich Smush. You don’t have to be vegan to enjoy it.

Not all of the breads we make are on my blog, but many wonderful options are here and can be found using the search function. But you don’t have to bake your own bread to enjoy this wonderful sandwich filling. Pack it on your next picnic or just for a great weekday lunch. With plenty of plant protein to keep you going all afternoon and with nothing to weigh you down. No mid-afternoon slump here.

Normally, my husband uses cold cuts in his sandwiches, but he has been trying to wean himself from this. So after doing some Googling, I came across “No-Tuna” salads. Most of the recipes were pretty similar, utilizing the delicious and nutritious chickpea in place of the tuna. Personally, I am not calling my version “No-Tuna.” Tuna is tuna and this isn’t it. I think that people are often turned off by vegan recipes that purport to taste “just like meat/fish/chicken.”

Let’s just enjoy these dishes for themselves. And while it is true that there are increasingly great meat substitutes available, sometimes a veggie burger is just a great veggie burger. This recipe is a great Chickpea Sandwich Smush. It is, of course, adaptable to your personal tastes and ingredients on hand, but below is one perfect version. Works great on whole grain sandwich bread, in a wrap or just as a salad and will hold up for 4 to 5 days in the fridge.

This sandwich filling has everything going for it. Great texture, brininess, umami, satisfying and riffable. Each element that I include adds brightness, texture and flavor. Generally I like to cook up my own chickpeas, but for this to work, they need to be very smushable so may cook a bit longer than usual. Canned work well here, but find a brand that you like, preferably one without lots of the skins left on the chickpeas.

Chickpea Sandwich Smush

Recipe

Servings: Enough for 4 sandwiches

Ingredients

1 15 oz. can of chickpeas (preferably organic), rinsed, drained and with the excess skin shells removed

3 Tablespoons tahini (Use a really good quality brand like Soom or Seed and Mill, both of which are readily available in the US and online)

1 rounded Tablespoon of plain yogurt – plant-based or dairy

2 teaspoons of Dijon or spicy brown mustard

1 Tablespoon of Agave nectar or maple syrup

Juice of half of a lemon (About 2 Tablespoons)

1/4 cup finely diced red onion or shallot

1/4 cup diced celery

1/4 cup garlic dilled pickle, although sweet gherkins could also be good.

1.5 teaspoons capers, drained and coarsely chopped

2 Tablespoons chopped, fresh cilantro or flat-leafed parsley

1 Tablespoon finely chopped preserved lemon rind that has been lightly rinsed of excess salt

1/4 teaspoon ground sumac

1 Tablespoon pan-roasted unsalted sunflower seeds

kosher salt and cracked black pepper to taste

Chickpea Sandwich Smush

Directions

Place the drained, rinsed chickpeas, with skins removed in a mixing bowl. Using a potato masher or fork, smush most but not all chickpeas. (You want some texture, but you also want to be able to spread this on bread.)

Add all of the remaining ingredients and mix through. Then spread it on bread and add your favorite toppings. We like it with baby spinach or other greens and some beet chips, lightly crunched on top. Let me know how you like to eat this in the comments below!

Chickpea Spinach Fesenjan

Chickpea Spinach Fesenjan

Due to the unprovoked, brutal war of annihilation against Ukrainian civilians by Vladimir Putin and his army and the worsening humanitarian crisis, please consider helping by following the link below. There are a number of reputable aid agencies from which to choose.

Support Humanitarian Efforts in Ukraine

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.

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