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.

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

Salads for Every Meal

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Whether you are vegan, vegetarian or an omnivore, there is a salad here for you. Every Shabbat I make at least four salads and dips, several of which we will enjoy throughout the week. It’s a delicious habit that I adopted after spending time in Israel where salads are eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Aside from being delicious, they add so much color to any meal. And don’t we eat with all of our senses?

There are fresh salads, roasted vegetable salads and salads with a profusion of herbs and grains. Some of the salads are made with beans which add protein and heartiness. Almost any veg and many fruits, legumes and grains can be made into cold or warm salads. And when I want to make a light meal of salads I simply add some feta cheese or a piquant provolone and delicious bread, like the flaky flatbread or focaccia. The more I make these flatbreads the better I get at it. My last batch were nice and poufy and round! I simply refrigerate leftover breads and warm them in the toaster. They also freeze well. Yummmmmmmmmm!

Over the years, I have posted a number of salads and will link to some of them below. But here are three new ones (for me) that hopefully you will enjoy as well. They are guaranteed to brighten up just about any meal. The inspiration for this post comes from Sonya’s Prep. She is lovely young Orthodox Jewish vlogger that I have recently begun following. Her energy, charm and creativity make watching her a delight. And if anyone is looking to be more organized, she is someone to watch.

The three new salads are: Roasted Eggplant Peppers and Red Onion Salad; Shredded Carrot and Red Cabbage Salad; and Wheatberry and Barberry Salad

When you are feeding a crowd these salads can be doubled or tripled. And most people will enjoy these salads so much that you can go easy on the meat, if serving. Better for us and better for the planet.

I will give suggested measurements, but please don’t get too bogged down with being exact. When preparing these, I almost never truly measure, especially when it comes to adding fresh herbs. Taste as you go along, especially with the salt and dried spices. You can always add more but it is difficult to impossible to remove them once added.

For those interested in other delicious salad ideas here are just some of the ones available through my blog:

Twice-Cooked Eggplant Salad

Moroccan Carrot Salad

Green Fattoush Salad with Mint Vinaigrette

Farro Salad

Lentils du Puy and Potato Salad with Tarragon

Spiced Butternut Squash and Farro Salad

Red Cabbage, Walnut and Goat Cheese Salad

Armenian Lentil Salad

Moroccan Beet Salad (Barba)

Sunshine Kale Salad

Roasted Tomato and Olive Pearl Couscous Salad

Lentil Salad with Raisins, Tomatoes and Tarragon

Get your Freekeh on – with this lemony, herbed salad

Apple, Goat Cheese and Pecan Salad

Watermelon and Feta Salad

Moroccan Beet and Orange Salad with Pistachios

Horta Salata: Fancy Salad

Beet and Chickpea Quinoa Salad

Easy Feta and Roasted Tomato Salad

Herbed Farro Salad

Orange and Radish Salad

Recipes

Roasted Eggplant Peppers and Red Onion Salad

1 medium eggplant – about 1.25 pounds

2 smallish bell peppers in different colors

1 medium red onion

kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste

About 1/4 cup EVOO

About 1/4 cup of white wine or apple cider vinegar

2 to 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed or grated

1/4 cup chopped cilantro or flat-leaf parsley

3 to 4 scallions, thinly sliced including dark green stems

1/4 cup chopped fresh dill

Directions

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees F.

Chop the eggplant, onions and peppers into a large dice of approximately equal size. Place on a baking sheet and toss together with the EVOO and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Spread the veggies across the baking sheet in a single layer. (If you want to use foil for easier clean-up, go ahead. But it does end up in a landfill….)

Roast the vegetables for about 30 minutes, turning the pan once. They should be golden and tender but not mushy. Ovens vary so check after 25 minutes or it could go as along as 35.

When cool enough to handle, transfer everything to a bowl and toss with the remaining ingredients. Taste to see if you need to add any additional salt or pepper.

Shredded Carrot and Red Cabbage Salad

Shredded Carrot and Red Cabbage Salad

Ingredients

About 6 ounces pre-packaged shredded carrots OR about 4 cups carrots that are trimmed and julienned

About 1 cup of shredded red cabbage

1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced into pieces about the size of the carrot shreds

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed or grated

1.5 teaspoons granulated or Demerara sugar

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon ground coriander

1/8 teaspoon cracked black pepper or Aleppo pepper

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 Tablespoons EVOO

1 to 2 Tablespoons white wine vinegar

Juice from 1 lemon

3 Tablespoons chopped fresh dill or 1.5 Tablespoons dried dill

3 Tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley or cilantro

Directions

Place everything in bowl large enough to comfortably hold the ingredients. Mix everything well, preferably with your hands. You want to massage the carrots to soften them a bit. Taste to adjust seasonings. Yup, that’s it!

Wheatberry and Barberry Salad

Wheatberry and Barberry Salad

Ingredients

1 cup uncooked hard winter wheatberries (You could use farro or barley if wheatberry isn’t available; however, they will not have that unique chewy nuttiness that a properly cooked wheatberry has.)

1/2 of a small red onion, peeled and chopped

4 to 5 thinly sliced red radishes

2 Persian cucumbers cut in to quarters and diced

1/2 cup dried barberries (You could use currants instead but they won’t be as flavorful.)

2 generous cups, finely chopped fresh herbs (I used dill, cilantro and parsley, but mint would also be good)

1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed or grated

Juice of 1/2 fresh lemon or more to taste

1 teaspoon of kosher salt or more to taste

1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

2 to 3 Tablespoons flavorful EVOO

Directions

Soak the wheatberries for at least 8 hours or overnight. Bring 3 cups of water or broth with a glug of olive oil to a boil in a medium pot with a tight-fitting lid. If using water or unsalted broth, add 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Drained the wheatberries and add to the boiling liquid. Cover the pot, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 1 hour. This can be done a few days ahead. Just refrigerate the cooked wheatberries in their liquid.

You want the wheatberries to be cold or no warmer than room temperature. Place them, drained of any accumulated liquid, in a bowl and add all of the other ingredients. Gently but thoroughly toss well. Now enjoy!

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!

Chickpea Spinach Curry

Chickpea Spinach Curry

Chickpea Spinach Curry, is ready in under 45 min. and packs a punch of flavors and nutrition. This vegan curry is a great option for nights when everyone is hungry and you are short on time. Or if you are trying to eat more plant-based meals and want a delicious option. It’s an easy-to-prepare dish that comes together with mostly pantry items. While I generally cook my own beans and almost always have them in my fridge, canned chickpeas (garbanzo) would work well here. We did eat this with a dollop of plain, whole milk Bulgarian-style yogurt. However, it can be eaten as is or by using a plant-based yogurt. Serve it over rice (brown rice pictured here) or any other grain you prefer.

Chickpea Spinach Curry came onto my roster because I had just bought a box of spinach for something that it turned out I wasn’t in the mood to make. I didn’t want it to go to waste. I always have chickpeas on hand and the spices in my pantry so I searched online until I found this recipe. As always, when preparing to make something new, I look at 5 or 6 versions online or in cookbooks and then pick and choose the parts I like best. I only made a couple of tweaks to this recipe to suit our tastes. While I wasn’t familiar with the website, I’ve become quite good at knowing if a recipe will work just from reading it.

As I have mentioned many times, my husband and I eat and both bake a lot of bread in our house. So I served this with store-bought naan, warmed in the oven. If you are in the mood or made it ahead, my Flaky Flatbread would also be a wonderful accompaniment. I love to make the flaky flatbread or a stuffed spinach flatbread, which I hope to post soon. They freeze beautifully and also keep well wrapped up in the refrigerator. So when I have the time and am in the mood, I make a stack to have on hand.

A simple winter dessert of spiced fruit compote that I made last week, with some gingersnaps on the side made for a satisfying and mostly very healthy meal. Every winter I prepare compote made from dried fruits in a spiced sugar syrup. It lasts most of the winter in a glass jar in the fridge. Wonderful as is or over any simple pound cake or olive oil cake, it makes a lovely end to a simple meal. It is especially great after a spicy meal, balancing out the spiciness to perfection.

Whether you are going for a meatless Monday or are vegetarian or vegan, this meal will not disappoint!

Recipe

Chickpea Spinach Curry

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

3 tbsp sunflower or canola oil
1 large onion finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed or minced
1 inch ginger, finely grated (No need to remove the skin)
1 Tablespoon ground coriander
1/2 Tablespoon ground turmeric
1/2 Tablespoon ground cumin
1/4 – 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper or chili flakes
1.5 cups crushed tomatoes (400g) (An average 14.5 oz. can)
3 cups cooked chickpeas (500g) (About 2 average cans. Exact amounts are not essential here)
3/4 cup vegetable stock (177 ml) or 1 bouillon cube dissolved in 3/4 cup of water.
1 cup frozen chopped spinach or 142 gm fresh/frozen chopped spinach (5 oz. box)
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp garam masala
1 tablespoon lemon juice or to taste (I used 1/2 of a juicy lemon)


OPTIONAL:

About 5oz. full-fat coconut milk or unsweetened coconut creme (148 ml) (The coconut creme available to me comes in a 5 oz. can which was perfect. If you use up coconut milk pretty quickly then leftover milk from a larger can is no problem. You can also freeze leftover coconut milk in an ice cube tray and pop them out whenever needed.)

Garnish
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro leaves (coriander leaves)

Yogurt (milk or non-dairy)

Directions

Chickpea Spinach Curry


Heat the oil in a large pan over a medium-high setting. Sauté the finely chopped onion until golden, about 10 minutes.

Add the crushed or minced garlic and grated ginger and cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring frequently, until the garlic doesn’t smell raw anymore.

Mix in the next four ingredients (ground coriander, turmeric, cumin, and cayenne) and toast for two minutes stirring often.

Add the crushed tomatoes, chickpeas and vegetable stock. Increase the heat to high and
once boiling, lower to medium-low to maintain at a simmer for 10 minutes, stirring every now
and then.

Add 1/2 tsp salt, the sugar, and the spinach. If the spinach is frozen increase the heat until the
curry is bubbling away again. Simmer for an additional five minutes.

Add the garam masala, lemon juice and coconut milk and stir. Sprinkle over the chopped
cilantro leaves and serve hot.

Easy Peasy Vegan Shawarma

Easy Peasy Vegan Shawarma

This Easy Peasy Vegan Shawarma is a great weeknight meal with lots of bold flavor. And it’s ready in under an hour. It is a feel-good meal that even meat lovers can enjoy. The thick-cut Portobello mushrooms can be purchased pre-sliced in most stores these days to speed up the process even further. And their meaty texture and taste have just the right mouthfeel for a satisfying dinner.

Easy Peasy Vegan Shawarma is wonderful stuffed into a pita with all the toppings. It would also be equally delicious on a bed of steamed Basmati rice or couscous with the salad on the side. And let’s talk about those sides. You are only limited by your time and imagination. Some things are easily bought if you are really short on time or inclination and others are quickly made while the shawarma cooks.

I always like to have a number of salads and dips on hand. With pre-cooked beets (canned or from the produce section) you can easily have Moroccan Beet Salad ready in minutes. And while nothing beats my homemade hummus, there are a number of respectable options available in grocery stores. Persian cucumbers diced with cut-up tomatoes, olives and lots of mint, dill and fresh cilantro is another easy option.

If you have lentil or chickpea salad on hand, these are also great accompaniments.

Below you will see that this recipe includes a quickly pickled cabbage to put on top of the shawarma. Fresh arugula would also be delicious or pickled onion instead or in addition. The salads and sides lend bright colors and textures and we do eat with our eyes as well as our mouths. So if you think going meatless has to be dull, think again! This is a great Meatless Monday option, but also great any day of the week.

Salatim

Recipe

Easy Peasy Vegan Shawarma

Yield: 4 Servings

Ingredients

12 ounces Portobello mushrooms, sliced 1/2-inch thick

1 medium red onion, halved and cut into 1/3-inch wedges

3 Tablespoons EVOO

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper (to taste)

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon ground paprika (sweet or smoked)

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

For Serving

4 pitas (I like whole wheat) or cooked basmati rice or couscous

Easy yogurt (dairy or non-dairy) topping mixed with turmeric, salt and pepper OR tahini mixed with lemon juice, garlic, salt and ice water

Pickled cabbage (See below)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Raise the oven rack to the next to highest level so that it is about 6 to 8 inches from the heat element.

Place the mushroom slices and the onion wedges on a rimmed half sheet pan. Mix all of the spices, salt and pepper together in a small bowl. Using clean hands (or tongs), toss the mushrooms and onion with 3 Tablespoons of EVOO and the spice mixture. Arrange in a single layer.

Easy Peasy Vegan Mushroom Shawarma

Roast until tender and browned. About 20 minutes. However, ovens vary so check it at 18 minutes.

Warm the pita for serving.

Pickled Cabbage

Thinly slice about 3 cups of cabbage. Red or green cabbage works and you can usually purchase these pre-sliced if you prefer. Place in a bowl and toss with 2 teaspoons of EVOO, juice of 1/2 a lemon and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. If you have it, sprinkle with ground sumac and some freshly chopped cilantro. This can be made earlier in the day or while the mushrooms cook.

Pickled Cabbage

Garnish with freshly chopped herbs – whatever you have on hand works. Now eat!

Easy Peasy Vegan Shawarma

Vegan Mushroom Walnut Pâté

Vegan Mushroom Walnut Pâté

Vegan Mushroom Walnut Pâté makes a delicious addition to your holiday table. Once upon a time I used to make a vegetarian mushroom pâté. It wasn’t beautiful, but it was delicious. Frankly, it was a bit of a pain to make in the pre-food processor days. However, it went very well with roast turkey or chicken and was worth the extra effort for holidays and special occasions. And it was especially yummy in sandwiches the following day. But those of you who follow my blog know that I am trying to prepare more vegan dishes. I initially got interested in vegan cooking because my godson was deathly allergic to eggs AND his family keeps kosher, which means they won’t mix milk and meat – among other things. So finding – or developing – great vegan recipes became an imperative.

Now, though, I try to cook vegetarian and vegan meals for me and my husband several times a week. While my reasons are for better health as well as the welfare of the planet, I wouldn’t do it if I couldn’t make meals that were delicious and satisfying. It doesn’t hurt that my favorite cuisines are Mediterranean/Middle Eastern and South Asian, both of which have a rich heritage of vegetarian and vegan dishes.

You certainly don’t have to be vegan to enjoy this Vegan Mushroom Walnut Pâté. It’s a wonderful make-ahead side or appetizer that can be enjoyed by anyone – unless allergic to mushrooms or walnuts that is. So if you are looking for something a bit different to try for the holidays, give this Vegan Mushroom Walnut Pâté a go. It still isn’t pretty (but what pâté is?) and it still is delicious! Spread it on crackers or some Melba toast and enjoy it with a Crackling Vermentino or other sparkling wine. Mmmmmmmmm!

For an alternative Vegan Mushroom Pâté that is not baked try:

Mushroom Walnut Pâté

You can’t go wrong with either one.

Recipe

Vegan Mushroom Walnut Pâté

Yield: About 10 servings

Ingredients

2 Tablespoons EVOO

1 pound of mushrooms, white, cremini or baby bellas, quartered

1/2 cup chopped walnuts, lightly toasted in a dry pan

1 shallot, peeled and chopped

1 cup chopped fresh fennel or celery

Handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped

1.25 cups fine, dried bread crumbs – plain or seasoned

1 pound silken tofu

1 Tablespoon nutritional yeast

1 teaspoon each: dried thyme, basil and oregano

1.5 teaspoons kosher salt

generous pinch of cayenne (Optional)

Directions

Oil or use a cooking spray to coat an 8 X 4-inch loaf pan. Line the pan with cooking parchment and oil that as well. Cut a piece of parchment large enough to sit on the top of the pâté mixture in the pan. Set the pan aside.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Heat the EVOO in a large sauté pan and add the chopped shallot and fennel or celery. Sprinkle with about 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt. Sauté until the mixture begins to soften. Then add the chopped parsley and bread crumbs. Stir through to moisten everything. Turn off the heat.

While the vegetables were sautéing, place the mushrooms and silken tofu in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse the mixture until everything begins to break down. Add in the nutritional yeast, dried herbs and the veggie/breadcrumb mixture. Pulse until smooth.

Add in the walnuts and just pulse 3 or 4 times quickly. If you prefer not to have bits of walnut in the finished product, you can pulse the mixture a few more times, until it is smooth throughout.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Add the oiled parchment on top of the mixture so that it is right against it. Give the pan a tap on the counter to make sure that everything is even and there are no air bubbles. Place in the hot oven and bake for 1.5 hours. Allow to cool completely.

Vegan Mushroom Walnut Pâté

If you are not going to serve it as soon as it is cool, refrigerate it in the pan. Remove the pan from the fridge about an hour before you are ready to serve. Carefully remove the piece of parchment that is on top and invert the pan onto your serving plate or board. Peel off the remaining parchment paper. Garnish as desired.

Delicious Nutritious Veg Quesadillas

Delicious Nutritious Veg Quesadillas

Delicious Nutritious Veg Quesadillas are a weeknight meal sure to please. With protein from rich, dark kidney beans, these satisfying quesadillas can be on the table in less than an hour. Served up with a quick, fresh guacamole, it’s the answer to “What’s for dinner?”

This is casual dining in the best tradition. Just as a great falafel sandwich will ooze down your hand as you eat all of its yummy goodness, so too do these quesadillas. Do NOT eat this wearing your favorite silk blouse or shirt!

I came across this recipe while watching a lovely Australian vlogger living in Tuscany. While we may not have been able to travel during the pandemic, I get my “fix” watching this lyrical vlog. As soon as I saw Kylie Flavell make these Delicious Nutritious Veg Quesadillas, I knew that I had to try them. And because most of the ingredients are pantry staples, it didn’t require a major excursion to the market. It’s a pretty forgiving recipe so if you need to swap out one ingredient for another, your results will likely still be delicious.

This recipe easily would feed four people, but it could also be doubled or halved. While I did use cheese, making my quesadillas vegetarian, it is vegan-friendly. Just leave the cheese out or use a vegan cheese as an alternative. The cheese does act as a kind of binder, holding everything together, so I personally recommend it. I have successfully made this with goat cheese and with a “Mexican” blend of cheeses.

And though you could use any kind of tortilla, by choosing a whole-grain option, you are increasing the nutrition quotient, while adding some additional flavor. My tortillas were 7.5-inches in diameter, but smaller or bigger ones can be used. Simply adjust how much filling you put inside. While tempting to overstuff these – don’t. The final quesadilla is surprisingly filling and too much filling will completely ooze out.

Now you could use a different bean, but dark red kidney beans are readily available, very nutritious, flavorful, inexpensive and have just the right amount of heft to give these a great mouthfeel.

Almost any cheese would work as long as it is one that gets melty. And while I used a sweet potato for added color, flavor, heft and nutrition, you could easily use butternut or other winter squash in its place. So the next time you are looking for something quick, delicious and nutritious to make in about 45 minutes or less, consider these great quesadillas.

Recipe

Delicious Nutritious Veg Quesadillas

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

1 medium red onion, peeled and coarsely chopped

3/4 teaspoon each: salt, cumin, turmeric, chili powder, paprika (preferably smoked Spanish paprika)

Generous pinch of ground cinnamon

About 3 Tablespoons of EVOO or Canola

1 large bell pepper – red, orange or yellow, diced (You could use green – I just am not partial to them)

2 large garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced

15 oz. can of dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed

14.5 oz. can of diced tomatoes with their liquid, preferably fire roasted

2 Tablespoons tomato paste

About 4 to 6 ounces of shredded or cut up cheese or to taste, if using

For fresh guacamole or avocado smush

2 large ripe avocados, with the flesh placed in a bowl and mashed with a fork

Juice of 1/2 to 1 fresh lime, depending on taste

kosher or sea salt to taste

freshly cracked black pepper

8 whole wheat or other type of tortillas

Directions

Heat the oven to 420 degrees F. and place the oven rack about 6 inches from the top. Drizzle about 1.5 to 2 Tablespoons of oil across the bottom of a sheet pan. (I only needed a quarter sheet pan this time. It should be large enough to hold all of the diced sweet potato in a single layer without crowding.)

Place the diced sweet potato on the pan and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Then sprinkle on the cinnamon and using your clean hands, mix together the sweet potato, oil and seasonings. Place in the oven and roast for 20 to 25 minutes. The sweet potato should be cooked, with some browning, but not dried out.

Meanwhile, place 1 Tablespoon of oil in a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Add the onion and salt and sauté until the onion begins to soften and turn translucent. Add the remaining spices and mix through, blooming the spices, for about 30 seconds.

While the onion cooks, lightly mash the drained kidney beans. You don’t want a puree. Some beans can even be left whole. Add the beans, minced garlic, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, diced bell pepper and about 3/4 cup of water to the onion mixture. Stir well and allow to cook on simmer while the sweet potato roasts. This can be done ahead if you wish. Just gently heat it through when you are ready to assemble the quesadillas.

When you are ready to assemble, heat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a clean frying pan, place either a little neutral oil like Canola or spray with a cooking spray. Heat the pan and add the tortillas one at a time. Heat until both sides have become warm and speckled with brown spots. Turn once. Place the tortilla onto a baking sheet lined with parchment. Spoon 1/4 of the bean mixture over one tortilla. Then place 1/4 of the sweet potato chunks on top of that and add your desired cheese. I tend to use a light hand with the cheese, but it’s personal preference. Place a second tortilla on the top of everything and gently press down with the flat of your hand. Drizzle lightly with EVOO.

After you make all of the tortillas, place the pan in the oven for about 8 minutes or until the cheese has melted. Carefully remove the tortilla to a cutting board and using a large knife, cut each tortilla into 4 pieces. Don’t worry if a little filling oozes out. Just shove it back in!

Serve with the guacamole and have a napkin on hand! Enjoy!