Fruit and VegetableTzimmes – a perfect introduction to autumn

Vegan Tzimmes

September and October can still feel like summer, but in my heart, it’s already autumn. The Jewish New Year always coincided more or less with the beginning of school and even though it has been many, many years since I was last in school, this is the time of year that represents hope, change and redemption for me.

I just hosted family for Rosh HaShana and made this wonderful vegan tzimmes. In Yiddish, tzimmes means “mixed up.” My father, who spoke Yiddish before he spoke English, would always call after me and my siblings if we were making a lot of noise – “What’s the ganza tsimmes?” What’s the big mix-up going on? Well, THIS ganza tzimmes is one delicious, rich and fragrant mix-up and you don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy it. This is a wonderful accompaniment to brisket, of course, but it is also delicious with roast chicken or fish. And if you are staying vegan, serve it over couscous or polenta or quinoa for a satisfying meal.

Fruit and Vegetable Tzimmes – adapted from The New Jewish Holiday Cookbook by Gloria Kaufer Greene

Fruit and Vegetable Tzimmes

Yields: 10 servings

Ingredients:

3 large sweet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced (if the slices are very big, cut them in half

4 large carrots, peeled and thinly sliced

1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and thinly sliced

1/4 cup dark raisins

1/4 cup Sultana (light) raisins

1/4 cup pitted pruned, roughly chopped

1/4 cup Medjool dates, pitted and roughly chopped

1/4 cup dried apricots, roughly chopped

1 medium onion, peeled, halved and thinly sliced

1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt

Zest of one large navel orange

Juice of one navel orange

2 Tablespoons packed dark brown sugar

1/4 cup real maple syrup

2 Tablespoons Earth Balance Vegan margarine

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Directions:

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9 x 13 inch baking pan with non-stick spray (I like Pam).
  2. Layer the vegetables and dried fruit, mixing gently. Dissolve the brown sugar, salt and maple syrup with the orange juice and grated zest. Pour it over the fruits and vegetables.
  3. Dot with the margarine and sprinkle with the cinnamon. Cover the pan with a lid or foil.
  4. Bake for 1.5 hours or until the vegetables are frgrant and tender. This can be made ahead. In fact, I think it taste better if made a day in advance.
  5. When ready to reheat, dot with a bit more margarine and sprinkle a little more cinnamon on top. Heat uncovered in a preheated 325 degree F oven for about 30 minutes. Check it after 15 minutes. I fit seems to be browing too much then recover it. This will keep for a week in the fridge and like stews and many soups, it just keeps getting better.

Cool and exotic for a hot summer night

watermelon salad platter

These are the dog days of summer and at 91 degrees, the last thing I am about to do – even with central air conditioning – is cook. However, we still want to eat and this salad is refreshing and simple to make. All it really needs is some good pita or naan, a glass of refreshing wine and you can dine well without ever breaking a sweat. Fresh, high quality ingredients are key here. You are not masking anything with some slow-cooked sauce and it must be aesthetically pleasing as well.  While I highly recommend making the effort to find watercress, which has a distinctive flavor, you can make this successfully with only arugula, which might be more easily accessible. This salad cools you down in a flash. We may even decide to eat out on our terrace tonight.

Watercress Salad with Watermelon, Feta Cheese and Mint Dressing

Yields: 4 servings

Ingredients:

For Salad:

Half of a seedless watermelon, halved and then sliced, with the rind removed

8 ounces of a full-fat feta cheese block, cut into thin slabs

3 cups of arugula

2-3 cups of watercress

For dressing:

2/3 cup roughly chopped fresh mint leaves, with about 10 leaves saved for garnish

2 Tablespoons flat-leaf parsley

Juice of 2 fresh lemons

1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon honey

1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon finely chopped garlic

1/2 cup fruity olive oil

Garnish:

1/4 teaspoon sumac, optional

2 Tablespoons sliced almonds

Directions:

  1. When ready to serve, arrange the greens on a platter.
  2. Make the mint vinaigrette by placing all of the ingredients for the dressing, except for the EVOO in a blender. Puree until smooth.
  3. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in the EVOO and process until emulsified.
  4. Toss the greens with a few tablespoonfuls of the dressing. Do not drown the greens! Any extra dressing can be stored in the fridge for several days in a glass jar.
  5. In a way that looks attractive (there is no ONE right way!) layer your watermelon slices over the greens. On top of the watermelon, lay thin slabs of feta cheese. Drizzle some more of the vinaigrette over the top and scatter the fresh, whole mint leaves over that. Voila! (Hopefully your watermelon will be redder and sweeter than this particular watermelon of mine was.)

watermelon salad plated

Who knew that being frugal could taste this good?

chicken with lentils

One of the very early TV chefs on WTTW Public Television was someone called Jeff Smith aka The Frugal Gourmet. I used to watch him with my mother and I even bought two of his cookbooks. The recipes are generally quite good and he was kind of a kook – fun to watch and read and seemingly unpretentious.

Unfortunately, his name and show went down in flames when it came out that he was also a sexual predator. I seriously considered tossing his cookbooks when I found out, but I came to my senses and realized that the recipes were innocent of any wrong-doing and I had already spent the money years earlier.

I was looking for a particular recipe when I came across the one I am making for tonight’s dinner – Chicken and Lentils. I will serve it with pita and a green saladwith heirloom tomatoes. A crusty bread is also fine. This is real comfort food – meant for family and close friends. It is not highly spiced, but it is deliciously seasoned. One perfect bite and you will just smile.

Chicken with Lentilsadapted from the Frugal Gourmet

Yields: 6-8 servings

Ingredients:

2 cups lentils, rinsed (I’m using red lentils but almost any kind will do)

1 generous teaspoon crushed or finely minced garlic (You can buy the jars in the produce section. It saves time and I go through it so quickly it stays fresh.)

1 teaspoon salt

2 bay leaves

2 teaspoons oregano, crushed between your fingers

1 teaspoon dried dill weed, crushed between your fingers

4 cups unsalted chicken stock (You can use all water if you prefer.)

up to 2 cups water

3-4 pounds chicken pieces bone-in, skin on

Kosher salt and cracked black pepper to taste

4 Tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice (Juice of about 2 lemons)

2 cups plain Greek yogurt

3 -4 Tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley for garnish

Sumac (optional) for garnish

Directions:

  1. Rinse the lentils and place them in a 6 quart pot with the garlic, bay leaves, oregano, dill, salt and chicken stock. Add enough water to cover the lentils by 2 inches. Bring to a boil, partially cover the pot and turn the heat down to a simmer. Cook for about 35-45 minutes until the lentils are very tender but still are holding their shape. (This may vary a little depending on the lentils you use.)
  2. Add the lemon juice to the finished lentils.  Set aside.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  4. In a heavy-duty pan (I love, love, love Lodge cast iron) brown your chicken pieces in Canola oil (or some other oil that can take the heat and won’t add a lot of flavor) after lightly seasoning them with the Kosher salt and cracked black pepper.
  5. Place the browned pieces into a casserole or Dutch Oven.
  6. Pour the lentil mixture over the top. Cover and bake in the 350 degree oven for 1.25 hours.
  7. Serve with a good dollop of Greek Yogurt and some chopped parsley for garnish. Sprinkle with a little Sumac, that wonderful fruity, lemony Middle Eastern spice which can be purchased in Middle Eastern grocery stores or online at Nuts.com. I love lemon so I squeezed on a bit more just before taking that first perfect bite.

Greek Red Lentil Soup

finished red lentil soupThe days are so changeable now. One day its 90 and humid and the next it’s in the 60s. Soup is the perfect meal for days like that and this simple, and very flavorful Greek red lentil soup is vegan and totally satisfying. However, if you wish to add some sausage to it or a dollop of Greek yogurt when serving it, I certainly won’t complain. All this needs is good bread and a simple green salad. This soup is so quick and delicious, I have even made it before leaving the house for work! What’s not to love? Afterall, Esau sold his birthright for a bowl of these delicious lentils.

Greek Red Lentil Soup adapted from soup served at George’s Restaurant in Astoria, NY

Yield: 6 -8 first course servings or 4 dinner servings

Ingredients:

2 Tablespoons EVOO

1 large onion, chopped (1 cup)

2-3 cloves of garlic, minced

Kosher salt and cracked black pepper to taste

2 carrots diced or cut into rounds about 1/8 inch thick (about 1 cup)

2 stalks celery, sliced thinly or diced (about 1 cup)

4 cups vegetable stock or chicken stock

1 cup water

2 bay leaves

1.5 cups dried red lentils, picked through and rinsed (try to buy the really small red lentils, although either large or small will work) dried red lentils

1 28 ounce can or 1 large box of Pomi chopped tomatoes, with the liquid

1 teaspoon dried basil, crushed

1 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed

Fresh basil leaves or fresh thyme for serving (optional)

Directions:

  1. In a 5-6 quart pot with a lid, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until translucent – about 3 minutes
  2. Add the garlic, salt and pepper and saute for another 3 minutes, stirring occasionally (How much salt you use will depend on several factors: tomatoes and celery are high in natural sodium and I use unsalted stock. I don’t like things heavily salted becasue I want to taste the food not the salt. However, your tastes may be different and you may use stock that is already salted. You can always add salt later.)
  3. Add the celery and carrot and saute for another 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. lentil soup stage 1
  4. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover the pot partially and simmer for 35 minutes, or until the lentils and vegetables are tender. Remove the bay leaves before serving.

NOTE: The soup is ready to go at this point, but if you are serving it as a first course to company and you want it to be a bit more elegant, take an immersion blender (thank you Matthew and Frances for that wonderful GIFT!) and puree the soup to the desired consistency. You can do this in a blender but make certain that the soup is cool and you do this in batches. I learned the hard way about the mess that blending hot soup can make. Garnish with fresh basil leaves or fresh thyme if you have it.

Heirloom Tomatoes and Grilled Vegetables

Grilled Vegetables with Fresh Herbs

So even though I may be planning for the holidays, we still have to eat everyday meals until then. I have some beautiful heirloom tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, zucchini and Yukon Gold potatoes and fresh herbs in pots and when you have gorgeous vegetables (or fish) I always think it is a shame to hide these under sauces. I enjoy a good sauce as much as anyone, but let’s face it, sauces came about to make less than the best quality ingredients edible. When I have really fresh fish, I just want to grill it with a generous squeeze of lime, salt, pepper and a bit of EVOO. Well, I feel the same way about vegetables and grilling them with some EVOO is the best way to bring out that wonderful flavor when they are at the height of the growing season. You can do this on an outdoor grill or you can buy a simple non-stick grilling pan like I have and do it right on your range. There is no recipe. Simply slice your vegetables in a way that looks nice and so the slices are between a 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Drizzle them generously (but don’t drown them) with olive oil, sprinkle on some Kosher salt or sea salt and a bit of cracked pepper. Put them in the hot grill pan which has also been drizzled with olive oil and cook them for a few minutes on each side, watching them until they take on some nice grill marks. Adjust your heat as necessary so they don’t burn. Take them off the grill pan when they are finished and generously sprinkle them with whatever herbs you  have on hand and happen to like, Tonight, mine have some lemon thyme, oregano, French lavender and flat-leaf parsley.

Once they are ready, you can serve them over pasta or rice and leftovers are wonderful in sandwiches, especially with some goat cheese. But tonight, they will be served with crusty bread, drizzled with a Sciabica flavored olive oil (thank you, Frances, for introducing me to this wonderful source for olive oils and vinegars!) and thick slices of heirloom tomatoes with nothing but a good sprinkling of Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper. If you are not a vegan, a slice of fresh mozzarella wouldn’t go amiss.   Heirloom tomatoes

Lentil Salad with Raisins, Tomatoes and Tarragon

Lentil Raisin salad with tarragon

I absolutely love lentils – any lentils. The red ones or the tiny lentils de puy or even the lowly but versatile green lentil. I love them in salads and soups and mixed in pilaf. They are a wonderful source of protein, especially when eaten with whole grains.           Lentils uncooked

In Israel, every meal, including breakfast starts with salads – multiple salads. While this lentil salad doesn’t come directly from any particular cuisine, it is certainly inspired by Mediterranean cooking. If you can find fresh tarragon, I encourage you to use it. If not, this salad will still be delicious using only a good French dried Tarragon. it will lose a bit of its lustre if kept for a couple of days, but none of its taste or texture. It’s a great way to get children to eat this magical legume because of the raisins. Try it.                            raisins

Lentil Raisin Salad

Yileds: 6-8 generous servings

Ingredients:

1.25 cups dried green lentils

1 teaspoon dried tarragon

1 teaspoon salt

2 Tablespoons Fig Vinegar or white wine vinegar

1/4 cup EVOO

1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, quartered

1/2 of a small onion thinly sliced or chopped

1/2 cup raisins (dark, light or mixed)

1 Tablespoon fresh tarragon, chopped or 1 additional teaspoon dried

Freshly cracked black pepper

Directions:

  1. After picking through the lentils to make sure that there are no tiny stones or grains, place them in a medium pot and cover with water by about 2 inches. Add the dried tarragon. I like to layer my seasonings so not only do I put tarragon into the mixed salad but I cook the lentils with tarragon. You can also add a little salt if you want but I don’t. Bring the water to a boil, reduce the heat to a strong simmer and cookuncovered for about 18 minutes. Drain well and run cold water over the lentils to stop the cooking.
  2. While the lentils are cooking, prepare the other ingredients in a bowl and toss well. Add the lentils once they have cooled. Enjoy!Lentil raisin sald stage 1

Ratatouille Nicoise

RatatouilleIt always REALLY annoys me when a recipe calls for a little of this and a little of that. What am I supposed to do with the rest of the “this and that?” If you read my recipe for savory galette you would quickly realize that you have left-over zucchini and eggplant. Well who wants to waste great ingredients?

eggplants

This ratatouille recipe is the perfect answer. It’s so versatile and delicious that I make it even when I don’t have left-overs – just because! Ratatouille is a savory stew of vegetables and I have used it as a side to grilled meats, fish or an omelette. It makes a wonderful pasta sauce and if you dice the vegetables fairly small, it can make a wow appetizer by filling baked puff pastry cups with it (you might drain a bit of the liquid off when using it this way). It’s equally delicious hot or at room temperature so is a wonderful side to bring to picnics. It stores well in the fridge and actually intensifies in flavor after the first day. The following recipe is one I have been making for decades and I have no recollection of where it originated. I have tweaked it over the years as I do just about everything, but my apologies for not giving credit to whoever first came up with this. And while I do make this in the oven according to the recipe, in the summer when it is hot, I do it entirely on the stove so I don’t heat up the apartment. Truthfully, it’s just as good either way.

Ratatouille Nicoise                                             ratatouille2

Yields: About 10 cups

Ingredients:

1/2 cup EVOO

2 cups coarsely chopped onion

2 Tablespoons finely chopped garlic

about 1 pound eggplant, trimmed and cubed

2 sweet peppers, any color

6 slim zucchini, any color

1-2 bay leaves

1 teaspoon dried thyme

26.46 oz. Pomi tomatoes or 28 ounce can San Marzano tomatoes crushed or chopped, with liquid

2 Tablespoons tomato paste

1/8 teaspoon (or more if you like things very spicy) hot red pepper flakes (Optional)

About 24 imported black olives (pitted makes life easier, but you can put them in with pits – just warn your eaters!) (SEE NOTE)

About 24 imported green olives

2-3 Tablespoons capers

Salt and pepper to taste

One bunch finely chopped parsley

NOTE: Please buy the best olives you can and these days there is no excuse for using those tasteless olives in a can from California. I like the black oil-cured or Kalamatos olives and a variety of the green. If y ou don’t happen to live near a good source of olives, you can now purchase them online in vacuum-sealed bags, imported from Greece from Nuts.com – one of my favorite (and now Frances’) sources for nuts, dried fruits, spices and so much more.

Directions:

  1. Heat the EVOO in a large Dutch oven or heavy oven-proof pot. Add the onions and garlic and cook until they turn translucent.
  2. Add the eggplant and cook, stirring gently about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the sweet peppers and stir, cooking about 1 minute. Then add the zucchini and salt and pepper to taste. Go easy on the salt since you will be adding olives and capers which are both salty. Add the bay leaves and thyme and cook about 5 minutes more.
  4. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste and red pepper flakes. Bring to a boil and add the olives and parsley. Cover tightly and cook about 10 minutes.
  5. Bake uncovered in a preheated 350 degree F oven for about 30 minutes.

Green Fattoush Salad with Mint Vinaigrette

IMAG0523This weekend in Chicago it’s in the 90’s and humid. It’s also the annual Air and Water Show so the last thing I want to do is spend a lot of time slaving over a hot stove. I was at the farmers’ market and they had gorgeous fresh mint and arugula which reminded me of this wonderful green salad – full of flavors and incredibly satisfying. If you wish to make it for vegans just leave out the feta cheese. For the rest of us – buy a full-fat feta. It won’t kill you since the amount you will have is small and taste is, frankly, so much better. You can use either a sheep’s milk or goat’s milk feta for this dish. Just make sure that all of your greens are very fresh and bright. If you can’t smell the freshness please don’t buy them. Fattoush is essentially a Middle Eastern Panzanella. Since it physically hurts me to throw away bread – possibly because I love to bake bread and know what goes into making it – this is a wonderful way to use up left-over pita or lavash.

Green Fattoush Salad with Mint Vinaigrette adapted from Einat Admony

Yields: 4 generous servings

Ingredients:

1 large English (seedless) cucumber or 3 small Persian cucumbers, sliced into 1/2 inch rounds or 1/2 moons

1 ripe avocado, peeled,seeded and cut into 1/2 inch cubes

2/3 cup roughly torn fresh mint (spearmint – not peppermint) plus about 10-12 additional leaves for the vinaigrette

2/3 cup roughly chopped or torn flat-leaf parsley

3 cups torn arugula

2 cups torn watercress (Really try to find watercress for this recipe. If you absolutely can’t, just use more arugula.)

3/4 cup crumbled feta (do not buy crumbled feta – buy the chunk and crumble it yourself)

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard

1/2 teaspoon honey (I love Greek honey, but any good quality honey will do)

Kosher salt, to taste but about 1/2 teaspoon. It will partly depend on how salty your feta cheese is.

1 large clove garlic, chopped

1.2 cup EVOO (If you have a good quality lemon enhanced EVOO you can use that. Personally I can never get enough lemon.)

About 1 cup of toasted pita chips or lavash (You can make your own or buy store bought)

1/4 teaspoon sumac (optional) If you choose to buy sumac (and you can get it at Middle Eastern markets or online at Nuts.com you will find lots of uses for it, especially in Mediterranean cooking. It looks a bit like paprika, but it has a wonderful fruity, citrusy flavor and goes great with chicken.)

Directions:

  1. In a large salad bowl, toss everything that is green together. This can be done ahead and covered with a damp towel. If left in a cool room, it can be left out for several hours. If you have room in your fridge, you can store it there in a plastic bag. (DO NOT ADD avocado if making ahead. Only add it when ready to eat along with the feta.)
  2. If using feta cheese, add it when you are ready to serve  the salad.
  3. Make mint vinaigrette: In a blender, puree the mint leaves that you set aside earlier with the lemon juice, mustard, honey, salt and garlic until smooth. With the blender running, slowly drizzle in the EVOO and process until emulsified.
  4. Toss salad with just enough vinaigrette to lightly coat the greens. (Save any left-over dressing in a glass jar in the fridge for use within 2 days.) Toss in the toasted pita or lavash. If using sumac, sprinkle it over the top.

One Pot Meals

As Lisa has mentioned before, there are some nights where after coming home from work, and going to the gym or an exercise class, there just isn’t that much time to get dinner on the table.  This is one of those lovely recipes that really does fit in one pot and takes 30 minutes from start to finish.  Not only is it delicious the day after, but it’s so flavorful that it’s hard to stop from finishing off the whole pot in the first sitting.

farro

I found this recipe a while ago on Smitten Kitchen, one of my favorite sources of inspiration for dinner.  Not only did it look delicious, it really did live up to its lofty promise of being a 30 minute dinner!  I always double the recipe, since Deb’s “two hearty mains” is more like one serving for my always hungry husband.

I’ve also recently discovered the joys of variated olive oil flavors, after being introduced to Sciabica’s (and yes, their website is really aptly named because the oils really do taste like “sunshine in a bottle”).  Back when I lived in San Francisco, my avid chef friend had given me some samples as a birthday gift, knowing I loved to cook.  She had come across a stand for Sciabica’s at one of these plentiful farmer’s markets, and bought some bottles after having a pleasant chat with someone who appeared to be the family patriarch.  It turned out to be a great purchase.  Indeed, during the olive oil scandal when companies were being called out for not really using olives, Sciabica’s was held up as the shining example of “real” olive oil.  Plus with flavors such as basil, lemon, and grapefruit, it’s great to keep a couple of bottles in the kitchen to add a little flavor.

Why the long digression about olive oil? Well because a dash of basil olive oil to this dish really completes it as a gourmet dinner.  Pair it with a nice California Zinfandel and enjoy!

Serves 4 hearty mains (or 2.5 extremely hungry people)

Ingredients

  • 5 cups water
  • 2 cup semi-pearled farro
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 18 ounces grape or cherry tomatoes
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher or coarse sea salt
  • Up to 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (to taste)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
  • Few basil leaves, cut into thin ribbons
  • Grated parmesan cheese, for serving (optional)

Directions

  1. Place water and farro in a large pot to presoak while you prepare the other ingredients.
  2. Adding each ingredient to the pot as you finish preparing it, cut onion in half again, and very thinly slice it into quarter-moons.
  3. Thinly slice garlic cloves as well.
  4. Halve or quarter tomatoes.
  5. Add salt, pepper flakes (to taste) and 1 tablespoon olive oil to pan, and set a timer for 30 minutes.
  6. Bring uncovered pan (no lid necessary) up to a boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally.
  7. When the timer rings, the farro should be perfectly cooked, seasoned and the cooking water should be almost completely absorbed. If needed, cook it for 5 additional minutes, until farro is more tender.

Serve onto bowls. Drizzle farro lightly with additional olive oil, scatter with basil and parmesan. Eat immediately.

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen.