Golden Lentil Stew

By the ends of winter, I am most definitely in need of some color in my life. That’s why I love this recipe, with all its warm yellow and orange hues. It’s not only healthy, but extremely easy on the eyes and the wallet, for that matter. Turmeric lends a rich color to your food and is considered to have numerous potential health benefits from its anti-inflammatory properties, which may include inhibited growth of certain cancers and the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.

Feel free to include some orzo, or some other small shaped pasta to this stew if you desire, but it’s certainly hearty enough without it. If you are unable to find yellow lentils, which are usually sold in specialty Italian and Middle Eastern markets, you could substitute red or orange lentils, however, the consistency of the stew will change slightly. If you prefer to keep this dish strictly vegan, you could always substitute the chicken stock with vegetable stock. Serve with a dollop of thick yogurt and some crusty bread.

Yield: 6-8 servings

5 Tbl. olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 medium carrots, peeled, halved, and chopped into small pieces
1 14 oz. can chickpeas, drained
2 c. chicken stock
6 c. water
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbl. finely chopped fresh cilantro, plus 1 Tbl. coarsely chopped
1 c. yellow lentils
2 Tbl. tomato paste
1- 2″ piece of ginger, peeled and grated
1 Tbl. fresh lemon juice (optional)
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 tsp. sweet paprika
1 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. ground coriander seeds
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/8 tsp. cloves
1/2 c. pitted dates, chopped (optional)
salt, pepper to taste
2 Tbl. parsley, chopped coarsely

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or medium stock pot on medium heat. Add the spices and allow them to simmer in the oil for 1-2 minutes. Add the onion, carrot, and ginger. Allow the vegetables to sautée for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, with a mortar and pestle, mash the garlic and chopped cilantro with a sprinkle of salt into a thick paste. Add the paste and cinnamon stick to the pot, along with the lentils, and give everything a good stir or two. Add the tomato paste, stock, and water. Stir and cover. Allow the stew to cook for about 20 minutes before adding the canned chickpeas. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Cook for another 15-20 minutes. If you so choose, add the chopped dates and lemon juice, and cook for another 5-10 minutes. Add the finely chopped cilantro and parsley. Serve and enjoy! As always, happy eating!

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Spinach Salad – Nutrition Made Simple

So how does one emerge from the holidays and their aftermath without completely running the nutrition tank on empty? With party after party, it’s certainly easy enough to overdo it on rich foods that are full of sugar, fats, and salt…and within days the effects on our bodies can be felt inside and out. I know that many families, like mine, use the holidays to indulge in some of their less healthy, but favorite family recipes. Well, after a couple days (or weeks) of those rich foods, I found myself going a little crazy on a spinach salad at my sister-in-law’s house the other day instead of filling up on the various tasty, high-fat and carb-heavy offerings available. Now, being pregnant and vegetarian, I am well aware of my daily nutritional needs, and when I go to fill my plate, I’m not happy unless there is a fair amount of green covering it. But this salad was so delicious and so simple that I was thinking about it well into the next day. (Luckily, there were leftovers!)

So here’s the recipe:  baby spinach leaves, chopped roasted red pepper (in olive oil), and some crumbled feta cheese. That’s it! Add a vinaigrette, if you so desire, but, honestly, the oil from the roasted red peppers is more than enough to dress it up, especially if you buy (or make) the kind that is seasoned with a couple garlic cloves.

Granted, I am a huge lover of spinach, and I use it in salads all the time, incorporating all kinds of things, like hard-boiled eggs, onions, tomatoes, berries, sunflower seeds, walnuts, etc. But this one is simple, pretty, and delicious, and it will likely become a new staple on my table.

Tips on fresh spinach:

  1. Unless you can get locally-grown spinach, go for the pre-washed bagged kind. It’s so easy to just pull a handful of it out anytime you want a quick salad.
  2. If you are already a big fan of spinach (like me), don’t bother splurging on the baby variety. The full-grown version is not quite as sweet and tender, but it’s delicious, nutritious, and much more affordable. But if spinach is a new flavor that you are acquiring, or if you are serving it to guests, the baby leaves are probably worth the extra cost.
  3. Baby spinach requires little preparation, but you may want to remove the stems and thick spines from some of the larger leaves of other varieties.
  4. Buy organic, if possible. There’s a lot of surface area on those leaves for pesticides and other chemicals to penetrate.
  5. Never let your spinach go bad. It’s a nutritional powerhouse, and there are so many other uses for fresh spinach that there’s no reason to let it spoil. You can add it to soups, dips, pasta sauces, etc. Just be careful when adding it to something like eggs — a lot of moisture is held in the leaves, which needs to be removed before cooking anything with a delicate moisture balance.
  6. Nutritional information of raw spinach – this food is low in Saturated Fat, and very low in Cholesterol. It is also a good source of Niacin and Zinc, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E (Alpha Tocopherol), Vitamin K, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Copper and Manganese.*

Crudité for the Holidays

It’s that time of the year again, when everyone seems to invite you to one event or another. For those events where you are not spared of bringing along a dish, or perhaps you sincerely yearn to contribute something, may I suggest a crudité platter. It’s a visually impressive dish, yet extremely simple to make. It only requires enough patience on your part to rinse, dry, and chop a few vegetables. Honestly, you can include just about any sort of vegetable that tickels your fancy. There are no real rules, at least in my opinion, to crudité, other than you must include some sort of spread to dip your lovely pieces of veggies into. I tend to make a hummus or yogurt based dip, such as tzatziki.

For the above picture, use:

1/2 bag baby carrots
2 sliced yellow peppers
2 sliced red peppers
3 sliced Israeli cucumbers
1 small head of broccoli, chopped into florets
1/2 package of grape tomatoes
8 oz. green beans, ends trimmed
10-15 Kalamata olives (or mixed)
2 large green peppers, for dip bowls
1/2 c. hummus
1/2 c. tzatziki
1/2 head of green leaf lettuce for bottom garnish

An Indian Feast

I believe there’s a common misconception regarding Indian food in the U.S., and curry flavors in general. Many people complain that Indian food is hard on the belly, causing mild to severe gas buildup and tend to blame it on the spices used in Indian cooking. Once upon a time, I, too, believed this, although I still would eat Indian cuisine as much as I could because I have always loved it. Then a friend of mine with Indian roots, revealed the secret to this gaseous dilemma: the spices are not to blame, but rather, the cook. If you do not thoroughly cook the spices prior to assembling the dish, the spices will indeed cause a lot of gas once they pass into your intestines. You may be pleasantly surprised that one simple step in the cooking process, could allow you to eat Indian fare without having to worry about post gas or cramping again.

I’ve included three recipes in this post, but feel free to make them separately or all together for an Indian feast worthy of a lovely weekend gathering of friends. If you’re truly feeling festive, make some delicious paratha bread to accompany your feast.

Both recipes incorporate curry, or garam marsala. Which combination of spices you will use will ultimately be up to your taste buds. During your preparations for either of these dishes, you will want to take one heaping Tbl. of spice (to turn up the heat, just add more), and place it in a small bowl or ramekin dish. You will then slowly add some water to the spice to form a paste, such as in the picture to the right. Set aside.

Curried Channa

2 c. dried chickpeas*

1 small yellow onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
1″ piece of fresh ginger, grated (optional)
1 heaping Tbl. curry or garam marsala, turned into paste
salt to taste

*You could use canned, fresh chickpeas, however, you won’t be able to cook the chickpeas as long to meld the flavors together.

If you own a pressure cooker, the process of reconstituting the dried chickpeas is less time-consuming. However, if you don’t have a pressure cooker, not to worry. Instead of placing the dried chickpeas with some salt and water (according to your pressure cooker’s instructions) and allowing them to soften, you would need to cover the chickpeas with 2-3 inches of water in a large pot and allow them to soften some overnight. After the long soak, you can then begin to simmer the chickpeas for about 30-40 minutes. Once cooked, but not mushy, drain and set aside. Reserve some of the cooking water, which you will need while making the channa recipe.

In a large stock or sauce pot, on medium high heat, add a good glug of olive oil or clarified butter. Add the onion, garlic, curry paste, and ginger (optional), and allow to sauté until the aroma of the curry paste is noticeable. Add the chickpeas and salt. Give everything a stir, and pour about 3/4 c. of the reserved chickpea cooking water. Allow the dish to cook for about 30-40 minutes, or until the chickpeas are tender. Do not overcook, or the chickpeas will turn mushy. You want them to retain their shape. Serve in a large serving bowl with a little chopped cilantro on top.

Long Bean with Mushrooms

Let me begin this recipe by telling you that I have never been more amazed by a vegetable than when I laid my eyes on these elegantly long beans! Of course, if you don’t happen to have an Asian market near your home, the likelihood of getting your hands on these elongated beauties is pretty slim. Regular green beans will work nicely, too, so no need to fret.

1 lb. long beans, or string beans, cleaned of ends and chopped into 2-3″ pieces
8 white button mushrooms, clean and sliced into 1/4″ slices
1 small yellow onion, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
curry or garam marsala paste (see above recipe)
salt, pepper to taste
olive oil or clarified butter for cooking

Wash the beans and dry in a colander. Chop into 2-3″ pieces; set aside. Prepare the mushrooms; set aside. Chop the onion and garlic; set aside. Heat a large sauté pan (preferably one with a lid) on medium-high heat. Add some oil or butter. Add the onion and garlic. Allow to cook for about 2 minutes before adding the curry paste. When the aroma of the paste is noticeable, add the mushrooms. Allow this mixture to cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the beans with some salt and pepper. Give the veggies a good stir or two, then turn the heat down to low and cover the pan. If the mixture seems to be getting to dry, add a glug or two of olive oil, or a little water. Allow the vegetables to cook through, about 20 minutes. Make sure not to overcook the beans, as you want them to retain their shape and not become too mushy. (For a finished photo of this dish, look above to the first picture on this post.)

Fish with Coconut Curry Sauce

I absolutely love this sauce, because it can be used on top of just about any fish you like. It even compliments chicken or meat for that matter. Not only is it versatile, but it can also be tweaked to your liking. Like freshly grated ginger?….add some in. Like dried chili?….add some of that too. I think you get the point. Coconut milk happens to be one of my all-time favorite ingredients. It adds a lovely sweetness, and helps to counterbalance the spiciness of the curry in this sauce. So without further ado, I’ll give you the recipe.

2 lbs. fish (for 4 people)

For the Sauce:
1/2 small onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, smashed
1 pc. ginger (1-2″), grated (optional)
8 oz. coconut milk
curry or garam marsala paste (see recipe at the top of the post)
salt, pepper to taste
1/4 c. olive oil
chopped cilantro for garnish

In a small saucepan, on medium-high heat, add a glug or two of oil. When the oil is hot, add the onion and garlic. Add the curry paste. Cook until the onion and garlic are softened, stirring occasionally. Pour the coconut milk into the pan. Stir to combine. Turn the heat to low and allow the sauce to cook for about 10-15 minutes.

Set your oven to broil. Rinse and pat dry the fillet(s) of fish. Place the fish on an ovenproof pan. Drizzle it with some olive oil and sprinkle both sides of the fish with salt and pepper. From one corner of the pan, gently pour a little bit of water into the pan. You don’t want to remove all the lovely seasonings you just placed onto the fish. You should have about a 1/2″ of water filling the bottom. When the oven is ready, place the fish into the oven. Periodically, every 2-3 minutes, check the fish and brush the top with some more of the cooking liquid. Depending on the thickness and type of fish you are broiling, the cooking time will need to be adjusted. Most fish cooks in about 8-10 minutes. The best way to check to see if your fish is cooked through, is once there is a nice golden brown hue on top, poke a fork into the flesh. If it goes through easily, your fish is ready. If there is even a slight resistance, it’s not. If you’re not accustomed to cooking fish, the main thing you don’t want to do is overcook it, which many people do. There’s nothing quite as unappetizing as eating a piece of rubbery fish.

When the fish is cooked, remove from the oven and transfer to a serving platter. Pour the coconut curry sauce on top of the fish and sprinkle with some chopped cilantro.

$8 Meals: Use it or Lose it Soup

We are back with another fine $8 meal. (Actually this dish may come in under $8, considering that you aren’t going to be buying any ingredients you don’t already have lying around in your fridge.) “Use it or Lose it Soup” is composed of all those slightly neglected veggies on the verge of spoiling in your fridge. Please don’t freak out on me…I am certainly not asking anyone to use slightly moldy, slimy veggies. Perhaps slightly wrinkly, but certainly not squishy! I often am an overzealous shopper at the farmers market, leaving me with a few vegetables or fruit that need attention by mid-week.

The last time I made this soup, I happened to have a zucchini, some mushrooms, a few carrots, a few stalks of swiss chard, an onion, and some garlic on hand. But feel free to experiment. Honestly, it really doesn’t matter what you have on hand. I also incorporated some amaranth, which is a tiny, high protein grain. I love to add it to soups and stews because it retains its crunchiness even when cooked in liquid. If you have some chicken stock handy, it also makes a nice addition to this soup, but it certainly can be left out, creating a strictly vegetarian dish.

I also added some turmeric, which provides a lovely rich yellow color to the soup. Turmeric is a natural cleanser of the body and an immune system stimulator, and may even aid in a faster metabolism. Just make sure that you wipe up any drippings while cooking, as turmeric does stain clothing and countertops easily. While it does provide color, its taste is minimal, making it a great healthy addition to many recipes without compromising taste. Of course, if you like the taste of curry, it is another great addition to the “Use it or Lose it Soup.”

1 large zucchini, grated
3-4 mushrooms, finely chopped
3 large carrots, peeled, halved, and chopped
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
3-4 stalks swiss chard, de-veined (remove the thick stalk) and chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, peeled
3 bay leaves
1 heaping Tbs. turmeric (or other spice of your choice)
salt, pepper to taste
10-12 c. water
1/4-1/2 c. olive oil

Heat a stock pot, or large casserole dish on medium-high heat. Add the oil. Add the mushrooms, carrots, onion, and garlic. Stir to coat with oil and allow the veggies to soften, about 3-4 minutes. If you plan to use turmeric or curry, add it to the cooking vegetables, as these spices need to sauté before adding any water. Add any grain you may be using, giving another good stir to the pot. If you are using grated zucchini, add it to the pot. Add the salt, pepper, swiss chard, and bay leaves. Add the water (and  optional chicken stock). I usually boil my water prior to adding it to the soup so the cooking process doesn’t halt in any way. Give the pot another good stir or two, cover, and bring down the stove range to low. Allow the soup to gently simmer for about 30-45 minutes.

When the soup is finished cooking, taste it to make sure the seasonings are to your liking. You can always add more salt at the end, but if you put too much in at the beginning, you most certainly can not take it back out! Feel free to add some chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley or cilantro, which gives the soup another great dimension of color and flavor. Serve with some warm, crusty bread and a cheese of your liking. Happy, healthy, (and slightly cheaper) eating!!

Stuffed Tomatoes & Peppers

I am going to continue my Greek dish series (I hope you all don’t mind!) throughout my stay in this beautiful Mediterranean country. With that said, I would like to present to you a very typical Greek dish, which can be found on practically any Greek restaurant’s menu. While this dish is a bit labor intensive, it certainly isn’t complicated. There are numerous variations prepared throughout Greece, and almost every home cook will have his/her favorite variation, not unlike the notorious Greek meatball, which everyone seems to have an opinion about! Just when you think you have finally mastered the recipe, someone comes along and tells you that you, in fact, have not.

In addition to the typical stuffed tomato and pepper, I have seen stuffed zucchini and eggplant. Some variations include ground meat in the stuffing, but I must tell you that I prefer this dish to be made strictly vegetarian. I think the meat overpowers the delicate taste of the vegetable, but feel free to try it and taste for yourself. If you have children who are not particularly inclined toward eating many vegetables, you may also like to add finely chopped pieces of carrot or grated zucchini into the rice stuffing. Feel free to experiment with whatever herbs you may have growing in your garden. If you happen to have mint on hand, I think it compliments this dish nicely; however, I have had to use a combination of basil and oregano when fresh mint was unavailable.

This dish is quintessentially summer, incorporating so many of the abundant seasonal vegetables and herbs available. However, it can be made with peppers from the grocery store throughout the winter months. Living in New York City, I have yet to come across a good tomato large enough to use in winter, but if you happen to live in a climate that lends itself to winter tomatoes, go for it!

A dear friend of our family’s, who lives on the Greek isle of Aegina, has, in my opinion, perfected this dish. The following recipe is a version of her “Yemista” recipe, and I am sure that if you give it a try, you too will be won over.

6 ripe tomatoes
2 green peppers
8 large spoons of Arborio rice (pearled rice works best in this dish)
3 large potatoes, peeled and cut into large wedges
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed and finely chopped
¼ c. raw pine nuts
¼ c. dried currants (raisins may be substituted, however, currants add a more delicate touch)
½ c. fresh mint
Olive oil
Sugar
Salt, pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375° F.
Prepare the tomatoes: turn the tomatoes upside down and cut off the bottom off each one, forming a cap to enclose the rice mixture. Set aside the cap. Scoop out the insides with a spoon and reserve in a food processor. Sprinkle the inside of the tomatoes with a little bit of sugar. Set aside. In the food processor, add the mint to the insides of the tomatoes. Process until smooth. Add about ½ c. of water to the tomato mixture. Set aside.
Prepare the peppers: cut off the top about an inch from the stem; set top aside. Scrape out the seeds. Sprinkle the inside with a little bit of sugar. Set aside.
Prepare the rice mixture. You will use one large spoon of uncooked rice per vegetable you intend to stuff. For example, if you are going to cook 4 tomatoes, you will use 4 large spoons of rice. In a large sauté pan, on medium high heat, pour about ¼ c. of oil into the pan. Add the onion and garlic, stirring occasionally as not to burn your contents. After about 2 minutes, add the rice, giving a good stir to coat with olive oil. Add ¾ c. of the tomato mixture you previously processed to the rice. If the mixture is too dry and begins to stick to the pan, pour in another glob or two of olive oil. Add the pine nuts and currants. Sprinkle with about 1 large spoon of sugar, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook for about 4-5 minutes, adding more water if the rice requires it. Remove from the heat source. Set aside.
In a baking pan, large enough to hold all your vegetables close together, (you want the vegetables to touch each other, which will allow them to hold their shape nicely throughout the cooking process) arrange your tomatoes and peppers. Fill each vegetable ¾ of the way full with the rice mixture. Pour the rest of the tomato mint mixture into each vegetable. You want to put as much moisture into each stuffed vegetable so that the rice cooks through. Cap each vegetable with its top. Arrange the potato wedges in between the stuffed vegetables, filling up any unused space in the baking pan. Sprinkle some salt and pepper over the potatoes, and sprinkle some sugar over the tops of each vegetable, which will give them a beautiful caramelized effect. You may also sprinkle the tops with bread crumbs, if you desire, however, I usually skip this step. Pour any left-over tomato mint mixture gently into the bottom of the pan from a corner of the pan. You don’t want to disrupt the seasoning on the top of the vegetables. Pour a bit of olive oil over the entire dish.

Place in the oven, allowing to cook until the tops of the vegetables have a slightly burned effect on their tops, about 1-1 1/2 hrs. Make sure the rice has cooked through, as well as the potatoes. Allow to cool. Serve with wedges of feta cheese. This dish is lovely right after cooking, but I must admit that it tastes just as good the following day straight from the fridge.

Beef & Eggplant: A Prelude to a Greek Summer

During the weeks leading up to my family’s departure to Greece every summer, I’m always inspired to cook dishes which will leave my home with those familiar aromas I so enjoy while I’m in that beautiful Mediterranean country.  One of my favorite aspects of the Greek cuisine is that it is very seasonal. For example, typical salads served during the summer months, like horiatiki, most commonly known as “Greek” salad, are replaced with salads like raw cabbage with carrots during the winter months.

Eggplant is abundantly available during the summer months, and it is incorporated into numerous Greek dishes. One of my favorite dishes to make, which incorporates this bulbous, perennial fruit, is a slow-cooked combination with chunks of beef, tomato, and parsley. Although this dish takes a few hours to complete, it really doesn’t require much labor on your part. You only need to plan ahead, allowing enough time to complete the meal before stomachs begin to growl, or at my home, howl.

This dish melts in your mouth, and it is a fabulous choice to serve for a dinner party. Pair it with a simple salad, or a summer vegetable side dish, such as broad beans or zucchini. I tend to eat this dish with slices of freshly baked bread and some feta cheese, but you could always make a side of rice or orzo pasta. It’s really up to you and the depth of bellies you must fill. Enjoy! And Viva Summer!!!

Yield: 4 main course meals

1- 1.5 lbs. organic beef stew meat, left in large chunks
1 large onion, roughly chopped
4-5 cloves garlic, smashed
20 oz. fire roasted crushed tomatoes (like Muir Glen brand)
appx. 1 c. water
1/2 c. chopped parsley
1/4 c. olive oil

1 lg. eggplant (or 4-5 small eggplants), peeled, ends removed, and chopped in 2″ pieces
1 Tbl. sugar
1/2 c. olive oil (you may need slightly less or more)

Heat half the oil (1/8 c.) on medium-high heat in a large, oven-proof sauté pan. When hot, add the meat. (Be sure to season the raw meat slightly with salt and pepper, rubbing it in, which will aid in optimal seasoning.) Brown the meat on both sides, then add the chopped onion and garlic. Pour in the other 1/8 c. of olive oil, and give a good couple of twists of salt and pepper. Allow the onions to cook until translucent (about 3-4 minutes), then add the tomatoes, water,  and chopped parsley. Give it a good stir, cover, and allow to stew on very low heat for about 2 hours.

Meanwhile, in another pan, on very low heat, add 1/2 c. oil and the eggplant pieces. Toss to coat the eggplant with the oil, sprinkle in the sugar, then cover and allow to cook slowly. Do not move the pieces too much or the eggplant with fall apart. You want the pieces to stay intact as much as possible. Allow to cook through, about 1 hour. Set aside.

About 30 minutes prior to the meat finishing on the stove top, preheat your oven to about 400°F. Place the eggplant pieces gently into the meat sauce. Place the pan on the lower third of the oven, uncovered, and allow to continue cooking for another 30 minutes. Remember that pan handle will be hot after the oven! I recommend placing an oven mitt over the handle once you remove the pan from the oven. (I can’t tell you how many times I have forgotten just how hot that handle was before I grasped it!)

Summer Bean Side

During the summer months, you will most likely come across numerous types of beans at your local farmer’s market. I can still recall eating raw pieces of green beans from our family garden as a child, while I helped my mother trim the ends in preparation for dinner. I don’t, however, have any great memories of dishes created with the long, thin pods while in my youth. It wasn’t until adulthood, when I had the opportunity to travel more, that I came across some memorable recipes. Whether lightly cooked and eaten in a salad Niçoise, or in a good old-fashioned Midwest casserole, the summer bean is delicious. The following recipe is a typical Greek recipe, used in the summer months when beans are in abundance. The dill compliments the delicate taste of the beans quite nicely. If you don’t have any dill on hand, you could substitute parsley, or even mint.

1.5-2 lbs. beans, trimmed, washed, and cut into 2″ pieces
1 small onion
2-3 cloves garlic
6 oz. crushed tomato
1/3 c. olive oil
appx. 1/3 c. dill, finely chopped
1/2 Tbl. sugar (optional)
salt, pepper to taste

Rinse and drain the beans in a colander. In a food processor, process the onion, garlic, dill and tomatoes together for a few seconds to make the sauce. (If you don’t own a food processor, finely dicing everything works just as well.) Set aside. Heat the olive oil in a medium-sized sauce pan, over medium-low heat. Add the sauce and allow to cook for about a minute. Add the beans, salt, and pepper, and sugar if you so choose. Give it a good stir and cover the pan. Keep checking back with the beans to make sure they’re not cooking too vigorously. You want them to cook slowly, for about 30 minutes, or until the beans have turned fork tender. Don’t worry if you overcook them, as this dish tastes fabulous either way. If you happen to have a baby in your home, process any left-overs into homemade baby food. This dish pairs nicely with feta, or whatever you may be eating on a warm summer evening.

TDB Homemade: Roasted Red Peppers

Roasting red bell peppers on your own is not particularly difficult.  It takes some time, but not a lot of work, and, WOW, are they delicious – way better than what you get in a jar.  A gas stove or a lit grill is a must because you need an open flame, but, otherwise, the process is easy.

Step 1:  Clean and thoroughly dry your red peppers.

Note:  this method can be used with other peppers, such as yellow and orange bell peppers, or even poblano chilis. 

Step 2:  With large tongs that can withstand high heat, hold the red pepper directly in the open flame of your stove or grill.  I find it helpful to remove the grate from the stove burner, if applicable.  Allow the flame to char, or blacken, the skin entirely and evenly — be thorough — it’ll make things easier later on.  Choosing red peppers with a smooth body and not a lot of deep crevices helps to achieve an evenly charred surface.

Note:  peppers can be placed directly under the broiler in a gas oven, if the stove top is not an option.  It takes a little longer, and the peppers don’t blacken as evenly, but some people prefer this.  Place pepper(s) on a cookie sheet as close to the flame as possible and rotate every minute or two until they are done.

Step 3:  Place charred pepper(s) in a large heatproof bowl and cover with a lid or plate.  I have a Pyrex bowl with a lid that works very well for this.  Allow them to cool and finish roasting for at least 30-40 minutes.

Step 4:  By scraping with the blunt side of a knife or with your hands, remove the charred skin from the cooled peppers.  This is a bit messy, but resist the urge to rinse the skin off the pepper with water — you’ll wash away a lot of the flavor.

Step 5:  Cut peppers open and remove the seeds and small amount of pale ribbing that remain.  Now they’re ready to eat!

Step 6:  If you don’t plan to eat them right away, cover them with olive oil and store them in a non-porous container.  They will keep in the refrigerator for 1-2 weeks.  However, in my house, they disappear within 1-2 days!  When they’re gone, be sure to retain the oil that is now infused with that wonderful roasted red pepper flavor.

Roasted Red Pepper Cooking Ideas

Roasted red peppers can be used in many ways.  Sliced or chopped, they can dress up salads and sandwiches.  Puréed, they make a great base for sauces and dips.  One of my favorite recipes is for this Roasted Red Pepper Dip by Jacques Pépin.  My version is as follows:

Roasted Red Pepper Dip / Sandwich Spread

1 roasted red pepper, cut into strips or chunks, about 3/4 cup

3-4 ounces cream cheese

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons sesame seeds (toasting is optional and alters the flavor)

salt and pepper to taste

If toasting the sesame seeds, place them in a dry frying pan on medium heat for several minutes.  Toss them occasionally so that they don’t burn, and remove them from the heat when they turn a nice golden-brown color.

Place all the ingredients into a food processor and purée until smooth.

Serve with cut veggies, crunchy bread sticks, crackers, or on bread for a sandwich.

Roasted Red Pepper Pasta Sauce

2 roasted red peppers, chopped, about 1 1/2 cups

2-3 cloves garlic, chopped

1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped, plus more for garnish

2 cups chopped tomatoes with the juices, or one 15-ounce can

1/3 cup half and half

1/3 cup Pecorino Romano cheese, grated

salt and pepper to taste

In a medium sauce pan or straight-sided frying pan, sautée the red peppers and garlic with a sprinkling of salt and pepper over medium heat for about 4 minutes.  Add the basil and sautée for one more minute.  Stir in the tomatoes and another pinch of salt and heat to a slow simmer.  Cover and cook for about 15 minutes, until the tomatoes have cooked, and the sauce has darkened.  If the sauce seems watery, remove the lid and allow some of the liquid to evaporate.  Add the half and half and the Pecorino Romano cheese and return to a simmer for one minute.  For a smooth texture, purée the sauce with a wand blender, or carefully transfer it to a standing blender.

Serve over pasta, ravioli, or gnocchi and top with freshly chopped basil.

Vegetarian Chili At Its Best

As a vegetarian, I’ve tried quite a few versions of veggie chili in my days, and this one is my absolute favorite.  It holds such depth and complexity in the flavor, and it makes a super satisfying meal, even to the meat-and-potatoes crowd.  It’s easily adaptable for vegans (just a couple ingredients to omit), and this recipe is great for parties because it makes enough to feed a crowd.  Freeze half for a quick meal another time — it’ll taste even better than the first time around!

Hearty Vegetarian Chili

(recipe based on Mike’s Black Eye Chili from the Marlboro Cookbook: Chili Roundup)

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 oil (olive, sunflower, or canola work well)
  • 5 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 large yellow onion, halved and sliced
  • 2 large red onions, halved and sliced
  • 1/2 cup dried black beans (or 1 1/2 cups cooked, or one 15-ounce can)
  • 1/2 cup dried pinto beans (or 1 1/2 cups cooked, or one 15-ounce can)
  • 1/2 cup dried red kidney beans (or 1 1/2 cups cooked, or one 15-ounce can)
  • 1/2 cup dried garbanzo beans (or 1 1/2 cups cooked, or one 15-ounce can)
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 orange bell pepper, cut in 1-inch slices
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut in 1-inch slices
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, cut in 1-inch slices
  • 2 carrots, julienned
  • 1/2 cup dried lentils
  • 3 cups chopped tomatoes (or a 28-ounce can)
  • 1 12-oz. bottle of beer — use whatever kind you like to drink, however, I don’t recommend beers that are very light or very dark.  My favorite in this recipe is Yuengling.
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1-2 cups water
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen corn
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 2 ounces dark chocolate, chopped (optional)

Spices:  alter this according to your tastes.

  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • pinch of ground red pepper (cayenne)

For Garnish:

  • sour cream or plain Greek yogurt
  • chopped cilantro
  • avocado slices
  • fresh lime juice
  • chopped scallions

Directions:

Pre-cook any dry beans that you are using.  First soak them overnight in salted water.  Drain and rinse them.  Then cook them in water at a 3:1 ratio of water to beans for about 1 hour.  A sprinkling of salt and a splash of oil can be added to the cooking beans, if you so desire.  The salt will enhance the flavor, and the oil will help prevent the beans from foaming and boiling over while cooking.  Test them to be sure that they are almost done.  It’s okay if they’re not completely cooked because they will finish cooking in the chili.

Prep all your vegetables.  Measure out all your spices into a small bowl and stir to combine.  Heat oil in a large soup or stock pot.  Add garlic, onions, and 2 teaspoons of the mixed spices.  When the onions have softened slightly (after 3-5 minutes), stir in the wine, and allow the alcohol to burn off.  Add the jalapeño pepper, bell peppers, and carrots and cook for 2-3 minutes.  Add tomatoes, beer, honey, lentils, one cup of water, beans, corn, and the rest of the spice mixture and bring to a slow simmer.  Stir in the chocolate and cilantro.  Taste and add more seasoning, if needed.  Cover and simmer for 30-45 minutes.  Stir the chili occasionally, and add more water if it gets too thick.  Remove from heat, and allow to rest for at least 30 minutes before serving to allow the flavors to properly mix.

Eat this alone or over rice, and add the garnishes as you see fit.  If desired, add more heat by using 1 chopped habañero pepper, or by adding more cayenne powder.

Tip:  there is no one ingredient that will make or break this recipe.  Only two varieties of bell peppers or beans instead of three?  No biggie.  No beer?  Just add more water and increase the spices.  Conversely, you can add more of any ingredient that you like.  This chili is very adaptable.

Background:  I found this recipe in a book called the Marlboro Cookbook: Chili Roundup.  Somehow I was fortunate enough to get on a mailing list during a chili recipe contest being conducted by Philip Morris around 2000 or 2001, and I was sent this book for free.  The book contains 50 of the top recipes that had been submitted by people from all over, including 7 that are vegetarian (see the photo of the index page below).  If you come across this book online, don’t hesitate to buy it, or if you want more info about it or a copy of one of the other recipes it contains, contact us at twodancingbuckeyes@gmail.com.