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Showing posts with label Vegetarian Recipes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Vegetarian Recipes. Show all posts

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Perfect Soup - Healthy, Delicious Creamy Kabocha Squash Soup

I love soup. A cold soup in summer and a hot soup in winter are wonderful comfort foods. The best soups for me are ones that not only nourish but delight with layered flavors.  In summer a light and spicy watermelon-gazpacho takes the edge off soggy, sultry days. In cool weather, a satisfying soup of roasted squash is filling and refreshing.
With cooler weather approaching, a great many varieties of squash will be available in farmers markets. My favorite is the Japanese squash kabocha. A squat round squash with a flecked dark green outer skin, the flesh can be bright yellow or pumpkin orange. Similar to butternut squash, kabocha is sweeter and cooks more quickly.
I first enjoyed kabocha as light and crispy tempura at Yabu, a sushi bar in West Los Angeles. Included in an order was a sheet of seaweed, shrimp, shiso pepper, shiitake mushroom and kabocha. With only one slice of each to an order, my wife and I divided up the sampling but we always shared the sweet flavored kabocha.

Over the years, I tried preparing kabocha using different techniques. Boiling, steaming, roasting and deep frying. Boiled, the flesh absorbs too much water and becomes soggy. Deep frying is specific to tempura. Steaming softens the flesh. Roasting puts a crust on the outside.

I discovered that combining steaming and roasting created full-of-flavor, firm fleshed pieces. We serve steamed & roasted kabocha as a side dish to accompany grilled fish, chicken and meat. Cut into bite sized pieces, the kabocha is delicious added to soups, stews and braises. Pureed, kabocha creates a deliciously sweet and creamy soup.
For a pot-luck brunch at a friend's beach house, I decided to make kabocha soup. Still out of season locally, kabocha can usually be found in Asian, Latin and Persian markets.

To make a vegetarian/vegan soup, I used homemade vegetable stock. Homemade chicken stock can also be used because of its light flavor but I wouldn't use beef or seafood stock because they are too strong.

Homemade stock is much preferable to store bought because the flavors will be cleaner and the salt content will be much lower. We always have a good supply of homemade stocks in the freezer so I can make soup at a moment's notice.

Making vegetable stock is easy, with a little planning and one important kitchen tool: a food mill. Vegetable stock can be made with a variety of your favorite vegetables. Dice and simmer carrots, celery, onions and mushrooms for an hour with water until soft. Run the liquid and softened vegetables through a food mill to create a delicious stock with pulp, ideal for making soups and sauces.

An alternative method is the one I prefer. During the week I collect vegetable trimmings as I prepare salads and stir fries. I place them into a sealed bag in the freezer. When we have corn on the cob, we put the cobs in the freezer as well. Once there is a large amount collected, all the trimmings and cobs go into a large stock pot. I add enough water to cover and simmer uncovered for an hour or more until the stock has flavor. Then the trimmings, except the corn cobs, go into the food mill as described above. I freeze stock in 16 and 8 ounce sealed containers for times when I want to make a soup or a braise.

Richly Flavored Kabocha Squash Soup

If kabocha is not available, butternut and acorn squash are good substitutes. But they are not as sweet.

If shiitake mushrooms are not available, brown and portabella mushrooms are good substitutes.

The slow roasted tomatoes are easy to make. While you sleep or read or work around the house, the tomatoes cook in the 225 F oven. Slow roasting removes the tomato's water, concentrating the flavors, bringing out sweetness. After the tomatoes are removed from the oven and cooled, they can be refrigerated or frozen in an air tight container. Remove the paper thin skins before using.  The skins aren't edible but they add a wonderful flavor to vegetable stock.

To puree the soup and create a creamy texture, use an immersion blender or a blender. I like the immersion blender because of the easy clean up. When blending, no need to remove all small vegetable bits. A bit of texture is good.
As a topping, homemade croutons or charred greens (escarole, spinach or kale) and onions are good.

Serves 4 (entree) or 8 (starter)

Time to prep: 30 minutes

Time to cook: 60 minutes plus 6 hours to make slow roasted Roma tomatoes

Total time: 90 minutes plus 6 hours to make slow roasted Roma tomatoes

Ingredients

2 large Roma tomatoes, washed, stem removed, cut in half from stem to tip

1 1/2 pound kabocha squash, washed, skin on, quartered from top to bottom, seeds and pulp removed and discarded

1 cup sliced mushrooms, preferably shiitake, washed, pat dried

1 medium and 1 small yellow onion, washed, root and stem removed, skin removed and discarded

2 cups kale leaves, washed, stems removed, finely cut

6 cups homemade stock, vegetable for vegan and vegetarian soup or chicken stock

1 cup escarole, spinach or kale, washed, finely shredded

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Pinch cayenne (optional)

Directions

Before you go to bed or while you are working around the house, preheat the oven to 225 F. Place the halved Roma tomatoes on a Silpat or parchment sheet on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil. Place in the oven 5-6 hours. Remove when the tomatoes are still plump and they have reduced their size by half.
Remove tomatoes and allow to cool. If using immediately, remove the skins and discard or use to make vegetable stock. Finely chop the roasted flesh and reserve.

Place 2" water and kosher salt into the bottom of a large pot. Place a steamer basket into the pot with the quartered kabocha on top. Cover. Bring water to boil. Cook 10 minutes or until a pairing knife can be easily inserted into the flesh. Remove and cool.
Using a pairing knife, remove the kabocha skins and discard. Place the steamed kabocha on the Silpat or parchment sheet covered baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil. Place into preheated 350 F oven. Cook 30 minutes. Remove and allow to cool.
Heat a tablespoon olive oil in a large pot. Sauté but not do not brown mushrooms, medium onion slices and kale. Cut roasted kabocha into quarter sized pieces and place into the pot. Add stock. Stir and simmer 30 minutes.

Heat a teaspoon olive oil in a small frying pan. Saute the sliced small onion and chopped escarole, spinach or kale until charred. Remove and reserve.

Taste soup. Adjust seasoning with sea salt and/or black pepper. Taste and add cayenne (optional).

Using an immersion blender or blender, puree soup until smooth allowing for some vegetable bits.

Serve hot with the charred escarole and onions sprinkled on top.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Watermelon Ice Cubes Make A Cool Summer Cocktail


Watermelon Surprise, watermelon ice cubes in a vodka cocktail. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt
Watermelon Surprise, watermelon ice cubes in a vodka cocktail. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt
You love summer but not when it is uncomfortably hot. For relief, you could jump into the pool. Or, you could cut a thick slice of watermelon and let the sweet juices cool you down. Even better, you could fill a tall glass with a watermelon cocktail made with watermelon ice cubes and straight-from-the-freezer vodka and settle into the chaise lounge. You stir the ice cubes. Bits of watermelon juice break free. The crystal clear vodka turns pink. You sip, stir and eat a watermelon ice cube and suddenly you are not overheated any longer.  Now, you are cool and happy.

The non-alcoholic version is as delicious. Fill a tall glass with watermelon ice cubes and pour in freshly made lemonade. Stir and enjoy.

Summertime and the livin’ is easy

Summer is good for watermelon. They grow quickly in the heat of the sun, producing fat, heavy fruit loaded with sweetness.
At the farmers market I was always told to use a hand to thump on the melon. When the sound was deep and resonant, the melon was ripe, ready to eat. If there is a farmer you frequent at your neighborhood market, ask for advice about a good melon that’s ready to eat.
Prices for watermelon vary greatly. At Asian and Latin markets, watermelon can sell for as little as 10 cents a pound. At upscale supermarkets and farmers markets, the prices can be significantly higher.
A melon is delicious at room temperature or ice cold. I like to chill the melon overnight in the refrigerator. Of course, the easiest way to eat watermelon is to use a sharp knife to cut out a thick slice.
But when I was in Zurich recently I met Olivier Rais, a talented chef who runs the bistro Rive Gauche in the iconic hotel Baur au Lac across the street from Lake Geneva. He had just returned from working with Tal Ronnen, the celebrated chef who created Crossroads Kitchen, an upscale Los Angeles restaurant devoted to vegan cuisine.
Rais made several vegan dishes for me to taste, one of which was a watermelon-gazpacho served in a glass.
I love watermelon but had never thought of extracting the juice. When I replicated his gazpacho at home, I had watermelon juice left over. Deciding to experiment, I reduced the juice in a sauce pan over a low flame. Once the juice cooled, I poured it into a mini-ice cube tray.
Watermelon ice cubes in an ice cube tray. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt
Watermelon ice cubes in an ice cube tray. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt
That night I added the ice cubes to vodka that we keep in the freezer. I dropped in an espresso spoon, settled into a chair and stirred my drink. After a few sips, I realized that I had stumbled onto an easy-to-make, deliciously refreshing cocktail. Summer’s perfect drink.
Serve the cocktail with an espresso or small spoon. One of the pleasures of the drink is stirring the ice cubes. As the ice cubes melt, the watermelon juice infuses the vodka. The mellow sweetness takes the edge off the vodka.
As you stir, the ice cubes crater and reduce by half. Use the spoon to scoop up the icy bits. In an effervescent moment, the softened ice cubes dissolve like pop rocks in your mouth.

Watermelon Surprise

Watermelon slices. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt
Watermelon slices. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt
Use any size plastic ice cube tray. The mini-trays that make 1” square ice cubes work well because the ice cubes melt easily. Use only unflavored premium vodka, and for non-alcoholic drinks, add the ice cubes to glasses of carbonated water or lemonade.
Prep time: 30 minutes
Freezer time: 1 hour or overnight depending on the temperature of the freezer
Total time: 1 hour 30 minutes or overnight and 30 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
Ingredients
1 (3-pound) watermelon, washed
8 ounces unflavored premium vodka
Directions
1. Place the vodka bottle in the freezer the night before serving.
2. Using a sharp knife, remove the rind from the watermelon. Discard.
3. Cut the melon into chunks, removing any seeds.
4. Place a food mill or a fine mesh strainer over a non-reactive bowl.
5. Press the watermelon chunks through the food mill or strainer, capturing all the juice in the bowl. Discard any pulp and seeds.
6. Pour the juice into a sauce pan over low heat. Reduce volume by 30%. Remove from stove. Allow to cool.
7. Pour the reduced juice into the ice cube tray.
8. Place into freezer.
9. Just before serving, pour 1½ ounces ice cold vodka into each glass. Place 5 to 6 ice cubes into each glass.
10. Serve with an espresso or small spoon.
Main photo: Watermelon Surprise, watermelon ice cubes in a vodka cocktail. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt
  

Friday, July 7, 2017

Corn is Back. Let the Feast Begin.

Two weeks ago the first corn appeared in our local farmers markets in Santa Monica and Pacific Palisades. After the winter months without corn on our plates, we debated should we enjoy our first taste of corn, boiled or grilled? Both are delicious. Both are easy to prepare. We decided to embrace tradition.
We stripped off the husks and silks. Placed the cleaned ears into a pot of water and turned the burner on high. Every couple of minutes we gave the ears a spin so they would cook evenly. Once the water boiled we knew the ears were cooked.

Plucked out of the hot water, drained and placed onto a platter, we seasoned the ears with sweet butter, sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Old School, simple and delicious.
Those first ears were good but not yet great. Early in the season, the ears' flavor is balanced between starchiness and sweetness. For the scales to tilt toward flavor-bursting sweetness, we'll have to wait for the summer sun to blast the kernels with more heat.

At the Palisades and Santa Monica farmers markets, corn commands a premium, selling for $1.00/ear or 3 ears for $2.00. When we visit my wife's mom in New Jersey, we shop at Wegman's, a local supermarket with affordable pricing and Whole Foods quality. There, the corn can sell for much less. Depending on the supply, the corn can sell for as little as 6 ears for $1.00. Whatever the price, Jersey corn is famous for being especially tender and sweet.

For July 4th, a friend splurged and brought a dozen ears of corn to our fireworks-watching picnic. With a great many dishes to share, we had left-over corn. I volunteered to transform what was left into other dishes.

Versatile corn

First thing was to cut the kernels off the cobs. Cooked corn can be added to salads, stews, soups and stir fries. I love mixing the sweet-crunchy kernels to egg salad and potato salad. As a side with charred steak or grilled chicken, butter poached corn with a dusting of cayenne is delicious.
The cobs have flavor too. Usually consigned to the compost bin, the cobs can be boiled in water to create a savory stock, perfect as a base for soups, sauces, and corn chowder.

With the July 4th corn, I made corn stock, corn chowder, braised chicken with carrots, mushrooms and corn, corn and parsley salad and roasted corn to use in a green salad.
Even with all those dishes, there were still several cups of kernels available which were easy to freeze. To avoid freezer burn, submerge the cooked kernels in corn stock and seal them with air tight lid before placing in a freezer.
Then, when corn has again disappeared from the markets, the defrosted kernels can be added to a cold weather soup of root vegetables to remind us of summer's bright heat during the darkness of winter.

Corn Stock

If a large number of cobs are not available at any one time, save them in an air tight plastic bag in the freezer. When a dozen or more are available, you can rinse off any freezer crystals and drop them into a pot of boiling water as described below.

Serves 4

Time to cook: 45 minutes

Ingredients

12 or more corn cobs, kernels removed

Directions
For every 12 cobs, place 2 quarts of water into a large pot. Add the cobs. Place the pot on a medium-high flame.

Cook uncovered and simmer 45 minutes to reduce the volume by half.

Taste. The stock should have a mild flavor. Drain and discard the cobs. Use stock immediately or place in small air tight containers and freeze for future use.

Corn Chowder

The vegan/vegetarian version made with corn stock has its own unique, clean flavor. You can also use clam, lobster or chicken stock, preferably home made.
Use either frozen or freshly prepared stock. Do not use powdered or canned stocks because of their high salt content.

Serves 4

Time to prepare: 10 minutes

Time to cook: 30 minutes

Total time: 40 minutes

Ingredients

4 cups cooked or raw corn kernels removed from the cobs

1 small yellow onion, peeled, stem & root removed, washed, finely chopped

2 cups shiitake mushrooms

1 cup Italian parsley leaves, washed, pat dried, stems removed

4 cups stock, preferably corn stock or homemade chicken stock

Dusting of cayenne (optional)

1 tablespoon olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 tablespoons sweet butter (optional)

Directions

In a large saucepan, heat olive oil on medium flame. Add onions. Stir and cook until softened but not browned.

Add mushrooms and parsley. Stir and cook until softened but not browned.

Add corn kernels. Mix well. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. If desired, add sweet butter and cayenne (optional). Cook 5 minutes to combine flavors.

Add stock. Stir well. Raise heat to a simmer. After 10 minutes, taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Reduce flame to medium. Cook another 15 minutes. Taste and make final flavor adjustments.

Serve hot with steamed rice, pasta, buttered bread, croutons or a salad.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Ugly Tomatoes Make Beautiful Meals

In the winter or spring farmers markets, you've passed them by with a disapproving look. Blemished fresh tomatoes. Discounted to a dollar or less, these unhappy looking suitors for your attention appear destined to become compost.
Occasionally you will see someone who has stopped at the bin looking through the misshapen mound and you probably think they are too poor to buy the perfectly red, perfectly shaped tomatoes grown in a hot house.

The truth is, there are treasures hidden there. Find tomatoes that are firm and only slightly blemished and you will have found diamonds in the rough. They lack summer's full-blasted brightness. but tomatoes grown during winter and spring's weaker sun grow thicker skins and develop a rich, deep umami flavor.
Oven roasted, these tomatoes find sweetness hidden deep within. The acid so prized in summer tomatoes is mellowed and sweetened in off-season farmers market tomatoes.

But treat these tomatoes with care. Brought home from the farmers market and left on the kitchen counter in the sun, they will quickly soften and turn bad. They are used to cold, so place them in the refrigerator and they will last days and even a week until you are ready to use them roasted as a side dish for braised meat, tossed with pasta, served on steamed rice or mixed into soups, stews and braises.

Roasted Winter/Spring Tomatoes

Check each tomato carefully. You want firm tomatoes. A few blemishes are ok because those can be easily removed with a sharp pairing knife. 

Heirloom tomatoes are especially flavorful.

Summer tomatoes can be roasted with a similar but different result. 

Serves 4

Time to prepare: 10 minutes

Time to cook: 30 minutes

Total time: 40 minutes

Ingredients

3 pounds tomatoes

1 medium yellow onion, washed, skins, root and stem ends removed and discarded

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 tablespoon Italian parsley, leaves only, washed, finely chopped

Directions

Preheat oven to 400F.

Prepare a baking tray with a small lip (about 1/2"). Lay a Silpat (non-stick silicone) sheet or a piece of parchment paper onto the bottom of the baking tray.
Using a sharp pairing knife, remove the stem and spot on the bottom where the blossom was attached. Remove any dark blemishes and discard.

Cut into 1" slabs. Place slabs onto the prepared baking tray.

Cut onion in half, cutting from top to bottom. Cut thin slices by cutting from top to bottom. Place in mixing bowl. Season with olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Mix with Italian parsley.

Spread onion-parsley mixture over tomatoes.

Place baking tray into oven.

After 15 minutes, using a spatula or flipper, turn the slabs over. Keep onion-parsley mixture on top to brown. Return to oven.

Remove after 15 minutes.

The onion-parsley mixture should have lightly browned. Carefully remove the slabs which are now very delicate from the pan. Reserve the onion-parsley mixture and all of the liquid that has accumulated in the pan. This is full of tomato-essence
flavor.

To use as a side-dish, reheat and serve in a bowl. The roasted tomatoes are delicious when added to soups, stews and braises.

If not used immediately, keep the roasted tomatoes in an air-tight container. They will keep in the refrigerator for several days or in the freezer for a month.

Friday, January 13, 2017

When You Don't Have Time to Cook But You Still Want a Home-Cooked Meal, Do This!

Home cooked meals are definitely better for you and less expensive, but sometimes cooking seems too difficult and time-consuming.

When you're tired and hungry, it seems easier to stop for take-out on the drive home, order in or nuke those Trader Joe's frozen Shrimp Soft Tacos you bought last week.

But with a little effort (not much) and even less time (minutes), you can prepare two easy-to-make vegetable dishes that combine well with a charred steak, sautéed tofu or roasted chicken breasts which cook in no time at all.

Salt-boiled vegetables

Salt boiling cooks vegetables quickly. Cook them as little as possible so they have a crisp, fresh taste. Like pasta, vegetables should be eaten al dente, with a little firmness.

How long a vegetable should be cooked depends on its density and the size of the pieces being boiled. A 1" zucchini round will cook faster than a 1" carrot round. A 2" carrot round takes longer to cook than does a 1" carrot round.

Adding kosher salt to the water gives the vegetables a sweet-salty flavor.
Broccoli florets prepared this way cook in 2 minutes. The bright green flavor bites are so delicious, we eat them hot or cold, as a snack, side dish or, cooled, added to a salad.

Oven-roasted vegetables

Another easy-to-master technique is oven roasting vegetables. As with salt-boiled vegetables, they should be cooked al dente. How long the vegetables take to cook depends on the density of the vegetable and the size of the pieces.
Fingerling potatoes are an especially good side dish to serve with a grilled or baked protein. They are delicious with a steak grilled on an outdoor grill or charred on a carbon steel pan. Before baking, toss the cut fingerlings with Italian parsley, olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

If you enjoy onions, sprinkling a handful of finely sliced onions or shallots over the vegetables before baking adds a delicious sweetness.

Salt-Boiled Broccoli

Buy broccoli that is deep green in appearance. Do not use broccoli with yellow florets or ones that feel limp because that means they are old and will not taste good.
Besides broccoli, the technique works great for spinach, carrots, English peas and green beans. Each requires a different length of cooking time. Spinach (30 seconds), peeled carrot rounds cut 1/2" thick (3-5 minutes), shelled English peas (30 seconds) and green beans cut into 1" lengths (3 minutes).

Use only kosher salt or sea salt. Do not use iodized salt because of the metallic after-taste.

Serves 4

Time to prep: 5 minutes

Time to cook: 3 minutes

Ingredients

2 tablespoons kosher salt

4 large broccoli crowns, enough to make 10 cups, washed, stem ends trimmed

Directions

Using a pairing knife, cut the florets (the bud or flower of the broccoli) off the stem. Cut each floret in half and set aside. Using a chefs knife, cut the stem into slabs, 1/2" thick, 1" long. Set aside.

Add kosher salt to 4 quarts water and bring to a boil.

Place stems in boiling water first. Cover. Cook 1 minute.

Add floret halves to water. Cover. Cook exactly 2 minutes.

Strain broccoli in the sink. Place cooked broccoli into bowl and serve.

Oven Roasted Fingerling Potatoes

If fingerling potatoes are not available, baby Yukon or Sierra Gold potatoes are also good.
Use a Silpat sheet so the potatoes do not stick to the baking sheet. If not available, use parchment paper or aluminum foil.

Serves 4

Time to prep: 5 minutes

Time to cook: 30 minutes

Ingredients

2 pounds fingerling potatoes, washed

1 cup Italian parsley, washed, leaves only, finely chopped

1 medium yellow onion or 4 large shallots, skins, stems and root ends removed, washed, cut into thin slices

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions

Preheat oven to 400F.

Line a large baking sheet with a Silpat sheet.

Cut each potato in half, the long way, then into 2" pieces. Place them in a mixing bowl with the olive oil. As the cut potatoes are added to the bowl, toss to coat with olive oil to prevent discoloration.

When all the potatoes are in the bowl, add parley and onions. Toss well. Season with a little sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Spread on the Silpat sheet lined baking sheet so the pieces have some room. They will acquire more browning if they are not piled on top of one another.

Place in oven.

After 15 minutes, toss for even cooking. Check after another 15 minutes. Toss. Taste. Adjust seasoning and cook longer if needed. When the potatoes are cooked through but not too soft, serve hot with a protein. The potatoes are delicious with a grilled steak, sautéed fish filet or charred chicken breast.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Blasting Heat Sears in Flavor

A few years ago I convinced a chef to teach me how he made crispy skin on a filet of fish. Chef Taylor Boudreaux said it was easy. I couldn't believe that. For years I had tried to cook a filet of fish with the skin on and the result wasn't good. Either the skin was chewy or burnt to a crisp.
When I ate Boudreaux's salmon filet with mushrooms, the charred skin was crisp as a slice of perfectly cooked bacon. A perfect contrast to the moist, sweet flesh.

He reveals the secret in the video. A carbon steel pan. That's it. The pan takes an incredible amount of heat. Up to 700F. The skin sizzles and in seconds is perfectly seared. A quick flip to char the flesh and then into a 350F oven to cook the filet on the inside.
After I bought a pan and seasoned it and used it successfully on a fish filet, I discovered the pan's other advantage. Easy clean up. Very much like a cut-down wok, the pan needs only a quick cleaning with a soapy sponge to remove the left-over oil, heated again on the stove top to burn off the water and that's it. No strenuously scrubbing to clean the pan the way I had done for years with the stainless steel pans I relied upon. Just a quick clean up and I was done.

A cast iron pan also works well at high heat, but from my experience the carbon steel pan does a better job. Both pans are relatively inexpensive. A carbon steel pan will cost half the price of a comparably sized, quality stainless steel pan. When you shop for a carbon steel pan, buy one that is made with a thicker gauge steel. I have been using de Buyer pans. Chef Boudreaux recommends Matfer Bourgeat. The advantage of the thicker gauge pans is they retain heat longer than the pans made with a thinner steel.

Cast iron pans are easy to find. Carbon steel pans, not so much. In the Los Angeles area, the only source for the pans is Surfas Culinary District. In New York, I have seen them upstairs at Zabar's.
Using the pan exclusively, I discovered the beautiful work it does on steaks. Treated very much in the same way as the fish filets, each side of the dry seasoned steak is charred and then placed into a 350F oven to cook the interior of the steak. While the steak is resting for five minutes under aluminum foil, quickly sear your favorite vegetables in the pan to pick up the pan dripping flavor and serve as a side dish.
After that, I moved on to tofu, shrimp, octopus and chicken breasts. And then onto vegetables. Broccoli, shiitake mushrooms, Japanese eggplant, carrots, asparagus, green beans, English peas and corn kernels. Every firm fleshed vegetable I tried worked perfectly when I applied high heat using the carbon steel pan.

For Zester Daily I wrote about creating a charred garbanzo bean salad using charred vegetables and freshly chopped Italian parsley.
The mix of seared vegetables, lightly caramelized by the high heat, and the freshness of the parsley is really delicious. Please take a look and let me know what you think. Thanks!

Blast the Heat for For A Charred Vegan Salad

Chef Tips For Crispy Skin Pan Seared Salmon Filets

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Go Green! And Cook Easy-to-Make Roasted Artichokes

Spring is happening and artichokes are showing up in our farmers markets. The dark green vegetable, prized by cooks, is healthy and easy-to-prepare.
Looking at an artichoke, with its hard exterior and sharp pointed leaves makes me wonder how anyone figured out they would be good to eat. With a small amount of effort, that tough looking exterior gives up the wonderfully savory flavor bits at the end of the each leaf.
Choosing a good artichoke

Whether you find one that is the size of your hand or a larger one the size of a soft ball, give it a squeeze. If the artichoke feels solid, you've found a good one. An artichoke past its prime will be squishy like a child's squeeze toy. Make sure all the leaves are green. Don't buy an artichoke with brown or blackened leaves.
Having a sharp pair of scissors or kitchen shears, a pairing knife and a chefs knife will make breaking down the artichoke easy.

Roasted Artichokes

One person can easily eat one artichoke the size of your hand. The larger artichokes will feed 2-3 people as an appetizer or a side dish. 

Serves 4

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cooking Time: 30-35 minutes

Total Time: 40-45 minutes

Ingredients

4 medium sized or 2 large artichokes, washed
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup sweet butter (optional)
Directions

Preheat oven to 350F.

Place a large stock pot on the stove on a high flame. Add kosher salt. Bring to a low boil. Cover.

Using scissors trim off the pointy end of each leaf.

Trim off the stems of each artichoke, flush to the bottom. Reserve the stems.

Trim off the top 1/4" of each artichoke and discard.

Using a chefs knife, cut each artichoke in half, from bottom to the top. Cut each half into two pieces. If the artichoke is large, cut those four pieces in half, creating eight segments.

Working quickly because the inside of the artichoke will discolor when exposed to air, use a sharp pairing knife to remove the fuzzy part on the inside of each section. Discard.

Place all the artichoke sections and the stems in the boiling salted water. Cover and cook 10 minutes.

Cover the bottom of a baking sheet with parchment paper, a Silpat sheet or a piece of aluminum foil.

Using the pairing knife, test one of the artichoke sections. The knife should easily go into the fleshy part on the bottom of the leaves. If the knife doesn't go in easily, cook another 5 minutes.

Place a colander or strainer in the sink. Pour the water with the artichoke sections into the colander and drain.

Transfer the artichoke sections and stems to a mixing bowl. Drizzle with olive oil. Season with sea salt and black pepper. Toss well to coat.

Arrange the artichokes and stems on the prepared baking sheet.

Place in the oven and cook 15 minutes. Using tongs, turn the sections over and place back in the oven another 15 minutes so they cook evenly.

If serving with melted butter (optional), melt the butter in a small saucepan being careful to avoid burning.

Remove the artichokes from the oven and serve while hot. Accompany with sea salt, black pepper and small dishes of melted butter (optional). Trim the stems down to the round center, chop and use in a salad.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Lentil-Veggie Stew, a One Pot Winter Pleasure

Over the weekend, the rain beat down steadily all day. At first more like a mist at a car wash, then in steady sheets that drenched any one deciding the time was perfect to visit a favorite restaurant. Which is exactly what we did. We met our sons at Yabu in West Los Angeles (11820 W. Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90064, 310-473-9757)  for a 2015 New Year's dinner.

With the weather outside cold and wet, we were happy to be inside the busy, warm restaurant. We ordered our favorite dishes: udon with mushrooms, tempura vegetables and shrimp on seasoned rice, salmon sashimi with pale white daikon threads & wispy pickled seaweed, spinach salad seasoned with mirin and sesame paste, sea urchin (uni) sushi with quail yolk, egg omelet sushi (tamago), baked crab hand roll and hot soba in soup with thinly sliced scallions and paper thin sheets of fatty duck breast.
We talked, shared a bottle of hot sake and looked at photographs from our holiday trips. A great way to begin the new year.

Yesterday the rain was reduced to a light drizzle. Not enough to soak through a thick sweater but enough to chill skin and bone. When it was time to think about dinner, I had only one thought. Cook something easy. Cook something in one pot. And make sure it is hot, filling and delicious.

A few years ago a press trip took me Spokane, Washington and Moscow, Idaho. The area is well-known for its agricultural products, most importantly lentils. A representative of the USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council gave us a "Lentils 101" talk that described the many varieties of lentils, their nutritional value and economic importance to protein-starved regions of the world. Each of us was given a copy of The Pea & Lentil Cookbook: From Everyday to Gourmet which has recipes using dried legumes in dishes as varied as appetizers, soups, salads, entrees and desserts.

Cooking with lentils is easy.

The basics are wash and rinse the lentils. Discard any broken or misshapen lentils. Generally speaking lentils are cooked in water at a ratio of one cup of lentils to two and a half cups of water. Simmer covered for 30-50 minutes, tasting the lentils as they cook and removing the pot from the stove when they are to your taste. Cooked longer, lentils will soften and can be used in purees for soups, dips, sauces and spreads.

I like the lentils to retain their shape so I cook them only until they are al dente.

Lentils with Shiitake Mushrooms and Vegetables

Lentils come in many varieties. They are not all the same. Find the ones you like. My favorites are Beluga or black lentils and Spanish pardina lentils, which I used last night.

Roasted tomato sauce adds a pleasing acid. Canned tomato sauce may be used, but a better alternative is to make your own. For Zester Daily I wrote about making roasted tomatoes and sauce to keep in your freezer.

Serves 4

Ingredients

1 cup lentils
2 1/2 cups water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of cayenne (optional)
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 garlic clove, washed, skin removed, minced
1 medium sized yellow onion, washed, paper skin, root and stem ends removed, finely chopped
2 cups mushrooms, preferably shiitake or brown, washed, the ends of the stems removed, finely chopped
1 medium sized carrot, stem cut off, peeled, washed
1 large roasted tomato, washed, stem removed or 1/2 cup roasted tomato sauce
2 cups spinach leaves, washed and thin sliced

Directions

Rinse the lentils, discarding any that are broken or discovered.

In a 2 quart sauce pan, heat the olive oil. Add the dry spices and garlic. Lightly brown.

Add the onions, mushrooms and carrots. Saute until lightly browned.

Add the lentils, water and roasted tomato sauce. Stir well. Bring to a simmer. Cover.

After 15 minutes, add the spinach leaves. Stir well. Cover.

The lentils may take 25-45 minutes to soften. How long depends on many factors. After 25 minutes, taste a few lentils. If they need more cooking and the liquid has evaporated, add enough water to keep the lentils covered.

Stir well, cover and continue cooking, checking the pot every 5 minutes until they have achieved the desired texture.

Serve hot.


Saturday, August 31, 2013

Tomato Pintxos for Labor Day or Any Day

On a trip to Northern Spain in the spring, I discovered pintxos.
In Spanish bars, the appetizers served with beverages are tapas (about which everyone knows), pintxos and bocadilas. There's an easy way to distinguish one from the other. No bread on the plate, it's tapas. One slice of grilled bread, pintxos. Two pieces of bread (or a roll), bocadillas.
Bar food can be as simple as a bowl of beer nuts, but in Spain having a bite to eat in a bar means something very different.
On the trip, we ate elaborately designed pintxos with shrimps riding bareback on saddles of caramelized onions and smoked salmon that topped freshly grilled slices of sourdough bread.
Others featured anchovies with hardboiled eggs, whole roasted piquillo (small red peppers) stuffed with tuna fish, prosciutto wrapped around wild arugula leaves, delicately thin omelets rolled around finely chopped seasoned tomatoes and flat strips of roasted red bell peppers topped with slabs of brie and an anchovy fillet.
The invention and flavors of pintxos are unlimited. Think of wonderfully supportive flavors and textures to place on top the solid foundation of a thin slice of grilled bread and you have a beautiful and tasty appetizer to go with an ice cold beer, glass of crisp white wine or a refreshing summer cocktail like fresh fruit Sangria.
Tomato Pintxos with Fresh Tomatoes, Thin Sliced Olives and Dried Oregano

One of the best pintxos I enjoyed on the trip was the simplest. Don't get me wrong, I loved the elaborately constructed shrimp pintxos at Atari Gastronteka (Calle Mayor 18, 20001 Donostia-San Sebastián, Spain, 34 943 44 07 92) in San Sebastián, but in Oviedo, near the Cathedral in the old town, in a working man's bar away from the tourist crush, A'Tarantella (Calle Jesus n 1, Oviedo, Spain, 985 73 81 65) restaurant served a simple pintxos that was one of my favorites.
Thin slices of tomatoes were laid on top of a piece of grilled bread, seasoned only with a drizzle of olive oil, salt, pepper, sliced, pitted olives were scattered on top and dusted with dried oregano.

Easy to prepare. Simple flavors. Delicious.

For the bread, a dense white or whole wheat loaf is best. The tomatoes should be fresh and ripe but firm.

The individual ingredients can be prepared an hour ahead but the pintxos should be assembled just before serving to prevent the bread from becoming soggy from all those delicious tomato juices.

Serves 4

Ingredients

2 large, ripe but firm farmers market fresh tomatoes
12 large, pitted green olives, thin sliced, 1/8"
8 slices thin sliced French bread
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper to taste

Directions

Slice the bread 1/4" thick. Grill on a hot barbecue, cast iron frying pan with grill ridges or roast in a 450 F oven for a few seconds to put grill-marks on each side. Remove. Set aside.
Set up an assembly line with the ingredients ready to go as soon as the bread is grilled.

Using a sharp chefs knife, slice the tomatoes as thin as possible. The tops and bottoms of the tomatoes should not be used. They can be finely chopped and used as a topping for another pintxos or to create a salsa.

Assemble each tomato pintxos in the following order: grilled bread, drizzled with olive oil, tomato slices, pitted olive slices, a seasoning of dried oregano, sea salt, black pepper and (optional) a final drizzle of olive oil.

Serve immediately with ice cold beverages.


Friday, March 8, 2013

Asian Noodles Take a Trip to Italy

My wife is out town. I'm home alone and hungry. Since I work at the house, my routine is to write during the day and have dinner with my wife when she gets home from her office. Cooking our dinner gives shape to my day, since I plan the meal in the morning and do the prep when I'm taking breaks during the day.

Having dinner together is a fun part of the day. Over a meal with a salad, main course and a couple of side dishes, we have time to catch up.

Now I have to contemplate dinner for one and that's not as much fun.
Staring at the open refrigerator, considering what left-overs I could eat or what bits and pieces I could put together to make a meal (a farmers market Fuji apple with slices of comte cheese and bacon from breakfast), a different approach occurred to me.

Having grown up eating instant ramen, a cup of noodles is always the way to go when hunger strikes. But I'm a bit hesitant to go that route because of the high salt content and the predominance of chemical additives in the soup base. Happily, shopping at Asian markets, it's easy to see that ramen is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to easy-to-make noodles.
Even in mainstream supermarkets, if you look in the Asian foods section, you'll find packages of dried egg and rice noodles. Go to an Asian market and the selection will border on the comic with aisle after aisle of fresh and dried noodles. Costing two or three dollars, one package of Asian noodles will easily feed 4-6 people.
If you want, you can certainly prepare the noodles with Asian sauces and ingredients. Personally, I like to combine the noodles with braised meat or poultry and vegetables from our local farmers market. The result is a deliciously comforting Asian-Italian fusion.

I like the dish so much, when my wife comes home, I'll make a bowl for her.

Asian Noodles, Italian Style

Use raw meat and poultry or leftovers from another meal. For stock, home made is preferable to avoid the excessive amounts of sodium in canned versions. The dish can easily be made vegetarian by omitting the meat and poultry. Other vegetables can be added or substituted for the ones I used and, if you like heat, dust the braise with cayenne or a scattering of pepper flakes.

Serves 4

Ingredients

2 pounds uncooked deboned chicken, pork shoulder or top sirloin, washed, pat dried and thin sliced or use 1 1/2 pounds cooked chicken, pork or beef
1 medium yellow onion, washed, ends removed, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled, root ends removed, finely chopped
6 shiitake mushrooms, washed, stems trimmed to remove dirt, thin sliced
2 carrots, washed, ends removed, peeled, cut into rounds
2 cups broccoli crowns, washed, sliced into florets
4 cups kale leaves, washed, stems removed or spinach leaves, washed, roughly chopped
2 cups stock, chicken, beef, pork or vegetarian, preferably home made
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 to 1 pound of Asian noodles
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons sweet butter (optional)

Directions

Heat a large pot with water. Bring to a boil. Unlike Italian pasta, Asian noodles do not require adding salt or oil to the water. Wait to add the noodles until the braise is finished because the drained noodles will congeal quickly.

In a large saucepan or chefs pan, heat the olive oil. Add the onions, garlic and shiitake mushrooms and sauté until lightly browned.  If using uncooked chicken or meat, add now and cook until lightly browned.

Add the broccoli and kale and sauté until wilted. If using cooked chicken or meat, add along with the carrots and stock. Simmer 10 minutes until the carrots are tender.

Taste and adjust the seasoning with sea salt, pepper and (optional) the sweet butter. Reduce liquid to half by cooking another 5 minutes. Lower the flame.

Add the noodles to the boiling water and stir well using tongs or chop sticks to separate the noodles. Read directions for cooking time. Before draining, taste a noodle and confirm doneness. Drain.

Add the noodles to the braise and toss well to coat with the sauce.

Serve hot in bowls with chop sticks or on plates with forks and large spoons.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Planning a Dinner Party and Serving Winter Squash

A lot of work goes into hosting a dinner party. No one likes wasted effort, so it behooves the cook in the house to find out what the guests like to eat and what foods to avoid. 

With pescetarians, vegetarians, vegans, shellfish averse and gluten-free friends all potentially coming to the same meal, putting together a menu can be a bit of a puzzle. Besides staying clear of food allergies and aversions, as with any menu, the dishes need to have a flow and there needs to be pairings and contrasts. All soft food would be unpleasant. Serving only crispy food presents the same problem. But a mix of flavors and textures enlivens the palate as the conversation twists and turns through different conversational topics.
Warming up a meal with winter squash
Writing about food when rain is hitting the windows and the wind pushes through the trees makes me hungry for hot, savory and filling comfort food. A salad anytime would be nice but what drives away the chill is a good bowl of soup, a nice braise or roasted vegetables.

Not being a squash-person, the great abundance of winter squash in the farmers markets hasn't much mattered to me. When we host a dinner party, included in the invitation are two questions: "What do you love to eat?" and "What do you prefer not to eat?"
Which is a long way of getting around to winter squash.

At a recent dinner party, one of our guests indicated a love of squash so I was encouraged to experiment with a vegetable rarely visited in our kitchen. In today's farmers market there were beautiful looking displays of acorn and butternut squash.
Versatile squash
Squash can be boiled, steamed, sautéed, roasted, stewed, pureed, braised and grilled. Because the seeds and pulp inside are not edible (although the seeds can be separated from the pulp, washed clean, tossed with olive oil and soy sauce and roasted for a snack), squash needs to be cut open. After that, the squash can be peeled or not, sliced, diced or left half or in quarters. 

Squash soup is certainly a good use of the vegetable, but I was more interested in retaining the texture of the flesh. Aiming for softness with a bit of char, I settled on a double method of cooking. Seasoned with olive oil, sea salt and pepper, the slices were first grilled and then finished in the oven to soften the flesh.

After cooking, the slices could be presented on a serving dish or, as I ultimately decided, peeled and large-diced, which made them an ideal side dish to accompany the rest of the meal, which consisted of brown sugar pork ribs, baked chicken breasts topped with parsley, roasted vegetable salad, Caesar salad, grilled romaine lettuce with Parmesan cheese shavings, Brazilian style grilled slices of picanha (beef top sirloin), roasted salmon with kimchi and brown sugar, chicken wing and leek tagine with preserved lemons.

For an easy-to-make side dish or tossed with pasta, roasted winter squash is a great way to go. In 30 minutes you can make pasta, the squash and a tossed salad for a healthy, delicious meal.

Grilled-Roasted Winter Squash

You can buy a large squash or, as I prefer, two smaller squash. They're easier to handle and are sometimes sweeter.

Serves 4

Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

2 pounds winter squash, washed and pat dried
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt and black pepper to taste

Directions

Using a sharp chefs knife on a wooden cutting board, cut off the ends of the squash and then cut the squash in half, lengthwise. Using a spoon, scoop out the pulp and seeds, washing the seeds and reserving them for a later use, if desired.
Preheat the grill and oven to 350 F. Slice the the squash into 1/2" thick, lengthwise slices. Pour the olive oil onto a medium sized baking tray and season with salt and pepper. Coat the squash slices with the seasoned olive oil.

To get char marks on the squash slices, place them on a hot grill for 30-40 seconds on each side. Use metal tongs to turn them and put them pack on the baking tray.

Put the squash into the oven 10 minutes on each side and bake until al dente. Don't make them too soft. Remove and, using a pairing knife, remove the peel.

Serve warm.

Variations

In addition to sea salt and black pepper, season the olive oil with finely chopped fresh garlic (2 cloves, peeled).

In addition to the other seasonings, add finely chopped fresh rosemary (1 tablespoon) to the squash slices.

For heat, add 1/8 teaspoon cayenne to the seasoned olive oil.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Roasted Vegetable Salad

Even in February, the farmers markets in Southern California have plenty of summer greens. Plump bunches of romaine, red leaf lettuce, arugula and Italian parsley are stacked high on the farmers' tables.

To create a healthy, refreshing dish, all you have to do is rinse the greens in clean water, flick dry and toss with a simple dressing.
But this is winter and another group of vegetables come into their own when the sun's rays have weakened, the days are shorter, and the temperatures lower.

Black kale, turnips, beets and celery root are now in their prime and require only a little more effort to create a delicious salad.

Using an oven's heat to bring the best out of vegetables turns starch into sugar and coaxes crispness out of leafy greens.

For Zester Daily I wrote an easy-to-make recipe for a roasted vegetable salad that is delicious when the chill is in the air. A salad with a bit of warmth is a perfect accompaniment for roasted meats and seafood or a hearty braise: A Winter Pick-Me-Up: Roasted Vegetable Salad.