Friday, October 28, 2011

Cabbage subzi


Happy Diwali! Wishing everyone a wonderful new year full of good health, happiness, love and success. You may remember the beautiful Diwali dinner from last year, my first in SF, and with another dinner just around the corner, there will be more posts with Indian coming soon.

I was excited to get a head of cabbage in my CSA box last week because in the weeks leading up to Diwali, I have been craving the comfort of homemade Indian food.

Cabbage and potato subzi is one of those dishes that reminds me of my childhood. I never understood why my friends disliked cabbage so much, other than in the form of coleslaw. This dish is has converted many cabbage hatters into cabbage lovers, so give it a try! It is best served with hot roti or rice and even better if you have dal, making a complete vegetarian meal with protein. The subzi comes together fairly quickly so it is perfect for a weeknight dinner.

Just don't use a dutch oven for this dish. The potato will get mushy, almost soup-like and you will end up with something that looks like dal. Huge mistake. Use a skillet or saute pan like in the photo above. Trust me.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Swiss Chard and Sweet Potato and Black Bean Tacos with Smokey Chipotle Salsa


Taco night! I hinted at this amazing taco night a few weeks ago. Sauteed beet greens topped with cumin-scented sweet potatoes and black beans, drizzled with smokey chipotle salsa and sprinkled with tangy crumbled feta. These tacos are a great way to incorporate more greens into your diet. My CSA box had several bunches of golden beets, and after hearing so much about the nutrients in beet greens (most notably beta-carotene, vitamin C, iron and calcium), I have been wanting to try cooking with beet greens. You could use any green in this dish, such as Swiss card, spinach, mustard or collard greens. 

I found myself with more sweet potatoes than I know what to do with, so I made a mixture of roasted sweet potatoes, onions and black beans scented with cumin and incorporated it into the taco. The tacos would be delicious with just sauteed beet greens or with just sweet potatoes and black beans. But the combination of nutritious beet greens, sweet potato and protein and fiber packed black beans gave the tacos a little more substance and protein, transforming taco night into a nutritious, healthy vegetarian dinner.


The smokey flavor of the chipotle salsa was amazing, and we were so thrilled to have extra to enjoy with tortilla chips! I used a recipe by Rick Bayless and became instantly flooded with memories of many wonderful meals (and margaritas) at Frontera and Xoco. You know we love smokey flavors, as evidenced by our obsession with mezcal.

Beet greens don't keep well so as soon as I got my box I immediately trimmed all of the healthy looking greens, washed and dried them; you want to wash the greens similar to the way you wash lettuce: soak in a large bowl and wash in several changes of cold water. I sauteed the greens with red onions, garlic, red chili flakes and vegetable broth. I did this in advance the day before. 

I rubbed sweet potatoes and onions with olive oil and cumin, and roasted them in the oven. I tossed the roasted sweet potato mixture with black beans sauteed with chili powder and cumin. I think this would be delicious on its own with some lime juice, diced jalapeno and some cilantro. I love the creamy texture of the roasted sweet potato!

While the sweet potatoes roasted, I pan roasted tomatilloes and garlic in a non stick skillet and pureed the tomatilloes and garlic with two chipotles en adobo sauce, water and salt. Super easy and delicious!

When we sat down for dinner, we just couldn't get over how delicious the combination of beet greens, sweet potato, black beans and smokey chipotle tasted. What a flavorful, healthy, and filling vegetarian taco! We cannot wait to have this again!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Cherry Tomato Margherita Pizza


A gray, rainy night really is the perfect excuse for pizza night. Especially when tempted by fresh mozzarella in the fridge, fresh basil in the garden and cherry tomatoes in the CSA box.

I really do love margherita pizza; it is simple, savory and satisfying. This recipe adds crushed fennel seeds to the slightly charred cherry tomatoes and crushed garlic.  Perfect for a gathering of friends, this pizza can be made in about 20 minutes. It may be my favorite pizza topping yet!

The first time we made the margherita pizza, we added burrata in addition to the fresh mozzarella (let's just say that my dear friend MR is obsessed with burrata). Although deliciously creamy, the burrata oozed all over the skillet in the oven and turned the would-have-been crispy thin crust into a soggy, naan-like mess.

Our second attempt was infinitely better. We stuck to using fresh mozzarella and used less cheese overall, roughly one 4 oz mozzarella ball for 2 pizzas. Success!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Golden Beets with Feta


Dinner at home + Lion King in 3D at the Kabuki = Best date night ever.

Roasted golden beets, drizzled with a dijon, sherry vinegar and olive oil vinaigrette, tossed with shallots and topped with fennel fronds. And couscous with castelvetrano olives, toasted almonds lemon zest and homemade harissa. All inspired by the CSA box.

It's been 6 months and 13 farm boxes, and I'm pretty happy with the CSA box.

Recently Mark Bittman had an interesting article on whether junk food is really cheaper than cooking at home. The economist in me says that this is a no brainer, especially if you factor in future health costs from eating junk food, but do those future health costs from eating junk food offset the opportunity cost of cooking? For example I choose to spend an hour (or two) cooking each night, rather than say, spending time on the couch with my bf watching a movie and ordering take out or going to the gym. What do you think?

I don't really eat junk food or fast food, but I have been asking myself a related question, are we spending less money on food since we signed up for the biweekly box from Farm Fresh to You?

We looked at our monthly grocery, restaurant and eating out lunch costs. Based on 1 year of data (basically since I settled into my new place in SF), it looks like our monthly average food expenditures are lower since we signed up for the box. Overall we are spending less money on groceries and we are eating dinner out less and thus our total restaurant expenses are lower. I am also spending less money on lunch since the box because I generally bring my lunch instead of eating out lunch.  Full disclosure: I did not control for days that I worked late and ate dinner at the office on the company's dime, which disproportionately fall in the 6 month period before the box.

Overall the box has been a huge success for us. We mostly finish everything in the box (sometimes the lettuce goes bad before we can finish it). I try to use the most perishable produce first, like lettuce and other greens and broccoli. And we eat out a whole lot less now because there is so much produce to go through at home. The box comes out to $22 a week and it is delivered to home, which helps tremendously given the unpredictability of my work hours. Plus everything in the box is organic.

As much as possible, I rely on the contents of the box for inspiration and only buy limited supplemental produce, like lemons, shallots or really good mushrooms. It really forces me to cook with ingredients that I normally wouldn't buy and try new recipes. I find myself being more creative and have been making at least one completely new dish every week since I started the box.

Some of you have asked how I find time to cook during the week and how expensive it is to buy all of these ingredients.

One thing that helps make cooking during the week easier is that while making tonight's dinner, I'll roast vegetables in the oven, like beets, for tomorrow night's dinner.  Or I will chop up extra shallots or radishes for tomorrow's salad. When I make a vinaigrette, I'll make extra and keep it in a jar in the fridge for the week. Generally on the weekend, I make a batch of plain quinoa or farro and use it in my lunch or in a side dish for dinner. You could even store the cooked grains in small containers in the freezer.

I strongly believe that using high quality ingredients really transforms a dish. Because I am a vegetarian, I don't spend money buying meat or seafood, so I can afford to spend a little more on things like good parmesan, gruyere and french feta, high quality extra virgin olive oil for dressings and drizzling (I use an inexpensive olive oil for cooking) and good bread. And shallots. Shallots are amazing. Yes, I do have several different vinegars and oils but honestly once you buy a good bottle of balsamic you will use a small amount time and again in various dishes.

Other staples I like to keep on hand (beyond the basic flour, eggs, pasta, etc) include grains like quinoa, farro and couscous, beans like cannellini, chick peas and black beans, nuts like walnuts and pine nuts, and a coarse flaky salt like Maldon.

I also believe that fresh herbs have the ability to make a good dish outstanding. Whenever a recipe called for a teaspoon of thyme or rosemary, I used to run to Whole Foods and buy a small packet of herbs only to waste the rest of the herbs. So I started growing basil, thyme, rosemary, oregano and mint in pots on the balcony. Next year I might grow sage and maybe even peppers.

So there you have it. Cooking healthy, delicious vegetarian meals at home does require time, but with a little investment and planning it is possible to fit in to your schedule, even as a working professional!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Cumin and Smoked Paprika Quinoa with Roasted Summer Squash and Chick Peas


Quinoa takes on an exciting flavor in this incredible salad of roasted zucchini, chick peas, cumin, smoked paprika and turmeric. The best part is that the dish can be made in advance which allows the bold flavors to meld together beautifully and makes it a great lunch (or picnic) option!

I brought the cumin and smoked paprika scented dish for lunch during the work week, and it was certainly the envy of several coworkers who get lunch to-go from eateries around the office. I love the bold smokey paprika, earthy cumin and brightness of the turmeric, and the lemon-garlic chick peas add a lovely textural contrast. The result is a healthy, tasty vegetarian dish!

I had quite an assortment of zucchini, patty pan squash and yellow squash in my CSA box so I ended up roasting them all together. Zucchini and summer squash are seasoned with turmeric, cumin and smoked paprika and roasted until tender. Chick peas are marinated with lemon juice and garlic.

Quinoa is cooked with fragrant cumin seeds, turmeric and smoked paprika. Everything is tossed together with scallions and parsley (which you can easily omit). I felt that the flavors tasted best at room temperature.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Ratatouille's Ratatouille (or Keller's Ratatouille) with Rice Pilaf


There are signs of fall everywhere. As the air turns crisp cool, cozy sweaters and riding boots appear, blogs buzz over delicious apple treats and pumpkin patches scatter the Bay Area. Except the weather in SF feels like summer (which we never had) and the farms around here are still brimming with late-summer produce.

Thankfully it is cool enough to turn the oven on to make this wonderful ratatouille celebrating the end of summer and cusp of fall. One of the most visually stunning dishes, ratatouille truly highlights juicy tomatoes and other late season vegetables like eggplant, peppers, zucchini and summer squash.

I'm pretty sure I'm not alone on this one. Ever since I saw the movie "Ratatouille" I have been wanting to make Ratatouille's rataouille. After a little research I learned that traditionally ratatouille is made like a stew, but Julia Child recommends cooking each vegetable separately so that it holds its shape and texture and each vegetable retains its flavor and then layering the vegetables and baking.

According to this article in the New York Times, Ratatouille, as in the movie, was based on Thomas Keller's modern approach to ratatouille, confit byaldi, where the vegetables are beautifully layered like an accordion and slowly baked at a low temperature so the vegetables hold their shape.

When my CSA box arrived filled with eggplant, a colorful array of peppers, zucchini and summer squash, and heirloom tomatoes, I took it as a sign that I had to make Keller's ratatouille. And after eating at The French Laundry in May (yes, I still owe you that post), I have an appreciation for Keller's careful and precise treatment of vegetables.

Keller's recipe starts with a piperade- a wonderful combination of roasted red, yellow and purple peppers and heirloom tomatoes, flavored with sprigs of parsley and thyme.

The piperade is spread on the bottom of a baking dish and the sliced veggies are arranged in an alternating manner in a tight overlapping spiral over the piperade. Keller's recipe recommends using thin long Japanese eggplant to maintain uniformity in the size of the sliced veggies, but I used a medium sized globe eggplant and adjusted the slices as necessary.

A mixture of garlic, thyme and olive oil is drizzled on top of the veggies and the dish is baked for 2.5 hours at 275. I did everything up to this point ahead of time and refrigerated the dish. The next night I reheated the dish in the oven at 350 before putting it under the broiler for a few minutes just before serving.

I served the ratatouille with a gorgeous, fluffy pilaf and a vinaigrette of reserved piperade, balsamic and thyme. The ratatouille was visually stunning as expected but it also tasted heavenly which made it well worth the extra effort!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Black Bean Tacos with Avocado, Radish, Cilantro-Lime Salsa


We have reinstated taco night. Long gone are the taco nights of my childhood, where hard taco shells are loaded with refried pinto beans, salsa, cheddar jack cheese, dollops of gaucamole and shredded iceberg lettuce. Taco night takes on a new meaning with locally sourced ingredients like radishes, greens such as Swiss chard or beet greens, sweet potatoes (garnet yams) and of course avocados.

Our first taco night didn't stray too far from the traditional taco. Inspired by two Marthas, I made cumin-scented refried black beans a la Martha Rose Schulman and a cilantro-lime salsa loosely based on a recipe by Martha Stewart. I filled white corn tortillas with the refried black beans, avocado and radish dressed in lemon juice and tossed with shallots, crumbled queso fresco and finished with a cilantro-lime salsa.

I was convinced that there was no way these tacos could be better than, or even as good as, the queso fundido with roasted poblano peppers (rajas) and mushrooms (hongos) tacos we made back in May. First of all I love roasted poblanos and second of all, vegetarian tacos must be smothered in cheese in order to taste good, right?

I couldn't have been more wrong. These tacos were so damn delicious that we just had to make them again a couple nights later, but this time we didn't even bother sitting down. That's right, we feasted on these incredible vegetarian tacos while standing in the kitchen and assembling the next batch.

Stay tuned for a recap of our next taco night: beet greens (or Swiss chard), sweet potatoes and black beans with feta and a smokey chipotle salsa.

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