BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Soup or Salad?

Dear California,

I understand you’ve been having unseasonably warm weather lately, despite the stark contrast of chilly days and near-freezing nights over on the opposite side of the country. I feel your pain, really I do, but not everyone else sees it this way. I write to you as a friend, not to criticize but to suggest toning down the complaints, at least until Halloween has passed. Some of New England is getting mighty jealous, and I hate to see such petty things come between you two.

Love, Hannah.

PS, did you ever find the cell phone charger I left at your place two years ago?

It’s a tricky time of year, when the stretch of land makes the distance between our country’s coasts all the more apparent. Jump on a plane and you’ll find yourself in an entirely different climate, one that can feel so vastly different that it may as well be a different planet. Suddenly I have to worry about our slow-ripening tomatoes getting hit with the first frost before they ever have a chance to mature, while friends hundreds of miles away bemoan the summer that just won’t quit.

Always seeking that elusive middle ground, some compromise that will make everyone happy, I offer you this odd-ball recipe. Soup that can be served just as satisfying hot or cold, the concept is nothing new, but the content might give unsuspecting eaters pause. With a good bit of leftover Caesar dressing but feeling too cold for straight-up salad, I decided to take a gamble and turn the classic combination into a more liquid format. A light starter, bright with sharp acidity, it’s an excellent way to kick off any meal. Chilled, the flavors have more time to meld and harmonize, but warm, it soothes the soul and takes the edge off a brisk day. Such an avant-garde serving suggestion may not suit everyone’s tastes, but it’s sure worth a try, no matter what coast you find yourself on.

Caesar Soup

1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
2 Small, Trimmed and Cleaned Leeks (White and Light Green Parts only) (6 Ounces)
2 Small Cloves Garlic, Finely Minced
1 Yukon Gold Potato (6 – 8 Ounces), Peeled and Diced
2 Teaspoons Lemon Juice
3 1/2 – 4 Cups Vegetable Stock
1 Pounds Romaine Lettuce (About 2 Hearts), Plus 4 – 5 Firm Inner Leaves for Garnish
1 Cup Baby Spinach
1/3 Cup Vegan Caesar Dressing, Plus 1 – 2 Tablespoons for Garnish
1/4 Teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper
Salt, to Taste

Garlic and Herb Croutons

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Garlic Cloves, Finely Minced
1 Teaspoon Fresh Thyme (or 1/2 Teaspoon Dried)
1/4 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
1/4 Teaspoon Coarse Salt
2 1/2 Cups 1/2-Inch Cubed Sourdough Bread (About 3 1.5-Ounce Slices)

To begin the soup, coat the bottom of a medium saucepan with olive oil and set it over medium heat. Add in the leeks and garlic, gently sauteing until softened and aromatic; about 3 – 4 minutes. Be careful not to brown the vegetables, but rather allow them to sweat. Add in the potato, lemon juice, and 3 1/2 cups vegetable stock, and bring the mixture up to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, and let bubble quietly for 10 – 15 minutes, until the potato is fork-tender.

Transfer the contents of the pot to your blender and thoroughly puree. Introduce a few handfuls of spinach and romaine at a time, blending until the bulk has been chopped down, and then adding the next bunch. Puree until completely smooth- The soup will not be nearly as enjoyable if it’s not perfectly silky in texture. Finally, add the dressing, pepper, and salt to taste, blending briefly to combine. Either chill for at least 3 hours for a cold version, or serve right away to enjoy it hot.

For the croutons, preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with a silpat or aluminum foil. (Note: I wanted to save some energy so I made mine in a little toaster oven. The pieces all fit, but barely, so be mindful of your space if you go that route.)

Place all of the ingredients in a large bowl, and toss to coat all of the bread cubes. Pour everything onto your prepared sheet, and spread out the cubes so that they’re all in one even layer. Bake for 15 – 20 minutes, stirring halfway through the cook time, until golden brown and crisp. Let cool completely before serving.

To serve, ladle out the soup into bowls and top with some of the reserved, chopped lettuce, a drizzle of extra dressing, and a handful of croutons.

Makes 4 – 5 Side Dish or Starter-Sized Servings

Printable Recipe


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Minty Fresh

Sparse vines reach weakly upward towards the sunlight filtering in between the thick blanket of leaves above, gently yellowing despite their youth. Choked out by the tall trees overhead that greedily suck down all the rich solar nutrition, our fragile, immature tomato plants never had a chance. Careful weeding and daily watering be damned- Not a drop of those efforts show. For reasons unknown, this will be our worst harvest ever, if you can even call it a “harvest.” It would be a joy to pull even a solitary ripe, red orb from those sagging knots of greenery, but I’m not so optimistic about even that kind of yield.

While I can only look on with envy as friends effortlessly produce vegetables of all colors and shapes from their own backyard gardens, I have but one tiny success to brag about: The mint. Known for being aggressively prolific, spreading like a weed and reseeding itself for years to come, ours finally broke the curse of our sad patch of dirt and actually followed suit. Sprouting and outgrowing the small patch originally allotted to them, the herbaceous leaves now cover nearly half of the paltry expanse, growing like a full, unruly mane of hair, much in need of a trim. And so, with no vegetables to temper my enthusiasm, trim I did.

After batches of mint chocolate sorbet, mint tea, and minted snow peas, the mint still kept coming with no end in sight. Fully confident that the supply would not run short, I went for the gusto and gathered as much as I could before the rainclouds above burst once again, snipping off every viable leaf to make up a fresh take on pesto. Before that quick spread could even finish whirling about the blades of the food processor, I already had a full recipe planned out to put it to work.

Borrowing from a Middle Eastern palate of flavors for inspiration, pomegranate proved to be a perfectly tangy match to this bright and herbaceous paste. Not only do the crunchy arils make an appearance to lend textural contrast, but the foundation of the salad itself, chewy pearls of Israeli couscous, are cooked in pure pomegranate juice as well. Cool, crisp cucumbers punctuate the mixture, lightening the whole dish considerably- And because, as we’ve established, I can’t go a single summer day without getting my cucumber fix.

Even if you don’t have ground cover of mint threatening to take over your entire yard, it’s well worth the effort to forage through the farmer’s market to make the pesto, if not the whole couscous salad. Consider tossing it into potato salad, spread it over crostini, or pack it into sandwiches. The recipe makes enough for leftovers, so you can easily spare enough explore all those delicious options, and then some.

Pomegranate Mint Couscous

Mint Pesto:

1/4 Cup Roasted, Unsalted Sunflower Seeds
1 – 2 Cloves Garlic
1 Teaspoon White Miso
Zest of 1/2 Lemon
2 Cups Loosely Packed Mint Leaves
1/2 Cup Loosely Packed Basil Leaves
1/4 Cup Flax or Hemp Seed Oil
Big Pinch Cayenne Pepper
Salt, to Taste

In a food processor, pulse the sunflower seeds and garlic lightly to break them down a bit, and add in the miso and lemon zest to combine. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula, and introduce the mint and basil. Pulse again to incorporate, and then with the machine running, stream in the oil. Puree until mostly smooth but still slightly coarse in texture, and season with cayenne and salt to taste. Use right away, or store in airtight container in the fridge. The mint pesto can be made ahead of time refrigerated for up to a week.

Makes About 3/4 Cup

Pomegranate Couscous Salad:

2 Cups 100% Pomegranate Juice
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup Dry Israeli Couscous
1/2 Cup Frozen or Fresh Green Garbanzo Beans, or Frozen Green Peas
1/3 Cup Mint Pesto (See Recipe Above)
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil, if Needed
1 Cup Diced Seedless Cucumber
1/2 Cup Pomegranate Arils
Pinch Ground Black Pepper

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring the pomegranate juice and salt to a boil. Add in the couscous, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook until the liquid has been absorbed. Stir in the green garbanzo beans or peas while the pasta is still hot, thawing or gently cooking the beans with the residual heat. Transfer to a large bowl, and thoroughly mix in the pesto. Add in the oil if needed to loosen up the pesto and more evenly distribute it throughout. Toss in the cucumber, arils, and season with pepper to taste. Stir well, and chill thoroughly before serving.

Makes 6 – 8 Side Servings

Printable Recipe


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Early Bird Special

Rumor has it that the May/June 2012 issue of VegNews has already been spotted in the wild, so I can’t wait a moment longer to share my photographic contributions. This particular volume has been dubbed the “media issue,” addressing the explosion of veganism in the public eye, but for me, as always, it was all about the food.

Beverly Lynn Bennett shares a fool-proof method for Chocolate Chia Pudding so delicious, you’ll renounce all things tapioca with one spoonful. Okay, so there’s room enough for both treats in a vegan’s life, but this healthy snack is a delightful (and healthier) change of pace. For everyone who became addicted to the stuff at Vegan Vida Con, here’s the magic formula to reinvent this wonder seed in a more chocolaty format.

Another simple yet sublime offering, Allison Rivers Samson pulls out another stunning replica of a typically non-vegan classic, this time being Caesar Salad. I’ll admit, I wasn’t exactly jumping up and down at the idea of another leafy green salad, but this one packs in the flavor like none other. For such a basic combination of romaine, croutons, and vinaigrette, this Caesar really knocks it out of the park. I’m not the least bit ashamed to admit that I chomped my way through the whole recipe’s worth after this shoot was done.

It seems as though those printing presses never stop rolling over there, which is a good thing! That means it’s almost time to embark yet again on the next set of tempting VegNews recipes, and I can’t wait to share another visual feast when they finally make it on paper, too.


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The Kale Conundrum

Kale: The poster child for all things wholesome, healthy, and generally good. Once shunned as merely a frilly garnish for deli cases, no greater redemption story can be found in the produce aisle. Excellent both cooked and raw, agreeable with any flavors thrown at it, kale remains humble even after so much glowing praise has elevated it to super food status, willing to work with any supporting ingredients thrown at it. Joining the bandwagon like everyone else, I dutifully buy my kale, encouraged by those frilly, vibrant leaves, imagining a sea of recipes ideal for this fresh addition.

Out of the grocery bag back at home, it gingerly goes into the vegetable bin. A day later, heavier vegetables are moved around and get placed on top of the once firm stems, now quickly softening to imitate limp noodles. Another day passes, and surely I’ve forgotten I ever purchased such a thing; the tender green curls are crushed beneath a second load of re-sorted produce. Fast forward a week, and no doubt that same kale would still be there, beginning to yellow around the edges drooping like a neglected bouquet of flowers. Kale goes into the bin, and it’s time to go grocery shopping again. Oh, look at that kale, I should get some!

No more of this madness! I’ve had enough of throwing away perfectly good kale. My forgetfulness is inexplicable, but for some reason, kale just never seems to quite fit into what I’m making at the moment. Instead of repeating the same pattern yet again, I stopped the cycle halfway through, deciding that the only way out was to construct a new dish built around the greenery itself.

Typical kale pitfalls include: 1) Giant, uncut pieces that must be chewed for months to properly break down, 2) Overcooked, grey, and bitter leaves, and 3) Bland, boring and approaches simply too austere to genuinely enjoy. Shredding my raw kale finely and pairing it with bright, exciting flavors solved my last remaining scraps of hesitation with ease. Kelp noodles were sitting sadly at the bottom of the fridge, similarly forgotten, so I threw them in as well, but they turned out to be superfluous. With or without the noodles, I know this is one dish that will put the brakes on my poor kale-keeping habits.

A one-dish wonder that won’t weigh you down, this is a substantial salad that packs in edamame for protein, and plenty of good fats via avocado, pinenuts, and just a dab of olive oil. Above all else though, the invigorating lemon and ginger dressing makes it no chore to plow through a big bowlful of greens, no matter how remiss you’ve been on squeezing them into the daily diet before.

Crave-Worthy Kale Salad

Optional:
12 Ounce Package Kelp Noodles
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
Warm Water

1 Bunch Kale, Washed and Dried
3 Scallions
1 Cup Shelled Edamame
1 English Cucumber, Halved and Sliced
1 Ripe Avocado
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Mirin
1 Teaspoon Lemon Zest
1 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
Big Pinch Cayenne Pepper
Salt to Taste
1/4 Cup Toasted Pine Nuts or Sunflower Seeds

If using kelp noodles, place them in a small bowl and add warm water to cover. Mix in the lemon juice and stir to combine. Let sit and soften for at least 15 minutes while you prepare the rest of the salad. Rinse and drain thoroughly before using.

Remove the large, woody stems from the kale, and then stack up the leaves on top of each other for easier slicing. Chop them into thin ribbons, and add them to a large bowl. Thinly slice the scallions, and toss those in along with the edamame and cucumber.  Dice the avocado and toss it with the lemon juice before introducing it to into the same bowl, along with any leftover juice. Finally whisk together the oil, mirin, lemon zest, ginger, cayenne, and salt, and pour the dressing over the greens. Toss everything very well to combine, and as well as the kelp noodles if using. Top each serving with pine nuts or sunflower seeds before serving.

Serves 4 – 6

Printable Recipe


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Red, White, and Purplish-Blue

An event that never registered much importance on my radar, the 4th of July is a welcome holiday nonetheless. Even if it means the smell of meaty cookouts wafting through the neighborhood all day and little more than an excuse to blow up some fireworks in the evening, it’s a welcome holiday in the long, occasionally monotonous stretch of summer months. Without the mandated gatherings of family and friends, spent largely lazing about outdoors, it’s questionable whether I would take the time to pause and enjoy the season at all. Honestly, for such a casual affair where the star of the show is usually the hotdog or hamburger (hopefully tofu dog and veggie burger!), it hardly seems worth fussing over creating a grand spread.

That’s not to say that I’ve completely written off the Fourth as day that good food forgot, but if you are going to put some effort into your edibles, it may as well be in one simple, small, and non-essential dish. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that some people can get very edgy when you threaten their Independence Day grilling ritual. This little thing I’ve whipped up here? Just consider it a bonus… Which may end up being a bigger hit than the star of the show itself.

Blue potatoes, skin left intact, are diced small and tossed in a dab of avocado or olive oil, finely minced garlic and fresh rosemary before hitting the oven. Roasted at 400 degrees, it only takes about 15 minutes for the little starchy morsels to reach a state of crisp on the outside and tender within. Cool before proceeding.

Pull out some nice glasses, or glass jars, or even clear plastic cups if you’re against doing dishes on this most laissez-faire of gatherings. Spoon a layer of chilled blue potatoes on the bottom, and press down lightly to keep the stripes even. Top your blue potatoes with an equal layer of tofu feta (made with white miso only, please)- Which, unlike actual feta, is not nearly so salty, fatty, or cloying, and thus edible in larger amounts in a single dish without throwing the balance out of whack.

Finally, chop two or three large, ripe tomatoes, remove the seeds, and toss with a handful of finely diced red onion, a touch of salt, and some very thin shreds of fresh basil. Drain if watery, and pile up high for the final stripe. Store in the fridge until you’re ready to serve.

Whatever you do, don’t call this a potato salad; Deliver it with the title of Patriotic Potato Verrine, and it’s sure to steal the spotlight.


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Can’t Stand the Heat

Making the transition back to a summer climate, that elusive warm state that up until recently seemed to exist only in exotic locales, many miles away, has been a bit more jarring than initially anticipated. Yes, of course, I realized that it would someday register above 70 degrees outside, and yes, New England is notorious for its oppressive humidity, but somehow that all slipped my mind as I daydreamed of summer just a month or two ago. Happily glossing over those unpleasant aspects, I somehow envisioned a June and July as the two most perfect months of the year; free of bugs, hot but crisp and dry, and with gentle showers in the evenings to cool things down each night. We’re still just on the cusp of Summer, but already reality has smacked me in the face and set me straight. That ideal summer just doesn’t exist, my dear.

And just as suddenly, the kitchen is no longer the 24/7 hangout, the thought of lighting up every burner and cranking the oven as high as it will go growing less appealing by the day.  Anything that can be made in quantity, stuffed into the fridge for later, and eaten cold with no fuss has become my favorite thing on the menu.  This means lots of cold salads, primarily, but rarely the leafy, insubstantial sort one might initially envision.  I’m talking nutrient-dense, hearty chilled melanges of anything from grains, beans, nuts, tubers, pasta- Anything in the house is fair game when I’m putting together one of these powerhouse one-bowl meals.

Having pledged my allegiance to no one cuisine in particular, what often results is an odd fusion of ingredients and flavors, as this particular riot of colors and textures in a bowl may indicate. Borrowing both an Asian and Mediterranean sensibility, cooked pearl couscous and fresh veggies meet edamame, all married together beneath of light blanket of miso dressing. Refreshing and light but still filling and full of flavor, it’s the kind of salad that’s just as happy being thrown on a plate for a rushed weekday lunch, taking in the glorious AC, as it is being bundled up with care for a picnic on the beach. No matter what Summer throws at you, you’ve got to be prepared!

Mediter-Asian Couscous Salad

Sweet Miso Dressing:

1 Cup Plain, Unsweetened Soy Yogurt
1/4 Cup Rice Vinegar
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
1/3 Cup White Miso Paste
3 Tablespoons Honey-Flavored Agave, or Amber Agave Nectar
2 Tablespoons Mirin
1 Tablespoon Tamari or Soy Sauce

Mediter-Asian Salad:

1/2 Pound (1 1/4 Cups) Israeli (Pearl) Couscous*
1 Cup Kalamata Olives, Pitted and Sliced
1 1/2 Cups Diced English Cucumber
1 Small Tomato, Diced
1/2 Cup Chopped Roasted Red Pepper
1/4 Cup Finely Diced Red Onion
1 Cup Shelled Edamame (Thawed if Frozen)
1/3 – 1/2 Cup Thinly Sliced Scallions
10 – 12 Fresh Mint Leaves, Chiffonade
1/4 Cup Toasted Pine Nuts

*For this particular rendition pictured above, I used the Harvest Grains Blend from Trader Joe’s, which simply adds some orzo pasta, quinoa, small beans and such into the mix. Pearl couscous is simply more accessible, in case you don’t have a local Trader Joe’s to raid.

First things first, whisk together all of the ingredients for the dressing in a medium-sized bowl, and set aside for the time being.

Moving on to the bulk of the salad, cook you Israeli couscous or couscous blend according to the package, drain (or if it’s meant to absorb all of the liquid while cooking, simply transfer it to a strainer) and rinse under cold water until cool to the touch. This will both help to stop the cooking and get it down to a workable temperature. Move the cooked couscous into a large bowl, and add in all of the cut veggies, edamame, and herbs. Toss lightly to evenly distribute all of the ingredients. Start by mixing in about 1/2 cup of your prepared miso dressing, mix to incorporate and coat all of the goods, and stir in an additional splash or two until it’s dressed to your liking.

If you want to make this salad in advance, mix in only the initial 1/2 cup of dressing for now, and incorporate the final addition right before serving. Sprinkle the pine nuts over the top to finish.

Store in a large, air-tight container for 3 – 4 days. Separately, the dressing will keep for 7 – 10 days.

Serves 6 – 8

Printable Recipe


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Deconstructed and Reconstructed

Die-hard devotees may cry foul, but I happen to love seeing new renditions of classic dishes. The originals may stand the test of time, and retain their allure despite their newer, trendier counterparts, but times change and food changes with it. For example, falafel is a Middle Eastern staple that almost everyone can claim some sort of fondness for, but no one would want to eat it every day. If the palate fatigue doesn’t get to you, the heavy, greasiness of it all will. Though lusciously rich and filling, those golden fried orbs tend to sit in my stomach like leaden golf balls, encouraging naps soon after rather than resumed productivity- Not exactly the thing to take in for lunch on a work day. After spending one too many afternoons in a falafel-induced daze, I knew that this was one tried-and-true meal in need of some reinvention.

Baked or raw falafel is certainly a worthy consideration, but for days when there’s barely enough time to get dressed and run out the door in the morning, let alone get something into the oven or dehydrator, I have just the alternative.

Still bearing all of the vibrant flavors and key components of your standard fried falafel, my falafel-inspired salad is considerably lighter on the stomach, and easier on an over-scheduled day. No cooking required, just mix and enjoy. Best of all, this assembly is just as tasty warm as it is cold, so it’s perfect packed lunch fodder.  Highly satisfying and re-energizing, I daresay this more modern take on falafel has the edge on the competition… Should you crave that hand-held eating experience, you can even stuff it snugly into a pita, and enjoy it in a more “tradition” fashion!

Deconstructed Falafel Salad

2 Cups Cooked Brown Rice
1 15-Ounce Can Chickpeas
1 Small Leek, Cleaned, Greens Removed and Thinly Sliced
2 Cloves Roasted Garlic, Minced
1/4 – 1/2 Cup Chopped Fresh Parsley
1/4 – 1/2 Teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes
2 Teaspoons Ground Cumin
2 Teaspoons Ground Coriander
3 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon Flax Oil
Salt and Pepper, to Taste
2 Tablespoons Sesame Seeds, Toasted

Additional Options: Chopped cucumber, tomato, or tahini sauce, if desired

Preparation for this one couldn’t be simpler- Just toss everything together in a large bowl until the ingredients are well distributed and evenly coated in spice, and either heat and serve, or cover and stash it in the fridge until chilled. It will last up to 5 days refrigerated, so you can make this at on Monday and enjoy it throughout the work week with ease.

Makes 4 – 5 Servings

Printable Recipe

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