Category Archives: Lunch

Black Bean Soup

vegetarian black bean soup

Everyone in my family has turned vegetarian. They saw a film called Cowspiracy and immediately decided meat was out. I’m proud of their choice and now cook only vegetarian meals. It’s a healthy, earth-friendly, inexpensive diet. We eat more fiber. We lower our carbon footprint. (Full disclosure: I get my meat fix privately, hunkered over the occasional hamburger in a restaurant. Or I make a few strips of bacon to have with my eggs. The family tolerates me being an omnivore.)

Cooking without meat poses challenges I hadn’t anticipated. It’s not a deprivation kind of challenge. It’s that I sometimes lack ideas. When we’re tired and I need to throw together a fast meal, I can’t just throw a slab of animal protein in a pan. One has to think.

In winter, I often want soup. But I don’t want it to be a production. This is the recipe to turn to for a pantry soup, something you can whip up on a weekend morning to enjoy for lunch. It makes great leftovers.

black bean soup ingredients

When making a soup, stay in categories of flavor. This one is kissed by Mexico, with a little bit of heat and spice, crunch and corn from quick fried tortilla strips, and those earthy black beans. Other soups tend towards Asia, with a complex broth (enhanced by soy sauce, ginger and nutritional yeast – a trick I learned from Deborah Madison whose cookbooks I couldn’t live without), and items from the “ethnic” section of your supermarket (think tofu, bean sprouts, fish sauce). My default is Mediterranean flavors: root vegetables sautéed with garlic, sage and/or rosemary, blended with a simple vegetable broth and topped with crispy fried croutons.

bay leaf mediterranean flavors
Some soups don’t need broth at all. The vegetable flavors are distinct enough to carry their own weight. For example, Jerusalem artichokes are one such ingredient. Bay leaves (above) add flavor but be sure to remove them before you blend the soup.

quick vegetable broth ingredients

When you need a vegetable broth, please don’t buy it packaged. They taste awful. Instead, make a 30-minute homemade stock. In a stock pot with a splash of olive oil, sauté about 6 cups of chopped vegetables (onion, celery, carrots and garlic, at least; leeks, turnips, parsley stems and much more will add complexity). After about 5 minutes, add 8 cups of cold water. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 25 minutes. Strain. Done.

winter soup from canned beans with flavorful toppings

 

Black Bean Soup
Serves 6-8

5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 medium white onions, trimmed and peeled, cut into chunks
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1 jalapeño pepper, trimmed (seeded if you want less spicy heat)
2 cans black beans (25-ounce cans)
½ cup canned tomatoes
1 small onion
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. ground cumin
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2-4 cups chicken or vegetable stock, or water
Sour cream, one spoonful to garnish each bowl (skip, if you’re vegan)
Fried tortilla strips, for garnish
½ cup cilantro leaves, for garnish
Red chili pepper, minced, for garnish
Lime, squeezed on top before serving, for zing

Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a medium skillet over a high heat. Cook onions until blackened in parts, about 10 minutes. Add garlic with jalapeño in the last few minutes of cooking, to char slightly. Transfer to a food processor or blender, and purée until very smooth, at least 2 minutes. If needed, add a little stock to loosen the mixture for easier blending.

While the vegetables are cooking, put the beans with their liquid, and tomatoes, into a food processor or blender. Purée until very smooth, about 2 minutes. If needed, add a little stock to help liquefy and blend the beans. Transfer to a bowl.

Cut the small onion into a fine dice. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a 4-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions, oregano, cumin, salt and pepper, and sauté until onion is soft but not brown, about 5 minutes. Stir in the pureed beans and the vegetable purée. Add stock – if you want a thicker soup, add less stock – and bring to a boil; reduce heat to low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until slightly reduced, about 20 minutes. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

To serve, divide soup among bowls and spoon in sour cream. Scatter tortilla strips, cilantro leaves, and minced chili pepper. Squeeze a little lime juice on top.

Comments Off on Black Bean Soup

Filed under Appetizer, dinner, Lunch, Recipes, soup, vegan, vegetables, vegetarian, winter

Spring Salad of Peas, Asparagus, Ricotta and Mint

peas pea shoots asparagus mint sugar snap peas Vegetables mark the cadence of a year. The tempo quickens in spring, with ramps, asparagus and baby greens brightening our plates. Things escalate in early summer, with peas, beets, herbs, and more. By September, the markets in New York City are bursting. It’s a screaming match of color and flavor, a fever pitch of produce, a cascade of foods to taste.

spring vegetables peas salad

Because I like to cook seasonally, I get impatient right about now. We had a bitterly cold winter. The growers are saying spring is 2-3 weeks late this year. Each Saturday morning, I go to the farmer’s market in my Fort Greene neighborhood to check the pulse. Still only apples in the first stall? Or has their first crop of raspberries come in?

spring lunch recipe peas asparagus mint ricotta

This recipe gets a jump on spring, in spite of the paltry supplies on offer. Only the pea shoots are local, not counting the ricotta that comes from Narragansett Creamery. But I couldn’t wait.

spring salad  of peas asparagus mint and ricotta

Blanche the peas and asparagus for a minute to brighten their color and soften the bite. You can smear the ricotta mixture on the plate and spoon the salad on top, for a more elegant presentation. Or just toss it all together like a pasta dish without the pasta, using veggies as a stand-in. This is a one-pot spring meal to raise the volume on spring.

spring tangle of pea shoots peas asparagus mint and ricotta

 

Spring Salad of Peas, Asparagus, Ricotta & Mint

Serves 4

½ pound asparagus, trimmed of woody ends
½ pound fresh peas in the shell, (about 1 cup, shelled)
¼ pound sugar snap peas, sliced into 1” pieces on the diagonal (about 1 cup)

1 cup ricotta
1/3 cup olive oil
salt and pepper
zest of 1 lemon

1 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon Champagne or white wine vinegar
4 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper

2 tablespoons chopped mint
Pea shoots, several handfuls
Chives snipped for garnish

Bring a medium pot of water to boil. Add one tablespoon of salt, and the asparagus. Cook for 2 minutes, skim out the asparagus and place in a bowl with cold water and ice. Do the same with the peas, cooking for just one minute, then adding to the cold bath. Drain the cooled vegetables. Cut the asparagus spears into 1” pieces, sliced on the diagonal.

Mix together the ricotta, olive oil, lemon zest, and salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Whisk together the dressing ingredients in a separate bowl.

Toss the vegetables in a few spoonfuls of dressing. Add the mint and stir to combine. Reserve ¼ of the vegetable mixture. Gently mix the ricotta mixture into the remaining vegetables. Place in the center of wide serving platter. Surround with small bunches of pea shoots. Spoon a little more dressing on the shoots. Scatter reserved vegetables on top. Garnish with snipped chives. Sprinkle a pinch good, coarse sea salt on top.

Comments Off on Spring Salad of Peas, Asparagus, Ricotta and Mint

Filed under Appetizer, dinner, Lunch, Recipes, Salad, spring, vegetables, vegetarian

Lentils with Blistered Cherry Tomatoes

cherry tomatoes from fort greene farmer's market We felt the first snap of cold yesterday in New York. The day before, a walk through the neighborhood farmer’s market under buckets of rain was proof that summer lingers. Minute cherry tomatoes on the vine, bushels of yellow squash and sticky plums. It’s still bountiful around here.

fort greene farmer's market

I use the market as a bellwether. Instinctively, I know it’s time to start cooking winter squash and potatoes and roots. But the farmers have the last word. I asked a few of them, as I planned the menu for the next Supper Club (Oct. 18), what might I find in two weeks time? Can I plan on tomatoes, still?

summer squash at the farmers market

One farmer, Hector, said global warming has changed things in upstate New York. The season runs longer, for sure. The chances of a frost in the next few weeks are very low. Cherry tomatoes will likely be around for a little longer.

blistered cherry tomatoes

Lentils find their way onto my plate about once a week: dressed up with herbs in a salad, braised in aromatics and served alongside a grilled sausage, served with vegetables and rice to make a protein-rich meal sans meat, cooked into soup. Fast-cooking. Cheap. No soaking needed. Hearty, fibrous and nutritious.

french lentils, also called lentilles de puy

A batch of lentils will last in the fridge for days. You can mix and match flavors, working them into lunch and dinner in small quantities. The following recipe isn’t necessary, really. Just make lentils and add what you like. Design the dish around what the farmers bring to market. Or just add chopped bacon and caramelized onions and call it a day.

lentils with blistered tomatoes

 

Lentils with Blistered Cherry Tomatoes

Serves 8

2 cups of lentils (lentilles de puy or French Lentils are best for this recipe)
1 medium carrot, peeled and cut in half
1 small onion, peeled and cut in half, root intact
1 bay leaf
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt

For the dressing:
Juice and zest (thinly sliced) of one lemon
Pinch of cayenne
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil

A splash of sherry or red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 pint cherry tomatoes
6 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (any or all: basil, chives, mint, parsley, tarragon)

Simmer lentils for 20 minutes with carrot, onion, bay leaf, garlic, salt, and plenty of cold water (at least 3:1 water to lentils), until just tender but with a little bite (al dente). Drain and save liquid for stock.

While the lentils cook, make the vinaigrette, mixing together all the ingredients except the oil. Whisk in the oil. Err on the side of a more acidic (=more lemon), as lentils need a flavor boost.

Add dressing to drained, warm lentils. Toss gently. Taste and adjust seasoning. Mix in a splash of vinegar (sherry or red wine), 3 tablespoons of herbs, and stir to blend.

Heat a large skillet with olive oil over a medium-high heat. When hot but not smoking, add cherry tomatoes and cook, undisturbed, for a few minutes, until they begin to pop and collapse. Shake pan. Tomatoes are done when they are a little browned/blackened, after about 5 minutes.

Serve lentils warm or room temperature, with tomatoes and their juices poured on top, and garnished with remaining chopped fresh herbs.

 

Comments Off on Lentils with Blistered Cherry Tomatoes

Filed under Appetizer, dinner, fall, Lunch, Recipes, Salad, sides, summer, vegetarian

Eggplant Caviar

Early fall is when eggplants are at their best. Choose firm, dark colored orbs, plentiful and reasonably priced in this season. Cook them soon after buying.

eggplant mint puree

Adapt this simple mash to your taste, adding different seasonings to tip the scale alternately towards North Africa (using tahini, toasted, crushed cumin seeds and a pinch of cayenne), the Middle East (pomegranate molasses), or Italy (fresh basil and/or minced anchovies).

eggplants ready to bake

No recipe is needed. The easiest method for cooking eggplants is to pierce them a few times with a small knife and bake on a sheet pan in a hot oven until they collapse. Scoop out the cooked flesh and mix in flavorings to suit your mood. Use a fork, rather than a food processor, or you will end up with something more like baby food. The texture is nicer when it’s roughly mashed.

Be sure to garnish eggplant caviar with something to add color to the dish’s dull, beige appearance. Chopped mint, parsley, cilantro or basil work well. Pomegranate seeds provide a crunchy, sweet contrast. Serve room temperature with toasted pita bread. Keeps about a week in the fridge.

serve eggplant puree with toasted pita

Eggplant Caviar
Serves 4-6

2-3 eggplants (about 1½ pounds), rinsed, dried and pierced in a few places with a paring knife (to release steam)
Grated zest of one lemon (optional)
Juice of ½ lemon (or more, to taste)
½ clove of garlic, minced and using the flat part of a knife’s blade, made into a paste with ½ teaspoon sea salt
1-2 tablespoons Greek yogurt (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper
A little extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
1 tablespoon minced fresh mint leaves, for garnish
Black sesame seeds, toasted, for garnish (optional)

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Place a sheet of aluminum foil in a baking pan and lay the eggplant on top. Bake until the flesh is cooked, about 20 minutes. Set aside until cool enough to handle.

Scoop out the cooked flesh into a medium bowl and discard the eggplant skins. Mix in the rest of the ingredients, including some minced fresh herbs, if you like. Taste and adjust seasoning (more salt? lemon?) Transfer to a small serving bowl, drizzle with olive oil, and garnish with chopped fresh herbs and/or sesame seeds. Serve as an hors d’oeuvre with toasted pita bread, or as a side dish with the meal.

Optional ingredients: tahini, pomegranate molasses, cayenne, harissa, ground cumin, paprika, fresh herbs, chopped scallions, chopped fresh chili peppers, chopped black olives, minced anchovies. Pomegranate seeds scattered on top look beautiful – and taste great.

 

1 Comment

Filed under Appetizer, fall, Lunch, Recipes, Salad, sides, summer, vegan, vegetables, vegetarian

Slow-Roasted Tomatoes

firm ripe tomatoes for slow roasting

I haven’t put away the sandals and sundresses yet. The markets still burst with zucchini, eggplant and tomatoes. We took the subway out to Rockaway Beach a few days ago for an early evening swim. It’s imminent — the Halloween icons, the sweater weather, the short days. But I refuse to let go of summer.

halved tomatoes on a sheet pan for roasting

Making slow-roasted tomatoes extends the vibe. These plump, sweet-sour treats explode in your mouth with concentrated flavor, transporting you to a summer day in one bite. They can be tossed with a salad, served with grilled meat, scattered with pasta and herbs, or popped into a lunch box. I love them on bruschetta, garlic rubbed toast smeared with ricotta and basil leaves.

sprinkle cut tomatoes with sugar, salt and pepper

My cousins Betsy and Bobby live in the Yorkshire Dales (photo below), about a five hour drive north of London. I visited them in August and was served a most delicious salad of slow roasted tomatoes with croutons, black olives and red onions. Most of it came from their beautiful garden out back.

walking in the yorkshire dales, UK

If you can find them, roast a mix of yellow and red tomatoes to increase the visual appeal. Use cherry tomatoes if you wish; just decrease the cooking time by an hour or so. Dusting them with a mixture of sugar, salt and black pepper before they go in the oven exaggerates their natural sweetness while keeping them on the savory side.

Summer in northern England doesn’t immediately evoke images of just-picked, ripe tomatoes. I imagine Betsy roasts tomatoes regularly and stores them in jars with olive oil, treasuring them into the fall long after the leaves have turned. Thanks to her, I will do the same.

 

Slow-Roasted Tomatoes

Makes 24 halves, enough to serve 8 as a side dish

12 plum tomatoes, firm-ripe
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper*

Preheat oven to the lowest temperature it will go, 250˚ or 275˚ F. Cut tomatoes in half lengthwise. Arrange cut side up, in a single layer, on a rimmed sheet pan. Mix together sugar, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Sprinkle tomatoes liberally with sugar mix. Bake for about 4 hours – or more – until tomatoes have collapsed and shriveled, caramelized but not burnt. Eat warm or room temperature. Store for about a week in the fridge, or in a sealed jar covered in olive oil, which preserves them up to a month. You can also freeze them.

* Do you have a good pepper grinder? What does that even mean? Being the house guest of several lovely, kind, adorable friends this summer has provided me with the opportunity of bringing a pepper grinder house present. Selfishly, it’s because I cannot live without the use of my sturdy, workhorse grinder. But also, because everyone – even novice or non-cooks – should have one in their kitchen. This is one I can safely recommend. Look for the Peugeot label on the underside (the business end).

 

Comments Off on Slow-Roasted Tomatoes

Filed under Appetizer, Breakfast, fall, Lunch, pasta, Recipes, Salad, summer, vegan, vegetarian

Spicy Zucchini Soup

vegan vegetarian gluten-free spicy zucchini soup

Every summer, my inner beach bum emerges and I toy with the idea of ditching everything and finding a beach shack to call home. Not a responsible, reasonable idea, I know. My safe solution is to cook summer foods until the last local tomato drops from the vine. To wear sandals well into October (no, not with socks). To swim in the ocean after Columbus Day.

zucchiini summer squash

Before you fall headlong into the realm of autumn (pears, chestnuts, leeks, etc.), stretch out summer by using all the great produce still plentiful in the markets. There are still summer squashes to be cooked, ears of corn to be shucked. It’s not over yet!

Tired of zucchini after the seemingly endless supply of it these past months? Try this simple, fast puréed soup. It’s packed with vegetables, has no dairy or gluten (if you care) and the spices elevate the soup to an exotic-seeming, Goa-inspired velouté. Serve chilled on an Indian summer day or hot to warm you from inside. The bright green color takes it way beyond the usual soggy pile of sautéed zucchini that gives this vegetable a bad name.

cinnamon coriander fennel cumin pepper caraway seeds

Eminently flexible, this recipe withstands all sorts of adaptations. Try making it with butternut squash (much more autumnal). Use leeks or parsnips instead of zucchini. In fact, this is like a master-puréed-vegetable-soup recipe, with an Indian kick. No canned chicken stock needed. Just vegetables, water and spice. The toasted nuts add depth and make it feel special.

Go to the farmer’s market and buy a box of summer squash. Make boatloads of this soup and freeze portioned containers. There will come a cold day in December and you will have this soup, feel a flash of summer, and share a meal with your inner beach bum.

blended spicy zucchini soup

 

Spicy Zucchini Soup with Toasted Almonds
Adapted from Martha Stewart

Serves 4-6

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium-sized onion, chopped roughly
1 tablespoon salt
2 garlic cloves, chopped roughly
1 teaspoon mild curry powder, preferably homemade (recipe below)
1½ pounds zucchini, trimmed and cut into chunks
1 potato (about 6 oz), peeled and cut into chunks
4 cups water
1/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted, for garnish

Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add chopped onion and cook for 5 minutes or until softened, stirring occasionally. Sprinkle with salt and add garlic. Stir to combine and cook about a minute. Add curry and stir, then add zucchini and potato. Sauté for five more minutes.

Pour water over vegetable mixture and turn up heat, bringing the mixture to boil. Lower heat and simmer about 10 minutes, or until potato is just tender.

Transfer in batches to a blender (never more than 1/2 full, to avoid messy, painful accidents), blending until smooth and creamy. Serve hot or cold, with toasted almonds as a garnish.

 

turmeric ginger cayenne spices to make homemade curry powder

 

Curry Powder

Everyone has a recipe for this spice blend. Mine is culled from Madhur Jaffrey and Peter Berley, two chefs I admire. Making your own blend has the advantage of tasting fresh and lively, and allowing you to amplify certain flavors to your liking. Cayenne equals heat so if you like a lot, add more. Invest in a simple coffee grinder (about $20) and dedicate it to spices.

2 tablespoons whole coriander seeds
1 tablespoon whole cumin seeds
½ cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon peppercorns
5 whole cloves
1 teaspoon whole mustard seeds (brown or yellow)
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground turmeric
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Heat a small, cast iron skillet over medium-low heat. Add coriander, cumin, cinnamon, caraway, fennel, peppercorns, cloves and mustard seeds. Stir until spices smell toasted and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Turn out onto clean plate to cool.

Transfer spices to coffee or spice grinder and grind finely. Add ginger, turmeric and cayenne and stir to combine. Use a clean glass jar to store the spice blend and keep in cool, dry place for up to 2 months.

1 Comment

Filed under Appetizer, fall, Lunch, Recipes, soup, summer, vegan, vegetarian

Fava Bean, Mint & Pecorino Bruschetta

A quick and tasty spring lunch with all the essentials: seasonal vegetable, bright flavor, protein and starch. Fava beans are fiddly to prepare but so worth it. Like hidden treasure. High in iron, protein and fiber. Low in calories. An elegant workhorse popular the world over in peasant diets.

The flavor is sweeter, nuttier and meatier than lowly lima beans. The texture is firmer and more distinct. Scattered on a spring stew or salad, favas add vivid green color and an appealing shape.

Favas are also called broad beans. Buy a few pounds of unblemished whole beans to yield a little over one cup of shelled beans. Unlike green beans, they are soft to the touch. Shuck the lot of them, opening the squishy, floppy long pods to release the beans inside. Then parboil the beans in salty water for 3 minutes. Put on a good radio program or music and settle in to remove the tender inner beans from the casings. That’s the time-consuming part. What’s left is a mound of pretty green favas ready to be made into a puréed dip or served on garlic-rubbed toast as I did today. You can freeze the shelled beans for later use.

the fava bean in all its glory

Fava Bean, Mint and Pecorino Bruschetta

Lunch for one – or an appetizer for two

1/2 cup shelled, parboiled fava beans
Large pinch of fresh mint, large leaves torn into pieces
2 tablespoons excellent quality olive oil
Squeeze of lemon juice
Salt and fresh pepper
One slice of good bread, toasted
Small clove of garlic
A few shavings of Pecorino (or Parmesan) cheese, sliced with a vegetable peeler

Stir together favas, mint, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Rub garlic clove on just-toasted bread, to flavor it. Cut bread into halves or quarters (smaller pieces are better if serving as an appetizer). Spoon fava mixture onto bread and top with cheese shavings. Transported to Italy!

 

1 Comment

Filed under Appetizer, Lunch