Category Archives: sides

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

Roasted Winter Vegetables

In the pre-Whole Foods, bad old days of smelly, dingy “natural food” stores, or “health food” stores (a name that rang with promise but in reality was more like a cross between Communist Poland circa 1984 and the corner store in a desolate city neighborhood, with rainbow stickers and dangling “dream catchers” in the window), root vegetables bore the brunt of many a joke. These gnarled, dirt-crusted tubers were bendy and battered. We bought them because they offered a pesticide-free experience. But they were unappealing. Sanctimonious winter vegetables gave health food a bad name.

humble winter root vegetables

 

I hitchhiked across America with my sister Kate in 1980. In each new city, we sought out the local health food store and the gay bar. Both of these venues, in our minds, delivered a cache of interesting people and ideas. Most health food stores sold herbal tinctures, fresh ginger, crystal deodorant, and bulk nuts. They also had bulletin boards packed with announcements for area political meetings, basement concerts, healers and other fringe activities. We loved the bulletin boards and relied on them to connect with like-minded folks.

Gay bars offered another kind of entertainment. In El Paso, on the final leg of our maiden voyage to the promised land of California, we spent a long evening playing pool with the all-male patrons. It was a dangerous time to be a homosexual in Texas. It took a lot of asking around the town to find this beer-soaked subterfuge. I remember winning a game of pool with a strapping guy, shirtless in a leather vest. He laughed, surprised by his 18-year female old opponent, sporting a crew cut. Kate and I felt we were living on the edge, exactly where we wanted to be.

Back to root vegetables. I have learned to embrace them. To love them, even. I try to eat seasonally and experimenting with root vegetables is a winter pastime. At my local food coop, carrots, parsnips, turnips, rutabagas and the like occupy a prominent position, glistening and firm, inviting and healthful. Natural food stores have come a long way.

parsnips

 

Mostly, I make soups with roots, or roast, or mash them for a side dish. Try adding a cup of cubed parsnips or celery root to your next curry or stew. They’ll add another flavor dimension and increase your vitamin intake. Always keep a few root vegetables in the fridge. They keep for weeks and add flavor to stocks (except parsnips, which really are too pungent unless that’s what you’re after).

purple-carrots

 

A few nights ago I cleaned out the fridge and roasted up what I found for a quick vegetable companion to baked bluefish. Crunchy, sweet and salty, this is a winter side dish that makes “health food” downright delicious.

roasted-root-veg

 

Roasted Winter Vegetables
Serves 6

Quantities are flexible – as are ingredients. Try any combination of the following winter vegetables: beets, carrots, cauliflower, celery root, fennel, parsnips, potatoes, rutabagas, shallots, squash, sweet potatoes, turnips. The key is #1 cut the veggies in similar sizes to ensure even cooking, and #2 not to overcrowd the baking sheet.

1 pound carrots
½ pound parsnips
½ pound sunchokes
1 pound fingerling potatoes
12 cloves garlic, peeled and trimmed, left whole
1 lemon, trimmed and thinly sliced (optional)
Olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons chopped parsley

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Scrub and trim the vegetables. With organically grown produce, I leave the skins on because nutrients are lost when you discard the peels.

Slice carrots and sunchokes 1/4” thick, parsnips 1/8” thick (to compensate for longer cooking time), and fingerling potatoes in half. Cut vegetables on the diagonal — for what my cooking student Ben calls a “jaunty angle.” This will improve the look of the final dish.

In a large bowl, using your hands, mix the cut vegetables and garlic with olive oil, salt and pepper. Add lemon slices if you want to add punch. Spread in a single layer on two baking sheets. Do not overcrowd the baking sheets or the vegetables won’t get crisp.

Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven, toss with a spatula and cook for about 20 more minutes, or until cooked through. Sprinkle with parsley before serving.

1 Comment

Filed under fall, Recipes, sides, vegan, vegetables, vegetarian