Category Archives: vegetables

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.

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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.

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

 

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

Ramp Pistou

In case you were feeling that spring has been dragging its feet this year, you’re not wrong. No less an authority than The New York Times declared spring officially late, as least insofar as crops are concerned. One thing we can reliably depend on, though, is the mighty ramp.

ramps

Ramps! Do you know them? Sometimes called wild leeks, these early-spring bulbs pack a wallop of spicy-garlicky flavor. Their season is a brief three weeks, but they grow in such profusion that it pays to buy them (or gather, if you’re lucky and know where to look) in a large bunch.

ramp pesto in food processor

Treat them as you would basil in August: throw the leaves in a food processor with olive oil and salt and you have a basic pistou that will keep in the freezer for months. Good additions are parsley and sorrel. Try it over pasta, on a sandwich, on fish, over asparagus, swirled into a fresh pea soup…. As for the blubs, chop them up and throw them in a stir-fry or in a frittata: anywhere scallions are called for.

ramp pesto

Ramp Pistou

1 cup ramp leaves, chopped and packed
½ cup sorrel or parsley, packed
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon coarse sea salt

Mix all ingredients in a food processor until chopped to a fine purée. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.

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Filed under Recipes, sauces, spring, 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.

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