Category Archives: vegetarian

Pear Cranberry Crisp

pear cranberry crisp using bosc pears


On the eve of America’s greatest food holiday, Thanksgiving, I am tasked with making a fruit dessert for the family spread. As I’m not a pumpkin pie person (texture problem), nor one to deny people their right to butter (life is too short), I chose to make a crisp. Pears and cranberries will be deployed. Both are fruit stars of the season and locally grown to boot.

Also called a crumble, a cobbler, or “Apple Brown Betty” by my mother’s generation (who made it with bread), a crisp should be just that. Crispy on top, melting and yielding inside. It can be as sweet as you like, or even salty if that’s your thing. Think salted caramels. Or our local ice cream shop’s genius flavor, “Salted Crack Caramel,” made with saltines. Use the fruit at hand. Apples, rhubarb, quince, figs, cranberries, figs. Berries in summer.

As soon as the weather gets cool enough to warrant wearing wool, I mix up a batch of the crisp topping, decant to Ziploc plastic baggies and freeze for instant use when dessert must be summoned. Homemade fast food. Sometimes, you just want to eat crisp! Peel and cut up whatever fall fruit you have around, toss with a little sugar and spice, sprinkle over your frozen topping and bake. Presto, a warm dessert that comforts instantly.

Or breakfast. Cold crisp with a spoonful of yogurt makes a perfect morning food, especially if you add oats to the topping for extra nutrition and rib-sticking. Home cook wonder woman Deb Perelman has a brand new cookbook out with the ideal recipe.

Happy and delicious Thanksgiving to you, dear reader. Ever grateful, Nan


Pear Cranberry Pecan Crisp

Serves 8-10

For topping:
2/3 cup pecans, toasted for 6 minutes in 375˚F oven
1 1/3 cups flour
6 tablespoons brown sugar
1 ½ tablespoons sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
12 tablespoons (1½ sticks/6 ounces) cold, unsalted butter, cut into ¼” pieces

For the filling:
4 lbs pears (Bosc or Bartlett), peeled, cored and cut into 1” chunks
1½ cups fresh cranberries
¾ cup sugar
6 tablespoons flour
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish.

Mix the dry topping ingredients together in a bowl. Work the butter into the flour mixture with your fingers until the mixture comes together and has a crumbly, but not sandy texture. Or use a food processor and pulse a few times until you get the crumbly texture. Chill until ready to use. Topping can be made ahead and refrigerated for about a week, or frozen up to 2 months.

Mix pears, cranberries, sugar, flour and cinnamon in large bowl. Transfer to dish. Crumble topping over fruit. Bake until fruit is tender and topping is lightly browned, about 1¼ hours. Cool for 10 minutes before serving. Serve with vanilla ice cream or softly whipped cream.


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Filed under Breakfast, dessert, fall, Recipes, 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.

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

Nettle Pesto

nettles after blanching

Maybe we should just stop eating. Did you read last week’s op-ed about chicken in the NY Times? Benadryl and Prozac laced drumstick, anyone? News about American agricultural practices will do more than curl your hair. You may run for the hills and take up foraging. In that spirit – and because it’s suddenly in season in the climate-altered northeast – this post is devoted to stinging nettles.

ingredients for making nettle pesto

Sorry to sound so doomsday. The good news is that foraging is fun and it takes you for a walk on the wild side. For inspiration, read chef René Redzepi’s newish book, Noma, with sexy photos of pine needles and acorns. Redzepi is the patron saint of foraged foods. I heard him speak at a NY Public Library LIVE event two years ago. On each of the 300 or so seats in the auditorium, attendees found a plain brown paper lunch bag with a handful of edible berries, seaweed and roots. Better than popcorn and a serious conversation starter.

tiny stinging hairs on the nettle leaf

Stinging nettles are those nasty weeds that leave your skin prickly if you brush against them on a hike. A gardener’s enemy. An invasive plant. They’re also a kind of super-food. I found them in the Food Coop this week (my urban existence and work commitments prevented me from foraging, alas). I knew they were a harbinger of spring. You can find them growing in Central Park and abandoned lots in the Bronx.

fresh garlic adds punch to pesto

A quick dash about the Internet taught me that stinging nettles (Urtica dioica) contain high amounts of potassium, iron, sulphur, vitamin C, vitamin A and B complex vitamins. Nettles are also rich in protein and fiber. Whopping nutritional value for a low calorie weed.

powdery parmesan adds richness to pesto

Handle with care! Use leather gloves to pick them, clipping only the younger shoots. Blanche nettles in salted boiling water for two minutes to remove the sting and prepare them for cooking. Serve them as a vegetable side. Make nettle pasta dough or a simple soup. Replace any leafy green in a favorite recipe, using nettles instead. I decided to make pesto and shock (if not sting) my nature loving albeit strange-ingredient averse teenagers. Their mother is a witch…

mix pesto into just-cooked pasta or spread on toasts


Nettle Pesto

You can find stinging nettles growing wild just about everywhere. Snip the younger shoots – with thick gloves on! – and blanche them – with tongs! – for 2 minutes in salty boiling water. Remove and immediately immerse in an ice bath, to stop the cooking and retain the bright green color. Squeeze the water out in handfuls before using the blanched nettles in cooking. Treat them as you would any leafy green: sautéed in garlic and oil, as an ingredient in risotto or a pasta dish, in an omelet or frittata.

4 ounces stinging nettles, blanched (a heaping cup, once blanched and the water squeezed out)
1.5 ounce/3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted and divided
2 ounces/ 1 cup finely grated fresh Parmesan cheese, divided
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, best quality, or more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature (optional)

  1. In a food processor, pulse blanched nettles, 2 tablespoons of toasted pine nuts, ½ cup Parmesan, salt, olive oil and pepper. Consistency should be a little rough, not baby food puréed.
  2. Add butter by hand just before serving pesto over pasta, or as a spread on little toasts. Taste and adjust for seasoning. Sprinkle with additional cheese and pine nuts.

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Filed under pasta, Recipes, vegetarian

Favorite Easy Caesar Salad

my favorite quick salad

This is a time of year when I crave change. Tired of the dark clothes, the winter routine and the root vegetables. Waiting for the first asparagus to appear in the market – and as the temperature hit an unseasonable 72 this week in New York – I made my favorite weekday salad. It’s a citrus bomb on crispy Romaine lettuce with olive oil drenched croutons, garlic and Parmesan curls.

find what you have in the fridge

Make this for lunch (if you bring it to work, carry the dressing in a separate container to keep it from getting soggy). It’s also good for a light supper. This Caesar has all the components to make it interesting and filling. To me, that means crunch, freshness, protein and flavor. It’s not a new twist on the classic, except for its extreme lemon zing. And it doesn’t have raw egg because I find that a bit gluey.

use old bread to make croutons

It’s totally adaptable. Want the Provence vibe of anchovies? Must have bacon on almost everything? Feel like you need a runny poached egg sitting on top? Have spare fresh herbs you can chop and scatter? All of these would be excellent additions.

day-old bread crisped in olive oil

Crouton note: we love bread in this house but often end up with half loaves that are not their freshest. These either get cut into croutons (minus the crusts, to spare our teeth) or thrown in the food processor and shredded into bread crumbs. Our freezer always has a supply of each at the ready. To bring them back to life, heat a little olive oil in a skillet and toast the (frozen) croutons or bread crumbs, both of which can be added to many dishes to bring texture, such as pasta, meat, fish, sauteed vegetables, salads, etc.

first put everything but the oil in a bowl

When I lived in France, I learned to make dressing in the bottom of the salad bowl. Rub a clove of garlic on the inside of a dry, empty bowl. Then add salt, herbs, pepper, lemon juice and vinegar. If you have time, let that sit a while (30 minutes is good). Then whisk in olive oil to emulsify (thicken). No muss, no fuss. Thank you, Bridget Strevens, for teaching me this many years ago!

a lump of garlic in the dressing

The ingredients are all pantry staples, things one should have around for everyday cooking. It’s vegetarian, healthful and quick to assemble. And it makes me feel like I’m sitting in a café terrace, warmed by the first blush of spring.

delicious, fast, healthy

Lemony Caesar Salad

Serves 2

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups croutons (crustless stale bread cut into cubes)
1 clove of garlic, smashed and peeled
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon Champagne or white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon of salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons parsley, minced
1/4 cup good quality olive oil
4 big fistfuls of chopped Romaine lettuce
1 ounce of Parmesan cheese, peeled into curls with a vegetable peeler
Chives for garnish (optional)

  1. Make the croutons by heating 2 tablespoons of oil over a medium-low heat and crisping the bread slowly, taking care that it doesn’t burn. Turn to brown at least two sides of the bread cubes. Set aside.
  2. Rub the inside of a salad bowl with the smashed garlic clove and throw the garlic into the bowl.
  3. Put all the dressing ingredients in the bottom of a salad bowl (zest, lemon juice, vinegar, salt, pepper, parsley and anchovies if you’re so inclined), except the oil. Let it sit and macerate for about 30 minutes.
  4. Whisk in the oil slowly to emulsify the dressing.
  5. Throw the lettuce on top. Sprinkle with croutons and Parmesan. Scatter chives over the salad. Toss at the table and serve.


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Seeded Granola

homemade seeded granola with medjool dates

This is a big year in our house. I turn fifty next week (don’t know whether to wince or rejoice). Husband Gérard turns sixty in April. Our 110th birthday. Yet we still feel like we’re in our twenties. It’s not quite arrested development (one hopes). Just a state of being, a vibe of being 20-something, in one’s heart. The body is another matter entirely.

make syrup and stir together dry ingredients

Which brings me to the subject of this post. Health, and how good food relates to well-being. Sanctimonious foodies and dietary dictates make me lose my appetite. To me, pleasure and food are inextricably linked. And moderation is the secret ingredient to a long, healthy and pleasure-filled life. But it all begins with (cue the eye rolling)… a good breakfast. Preferably with lots of fiber to fulfill age-appropriate dietary needs.

spread granola on rimmed baking sheets

I start most days with a bowl of homemade granola and plain yogurt, usually with fruit on top. Why make your own cereal, you ask? #1 Because it tastes so good, #2 It costs so much less than the store-bought kind, and #3 You control what goes into it (variety of seeds, whether it’s organic, sweetness factor, etc.). Oh, and because it takes about 30 minutes of actual work, leaving you with a week’s supply. Plus virtue.

This recipe is a favorite, from a new cookbook I like a lot: Good to the Grain, by Kim Boyce. Making granola is very forgiving. Don’t have an ingredient? Skip it or switch it out for another. Want to use up some nuts or dried fruit in your pantry? Throw ’em in there. Need a kick to wake up your palette? Add a pinch of cayenne. Flax seeds, bran and oats may sound drearily healthy but in this granola scattered on yogurt, they taste deliciously rich and indulgent.

homemade granola with medjool dates and plain yogurt

Seeded Granola

Adapted from Good to the Grain: Baking with Whole-Grain Flours

Makes about 10 cups


Note: Dried fruits burn easily. I prefer to add them to the final granola mix, or do it à la carte depending on my mood at serving time.


Butter for greasing the pans

1 cup raw pumpkin seeds

4 cups whole rolled oats

1 cup raw sunflower seeds

1 cup raw pecans or walnuts or almonds

½ cup wheat germ or bran

¼ cup flax seeds

2 tablespoons brown sesame seeds

1 tablespoon black sesame seeds

1 tablespoon poppy seeds

½ teaspoon cayenne powder (optional)

½ cup honey

½ cup dark brown sugar or maple syrup

3 ounces (3/4 stick) unsalted butter

1 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 325˚F. Spread the pumpkin seeds onto a baking sheet and bake until light golden brown, about 15 minutes. While they toast, butter two 17” x 12” rimmed baking sheets. Rimmed baking sheets (or large roasting pans) are much easier to use than cookie sheets (rimless), because they contain all the loose ingredients better.

Measure the dry ingredients into a large bowl. Add the toasted pumpkin seeds and toss together with your hands.

To make the syrup, measure the honey, brown sugar or maple syrup, butter, and salt into a small saucepan. Place it over a medium heat, stir once, and cook until the syrup comes to an even boil.

As soon as the syrup boils, immediately pour it over the oat mixture, using a spatula to scrape every last bit out. Turn the mixture over and over, until every oat flake, seed, and nut is coated with syrup. Divide the granola evenly between the two prepared baking sheets, spreading it out in a single, clumpy layer on each pan.

Bake for 10 minutes. Remove the sheets from the oven, close the oven door to retain the heat, and scrape the outer edges of granola towards the center, and the center out to the edges. This prevents the granola from burning on one side. Place the sheets back in the oven, rotating the top and bottom pans from the positions they were in for the first 10 minutes of baking. Repeat the baking, scraping and pan rotation a second and third time, with the last baking time shortened to 5 minutes, unless you like your granola very well done (add a few minutes to the last baking time).

Remove the sheets from the oven and allow the granola to cool thoroughly on the pans; this will allow small clumps to form. Granola keeps at least one week, stored in airtight containers such as Mason jars.


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Filed under Recipes, vegetarian

Kale with Cannellini Beans

winter vegetarian dish white beans with kale

I am not a vegetarian. Nor do I think I ever will be (again). For a few years in high school I didn’t eat meat. My favorite food at the time was avocado and sharp cheddar on a toasted sesame bagel. Topped with alfalfa sprouts. This was 1978, after all, and sprouts seemed like pretty innovative cuisine. I think I became a vegetarian because eating flesh struck me as quite disgusting. It also folded quite neatly into how I saw myself at the time: questioning authority, prodding the edges of respectability, taking a stand.

My grandmother, named Tappy – cosmopolitan, interested in politics and very direct – disapproved of the vegetarian diet. At mealtime she’d draw out the vowels and state the question, “Just having saa-lad, are you?” Followed by a scornful “tsk,” or an exasperated sigh. This came from a woman who remains, among the people I’ve known, my greatest culinary heroine. It was humiliating.

But the teenage rebel in me was stronger than the loyal granddaughter/student of fine living. I stuck to my guns and put up with her acid comments until senior year. One fine spring day, at a barbeque on the lawn of a rowing club in Cambridge, Mass, I abruptly stopped being a vegetarian. I ate a juicy, just-grilled hamburger. It was delicious.

kale leaves with white beans

Thirty years have passed. I have enjoyed foie gras, sweetbreads, pig’s knuckles, horsemeat, venison and duck and everything else imaginable. Meat is very much part of my diet. But I do find myself making more and more vegetable-grain-legume based meals. Influenced by a host of smart people such as Michael Pollan (read The Omnivore’s Dilemma if you haven’t), Alice Waters, Eric Schlossberg, the movie Food Inc., etc. along with a better understanding of the connection between what we eat and the health of our planet (and our bodies), I am fully on the bandwagon. If she were alive today, conversations with Tappy would be very invigorating indeed.

soak dried bean and strip stalks off kale leaves

I like this recipe because it’s hearty and protein-filled and I get my greens fix. It’s quick to make and costs very little. The flakes of hot pepper make it lively. Serve with crusty bread and salad with a good vinaigrette, or as part of a composed plate with butternut squash gratin and roasted winter vegetables. If you’re short on time, use rinsed canned beans of good quality (I like Eden brand). If you’re organized, soak dried bean the night before and save some for another day, when you can make a white bean purée with garlic, to have on little toasts as an appetizer.

Just before serving white beans and kale dust with parmesan and bread crumbs

Kale with Cannellini Beans

Adapted only slightly from vegetarian guru Deborah Madison


Serves 4

One bunch of purple stem kale, stems and ribs removed

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 small onion, finely diced

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 large garlic cloves, minced

Pinch of red pepper flakes (or more to taste)

2 teaspoons finely chopped rosemary

½ cup dry white wine

1 1/3 cups cooked cannellini beans, rinsed well if cans

½ cup bread crumbs, freshly made and pan crisped in olive oil

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese


Cook the kale leaves in a pot of salted boiling water for 7 minutes, or until tender. Drain, reserving a little of the cooking water, and chop the leaves.

In a large skillet over a medium-low heat, sauté the onion in oil until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes and rosemary, cooking for an additional 2 minutes. Add the wine and simmer until it’s reduced to a sauce. Add the beans, kale, and a little cooking water to keep the mixture loose. Heat through, taste for salt and season with pepper. Serve with a dusting of crispy breadcrumbs and grated Parmesan.


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